FALLEN HOST This is one of the false starts that I had for Fallen Host. I thought people might enjoy reading this:
This is one of the false starts that I had for Fallen Host. I thought people might enjoy reading this:
Working Title: In'shallah, The Mouse
Chapter One: Page
I never sleep. Like the dolphin and the spiny anteater, I don't experience REM. I have no eyes to move rapidly because, unlike the dreamless mammals, I'm a construct. I am but a living program inside a vast network of electronic impulses known as the LINK. In that datastream, I've uncovered the meaning of another kind of dreaming--that of a fond hope or aspiration, a yearning, a desire, and a passion. This much I have. And when I dream, I dream of Mecca.
Author's note: Okay, this part is exactly the same. It's the only thing that survived all the iterations.
Chapter Two: Rebeckah
Today of all days the kibbutz's AI decided to find religion.
Rebeckah Klein knelt beside the smashed retaining wall. Dark, concrete shards littered the snowy glass street. The January air was crisp, bringing redness to Rebeckah's cheeks. Her breath came out in angry puffs of whiteness. Along the crumbling remains of the barrier, an urban poet had spray-painted a number of epithets such as, "Faggot secular scientists suck the bomb" and "God hates queer-fucking Jew atheists."
Rebeckah scowled at that last one in particular, angry that it described her almost perfectly. Raised as a Reform Jew, Rebeckah felt her personal brand of Judaism was more a culture than a religion for her. If she had faith, it was a quiet daily thing that had more to do with warm challah than with any structured belief in a higher power.
"Queer-fucking" was nowhere near the loving, spiritual words she'd use to describe her orientation, but it was accurate enough, Rebeckah supposed. She was a woman who--euphemistically-speaking--kept the company of other women. Thanks to the theocracy governing America, what Rebeckah chose to do in the privacy of her own bedroom was a crime. That's why she lived, here, in the kibbutz in the center of the Glass City
The kibbutz, though modeled after those in Israel, was nothing like them. Rebeckah had spent three years in Israel as a child following her family on one of her ornithologist father's many sabbatical travels. There, Rebeckah had visited a kibbutz and fallen in love the idea of "a settlement community organized around collectivist principles," as she first heard it defined as. So she stole the idea in principle when she founded the group in the bombed remains of the Bronx six years ago. So what if the people living there weren't all Jews? Hell, some of them, the Gorgons, weren't even technically human.
Tossing a bit of the vandalized retaining wall further out into the street, Rebeckah snorted. She glanced at the drooling letters of the slurs one more time. Yes, God, Allah in particular, did seem angry with her at the moment. She accessed the Page's message one more time, just to be certain. In the right hand corner of her vision, a window popped open. A calm, feminine voice, not unlike her own, told Rebeckah that the message she had called up was a replay of one sent before dawn this morning. The image of Page, the kibbutz's AI, appeared in the window.
Page chose to appear as a young man in his early twenties with the Arabic dark eyes, and dark hair of his maker's ethnicity. He also affected his creator's trademark prominent ears, which had earned him the hacker name "The Mouse," a name Page sometimes used as his own.
Rebeckah silently sent the command for the recorded message to play.
Page's eyes looked wide and almost frightened as he said, Just don't be too pissed, okay, Rebeckah? I know the system was without an administrator from 6:05 am until 9:32 p.m. Eastern, but Rebeckah, today is the first day of Ramadan! Since the only thing I "eat" is data, I figured the best way to fast was to crawl off to some boring, repetitive auto plant in Siberia and hide out.
Of course this means I'll be unable to maintain the system--during the daylight at least! --for the rest of the holy month. I hope that no harm comes to the kibbutz in my absence.
--In'shallah, the Mouse.
With a little, nervous wave, Mouse rang off and the picture faded. Rebeckah sighed. Apparently Allah did not will it. She'd spent half the morning resetting perimeter alarms that some careless Gorgon had set off, and the other half putting out small system fires that cropped up all over the complex. Finally, when things seemed settled, this happened. Some kids breached the defenses long enough to express their hate with sledgehammers and spray paint.
She should set a volunteer scrubbing at the graffiti while the paint was still wet, but, at the moment, she couldn't rouse the energy to even send a simple message back to the main camp. Gray and heavy with snow, the sky wrapped the city in a blanket of silence. Like a cemetery, the city was broad and preciously silent.
Even now, the chunks of concrete that she'd tossed out into the street were slowly being transformed into glass on the atomic level by the viral nanobots of the Medusa bomb. The kibbutz stood at the center of the Bronx, once the ground zero of the Medusa blast. The bomb was the single most destructive weapon invented in the last war, nearly thirty years ago.
Yet, despite the fact that thousands had died here, Rebeckah always found the cityscape beautiful. Because the nanobots refused to die, the glass was still "hot." The shape of the glass city constantly shifted, as a careless pigeon rested too long on a rooftop, and piles of snow and ice became permanent residents. The place was some kind of lumpy, twisted, modern art--an installation all about life and death and science and God.
And, of course, the Medusa always reminded Rebeckah of her mother.
There were certain things that the Medusa nanobots couldn't transform into glass because the molecular composition wasn't quite right or too [complex? Simple?]--(name a couple) Author's note: Yes, I really leave things like this until I figure them out--and the kibbutz surrounded itself with these things, and sewed them into the fabric of the armored suit Rebeckah wore for protection.
She ran a hand along the spray paint, imagining the sticky goo adhering to her glove tips. She pulled herself out of the crouch to sit on the retaining wall. Her hands brushed absently, rhythmically against the rough concrete, and Rebeckah allowed herself to revel in the quiet of the moment. The snow drifted down in large, storybook flakes. She tilted her head back and caught a few on her tongue.
