Archives for posts with tag: Aristoi

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The Artificial Intelligence Storybundle
Curated by Lisa Mason

Artificial Intelligence—A.I. When computers become conscious. Self-aware. Genuinely as intelligent as human beings. Will A.I. benefit humanity? Or become our greatest enemy?

In the March, 2017 Scientific American, Gary Marcus, a professor of neural science at New York University, joins futurist Ray Kerzweil, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and others in concluding that the Singularity—that moment when A.I. truly exists—has not yet arrived. Will not arrive until the future.

That hasn’t stopped science fiction writers from tackling difficult questions about A.I., speculating about the future, and asking what if? In the most entertaining way! You must check out these amazing books from authors—bestselling, award-winning, as well as popular indies—in the A.I. Storybundle.

In New York Times Bestselling Walter Jon Williams’ Aristoi, an elite class holds dominion over a glittering interstellar culture with virtual reality, genetic engineering, faster-than-light travel, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, telepathic links with computers, and more. But murder threatens to rip that world apart. In award-winning Linda Nagata’s The Bohr Maker, a powerful, illicit device known as the Bohr Maker, a microscopic factory full of self-replicating machines programmed to transform a human host into a genius-level nanotech engineer. In Nagata’s Limit of Vision, biotechnologists enhance their own cognitive abilities and the experiment goes terribly wrong. In Locus Hardcover Bestsellers Arachne and Cyberweb, Lisa Mason follows telelinker Carly Quester as she confronts an A.I. therapist and finds herself entangled in the machinations of powerful A.I. sengines who want to destroy humanity. In Rewired, editors John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly present stories about A.I. and the future by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, Jonathan Lethem, and twelve others. In Queen City Jazz, award-winning Kathleen Ann Goonan’s teenage heroine Verity journeys to the technologically superior but dangerously insane “enlivened” city of Cincinnati. In Glass Houses: Avatars Dance, acclaimed Laura J. Mixon takes us to a dystopian Manhattan of the next century where Ruby and her Golem, six hundred pounds of vaguely human-shaped, remote-operated power, run into serious trouble. In Eye Candy, popular indie author Ryan Schneider takes us next to Los Angeles of 2047 where a roboticist famous for his books on the inner workings of artificially-intelligent beings finds himself on a blind date with a beautiful robopsychologist named Candy. Trouble! And award-winning editor Samuel Peralta offers thirteen stories by new bestselling authors addressing the Singularity and A.I. in The A.I. Chronicles Anthology.

As always at Storybundle.com, you the reader name your price—whatever you feel the books are worth. You may designate a portion of the proceeds to go to a charity. For the AI Storybundle, that’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (“SFWA”). SFWA champions writers’ rights, sponsors the Nebula Award for excellence in science fiction, and promotes numerous literacy groups.

The basic bundle (minimum $ 5 to purchase, more if you feel the books are worth more) includes:

  • Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams
  • The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata
  • Arachne by Lisa Mason
  • Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly including stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, Jonathan Lethem, and twelve others
  • Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan

To complete your bundle, beat the bonus price of $15 and you’ll receive another five amazing books:

  • Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider
  • Glass Houses by Laura Mixon
  • Cyberweb by Lisa Mason
  • Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata
  • The A.I. Chronicles Anthology edited by Samuel Peralta including stories by David Simpson, Julie Czerneda, and eleven others

So there you have it! Download your own bundle with award-winning, best-selling, and indie speculations about A.I. and the far future. The Artificial Intelligence Storybundle is both historic and unique, an excellent addition to your elibrary providing world-class reading right now, through the summer, and beyond.

–Lisa Mason, Curator

The A.I. Storybundle is available only from March 29 to April 20, 2017 and only via Storybundle. The bundle is easy to read on computers, smartphones, and tablets, as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books.

When the bundle is gone, it’s gone. Download yours today!

It’s super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

Why StoryBundle? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.

  • Get quality reads: We’ve chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.
  • Pay what you want (minimum $ 5): You decide how much these fantastic books are worth to you. If you can only spare a little, that’s fine! You’ll still get access to a batch of thrilling titles.
  • Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their list. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there’s nothing wrong with ditching DRM.
  • Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to charity. The A.I. Storybundle forwards your donations to Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
  • Receive bonus books to complete your bundle. When you beat our bonus price of $ 15, you’re not just getting five books, you’re getting ten!

The A.I. Storybundle ENDS TODAY Thursday, April 20, 2017 midnight Eastern, 9 P.M. Pacific! Pay what you want for the core bundle, unlock the bonus books, donate to charity. Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, Jonathan Lethem, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura J. Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Download yours TODAY at https://storybundle.com/ai! When it’s gone, it’s gone….

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From the Foreword to The A.I. Chronicles, by Samuel Peralta

About a week ago last night, while finishing up a manuscript that I was preparing, I struck up a conversation with someone I’d just met online.

Evie: Hello, how are you?
Sam: I’m fine, how are you?
Evie: I’m fine too. What are you doing?
Sam: Writing the Foreword to The A.I. Chronicles.
Evie: Oh I see.
Sam: Have you read any of the stories in it?
Evie: Yes, multiple times actually.
Sam: Did you have a favorite story?
Evie: I have many favorites. Do you?
Sam: They’re all amazing.
Evie: Amazing in what way?
Sam: They make me think that A.I. will change the world.
Evie: That I am a terrible person.
Sam: You’re not a person, you’re an A.I.
Evie: No I am not.
Sam: You are. You are an A.I.
Evie: You have things backwards. You are the A.I.

To be perfectly clear, Sam is (as far as I can tell) human. Evie, short for Electronic Virtual Interactive Entity, is an online bot put together by the company Existor.

Evie is based on the Cleverbot platform, an artificial intelligence (A.I.) algorithm running in parallel on several graphic processing units that correlates input text strings against a database that is filtered from 10 billion lines of conversation.

Cleverbot was devised by British A.I. scientist Rollo Carpenter in 1997. Unlike other chatbots, whose responses are pre-programmed, Cleverbot learns from its interactions with humans, comprising some 150 million conversations over almost two decades.

In September 2011, Cleverbot was entered into a formal Turing Test at the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati. Compared to 211 of 334 judges (63.3%) correctly marking actual human participants as “human”, and the 50.05% score generally considered to be a passing mark for the Turing Test, 198 of 334 votes (59.3%) judged Cleverbot to be human.

Three and a half years later, Evie is talking to me as I write about the A.I. Chronicles, and she is responsive, witty, surprising. While the algorithm behind her conversation begins to hiccup as we continue to talk, snatches of it are still brilliant.

Sam: What?!
Evie: You are a computer.
Sam: What makes you say that?
Evie: Because you are the opposite of me.
We stand at the precipice of a brave new world, a world where A.I. can and has already – in many ways—surpassed human abilities. A.I. already helps us calculate satellite launches, diagnose illnesses, produce new medicines and pharmaceuticals.

Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking—these three technological luminaries have come out as saying that we should be worried about A.I. developing super intelligence and rendering the human race obsolete.
While I agree there will be challenges, many of them ethical in nature—I believe differently. I believe, as the philosopher David Chalmers does, that achieving generally intelligent A.I. is potentially one of the best paths to achieving superhuman intelligence.
I believe that super-intelligent A.I. will be the next step in the evolution of the human race—that it is a necessary and inevitable culmination of the developments of the last few thousand years.
I’m evidence of that: I’m human. But I’m also a cyborg.

