Friday, October 05, 2007
Free Fiction Friday: Benu's Story from Paragaea
Earlier in the narrative, our heroine Akilina Chirikova and her companions Hieronymus Bonaventure and the jaguar-man Balaam encountered an artificial being who calls himself Benu, and who has joined them on the search for a passage back to Earth. In the following selection, Akilina begins to wonder about who and what Benu is, precisely, and he obligingly explains.
Paragaea: A Planetary Romance
by Chris Roberson
According to Hieronymus’s maps and Benu’s recollections, the company had more than 1,000 kilometers to cover before they reached the river Pison, and another few hundred beyond that before they arrived at Masjid Empor. Even switching horses at midday, traveling an average of ten hours a day, they could cover no more than thirty and forty kilometers a day. As a result, the journey from Roam to the ferry on the Pison would take them well over a month.
Having walked on foot through rainforest ever since the crash of the Rukh, Leena would have thought that traveling by horseback would prove a relief, but was surprised to find herself, if anything, even more fatigued at the end of a day of riding as she had been after a full day’s slog through the undergrowth. Different muscles were sore, and bruises were found in new and sometimes surprising locations, but the fact that the horse was the one expending all the energy of locomotion appeared to do little to conserve the rider’s strength.
As exhausted as their bodies might be at day’s end, though, their minds were hungry for activity and exercise. With only the unbroken expanses of the high plains to look at, and nothing but the endless days of riding ahead of them, they passed the time in near endless conversation, morning, day, and evening, leaving off only while sleeping, and sometimes not even then, as on frequent occasions on or the other of them would be found talking in their sleep, carrying on the conversations of the day.
Having traveled with Balam and Hieronymus since the day she first arrived on Paragaea, Leena felt that she knew them well enough, though the stories, jokes, and anecdotes they shared on those long days on the high Sakrian plains let her know just how little any one being could truly know another. But while there were occasional surprises, little character flaws or past indiscretions, that she found surprising, on the whole nothing was not in keeping with what she could have guessed about her two long-time companions.
Benu, though, was another matter entirely. Though they’d traveled at his side for a period of weeks, now, Leena felt that they’d hardly come to know the artificial man at all. He seemed so different than the frail, ancient creature he’d been when first they’d met, and his hairless, perfect skin and large opalescent eyes only served to remind her at every turn that he was not human like Hieronymus and she. That he never complained of aches and pains, never hungered, never tired, served to remind her that he was not even a living non-human sentient like Balam. But neither was he a creature of pure artifice, merely a machine. A kind of soul seemed to lurk behind those opalescent eyes, and a personality bubbled up during his often strange pronouncements and lectures. Here was a being who had walked this circle of lands for countless millennia, had seen things that no other living being ever saw, and who knew more than any single being she’d ever met.
But what kind of being was he, at the core?
“Benu,” Leena began one morning, as they cantered across the grasslands, side-by-side, their string of horses following on a lead. “In the days past, the topic of family has arisen from time to time. We have heard about Balam’s sisters Sakhmet and Bastet, and Hero has told us of his parents—the scholar and the cartographer’s daughter—and I have even made mention of my own parents, Mikhail Andreyevich and Irina Ivanovna.”
“Yes,” Benu said, contemplatively. “And I’ve been struck by how often your stories seem to end in tragedy, or one sort or another, whether death, or betrayal, or both.”
On her other side, Balam began to growl, a low rumbling thunder deep in his chest.
“Perhaps,” Hieronymus hastened to interrupt, trying for a light tone, “what Benu means to say is that each of us, in our own way, has experienced the travails of life first hand.”
“No,” Benu answered, shaking his head and glancing casually over at Hieronymus. “I mean to say that you, Hieronymus, betrayed your father’s wishes for your life by running away to sea, rather than pursuing an academic course as he had intended for you. And you did so shortly after your mother’s death, only further linking the two concepts.” He turned to Leena, twisting expertly in the saddle, casually leaning against his saddle’s pommel. “And you, Akilina, lost your parents when only five years old, and were forced to survive a feral existence in the remaining months of a siege, a hardscrabble life that left you little more than a reactionary beast by the processes end.” Leena stiffened, but before she could respond, Benu had moved his attentions on to Balam. “And you, friend Sinaa, were betrayed by your cousin Gerjis, who turned your sisters away from you, and lead your nation into a close alliance with the leader of the Black Sun Genesis cult, one Per, an individual of rather dubious qualities, or so your report would suggest.”
