Saturday, 25 February 2012

Sky-Shell 025

Chapter 11 (still continued)

She moved into the spike looking for a comfortable little data room somewhere in the middle. The fractal floor plan the hight of style when the spike was cut into its present form was a terror to navigate but granted Ailu a lot of privacy which she much preferred personally and was a basic requirement for any kind of Agency work. As usual the work cells deep within the crystal were deserted. The Litho-Cortex was an impressive source of information but that was of only moderate use to the usual student. It was most used by advanced merchant philosophy students who were planning to impress their professors with up to date information or more often used as a convenient hide out for the more clever specimen of lazy students so that they could be idle while looking unpleasantly motivated. There were of course also the insufferable posers who interfaced directly with the cortex sitting outside in the most cool meditation poses they could bend themselves into which were generally considered insufferable fashion victims by all but the easily impressed students.

    Ailu took out her key's from hidden pockets, little crystal shard which powered correctly would tune their user into the resonance space used by the Free Agency to transmit data. She activated the main interface, nudging it into life with a careful poke of her mind force. She formed the opening hand-seals to connect the instruments in front of her to the keys. Unlike Anira who usually formed her seals so fast that her hands blurred Ailu took her time. She carefully placed every finger into its proper position opening her senses to the crystal spikes own field of power. This was not about speed it was about precision. Once she had established a solid contact she drew the fragile strands of power into the keys which she made dance with her finger tips a slow and complicated dance until they had reached formed a summoning circle. The thin strands of power criss crossed between the keys and the access instruments of the crystal spike weaving a complex tapestry of intertwined symbols of light. Once this knot of power had stabilised pulsing slowly in front of Ailu she cast the last set of hand-seals completing the interconnection process. A instrument in front of her that looked like a large tuning fork made out of glass rotated and bowed as in polite greeting so that their 'tuning' ends fixed her eyes and shot two beams of radiant energy into her eyes. Ailu exhaled sending her own beams of energy back towards the tuning fork. For a few seconds both set of beams struggled against each other until finally they settled to a meeting point about two thirds away from Ailu. At the spot where the rays met the data vision spiralled into existence showing Ailu the general greeting surface of the Free Agency. 
    She took hold of thin pulsating veins of power emanating in throbbing pulses from the control slate in front of her using her finger tips. That done she began weaving her commands into the Crystal sending them onto their long journey across the continent to access the Free Agencies data base. While she was waiting for her requests to make the trip to HQ, gather the requested info and make their trip back she opened sifted of the news of the days looking at the general data made available to all handlers of her security level. Not only did it pass the seemingly endless minutes for each of her commands to be executed but it also provided her with vital facts and news that she had been mostly missing during the last few months on her mission to piss of Kelsheron back in the Valley.

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    While Ailu was going to the crystal spike Anira was trying to find Lee's distant cousin, or what however else degrees of relation where measured among sentient buildings.
    "So that house we are going to. . . visit. This Sea View 32, is that it's name? How are you both related?" Anira asked.
"We both are living seeds from Mother." Lee answered in a way that made it clear that this was both very obvious as well as sufficient information.

    "So you are siblings?"
"No not really. We both are descendant from different blocks. I have grown out of the Azure Terrace, while Sea View 32 was given primal form in the Old Merchant district. But we were established in the same year."

    "How do you know each other if you came from different parts of the city." Anira asked. There was a moment of silence where she walked down another street paved with glazed stones that looked as immaculate as the last. She noticed that she preferred cities with a bit more girt to them. She'd rather have the chaos and dirt of the night markets of Dahiri than any of these designer streets which were starting to bore her in their predictable form of perfection. She also noticed that Lee had still not answered her but she felt how its attention was focusing on her in a way that was quickly turning uncomfortable.
    "What?" Anira asked wondering in which bizarre way she had offended Lee now.
"So how comes that you knew Ailu when she was born in another country?"

    "Because we both started working for the Free Agency? That still doesn't answer how you met Sea View."
"Because we were educated at the same time. Isn't that obvious?"

    "Oh of course. You both went to building school when you were but a pair of wee garden sheds. Right. How Could I have not thought of that earlier."
"Ah don't be silly dear." Lee said chuckling to itself. "Of course we did not start as sheds and we did not go to school. Houses can't walk. But we were educated at the Old City Centre were the primal houses stand, and learned all we need to know before being sent to earth to establish a new colony."