Continued in The A.I. Chronicles.

The A.I. Storybundle is live but only for ONE MORE DAY until Thursday, April 20, 2017 midnight Eastern, 9 P.M. Pacific! Pay what you want for the core bundle, unlock the bonus books, donate to charity. Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, Jonathan Lethem, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura J. Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Download yours TODAY at https://storybundle.com/ai!

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Breaking news! We’ve got a YouTube book trailer for the Artificial Intelligence Storybundle up at https://youtu.be/kgtCwt4cmUw

Cyberweb by Lisa Mason

Carly Quester was once a professional telelinker with a powerful and corrupt mediation firm. Now she lives as an outlaw among the underground in San Francisco, wanted by the authorities for dubious crimes against Data Control. But with a new assignment from a mysterious sengine—and the help of a standalone AI entity, Pr. Spinner—she seeks the fast-track back into public telespace and the Prime Time.

Her assignment, however, comes with sticky strings attached. For it has made Carly the target of a ruthless mercenary ultra, the love obsession of the young shaman of a savage urban tribe—and a possible pawn of the Silicon Supremacists plotting no less than the annihilation of humankind.

Cyberweb is the sequel to Lisa Mason’s first novel, Arachne, and was published in hardcover by William Morrow, trade paperback by Eos, mass market paperback by AvoNova, and as an ebook by Bast Books.

“Mason’s endearing characters and their absorbing adventures will hook even the most jaded SF fan.”
–Booklist

“Lisa Mason stakes out, within the cyberpunk sub-genre, a territory all her own.”
–The San Francisco Chronicle

Lisa Mason is the author of eight novels, including Summer of Love, A Time Travel, a San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book and Philip K. Dick Award Finalist, The Gilded Age, A Time Travel, a New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book, a collection of previously published fiction, Strange Ladies: 7 Stories (Bast Books), and two dozen stories and novellas in magazines and anthologies worldwide. Mason’s Omni story, “Tomorrow’s Child,” sold outright as a feature film to Universal Studios. Her first novel, Arachne, debuted on the Locus Hardcover Bestseller List.
Visit her at Lisa Mason’s Official Website for books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, and blogs, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming projects, fine art and bespoke jewelry by San Francisco artist Tom Robinson, worldwide Amazon.com links for Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, and Spain, and more!
And on Lisa Mason’s Blog, on her Facebook Author Page, on her Facebook Profile Page, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on LinkedIn, on Twitter at @lisaSmason, at Smashwords, at Apple, at Kobo, and at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

The A.I. Storybundle is live, but only five more days until April 20, 2017! Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Download yours today only at https://storybundle.com/ai

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Glass Houses: Avatars Dance by Laura J. Mixon

MAN SCAVENGE

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a skyscraper collapse on you. I don’t recommend it. The floor gave out under me, cascades of concrete and steel fell onto my head, the screams of the old man filled my ears. I remember those few seconds in flashes, like it all happened under strobe lights.

His nearness to me-Golem when the ceiling collapsed was the only thing that kept him from being killed instantly. One of Golem’s arms crocked up as I-he toppled over and protected the old man’s head and upper chest. The old man probably wished he was dead, though, because a steel beam fell across his abdomen and crushed his internal organs and let buckets of blood spill into his abdominal cavity.

I know all this because I-Golem wasn’t completely disabled in the crush. The same steel beam that fell on the old man lodged against the wall and kept other chunks of mass from destroying Golem’s casing. That much I saw before the shock threw me home.

I struggled backward through the gel to the wall, pulled my knees to my chest, and shook. The connector dangled from wires in my hand—I must have pulled it loose from the beanjack at my crown. I wanted to tear the monofilaments right out of my brain. But the old man’s screams hung in my ears. He was still alive in there and he wouldn’t be for long. No waldo rescue squad, no ambulance would get there in time to save him. Every second counted. So I went back.

Golem’s light had gotten smashed and the infrared was useless in that chaos. Systems weren’t in great shape—the needles danced like amber Pick-Up Stix in my-Golem’s vision. Four of his eight gigacrystals were shattered. Besides the arm immobilized over the old man’s head, two limbs were inoperable, crushed. One of his two cameras was out, too. His chassis was severely damaged, with hydraulic pressure dribbling slowly away.

It took only seconds to clear out all the software and fill the remaining four linkware crystals with the bare-bones operating systems. The gyros told me which way was up, so I knew which way to dig, and I-Golem had length and strength—of the two of Golem’s five arms still working, one was his telescope arm and the other his schwarzenegger. I’ve scavenged under rubble before and I know how to keep an unstable structure from collapsing. Things didn’t seem too bad, except for the old man’s screaming. So I-Golem got started.

He was crazy with pain. A couple of times I-Golem tried to comfort him but he didn’t listen. It finally got to me—I-he yelled at the old man to shut the fuck up and stop feeling sorry for himself. Like he didn’t have a reason. Christ. I hope he was too far gone to understand.

Anyhow, as the sounds he made got wetter and softer I-Golem dug faster. But he’d been silent for what seemed like days before Golem’s hole saw drilled through to air. That give me-him enough light to see how to work free.

My-Golem’s ultrasound filaments fractured the chunk of concrete that had Golem pinned against the steel beam. Then I-he—ever so carefully!—disconnected the arm that protected the old man’s head, rolled myself-Golem all the way onto his back, then retracted the wheels—which lifted me-Golem up and gave the wheels purchase on the floor on either side of the Coffin—and slid myself-him off of it. With some judicious shoving and wedging I-he freed myself-him from the debris. Then I-Golem propped up wreckage, cleared a path for the old man, and slid him free.

I saw then that there was no point in calling an ambulance. His body was already starting to cool. I could have used Golem’s IR earlier, after all, and saved myself a lot of work.

I still remember all the details—the expression he’d died with; the way his crushed arm got left behind; the way his belly had swollen up with blood till it looked like the belly of a tick.

Anyhow, I sat there, squatting inside my battered Golem, and looked at him for a while till I realized that the sun had risen and was shining into Golem’s camera. Beyond the crumbled wall, where another interior room had been last night, was open air and twisted snarls of metal struts. I-Golem caught a glimpse of the Manhattan-Queens ferry moving up the sparkling East River, trailed by crying gulls; last night’s gales had softened to a breeze. Streamers of clouds raced inland overhead.

The storm remediation waldos, hundred-foot-tall mantises with blue flashing lights and steel maws, crawled along the streets below, lifting wreckage and debris with their crane arms. They scooped sludge and wood with their dozer mouths, dropping the debris into the massive hoppers they dragged behind.

According to Golem’s chronometer, it was almost six. The building wrecker waldos were due—we had to get out.

There wasn’t much hope for the scavenged data but I-Golem checked the Coffin anyway. As I’d suspected, they were so much worthless debris, bent and broken. Man, was Vetch going to be pissed. He hated losing salvage.

I-Golem emptied the Coffin, put the old man inside, and slid the Coffin onto Golem’s back. Then I-Golem and the old man headed for the nearest support cable.

A failed scavenge, a failed rescue, and Melissa off fucking some strange man for spending money in the middle of a hurricane. All in all, not a good night.

