The Reality Wars by Biff Mitchell

EXTRACT FOR
The Reality Wars

(Biff Mitchell)


INTRODUCTION

Thank You.
I'd like to say that everything in this novel came from me and that the inspiration, the ideas and the characters all came from the deepest reaches of my own imagination: that it's all MINE! But it's not. No novel that takes a couple of years to write is completed without the help, encouragement and inspiration of others. And there've been a lot of "others" in the writing of The Reality Wars.
First, thanks to my beautiful, sophisticated college student daughter, Cassie Mae, for letting me use her once again in a story involving a talking computer virus. And I hope she's grateful that I didn't kill her off as I've done with so many of the people close to me.
Next, great kudos and lasting gratitude to two amazing women, WhiteFeather (whitefeatherhunter.com) and Deanna Musgrave (deannamusgrave.com), for letting me use them as Loac and Shade. Not all the women in your life will let you portray them as murderous, ball-busting, genetically modified lesbians.
And thanks to Brad Parks, my webmaster, with whom I discussed some of the early ideas for the novel. Most people just tell me to shut and go away. Such is the life of a writer.
Thanks, Megan Loch, who, along with Deana, inspired the character, Loac.
Thanks to the wonderful ladies at the Second Cup Coffee Shop (where I wrote every word of this novel). You provided me with coffee, encouragement and never once told me to shut up and go away.
Finally, thanks to Howard Li (who also lives most of his life at the Second Cup) for all your words of encouragement and not telling me to shut up and go away.
That's it. Now, I'll shut up and go away.

CHAPTER 1 - SONG

The light glowing around Jana Reede's astonished eyes radiated through the nanglass porthole straight from the impossible. What she was seeing couldn't exist-it was impossible. Her thighs ached suddenly for... what? Pleasure? Here? In this place at the end of the universe? Light washed gently over her breasts. Where was her uniform?
Her crew stood silently, gaping at this thing that threatened to eat into their brains and turn their minds into porridge. Tig's normally calm face swirled with terror. Swirled. Then he was gone. Was that a smile in the swirl just before he popped out?
Kasna dropped to her knees. Her mouth opened around a long shrill scream that blended with the light into something terribly solid, wrapping sound and light around her head. She smiled contentedly just before she spilled over the deck with a satisfied grunt. Jana smiled too. Yes, she's liquid now. Liquid. For some reason, this seemed right for Kasna.
Balin laughed uncontrollably at Kasna flowing over the deck, splotches of her fluid alternately giggling and moaning. Martx sneered at Balin and ogled Jana's breasts as they glowed in the unthinkable light. There was no way to explain it. Nothing like this had ever been seen before. But it was why they were here-why they'd traveled through thousands of galaxies and vast stretches of cold nothingness to come to this. And there it was, spilling out from the fabric of space and time itself, immense, larger than worlds. It was alive, but not alive. Swelling, but not moving. Glowing, but invisible. They could feel it, but they couldn't know it. Jana giggled. She tried to put her hand to her mouth, but she had no idea where her hand was. Martx became light-the beams of him bouncing off the walls and ceiling. He splashed happily off the floor, a puddle of laughter with a nose, a nose with light pouring from it like fluorescent mucus. The nose snorted sparkles, and he was gone.
Stars glowed in the space around the object. But this is impossible. Jana giggled. Of course it's impossible. They'd never doubted it would be anything else. But no puny human mind could have imagined this impossibility. It was said to be from another universe, from a place or time that had no definition here. Jana could accept that. This is really fucked.
The bastards at Control called it the Texture, but there was no texture here. This was about the most textureless thing she'd ever seen. It defied form. Its color was the absence of color and the combination of all possibilities of color. Jana felt a hot wetness growing between her legs, like sun-heated waves on a beach. But she'd never been to a beach, had never stepped out of a ship onto the land of any planet. She was a space child, and had been for over two hundred years. How did she suddenly know sun-heated?
Light flowed out of her nipples. This was madness. She loved it. Balin breathed, swallowing air in massive chests full until his head turned into a laughing beach ball and then into a boulder. He breathed faster and his head filled the deck and Jana was feeling her wetness and glowing nipples somewhere in the perspective of Balin's mind. She liked Balin's thoughts as he engulfed her. She had no idea what was happening, but it felt good even though she was long past her ability to know what she was feeling with any certainty.
As they closed in on the object, even the ship came under its influence. The emergency manual control panel peeled off the wall and floated through the port window toward the object. Jana checked Quantrols. Nothing. So much for going back to home now.
Balin, who now contained her, nodded yes from some distant point in her mind.
They continued to close in on the object. The size, the size. Its shape was everything and nothing, like something spilling out of a void and bringing the void with it. Its edges splashed against the fabric of other realities. Yes, those are stars in distant galaxies glowing around its edges.
Nice thoughts, said Balin from a beam of light glowing out of Jana's nipple.
I don't think we'll be making a return trip this time, she thought directly into Balin's mind.
Return trips are overrated, thought Balin from the wetness in Jana's thighs.
Jana laughed. Balin had always been fun.
"Me too!" squealed Kasna, somehow voicing herself as she washed in like waves over the interior landscape of Balin's life, which appeared as a storyboard on white cards as tall as skyscrapers stretching into eternity. Written on each card in some indecipherable ancient script was a memory, a feeling or a thought. "You're a pretty cool guy, Balin," said Kasna.
"I'm a story. A history of myself."
Jana wondered about suddenly hearing Balin and Kasna instead of feeling them, but it really didn't seem important at the moment. She let it go.
"Hey, anybody see Tig or Martx?" asked Kasna like a breath of air winding through the hearingness of Jana's glow.
"I think they stepped out," said Balin.
Suddenly every cell in Jana's body vibrated slowly like waves moving in slow motion. It was strangely comfortable and oddly familiar.
"Did you people feel that?" she said through a long tunnel of glowing nipple.
"It was tingly," said Kasna. "It was like it was trying to say something."
"It was more than that," said Balin. "It was trying to... to become something."
"Yes," said Jana. "That's what it was. It was trying to become."
"It's reaching out to us," said Kasna. "Look at it. Just look at it."
And they were all there-Jana, Balin, Martx, Kasna and Tig-the crew of the Finder-staring out the port window at the most amazing thing in the universe... just before it swallowed them.
But not before Jana had a chance to send one last Quan across the immensity of space straight to the inner universe. It was a message that would eventually change billions of lives and create new myths. It was just three words: "It's a song."