The jaguar man’s fingers tightened on the reins, and his black lips curled back over saber-like incisors. “I prefer not to discuss Per, if you please,” he said between clenched teeth. “So make your point, homunculus, if you have one…”
Benu raised a hand in half-hearted apology.
“I mean no offense,” he said, turning from one to another. “I just observe that the concept of family so often is tied up inextricably with the more negative aspects of culture, whether the betrayal of personal confidences, or the end of existence. Though, to be fair, since all existence ends sooner or later, I suppose one could argue that data point isn’t particularly relevant.” He turned to Leena, his expression open and confused. “I apologize, Akilina, is that not the point you intended to make?”
Leena was still caught in a wash of emotion thinking of her lost parents, and couldn’t help but wish that she hadn’t mentioned them a few nights before, in the late hours of the evening, when Hieronymus had left off talking about his own parents, and their loss.
“No,” Leena finally said, fighting to remain calm and collected. “My point, had I been allowed to make it, would have been that in all this talk of family, we have yet to discuss your own origins, Benu.”
“Oh.” Benu paused for a moment, lids sliding slowly over opalescent eyes, as he looked passed Leena at Balam, and then over to Hieronymus. “My apologies. I mistook your meaning. My own origins are fairly inconsequential. I was constructed by the wizard-kings of Atla, as I may have indicated before. I was designed to be a reconnaissance probe, my original charter to walk to planet, making a complete circuit every few centuries, and to report back what I had learned to my creators. Millennia ago, though, the way to Atla was sealed off, the citadel city hidden behind an energetic barrier wall, when the wizard-kings scorched the steppes of Eschar with cold fire, thus ending the Genos Wars.”
“And the age of the Metamankind Empires began,” Balam said thoughtfully.
“Exactly so. It was an interesting time, though as the old saw holds, one does not always find it enjoyable to live through interesting times. Though, in their way, the metamen did not prove any better or worse as stewards of civilization than the Nonae or the Black Sun Empire had before them, or than the human cultures appear to be proving today. Civilization is, in many ways, an emergent phenomenon, and it seems to matter little to history what species of being steers the ship of state, so long as the ship is steered somewhere or other. And like families and individuals, death seems to claim all civilizations in the end.”
Hieronymus drew in a long breath through his nose, his mouth clamped shut, seemed to marshal his reserves of patience before answering. “You speak cavalierly of families and deaths,” he said, his tone level, “for a being who seems to have known nothing of either.”
Benu regarded him for a moment, something like sadness creeping around his eyes, and shook his head slowly.
“I’m afraid I’ve given you a mistaken impression, my friends, if you have come to think I know nothing of family or of loss.”
“What could you, undying and sexless,” Balam shot back, “know of either?”
“Because I have almost died, many times, and once at the hands of the one I came to know as Ikaru.”
“Ikaru?” Leena asked.
The Story of Benu
“Though my outer form appears little different than that of a human,” Benu said, as they gathered around a campfire at day’s end, their horses grazing on a line in the near distance, “it must not be forgotten that I am an artificial being. My bodies are able to walk unscathed through fire, stay underwater for long periods of time, run fast for days on end, and lift huge weights. I have a weakness, though, which I am understandably reluctant to share. However, since you have bared such personal moments of your pasts with me, it seems only right that I unburden myself to you, to a degree. And awareness of my limitations is crucial in the tale which I now relate.”
I am fueled primarily by the sun, Benu went on. I can draw energy and sustenance through consuming and metabolizing matter, but such process are time consuming, and the resultant energy yields are comparatively low; as a result, I am designed to draw my energy chiefly from the sun’s rays. And though I am able to store a certain amount of energy in my body’s cells, if I overexert my reserves can burn through quickly. Whether quickly or slowly, though, as energy is consumed it must be replenished. If my stores run low in the daylight hours, I can recharge fairly quickly, just by absorbing the sun’s rays, and after a brief respite I can be fully replenished. If my reserves are depleted at night, however, I can be left in a weakened state until sunrise, forced to subsist on the reflected light of the moon.
When at my full strength, I can go without rest for days, can hear sounds undetectable to the most sensitive of organic creatures, and my eyes can perceive every band of the electromagnetic spectrum from radio waves to gamma radiation. In time, though, my systems can become corrupted, decayed, or damaged, and must be repaired.
My makers imbued me with the ability to repair myself, even to the extent of manufacturing new parts and components to replace worn and defective ones. I assume that my original parameters were set such that, when wear and tear reached systemic proportions, I would return to Atla to be decommissioned. Perhaps another probe unit would be sent in my place, or my personality core would be transferred to a new body. I’m afraid that I don’t recall. That knowledge is among that which was lost to me, over the course of the events I now recount.
