“‘Since I am just a piece of code, I would be on very thin ice to speculate,’ the Librarian says.” (Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson)
Ch 22 ~ High on Mountain Tops
This was the bad that she had sensed. Others are with Dryst.
She walked silently, thinking through this bit of verification that Cy had just provided. Even with what should have been the comfort of additional knowledge, she found herself no less worried. Dryst is still here, she sighed uncontrollably within her bones and soul, feeling such overwhelming relief from knowing where he was that tears began to pool again in her eyes and trickled softly down her cheeks. As she walked, she casually lowered her head and lifted her fingers to her face. In a moment, in a heartbeat, truly within her heart, she felt his hand along her cheeks, tenderly wiping the tears away. A gasp floated softly up from her lungs and past her lips. She held her hand along her face, as if holding her fingers along his. She looked up, fully expecting to see him standing oh so near, right next to her, hardly any space between them…and indeed, she saw him fully, even though in this moment, in this space, he was somewhere at the top of the mountain that lay further down some miles ahead, where the Stream hugged itself lazily around its base.
Mya smiled softly for a moment. She held to him tightly in her heart and her mind as she refocused her attention back to what the Cyborg had said.
Who were these others, she wondered, believing full well that they weren’t the sort that one would call friend.
“Do I need to ask for more detail,” Mya said to the robot at last. The warriors grunted silently in quiet appreciation of her increased directness, as the Cyborgs moved their fiber optics in a craning, exploratory manner along the sheer pink snowfall that served as the wall of the Stream. Mya could see that there was some kind of invisible barrier along which the fiber optic cables spread. The fabric tickled itself back under the cable featherings but remained firm even if unseen. Somehow the walls provided an actual build, an actual context for all of life’s meaning. Order in the ultimate of disorder…the yin-yang of existence. Somehow simply being. Mya resisted the urge to mutter “it is what it is.” How she hated that expression (but in all honesty, disliked not the phrase itself, only the overuse of it). And yet, she pondered as she stared at the tickled wall that rippled under the touch of the cyborg’s cables, this higher order of meaning. It attached itself to and was defined by all of existence. How else to describe the magnitude of power in its ultimate simplicity. It is what it is…it exists. It is here. And so are we. And along this path, so is Dryst.
“He is with the Non,” Cy said, nearly hesitating to complete the sentence. For the first time, the warriors turned their heads with a heaviness and looked upon the cyborgs with a grimness that unsettled. This was troubling news, Mya realized, even to the most hardened and battle-tested of the lot of them. She swallowed, not knowing the extent of what it meant to be with the Non but knowing if nothing else…
The war, the little girl whispered closely, with some urgency that looped around the edges of her innocent voice. And when Mya turned to find the source of that sugared voice, she looked into the hardened eyes of Locomotive Breath. Somehow she anticipated seeing a teddy bear dangling around the warrior’s waist, right along side his battleworn weapons that were sharpened less for cruelty, more for finality.
“And I’m suppose to know what to do,” Mya asked matterly of factly as her eyes met those of Locomotive.
Locomotive snarled momentarily, shielding the little one who also inhabited his being, Mya knew, away from the intensity of the conversation. Still she allowed herself to marvel at how odd it was that this shapeshifter could retain a form of its choosing yet still dip in and out of shifting voices, vocal tones, speech patterns. Her mind journeyed back to the Event, to the day that seemed forever ago when all of this was set into motion, when Locomotive Breath came out of nowhere and hauled her off to this world. Her memory sauntered back to when she had heard him speak and had heard what she had believed genuinely to be her own voice. Since then, she had come to regard this creature as of her…as, in fact, her. But how could he be, she now said with what amounted to little relief (a fact that inandof itself also surprised her). He shifted voices, she realized now. He shifted shapes, even into the shape of a little girl who resembled Mya as a child (no doubt a capture of her memory)…even into eyes that resembled the same energy of Mya’s spirit (no doubt a skillful duplication). Magic she thought, and born of the capabilities inherent in his genetic makeup…it is what it is.
“How many of you are in there,” she asked with some weariness and gestured toward his large body that cut through the air like a razor-shape knife.
“Only those who serve a purpose.”
“And is that many?”
“You see them all around us. They walk with us.”
Mya glanced back through the Legion. She nodded in silence. “All from you,” she said, a statement of the obvious. The many warriors, they were clones either of Locomotive or of the Fierce One.
“All from one,” he said.
She nodded again, believing now that the entire Legion — Locomotive and the more formidable Fierce One — along with the little one were all the same being: the creature that had hauled her off in the first place. Locomotive, the Adam and the Eve.
But the Fierce One, Mya hesitated and chewed at something that she couldn’t quite penetrate until her mind trailed off.
