A New Matrix

by Howard Faxon

Copyright© 2014 by Howard Faxon

Fan Fiction Story: The planet is Darkover, known to the humans as Cottman 4. The time is immediately before the Terran empire's rediscovery of Darkover. The towers are about to be thrown into an uproar by one man...

Tags: Magic   High Fantasy   Fan Fiction  

I am Timothy du Shard. I was taught to be a matrix mechanic. My birth home is Castle Shard on Darkover. We are a lesser line of the Hastur clan. When I was fourteen I rode along with my cousin Rafael to learn how tiny star stone fragments were carefully fused to make larger ones. We gathered those tiny stones from the river which came down from the mountains in the spring run-off. Then we carefully matched them and, one by tedious one, linked them together. If we chose properly and aligned them just right, they fused. That is my calling. That is my gift. I can't mind-talk with people for spit but the horses like me--sometimes too much. The birds will flock near and I've seen the trailmen curiously watching me when I have been out searching for star stone fragments. I have never been bothered by the wild dog packs, even when playing in the forests as a child. (When I was much younger I was beaten several times for running away to the forests and sleeping there. The soldiers go in squads of eight and hate staying out at night.)

We don't live in a tower, like Nevarsin or Aldaran. We live in a castle made from blocks of dense mountain-stuff twelve or twenty four feet on a side. The work room is up high in the central tower to keep out the 'buzz' from others disturbing our work. We have great galleries carved deep in the castle foundation where we grow food, which makes us less vulnerable than most. We are a quiet house. We are like carpenters or masons. We don't shine like a beacon but we would be vexingly missed if we were gone.

My latest stone is my largest so far. It is the size of the last joint of my smallest finger and shines brilliantly. With it and five like it I believe, and the Grandmother agrees, we could easily shield the entire castle from attacks and draws its power from our sun. That is the purpose for which it has been built and a single child newly come to their powers could operate it. It took three years to complete and with it came my elevation in status to elder. Imagine, me only twenty-six, and an elder!

Our inventory was low. I took a horse, two pack animals and a squad of soldiers to the river to look for more crystal shards. It was past the time of the winds of madness and before the dry times when the great forests become so dangerous from risk of fire. I believed that we could stay out for several weeks, perhaps a month, without great risk.

The fragments are heavy and gather at the turns in the river. After the floods spent themselves I could wade out into the water, suitably secured by a rope, and shovel full boxes with the sand and silt that lay there. I must concentrate and stay calm, letting my hands be guided by whatever vision I possess. The soldiers must gently yet firmly pull back on the rope as I find myself pulled further upstream as the fragments call to me. I know that large deposits are there but the risk is too great for such a small party of us. I must settle for what I can after the river has passed over the huge waterfalls coming down from the back country. I leaned on my shovel brooding. One day I would walk that route. I could almost see it. Was it a vision or wishful thinking? Our abilities come with their own problems.

After several days we had loaded our boxes. I laid out a canvas and shook it out on the grass then spread a thin layer of the muck and sand over it to dry in the sunlight and thin, cool air. Here and there I spotted sparkles, deep blue sparkles that only the talented could see. When I did I withdrew a small silver box lined with soft leather from my vest, along with a pair of small wooden tongs. Each fragment was carefully placed within so that it did not touch the metal at any time which could shock me and any others with talents insensible. That sample showed it to be a productive load. I squatted down on the shore and scanned over the river once more before we left, hoping to find the larger fragment that still called to me. I knew that it was out there somewhere. After a while I sighed, disappointed. I seemed to have exhausted that deposit, until the renewing spring floods came. We had plenty of time to return to Shard. I convinced the sergeant at arms to take the riverside route back so that I might scan as we went. We were over two days from the castle and it was a well-patrolled, easy route.

Just before stopping for our last noon meal I found myself lunging from my horse and diving into the river; cloak, boots and all. It was all of no matter. I had felt something unlike any I had felt before. I dove deep into a cut within the fastest flow. I couldn't see but I didn't have to. My fingers were guided to a large water-logged root that had become firmly jammed between two boulders. I set my feet and heaved for all I was worth. One boulder gradually sucked free of the muck and shifted, freeing it captive. I stumbled back, grasping with my prize in my hands. When I surfaced I heard the captain wryly say, "This seems as good a place to stop as any other."

