Saturday, 2 November 2013

Nanowrimo Day 2 Word count 1413

There was silence. They'd retreated into the library shell where thousands of floating pods containing silent readers, books, manuscripts and debate teams span around them in an intricate dance. The younger two were adjusting to the various revelations made by the elder, wheareas he had be silenced into childlike wonder, gazing adoringly at the moving pods above and around them.

“It's fantastic!” his murmur was barely audible, but she seized onto it like a life line – reciting the facts about her world to enforce its normality and overwhelm the confusion and doubt he had instilled.

“Each pod is an aeroscaff court. From the outside they give a snapshot of what is happening, partly for practical purposes so the librarians can support users and the security team can maintain order for instance and partly for social purposes since it was discovered that a world of wholly private pods drove people into a kind of mental fever spurred by isolation and so now in public gathering areas all pods are transparent, which is nice. But it's also for aesthetic purposes, because from the inside, every single pod looks onto the same view. What we're seeing isn't really there – it's a projection of all the other pods. Whenever you enter any public space you are automatically allocated a pod. If you want to do anything or meet anyone you programme it into the pod and your pod is merged with the relevant space.”

“How on earth do they do that?” His eyes were still focused on the projected images surrounding them.

“Aeroscaff was discovered in the mid 1800s. Similar to your Babbage, we were looking for a communication tool that would give rapid communication to all parts of the French empire. They had found a material which responded instantaneously to a chemical input and when they made a wire of it, the reaction at one end appeared at the other. They began to string wires everywhere and discovered that large masses of aeroscaff developed unusual properties – it basically acted as a scaffolding structure for all of the microscopic organic matter in the area, which would then bond with the aeroscaff and could not be removed. They tried every chemical known at the time and eventually realised it was better to work with the new material than to try and cleanse it.

“Aeroscaff is basically alive, but totally insentient. If it is sentient, we simply can't communicate with it.”

“Oh.” All the wonder and excitement had disappeared from him and his shoulders slumped.

The younger Andy had been gazing vacantly around, trying to assimilate the information, but this sudden droop caught his attention. Both the younger were watching the elder for his next revelation. It wasn't long in coming.

“It's all my fault.”

“What is?”

“All of it. The development of this stuff, the end of the world, everything.”

“Are you sure? I mean, that's quite a big claim.” Why that had been the thing to trigger her scepticism she would never know; but although everything else had seemed reasonable, the idea that this one man could have that much power tipped her over the edge.

“Sadly, I'm sure.” He sighed, but kept talking. “The cables you mentioned were the last thing I showed the Bonapartist scientists. We'd used light and infrastructure for so long, it was a simple thing for me to demonstrate how a concussive force would appear instantaneously at the opposite end of a metal tube, and I theorised it could be done with light through a clear substance. Then I left and they must have continued that research.

“As to the end of the world... Well, it's this.” he gestured around, “all of it is alive. It's the single largest living organism in the history of the planet and it needs sustenance. You're feeding it everything you produce, but it's nowhere near enough. For the last hundred years, barely any of you have been outside the aeroscaff shell for long enough to see it, but the material is sucking up all of the nutrition needed by everything that can photosynthesise. The plants are dying, and there is nothing in the soil that can revive them. Your atmosphere is losing oxygen, and it's only because the aeroscaff is storing enough oxygen for you that you're surviving. In a year the aeroscaff begins to starve. It's big, so it doesn't die immediately, but the outlying areas have noticeable problems.

“When the scaff finally dies it collapses and crushes those within it. Those who have tried to survive outside always fail because the second there is any useful substance in the earth the aeroscaff leeches it out. The dead aeroscaff seals the mass of humanity and – I'm not sure how, but it briefly has a surge of life through digesting their remains. It's not enough. In twenty years time, even the aeroscaff has disappeared, presumably through some form of cannibalism.”

The three of them looked outwards to the greatest library in one of the most beautiful buildings that the most powerful empire in the world had ever produced. As she looked she fantasised that she could almost see it coming to the end of its life. Saddened she shook her head, retreated, and looked back to the elder.

“So go back and stop yourself fro showing them that. It can't be hard.”

“What's your name?”

“Melissa.”

“Melissa. Pleased to meet you.” He made an old fashioned, courtly gesture towards her and she smiled involuntarily. “I went back. It was one of the first things I did. I wanted to avoid being caught by the French soldiers right at the start. When I got there I found the inn I favoured and waited for myself. I chatted to various people while I waited. After a while I noticed that everyone ignored me. I became offended and tried to hit the table while I hollered for attention. My hand went straight through it.

“It took me a while and a lot of experimentation to determine the cause, but I finally realised. I could only exist in any one spot at any one time and when I went to my earlier life... well, the earlier me was there first and so his reality over wrote mine. While he was around, to all intents and purposes I ceased to exist to everyone else. It was as though the closer I came to the physical point in space and time that he occupied, the less real I became. While I was around, nobody was able to recall his existence. And when both of us were in the same place, neither could perceive the other or communicate in any way. I can't go back to talk to me because we're the same person. But I can come here and talk to you, Andy, because we are different people, from different worlds.”

“So why exactly are you here?”

“I want to go home. I can't do that because I destroyed my home when I created this history. I can't change that. You can.”

“But then this world will end and I will never have existed.”

“Yes, but this world is ending anyway. Additionally – you and I have a get out clause. I told you I don't know how I created it, or really how it works, but I do know this.” He did the waving hands drawing imaginary pictures thing again. “It's like every choice you make has a potential outcome, and from then on, every choice that is made in response has a potential outcome. Now imagine that each choice creates a potential world – whatever choice you make, whatever you do, the device will always make sure you are in a world where you don't die. The device brought me here, now I know I can't die. I'll give it to you and it should work the same for you.”

“So why didn't Napolean take it and keep himself alive permanently?”

“It only worked for me. Several soldiers were transported through the device to act as an impassable barrier in one of the earlier campaigns They were slaughtered. I've calculated that it's fixed on my genetic identity, but I can't be sure. If I'm right, you share my immortality.”

He thrust the device towards the younger Andy. “Here, give it a go.”