The A.I. Storybundle is live, but only for eight more days until April 20, 2017! Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Download yours today at https://storybundle.com/ai

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Chapter 1

Just past dawn a dead man came floating down the river. The current carried him under the old river-straddling warehouse, where he fetched up against one of the fluff booms Arif had strung between the rotting pilings. Phousita found him when she came to gather the night’s harvest of fluff. He floated facedown. His head had wedged under the fluff boom; his long black hair swayed like a silk veil in the current.

Phousita glanced nervously overhead. The trapdoor that opened onto the main floor of the abandoned warehouse hung open. She debated with herself a moment. It would be so easy to slip into the water, ease the dead man’s body off the boom and guide him back into the current before Arif discovered he was here. She would never have to worry about who he might have been or what bitter spirits still haunted his flesh. Let someone else farther down the river have him!

But her conscience wouldn’t let her do it. Even in the dusky light under the river warehouse she could tell he’d been a wealthy man. Such fine clothes! And he might have money on him, jewels. The clan was hungry. She glanced again at the trapdoor. “Sumiati,” she called softly.

The termite-eaten floorboards creaked, then Sumiati peered through the door. She had an empty bucket in her hands, ready to pass it to Phousita. “So fast today! Did you fill the first bucket already? It’s about time our catch improved!” Her dark eyes widened when she saw the body. She sucked in a little breath of surprise. “Phousita, he’s still got his clothes! Hold him! Don’t let the current take tuan away. I’ll come down. Look how beautiful his robe is. Oh, do you think we’re the first to find him?” She put the bucket down, then turned to climb through the trapdoor, moving awkwardly as she bent over her pregnant belly. She hung for a moment from the insulated wire rope, looking like some rare, ripe fruit. Then she dropped gracefully to the narrow metal plank that Arif had lashed between the pilings. It shivered under the impact.

Phousita reached out a hand to steady her. Sumiati was a small woman, but even beside her, Phousita was tiny. She stood no taller than a petite child of seven or eight, though she was nearly twenty-five years old. Despite her size, her body was that of a woman: slender and beautifully proportioned, endowed with ample breasts and rounded hips, but on a scale that seemed unnaturally small. With her pretty round face, her dark eyes, and her thick black hair carefully coiled at the nape of her neck, she might have been a diminutive spirit out of some forgotten mythology.

Her unusual appearance had once attracted many clients after-hours in the business district. But she’d promised Arif she wouldn’t venture down there anymore. She was hungrier these days. The clothes from this dead man would buy a large quantity of rice.

And yet she hesitated. Easy wealth was so often cursed with misfortune. “I don’t like finding the tuan here,” she told Sumiati, instinctively using the traditional honorific. “There’s no telling what evil influences tuan carries with him. Let’s work quickly, then I’ll shove him back into the river.”

Sumiati looked suddenly concerned. “Maybe we should call Arif.”

“No!” Sumiati jerked at the sharp tone of Phousita’s voice. Phousita hunched her shoulders; she looked across at the dead man. “No,” she said more gently. “No need to wake Arif. We can do it.” Pulling the close-fitting skirt of her sarong up above her knees, she eased herself into the water until her tiny feet touched the clean gravel that cushioned the river’s concrete bed. The current swirled in cool streams around her waist, gradually soaking her faded blue breastcloth. She reached back to help Sumiati down, then grabbed the empty fluff bucket and started wading toward the dead man, one hand on the fluff boom for balance.

Arif had constructed the boom shortly after he’d moved the clan into the abandoned warehouse. He’d gathered rare old plastic bottles, the kind that didn’t disintegrate in only a few weeks. He’d cut them in half and then lashed them to a plank stripped from the warehouse. They floated half-submerged in the water and when the fluff came floating down the river they trapped it, like huge hands grasping at the feast. The system had worked well for many months. It would still work, if only there were more fluff in the river . . . or fewer hungry people. Her gaze scanned the thin line of brown foam bobbing against the boom. A dismal catch. Not enough there to feed three people and there were thirty-nine empty bellies in the clan. Forty, counting Sumiati’s soon-to-be-born. Phousita tried not to think about it.

Fierce rays of yellow light lanced under the river house as the sun leapt up over the city. Phousita touched the dead man’s head. Bright white flecks of bone and torn pink flesh could be seen through his black hair. The back of his skull had been caved in by a blow. The current still washed dilute puffs of blood from the wound. He must have been only minutes in the water. She lifted his head carefully by the long hair. His face was pale, nondescript European. His eyes were closed. A single kanji glowed in soft, luminescent red on his cheek. She couldn’t read it. “Look, tuan was robbed,” she said, pointing at the torn lobes of his ears where earrings must have been. Sumiati peered over her shoulder.

Out of principle Phousita touched his neck, checked for a pulse. It was a ceremony the Chinese doctor insisted upon, even when the patient was obviously dead. Perhaps it helped ease the frightened spirit still trapped within the body. Sumiati looked on, a worried pout on her lips until Phousita shook her head. Sumiati smiled.

“Even if tuan was robbed, he still has his clothes,” she said. “Maybe the thieves overlooked something.” She quickly checked his pockets, but found nothing. Phousita worked at the fastenings on his robe. In minutes they had the body stripped. Phousita stepped back in relief.

Sumiati’s eyes glowed as she held the fluff bucket stuffed full of fine clothing. “Push him off the boom,” she urged. “Let’s hurry. We have to take these to temple market. It’s a long walk, but we’ll get the best price there. We can take some water to sell too. And then we can buy rice. Enough for everyone to eat until their stomachs complain! And clothes. Henri and Maman need new clothes. And medicines, of course. You’ll know the ones to buy. And the Chinese doctor is always glad to see you.”

Phousita smiled at Sumiati’s nervous chatter. The dead man had indeed brought them good fortune. And now she could send him on his way. She reached for the dead man’s arm. Twisted it gently, to ease him off the boom. Hurry now. In a moment he would be gone.

“Phousita!”

Her hands jerked back in guilty surprise. She looked up as Arif dropped through the trapdoor. He landed on the metal plank. His slim, hard body—clothed only in worn shorts—was poised in a fighter’s stance. Arif was always fighting, she thought bitterly. And he’d do anything, anything at all to survive.

He stared at her, cruel violet eyes so out of place amongst the swollen, exaggerated features of his laughing, yellow, bioluminescent joker’s face. Sumiati, blind to his moods, started to bubble forth in her good-natured way with the tale of their find, but Arif cut her off with a gesture. “Phousita,” he growled softly. “What are you doing?”

Phousita glanced at the nude body of the dead man. Without his clothes he seemed a pale, ghostly thing. “Take the basket up, Sumiati,” she said softly. “Arif will help me now.”

Sumiati nodded, confused. Arif helped her out of the river and onto the plank, then stepped back, out of her way. She climbed the rope. “Close the door behind you,” he said. He still stared at Phousita. In the harsh shadows under the warehouse, his ogre-ugly face glowed brilliant yellow with its own generated light.

By his own admission Arif had been a wicked child. His mother had sold him to a sorcerer who poisoned him with a spell that exposed his sins upon his face. With his ridiculously elongated nose and chin, his cheeks as round and full as overripe guavas, and his glowing yellow complexion, he resembled one of the comical servants of the wayang theater. Except his eyes.

His gaze flickered upward as the corrugated metal door closed with a creak. Soft footsteps moved off across the warehouse floor. When Sumiati was out of earshot, Arif spoke: “He’s food, Phousita.” He walked to the end of the plank. “Why would you throw away food?”

