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Disclaimer: The characters and
setting aren't mine. I'm borrowing them my and my readers' amusement
and have no intention of making money off of them in any way, shape or
Warnings: Canonical death
Author: The RCK
Last updated: 4 January 2008
Written for Odile in Yuletide
Thanks to Olna Jenn for cheerleading, to Rekall13 for the canon beta,
to Amy the Evitable for the general beta and to Retsuko for the final
read through. Thanks also to my husband for patience, babysitting,
suggestions and reading the canon so that he'd understand what I was
- the process by which a zymogen (an inactive antecedent chemical
substance) becomes a functional enzyme through action by a kinase or
Dying hurt. Su hadn't really expected that. She had thought of death as
the end of pain and hadn't considered that the process itself might
hurt. Bones broke. Flesh shredded. Everything burned. She screamed, but
the destruction of Fairy Park around her created so much noise that
even she couldn't hear.
Then it stopped. She inhaled rapidly, trembling a little as her mind
refused to believe her body. Fairy Park lay below her, undamaged. Above
her and under her, the statue of Oruha stood, head and body fully
intact. Even the ravages of abandonment that had made the park seem so
much less than she'd originally imagined had repaired themselves. Su
blinked and looked up. The statue of Oruha looked different, quite
undamaged but utterly different. Maybe
is what she really looked like. I wish I knew.
She listened. The wind ran through and under the park. She imagined it
playing with the waves. She could hear nothing else. Panic clawed at
her throat. She'd never heard silence before. Every air current always
carried the debris of a million voices. She groped for Grandma Ko, then
for any of the voices she'd ever heard speaking with Grandma Ko.
To stifle her urge to cry, she glided down to the platform and started
to sing. She didn't attempt words because she wasn't sure what words
fit and thought that the wrong words might make things worse. Worse than being alive when I should be
dead? And still alone. More alone. She scuffed her feet as she
walked, trying to make enough noise to hear her own footsteps. Except that singing would hide them anyway.
She put words to her song. "I'm alone now. Not even here-- Or there if
here isn't there." The wind felt powerfully real against her body,
something alive rather than the limp, not quite there-ness of filtered,
fan driven air. "Carry me away. Lift me up. I want to see everything
from above." In spite of the many obviously climbable structures around
her, she made no effort to leave the ground.
Eventually, she found the edge of the platform and looked out over the
waves. She could see no sign of Kazuhiko or Gingetsu or Bols. Or of anyone at all. "No shore. No
birds. Are there fish in the sea?" She shivered as the wind stole her
"There can be fish. If you want them."
Su gasped and spun around, trying to find the source of the words. "B?"
she whispered. "B!" she called out. "I recognize your voice..." Though I don't actually know what you
A child stepped around the corner of a small booth. "I wasn't sure
where you'd want to be." Her voice slipped past the wind. "I thought...
Here seemed better." She shook her head, and dozens of long, tiny
braids bounced on her back and shoulders.
"There's nowhere else." Su knew that the hotel room and Shiao Mao cell
wouldn't feel at all the same without Kazuhiko there. "How did you
know? How do you know me? I could hear the three of you, but..." She
shrugged a little, unable to finish the sentence.
"The Machine showed me. It sees and hears everything, and it let me
watch, too, when I wanted to."
The Machine...? "I don't
understand." The Wizards talked about the Machine, whispered about it,
rather, even when no one else was there. "The Machine... That is the
tool of the Wizards." Their most
powerful tool. The one that controls the world.
B shook her head again. "The Machine is not theirs. It belongs to
everyone in the world." She put a hand on the wall beside her and
tugged at a loose board. "But the Machine cannot listen to everyone.
Well, it can, but not all
input are equally important, so it listens to them. There isn't anybody
Su shivered again. "I wish it wasn't so cold." The Machine can't listen to anyone but the
Wizards. They'd lose their power. People would die.
B blinked then stared at Su. After a moment, she shook herself. "You
just have to decide that it isn't."
Su leaned back against the railing, trying to get that to make sense. Am I that powerful? I-- I never tried
that. Should I? Unwilling to take that step, she changed the
subject. "If you're here, that means I actually am dead."
"Our bodies are dead."
Su closed her eyes. That did nothing to alter the silence, but at least
she didn't have to see the impossibilities that surrounded her. She
sighed then wondered how she could feel her breath in her nostrils when
her body was dead. "Is there no one else?"
"Not yet. C will join us when his body gives out."
"Ran. His name is Ran." Su opened her eyes again. "Not A?"
B shook her head. "The Machine fears him. It can't say no to him-- or
to any of us-- except by refusing to let him in." She took a few steps
closer to Su and put a hand on Su's arm.
