April 2018 Archives

Blurb

What if the Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court was a real wizard?

Alexan is exiled from his home for reasons of politics and health, sent to a primitive locale to guard against the misuse of the massive power coursing through the fabric of reality. He discovers that he is what the locals call a wizard. Unfortunately for him, there are many other wizards and even gods connected to this power, and they tend to be unfriendly to those they fear might rival or replace them - people such as Alexan.

And what about this demigoddess that keeps popping up with obscure hints about her divine curse?


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This had to be pared drastically to keep the story rolling, but this is the full paranoid passage from a point in the story where the metaphorical Yankee is still in his metaphorical Connecticut. The passage in the finished novel is about a quarter this length.


For now, the most urgent need I had was still a body. I could create an embryonic cell and force mature it as fast as I could convert the mass energy. Two bars per second wasn't close to my limit, I was just charging that slowly in order not to overshoot whatever my total capacity was. In fact, there was no reason to put off beginning a body any longer.

I started with the DNA and began working out. Every atom of the DNA had to be individual and perfect, or it wouldn't fit into the DNA codons pairs. Guanine matched only cytosine, adenine matched only thymine, building the rungs at the same time I built up the rails, of the double helix of DNA, one strand at a time.
When the DNA was completely built into the twenty-three pairs of chromosomes, carefully building what was known of the operancy genes into the material, then I moved on to the rest of the chromatin, building up the building blocks of protein so that there would be reservoirs already in place when life began.
Then I moved to build the nucleolus, and the rest of the nuclear structure of the cell. This could go faster because if one atom was out of place, it didn't spell disaster later on in development. Once the nuclear membrane was finished, I moved out to the endoplasmic reticulum that would be the cell's manufacturer of proteins and lipids, the major difference being whether that part of the structure was studded with ribosomes.

Mitochondria, microtubules, filaments, centrioles, lysosomes, Golgi apparatus, cytoplasm, and dozens of other cellular structures I built up slowly, carefully, before finally building and sealing the cellular membrane, finishing the construction of the cell. The cells of an operant human body were very different from cells of a body that wasn't. Operants augmented themselves for speed, control, strength, and most importantly, mental augmentation for speed, acuity, and intelligence. The changes would decay if not maintained, but operant parents were able to do even better for their operant children, changes which would be maintained their entire life. Necris translates as healing, but includes much more.

At last, a touch of mentis, 'reserving the spot' for my own soul. The universe abhors a vacuum, and I was building this cell for me, not for whatever random soul the universe saw fit to install. Nonetheless, I didn't want to enter the body completely, because if it wasn't operant I wasn't certain of my ability to escape. Finally, I released the stasis I'd held it in, and let life begin.

Gently, I began pushing the embryo to develop faster, feeding it from my store of mass energy, which was only now starting to approach an apparent plateau at just above a square. I realized that I could have multiple storage batteries of energy, and all that a second cell would require was the dedication of one of my para to its maintenance. I had plenty of para, so I began a second cell immediately and increased my draw for the moment. Now that I had an idea what my capacity was, there was no point prolonging the draw process. I upped it to one prime per second, shunting most of it to the second cell while topping off the first.
It was also about then I was notified that a package was waiting for me at a nearby public portal. It was only a few ifourths away in the same building, a distance easily walked in a few minutes, but I wasn't in a position to leave my embryo at the moment. I suppose I could have placed my creation in passive stasis, but I didn't want to. I wanted to know if what I had built was developing into an operant body that I could use.
Meanwhile, my primary energy battery had topped out at about one square twelve total mass energy. I decided devoting a second para to power storage meant I could store still more power, and altered the destination of the power I was drawing appropriately.

It took another half hour before it became apparent that the body was not resonating with my operancy as it should have if it were an operant body. There just wasn't any help for it but to destroy the body, a sudden shock of pain running through the mentis link I'd created as the converter dissolved its mass. Nothing operants weren't trained to push past, but the soul link would cause pain to me if it was inflicted upon a linked body.

