Book Excerpt: A DIAMOND DREAM by Eli K.P. William







The Tokyo Canal


All was fire, a great conflagration roaring from the charcoal of a starless cosmos. Billowing and flaring, licking and swelling, the flames raged so fiercely they made the universe an oven for existence itself. The substance of galaxies crackled into nothingness, time melted into stasis, space reduced to the ashes of nowhere. Not even fire could escape this blaze, a fire to end all fires. Until the next cycle, at least . . .

Or is it fire? thought Amon. Then what had appeared to be an inferno of measureless intensity began to dwindle rapidly, settling into something much more mundane: squirming twinkles and shadow dapples that wavered and merged against a field of pale orange and red—his eyelids turned translucent by light filtering through them.

Amon could only suppose that he had just woken from sleep, though it felt like no awakening he had ever known. Lacking was the firmness of a futon, floor, or other surface at his side or back. Lacking was the touch of any covering fabric like clothes or blankets. Lacking also was any heat or cold, any taste or scent. The glow that defied his closed eyes told him there was something outside, and yet everything else seemed to suggest otherwise. He might have doubted he had a body at all, if not for the faint throbbing in his chest synched to a slow thumping in his inner ear, and the ever-so-gradual rise and fall of his abdomen. His heart was beating and he was breathing—sure signs that he was still alive, which surprised him, though he couldn’t rally the effort to remember why. The idea of dredging up a memory from the stagnant murk of his consciousness was too daunting to bear. The best his will could manage was to open his eyes.

When the curtain of embers lifted away, Amon found himself upright in midair with his chin resting on his sternum. The long drop to the floor past the slope of his bare torso startled him, and rousing the sleep-deadened muscles of his neck, he lifted his head.

It seemed that he was floating unsupported near the ceiling of a capacious room hung with rows of huge blobs. The distance remaining above his head was nearly equal to his height, while the fall below his limply hanging toes might have been ten times that.

As drowsiness gave way to the sharp clarity of fear, Amon began to rotate his head from side to side, peering warily around him, and saw that the blobs were enormous fruit. Slightly taller from base to tip than he was, they were shaped like long slender figs with dark purple or burgundy skin, and dangled from the ceiling on cobalt stems at uneven intervals in every direction. Amon was suspended alongside them, completely naked, as though his gaunt, brown body had ripened from the air. The room was otherwise empty and might have resembled an unstocked warehouse, if not for the unusual material of its surfaces. The fruit-laden ceiling just above, the floor far below, and the distant walls they met were all composed of plants packed together into a solid foam-like mass—a great variety of tightly braided fronds, cacti, leaves, stems—some of which glowed in festive colors, combining into a soft apricot light.

The back of Amon’s neck began to tingle with unease at the uncanny scene. Suddenly restless, he windmilled his arms and splayed his legs every which way, but could “nd no grip or footing. He bucked and twisted to spin himself around, but could get no traction. Whatever he did, his torso remained “xed in the same position and orientation as if by some subtle force like gravity, though he felt as light as dandelion #u$. Apparently, the transparent medium he was breathing held him without providing enough resistance to swim, though it felt literally like nothing, unaccompanied even by gentle brushing through his nostrils.

With each second that passed, Amon liked being stuck there less, an ant in invisible honey, and began to search around for some way to escape. He soon noticed that the spacing of the strange fruits was not as random as it had first appeared; their layout followed a pattern, and the spot he occupied seemed to be a gap. Sure enough, when he squinted and focused his eyes in the right way, he could make out a faint barrier surrounding him in the shape of one of the fruits, like a diaphanous membrane.

What is this place? Who has left me in this cage? A jolt of panic linked Amon’s awareness to a memory of the same feeling, to another moment of panic. A mangled face was staring out from a hidden crevice of his mind. Jets of horror and revulsion groaned out from cracks in the subliminal darkness. Barrow lying bloody on the floor, “Intruder!” called out in his ruined voice, guards with assault dusters swarming in. With a shudder, Amon let his head and limbs fall slack again, overwhelmed by his recollection of maiming this man and by the ominous certainty that he was forgetting something even more awful from earlier that day, a wound howling in the depths of him. But he wasn’t ready to go down there just yet, and pushed the apparition of Barrow aside. Breath coming shallow and fast, he forced himself to recall instead what had happened next.