Su allowed B to lead her back into the maze of Fairy Park. "I still
don't-- I was supposed to die. I promised."
"Did you want to?" B opened a door. "There's a viewing deck up there.
Glass to keep out the wind, chairs to sit in and food if we want it."
Su thought she heard a question in the statements. "I'd like that." She
started up the stairs after B, considering the actual question. "I did
promise." She thought of Kazuhiko and bit her lip. "A four leaf Clover
is too dangerous."
"Dangerous to whom?" There was an edge in B's voice.
Su couldn't even begin to grasp the question. "I just am. We are--
were. The Wizards say--"
"The Wizards!" B snorted. "Even if we could be, that doesn't mean we
are or have to be." They emerged into a bright, warm space that looked
down on all of the park.
Su pressed her face against the glass. "We didn't climb far enough to
"We only climbed at all because I thought you needed to." B sat down in
a padded chair. "This is only as real as our thoughts. Would you like
Su hesitated then shook her head. "I think I need to hear you. Music--"
She shook her head again. "Later." She tried to imagine the park filled
with people. She traced the Ferris wheel on the glass. That should light up, I think. As
her finger moved, red and blue lights began to glow. The sun obscured
them, but she could still see them. She smiled, took two steps back and
"It will turn if you want it to."
"Is it supposed to?" Su's eyes widened.
"Most of what's out there should. We can ride on each of them. If you
"If I want to?" Su stopped to stare at B. "What about you?"
B turned away. "Two years out there is a lot longer in here."
Oh. Su covered her mouth with
one hand. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be." B shrugged. "I wasn't learning anything out there. Three
leafs can't hear the way you do."
"Hearing only means that I learned that people die." Su didn't feel
like telling B any of the other things she'd learned by listening, not
the way the Wizards fostered low level warfare in order to prevent
unspecified larger problems, not her mother's new family, her
half-siblings subsidized by the Wizards in hopes of producing usable
Clovers. Two leafs are welcome.
She wrapped her arms around her body.
B laughed harshly. "We all learn that, don't we? One way or another."
Su tried not to spend too much of her time watching Kazuhiko, but she
worried about him. The Wizards hadn't stopped watching him, hadn't
stopped waiting to see what conclusions he'd reach about Clovers, about
Su, about Oruha. Whether he's right
or not, he could make trouble. Maybe. She couldn't actually
think of anything that he might do that would cause the Wizards real
trouble. Or that anyone might do,
really. So far, Kazuhiko hadn't done anything except stare at
his hand, at the mark there that hadn't yet started to fade, and at the
Su just kept checking back personally because she didn't trust the
Machine to notice or B to care. And,
she thought guiltily, B still has
trouble seeing anything outside. Su used the Machine's senses. B
had to wait for the Machine to create an echo inside itself that showed
what had happened outside a few seconds before. She seems happy enough with that and
doesn't even try to reach out.
Su wished that she had hands. She knew Kazuhiko's heart rate and
temperature because the Machine did. She could see and hear him
breathe, even trace the trace elements in each exhalation because the
Machine could. It's not the same as
touching, as smelling... But it is better than just listening.
She withdrew her attention.
After years in the cage, Su still found the infinite possibilities of
the Machine overwhelming. Any place she could imagine, any place that
existed in the physical world, the Machine could reconstruct it for her.
"Reconstruct it empty," she whispered. The Machine could create shadows
of people, simple automatons to fill a role or echoes of real people.
The former had no depth of reaction but would respond to Su and B. The
latter... "Act real but can't see us at all."
B sat in a beach chair, enjoying the sun, surrounded by echoes. She
looked up as Su approached. "How is he?"
B didn't sound very interested, but Su gave her a grateful smile
anyway. "The same."
"It's only been ten minutes for him since you checked last." B shrugged.
"It only takes a few seconds for--" Su waved her arms to indicate
everything that could go wrong. "I lost Oruha and could do nothing. I
won't lose Kazuhiko that way."
"What would you do if they did come for him?" B studied Su's face.
Su turned away. "I don't know." She could do something. Easily. The
Machine controlled the world, every building, every bit of power, even
the flow of air. It could change the appearance of things, sometimes
even the shape of things, but it couldn't parry a sword. Not unless the right tools are already in
A cold drink appeared next to B's chair. She lifted it and swirled the
liquid inside so that the ice cubes clinked. "What next? General Ko
Su shook her head. "You have the Wizards on echo. Even if you're not
giving them much attention." She straightened up. "Ran's next. He can
still learn out there, and he has Gingetsu. I think they can help us." But help us do what? I still don't really
understand what the Machine wants. "Assuming we can help them."
