Frozen 3

For three hours Moore had barely moved a muscle.

He’d sat petrified as they stepped over Sengupta’s body and left him behind—the vampire in the lead, the biologist bumbling haplessly in her wake. He’d sat as the deck tilted a little, and a little more, some small abstract part of him marveling that his chair had not yet begun to slide toward the bulkhead. He gave mute thanks that Valerie’s spell had spared his eyelids, the muscles in his throat; he could blink at least, with effort. Swallow enough to keep drooling to a minimum. He could breathe. All those tics and reflexes the body performed on its own, independent of conscious control; exempt from paralysis, all of it.

Everything else had turned to stone.

Out in the corridor, the ocean found the hatch. Spilled through it. A trickle of seawater ran down the deck and started pooling at the lower end of the compartment.

Moore willed his body to move. His body told him to fuck off.

He had to hand it to Valerie. A few whispered phonemes, a flurry of inhumanly-precise gestures with those inhumanly-long fingers, and he was out for the count. A goddamned miracle of modern incapacitation. Of course, it hadn’t happened in a vacuum. There’d been all that prep work beforehand: the subaudible cues piped through the Crown‘s intercom system; those subtle hieroglyphs programmed into the smart paint, flickering just below the threshold of conscious recognition. Nothing you could really put your finger on: the whine of some imaginary insect, perhaps a vague sense of unease if you wandered along a certain corridor. That was the most any baseline would have felt during all those weeks falling to the Sun, climbing back up again, while Valerie just—reprogrammed them, like the dumb unaware meatbots they were.

Put all those minuscule stimuli together, though, and what a payload they made. Even Sengupta had been able to pull that trigger; not smart enough to put the pieces together for herself but she’d obviously reverse-engineered them somehow, half-understood how they fit together. Used them, in a half-assed sort of way, before Moore had shot her.

Moore had been—impressed, despite himself. He hadn’t seen the attack—he’d been ten meters down the corridor when it happened—but he’d heard the impact, recognized the distinct and unmistakable application of blunt-force trauma. The sound of meat hitting the deck. There’d been some other voice, a woman he hadn’t recognized, drowned out an instant later by the sound of Sengupta’s rage as Moore had come around the corner to catch her in mid-incantation. Brüks had been on the deck, his face a bloody mask. He’d arched and spasmed as though electrocuted while Sengupta leaned over him, her fingers dipping and weaving, her voice murmuring something Moore couldn’t make out.

He wasn’t quite sure why he’d shot her. She was just a girl; no combat training, negligible threat potential. There must have been a dozen ways to disarm her without injury. But the gun was in his hand—an old Heckler-Koch, he couldn’t even remember where he’d found it—and it was firing, as if of its own volition.

Limbs that moved with a will of their own. That was happening a lot these days. Moore rather wished they’d manifest a little of that right now; at the moment, his most furious concentration could barely set his fingers twitching.

The water reached Sengupta; the sticky pool of clotted blood gluing her to the deck thinned and diffused and bloomed fluorescene red. The corpse shifted a little, buoyed by the tide. It rolled over and looked at him. Strange, now, the way she stared; a whole lifetime avoiding eye contact and now her cloudy gaze seemed to drill right through him.

He closed his eyes and focused. Down at the end of his dead right leg, his toes wiggled.

Progress.

At least Valerie had left him with the gun. He’d been holding it when she’d frozen him solid; he held it now. She could have taken it, of course, if she’d wanted. Probably would have broken his fingers in the process.

He tried flexing them, felt the bones in his hand scrape against each other like the teeth of gears not quite interlocking. But his fingers clenched, and opened again. The gun dropped to the deck with a soft clank.

Fifteen minutes, maybe, before the water reached his toes. Maybe two or three hours before he drowned, assuming a constant rate of rise. That was no safe bet; the gyland was a kilometer across, a listing derelict subsiding beneath the waves. Some breach in this sinking hull might meet the waterline at any moment, give the ocean a whole new way in. The rising water might crest suddenly into one of the cavernous chambers deep in the structure— a sub bay, perhaps, or a ballast tank—and tip the whole thing an extra thirty degrees one way or the other. Could leave him high and dry with all the time in the world. Could put him underwater in the next five minutes.

