Excerpt


At length I remembered the last resort of a great princess who, when told that the peasants had broken into her royal bakery and were hurling the contents into the street, replied: “Then let them yeet cake.”

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Levird briefly stabilized its form, and Maya could make out something like limbs and a head, with two points of light dancing in it. But then there was a second set of arms at Levird’s side, and its dress was suddenly made of up living butterflies, and those same eyes of dancing light were amid them, peering out from a hundred impossible places at once.

“That might just be the least convincing disguise I’ve ever seen,” Maya said.

Clearly focusing, trying hard–which was not at all what Levird was about–it smoothed away the extra arms and gave the dress a firm snap to bring it back to a single fabric. The glowing points were now icy blue eyes in a face that could–charitably–pass for human.

“Much better. You’re about one good push from being able to do it.”

With a final grunt, Levird was able to solidify and smooth still further, taming the wild natural energies of the fae into a more or less mundane form. Androgenous, yes, and perhaps a bit odd looking, but nothing that would attract a second glance in the right clothes.

“Perfect!” Maya said. “I think you’re ready.”

A mild breeze kicked up, and Levird sneezed. A torrent of fae energy was unleashed, blowing Maya back a little bit, and when she looked up, Levird was a mess. A second face on one thigh, clothes that were half alive, hands where its feet should have been, and a guilty grin on each and every visible lips.

“I dinnae ken how ye mundoons do it,” Levird said. “Tae prance about in the same shape all the bleedin’ time? It isnae fun and it isnae natural for me kind.”

“Well, you’re going to have to make it work.” Maya said firmly. “Or they’ll panic, and you’ll never see your kin again. Or mine.”

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Recording timestamp: 1585091497

AUMNYL: Hello! This is Dr. Nhzaly Aumnyl, the inventor of the Daedalus system, the discoverer of the Aumnyl-Feld bridge, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, speaking.

FARIS: You don’t need to start the recording that way, you know. People can look it up.

AUMNYL: People won’t read signs telling them where the toilet is, what makes you think they’ll look up my CV? Besides, having it read to them in a good, strong voice with a powerful accent will make it stick.

FARIS: Make what stick, now?

AUMNYL: Ah. Yes. Well, what we are going to demonstrate here today, under strictly controlled laboratory conditions, is an entirely new form of photon-based storage for quantum computing applications. It is a simple process involving a laser beam and a particle accelerator.

FARIS: Decelerator, in this case.

AUMNYL: Feh! If we try to describe it in layman’s terms, we will be here all day. On that point I agree with you: if they want to do the math they can read my paper. Good luck getting past the first paragraph, you bunch of plagiarists and pirates!

FARIS: Decelerator, in this case.

AUMNYL: Begin the first test. We will encode a single byte into the storage medium for one second and then retrieve it.

FARIS: Beginning test 01-01-01. Hold onto your butts.

Recording interrupted at timestamp: 1585048515

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I suppose, when you get right down to it, he started believing his own hype. He’d done so much, you see, so much that people said wasn’t possible. A bright shining light of knowledge, you might say.

Well. There’s an old proverb, I think, that if you let any old light shine too brightly for too long in the darkness, it’ll start to think it’s the sun. And that’s what happened to him. He wasn’t just looking for answers in the way he had before; he wanted to be the answer.

And when that didn’t happen, I think it broke him inside.

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There once was a man from Nantucket
Whose shirt wouldn’t stay where he tucked it
When he tucked it in
It popped out with a spin
Until he decided to chuck it

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“Do you ever give a thought to your legacy?” he asked, slipping out the sibilants in the question through a fog of nicotine-laced vapor.

“My legacy?” I said.

“Yeah.” Another deep puff, followed by a fresh cloud of fog leaking out of his mouth. “What you’ll be remembered for. Hell, if you’ll be remembered at all.”

I thought about that for a moment. “Do you really think that’s healthy, right now?”

“It’s just a question.”

“I guess the answer will have to be the same with me as it is with everybody else. Leave what I’ve done to stand on its own. Either it’ll add up to a legacy, or it won’t,” I said.

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World’s aflame while plutocrats reign
Over those who are dying below
They keep selling us air with orders to breathe
But only when it suits everyone so

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