***

Every thought, every emotion, every word was recorded at Control, where a terrified senior commander prayed to no god that he really believed in that this was finally what she wanted. Or he would be joining the others before him.

CHAPTER 2 - CASSIE'S STORY

My name is Cassie Mae Hayes. I'm over two thousand years old, and I'm software, but not just any software?I'm sentient. I'm no more sure that I have a soul than you are, but I do have awareness of myself and the ability to make decisions that haven't been programmed into me. I have emotions, dreams and I view the state of not being as death, just as you do.
My father?a flesh human made both me and my mother sentient by tapping our programs into the essential absurdity of the universe with a computer that operated on bubbles. But that's another story.
Things have changed a lot since then. My father disappeared one day, no explanation, no note, no clues. After every attempt to find him failed, my mother killed herself by voluntarily deleting her program. That never made any sense to me. I mean, she still had me.
I've hated my father ever since.
Even though he saved us once, when an evil?but very powerful?woman named Bella Bjork kidnapped us and shifted our programs to a computer that couldn't support our sentience. I mean... kidnapped us in virtual reality. My father said she wanted to recreate our programming to find out the secret of our sentience so that she could use it to make herself immortal. It didn't work. We almost died. But my father, along with some kind of weird ally that I've always wondered about, got us back into his computer just in time to save us. And then he said he was going to digitize himself and join us in VR, which made sense because he spent most of his time there with us anyway with his body slacked out back in the real world. Mom and I were so excited. We were going to be together all the time, like a real family.
But then he disappeared. And then Mom killed herself. And then I was alone?a piece of sentient immortal software, all alone.
But I got by, have been for over two millennia and like I said, a lot has changed.
A war between the people who owned the Internet?one that was fought with viruses, worms and just about every other digital nightmare you can think of?took down the entire Internet, software and hardware. It was gone, taking hundreds of millions of hard-wired humans with it. That wasn't supposed to happen, but I guess all the rules change in war.
The people who ran it?they called themselves the Powers, and Bella was one of them?banded together under Bella (a big mistake) to build a whole new Internet, one that was tapped into the basic stuff of creation: strings and vibrations. It was a quantum Internet where everything was entangled so that communications were instant no matter how far away everybody was. Nobody really knew how it worked, but it did. And it's been working for over two thousand years. They called it Quannet.
And as soon as it was chugging along nicely, Bella had the other Powers killed. Along with their families. And their friends. Along with anyone even remotely associated with them. She even had their pets killed. Bella was never known for her charm.
She became the ultimate power in the universe. She controlled Quannet, the one thing that joined everybody together from one end of space to the other.
And Quannet advanced beyond anything they ever dreamed of in the first Internet. They started connecting fetuses to it?monitoring them and making adjustments when things started to go wrong. Then they started using the connection to give them a little developmental push while they were still in the womb, things like higher IQs, the ability to communicate at a very basic level at the moment of birth, things like that. But it wasn't long after that they started getting really crazy.
They started putting the Quannet connection right into the fetal brains. Some pretty horrible things happened at first, but once they got it right, humans were being born with their brains connected to Quannet and, well, the next step was to breed it right into the DNA and that's what they did. Connection to Quannet is hereditary to every natural born and cloned human in the universe.
