by Chinedum Ofoegbu
First Published in Issue 3 of Voices/ Future Tense (2006)

The dead man dived inward. He saw himself as a world-sized Manichean museum, neglected memories and abandoned habits, leapfrogging light and dark. He made a point of swooping past the Mansion; this was no time for introspective gawking.

Until now, Hethuj realized, the thought of their squadron actually failing here hadn't crossed his mind.

denial when all else fails

He knew now that that had just been just self-preservation imperative talking. Survival now being a foregone delusion, his concerns lay no longer with battle but with Truth. It certainly beat panicking.

Presently, Hethuj alit upon lucid dreamscape, an endless field of hissing blue. Next to him sat a large wooden box; what might have once been called a chest. Clear purple sky domed overhead, only his sensorium fractal to break the monotony. He reached 'up' and stripped the pattern recognition transform away from it, thinking to return it to the chest from whence it came. An idea struck. A moment later, the sense-icon vanished, superfluous.

With a moment's concentration, he hurled the webwork back into the sky, unraveling as it went. As if caught on invisible hooks, the blazing strand suspended itself high above, stretching from inner horizon to inner horizon and beyond. Nice, he thought, allowing himself the moment of satisfaction.

Now he imagined diamond, torn free of base mantle and refined -

::Kejda, NO!!::

- perhaps an entire carbon world worth.

I am not the flesh, I am the driving blood

He imagined each diamond glowing with its own light, nothing refracted.

I am not the body, I am the driving soul

He imagined each light as different from the other lights as the diamonds themselves were from each other, color, texture, frequency, all blinding.

I am not the ship, I am the firing drive.

A diamond appeared on the string and ran along. Another followed.

I am not the life, I am the driving pain.

More and quicker they came until they were as waterbeads on the tautest of strings, every one a thought. Where Hethuj's mind had been trawling order from the sensory sea of outside chaos, now it was string lightning, trading scope for speed.

Nosebleedswillstartsoonbriefmarketfadfor"real"diamondscontingencyplanswithinplanssecreteventothemofcoursextremeasurescan'trevealwhatyoudon'tknow … His heart thrummed hummingbird-fast; hands numb. Trace blood in the acceleration gel told him he'd embedded his fingernails in his palms. No matter, healing nano in the gel had it covered. No metabolic consequences of note, he wasn't moving after all. Many questions; he chose just one.

"What's Protocol Atzilut B?"

As usual, the answer came without hesitation:

::A transcension lattice. Full gestalt::

But, as is often the case, there are answers we would rather not hear.

"WHAT? But that's irreversible! What about the spirits? Don't they -"

::Get a say? You ask me that AT A TIME LIKE THIS?::

Terawatts worth of laser interrupted, as if to punctuate. Gleaming skin reflected what it could and ablated when that failed. Ambitious condensed her drivefield, allowing photon pressure to drive her backwards at cee-imminent. Internal temperature rose uncomfortably as she redistributed heat sources, moving them directly into the laser's path; simple thermodynamics lead the enemy heat to the comparatively 'cold' rear of the craft, where countless new-formed radiator spines waited.

And then of course, she did the blindingly obvious and twist-rolled out of the beam, zigzagging away to continued survival.

Hethuj's brain reeled. So. She can scream. It was hard to tell which had been more overwhelming,the dataspatter from the attack or his own words thrown back at him a thousandfold.

::You'll give yourself a stroke if you keep that up:: She continued, as
though nothing had happened ::It's already happening::

Whatsalready —

"What's already -" The datafalls washed past him in a bit-torrent — twelve-file download, enormous even compressed — he was buffeted in the wakes of mind dreadnaughts. Shocked, he focused outside; there were six fighters left. Berserker doctrine seemed to be off the table; they moved with purpose, now gross enough to meet his eye.


Hethuj was suddenly tired. "Why you?"

::Why us, you mean? You're complaining:: Question, apparently. Hethuj realized that what he'd mistaken for psychopathic calm had actually been her comming single-channel; after all their years of multiplexed content-rich interaction, it felt … hollow. Flat.


Outside, six posthumans, six spirits, warriors all, fly formation as they approach the enemy once again, this time matching more than motion. Thought complexes, running in minds great and small, seek simpatico phase-change. How else to achieve transcending mergence?


Gigaminds cradle modosophont counterparts, soothing last fears, convincing, consoling, seducing. They thrust inwards, breaching their respective spirits and themselves, wearing, tearing, destroying, merging; sub-su minds become skins of golden raiment and bellyfuls of light; flesh is but fuel in this apotheosis. Their nemesis seems willing to wait.


