Writing Exercises

Silver Pod Part 34: Water from the Well

I’m concerned that the climax is a let down. I’m concerned that readers aren’t going to get it. I’m concerned about a lot of things, but when I started this project, I started it for practice and a challenge to myself to keep producing new things. It has succeeded. This is the second to last chapter. Congratulations for making it this far. And thank you to anyone who has read some or all of it.

Link to part 1

Link to previous part: 33

The floor fell away, but the ceiling came no closer. Silver Pod’s infirmary grew cavernous, then beyond cavernous, the far walls, floor and ceiling vanishing into the distance. Common air became murky and viscous. Then nearby objects appeared, motes of dust wafting on micro currents of air, a stray hair swimming languidly like a sleepy Chinese dragon.

They kept shrinking.

The scales of the hair dragon came into focus, then individual strands woven or frayed, then dormant bacteria like gelatinous little pizzas, poised on the surface of the hair. Protozoa stretched out like starfish in the air, waiting for a surface to anchor onto.

They shrank further still, perceiving below the threshold of photons. Molecules waved their chains or jittered in tightly bound bunches. They snapped electrons to repulse any forces that drew near. Even these dissolved with distance and obscurity. Something new appeared hazily. Purples and greens in mixing oil-on-water patterns, flickering back and forth between colors. The patterns resolved into something like snakes, noodles, worms, a mass of squirming tubes. Through those tubes they saw starscapes, constellations, and galaxies, not because there was some recursive nature to reality, but because they had reached a smallness of perception at which distance and size lost meaning. Quantum entanglment connected the universe.

Lium chose a particular strand. He ushered Beryl, Besh, and Ohnsy aboard as simply as stepping onto a metro.

The Post-humans appreciated a good transition and Lium had his flair for the dramatic.

They arrived on the Eye of the Serpent, a cold, dark, airless rock orbiting Wolf 1061. Ohnsy cast Beryl a panicked look, mouth clenched shut, her whole face straining.

“It’s ok,” Beryl said. “Breathe normally.”

Ohnsy hesitated, eyes darting. Besh made a show of inhaling, though there was no air to move.

Ohnsy’s mouth popped open. Her lungs pumped. Between gasping breaths she asked, “So it’s not real.”

Lium appeared beside her. “Real is a bankrupt concept, as ephemeral as the antithesis that it posits.”

Beryl made a chopping motion. “It’s not real, is what he means, not in any sense that matters.”

Lium bristled. “The jury are here. Get on with it.” He swept his arms across the starscape. The humanoid, alien, and abstract bodies of dozens of Post-human avatars sketched themselves into existence. They stood on the edge of the asteroid’s nickel-iron craters. They floated in the airless void. They conveyed their impatience with Beryl in waves of visceral emotion.

Beryl wondered how far their patience would stretch. “Not here,” he said to Lium. “May I take the reins?” Beryl held out his hands.

Leather straps materialize in Lium’s hands. He handed them to Beryl. The reins were both symbol of power and actual power at the same time. Beryl knew Lium wasn’t worried. It was only the power to change their location. What’s the worst he could do?

Beryl offered the reins to Besh. Besh took the leather in his hands, but Beryl did not let go.

Lium asked, “Something from this one’s memories?”

Besh said, “No, an extrapolation from all my memories.”

They were transported, all of them, to the interior of a starship. The more massive Post-humans were shrunk down to fit within the confines of the hull. Besh, Beryl, Ohnsy, Lium, and the jury packed the corridors.

The starship seemed abandoned, but something was wrong. Metal moaned. Joints creaked. Sounds like terrible whale song reverberated from fore to aft and back again.

They walked through the starship. Beryl glanced at Besh, asking with his eyes, where are we going?

Besh answered aloud, “I don’t know. This is my subconscious, merged with your memories, an extrapolation to events I didn’t witness.”

Lium and the Post-humans followed, drumming fingers irritably, shifting uncomfortably. Most were impatient, but other feelings crept in. They weren’t superstitious, they would have said, and yet the ship felt haunted.

The corridor stopped at a door. The door irised open. They stepped through into a workshop for making organic bodies. Vats of organic compounds clustered beside a bank of computers. A lozenge-shaped tub gurgled as its fluid drained out. A new body appeared beneath the fluid. The surface tension popped gently. Mechanical arms wiped at the body and helped the person sit upright.

The person did not see Beryl or his friends or the Post-humans, because this had all happened in the past, maybe. This was a reconstruction of past events based on conjecture. Beryl and the others witnessed the event as if having stumbled into another person’s dream. They were privy to its thoughts. As soon as those thoughts sparked through its new-grown brain, they knew.

This was Water in a physical body. Beryl and Besh exchanged a glance. Neither had known, but together they had inferred this revelation.

Water’s thoughts, thinkable by all present as if narrated, “This will be my last attempt to escape the confines of Post-human existence. I will be time limited by mortality in this body, another suicide to PH eyes, but I feel hope.”

The body, no, the person, Water, swooned. The mechanical arms caught it. Angry thoughts had coursed through it. “We Post-humans were too obsessed with preservation and security. We sought new experience only within narrowly defined safety margins. We ended up experiencing nothing. I had been stuck for too long. Now I’m confined by the vagaries of autonomic systems over which I have little control: life within me with its own agenda, to say nothing of synaptic misfires and hormones, but I have taken a risk. I’ve given up control. In some ways I’ve become more free than a Post-Human can possibly imagine.”

Then Water smiled. It was a fleeting thing, but it brought Beryl to his knees. He hadn’t seen his friend smile in decades. To learn also that Water might be alive in the physical world, in Reimann space, was too much hope for him to bear.

Besh touched him on the shoulder, pointed. Beryl looked. The Post-Humans had disappeared, fled. Lium remained. Sweat stained his suit.

Beryl pushed himself up to standing with a grunt. “The others have gone. You should go too.”

“I’m not afraid,” Lium blustered.

“You are afraid.” Beryl jabbed a finger at his other half, “And You’re a fool. Drop the pretense and leave and never come back.”

Lium took a step back. He began to fade out, but faded back, his face wracked with fear. “I can’t go. The others have blocked me.”

Beryl grinned. He didn’t want to be the sort of person to relish another’s pain, and yet, Lium’s fear was sweet. A taste of just desserts.

“We did it?” Besh asked. “They’re afraid of being infected with Water’s depression.”

“They’re afraid of being infected with Water’s perspective,” Beryl corrected. “They don’t want to learn, grow, or change. They want to remain. They are stuck in eternal age, not youth.”

“That’s not true,” Lium protested, his voice rising to a shriek.

“They locked the door behind them, Lium,” Beryl said. “You’re stuck with us now.”

Beryl held up the reins. In moments they were transported back to the Silver Pod. Lium and the reins vanished seamlessly as they transitioned back into Reimann space, the real world. They were in the infirmary. Fife’s body lay on the table.

Ohnsy hustled over to a computer terminal. She shook her head. Her eyes blinked with amazement. “The PH ship is gone. There’s nothing on our scopes. Have they all gone?”

“Not all of them,” Beryl said.

The computer spoke with Lium’s voice, frightened and cowed. “It’s so small in here.”

Link to next part: 35


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