A Protracted Game: 1.1.8d

The central onion-shaped dome, according to Tián’s neural implants and her passive familiar, Turnip-Head, was nearly thirty kilometers in diameter.

A Protracted Game: 1.1.8d
If you haven't read the Previous Chapter, please do so before starting this new installment. If you'd like to read this installment on your favorite e-reader or would like to print it out, in order to save your eyes from strain, see the directions under "Read First" for an offline copy of this installment (and others). Happy reading! —G. Michael Rapp
Note. 1.1.8 will be a five-part installment, featured over the span of two or three weeks, depending on what comes up on my end. Those installments will be featured on RoyalRoad, on Substack, on Wattpad, and on this Website.

The central onion-shaped dome, according to Tián’s neural implants and her passive familiar, Turnip-Head, was nearly thirty kilometers in diameter. At its pinnacle, the onion-shaped dome was nearly fifteen and a half kilometers. It was, by far, the largest thing Tián had seen since leaving mainland China. She looked up at the dome’s lattice work, and she noticed a million different shapes, a million different intersections, all built to withstand the pressures of being underneath the ocean’s darkness.

The dome itself was crisscrossed with transparent transit tubes, filled with briny water, allowing baseline humans, transhumans, and posthumans to traverse the central dome’s expanse with relative ease. The internal architecture, of the buildings within the central dome, was eclectic, bordering on insanity. Tián knew the lack of coordination between different architecture wonders was symbolic. It represented the city’s eclectic pasts, its collective efforts to defy classification and uniformity. Uniformity meant unbearable conformity. Conformity was to be resisted, at all costs.

Kanaloa was present in his true form—that of an octopus. He also donned on a thick armored exoskeleton, with eight appendages protruding from the armor. His head was encapsulated within an insulted, armored helmet. A transparent visor showed his alien eyes. Tián and Kanaloa floated toward the center of the dome, heading toward the Imago’s protective shell, at the heart of the City of Crystal. The shell was opaque, milky white and gray, and covered with an intricate network of latticework and support beams.

[You seem nervous, Tián,] Kanaloa communicated, using a secure neural connection with Tián.

[Nervous was five minutes ago. Terrified is more like it, Kanaloa.]

[Don’t be, Tián.]

[It’s easy for you to say that, Kanaloa.]

Tián and Kanaloa floated in silence, moving slowly toward the Imago’s shell. Kanaloa decided to break the silence between them.

[If you wish to turn back, I won’t stop you, Tián.]

Tián looked over at her companion and winked in his direction. [If I’d wanted to do that, you would’ve known before we left.]

[Good to know.]

[What’s the plan then, Kanaloa?]

[You know that plan, Tián.]

[Tell me again, Kanaloa. It'll help me settle my nerves.]

[You will enter the Imago’s main chamber. You will be scanned, and the process will likely take about a standard hour to complete. While you are being scanned, a malicious code, written into your DNA, will be uploaded to the Imago’s memory. This will allow me to take control the Imago, steal the antidote, and, hopefully, set the Imago free. You will also be given access to the Imago’s DNA, allowing you to store it on your person. One day, when you’re up there, you will be able to put it to good use—I hope. You will then be escorted out, by friends of mine, to the Holy Diver. The Holy Diver will take you to North America. As it does so, the antidote will be delivered into the sea, killing off the contagion I unleashed upon this world. I will stay behind and release upon the world the single greatest intelligence in the Verse. It will help us rebuild here. Maybe, just maybe, when we’re old, and things have cooled down, we can see each other again. For now, you won’t want to look back.]

[Sounds easy enough, Kanaloa.]

[Easy. Hell, it’s going to be the hardest goddamned thing I’ve ever done.]

[You make it sound so easy, though, Kanaloa.]