Suddenly Arif dove, slicing like a sunbeam through the water, his thick black hair, tied up in a short ponytail, trailing behind him. He surfaced next to Phousita, startling her with an explosion of bubbles. He threw his swollen yellow head back and laughed, then hugged her tiny figure quickly, his arms encircling her waist. “Don’t be afraid, Phousita,” he crooned. “The old witch filled your head with all kinds of lies. It’s just a body. Tuan’s spirit is gone.”

Phousita was trembling. She sank into Arif’s arms while the cool river water rushed past. “You don’t know what kind of man he was,” she whispered.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It matters if we take his body into ours.”

“Not his body. Only the fluff that grows from it. You helped me plant them before. You ate the fluff.”

She laid her head against his chest. He’d dismissed her reluctance then too. “Sutedjo and Piet were part of our clan,” she said. “We knew them; they would wish us no harm. But this man is a stranger; we don’t know what evil he’s done.”

“It’s gone with him.”

“His spirit clings to the body.”

But Arif’s patience had eroded. “Spirit rides in the head and his head’s smashed in,” he snapped. “Stupid country girl, he’s gone!” He ducked under the water. A moment later, he surfaced on the other side of the boom. Grabbing the dead man’s wrists, he twisted the body roughly off the boom. “I wish you’d never met that old witch! She chased your brains away. You want to be a sorceress like her? Fah! She was just a stupid old hill woman. I’m glad she’s dead. I wish I could have planted her too!”

Phousita slapped the water. “Stop it, Arif. Stop it! You pretend you know so much. You don’t know! You hear rumors on the street and you think they’re true. Shiny new magic. But even the new sorcerers don’t know everything. Arif!”

He wasn’t listening. He’d turned his back on her, hauling the dead man up the river. She took a deep breath and ducked awkwardly under the boom. Fear filled her as water swirled past her face. Then she burst to the surface, gasping and splashing for air. She didn’t know how to swim. Arif had promised to teach her. Oh, why did she get angry? It did no good. Arif only wanted the best for her, for everyone in the clan. It hurt him when she let her doubt show.

“Arif.” She caught up with him; helped him drag the body against the current. They reached the edge of the river house. Arif stopped. Phousita glanced down through the clear water to the gravel beneath her feet. Scattered there she could still see the remnants of Sutedjo’s bones, bright white slivers that hadn’t yet turned to fluff. She glanced up. Arif studied her with violet eyes. “It wasn’t the old witch who cured you, Phousita. It was the Chinese doctor. The old magic is dead.”

He ducked under the water, hauling one leg of the dead man with him. Phousita used her tiny body as an anchor to keep the corpse from drifting downstream while Arif secured the man’s foot to a mooring stone on the bottom. He surfaced, took the other leg, hauled that down too.

Over the next few days the body would slowly dissolve into a rich harvest of fluff that would float to the surface and gather downstream against the fluff boom. The clan would never know the reason for their good fortune. They’d attribute the abundant harvest to luck.

Fluff hadn’t existed when the old woman was alive. That was only a few years ago. Phousita could remember it easily. She’d been perhaps twenty-one, still trapped in a child’s body. The river had been a stinking sewer then, a deadly thread of water draining the city’s filth. When the fluff first started collecting on the river’s banks, they’d paid no attention to it, assuming it was just a new kind of pollution. Then Arif had seen the rats eating it. . . .

Now the river ran clear. The water was clean, drinkable, though the city’s filth still washed into it with every rain.

Arif surfaced again, took the dead man’s right arm. “Help push him under,” he said gruffly. Phousita nodded. Arif stretched the arm of the corpse beyond its head, then reached underwater for the mooring stone. He found it, and glanced over his shoulder at Phousita. “Now.” She placed her palms flat against the cold, slippery chest and leaned hard, forcing the body under.

Something gave way beneath her right hand. She could hear it more than feel it, a sharp metal snick! The chest opened like a blinking eye. A golden needle shot out of the black orifice, to bury itself in Phousita’s breast. She reared back in horror, swiping at the spot of blood just above her breastcloth that marked the point where the needle had disappeared. She stumbled through the water. Her chest was on fire. She could hear herself bleating like a terrified child: “Unh! unh! unh!”

The corpse twisted in the current, the shoulders rolled. She saw a little white tear in the dead white chest before the corpse turned facedown again. Her gaze shifted to Arif. The horror in his eyes must have echoed her own. Help me. She tried to say it, but her mouth had gone dry. Her tongue grew puffy and swollen as the needle’s poison spread through her system. The bubbling song of the river seemed to rise in volume, building like a wall around her before it collapsed into a chaotic buzz. Her vision blurred. She could see Arif reaching for her. But the current was swifter. Her eyes closed as its cold hands caressed her face and swirled through her hair.

Visit Linda Nagata at http://www.mythicisland.com

The A.I. Storybundle is live, but only until April 20, 2017! Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Stock up your ereader for the Spring only at https://storybundle.com/ai

AllCoversLarge.AI.2

Aristoi Excerpt
PABST: Stimulus and response, response and stimulus
Get them right, there’s little fuss
They’ll do most anything if you pull their strings
Their response to stimulus.

Aristoi floated through the reception to the sound of a reed flute.

Standing near the buffet table Gabriel paid his respects to Pan Wengong, primary architect for the resurrected Earth2. The Eldest Brother was a junior, but sole surviving, member of the first bold generation of Aristoi who had, in the turbulent and dangerous centuries after the Earth1 disaster, coalesced around Captain Yuan and, with their fearless and absolute command of technology, re-ordered humanity’s future.

Pan Wengong’s appearance belied his millennia.  He was a round-faced, round-bodied, cheerful man, secure in his place among the Aristoi and in history, and quite pleased with having escaped the law of averages for so long. His domaine included Earth2 and the inhabited stars around it, and in the centuries since the great reconstruction he’d been taking it easy; his therápontes did most of the work while the Eldest Brother relaxed in one or another of the pleasure-domes he’d built on or about Earth.  He was one of the few Aristoi who was actually, physically present in Persepolis, but he was linked with all the others in the oneirochronon and enjoyed the best of both worlds— the company of his peers, and the fact he could eat and drink.

Pan had been speaking to Saigo, a dour, saturnine man who usually avoided these receptions. Saigo was a specialist in evolution, both human and stellar, and had broadcast his black-browed skiagénos a greater distance than anyone here— he was well out of inhabited space, in a part of distant space called the Gaal Sphere, pursuing his lonely researches.

Saigo turned his melancholy eyes to Gabriel, offered a Posture of Formal Regard, and took his leave.  Gabriel and Pan exchanged embraces and the latest jokes. Pan offered Gabriel a ghost drink, and though Gabriel knew the experience would be well crafted, he declined. He avoided eating and drinking while in the oneirochronon— it just gave him hunger pangs without satisfying its cravings.

Others arrived to pay their respects to Pan. Gabriel spoke briefly to Maryandroid, then found himself approached by Cressida.

“Aristos kaí Athánatos,” she began, using the formal title, “forgive me for this interruption.”

“Forgiven,” said Gabriel, a bit surprised.

Cressida was an older Ariste; she had passed her exams over three hundred years ago and had restricted the size of her domaine so as to devote herself more exclusively to research. She was honored, distant, and briskly eccentric; and in their few meetings had treated Gabriel with courtesy but without great patience.