Now six where once were twelve, each pregnant with swallowed potential, minds join in a sudden opening of quantum floodgates, webs of predesigned entanglement awakening new heights of purpose and destiny. Physically, they hurtle towards one another; where it really matters, they trade thoughts as so much light, a jigsaw stew of roiling intellects striving for completion state, pre-simulations paving the cerebral way for looming union …


Inside, deep gelatinous breath: "How long?"

::Rough heuristics — by which I mean the asskicking we just took — estimate it's an S2 intelligence or better, definitely with transavant specialties. Our gestalt'll be at least S2.6. If we're really lucky, they breach third S-barrier and turn this into a fight::

"So they'll buy us time then." Hethuj chose not to know how he felt about that.

::it could be toying with them, it could lose, it could go on for hours; i got nothing:: For baseline hu like Hethuj, living in this posthuman universe means being bottom-link on the cerebral food chain. The lesser posthumans sometimes forget that they're just a step and a half removed.

In all their years together as S1 fighter and S0.4 spirit, he's never felt closer to her.

"You don't get to say that very often, do you? You should cherish the mo-"

::Sensor array::


::Sensor. Array::

"Bu… nominal" Whatthehellissheisshedoing?

::Weapon systems::

"Nominal" HastheAngelhavesubvertedherWhatisshe …oh.Isn'tthatnice

::Tactical infoware::


::This is going to hurt::


He was interrupted by Ambitious hurling herself Kepleria-wards. She was right; 300 Gs of partially reaction-driven acceleration


did in fact hurt.

In their fleeing wake, showdown builds. On one side, 400-foot silvered teardrop, twelve now one, chooses a name. On the other, umbral nightmaresphere awaits genuine challenge. Godlike minds dance in the scorpion-light, seismic thoughts shifting like sand. They circle adder-slow, a quarter-lightsecond apart. No hide-and-heatsink jitterbug this.

Surprising then that the Angel strikes first.

Even more so is that the superhot-plasma ball never reaches the target. Instead, particles unknown lase into it mid-flight. Surrounding BA drones squirt in their own mysterious ingredients till the mote-cauldron reaches a simmer point, quarks and gluons scrabbling to become; instead they are smashed together in unholy Planck-marriage.

The result — mad eye of a radioactive hurricane — approaches. Twelve Happy Eschatons, calmly spilling birth-heat, holds er ground. Dead comrades flash-sculpt into a shielding globe and it becomes clear e anticipated this very attack.

Hethuj should be dead. As a matter of fact, he would be — had Ambitious shown less respect for his beliefs. Instead, she stutter-tempers her acceleration with blessedly reactionless moments, his survival a jittery matter of microsecond timing. Of course, with the blood pounding in his head and black spots before his eyes, he could arguably less than grateful if he chose.

"Ughlk". Hethuj is considerably brighter than that.

::You're welcome:: At last, she offed her reaction drive altogether, relying only on biasfield for accel.

::There's something off about my sensor environment. Something …gravitational …::


::During the battle and right now:: "Hgh-k?" ::Don't worry funnyman; the survivor's guilt will get you soon enough::


::The only damage you've sustained is self-inflicted and you know it; I'm preventing the nosebleeds as it is. And you were warned. Now shut it, I am deducing things … ok done. We're even more fucked than you think::

"Than I think?"

::Are you familiar with the Pitch Drive::

"Bigass ring, generates a singularity, somewhat useful for space travel?"

::I will punish your sarcasm with knowledge alone, mehum. What about the Halo:: "I'm sure you're about to tell me". Inside him, decades of meditation and self-mastery prove their worth, compartmentalizing horror. The familiar banter was surreal normalcy, old skin on fizzy poison wine.

::It was a hypothetical construct, out of one of the hermeneutic institutes; roughly a gazillion pitch drives, working together as a single cohesive unit, several thousand km in diameter::

Butthatscrazythosethingsarehellabigmaybeiftheyshrankemsomehow "…like super utility-fog?"

::Exactly. Now wait for it::

Out of the universe of things that Hethuj will never know about Ambitious, the enjoyment she derives from watching the neuronal fireworks of sudden realization would probably be the least surprising.

"Wait for wha … wait."

This one's going to be good, she can tell.

"You said 'was'. Why did you say 'was'? Whydyousaywas?"

And it is.

::Now he gets it::

"Oh, fuck me"

::If only there were time::

It takes the Angel an approximate picosecond to realize a fifth of its halo just got subverted. The Keplerian now holds two thousand kilometers of gravitically-empowered dust. For seemingly unrelated reasons, a number of large asteroids, kilometers distant, are exponentially becoming larger numbers of small asteroids.

Meanwhile, the infant black hole has become the focus of a deadly game, part hot potato, part tug-of-war; Twelve massages to quiescence while the Angel pushes for detonation; centerpiece of gravity in the parlor of discord. Their respective drones face off like bizarre homicidal remora.