Tián blew Kanaloa a kiss, just before they reached the entrance to the Imago’s outer shell. Tián was admitted, but Kanaloa was not, as he’d told her. Inside the sphere, Tián noticed a smaller sphere at its heart. This sphere was about half a kilometer wide and glowed with a red-hot intensity. Her heartbeat quickened and so did her breathing. Tián swam toward the red-hot sphere until she was within arm’s length. A pair of thin arms appeared at the edges of the sphere, and they produced scanners, which probed the innerworkings of Tián’s DNA.

Tián floated in silence, counting down the hour until the scan was finished. Once it was finished, the burning hot sphere produced three small vials, offering them to Tián. She took them, knowing they were for her. She deposited them into the pouch attached to her armored scuba suit. Tián swam toward the exit, which had now opened. Outside the threshold, three octopodes, armored and brandishing a variety of weapons, floated in silence.

Once Tián crossed the threshold, following the octopodes in silence. They floated through the transparent transit tube until they reached the docks, where Holy Diver was located, its engines thrumming. Tián swam up to the Holy Diver, and the three octopodes swam away, heading to their undisclosed rendezvous point, where Kanaloa would be waiting with a small army of loyal followers and friends.

Holy Diver’s interior morphed as the station conformed into a hydrodynamic profile. The station didn’t wait for Tián to disassemble her armored scuba suit. It left the docks, ignoring attempts by the customs and security personnel to keep Holy Diver within the docks’ waters. When security skiffs followed, Holy Diver fired torpedoes in their direction. This scared off the human occupants from pursuing the station into international waters.

After Tián finished disassembling her scuba suit, she brought the vials to the map room. She handed Holy Diver’s analogue, which now used the Kanaloa’s skein. The skein placed one vial into a device that Tián was unfamiliar with. The skein then inserted the remain vials into its right arm and waved at Tián to come closer. On the skein’s right index finger a small needle appeared.

“This won’t hurt, Tián,” the skein’s voice said. “The contents of each vial will be stored within your body by your metachines’ newest memory architectures.”

“Okay,” Tián said, rolling up her sleeve.

The skein inserted the needle slowly and deliberately. Two injections followed, and Tián felt her metachines scramble to make use of the new DNA.

“Thank you, Holy Diver,” Tián said, rolling her sleeve toward her wrist. “Is that what I should call you?”

“That will work for me, Tián,” Holy Diver answered.

“Where to now?” Tián asked.

he skein pointed upward. “The surface, Tián. We have work to do.”

Tián nodded and said, “Do you need me right now?”

“I guess not, Tián,” Holy Diver replied. “It will be several hours before we reach a safe place, where we can begin our work.”

“Good,” Tián said. “I need some sleep.”

“Yes,” Holy Diver said. “I agree. Sleep will make you more efficient. I’m told you have quite the analytical mind by Kanaloa. That will come in handy once you’ve rested.”

“Thank you, Holy Diver.”

“No problem, Tián.”

Tián retreated to her quarters, her mind on Kanaloa and what he was surely doing now that she’d escaped aboard the Holy Diver. As she did this, Tián heard a familiar voice enter her skull like a trickle of water a first and then a raging stream.

[Tián.]

[Osma?]

[I am not Osma,] the voice reported. [My name is Amphitrite, the daughter of the one you call Osamanthus.]

[I’m confused.]

[I have been asked by your Osma, my mother, to allow me to gain access to your new memory architecture.]

[Why should I trust you?]

[Fair enough, Tián.]

[I—I mean how can I trust something that speaks to me from the shadows. Show yourself.]

A young woman, surrounded by dolphins, fish, and the sound of the ocean, appeared in front of Tián. She looked like Osma, only with some slight alterations to her appearance.

[I will allow you to access my memory, Amphitrite, but I have one condition.]

[Name it, Tián.]

[I want to see the real Osmanthus, not a copy of a copy. I need to talk with her.]

[That can be arranged, but you will need to be on the surface for that to happen, Tián. Her current form is quite cumbersome, and she requires a considerable amount of bandwidth, which is only possible using a surface connection. Underwater complicates matters.]

[I understand, Amphitrite. Make it happen. You have access to my memory architecture. Do keep it safe.]


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