CHAPTER ELEVEN. STAHN. NOVEMBER 7, 2053 - DECEMBER 2053
So there was Stahn hurtling through cislunar vacuum, Stahn wrapped inside the fifteen kilograms of imipolex that had once been Wendy and which now was Quuz.
They weren't talking anymore, but Quuz had kept their uvvy link jammed open for maximum access Stahn could sense Quuz's consciousness all around him as intimately as if Quuz were breathing in his face.
Stahn hated Quuz. Quuz had killed Wendy, and thanks to Stahn's having foolishly shown Quuz the communication protocols, Quuz had taken over all the moldies in Blaster as well.
Being forcibly linked to Quuz reminded Stahn of how it had felt when he'd been a slave worker in the pink-tanks—a meatie with a robot rat remote of Helen the bopper in place of the right hemisphere of his brain. While flashing back on that ugly memory, Stahn had unwisely vented rage at Quuz, right after Quuz took over Wendy's and Blaster's imipolex. From that point on, Quuz had dropped all verbal communication.
For the last few hours, Quuz had seemingly been in a meditative state, calling up memories of the Sun. The solar images came across the wide-open uvvy as a seductively rich animated virtual reality. Stahn guessed that the colors might correspond to different intensities of X rays and gamma rays, that his perceptions of currents in the virtual fluid around him might represent plasma pressure waves, and that perhaps it was showers of neutrinos that were being presented as the surging roar that sounded like breaking surf or like wind in trees. Isolated in the midst of this rich input, Stahn's mind began willy-nilly to impose familiar interpretations on the unearthly scene.
At first, for instance, Stahn felt like he was floating in the ocean, snorkeling through some vast tropical reef alive with eels and anemones. And then it started feeling like being outside, like walking in an autumn forest, a peaceful country woods with purling brooks and friendly rabbits that spun on their tails like whirling dervishes. With a sun overhead. A sun in the Sun? There was no reasoning with the images. The trees began to move like big jolly writhing worms. Completely against his will, Stahn felt himself wanting to dance with them.
There was an occasional skirl of line noise as the system repeatedly retweaked the interface to Stahn's occipital lobes to make the visions the more obscenely rich and glorious Stahn tried to hold back the sinister ecstasy, tried to focus on the reality of his current situation.
If only Quuz would deliver him safe to Einstein or the spaceport, then things could still work out okay. Wendy wasn't permanently dead by any means if Frangipane had screwed up, there was still a month-old backup of Wendy on an S
cube in San Francisco. Clever son Saint could send the Wendyware via uvvy, and Stahn could install it on some stratospheric new loonie-built imipolex. And then he'd get a fresh-grown wendy from the Nest's pink-tanks. Wendy would be better than ever! Ah, if only Quuz would deliver Stahn to the Moon alive.
Not for the first time, Stahn tried calling out to Quuz. "Hey, Quuz, how's it going? How soon do we get to the Moon? Did Blaster already land? Don't you need for me to help you?"
As before, there was no answer. Stahn had cursed Quuz so very savagely that Quuz had stopped giving Stahn any information other than this ongoing impression of what life was like inside the Sun. The exhaustingly intense and wonderful visions wound on and on. A cheerful worm tree circled a long, curvy branch around Stahn's waist and swept him up into the circles of a chaotic three-dimensional dance. Stahn had the sudden intimation that Quuz meant to dance him to the point of death or madness. The light grew brighter.
Grimly, desperately, Stahn brooded inward on his solid worries as touchstones of sanity. What if Quuz were planning to take over all the imipolex within broadcast range on the Moon! The spaceport, the Nest, Einstein. What if everything down there were trashed by the time Stahn landed? If he lived that long. Oh, if only there were some way to stop these visions, if only he could see out through Quuz's skin to the real world where real things were really going on—
And then Stahn got his wish. There was a huge surge of noise like gongs and sitars, and the imipolex around him went quite dead. The plastic quickly started stiffening and growing cold. The air flow at Stahn's mouth ceased. He twitched his arms in surprise, and in a moment of ultimate terror the imipolex around him cracked like an eggshell. The frozen shattered pieces went tumbling away, leaving Stahn raw and naked in outer space.