If the quantity of the warriors was designed to meet some type of situation, Mya realized that their sheer number was an overwhelming indication that what lay upon the road ahead was wildly dangerous. And, of course, it was, Mya knew. But she would not stop until she found Dryst. This she knew more than anything else, even with the full realization that the obstacles ahead, she told herself somberly, were insanely dangerous.
“What of their intentions.”
Locomotive’s voice suddenly rumbled through her thoughts. He directed his questions to the Cyborg, in what Mya realized amounted to the very first time that the two races (she thought for lack of a better label) had interacted. Evenso, Mya had the very real sense that these two groups of entities — warriors and machinery — knew each other very well.
I wonder, she thought to herself, is the Cyborg Collective from the same being that had produced the legion of warriors and the child? Are they all from Locomotive, and is Locomotive really the originator? Something gnawed at her with this, but before she could sink that thought into the depths of her mind, the cyborg spoke.
“The Clan of Ophania. It is a witches clan. It is a clan made up of Eternals,” Cyborg answered Locomotive, who grunted in acknowledgement, encouraging the robot to continue his explanations and descriptions. “The one you seek…Dryst…he and his fellow traveller — “
“The man,” Mya interrupted. “The man Dryst said had brought him here to me.”
“Yes,” Cy continued. “They are being held as prisoners of a sort in the mountains –“
“Prisoners! Is Dryst alright? Is he harmed? Is he injured? Are they okay –“
“Yes? What! Yes to what?!”
“Yes, they are unharmed. Dryst is unharmed. He is alright,” the robot continued in a deliberate monotone that was meant to calm the rejoined excitement that was percolating throughout Mya’s system and spilling over into the pathway.
“Do me a favor,” Cy continued, speaking casually to her. “Put a dimmer on all of that energy over there, would you. Now would be good. You’re lighting up like a Christmas tree.” He nearly winked at her, as much as a mounding pile of metal and circuits and engines could wink, and his eyeballs spun ridiculously within his skull for a few seconds.
The toe cap of her boot stumbled over the ankle of her other leg, all of which normally would have caused her to go tumbling like a slinky on steps, but with the help of one of Cy’s electrical chords that had swung out to catch her around her waist before she had fallen, she had managed to regain her balance. The humorous cyborg had returned and his return had thrown her off balance. A cyborg of quiet wit. But he was right. She had to keep herself in check and not announce their presence in the Stream…in case…in case anyone else was listening. Someone, Mya thought, who dwelled in the mountain tops. The clan of witches, she murmurred with a shudder.
“And what of this place in the mountains. What of their intentions. What is happening. What is their plan,” the Fierce One fired off the questions with a deep tone, one that shifted and turned the words over slowly and deliberately as if his voice were coiling around an immense expanse of unseen power that lay hidden deep within himself…unseen or not, a power that was entirely unmistakable.
Mya startled at the sound of his speaking and nearly tripped herself up again but somehow she caught herself. She stared at the Fierce One and rather rudely, at that. She watched as his gaze seared through the Stream, and she imagined his mind probably identified each and every snowflake that fell within his sight. She couldn’t take her eyes off of this brooding, hulking power and the intensity of his presence, but even without the huge distraction of his size, power, and bearing, Mya couldn’t help but stare because yet again, she had heard something. In his eyes, in his voice. In his very breath, in his bearing. She had heard something.
“Yes,” Cy said, knowing that the warrior would suffer no humor or fools at this moment…if ever. “The way will not be easy. They are high in the mountain tops. They are in a room, seated.”
Her lips parted softly, her mind filled with rushed imaginings of the room that Dryst and the man found themselves in. Seated. She imagined in a chair. She hoped comfortably. She couldn’t allow her mind to think of any other possible way for Dryst to be seated, no, no. She placed him in a beautiful room, in a finely upholstered, heavily cushioned chair —
“The Non are seated,” Cy corrected as if reading her thoughts, and in fact, he was to some degree. “Some, not all of them are seated,” he refined his meaning even further. “And,” his voice smiled momentarily, “some are, indeed, seated comfortably in finely upholstered, heavily cushioned chairs.”
“Why do I feel suddenly quite naked. Oh so very naked here, right here wading through the stream of every thought and idea ever had and yet to be realized,” Mya muttered under her breath and turned away from the robots, gazing down the path that feathered along the upside down redwoods on the one side, the rolling lumbering hills on the other side.
“We know your thoughts even without the Stream,” the little one, through Locomotive, said. “We always did.”
“And the other thoughts?” Mya chewed the question out while motioning toward the Cyborgs who were tabbed into the Stream. “How is it that some can read the Stream at all?”