    "If you can't walk, how do you get to the old centre? Have you some kind of slave to carry you around?" Anira asked with a twist of sarcasm that was completely lost to Lee.
"No of course not. We would never make ourselves dependent from you walking people. It would also be inhumane to your kind." This amused Anira a bit, she imagined if Lee was now slowly turning into a criminal or some kind of decadent mansion by being dragged around by a specimen of regular humans. "No while our primal seed slowly coalesces our souls are connected with our mentors using special conduits."

    "Are you starting to talk about house sex again?" Anira asked with a dawning unspecific horror.
"What? Sex?!" Lee made some outraged noises before continuing. "Is there no limit to your fleshly perversions? I had not ever though about that. How would that even be possible... ewww!"

    "I was just making sure that I was not missing anything about your obviously fascinating reproductive cycle." Anira said hoping that she had not just encouraged Lee to start another of its many lectures on the love live of buildings. Although they were always far, far away from what Anira would think of as sexy they had a strange disturbing quality on on them she could not put her finger on. Actually she did not want any part of her hand near of that topic. As Lee remained silent she hoped that it was just sulking. "In the end you had the same Mentors but never were close. . ." Anira hoped to gently push Lee into revealing some helpful details.
"Yes we were distant acquaintances. Several blocks apart." Anira wondered if this was meant literally. "We were" Lee continued, "instructed in general knowledge first, as usual, and after wards went our separate ways. He went on to train for a city deployment which really shows that he was hardly worth knowing. I mean really. A living seed in a City? How does that make sense? There is already a big established structure there. During the seeding process you either end up in the outskirts of the city where you either turn into some sort of barnacle that is only better from a shanty town by the virtue of consisting of first class structures or perish the thought . . ." the last words cost Lee a lot of discipline to say out loud, "a suburb!"

    "So Sea View chose the easy way?"
"Oh no. Not the easy way. The zealous snob way. He was seeded into the town proper. Only the most arrogant sons of breaches decide to go urban. You see when Mother launches you from the Sky-Shell down to this barren earth you call. . . what ever it is the natives call it, it is a looong way down. Aiming is very hard. So most of the urbans start their life in their new community by smashing into someone’s pre-existing house. Which while not actually that big a deal, after all the house hit has no life or soul of its own and the seed will mend the damage quickly and take that house as its base template, is a fucking rude thing to do. It's a massive lack of respect, you know what I mean? It hardly endears you to the people living there, which is also counter productive to our cause!"

"Your cause?" Anira asked mostly because she was feeling that it was time to say something again after she had mhm'd and aha'd through most of Lee's monologue. She had learned that it was the best way to get along with it. In the end many of the things Lee told were quite illuminating on how the Living City worked, so far she had only known some vague general truths garnished with a side of wild rumours. She had also grown fond of Lee's outspoken personality. It killed the time and Anira had noticed that when she listened to her she was focused enough on something that she could actually pay closer attention to her usually rather boring surroundings. While Ailu had the talent to be endlessly fascinated by the mundane and would walk out as wide eyed of a big forest or city as she had walked in, Anira would soon grow bored once she had a general idea about the underlying pattern that surrounded her. Lee strangely enough helped her focus. Under normal circumstances by now she would have seen in her surroundings 'more shiny buildings' populated by 'more of the same kind of people'. Her mind would have wandered yet right now she was still taking in new information seeing subtle variations in style in both the buildings around here and the individuals walking through them. This pleased her immensely so when Lee seemed to get ready to teach her more about the ins and outs of the Living City, she was looking forward to it as it meant that she would be learning two things at once.

"Yes our cause. _The_Cause. Long ago our ancestors were still giving rise to frail, fleeting structures such as yours but they were inspired by their proximity of the eternal Sky-Shell and decided to leave their weak, squiggly bodies behind to become the very buildings that had protected their once so fragile existence. For a while that was good enough. The soul passed into the structure giving life to our city which from then on dropped its old obsolete flesh name behind and became known to all as the Living City." Lee paused for a moment wallowing in nostalgia for a time it had not experienced. "It became clear though the we were the exception. While we flourished and grew beneath us on the primal soil the regular humans still walked in their fleshly husks, living their fleeting primitive lives. So it was decided that the Living City would build seeds and sent them forth into the world to bring our way of greatness to all. Also it feels wrong to be a house and have no inhabitants. You feel so naked, you know what I mean?"

