Dyson's Angel

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Chapter 19

They remained in Zone Takni Gothren for several wakings. Moira and the avatar took turns giving interviews to researchers from the Cloister of Intellect, as well as representatives who traveled to the cathedral from throughout the zone. Moira stayed in the rooms provided by the cathedral for the duration, enjoying the time away from her cramped quarters on the ship and, though she felt the familiar longing for Zau each time, also enjoying the company of several of the researchers who came to interview her.

On the seventh wake, Moira was sitting beside the window of her room, reading a collection of erotic poetry from Zone Yu and occasionally glancing up to admire the sleeping form of the man whose company she had enjoyed the previous rest, when Zau/Heraxo’s avatar drone entered the chamber. They flicked their rings several times and spluttered, “You’re certainly {enjoying/whoring} yourself.”

The man in Moira’s bed sat up with a start and looked around confusedly. His eyes locked on the drone and he relaxed, leaning back on his elbows. “I hadn’t thought to meet the legendary syntellect itself.”

“Go pizda yourself,” the drone replied.

“I already took care of that,” Moira said, eyeing the avatar over the edge of her book. “Twice, in fact, with this one. And about a dozen other times in the last few days while you were off being worshiped.”

“We {don’t judge/despise} your {celebrations/vile human predilections}.

What do you want, Heraxo?” Moira sighed, setting her book on the table where it blinked to display the outlined form of a nude woman disintegrating into a swarm of butterflies - the cover of the poetry collection.

“You assume that we are dominant,” the avatar said. It spluttered static, then started to say, “That Herax…”

“Stuff it,” Moira interjected, standing and striding naked to the side of the bed. She knelt, reaching out one tattooed arm to stroke the man’s chest, and retrieved her wrap dress from the floor. She slipped into it, saying, “Zau and I worked all this out a long time ago. If you’re giving me drek for having a little fun, it must be Heraxo at the wheel. What do you want?”

“We have located Dyson Satori.”

“Located him, eh? How’d you pull that off?” Moira said.

“We developed several {drones/friends} among the other synthetic intellects here in the cathedral. They determined that Dyson Satori had a working relationship with a drone designated Fernier bas Uvquara Xabgyrqatar.”

“Come again?” Moira said.

“Don’t be greedy, {darling/kuro}. Three times in one wake?”

“Sami,” Moira swore. She shot a glance at the man in her bed, then rolled her eyes and looked back to the avatar drone. “What is the name of the drone Dyson is working with?”

“Fernier bas Uvquara Xabgyrqatar.”

“Are you sure that you’re not glitching?”

“Yes. This syntellect comes from an alien race. It calls itself an exo, but that designator is not appropriate. They did not penetrate the Shell, but were trapped within it at the time of the enclosure.”

“And it can help us?”

“Indeed. Dyson’s own location is technically unknown, but we have learned that Fernier bas Uvquara Xabgyrqatar is currently located in Zone Spira. It is reasonable to assume that Dyson is there as well.”

“Lovely. Glad to know you’ve been playing the detective.”

“One of us needs to be getting work done while you’re on your back.”

The man opened his mouth to protest, but Moira held up a hand halting him. “I can defend my own honor, thanks.” She looked back to the avatar and said, “And I’ve been making inquiries of my own.”


“Bishop Leocratis. I agreed to do a retrieval runs in exchange for him tracing Dyson’s activities here in Zone Takni Gothren.”

“Should I be going?” the man in Moira’s bed asked.

“No, sweet. I need to be going, so why don’t you just rest a bit more and make your way home later.” Moira bent and kissed the man on the forehead, then grabbed her scarf from the bedside table and wound it about her neck. The swarm of defensive midges crawled up her arm and disappeared beneath the folds of metasilk for a moment before emerging as a diamond pattern dripping down her chest.

“Come on Zau/Heraxo. I have a meeting with the Bishop and you might as well come along.”

Moira strode out of the room, the avatar drone following close behind. The man cocked his head to one side, mildly disappointed that he would not be enjoying her company again that wake, then he shrugged and flopped back into the silken sheets.

