GLIMPSES OF A TRANSIT
Bibi sat in the neuro-suite
at Small Torus Station wearing nothing but a paper exam gown, vulnerable
and docile in her nakedness. She hadn't seen anything tropical at the
Elevator Base, not a glimpse of a mangrove swamp or a palm tree: now
there was nothing to tell her that she was already in Outer Space. She
knew she weighed maybe half what she'd weighed on earth (gravity was
expensive), but she couldn't feel the difference. The micro-gravity
games arena at Gagarin Circus had been more convincing.
Honesty had elected to make the transit to Speranza in dreamtime. Bibi
wanted to be awake. That was why she was here, having passed the physical
that everyone had to take. She was terrified of the Buonarotti process,
but the idea that she would be having a fake experience, which was like
being in prison, while her real mind and body were taken apart, scared
her even more.
'It's a case of whether or not you want a blindfold when you face the
firing squad,' Honesty had said, grimly. 'I do, you don't.'
'Does everyone have to do this, every time?'
The doctor was a dark-skinned woman in a reassuring lab whites. 'The
physical? Yes, but we streamline it except for newbies. You'll get a
thorough medical scan every transit: but it'll take seconds and you
won't feel a thing.'
'What about the brain scan for staying awake?'
'Same thing. This assessment happens once, but you'll always have a
health check. The couches themselves are cognitive scanners you know.'
'Thank you, er, Doctor-?'
'I have no name, I'm a bot. I'm a facet of the Small Torus System.'
Bibi felt a shock. A doctor couldn't be a bot! It was only whores and
robocops. . . She looked around wildly: when had she entered the virtual,
why didn't she remember? The bot laughed. 'No, Bibi, this is the still
the material world. The Torus Station is 4-spaced, therefore I can be
visible to you. Speranza is the same.' She passed her hand through a
piece of shiny desk furniture. 'And it's legal. See, I'm not an embodied!'
'Now I feel like a country bumpkin.'
'That's because you are one.' The facet of Small Torus smiled, with
the cool, amused kindness that belonged to her kind: as Bibi would come
to know. 'Don't worry, it'll pass. You're going to Speranza now.'
They went through a bland questionaire, patently designed to calm the
victim, then she lay down on the scanner bed. 'You know too much, don't
you?,' said the doctor. Bibi froze, bug-eyed in panic. 'About the Buonarotti
process, child. That's why you want to make the crossing awake?'
'Well, let's talk through it. What do you know?'
'The couch will use the forbidden powers of the void to break down my
body, and, and my mind, into information space code, the signals that
are the building blocks of being. The code "me" will be t-torn
in two, and the two halves will be thrown into a collider, a kind of
particle accelerator called the Torus. When they collide I cease to
exist. All that I am will be written into the code of a different place.
Another couch will make a body for me there, out of the ambient chemistry
of the universe.'
'That's nice and clear,' said the bot. 'And over five years old, I see.
You have a retentive memory, Bibi. One correction: you are not "torn
in two". A facet of your informational self is generated. There
could be any number of them, without diminution of the source: but I
believe humans don't like to think about that. When the facet collides
with the original -a manner of speaking, as both are original, of course-
at very high energies, you achieve fusion, and make the crossing. In
the old days you had to know the 4-Space coordinates of your destination,
and became embodied there by an act of will: which gave the traveller
a very shaky, demanding psychological platform. Nowadays everything
is programmed, and there's a trained crew on board to do all the work.
One more correction. You do not "cease to exist" at any point.
You exist, throughout, as much as you ever did.'
'How do people have "nightmares", if the transit takes no
'Time is not what the embodied think it is,' said the bot. 'Fusion with
the simultaneity, although at several removes in the Buonarotti process,
is an intense experience. Your consciousness may process the intensity
as duration, just as brain activity in certain kinds of sleep is percieved
as dream; with false duration. But context is everything. Crossing to
Speranza you probably won't feel a thing, as there is now a consensus
that it is "a short hop" out to the Kuiper Belt. Some people,
for reasons we don't yet understand, make transit after transit "awake"
and never experience duration-'
Bibi had been waiting for the cognitive scan to begin, but she'd been
lulled by the bot's calm voice. She only realised that an ephemeral
shell had formed, a half-dome over her head and body, like the reader
for a virtual avatar, in the moment that it dissolved. The bot stood
by the couch, looking up and sideways: smiling, warmth in her eyes,
as if listening to a voice she loved. Bibi thought of Nightingale's
'Yes. . .' she said. Her attention returned to Bibi. 'I see you've never
had an eye soc', that's good.'
'I don't like them.'
'Nor do we. Well, Bibi, you may join the Active Complement. In fact,
whenever you transit, you should join the Active Complement.'
She didn't like the 'should', but she didn't dare to ask what it meant.
'You'd be a welcome addition to any crew.'
The Transit Lounge was
a leveller, it did not separate grades and ranks. Bibi walked into it
blind to her surroundings, blind to the knowledge that Lady Nef and
the General, Honesty and Francois, everyone else on the Mission List,
plus the soldiers who would act as their household guard, were all with
her, lying down with her, on this departure. She was telling herself
(a simple trick that had been reccomended to first timers) that this
was a simulation, a practice run, no need to be anxious. She was thinking,
another time when people's brains give them false-duration REM experiences
is at the point of death. She was wishing she did not know that. . .
and was not aware of having shut her eyes when the lid of the couch
was opened. A young man with vertical pupils to his golden eyes, and
sleek-furred ears that stood up like a cat's, stood there, in a fine-looking
uniform of a pattern she'd never seen before.
'Welcome to Speranza,' he said.
Bibi covered herself with confusion by trying to put her hand through
his arm. He was not a bot, he was a sentient biped from the Blue Planet,
who happened to have some cosmetic body-mods. He was just like Bibi,
a member of the community of numinally intelligent species, five of
them so far, who were able to use instantaneous transit: who had the
freedom of the stars.
This was their capital city, their native home.
She'd had no dreams but she felt, as if waking from a vivid dream, that
everything behind her had just vanished. She was in the real world now.
Spirit, Or The Princess
Of Bois Dormant
back to SPIRIT