You’ve never dreamt of being a Pulserider. Until now.
A charitable donation, your pulsebike was gifted to you by your twin brother, Coil. Coil had flatlined on his final run for the Cup, when—before an audience of 1.7 million—the pulseracer veered abruptly off the racing line and collided into fate itself.
Damage to the bike was extensive, but not irreparable. So Coil’s pulsebike was revived by an underground bike repair unit, under the shrewd watch of the late racer’s squad-mates. Then it was passed along to you per Coil’s will, honored by his Alpha Squad of Pulseracing Legends.
The hallowed transfer made sense at time. But now you’re not so sure.
Because you’re not a pulseracer. Never been a pulseracer. Because charging around 512 stacked loops isn’t your thing. You’ve always taken to more esoteric interests, which always kept you conveniently isolated from your brother’s fast and furious raison d’être.
While Coil lived for racing, you’d lived to understand Coil. Your obsession wasn’t bikes racing a circuit, but signals tracing a circuit. Nerve impulses: action potentials flashing forth across synapses, charging down, down, down to electrically activate so many meat suits.
It was a fascination fanned by the drive to understand your brother’s talent; Coil’s seemingly innate ability to respond to changing conditions in an instant. The proprietary impulse-driven nervous system that drove him around loops, keeping him dead-center in so many wavering slipstreams.
Those crucial moments of decisive non-decisions that’d protected him from fate.
Which impulse had failed him that day? And why? What inhibited the life-saving impulse from firing? From switching ON in an infinitely complex neurochemical pool—one trivially analogous to a trillion lines of machine code?
The answer came to you from your brain stem, from somewhere deep in REM. But knowing wasn’t the same as understanding. You had to understand how it happened. How otherworldly superluminal signals—entangled with specialized cells, producing ionic cascades when prodded by electrochemical stimulus—could be determined to fail with such urgency and without warning.
You’re on the 256th loop in a race around Tokyo’s Tornado circuit. Constructed in 2077, the track loops skyward like a compressed helical spring, flipping over and doubling back on itself. Then flux-pinned pulseracers spiral upside-down in a deathrace to the bottom.
Your twin was on the final loop, headed down, when the bike lost control of its rider in an unprecedented turn of events. A response window slammed shut as Coil exited the final transition curve, his razor-sharp pulserider instincts failing him 20 seconds out from the starting gate.
You’ve seen a few upside down crashes before. But this one seemed to happen in slow motion, at 800 frames per second.
The official reports agree that Coil’s pulsebike had somehow slipped out of a slipstream—which was technically impossible, since pulsers were neurosynched with their streamlined apparati. This intimate pairing gave them direct access to their bike’s drive system.
So Coil maneuvered the framework with his neural impulses. If a neuron were to misfire, he’d experience it in real time, as the bike’s autopilot systems jerked him back on line.
As you careen around a curve, the pulsebike shifts too far to the left, auto-adjusting the racing line to keep the bike in the center of the loop.
Flash backs of the dream: rapid-fire imagery of a species not quite human, but not altogether alien to humanity. Perhaps they were humans. But unfamiliar to anyone in known spacetime.
You didn’t have to think or wonder or question to know. You knew they were humans, many years downstream, in a time and place many light years distant from the present.
Ages of evolution had transformed the species into something humanoid.
They hyperslept in stasis chambers, enclosed in what appeared to be hard light shields. Their heads were swollen, housing layer upon layer upon layer of cortical connections. Neurons that humans in your time had yet to wire together.
They watched us in their deepest dreams: presently misunderstood mental phenomena that connected our species across time and space. For a brief moment, you saw an abstract version of your world through a subconscious mind’s eye. One that belonged to a hyper-advanced descendant of your species who—by way of the Dreamverse—psychically shared the mind of a person in your time.
Stripped of details, you saw impetus. Electrical impulses coursing through neural nodes, each an open system with its own input-output feedback loop. Each open system a biomechanical model of life; each model a body; each body a pulserider.
Each rider a being that—you’d assumed—was determined by their own force of will.
But as you watched the scene unfold through unfamiliar eyes, something strange happened.
As one system busily interacted with another, there was a sharing of impetus that was altogether invisible to those in hard reality. Then, abruptly, the sharing stopped. Or, rather, was stopped.
Through the eyes of another, you watched as the being all but reached across the timestream and known space and inhibited the nervous system of a rider at the neuronal level.
“Stop...” You'd protested from some non-place in dream space. But it was too late: interference had broken the neuronal entanglement and the inhibited systems were no longer sharing information.
You watched as the rider being inhibited wavered along the racing line, their bike over-correcting the sudden deviation. Then the bike rolled up a transition wall and pitched off the track, like a wayward dart soaring off its mark.
Flash back to the present: multiple BCI HUDs in the bike’s closed cockpit. One display shows a closed circuit of fluid lines, representing brain-computer feedback in real-time. Nodes dot the smartpaper-thin impulse pathways, where the bike converts electrical nerve signals into mechanical energy to, for example, telekinetically activate the pulsebike’s plasma stream thrusters.
For all intents and purposes you and the pulsebike are a real match; a single conscious entity barreling around the stacks at transonic speeds.
And, for a moment, you and your twin are one.
You are quantum-locked behind another racer, Bit McGee, drafting closer to his XBR Cheetah by the millisecond. Nodes flash across the HUD as your pulsebike syncs with his, sharing critical systems information at light speed.
There’s no room for error.
The smooth, magnetized track holds your bike against it like an amorous couple on a cold winter’s night, generating a positive feedback loop that should've ended in victory. But as you round the final loop, fate disrupts your focus with an acute attack of déjà vu.
You’ve been here before, but in another way.
The familiarity arrives with such intensity that your pulsebike wobbles from the sudden loss of BCI synchronicity. You know what’s coming, but your will to stop it is somehow inhibited. Somehow!
You choke and the bike sighs beneath you, sliding off line as it searches for the ideal racing path. There’s a dreadful sense that your will is being hi-jacked, replaced with the will of an other: another’s choice, not your own. A primary response—predetermined in the oldest parts of your hindbrain—cancelling a signalling cascade before it could fractal up into your conscious mind.
Red flashes across the display. The sound of metamaterials impacting against electropermanent magnets. The smell of leaking plasma; the taste of blood.
A light 1,000 times brighter than Sol.
Then, darkness. A darkness in which no light can breathe.
Screams of consciousness: dreams of being awake. But not in any time or place familiar to your own.
You’re in an endless hall of stasis chambers.
Yours is number 3,293,185.
You lie asleep, dreaming of electrical impulses coursing through neural nodes. Each an open system with its own input-output feedback loop. Each open system a biomechanical model of life; each model a body; each body a pulserider.
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