Ventus – Day 27 of 135


“This may be our last warm night of the year,” said Megan the next evening. “It pleases me to see you enjoying it.”

Armiger smiled at her. He stood in the center of the clearing next her cottage. The sun had just set, leaving a rose band across the western horizon. The moon Diadem was rising. The moon received its name from the scattering of brilliant white craters on its surface, which made it a dim oval studded with diamond-bright pinpricks of light. On other nights Armiger had praised or cursed those gleaming points, depending on whether night-visibility was to his army’s advantage or not. Tonight, possibly for the first time, he was able to admire the sight for its own sake.

He felt content. He knew it was because he was free from all responsibilities during this convalescence.

“Strange,” he murmured.

Megan looked up at the moon, then back at him. “What?”

“I should be dead,” he said.

She touched his shoulder. “Your wounds were terrible. But they’re healing quickly. Isn’t that normal for a morph?”

“I’m not exactly a morph,” he said wryly. “Just something like one. But yes, you’re right.” The lie came easily to his lips. Then he thought about it. Could he explain this to a mortal? He would never have thought he had an obligation to try.

Armiger lowered his eyes from the moon, and studied Megan in the pale light. She was a creature he didn’t understand. His plans had rarely included women. But she stood next to him now, easy in the cricket-song and darkness, and played none of the dominance games males played. She took her own obligation to him, the wounded soldier, for granted.

“My link to my higher self,” he began, then stopped. “It was more than love. We shared an identity. When… she died, I should have died too. Because there was only one of us. Or at least that’s what I believed.”

Megan nodded. “We all think that of our life’s love. But one carries on.”

At first Armiger thought she had simply not understood him. Then he thought of another possibility: Megan knew his experiences were not like hers, but she was making an effort to translate them into terms she could understand.

It surprised him to think that she might be spending her time with him doing such an odd kind of work. For it would be work, finding commonality with a stranger’s experience. Armiger himself did so only as a way of anticipating the next move of an opponent.

If she’d kept her conclusions to herself, he might have believed she was doing that too. But she shared them.

“Was she killed in the war?” Megan asked.

He started to say no, since this local brushfire he had been involved in had nothing to do with the interstellar conflict that had resulted in his greater self’s demise. But he could play the same game as her: what would make sense to her, on an emotional level? “Yes,” he said.

“You won’t go back to being a soldier, will you?”

He barely heard her. Why am I alive? When his Self died, he should have been extinguished, or at least turned back into an aimless machine.

“I thought I knew what I was,” he said. Armiger had pretended to be human since arriving on Ventus. Before that, he recalled bright light and deep vacuum, vision encompassing 360 degrees, radio song in his head, and others’ thoughts as well. In that existence, there had been no distinguishing his own mind from those of his companions, the other servants of 3340. And the god’s will was the same as their own. The part of that vast identity that was Armiger thought of himself as an extension of the greater whole. He had assumed that when he thought, it was 3340 who was thinking, and when he acted, it was the god acting. It had always been that way.

No, not always…

Suddenly the presence of this woman at his side felt threatening. Something ancient, a memory perhaps, made him turn away from her. “I need to be alone now,” he said. The harsh tone of his own voice surprised him.

“But–” she began. Then she seemed to think better, and turned and walked away quickly.

Armiger glanced back. Humans were biological creatures–mortal animals. For a second there, though, he had touched on some deep-buried feeling within himself. Megan had loomed in the darkness as real as 3340 itself. For an instant, he had… remembered? Remembered standing with someone, a human being, who was every bit his own equal. A creature like himself.

A woman.

And there and then a memory unfolded within Armiger like a long-dormant flower: of himself walking and laughing, a young man with a young woman on his arm, on a world with two moons. On a night like this.

That memory was a thousand years old.

Had he once been human himself? That could explain why 3340 had chosen him for this job. On the other hand, the god could have crafted his personality from the remnants of captured human minds. After all, a memory was nothing more than a synaptic hologram. He was sure 3340 could manufacture any sort of memory for its agents.

Armiger stalked through the long wet grass, swiping at it absently with his hands. The moon and the warmth of the night were forgotten now. He came to the edge of the woods, and turned to pace back the way he’d come, scowling.

If that had been a manufactured memory, why should it remain submerged for so long? He would have expected the god to make only useful memories, and provide them all to his agent’s consciousness.

This memory… her hand in his… was an alien thing. He couldn’t fit it into his purpose or identity as 3340 had given them to him.

He realized he had been kicking the grass out of his way as he walked, tearing it up by the roots. Armiger stopped, and glanced back at the cottage. Megan stood silhouetted in the doorway.

He ran his hand through his hair. Well. Evidently there was some fragment of human mentality in him. 3340 would not have sent him on this mission were that not the case. It could explain why he was still alive: for some reason 3340 had given him the same instincts for autonomous self-preservation as biological creatures had.

He told himself not to jump to conclusions. He had yet to really take stock of himself. Hitherto the overwhelming fact of his bereavement had kept him from exploring what was left to him. Maybe it was time.

He walked back to the cottage. Megan still stood in the doorway, a frown on her face. “I can’t say I haven’t done that myself,” she said. “I’m sorry if I reminded you of things you didn’t want to think about.”

Armiger felt tired, in body and mind. “I need to thank you, actually,” he said. “You’ve provided me such a safe haven here that I can finally face some of these things.”

Megan beamed. She seemed to struggle for something to say. “Oh,” she managed at last. Then, slyly, “then I can take your ripping up the garden as a good sign?”

“Garden?” He glanced back at the darkened field.

“You tromped right through one of them a minute ago.”

“Oh.” What to say? “I’ll repair the damage in the morning.”

She laughed. “Just do your best. I can’t picture you as a gardener, whatever else you may be.”

Awkwardly, he tried a grin in reply. Megan combed her fingers through her hair and bumped her shoulder against the doorjamb a couple of times.

“I’ll heat up some stew if you’d like,” she said at last.

“Thanks. I’m going to sit out here and meditate a while.”

“Okay.” She ducked back in, leaving the door open to the fragrances of night.

Armiger sat down stiffly on the uneven boards of the cottage’s small porch. There was just enough space next to Megan’s rocking chair for him to sit in full lotus. He gazed out over the breeze-runnelled grass. Diadem’s light cast shadows like nodding figures under the trees. He closed his eyes.

Armiger decided to avoid a full neurophysiological exam for now. He just wasn’t psychologically strong enough to take an objective look at how much intelligence, memory and will he had lost with 3340. He could treat his body dispassionately, however, so he started with that.

His resources were painfully low. The gossamer nanotech that made up his real body had unfurled from its usual position at the spine, and spread throughout this human form, right to its extremities. Nearly all his energy was devoted to shoring up the body’s ravaged immune system. He had manufactured nano to move in and repair the dead cells of his own corpse, and until a day or so ago he had been warm and breathing only because the nano had replaced normal cell processes with their own harsh metabolism. Now the nano were easing out of revived cells and were being reabsorbed into his filamentary body. His strength was growing, but very slowly. At this rate it would be many months before he recovered fully.

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