The two men materialized out of vacuum, a few yards apart in the narrow, city-lit lane. For a second they stood quite still, guns directed at each other’s necks; then, recognizing each other, they deconstructed their guns into their nano-morphers and started walking briskly in the same direction.
“News?” asked the taller of the two.
“The best,” replied Aubrey Stormwool.
The lane was bordered on the left by violet, Neo-Tokyo trees, on the right by a digitalized, seamlessly growing wall. The men’s long robes flapped around their ankles as they marched.
“Thought I might be late,” said Basillicus, his savant features sliding in and out of sight as the branches of overhanging trees broke the city-neon. “It was a little trickier than I expected, but I hope she will be satisfied. Are you confident that your reception will be good?”
Aubrey nodded, but did not elaborate. They turned right, into a tessellated platform that floated off the lane. The digitalized wall curved into them, running off into the distance beyond the net of sharp laser-beam lines blocking the men’s way. Neither of them broke step: In silence, both weaved their hands into some kinds of mudras and passed straight through, as though the red lasers were holograms.
The blinking tiles patterned the sound of the men’s footsteps. There was a trickle somewhere to their right: Basillicus drew his gun again, pointing it over his companion’s head but the source of the noise proved to be nothing more than an android-white dove, fluttering divinely along the top of the wall.
“He always did himself well, Lazov. Doves…” Basillicus collapsed his gun back into a nano-morpher with a tsk.
A violent space temple flickered out of the stars at the end of the ascending platform, lights glinting in the stained glass fractal windows. Somewhere in the dark sky beyond the wall, a tesseract was singing. Polygons bleeped beneath their feet as Aubrey and Basillicus sped toward the front entrance, which unplugged sideways at their approach, though nobody had visibly opened it.
The hallway was large, digitally lit, and perfectly streamlined, with a red panel lighting most of the obsidian floor. The eyes of the macabre-faced statues on the wall followed Aubrey and Basillicus as they strode past. The two men halted at a thick plasma barrier, hesitated for the space of a visual scan, then Aubrey turned the liquid handle.
The Tibetan chamber was full of silent people, floating in a terraced and electrified pool. The chamber’s usual relics had been subsumed carelessly into the liquid. Pixels flickered from the neurotic screen beneath a confronting jet-raven triptych surmounted by a hyperbolic disk. As their brains grew adjusted to the surreality of contents, they were drawn upward to the strangest feature of the scene: an apparently dismembered humanoid mannequin dangling in pieces over the pool, revolving slowly as if pierced by invisible chains, and reflected in the disk and in the glassy, orange surface of the pool below.
None of the people floating underneath this singular sight were looking at it except for a bronze young man floating almost directly below it. He seemed unable to prevent himself from glancing upward every minute or so.
“Basillicus. Aubrey,” said a ghostly, lacrimosa voice from the throne of the pool. “You are very nearly late.”
The speaker was standing directly in front of the screen, so that it was difficult, at first, for the new arrivals to make out more than her silhouette. As they drew nearer, however, her face shone through the radiosity, flawless, vacuum-pure, with stardust for skin and beaming mandala eyes whose pupils were voids. She was so perfect that she seemed to exist in holographic limbo.
“Aubrey, here,” said God, indicating the liquid on her immediate right. “Basillicus, beside Vanaxis.” The two men took their allotted places. Most of the eyes in the pool followed Aubrey, and it was to him that God spoke first.
“My Savior, the Vector of the Aeneid intends to move Nao Nakai from his current place of safety on Saturday, at nightfall.”
The interest in the pool sharpened palpably: some waded, others splashed, all gazing at Aubrey and God.
“Saturday … at nightfall,” repeated God. Her mandala eyes crucified upon Aubrey’s golden ones with such intensity that some of the watchers looked away, apparently fearful that they themselves would be speared by the acuity of the gaze. Aubrey, however, looked calmly back into God’s face and after a moment or two, God’s seductive lips curved into something like a smile.
“Good. Very good. And this information comes…”
“… from the source we discussed,” said Aubrey.
Basillicus had raised upward to look up the tall pool at God and Aubrey. All faces turned to him.
“My Savior, I have heard differently.”
Basillicus waited, but God did not speak, so he went on, “Railen, the Infidel, let slip that Nakai will not be moved until the thirtieth, the night before the boy turns seventeen.”
Aubrey was smiling.
“My source told me that there are plans to lay a false trail; this must be it.”
“No doubt, a Cyber Virus has been implanted onto Railen. It would not be the first time; he is known to be susceptible.”
“I assure you, my Savior, Railen seemed quite certain,” said Basillicus.
