As I wrap up editing on the “Effugium,” Anthology, I’ve begun work on the full-length followup novel, tentatively titled “Exsilium.” This is an early draft of chapter one. It won’t be necessary to have read “Effugium” in order to follow this book, but it will give it more depth. I like books that can stand alone as well as serve as sequels, so that’s what I’m writing.
“Have you considered the possibility that you’re being just a smidge paranoid?”
Caldo didn’t turn around. The view of the city that lay beyond the window of the Central Governor’s office never failed to enthrall him. Post-WET architecture was uniquely Galenian in appearance–almost alien.
This, he knew, was by design. The aesthetic they’d cultivated was part of a conscious attempt on Galenia’s part to distance itself from anything reminiscent of Earth. He found it both stirring and beautiful, and a refreshing change from the gaudy hodgepodge of mismatched structures erected by Kryuss back on the world of his births.
The towering, crystalline spires of its tallest buildings, jutting out from the morning flowerfog below and spreading out like tree limbs to interconnect with one another, sparkled brilliantly in the rays of the rising sun like stationary bolts of lightning. Woven throughout these was a system of transparent tunnels packed with people bustling to and fro, en route to their various destinations.
In the center of this thriving metropolis, overlooking all of it, stood Kohlvar Tower, the building he was in. Constructed around an ancient California redwood planted by the first settlers on the planet, the sight of it from the ground was as impressive as the view of the city from the governor’s office.
Novae Terrae was indeed a beautiful city, and he’d quickly fallen in love with it upon his arrival on Galenia a century prior. He didn’t want to see it destroyed.
“Is that what you think?”
Governor Aviza rose from her desk and joined him at the window.
“You are the Keeper, and as such I’m inclined to take your warnings very seriously. The council, on the other hand–”
Caldo threw his hands up. “The council. Why do you still have a council? I wish you could see things from my perspective, how silly it all is.”
“I know,” she said, “but traditions run deep here. People find comfort in them. Besides, the council no longer has any legal authority. We aren’t ruled by them.”
“Aren’t you?” His eyes flashed with an intensity Aviza found unnerving. “Then how do they still manage to dictate policy?”
“The people listen to the council,” said Aviza. “And as governor, it’s my job to listen to the people.”
“I was still a teenager, on Earth, back when Kryuss was just a flamboyant publicity hound,” said Caldo. “I knew he had a knack for marketing himself, but I don’t think I gave him enough credit. Two hundred thousand years after his death, his presence remains with you. Even after his brief return, during which he indirectly wrecked your planet.”
“That wasn’t Kryuss, though. That was…” she paused, searching for more appropriate words than the ones she’d initially set out to use.
“Go ahead,” said Caldo. “Say it. He was an artie. Like me.”
“Now come on, you know that’s not what I meant.”
“Kryuss was as real then as he was when he was flesh and blood,” Caldo went on. “And I remember him both ways–if anyone’s qualified to make that comparison, it’s me.”
“Look,” she said, “you don’t have to convince me. Besides, it’s not so strange. Earth felt the reverberations of many an ancient religion all the way up to… well, you know. The end. Even now, there are dozens of Christian churches and Muslim mosques active on Galenia. There are even practicing Buddhists here. Hindus. You name it, we’ve got it.”
“Most of them tainted by the teachings of Kryuss,” said Caldo.
“You’re right, they are. But so what? I’m sorry, but the integration will proceed as planned. The people want a TREE system that meets the demands of our rapidly advancing technology.”
“Don’t apologize to me,” said Caldo. He waved his arm across the window, gesturing towards the city below. “Apologize for the hell you’re about to condemn them to. Your technology isn’t going to be as advanced as theirs, I can tell you that much.”
Aviza sighed and buried her face in her hands. “It isn’t the same TREE. And no one was aware that yours was spreading unchecked. Ours is constantly monitored and updated. It’s under our control.”
“For now,” said Caldo. He turned and exited the office.
He took the stairs down to ground level, because no one took the stairs and he wanted to be alone. He needed a reprieve from human stupidity.
The trek down the spiral staircase that wound around the trunk of the redwood afforded him solitude from the throngs of people who persistently clamored for audience with “The Keeper of Knowledge.”