He tried to move again. With every flex of muscle, every attempt to straighten a limb or bend it: a sense of encrustation, yielding in the most grudging increments. As if each joint were encased in limestone, as if he were some buried skeleton struggling to free itself from the wall of an ancient cave.

But it was working.

The water lapped at his toes. (Fifteen minutes already? Were his calculations that far off?) Moore’s legs unbent just a little. With herculean effort he managed to raise his ass a few centimeters from the seat of the chair; rigor-mortis arms braced against its edges and kept him steady while he caught his breath and steeled himself for the next big push. He staggered erect in a series of lurches, swayed there like a man balanced on wooden legs. He almost fell.

He didn’t.

Ankle-deep, now. He turned, stiff-legged, waving half-bent arms to keep his balance. One leg sloshed forward; the other followed; his torso rotated back and forth with each clumsy step. The lower lip of the hatch was only a few centimeters above the deck but it still took him three tries to get over it. His body was loosening, though, finally. His paralysis receded along a curve: painfully slow at first but faster, faster with each passing minute. By the time he reached the first companionway he could even climb the stairs.

He emerged into acrid eye-stinging brightness, oily smoke and guttering flames and the blazing sun of an early afternoon. The topside deck was just as he’d left it at dawn: a patchwork of radio shacks and hangar elevators and broken aircraft strewn across a sloping gunmetal substrate, apparently floating in midair, where the chromatophores had been burned away. An expanse of wave-tossed seascape, shimmering slightly as if through heat distortion, where the gyland’s camouflage remained intact. Maybe the deck was tilted a few more degrees than it had been. Maybe these levitating patches of superstructure were a little closer to sea level.

Moore still didn’t know what skirmish or battle had taken this cloaked behemoth so thoroughly out of commission. He didn’t really care, even though the gyland belonged to what might still be loosely referred to as His Side: infrastructure had obviously been collapsing across the whole damn planet while they’d been away. This place, attacked and abandoned, had merely provided a convenient semi-functional access point to log in and take stock of the apocalypse that—

You started

—had begun during his absence.

It had served that purpose well enough. With a little luck it might serve another. The aircraft arrayed around him were unadulterated scrap, but this was a big gyland; the whole North Pacific had been its beat, back before whatever nameless enemy had taken it out. There were hangars belowdecks that went on forever. Sub bays for everything from two-man cubmarines all the way up to Megalodon-class, if they hadn’t been flooded already. Chances were very good of finding a way off this barge before it sank. And Colonel Jim Moore—Colonel Moore had somewhere to be.

He opened his mouth, tried to speak. All he could manage was a hoarse croak; the thick simple motor nerves running his arms and legs were almost back up to speed, but Valerie’s incantation still had a hold over the subtler machinations of tongue and larynx, the controlled movement of air across vocal cords. Moore tried again, carefully pronouncing each phoneme. He managed a word, more breathed than spoken: Siri.

Let Valerie and her walking dinner play their pointless games. Moore had no interest in getting in their way. Let the world burn; there was nothing he could do to save it, now. But there was a ship out there, somewhere. A coffin in a capsule, arcing back in through the cold vast darkness between the Oort and the Innersys. It had been out there for years, might be for years more. But the parabola it fell along had a terminus; its long lonely voyage was closing on its end. And Col. Jim Moore, WestHem Alliance, MIA; Jim Moore, slayer of Icarus; Jim Moore, who in the service of Lesser Evils had thrown the whole world on its side— intended to meet that lifeboat when it returned.

He said it again, his voice gaining strength against the crackling of the flames: “Siri.”

His son was coming home.



This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 16th, 2020 at 9:40 am and is filed under fiblet, Omniscience. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

49 Responses to “Frozen 3”

  1. Greggles

    Forgive me for going a little fanboy.

    Yay!

    Sorry.

  2. YamiEA

    The way Jim stops worrying about the future of the world and only cares about Siri… my heart hurts

  3. Ross Presser

    Woo-hoo, as it were. Good stuff!

    One proofreader’s nitpick:

    All those ticks and reflexes

    should be

    All those tics and reflexes

  4. Lucas

    Hell yes! We love you Peter. Stay safe.