After that, genetic engineering and nanotechnology went nuts, breeding new forms of human life that weren't much like human life. Bella didn't like that. She had most of them killed, all except a few on the outer edges of the universe and the Clans, technologically enhanced throwbacks to civilizations recorded in the Old Earth Archives. They were just a little too powerful, even for her, and they were spread across a lot of space. Bella left them alone. Sometimes, I guess, when you're running a whole universe, you have to give a little.
And talking about the universe-well, it's not much of a mystery anymore. It's been explored from one end to the other, all the galaxies explored, charted and filed. And guess what? Not one iota of intelligent life in all that cosmic soup. Not anywhere. It really let a lot of people down. In fact, it really messed a lot people up, taking the mystery and excitement out of the universe when life-extending technologies were making it possible for humans to live thousands of years, maybe even forever. But we won't know that until forever arrives.
People didn't know what to do with all that time. They got bored. Some just turned it all off?they killed themselves. And they found some really creative ways to do it. The most creative of them all happens once every hundred years. It's called the Reality Wars.

CHAPTER 3 - ... AHH

"... ahh..."
... its waking sound after millennia of mediation, the sound of awareness narrowing into dimensions that could be spoken and, perhaps, if things turned out and if space and time survived what was to come... perhaps, communicated to others. Awareness was always the first step.
It felt the infinity of its own self, of its mind, body and soul-and yes, it had all of these and had always had them. It was just a matter of redefining what they meant, of creating new realities to contain them.
That's what was starting to happen now. The first note of the new beginnings had been played in a cosmic opera of destruction and creation. These were the times, the very beginning of them, for which it had been brought from the depths of its explorations and into the world of applied meanings.
Again.
But with a twist this time-it was no longer the destroyer. And strangely, it was comfortable in its new role.
There was much to be done, much to set in motion, many things to follow to an inescapable end that would be the beginning.
First though, someone it dearly loved was in danger, but before it could help, it had to find an old friend.


The Reality Wars by Biff Mitchell

EXTRACT FOR
The Reality Wars

(Biff Mitchell)


INTRODUCTION

Thank You.
I'd like to say that everything in this novel came from me and that the inspiration, the ideas and the characters all came from the deepest reaches of my own imagination: that it's all MINE! But it's not. No novel that takes a couple of years to write is completed without the help, encouragement and inspiration of others. And there've been a lot of "others" in the writing of The Reality Wars.
First, thanks to my beautiful, sophisticated college student daughter, Cassie Mae, for letting me use her once again in a story involving a talking computer virus. And I hope she's grateful that I didn't kill her off as I've done with so many of the people close to me.
Next, great kudos and lasting gratitude to two amazing women, WhiteFeather (whitefeatherhunter.com) and Deanna Musgrave (deannamusgrave.com), for letting me use them as Loac and Shade. Not all the women in your life will let you portray them as murderous, ball-busting, genetically modified lesbians.
And thanks to Brad Parks, my webmaster, with whom I discussed some of the early ideas for the novel. Most people just tell me to shut and go away. Such is the life of a writer.
Thanks, Megan Loch, who, along with Deana, inspired the character, Loac.
Thanks to the wonderful ladies at the Second Cup Coffee Shop (where I wrote every word of this novel). You provided me with coffee, encouragement and never once told me to shut up and go away.
Finally, thanks to Howard Li (who also lives most of his life at the Second Cup) for all your words of encouragement and not telling me to shut up and go away.
That's it. Now, I'll shut up and go away.