Well, now was as good a time as any to pick up my package. I walked the eleven ifourths to the portal, identified myself at its package kiosk, and as soon as I'd entered the validation code a small cube, ten isixths (Earth: 11 cm) on an edge. Given that my perception stopped at the surface, it had to be a stasis cube. On the plain wrapping paper around it, the word "yours" was written, quotation included. Other than that, the only markings were a routing from another such kiosk not far off. I used matris to flip the off switch, momentarily allowing my perception to sense what was inside. A small tissue sample, a 3600 of cells or so. I then immediately re-engaged the stasis field.

Whomever had sent me the sample wanted me to believe it came from the human I was patterned after. But I had a thought not to use them for my new body. Why? Because it was possible I'd fail to protect my genetic pattern perfectly, and a sensor that caught my former pattern could be far more threatening than one that caught some completely unknown pattern. The Empire didn't keep precise up to the minute reports of how many citizens it had, but the number was well in excess of a thirteenth (130 times ten to the 21st power). It would take any computer, even one of ours, some time to decide that a genetic pattern was previously unstored, during which time I'd be able to move, and given fuzzing of my event line, make it very difficult for pursuers to catch me. Given a couple minutes' head start, I'd be effectively uncatchable. If whomever was looking for me was looking for me thinking I'd be in a body with the genetic pattern from the cube, then not being in such a body would be an advantage.

As soon as I'd teleported back to my room, I began work on another body, building it up from individual atoms to the cellular level just as I had the first one. But it only took three para to build a cell, and only one to nurture it to a faster maturity. I had plenty of para, so I chose to start building another embryonic cell as soon as the previous cell was complete. The only drawback was that I could only bind my soul to one body at a time, but that seemed to be a small drawback.

It is to be said in my defense that mentis was far and away the least used of our mental disciplines. I knew my skills with mentis were inferior to my other skills. I didn't know why. If asked, I probably would have speculated that the person I was patterned after had simply not practiced those skills as much. It did seem to be the sort of thing that would only see occasional use at most. It's not every day you create a body for a self-perpetuating energy field from scratch. Particularly since there wasn't anything about self-perpetuating energy fields anywhere in publicly searchable data, it seemed likely the subject had never come up before.
It was about this time that my third battery started approaching plateau. I reduced my energy draw from the siphon and decided that the roughly three square worth of mass energy I had stored should be plenty, especially in light of a diminishing returns phenomenon I'd noted. The second battery had reached capacity at just over one square; the third had been in the neighborhood of fortynine prime. I wasn't certain binding another para to energy storage would be worth the likely increase.

As I was forcing body number two through accelerated development, I was already preparing embryonic cell number three, building it up from the DNA outwards like I'd done with the first two. The repetitions were getting faster with practice, but I there was a limit to how fast I could accelerate development past the critical point where an operant body would resonate with my abilities. Too fast, and I would create errors in the coding, errors that would perpetuate and replicate. Let it get too far, and it was more trouble than pushing the accelerated development.

When I finished embryonic cell three, I began developing it without much of a second thought, really, and began forcing its development as well as body two's, while beginning to build a fourth embryonic cell. No, I wasn't bound to it via mentis, but I could take it over later if it was operant. I had a deadline, whether I intended to get out of the Empire or not, as failing to do so would likely trigger conflict with whomever was pretending to be my brother, even if he actually was my brother. My first attempt at a body hadn't been operant, despite the fact it should have been according to the best theory I had. I needed all the time I could get to allow my operant body to grow and mature. After I made a body that actually was operant, that was.

While I was building embryonic cell number four, I asked myself, "What benefit can I get out of the tissue sample that was sent to me if I don't use it?" The answer came to me: if it was indeed from my original, I could use it to obtain information about that body's history. Auros, spak, matra, and kored could be combined to give me information on my original, if the sample was indeed from my original, just like investigators with a crime scene. If not, it would give me information on whomever it was from. I thought it likely I'd be able to determine whether the history of this cell sample matched my skills and what knowledge I retained sufficiently well to determine whether it actually was my original.

