A Court For Crows (Part 42)

And the world was such a lovely place, hanging in the cosmos, revolving around a strangely calm sun. A thousand thousand thousand thousand years since life touched it and it smiled upon it, a gleam in the eye of the great watching.

Hear the directive, lingering remnants of humanity; your time has come. The world has been cleansed. Make a world that will inspire a new god to appear.

This one has ended, like all things have been ended. A figure with a thousand thousand thousand thousand thousand gleaming eyes in a head like the sun, with heads and heads and hands and hands and hands and hands has seen the end, and has seen the world rejoice in a finale.

The world like fireworks, awaiting a great occasion. Countries burning in sweet exaltation, for a new world will be born from the ashes. Humanity is saved.

Wrong.

And the world was such a lovely place, hanging in the cosmos serenely, eyes wide open to the stars above, wasn’t it odd how all the humans had dreamed of the stars? A strange symbol of consumption or perhaps capitalistic integrities; a need to expand beyond and beyond, the children of another god. How strange that we share minds, when so few in the cosmos have minds?

Humanity is saved, but humankind has ended.

Wrong.

The world was a terrifying place to those who see; so the correct course is for evolution to render us blind. We do not act in rigorous logic, but act without. A possibility of great reward begets no logical action when the risk is too high, but this approach is necessitated in order for life to flourish in any understood manner

We do not exist beyond the pale of

(do you understand?)

(Jess does not understand)

(do you understand?)

(I do not understand)

(Do you understand?)

(This is a lie)

(You have to Understand That This is a Lie And They Want To Know Who You Were)

—–

Cryopod swung open, and I was left staring blankly at all of the faces. Soft tapping at glass as other pods release, one by one. Omoi played soothing music in my ears, a deluge of interacting voices and memories, chattering of thoughts half shared, half commingled.

Their faces were too perfect for the unblemished skin, if but for a moment, and then reality sat in as the placid chemicals dumped into my skin through needles were dripped off.

“Guess it was a false alarm,” Isaac said, stopping by my cryopod. I didn’t recognize his face. I didn’t recognize any of their faces.

A trembling hand reached behind my ear. Touched the node buried there. Something on the tip of my tongue tasted like blood.

“Come on, we need to get back to work,” Isaac pried, looking around. The workers were dispersing. Another false alarm.

Goddammit, I hated those things. I took a deep breath. In, out. Flicked through my messages. Looked like we’d only lost a few hours.

Another message from my brother asking if I’d be home for the holidays.

Kept it unread. Didn’t know why, he’d know I’d seen it. I was fastidious when I was Omoi’d up.

I’d see him before the end of the world.

The countries weren’t in the best of shape, invasion forces down the length of South America. Lawlessness in Central America. What few provisional governments there were being overtaken, again, again. Assassinations. Burgeoning nuclear tensions over the Bering strait, USEC interventions being mistaken for war time movements. Command economy structures forming lengthwise out of the carcasses of failing minor companies. A sprawling mire of lawsuits, unemployment, shortages. The end of the world.

The end of the world as we knew it.

I tugged myself out of the cryopod and took Isaac’s hand.

“Mind the cryo-sickness,” he teased.

I dropped his hand flatly, taking a step through the room. Had it been ruined? Or had they just done it up with another layer of paint?

Lights were smooth. Music felt good on my head. Aching.

“Cryo sickness?”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Isaac said. His Omoi chirped at mine, sharing information. “Looks like we didn’t get to any of the really rotten stuff in the freezing process, so it’ll work out of our system in a matter of days instead of sticking around.”

“Got it,” I said. “I need a painkiller or three before we get anywhere.”

“Got it,” Isaac said.

Up the stairs we went, winding around security checkpoints and countless rooms marked occupied. Another testing day, another flurry of evidence and advice. Satellite images of distant galaxies strewn across the walls of our office. I pinged various locations on the map in our shared Omoi space, and Isaac nodded.

“I’m just saying, this looks like another … Greater Entity being born,”

As always, nonchalant. What was much the use of overstating their current research project; astral neural network monitoring?