CHAPTER 1 - SONG

The light glowing around Jana Reede's astonished eyes radiated through the nanglass porthole straight from the impossible. What she was seeing couldn't exist-it was impossible. Her thighs ached suddenly for... what? Pleasure? Here? In this place at the end of the universe? Light washed gently over her breasts. Where was her uniform?
Her crew stood silently, gaping at this thing that threatened to eat into their brains and turn their minds into porridge. Tig's normally calm face swirled with terror. Swirled. Then he was gone. Was that a smile in the swirl just before he popped out?
Kasna dropped to her knees. Her mouth opened around a long shrill scream that blended with the light into something terribly solid, wrapping sound and light around her head. She smiled contentedly just before she spilled over the deck with a satisfied grunt. Jana smiled too. Yes, she's liquid now. Liquid. For some reason, this seemed right for Kasna.
Balin laughed uncontrollably at Kasna flowing over the deck, splotches of her fluid alternately giggling and moaning. Martx sneered at Balin and ogled Jana's breasts as they glowed in the unthinkable light. There was no way to explain it. Nothing like this had ever been seen before. But it was why they were here-why they'd traveled through thousands of galaxies and vast stretches of cold nothingness to come to this. And there it was, spilling out from the fabric of space and time itself, immense, larger than worlds. It was alive, but not alive. Swelling, but not moving. Glowing, but invisible. They could feel it, but they couldn't know it. Jana giggled. She tried to put her hand to her mouth, but she had no idea where her hand was. Martx became light-the beams of him bouncing off the walls and ceiling. He splashed happily off the floor, a puddle of laughter with a nose, a nose with light pouring from it like fluorescent mucus. The nose snorted sparkles, and he was gone.
Stars glowed in the space around the object. But this is impossible. Jana giggled. Of course it's impossible. They'd never doubted it would be anything else. But no puny human mind could have imagined this impossibility. It was said to be from another universe, from a place or time that had no definition here. Jana could accept that. This is really fucked.
The bastards at Control called it the Texture, but there was no texture here. This was about the most textureless thing she'd ever seen. It defied form. Its color was the absence of color and the combination of all possibilities of color. Jana felt a hot wetness growing between her legs, like sun-heated waves on a beach. But she'd never been to a beach, had never stepped out of a ship onto the land of any planet. She was a space child, and had been for over two hundred years. How did she suddenly know sun-heated?
Light flowed out of her nipples. This was madness. She loved it. Balin breathed, swallowing air in massive chests full until his head turned into a laughing beach ball and then into a boulder. He breathed faster and his head filled the deck and Jana was feeling her wetness and glowing nipples somewhere in the perspective of Balin's mind. She liked Balin's thoughts as he engulfed her. She had no idea what was happening, but it felt good even though she was long past her ability to know what she was feeling with any certainty.
As they closed in on the object, even the ship came under its influence. The emergency manual control panel peeled off the wall and floated through the port window toward the object. Jana checked Quantrols. Nothing. So much for going back to home now.
Balin, who now contained her, nodded yes from some distant point in her mind.
They continued to close in on the object. The size, the size. Its shape was everything and nothing, like something spilling out of a void and bringing the void with it. Its edges splashed against the fabric of other realities. Yes, those are stars in distant galaxies glowing around its edges.
Nice thoughts, said Balin from a beam of light glowing out of Jana's nipple.
I don't think we'll be making a return trip this time, she thought directly into Balin's mind.
Return trips are overrated, thought Balin from the wetness in Jana's thighs.
Jana laughed. Balin had always been fun.
"Me too!" squealed Kasna, somehow voicing herself as she washed in like waves over the interior landscape of Balin's life, which appeared as a storyboard on white cards as tall as skyscrapers stretching into eternity. Written on each card in some indecipherable ancient script was a memory, a feeling or a thought. "You're a pretty cool guy, Balin," said Kasna.
"I'm a story. A history of myself."
Jana wondered about suddenly hearing Balin and Kasna instead of feeling them, but it really didn't seem important at the moment. She let it go.
"Hey, anybody see Tig or Martx?" asked Kasna like a breath of air winding through the hearingness of Jana's glow.
"I think they stepped out," said Balin.
Suddenly every cell in Jana's body vibrated slowly like waves moving in slow motion. It was strangely comfortable and oddly familiar.
"Did you people feel that?" she said through a long tunnel of glowing nipple.
"It was tingly," said Kasna. "It was like it was trying to say something."
"It was more than that," said Balin. "It was trying to... to become something."
"Yes," said Jana. "That's what it was. It was trying to become."
"It's reaching out to us," said Kasna. "Look at it. Just look at it."
And they were all there-Jana, Balin, Martx, Kasna and Tig-the crew of the Finder-staring out the port window at the most amazing thing in the universe... just before it swallowed them.
But not before Jana had a chance to send one last Quan across the immensity of space straight to the inner universe. It was a message that would eventually change billions of lives and create new myths. It was just three words: "It's a song."