“If he has been Infected, naturally he is certain,” said Aubrey. “I assure you, Basillicus, the Infidel Squadron will play no further part in the protection of Nao Nakai. The Vector believes that we have infiltrated the Thesis.”
“The Vector’s got one thing right then, eh?” said a cyberpunk man floating a short distance from Basillicus; he gave a raspy vibrato that was echoed here and there along the pool.
God did not react. Her gaze had wandered upward to the body revolving slowly overhead, and she seemed to be lost in thought.
“My Savior,” Basillicus went on, “Railen believes an entire party of Infidels will be used to transfer the boy”
God held up a delicate glittery hand, and Basillicus subsided at once, watching resentfully as God turned back to Aubrey.
“Where are they going to hide the boy next?”
“At the home of one of the Vector,” said Aubrey. “The place, according to the source, has been given every protection that the Vector and Squadron together could provide. I think that there is little chance of taking him once he is there, my Savior, unless, of course, the Squadron has fallen before next Saturday, which might give us the opportunity to discover and hack enough of the code to break through the rest.”
“Well, Basillicus?” God called down the pool, the photons suffering strangely in her microcosmic eyes. “Will the Vector have fallen by next Saturday?”
Once again, all heads turned. Basillicus squared his shoulders.
“My Savior, I have good news on that score. I have, with difficulty, and after great effort, succeeded in downloading an Ophiocordyceps Virus onto Ibn Jecht.”
Many of those floating around Basillicus looked impressed; his neighbor, Vanaxis, a cyborg with a featureless, white face, clapped him on the back.
“It is a start,” said God. But Jecht is only one man. Kyoto must be surrounded by our people before I act. One failed attempt on the President’s life will set me back a long way.”
“Yes my Savior, that is true but you know, as Head of the Department of Human Law Enforcement, Jecht has regular contact not only with the President himself, but also with the Heads of all the other Vector departments. It will, I think, be easy now that we have such a high-ranking official under our control, to subjugate the others, and then they can all work together to bring Kyoto down.”
“As long as our friend Jecht is not discovered before he has converted the rest,” said God. “At any rate, it remains unlikely that the Vector will be mine before next Saturday. If we cannot touch the boy at his destination, then it must be done while he travels.”
“We are at an advantage here, my Savior,” said Basillicus, who seemed determined to receive some portion of approval. “We now have several people planted within the Department of Human Transport. If Nakai teleports or uses the Vacuum Network, we shall know immediately.”
“He will not do either,” said Aubrey. “The Squadron is eschewing any form of transport that is controlled or regulated by the Vector; they mistrust everything to do with the place.”
“All the better,” said God. “He will have to move in the open. Easier to take, by far.”
“Again, God looked up at the slowly revolving gore as he went on, “I shall attend to the boy in person. There have been too many mistakes where Nao Nakai is concerned. Some of them have been my own. That Nakai lives is more due to my errors than to his triumphs.”
The company in the liquid watched God apprehensively, each of them, by his or her expression, afraid that they might be blamed for Nao Nakai’s continued existence. God, however, seemed to be speaking more to herself than to any of them, still addressing the dripping flesh above her.
“I have been careless, and so have been thwarted by causation and complexity, those wreckers of all but the best-laid plans. But I know better now. I understand those processes that I didn’t understand before. I must be the one to kill Nao Nakai, and I shall be.”
At these words, seemingly in response to them, a sudden wail sounded, a terrible drawn-out cry of misery and pain. Many of those in the liquid looked downward, startled, for the sound had seemed to issue from below the depth.
“Leviathan,” said God, with no change in her quiet, gracious tone, and without removing her eyes from the revolving chunks above, “have I not spoken to you about keeping our prisoner quiet?”
“Yes, m-my Savior,” gurgled a small chimera halfway down the pool, who had been present so deeply in place that it appeared, at first glance, to be hiding. Now he spluttered from his position and scurried from the cave, leaving nothing behind him but a curious oscillation of waves.
“As I was saying,” continued God, looking again at the tense faces of her followers, “I understand better now. I shall need, for instance, to borrow a nanomorpher from one of you before I go to kill Nakai.”
The faces around him displayed nothing but shock; she might have announced that she wanted to borrow one of their brains.
“No volunteers?” said God. Let’s see Lazov, I see no reason for you to have a nanomorpher anymore.”
Lazov Manovich looked up. His skin appeared reddish and shiny in the screenlight, and his eyes were electric and blue. When he spoke, his voice was imposing.
“Your nanomorpher, Lazov. I require your nanomorpher”