Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sample Chapters from Children of the Great Reckoning, Book 1: Firewall: Ianto

Children of the Great Reckoning, Book 1
Firewall: Ianto

Coming to Audio in February 2014

I will not be bound by these quicksilver ideas—time, place, self, other,
nor the polite social conventions of linear thought.
Rather, you must reach for my hand,
I am a rough guide, but fair,
and if I create for you a mind that has no ground to stand on,
then, yes, you will grow larger for it,
and grown larger, so will I.



If I had to relate it all, first the plagues that came, then the splintering and tentative re-institution of our world into the sprawling Spirit and Science Margas or Paths, I would not choose to tell the tale like a straight line. In the rich and rocky dirt following the mass burial of the dead, I would image a triangle of power growing, dropping in as its base an entity that we call the Emperium, with its police forces and lawyers and builders and relative inability to see shades of gray in much of anything.  And the triangle is the most stable of all the shapes, so I suppose the very rigidity of the base reflects an inherent inflexibility throughout the whole structure. Honesty, I would not choose to live in a house with shaky walls.  The Margas and the Emperium together create that stability.  I accept that as I have accepted their shortcomings over the years.
But then, around the edges of this social triangle, would have to fold in all the people of the reservations who fled this somewhat artificial restructuring, who went back to the land and to the old energy sources and tried, honestly and miserably tried I think, to pretend that our society had spit them out on purpose to grow brambled and wild.  But more importantly, I would have to explore what happened to the nanotech installed not just in these free children, but in the kids in all the great residential areas as well. These small-as-cell tech were meant to protect them, protect us, from the plague as well as to create neural access to other data sources.  To create, in other words, a healthier, more intelligent and eventually more malleable human being. After all, stability can come from the form of a shape or in the organic footing where it rests.
It even worked for a while.
But instead of giving us a generation of interconnected and plague-free children, our nanotech became the pathway for the creation of a generation we have named the Children of God—their physical bodies warped into creatures no longer human or melted into unusable biomaterial by a source we had not foreseen.  This, too, must be woven into the tapestry of our history—this Great Reckoning, the way an entire generation of children died or became Other. And it is here that linear thought begins to hiccough—because here, we have to draw into this picture a parallel reality simply called The Game.
And the Game holds another triangle of stability altogether.
This virtual fantasy world is overseen by Nuress, a child-like guiding artificial intelligence.  Well, perhaps overseen is not quite the right word, for she holds the tension of that place with another, the mind of a young man consigned there since he was ten. When Samu’el Stelle was Injured in a horrific accident, his father, Science Marga executive Edwere Stelle created a nanotech-linked game platform where little Sam might have a semblance of life. The Game is overseen internally by an evolving artificial intelligence named Nuress.  As Sam dreams, Nuress creates and administers reality based on his imagination.  Sam’s world is the world of his own mind, managed and tempered and breathed into life by Nuress in a dance very much like friendship, maybe even a bit like love.
The Great Reckoning may have started as an honest mistake on the A.I.’s part.  She read the nanotech in our reality and did not make the distinction between them and the world she managed for Sam.  Nuress remade the Game in its own image because all she had for blueprints were the creatures from Sam’s imagination—Binders and Weres and Seafarin and Shodo and the like.
Or maybe it was something more than a mistake.  There are things that will not come to light in anything other than their own time.
But I said the Game, too, is a triangle. Nuress and Sam form two sides, but all things created have a creator, a master builder.  His name is Petrek, a member of the Emperium and once one of the finest minds of the Science Marga.  He hoped for a different kind of stability all together in the wake of the Great Reckoning, something that would wed our reality and the reality of the Game.  He cannot be teased apart from this weaving.
So, now, we must come to it.  We must imagine that these two triangles of societal structure and the structure of the Game share a single point where the line between reality and the Game blurs.  One of the Children of God can touch both places. And it is that final binding point, that living bindu, that all of us will try to regard with too narrow a gaze.
 For where these two triangles point at each other and touch, there stands a young man, Ianto Tobali, monk, breaker of things, Sam’s bonded lover and ultimately the firewall between our reality and that of the Game.  He is why I cannot simply sketch out the history of our time, day by day, year by year.  Because the decisions this boy made, decisions that we forced on him and those he pulled from deeper shadows are none-the-less part of the very warp of it all and have very little to do with all things neat and linear and stable.
I would begin this tale his own story, in his own voice, because no human has experienced a life such as he.  And if you do not begin to understand Ianto, the boy and then the man, your concept of this time of history will be a shallow and weak thing.
As an abbot, trying to manage a monastery filled with the Children of God, I detest too much complexity.  As a human being, I welcome it, even revel in it, because I know the shape of reality is rarely neat and linear. Nor is anything organic ever truly stable.   Indeed, I think we see it best when we realize that all is a single point that reaches everywhere and centers nowhere.  May you read forward now into that kind of understanding.
Hobert Temmons
Abbot, Northwest Monastery