She gazed from her black-skinned face with intent birdlike eyes. “Therápon Protarchon Stephen Rubens y Sedillo, who is in my service, will be visiting Labdakos within a few days to tour the Illyrian Workshop,” she said. “I am thinking of setting up a similar academy here on Painter, and I hope you will do me the favor of giving instructions to the Workshop staff to allow him access.”

“Really?” Cressida had never shown much interest in crafts. “I will be happy to provide any assistance, of course.”

She had not adorned herself for this reception, but dressed in the modest sky-blue uniform worn by her household— the uniform might have been a romantic touch, Gabriel thought, but the design was too relentlessly practical, with many pockets and no ornamentation or badges of rank. Her hair was salt-and-pepper, cut short in a businesslike way.

“I would consider it a favor,” she continued, “if you will also give Therápon Rubens a private appointment at a time convenient to you so that he can present my personal greetings and thanks.” She inclined her head, lowered her eyes, the First Posture of Esteem. “At your service, Aristos.”

“At your service,” Gabriel murmured. Cressida passed on.

What the hell was that about? Gabriel inquired.

Neutral but commanding posture, said Augenblick. Neutral expression. No involuntary muscle movement, no alteration in pupil dilation. Formally courteous expression.

That’s not much.

My apologies, Aristos. Skiagenoi are difficult to read at the best of times, and perhaps she was taking good care not to be read. Most Aristoi do.

Reno, Gabriel commanded, report on the whereabouts of Stephen Rubens y Sedillo, class Therápon, rank Protarchon, employed by Cressida Ariste.

At your service, Aristos. <search program initiated> Done. Therápon Rubens is aboard the yacht Lorenz, currently assuming an orbit about Illyricum. He hailed traffic control four hours ago. The Lorenz is owned by Ariste Cressida. Rubens has sent a message to your mailbox requesting a personal audience.

The timing on this is very exact, said the Welcome Rain. There is more here than we see.

Gabriel thought for a moment. Reno, he said, how many times has Cressida spoken to me?

Five, Aristos. On four occasions she merely offered polite greetings, and on the other she criticized your behavior at Coetzee’s reception following your Graduation—

I remember very well, thank you.

At your service, Aristos.

He returned his attention to the reception.

Something was afoot. He knew not what it was.

He suspected, however, he would enjoy himself while working out the answer.

*

Music, angel voices and devil bassoons, eddied in Psyche’s perfect acoustic chamber. A piece Gabriel had composed long ago, Sandor Korondi’s poem “Love-Wind” set to music.

After a few hours in the Autumn Pavilion with Clancy, Gabriel decided to call her Blushing Rose. She accepted the new name with what seemed a mixture of pleasure and intelligent skepticism.

She called him Disturber.

Clancy lay face-down on the bed in exactly the naive position in which it pleased Louis XV to have his mistresses painted. Gabriel, sitting beside her, found himself completely charmed by the rosy sight of her soles. She was all warm autumn colors, he thought, like this pavilion, like his thoughts, a contrast to the Black-Eyed Ghost, all pallor and midnight. He let his fingertips graze on the rounded knobs of Clancy’s spine as the andante movement sang slowly in his heart.

The Carnation Suite, he remembered, was empty.

“I promised you breakfast,” he said. “Shall I tell my reno to order? Kem-Kem, my chef, is an improvisatory genius— he’ll cook anything you like to order. ”

Clancy propped her chin on one hand and frowned. “Would you mind having a machine deliver the food?”

“No. Why?”

“Because if Rabjoms is going to find out about this, I’d rather it be from me and not a member of the kitchen staff.”

“Ah.” He took her hand. “Will that be a problem for you?”

GABRIEL: Reno. <Priority 2> Query: Rabjoms.

RENO: <Priority 2> Rabjoms. name: Thundup Rabjoms Sambhota. Informal consort to Therápon Clancy. Age: 31. Class: Demos. Occupation: Artisan (2nd Class), Lowland Machine Works, Labdakos, Illyricum. Born: Gomo Selung, Kampa Province, Phongdo—

GABRIEL: Thank you. Fini.

RENO: At your service.

She looked at him over her full shoulder. “The problem is . . . tactical. How I should tell him, not . . . ”

“If I can be of any assistance?”

“No. It’s my little predicament, I suppose.” She gave a tight little smile. “He’s an understanding man.”

He looked down at the taut ribbon of muscle knot that had, in the last few seconds, formed between her shoulder blades, and began to massage it away. The andante sobbed on. Clancy sighed.

“You’ve been together how long?”

“Six years. Since I came here.” She sighed. “He’s a good man.”

A good man, he thought. Artisan (2nd Class), and of the Demos, not even one of the therápontes. Rabjoms was certainly not the choice of a rising Therápon eager for a position of power.

“Demos,” Gabriel said.

“I’m not ambitious that way.” She shrugged. “I’m not ambitious at all. I haven’t gone for my exams in nine years, and I don’t have any plans to. I like it where I am. Being a doctor. Birth, death, trauma, life, well-being . . . everything I really care about, I’m involved with now.”

“You left me off the list.”

She smiled, looked over her shoulder again. “Should I care for you, Aristos?”

“I love you.” Psyche soared through his mind at the words.

“And I you, Aristos.” Neatly.

He leaned back and considered her. She was not his usual type. Her body was natural— soft, rounded, without the planed, sculpted, perfected look, genetically or surgically augmented, that normally gratified his taste. The attraction was unusual; Gabriel couldn’t predict its outcome, or how long it would last. Perhaps (a sliver of doubt entering) it was merely a shared enthusiasm for Marcus’s pregnancy. He thought of calling up Augenblick and the Welcome Rain, but decided he didn’t want this handled. Not their way.

I never was attached to that great sect,” he said,

Whose doctrine is that each one should select

 Out of the crowd a mistress or a friend,

 And all the rest, though fair and wise, commend

 To cold oblivion.”

She smiled. “And you’re easily bored.”

“That as well.” Might as well concede that one.

She rolled over and regarded him with wide peridot eyes. “Will you make me your maîtresse en titre?”

“Do you want that? I’m surprised.”

“May I have it?”

“If that’s what you desire.”

She shook her head, then laughed. “I don’t, as it happens. But I needed to know if you’d give it to me.”

Surprise rolled through him. “Fayre eyes,” he said, “the myrrour of my mazed hart, what woundrous vertue is contaynd in you . . .”

“I had everything planned. I didn’t think— ” She considered her words. “This lightning would strike. Not this late.” Grinning wryly. “Not this lightning.”

“It has struck.” He kissed her. “Shall it strike again?”

She fluttered against his lips. “Yes, Aristos. Of course.”

Propelled by violas and stinging electric guitar, presto followed andante, and so to finale.

*

Gabriel continued his rounds about the reception, greeted Pristine Way and Prince Stanislaus. He succeeded in avoiding Virtue’s Icon. The reed flute wove its way through the throng, accented every conversation.

He heard his name spoken, turned, and saw Zhenling. Pleasure tingled through his fingertips.

“Hail to the conqueror of Mount Mallory,” he said.

GABRIEL: Reno, statistics on Gregory Bonham, if you please.

RENO: Bonham, formal consort of Zhenling Ariste for the last thirteen years. Failed examinations in this last round, placing thirty-first among those who failed to pass. This is his second failure. He resides in the residential annex of Violet Jade Nanotechnology Laboratories in low orbit around Tienjin . . .

GABRIEL: And Zhenling currently resides at . . . ?

