An Excerpt from Arcana Aeternum

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The Part where Virgil Explains Stuff

The progenitor is a line of atomic assemblers which are absolutely vital to life on the Eco Shell. The devices come in various capacities from the smaller appliance-like FoodGens™ to the much larger, commercial-grade versions which generate housing pods and the large matter harvesters. The appliance models run off the standard two-forty volt residential electrical outlet, and disassemble osmium atoms to form any product that will fit within its confines.

The templates are purchased on the net and are produced by cooks and other manufacturers by scanning a single parent sample of the product. The process is somewhat lossy, as large areas of similar atomic and molecular patterns are compressed to save on data space. This phenomenon is colloquially referred to as being jaypegged, after an ancient image dataform with similar compression artifacts. A raw scan dataform would be physically impossible due to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal, so naturally formed products are a coveted rarity.

The Part where Virgil Explains Stuff

Wadjet awoke again. This time she found herself sprawled out on a kitchen counter—naked, again. The room around her was downright rustic and gave her a vague sense of nostalgia. In some weird way, the room itself was familiar to her. On a certain level she recognized that a convection oven had no business outside of a museum, but she distinctly remembered the little click-y aluminum dials that controlled the heating elements of the stovetop, and the red-orange glow of the internal coils. The walls looked like they were paneled in wood of all things, and the floors were covered in ceramic tile. The counter top itself was downright awe-inspiring. It was stone. Real, natural stone, really naturally formed in the molten core of a planet, tossed by wind and water, consumed by plants and animals, and re-compressed for millions of years, and the great sweeping swirls of blacks, whites, and greens were downright mesmerizing.

Wadjet knew that rock. It was deep sea marble from a class six planet (an Earth-like planet.) It represented billions of years of oceanic life compressed by the weight of atmosphere, ocean, and the rock above. Someone had told her all about that countertop in annoyingly exhaustive detail. She remembered telling him that the only reason he valued that history was that it was evident in the rock. Even the osmium used to make his breakfast cereal was stardust at some point.

“Oh come now, Wadjet, I didn’t cross the wheel to have your hippocampal unit rewired, at risk of life and limb, just to have you come back and stare at the same spot in the marble you looked at before. There has to be some difference.”

It was Virgil. She was sure in the same way she was sure Wadjet was her own name, in the same way she knew up from down and left from right. The man stood in front of her, and had been standing there for a few minutes while she stared at the counter. He looked young; his roughly chopped and tousled hair was just turning grey around the ears. He wore clothes that matched his rustic house: a graphic tee, plaid over-shirt and a pair of faded blue jeans. She rather wished her memory would all come flooding back like in the feeds, but she supposed some form of memory was better than none at all. “I’m- I’m sorry, Virgil. I can’t seem to remember anything.”

Virgil looked surprised, almost taken aback. “Interesting.... Uhm, well, what we did was change how your memory works. Before the operation, you stored information wherever you had space, operating in the moment as it were. Now you have a stream of consciousness, a sense of time—or of the importance of time—and you store memories in sequence and in a level of detail comparable to how people remember things.”

Wadjet tried not to be offended by the way he used the word people as she ran her tongue over the roof of her mouth. It was hard to form an opinion of one’s own state of mind, especially when the whole point was that she couldn’t remember how it was before. Instead, she focused on what was bothering her the most. “Well, I don’t like it. It’s distracting. I can’t focus.”

“How do you mean?” In a movement that was endearingly familiar, the man tugged a small touch pad and stylus from his pocket in order to take notes. He might as well be using a pad of paper and a pencil, or a stone tablet and a chisel.

“Well-” the small lizard pulled herself up to a sitting position, only to get caught up in a thin cord extending from a place behind her head to an outlet in the wall. Further investigation showed it was a power cord, more dismaying evidence of her inhumanity. With a shudder, she tugged it from its seating, delicately investigating the little port in the base of her neck with one hand while looking at the jack she held in the other. The jack was disturbingly long. Just imagining its length seated inside her cranium made her queasy.

It took a moment for Virgil to realize she had lost interest in the conversation. “I see... You still obsess over every detail as it comes, but you’re having trouble multitasking—maintaining a train of thought or conversation. Hopefully you’ll just learn how to prioritize things, because I don’t think we can risk another big trip like that so soon.” With a sigh he tucked the pad back into his pocket. “Right, well, I’ve got a catering job to get to. Gotta make up for lost time.”

This shocked Wadjet out of her trance. “You’re leaving? I don’t think I should be alone right now. I need some questions answered.” She was also afraid that if left to her own devices, she might do something stupid.

