The wonderful Wizard of Wiz, I thought, confusedly, waking up from a peculiarly Technicolor dream: Disorientated, probably still a little hypnopompic, not so much hallucinating as having a few boundary problems, reality wise. I'm never great at mornings, and I really don't like being woken unexpectedly, especially as the dream was just getting to a good bit. I tried to settle back into the bed, maybe even recapture the moment, so to speak, but...
Reality asserted itself disconcertingly quickly, starting with a small voice in the back of my head, pointing out that hypnopompic was not really my sort of word. Then came the memory of where I was - on an alien planet, of course, and not even in my 'own' part of the multiverse - and the subsequent realisation that I was being woken by my friendly local AI. Which did not make a habit of acting as the world's - no, sorry, the universes' - most sophisticated alarm clock ... or of talking directly to me, for that matter. As things came together a bit I got suddenly worried. The Wisdom had woken me? What the fuck was that about?
I got the time to decamp from my private space - well, Xav and my private space, to be strictly accurate - and to get myself slightly more organised in one of our more formal meeting rooms before the Wiz would actually tell me what was what. 'Course, by that time, I'd gone through the "can't be that important, else I'd have been told" bit and arrived, instead, at the "it must be really dire if even the bloody AI needs to do this so formally" stage. I had a brief moment of panic at that point, wondering at the various possibilities. I was in the habitat on my own - I doubted the machinery would have chosen me to talk to if anyone else had been around, frankly - but that meant ... Well, Yvonne was somewhere back on earth, in the Caribbean, in fact, making a point to someone, Patrice was now pretty permanently based at 'home', getting his own personal revolution into gear and Xav ... well, Xav was technically around but deep in Immersion. Again. He seemed to think he was on the brink of pulling a lot of stuff together, cutting a few evidential Gordian knots, as he put it; everyone else thought he was pushing himself ridiculously hard, taking risks and...
A shiver made its belated way down my spine as I realised the implications. 'Oh, god, I thought, don't let this be about Xav, not..."
Which was the cue for the AI to let me in on its little secret. It wasn't about Xav.
It was much stranger than that...
However omnipotent the Wisdom - and its associated technology - sometimes appears to be, it does have its limitations. As an example, you can't travel from place to place, locally, as directly as you might imagine. I mean, you can flick from world to world - from one plane of the multiverse to another - in the blink of an eye, but move around this particular planet and its back to more or less earth normal speeds. The 8-dimensional rotation/translation/whatever-the-fuck trick involved in the former wasn't really viable for a few 1000kms, apparently ... or so the Wisdom said.
So, when it suggested - like I had a choice - that I might want to drop in our esteemed colleague Queta's little operation, I had to do it the slow way. And that gave me plenty of time to think, given that our base was in the higher northern latitudes of the planet - more or less Arctic Norway in Earth terms, don't ask me why - while Q, an Andalusian, had sited her group rather further south. Almost two hours further south, in fact, given that the little shuttle thing in which the Wisdom was transporting me was limited to no more than a few times the speed of sound. Still, thinking was good, people were always telling me - I mean, Xav did a lot of it and seemed to enjoy the process - and I did have a fair amount to ponder. Unfortunately, this being an AI inspired 'mission', I was also lacking a lot of the basic facts I might need to actually come to any conclusions, let alone a plan of action.
So, I knew that the AI was concerned about something amiss in Queta's side of the operation, that she was contributing far less to our joint efforts than her team should have been capable of. What I didn't know was what precisely caused the concern, nor what role the second AI who was supposed to be looking after Q and her group was playing. All 'our' AI would say was that it appeared to be a 'human thing' and that it therefore did not want to make a judgement. Which struck me as being unusually considerate, by Wisdom standards, but then again it was, most probably, just another of its little games. I wondered whether I was revisiting our previous 'issue' with Queta - whether she'd somehow reverted to her earlier pathological religiosity, whether our excision of the malign implant that had been guiding her development had somehow failed. Somehow, this didn't seem to be too likely. For a start, everyone seemed to have been pretty confident at the time that our little bit of psychic jiggery pokery had been entirely successful, Queta herself had believed this to be the case and ... And somehow I thought that, if it had been that 'simple', the AI would have been less reluctant to go into details. And would probably have waited for Xav to be available to deal with it, given his previous involvement.
Which got me wondering about my role, whether this was all so urgent that it had to be done by whoever just happened to be available, or whether I had somehow been selected for the task. If the latter, well, It would have gone for Yvonne if physical force had been the preferred option, Xav if transcendent analysis and general all round intellectual swankiness were required. I tried to assess my own unique skills - or, at least, the technology's rating of same - but couldn't really think of that many. I mean, I did have a sort of link with Queta, I was a woman, which might be another way in, in some circumstances ... and I was an amoral bastard with rather fewer scruples than any of my colleagues. Even, I thought, with a grin, than Yvonne, who mainly spent her time killing people - when she wasn't just leaving them wishing they were dead.
None of which prognostication was getting me anywhere at all, I thought, and realised that I was just going to have to wait and see, assess the situation on the ground and try to react accordingly.
At least the scenery was nice, I thought, looking down through the bubble canopy at the alien landscape passing by below...
Queta had built herself a genuine fake Spanish-Moorish castle, a sort of Alhambra on steroids, a massive wedding cake of a building, contained in a hemispherical biodome and perched on a high crag in a semi-arid landscape. It was all quite unlike our hi-tech steel and glass construction up North, the latter all structural efficiency and task-orientated design, this some sort of self-indulgent whimsy. As the craft slowed on its approach, I could see no sign of life, nor of anything resembling an entrance - the dome was as smooth and unbroken as it appeared to be unsupported. I felt rather than heard some sort of communication burst from "my" side, being, as I was, entirely reliant on the automatics to fly - and, of course, land - the thing, then the craft slowly circled the structure - very elaborate, I thought, but not exactly functional - and finally settled itself onto the sand just outside the dome. And then did absolutely nothing, for some time.
I wondered if I was supposed to get out and knock or something, but that would have been difficult given that Wisdom had never been keen on out-of-habitat excursions due to the danger of contamination - of the biosphere by us, not the other way round - and the interesting quirk of local geo/biochemistry which led to high concentrations of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere. Which fact, apparently, accounted for the lack of 'terrestrial' animals larger than an earth nematode worm - and so made this planet particularly suitable, from the AI's perspective, for our use. No natives to perturb by our presence.
Which was all very interesting, I thought, and explained much about the view I was currently contemplating - the lack of anything resembling a flower, for instance, despite the profusion of 'plant' life all around. What it didn't explain was just quite what I was doing sitting here waiting. I mean, the AI had announced my visit in advance - or at least, it had told me it was going to do so - and I knew my machinery had been in touch on some level with theirs. I wondered whether there was a bigger problem than I'd been led to believe - such as them all being dead, for instance - or whether this was all some sort of calculated slight. We had, after all, done some pretty unpleasant things to Queta's head and, even if it had all been 'for her own good', she could be forgiven for harbouring a degree of resentment.
But none of that was getting me anywhere, so I contacted the AI, and, after a brief debate, got it on the case. Which resulted in my moving, slowly, towards the bubble, followed by a complicated sort of flux whereby the dome seemed to expand, merge with a similar skin that had expanded from my own craft and, eventually, formed an entrance through which I could pass ... but which remained completely sterile as far as the outside world was concerned. I was impressed, really I was - I'd only ever seen anything like that in computer graphics before - and I was in, but no less worried about quite why it had all been necessary.
I wondered whether bringing a gun might not have been a good idea after all.
.... There is more of this story ...