Here's a taste of "The Tower":
As Lorne skulked towards his faceless victim in his dream, Sharrah watched from the shadows. Jules, the Tower's organic computer, fed her bursts of compressed information, which Sharrah compiled in her mind, waiting for the moment to strike.
With a cruel smile, the burly boy grabbed the cloaked figure from behind and twisted him around, punching him in the stomach. Lorne then pulled back the cloak's hood, his excitement reaching its peak. Taking command of the bully's dream, Sharrah changed the parameters. The terrified face of the young boy under the cloak suddenly turned hard. His body grew in size until he towered over Lorne, his expression mirroring the latter's exactly.
This was the sixteen year old's hundredth session. And while previous sessions had at least stemmed the extent of the fantasies he played out while awake, the lessons and empathy she'd tried to instill in him weren't taking permanent hold. This time, she would let it run its full course.
Lorne tried to pull away as he realized things had changed, but it was too late. The victim now turned predator had him in a tight grip. "I'm going to indulge you with all those marvelous things you had planned for me. Won't that be fun?"
It wasn't long before the screaming started.
It was the one thing she hated about her duty – the awful screaming. Not that they'd have cause to scream if they'd just learn their lessons.
Despite the two centuries she'd intruded into others' dreams and guided them, taught them -- when those who'd earned the nightmares struggled to wake, when they had to experience the very things they'd hoped to inflict, they screamed. And though they deserved it, when they did, it made guilt grate her soul.
Extraction sequence complete.
Sharrah opened her eyes, though she had no real need to do so in order to able to see what was around her. With the semi opaque cover over the Thought Union Bath, or TUB, not using her own eyes would let her see better, but sometimes you just had to do without the ocular feeds. She stared at the cover for a while without actually seeing it, then finally sighed and sent the mental command for it to open.
The thought travelled from her to the green gel covering most of her body on out through the TUB’s interface and into the Tower’s organic mainframe. The cover slid back almost simultaneously, the speed of transference one of the miraculous properties of the gel and the TUB.
She stared at the room's dark ceiling, procrastinating against what she knew must come next. Yet she never tired of this sight – of seeing the dark metal above her, of the twinkling, multicolored lights flashing through it, each one a life, a thought, a memory of those living and of those who’d come before. There had once been billions of them - breathing, living, loving, hating - who now were no more. Those who’d come from Before – a millennia ago, much farther back than her own extended existence.
Is everything all right? Do you require assistance?
Sharrah flexed her throat a moment, forcing herself to speak, though her communications implant would have worked just as well. "I'm fine, Jules."
Sighing, she caved to the inevitable and raised her hand out of the gel. It slewed off her hand and arm like water, though beneath and to the sides it felt almost solid, just one of the many odd properties of the compound. She grabbed the side of the tank and pulled herself up, assisted by Jules, who remolded part of the container’s bottom to prop her up. The first few moments out of the gel always seemed to seep the heat away from her, leaving her shivering with cold.
Grunting with effort, she half climbed, half slipped out of the TUB. Her joints feeling stiffer than usual, she hobbled to the fresher. She’d stayed in too long again – a year, maybe two? Jules would know down to the minute, but Sharrah wouldn't ask, she didn't really want to know. But she also couldn't afford to avoid her secondary duty any longer, no matter how much she wanted to. At most, she had three years to teach all that must be taught – and it would barely be enough time – assuming she even found a proper candidate.
Repeating her last failure was not an option.
The mist in the fresher washed her with warm, polarized water to drag away any remaining dead skin and other waste molecules not already absorbed or converted by the TUB into fodder for the Tower. When her time was done, rather than rot in the ground, her matter would be added to the Tower as well, her last contribution to the cause.
Multidirectional jets dried her skin and she ran a hand over her shaved head, the green goo removing the hair from her scalp as it grew. It’d been one of the hardest things to give up when she’d fully committed herself to the Tower, to her task -- the long, curling brown locks her one true pride and joy. She sometimes dreamed they flowed from her to circle the entire district in a protective cocoon -- which, since it had gone to feed the Tower, it did in a way. The thought made her smile.
Stepping out of the fresher, she reached for the injector, already prepped and laid out for her use thanks to Jules, and injected the tailor made concoction into her arm. A burning sensation tingled through her extremities for a moment then dulled. Despite the miraculous properties of the gel and everything else about the Tower, only so many effects for the life she led could be overcome or delayed by the TUB.
You're going out…yes?
"Yes." As long as they'd been together, Sharrah could easily hear the computer's subtext, even when she pretended to be polite. Jules would be keenly aware of how past due her exit from the tank had been. They both recognized how important it was, and how much more vital it would become -- even though Sharrah continued to try to hide from it.
As amazing as Jules was, the computer wouldn't be able to carry the mission of guiding and safe guarding humanity on her own. The Ancestors had made sure of it. The human element must always be preserved.
Yet it made her very nervous. The weight of her unfinished task growing each time she left the tank and came back empty handed. The first time she'd chosen had been hard enough, but with all the doubts plaguing her after her first colossal failure, she found herself cowering from a second attempt. A lot of the tests were conducted on their own, but the human factor was the one thing even a machine as powerful as Jules couldn't truly quantify on her own. Yet even with all the information at Sharrah's command, with the fact she could look in on her people's most private thoughts, put them all through psychological tests inside their dreams, she feared making a decision. Her previous failure had already cost them so much time.
A dull, faded black dress and cloak rose from the floor to where she could easily reach for them. She put them on, enjoying the feel of the coarse fabric on her skin. Mostly made of cotton, there were other organic elements woven between the folds. They made the two garments more than anyone would believe. Because of it, those who saw her wouldn't truly see her, which was as it should be.
I believe in you.
Sharrah laughed out loud, hearing more of Jules' subtext. What the computer really meant was for her to get her butt outside and get this done before she'd have to start nagging her about it. She headed to the open elevator and the transport system deep below.
Tales From a Lone Star is currently available at Amazon (Kindle) and Smashwords. Soon a paperback version will also be available. Enjoy!
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