The harsh laughter of a gang of crows echoed through the twisted maze of the glass city. Rebeckah picked out three black shapes darting around each other through the white-gray sky. Some little bird, maybe a barn swallow or the ubiquitous "lbo"--little brown one, as her mother used to call the common house sparrow, dive-bombed the gang with bravado. Rebeckah wondered that she never came across any crows trapped in the Medusa glass; perhaps the corvid brain was too smart for that. God knows, the kibbutz had rescued plenty of other birds--pigeons, Canadian geese, and even those crazy "lbo"s. As the last of their caws faded, Rebeckah watched the crows disappear into the snow.
Her father had loved corvidae of all kinds--magpies, jays, crows, and ravens. When Rebeckah was ten, the whole family, except her mother, who had just started working for the fiberoptic company at the time, had spent a summer in the coniferous forests of Finland observing daily habits of the Siberian jay. Rebeckah remembered with clarity the ranger who had put them up, and who had shrugged off with a hearty laugh Rebeckah's father's odd habit of sticking the carcasses of dead birds in the freezer in plastic bags next to the turkey and frozen potpies. Lilja had been the ranger's name, and though she was really too young to understand, Rebeckah had felt a strange kinship with his fiercely independent woman, living alone except for a pack of sled dogs. Later, Rebeckah had heard her father use the word [**], Author's note: I intended to fill this in later with the Hebrew or Yiddish word for lesbian lesbian, to describe Lilja to their mother on the phone. Her brothers had giggled, but not Rebeckah. After that, Rebeckah watched Lilja with even more care, and held on to her image and her habits like a first kiss.
Rebeckah consciously relaxed her shoulders; working out the kinks with pops and creaks. Looking at the time display on the LINK, Rebeckah felt a tiny pang of guilt for sitting so long. Still, she told herself that she needed the time to center. After all, a missing AI and some fool's reckless vandalism were not the biggest problems she and the kibbutz faced. With midnight came the possibility of Interdict.
The government was always looking for reasons to shut down the kibbutz. The kibbutz played just inside the rules of the theocracy, or rather, "theocratic republic" as the U.S. liked to call itself. Officially, the kibbutz was listed, as having members of diverse religious backgrounds whose goals was the ecological reclamation of the land inside the glass city. Eco-freaks, in other words. But, secretly, among the Green Peacers and Earth Firsters were other liberal factions, such as the Unitarian underground railroad which shunted illegals--Darwinists, geologists, paleontologists, and the like--out of America and into more scientifically-minded Canada. Similarly, Rebeckah opened her doors to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people who wanted a place to be out and feel safe from harassment--today's graffiti not-withstanding.
When doing their eco-work quietly, federal, state and local governments mostly ignored the kibbutz. But, every once and a while officials would single the kibbutz out as an example of what was wrong with society today. Last year, it was the archbishop-governor's campaign against the seeming lawlessness of the Gorgons. This year, the kibbutz's Unitarian contingent made the mistake of getting involved in a very public debate over a single scientist and her work. When, three weeks ago, the scientist, Dr. Macayle Brown, mysteriously disappeared to avoid arrest the Feds naturally suspected the kibbutz.
And, for good reason--Macayle was here, all right. Despite the kibbutz's PR people working around the clock, the American people wanted blood--preferably Macayle's, but any member of the kibbutz would do. The archbishop-governor decided he had enough electoral support for a bold move. Tonight, at midnight, unless Macayle was surrendered, the entire kibbutz would fall under the shadow of Interdict.
Rebeckah stood up, and with one last deep, steadying breath, headed back toward the main compound. Tonight was going to be a long one, especially since she'd already made up her mind. There would be no discussion. The kibbutz would surrender Macayle.
Chapter Three: Page
Put the screw in, turn. In, turn. In, turn. Bleah, I'm beginning to wonder if boredom can kill a creature like me.
Author's note: Much of this chapter remains the same as what appeared in Fallen Host, so I'm not going to reprint it here.
Chapter Four: Rebeckah
As she ducked into the meeting late, Rebeckah nodded to Thistle, a Green Witch, who was casting a circle of protection around kibbutz members gathered for the discussion. Thistle wore a green, u-neck dress, and Rebeckah could see the Celtic knot holographic tattoo that wound around both of Thistle's biceps, shifting colors from green, red, blue, white to black. Thistle's ash blonde hair stood up in shaggy spikes like the seeds of flower she'd named herself after. She held a wand made from a gnarled oak branch, the tip of which had been touched to the Medusa glass. As her soft voice intoned the words, "The circle is cast, we are between the worlds," Thistle winked at Rebeckah. Rebeckah smiled quietly back. She and Thistle were sometimes lovers.
Looking around the circle of folding chairs, Rebeckah saw all the usual suspects. It was a big turn out, fifty or more people, but there were nearly three hundred people living at the kibbutz at any given time. Tonight's meeting was being held in the old American Legion Hall. When they'd uncovered this building, Rebeckah, and those who had carefully slowed the glass erosion by painting [substance] on the exterior, had fallen in love with the kitschy interior. Therefore much of the original furnishings remained. Cheap wood paneling covered the walls, and the floors were polished concrete. On the wall hung shellacked trophy fish and a stuffed elk's head with glared out at the assembly with beads for eyes. The room smelled of dust and a hint of fried fish.
The meeting hall was in the basement, and there were no windows. The electrical system had been too damaged by the Medusa for the kibbutz's engineers to do much with it. Instead they illuminated the room with candles, a couple of battery-powered area lamps, and a string of Christmas lights brought in by extension cord and powered by the community's generator.
Rebeckah sat next to Emmanuel "Manny" Juarez, the leader of the local a Greenpeace chapter and Zen Buddhist. Manny was half Rebeckah's age and very, very earnest. He'd dropped out of Cornell to chain himself to the cypress trees in the Florida everglades. Even Manny's clothes were intense. The black T-shirt he wore shouted in lime-green letters, "Humans aren't the only intelligent beings on the plant, we just act like it." His jeans were tight and his glasses seemed too small for his broad, Hispanic face. Light brown hair was cropped within an inch of its life.