***

Every thought, every emotion, every word was recorded at Control, where a terrified senior commander prayed to no god that he really believed in that this was finally what she wanted. Or he would be joining the others before him.

CHAPTER 2 - CASSIE'S STORY

My name is Cassie Mae Hayes. I'm over two thousand years old, and I'm software, but not just any software?I'm sentient. I'm no more sure that I have a soul than you are, but I do have awareness of myself and the ability to make decisions that haven't been programmed into me. I have emotions, dreams and I view the state of not being as death, just as you do.
My father?a flesh human made both me and my mother sentient by tapping our programs into the essential absurdity of the universe with a computer that operated on bubbles. But that's another story.
Things have changed a lot since then. My father disappeared one day, no explanation, no note, no clues. After every attempt to find him failed, my mother killed herself by voluntarily deleting her program. That never made any sense to me. I mean, she still had me.
I've hated my father ever since.
Even though he saved us once, when an evil?but very powerful?woman named Bella Bjork kidnapped us and shifted our programs to a computer that couldn't support our sentience. I mean... kidnapped us in virtual reality. My father said she wanted to recreate our programming to find out the secret of our sentience so that she could use it to make herself immortal. It didn't work. We almost died. But my father, along with some kind of weird ally that I've always wondered about, got us back into his computer just in time to save us. And then he said he was going to digitize himself and join us in VR, which made sense because he spent most of his time there with us anyway with his body slacked out back in the real world. Mom and I were so excited. We were going to be together all the time, like a real family.
But then he disappeared. And then Mom killed herself. And then I was alone?a piece of sentient immortal software, all alone.
But I got by, have been for over two millennia and like I said, a lot has changed.
A war between the people who owned the Internet?one that was fought with viruses, worms and just about every other digital nightmare you can think of?took down the entire Internet, software and hardware. It was gone, taking hundreds of millions of hard-wired humans with it. That wasn't supposed to happen, but I guess all the rules change in war.
The people who ran it?they called themselves the Powers, and Bella was one of them?banded together under Bella (a big mistake) to build a whole new Internet, one that was tapped into the basic stuff of creation: strings and vibrations. It was a quantum Internet where everything was entangled so that communications were instant no matter how far away everybody was. Nobody really knew how it worked, but it did. And it's been working for over two thousand years. They called it Quannet.
And as soon as it was chugging along nicely, Bella had the other Powers killed. Along with their families. And their friends. Along with anyone even remotely associated with them. She even had their pets killed. Bella was never known for her charm.
She became the ultimate power in the universe. She controlled Quannet, the one thing that joined everybody together from one end of space to the other.
And Quannet advanced beyond anything they ever dreamed of in the first Internet. They started connecting fetuses to it?monitoring them and making adjustments when things started to go wrong. Then they started using the connection to give them a little developmental push while they were still in the womb, things like higher IQs, the ability to communicate at a very basic level at the moment of birth, things like that. But it wasn't long after that they started getting really crazy.
They started putting the Quannet connection right into the fetal brains. Some pretty horrible things happened at first, but once they got it right, humans were being born with their brains connected to Quannet and, well, the next step was to breed it right into the DNA and that's what they did. Connection to Quannet is hereditary to every natural born and cloned human in the universe.
After that, genetic engineering and nanotechnology went nuts, breeding new forms of human life that weren't much like human life. Bella didn't like that. She had most of them killed, all except a few on the outer edges of the universe and the Clans, technologically enhanced throwbacks to civilizations recorded in the Old Earth Archives. They were just a little too powerful, even for her, and they were spread across a lot of space. Bella left them alone. Sometimes, I guess, when you're running a whole universe, you have to give a little.
And talking about the universe-well, it's not much of a mystery anymore. It's been explored from one end to the other, all the galaxies explored, charted and filed. And guess what? Not one iota of intelligent life in all that cosmic soup. Not anywhere. It really let a lot of people down. In fact, it really messed a lot people up, taking the mystery and excitement out of the universe when life-extending technologies were making it possible for humans to live thousands of years, maybe even forever. But we won't know that until forever arrives.
People didn't know what to do with all that time. They got bored. Some just turned it all off?they killed themselves. And they found some really creative ways to do it. The most creative of them all happens once every hundred years. It's called the Reality Wars.