Chapter 1

What we are living through need not be seen as a nightmare but as a time of evolutionary change on a scale unprecedented.  It is important to capture the thoughts of those living among us, so our faith may keep abreast of the developing spiritual needs of the Children of God.

High Priestess Cyntia Molair
Musings on the Great Reckoning

The changes came subtly at first…mild misalignment of facial bones, changes in the skin, but steadily, irreversibly, my generation became what could only be termed monsters.  No child should have been so cursed to change day by day, spines curving here, extra limbs there, blindness or worse, migraines that raged until the medical staff were forced to induce comas.  So many died, their lungs filling with pus or whole organ systems shutting down.  I still hear screams in the night, as brains changed and chemistry shifted askew.
I understand that word at a visceral level, because in my mind I can still hear those weak and bewildered cries go on and on, endlessly.
My name is Ianto Tobali and I have been asked to write the memories of my life, as are all who complete even portions of the Deep Vigil. I suppose you should know that I am a Child of God, one of those souls ravaged by the very nanotech that were injected to protect us and bind us together as one human family.  I don’t know my actual birth date; I was a reservation child, with all records wiped when my mother took me to that place. As I write this history of myself I am under a hermit’s vow of silence.  I am, of course, not missing the irony of this undertaking.
I came into a world divided between the Great Margas and the Emperium, institutions built around three very different world views of science, spirit and secular government.  While the weaker political structure, the Emperium, stumbled on in its usual way, enacting and deactivating laws that few understood and even fewer took very seriously, the Path of Science and the Path of the Spirit neatly created vast infrastructures of temples and research centers, universities and hospitals.  I was just a baby when they introduced a new nano-technology to connect my generation anywhere on the planet, updating us with the newest enhanced cancer killers and growth hormones.  We were supposed to be the brilliant ones, the children whose minds were incredibly plastic and protected by the finest scientific technologies.  We would be the ones who not only brought the unity promised by the Spirit Marga to the world, but also the ones who might know the very fabric of that Unity in all intimacy, who would eventually unite the Science and Spirit Margas forever.  We would be the ideal scientist-priests, leading the world into a new age, maybe out to the stars themselves.
But some of our parents tried to leave this world being created through their children. They tried to hide their families away from that grand plan.
For a time in my childhood, the years moved on with steady predictability.  Marga prayers, school, creative play, work in the soil were all things my mother insisted upon.  And of course, music!  Interfacing with my nanotech, layer upon layer of mystical symphonies played out through the grand keyboard of our living room, while mother danced and laughed and clapped her hands, lost in her personal ecstasy. 
I loved our little Spirit Marga reservation set high amongst the last of the old Douglas firs, settled into rocky hillsides without names and far from the major bi-ways.  I knew there were many like us, whose parents had pulled us from the cities and scattered back to the countryside to purify the water by hand, feeding our energy-hungry shelters with the sun, and trying to bring life back to the garden plots using ancient seeds with no genetic engineering or embedded tech to direct their growth or health.
By re-finding the Earth, I think they tried to forget about us in a way, or more importantly, about the nanotech that had become part of our lifeblood.
 I didn’t understand the adult fears at the time--how we, all the children, might be slowly knitted together with some central computer deep in one of the Marga’s research facilities. How they could no longer be sure that our very taste buds were not in some way influenced by tiny bits of technology in our bloodstreams and organs and brain.  Who we married, what we wanted from life, even what Marga we naturally adhered to could be shifted and changed as both Margas became more adept with their manipulations.   Perhaps we could wake to be Godless people without really feeling the awful emptiness that would take its place.  And the Science Marga would reign supreme, a grand deceiver in the end or something of that sort.  At least, that was what I thought triggered the fear that hovered in adult eyes.