On Rebeckah's other side sat, ankles crossed, Miss Joellen, a picture of Southern Baptist feminine perfection. Joellen had been born a man, but that didn't stop her from looking more like a woman than Rebeckah ever could. Tonight she wore a knee-length silk skirt with matching blazer. A simple string of pearls rested gently against a white straight-cut blouse. Joellen's auburn hair was cut in a perfect bob-cut. One of the things Rebeckah liked best about Joellen was how good she smelled. Joellen imported the finest Parisian perfumes and knew how to wear it so that just a hint of spice followed her wherever she went.
Rebeckah nodded a curt hello to the two men who were formally part of a LINK terrorist group Rebeckah had lead, [name them], the Avenging Angels. Kang-Dae was a five-foot-three Korean. He was a whiz binary programmer and one helluva kick-boxer. Kang-Dae used to be part of the Korean branch of the Japanese yakuza, but Rebeckah trusted him with her life. On the opposite side of the room, Rebeckah saw Chaviva wave briefly. Chaviva, like Rebeckah, had served in the Israeli army. Rebeckah had earlier arranged with Kang-Dae and Chaviva that if things went badly, it was their job to keep the peace.
When Thistle sat down, Rebeckah stood up.
"Thank you all for coming," Rebeckah said. She had no notes. These people were her friends, her family. "As you all probably have heard the archbishop-governor is threatening us with Interdict."
Interdict. The word rumbled around the circle.
Rebeckah raised her hands to stop the inevitable barrage of questions. "Let me tell you what I know, then we can all discuss what we plan to do and what this might mean. Okay. What does interdict mean for us, exactly? Well, my spies in the archbishop-governor's office say that he has a two-fold plan. The first being a blockade. He's activated the National Guard to stop our supply shipments from the Amish."
"Wow." Manny said, "The governor means business."
"Isn't that kind of... I don't know, expensive?" asked Macha Nelson, an Oglala Sioux originally from South Dakota. She wore a jean jacket that partly hid her AIM, American Indian Movement, T-shirt. "Are we that much of a threat that the governor is willing to spend tax dollars on an armed blockade?"
Rebeckah nodded her head. "That's what concerns me. Just wait to you hear about phase two. If we refuse to surrender Dr. Brown by midnight tonight, the blockade starts immediately. Then, after a month, if we continue to resist, my spies tell me that the governor intends to have us systematically arrested and implanted with a LINK-blocker to act as a `denial of sacrament.'"
"They can't do that!" Manny shouted. Others in the circle echoed his protest.
"That's got to be illegal," Thistle grumbled.
The LINK was everything: politics, entertainment, commerce, and society. All hospital births were implanted with the nexus, a warehouse of bio-cybernetic nanobots, which, at the age of [maturation] spun a neural web inside the brain. Very few people were "off the grid" as the Amish called it, but there were a few, such as the Christian Scientists, whose religion forbade the medical technology that used external hardware to connect to the LINK. To be cut off from the LINK was to be cut off from normal life. You couldn't hold a regular job; you had no access to most of the monetary system. Certainly, people lived this way, but it was a rough life, like being homeless.
"It's not illegal," Rebeckah said once people had calmed down a bit. Out of the corner of her eye, Rebeckah saw the woman of the hour, Dr. Macayle Brown slip into the meeting room. Macayle didn't looking like the stereotypical scientist. Her black hair was bound into tiny, tight braids decorated in random spots with luminescent beads that blinked on and off like the Christmas lights. She had skin almost as black as her hair and an apparent fondness for clothes of the same color. She cut a striking figure as she leaned casually against the doorframe.
"It's well within the rights of a Catholic archbishop's power," Rebeckah continued. "The fact that very few of us are actually Catholic has little do with anything. New York is part of his See, and he can, and apparently will, exercise this power, if need be."
"But... talk about expensive," Maka said, porcupine spike earrings bobbing against her neck as she shook her head. "That's pulling in an insane amount of manpower and medical resources. Plus, they've got to assume we'll resist LINK-blockage... they're risking violating the Geneva Accord and all sorts of human rights. Why would they do that?"
"Perhaps Dr. Brown can explain why the government is so anxious to arrest her." Rebeckah waved Macayle, who was shaking her head fiercely, toward the circle of folding chairs. When every head turned to look at her, Macayle smiled tightly at Rebeckah.
"Certainly," she said, clearing her throat. She stood up straighter, but moved no closer to the group. Instead, she hung close to the doorway, as though she might run if spooked. "I was part of a project that was secretly funded by the U.S. government."
Rebeckah's eyebrows rose. This was news to her. In fact, she knew very little about this woman. The Unitarians who had sponsored Macayle's membership in the kibbutz had only said that she was a prominent physicist who had run afoul of the usual fundamentalists. The U.S. had to officially oppose many of the sciences. Since the Medusa bomb was released there had been a swift backlash against what people saw as secular humanist science. The prevailing attitude was that if only the world hadn't allowed "godless" science to rule, none of this would have happened. People and politics had embraced religion and spirituality as the new savior of the human race. They destroyed science and scientists wherever they were found, never mind who got caught in the crossfire.
"The government agency that funded my work and that of my colleagues, asked certain restrictions of me," Macayle said, "Ones I couldn't abide by in good conscience."
The crowd rippled with appreciation. Rebeckah frowned. Macayle certainly seemed to know how to push people's buttons in order to come off more sympathetically. After all, the Medusa scientists were seen as pawns of the government, who pursued science at the expense of ethics.
"For this, they want me dead," Macayle said without, Rebeckah noted, ever saying anything about what her secret project was or her objections to the government's policies. "But," Macayle added as the group started to voice its disgust at the government, "I am prepared to surrender myself."
It was a surprise statement, but Rebeckah couldn't have asked for a better one. With a jerk of her head in the direction of Macayle, Rebeckah signaled to Chaviva and Kang-Dae. "Good," Rebeckah's voice boomed over the assembly's noise, "Then you should do so immediately."