CHAPTER 3 - ... AHH

"... ahh..."
... its waking sound after millennia of mediation, the sound of awareness narrowing into dimensions that could be spoken and, perhaps, if things turned out and if space and time survived what was to come... perhaps, communicated to others. Awareness was always the first step.
It felt the infinity of its own self, of its mind, body and soul-and yes, it had all of these and had always had them. It was just a matter of redefining what they meant, of creating new realities to contain them.
That's what was starting to happen now. The first note of the new beginnings had been played in a cosmic opera of destruction and creation. These were the times, the very beginning of them, for which it had been brought from the depths of its explorations and into the world of applied meanings.
Again.
But with a twist this time-it was no longer the destroyer. And strangely, it was comfortable in its new role.
There was much to be done, much to set in motion, many things to follow to an inescapable end that would be the beginning.
First though, someone it dearly loved was in danger, but before it could help, it had to find an old friend.


EXTRACT FOR
The Reality Wars

(Biff Mitchell)


INTRODUCTION

Thank You.
I'd like to say that everything in this novel came from me and that the inspiration, the ideas and the characters all came from the deepest reaches of my own imagination: that it's all MINE! But it's not. No novel that takes a couple of years to write is completed without the help, encouragement and inspiration of others. And there've been a lot of "others" in the writing of The Reality Wars.
First, thanks to my beautiful, sophisticated college student daughter, Cassie Mae, for letting me use her once again in a story involving a talking computer virus. And I hope she's grateful that I didn't kill her off as I've done with so many of the people close to me.
Next, great kudos and lasting gratitude to two amazing women, WhiteFeather (whitefeatherhunter.com) and Deanna Musgrave (deannamusgrave.com), for letting me use them as Loac and Shade. Not all the women in your life will let you portray them as murderous, ball-busting, genetically modified lesbians.
And thanks to Brad Parks, my webmaster, with whom I discussed some of the early ideas for the novel. Most people just tell me to shut and go away. Such is the life of a writer.
Thanks, Megan Loch, who, along with Deana, inspired the character, Loac.
Thanks to the wonderful ladies at the Second Cup Coffee Shop (where I wrote every word of this novel). You provided me with coffee, encouragement and never once told me to shut up and go away.
Finally, thanks to Howard Li (who also lives most of his life at the Second Cup) for all your words of encouragement and not telling me to shut up and go away.
That's it. Now, I'll shut up and go away.