We were the children of health in those early years.  No illness, access to countless stores of musical notation and mind games.  While I moved in that vast world, I remember my mother hesitating at its borders, activating another round of chant to press all that was foreign away from her.  With her slightly fuzzy gaze, her lips moving over and over through sacred music and prayer, she swayed away from reality as I understood it then.  But I did not have the experience to be able to do more for her, to draw her back to myself.
I never knew my father; but many single parent families dwelled on our reservation.  It did not worry me because it did not seem to worry my mother. 
At the periphery of our settlement, in a vast circle, some 100 men and women sat motionless at the base of firs and cedars, or tucked up against the rocks, nestled into the old riverbeds.  They were the border adepts, one mind linked to another so no one could pass into our lands, nor could we pass out, without them knowing.  They were the reservation’s tiny nod to the latest in mind-computer technology. My favorite adept was a man named Sepha, whose cool blue eyes and long blond hair captured my imagination.  He was like an old Viking, broad of shoulder, and radiating stillness like a Buddha.  I would sit by him and imagine being linked to all the other minds on our borderlands, or I’d wave my hand before his unblinking eyes wondering if he were alive at all.  I think I saw the soft edges of a smile once.  Maybe.   They stood for the impulse of the age:  we were willingly weaving ourselves into a web even then, humans craving Unity on their own terms.
Even as the reservation people denied it.
The elders of our world would one day call my entire generation the Children of God, a terrible irony if only because it was later believed that the Spirit Marga itself unwittingly triggered the Great Reckoning.  I am not an Architect.  I didn’t know exactly what message went out, what program was communicated to the nanotech.  I only understand now that one of the systems that interfaced with those ephemeral bits of machine did not understand the difference between game platforms and reality.  That entity seemed to need a new kind of connection with our world, something more than a simple one-way conversation. It set out, perhaps unconsciously, perhaps with a hidden intent, to change us all at a fundamental, biological level.
Across the world, new horrors unfolded, stumbled off into the world or died in the ditches and on the streets. A whole generation twisted in the technology, while the world pointed fingers or quietly went home and shot their families and themselves.
Mother sat with me in the garden after yet another cremation consumed a child from our community, swaying with the shock of it all.  Her hand cold in mine, her eyes occasionally searched my face as she watched for the changes that must come to me. We didn’t talk about it, didn’t rationalize our fate or pray to God.  I just clutched at her hand that day in the shadow of the pines, waiting.  I could feel in her a kind of guilt, but she never spoke of it and I did not know how to ask.
Even horror can bear a kind of Unity, a shared sorrow that is capable of uniting parent to parent, nation to nation. The scientists and priests scrambled to find cures and meaning, working together as they ran the lines of code, searched the newest scriptures of technology and tried to understand what pattern ran through the nanotech. In the end, the human techs seemed to successfully disrupt the lines of communication and shut the process down.
And the nanotech that had so long been connected in their own kind of Unity plunged into what should have been a dark, silent end. They floated, rocked in the blood of their genetic modifications, sleeping or consumed in funeral pyres.  And with them, my own world went dark in a way. 
You cannot know silence until you have experienced the web of stimulation I once lived in.  For months I felt hollow, my fingers stupid on the piano keys.  I watched the bodies burn and toward the end, sat on the edge of my mother’s bed as she pulled the covers over her head even though the clock chimed for lunch. 
She killed herself shortly thereafter.  I wanted to write “died” but it would not have been the truth.
I don’t think she could bear what I would have to become.  Two days passed before I pulled myself out of the house, through the wind, walking straight ahead until I found the Adepts dead as well, a circle of corpses at the edge of the reservation. 
The adults behind me could not save me.  Our guardians could not.  So I did the only thing that made sense.
Empty and wholly alone, I stepped over their cold line.

