To the Last Syllable of Recorded Time - Part VII
The enveloping darkness was absolute and soft. Warm and humid, the absence of light gained texture and scent through the whisper of blooms and leaves in the wind. The sounds of Ariel's garden.
Niko sat upright on the bed, trying to regain her composure. It was a difficult task, becoming even more difficult with each passing night. She had started to hate the dreams almost as much as the questions they raised, the guilt, the feeling of urgency. So many important details hovering at the edge of her memories, evading her whenever she tried to grasp them.
Disheartened, she raised her hand to wipe the sweat off her moist forehead and concentrated on bringing her erratic breath under control. For a long time, the faint rustling of curtains swinging in the night breeze was the only sound in the room. It enveloped Niko in velvety folds, promising comfort and reassurance against the ghostlike images that kept leaping out of the shadows between the curtain folds or the breathing organic conglomerate around the house.
He was there again? The warm, familiar voice with its cultured, soothing tones reverberated in her head with a faint telepathic echo.
Yes. He was killed. Niko was well aware of the undertones of fatigue she transmitted along with her answer through the mind link.
You still have no idea who he is, do you?
No. Sometimes it feels as if I've known him for a lifetime. Tonight, I didn't even recognize him until after I woke up. But he always feels familiar, somehow... dear.
Niko could feel Ariel's brain activity increase as new paths and possibilities were explored, then discarded. There is a pattern... We just have to find it. Maybe you should consider a deep meditation session -- there must be some hints we have overlooked.
Niko shook her head, as if the mere gesture were enough to get rid of the cobwebs that seemed to clutter her brain of late. Shame was a forgotten emotion, and therefore unsettling. I can't meditate. I -- I tried, but my thoughts won't be channeled. I get... headaches.
Even Ariel couldn't fully disguise her shock, and something that could have been disappointment. You didn't tell me.
I know. I thought it would sort itself out.
Niko felt Ariel smile sadly to herself. This kind of mental jam never does. You should have come to me earlier, but mistakes are mostly the privilege of novices. You've made few enough in your time here, so I guess you're entitled to some more.
A soothing wave of reassurance reached Niko, easing the burning behind her eyes, the tension in locked muscles. We'll talk about this tomorrow. Try to sleep a little until then.
Curling up in a fetal position on the damp sheets, Niko nodded. I will. Good night, mentor. As dismissals went it wasn't subtle, but Ariel was too old to be ruffled by it. The ethereal structure of the mental link vanished as discreetly as it had appeared.
In her own bed, Ariel turned on her side with a sigh and tried to go back to sleep. Watching over the girl every night, trying to lessen something of the horror and disorientation Niko experienced was starting to eat at her, but unlike her pupil she had had enough time to learn the value of patience.
Niko carried the key she was searching for inside herself -- it was there she would have to look most carefully. Ariel didn't know why the memories, or whatever they were had started to surface now, but she did know they wouldn't go away until all the questions were answered.
The Holy City was, as always, a monumental sight; it rose, pure and white, out of a wide expanse of artificially grown vegetation. Erected during Xanadu's days of glory as the capital of a vast star empire, it was testimony to a wealth of lost technology -- and, sadly, closed to anybody but the members of Xanadu's Circle of Thought. Although the Circle itself comprised only twelve members, the term was also used to describe the plethora of novices and priests of different ranks that populated the temples of the Holy City. No Xanadian had ever had difficulty keeping the two apart.
Same as every time she came eye to eye with the splendor and greatness of the countless white structures arching into the sky, Niko asked herself why Ariel had chosen the relative modesty of the outskirts over the pure beauty of this city. On such an occasion she also came to think of the rumours that Ariel was the first person in Xanadian history to decline the offer of a place in the Circle of Thought -- she had never felt courageous enough to ask if this was true, and Ariel had not supplied the information on her own.
"Good day, Niko!" The greetings assailed her from many different directions, and she took care to nod politely and smile, retracting her shields into herself whenever she passed a priest of superior rank. The presence of one of Ariel's pupils in the Holy City was a rare enough occurence to warrant mild curiosity, judging by the curious, sometimes envious looks she received.
Niko couldn't help but feel a bit relieved when she finally reached her aim, the portal to the great library -- one of the most extensive buildings in the area, its subterranean corridors stretching for miles deep into the earth. Shaking out the folds of her jade green robe, she stepped onto the stairs leading to the psi-field that protected the entrance. She closed her eyes and walked through, thankful that her concentration still allowed this easy feat.
Lowering her hood, she looked around the entrance hall in search of a librarian. She could have summoned one, but she preferred to keep her shields up for the time being; a new entrance wouldn't go unnoticed for long. She chose to look around the hall instead, deeply inhaling the ever-present scent of lilac which brought back cherished childhood memories. She had grown since then, but she still felt puny when confronted with the huge, sunlit expanse of the hall, white mist obscuring the end and ceiling and diffusing the rays of a midday sun.
The fact that the mist was artificial, created to better enhance the sense of otherwordliness and wisdom the architecture conveyed, didn't diminish the effect. The place hosted the greatest collection of knowledge in the surrounding sector -- that was awe-inspiring enough as it was, and Niko had dedicated herself to the accumulation of knowledge as a necessary path to wisdom and spiritual growth. Ariel still smiled about that, but didn't comment.
"Ah, Niko!" The person advancing towards her with a most undignified haste, golden curls bouncing in rhythm with her steps, was the one she least expected. Hands outstretched, she stopped before Niko, head about level with the taller redhead's throat. Cornflower blue eyes loked up at her in undisguised welcome, tiny hands gripped hers vigourously.