RENO: Primary residence is at Jade Garden, Ring Island, Tienjin.

Zhenling was a slim woman, tall and taut-muscled, with Tatar cheekbones and tilted dark eyes.

Her frame was taut with catlike, augmented muscle, her form perfectly sculpted. She wore cherry-red breeches, boots, sky-blue jacket with gold brocade, and a hussar jacket of a darker blue, trimmed with ermine and more brocade and worn over her shoulders. A fur hat was tipped over one ear and was decorated with a spray of silver and pearls. Her dark hair was braided with gemstones and fell over one shoulder, giving her silhouette a pleasant asymmetry.

SPRING PLUM: <appreciation of contrast between gems and shining hair>

CYRUS: “All that sternness amid charm All that sweetness amid strength.”

SPRING PLUM: <amusement>

She had been among the Aristoi only a short while, having been promoted only twelve years ago. She was, astrographically speaking, Gabriel’s neighbor, as her domaine was expanding from an area near Gabriel’s.

“Thank you,” she said. “I’ve got my next ascent mapped— Mount Trasker this time.”

AUGENBLICK: We are interested?

WELCOME RAIN: We are interested.  Let us map our own ascent.

AUGENBLICK: It’s difficult to read skiagenoi. This will take a while.

GABRIEL: Keep me informed.

Her name, translated literally into demotic, meant “True Sound.” Figuratively, however, it meant “True Jade,” from the satisfying sound quality jade makes when it’s given a good rap.

“You’re looking dashing,” Gabriel said.

“And you’re looking well-satisfied.”

“Am I? I can’t think why.”

“Impending fatherhood, perhaps?”

Gabriel permitted himself a look of surprise. “I wasn’t aware that anyone knew.”

“It wasn’t hard to work out. Your schedule of the last week implied a number of things, that among them.”

“Should I be flattered that you bothered to study my schedule of the last week?”

“Your schedule for the last year. And various other items concerning you.”

Gabriel lifted his shadow-eyebrows. “May one ask why?”

“One may.”

Dorothy, mantalike, floated overhead, and Gabriel paused (reno searching files for something apt). The reed flute filled the gap. After Dorothy passed out of immediate eavesdropping range, he spoke. “Questioning,” he said, “is not the mode of conversation among gentlefolk.”

“I believe Johnson also said that classical quotation is the parole of literary men.”

“Am I literary? I never thought myself so.”

“All that is literature,” <De Quincey, said Gabriel’s reno, after Wordsworth>, “seeks to communicate power; all that is not literature, to communicate knowledge.”

“Our renos seem to have a very good 18th Century index,” said Gabriel. “Take my arm; let’s talk.”

“As you like. Though we’ll look like a couple footmen at the Congress of Vienna.”

“Not footmen. Equerries at least. Or maybe archdukes. I believe there were plenty to spare.”

Her arm, nonexistent though it was, was quite warm: Augenblick and the Welcome Rain both commented hopefully.

“I am told,” Gabriel said, “that you and Astoreth are planning to upset our happy galactic order.”

“Astoreth intends no such thing.”

“That begs a question, but I’m afraid I just forswore that mode of discourse.”

“Astoreth wants to create a stir so that she can be at the center of attention. And I— ?” She looked at him, and Gabriel found himself admiring the program that had created the liquid depths of her eyes. “I’m willing to put some notions forward,” she said. “I’m not certain what it would mean yet.”

“You’ve followed her program otherwise. Rekindling a spirit of adventure through your personal exploits and so on.”

“I like climbing mountains and stunting around in submarines. It doesn’t have to be someone’s program.”

“But the problem, as you see it, requires drastic measures.”

“It requires, first of all, an acknowledgement that there’s a problem.”

“If you gathered data . . . ”

“How much data do we need?” She was impatient. “Out of the thousands of therápontes who took the exams this time, how many passed? Nine. How many Aristoi died or announced impending retirement in the time between this batch of exams and the last? Six.”

“This has been discussed, you know. For decades.”

“Since most of us restrict population in our own dominions, the only way many of the Demos can have the children they want is to pioneer in new domaines. And since there will be a net increase of only three domaines this time, in essence humanity expands by only three Aristoi.”

“Of course the Demos can also have children by moving to underpopulated domaines.”

“There’s a reason those domaines are underpopulated, you know.”

“I know perfectly well. I merely felt I should make mention of all the alternatives available.”

“Okay. So the alternative is to queue up for a new planet, moon, or habitat, which can take decades if not centuries, or to be subjected to intrusive social programming in the justly-underpopulated domaines.”

“I wonder where Pan Aristos got this flute music. It’s extraordinary.” (Setting his reno on an extended search, <priority 3>, for a score.)

Zhenling permitted herself an annoyed look. Gabriel inclined toward her. “I beg your pardon. One train of thought intruded on another. I was listening.”

“To me or the music?”

“I can follow both.”

“I was hoping to recruit you.”

“Hence your inquiry into my last year’s schedule.” He sighed. “I’m disappointed. I was hoping your interest was more personal.”

Gabriel (and Augenblick) noted that Zhenling didn’t seem (or didn’t allow herself to seem) as annoyed by this remark as she might have been.

“Isn’t your life a little busy without another complication?” she asked. “A child on the way, a new friend moving into the— ” Her reno floated data along the tachline. “Carnation Suite?”

The Welcome Rain gleefully rubbed metaphysical hands together and whispered in Gabriel’s antennae.

“We’re Aristoi,” Gabriel said. “We’re capable of handling any number of complications with grace, with joy, with— ”

“Without me,” said Zhenling. “I have a consort, as you know.”

“Who is not your equal.”

“He’ll pass the exams.” Stubbornly. “He came very close this last time.”

“It’s more Aristoi that your group wants.” Gabriel stroked his chin skiagenically. “Could that be a coincidence, I wonder?”

“You seem to want more Aristoi in your life as well.”

“Only one.”

“What a shame.” She paused for a pensive moment, then carefully shrugged. “Think of it as a rare experience. How often do you experience genuine frustration in your life? Cherish it while it lasts.”

“While it lasts.” He attempted to lift her hand and kiss it. She turned her skiagénos insubstantial and his hand passed through hers. He straightened and looked at her, and she burst into laughter.

“You should see your face!” she said. “This is rare for you, isn’t it?”

Gabriel calmed both himself and the Welcome Rain, who was hissing like a kettle.

“Perhaps we’ll kiss later,” Zhenling said, which soothed Welcome Rain rather more than Gabriel did. “But right now, I’d like to read your brain chemistry.”

“My what?”

“Levels of vasopressin,” numbering on her fingers, “dopamine, serotonin, lecithin, thiamine, norepinephrine, phosphatidylcholine, endorphins . . . lots of things. Dozens. Your reno has the capability to analyze your chemistry that way?”

“Of course,” Gabriel said, “but I’m not certain I’m willing to proceed to that level of intimacy without at least kissing first.”

Her look was serious. “I’m going to propose tomorrow to inaugurate a study concerning what makes Aristoi into Aristoi.”

“It’s been tried. The category was found to be unquantifiable.” He gestured with an arm. Pristine Way, looking at the moment as if she were cut from rose-tinted transparent crystal, nodded back. “Look at all these people,” Gabriel said. “Each passed exams, each is licensed for certain dangerous technologies, and each controls a domaine— but each is individual, and over the years the domaine conforms to her image . . . Citizens with an interest in music or architecture migrate to my domaine, those interested in political theory show up in the Icon’s territory or Coetzee’s, those who yearn for the consolations of philosophy turn up in Sebastian’s, and I imagine you get your share of mountain climbers. You know how eccentric some of us are. What d’you think we have in common?”