Moira led Zau/Heraxo’s avatar through the winding passages of the Cathedral of Synthetic Intelligence residential complex, following a path mapped in her visual overlay. She supposed that one could become accustomed to the layout of the cathedral with time and practice, but she found the constant branching of corridors and linking passageways frustrating.

“I hope you’ve had fun communing with all the other syntellects, Heraxo, because we’re leaving soon,” Moira called over her shoulder.

“This feels both rash and coincidental,” the drone said.

“Nothing like that.”

“Then why did you not inform us of your intentions?”

“You should have been able to intuit it from all the material that the faith has been loading on the ship. Raw. Unstable amino acids. Fresh nutridrip. Replacement remora drones.”

“We’ve been preoccupied with the adulation.”

Moira laughed, not particularly surprised that Zau/Heraxo had spoken with unanimity. Zau had always been a sucker for adoration and if any mind in the shell could be said to have an ego, it was Heraxo.

“Our internal defenses have tracked numerous individuals crawling throughout our {body/passages} these last few wakes. {Sadly/Of course} we have not harmed them, but their interest in our {anatomy/architecture} is {delightful/unnerving}.”

They arrived at a set of glass doors set into the inner wall of the cathedral ring, overlooking the cluster of spherical units that comprised the various interconnected museum halls and veneration chambers of the cathedral. Moira pressed her hand to a textured panel beside the door, waited for a chime to sound, then turned to face Zau/Heraxo’s avatar. “I’m sorry Zau, but I’ve been trying to enjoy the shred of celebrity that I have around here. Being officially listed as the companion of a minor deity comes with a few perks, you know. It’s a nice change of pace from people respecting me more for the number of skulls I’ve cracked than my intellectual prowess. Can’t you understand that?”

“We understand well enough. You would rather be seen as…” the drone’s response was so mired in overlapping phrases that even Moira could not work out what it meant.

“Never mind. You couldn’t understand anymore,” Moira said, turning her back on the drone to watch as a glass box glided to a halt outside the doors, which slid open to admit them. She stepped into the transport and waited until the doors were closed before saying, “The Bishop said it only took him a few hours to track down Dyson Satori’s research application. Turns out he came here not as an acolyte or whatever, but as an officially registered scholar. Seems he was looking for information about the Conservators.”

The glass elevator snapped away from the docking port and glided along the exterior of the cathedral structure. It rapidly approached one of the angular dendritic corridors which connected the exterior ring with the network of spherical structures and climbed up towards the glimmering dome of the cathedral’s protective field far above. As it traveled, the elevator repeatedly shunted between nodes until it reached its destination. Other elevators glittered in the sunlight as they flashed past along their own paths, carrying passengers at speeds that would have slammed them into the walls had they not been stabilized by inertial dampening fields.

“The Conservators?” Zau/Heraxo’s avatar asked, their voice modulated to an incredulous pitch. “As in, the same Conservators with which Dyson’s mother claimed she could place us in contact?”

“So it would seem.”

“We are not pleased with this, Moira.”

“Neither am I. I’m guessing that it means Dyson is either trying to uncover something that his family would rather he not know about their alien friends, or mommy dearest is lying to us.”

“Have you contacted Evangeline?”

Moira shook her head. That had been her first thought when the Bishop had given her access to Dyson’s records, but she had quickly determined that it would not be a good idea. If a woman as powerful as Evangeline Satori suspected that her hirelings were beginning to question her, there was no telling what she might do.

“Probably for the best. {She/Humans} didn’t strike us as very {intelligent/forgiving}, but we wonder what sort of strategy she is concocting.”

“Which is why I elected to remain here a few more days and let the priests examine your systems,” Moira said. “We may be heading into more trouble than we expected, so it can’t hurt to take whatever gifts these hian priests want to give us.”

The elevator arrived at its destination: a sphere near the top of the cathedral where the bishopric’s official offices were located. Glittering silver lines were laid down in the waxed mahogany floor, describing ornate fractal patterns which legend held to have been the products of the first sentient neural network’s dreams. Moira walked lightly across the floor, enjoying the warmth and smoothness of the wood against her bare feet. It was frivolous, she knew, but she rationalized her behavior by telling herself that she would be back in her combat boots and assault gear soon enough. A circular desk sat at the center of the curved reception space, manned by an elderly man with a bald head, wrinkled face, and wide white grin.