I don't know what caused me to not to begin cell number five. I finished cell number four and released the stasis, beginning life, but by then body number two was approaching the point at which the resonance test for operancy would be definitive. Besides, it seemed like three staggered processes was enough to be managing at one time. So I decided to wait, a decision for which I'm grateful.

Body number two failed the test for operancy, so I dropped it into the converter. There was a flash of pain as the first time, not anything like unbearable but definitely indicative that there was a verifiable link between body and soul. Again, nothing that the Empire hadn't known for 3600s of years, since the first operants began experimenting with their abilities. Proving the existence of the soul was one of the first changes to human society we'd wrought. I started cell number five at that point.

Body three was definitely developing faster than bodies one and two had. So was body four for that matter. They were cooperating better with accelerated development than the first two bodies had. Three and four were still tiny little things, three about the size of a finger joint, four about the size of a fingernail, but they were taking the energy and materials I was feeding them and developing much faster. Body three had a working nervous system before cell five was complete. It was ready to test for operancy.

The test was positive! Body three resonated! I had my new body!

Or so I thought. The first indication I had of an issue was when my mentis push to take over this new body took ten times more power than I was expecting it to. Then when it succeeded, it felt like I was being hit with an insubstantial but palpable flood of all the vile, disgusting, decaying slime in the universe. It was revolting on the level of my soul, and then the little body went into anaphylactic shock. The cells froze, the membranes between them swelled up to twice the previous size, and the tiny body died before I could even begin to meaningfully heal any of the damage. Another flash of pain as it died, but I was still overwhelmed by the rancid soul-slime generated by what I'd done.

If there was such a thing as sin, I'd just maxed out the meter. That the error was due to being unaware of what I was doing was small consolation. Damn! It felt vile. If it had been possible for me to explosively vomit in reaction, I had no doubts I would have, no matter how good I was at controlling my body. But since I didn't have anything in my non-existent stomach, I was spared that indignity. The body was dead, and it was still my soul was swimming through a sea of putridity. I managed to get the poor little thing into the converter, and the quick flash of pain as the body was destroyed felt at least a little bit cleansing. Slowly the vile taste of everything around me diminished. It was still enough to make me hate myself.

Well, damn.

That hadn't worked out like I hoped. To have success in my grasp and so unforeseeably ripped away was discouraging. I was an adult, I'd get over it. But it was frustrating. Also, I'd done something horribly wrong - murdering an innocent soul for my own benefit, when a little more patience, working more slowly, would have prevented the abomination I'd committed. Also, I'd have had my operant body if I'd simply had that small amount of patience not to let life begin until I was ready and able to take possession of it.

I wasn't about to repeat my mistake with body four. I checked with mentis, touching the new life as lightly as I could. Yes, there was another soul in there. Since I wasn't going to repeat my mistake with another innocent, I might as well not have bothered creating it. Instead, I stashed body four in the stasis box provided by my alleged brother, simultaneously extracting a small sample of a couple sixties of cells from what he'd sent me.

The backwash of my mistake with body three gave me a strong reason to understand why the discipline of mentis was less developed than the others. There were powers in the universe stronger than gravity and subtle enough to forestall all attempts to identify them directly. When a simple mistake gave rise to something that made it that clear you'd done something the universe didn't like, a rational person would not be eager to work any mentis that might result in such a reaction.

Cell five was ready to begin life. I bound it to me with mentis and began accelerating its development. But now I also had a template that I knew would come up operant, so I began creating a duplicate of body three's genetic structure in cell six while I forced body five through development as fast as it could comfortably go. Once complete I held cell six in stasis. There was no point in creating any more cells, because I was certain cell six would work, but if body five worked first, I'd have what I needed faster.
It took about an hour to get body five to the point where I determined that it wasn't operant. So I disposed of body five, bound cell six to myself, and began forcing body six's development along. Now that I was certain was going to get what I was after, I was more conservative, taking more time than I had done with any of the other bodies.

Having nothing else to keep my para occupied, I figured now was as good a time as any to find out about who I was. Spak, aided by auros, matra, and kored would give me a history of what I had done and who I had been. Or the history of this tissue sample anyway. I'd have to figure out whether it and my skills were a good enough match to believe.