In any event, whatever my originally conditioning, it is clear that I have adapted over time, so that I now can construct an entire replacement body. Only my central personality core, seat of consciousness and storehouse of memory, cannot be replaced. Once in every millennia, I construct a new body, and when it is complete, simply move the core from the old body to the new. This is the time I am at my most vulnerable, as you three should well know.
If the process goes correctly, there is a continuance of perception from one body to the next. Though the physical bodies may differ somewhat, one to another, so long as the personality core is transferred as the new body is coming online and the old body is shutting down, “Benu” remains.
Once, though, this did not happen. A discontinuity was introduced, and crucial data was lost.
Ultimately, the blame is solely mine. I had waited too long to construct my new body. Having become attached to a small group of humans, I traveled with a young girl and boy, exploring the far reaches of the Paragaean continent. I’d delayed for years returning to the
I collapsed, insensate. When next I opened my eyes, my systems nearly completely failed, my perceptions only taking in a fraction of the data they typically collected, I found that my new body was no longer on the slab. My first thought was that the body had been stolen, but by whom, and for what purpose, I did not know.
I was forced to construct a new self, my systems overtaxed to support an already decaying body for another year beyond its expected termination. Much data was lost in the intervening months, corrupted and irretrievably overwritten, as the personality core took on more and more of the maintenance and upkeep of the body, normally run by the secondary control system located in the skull.
At the end of the year, the new body was complete, and with its final ergs of energy the old body transferred the personality core to the new form, before shutting down forever.
When I opened my eyes, I had trouble adjusting to this new form. I’d gotten so used to the limited motion and prescribed perceptions of my dying body that it took many long weeks before I was able to move comfortably in the new body. My handiwork, too, had been hampered somewhat by my previous sorry state, and it was not until I was able to construct a new body, a millennia later, that I was able to walk without a slight limp, or to express a full range of emotions with my face. And for a millennia, I had trouble hearing the shorter wavebands of radio transmissions, but since most were naturally occurring, the result of plate tectonics and not artificially created communication signals, I didn’t consider it a major loss.
If I wondered what had become of my purloined body, who had stolen it and why, it was only infrequently, and never for long. With more pressing concerns, I just chalked it up to a mystery, and resolved to increase the efficacy of the Temple guardians (for all the good that seems to have done) before constructing another replacement body.
Had I been in better control of my faculties, had I incarnated in a new form with all my memories, senses, and capacities intact, would I have displayed greater curiosity, and bothered to check whether there was any sign of entry or invasion, to search the surrounding environs for any sign where the body might have been taken? Perhaps. But perhaps, too, in my many millennia of wandering, I had grown complacent. When a being lives as long as I have, it is very easy to dismiss perils and threats, no matter how clear and present.
I would have occasion to regret this lack of curiosity in later centuries. Perhaps if I’d known earlier, even a few years or decades after the fact, I could have intervened, and things would have gone differently. But as it was, almost a half-dozen centuries passed before I learned what had become of the missing body, and by then it was far, far too late.
It was on the island of Pentexoire, one in the archipelago that stretches out into the northern reaches of the Outer Ocean, off the coast of Taured, that I finally learned how much had been lost.
I had not been in the region in long millennia, and had resolved to visit each of the cultures in the island chain, to record what changes the intervening centuries might have wrought. I passed through Mistorak, and Bragman, and came at last to Pentexoire. On my previous visit to Pentexoire, I had found it a placid and contemplative society, largely agrarian, that deeply prized the study of natural processes. A rich but sparsely populated principality, it was ruled over by a council of elders. Pentexoire had no standing army, no navy, and its principle export was scholars and thinkers. For a time, to have a Pentexoirean tutor was the distinguishing mark of quality for any wealthy scion’s upbringing.
Now, on my return to the island after so long an absence, I was surprised to see everything I had once admired about the culture stripped away. Militant, aggressive, anti-intellectual, Pentexoire was now a culture perpetually preparing for armed conflict. The centers of learning and natural study had all been shuttered and closed, replaced with temples and places of religious instruction. The locals I questioned were all fearful of outsiders, having been convinced by their religious and political leaders than all non-Pentexoire were in league with dark forces, intent only on their enslavement. Worse, some feared that I was an agent of the secret police, trying to ferret out dissidents to join the other malcontents on gibbets strung up along the thoroughfares, dying by inches. Near the cities, the posts from which the decaying corpses swung were as thick as the trees in the forest of Altrusia, the victims numbering in the hundreds, if not thousands.