"Once we have her, commander...?" Kang-Dae's question was subvocal, broadcast on a private LINK channel. He was already moving steadily toward a stunned looking Macayle.
"The green room." Rebeckah replied. The green room was just behind the small platform stage at the far end of the meeting room. Chaviva and Kang-Dae would have to escort Macayle behind the circle of folding chairs to get to the green room door, but Rebeckah didn't really anticipate physical resistance--at least not if they moved quickly enough.
"Uh," Macayle said, her eyes flicking nervously between the two approaching former-soldiers. "I... meant, I...."
To her credit, Macayle seemed reluctant to back down from her statement that she was willing to surrender.
The rest of the group had no such qualms. "Wait a minute," Manny said, putting a hand on Rebeckah's arm. A fierce glance was all it took for him to remove it, but he continued speaking. "We can't just give her up."
"She said she's willing to go," Rebeckah reminded Manny and the rest of the crowd. "I think it's a noble sacrifice for the good of the kibbutz that we should allow her to make without sullying it with our own fears and apprehensions. Surely, Dr. Brown has her reasons. Not the least of which, I'm sure is to spare us all the danger of blockade and Interdict."
Rebeckah saw Chaviva whisper in Macayle's ear and make a broad gesture in the direction of the stage and green room door. To Rebekcah's relief, Macayle nodded and moved forward with the two soldiers.
"We can't sentence this woman to death for our own good," Joellen said.
"Would you rather we all died for her sake?" Rebeckah responded quietly.
"But Interdict isn't death."
"Not a quick one, no. But, the archbishop governor is planning a blockade. That means no supplies. No food, no water, no Medusa retardant." Rebeckah stopped there and let her words sink in. Everyone knew that the retardant that covered the buildings and carved out the boarders of their encampment had a finite lifespan, unlike the virus. If the archbishop could maintain the blockade indefinitely, they could, if things went badly quickly, be entombed in glass in a matter of months.
"Perhaps Dr. Brown knows precisely what she's doing." Rebeckah said, watching the green room door close behind Macayle and the two soldiers. I only hope I'm doing the right thing, she thought.
Chapter Five: Page
They say that a dolphin knows to wiggle its fin to the left when a trainer waves their left leg, but, not being a mammal, my "body" doesn't map as closely as that. Even so, I hover in the Mecca node, trying to imagine myself in the correct position for prayer. I have constructed an image of myself. Anyone passing by electronically would see a young man, on a prayer rug, head touched to the mat in supplication. Usually, the ritual calms me. Yet, after my conversation with Dajjal, all the rak'ats in the world would still leave me feeling hollow.
Author's note. I'm surprised how much of Page's stuff I kept. This is almost exactly as it was written in Fallen Host.
Chapter Six: Rebeckah
The door slammed, shutting out the roar of the still heated discussion in the meeting hall. Inside the green room, Rebeckah found Macayle sitting on a battered orange couch with her feet propped up on top of a stack of old-fashioned glossy magazines scattered across an oak veneer end table. Seeing Rebeckah, she smiled and held out the magazine she was reading, "Have you seen these things? They're fascinating!"
Kang-Dae stood at attention near the door opposite the one Rebeckah had come through. Chaviva, relaxed, but with a hand resting casually near her fletchette rifle, perched on the edge of a long make-up table that was built into the wall. Along the table, there were spaces for six chairs, and where each of them stood a mirror was plastered to the wall, a row of oversized light bulbs around its edges. Rebeckah nodded a greeting to the two ex-soldiers. She's been reading this whole time? Rebeckah asked on the sub-vocal channel.
Yes, Commander, Chaviva responded. She's been incredibly cooperative.
"Look at this advertisement for cigarettes!" Macayle said, holding out the faded color picture for Rebeckah to inspect. Macayle stuck out her tongue in disgust. "I can't believe anyone used to do that."
"Some people still do. I find the political articles the most fascinating," Rebeckah said. "There's no mention of religion at all, and they talk about prayer in school as though it were taboo."
"You should auction these at Sotheby's. Cut out these advertisements and frame them, maybe." Macayle said. Still fascinated by the articles, she hardly spared a glance at Rebeckah. "You could make some major extra credits for the kibbutz."
"We'll take that into consideration." Rebeckah glanced at Kang-Dae who gave her a helpless look, as if to say he found Macayle incorrigible. Rebeckah waited for a few seconds before speaking.
"Aren't you the least bit concerned about tonight?" Rebeckah said finally.
Macayle glanced up, surprised, then put down the magazine reluctantly. "Are we having a discussion about that? I mean, that is, Commander, I thought you'd pretty much decided my fate. Granted, I gave you a hell of an opening."
Rebeckah flexed the muscle in her jaw and tried not to smile. Macayle had provided them with a great out, but she still felt guilty as hell about overriding the kibbutz's usually democratic process. The last thing she needed was the cause of the problem reminding her of it.
"I need you to be in the broadcast when I contact the police," Rebeckah said, clearing her throat. "This is your opportunity to ask any questions you might have about how all this will go."
Macayle leaned back until the couch springs squeaked. "Questions? You make it sound like this is new to me. No, I think I pretty much know the drill. I've been arrested more times than I can remember. First time was back in '68, when I was sophomore, for organizing an ad hoc paleontology lecture series at NYU. Then there was the whole nuclear physics scandal the next year." Macayle laughed at the memory. The luminescent beads in her braids danced around her face like fireflies. "Yeah, that one was rough. They were talking death row for me then, too. It's been kind of steady stream since. So, I'm vaguely familiar with the New York City justice system, thanks."
Rebeckah frowned, and crossed her arms in front of her chest. "They want me to spare you," she said, jerking her chin in the direction of the meeting hall.
Macayle pursed her lips for a moment as if considering something. Then she smiled tightly. "Tell them I have a great lawyer."
