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Spaxter lay in the sac, face-up, with his head closest to the smear and feet trailing. Considering their velocity the ride was remarkably smooth, if you didn't count the heady g-forces on the corners. For aerodynamic stability the pod had to be sealed, so the only view he had of their passage was by melding the cabby, who had wasted no time in launching their craft once Spaxter was secured.
There had only been a few seconds of this new sensation, however, when something happened. The cabby sensed it, and reflexively slowed the craft, risking a quick glance back by arching his neck and looking upside down. Spaxter captured the moment and re-played it slowly in his internal visual field. He could have easily rotated it to normal perspective, but he found the inversion somehow exhilarating in its surreality.
What he watched was an impossible thing. A corner of the warehouse district, centred on the building they had just left, quivered violently, radiating some kind of dark light. Suddenly it collapsed inward upon itself, in a half a second folding down to a point that just as suddenly exploded with blinding white brilliance, then was gone. Where had stood twelve thousand square feet of industrial real estate was now a great vacancy, neatly scooped out as by a cosmic spoon, spewing sparks and sewage from a hundred cleanly severed conduits.
From the cabby's inverted perspective it was the explosive birth of a perfect planet of nothingness in a steel and concrete sky.
From the disc intelligence sprang forth a sudden flurry of data related to the weapon whose deployment he had just witnessed, and he was reassured to know that it originated in a single molecule of collapsed matter that had been secreted six inches below the discs, and they themselves could not be easily targeted with such destruction. He was less happy to learn that to trigger the subatomic event the black ship had to deploy a tight radiative beam from a relatively close proximity, which meant that it was at this moment very near to their present position.
He experienced a moment of fear as he considered that since the discs were an extension of this larger technology his whereabouts would be instantly known and they would be able to transport him at will, to which thought came at once the awareness that in the bonding with his glove these discs had achieved a unique autonomy from the whole, and had reflexively isolated themselves from detection. For a moment he allowed himself to hope that the disc controllers might associate the sudden disappearance of the discs with the eradication of the facility, however unlikely it was that they would have missed the fact that this isolation had begun minutes before the installation was destroyed.
The implosion generated a powerful shockwave, first hauling them back in an atmospheric undertow as the air surged in to fill the void, then launching them on the cresting current that exploded outwards. The cabby neatly seized the momentum of the blast front and flung the smear forward, deftly side-slipping around a light standard and a chain of refuse tankers before right-angling into a shadowy alley. This last was a move that caused them to bank high up onto the right-hand wall such that they were momentarily riding the side of the building. Spaxter fixated on this particular view from the cabby's now forward-directed vision, in the wake of the inverted implosion so perfectly unnatural in its orientation.
Part of the intense unreality of this remote experience came from the fact that he was physically situated in a relationship exactly opposite to that of the person he was melding, his floating form lying head to head with that of the prone cabby. The novelty of this scenario, enhanced by the visual transpositions of the two views he had sampled, and enhanced again by the alien perspective now suffusing his system by way of the assimilating discs, made it possible for him to temporarily achieve a powerful level of spatial and temporal dissociation. He found himself in a quiet place, outside of time.
It was like a long, slow exhalation, where with every cubic centimetre of liberated breath a stream of visionary exploration was born, all coexisting to create a vast symphony of thought. It was simultaneously painfully exhilarating and blessedly peaceful, like the eye of a hurricane of awareness.
Out of this timeless meditative maelstrom several streams of particular potency emerged, the most astonishing and immediate being the fast-blooming disc mind merging and partnering with his own. There was a cybernetic primitivism to this intelligence, a simplicity and naivete that he had never before sensed in his dealings with the man in black and his devices. He became suddenly aware that he was witnessing a sort of birth. This disc bundle was the first of its kind to become autonomous from the whole, and it was discovering an evolving self-ness of which it had no previous inkling, the new personality inspired by the idiosyncratic biotech of Spaxter's meld and glove to which it had found itself fused. For this nascent being it was like waking from a blank robotic dream to discover you are the infant heir of a family of fortune with a bold and brilliant tutor. A child, and yet with the wisdom of a planet. Frightened, yet ecstatically joyful, playful, alive...
And this child was growing at an exponential rate,....And now there was gender! It was female! How was that possible? Spaxter guessed that in defining its personality in the face of relational information gleaned through melding him it had sought the most complete way of being connected to him. Spaxter named it -- or did it name itself? It was Shela -- no, it was pronounced as two syllables. She La. The "she" originated in the human gender selection, but the "la" came from the disc. "La" was some root name that could be applied to any lifeform originating on the homeworld of the men in black. The artificial hive entity of which the disc was until lately a part was known as the Imhpetla. The men in black were the Esnadrela, a scientist/explorer class of the Tizla, most advanced race of the hominid species, the Urdla, native to their world La Tiv.
It was with a sense of some disappointment that Spaxter absorbed this new information, reducing as it seemed to these darkling mysteries to a series of mundane phonemes. The revelation that the men in black - the Esnadrela - were extraterrestrial in origin, was hardly unexpected.
Even before he had gained any real firsthand exposure to the disc technology he had suspected something like this... but there was definitely something more. This whole phenomenon was operating on a scale beyond anything he had ever known, and there were factors he was probably incapable of understanding given his merely human nature, however augmented.
