Welcome to a world controlled by the great Spirit and Science Margas, a world that has crawled out of years of devastating viral plagues only to find that the immuno-nanotech sentinels meant to protect and enhance a whole generation of children are rising from within to become an horrific threat. Human kids warped at the genetic level to mimic characters of a sophisticated life-support game, the Children of the Reckoning must struggle against the artificial intelligence reaching for their minds through their own bodies and face the stigma of “otherness” in a world of deadly political intrigue and strict social controls.
For monk Ianto Tobali, his gift from the time of the Great Reckoning is fast becoming a sought-after commodity in the silent war against the Game’s artificial intelligence, Nuress, and the scramble for political domination of both realities. Because he is the only Child of God who can ride the nanotech links to break things, he is being manipulated to stand as a living firewall between the worlds of humanity and the Game. But even his tormentors underestimate the love-bond created between him and the one living mind at play in the Game, the consciousness of a young man named Sam Stelle. Together, they will become the masters of more than a single fragile world.
Larisa sometimes asked me about my relationship with the artificial intelligence named Nuress, but I didn’t quite know how to answer her. In my early years in the Game she had manifested as a child who sometimes came and played with me. She was a small girl with red hair and an infectious grin. I knew she could take parts of my dreams, bits of my imagination and make them real but subtly altered from what I had first created. She often asked me what I thought about the world, the people living it, the taste and smell of things. It was like she was living it all through me, with me. The first time I took a beating at the hands of one of the stable boys, I sat in the dirt and cried. It didn’t hurt, not really, but the idea that the world could turn on me was new and suddenly terrifying to the little boy I still was. I remember she treated my tears like my laughter, like they were something interesting, precious even. She kept touching my face, rubbing my tears between her fingers without really offering to make anything go away or get better.
Verbal Journal Transcripts of
I found myself dream-walking again, along a foothill trail with the river rushing and leaping to my left, the afternoon sun seeping through the pines in both shadow and streaks of light. The blond elf walked ahead of me, gently curving twin swords at his back, a dagger hilt protruding above one of his travel boots. He broke away from the trail, his feet sliding on the loose stones as he made his way down toward the river. I followed him without effort, the way dreams sometimes help you float over spots that others must labor through.
He squatted and cupped his hand, drinking quickly then looked up and down the winding riverbed. He reminded me of a wild animal, all senses alert. I crouched beside him, but he looked through me, his eyes this time a startling gray rimmed around with a thin line of deeper blue. A row of golden earrings caught the sun, and the wind played a bit with his fine hair. His hands were long-fingered, but with nails broken from the rigors of the road. His cape was torn and hand-mended in places, his simple leather armor beneath looked worn and too stiff.
He was, I thought, altogether magnificent.
He stood then, drawing a dagger from one arm bracer. He turned slowly around, his eyes scouring the hillside, the steeper lands beyond, the rushing riverbed. Methodically, he drew the blade across his palm and tucked the dagger away while it was still bloodied. For a moment he held his hand high, fingers spread, letting the wind catch the blood flowing down his wrist. I found myself drawing back from him, a little sickened by his gesture.
After a moment, he ripped off a piece of his cloak, wrapping it with care around the open wound. He pulled both swords from his back, each slender and glinting with a fine coat of oil to keep the rust at bay. How lightly he held them out to his sides, his very breath lifting them and lowering them in a shallow rhythm. His eyes never stopped moving.
I found myself watching, too, but all I could see was him.
“Trelvene, Bariito, Shasama, Llinea…” On and on his voice intoned the names, strange names, until he nearly sang them. And I heard such pain there, and such longing. It broke my heart to hear them go on, name after name.
And then, he was looking right at me, a frown on his face. I tried to return his frank stare, but found my eyes sliding away. He was fierce, blazing. “You again? Did you come this time to watch me die as you did all I loved in this world?”
Startled, I opened my mouth and tried to speak, but I had no voice here.
