‘There’s only one thing for it.’ Aesthar concluded as the cascading bug-bombs she had just unleashed brilliantly desecrated the glowing infrastructure that stood as the last defence of the higher city’s upper echelons. ‘I’m going to have to blow up the Scottish Parliament.’
‘Wait.’ McPuck hesitated in her ear. ‘Has anybody voted on this? Aesthar, this is not in the mission log! Repeat -’
‘This is not in the mission log,’ Aesthar repeated. ‘I know.’ Tearing down through the troposphere, Aesthar set her coordinates for the crazy-pavement citadel far below that called itself Parliament. Like good astral bodyguards, her trusty memshards spun around her, negging and scattering only the most critical of wildlife. ‘If I can get inside I can find the Problem. We know it’s located in the central hub of the building. Radical explosives might be the only option.’
She drop-kicked a caterzilla that had swung too close by. The creature’s head exploded, leaving its many-segmented body to writhe wildly around her. Like a shoal of piranhas, the memshards swirled back into her vicinity and rapidly consumed the unfortunate entity’s remains, filtering its essence safely back into the unrealms. The ‘shards didn’t always have their eye on the ball; too easily distracted by the swirling lights below. Aesthar was going to have to try to keep them on a tighter leash.
‘If you can get inside.’ Now McPuck was exasperated. This would reflect badly on him if the mission went kaput. ‘How exactly do you intend to get in? The memshards dissipate at ground level. You’ll be on your own! How on Earth do you intend to breach the building’s defences? The Problem is heavily guarded!’
‘We’re not on Earth anymore,’ Aesthar countered; regrettably aware that they were, after a fashion. ‘Toto,’ she added, knowing that McPuck would almost certainly not get the reference.
‘Fucking Wizard of Oz, very fucking clever!’ You don’t get one over on me, Mistress Smarty-Pants.’
The line had failed to go over his head. Aesthar was momentarily disappointed by her wit.
An itinerant jellycloud filled her field of vision. After having to make a last-minute, split-second landing calculation, Aesthar was forced to punch the beast in the head - or at least, in what she thought probably had to be the head. Jellyclouds had no fixed form that could be easily defined - generally they were placid and docile but if unexpectedly cornered, they were quick to encircle their opponent in a rubbery grasp that often led to eventual digestion in wherever the creature’s digestive areas were. If it was necessary to pacify them, by and large it was best to go for the beak. If you could find which area of a jellycloud contained that.
The jellycloud made a foosh of disagreement and liquefied away. Pointing herself in the opposite direction from a nearby kindle of cat-things, Aesthar readjusted her decline and sped on to her destination.
Upside-down buildings hurtled past her as she descended. Sometimes it felt as if it was the whole universe that was moving while she was fixed unmoving to the firmament - immobile. A fleck on a windowpane.
Aesthar remembered the chair: the dark room. The last time she had been fixed. The inquisitor leaning over her with the electrodes in hand. What did she know about the bombings? What did she know about the protest?
She had forgotten most of what followed after. That had been another life; a life tied up, shut down and ordered around. There would be no more of that now. Now, there was only her rules; her mission.
Now she was on street level. cityghosts dashed about, secretive and transitory. None of them appeared to be paying her much attention.
The Memshards were gone. McPuck continued to rant in her earpiece.
In front of her stood the Parliament; a confluence of weird grey edges and strange windows that seemed to stretch all around her for ever. The building made for an impressive sight up close.
‘It’s not like it is in the real world.’ Aesthar announced to McPuck, when he had finally ran out of ranting steam. ‘You can hardly even see the top. You got my visual? This is the front bit, right?
‘I can’t… dammit…’ McPuck tutted and hammered some keys. ‘It’s in defence mode. Constantly rearranging itself and recalibrating. I can’t tell.’
Aesthar watched as several high-up windows of the edifice rotated, jutted out, transformed and became turrets, which gave birth to more of the familiar gunshapes. Other protrusions that looked like further armaments were emerging from the rocky heights of the building and inclining themselves to point down at street-level. Aesthar didn’t think any of the gunshapes were specifically singling her out for attention. She was not paranoid - at least, not so far today.
McPuck was still battering away on the keys: trying to blue-sky a solution to this new smaller problem of access. ‘You’re right, though. About the appearance. That’s security architecture. The version build is like nothing I’ve ever seen before… There’s no way I can break through it on my end. I’m going to assume at this point that you have a strategy? ie, one that doesn’t involve a clusterfuck of conflict, friendly fire, and you getting permanently disincorporated on this level?’
