The Divine Suicide
by John E. Tannock
[this is a selection from John E. Tannock's novel The Divine Suicide. to find out more about it check out this month's review]
Who will judge the God of Abraham? In vanity did he not cast miracles of retribution upon a people whose master's mind he held in bondage to his own purpose? He was not from the divided Gods. He defied the sacrament of chaos. He was the product of fear and a means to an historical route. He became a servant of Process and the continual cycles of suffering abhorred in the original cataclysm. For Evolution...the Antichrist of stagnation.
He awoke on cold tile.
Sunlight, crisp and exotic, refracting off cool stone, broken by intricate porcelain grooves. There was pain. Quick and sharp, dragging at his mind.
The room was elegant, but used. A penthouse, somewhere high above an eastern metropolis. New India? Delhi, perhaps? They all looked the same from above. The same diversity, repeated over and over until the eyes were eclipsed and the conscious self gave up the idea of a horizon.
"Endless facades of steely solitudes, rooms and secret living locked within cubical demesnes...nature aborted form, rising only again in the conscious chemical dream..."
He couldn't recall the poet, 21st century somebody. It didn't really matter. The words held true.
He rolled over, trying to achieve a sitting position, a half-erect compromise between wasted and standing. Vertigo and nausea. Loud, enormous clanging, empty brown bottles of kirin and hakutsuru toppling easily, rolling across the quiet floor. There was a monstrous 6 tube bong beside him, leaning against the glass, overlooking the sprawl of the city below. It was Eastern, ornate and gold, ivory workings, elephants and veiled, Rubenesque women beckoning to each mouthpiece. A thick aroma, opium and perhaps a cut of Exceel-7...
The Burning Psycho-tropic. No wonder.
There was a shape next to him on the floor. Portions of tanned flesh, artistically vague and alluring, peeking here and there from within the folds of some makeshift erotic tapestry. A warm ball of rug and female on unreal surfaces. Oriental from the look; dark, olive skin, flawless and musky, youth in the flanks. There was a soft murmur from her, wakeful noises from some hidden animal.
He scratched absently at the back of his neck, rising fully from the floor, standing naked before the world, so many miles above. Unseen and seeing. The eternal skyline of New Delhi. That was it!
He was in New Delhi. His hand passed over a small metallic ridge of circular metal located at the central base of his occipital bone. It was a ridge of delicate alloy, some two centimetres in diameter.
It was a receptacle. No, it was more than that. It was an empty receptacle. There was no relay. No juice. To a pilot, there were few things more disturbing. There was no connection. No ship or navigator. He had no immediate control of the waves of pain crashing muddily upon the interior shoreline behind his eyes, blasting him in the realm of his profession.
The Oriental stirred, exposing an exquisite golden rump, muscled and tight, fine palominos in the spring. Flesh. Fuel for the minds of man.
He was in New Delhi. It was tuning in now. The penthouse belonged to Jalfreezi-Yamoto Amalg. They were still technically fringe capital but they were growing. Locally they were huge, but a place among the inter-elite was still eluding them. They hadn't gone big time. Not yet. They were still peddling affordable, run-of-the-mill households. Strictly entertainment. No military. No industrial or biological. Still, entertainment was fairly large. They just didn't have enough of the market. The penthouse indicated they were holding their own. Of course, things were cheap in Delhi.
He was supposed to meet with a man this morning. One man amongst the millions spread before him. He looked down through the golden haze of population and wondered briefly if anybody actually knew how many lived here, how many billions in this place, this magnitude, this time. The mind balked. He rubbed the receptacle again, cold steel in the morning sun of the eastern sky.
"All this multitude...And who will tread the path of the infinite?" Quoting again. He tended that way after intoxicants and spent pleasures.
A condor, undoubtedly a clone, circled down from a blood red sky, spiralling on unseen tornadoes, the morning bursting in violent haze, fragile seconds of ardour before the gentle hues of day. The bird passed behind one of the countless towers and vanished. New Delhi was alien to him. Temples, strange and green apparitions from a forgotten Oz, punctuating the sameness of metal scrapers.
There was a moan from the floor...a gentle rustle of fabric and skin against tile. "HMMMMMMMMMMMMM...