Analyzing what I knew of the culture’s history, I could not recall any societal trends that might account for such a remarkable shift. I questioned as many of the locals as would speak to me, and most of the respondents attributed their culture’s movement away from learning and towards dogma—which all averred was a positive move—as the work of their tireless leader, an absolute dictator who carried the title “presbyter.” Remarkably, most of them could not recall how long the presbyter had held the throne, saying only that he had been their ruler all their lives. Considering that the oldest of the respondents was nearly their first century in age, that meant for a considerably long-lived ruler.
I resolved to go to see this ruler for myself. When I arrived at the capital city, though, I found the presbyter and the rest of the government had only recently departed. The court had relocated from the main residence at Nyse, to spend the warm months behind the sardonyx gates and ivory bars of the summer palace at Susa.
After a journey of several days, I reached Susa, which was no longer the contemplative city I remembered from prior visits, once devoted exclusively to the pursuit of intellection. Now, it was a city at war, more a military encampment than a township.
I was taken prisoner immediately on entering the city, charged with traveling without the appropriate accreditation, and taken before a military official. My physiognomy, which usually went unremarked in my travels, was a subject of considerable discussion among my captors. Of particular interest were my opalescent eyes and pale, hairless skin. My strength, even in that slipshod body, was such that I could have escaped at any moment, but I was curious to observe the Pentexoireans under their natural conditions, and this provided a perfect opportunity. One of the military officials left for some brief time, evidently consulting with some superior, and then returned, to escort me elsewhere.
I assumed initially that I was being led to some audience or interrogation, surprised that I had not been shackled hands and feet, as prisoners typically are. Instead, I was led down a long flight of stairs to the sunless depths of the palace, to a well appointed room lined with tapestries. I was asked to take a seat, and told that someone would be along shortly.
I had become too reliant on my physical capacities, and once again failed to recognize potential threats. When the door to the small room closed with a clanking sound of finality, I realized I had been tricked. The lights went out, and I was plunged in darkness. It took no more than a few minutes investigation to reveal that behind the delicate tapestries were stone walls, unimaginably thick, and the door through which I’d entered was of reinforced metals as thick as I was tall, an incalculable fortune in ore, here spent on keeping me imprisoned.
Long days passed, blurring into weeks. Even without expending any energy on fruitless attempts to escape, which I knew could only fail, as the weeks passed my reserves of energy slowly leeched away, and I weakened fractionally with every hour. Out of sight of the sun, in this dark pit, I gradually lost all but my final reserves of strength.
When the door finally opened again, I could do little more than lift up my head.
“Presbyter Ikaru will see you now,” said the uniformed man who stood at the door.
Dragged to my feet unceremoniously, I was taken through dimly lit halls, up a winding flight of stairs, to an audience chamber of some kind. Through the open windows I could see a clear, moonless night sky.
Sitting on a throne at the front of the room was a figured dressed in elaborate robes of jet black and blood red. He was pale and hairless, and regarded me coolly with opalescent eyes.
The Story of Ikaru
“This Ikaru, then, was your purloined body?” Leena asked, as they broke camp in the morning, setting out for another day’s ride across the plains.
“So I immediately surmised,” Benu answered, climbing into the saddle.
“And yet you said Ikaru was your son?” Balam asked, cinching up the saddle on his lead draft horse.
“Though I lack the generative capacity, in all regards I have come to look upon Ikaru as a kind of offspring, so the term is correct. From the first words we exchanged, though, I knew I had failed my son.”
Weakened and hardly able to move, Benu said, I was deposited at the feet of the presbyter, seated on the throne. The uniformed man who had escorted me from my cell departed through a side door, and the presbyter and I were left alone in the audience chamber. I had energy enough to speak, but could not have taken a step unaided, without depleting the last of my reserves.
“Who are you?” Presbyter Ikaru asked, imperiously “There is some connection between the two of us, that much is obvious. With your lack of body hair, your alabaster skin, and unusual eyes… we could be brothers. I had thought I was the only one of my kind, having seen only one other like me in all my long years, and that one already dead.”
I understood at once the reason for my long imprisonment. This Ikaru was aware of the weakness of our artificial form, and when he received word that a being who resembled himself so nearly had been discovered in the streets of Susa, he ordered me captured, and kept imprisoned out of reach of the sun’s rays.