He stepped closer, his eyes looking me up and down. Then he leaned toward me, his lips nearly brushing my ear. “Maybe this time I will stay dead, as my people seem to be, and you will see me home to them. I have become weary. Will you be the spirit to guide me to sleep at last?” I leaned my cheek toward him, my body strangely alive with the closeness of him. For one moment, we stood like that, an embrace that was not.
And when he moved again, it was with a speed I have never seen in a living creature, spinning out with his swords at two shadows that seemed to erupt out of the very ground around us.
The Binders, armed with short staffs tipped at each end with a dagger point, caught his assault effortlessly, parrying, redirecting. They wove behind each other, now she in front, now he, a dance of intricate and deadly beauty. They laughed, taunting him. Sam stumbled and went to his knees, now catching a staff with crossed swords, now throwing himself forward to his feet, breaking their rhythm. I was the dreamer again, watching from somewhere set aside, a spectator and perhaps less than that, but when the first staff tip caught him, I cringed.
The honed edge went through his shoulder, just below the joint, and the sword in that hand dropped to the river stones as he cried out. The Binder female ripped out her staff end as her mate slashed a wicked line across the elf’s armor.
They laughed then, separating and circling him as he staggered, panting, his face a mask of shock and pain, one hand holding his last blade low to the earth. “For months you have tortured me with this game of catch and release!” he screamed. “For months you have fed on me! End this!” He opened his chest to them, sword out to the side, its tip almost resting on the earth.
The she-Binder ran her spear home through his armor and into his gut.
I heard his other sword clatter on the beach as she ripped her weapon free. Her mate sauntered forward as the elf swayed there, half bent over. He smiled, dropping his own weapon and drawing a black-bladed knife from his belt. “But you know better, Samu’el. We have only just begun.” The elf sank slowly to his knees again, his blood reddened fingers gripping his mid-line, his eyes focusing through the approaching Binder. And then he smiled at me, into me, his fingers reaching for his boot dagger.
Something in me broke through the detachment of a dreamer. I raced toward the elf, trying to shield him with my own body. I’m not sure what happened then, only that two blades crossed through my form, one elfin, the other Binder, each burying in the other. We fell, the three of us locked in a death grip as if the soil itself had ripped open in the stony riverbank. We fell in blue light and in cold and finally hit a surface that almost seemed to rip us from the very air.
The elf rolled right, I flung myself left and I fell again, this time a bare three feet but enough to knock the breath from me. Struggling for air, I looked up only to see the Binder’s loose, dark arm dangling over the side of a strange altar. Sam was already on his feet, though, grunting as he drove his dagger again and again into the still form. I shoved myself awkwardly away from the blood that ran on the floor, retching finally from the smell and the gore.
I found my hands and knees and crawled a little way off. I just wanted the carnage to end.
Suddenly, a brilliant flash of light exploded in the room. I threw up my hand in front of my face, but just as quickly as it had come, the white glare was gone. I blinked rapidly, trying to draw things into focus. The altar was empty, its edges clean and gleaming.
The elf sat down, his back sliding along one of the altar pillars, his legs outthrust and his pale eyes nearly purple in the softening blue of the room. He looked over at me, and smiled. There was blood in his mouth. “I don’t think you are real,” he whispered, “but I must say for a simple vision, you have given me a most singular gift.” He laughed then stiffened in pain, his hand still on his gut. “I’m dying again. Gods, but this gets old. But he’s dead, too. Maybe for good. Not supposed to happen like this. So fair trade. Fair trade.”
I crawled over to him. His eyes were already unfocused, his breath high in his chest and without rhythm. Something sweet rose from the smell of his blood. To my own horror, I found myself kissing the hands gripped over his stomach, the edges of the wound at his shoulder, and finally I kissed even his cold, gray lips. And I felt such an ecstasy in that moment, a blind and drugged bliss. Such fire raced through me, flushed my cheeks. For one moment I was light and time and the sum of all that echoed in the Hall of Becoming. Then a terrible lethargy hit me. I blinked, willing it back, but finally I had no choice but to give in to sleep, my head falling to his still lap.