An alien artist’s works.
A once-great city.
The freedom of humankind.
Decades ago, the Ramuhlruus ended the quarantine of Earth and inducted humankind into the galactic community. They offered peace, prosperity, virtual reality, and immortality to all humans… wealth and privilege to a select few…
In exchange for a billion years of stagnation.
Now, a son of privilege returns to Earth. His position as a secret agent for the Ramuhlruus gives him the perfect cover to conspire against them. A set of famous images by alien artist Iak/Sohu give him locations around a once-great city to meet his contact.
Can he find his contact, and give hope to the few human beings who still seek adventure among the stars? Or will Earth’s alien overlords—and their human quislings—uncover his secret agenda and erase his mind?
Sample of “Nine Views of Transco Tower, by Iak_Sohu”
1. Transco Tower on a misty night
I stand in the moon-shadow of an apartment building. The disintegrator pistol squirms in my pocket, in search of more thigh from which to draw body heat. An unlikely place to meet my contact, but the voice in my head drove me here, and I know it did not lie.
When the first file opened, I knew the image that inserted itself into my senses before Zhaduzogol’s recorded voice identified it. I had experienced Iak/Sohu’s images in my childhood, when I did not know the Houston—the Earth—it had made subject of its art had vanished. This image had been taken from a minimall at night. A young black man sat on a bench, an arm around his girlfriend, a gold watch loose on his wrist. The woman licked strawberry ice cream from a waffle cone. Their gazes followed the thick green tail of a M’naloozh exiting the field of view. Cars hissed on wet pavement in the parking lot. To the north, over a spur of freeway, a puff of fog glowed, lit by the beacon atop Transco Tower.
Only the skyscraper and its beacon remain. A tight white cone sweeps through the light-bleached sky. The stretch of freeway has crumbled; its pillars stand like a grove of denuded birch. No youths have marred them with graffiti. Damn the Ramuhlruus. One day we will free the galaxy from their hegemony. Fifty-four minutes remain on my vigil.
The apartment building rises two hundred meters where the minimall stood. How many blind drones dwell in that hive? One thousand seven hundred nineteen, my gopher says into my mind; 1719 humans who have bound themselves in nutshells, but in the interactive Virtuals of the Ramuhlruus think themselves kings of infinite space. Humankind has eviscerated itself, and the Ramuhlruus earn a penny per head per minute. Around the corner of the building, cooling fans roar.
“Can I help you?” a voice says behind me. Its owner is a white-haired man with drooping earlobes. He holds a leash; a miniature schnauzer pulls it taut.
“Just enjoying the night.” Have I been met by the leader of the Houston cell of the resistance? “‘I’m a baitman.'”
“Oh, that’s nice.” He walks within two meters of me, an empty smile on his face. No, he’s not my contact; he isn’t even here. A concierge guides his body while his mind remains in Virtual.
The man and his dog stop eight meters away. The dog squats, rump toward the building, and defecates. Its collar jingles as it trots back. I kneel to pet it, and its mustache tickles my fingertips. “Don’t worry, girl, someone’s really here.”
The old man grows dimly curious. “I haven’t seen you before.”
A Unity Security agent has better brainwire than others of his race. I insert myself into the building’s records. “I moved in three weeks ago. Emiliano Zapata.” His software won’t notice I don’t look Hispanic.
“Welcome to Meyer Park Tower.” He leads the dog back inside.
A few airmobiles cross the sky, but only mosquitoes fly my way. I slap my ankles and check the time. At twenty-two, Zhaduzogol’s voice in my mind tells me to return to the hotel. Tomorrow will come the second rendezvous attempt.
2. Transco Tower from a freeway interchange
From the solution of REM-sleep crystallizes an image. Iak/Sohu rode in an automobile, on a ramp high above two freeways. Below, a glacier of brake lights crept into the morning sun. Transco Tower stood low to the horizon, like an architect’s model, fifteen kilometers away. In the midground hung a spaceship like a bowl of linguini tie-dyed yellow and scarlet.
I wake. 6:51 CDT, Saturday, April 9. I roll onto my stomach and pull a pillow over my head. This time yesterday, I was waved through customs at the Quito Space Elevator, and Zhaduzogol’s voice urged me to catch the first suborbital for Houston. Travel and unaccustomed weight pull me deeper into the hotel bed.
“You must be at 10520 Interstate 10 West at eight,” my mentor’s voice says. “Appropriate garments have been delivered.” I throw the covers back and shuffle to the door. A parcel lies at the threshold: Lycra shorts and shirt, and a pair of rubber-soled shoes. I’m to go climbing.
I take off in my rental at seven-forty. The city vanishes beneath a carpet of live oaks, save for apartment towers and the scars left by freeways. Two minutes in, I approach within a hundred meters of Transco. The skyscraper compels my gaze. The sun reflects off the windows of the eastern face, and when I round to the north, vertical green bars swim in my vision. I want to weep.
We once built wonders. Giza, Alhambra, the Chinese Wall; Canaveral, the Interstate highways, the Astrodome. Despite our faults, we remade our world, not merely for our comfort, but for our glory. No more. The Ramuhlruus feed us, clothe us, and trickle Lethe into our heads. Khufu? Qin Shih Huang Ti? Humans today cannot recall even John Kennedy or Roy Hofheinz.
Further west, I fly over a nanofactory on the bank of Buffalo Bayou. The gray domes shimmer like hot pavement through the security cordon of nanomachines. The Ramuhlruus take no chances with their monopoly. I daydream of the revolution: security swept aside, bored young Ramuhlruus expelled from this world, the power within the domes freed to build wonders dwarfing the skyscraper at my back.
At my destination, a knot of concrete survives. Support pillars lift