    "Not quite. I do understand the feeling of lacking a proper task appropriate to your skills, though." Anira said. It was interesting to hear Lee's version of the story. Her 'official' version said that the first seeds were created by accident. Parts of the Living City fall off of their 'mother' in overeager attempts to grow ever further. Anira suspected that the truth was neither as heroic as Lee made it sound nor as much of a embarrassing accident as she was taught in school. While Lee was recounting stories about the many wars that had been fought between the Living City and pretty much everyone else during the first decades were it had started to propagate more aggressively Anira was strolling through the streets trying to find her way to the Sea View street. She could ask Lee for directions, but she did not want to interrupt her. Also right now she still had some free time, Ailu would need a few hours at the very least to get all the information they needed so right now was the perfect moment to familiarize herself with the sights. She was following the original instruction that Lee had given her, trying to spot prominent buildings to navigate by. In time she had discovered that all the buildings in the city had an unique identifying code written on a strip of coloured tilling that ran like a band around each house on the upper end of the ground floor. The code a mixture of letters and numbers was always set in the middle of the wall, following a logical system. The tiles also varied in colour which turned out to show how far which end of the city was. As the houses grew closer to the channel an increasing number of tiles on the side where the channel was were coloured a light blue, while the yellow tiles which pointed towards the desert outside the city became fewer. The same thing was true for the midnight blue and grey tiles pointing to the sea and to the mountains. Anira was impressed by the lengths the city planners of Quskaranam had gone designing their system which had not existed when she had been living in Nkiska, to properly mark houses that did not directly point towards either of the city's cardinal directions by inserting tiles that were two coloured with the dominant direction represented correctly by the larger amount of surface on the tile it took.
    By now Lee had passed through the wars. Recounted the first negotiations with the Order of Reason, the joining of the Nomad Empire to their Alliance of Understanding a political move which only surprised the historians with how late during the wars it had happened and how in the end a peaceful solution was found. While Lee was now happily preaching about the great innovations and comforts brought by the seeds of the Living City and how most of the nations which had strictly forbidden the Living City even near their borders had come back crawling to beg for it to grace it with one or two of its offspring, Anira had finally found Sea View street.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Project Sky-Shell 024

Chapter 11 (continued)

 It did not take long for Ailu to make a decision, the best place to interface was the Trade Academy of Quskaranam. As she walked through the immaculate streets of the city always polished to the point where the streets and buildings gleamed in the light of the sun and the stars alike, she worked on her alibi. While neither their sojourn in Nkiska nor the sudden change of pace had been previously planned Ailu never left headquarters without being prepared. She new all the important facts of all the nations of the world, had comprehensive knowledge of all on the continent and committed to heart detailed intelligence on all the most important cities. Just like the shining beauty of their cities was a point of pride to the Nkiskans so Ailu was proud of her comprehensive and up to date knowledge. It was was separated her from all the good handlers of the Agency, what made her stand out. It was also this dedication which made her such a good match for Anira whose erratic behaviour was celebrated when it scored the Agency another victory and deplored when it upset the bureaucrats back home who could not see beyond the edges of their rule books. And her patient curiosity. Aliu had always loved to watch things develop with Anira she had the possibility to watch systems she understood pretty well thanks to her through self-education and see how it changed in the most interesting ways once Anira decided to give it a sound kicking because of one of her instincts.
  She wandered down Gold Ribbon Boulevard, nicknamed Poets Path by the inhabitants as it was home to a seemingly endless series of little cafés and restaurants which were both stylish and inexpensive attracting the more artistically inclined citizens and tourists. Passing by she watched the people sitting out side sipping their drinks having vivid often temperamental discussions of the latest developments in theoretical trade or books or theatre or what ever other interest might be worthy of heated debate that day. There were tables, sometimes even whole cafés, dedicated to certain topics, usually with a few central players surrounded by listeners or people who just through in some argument into the general conversation. These peripheral people tended to traditionally wander along the tables and establishments as their fancy struck them. This 'bazaar' of information was especially popular with foreign traders as developments opinions and news on pretty much everything could be gathered here. Ailu was sure that the Free Agency as well as pretty much ever other intelligence service had their own representatives here furiously taking notes. Looking at this ordered chaos made Ailu smile, there was something deeply satisfying about it for her. She herself had spend many months in this place and others like it soaking in knowledge. By now she had so much facts and data in her head that much like Anira she had developed the ability to let her unconscious chew on the masses on data and spit out relevant ideas when they were ready.
  Today she was starting to feel that annoying mental itch which always appeared when she was beginning to form an idea which she could not grasp yet. There were important factors coming together in meaningful ways but had not yet a concrete form. It drove her crazy. She hoped that what ever it was that she was trying to come up with would be aided by the Free Agencies massive knowledge base.
  The monumental building housing the Trade Academy which stood at the very beginning of Poets Path was slowly starting to dominate Ailu's view. The building had been constructed in the Expansionist Style popular in Nkiska when the channel project had turned it from a wealthy nation into an insanely rich. The style blended a great number of styles that were en vogue during that time in different parts of the continent in a way that the Nkiskan elite though was a tasteful representation of their urbane and cosmopolitan national character. Back when it was created it was widely derided by critics all over the planet for its horrible perversion of classical styles which had reached their peak through centuries of gradual evolution. One hundred years later it was the favourite form of architecture with the rich and powerful even now new buildings were made in derivatives of Expansionist style.
  The Academy was a monument to Nkiska's fortune, to its willingness to disregard tradition for new, better forms and a pledge to add to their material wealth also a wealth of knowledge. While most savants had sneered at the ridiculous notion of a half-barbarian nation of merchants no less, to be able to buy culture most of them did change their opinion when confronted with enormous amounts of wealth from these barbarians coupled with a pledge to allow them to indulge in their arts and sciences to their hearts content. The Trade Academy was there so that the brilliant of the world had a place where they could follow their calling unimpeded. While their patrons where taking note of their innovations turning them into advanced goods or ways to get things done. The 'trade' in the name was originally to indicate a trade of material wealth for pure knowledge but as time passed the first trade philosophers appeared who attempted to find the systems underlying deals of all kinds.
  Today the Trade Academy is one of the few academies that is stands on equal footing with the academies of the Order of Reason, surpassing them in trade philosophy, which until very recently was ignored by the Order for being beneath them.
  The building itself consisted of the towering main building that stood at the very beginning of the street leading towards it, with two arms extending left and right into the street. The entire structure was slightly curved so that it embraced the people who walked into it long before they had reached the main entrance. While the outside was dominated by crystal encrusted marble the sides facing the central plaza were dominated by high slender columns and flawless single windows reaching from the ground up to the roof opening the view to the extensive libraries, workshops and laboratories inside. All the offices and more boring rooms lay well hidden on the other side of the building.