  5. Peter Watts

    I beg to differ. Ticks, fleas, any other ectoparasites in the area— they too were immune to Valerie’s incantations. That line is literally true.

    But I changed it anyway, to make you happy.

  6. Ken Kennedy

    Oh, hell yes!!!

  7. Wattsfan#2948

    Where does the word ‘gyland’ come from? What is the purpose of such a structure?

  8. Ashley R Pollard

    What the first post said…^ Yay!

  9. Ken Kennedy

    I don’t see a “Frozen 1” or “Frozen 2” anywhere, but I did some poking, and back in 2011:

    https://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=2215
    https://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=2228

    These seem like they might be the other fiblets, perhaps?

  10. Emme

    What’s a cubmarine? 🙂

    Also, yeah!

  11. Bonnie McDaniel

    This is from what will be Omniscience? Good stuff!

  12. oge

    Bonnie McDaniel,

    More vampires please, and thank you!

  13. Don Reba

    Emme,

    A cubmarine is a submarine’s young.

  14. fvngvs

    Add one more squee to the squee-o-meter.
    Omniscience may be slow, but it’s coming.

  15. G M

    Oh thank fuck, Omniscience still exists. And is progressing. The news I needed this week.

  16. verdigris

    Hi, Dr. Watts! I reread “ZeroS”, and I have a question. I’m not sure where Asante is at the beginning of the story. Is it an underwater habitat like Beebe?

  17. Rich

    Wattsfan#2948:
    Where does the word ‘gyland’ come from? What is the purpose of such a structure?

    From Long Island. In NYC. Say it fast. In this particular case it’s a very large aircraft carrier type structure.

  18. Nestor

    Is that a new piece of fanart I see?

    Now I want a FPS game starring Jim Moore where you can switch into zombie mode and surrender control to a highly optimized aimbot that can fight better than you ever could.

  19. has

    I’ve missed you guys.

  20. asd

    With what’s happened to Bruks, this is now the most baseline human character still in the game, huh?

  21. Peter Watts

    Wattsfan#2948:
    Where does the word ‘gyland’ come from? What is the purpose of such a structure?

    It’s “gyre” and “island” mooshed together. From a different story in the same universe: “ZeroS has risen from the depths of the Atlantic to storm one of the countless gylands that ride the major currents of the world’s oceans. Some are refugee camps with thousands of inhabitants; others serve as havens for hustlers and tax dodgers eager to avoid the constraints of more stationary jurisdictions. Some are military, sheathed in chromatophores and radar-damping nanotubes: bigger than airports, invisible to man or machine.”

    Ken Kennedy:
    I don’t see a “Frozen 1” or “Frozen 2” anywhere, but I did some poking, and back in 2011…These seem like they might be the other fiblets, perhaps?

    Actually, it was meant to be a follow-up to the Disney movies.

    What, you don’t see the thematic parallels?

    Emme: What’s a cubmarine?

    Don Reba’s basically right: a baby submarine. One of those 2- or 3-seaters used primarily for research and reconnaissance, as opposed to the big mothers with the nukes.

    verdigris: I’m not sure where Asante is at the beginning of the story. Is it an underwater habitat like Beebe?

    Way shallower. An underwater fish-farm on the conshelf off Ghana.

    Nestor:
    Is that a new piece of fanart I see?

    Nah, I just grabbed some images off the internet and composited them together in GIMP.

    There’s more fan art coming, though, never fear. It’s been piling up since June. I’ll update the galleries next week.

    Now I want a FPS game starring Jim Moore where you can switch into zombie mode and surrender control to a highly optimized aimbot that can fight better than you ever could.

    That sounds very cool. I mean, it’d basically go from being a game to being a movie shot in first-person, but The Last of Us already broke that ground and no one complained.

  22. Ken Kennedy

    I did initially miss the thematic parallels…but now I’m just excited for you to get some of that Disney+ moola!!

  23. Nestor

    Peter Watts: Nah, I just grabbed some images off the internet and composited them together in GIMP.
    (…)
    That sounds very cool. I mean, it’d basically go from being a game to being a movie shot in first-person, but The Last of Us already broke that ground and no one complained.