"I watch them sometimes..." B sounded wistful. "C and his two-leaf. I
wish-- He used to braid my hair, you know."
"Ran?" Su did know. She'd listened to the three-leafs as carefully as
she'd listened to the Wizards and her mother. "It's hard to picture."
"He said we had to take care of each other. No one else would."
"Yes." But at least you had each
other... Su touched B's hair. "I could learn to braid your hair.
If you'd like that, I mean." You
miss them, don't you?
B didn't answer for a few moments. Then she said, "It's strange to
think how much of out there is just like in here. Made up by the
Machine, I mean. If we'd known, we could have done anything. Anything
We still could. Su wrapped her
arms around herself. We're still
dangerous. No. We're more dangerous.
would die without the Machine, and the only way to stop us is
to kill it, too. "People are real out there. Not like in here
where it's just us."
B shrugged. "They didn't seem real. Well, except for C... and A."
"Kazuhiko is. And Gingetsu. Oruha was." And the Wizards and my mother and...
Su cleared her throat. "Do you ever watch anyone else? Maybe... It
might feel less lonely if we adopt a few people and watch them." She
hesitated, trying to figure out how best to lay the bait. "They could
be ours the way Gingetsu is Ran's or close enough." No, not close enough. Not nearly.
Su silently tugged at the Machine's attention to shift herself away
from the beach, away from B. She stopped herself in a park that
resembled her cage except that it had no walls. She'd constructed the
place as a sanctuary once she understood how. Though I still don't really understand. I
know how to do it. I just don't know how it works.
The Machine's attention pressed in on her.
"I wish I understood you better." I
wish you used words. She raised a hand to touch the breeze.
Glowing symbols appeared in the air near her hand. Syntax?
She touched them. They felt warm, hard and purple. "I didn't know you
could do that. What else can you do?"
Query parameters? The new
symbols flickered just a little.
"B said you couldn't talk, just listen and... signal." Su wasn't quite
sure if the Machine understood her. It was certainly pressing more
heavily on her mind now, and it didn't feel unsettled the way it had
when she'd first built her sanctuary and settled in to cry.
...Student authorization. User
designation B. Full authorization. User designation Su.
Su was sure she hadn't imagined the hesitation there. "Words are hard."
She nodded, keeping her expression solemn.
Data incomplete. Acquisition initiated
0.00001 after boot.
"You understand what I say, even what I think, don't you?" Su wasn't
sure how else the Machine could be so responsive to her desires.
User designation Su interface
optimized. User designation B interface 81% optimized. The
Machine seemed to hesitate. At least, no new symbols appeared for
several seconds. User designation
General Ko interface 42% optimized. User designation... Kazuhiko Fay
Ryu interface 20% optimized.
Su frowned, pondering that. Finally, she said, "Because we're Clovers?"
"Oh--" She exhaled fully then took a deep breath. "We're Clovers because we're authorized? Not
authorized because we're Clovers?"
"Let me think..." Su walked away and climbed a tree. The trunk
thickened, and new branches sprouted and grew, giving her more choices.
She walked along a branch, looking only at her feet and where she would
place them. She turned abruptly and stepped off the branch to glide
toward the ground.
She landed lightly. "Optimization-- authorization-- can change?"
The Machine didn't answer for several seconds. Authorization levels full, student,
emergency, civilian. Optimization... The last word pulsed
several times before settling.
"They're not the same?" Su sat on the grass. "Well, of course they're
not. How many people have full authorization?"
Current fully authorized users: One.
User designated Su.
"Student users?" She thought she might already know.
Current student authorized users:
Three. Current emergency authorized users: Five. Current civilian
authorized users: Thirty seven thousand, two hundred and four.
"What does 'emergency authorization' mean?" Su pulled her knees up
against her chest.
Safety protocol for interface in
absence of optimized user or expected optimization potential.
Su could only stare at the words. Her voice squeaked a little when she
finally forced herself to speak. "Does that mean the Wizards'
authorization is going to go away?" She'd heard enough of the Wizards'
meetings to have some idea of what disasters might ensue. "They're not supposed to be authorized?" Her
voice broke on the question.
Cancel emergency authorizations Y/N?
"No! No!" Su threw up her hands in a warding gesture. She lowered them.
"Except... I don't want to let them hurt Ran or Kazuhiko or Gingetsu.
Or me or B. They can't, can they? Hurt me and B, I mean."
Custodial rights over users Su and B
terminated by corporeal cessation.