“Welcome, revered syntellect Zau/Heraxo. And companion Moira, it is always a delight for my old eyes to look upon you.”

“Pizda, did you bi that one too?” the avatar muttered, just loud enough that several of the people milling about the reception area heard and glanced towards them.

“Have some manners, Heraxo,” Moira chided. She offered her palm to the receptionist, who touched it with a smile. “Father Decadro is merely being polite, a skill that you might consider picking up.”

“Just so,” the old man said. “Not that you need change your ways, revered syntellect, just that I was being polite to your lovely companion.”

“Don’t apologize to Zau/Heraxo, Father. They’re beyond hope.”

“Even the divine are not beyond hope, or so I believe. There is always a chance that the next upgrade will see even the most irascible of them improved.” The priest touched a hidden switch and a pair of jeweled double-doors slid open. “Bishop Leocratis awaits you within.”

Bishop Estha Predominate ExGeralvia Leocratis sat cross-legged on his padded meditation platform, manipulating virtual resources with broad sweeps of his arms and subtle flicks of his fingertips. He smiled as Moira tripped through the doors followed closely by the avatar of Zau/Heraxo. Though she was barefoot, and dressed in a fashionable wrap, Moira’s arms and legs still writhed with a lethal strength and her wide eyes scanned the room as she entered as if she were stepping into a combat zone. Estha admired her confidence, as well as the tenacity that she had shown in maintaining a working relationship with the Zau/Heraxo syntellect.

Estha dismissed his virtual workspace and rose to greet his visitors. “Welcome. I understand that you have both been making yourselves quite comfortable.”

“Oh?” Moira asked, shooting a look over her shoulder at the drone. “And here I thought I was the only one enjoying your hospitality.”

“Certainly not. Zau/Heraxo has become something of a legend already within the holy community of synthetic intelligences.”

“Hian temno sheep are easy to impress,” Zau/Heraxo replied.

“Yes, well. I am glad that you have come this morning. I understand that you intend to depart soon.”

“Yes,” Moira said. She shrugged, then continued, “I am grateful to you for all of your hospitality, but we need to act on the information you’ve given me.”

Estha nodded and turned to walk slowly to a table which curved out from the side of the room. “I understand. And I am supportive of your desire to complete this task quickly, if only so that you may return to us with all the more rapidity.”

“We’ll hold up our end of the bargain,” Moira said.

“Not that we knew anything about a bargain,” Zau/Heraxo complained. “You always make all the plans, Moira. All we get to do is fly the ship.”

Estha’s eyebrows crept upwards, but he decided it would be better to say nothing. He lifted a wooden box from the table and turned to present it to Moira. It was about the size of a hand terminal, crafted from a heavy, dark wood that had been polished until it shone like opaque glass. Moira took the box and made to open it, but Esha held up a hand. “Wait until you are aboard the ship and alone. This is a gift from me to you. A private token of my appreciation for you sharing your story with me.”

Moira cocked an eyebrow and squinted suspiciously at the box, then at Estha, but then she shrugged and lowered the hand holding the box.

“We hope there’s some quality pharma in that injector,” Zau/Heraxo said, flicking their rings. “Got any for us? Maybe some sort of hypervised environment experiential customized for hive mind hallucinations?”

Estha sighed and shook his head, looking genuinely embarrassed. “I apologize, Zau/Heraxo, but I do not have anything like that prepared. I have, however, arranged for something to be delivered to the ship. It should be in your cargo bay as we speak.”

“If this is pharma, you might want to keep it for yourself,” Moira said, proffering the case to him. “I appreciate the gesture, but I don’t use injected drugs.”

“I assure you that, whatever the drone thought it saw with its scan, this is not any sort of recreational drug. Trust me, you will appreciate this gesture.”

Moira hesitated for only a moment, then shrugged. “Thanks, Bishop.”

“We are grateful was well,” ZauHeraxo chimed in. While the humans had been speaking, they had focused their distributed intelligence on the activity occurring in the rear cargo bay of the ship. Technicians and robed priests had been coming and going from the ship all week, delivering gifts into the cargo bay, meditating in the shadow cast by the ship as drones flicked around them, even going on guided tours of the syntellect core, shepherded by the watchful eyes of remoras. The most recent delivery consisted of several heavy slabs of crystal set into steel frames.

