This chapter quite suddenly raises issues about depression and assisted suicide. Please forgive the suddenness as a symptom of this whole project being a seat-of-my-pants experiment. If you don’t think I’m handling this thoughtfully or respectfully beyond the abruptness, please leave a comment. If I choose to develop this project for publication I’ll do more research on these topics and appreciate any input.
The creature that spoke with Besh as its mouthpiece sounded intelligent. To call it merely intelligent, Beryl knew, was a joke. It could create life, create a man like Besh and call him a simple machine, but it was unfamiliar with Besh’s vocal cords. It was a master pianist asked to play cello.
“What do you think you’re doing?” it asked.
Fife stepped back, her hands reaching for a weapon she didn’t have, but Beryl wasn’t afraid now that the anticipation was gone and the monster confronted him. He was angry.
“I’m surviving,” Beryl growled.
“You’ve violated the terms of your exile.” A judge’s words coming from Besh’s mouth.
“What’s going on?” Fife demanded.
Beryl ignored her, spoke to the thing inhabiting Besh. “I would have died, irrecoverably.”
“That’s a risk incurred by your sentence.”
Beryl stepped forward, knowing that he wasn’t looking into Besh’s dark eyes anymore, knowing that these creatures, these Posthumans, hated the finality of death. “My death would be on your hands.”
The thing shook Besh’s head. “No. It was your choice. Now you have violated your exile. We are coming for you.”
Then it was gone.
Besh’s shoulders drooped. His face relaxed, eyebrows gently bunching with curiosity, his eyes pools of innocence. He had been present for the exchange. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I wish I wasn’t the messenger.”
Beryl felt his own anger soften. He no longer stood before an enemy. He put a hand on Besh’s shoulder. “It’s not your fault. They wired you up so they could jump in and out at will.”
Light flashed outside the cockpit. The smart glass should have responded before the occupants could have perceived the blast of light. Something was wrong. The control panel lit up with blinking, buzzing warnings. The ship finally responded, automatically focusing sensors on the anomaly suddenly manifesting off the port bow.
The anomaly looked like the plane of a blackhole, a tiny dot of emptiness surrounded by violently accelerated matter, but it couldn’t be that. It was barely a thousand kilometers away.
“Posthumans,” Fife breathed, the pulsing light show dancing in her eyes. “Beryl, what did you do?”
He sighed. The Posthumans could send small amounts of data through the quantum foam instantaneously. The interface inside Besh maintained a certain amount of quantum uncertainty in order to receive such a call. That’s how they had spoken through Besh. Now they were sending a ship to show him how much trouble he was in. The quantum construction of that ship was the anomaly. It was a colossal investment of energy.
“Beryl.” Fife stated his name, her tone cold. “What have you gotten us into?”
He walked to the edge of an acceleration shell and sat on the edge of the padded interior.
“He used to be Posthuman,” Besh said of Beryl. “But something went wrong.”
“No shit.” Fife fiddled with the control panel, perhaps gathering data on the anomaly, attempting to anticipate how long until the Posthuman ship manifested in Riemann space, our space, or maybe she was just occupying herself so she didn’t hit him.
Beryl leaned his head in his hands. “I was convicted of murder.”
Fife turned from the control panel. “You killed a Posthuman? Damn.”
Beryl sighed. “It wasn’t like that. I helped one who wanted to die.”
Besh filled in the next part of the story, not because he knew it, but because he knew them, “They didn’t see it that way.”
“No they didn’t.”
“I didn’t think Posthumans could commit suicide,” Fife said.
“They can’t, not without help. I helped.” Beryl lifted his eyes to Besh. “That’s not all. The Posthuman I helped kill was named Water.”
Besh didn’t react.
Unexpected tears streamed from Beryl’s eyes. “Water had depression. It tried everything it could: mental editing, personality sub-sectioning, meta-cognitive modulators. No matter what it did, the depression returned. Maybe the issue was in its kernel… I don’t know.”
“Wait,” Fife protested, holding up her arms. “If you killed Water, but you were exiled like, a hundred years ago, how could Water have abandoned Besh’s ship and crashed to Earth so recently.”
Fife’s naivete shocked Beryl out of his sadness.
Besh answered mechanically, his words too careful, his voice too tight. “The Posthumans can copy themselves at will. They do it all the time. My Water was a different instance of the ur-Water, an instance Beryl didn’t kill.”
“But I might have given it the tools to kill itself,” Beryl admitted. “Sometime in the past.”
Besh waved the comment away with a sharp flick of his wrist. Tears brimmed in his eyes. “Irrelevant.” He took a deep shuddering breath. “But in any case, Water abandoned me. I need to think.”
He turned sharply and left the bridge.
Beryl looked at Fife, hoping to find some sort of forgiveness there. She had none to give. He looked away. He should have known better.
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