“Another GE?” Isaac asked. “Isn’t that a bit premature?”

I circled the bands of static that the deep space sensors were picking up. “Look at this. Looks like semi unprotected neural transmissions to me, doesn’t it?”

“Supposition,” Isaac said.

“You believe it.”

“We need more evidence, certainly,” Isaac said. “We can’t go forward and say that there’s another God out there. We can’t go modifying the Rhystic pantheon, you and I both know that it is in balance.”

“It could be wrong,” I said. “The universe doesn’t have to be in balance for it to work out. And besides, just because it doesn’t fit any of our models doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work.”

“It remains incomplete,” Isaac said. He paused, then looked at something on his Omoi.

“The old texts say that there is only one living world that the Watcher peers at. That’s us.” Isaac returned.

“And we got this location of space from translating the possible locations for the Living Worlds,” I said, gesturing. Omoi supplied all of the holes in my memory again.

“I know that,” Isaac said, sighing. “Ugh. I give up. Maybe tomorrow’s readings will help.”

That was the exact same thing we’d said the last three weeks. Maybe tomorrow.

Knowing this, Isaac caught my eye roll, and threw his legs up over the desk. “Do you ever think about before we were cleared for anomaly studies?”

A brief flash of the kind lord in my dreams, their eyes filled with nostalgia and hope for the future, and then it was gone again. Overplayed. I didn’t want to think about gods and what they had in mind for this world.

USEC was supposed to diminish their presence, regardless. Let Humanity live without their touch.

“Occasionally. You know, I dabbled in being a biologist for a bit.”

I took up residence in another chair, crossing my legs. Leaned back til my head touched the table, and brushed the hair from over my ears.

“Did you?” Isaac asked. “Why’d you stop?”

“Third year, they wanted me to dissect a crow,” I said. “I just couldn’t do it. I like birds.”

“Everyone likes birds. Not a lot of them left.”

His eyes flicked over to the window. Dying fields littered the area outside. Not an animal out there, apart from scavengers. Decomposers.

Not a good look, but we were in a government building, so it wasn’t like we were expecting prime real estate.

“I’d raise birds if I had a chance,” I decided, spontaneously.

“Maybe I would too,” Isaac said.

Alarm went off in the Omoi, and I flicked over to it.

“Dinner time.”

“We just sat down for lunch.” Isaac complained.

Cryo-sickness flickered through my head, making my gait unsteady as I slid to my feet. “That was five hours ago, remember?”

“Whatever, bird lady,” Isaac teased, stepping out of the way. “We’ll check the rest of the readings later.”

“Obviously,” I said, dim. “It’s literally our job to make sure the stars aren’t going to start bombarding us with Symbolic Dangers,” I pointed out.

“If we could get mass Omoi integration approved, that wouldn’t matter.” Isaac said.

“If your solution to everything wasn’t invasive surgery, our suggestions might be taken more seriously.” Out the hall, other doctorates, scientists, some of the best and brightest in the world, were grouchily pulling themselves away from their projects.

This wasn’t a strictly live testing facility. There were different buildings for that. This was more of a longer term living facility where agents and scientists could be housed, in case a task force needed to be called up, and important scientists who weren’t involved in direct testing outside of a blue moon could stay and theorize.

Low danger research for the most of them. I was certain that there were social psychologists peering at internet traffic to figure out what crazes were being spread through normal means, and which were being spread by anomalous entities hijacking conventional channels.

If it made them happy, whatever, it was a job.

The cafeteria was covered in scientists and agents of various descriptors. There was a new class of trainees going through; eventually I’d have to give them a talk and a debriefing about astral mythologies and what symbols to watch out for.

I hated giving the talk, because there was always a moment where they almost understood, and then they instantly filed it away as magic.

Agent Zach sat to the side, staring out over the crowd. For a long moment.

Well, how did I know his name?

Right, he’d given me the talk about security when I’d joined in.

“I can’t believe they’re actually doing it,” Isaac said. I paused, turning to look over at him. He gestured up at a TV his place already laboring under the weight of an apple and a giant helping of lab grown steak.