Amon had fled down the stairs of the Cyst, with Barrow’s lackeys in close pursuit, nerve dusting any armed person that crossed his path. He remembered now with anguish their screams before they tumbled down the stairs one after the next.

Once he had leapt down the final flight and burst outside, he looked up toward the roof of the Cyst. He was thinking how he might climb the surrounding buildings undetected to meet there with Rashana, still circling overhead in her rotorcraft, when an alarm call went out, “Security alert! OpSci intruder! Fire on sight! Alert!” as a bell sounded overhead.

So Amon kept running, seeking the narrowest squeezeways, unwatched by sentinels who might identify the OpSci disguise he still wore, but he soon lost his way. Most of the disposcrapers had been thrown up willy-nilly after the devastation wrought by the council coup the night before, and the reconstructed slumscape was unfamiliar to him. With the alarm call propagating from lookout to lookout far above, Amon knew it would reach the tunnels out of Xenocyst well before he did. When he spotted a nook just above the path, he shimmied up to empty his aching bladder in the corner and consider ways to escape.

He had eluded Sekido after the jazz bar brawl by stealing digiguises from the passengers on an elevator. Could he try a similar trick here? It made him ashamed to recall it, but he had then opened several nearby doors until he found a man napping alone on the pocked floor of his disposable room and held him up for his clothes. Although the hoody and jeans would have been a tight fit already, Amon decided to put them on over his OpSci uniform, wanting layers for the chill of night, and so left his hapless victim shivering in his underwear. It was a piteous sight, but at least the man had shelter. That was more than Amon could say.

Emboldened by his new disguise, Amon followed the crowd along the main passages that forked and undulated through the dense-leaning shelter-mounds. In spite of the bells and alarm calls that kept sounding overhead, none of the watch posted on ledges overlooking the intersections gave him a second glance. But soon the foot tra&c thickened, and when it came to a complete halt, he realized that his pursuers must have choked o$ the nearest border checkpoint for a more thorough inspection than usual. So he shouldered his way back through the oncoming crowd and peeled o$ into a branching alleypath. O&cial checkpoints would have normally been the only way out of Xenocyst, but Amon had seen numerous breaches in the outer walls on his way in that morning—damage from the battle just the previous night—and he was willing to bet that some had yet to be sealed.

Worming through obscure crawlcrannies and winding up crumbling stairspirals, he gradually looped closer to the border. It was while he was hopping up a paddleway that he spotted one of the breaches. It fronted a small, busy square of worn concrete on ground level, and Amon paused on his paddle to observe.

The crack in the looming disposcraper wall had been enormous only a few hours earlier but was now mostly filled with new rooms, and a construction crew bucket brigade arranged across the square in an L formation was handing along roombuds to finish the job. Once placed, each roombud unfolded into a room, steadily patching the damage. All that remained was a gap just wide enough for five or six adults abreast, with a dozen guards stationed around it. An endless train of supply pilgrims descended a meandering chain of staircase stubs into the square, threading between the members of the bucket brigade. Most crossed and disappeared into a squeezeway on the other side, but some pulled out of line and walked past the guards to enter or climb the intact buildings that edged the breach. If he could mingle with these border residents, Amon realized, he might be able to steal away from the train and out the opening before anyone noticed.

Leaping from the paddleway to kick off a roomslope, and doing a balancing act along a thin ledge of misaligned rooftop, he managed to reach a flat shelf above the stairchain. He then hang-dropped gently into the train—only slightly jostling those around him—and went down the stairs as nonchalantly as he could, blood pulsing hard in his temples when he reached the square and trudged through the bucket brigade. Soon the breach was on his right, and he veered away from the line, heading for the neighboring disposcrapers, the three guards he passed looking off wearily. All he had to do was enter one of the rooms beside the opening and kick through the brittle Fleet walls to sneak in from the side. Then with enough care and luck he might hide behind the new rooms filling the breach and creep into the buffer canyon that ringed Xenocyst. Only a few more steps to the building.