He turned, taking her in once more. She was upright, leaning back on her elbows. Slightly sagging breasts, large black-on-brown nipples of eastern genes, hard and impossibly erect. The triangle of brown hair, neat and trimmed to geometric perfection. Straight from the Adil, this one. A thing to be ridden, treated to simple sweets, and returned to the stable.
She only stared, slant-eyed and groggy, a dumb smile resting casually on her sculpted features.
"English?" he asked.
She continued her glazed scrutiny.
He smiled. "Thought as much."
She nodded curtly and gathered up her rug/blanket and slid away into the adjoining bath as softly as a breeze. A hydraulic whine of closing partitions and the subtle sound of running water and mellow steam.
He picked at the coupling ring once again, looked absently, searching the clutter of the suite for the chip. The relay circuit that would patch him back into his ship. His world. Life. The furnishings were swank. Gothic, late 22nd Indian plazeel and pastel mixed with fine recreated mahogany and teak. More of the elephant and dancing girl motifs. The occasional tiger woven into fabric, emerald eyes staring out from tiny worlds. Sapor and the demise of a forgotten Rome.
There...by the phone. A handle of ivory and gold, brought against the starkness of the tiny standard 3D visual womb, a blank awaiting the day's communications.
He picked it up and inserted it into the receptacle with the ease only ingrained repetition can bring. It was a bonding thing. There was steam issuing from under the bath partition. Jasmine and rose, soapy smells from some discarded girlish childhood. It made him smile.
The connection was made. There was a moment of slight disorientation, a sense of not quite being in the right space, of being pulled in many directions at once, and then Pollis. His personality as strong and fresh as always. His true bond. His mate of the first soul. Pollis' voice, vague and reassuring inside his mind.
It was a deep voice, robust with bass and a slightly insapien quality, resonating, like words spoken through an electronic fog, heavy and sharp, soft lighting in rain. He looked at his watch.
"It's still early. Jalfreezi will wait. He made the contact. Not us." He was all business now. Pollis always cleared his thoughts. It was an endearing quality.
"Your passions will be your undoing. It is not well to keep the likes of the Adil waiting. Especially when he has made first contact. I must admit, it becomes increasingly difficult to reconstitute your cellular purity. Your tastes seem to become more exotic as you age. More deadly."
He didn't feel like a lecture. Nor a discourse on morality, for that matter, especially not before the Adil.
"I know...but I require occasional distractions...animal things after the cerebral endurance required in facing the void. These things, deadly as they seem, they make me feel real. Solid and in one place," he said.
Pollis rumbled, disdaining but somehow polite. "I wouldn't know about such things. Maybe we should leave it to the tanks - manipulate the destruction right out of you."
"Clones lack the specifics in variation required to ride the wave of chaos. They can't power you any better than a fission pimp. Even with adequate direction. So it has been. So it is done."
Twenty-eight point five miles to the south-east and two miles below the city surface, within the ship, the Aescleptic, Pollis rolled convulsively in his tank, sending sloshy waves through the mass of bio-circuitry that was his home and himself. Odd purplish bubbles, too thick for water, like clear balls moving in a glowing orange tar, emanated from his turbulent form. "A thousand octopi fucking in Kool-Aid," Connor had said once.
"You do power me, my Connor. Like electrons through a superconductor, fast and easy, anxious mates in strange beds. We ride the chaos. I imagine that is the only reason I tolerate you, so physical and banal outside of ship. I have often wondered how such a form could house such potential."
Connor had dressed. Heavy black denims, tight and secure, a pleated, black leather jerkin of his own design, excellent for concealing various weapons and implements of occasionally-needed surprise. Large scruffy gray metallic boots, fashionable and tough, streetwise. He topped it off with a full, body-length pale cape and hood, covered in the dust and grime common to some thousand New Delhi pubs and houses of ill-repute. He was ominous and invisible at once. A rare and effective combination. Anonymously dangerous. The hood covered all but his eyes. These he covered with tiny circular reflective glasses.
Connor Rile appraised his vague reflection in the window.
"Blend with the multitude lest it recognize a sentient this. Attention is not for the traveler. He moves in different times."
Pollis gurgled in a high squeal, his equivalent to laughter. "You still insist on quoting Mrozain. I hoped you had abandoned this practice. He was an engineer, not a philosopher. His circuitry worked and it went to his head. Delusions of godhead. You are not without specific intelligence, Rile. You should recognize the Book of System for what it is. An abominable backtrack into the religious at a time of sentient creation."
