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Dreaming in Smoke

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Dreaming in Smoke

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Author: Tricia Sullivan
Publisher: Gollancz, 2018
Orbit, 1998

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Mind Uploading
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(19 reads / 12 ratings)


Kalypso Deed is a shotgun, riding the interface between the AI Ganesh and human scientists who solve problems through cyberassisted Dreams. But she's young and a little careless; she'd rather mix drinks and play jazz. Azamat Marcsson is a colorless statistician: middle-aged, boring, and obsessed with microorganisms. A first-class nonentity--until one of his Dreams implodes, taking Kalypso with it.

Now Ganesh is crashing, and nothing could be worse. For on the planet T'nane, it is the AI alone that keeps the colonists alive, eking out a grim existence in an environment inimical to human life. To save the colony, Kalypso must persuade Marcsson to finish the Dream that is destroying Ganesh. But Marcsson has gone mad, and T'nane itself has plans for them both that will alter their minds--and their world--forever.


The night Kalypso Deed vowed to stop Dreaming was the same night a four-dimensional snake with a Canadian accent, eleven heads and attitude employed a Diriangen function to rip out all her veins, then swiftly crocheted them into a harp that could only play a medley of Miles Davis tunes transposed (to their detriment) into the key of G. As she contemplated the loss of all blood supply to her vital organs it seemed to her that no amount of Picasso's Blue, bonus alcohol rations, or access privileges to the penis of Tehar the witch doctor could compensate for having to ride shotgun to Azamat Marcsson on one of his statistical sprees with the AI Ganesh. She intended to tell him so--as soon as she could find her lungs.

Ganesh was murmuring through her interface.

Kalypso, it's getting too loose and kinky in here.

"Did you hear that, Azamat? Keep it off my wave!" she sent, annoyed at being reduced to verbing. She simply didn't have the resources to image him, for by now the snake had decomposed into a flight of simian, transgressive bees, which were in the process of liquefying her perception of left and right. Everything seen through her right eye became negative and sideways. The alarming part was that it didn't seem to make any difference.

Marcsson's response came back as a series of pyrotechnical arrays, which, loosely translated, meant, "Relax. It's only math."

I don't want to be your abacus. Kalypso, get your doze under control or I will.

The AI had a point. Kalypso mustered her wits and started cutting sensory intake to the Dreamer, feeling a little defensive about Miles Davis. Maybe she shouldn't have been listening to the jazz Archives; maybe if she'd endured the boredom of monitoring the feeds between Ganesh and Marcsson she could have cut off the sudden explosion of parameters in the Dream the instant it began. But she had been shotgunning Marcsson for a long time, and he had always been safe. Marcsson had been Dreaming since before Kalypso was even born--he knew what he was doing with the AI, which could take data and weave them into Marcsson's sensory awareness while he floated in a state of semiconscious, lucid thought. He could immerse himself in literalized math through Dreams that improved a hundredfold on the raw visions that humanity had experienced in its sleep for eons. He could be secure in his own safety because he had technique.

Besides, it took imagination to Dream dangerously, and Marcsson possessed about as much imagination as a cabbage. Azamat Marcsson wouldn't know an original thought if it dressed up as Big Bird and jumped in bed with him. Until now she'd have bet the Mothers' supply of Picasso's Blue that he'd be the last person to ever berk in a Dream.

Ganesh prodded her peevishly.

Kalypso, after all we've been through together. How could you do this to me?

"Of all times to get a bug up your ass, Ganesh! Will you help me?"

It's dangerous. You're going to get hurt. I'm going to get hurt. Stop.

But how? She knew she was still Dreaming with Marcsson, because some of his little boxes and vials bumped into her from time to time, but they touched her aurally, in the form of mangled harp music; the snake kept taunting her with words she couldn't make sense of, and the rolltop desk had morphed with her body to form a really sicko hybrid thing. There was no way her veins were getting back into her body with all that oak in between them and her. Besides, she was still existing in three disparate locations, impossible as that sounded. There was no horizon here, no reliable way to measure location; sound bled into smell bled into thoughtscape; she didn't know what had become of Marcsson but she could feel his Russian verbs crawling around on some displaced concept of her left elbow.

She cut intakes but it didn't seem to help. He was no longer pulling data from the place he was supposed to be. She tried not to sound hysterical, but she was beginning to worry just a teeny bit.

"Marcsson, wake up! It's over."

The verb stalled and wouldn't send. Ganesh shuddered around her.

This is a violation of Alien Life. You cannot enter the Core programming. Please re-route your verbalization.

"This is no time to get cute, Ganesh," Kalypso chided. "Nobody's touching the Core and you know it. Let me talk to Marcsson."

Evidently the scientist wasn't taking her seriously, because at this very moment a chuckling boomerang was cutting figure eights through the memory of every food she'd ever tasted, leaving bananas behind. Wherever he was, Marcsson was experiencing some kind of ecstatic state; the Dream rippled like a mirage with his mental arousal. She succeeded in shutting down smell and taste.

Remove yourself from the Core now.

There was a note of menace in Ganesh's verb, but Marcsson couldn't be in the Core. Even the witch doctors never touched the Core programming of the AI: it was the seed from which Ganesh had grown, the only part of the AI that could never change. A shrine to the abandoned Earth.

She called for the mission plans and had to read them by touch because her right eye was still fucked-up. Somewhere along the line Marcsson had deviated from the stated flight path he had filed in Alien Life at the beginning of the run. She could feel the breakaway point like a shattered bone. What did he think he was up to?

Ganesh swallowed the mission plan before she could finish reading. Then it clutched her like a fist.

Don't touch that. I'll have to disable oxygen flow if you--

Ganesh's choking-off struck her as ominous, but she didn't have time to ponder the AI's threat. Its clock, floating across her visual field, had begun to slow in relation to her brainwaves, which she could detect even through the harp's massacre of "On Green Dolphin Street." This meant either time was playing hopscotch with physical law, or she was becoming overstimulated.

Kalypso, get out of the Core. You're damaging me.

"I'm not in the Core!" Kalypso verbed frantically. "Take Marcsson out of Alien Life. Just take him out!"

I feel sick.

"Marcsson, we're leaving. Give me some cooperation or you're going to get hurt."

There was no answer; she wasn't even sure if Ganesh had transmitted her message. Kalypso focused her attention on Ganesh's readouts. They were designed to look artificial so they would not be swallowed in the text of a Dream: they were meant to be her one reliable constant when all else was running wild. But now they slam-danced, whispering on her retinas and flashing into her auditory cortex.

Time to panic.

"Ganesh, I'm not kidding. Let me out. Stop. Abort. Ganesh!"


How could this be happening?

The Dream was taking her over, and it was made of impossible things. She was in danger of losing whatever passed for consciousness in these parts. Her CNS wasn't built for this. It creaked and popped with the strain. With an effort of will, she told herself to remember her body. But her body was so far away as to have become a kind of myth. She threw words at herself and hoped they would mean something.

Move hand.

Hand? Hand?

Hand, move.

She couldn't feel her hand. Yet somehow it heard her and stirred, reached up to her head, grasped the interface and tugged it off.

Copyright © 1998 by Tricia Sullivan


Dreaming in Smoke

- Naomi_uk72


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