I must have appeared a fright, standing there in drenched leathers, dripping freezing water with a gnarled water-logged cudgel in my hands, grinning like a lunatic. I sank to my knees where I twisted, bent and otherwise stressed that stick as if I were trying to wring the water out of it. It gradually shredded in my hands, revealing a brilliant blue stone that it had grown around. I stopped when I saw that. I had succeeded. I thereafter carefully rubbed and scraped away with my fingertips and nails at that ancient root until I managed to pop it free. It was an oval star stone the size of a goose egg. It was large enough to be the central stone for a level five or six matrix. I could feel it hum in my mind as it slowly charged in the sunlight. "Quickly, someone give me a silk handkerchief!" We would be in grave danger once it charged. That was how the wild matrices formed, the world-shakers. Once it was covered I sighed in relief and looked over to the captain. He looked in wonder at what was covered in my hands. "Did I just see you find a war stone?"

I shook my head. "It's un keyed--natural. It's been in that tree root for who knows how long. Had it charged in the sunlight we'd be drooling and twitching on the ground by now and the trailmen would be coming by the thousands."

He looked quite alarmed. "Quickly. We mount and ride."

It was a fast, uncomfortable trip back to the castle, but he was right. The trailmen would have heard its call in the short time it was exposed. If they came nobody could predict what would happen. I rode with that thing wrapped in silk, tied by a leather strip and strung around my neck, protected by my jerkin and vest.

I didn't even think to change into dry clothes. I pounded up the steps to The Grandmother's domain. She was pacing back and forth, clearly agitated. When she saw me she quickly strode over. "What happened? I felt the shock from here, and doubtless every tower for five hundred miles did as well."

There was too much daylight in that room. I motioned her to follow and walked up to the next level, the master work room, which was illuminated only by lanterns or controlled light stones. It was nearly dark at the time. I lit a candelabra then withdrew my prize to show my most impatient Grandmother. I felt it crackle against my skin, even through the silk. No doubt I should not have kept it against my body but that was the only way I could think of to keep it quiescent on the way back. It glowed softly in the room, showing twists and paths deep within it that the eye tried to follow but failed. It was truly a sixth level stone. She quickly sat down as her legs failed from beneath her. She slowly looked at me. "We're in for some interesting times. You, I fear, even more so. It seems to have bonded with you." She shook her head. "Young man, there is no way around it. You are going to have to spend some time at Hali learning how to control both yourself and that, that--thing."

I mused, "It's natural, you know. I can feel the slow growth of the tree that it was buried in. Before that, a mountainside shifted, freeing it from its matrix, probably during the chaos wars when the ground shook. Before that..." I stood there swaying, reading deeper into the history of the thing. She slapped me hard!

"That's what I meant by training! Natural or no, it's so powerful that you could easily fall into it, and even pull your body along! Some of the histories talk of marooned travellers, lost in time and space, diverted by un-keyed stones, appearing from nowhere speaking languages that none could understand. Any stone of that size can act as a transport terminal. If you unknowingly activate it without a specific destination in mind you will become a wanderer, indeed. Now, put that thing away and go change clothes. You're dripping on my good carpets."

I came down to dinner to a light atmosphere. I heard a trooper tell the story of my diving into the river like a dog catching a fish. I couldn't help but laugh along with them. I had the last laugh though, as I touched the lump I wore over my heart.

The Grandmother had me in advanced lessons for two hours per day, or as long I could keep my focus. Much of what I learned was on deep concentration and shielding. Afterwards I returned to my work bench and found the star stone fragments nearly flying together as the new matrix stone enhanced my working Laran tremendously. I completed a second, then a third shield stone within the month. The energies which I delt with daily were lightening my hair and eyes. Soon I was sent on the month-long trip through the hills and across the river to the great tower of Hali where the communication webs which spanned our world called home. I was shocked to be greeted as a lord by a catman servant when I entered the keep.

I did my best to keep my shielding tight as some of the foremost telepaths on the planet called Hali their home. In their culture a sloppy shield was an insult and the sword had never gone completely out of style. Unlike some of the Comyn I had never had a personal guard or servants so my first move away from my birth home in wasn't as unsettling as it could have been. Only telepaths could pass through the shields around the tower. I had enough telepathy to make it, even though my major talent was micro-kinetics.