Virgil furrowed his brow. “Apologetic and insecure, and all we’ve done is given you a sense of time.” he spoke as if Wadjet wasn’t there, but she knew it was something he did to everyone, as though there was too much going on in his head to be bothered to keep his thoughts private. “Right, okay, that’s fine—great even.” The man adjusted the framed lenses perched on his nose. “I can show you what I do for a living. It should be fun. You don’t remember that, do you?” He seemed somewhat concerned that he might bore her by revisiting details she was already aware of.

Wadjet shook her head emphatically.

“Right. Good. Just don’t call too much attention to yourself—ask your questions when we’re alone. I don’t need people thinking you’re anything more than an exotic pet robot.”

When he offered his open palm to her, Wadjet quickly made her way up his arm to lounge across his shoulders, maneuvering her long tail down across his chest for stability. She did all this with an uncanny grace, as if she had not only done this before, but could do it in her sleep. She might as well have been asleep; her mind was elsewhere, turning Virgil’s words over as she heard them, wringing them for every implied bit of information she could deduce. “What’s wrong with being something more?”

Virgil turned from the counter and left the kitchen. He chewed at his lip, seeming to have trouble choosing his words. Wadjet gave him his time as he stalked through several quaintly decorated rooms before entering a grandiose chamber filled with all manner of plant-life: grass, brush, and tall lanky trees, heavy with great bulging bunches of fruit.

“Well, I’m afraid I may be toeing a fine line by making these modifications to you.” answered Virgil. “A line I seem to be doomed to cross. See, there is really only one true law, so to speak, and that law states that it is no one person’s decision to destroy or create life. When I first started my business growing bananas—”

“Bananas!” the little lizard shouted, almost toppling off Virgil’s shoulder as she did so. Virgil stopped in his tracks, reaching up to catch her if she fell, and for a moment he just waited in this position, perplexed.

“I found pouches of dirt in your luggage,” Wadjet explained almost timidly. “They must have been banana seed.”

Her outburst seemed to throw off Virgil’s sense of drama. He gave her a stern look that quickly melted into an embarrassed smile. “Right, yes, I grow bananas, and I sell them to cooks and rich folks with nothing better to spend their credit on. As I was saying, when I started the business I was worried I would be breaking that law by planting the seedlings and growing the plants, but the plants I receive are sterile, and I receive them from a government-run dispensary. Therefore, I don’t make any such decision. I can only grow as many trees as the community as a whole decides I can grow. Now, discovering this seems to have merely made me curious. See, I’ve never seen the law enforced. So when I decided to refurbish an old audio processor into a personal secretary, I wondered just how far I could go; how life-like could I make you before men in black uniforms started raining from the ceiling.”

Wadjet could tell Virgil wasted no word, she was having a hard time giving each new bit of information its appropriate reaction, but she had to prioritize, a feat made no easier by the events taking place around her.

Virgil made his way to a corner of the habitat, what looked like the entrance to his homestead, making the habitat itself something of a front yard. Sitting next to a red mail post was a stack of crates, each with an address label. She could recall that the mail post was a standardized thing—that mail couriers would deliver anything appropriately addressed that was near the post, or in the little box affixed to the post. When he reached the stack, Virgil grabbed one crate and continued on to the halls of the spoke.

Information seemed to surface of its own volition, scraps of basic information that she was only remembering now because of the things she was being exposed to. The spoke was like a tower with hundreds of floors. At one end were the transportation chutes, and at the other was the axis of the Eco Shell, where all the governing took place. Gravity was a little odd, as Wadjet recalled. Whenever the Eco Shell was full of fuel, everything got pulled down to the axis by good ol’ fashioned gravity, but as the fuel was consumed over the years, the ring sped up its rotation to provide false gravity in the opposite direction. This left a floor or two somewhere along the spoke with no gravity, keeping everyone aware of the current level of fuel, which was stressful for a community that could be waiting centuries between pit stops.

Residences were attached to the outside of the spoke, so that they could be relocated, and the area inside of the spoke was considered commercial space. As they moved from corridor to corridor, they passed homes on their left and small social shops, like bars and cafes on their right. In place of every fourth or fifth shop stall, there was a hallway leading further into the spoke. Virgil reached one such hallway and navigated to an elevator, which he took down several floors, passing the current level of neutral gravity with a casual somersault, which, considering the crate of bananas, impressed Wadjet to no end. Once back out of the elevator, they merely turned the corner and entered the backstage area of the local auditorium.

“Catering here gets me tons of publicity, even though I share a table with other farmers.” Virgil suddenly remarked, “I think there’s a concert today, so it should be fun—unless one of the performers throws a fit.”

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