Connor stretched, surveying the room once again. He spotted a familiar black tube beside a green light globe shaped like a Buddha. It was a slim, colourless tube the length of his index finger. Small, but deadly, he tucked it with rehearsed reverence into a subtle fold in his left sleeve. "Yes. He was an engineer. You shouldn't say that with such distaste. He was, fundamentally, responsible for your birth. You should at least acknowledge him for that much. In a sense, he was your father."
"Pigs can breed."
Such contrite philosophy was Pollis' signal for ending a particular train of thought.
"True enough," Connor admitted. He had collected all of his things. He didn't bother exchanging good-byes with the girl. Idle pleasantries bored him. Besides, she came with the room.
He took the private, air-conditioned lift some three miles down to street level. The ride was smooth, but his ears popped all the same. He passed through the expensive lobby unnoticed. He entered the primary security lock and inserted a gold plated circuit disk. Immediately, the door behind him closed and sealed with a hiss. For the briefest of moments he was in perfect limbo, caught between two worlds. The realm of in-between. The sensation always managed to amuse him. After a second or two, there was a hydraulic whine and the outer door opened revealing the hazy orange and brown dust of New Delhi proper.
His olfactory system was immediately assaulted by an incredible montage of scents endemic to the locale. Heavy exhaust and the choking sensation created by an inadequate ratio of oxygen to carbon-monoxide. Dust, thick with the odours of illegal basement manufacturing and small-scale, engineered livestock cultivated for a maximization of protein in limited space. Hay and the smell of nocturnal animals. Above all of this, riding at the forefront of the sensory wave, was the smell of cooking. The scents of countless domestic hovels. The smell of simple life. Curry and cabbages. Spice monkey and the ancient waft of unleavened breads, flat and heavy for dipping in countless shallow bowls of oil and spice and cultivated molds. Thick and potent smells that brought tears to the untested eye, and rumblings of hungers long forgotten. He started west on the sandy thoroughfare. After a few blocks, he started a haphazard pattern of turns through the dense and crowded tunnels of the endless marketplace. He would take a random, winding route to meet the Adil. The successful traveler was a man of caution and subtle preparation. The back streets were slim and congested, filled with dark, shrouded merchants peddling everything from spiced meats to complex bio-electric techno, new vegetables and animals, right from the manufacturing labs. Cutting edge entertainment circuitry, from the educational to the intensely erotic. Dressed monkeys, clones and artificials, indistinguishable in passing, hovered everywhere, screeching and chiming in unimaginable tongues for their masters, fighting for the attention of the crowd. It was a miracle of commerce. As alien as the ambiance, there was a brutal familiarity in the action. Connor was, after all, a man of trade. All travelers were.
A ghastly, gnome-like figure, some three feet tall, wrapped in a continuous swath of dark burlap and dingy fur, latched onto him, tugging demandingly at the hem of cape. The upturned face was ancient and monstrously leathered, an R and D discard from some small-time bio lab. Heavy gravity work perhaps, compact and impossibly strong.
"Gogo...Gogo." The voice was low and distorted, but quick, with the panicky rhythms of a wartime whore.
"No Gogo, little one. Not today." He was polite but firm.
"Real Gogo time. Not like Europa. Culled imps, schooled and fresh. All the way mind you - no synth-doc or medi-priest waiting to reconstitute after. Complete enjoyment. Real Gogo. You come."
Connor grasped the midget's hand and forcefully but slowly removed it from his cape. He stared down with some measure of authority. "No, by Allah and his reconstituted minions. Away."
He shoved the midget, who disappeared into the moving crowd as quickly as he had emerged. Connor had many tastes, but Gogo was not among them. He never got off on watching the girls die. He enjoyed them physically, not philosophically. Besides, it was horrendously expensive, especially if you were a purist and wouldn't tolerate artificials or clones. Most liked it pure. That was the rush.
He wandered absently through the dirty streets, under the continuous shroud of merchant tapestry which blotted the sky from the ground. He stopped and ate cold rice with Dal Papri, lentils and flour crisps with synthetic potato and yogurt basted in a sweet and sour goo, kirin and heavy Turkish coffee to wash it down. He ate standing at a crowded kiosk. It had started to rain. He paid the attendant and lit a cigarette, strolling back out into the downpour, pulling the front of his hood forward to shelter the glowing cherry ember.
