David Louis Edelman
'Geosynchron' trade paperback cover

Excerpt: The Prisoners

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Chapter 8

The delineation is as clear as anything in the world. Below, the ocean. Above, the sky. Dividing the two, the ever-so-slight parabola of the Earth’s horizon.

Natch stands at the window of an observation tower in the suburbs of Angelos and watches that dividing line slowly devour the setting sun. It’s a short tower, only three stories, and it’s painted light peach like so much of the architecture out here. But the builders placed it at the end of a man-made promontory out into the ocean, so the view is impeccable. A smattering of lovers and tourists share the view with him from a distance just large enough that nobody can quite make out his face.

The gun Natch used to shoot Petrucio and Hiro is now floating out with the tide, where it will likely be netted by the local L-PRACG trashsweepers and then analyzed by the Defense and Wellness Council. Natch is unclear how long information about the gun’s recent firing will survive in its memory banks, and whether that will be enough to trace it back to him. If the Council can indeed deduce that Natch used the weapon to make his escape, then Petrucio will be off the hook. Regardless, any such deduction is days away at the earliest.

The entrepreneur hadn’t expected much in the way of gratitude, but Patel was still capable of surprising him. Not only had he given Natch a comradely pat on the shoulder as they left the hoverbird, but he had offered something much more valuable: a process for disabling his tremors and blackouts.

Which, Petrucio had assured him, are caused by the code that provides backdoor access to MultiReal, and not by any Thasselian programming.

“This isn’t a permanent cure, you understand,” Patel had said. “There isn’t one. You’ll probably have to keep tweaking the code a few times a year for as long as you own the program. But if you follow these instructions, it should buy you two or three months.”

Natch had stared at his throbbing left hand with a peculiar mixture of relief and apprehension. “But… how do you know about this?”

“Because Frederic and I had the tremors too, back when we had access to that security back door. So did Margaret. Manifests differently in everyone, of course. Frederic had a stutter, and I had a twitching eyelid. Margaret said it was one of the consequences of letting three-hundred-year-old code roam free in a modern OCHRE system.”

The entrepreneur’s jaw had dropped. “Three hundred years old?”

“That’s what she said,” Petrucio had continued with a dismissive hand gesture. “Who knows whether she was telling the truth. Who knows if she even knew the truth.”

Natch recalls the specter of Margaret Surina he saw atop the Revelation Spire a few weeks ago. Only hours before her sudden and inexplicable suicide, if Brone’s story could be believed. Her eyes were probing the walls for imaginary enemies, and her mind was a tattered remnant of what it used to be, barely cognizant of anyone or anything but Quell the Islander. The ultimate consequence of sixteen years of cohabitation with that MultiReal back door? He looks down at his own trembling hand again, product of a mere few months of exposure. It’s plausible.

All he knows is that he does not want to end up like Margaret.

He wants to live.

The realization, only hours old, shows no signs of subsiding. It’s a peculiar feeling. A feeling that makes his extremities quiver and his stomach hollow — not totally unlike the want that has powered him as long as he can remember — but this is a sensation that points outward to the world rather than curling in on itself.

Natch wants to live, but what irony that the world he wants to live in no longer exists.

Margaret had warned him of this. She had stood in front of a billion people and prophesied a world free from the tyranny of cause and effect.

What would our lives be like if we had made different choices? she had said. In the Age of MultiReal, we will wonder no more — because we will be able to make many choices. We will be able to look back at checkpoints in our lives and take alternate paths. We will wander between alternate realities as our desires lead us. The ever-changing flux of MultiReal will become reality.

But what are the terms and boundaries of this new reality that Natch has wandered into? Suddenly Frederic Patel can decapitate him with a samurai sword and he cannot, both at the same time. Brone can chase him through the ruins of Old Chicago and then forget. Memories can blur and devolve. Things can happen and then unhappen. In such a world, how can Natch trust that he is really standing here in an observation tower staring at the setting sun? Will that too be yanked away from him? Does anything in the universe in fact exist — or is existence itself only a temporary delusion, a momentary wave that can suddenly recede back into the nothingness without warning?

Natch shakes his head. Sophomoric speculation that belongs in the realm of the adolescent.

But. He has seen it. He has lived it.

If Natch can’t trust the basest proposition that what happens, happens… what can he trust? Is there anything solid enough in this world for him to plant his feet on?


Petrucio had been kind enough to clear up one more discrepancy that had been troubling Natch since the dungeon in São Paulo. Namely, how the Patels had found a way to immunize themselves from the effects of MultiReal.

“A trick?” Natch had yelped in red-faced disbelief.

