20 September 2011

The Chronicles of Vargos Vale


The next several weeks passed in a blur. I barely remember any of it, honestly. I got checked up by the medics and their machines, got outfitted for gear and drafted into some kind of ground troop unit. I'd never thought I'd be a soldier again, but here I am, wearing a uniform and saluting men half my size.
This place, this time...it's all so different. I suppose that's to be expected, but it's a shock to the system, especially since I'm still having trouble inside myself. My time in the cryobed...that endless time of...unbeing...I guess is the best word for it—that time changed me. I don't feel the same in my mind, I don't feel the same in my body or my soul. If I close my eyes, I'm back there. Blink...blink...blink. Silence. Not even silence, actually, but rather the complete absence of sounds. I found a sensory-deprivation chamber, on board this ship...this man-made star floating in the heavens...and in it, I still couldn't find the kind of silence that experienced in that cryobed. In the sense-dep pod I was still able to hear my heart beating, I could wiggle my toes or flex my muscles, I could hear the sound of my breathing...it's not the same as being deaf and numb, not being able to hear or feel.

During the battle in the Mars Colony Pyramidion, I took a round to the helmet, an incendiary round. The helmet saved my braincase and my life, but left me completely deaf. I had to be shipped back Earthside and have my hearing repaired, which took months in the regrow tank. Being deaf isn't the same either.

But still, I can only sleep in the sense-dep pod. In a real bunk...every sound sends me into a panic. Every tick of shifting metal, every klaxon in the farthest wings of this ship...I hear it all. Awake, I can deal with it, the hypersensitivity. When people speak, even in conversational tones, it sounds like they're yelling in my ear, even if they're forty feet away. A door whooshing open across the barracks room sends a puff of air that I can feel like a wind. I can hear men's bellies gurgling.

Time, too, is unreliable for me now. Sometimes, seconds will drag by over what feels like hours. I will be sitting at a table in the mess-hall, and the men next to me, carrying on a conversation, will be moving in slow motion. Hands, gesturing, will crawl through the air with syrupy slowness, words will drip and drawl, strands of hair will waft and drift as if through water.

I miss water. There are no pools here, no baths or showers. Just a decontam chamber that scrubs you down in a matter of seconds, without ever touching you.

Time also will speed up, those same mess-hall mates will move like a HoloNet on fast-forward, words blurring and piling one atop the other, gesticulations too-fast. It alternates, slow to fast, then back to slow, then without warning, all will return to normal. And never a warning. All I can do is sit back, keep still, and watch. Speech was impossible, in those bubbles of distorted time. I couldn't summon words, couldn't form them or produce them. At first, I couldn't even move, but I learned, later.

Of course, everyone is curious about me. The man who saw the Exodus, the man who drifted through space for a thousand years, while humanity evolved without him.  The giant. These people are tiny, here. They move strangely, speak strangely, think strangely. They walk in a gliding shuffle, the gait of people who spend a lot of time in low- or zero-grav, but they walk this way even when the grav is normal. It seems ingrained in them, a racial trait. I've discovered that some of these men on this ship were born here, raised here, and expect to die here. The Rakehell is a far-scout, it turns out, a ship designed and built to patrol the edges of mapped space, and to push those boundaries, to extend the map. My ship, it seems, was at the very edge of explored territory, and only a bored, sharp-sighted scan-tech drew attention to my derelict craft.

These men will spend their entire lives aboard this ship, disembarking only for brief planet-side leave. This is unfathomable, to me. I've asked the commander who rescued me, the officer in charge of outship-ops, to get me a transport to civilization.

I need to see more of this new humanity, this new civilization. I can't live the rest of my life on this far-scout. I just can't.

*      *      *

Perepeteia is a wild, strange, exotic place. Nothing here is like anything I've ever encountered before. Even the people, those that I recognize as humans at least, have changed beyond my understanding. The men and women aboard the Rakehell are on the fringes of society, exempt from the vagaries of social custom and fad. They exist outside of society, away from anyone other than those like them, officers and soldiers and members of the shipboard culture. This society on Perepeteia is humanity in all its inconstancy and fad-driven indulgence. Hair and clothes, technology, transportation, everything is totally inexplicable and ineffable. Women have hair with some kind of light in them, like neon tubes woven around their natural hair, which is itself dyed, it looks like. Clothes are outright bizarre. They exist for fashion, rather than function. Nudity is the norm and clothes are a choice to exhibit what the individual sees as exciting or as an expression of personality. Skintight pants of transparent material, sometimes translucent just enough to disguise things, seem to be the fad, as well as shirts that hang down to the feet in the back, cut away in front and sleeveless, or tassels hanging from sleeve points or collars. Also popular are tattoos inscribed in gold or silver, somehow non-toxic, or in glowing neon, across the face or wrapped around the forearms and hands; everyone carries weapons. There is no police force, only a token display of soldiers to prevent outright lawlessness, but very little is enforced except the injunction against outright murder in public. If you can get away with it, it is left uninvestigated. Theft, larceny, prostitution, these are as common as handshakes and kissing. For all of this, however, Perepeteia is surprisingly welcoming. People don't so much accept you as much as they simply don't care who or what you are as long you don't infringe on their space. I walk among them unremarkable, for once in my life. My mere size has always been enough to set me apart my whole life, so it is a strange feeling to walk down a street without being stared up at.