The first thing I discovered - with perception before I even engaged my back trace of the event line - was that there were some non-human features to the cells. They appeared to have something to do with an ability to generate and store energy, and others I wasn't certain of. All of the primary genetic material was human, but something else appeared to have been added as well. This was allegedly from my original. Was my original not quite human? Was he augmented in some way that other operants - even ultsi - were not?

The second thing I discovered was that the past of the sample was being obscured. It wasn't part of what I was obscuring; I could have gotten past that. Someone else was obscuring the past of this person. I went back two days - still obscured. There just wasn't a need to obscure that far back, and it had to be using a lot of energy to do it. I went back two additional days, and the obscuration faded. Not only did the obscuration fade, my doubts vanished.

The tissue sample was from the Emperor himself. And yes, that was me - sort of. My skills matched his, but when I added mentis to the mix of skills tracing the event line, my soul didn't.

The Emperor's soul was old and complex, as you'd expect. He was known to be three square ten (11,400) or thereabouts; considering he (and evidently I) was ultsi, the highest degree of operant, the soul I observed in him fit those parameters. Mine did not; it was comparable with the souls of newborn ultsi, but I knew far too much for that. Something had to have happened to either him or me, but the soul I had was brand new.

So here I had a fourth part to the mystery of what had happened to me: What had happened to cut me off from the Emperor's soul? It was believable he'd be able to create something like a self-perpetuating energy field for an independent consciousness, being one of the strongest and best integrated operants in the Empire. Not everything found its way into public data immediately. But there couldn't be many who could, and they couldn't have created very many like me, or someone would have encountered one and put it into public data. It was only a matter of cranking numbers.

The discontinuity between the two souls might explain my peculiarities of memory - why I still knew about generic information and skills, but had no personal memories. The more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed. Personal memories and personal deeds and experiences were tied to the soul - they shaped almost all of it. But a skill or a generic piece of information wouldn't be. Memories of child rearing were conspicuous by the absence, even though the Emperor had children. Public data said he'd been married for nearly a square and a half, but those memories weren't there either. I could tell you anything generic you could ask for about raising children, even raising ultsi children, but had no memories of any specific events in the emperor raising his children. I could tell you about making at least a reasonable success out of a marriage, but I couldn't have told you a single thing about the relationship between the Emperor and his wife. I couldn't have even told you what she looked like or what her name was without getting into the public databases.

But there was no known way for souls to split off like mine obviously had. I wasn't denying the evidence of my senses; it had obviously happened. I was trying to reconstruct what had happened so it explained my other questions. Both the Hypothesis of Leasts and the skills I'd inherited from the Emperor agreed. Attributing something to coincidence was most likely the result of dangerously lazy thinking. Especially where the Fifteen Families were concerned.

One thing I knew: Whoever had sent me the message and the money and the tissue sample, they were right. I did need to leave the Empire. The Emperor couldn't afford for my existence to be known. If our commonality became general knowledge, it would create problems for him. For all I knew, my supposed 'brother' was the Emperor himself, who understood the situation I was in but needed to insist upon me leaving the Empire, and the fewer connections between him and I there were, the better for both of us. Matter of fact, better for him if he killed me, but he obviously hadn't.

I left the question of 'why not?' for later. Body six was ready for resonance testing to confirm operancy. But instead of confirming operancy, the resonance test failed. Body six wasn't operant, in defiance of every reasonable expectation!

The easiest hypothesis was that I'd made some kind of mistake during fabrication. Either I'd misremembered my original creation, or I'd made a mistake during DNA creation. Fortunately, there was an obvious test for that. The same test that had given me the history of the tissue sample could verify my accuracy in re-creating the genetic code for body three. Since body three had been operant, if the code was identical it stood to reason that body six should have been operant as well.