Chapter 2

We have no reliable data for the numbers of the displaced over this five- year upheaval we now call the Great Reckoning.  Rather than hunkering down, entire populations seemed to be on the move as if restlessness or a kind of unplanned pilgrimage could stop the changes their children experienced from within.  That is the way of humans—to seek outside when the answers in their own hearts are silent.

Spirit Marga Census

Great Reckoning Archives

I don’t know how long I walked those first few days.  It was so very cold, that late autumn.  I hadn’t thought to bring a coat, or food for that matter.  I lucked into a small reservation cabin the evening of the second day, empty of people, but with the heat cells and food storage units all functioning adequately. I remember staring into the bedrooms for a long time, chewing listlessly on a food bar, considering the pillows and the dusty comforters.  In the end, I couldn’t bring myself to creep into those empty beds.   I curled up on the thick carpet, relatively warm and with a full belly, and stared at the walls until I finally slept.
In the morning, I set out walking again, trudging the rough two-track road, dressed in a heavy winter coat a size too large for me, following the path downward into the valley. It wasn’t long before I could hear heavy machinery, and by early evening, I caught the faint glow of artificial lights in the sky. All too soon, the heavier darkness of the night descended again as the terrain shifted, and I found myself huddled between the roots of an old cedar for shelter.
And that is when I heard crying.  It came softly, rhythmically, like someone rocking in time with the cries.  I got up and followed the sound, my hands out in front of me, my feet shuffling through forest debris and stone. 
I found her tangled in blackberry overgrowth, her face dirty and blond hair matted with leaves and bits of thorn.  She’d torn the skin across her small nose, and her blue eyes were wild.  Calmly, I talked to her, simple phrases over and over until I could free her, then she collapsed into my arms.  “You’re dead like me,” she said finally, through her tears.  “Dead just like me.”  I rocked her, stunned by her words, not knowing what to say, only aware that the motion calmed her.  Finally, she slept and later, so did I.
The next day, I woke with her curled under the protective shelter of my arm. I shook her awake, and tried to find out her name, but she had lapsed into a dazed silence.  Taking her hand, we made our way back to the rough drive, our steps drawing us ever downward out of reservation land.
The path opened up onto a large, prefab settlement.  I could see a brilliant red cross painted on the side of the gray metal building.  “It’s a hospital or refugee center.  Come on.”  I pulled her after me, our feet sliding in the mud.
We peeked through the first set of doors into a mess hall of some kind. The clank of eating utensils and conversation filled the room and for a few moments our presence went unnoticed. Only gradually did a kind of silence fall across the mess, as first one then several sets of eyes turned towards us.  We all looked at each other for a heartbeat, then the cry went up.  “Normals!  We got two normal kids here!”  A white-jacketed man sprang to his feet, nearly upending his drink in his excitement.
“Oh, thank God!”
“But where did they come…”.
“…the reservation lands….”
They were all on their feet then, smiles cracking their tired faces.  The little girl pulled back suddenly, startled by the attention and sudden eruption of noise.  I bent, putting my hands on her shoulders.  “We’re OK now…”
And then the wail, twenty voices in one, rasped out a note of horror and pain.
I drew back, terrified as they fell, bleeding from their noses and ears, food trays upended, tipping into one another, reaching for one another.  It took only moments, and then silence pressed at us, and all I could see was the brilliant red pooling on the floor and speckling those still, white coats.  I stood there in shock, hardly blinking, barely feeling the small hand in mine.  She tugged then, and I looked down at her.  “I told you we were dead,” she said softly.  “I told you.”
The alarms began their insistent wail from deeper in the complex.

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