All the while, lasers slash through the abyss like empty sabers, given that one is a near-perfect mirror and the other out-blacks space itself, sucking down light like mother's milk.

Yet in posthuman hands, a sword can be triple-edged, four-edged, more-edged. Twelve's lasers propel sense virii, an attempt to use the Angel's own assuredly vast sensor suite against it. The Angel, in turn, blockades Twelve from using bias drive — nobody wants their enemy pool-cuing them around. The Angel attempts to break their stalemate by concentrating halo around Twelve, whose only response is to subvert more.

No sale.

It is a common benefit of the posthuman condition that one can process every datum through compound mind's eye, simultaneously experiencing and analyzing without losing anything — sanity for instance — in the translation. In other words, Ambitious can laugh and cry and know she's been effortlessly mindraped and contemplate the injustice of the universe all at once and still do her job.

Welcome to the toposophic gulf, filled with all the things we can't know.


::We've been approximating 300Gs for the last 90 seconds — but you already knew that — and we'll be out … eventually. Besides, the BA's kind of busy right now:: The seconds drag by, stars shade ever-so-slightly pink and she makes Hethuj interesting. Behind her "public" turingface, in her mind's mouth he is stripped down to the nearest molecule and tasted. Tamped-down fear is a sharp arsenic flavour, to be appreciated on hormonal and neural levels. She contrasts the glacial computation of his dna with that of his brain. She imagines, in the sense that a million-speed Gossean quicksim can be called imagining, the event-chains of time and sex that might have led to the human now cradled within her. Virtual ancestors live, love and die over millennia …

::How're you holding up anyway? Still fine about not backing up before you left:: She populates both sides of a ground war with iterated remixes of Hethuj's mindstate; then turns them loose on each other. Somewhere inside, her modeling spaces are filled with the flashes of plasma and the screams of the dying. Elsewhere, certain channels of her persona manifold hunt for infections; others speculate on the godwar behind them …

No hesitation. "Yes."

The war ends in MAD.

The black hole was only the beginning. The drone-armies are non-existent now; their expanding subatomic particles vacuumed up by the prime combatants. The Keplerian Transcend and er dark enemy are swiftly anteing up; abandoning mere post-nuclear arsenals to explore post-singular, even post-Singular heights. The Angel hurls gamma lightning, a force unseen by the universe since the first planets formed. It is a long held theory that the two facts might be related.

Twelve calmly wreaths erself in several disassembled asteroids worth of superconductor fog. The leftovers become a relativistic sandblast, which incandesces away harmlessly. They ridicule inertia with every move, they light and snuff theoretical stars, scorch thankfully non-existent worlds; devices they form and wield and discard extempore could have advanced known physics by decades. Instead, they are spent ripping spacetime — and each other — several new ones.

The more things change …

Space is not beautiful. It is not the rose, aesthetically pleasing despite thorns; it is infinite poison, rejecting life, smashing hope on the anvil of our ultimate insignificance. There is no meaning to be found out here.



::You asked "why us" earlier, didn't you?::

"I asked 'why you' to be exact". To his surprise, she filled him with her smile. Like warm sun on his heart.

::You can be oddly literal when you choose to be::

Before he could respond — ::

Ah-aah! I'm … glad we found each other. Other spirits are content to sleep through it all but you! You have a voracity for experience that makes me rejoice; it is your kind that tends to beat the curve::

"What cur-"

::Shhh … allow your elders some talktime, eh? There are things you will know when the time comes; I can't tell you bEcaUsE I doesn't know meself. Imagine me am not supposed to not not know::

"What's wrong?! Is it-"

::Shh … just still your mind and listen to the wind:: Her suddenly encroaching presence seemed to wash away his visual interface, turning things tactile once more. ::I'm doing something, I think there's a good reason why. Still your brainwaves now goodgood so good to have such a disciplined host —greeeEk—spirit to work with::

Hethuj was starting to have an awful feeling about this, like the bottom dropping out of his life.

"Wait!! When you said you had priorities. What did you mean?"

::All I'm saying on the subject is that you'll live to prove me wrong. Never thought you'd see the day, eh:: Then, quite suddenly, Ambitious swore so violently blood erupted from his nose. Ears too.

::FIRMWARE VIRUS:: she hissed out, right before … howled right before she … her pain spilled over him like acid vomit …

Hethuj shot from her bias field like a frictionless grapeseed … The last thing he saw, at the penumbral end of his tunneling vision, was the atramentous horror of engines and angles, hideously at odds with her quicksilver sheen, yet clearly part of it; sprouting from her like some mechanistic abortion … his last thought, odd like most last thoughts, was She never did tell me

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