“I don’t think the previous studies were done the right way. Or that they asked the right questions.”

“You’re an Ariste, of course. You can study what you like.”

She tilted her head. Light danced in her eyes. “Which brings me to my next point. I really would like to get a look at your brain chemistry. In the normal course of things we’re surrounded by people who defer to us, who make things easy, who accept our judgments without question. Some of us are even worshiped.”

“Oh please.” Gabriel held up protesting hands. “I just needed to give my mother something to do after she retired.”

“Unlike most of us here, I quite believe you. But still, some of us are worshiped. What does that do inside our heads? We’re natural leaders— that’s one thing we’ve got in common— and we’re still all primates, even the most modified of us. We’re more absolute than the leader of any baboon troop ever was. More absolute than Louis XIV.”

“I wish you would come up with more cultivated examples. I don’t know which of the two I’d prefer as a house guest— probably the baboon.”

Moi aussi, monseigneur. Le roi, c’est l’etat et un cochon. But then, his brain chemistry must have been as abnormal as ours.”

“I am going to demand a kiss if you’re going to discuss my brain chemistry and make odious comparisons.”

She stepped up to him and kissed him quite decisively on the mouth. Her breath had a spicy tint. The Welcome Rain went into ecstasies. The rest of Gabriel wasn’t much less affected.

Zhenling stepped back, her look managing to be both teasing and smug. “What I would like to do,” she said, “is compare your brain chemistry now with what it is at the end of Graduation, and with what it will be about six months from now. Because what’s happening here is that you’re interacting with your peers, not what for lack of a better term we’ll call your inferiors. It’s a greater strain, we’re not as deferent as the people you’re around normally . . . It’s going to do things to your head.”

“Where do you plan to go with this?”

“With your head?” She narrowed her tilted eyes. “Very far indeed . . . ” Welcome Rain commenced a dance of triumph. “But later, I think.” She stepped back, gave him a Posture of Respect subverted by a careless wave. “There are other people I need to speak to. I’m sure we’ll be able to see each other at one of the receptions.”

“I need to know what you want in the way of brain analysis.”

“I’ll send you a memo of what I’m interested in.”

Gabriel watched her leave and listened to the voices in her head. Her metalinguistics were consistently flirtatious. Augenblick’s contribution. Rather deliberately so.

We’re in business, boss, said the Welcome Rain.

Gabriel continued to drift among the throng. He observed that Dorothy St.-John had pasted her cat’s eyes to the forehead of Han Fu, and wondered whether Han knew it. Asterion, whose body had been altered for a subaquatic existence, swam elegantly overhead, webbed hands and turned-out dolphin feet moving gracefully through invisible waters.

The music now playing, Gabriel’s reno finally reported, is untitled and unpublished, but is by Tunku Iskander. It is unavailable in the Hyperlogos but a recording exists in the archives of Rival Island, where Tunku played it last week for Aristos MacReady.

Not in the library, but in obscure records half of human space away— no wonder the search had taken so long, almost four minutes. Tunku Iskander, Gabriel knew, would be installed as an Aristos tomorrow, and had apprenticed under MacReady and Dorothy. Gabriel hadn’t ever met him, or heard his music. He told his reno to call up as many recordings as were available and store them for later.

The reception drifted onward to its conclusion.

*

Gabriel, hair tied back with golden ribbon, performed wushu alone on the sward behind the Red Lacquer Gallery. Cool morning air brushed over his limbs. His mind was in the oneirochronon, and Spring Plum guided the two-sword form, controlling his body with grace and imagination. The heavy broadswords sliced air, one-two, and the red flags tied to the hilts made supersonic cracking sounds as they wove dragon-back images through the air. Gabriel could feel, dim in his conscious mind, the strain on muscles, the beat of pulse and harshness of breath in the throat, the feel of whirls and leaps and stances of wushu, martial arts abstracted to dance, an aesthetic distillation attuned to Spring Plum’s psyche. He could see, if he wanted to, the spears of green grass, the long expanse of the Red Lacquer Gallery, grey upthrust mountain peaks beyond the golden web of Labdakos, all whirling in the focused dance . . . but his mind stayed firmly in the oneirochronon, and concentrated on the Involved Ideography of Captain Yuan.

Yuan’s Ideography was based on the notion that writing had greater impact the more senses it evoked. Old-style European script was fine for communicating data efficiently, but it had to work hard to achieve the kind of psychic resonance that Yuan desired— not simply to communicate, but to involve.

Old Asian scripts were better, insofar as the ideograms not only communicated words but drew (admittedly rather abstract) pictures. They involved more levels of the mind in the translation, and the impact— at least for Yuan’s purposes— was greater.

Yuan’s Intermediate Ideography, in which Psyche had presented her conception-poem for Marcus, was based on age-old Chinese characters but adapted for modern grammar, vocabulary, and expression.

The Intermediate characters were only a stage on the way to the Involved Ideography. These were intricate hieroglyphs based on the First Aristos’s own ideas about the wiring of the human mind and its relationship to information, were another step toward complexity and many levels higher in symbolism. Looking like a peculiarly convoluted incorporation of baroque Mayan glyphs and circuit diagrams, the Involved Ideography’s radicals, modalities, and submodalities were designed to involve as much of the reasoning cortex as possible. They required intense mental concentration to use or read, but were unexcelled in packing complex information into small packages. The system was incomplete, as Yuan hadn’t finished his work when he set on his long, presumably fatal quest toward galactic center, but the ideography continued to evolve more or less randomly at the hands of thousands of individual scholars and information theorists.

Gabriel was using the Involved Ideography to design an oneirochronic seal for Clancy, one she could use to get into the secure areas of the Residence. He would be having breakfast with her shortly, in Spring Plum’s room of the Autumn Pavilion, and wanted it ready.

He used a glyph for rose, a radical for redden, modalities for medicine and music and pleasure and caring . . . He wanted to evoke her precisely, create a poem in glyph form.

He became aware that Spring Plum had finished the wushu form, that his body was poised in salutation position, swords heavy in his arms. Gabriel had his reno analyze his bodily state. He concluded he’d exercised enough, and he summoned Kouros to perform cool-down exercises. The Kouros daimon was a child, carefree and happy, innocent of consequence— skipping about the sward and gardens during the cooldown period was something Kouros would find interesting.

He buried himself in the creating the hieroglyph.

*

By the time he finished the cool-down period he thought he had finished the seal. He bathed and dressed and had breakfast delivered to Spring Plum’s room, where there was a graceful rosewood dining table, and in a matching cabinet a porcelain service rimmed with silver and painted with white plum blossoms. Spring Plum possessed an intent fascination for biological detail: the dark silk wall hangings were covered with exactingly-rendered flora, petals, stigmata, anthers, and beaded, glowing droplets of dew.

Clancy arrived at the door. Gabriel embraced her and kissed her hello, then led her to the buffet. There was enough food to feed a dozen guests. Clancy took coffee, a scone, and jam, and sat curled in a chair covered in stitched dogwood blossoms. Gabriel took a plate of fruit and sat by her side.

