“Dymic.” Slippers nodded knowingly. “Assub.”
Back on the pad a newborn vortex chafed at its restraints, smaller than its predecessor but angrier, somehow. Yellow icons blossomed across VEC/PRIME like rampant brushfires. Overhead, something was eating Gemini feetfirst.
Another window opened on the wall, a hodgepodge of emerald alphanumerics. Slippers blinked and frowned, as though the apparition was somehow unexpected. Greek equations, Cyrillic footnotes, even a smattering of English flowed across the new display.
Not telemetry. Not incoming. According to the status bar, this was an outgoing transmission; the Bicamerals were signaling someone. It all flickered by too fast for Brüks to have made much sense of it even if he had spoken Russian, but occasional fragments of English stuck in his eye. Theseus was one. Icarus another. Something about angels and asteroids flashed center stage for a moment and evaporated.
More glyphs, more numbers: three parallel columns this time, rendered in red. Someone talking back.
Out in the desert, the zombies stopped flickering.
“Huh,” Slippers said, and raised a finger to his right temple. For the first time Brüks noticed an old-fashioned earbud there, an audio antique from the days before cortical inlays and bone conduction. Slippers inclined his head, listening; up on the wall a flurry of red and green turned the ongoing exchange into a Christmas celebration.
Over on VEC/PRIME, orange and red icons downshifted to yellow. The chained vortex stopped thrashing on its pad and whirled smoothly at attention. Halfway to the horizon, the last vestiges of its older sibling dissipated in a luminous mist of settling dust.
The desert rested quietly beneath an invisible thing in the sky.
Just a few minutes ago, Dan Brüks had watched himself die out there. Or maybe escape in the nick of time. Something like him, anyway. Right up until that last moment when the maelstrom had chewed it up and spat it out. And right at that moment, the zombies had come—unglued …
Assub, Slippers had said then. At least, that’s what Brüks had heard. Assub.
“A.S.?” he said aloud. Brother Slippers turned, raised an eyebrow.
“A.S.,” Brüks repeated. “What’s it stand for?”
“Artificial Stupidity. Grabs local surveillance archives to blend in. Chameleon response.”
“But why me? Why”—in the sky, invisible airships—“why anything? Why not just cloak, like that thing up there?”
“Can’t cloak thermal emissions without overheating,” Slippers told him. “Not for long at least, not if you’re an endotherm. Best you can do is make yourself look like something else. Dynamic mimicry.”
Brüks snorted, shook his head. “You’re not even Bicameral, are you?”
Slippers smiled faintly. “You thought I was?”
“It’s a monastery. You spoke like…”
Slippers shook his head. “Just visiting.”
Acronyms. “You’re military,” Brüks guessed.
“Something like that.”
Dude, thought I, do you have the first fucking clue how silverbacks react to eye contact?
We’re talking to a mirror.”
“You want to make any progress at all—” Moore said.
“—you’ve got to break it.”
Failure to comply with a lawful order.
William Gibson was right. The street finds its own uses for things.
Of course, so does the state.