    Ah, that explains why reverse image search didn’t find it anywhere else. Looks great!

    Plenty of games have cutscenes and quicktime events that are basically that but I was thinking of it as something the player could toggle on at will whenever they wanted. I was flashing back to the old days when I played deathmatch quake against bots that were so fast you basically had to snipe them on sight or die (Not that big a difference with playing against 13 year olds with my current reflexes, I imagine) Then I recalled Jim is a military zombie with a toggle switch and the idea of having a switch to surrender control to such a bot would be a similar experience in game.

    I leave to a hypothetical developer to answer how to make that desirable or enjoyable for the gamer, of course.

  24. KFos

    Now definitely this is something I can get excited about.

  25. Peter D

    Woot! This was incredibly satisfying to come across just days after I finished rereading Echopraxia again.

  26. Anonymous

    give gyreland back to the gyre-ish

  27. Corey Hart

    YamiEA,

    Eh…makes sense to me. I’d do the same.

  28. Ftuuky

    I’m so freaking hyped with this! Dr. Watts, what’s the chance of a 3rd Firefall book?

  29. Rock Person

    This caught me offguard enough that I’ve finally grown the balls to say this: Dr. Watts, I read Freeze-Frame Revolution and, thinking back, it actually has strangely many parallels with the Land of the Lustrous manga series. For one, I think they’re the only 2 pieces of media I know that feature lonsdaleite, and that’s not the only similarity between Chimp and Master Adamant (I just checked the wikipedia page and I swear it’s a serious undersell). I wanted to know if I’m the first poindexter that’s pointed this out

  30. verdigris

    Thank you for answering! It opened up my eyes.

  31. Fcb

    Valerie scares the bejeebus out of me.

  32. James Gauvreau

    Nestor,

    To start with, one would probably want to make the game story-heavy, and introduce some kind of trade-off. For example, perhaps your zombie state doesn’t share any/all of your goals (because, after all, someone else set you up like this), so you can only let it loose in situations where your desires coincidentally align (for example, when you’re going to die). Adding a bit of fun (at the cost of complexity), perhaps you don’t know what its goals are, and there are actually several possible goals for the zombie-state to have (randomized for each playthrough), so you have to piece it together over time.

    Making the zombie state super-specialized, and incapable of modeling normal social interactions, would also give you a reason to not be a zombie all the time.

    IIRC, zombie brains are also noticeably cooler in the Blindopraxia verse, in a way that sensors can pick up, so you might have to switch between “perfect killing machine” zombie state and “stealth mode” conscious state.

  33. [LESELINKS]: So halt … - JOHN AYSA

    […] Peter Watts erzählt eine Geschichte ↗ […]

  34. Nina L

    I read this scene as author himself firing up for arrival of his baby – 3rd Firefall, and there’s some shit that needs to get done to make that happen! Man on a mission.

  35. Nestor

    Bone growth patterns in the Spanish archaeological site of the Sima de los Huesos points to possible hibernation in ancient humans
    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/dec/20/early-humans-may-have-survived-the-harsh-winters-by-hibernating

    James Gauvreau:
    Nestor,

    Making the zombie state super-specialized, and incapable of modeling normal social interactions, would also give you a reason to not be a zombie all the time.

    IIRC, zombie brains are also noticeably cooler in the Blindopraxia verse, in a way that sensors can pick up, so you might have to switch between “perfect killing machine” zombie state and “stealth mode” conscious state.

    See, the gameplay, it writes itself. 😉

  36. Tran Script

    Nestor:
    Bone growth patterns in the Spanish archaeological site of the Sima de los Huesos points to possible hibernation in ancient humans
    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/dec/20/early-humans-may-have-survived-the-harsh-winters-by-hibernating

    Huge if true. It may mean that the molecular machinery needed for hibernation is actually in some form present in human genomes, maybe it just needs a little bit of nudging, a little bit of fixing some broken genes etc.

  37. Bleak

    What a perfect end to 2020 – The appetizer of a new Peter Watts novel. I’m most excited for the world building, honestly, so all the settings details in the story were amazing. Can’t wait for the full meal!

  38. MVM

    What use for a first post at this website could be better than expressing gratitude and enthusiasm for your peerless fiction? That’s an awesome continuation of the Blindsight / Echopraxia story. Thanks, Dr. Watts.