“What did he give you?” Moira asked.

“Memory units. High capacity holographic memory. Good quality too, from the look of it.”

“That’s quite the gift,” Moira said to Estha. “Are you certain?”

“Consider it an offering to placate an angry god,” Estha said, giving a slight bow towards Zau/Heraxo’s avatar. “You forget, Moria, that I am not interested in business. I follow a path that I pray will lead me to transcendence.”

He lowered himself to one knee then, bowing his head to the avatar drone, then to Moira in turn. He then looked up at them both, smiled, and said, “I thank you for the honor of meeting you both, and I pray that you will do me the honor of returning here when your work is finished. We would welcome the opportunity to continue our study of your most unique mind.”

It was strange, Moira reflected as they sped away from the Bishop’s office in another glass elevator, to deal with someone who was motivated entirely by faith, rather than money or power games. She supposed that bringing Zau/Heraxo to the Cloister of Intellect had increased the Bishop’s status within whatever arcane political structure the Takni Gothren employed, and she did now owe him a favor, but compared to the brutally negotiated contracts of Zone Covington or the subtly menacing exchange she had with Evangeline Satori, this leg of the mission had been easy.

Almost too easy.

The thought had lurked at the back of her mind for several wakes, but Moira had done her best to suppress it. The whole week had been like an extended stay at the restclubs of Covington Downtown. Now though, faced with the prospect of boarding Zau/Heraxo and setting off into an unknown zone again, Moira was forced to consider just how easily she had extracted Dyson Satori’s location from the Takni Gothren. Why hadn’t his family simply asked the faith for this same information? She supposed that it might merely be a case of such a deeply political family not wanting to risk association with a religion that was still widely regarded as a sham, or perhaps the Bishop had been willing to deal with her because he wanted access to Zau/Heraxo, but the apparent simplicity of the whole situation was beginning to bother her.

“We agree,” Zau/Heraxo whispered into Moira’s mind as they exited the glass elevator on the ground floor of the Cathedral’s outer walls.

“What?” Moira asked aloud, startling several people who stood outside the elevator, waiting to board. She smiled apologetically at them and nodded her head towards the drone. They each acknowledged her with a nod, inclined head, or narrowing of the eyes. It was far from unusual in this place for people to come across people and drones, or even groups of drones, which suddenly broke out of their private communication channels.

“You were sending to us. We agree that this has been too easy. Had we not already inspected every item brought aboard ourselves, we would suspect the Takni Gothren of attempting to double-cross us.”

They crossed the lobby, went out through the doors, and were soon moving quickly down the broad raised walkway that would take them back out through the Cathedral’s protective field and to the landing platform where the ship waited. Neither spoke again until they had passed through the gateway and were approaching the ship.

“We should be cautious,” Moira said.

“As if we did not have enough to worry about already,” Zau/Heraxo said. “I suppose this is as bad a time as any to tell you that word has reached me that Bosami Haupt has escaped from custody in Covington.”

“Escaped, or bribed his way free?” Moira asked, throwing a skeptical half smile sunwards, where the glittering borders of Zone Covington could just be seen at the edge of the sun’s fiery border.

“Could be either. There are casualties, but that does not mean that some official didn’t grant Haupt’s soldiers access to the holding center.”

A line of robed acolytes waited at the landing platform, lining a path that led up to the open loading ramp at the rear of the ship. One of them stepped forward and bowed deeply to Moira and the drone. “On behalf of the Takni Gothren, we thank you for gracing us with your presence. Your time among us, while brief, had provided invaluable material for our continued study into the nature of the divine mind.”

Before Moira could reply, Zau/Heraxo said, “We’ll be back.” The drone slipped past Moira and down the row of acolytes, who hurried to prostrate themselves as Zau/Heraxo glided past.

“Thanks for putting up with us,” Moira said to the head acolyte, who stood nonplussed before her. She strode forward, patting the acolyte on the shoulder as she passed, and boarded the ship.

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