I was introduced to the other residents at dinner. They were all dressed in their embroidered finery. The room was silent. There must have been conversations flowing like water all around me but in telepathic bands that I was deaf to. After a bit I felt insulted. Without a word I rose from the table and went to my room. I resolved that if I wasn't good enough to join in their conversation then they wouldn't have to put up with the sight of me, either. I requested to be fed with the soldiers, tradesmen and servants from then on.

For reasons beyond my understanding I was not introduced, I was not instructed and I was not assigned a circle. After my morning break-fast I wandered the halls, looking for a work room. I was repelled or blocked from some entry ways, which I considered simply to be a superior form of security. I could not go where the shields kept me out. I felt that I could have made it through some of them, but I was a guest and it would have been improper of me.

After two weeks I came upon a small open work room. Within I found a simple chair, a velvet-covered table beneath the window and a small figured wood box. Within was a flawed star stone. It had somehow taken a blow which cracked it internally. It only glowed a bit near the surface. I sat with it, curious. I treated it like a puzzle, carefully tracing the paths and fissures within it. It had been completely broken in two and mismatched when someone attempted to re-assemble it! I took a deep breath and severed the parts with a quick twist of my wrists, then, before the glow faded. poured strength to my Laran and felt the sections lock together. Its glow strengthened to be much brighter than before, but it was still flawed. I spent the rest of the day carefully fusing the fissures making the stone whole once more. It began to sing in my mind as I followed down the layers, joining them one by one. I finally came to a place where I could go no further as the maze at its heart had reconnected into dimensions where I could not follow.

I became aware of the stone at my chest. It was singing in harmony with the green stone I was working with. I brought it forth, unwrapped it and held it in my hand where it seemed to warm and grow heavy. I turned my mind back to the damaged stone and saw the problem area immediately. I reached deep within it and fused the flaws like rubbing clay between my fingertips. It burst into a flare of light and rang like a bell. It floated into the air and hung next to my forehead. Uh, oh. Now what did I do? What should I do?

I cracked open my shield and sent out a little attention getter along with a picture of the green stone orbiting my head like a tiny moon. I heard a squawk in my mind and soon heard the sound of running footsteps coming down the hallway. I re-wrapped my personal stone and hung it at my heart once more while I waited for the calamity which I felt was soon to follow.

Four androgynous-looking figures in long robes burst through the door and halted, looking at the stone glowing and tinkling as it did loops around my head. One of the four was shorter, older. She kindly asked me, "Child, what did you do?"

I smiled back at her. "I've been trained in micro-kinetics. The stone was broken. I repaired it. It's what I do."

One of the four crabbed, "I have been working on that silly thing for a season with little success. What did you do so differently?"

"The break was ever-so-slightly mis-aligned when the surface was re-fused. I had to re-break it and make the halves resonate to get the flaws to perfectly match. What is this thing, anyway?"

The old woman laughed a bit. "That, young man, is a telepathic amplifier that was broken in a war more generations ago than I care to think about. You obviously are quite skilled as you sit. Why were you sent here?"

"I discovered a sixth-order unkeyed crystal. Well, it was unkeyed. I had to keep it with me to keep it quiescent as we had no still room at Castle Shard." I brought it forth and held it in my hand where it sat glowing almost blue-violet, now flatter and almost the size of my palm. "I'm afraid that it's thoroughly keyed to me now. I've been hearing whispers as I wake in the night. I was sent here for training and to find out what it is doing to me." They looked quite alarmed at first, then imposed their training as they realized that I hadn't burst into flames or something. The older lady asked, "Have you noticed any changes since you found it?"

"Oh, yes. My masterwork was a shield stone, designed to be one of six to shield our castle. It took me three years to complete. During the month after I found my little helper here I completed two more. It's as if the fragments jump into place for me now."

The old man that had been working on the amplifier snorted. "No wonder you had such success. With that stone acting as a resonator no doubt the halves joined perfectly down to a level that few alive could perceive." Now he was curious. "How did you complete the core? With a circle of six we could not follow the paths."

"I couldn't either until I held this one in my hand. It did something and felt heavier. Then the places that were still broken became obvious. It was as if I were led to them."