However, the spak of body three showed no errors in the construction of the code for body six. I was thorough - it was the same right down to the lipid templates. If the genetic codes were the same, it had to be something else. Right now, the only difference I knew about between the two was that six didn't have a fully bound soul. Or perhaps it wasn't the right soul. Perhaps there was something of the divine in the determination of operancy.

Whichever it was, I didn't have unlimited time here. I was on the Emperor's sufferance as it was. He was in the much stronger position, and even if it came down to a duel, I was certain he'd be much stronger than I was. In his position, I couldn't have afforded to grant someone who might be my equal this much indulgence.

I had an experiment available to me to check. I opened the stasis cube, extracted body four from storage and began accelerating its development. It took me an hour, but at the end of that time, there was no doubt. There was a soul within body four, and body four was operant. I extracted a cell from the three isixth body (3 cm), and augmented it into an embryonic cell without changing any of the template. I replaced body four within the stasis cube, bound the new body to me with mentis, and began to accelerate its development like all of the previous efforts. While I waited, I extracted a couple sixties more cells from the tissue sample of the emperor. This process was going to be a little more involved, because I had to cross-check to make sure the genetic codes were without error. Living cells have mutations, mis-copies of genetic information from several different sources. Even those of operants. We could fix them if needed, but it wasn't generally a good use of resources to continually monitor all the billions of cells in a human body for copy errors. As the template for a new organism, however, I had to be certain what I was creating was the same as the person who had been my pattern.

The method for that was old when the first operant was created, twentyeight square ago. One copy will likely have errors. Compare two copies and where they differ, you have to somehow deduce which one was correct, and if you didn't have an outside reference, your error rate would be equal to the same base error rate. You might guess right in half the cases, perhaps a little more, but with twice as many chances for error, there would be twice the number of errors. If, however, you compared three copies, and unless you had the same error happening the same place in two of the copies, you had an excellent chance of determining what the correct pattern for the code was. Make it five copies, and your model eliminates most of the few errors that might remain at three copies.

I compared the patterns between fifteen cells. At that level of error checking, it was all but certain the code was perfect. The mathematical model put the probability of any uncorrected errors under an ifortieth. You don't get more certain than that in the real world.

By the time the cell copying the Emperor's genetic makeup was ready, body number seven (the one copied from body four's code) was ready for resonance testing. As I expected, it failed, despite being a copy of an operant body. There had to be a soul or mentis related reason why body six and body seven were not operant, because it wasn't anywhere in the genetic code. The two leading hypotheses were that the soul wasn't fully bound into the body, or that the wrong soul was bound into the body.

I did not want to end up fully bound to a non-operant body. That would be bad; almost certainly fatal. Such a body might become operant later, or it might not. More important though, if I were fully bound into a non-operant body, I didn't know what the result would be. I might not be able to escape the binding, whether back into my current state or into another body. I might not be able to use my operancy. I might not even be operant any longer. Given my situation, none of those possibilities was good. If I couldn't use my operancy, my new body wouldn't be ready to travel before the Emperor's deadline. He'd be able to extinguish me as easily as thought, and there was nothing I could do to stop him.

I dropped body seven into the converter, and the flash of pain further burnt the miasma still lingering from what I had done to the innocent in body three. Before I allowed body eight, based on the emperor's tissue, to begin life, I carefully split the cell into two, then built both back up. I reserved body eight for my own soul with mentis, keeping its identical copy cell nine in stasis, just shy of the point life was ready to begin.

I had an hour or so ahead of me with several para free to think while body eight developed. So why hadn't the Emperor killed me already? Compassion was the only thing that made any sense, and I couldn't see someone who'd fought the Outsider Alliance for nearly three square (10,800 years) risking an civil war that could kill billions if I decided to challenge him after I got a body. Were our roles reversed, I'd have killed me without hesitation. Especially since I wasn't technically 'alive' yet. A self-perpetuating energy field like I was could obviously be sentient and have a soul, but I wasn't alive in any biological sense of the word.