Pollis intruded upon his brooding introspection. "This place. It's squalor and excitement, pathetic and proud - it suits part of you. Pulls at something, perhaps?"
He took a long haul on the cigarette, held the thick smoke in his lungs for gracious seconds, exhaled slowly releasing yellowish gas to break apart in the rain, depleted of its precious oils.
"I sympathize with the condition. They are trapped in cycles of commerce and need. So few controls and so many natural desires. It is an ancient game, filled with turmoil, randomness. Some claw to a gilded niche, the majority wrestle it out on the streets and in the back hovels. No population control. No peace. But it is life."
"You are still revelling in your mood. It won't do to wallow in abject philosophy with the Adil. He is a holy man - and a crook. Powerful in this region. The ship needs a refit and my tank grows confining. I need room. Your increasing demands on my navigational sentience have increased my mass, some 30% in the last year. Besides, much of the rare metal in the interior drive circuitry is compromised. We need to put into a real lab. Then a holiday, perhaps. It has been some months since we enjoined the waters. Some time in the timeless. You could use it. So could I."
He sighed. Pollis knew him too well. The connection was so close. Closer than the married peasants in the market would ever know, cuddling each other in the dark. Pollis was tapped into his soul. They actually shared a universe. Mrozain had said: "In perception is the only truth." It was the first law of His dynamics. It gave all space a new reality. A physics of the mind.
His wanderings had brought him to his destination. The corporate headquarters stretched for many blocks to the north of him. Polished green marble stone and fashionable plazeel, cold above the rest of the markets and mile-high tenements. A structure of power and authority. Connor knew that within its vast underground and in the towers above lay the private military apparatus of Jalfreezi-Yamoto Amalg. It was in most respects its own country. Its own world. When it had become large enough in the eco-net it would evolve to be just that. And more. If it survived the rule of the universe, the constant in the face of unending change. Competition.
The main entrance, through the first security lock, was a maze of screens and techno-sniffers. Hundreds threaded through the conglomeration of locks and checks, under the constant surveillance of many men and machines, both apparent and unseen. Connor didn't really have the stomach for dealing with the bureaucratic. It bogged things down. It could take him days to find his way to the Adil. Even if he had been invited. Systems are a thing unto themselves and difficult to throw off course while they are in operation. The Adil must have made arrangements. Two times in the past, on previous business, they had met in the seclusion of local houses, over coffee and smoke. This was the first time he had attempted to enter the abode of the actual entity which the Adil represented.
He entered one of the front doors. Immediately the lock closed behind him and there was a whine of techno-systems humming into life, sizing him up and breaking him down. His identification, his biology, his artifacts. All recorded and deciphered quickly by an unseen A-I in the basement of the facility. A warning klaxon sounded. Heavy, clear alloy buffers surrounded him, encasing him in a plastic box of invisible steel. The box dropped sickeningly through the floor. He had images of floors appearing and disappearing in flashes, dissected and separate but part of the same whole. The chamber moved quickly sideways in a darkened area where only partial machine-like shadows were visible. It locked into a new cylinder with a soft abrasive clicking and started a rapid ascent in complete darkness. Connor laughed to himself. At least he had been spared the usual routine of corporate reception. He was cutting red tape with each mile his little capsule rose.
"Pollis," he thought.
"I know," Pollis intoned. "The Adil does not approve of my kind. Useful abominations. Really! If he wasn't such a potential contact, I'd say gut him. You know I don't like being cut off from you. It's dangerous and it's so isolating in the tank."
"You know he has never seen a navigator and will not allow a pilot in contact with one, near him. He takes it very seriously. That religion of his. I'll put the relay back in place as soon as I am able. You know there are times when we must be apart. Like last night. No different."
"Fine!" Pollis' voice was a touch more vibrato than usual. Agitated and put off.
Connor laughed to himself again and plucked the relay circuit from the back of his head, sliding it quietly into one of the hidden compartments of his robe. He was alone and in the dark, as Pollis undoubtedly was back in the ship. There was a subtle deceleration and then a quiet stasis. The front of the cage burst silently open, violent sunlight and gentle wind closing his eyes momentarily shut. He had arrived at the terrace of the Adil.