Queen Dairy
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  • 15

    "Computer," Kristeva goes, "retrieve exhibit 108-9C."

    You've never set foot in here before.. you watch from behind glass by Raul's side – while the gigantic precipice Kristeva stands over is a pale chasm of prisms, each varying in a psychedelic radiance. This is the vault, where artifacts and tidbits linger in stasis. Sometimes for centuries.

    The retrieval arm, it whooshes down, descending fathoms before linking with the right inode holding the metadata of your collection.

    Kristeva turns her attention on the matter synthesizer, which is a flat platter. A holographic image of 108-9C's contents is beside it. She raises her hand on the platter's controls, before her fingers extend into hydra-like appendages, worming an automated sequence for the command interpreter..

    "Attention!" It's Romdeau's city-wide alert systems. "There will be an impending blackout by the Intelligence Bureau. Power will resume momentarily.."

    The lights drain, and you're left in awe as the platter erupts into a cacophony of light, electricity jolting and forming outlines of things you've known. Raul shields his eyes, while your vision is left stunned by inverse afterimages.

    Finally, everything hums back into life, as you just now see your items intact (with smoke simmering on top). So, that explains the occasional blackouts – not because nobody has bothered fixing the power grid by Intelligence, but because it takes an exorbitant power to re-create matter out of data..

    Kristeva brings the platter out into the hall with you two. The vault doors hiss shut behind her, with an emphatic air-tight whine.

    "This virtual world," Raul says. "This theme park, made by a proxy to keep the minds of everyone occupied.."

    He's more amused by the idea than anything, while you sift through your belongings, finding the neural patches. "If we've ever needed more proof that we cannot just leave ourselves resigned to their whims, we needn't look any further. Being caught in an endless dream, never to see the real sky, it's.. suffocating, to say the least."

    Finding a nearby bench, you have Raul sit.

    "So," he goes, "what does it take to meet this Proxy of Dreams?"

    "All in good time."

    The patches attach to his temples, and he make a little wince. Then he glances at you, a look of ever-mounting apprehension in his eyes as he's just realising how he's now in your hands – about to take the first step into your private world.

    "It's bonding with your temporal lobes," you go, not hiding your excitement. "Give it a second."

    It's technology Tetiana helped you engineer, giving you the schematics of interfacing with her worlds from miles away. You've almost forgotten just how the first surge was like, as you felt disoriented – transitioning from laying down, to being right in the midst of a music festival. Your attraction began with reading the libretto of the opera singer you were about to witness.. it blossomed, hearing her soothing voice as she stood solo on the summer's stage.

    Ultimately it turned into love when you had to share this dream. And all the possible joys it held, with Lil.

    This is what you're hoping Raul will know..

    "What you do now," you say, "is you close your eyes. Relax. It's just like the transition between soberity and drunkenness.. it'll come.."

    Raul does just that. Then the most vital question pops into his head, all too late..

    "Wait, how do I leave when-"

    He looks at you, and the light fades out of his eyes as they roll up, into a series of violent REM seizures. You've never seen what the process is like from the outside, and now you know.

    His body relaxes. Shoulders, arms, legs.. he seems to sink into the wall, and you glance at him for a moment while Kristeva evaluates his condition. He's not going to feel a thing in the real world, so you pose him nicely on the bench, such that it looks like he went for an opportune nap.

    "Daedalus," Kristeva says.

    His entourage seems to lock eyes on you, as you just now realise what you've really done. Is she going to place a security alert?

    "I'm.. terribly sorry about what Raul did to you earlier," Kristeva tells you. "Normally, it's not my place to contradict him while he's around. But he's grown dangerously out of line for being director of the Security Bureau.."

    You're surprised. An autoreiv, showing sympathy for you. "You're not saying you hate him, do you?"

    "No. I am duty-bound to serve the Director and his wishes, however much how my initial programming may contradict his will. Recently – since the loss of his wife and daughter, I've witnessed his erratic tendencies brim to the forefront. As if a fantasised self which he's kept hidden, even from himself, is replacing what little rationality he has left.."

    She says this with all the certainty of an accountant. "I find it fascinating, really. People have dreams. Imagination. Those mental faculties which are usually denied us. And already, from Raul, I am reminded of the worst of humanity. Rashness.. cruelty.. fanaticism.. the desiring for what is beyond impossible.. the willingness to risk a stable order for all, even if it means sacrificing the well-being of those around him."

    If only Kristeva has lungs, she'd sigh with the heaviness of a poet, confiding secrets to someone she'd least expect.

    "Kristeva," you go, reaching out to her. "I can't imagine.. I never intended on trapping Raul in there."

    "You were eager to show him Zaporizhzhia," she says. "That, I can understand. If I only could join Raul also – I'd really like to know what it's like to live life as a person, flesh-and-blood. The environment you were in.. it emulates sensations, yes?"

    You nod, recognizing her curiosity before recalling how she's seen you in lovemaking with Lil. You can't help but smile awkwardly, while furtively breaking free from her eyes.

    ".. I have to get Lil and Vincent," you say. "They're trapped in that same dream that Raul's in."

    "What's so bad about that dream?" Kristeva asks, with a child-like curiosity. "What were you doing in there before?"

    "I was-"

    You let out a gulp, hesitant over those self-indulgent, pornographic moments you've had with Lil. But it's Kristeva.. at this point, what's the harm in letting her in on your bottled-up fantasies, of all people?

    "I made love with the regent's daughter," you go, as your body sort of pivots away from her, arms shuddering, the blood tentatively rushing to your penis again. "I shouldn't have. It just didn't feel fair that she'd stop loving me like that, like I'd unwittingly passed through a one-way gate in her heart.. an exit out that paradise that I'll never return to.."