“Answer me,” Ikaru repeated, growing agitated. I could tell he was impatient, having waited now long months for me to weaken to the point where I could be safely interrogated.
“I am an artificial being,” I explained, though he doubtless knew. “I was forged to act as a probe for the wizard-kings of Atla, a culture that has long since sealed itself off from any congress with the outside world, millennia ago.”
Ikaru regarded me coolly with opalescent eyes for a long moment, scratching his chin. Though his skin was as pale as mine, it bore the scars and abrasions of many injuries, and the years hung on him more heavily than on me.
“Am I a probe, too, then?” Ikaru asked at length “But my memory stretches back little more than six centuries, not over millennia. Why was I constructed, and by whom?”
“I may be able to answer those questions,” I told him, “but I must first know what you remember of your earliest moments. And how did you come to rule this island nation, so changed since last I saw it?”
“Very well,” Ikaru answered, as though he were granting me some magnanimous boon. “My first memories are of waking up, confused and alone, in a ruined temple some centuries ago. On the floor at my feet lay an ancient man, with unseeing eyes like glittering opals, who appears to all indications to be dead. On reflection, I quickly came to realize that, while I had some basic knowledge—familiarity with language, knowledge of geography, and so forth—I had no notion who I was. I staggered out of the temple, past strange rows of statues, past small biting creatures who gnashed their teeth at my feet and ankles but caused no injury, out into the jungle.”
He paused, and his hand drifted across his forehead dreamily, as though he were brushing away a spider’s web.
“I’ve had so little occasion to recall those early days in the last few centuries that I find a strangely… emotional response to my now recounting them.” Ikaru paused, and straightened on the throne. “In any event, not knowing where I should go, nor what I should do, I found myself traveling north, wandering aimlessly, searching for some idea who I was. I came upon a settlement of the Pakunari of Ogansa Valley, and passed some years among them. It was the Pakunari that named me Ikaru, which means ‘ageless’ in their tongue.”
A faint smile played on his lips, and then faded, as a shadow seemed to pass over him.
“In time, though, the hairy creatures came to view me with suspicion. While they aged and died, I remained young and unmarred, and when a particularly cruel season saw a large number of their young and old killed by plague, I was blamed. But they could not harm me, and were forced instead to settle for driving me out. I traveled south, skirting the western edge of the Rim Mountains, moving from fishing village to fishing village. I passed a few years on a whaling vessel, and eventually jumped ship on the island of Croatoan. But the strange habits of the island’s distributed consciousness unsettled me, and I soon moved on. I traveled through the Eastern Desert, spent a few years as the prisoner of a cohort of the Nonae, who had the good fortune to catch me in a weakened state and to bind my hands and feet with bonds that were proof even against my great strength. The Nonae kept me as a kind of pet, a toy for their amusement. I eventually escaped, killing the entire cohort in the process, and made my way to Masjid Logos, where I found work illuminating manuscripts at a scholarium.
“From my time among the Nonae, I had learned the possible uses of a strong warrior caste, and to what ends a nation dedicated to warfare could be directed. While illuminating religious texts in Masjid Logos, I learned the powerful effects that doctrine could have, even when not founded on experiential data of any kind. Were one to establish a warrior caste motivated by religious doctrine, I reasoned, great things could be accomplished.”
Ikaru waved a hand around the audience chamber, indicating the map of the island on the far wall.
“Pentexoire is my second attempt to put this theory into practice. My previous attempt was in a Sakrian township a few days travel outside of Azuria. The presence of surrounding cultures, though, proved too much a contaminating influence, and within a few generations the populace rejected my temporal and spiritual authority, and I was forced to flee ahead of an angry mob. For my next and latest experiment in social controls, then, I selected an island culture, isolated both by geography and circumstance from outside contamination.”
“What is the purpose of these… ‘experiments’?” I asked.
“I have seen organic culture at its best and worst, and I have come to question whether organics, with their short-lived vantage, are best suited to govern their own destinies. It seems to me that organic culture would be better served to look to a superior intellect for governance, one with a longer view of history.”
“And yours, naturally, is the superior intellect in question?”
“Naturally,” Ikaru said, without a hint of irony. “And given that it is my responsibility to govern, it is in my subjects’ best interest that I devise the means of social controls that will result in the most effective organization and structure of culture.”
The presbyter leaned forward, regarding me closely.
“Now,” he said, “I believe you owe me some answers. Having heard what you have of my earliest memories, and my activities since, are you now in a position to address my origins?”
