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Chapter 10

Having rejected Dandan's mental image of the Ghost Walk, Spaxter had indulged the urge to fantasize on possible forms it might take. That the criminal element was involved seemed too consistent to be ignored, but after that anything seemed possible.


Something behind a plain garage door, down here.


It was too easy to project the night's events directly forward in time and see a roomful of beaded stewards and energy beams. Beaded Yakuza, perhaps, in black suits and shades, operating some dark alien doorway. Maybe some young genius who had sold the soul of his machine to the highest bidder. Maybe an ancient artefact, and Spaxter searched his memory for any mythology associated with this kind of effect, without success.


Dandan's thoughts were a knot of anxiety peopled with troglodytic mobsters. The closer they had gotten to their goal the more he had allowed his imagination to elaborate upon something which he had previously chosen to simply not think about.


They had crossed the subterranean storage vat in seconds and neatly slipped into a maintenance tunnel that led to a small underground interchange of access roads. They passed through a dozen turns and open doors, up a spiral ramp with a convoluted aboriginal painting of a serpent on the outer wall that led to a private garage that had obviously once housed the tribe responsible for the artwork. A jagged hole had been made in the ceiling, probably by a small explosive, and a fire-pit built out of the rubble. Ragged tarpaulins were hung from the hole and rigged with electrical wiring to form a ramshackle teepee, presumably to channel the smoke. For all this effort the garage was visibly black throughout, as if from a vast age of grime.


Past the garage and two more turns they came out into a large serviceway for some kind of immense, curving structure, but Spaxter could only get from Tetsu's thoughts that it was some manner of auditorium.


Dandan turned and looked at his companion, as if conscious of his thoughts being read; and then an idea came to him. In that moment Spaxter became aware that the building was a Shodome, and that Dandan was about to drive into it.


The Shodomes had been very popular for many years. They combined digital projection technology with robotic figures and live actors to create an unprecedented sense of reality in what was essentially just a live theater performance. The theaters consisted of a large dome covered in an electro-luminescent foil that could be programmed as one mammoth video screen with near-perfect resolution. The seating was angled, focused on the section of the dome with the stage. The stage was situated in relation to the audience in such a way that it could be matted easily into the larger image on the dome, and the projected image would blend into full-scale sets with moving components and live actors and effects. Many shows were made that were totally automated, with no live actors. The stage was backed by a square hole in the dome up to which a truck would pull a gargantuan trailer housing the complete automated Shodome machine. When the trailer was lined up with the hole in the dome it would open up, simultaneously hooking up to the house screen and sound system.


Without warning Dandan veered up a dark ramped ingress, into the heart of the structure. He deftly executed several impossibly tight transits and switchbacks, some of which crossed what had once been pedestrian walkways, before emerging in a high-ceilinged chamber whose towering ramps and hydraulic plates revealed it to be the access garage where the Shodome trucks would enter the structure. In another moment he had maneuvered the vehicle through yet another fearfully narrow set of angled passages, up a short ramp, and out onto the stage. The headlights caught the foil of the dome and it blossomed with translucent iridescence, a towering bubble, scintillating. The vault of heaven.


Spaxter stepped from the vehicle and studied the structure with interest. It seemed to have originally been a corporate private screening room by the looks of it, smaller than the commercial houses, but infinitely better outfitted. It had apparently been abandoned somewhat more recently than most of this part of the city, might even still be in use.


Walking to one side of the staging area he looked for and found the silver conduit junction at which a Shodome truck would interface the dome's audiovisual equipment. Caressing it lightly with the gauntlet he ascertained that it was still powered, that it had not recently been activated, and that it seemed to be free of power faults or cannibal programs. Now he placed the tip of his index finger onto the small button of fibre ends in the middle of the junction, and began gently probing the theater's central nervous system. The dome came alive with a ponderous flash, a slow wide river of lightning from pole to pole.


Dandan had gotten out of the car, and now paused at his open door watching Spaxter. He had come here mostly to talk. He was extremely afraid, now that they were almost upon the Ghost Walk, and needed some reassurances, or at least better instructions. Spaxter was well aware of these thoughts, and that for the last few minutes the cabby had been driving to avoid the Ghost Walk doorway, which was very close, while he engaged in an internal debate about whether or not it was rational to go there.