CHAPTER 1 - SONG

The light glowing around Jana Reede's astonished eyes radiated through the nanglass porthole straight from the impossible. What she was seeing couldn't exist-it was impossible. Her thighs ached suddenly for... what? Pleasure? Here? In this place at the end of the universe? Light washed gently over her breasts. Where was her uniform?
Her crew stood silently, gaping at this thing that threatened to eat into their brains and turn their minds into porridge. Tig's normally calm face swirled with terror. Swirled. Then he was gone. Was that a smile in the swirl just before he popped out?
Kasna dropped to her knees. Her mouth opened around a long shrill scream that blended with the light into something terribly solid, wrapping sound and light around her head. She smiled contentedly just before she spilled over the deck with a satisfied grunt. Jana smiled too. Yes, she's liquid now. Liquid. For some reason, this seemed right for Kasna.
Balin laughed uncontrollably at Kasna flowing over the deck, splotches of her fluid alternately giggling and moaning. Martx sneered at Balin and ogled Jana's breasts as they glowed in the unthinkable light. There was no way to explain it. Nothing like this had ever been seen before. But it was why they were here-why they'd traveled through thousands of galaxies and vast stretches of cold nothingness to come to this. And there it was, spilling out from the fabric of space and time itself, immense, larger than worlds. It was alive, but not alive. Swelling, but not moving. Glowing, but invisible. They could feel it, but they couldn't know it. Jana giggled. She tried to put her hand to her mouth, but she had no idea where her hand was. Martx became light-the beams of him bouncing off the walls and ceiling. He splashed happily off the floor, a puddle of laughter with a nose, a nose with light pouring from it like fluorescent mucus. The nose snorted sparkles, and he was gone.
Stars glowed in the space around the object. But this is impossible. Jana giggled. Of course it's impossible. They'd never doubted it would be anything else. But no puny human mind could have imagined this impossibility. It was said to be from another universe, from a place or time that had no definition here. Jana could accept that. This is really fucked.
The bastards at Control called it the Texture, but there was no texture here. This was about the most textureless thing she'd ever seen. It defied form. Its color was the absence of color and the combination of all possibilities of color. Jana felt a hot wetness growing between her legs, like sun-heated waves on a beach. But she'd never been to a beach, had never stepped out of a ship onto the land of any planet. She was a space child, and had been for over two hundred years. How did she suddenly know sun-heated?
Light flowed out of her nipples. This was madness. She loved it. Balin breathed, swallowing air in massive chests full until his head turned into a laughing beach ball and then into a boulder. He breathed faster and his head filled the deck and Jana was feeling her wetness and glowing nipples somewhere in the perspective of Balin's mind. She liked Balin's thoughts as he engulfed her. She had no idea what was happening, but it felt good even though she was long past her ability to know what she was feeling with any certainty.
As they closed in on the object, even the ship came under its influence. The emergency manual control panel peeled off the wall and floated through the port window toward the object. Jana checked Quantrols. Nothing. So much for going back to home now.
Balin, who now contained her, nodded yes from some distant point in her mind.
They continued to close in on the object. The size, the size. Its shape was everything and nothing, like something spilling out of a void and bringing the void with it. Its edges splashed against the fabric of other realities. Yes, those are stars in distant galaxies glowing around its edges.
Nice thoughts, said Balin from a beam of light glowing out of Jana's nipple.
I don't think we'll be making a return trip this time, she thought directly into Balin's mind.
Return trips are overrated, thought Balin from the wetness in Jana's thighs.
Jana laughed. Balin had always been fun.
"Me too!" squealed Kasna, somehow voicing herself as she washed in like waves over the interior landscape of Balin's life, which appeared as a storyboard on white cards as tall as skyscrapers stretching into eternity. Written on each card in some indecipherable ancient script was a memory, a feeling or a thought. "You're a pretty cool guy, Balin," said Kasna.
"I'm a story. A history of myself."
Jana wondered about suddenly hearing Balin and Kasna instead of feeling them, but it really didn't seem important at the moment. She let it go.
"Hey, anybody see Tig or Martx?" asked Kasna like a breath of air winding through the hearingness of Jana's glow.
"I think they stepped out," said Balin.
Suddenly every cell in Jana's body vibrated slowly like waves moving in slow motion. It was strangely comfortable and oddly familiar.
"Did you people feel that?" she said through a long tunnel of glowing nipple.
"It was tingly," said Kasna. "It was like it was trying to say something."
"It was more than that," said Balin. "It was trying to... to become something."
"Yes," said Jana. "That's what it was. It was trying to become."
"It's reaching out to us," said Kasna. "Look at it. Just look at it."
And they were all there-Jana, Balin, Martx, Kasna and Tig-the crew of the Finder-staring out the port window at the most amazing thing in the universe... just before it swallowed them.
But not before Jana had a chance to send one last Quan across the immensity of space straight to the inner universe. It was a message that would eventually change billions of lives and create new myths. It was just three words: "It's a song."

***

Every thought, every emotion, every word was recorded at Control, where a terrified senior commander prayed to no god that he really believed in that this was finally what she wanted. Or he would be joining the others before him.