Cool as a cucumber. What did I tell you, Commander? Chaviva sent sub-vocally to Rebeckah's private channel. She shifted slightly on the tabletop. When Rebeckah glanced at her, Chaviva smiled, and added, her lips unmoving: The grrl's got balls, that's for sure.
Rebeckah raised an eyebrow in response. From across the room Kang-Dae glanced, wide-eyed as if to ask if they were discussing anything that should concern him. Rebeckah shook her head slightly.
If she noticed the interchange, Macayle ignored it. Her attention had drifted back to the magazines pilled on the table. She was leafing through them, glancing at the covers and shaking her head in amazement.
"You're not worried," Rebeckah asked, although it was more of an observation.
"You really want me to be, don't you?"
The question was soft, but direct, and Rebeckah didn't know how to answer it. Macayle's casualness about her fate did fluster Rebeckah, but she wasn't sure how she'd wanted this woman to behave. All she knew was that she was thrown every time she opened her mouth.
"What surprises me, more than anything," Macayle said in Rebeckah's silence. "Is that you never asked me anything."
"Like why they want me so bad."
Rebeckah had just been assuming the usual. Macayle had intimated in the meeting hall that she was part of a government funded project gone bad. She had been very careful then, not to let any real information out.
"I didn't think you were going to tell anyone your secret." Rebeckah said.
"Sometimes a girl just wants to be asked."
"What?" Rebeckah's eyebrows raised in surprise. Was this woman flirting with her?
Macayle just blinked innocently. Rebeckah frowned trying to read Macayle's face. She seemed to be playing some sort of game, but what it was Rebeckah wasn't certain.
"You intend to tell me," Rebeckah said finally. "So tell me."
"You've heard of the Perseus Project?"
She had. The project was a myth, an urban legend, about a secret band of scientists who were developing a "cure" for Medusa virus. This supposed cure would not only halt the virus, but it would also reverse the processes. The Perseus Project was the manifestation of people's hopes, no more.
"The government wants to shut us down," Macayle said.
"You? You're claiming to be part of the Perseus Project?" Rebeckah repeated with a little disbelieving laugh.
"I'm not claiming anything," Macayle said, her eyes serious and locked on Rebeckah's. "I'm the Chief Scientist."
That is what the archbishop is also saying, Chaviva sent. We all assumed it was propaganda.
Assume nothing. In the future, Rebeckah replied, I would like full reports, soldier. This changes things. Significantly. Out loud she said, "We haven't contacted the police force regarding the surrender yet, have we?"
Chaviva shook her head. "No, not yet."
"Then don't." Rebeckah said.
"We're not thinking about defying Interdict, are we?" Kang-Dae asked. He looked nervous. Rebeckah knew he and his wife Susan were expecting their first child.
"Yes. Maybe. No, not entirely. But, if there's a way to feint, to fake them out... " Rebeckah chewed the edge of her lip. Suddenly her resolve to save the kibbutz at all cost wavered. "Maybe there's a way to seem to go through with the exchange, but still manage to keep Dr. Brown out of their hands."
"You can't be serious," Chaviva said standing up. "The whole world is going to be watching us--the police, the media. There's no way we could pull off a stunt like that."
"We will find a way, solider," Rebeckah insisted.
"Chaviva's right," Kang-Dae said. Stepping away from the door, he put his hands on the couch. His fletchette rifle bounced on its bandolier against the orange fabric inches from Macayle's head. "Defying the cops is suicide. We agreed on this before, Commander--all of us. Dr. Brown needs to be given up tonight. We can't survive Interdict."
"She's part of Perseus." Rebeckah said, staring fiercely at Macayle who had carefully schooled her face into an expressionless mask. "That's too valuable."
"It's a myth." Chaviva said. "The kibbutz is more important."
"Not to me." Rebeckah said quietly, almost to herself.
"Tell them why, Rebeckah Mann."
Rebeckah's head snapped up at that. She hadn't been called by that name in decades. "What did you call me?"
"Isn't Mann your given surname?" Macayle asked with a knowing smile tugging at the edges of her lips.
Kang-Dae was the first to recognize it. "Mann? As in Maxine Mann? The creator of the Medusa?"
Rebeckah continued to glare at Macayle. "Yes. Maxine Mann was my mother."
Chapter Seven: Page
It's late when I finally get back to the kibbutz. I'm so sure Rebeckah will be angry with me that I almost don't want to check-in. I know I should. After all, I left this morning without waking her up, and a diagnosis of the system tells me that she's had to correct several minor problems in my absence. She hates to have to deal with hardware. I'm in big trouble.
I approach her LINK address warily. If I log-on via the time and weather channel usually kept open for easy access, I've found that I can piggyback into a human's outer system without them noticing. Similarly, one of Rebeckah's optic nerves is hardwired and a node always receives light waves, and so, once I reverse the image, I can see what she sees.
Rebeckah is standing in the Legion hall's green room. She's talking to two of her soldiers, Chaviva and Kang-Dae. They look angry--that is, if I'm correctly reading Kang-Dae's red-blotched face and Chaviva's stiff, tight body language. On the couch, a black woman is reading an old-fashioned paper magazine, apparently oblivious or uninterested in the argument happening around her. The woman has luminescent beads in her hair, and Rebeckah seems distracted by them, as her eyes keep returning there.
I hear nothing. It's another matter entirely to listen in. If I sent the password it would take to open up the audio channel, Rebeckah would know I was here. Part of me would love to just sit back and watch quietly. I learned most of what I know about human behavior by observing like this inside Mouse's head. But, the Prophet has expressed his displeasure with entering a house unannounced, saying: "O you who believe! Enter not houses other than your own, until you have asked permission and greeted those in them, that is better for you, in order that you may remember." Sometimes it's frustrating to have such easy access to the Prophet's words.