“What?” I looked up at the TV. Tense negotiations between DarkWater and the faltering Hungarian government over control of the south border.”

“They’re giving up the ghost,” Isaac said. “Look, you can even tell they’re on the back foot.”

“Glad to see they’re finally going to collapse,” I sat down. Dull knife tore into the almost-steak, rare meat drooling with myelin protein slurries. “Haven’t they…”

What did melting flesh smell like?

“More or less open secret they’ve just gone the way of the Watchers,” Agent Zach said. “Do you mind if I sit over here?”

I paused, gave the man a long look. What would a field agent want with us?

“Jess?” Isaac asked. “You’ve got seniority here.”

“Yeah, sure,” I said, gesturing at the seat beside me. Zach took the seat without question, and bit into a heavy red apple. In situ Orchard was still operational, though diminishing with the current heat wave destroying crops the entire southern US over. We’d have to move to older supplies soon, but they’d basically last forever, and we had tons of the stuff.

“Something on your mind?” I asked.

Zach took a minute off from the apple to look up at the walks. “Think Darkwater has a chance out there?”

“They’re not going to war,” I said. “At worst they’ll just be gathering up everyone they can find and-”

“Excommunicating them?” Isaac asked.

Some mercenary companies given free reign over the crumbling smaller country governments. Already heading into disarray at the start of the century, with the heavy visibility of anomalies… of the unexplainable, even as countries scrambled to handle it, some economies just couldn’t muster enough to keep things safe.

Some fell to those who thought it was time for a new age.

“Pleasant words for it,” Zach laughed. “No, I’ve just heard about your work with OMOI. I’m grateful.”

Never programming. Nothing that made Omoi what Omoi was. But the guidance systems; using fixed points in local space time detected by hijacking abandoned pathways in the brain, that was all me.

Well, me and half a dozen neuroscientists who were more than willing to lay the bulk of the credit on me so they wouldn’t get tapped for another project like that.

I flicked my eyes over to him, then back to Isaac. Interest glinting in Isaac’s face. “You know you never talk about that,” Isaac said.

“It’s not quite a secret I worked on that project,” I said. “But I’m a physicist at the end of the day,”

Zach laughed. “I meant your work on the GPS. I got bopped by an artifact while I was carrying it, and got back to my squad using the coordinate system. Worked a hell of a lot better than my eyes at that point.”

The neutral viewpoint of OMOI was a lifesaver for agents. They could get bopped all they wanted, but as long as they were cognizant enough to recognize OMOI was telling the truth. Well, so long as they could get to the point where they could follow Omoi’s orders, they’d get them back to safety.

It was good to hear it was working. Even if it was just one agent.

Zach smiled. “Obviously can’t tell you exactly what was happening.”

“Op-sec,” Isaac and I said simultaneously.

“You got it,” Zach tilted his head. “But I just wanted to thank you.”

“Look, you’re popular,” Isaac teased. “Miss Jessica, terror of the physics department. Well liked by agents.”

“Really, you should thank the neurologists. Getting Omoi to tap into thoughts without inserting it into grey-matter is their feat, not mine.”

“Of course,” Zach said. “But they’re not here.”

He tapped his Omoi, and the nodule, a generation behind the one I had installed, chirped.

There were good reasons to go one way or the other. The gen the Agents carried around was optimized for survival over all other features. On board modular ai was specced to keep them moving, keep them protected from any… quirks reality would throw at them.

Designing the systems was an interesting process, especially since I was mostly onboard as a consultant. After all, they just needed my knowledge of the Astral Runes, and the various commands that we could cook defenses into Omoi with.

But it wasn’t something I could really talk about.

Zach shrugged and walked away, leaving just our dinner and our continued debate about the greater Astral beings, and their arcs and foibles.

I clocked out after a few more hours, and left behind most of the trouble information at my desk, locked in the box.

You could shove things back into Pandora, if you engineered it correctly.

It was the hope of many people that we could shove it all back into the box.

—-

(Lie Lie why do you lie?)

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