Perhaps the Emperor didn't know? That didn't make sense. How could he not? He had to have been the one that created me. Knowing that creating things like me was possible, I could think of at least three different ways to try to do it myself, but for any of them, creating a version of someone else would be like drilling into their mind and looting it. Invasive, painful, and if you somehow got past those challenges, it would cause their mind to fail its own integrity checks. Maybe it could be done to a non-operant. I didn't think there were any humans strong enough and integrated enough to be successful on even the least powerful and skilled operants, and the Emperor was one of the most powerful and best integrated operants ever. Even if one of the powers of the universe was somehow motivated enough to bend all of their abilities to the task, I didn't think it would work on the Emperor, and I couldn't see such a power doing that. The powers kept a low profile. When they got involved, it was subtle enough that even auros augmented humans didn't see the evidence for years. Since it was impossible to create me without his knowledge, the Emperor had to know I existed.

Maybe the Emperor had created me, but now someone else was watching me, claiming to be my brother? That one made a little more sense. If an ally, they wouldn't want to destroy a potentially valuable agent. If an enemy they wouldn't want to risk the Emperor's anger for destroying me until they were ready. Now that I knew who I was, I could get the Emperor's attention directly, and they wouldn't want that. Furthermore, direct confrontation would be risky. I might be weaker than the Emperor who had provided my template, but I was still strong, even for an ultsi. Except for YokNos himself, I couldn't think of a rival family operant who was likely to win a duel with me. Not at their publicly known power, anyway.

One thing I was certain of. Whoever it was had me completely under their control. Otherwise, he never would have risked contacting me. Furthermore, it was getting to be more difficult obscuring my event line from potential enemies. If I couldn't move, I had to keep obscuring my event line back to when I'd arrived, and that was more than a day at this point. But if I moved, I had to make certain that my alleged brother could still figure out where I was, because if he thought I was trying to evade him, I didn't think I'd live through it.

And no, body eight wasn't operant. If I had infinite time and infinite resources, I'd never have done what I did next, but my situation was such that not taking risks meant I was going to run out of time. I'd been given twentyfour days, not forever. If I didn't take some risks, my 'brother' would kill me when I missed the deadline, and I decided this route was my best chance at creating a body. I set the room's converter on a slow drip production of an organic 'soup' I could use for building blocks with minimal energy expenditure, then I destroyed body eight, and fully bound myself into body nine, just before I released stasis on it.
It was a tight balancing act. Once in, there was no going back, and no drawing more power until and unless the body was proven operant. I had to have enough reserve to hold myself through the development process. Once that energy was gone, it was gone. If I had enough in reserve and decided to destroy my body, maybe I'd be able to survive. But I might not, too.

Once fully bound to the body, there wasn't anything to do but accelerate the maturity and hope. The universe had shrunk down to my new body and the organic soup around it, which I was using to develop the body according to its template as fast as I was able to do so efficiently.

However it became obvious within a few minutes that my new body was operant.

Which was a very interesting datum, if one was of the opinion biology was everything. Body eight had been demonstrably non-operant. Body nine, genetically identical, was operant. But body nine had a tightly bound soul, which body eight had lacked. Bodies three and four also had tightly bound souls, while body six and seven had not. More experimentation was definitely required, if ever someone else was in the same position, but preliminary results were that the presence of a soul somehow made operancy at least a possibility, while the absence of one precluded it. There were likely other factors, like how good of a match the soul was for the pattern. That was why I'd chosen the Emperor's pattern, as his soul was operant with that pattern, and my soul had to have at least some similarities or it would not have been matched to an energy pattern that had previously matched the Emperor's. That was the largest reason I had chosen to use the Emperor's genetic pattern despite the fact that doing so would make me easier to find.
Courtesy of my operant body, I was able to tap into the siphon again to fill up my energy reservoirs. My body was barely an isixth (roughly 1 cm) length, but operant was operant, and my skills hadn't left me. I fed mass into development as fast as the cells would absorb it. Within another hour, my body was nearly three isixths in length, another hour after that, eight isixths (9cm). I was running about six days of normal development per hour, a ninety to one ratio. At that rate, it would take me about three Imperial days to get to normal human development at birth, and after that, things could proceed as fast as I could add mass.

 



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