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Implied Spaces

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Implied Spaces

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Author: Walter Jon Williams
Publisher: Night Shade Books, 2008
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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Alternate/Parallel Universe
Singularity
Space Opera
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Synopsis

From Walter Jon Williams, the celebrated and influential author of Hardwired, Voice of the Whirlwind, and Angel Station comes Implied Spaces, a new novel of post-singularity action, pyrotechnics, and intrigue.

Aristide, a semi-retired computer scientist turned swordsman, a scholar of the implied spaces, seeking meaning amid the accidents of architecture in a universe where reality itself has been sculpted and designed by superhuman machine intelligence. While exploring the pre-technological world Midgarth, one of four dozen pocket universes created within a series of vast, orbital matrioshka computer arrays, Aristide uncovers a fiendish plot threatening to set off a nightmare scenario, perhaps even bringing about the ultimate Existential Crisis: the end of civilization itself!

Traveling the pocket universes with his wormhole-edged sword Tecmessa in hand and talking cat Bitsy, avatar of the planet-sized computer Endora, at his side, Aristide must find a way to save the multiverse from subversion, sabotage, and certain destruction.


Excerpt

01

With long strides the swordsman walked across the desert. Gravel crunched beneath his sturdy leather boots. His eyes were dark, his nose a blade. He wore robes, very dusty, and a flowing headdress, all suitable for the high stony land on which he walked. On his back he carried a pack with dried food, a skin shelter, and a rolled-up carpet to lie on. Though the sun in the sky was small and pale, its heat still quavered on the horizon.

The land rolled in gentle hills, endless as the ocean. The soil was grey and covered with stones the same shade of grey. The air smelled of dust. There was little vegetation. The sky was cloudless and twilit, and the sun never moved.

The swordsman's blade was carried in a plain wooden scabbard covered with cracked leather. The broadsword was heavy, single-edged, broader in the foible than the forte. Its name was Tecmessa.

The man walked beside a wagon road, two dusty ruts that carried in a straight line from one horizon to the next. The iron-shod wheels of numerous wagons had thrown all the stones out of the ruts, or ground them to powder, but the swordsman found the ruts too dusty, and chose instead to walk on the stones near the road. The thick soles of his boots made this less trying than it might otherwise have been.

While the man made only an occasional detour from the road, the slim form of his companion roamed left and right of the track, as if on a series of small errands. She returned from such a side trip, and spoke.

"A spider, common and brown. And ants, common and black. The former is happy to feed on the latter."

"Anything uncommon?"

"Alas, no."

The man coughed briefly, the sound smothered by the strip of turban he had drawn over his mouth and nose to keep out the dust.

"Our trek threatens to become tedious," he remarked.

"Threatens?"

There was a moment of silence.

"Sarcasm," said the man, "is a poor companion on a long journey."

"So," said his companion, "are spiders and ants."

They came to the mild crest of a rolling hill and looked into the valley beneath. Shrubs cast a dark shadow on part of the valley floor, and the two left the trail to investigate. As they approached there was a startling clap of wings, and a flock of birds thundered into the sky.

"Quail," said the swordsman.

She turned her green eyes to him. "That implies there is enough here for quail to eat."

The swordsman raised a gloved hand to a drooping branch with long, dark green leaves. "Why don't you investigate?"

His companion darted beneath the shrubs while the swordsman looked at the branch with interest. He turned his eyes toward the ground and saw broken branches, debris, and a scattering of long brown seed pods. He squatted on his heels and picked up one of the pods. It crumbled in his hand and he extracted a pair of seeds, which he put in a pouch on his belt.

His companion returned.

"Ants and spiders," she said.

"Anything else?"

"An elderly tortoise, and a snake anticipating the birth of many baby quail."

"What kind of snake?"

"Bullsnake. Long as your arm."

The swordsmen opened his hand and let fall the remains of the seed pod.

"This appears to be some kind of dwarf mimosa," he said. "Mimosa can tolerate drought, but they're hardly desert plants. Yet here they are."

She narrowed her eyes. "Thriving."

The man looked at her. "What did I say about sarcasm?"

The pair returned to the road. No earth-shaking discoveries were made. Grey lizards the color of the desert scurried out of their way. Wind swirled dust over and around them. They paused for refreshment at a well, where they sat in the shade of an abandoned caravanserai and ate a meal of dried meat, dried apricots, and stale hardtack.

An hour later, traversing the bottom of another valley, they were ambushed by a troop of cavalry.

Riders came rolling over the hill just ahead, spreading out in a crescent as grey dust rose in a pall. They didn't charge, but advanced at a controlled trot. The swordsman paused and considered.

"How many?" he asked.

"Seventeen. Eleven with lances, two with swords, four with bows. And their beasts of course, some of which seem ill-natured and prone to violence."

The man frowned beneath the cloth that covered his mouth. He took a step back with his left foot and loosened Tecmessa in its sheath.

The riders came forward and drew rein about ten paces away. The leader was a massive figure, broad as a wall, with pallid skin touched with the grey dust of the desert. His eyes were an eerie gold. A few links of mail, large and crudely forged, hung from beneath his robes. He carried a long lance, and rode astride a bipedal lizard with long, sturdy legs, an occipital crest, and sharp teeth.

"A troll," murmured the swordsman's companion. "What joy."

There were other trolls among the riders. Others were humans of varied hues and genders. One woman had four arms, and carried two bows, both with arrows nocked.

"Hail, traveler," the troll said, in a voice like boulders gargling.

"Hail," said the swordsman.

The gold eyes regarded him. "Have you lost your mount?"

"I come on foot."

"You have chosen a long road to walk. Where are you bound?"

"Gundapur."

"And your business there . . .?"

"I have no business there, or indeed anywhere. I travel for my soul's sake, not for profit."

The troll narrowed his gold eyes. His mount hissed and bared slab-shaped teeth.

"You will find the journey dangerous," the troll said.

"I am not indifferent to danger," said the swordsman, "but I will walk the path in any case."

"Your name?"

The swordsman took a long breath, then spoke. "I believe it is customary, before asking the name of a stranger, to introduce oneself, and in such a case as this to state clearly the right by which one asks."

A puzzled look creased the troll's face.

"I perceive you are unused to the impersonal pronoun," the swordsman said. "Allow me to rephrase in the second person plural. Who the hell are you people, and why are you barring my way?"

For a moment the troll could not decide between anger and laughter. He chose the latter. A grin split his huge grey face."

"Stranger, you have courage!"

The swordsman shrugged. "I claim no more than the normal share," he replied.

Laughter gurgled from the troll. "I am Captain Grax," he said. "These—" Gesturing. "—are my Free Companions. We're employed as caravan guards on the route from Lake Toi to Gundapur."

The swordsman drew his feet together and offered a modest bow.

"My name is Aristide," he said. "My companion is Bitsy." He looked at the Free Companions. "You seem to have misplaced your caravan," he said.

Copyright © 2008 by Walter Jon Williams


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Implied Spaces

- Thomcat
  (6/11/2014)

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