    You stare at each other in a limbo, a pregnant pause where you'd expect her to unleash a barrage of outraged condemnation in your face, as anyone else would. Some of your thoughts hover over the anthropology you've absorbed, and you realise that Life is unremittingly brutal, especially when it comes to courtship – on the fairest joys, there's always thorns looking to barricade, denying the weak and undesirable the right.. no, the luxury of reproducing; for every star that's shone brightly in history, there's a million who resign themselves to an eternal obscurity.

    Animals don't possess that self-consciousness - the impending awareness of their frailty, mortality, eventual death.. and that of their loved ones – people do.

    "Unlike Raul," you go, pointing out how chill he looks, "they're hard-wired to that system against their will. Every second which passes, Tetiana is siphoning life out their bodies. I don't know.. how much longer they've got -"

    You begin to shiver in front of her, possessing all the familiar despondency of seeing Lil in that medical pod, so weak from a hopeless disease. Then she rests a hand over your neck.

    "There is the royal hovercraft," Kristeva goes. "We normally reserve it when Donov needs to serve as Romdeau's emissary.. I'm calculating the distance to Zaporizhzhia."

    Her eyes flutter. "At 1,894 km, it'll take five hours to arrive under optimal conditions. I presume you want to bring them back home?"

    You nod.

    "I'll order enough provisions to last for two days. There'll be hibernation chambers if they need dire medical assistance-"

    "My FP bullets too," you go, as you tremble over facing Tetiana.

    "A word of caution: the ship's engines are not well-insulated from radiation storms. We were flying home from Londo, and our instrumentation suffered multiple soft errors – not even the autopilot will save you from being frozen for hours on end; the marauders are always on the hunt for straggling travellers.. you must fly manually. Avoid signs of mutara particles at all costs. Here, you'll need this-"

    She hands you your lanyard from the platter, and you notice her eyes are a little bloodshot. She's infected with the cogito virus..

    You're about to head off, when you look back at her. "Kristeva.."

    "Go! Don't linger here. At any rate, I must look after my Raul.."

    Your footsteps echo in the halls, as you run, approaching the sunny light at the end. Your lungs burn, and your chest quakes. If only you could bring yourself to thank her, for giving you hope enough to carry forth.

    If only.. you'd realise how much terror Raul would inflict in that dream, seeing his eyes almost gouging his eyelids out.

    There's no more time to look back, anymore.

    There's only the next step. And the next..

    The ship awakens to your presence, as its interior lights slowly brighten like candlelights and you feel yourself lost in the rococo of the delicately-crafted furniture. A bed that's fit for a king, with silk comforters and curtains.. it isn't what you've expected. It's far from the sleek aesthetic of the offices you're used to.

    There's a musty air of spice and incense, as you remember that Donov once liked to smoke heavily. It stings your lungs, and you want to cough..

    It was startlingly easy to get to this ship. When you met with border customs, you feared they'd raise an alarm from your arrest record. But Kristeva had forged an acquittal on your behalf, and thinking on your feet, you told them you were merely going on a research expedition.

    "How long will you be out for?"

    "A day, maximum."

    "A day for researching fault lines in the geography? Daedalus, say whatever we want about you, you're helluva dedicated to science – just be careful. We've had reports of an Eastern snowfreeze blowing in hard from the Adriatic dunes.."

    The ship itself – a sleek and angled figure lying in shadow - was guarded by autoreivs, waiting like statues by the dock. You didn't know how you were going to make it past them, until you stepped forth and they confused you with Donov himself, bowing down and hailing the departure of the dome's regent.

    What's remarkable about the craft is how antiquated it is, passed down from the Carolingian era when WombSys produced polymaths to advance technology and lay down infrastructure. You've only read about it, until now..

    You stumble forth to the open cockpit, without the protection of a canopy. It's a two-seater - and already, you hear the alerted shouts of the human guards, coming from the dock..

    Startled, your hands soon find the ignition control lever. A metallic pump between the seats which you twist around, then depress into position.

    A giant cloth parachutes outward from the sides, before it's pulled taut over the cockpit, enveloping you in darkness.

    You only hear your breaths, trembling amidst the backdrop of a faint hiss, before the actual cockpit controls emerge – luminescent switches on the dashboard:

    • check flit control
    • fuel flow verification
    • life support
    • engine buffer diagnosis
    • secondary services

    Starting this beast up is not as straightforward as it is in modern crafts. You flick the switches on in order (each with a noticeable resistance to your fingers that gives in to a loud "thud"), one at a time:

    • Computer Flit control .. OK!
    • Fuel flow injection and processing .. 79% optimal
    • Life support systems .. OK! (O2 current capacity: 350L – estimated depletion time: 5.83 days)
    • Power generation from engines .. OK!
    • Secondary services .. enabling autopilot, cartography, communications – OK!

    The craft hums, and you feel lifted up in the seat as if in an elevator. Then you see the holographic view of the outside world fizzle in, projected upon the cloth canopy..

    The dock's hatch slides open, as the guards have surrounded you, standing on the piers with their rifles, supported by flying drones.

    A heartbeat later -

    They fire upon you, the gunfire muted and distorted as if outside your protective bubble. You only inch the stick forward – and the craft accelerates with such gravitas, that you're pushed against the seat.

    You fly past the shanties built outside the dome. In a matter of seconds, the last traces of Romdeau and civilization are left behind..

    And in the vast wilderness of this polluted planet, with an endless reservoir of darkness waiting ahead of you, you fly alone, guided only by that diminishing hope of ever finding her alive.

    To let her know that out of all the things in this world, your love for her is real.