The lady said, "I have no doubt that you were. You have quite a tool in that stone. Should you ever become angry that 'little helper' of yours is easily powerful enough to raze this tower to its foundations which I would dislike quite a bit, as I am the keeper here." Her grin was infectious. I made a leg and bowed deeply, saying "Allow me to introduce myself, Grandmother. I am Timothy du Shard recently of Shard Castle." She nodded to me. "Evelyn Alton. I would like to see your skills in action. Also we have some diagnostic machines that survived the dark times which may guide our efforts. As for now, mister du Shard, I suggest that you sing to that stone, and visualize twice per day. Stay calm and keep your images clear. Feel for it and keep away from any thoughts of anger or it may learn behavior patterns that you will deeply regret in the future. Think of it as training a very powerful child and you will not be far from the truth."

After working on that stone until dark I found myself ravenous. I made my way down to the kitchen where I found fresh bread, cheese and rich meat stew waiting for me. One of the four must have thoughtfully called ahead. I'd have to see if they had any other flawed stones to work on, to show my appreciation for their care as well as their boarding me. But first, to the baths and then to sleep. I gave my thanks for dinner and ghosted my way past the dining room where the telepaths were holding court and out to the residence wing. A short hot bath, clean trews and a fresh night shirt prepared me for sleep.

I lazed in my pallet the next morning with the stone resting on my chest. I remembered my joy at finding it and basked in its acceptance of me. I could feel us becoming parts of something greater.

I rose and broke my fast, then looked for a guard to tell me where to find The Grandmother. I was soon trotting in her wake as we made our way up the tower to one of those blocked doorways. I put out my hand to touch the shield. It dropped at the contact. Walking within I found Grandmother Alton sitting at a desk.

"About time you stirred your bones. I get up with the sun these days. Now, what can you do with these?" Before her were two small and one large stones. The large one was flat and oddly orange colored. I reached for it. "Ah, ah, leave that one for now. It is an old synthetic stone from long ago. First work on a lesser, blue stone." I shrugged and picked up a blue spindle that had fractured into irregular pieces. I started fitting them together in my mind. "A piece is missing. A long slender shard." She smiled, opened a small wood box and brought forth the key stone. I gently tapped the pieces into place. They did not want to fit. I took out my crystal and held it between my teeth as I took the broken pieces in my hands. My crystal made a deep thrumming noise that shook my eyeballs while the pieces squealed, then softened into one tone. A bit of crystal dust fell away from them as they gently socketed together in my hand. My eyes changed focus, seeking out the rifts and divisions between the shards. Slowly they grew together as I pushed power through the flaws, making them disappear. When I sat back with a repaired crystal in my hand the sun had shifted in the sky. I was suddenly hungry. I smiled and handed the repaired device to her. "Fascinating. I rode along with you and watched you use controlled bursts of power to repair the deep matrix. It was like a musical note with a soft beginning, followed by a powerful tone and a gentle pulling away." She put the odd crystal into a silk bag of several layers and put it away.

"This orange thing is a curiosity. It was purpose-made for one function. Synthetic stones cannot channel as much power as natural ones. Supposedly this one became 'burned'. Let's see what you can do with it."

I examined the thing, but it felt 'wrong'. It was someone's idea of a machine. I distastefully put it down. "That's a nasty thing. I really don't think you want it fixed."

"Oh? What was its purpose?"

"It's some sort of Laran damper. It worked by feedback, giving people headaches so bad that they couldn't think, couldn't focus. It's a weapon." I could tell that she wasn't pleased. Hopefully nobody she knew gave it to her as a gift. She picked it up between two fingers and placed it in a very heavy box on the floor then locked it shut. "I could have done without that news." She sat back in her chair and seemed to shake herself into a different mood. "Have you made any progress with your matrix?"

"I believe so. We seem to have bonded more deeply this morning after I woke. When I spoke to it as I do to the birds and horses it replied the same way. I can feel that it wants to be outside in the sun but it has patience." I smiled. "I think that a star stone has more patience than you and I put together. How much more patient can you get than a rock?"

She blinked and laughed. "True! Still, the next sunny day I think you and I will go down and sit in the grass like children and listen to your star stone. Now, I would like to see how you create stones from the fragments found in the river sand. Will you show me?"