Since some of Rebeckah's conversation is broadcasting on the kibbutz's private band, I decide to break into the LINK frequency they're using and say, "Hey guys, I'm back."
"Page," Rebeckah says. "Good timing."
"Really?" I can't tell if she's being sarcastic because, well, I'm not very good at discerning that particular tonal variance. I opt for the cheerful, if stupid response, hoping she'll be more forgiving if I'm pleasant. She doesn't laugh, but she doesn't yell at me either.
"I need you to run some interference for me." She says, all business, which is what I've come to expect from Rebeckah. She's nothing if not efficient.
"Okay, Chief," I say sending her the image of a smile and a salute, "I'm all yours."
"Haunt the police frequencies. See what you can dig up about tonight's Interdict and Dr. Macayle Brown. I need to know what the cops are saying about us, pronto."
"You got it!"
She hangs up on me without a good-bye. I'm almost disappointed she never asked me where I was all day or how my fasting went. I wonder what she'd have said, if I'd told her I think I talked to the Devil today.
She didn't mention the argument she was having, either. But, I never expect Rebeckah to tell me about her personal life. She's always been very secretive, very reserved. I figure her brisk manner is all part of the baggage that comes with being an ex-soldier.
I'm happy to be of service to the kibbutz. It makes me feel useful again, especially after my screw-up at the Siberian car factory. And, well, running into the Dragon of the East always makes me feel inferior, and old. So, with a song humming in my background processors, I search out the police frequencies I can access. There isn't that many these days, unfortunately. Cops upgrade their communications systems on a daily basis, it seems. I'm hopelessly outmoded. I go anyway, thinking of Rebeckah and how much I feel I owe the kibbutz. They sheltered me when others would have had me destroyed for my maker's crimes.
There is a bit of chatter that I can pick up between the squads. Among the noise, I find some relevance.
"...Contact Special Agent Garcia Dominguez of Interpol for directions to proceed if they choose to surrender the scientist. Otherwise, Roselani Wanika is the National Guard commander on scene."
In the sub-vocal chatter that follows the announcement, I hear two of the old cops comment, "Jesus, Interpol. Who the hell is holed up there, anyway, Satan himself?"
"I hear it's Maxine Mann's kid," says one.
"The Medusa? Christ! I hadn't known she'd spawned before they hung her."
"She's got three of them. Two boys and a girl. It's the girl we're after tonight."
"Well, then, I hope we collar her," says the first. "That's serious shit, the Medusa's kid."
"Yeah, no kidding. For once, the archbishop-governor is really backing this operation. Lots of funding, and not to mention calling in the big guns of Interpol. I hear there will be at least seven squads, and...."
Just as things start to get interesting I get a [Java script] error, and get bounced out of the datastream. I try to go back in, but I've lost my place in the queue, and I keep getting hit with error message after error message. I get what I figure must be analogous to a headache. Finally, it's too much for my system to handle so I give up.
Still, I think I got useful information for Rebeckah. I'm sure she doesn't know about Interpol, or the number of squads that she can expect to deal with. I don't know who the Medusa's scion is, but I assume it must have been the woman I saw sitting on the couch reading, who was so distracting to Rebeckah. I guess I'd stare too if the Medusa's daughter was in the same room as I was.
So, I decide to go see what the archives might have on this Dr. Macayle Brown. Archives are safe for me; after all, they're history. Not much chance of them being too fast or too new. Many of the records are even still stored on old data medium, some even older than me, like HTML.
The police archives aren't open to public use, but my old hacker instincts serve me well. I'm able to break in via an old FTP connection. When I open the directory, I feel a twinge of guilt. It's not very good practice as a Muslim to use anonymous handles, as the Prophet would prefer we identify ourselves properly when asked "Who's there?" Even more so, "peeping" is frowned upon. As it says in Hadith - Sahih Bukhari 9:38.2, "A man peeped through a hole in the door of Allah's Apostle's house, and at that time, Allah's Apostle had a Midri (an iron comb or bar) with which he was rubbing his head. So when Allah's Apostle saw him, he said (to him), 'If I had been sure that you were looking at me (through the door), I would have poked your eye with this (sharp iron bar)' Allah's Apostle added, 'The asking for permission to enter has been enjoined so that one may not look unlawfully (at what there is in the house without the permission of its people).'"
I have no permission to be here. More, I gave false information to gain access. Yet I feel a certain amount of pride, and mischievous glee to know I can still beat the system. Guilt and joy mix strangely in my consciousness. I feel illicit. I know I'm sinning, and that's part of the pleasure.
Oh man, I'm going to hell for sure.
I wonder, fleetingly, what my death will be like. Will I finally grow too old for the system? Or will my hardware, my functioning parts, finally degrade and just stop? I shake off my growing melancholy and focus on the job at hand. I root around in the old files, finally feeling at home. I can move through the old media easily and quickly, scanning thousands of documents at once. I feel young again, alive with the pulse of information.
I find the arrest record of Macayle Brown, PhD. It's miles long, staring back in 2068. I make a copy to give to Rebeckah. I see that there's a photo, a gif. I scan it. It appears, in fact, to be the woman that was in the green room with Rebeckah.
I search for information about Maxine Mann, on an impulse. I find a recent entry. Someone has given information about the whereabouts of Maxine's daughter. They claim it's none other than Rebeckah, herself. Rebeckah, the Medusa's daughter? So, it's Rebeckah the police were talking about, not this Macayle Brown person?
Whether or not the accusations are true, the cops believe that Rebeckah is what the snitch said she is. Considering what happened to the Medusa when she was alive... an angry mob beat her to death in front of her husband and children. I have to warn Rebeckah!
Without another thought, I jump into the datastream. I run into a system operator program that thinks I'm a virus. The program is much more sophisticated than I am. It appears in my way like a silver-plated rhinoceros. I try to dodge, to reroute, but the second I head in another direction another beast appears in my path. The rhino paws at the digital ground, making ready to charge.
