Writing Exercises

Silver Pod Part 33: Better Half

How does an author keep a story fresh for themself? The world outside the margins has all its demands. Self-imposed goals can become a prison. Sometimes the characters go silent. I keep asking myself, “What are you interested in? How can the story be interesting for you?” I believe that when I answer those questions, usually I find something to interest the reader as well.

In this (the third to last chapter, I think) the heroes have been trapped in a constructed reality, completely controlled by their enemies. What hope do they have? What do all-powerful beings fear? Beryl used to be one of those beings. He has an idea of what they fear.

Link to part 1

Link to previous part: 32

Beryl blinked. The pain and fear vanished, lifted like a curtain on a stage, instantly forgotten.

His mind felt like his own, but he knew better. He turned his head. Besh slumped beside the operating table, the neural mesh decorating his head like a glittering skull cap.

“Did they leave?” Besh asked, his eyebrows dancing as if unaccustomed to expressing confusion.

Beryl shook his head, amused by the other man’s naivete.

Ohnsy came flying through the open door. “What’s going on? One moment I was dead, the next moment I felt fine,” Ohnsy said, scowling his suspicion at their turn of luck.

“This isn’t the universe you know,” Beryl said.

“How do you know?”

Beryl was glad Besh had asked. He held up five fingers. “The first five reasons are: I just know. My pattern used to live in this sort of simulation.” He glanced at the ceiling, as if waiting. “They hate that word, simulation. As if their constructed realities are an inferior reflection of the reality they came from.” Beryl recovered his train of thought, an uncommon smile tugging at his jowls. “The sixth reason is right here.” He wiggled his fingers, six digits outstretched.

Besh gaped, a much more fitting expression for his face. Ohnsy kept scowling.

Beryl continued, amused, despite the situation, “The seventh reason is this.” He snapped the fingers of his other hand. His body transformed into a Beryl-sized shape of water that splashed onto the floor.

Ohnsy leaped back in spite of herself.

A moment later the spreading puddle retracted towards its center and congealed into the bulbous head, and large bi-pupiled eyes of an octopus, which somehow said in perfect Panglish, with all tentacles raised, “This is reason eight.”

“Well done.” Besh smiled.

“Thank you,” said Beryl, flickering back into his human form. “If you know how to access the public daemon in charge of the simulation you can make any number of changes, within certain limitations, of course.”

Ohnsy stalked across the room, grabbed a fistful of Beryl’s jumpsuit in her fist. “Get a grip! This isn’t helping.” She swept her free hand around the room. “They’ve got us. We’re helpless here.”

Beryl stepped back, his expression darkening. Ohnsy let him go. “You’re not wrong. Everything depends on Besh’s memories, and my own.”

“What does that mean?” Ohnsy asked, nearly shoving Beryl with her empty hands.

“Not important,” Beryl dismissed. “Besh, did you activate your memories?”

“I’m not sure,” Besh admitted.

Beryl nodded. Everything had been cast in motion. They couldn’t go back and fix things now. He felt relief, short-lived, then irritation. He looked past Besh as he called out, “You’ve got us. Now show yourself. Let’s get this over with.”

Besh and Ohnsy looked around in search of who or what Beryl addressed. Nothing happened for a long breath of simulated, better-than-real, air. Then came a sound like tearing paper, quiet at first.

Besh spotted it and pointed. A piece of air seemed to be tearing itself apart, warping the appearance of whatever was beyond it like a thick glass, but appearing out of nowhere. The rip grew larger and louder, darkness appearing between the seams.

A man in a sharp-edged suit stepped out of the darkness. The seam sewed itself up behind him. The man had thin black hair, trimmed with the same uncanny precision as the stiff shoulders of his gray jacket. He wore a white undershirt with ebony black buttons, no tie.

Beryl scowled. “Did I ever embarrass myself with theatrics like that?”

“You don’t remember?” the newcomer asked with an arched brow.

The question stung more than Beryl would have liked. He was so much less than he used to be. He shot back, “I didn’t pack trivial memories like that.” Beryl cleared his throat for introductions. “Besh, Ohnsy, meet Lium. Lium, Besh and Ohnsy.”

Lium stuck out an immaculately manicured hand. “My name’s Beryllium, but please call me Lium, yes, that’s right, pronounced just like Liam.”

“We used to be the same,” Beryl put in, “before a personality split.”

“Indeed,” confirmed Lium, retracting his ignored hand, “not uncommon among Post-humans.” He cast a side eye at Beryl. “He was the unstable one, irresponsible and headed for trouble. He was our devil and I was our better angels.”

Beryl scoffed.

“Is that not how you remember it?” Lium suddenly yelled. “Perhaps you didn’t have room for those memories in that wretched new body of yours.”

“I remember just fine,” Beryl growled.

“I tried to warn you, tried to stop you before you did something irrevocable.”

Beryl gestured as if presenting Lium on a platter. He looked to Ohnsy, “Take a good look at the typical Post-human. With great power comes great fear of losing that power. Conquering death and aging doesn’t make you forever young, it makes you forever old.”

Lium chuckled, his shoulders bobbing under the suit. “You haven’t forgotten your old aphorisms. Meaningless drivel unsupported by evidence.”

Beryl felt his skin flush. Real or simulated, he was still based in an organic body with all its autonomic systems and gushing hormones. He had to stay in control, but anger burned. “Really? Unsupported? This is all about me helping end a friend’s suffering. That’s my crime, criminal because of your fear of death. The young don’t fear dying. They don’t fear change.”

Lium’s lip curled into a snarl, but Beryl didn’t believe that the expression fronted true anger. Lium said, “I’ll show you how little I fear change. For a start, ideas about your punishment have changed. Give us a good reason why we shouldn’t kill these meat dwellers and send you back to Earth with an escort to prevent any future rescue? That’s on the table. That would be a change, would it not?”

Ohnsy made a warding gesture, pleaded, “We’d stay away from him. We didn’t know. We wouldn’t intervene again. I didn’t intervene. They tied me up, made me help them.”

Besh merely asked, “Why would you kill us if you are unwilling to kill him?” Besh pointed at Beryl.

Beryl answered for Lium, “I was once Post-human. They can’t bring themselves to kill me, but you’ve only ever been organic. Your fate was always death.”

Lium nodded, chin held high, suit immaculate.

Beryl countered, “I want you to sentence me to death and let them go.”

Lium scoffed. “The criminal does not decide his sentence.”

“Let me speak to the jury,” Beryl urged. “Let me try to convince them, to save these friends of mine.”

Lium hesitated, looking down his angular nose at Beryl.

Beryl wondered if they knew, if Lium and the other PH’s had an inkling of their plan. The only way to find out was to follow it through to the end. If Lium let him speak to the jury, then either they didn’t suspect or they didn’t believe in the danger.

Lium’s face betrayed nothing. Beryl could only hope that he had planted the proper seed, that Lium would support Beryl’s suicidal sacrifice to prove that he didn’t fear death. Lium had always been a fragile ego.

“Very well,” Lium said. “I won’t stop you from killing yourself.”

Link to next part: 34


2 thoughts on “Silver Pod Part 33: Better Half”

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