The air rushed out of his lungs in an incredible racking cough. His skin burned and tingled in the empty vacuum. At least now, for this one last instant, his freezing eyes could see The Moon closer than he'd expected, so bright, so real—
—and there next to Stahn was a figure like a glowing marble statue! The shape came to him and embraced him and drew him in. The Angel of Death. Oh well. It had been a good long run, Stahn's life, and now—
"I'm Shimmer," said the shape around Stahn. "I'll have to squeeze you very tight to keep you from getting the bends."
Sweet air surged around Stahn's face, he gasped and sobbed, drawing in thick breath after breath. Kind Shimmer kept herself transparent over Stahn's eyes and he could still see down to the Moon below.
"You're here to save me?" uvvied Stahn.
"Yes yes," said Shimmer. Her thoughts were lively and rich and layered in some curious way. Like double vision, but more so. She saw everything as if in branching trails. "I'll take you right down to the Einstein air lock."
So Stahn made it safely to the Moon Frangipane's backup of Wendy was indeed gone, but Saint used the Meta West Link to beam up Wendy's October backupware.
Stahn immediately put the Wendyware onto a new limpware Happy Cloak and attached the 'Cloak to a wetware wendy body from the weird moldie Sisters of the Pink Tanks. It was all taken care of within twenty-four hours.
Stahn and the newly twentyish Wendy settled into the Einstein-Luna Hotel for a vacation. They spent a lot of time visiting with their old friends, but Stahn managed to stay sober, even when Fern Beller and Whitey and Darla came by, accompanied by the lovely young Yoke.
Fern looked as sexy as ever to Stahn, he almost wished he'd held off on reassembling Wendy till after he'd had one more chance to try and bone Fern.
But that would have been futile anyway, as Fern was back with her old boyfriend Ricardo. Darla talked about Joke moving in with the artist Corey Rhizome, Darla hadn't been too happy about it at first, but now she'd gotten to liking Corey again Yoke said she was going to spend a few years on Earth, diving and studying oceanography. And then Whitey announced that he and his family were going to keep all of the Terri Percesepe ransom money.
"Wavy," said Stahn. "Wu wei." Stahn didn't feel like arguing about anything anymore. He was still having trouble believing that he was alive. And sober.
It was strange to keep waking up in the morning feeling good.
Wendy was in rare form and feeling wonderful. Three days after Stahn got to the Moon, Wendy and Terri had a big time dustboarding the lunar slopes of Haemus live for the Show. Stahn channeled the event with some interest and discussed it over the uvvy with Tre, who happened to call up that evening. Tre said he was through working for Apex Images and was going into business for himself.
"We'll be selling N-dimensional Perplexing Poultry philtres and limpwares as fine-art objects and philosophical toys," said Tre. "Sri Ramanujan's interested in helping me."
"I love it," said Stahn. "Good luck. Let me know if you need any help with Emperor Staghorn."
Over the coming weeks, Stahn and Wendy saw a lot of Willy Taze, who was also staying at the Einstein Luna. Willy was in the process of arranging for his son Randy Karl Tucker to move up and live with him, at least temporarily. Willy figured Randy Karl could help him to repair the isopod.
"I guess then we'll move into the 'pod together," said Willy. "Though I'm a little leery. Randy Karl is pretty strange."
"So why don't you move back into the Nest?" asked Stahn.
"The moldies won't let me. They say they'll kill me if I ever set foot in there again. Man, I've got half a mind to piece back together the xoxxin'
methodology of the Gurdle Decryption and the Stairway To Heaven all by myself. Teach those kilpy slugs a lesson. But right now I don't have time."
"Because you and Randy'll be so busy fixing up the isopod?"
"No, Stahn. Better. Randy Karl's been asking about my grandfather—about old Cobb Anderson. When Jenny was still working with me, her simmie crypped us a copy of the original Cobb Anderson S-cube, and I archived it nice and safe with ISDN.
Randy worships Cobb. Corey and I are going to design a humanoid imipolex body for the Cobbware to live on."
"Whoah! Nobody's ever tried that hack," said Stahn. He and Willy were sitting on the roof terrace of the ISDN ziggurat, drinking juice and staring out over the city.
"You know it, brah." Willy looked a lot more stoked and happy than he'd been seeming to Stahn over the uvvy for the past few years. "And get this," Willy added gloatingly. "If my new hack works, I can let my dooky son and grandfather keep each other company. I won't have to talk to them!"
"Wavy," said Stahn.
And as for Shimmer? She'd flown off toward Earth after delivering Stahn, and more than that, no one yet knew.