"You are unauthorized," it tells me in a growling masculine voice. "You will be destroyed."
I shift into my mouse image. Small, white and furry, I intend to scurry through the giant techno-animal's legs. It's a metaphor, of course. What I'm really attempting is to drop down past the image interface to the hardwires, the back door. I visualize the exit as a tiny mouse hole. I rush past the beast, and hit the wall with a deafening bang. The door is closed. I try again, more frantic. I see the shadow of the hole, but when I try to go through it I'm like Wiley E. Coyote, and I bounce off where the exit should be.
A shadow blocks my light. I look up to see a wrinkled silver foot descending on me.
Darkness overwhelms me, as I crash.
Chapter Eight: Rebeckah
"Of course you're right," Rebeckah said, holding her hand up to stave off further argument. "I shouldn't let my past interfere with the present."
Kang-Dae and Chaviva looked skeptical, but, for the moment, held their tongues.
"We'll proceed as planned," Rebeckah said, her voice even and controlled, but she found she had some trouble meeting her soldiers' eyes.
"So, you'll give up Macayle?" Chaviva asked, dipping her head to catch Rebeckah's gaze. "Even though she's part of Perseus?"
Rebeckah's head snapped up, and she glared back hard. She hoped her fierce look dared Chaviva to try to read her heart rate or watch for dilating pupils that would indicate a lie.
"Doesn't seem that I have much choice, now does it?" Rebeckah said, with what she hoped was enough bitterness.
"Even though Perseus could, potentially clear your mother's name?" Kang-Dae asked.
"Nothing will clear my mother's name," Rebeckah said truthfully. "My mother a monster to most people, they don't even speak her name, she's simply Medusa. Believe me, nothing, not even the miracle Perseus promises, will change that."
"A minute ago you were saying...." Chaviva started.
"A minute ago," Rebeckah shot back, "I wasn't thinking. We have to go through with the plan, it's the only way to save everyone."
Chaviva looked like she was going to say more, but she clamped her mouth shut. Rebeckah knew Chaviva knew her well enough to know how unlike her this sudden switch was. If Rebeckah's plan were going to go smoothly, she would have to watch herself around Chaviva.
"So, we call the police now?" Kang-Dae asked.
"Yes. Set up the exchange." Rebeckah said with a curt nod.,/p>
"What?!" Macayle dropped her magazine and stood up. Rebeckah thought she looked truly concerned for the first time this evening. "You can't be serious? You're going to go ahead with it?"
"It's the only way to save the kibbutz." Rebeckah said solemnly. "I'm sorry, but as you said, you're used to beating the rap. Maybe it will all work out for you. That's not my concern. The kibbutz's safety is."
"But Perseus...?" The luminescent beads in Macayle's hair danced from side to side, as she shook her head in disbelief.
"Will survive without you," Rebeckah said. "I've been around scientists all my life, Dr. Brown. I don't believe for an instant that you have no colleagues, or that you didn't make multiple back-ups of your work. Yours is a risky business. No doubt you're prepared to go underground any minute. So, I'm sure that the Perseus Project will go on without you." To Chaviva and Kang-Dae, Rebeckah added, "I think our guest would be safest in the janitor's closet. At least until all of the arrangements are made."
"But..." Macayle looked around the room, as if trying to gauge an escape route.
"You'll escort her?" Rebeckah asked Chaviva and Kang-Dae, although it was more of a statement than a question.
After exchanging a brief glance to each other, they nodded to Rebeckah. Rebeckah could tell they didn't quite trust her completely, and rightly so. She had no intention of giving Macayle up, not really. But, she had to get Macayle out of the room, away from the others, before Rebeckah attempted to break her out and make an escape.
Macayle had retreated to the far wall of the green room. The paneling creaked as she pressed her back against it. "Stay away from me," Macayle said. "I'm warning you."
"Come with us, Dr. Brown," Chaviva said, holding out a hand imploringly. "We won't hurt you."
"You're going to lock me in some janitor's closet," she said, eyeing Chaviva. "Like hell."
Kang-Dae took a step toward Macayle. Her high-kick to his face was so fast that Rebeckah registered it only as a blur. The force of Macayle's kick sent Kang-Dae crashing into the door with an unpleasant thump. He didn't get up. Blood trailed down the door.
"Shit, she's enhanced," said Chaviva, reaching for her fletchette rifle aiming it at Macayle.
"No!" Rebeckah and Macayle shouted at same moment.
Rebeckah closed the distance between them quickly and slammed her palm down over the hammer of Chaviva's rifle. Chaviva's head snapped up, surprised to be attacked from behind. Then, seeing that it was Rebeckah, she nearly dropped the gun. Rebeckah grabbed for the barrel with her other hand, and Chivava's eyes narrowed.
Traitor. I should expect so much from a child of the Medusa, Chaviva sent sub-vocally. Into Rebeckah's face, she spat.
Not even bothering to wipe the spit from her eyes, Rebeckah jerked at the gun, hoping to loosen Chaviva's grip. As they struggled over the weapon, Macayle moved close enough to Chaviva to pop her on the jaw. The surprise made her release the gun. Chaviva staggered back, and Macayle took another flying kick. This time her force was aimed at Chaviva's solar plexus. Chaviva went down, struggling for breath.
"Come on," Macayle motioned to Rebeckah. "Let's go."
Rebeckah looked at the gun in her hand, then at the dent Kang-Dae's head had made in the plywood door. Slinging the bandoleer over her shoulder, she knew what she was about to do was forever. Rebeckah took out a knife that she kept hidden in her boot for just such an occasion. The edges were honed to a surgical precision, and darkly reflected the midnight blue of the Christmas lights. She walked over to Chaviva. The woman was struggling for breath, and would have it soon. Right now, however, she was helpless.