“Halt,” a woman barked from behind. Amon strode onward, pretending not to hear. “You! Tall one!” she yelled. “Stop NOW!” He quelled the impulse to run and turned around, hoping to talk his way out of it. Cradling an assault duster, the woman plodded over while two men stood back and watched with hands on holsters.

“What’s that under there?” she demanded, pointing a finger on the hand holding the barrel at his chest. Looking down, he saw that a palmsized hole had flaked open in his stolen hoody, revealing a swatch of OpSci patchwork. Amon spun on his heels and dashed for the breach, zigzagging erratically.

“The intruder is here!” a man bellowed. A patter of dust ripped past Amon’s right as he sprinted the breach, careened left to put the wall between him and the guns, and bounded across the cratered tarmac of the buffer canyon into an alley on the other side. Turning a corner, he thought he’d made it safe until he heard an awful noise.

Gwak-crish-sh-sh-sh. The walls to his left shattered and the building collapsed like an accordion. One second solid, towering. The next a waterfall of Fleet rubble and howling people. Demolition dust.

The noise went off three more times, and other disposcrapers cascaded around him with a surf-like crash and an explosion of screams. Thin shards pelted him from all sides, something heavy struck his shoulder, knocking him over, and he was buried alive.

He scrabbled his way to the surface, only to burst out into more dust shots from the border watch, and took off, clambering on all fours, then stumbling full tilt over hillocks of debris. Another wall approached just ahead, suggesting cover, but he knew better now.

Amon was almost ready to lay down and give up—when he saw it! A crack in a strip of tarmac. No, a chasm. And before he could think what might be down there, he hopped in feet first.

Recalling now the reeking breath from the depths of the slum that rose to meet him as he fell, Amon was unsure if he’d been trying to flee for his life or kill himself. Before he could decide, the stem of the fruit snapped above him and he found himself falling in the present too.

“Yahhh,” he yelled, flailing his limbs in terror as the fruit began to tilt to his left and the floor rushed towards him. Landing horizontal, there was a painless judder and a bounce; then he settled on his side, and felt a warm draft on his face. His head had broken through the transparent skin, and sparkles now sizzled around him as the nectar he’d been breathing met the air. The hole’s promise of escape drove him to frenzy, and he lunged through, stretching it wider with his elbows, before writhing and wriggling the rest of the way out.

When he’d scrambled to his feet atop the plantfoam floor, standing before him was a man.

“Good morning, Amon,” said the man, his feminine voice a surprising contrast to his muscular build. “Apologies for having to release you so suddenly. We had no opportunity to give you the usual orientation before you went in.”

“W-who are you? Why? Why was I . . .” Amon pointed down at the fruit. The clear membrane was beginning to take on a purple sheen as the sparkles continued to leak out.

“It was the doctors’ orders,” the man told him, looking him up and down with the distant eyes of the bankliving, and Amon felt ashamed and defenseless in his nakedness.

“What doctors? Where am I?”

“Atupio Home Office.”

“Atupio? So you had me in a LimboQuarium?” asked Amon in disbelief, glancing down again. The rapidly deflating husk had turned a blackish red, and was now as opaque as the hanging fruits above. “I don’t have webloss.”

“We understand that. Er for the Giftless is on the upper floors. This is our sensory deprivation orchard. The cells are normally for expansion of consciousness—like that one.” The man pointed up at a fruit some distance away. Now see-through, it contained a young, naked boy. “In your case, my medicorps thought it would help speed your recovery. When your vitals showed improvement this morning, they recommended that we wake you up.”

Amon watched the boy float there under the apricot glow. He imagined himself inside his fruit soaking in darkness and the light seeping through his eyelids as the skin gradually turned clear, bringing the fire. Or had the fire come before that? Something told Amon that he had come from that blaze and that he would give it to many others. . . .

“Recovery from what?” said Amon, groping for some memory that might explain.

The man studied him, considering how to respond. Again Amon felt his nakedness. He could only hope that the man had politely digimade him with clothes.

“Are you feeling up for a talk?” the man asked.