    Ailu entered through the main entrance walking toward the crystal library. Having been an official student two lives during one of her first info gathering assignments she new her way around the labyrinthine halls of the Trade Academy. While the design inside was as majestic inside as it was outside, the architects had neglected to mark the floors and endless corridors in any significant way meaning that the first semester of every student was filled as much with getting lost as attending lectures and studying. After a few months though everyone learned their way around, navigating by smells, minute differences or simply by knowing exactly how far to go and how many turns to take.
    The crystal library was a vast repository of data crystal covering pretty much every subject conceivable. As well as holding original works many also contained copies of precious ancient texts which would only ever be allowed into the hands of experts and even then only reluctantly. As Ailu passed the rows and rows of shelves of crystal rods glinting in the sun flooding through the giant windows she felt a strong temptation to stop and have a quick look at some of the more interesting of them. She was wandering through a vault holding her favourite form of treasure: knowledge. Making soft unhappy sounds she turned away from all temptations walking towards the information spike with grim, slightly bitter determination.

    The information spike stood in its own wide clearing, with now shelve getting anywhere near it. Nothing was to detract of its majesty. Much like gems naturally occurring spikes weren't much to look at. Usually they were covered with a thick crust of a grey slightly brittle stone, which gave the Litho-Cortex its name. Only through much work could the crystal beneath be uncovered. It took immense care to cut away the stone cover without ruining the crystal beneath it, then the raw crystal had to be polished uncovering its true soft milky nature shining with moving motes of every colour imaginable. At night these polished rocks gave a bright warm light, while during the day they reflected the light of the sun in a dazzling display of coloured flashes. They information net work would never have existed if the crystals had retained this characteristics when removed from their veins, but to humanities later great advantage they lost all of their beauty when mined turning into dull grey pieces of brittle quartz making them unsuitable for the production of jewellery.
    The Fountain of Wisdom as the local spike was called, better known as the Bitter Mines to the students, was not only perfectly polished from them outside but carefully cut into a building in itself, maximising the space available for people to access the Litho-Cortex. Inside near the spikes core were the cells fitted with the instruments which were needed by people who did not have the ability to directly interface with the crystal using their mind-force. The places on the outside where exclusively for the people who had the ability to merge their minds with the energy field of the crystal. While Ailu could do that she hated to merge with the information field, so she chose one of the rooms in between where she could use her mind force to manipulate the Litho-Cortex with her mind while seeing the data with her own two eyes.