"Dramidis." Niko couldn't help smiling back. This was one person who had obviously not changed over the last years. "Good to see you again."
"It's good to see you here. I vow, this job is just too boring -- too many crusty old priests in one place. Thankfully, I got to work on the database, which gives me opportunity to evade said priests most of the time." The girl interrupted her monologue for breath, then linked arms with Niko, dragging her along as she spoke.
"So, what brings you here?" she inquired. "Ten years ago I wouldn't have asked, but with Ariel becoming such a recluse, I wouldn't have expected one of her novices here. Is it true that she forbids you to enter the City?" Remembering Dramidis' volubility well from her childhood days, Niko rushed to answer.
"Well, you should know Ariel better than that -- she never forbids us anything. She just makes us feel guilty about it afterward."
Dramidis smiled. "Yes, I remember. She was very nice to me, though. Downright spoiled me whenever I came for a visit. She didn't even scold me for stealing flowers from the garden whenever I thought she wasn't looking."
Niko couldn't help grinning at the recollection. "Yes, not even when you tried to lay the blame on me. Why haven't you come more often in the past few years, then?"
Dramidis didn't try to evade the sudden sharpness in her friend's gaze -- she looked openly back. "You know old Levteris -- he loves giving orders. He keeps a tight leash on his novices, and I was strongly advised to cut back on my visits to you. It seemes Ariel has stepped on his toes more than once, so I thought it wise to comply. It was either that, or kiss my career goodbye."
So Ariel had managed to alienate the head of the Circle to such an extent that he had forbidden his pupils any contact. This was fascinating -- and disturbing -- news. Niko realized that her distaste for politics could in time become a luxury she could no longer afford.
"You did the wise thing," she finally agreed. "Not what I would have done, but wise nevertheless."
"You know me -- ever the realist. Give the people what they want and they'll leave you in peace. But back to you -- you didn't tell me what you're doing here. Searching for something special?"
"Indeed. But the information could be hard to get -- impossible perhaps. You see, I only had some vague dreams..."
"Oh, then I have just the right thing for you!" Dramidis cut in enthusiastically. "Tailor-made, in fact." She motioned towards one of the archways that opened into the aptly named Enlightenment Sections. "You see, just last week I was working on the scent retrieval system, and seeing how it is all linked to the subconscious image and sound processing algorithms, I came up with this idea to search the database using sensory information from dream experiences. It's all the same thing, really."
"Yes. Remember those conscious dreaming sessions? Levteris is big on those." She snickered evilly. "Guess it is because he'd like to control his students thirty units a day, so it would be a pity to let out the time they're sleeping. He had me dreaming up meditation schedules for him. Know how you feel after sixty rounds of that?"
Niko, who was watching the changes in the search machinery with a kind of fascinated horror, shook her head. "No. How?"
"Sick. Completely and utterly sick. I would have loved to give him a taste of his own medicine, but the self-preservation instincts got in the way. Another season of sandal-licking got me this post, so I can't complain." Suddenly remembering where she was Dramidis looked around, and finally located her unit. "Ah, there we are. Wait till I show you what I've done..."
Niko wouldn't have thought it possible, but her head seemed to smoke as Dramidis had finished with her description of her new construction. It had showed once again impressively where the blonde's true talents lay -- that spirituality wasn't part of them had been clear from childhood. Niko's analytic skills were superior to most, and she still felt awed by the brilliance of her friend's ideas. Dramidis had obviously found her field. But still...
"Have you tested it yet?" she inquired prudently.
"No, but it's harmless. And it's perfect for your needs -- I don't even need to adjust it. It will align perfectly with your brain patterns and monitor the dream, evaluating every scrap of information and searching the database for connections. If you feel incomfortable, though..."
Niko swallowed. She didn't believe in fate, but nevertheless providence seemed to have thrown this opportunity right into her lap. "No, no. It's all right. I'll give it a try."
Dramidis beamed. "Wonderful! I would have tested it myself, but it's even better this way -- now I can monitor you and make adjustments later."
Niko frowned. "I don't want the information to be accessible to anyonebesides myself."
"Of course -- discretion has always been the librarians' paramount concern." She lowered her voice conspiratorially. "I don't know how many of the Circle's machinations passed through here -- all of us are sworn to secrecy. I can guarantee that your data won't be accessible to anyone but yourself."
Niko rubbed her arms. "Still, I want you to erase the information when I'm done searching. It's very private."
Dramidis' friendly manner seemed to cool instantly. "You don't trust me?"
"I don't trust your superiors. Will you do it?"
"Yes. I won't even have access to the data myself, so no one but you will know what it is. As soon as the search ends, I'll erase it. I'll even show you the logs if you want."
"I can live with that. Shall we begin?"
- To the Last Syllable of Recorded Time
- To the Last Syllable of Recorded Time - Part II
- To the Last Syllable of Recorded Time - Part III
- To the Last Syllable of Recorded Time - Part IV
- To the Last Syllable of Recorded Time - Part V
- To the Last Syllable of Recorded Time - Part VI
- To the Last Syllable of Recorded Time - Part VII
- To the Last Syllable of Recorded Time - Part VIII
- To the Last Syllable of Recorded Time - Part IX
- To the Last Syllable of Recorded Time - Part X
- To the Last Syllable of Recorded Time - Part XI
- To the Last Syllable of Recorded Time - Part XII
- To the Last Syllable of Recorded Time - Part XIII