There are things here that don't seem to be...people. Or, not humans. I can't tell if they are androids or robots or cyborgs, but they are bizarre mixtures of machine and human: men with plasma rifles where a hand should be, women with computer displays in their forearms, metal legs or camera-eyes, anti-grav booster platform from waist down as if a man had been grafted onto a hoverbike at his waistline. Others are more normal appearing, just one little thing slightly off. Hair that isn't hair, or eyes that glitter too much with a mechanical sheen, skin that doesn't feel right when they brush against you in the street, voices that hiss and crackle with faulty transistors as opposed to a cough or sneeze. Perhaps the humans take me to be one of these mechine-man amalgams. I have seen no natural person that is above six feet tall, as if evolution has made them smaller, perhaps from generations that were born, lived and died aboard a colony-transport.

Perepeteia itself is a place that requires some getting used to. Low grav, for one thing, not Earth-moon low, but noticeable to me. Twin suns, huge, one yellow and hellishly bright, the other a dull dying red. Its a hot, arid, low oxygen planet, so the inhabitants have turned the Pyramidion technology from the Mars Colony to their own uses and expanded upon them. On Mars, a Pyramidion was an independent city-state, a pyramid of transparent titanium—transtanium—layered in horizontal floors like a highrise back on Earth, before the cities were all destroyed. Now, on Perepeteia, the Pyramidions are being built on an unbelievable scale, wide enough at the base to contain two or three metropolises; and they built vertically as well, rising nearly a mile into the scorching sky, containing four layers, each layer, or floor, holding several spread out cities or villages. And there are dozens of these Pyramidions on Perepeteia, each one governed independently, as on Mars, each one holding millions of souls. The human race has definitely expanded in the last thousand years.

They all have names, but damned if I'll be able to get them all straight any time soon. The one I've fetched up in is called Juris Tempe, or J-Temp. As on Mars, the richest of the rich live at the peak, and the further down you go towards the base the poorer and rougher more packed the living quarters get. I'm at the very bottom of course, living with a garrison of off-duty ground troops. It's at once entirely too familiar, and dreamily unreal. Soldiers are soldiers, and they tell the same basic jokes, just couched in new terminology and slang, but the outfits, the technology, the housing arrangements, all of this takes a while to get used to.

No one seems to realize that I'm not actually part of the ground troops. I've been absorbed by the system, and no one has noticed. I salute, wear the uniform, do the drills and PT, all of which is basically unchanged, and if anyone notices that I've done something wrong or say something weird, or don't understand a reference, I tell them I was on a far-scout, and they nod sympathetically, as if that explains everything.

I suppose it does, at that. They ship out, and they return after several generations have passed back planet-side, and everything has changed. For me, its not just the surface details that have been altered, but the very fabric of human culture. There are no racial boundaries anymore, but stereotypes and bigotry abound, nonetheless, just directed towards new targets.

*      *      *

I have been just scribbling all these thoughts and memories down as they come to me. I was issued a “tablet”, a paper-thin sheet of clear rubbery material that can be folded, balled up, bunched up, soaked, burned, or crushed without being compromised. These tablets are the personal computer device of this age, a person's entire connection to the virtual world of information, and most people seem to have a way of interacting with it directly through their brains or eyes, through some kind of implant that I, of course, never got. I can still use it manually, however, and that suits me better. I'm not ready to get an implant yet.
I suppose I should organize this record. For who, for what? I don't know. For myself, I guess, so I can look back and see where I have been and what I have gone through. 

So, today's date seems to be 24.13.1004. Apparently, there are 24 months here, and 40 days to a month, and it is the year 1004 P.E., which makes it, according to my calender, somewhere around 3217 A.C.E., as they dated things when I was growing up Earth.