Spaxter did not know how he could help the man, having little more information to go on and being also engaged in just such a mental deliberation. Should he tempt fate with such a perilous quest? Should he meddle with black ships and blonde men and the ghostwalk underworld? If these were the Last Days, as evidence indicated, then surely better to spend them in more contemplative, spiritual ways than enmeshed in this crazed metaphysical cat's cradle. He felt like he’d been dropped as a lone soldier on the front lines of a war for humanity that only he was aware of. Could he really make a difference by himself? So far his efforts had resulted in a good friend's apparent enslavement and the kidnapping and terrorizing of this perfectly decent cab-driver.


He could at least show the man something...


The vast dome began to fire, blazing with images.


Dandan turned off the vehicle lights and stepped to the edge of the platform, looking up.


At first it was an indecipherable explosion of unrelated graphics presented at a speed well above the normal threshold of perception. As it slowed Dandan caught video bursts of ambient scenery, cityscapes and space scenes and flying sequences, at least eight different themes randomly intercut. Each sequence lasted just long enough to fully imprint a sense of reality, the illusion that the tiers of seating had been magically transported to this new and exotic environment, before it changed again. The cabby reflected that it was like living several lives simultaneously.


The display was slowing further, and the intercutting became musically rhythmic. The cabby's heart rate began to slow, the pupils to dilate as the rhythm intensified, accompanied now by a pulsing thrum from the sound system, the sound as of a vast hive of which this sphere was but a single honeycomb. He began to enter an altered state, thoughts becoming elastic, wave-like. Just as he seemed to be passing out of consciousness altogether he came forth with one very clear statement, unhalting, in English, without accent: "One can live all lives as the One Life," before his thoughts fell silent.


Spaxter reacted, turning his eyes off the dome to look at his companion. The whole tone of the thought had been different. He immediately sorted into the short term memory of the meld to find the phrase and save it, taking his concentration off the glove's activity where he had been triggering the dome's superficial display files as an incidental side-effect of establishing system control. The images on the screen had been of the last programs that had been shown at the theater, or at least of sequences from shows that were so complex that some of the facility's floating memory had to be used during the performance.


While he searched his meld the dome display lapsed.


Tetsu jerked slightly. Suddenly the dome was alive again, with the same images he had just been seeing, but this time somehow softer, shifting, personal. It was the meld's recording of his own vision being projected onto the dome's screen. Now there was sound, a voice, his voice, the voice in his own head, saying "ONE CAN LIVE ALL LIVES AS THE ONE LIFE", loud, over the sound system.


Dandan jerked again, just as the image lapsed, and came fully to awareness of his surroundings as from a lucid dreamstate. The reality of their present quest snapped home and he jerked again, turning towards Spaxter.


"What are we -- ?" he began, then the dome came alive once more.


Now he was alert, though startled and shaken, and confused. He knew this dome, had seen shows here many times, but never had he experienced it like this. But then neither had he had any of the experiences of the last few hours. His life had suddenly become hallucinatory, and he wondered briefly if maybe it wasn't some new disease sweeping the planet, a viral insanity. Maybe a drug epidemic, something in the water, something he'd eaten.


Whatever it was, he felt fine right now, just scared. This remarkable man in hat and glove had somehow rescued him from something for which he apparently took responsibility, some kind of mind control by some other party, presumably the same ones that had been pursuing them in that powerful black car. Yakuza? And what was that hole in the sky? A ship?


Now the dome blazed to life, and they were there on the bed, in the motel, Spaxter's perspective made gargantuan by the dome, his body stretched out, glowing gloved hand on the controls. On the wall the screen flickered, replaying the first tunings. Dandan watched with interest the variety of channels that came up, so many high restriction feeds... with porno, and video drugs... It kept returning to small local programs, newscasts and talk shows.


The sound from the screen in the room was low, at the threshold of comprehension, but now there was another sound, louder and clearer, as if from very close. Instantly Dandan knew, without being certain how he knew, that it was the sound of the thoughts of the person on the screen, and that he was experiencing a meld; that his new companion was equipped with meld gear, and this was a replay of a session in which that equipment was being used to listen to the thoughts of people off the broadcast bands. He had never before imagined that such a thing might be possible.


And then there came sequence after sequence, thoughts contradicting spoken words, thoughts seemingly independent of speech, crazy people with tormented inner voices. Dandan began to get some small idea of what it must be like to live with this mind-reading hardware, and he decided that he'd rather not.


Just as he was beginning to wonder why he was watching this memory, a man in black appeared on the screen. The man was very blonde, on what looked to be a corporate channel, selling some kind of jewelry.


And then the story got interesting.