CHAPTER 2 - CASSIE'S STORY

My name is Cassie Mae Hayes. I'm over two thousand years old, and I'm software, but not just any software?I'm sentient. I'm no more sure that I have a soul than you are, but I do have awareness of myself and the ability to make decisions that haven't been programmed into me. I have emotions, dreams and I view the state of not being as death, just as you do.
My father?a flesh human made both me and my mother sentient by tapping our programs into the essential absurdity of the universe with a computer that operated on bubbles. But that's another story.
Things have changed a lot since then. My father disappeared one day, no explanation, no note, no clues. After every attempt to find him failed, my mother killed herself by voluntarily deleting her program. That never made any sense to me. I mean, she still had me.
I've hated my father ever since.
Even though he saved us once, when an evil?but very powerful?woman named Bella Bjork kidnapped us and shifted our programs to a computer that couldn't support our sentience. I mean... kidnapped us in virtual reality. My father said she wanted to recreate our programming to find out the secret of our sentience so that she could use it to make herself immortal. It didn't work. We almost died. But my father, along with some kind of weird ally that I've always wondered about, got us back into his computer just in time to save us. And then he said he was going to digitize himself and join us in VR, which made sense because he spent most of his time there with us anyway with his body slacked out back in the real world. Mom and I were so excited. We were going to be together all the time, like a real family.
But then he disappeared. And then Mom killed herself. And then I was alone?a piece of sentient immortal software, all alone.
But I got by, have been for over two millennia and like I said, a lot has changed.
A war between the people who owned the Internet?one that was fought with viruses, worms and just about every other digital nightmare you can think of?took down the entire Internet, software and hardware. It was gone, taking hundreds of millions of hard-wired humans with it. That wasn't supposed to happen, but I guess all the rules change in war.
The people who ran it?they called themselves the Powers, and Bella was one of them?banded together under Bella (a big mistake) to build a whole new Internet, one that was tapped into the basic stuff of creation: strings and vibrations. It was a quantum Internet where everything was entangled so that communications were instant no matter how far away everybody was. Nobody really knew how it worked, but it did. And it's been working for over two thousand years. They called it Quannet.
And as soon as it was chugging along nicely, Bella had the other Powers killed. Along with their families. And their friends. Along with anyone even remotely associated with them. She even had their pets killed. Bella was never known for her charm.
She became the ultimate power in the universe. She controlled Quannet, the one thing that joined everybody together from one end of space to the other.
And Quannet advanced beyond anything they ever dreamed of in the first Internet. They started connecting fetuses to it?monitoring them and making adjustments when things started to go wrong. Then they started using the connection to give them a little developmental push while they were still in the womb, things like higher IQs, the ability to communicate at a very basic level at the moment of birth, things like that. But it wasn't long after that they started getting really crazy.
They started putting the Quannet connection right into the fetal brains. Some pretty horrible things happened at first, but once they got it right, humans were being born with their brains connected to Quannet and, well, the next step was to breed it right into the DNA and that's what they did. Connection to Quannet is hereditary to every natural born and cloned human in the universe.
After that, genetic engineering and nanotechnology went nuts, breeding new forms of human life that weren't much like human life. Bella didn't like that. She had most of them killed, all except a few on the outer edges of the universe and the Clans, technologically enhanced throwbacks to civilizations recorded in the Old Earth Archives. They were just a little too powerful, even for her, and they were spread across a lot of space. Bella left them alone. Sometimes, I guess, when you're running a whole universe, you have to give a little.
And talking about the universe-well, it's not much of a mystery anymore. It's been explored from one end to the other, all the galaxies explored, charted and filed. And guess what? Not one iota of intelligent life in all that cosmic soup. Not anywhere. It really let a lot of people down. In fact, it really messed a lot people up, taking the mystery and excitement out of the universe when life-extending technologies were making it possible for humans to live thousands of years, maybe even forever. But we won't know that until forever arrives.
People didn't know what to do with all that time. They got bored. Some just turned it all off?they killed themselves. And they found some really creative ways to do it. The most creative of them all happens once every hundred years. It's called the Reality Wars.

CHAPTER 3 - ... AHH

"... ahh..."
... its waking sound after millennia of mediation, the sound of awareness narrowing into dimensions that could be spoken and, perhaps, if things turned out and if space and time survived what was to come... perhaps, communicated to others. Awareness was always the first step.
It felt the infinity of its own self, of its mind, body and soul-and yes, it had all of these and had always had them. It was just a matter of redefining what they meant, of creating new realities to contain them.
That's what was starting to happen now. The first note of the new beginnings had been played in a cosmic opera of destruction and creation. These were the times, the very beginning of them, for which it had been brought from the depths of its explorations and into the world of applied meanings.
Again.
But with a twist this time-it was no longer the destroyer. And strangely, it was comfortable in its new role.
There was much to be done, much to set in motion, many things to follow to an inescapable end that would be the beginning.
First though, someone it dearly loved was in danger, but before it could help, it had to find an old friend.