/* You are not expected to understand this */


Its icy fingers spread throughout the core of my being, a malignant, creeping cold wind of death and despair that brought in its wake chills overlaid with hot flashes, deep aches within my bones, a sense of my nerves vibrating like tuning forks, waves of nausea, intense loneliness, and a black suicidal depression building within slowing time, mitigated only by my knowledge that Ly'is was waiting, that I only had to step through the Sages' doorway to once again be with her, within an'tala. Through the damp fog that prevented even the solace of the stars the light of the setting moons glowed, creating a soft, almost mystical, illumination that da'ahta warped into a sense of ominous dread, the very soil of the clearing where I had my bivouac, the plants growing here and there, the dying embers of my small fire, whispering, we're not real, we're only streams of zeros and ones in a computer program, as are you, you died aeons ago, your body, and all that has transpired during the 800 and some years since your Awakening has been nothing but a machine dream. Even the stars are not real, only simulated, and for you it makes no difference if the real stars, shining within the distorting lens of space-time, are still in existence, for you will never again see them, never again wonder in innocence about their nature, what lies beyond them, never again have their comfort...


We are the lucky ones, Jorgensen had said.

You will shortly find it more than uncomfortable, the admin said.

Is it important? Morgan had asked.


Time was becoming blurred, mixed in my mind, when had what been said? Did what Jorgensen say come before or after what Morgan said? Or had Viggen said it?

I struggled to rise, reach my quiver-pack before total immobilization overcame me, failed. I could not move, my energy draining out, time stretching, vision starting to strobe, information now coming in discrete packets, beginning to distort, colors starting to take on an unusual vividness, image borders, cracks in the rocks, plants, the coals of my fire starting to move in an internal dance, patterns flowing across the inner rods of my eyes, merging into the fog, becoming one...


It was always our dread, our vulnerability, the Achilles' heel of all warriors. And now, deeply absorbed in the flow of my memories, the decision I must make, I had -- just like on Earth when, preparing for a class, completing an assignment, doing computer programming, Baroque music playing softly in the background, I would sink so deeply into hack mode that I ignored hunger, thirst, even relieving myself, the hours passing as seconds -- done much the same with the first signs of da'ahta: pushed it off for a moment as I followed the train of my thoughts, and, by so doing, let it creep up on me.

We lived under a delicately balanced, double-edged sword. An'tala, a warrior's telepathic bonding with her diak -- a bonding that created a deep physical addiction on both sides -- is what enabled us to survive in our harsh but beautiful desert environment, survive against not only the forces of nature but as well the men, the soldiers who tried so hard to capture and kill us. Yet, when a warrior's diak died, or when they were separated by more than about twenty kilometers, an'tala, being distance-dependent, was broken, and, if she did not find a new cub to bond with within two and a half to three days, or was unable to rejoin her diak, she would enter da'ahta and, shortly thereafter, die.


I tried again for my quiver-pack; again failed...

The coals of the fire caught my attention, their shimmering glow seeming to whisper, see, this is what it will be like, your world, look, look how the colors flow, their patterns, see them growing, expanding outward, now one AU, now two, now --

The sound of a night hunter, its cry, just overhead, pierced the fog, streaming tentacles of moving color turning into sound back to color back to sound, and I jumped, the reflexive movement causing an inadvertent and unpleasant orgasm, the orgasm becoming one with the sound, the colors, my vibrating nerves, and as I fell I glimpsed my quiver-pack on the other side of the fire, twisted, rolled through the coals, was able to grab it, reach into its pocket, extract a sy'ahta root. Found my dagger in my hand, cut off a piece of the root, started chewing.


Its taste, foul beyond belief, bitter, shunned by all except warriors and diaks in need, flowed through my mouth, into my nose, down my throat, and I found myself crying with relief as da'ahta began to fade, sanity return...

Whooo, said the night hunter, flying above the fog.

I sat there, watching, as the coals shrank, became just coals once again, but now changed, harbingers of the future, a reminder of how critical things were, what was waiting.



This excerpt from PDU-1: A Novella of the Remote Future Copyright © 2000 by F. E. Potts, all rights reserved.