  39. Whoever

    The crawl collective holiday card from moi.

    https://ibb.co/Q6jqzHx

  40. Anonymous

    YamiEA:
    The way Jim stops worrying about the future of the world and only cares about Siri… my heart hurts

    Corey Hart:
    YamiEA,

    Eh…makes sense to me.I’d do the same.

    And yet everything Peter writes is to the point that this is wrong, a short sighted selfish instinct that is dooming us as all as a species. But it does feel right, doesn’t it?

  41. Anonymous

    Anonymous,

    Two ways to look at it:

    1. What’s he gonna do, put the fires out with a blanket? He’s alone, exhausted, cut off from his resources, and likely severly traumatized – there’s sweet fuck all he can do about the siutation at this point.

    2. Nowhere does it say Moore’s decision is actually RIGHT – this is a short snippet of a larger narrative so we have no way of knowing how it will play out; for all we know, Moore’s “fuck the world” attitude will come back to bite him in the ass big time.

  42. YamiEA

    Anonymous:
    Anonymous,

    2. Nowhere does it say Moore’s decision is actually RIGHT– this is a short snippet of a larger narrative so we have no way of knowing how it will play out; for all we know, Moore’s “fuck the world” attitude will come back to bite him in the ass big time.

    It seems right in terms of humanity and empathy. Tho I think the most correct word for the situation is ‘understandable’ I mean his feelings is understandable for anyone who is not a sociopath I guess. Will this be an actually right decision for a narrative? Probbably not, but who knows.

  43. Nestor

    That was me two comments above. I am not judging Jim’s actions on a moral or practical level, just noting “That there’s a THEME the author often uses, usually in the other direction” and wriggling my eyebrows suggestively.

  44. Anonymous

    Nestor:
    That was me two comments above. I am not judging Jim’s actions on a moral or practical level, just noting “That there’s a THEME the author often uses, usually in the other direction” and wriggling my eyebrows suggestively.

    I think it bears remembering that we’re looking at a tiny snippet of a larger work – we literally have no way of knowing for certain how it will play out in the long run. Except for the not unreasonable assumption that something massive’s likely to go up in flames.

    Also, it’s always risky to assume that because an author has his character do or say a Thing he necessarily agrees with the character doing or saying the Thing – especially in the case where, like you said, there’s a large body of evidence to the contrary.

    YamiEA,

    Understandable. That’s a good word to use in this case.

  45. Toki

    Nestor: Ah, that explains why reverse image search didn’t find it anywhere else. Looks great!

    Plenty of games have cutscenes and quicktime events that are basically that but I was thinking of it as something the player could toggle on at will whenever they wanted. I was flashing back to the old days when I played deathmatch quake against bots that were so fast you basically had to snipe them on sight or die (Not that big a difference with playing against 13 year olds with my current reflexes, I imagine) Then I recalled Jim is a military zombie with a toggle switch and the idea of having a switch to surrender control to such a bot would be a similar experience in game.

    I leave to a hypothetical developer to answer how to make that desirable or enjoyable for the gamer, of course.

    That reminds me of “Upgrade” movie from 2018, if I were doing the plot part I’d do something similar regarding the backstory of this combat excellence at will.

    As for gameplay part, I’d make that period of uncontrolled action relatively short and make it do some really sick moves on screen to capture player’s attention, increase duration with each use and at some threshold (maybe multiple tresholds allowing player to “wrestle” the control back with QTE or smth) just let it complete the game (perhaps with a different route too), as conscious self of protagonist (i.e. player) just willingly curls at the back of the mind (in their seat) and looks at the carnage unfolding.

    Leaving people questioning themselves at the end if they would outsource control of their body to something else that could ride it with much better efficiency.

  46. Galileo

    This is exactly what I needed to see today!

  47. Nosleepdemon

    Always fancied a Peterpocalypse more than a covid one, better hurry though – like you said, the boat could lurch at any moment. For now, as I’m not yet drowning, please accept my thanks for this rather nice end of year surprise.

  48. Anonymous

    Ken Kennedy,

    The hero we need but don’t deserve

  49. ABR

    Yes!