E.S. Wynn’s horrifying vision of a machine-mind trained to do battle on distant planets.
From the moment the sentient mesh is mated with the neural tissue of my first body, I know that I have a purpose. I know the concepts, the symbols and the grammar of a sterilized strain of stan-terran. I am acutely aware of my body, know how to measure and calculate weight, distance and inertia with only a glance.
And I know how to use a gun.
The name coded into my mesh is CZ-1041, but the woman behind the glass calls me Four-One, runs the words together so it sounds like Forwun. I take her simple instructions verbally, but a silicon-quick stream beamed directly to my mesh provides the real details. The mission is simple.
My chesnari puts his fingers to his lips in a silent gesture, points. My eyes follow, linger in the white and dark of snow and ice clinging to fallen branches. At first I don't see it, and then–
Then it moves.
White on white, fur and snow. My hand draws the bowstring in a single, reflexive movement, hesitates only as Laedyr reaches out, catches me, keeps my fingers from releasing the arrow. My eyes dart for his, find them, see something that comes as close to fear as anything I've ever seen in his stare. Ghost wolf, he signs, and I feel a shiver in my shoulders, in the fine hairs at the back of my neck. I know the stories, the legends. Ghost wolf. White wolves, or rather the spirits of white wolves, subtly different in appearance from the wolves we hunt sometimes in the snow. Slowly, I release the tension on the string, lower the bow, hold the arrow loosely. In every story I've ever heard about ghost wolves, they come as omens. To shoot one is to waste an arrow– they are spirits, it is said, something akin to dehara, and everyone who has ever shot at one has seen his arrow pass effortlessly through, as if the wolf itself were made of nothing but air.
In the pause, we watch the wolf, and after a moment, it turns, watches us. Laedyr reaches for my hand, touches skin, but I don't reach back. My lips drift, just slightly. The ghost wolf's eyes shine with an intelligence and empathy that seems almost harish, almost as if it can read my thoughts, and for a moment, I find myself uttering a quiet prayer. When the last word leaves my mouth, the ghost wolf raises its head slightly, sniffs the air, then turns again and is gone. It is an omen, Laedyr signs, shivering with the cold, with the vision, with reverence. I nod, reach out, touch his face in a soft, tender gesture.
“An omen,” I whisper. “We have been blessed.” For it is said that once, long ago, such spirit wolves walked among the wraeththu. I remember the words from one of the stories, my eyes rising again, lingering in the snow where the ghost wolf had stood only moments before. Even now, they watch over us, watch over the hara of the north, waiting, perhaps. Waiting for the day to return, the day when they will walk among our kind again.
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