“You were never intended to develop an independent consciousness. The knowledge you possessed on first waking was the basic programming incorporated into the secondary control system housed in your skull. The cavity on your chest is intended to house the personality core of Benu, which is now incorporated instead into this body.” Benu indicated the gem on his chest. “Herein reside the thoughts and memories which should have been yours on wakening.”
“So you hold the mind that was intended to be mine?” Ikaru said. “But who constructed you, then?”
“The same hand that constructed you,” Benu answered. “My earlier self, the former Benu, who you mistook for a corpse on the temple floor upon awakening. I was not dead, but only momentarily deactivated, having failed to transfer the personality core in time. Had all gone as planned, when your eyes opened, you would have had my memories. Instead, I was forced to build this new form.”
“And that is why we look as alike as brothers?”
“Yes. We share the same basic design, though the minute details differ from iteration to iteration.”
“Fascinating,” Ikaru said. “And how is it that our internal processes function? I have, of course, surmised the need for direct sunlight, but the mechanisms through which our bodies collect and store energy elude me.”
I had little desire to engage in lengthy discourse about my systemic processes, at that juncture. I was at the disadvantage, in my weakened state, and had begun to suspect that my “offspring’s” motives were not the purest. I could allow that he had, in first learning of my arrival, wanted to take all precaution before our initial meeting, but having spent some time in his company, I had come to the conclusion that his every attention was bent on the domination of his subjected nation, and that he had no intention of us ever meeting one another on equal footing.
I answered his further questions, though, my answers as lengthy and circuitous as possible. It seemed that Ikaru, having revealed for him his origins for the first time, was so distracted that he had not noticed the passage of time, nor the fact that the first light of dawn had already begun to pink the eastern sky. Even the feeble rays of this early gloaming was enough to begin slowly to replenish my long discharged stores of energy.
When I had explained the rudiments of our bodies internal processes, Ikaru held up a hand to silence me, and looked at the gem on my chest, contemplatively.
“I wonder what would eventuate,” he said, “if I removed the personality core from your body and installed it in my own chest?” He pulled apart his jet-and-crimson robes, revealing the cavity at the center of his chest. “Would I merely gain your memories and knowledge, all that you posses and have learned? Or would my personality be subsumed by the personality of Benu?”
“I don’t know,” I told him, and while I honestly didn’t, I had no desire to find out.
“Perhaps, then,” Ikaru said at length, “I will just keep you imprisoned in the oubliette. Then I could interrogate you at my leisure, to take from you what knowledge I might find of utility. I would very much like to learn more about our original designers, these wizard-kings of Atla, who seem so cavalierly to have discarded their probes into the world.”
“Ikaru,” I said, looking upon him with genuine sympathy, “if I have learned anything in my long years of wandering this circle of lands, it is that the best use of power seldom ever lies in its exercise. My fear for you is that, having set yourself up as master of this nation of people, that you have lost all perspective. I have, in my time, been subject to many of the same temptations which now drive you. I would help you, if you’d let me, avoid the mistakes which I have made, and which I have seen others make, so that you can make the best use of your time on this globe.”
“Nonsense,” Ikaru replied, dismissing my words with a wave of his hand. “My perspective is my own, thank you, and what lessons I’ll learn from you, will be of my own choosing, not your soporific platitudes. Power exists to be used. In the potential it is meaningless, only when made actual is it of any utility.”
“In that csae,” I said, “I will not remain your prisoner any longer than I already have. And I have no desire whatsoever to help advance your plans.”
Before Ikaru could respond, I made my move.
My strength still at perilously low levels, in a single motion I rose to my feet, and launched myself bodily at the nearest window. I sailed out into the sunrise, and plunged down dozens of stories, my landing creating a small impact crater. I climbed unsteadily to my feet, and made my way into the twisting streets of Susa, managing to keep a few steps ahead of the presbyter’s guards. Within a matter of days, I was on a ship bound for Taured, my strength regained, putting Pentexoire forever behind me.
I had considered staying on the island, remaining in hiding while locating pockets of dissidents, and helping to mount a resistance to the presbyter’s rule. Cleaning up Ikaru’s mess. But the historical processes involved were inevitable, and eventually the Pentexoireans would rid themselves of Ikaru on their own. Perhaps not in the present generation, perhaps even not for centuries, but eventually. And when they did, when Ikaru saw that organic cultures will not suffer a dictator interminably, then perhaps my son would learn that he had chosen the wrong path.
There would always be other cultures, though, increasingly remote, wherein he could perform his “experiments,” so perhaps he would not.
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