“I think so,” Amon replied. The shock of the fall had blown away the last wisps of his grogginess. His body was surprisingly loose, thoughts honed in on the moment despite his confusion. “I guess you’re one of the staff?”

“Better get dressed,” said the man, pointing to the floor at his feet. There, Amon now noticed, rested some neatly folded hemp clothes and a pair of slippers.

“What’s your role here?” he persisted, as he bent over to take the underwear and pull it on.

“I’m in charge of this place.”

“Of this . . . orchard?”

“Of Atupio.”

“A manager, then?”



“You know me, Amon. Under the name Makesh Adani when we met. But do call me by my real name this time.”

With the hospital gown around his shoulders, Amon’s fingers paused on the laces at the back. “Rashana?”

The man nodded, and Amon frowned in perplexity. Now it was his turn to eye the man up and down. A full head shorter than Amon, he wore an off-white hemp T-shirt tight enough to display his large biceps and pectorals, and navy pants with a drawstring over equally bulky legs, leaving visible the richly tanned skin from his beefy forearms down and from his thick neck up. In contrast to his stocky build, the man’s face was stretched sleek—thin nose, pointy goateed chin, and small flattened-back ears, the shadow of buzzed hair receding symmetrically from his long narrow head, the hint of a grin adding a sardonic tinge to his otherwise cool scrutinizing expression.

“You’re not the Rashana I know,” said Amon.

“This man is one of my closest assistants,” the man replied. “When he’s not serving as a vehicle for my words, we call him ‘Ono X.’”

A vehicle for my words . . . the peculiar phrase echoed in Amon’s mind as he stepped into the slippers. So had he found Rashana at last? But if it was really her, he wondered why she had to speak through someone else. Could this man be lying? Were there actually medical reasons for keeping Amon trapped? No stories of visits to Atupio that he could recall had mentioned warehouses spun of jungle with boys tripping out in the canopy. What if he was actually somewhere else? What if the person speaking through this man was, in fact, Rashana’s twin sister Anisha?

“Come, we’d better do this in person,” said Rashana, or Ono X, or whoever, and they began to walk away. Trying not to let his wariness show, Amon followed, glancing once over his shoulder at the now-empty husk of the fruit and its torn stem above, his fluid step nothing like what one would expect of a man who had just risen from the ashes.

While Amon shadowed the man across the vast floor, his eyes traced its intricate material—a mosaic of fruits, pods, grains, and flowers interlaced through densely compacted greenery. With every step, he felt the weave of the organic mass through his thin slippers.

Soon a wall began to loom. It was composed of the same plantfoam, except for the spot they were headed for. There a wide, uneven swathe of chainmail-weave thorns, each as long and sharp as a butcher’s knife, rose nearly a third of the way to the high ceiling.

When they arrived, the man inserted his pinky into a small hole at waist height and pricked it on the tiny thorn inside. This caused the other thorns to unlink and retract, unveiling a rectangular portal into a hallway of more plantfoam. As Amon stepped through behind the man, he drew in his shoulders involuntarily, shrinking from the inward-pointing spines that edged the doorway, a gruesome image of what might happen to a trespasser filling his mind’s eye.

Following the man along the hallway now, Amon watched as vibrant beetles, geckos, caterpillars, and other innocuous critters emerged from tiny seams in the flora before disappearing back inside. He even saw a flying squirrel no bigger than a fingernail perform a gliding jump, skimming up the wall to his left, only to slip out of sight. Oddly, he never spotted any of these creatures on the floor, as though they knew their boundaries. Cricket chirps, harmonic cicada buzzes, and soft rhythmic hisses melded into a pleasant wash of sound, and Amon found his fear of this bizarre place and the man who claimed to speak for another fighting waves of relaxation. He was having trouble believing his eyes and ears. It just had to be an overlay, except that the surround was consistent across all senses, even those not captured by the ImmaNet. The textured brush of the floor against the soles of his slippers. The warm and moist yet soothing air. The soft fragrance like strawberry with a dash of fudge and hibiscus. His awareness felt sharper than usual, even though he had just awoken . . . from the abundance of oxygen, perhaps?