I nodded. "Of course, Grandmother, but first I have to collect some. How do I organize a squad of troops and horse?"

"You just did. Go have dinner and meet them at the gate. They will accompany you to the river."

"Yes, Grandmother." I bowed and left.

Evelyn sat looking at the door which he had passed through. "That boy is going to surprise us all. I can feel it." She looked up at the heavy stones making up the ceiling. I just hope that these old stones survive the encounter."

After lunch I dressed in my leathers and met one of the sergeants at the gate. They had a horse for me and two beasts with panniers for the mud and sand we were after. Hali was fairly close to the river Valeron and it was a gentle ride to get there. Within two hours we were at the shore. I removed my shoes and lower garments, leaving only my jerkin, vest and trews. I slipped into the cold water, shivering for a moment as I got used to it. I was about to call for a shovel and basket when I remembered the tale of the Sharra matrix calling metal from deep within the ground. I clasped my stone. "Think we can call the fragments that are in the water to us? I held the stone just beneath the water and shook it back and forth, slowly then faster. It set up a series of low waves on the river water. Soon I saw blue speckles on the waves like little minnows, all swimming towards me. I reached for the basket that one of the soldiers held out for me and gently scooped up the glowing blue shards swimming before me. The waves stopped and the basket suddenly grew heavy in my hands. I looked within and found it nearly full of tiny blue crystals. Amazing! I sent my feelings of thanks and satisfaction to the crystal in my hand and got back a wave of smug confidence, as if it were saying "That was nothing."

The soldiers split up the heavy basket into two panniers while I dried and dressed. We were soon back at the tower's outer bailey and gate. I thanked the captain and the soldiers then had the baskets taken to a work room for me. I changed and went to see what trouble I could get into.

I had no use for a shield stone then and neither did my hosts. They seemed quite interested in that psychic amplifier though. I sat down before a large open basket of crystal shards thinking how such a thing went together. Soon The Grandmother came it and took a seat. I began hesitantly. Then as my vision firmed up my confidence grew. I soon had a brightly shining green and yellow spindle floating around my head, chiming like a set of little silver bells. After I had made eight of them I rose and stretched. As I moved the crystals began to stream out behind me, then hurried to catch up, once more surrounding my head. I sat once more, boldly grinning with my little moons orbiting my head. She looked up and slowly smiled. "Well aren't you just the thing?"

I gathered them up and placed them in her hand. "For when you grow old and feeble, in a few centuries or so."

"Scamp. Can you duplicate any stone you see?"

"Only after careful examination. Some stones, such as my friend, have for a lack of a better term souls, may actively fight me after a certain point. I would have to study anything large or complex with my friend to determine how to proceed."

She nodded. "Once the entire planet was covered in a transport grid. I would like to see if you can duplicate the stone here."

I shrugged. "Lead me to it."

The four foot crystal was a monster. I wondered how someone concieved of the first one. After a while I saw the repeating contours all around it. Finally I found and mapped all the curlicues and odd flourishes that went around the periphery. The center was made of closely regimented cells with the curlicues overlaid on them. Below all that were lines--straight lines in a grid that forked off in an ever-tightening pattern. The plate had no mechanism for transporting anyone anywhere. It was a giant registration device and an antenna. I rose from my concentration and re-focussed my eyes. The walls. The walls were covered in those branching trees. The crystal wasn't the transporter. The entire room was the transporter. I carefully peered into one of the walls where I came upon the most fiendishly complicated crystal device I had ever seen. I knew when I was defeated. I went back to visit The Grandmother and take my medicine.

I was sketching out what I had found. " ... so, you see, the transporter is a construct that was probably made by six higher order matrix circles operating in concert, one for each wall of the room. I am sorry. I cannot come close to working at such a level." I returned to my room in defeat.

Finally a day dawned clear and bright. I smiled as I rose, dressed and performed my duties. Soon after breaking my fast I headed out to a grassy corner of the inner bailey that the sun beat down on. It was warm there, protected by the stones, despite the winds promising the ice of winter soon to come. I removed my vest and tunic and sat down, propped against the wall. I removed my star stone and propped it on my chest where it clung and hummed in the sunlight. I heard it singing in my mind. I smiled and dozed off, happy that my partner was finally enjoying itself.

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