I think I like using the 1004 date better. It makes it seem a little less...difficult to swallow.


I can't help thinking how proud of me Lyss would be, if she knew I was finally writing regularly. She was always after me to write more. She said the letters I'd written her, when I was stationed at the Kleuer Pyramidion Base, were, in her words, achingly poetic. I don't know what-all that means, but I take it as, she likes my writing. So, I'll address these journal entries as to her, and write them as if she were going to read them, out in the far beyond of death.

Dear Lyss,
You wouldn't believe this place. Everything is huge and fast. The people are loud, gruff, busy, self-absorbed. You would hate it. No one smiles at you on the street, or shakes your hand when you meet them.
For me, as a soldier, its a good life, thus far. It's what I know, and for all the inexplicable aspects of the world around me, it's the one familiar thing I can rely on: get woken up before sunrise, or I should say, suns-rise, PT with the squad, dress out, breakfast, patrol. My unit, my adopted unit, is assigned to patrol the ground level of J-Temp. It's a dangerous job. Those who live down here, they have no love for uniform, and with good reason. These men, they're brutal. Thugs, really. I march with them and keep to myself, defend if I have to. The others, they take what they want, be it goods or people, and do what they want. There's places we don't dare go, warrens of alleys dimly lit and stinking of abject poverty and slow death. Even we, with out guns and armor and shock-sticks, we don't dare enter those mazes. We'd be overrun and smothered, we'd just disappear.

For all that, though, I understand these people, in a way. Their speech and appearance are strange to me, but they are still humans, and we change little, at the core. They struggle to survive, day to day, they love and hate, seek pleasure and avoid pain, they joke and swear, they kiss and slap and fight and make love.
I'm no sociologist, no philosopher or psychologist, I'm uneducated. I'm just a soldier, a grunt. But it is a fascinating, if disorienting and lonely, experience, to live and move among this culture to which I am alien.


Dearest Lyss,
Something is happening here, on Perepeteia. It's not just J-Temp.. All the other Pyramidions are being swept up in it too. Something to do with “Dual-sings.” I've done some asking around, and the best I can figure, the situation is this: Dual-sings are a race of people that are kind of like cyborgs, but not really. No one can explain them in a way that makes a damn lick of sense. Those strange people with machine parts, they are Dual-sings. Dual-singularities. Machine, human, and neither, and both. It's horridly complicated, apparently. They are human in that they are born, they love and breathe and have babies, but they are also cybertronic, bio-mechanical. The machinery is organic, grown somehow, and they can graft onto themselves true, dead machinery.

Dual-sings are at the heart of the unrest, I'm told. They don't have a place in society, except at the bottom of the bottom. If prostitutes and drug-dealers and murderers are the scum of society, most people look at Dual-sings as being the putrid mold that grows on the scum, turns it into unidentifiable sludge. They have their own society, their own culture, a secretive underworld that scuttles in the shadows of Perepeteian life.
The Dual-sings are rising up, rebelling. They want rights, they want recognition. They want to vote, they want to come out of the shadows, and the humans won't let them. It's complex, though, because some dual-sings want to take their rights using any means necessary, however violent and extreme, and others want to separate. It all sounds familiar. I barely graduated high school, but I remember hearing this story a hundred times.

The faction proposing violence is the most numerous, it seems.

Am I willing to take up arms against these people, these strange creatures called Dual-sings?

I don't think I am. They've never harmed me, in any way, for all that they are bizarre looking. The civil wars on Mars and Luna were different, Lyss, you know this. I wouldn't ever tell you much of what happened there. I didn't want you have the nightmares that kept me awake. You were too sweet and innocent and kind and loving. Too willing to see the bright side, the best in every situation. Those awful bloody revolts were...hell. Nightmares made alive. Men airlocked, eyeballs bursting, skin shriveling and lungs collapsing, screams silenced by the vacuum, red blood leaking out into red dust, clotting in ponds of blood-mud...Lord help me, I still dream of those battles, even now. When I sleep, that is. I still can't sleep well. The hypersensitivity hasn't gone away, and the distorted time sense...that is something I'm slowly learning to control.

I miss you, Alyssa. I hope this unrest blows over, but I can feel, in my gut and my bones, that it won't. The tension in the air is palpable. Secrets float in the wind, curses follow us on patrol, humans disappear without warning, whispers of uprising flutter in the hot winds from the black alleys.
Where do I fit in to all this? There are only two sides, and I'm on neither.

I wish you could tell me what to do, Lyss.

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