The plantfoam walls on both sides were interrupted at nearly even intervals by more gates of thorn. Amon was wondering where these might open to when he espied patches of transparent leaves embedded in the left wall ahead. Randomly strewn from floor to ceiling, they linked and clustered into jagged windows that revealed a gymnasium of similar immensity to the room he had just left. On an empty stretch of floor between a ramified fungus jungle gym and a multi-story hedge-maze obstacle course, boys and girls of about seven or eight wearing T-shirts and loose pants much like the man’s were sparring and practicing grapples in pairs. Several heads turned as they passed, and Amon met lucid eyes with large pupils. Obviously not distracted by the vistas of the ImmaNet, which would seem to suggest these kids were bankdead. And yet, this facility was unlike any bankdeath camp Amon had ever seen or heard of.

When the man turned a corner down an intersecting hallway, there were more leaf-windows in the left wall, displaying a much smaller room that only puzzled Amon further. More children sat on chairs of moss arranged in a circle around a young woman. With their arms extended on rests in front of them, nestled in customized grooves, their fingers twitching commands, they all had the Elsewhere Gaze. The scene was reminiscent of Amon’s early edutainment classes in Green Ladybug. So this was a BioPen, then? But for bankdead kids? Or were they bankliving after all?

“I hadn’t meant to bring you here until after we’d spoken,” said the man, glancing Amon over with concern. “But bear with me, Amon. I’ll be arriving soon enough.”

Amon nodded, his confusion growing with each step. He followed the man down two more turns until the hallway ended at a double door of dry, empty honeycomb. There the man pricked his pinky inside another aperture, this time on the stinger of a bee. The doors opened into what looked like the interior of an abandoned beehive in the shape of a shipping elevator, the hexagons brimming with honey. Those holes beside the doors must be genome readers, Amon realized as they boarded, reminded of the vendors and feeders in the District of Dreams. But this man is bankliving, so why would genetic clearance—

The doors snapped open before Amon could finish his thought, and he jumped back as hundreds of pink bees poured abruptly from cracks between the cells into the hallway outside. They began to buzz around or crawl into a proliferation of flowers blooming from the walls and ceiling, when, to his relief, the doors shut.

Almost instantly they slid apart again, but the hive-elevator seemed to have arrived at a different floor. The bees were gone, and the hallway outside was even more vibrant, festooned in addition to many-colored blossoms with neon orange toads and ladybug-patterned vines. While the man led him onward, Amon hesitantly touched the wall to his right, stroking his fingertips along the indentations and bumps of the braided verdure, and was filled with awe. Who built this? Why? The lower floor was clearly some sort of BioPen, but Atupio wasn’t supposed to be involved in the human resource industry. That was the business of other arms of Fertilex, over which Anisha had executive control. One reason to doubt the man’s claims about where they were and who he spoke for and, as disoriented as Amon was, he resolved to keep his wits about him. Poised now to defend himself if it came to it, alone in this enclosing complex where even the doors had teeth.



Eventually the man stopped at what Amon took to be a pointillist painting hanging from ceiling to floor. It depicted a diamond that floated in a blue sky, where it was set aglow by numerous beams of light angling from below. The moment he realized that the dots composing it were not in fact dabs of paint but blue, white, grey, and brown nuts and seeds, the man inserted his finger into another hole in the wall, and these solid pigments swished aside, reeled into the walls. It was a door! And through the doorway was a sort of boardroom, with a long coral table in the center and six of the same mossy chairs placed around it. The man ushered Amon inside, where he could now see a tree-shaped aquarium of transparent amber embedded in the far wall. From the tip of the roots at the floor to their base about halfway up the wall, the aquarium was filled with mud and stones, while from the bottom of the trunk to the tips of the leaves along the ceiling, innumerable fish—in a rainbow of colors—swam. Their wild swirling made Amon’s head churn, and he was grateful when the man gestured to the chair at the head of the table with the aquarium out of sight behind.

“Please take a seat,” he said. “I won’t be a moment.”


Eli K.P. William
Twitter: @Dice_Carver

Author of the Jubilee Cycle trilogy
Book 1: Cash Crash Jubilee
Book 2: The Naked World
Final Book: A Diamond Dream (in stores now!)

Source: Auto Draft

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