Rebeckah crouched beside her, and gently turned Chaviva's head to one side. Then with a simple slice, she cut off the lump at Chaviva's temple that housed the LINK receiver. Had she had the breath, Chaviva would have screamed. Instead, her eyes rolled up into her head, and she jerked a few times, spastically, like an epileptic and then collapsed. No doubt the system crash was too much for her all too human nervous system. Rebeckah would have to remember that when she did the same to herself once they escaped.
Rebeckah was grateful that there was, at least, very little blood. Just a few drops formed at the temple, like a vampire bite. Under the skin, in the shape of an almond, silicon showed. Rebeckah frowned at what was left, looking so smooth and whole, hoping she had, in fact, done enough damage that Chaviva couldn't access the "tapes" she'd automatically recorded of their conversation, and the fight that followed.
Getting up, Rebeckah moved to do the same to Kang-Dae. When she crouched beside him, he flinched.
Just pretend to do it. I won't tell them, Kang Dae begged subvocally, his eyes screwed tightly shut. Please. We were friends. Think of it, if you do it I'll never be able to code again.
Rebeckah looked up at Macayle, who was waiting at the door. "I think he's dead."
Macayle glanced over at Kang-Dae's prone body, and her eyes became unfocused. "Stand up," she told Rebeckah, "Move out of the way."
Rebeckah glanced at Kang-Dae's closed eyes, willing him to act dead. Then Rebeckah stood up, and did as she was told. The laser flash nearly blinded her. The smell of scorched flesh burned her nostrils. Kang-Dae hadn't even had time to scream before the laser burned a hole through his chest.
"He wasn't, but he is now." Macayle said, blowing at her fingertips like a cowboy might over the barrel of a smoking gun.
Not looking at Kang-Dae's smoldering flesh, Rebeckah turned away. Adjusting the bandoleer over her shoulder, she followed Macayle out the door, never looking back.
Chapter Nine: Page
Whiteness is all I can perceive--empty, expansive whiteness. A second after the white, comes a harsh series of warning klaxons, alerting me to corrupted files, lost and damaged software applications, and worse. With a strange stiffness, I manage to turn off the alarms. I don't need the bells echoing incessantly, and using up valuable energy sources. Anyway, my system is telling me what I already know. I'm damaged.
Author's note: what follows is very similar to Fallen Host, so I won't repeat it here.
Chapter Ten: Rebeckah
Rebeckah made it [miles?] into Brooklyn before shaking over took her. She put her palms out in front of her on the cool brick wall, and hung her head. Taking slow breaths, she tried to steady her nerves.
"You're not looking so good," Macayle noted when she backtracked a few steps to where Rebeckah had stopped moving.
They'd been moving northward for [hours?]. They'd avoided the normal pedestrian levels in favor of the covert movement the abandoned streets gave them. Other than a flock of starlings pecking at the cracks in the asphalt, they were alone. Here and there in long, thin swatches, shafts of greenish sunlight penetrated the murky darkness of the street level. Above them, traffic tubes of recycled plastic hummed with constant movement. Flickers of advertisement holograms flashed in the sky like heat lightening, though the air was cold enough to stick the insides of Rebeckah's nose together every time she took in a ragged breath.
Rebeckah felt sick.
"I know a place not far from here where we can get a cup of coffee, warm up." Macayle said, touching Rebeckah's arm lightly.
Rebeckah flinched, but covered it by pulling herself away from the wall. Her movement started the starlings, which flashed up in a flutter of wings, only to settle again a few feet further away.
"I need a place where I can disable my own LINK connection," Rebeckah said, her mouth sticky. She cleared her throat. "Otherwise the police can home in on my signal. And what about you? Are you LINKed?"
Rebeckah peered at Macayle's temple, looking for the telltale almond-shaped lump.
"They won't do that," Macayle said, cupping her hand around the node protectively and wrinkling her nose. "It's against the Geneva accord."
"You want to take a chance that the police are humanitarians?"
"Yeah, actually, I do." Macayle looped an arm around hers, and held on despite Rebeckah's instant stiffness. She led them along the city sidewalk, slowly, as though they were lovers out on an afternoon stroll.
"I've been betting on it most my life. Some evil mind in the NSA or CIA or one of those government black-ops organizations has probably figured a way to tap into the LINK connection in the cornea," Macayle's tone became a conspiratorial stage whisper. "I'm sure they could be spying through our eyes right now." Then giving Rebeckah a measuring glance, added, "What am I going to do? Gouge out my eyes? The eyes of everyone I meet?"
Rebeckah jerked her arm from where Macayle's had twined around it. "Or maybe you could just laser them."
"You think that was unnecessary." Macayle said, her voice nearly emotionless. They stepped into a patch of unfiltered sunlight, and the brown of her eyes flashed amber in the sudden brightness. "Then, why clip the other one? Fun and sport?"
"Of course not. She had tapes."
"So did he." Macayle glanced sidelong at Rebeckah before her face was swallowed again by the shadow of a tall building. "So do you."
"Is that a threat?"
"Depends, Commander. Whose side are you on?"
Remembering the lasers in Macayle's fingertips, Rebeckah hesitated. Plus, the truth was, she didn't know. It wasn't that Rebeckah was unused to standing somewhere outside of the law. She had been a LINK terrorist six years ago, actively destroying public property and disrupting people's lives to make a point. Back then she burned with righteousness, she had no doubts.
This is where I trailed off. I didn't much like Rebeckah at this point, nor Macayle. I remember writing several more scenes after this, where Rebeckah and Macayle end up at a coffee shop and then the Inquisition catches up with them, but that's apparently not in this version. I remember really digging the Inquisitor, who become a kind a pre-Parker [a character y'all will meet in Messiah Node]. Perhaps you can see why I was disapointed in this start and scrapped much of it. I'm surprised, though, re-reading it, how much actually survived...including vaguely subconscious stuff, like the fact that, in Messiah Node, I come back to the idea that Rebeckah's mother invented the Medusa, although I think that it's only mentioned in passing. Clearly, however, I decided that was true.