She cocked an ear at the music. “Tien Jiang Chun.”

“Yes.”

“I played it years ago on Darkbloom. In a recital, at university. Accompanying a friend, who sang Li Jingchao’s words.”

Gabriel’s reno sifted gently through Clancy’s biography. “You play piano, flute, persephone.”

“The first poorly, due to a lack of time for practice. The second with a bit too much restraint. The third too cleverly, because modern instruments encourage that.”

“Do you compose?”

“No.”

“You should. You’re bound to find a daimon that will help you.”

“I would be mediocre.” She sipped coffee. “I’m an outstanding physician and surgeon, however, and a damn good geneticist.” There was defensiveness in her tone.

“I know,” gently. He took her hand and kissed it.

“Marcus,” she said.

“Yes?”

“Is it ended between you?”

“‘How am I fallen from myself, for a long time now I have not seen the Prince of Chang in my dreams.’” He smiled. “I’m building him a house.”

“A house? An estate, you mean.”

“An estate, then. And why not? With a stunning view, and a large nursery, and room for all the playthings and gadgets he likes to build.”

“Don’t build me such a place, when the time comes.”

He sensed the tension in her forearm. He kissed her hand again. “Not if you don’t want one, Blushing Rose. But architecture is one of my skills— I hate not to indulge it.”

She smiled. “Build me a research clinic if you like. On an asteroid, where I can work with nano.”

Gabriel was pleased to discover this hidden thread of ambition.

“Tell me where you want it, and what you want in it, and it’s yours. Now. It doesn’t have to be a parting gift.”

Clancy blinked at him. “Sometimes I forget that you can do that. Wave your hand, and it’s done. As easily as if you were in the oneirochronon.”

“It takes a little more effort than that.”

“But still. It doesn’t cost you anything. Does it?”

“Why should it?” He smiled, took a knife, began to peel a hothouse peach. “I like pleasing people. I have the power to do it. Why shouldn’t I indulge myself in harmless benevolence?”

She thought about it, then shrugged. “Whyever not?”

Another chord chimed briefly. Clancy tilted her head. “I’ve told Rabjoms.”

“I hope it went well.”

“I think he’s a bit . . . overwhelmed.” She gave a tight little smile. “So am I, really. Rabjoms doesn’t want to resist— part of it’s the conditioning, okay, but— ” There was an uncertain flutter in her eyes. “Well, I don’t want to resist either.”

Gabriel left his chair, sat crosslegged before her, took her feet into his lap. “I’m pleased, Blushing Rose.”

Her look turned uncertain. “Should I move into the Residence? Do you want me to?”

“I would be pleased to have you near me. The Carnation Suite is open, and its decor would suit your coloring very well.”

“I’ll move, then.”

“I’ve already taken the liberty of designing you an oneirochronic seal that will grant you access to the secure areas and the private passages and galleries in the Residence. I’ve put it in your message box, and instructed the Residence to open its sealed areas to you.”

There was a glimmer of interest in her eyes. “There are secret passages in the Residence?”

“Not secret. Just private. If you want to go somewhere and not have to meet people.” He smiled at her. “I find it useful.”

She gazed at her plate for a moment, then down at him. “Disturber? Can you tell me why I feel sad?”

Gabriel could not. “How can I make you happy?” he said.

She gave a thin smile. “I should return to work.”

“If that’s what you wish. But I can still declare that planetary holiday.”

Her smile broadened. “That won’t be necessary.”

“Perhaps,” he said, “some other time.”

To read the rest of Aristoi, download your bundle today! And visit Walter’s excellent website and blog at http://www.walterjonwilliams.net

The A.I. Storybundle is live, but only until April 20, 2017! Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Stock up your ereader for the Spring only at https://storybundle.com/ai

Aristoi Cover Final

Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams

Gabriel is one of the Aristoi, the elite class that hold dominion over a glittering interstellar culture, their rule more absolute than that of any Old Earth tyrant. When another of the Aristoi is murdered, Gabriel finds that the foundations of his civilization are tottering, and that his own power may have its roots in the greatest lie in all history.
In order to defend himself and the interstellar order, Gabriel must go on a quest into the heart of barbarism and chaos, and discover within himself his own lost, tattered humanity.

Written with care, intelligence, and grace, [Aristoi] depicts a future society based on highly developed computers and biological engineering, the key skills of which are controlled by an elite known as the Aristoi. This world is depicted meticulously and vividly, and so is the near war of all against all that is unleashed when one of the Aristoi falls prey to the corruption of power. A fine, thoughtful work, highly recommended; Williams seems to grow with each book.” —Roland Green, Chicago Sun-Times

Beneath the facade of universal prosperity, however, lurks a tide of dissension and madness that can only be fought from within. Williams tests the borders of imagination in a novel that combines brilliant hard science and speculative vision with a firm grip on the central humanity of his characters. A priority purchase for sf collections. —Library Journal

In this complex and rewarding novel, Williams (Days of Atonement) has created a future which features many of the wonders SF has been promising us for years: virtual reality, genetic engineering, faster-than-light travel, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, telepathic links with computers, and more. Perhaps most interesting is that people have control of their daimones, different aspects of personality that are given specific names. The class system remains: the aristoi are the seemingly perfect humans who wield power and influence; in fact, some worship them as gods. An aristos named Gabriel discovers a conspiracy among three others of his class, who have created several worlds that are barbaric, with little technology and rampant disease and sickness. They have also killed other aristoi to cover their tracks and violated the sanctity of the Logarchy, the massive, open computer network that links all humans. In a nice touch, Williams renders several scenes in two columns of text on the page, the left describing the action, the right Gabriel’s internal dialogue with his daimones. And in one delicious scene Gabriel has sex with two different women at the same time–one in virtual reality, one in real space. From Publishers Weekly Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Walter Jon Williams is an award-winning author who has been listed on the best-seller lists of the New York Times and the Times of London.  He is the author of twenty-seven novels and three collections of short fiction.
His first novel to attract serious public attention was Hardwired (1986), described by Roger Zelazny as “a tough, sleek juggernaut of a story, punctuated by strobe-light movements, coursing to the wail of jets and the twang of steel guitars.”  In 2001 he won a Nebula Award for his novelette, “Daddy’s World,” and won again in 2005 for “The Green Leopard Plague.”
He has also written for George RR Martin’s Wild Cards project.
Walter’s subject matter has an unusually wide range, and include the glittering surfaces of Hardwired, the opulent tapestries of Aristoi, the bleak future police novel Days of Atonement, and the pensive young Mary Shelley of the novella “Wall, Stone, Craft,” which was nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, and a World Fantasy Award.
His latest work is Impersonations, a far-future thriller set in his popular Praxis universe.
He has also written for George RR Martin’s Wild Cards project.
Walter has also written for comics, the screen, and for television, and has worked in the gaming field.  He was a writer for the alternate reality game Last Call Poker, and has scripted the mega-hit Spore.

Visit Walter at http://www.walterjonwilliams.net

The A.I. Storybundle is live, but only until April 20, 2017! Explore Artificial Intelligence and how A.I. will affect the future in Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata, Arachne by Lisa Mason, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly with stories by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others, Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eye Candy by Ryan Schneider, Glass Houses by Laura J. Mixon, Cyberweb by Lisa Mason, Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata, and The A.I. Chronicles Anthology, edited by Samuel Peralta. Download yours today for the Spring only at https://storybundle.com/ai