Petrucio had put an avuncular hand on the entrepreneur’s shoulder. “You think you’re the only one who knows how to use social engineering to his advantage? Don’t feel bad. There’s no way you could have known that you weren’t really interacting with me or Frederic in there. They were digitized projections. Remote-controlled puppets, more or less. We couldn’t have actually walked into that room, or you would have used MultiReal to find the possibility where we freed you. We had to wait until you were convinced the program was useless.”

In exchange for all of Petrucio’s unexpected generosity, Natch had decided to reveal something of his own. “The MultiReal-D unhappening,” he had said. “The rollback of memories. It’s dangerous.”

Petrucio had stroked his mustache in consternation. “How so?”

“Something’s been happening to me ever since I left Old Chicago. I didn’t have any explanation for it until you told me about MultiReal-D. I’ve got these… blank patches in my memory. Random things, just gone. Things that happened to me a long time ago, unrelated things. They just seem to have disappeared.”

Patel had moved his hands from his mustache to his forehead, where he had begun rubbing firmly at his temple, as if trying to soothe away pain. “It’s not an exact science, you know — erasing memories. I don’t know how much you learned in the hive about how the brain stores memory….”

“Not much. That was always Serr Vigal’s line of study, not mine.”

“It’s incredibly complex. It’s not like a recording that you can just rewind and erase. The brain stores bits and pieces all over the cerebral cortex, and it’s not organized in any way that makes sense to you and me. So if you try to erase a memory of running through Old Chicago, and there’s a calculation error — even a minuscule one — well, you might end up erasing a memory of running through the playground when you were a boy. Or you might forget the word Chicago. Crude examples, but you get the point. There’s no way to know for sure.” Petrucio had tossed one hand up in the air as if trying to discard the whole thing. “Guess that’s why you build prototypes before you put code into production.”

Natch had not been satisfied with this response. “But was this a problem with Margaret Surina’s original code — or your implementation of it?”

“I don’t know. Frederic and I only tested the ‘unhappening’ on very short spans of time. Seconds. A few minutes.”

Natch had taken this information in with a solemn countenance. “I need one more thing from you, ’Trucio.”

Patel had looked at him wordlessly.

“You need to tell me how to turn off this fucking MultiReal-D.” And then, in answer to the question Petrucio had been about to ask: “Because it frightens me. I don’t need it, I can take care of myself. What I need right now is solid ground underneath my feet. What I need is to know that what happens, happens.”

He could tell that Petrucio did not understand, but Petrucio nodded in acquiescence anyway.

Brone would understand, Natch tells himself.

The notion startles him, but Natch instinctively recognizes it as truth. This is one situation where his friends would be of little help. Horvil would regard his predicament as an intricate maze to be woven through; Serr Vigal would float off into even further abstraction; Jara would chide him for engaging in useless mental masturbation. No, the only one who can really appreciate the paradoxes at play here is his old enemy, the man whom he maimed during the Shortest Initiation. Brone.

He wonders what Brone is doing right now. If Petrucio’s theory is correct, and Brone did indeed try to kill Natch in Old Chicago, then MultiReal-D must have left him in an impotent rage. He would have discovered that Natch had somehow eluded him, despite all his precautions, but he would not remember any more of the details than Natch. Certainly he must have taken stock of the entrepreneur’s disappearance and concluded that MultiReal had something to do with it. Perhaps he might have even connected it with Petrucio’s black code dart at the Tul Jabbor Complex. What will he do now?

And what, for that matter, will Natch do?

Natch wants to live. He has the power of MultiReal at his command, the power that gives him mastery over cause and effect itself. He has no connections, no belongings, no ties and no responsibilities. Yet the whole world is after him — businesses, governments, creeds, drudges and practically everyone else. He has the power to go anywhere and the opportunity to go nowhere. Only twenty-four hours ago, such unencumbrance felt like the nothingness at the center of the universe. But now? What can he do in such a situation? What does he want to do with this new life in this new reality… ?

The honk of a seagull brings Natch’s mind back down from the aether. The bird has perched on the windowsill right on the other side of the glass where it regards the entrepreneur curiously. Then it whizzes off, snatches a fish and makes for the deeper water.

He turns back to contemplate the sunset. What was previously two isolated containers of clear blue and sea green has now become a jumble of improbable colors as the pigments of the sun dissolve in the deep. Delicate pinks and sturdy blues, concentrated yellows and bashful reds.

Natch stretches his arms, looks up to the stars that are just beginning to peek through the curtain of the day. Frederic’s MultiReal-D demonstration triggered something inside of him. Natch has faced death. He has been through it and come out the other side.

Petrucio said he would have two to three months of clear, tremor-free existence once Natch follows his instructions. What can happen in two to three months? Anything can happen.



Excerpted from “Geosynchron” by David Louis Edelman. Copyright © 2010 by David Louis Edelman. Reprinted by permission of Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Excerpt licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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