“Only parts,” answered the little one, through Locomotive, “and only as a Collective, sourcing out specific parts.” The little one’s voice paused, then continued “There is order in disorder,” she sang, “and…there are the rare two who–“
Mya shook her head and gestured at Locomotive to stop speaking. She frowned at last, chastising herself for her panic and for allowing her mind to divert itself to analyzing this strange fellowship that she had found herself in. She abruptly interrupted her own thoughts and quickly said to them all, “We’ll table that for another time. And there will be another time. But for now –“
“But for now…it is the thoughts of the Non that we need to know. We are getting nearer.” Mya felt the Fierce One’s words forcibly command the mindset back to a shared purpose, allowing room for the cyborg to continue.
“What of Dryst,” Mya whispered urgently.
“He is standing in a large room that is filled with books. The room is in the outer most tower that juts out near the top of the mountain.” Cy paused briefly, looking up. “There,” he said as he pointed to the tower beyond the tallest heights of the purple-grey mist. Mya narrowed her eyes and stretched her vision beyond the falling snow and the transparent surround of the Stream. Her vision broke through the heavy mist that lulled about the Origin; her eyes climbed the outer most slope of the mountainside until they landed on one of many towers that lorded over the tangled roots of the upsidedown forest and that pierced into the day-night sky.
“Dryst,” her lips uttered silently, her mouth moving tenderly. Her pace quickened, spurring the collective and the legion to lengthen their strides.
“Dryst and the man stand before a gathering of sort,” Cy continued. “Not quite a tribunal but it is some ritual of interrogation.”
“Interrogation,” Mya gasped wordlessly, her eyes widening, her stride lengthening even more.
“A stand off of sorts,” Cy clarified, then added, “but they will not stop until they have what they want, this Clan of Ophania. For now, they are relaxed and confident. Some are seated. Some are perched on whisks. Many are surveying from the tower tops, casting their gaze far and wide. Searching the Stream.”
The warriors growled menacingly. “For us,” Mya stated the obvious under her breath.
The Cyborg nodded. “For us,” he repeated.
The group of robots and warriors moved more rapidly now, their volume and energy carried forward and driven as much by Mya’s will as by their own accord; at a much faster clip without any exertion on her part.
“But,” he hesitated.
“But…” she asked, encouraging him to speak.
He paused…”they believe victory to be theirs. Just within their grasp. Dryst holds the key…the portal.”
“The portal,” Mya asked completely befuddled. “What key? What portal?”
“The key,” the Fierce One explained, “for the Non to control all free will. To bend minds to their purpose. To strip you and all of your kind of yours. To strip all of every kind of their own.”
“The key,” Locomotive continued, “the metal scrap you held within you very hands, that had cut into your fingers. It is the key. It is the portal. It allows anyone who holds it to bend it to their will — be it of a benevolent or a malicious intent — to control the very Stream of Consciousness.”
Her chin fell to her chest. She knew it. She felt it crash along her collarbone, and while all of this made even less sense than everything that had happened since the Event with this strange fellowship in this strange land, Mya jerked her will over her mind and locked her confusion and panic away into a nicely appointed, comfortable room that could have no other effect on her confusion but to settle it down and nuture it into quietness. She needed to think. She had no time to freak out.
“They will mount an assault. They know we are in pursuit. They read our words and thoughts in the hillside. They followed our penetration of the Stream. They know we are in pursuit.”
“And they make ready,” the Fierce One said through clenched jaw.
The Cyborg Collective nodded. “They make ready,” Cy confirmed.
“What are their numbers,” the warrior pressed on.
“Equal to ours,” the robot responded.
“What is their force.”
“Witches against warriors,” Cy answered flatly. “Zombies against cyborgs.”
“I doubt it will be quite that neat,” Locomotive grunted with a tinge of sarcasm, and clenched his hand around the handle of his largest blade.
“There,” Mya panted, realizing they were running together as a group, flowing collectively by the force of a rhythmic pace. “We are turning the bend…just ahead…”
“Just ahead,” the warriors growled quietly and lazered their eyes to the shape that blossommed just ahead in the surround of the Stream.
“The Canal,” the robot said. “Just ahead of us, at the end of the stream, the Canal. Move with care when we reach it. The most treacherous nature of the journey begins there.”
If she didn’t know any better, Mya had thought she had heard fear in the robot’s voice.
“Most treacherous…” she repeated words the robot had just said before her own voice trailed off. The group moved quickly but silently for a few seconds, the cyborgs groping and methodically travelling along the falling snow, hooking into various parts of the invisible encasement in which the Stream flowed.
“What of the Canal,” Mya asked when at last she had found her voice again.
“It is the entrance we seek. Into the mountain. Filled with watchful ears and listening eyes.”
“The Clan?” Mya guessed in a voice that suddenly felt and sounded very small, as small as the sugared bubblegum sing-song of the little one.
National Novel Writing Month: Chapter 22 total wordcount: 2920 (not including this notation). Total total count: 42,240. (chanting a mantra: oh gosh this will be one massive push to the 30th and the 50K!)