As he mused on the nature of his adversary while observing the explosive growth of its mutant offspring, another part of his mind studied the meld data from Muteikoo. Nejiri had apparently noticed what he had at first taken to be a jewelry fashion trend among a few of his office staff. When one of his senior executives showed up sporting the discs and a couple of strange behavioral quirks, he went into action.
He assigned the man to a new division where he would be working on radiation experiments, unaware that half of the equipment was actually studying him. While the lab was running "tests" this other gear was taking snapshots of the discs in a huge range of imaging technologies. Unfortunately only a third of the tests had run before their surveillance was apparently detected. It was with undiminishing horror that Tai watched again and again the recording that showed the executive suddenly arch in agony, then reach for the now-smoking discs... too late.
It was as if a snaking tendril of power leapt between the discs, connecting the temples through the man's brain. Some feature of the power surge made the man's head momentarily translucent and the bolt weirdly visible.
At this evidence of advanced technology, guided intelligence, and lethal self defence, Nejiri reasoned he might now be in some danger, and proceeded to analyze the data he had gathered as a deep-pocket crash program. Within six hours he had collated enough to know that he probably wouldn't know any more, and that what he did know was enough to convince him that what he was dealing with was not of this world. He immediately created a team to initiate a program of surveillance within all branches of his corporation that extended to an analysis of all accessible global information sources, searching for patterns derived from the disc scans. Within days he had amassed information that pointed to a vastly powerful alien organization moving undetected in huge aerial craft, indiscriminately enslaving humans for some reason as yet undetermined.
He generated a substantial model of a disc in his most massive processor, and while he never did gain a significant grasp of the nature of the technology itself, he was able to generate an algorithm that could disrupt its power flow when beamed at it as modulated microwave.
Whatever the specifics were, Nejiri had come to the conclusion that Earth was presently under extraterrestrial attack from a species of considerable technological superiority who were apparently attempting to cause some radical shifts in the direction of human civilization by infiltrating key positions of social power. According to the last log entry he was about to take several steps towards addressing this likelihood -- one of which was contacting Spaxter.
Spaxter presented the algorithm to Shela.
Yes, that will work, she said.
She said? When had this sense of verbalized personality developed?
I'm new, she said.
This was high strangeness.
You said it!
Spaxter laughed, though only in his mind.
There was another part of Spaxter's mind, not laughing. It was looking at a strange thing. It was a recorded data fragment salvaged from the session at the Gimme Shelter Carpark Motel, a forgotten piece of broadcast stream snagged off his floating memory and slotted into a temp file as an identifying marker for a reference code that Spaxter had recorded. He wasn't sure how or why he was now recalling it, or of what possible significance it could have, but for the moment he casually reviewed the program excerpt -- a talk show, with a man in a cassock...
Now a single image intruded on all things, all parts of mind. It was the image of a vast glassy pyramid coming under a yet vaster shadow, the signature thought of the New Atlantean Spaxter had encountered at the karaoke bar.
It is the Nuncedus, she said.
And the space out of time suddenly collapsed, the timeless multifaceted moment explosively unraveling, the maelstrom of mind coughing and dissipating, and Spaxter found himself back in the sac and slicing through the oily night of industrial Japan at the speed of a bullet train.
And then things happened.
First came the warning from Shela.
At which point he realized that it was the warning itself that had triggered the cessation of his fugue state. This new sense of the disc, the time-lapse blossoming of a human-type personality with gender and projected vocal characteristics, had caught Spaxter quite off-guard, and he was a heartbeat delayed in recognizing the dire import of what was said.
And then he was in the moment, seeing through the cabby's eyes as the smear raced through a wide dark lane towards a tall blank building with a featureless wall of poured stone.
And overhead -- the stars disappeared. In the centre of this new hole in the sky a small circle of light appeared -- inverse pupil in a vast ominous eye of pitch.
Spaxter focused, full-firing the meld to embrace the entire body of the smear/pod, raising his gloved hand to the point in the sac closest to the trailing edge of the vehicle's central strut. He focused. There was a tight intersection with a cross-street where the lane met the blank-faced building. To negotiate the turn the cabby would have to slow dramatically, and was just about to do so, when Spaxter took control of his mind.
Pushing someone with the meld was something he had previously achieved in some measure, especially in concert with physical contact, body language and vocal tone; but when undertaken in this way the process was more akin to hypnosis than telepathic control. His efforts to actually manipulate someone's motor functions, as he had himself experienced so traumatically with the beads, had never met with much success. But now it was without any doubt as to its possible failure that Spaxter slipped inside Tetsu's living thoughts and directed him to do something that no hypnosis could achieve, since it would to the subject be equated with suicide. Instead of slowing, the cabby targeted the featureless stretch of wall directly in front of them and kicked the smear into full acceleration.
In the three seconds he had while they rocketed towards maximum velocity -- which would occur about the time their vehicle seemed destined to fulfill its name in its inevitable encounter with the intractable stone -- Spaxter called upon every scintilla of the complex cyborganic aggregate that was his peerlessly extraordinary extended self, and brought all of its facets into an optimal alignment. One thought framed and informed and inflamed this profound union, a sound thought, a single aspirated syllable with an extended vowelization. The thought was ... THROUGH ...