‘Pfft. Of course. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.’ Aesthar set her appearance parameters to Tourist. Immediately she was swathed in a combination of sunglasses, ginger hair, plastic rain-mac and inappropriate tartan. Approaching one of the entrances and joining one of the queues would now be extremely easy.
She breezed past the SecuriTigers. They prowled mechanically but didn’t register her approach and passing. Other approaching entities swirled towards an emergent entrance node. She noted one of the tigers decoding a nosy spiritoid - the results were not glamorous. It reminded Aesthar of the electrodes.
Ahead of her was a vast arch emerging from a node, that resembled a doorway of some import. Above a neon sign confidently strobed the legend, ‘ACCESS TO DREAM OF MAD GODS.’
‘Okay, so I have to admit, that was not something I would have done,’ McPuck growled.
Two govstolen metalloids were monitoring the archway node. Aesthar’s mind crawled with ideas. ‘You remember that sim I was running the other day?’
She heard the sound of McPuck upending a beverage of some sort, possibly all over some important piece of communications equipment. ‘What? NO, Aesthar! You cannot run the sim! It hasn’t been tested!’
‘C’mon. Now’s as good a time as any.’
‘But… It might… it might start a WAR!’ McPuck hissed.
The metalloids of the node were scanning the code of every visiting spiritoid; checking for inflammatory ideas or insurrectionist thinking. Aesthar advanced closer to the entrance.
‘Remember your training, Aesthar, dammit! There are no such things as wars! THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A WAR!’
Aesthar reached the front of the queue. The metalloids rotated to face her. Their protuberances were all a-quiver, ready to scan.
‘WELCOME TO PARLIAMENT.’ the metalloids both droned in unison. ‘PLEASE HAVE YOUR REASONS FOR ATTENDANCE FOREMOST IN YOUR BRAINSPHERE. SCAN WILL BEGIN. THANK YOU IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR CONTINUED ADHERENCE TO OUR NON-TERRORISM-BASED POLICY OF ATTENDANCE.’
Ignoring McPuck’s frantic screaming in her ear about beta version testing, Aesthar activated the first of her three planned simulations. Almost immediately, the external structure of the parliament building began to shift and break up into confusing shapes that began to float away into the sky.
‘Hello.’ Aesthar politely said to the metalloids: who by now had a look of extreme confusion drifting across their normally-inexpressive grilles. ‘I appear to be lost. Can you direct me to the Problem please?’
‘ALARUM. A POLITICAL FLASHPOINT EVENT HAS BEEN TRACED TO YOU. PLEASE EXPLAIN FLOATING-AWAY OF PARLIAMENT BUILDING BEFORE WE DISINHERIT YOU.’
‘Oh,’ Aesthar said, as surprising numbers of tartan-clad spiritoids began to appear and jostle up alongside her - quickly beginning to overload the metalloids’ motion-detection sensors. ‘That’s just a little program I like to call Reverse Tetriscide? It completely unlocks and reverses access to politically-sensitive astral edifices. Appears to be working perfectly, don’t you think?’
‘EXPLAIN,’ the metalloids stated, sounding faintly distressed. ‘EXPLAIN UNEXPECTED PROFLIGACY OF SPIRITOIDS OR BE DISINHERITED.’
‘That would be something else I like to call The August Offensive,’ Aesthar grinned at the baffled robots. ‘I sourced it from this town’s real-world equivalent? It’s designed to simulate the potential overpopulation and overloading of any given built-up astral environment - It’s based on an arts festival, but you wouldn’t know what one of them was. Soon an infinitely-increasing number of foreign spiritoids will overrun the area, destroy your parliament and release the Problem. It was the Problem I came for, if you want to note that on your records? There’s not really anything you can do about it. Sorry.’
‘YOU WILL BE… PREVENTED. FROM DOING THIS,’ one of the metalloids declared, before being knocked down and trampled underfoot by a number of paper-distributing and singing spiritoids.
Aesthar felt the world begin to tremble. She produced some pieces of holocard from her hypothetical pocket and offered them to further newly-arrived and panicking metalloids, who were already getting dragged away by ghostly revellers.
‘Would you like a flyer for my show? She asked: more to irritate McPuck than for any other reason. ‘It’s called, “Blow up the outside world.” It’s just starting now! You’d better prepare yourself. The reviews say it’s an explosive experience.’