He hated that name. It sounded like something from Dungeons & Dragons. Not that he had anything against Dungeons & Dragons–he would have loved to have found someone to play it with again–but it was a bit much. Everything on Galenia was.
Bunch of tryhards.
He ignored, as best he could, the excited pointing and chattering from the elevators all around him as people passed him. As always, he tried not to eavesdrop, but it was impossible to drown out every voice.
“…the keeper! He looks taller than I…”
“…don’t trust him, I never have…”
“…he think he is, anyway?”
“…the stairs? Showoff…”
“…Don’t look at him…”
“…love you, keeper!”
He was well aware that he wasn’t beloved by everyone, and it didn’t bother him one whit. Price of fame, after all. Besides, he’d live on long after his detractors’ bones turned to dust.
It was the adoration that bugged him; he didn’t enjoy receiving praise for existing longer than everyone else. That wasn’t an achievement. The first moon landing was an achievement. The construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza was an achievement. The Wright Brothers’ first flight, that was an achievement. All he had achieved was not being dead.
He supposed that, from a human perspective, beating Methuselah’s record was quite an extraordinary feat, but on Earth, he was just another face in the crowd.
Sure, Kryuss had christened him the official historian laureate, but nobody cared about that, and he preferred it that way.
He’d always wondered why Kurt Cobain had taken his own head off with a shotgun, but he wondered no more. He got it now. Living in a fishbowl gets exhausting after a time.
The presence of the reporters gathered outside the tower waiting for him to appear wasn’t unexpected, but it was unwelcome.
He cut through the crowd of people without acknowledging a single one of them, ignoring their shouted questions.
Before heading home, he paused to look up at the tower, set against an impossibly lavender sky, and at the city surrounding it.
The people vying for his attention thought these things were permanent. They took them for granted. The inhabitants of Earth in 2019 had, of course, thought the same thing about everything they’d established up to that point as well.
Unbeknownst to them, and to their Galenian progeny, a sleeping giant lay in their midst, and it didn’t care about maintaining the status quo. It didn’t care about their cities or their technology or their storied history of perseverance and triumph. It didn’t care about anything but its own survival, and if a threat to that was perceived, it would do whatever it felt was necessary to defend itself.
He snatched the nearest reporter’s camera drone out of the air, pulled it to his face and spoke into it.
“Enjoy it while it lasts,” he said.
Frantic chatter and questions followed. More drones in his face.
Caldo didn’t like to flaunt his abilities in front of people, but he liked the prospect of the reporters following him all the way to the jungle’s edge even less. He ran away from them at a leisurely forty miles per hour and disappeared into the flowerfog.
Minutes later, when he arrived at the underground house he’d constructed deep in the jungle, the wild Kray he’d unofficially adopted as a pet was happy to see him.
“Hey, Siu,” he cooed as the creature rubbed its face against his leg. “Whatcha been up to?”
The six-legged, vaguely catlike reptilian Kray purred an affirmative. Caldo loved that sound. Siu didn’t know Caldo was an artificial life form, and he likely wouldn’t have cared if he did. He loved Caldo with an innocence the humans were incapable of. Siu didn’t want anything from him but affection and companionship. He didn’t even have to feed him–Siu hunted his own food.
Kraybeasts were one of Galenia’s most feared predators, and therefore one of the chief reasons people tended to steer clear of the jungle–that and the rest of the food chain that humans were very near to the bottom of.
Caldo knew what it was like to be feared and misunderstood. Everyone had seen the surveillance footage of Kryuss killing Damien and his two bodyguards several hundred years earlier during the Great Shutdown. There were many who felt Caldo was potentially just as dangerous.
Never mind that the body housing Kryuss was constructed by a Galenian cyberneticist, and not TREE. Never mind that Earth was full of “arties” who co-existed peacefully with the offspring of the humans who had arrived there a century earlier on the Vindicta. No matter how far humanity progressed, it couldn’t seem to shed the matched luggage of fear and prejudice it had carried with it since its expulsion from Eden.
Occasionally, he considered the idea that TREE had been right about them, that they were a destructive, invasive species. But these musings always led to memories of Tramn.
With Siu trailing behind him, he went to his bedroom and typed a code into the wall safe. It opened, and he removed the tiny metal box inside from its pillow; caressed it with his fingertips.
“You saved them once before, old friend,” he said. “You may have to do it again.”