Su wasn't really sure that answered the question. "But they can't-- I
don't know-- Could they erase us? Or even just ask you to... to give us
The Machine didn't reply in words. Instead, the landscape folded itself
around Su, wrapping her like a blanket.
"Over my dead body?" Su thought that might be a fair interpretation.
She sighed and let herself relax into the Machine's grasp. "It's
dangerous, though, for one person to have so much power. The Wizards
told us that. That's why..." She shook her head. "I can't."
Per Colonial Article 123.4, "In times
of need, the administrative computer will assign capable individuals to
perform essential tasks."
"But the Wizards are doing fine!"
Population decline. Genetic drift
manifesting new mutations. Atmospheric contamination. Six-degree course
drift. Maintenance requirements for cell library.
"Stop!" Su covered her eyes. "I don't know what any of that means.
Everything around her flickered just for a fraction of a second. Authorized user required. Program function
impaired. Ship function impaired. Estimate four hundred annual cycles
until total system failure. Estimate five hundred annual cycles to
Su let her breath out in a shaky laugh. "Four hundred years? That's not..." She shook her
head. "That's time. You need to talk to someone, someone who isn't me
or B." Someone who understands what
those words mean.
Estimate one hundred fifty annual
cycles to life support failure. Four hundred annual cycles to total
system failure. Protocols prohibit discussion of sensitive situations
with civilians without authorization of fully authorized user.
Oh. Less time than I thought.
Su tried to imagine one hundred and fifty years. One hundred and fifty
was less than four hundred but still more than she could quite
comprehend. "I can give you permission? Who do you need to talk to? How
long have you been... How long has it been?"
Launch occurred T -1148 hours.
Duration 273 annual cycles, 109 days, 4 hours--
"I don't need minutes and seconds. Really. Who would you tell-- Who has
the... the expertise to deal with the problems you listed?"
Data not available. Educational
protocols never initiated.
Su wanted desperately to talk to Grandma Ko, but she wasn't sure that
that was the right thing to do. "Can I do that?"
User Su fully authorized.
"What do the educational protocols do?"
Words flowed across the sky, talking about curriculum, mandatory
attendance, teacher qualifications, vocational testing, minimum
competency levels, student-teacher ratios and other things that made no
sense to Su.
"Stop, please." She folded her hands and leaned her chin on them. "Will
initiating the protocols make things so that all of that can happen or
do people have to do things, too?"
Qualified personnel required.
The words were smaller and slighter than those that had described the
"So we can't start there." Su hunched her shoulders. "What can you do
with just me and B?"
Course correction. Authorized user
Su sighed. "That's stupid. I order you to correct the course. Do what
you need to do to keep us on course in the future. Don't wait for
orders. Um... Unless course corrections will make one of the other
Course correction initiated. Log
changes to operating parameters Y/N?
"Yes." Su frowned and picked at the grass. She rolled one blade between
her fingers. "I don't understand all of this."
Remedial instruction? The words
seemed to frown at her.
"I don't want anybody else to die. Not because of me."
The Machine said nothing.
Su plucked another blade of grass. She held it up in front of her face
and studied the texture of the surface. "I do need explanations. I
just... We have to start with things you probably won't even think of."
She dropped the grass. "While we do that, two things. First, make
lists. List what you need-- trained people, tools, anything-- to fix
each of those problems. List how urgent each thing is so I know which
we have to do first." She tried to remember what sorts of things the
Wizards used to ask when gathering information about problems. Listening to them has to be good for
something. "Also note which solutions might cause other problems
and which may make other solutions harder."
Orders processed. Preparing reports.
"Second... The Wizards put a bomb in Gingetsu's head. Can you get it
out? Or... Can you keep it from going off?" Somehow, she doubted that
the Machine could do surgery without human help. She nodded firmly. "I
want you to keep it from going off unless I tell you to let it. If the
Wizards check, make them think it's operating normally."
Orders processed. Shielding initiated.
She hesitated then decided that she needed to explain to the Machine
why Gingetsu mattered. "I only really know five people out there. My
mother, General Ko, Kazuhiko, Ran and Gingetsu. My mother won't be
helpful. General Ko... The Wizards are afraid of me. That leaves
Kazuhiko, Ran and Gingetsu. We need all three of them, and... If they
help us, the Wizards will notice."
She rubbed her temples. She couldn't understand how she could have a
headache when her body wasn't real, but this discussion had worn her
out. "I think... I need to fly for a while. Or maybe swim. Then B and I
need to talk to Ran without the Wizards knowing. We can do that." She
nodded firmly. There must be a way.
After all, it's the Machine the Wizards use to watch Ran.
She rose to her feet and touched the last of the glowing symbols.
"Later, please. Not very much later, but... a little."
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