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Beings of Light - Chapter 3

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By PaulPower
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Once they had finished consoling Mark’s family, Mark and Alex returned to training.  Alex finished explaining the basics of the job, and the rest of their shift passed uneventfully, if in a sombre fashion.

When they returned to the tower, Holly was waiting to meet them. “I heard about the diary – I’m so sorry, Mark.  If there’s anything I could do to cheer you up…”

There seemed to be a hidden meaning in that phrase.  Mark looked up at Holly’s beautiful face, and noticed a certain extra sparkle in her eyes.

“Err… perhaps we could have a quiet walk?” he asked.
“Sure.  I know just the place.  A few years ago Alex, helped by a few other recently-Enlightened Holosims – myself included – built a little garden on the roof of the tower.  Alex may have mentioned it already: he’s quite proud of it.  We know Holonet disapproves of organic life, but she isn’t completely heartless.  Besides, if she went round deleting all Holosims who didn’t live up to her standards, there wouldn’t be many of us left.” She smiled a little nervously.

“A garden sounds good,” replied Mark.  Aside from the massive vegetable farms used to keep humanity fed, and the odd weed, his experience with plants was quite limited.  He’d found out a little bit about flowers from approved reading material (mainly from the continued propaganda that it was the Holosims who created organic life, and not the other way round.  The sheer arrogance of that lie still affronted him.  The fact that they had all the cards was bad enough, but the bluffing…).

As he stepped out of the lift at the top of the tower, he saw immediately that Holly had been understating.  The garden was magnificent.  A layer of artificial nutrient-rich soil had allowed the construction of a rich and varied horticultural masterpiece.  It was only as large as the top of the tower, of course, but that was still pretty reasonable – and the sheer density of scent and colour was enough to make anyone marvel.

Holly glanced at his slack-jawed expression. “Yeah, we were pretty pleased with the results, too.  So which bit would you like to see first?”

They explored the garden in great detail over the next few hours: it really was clever how much was in there, and as night fell the whole thing became fresh and exciting all over, as the night-flowers opened up. Their conversation came in fits and bursts – a few brief sentences on some topic or other, followed by a long lapse into a difficult silence, then another few sentences on a different topic.  Every so often, they brushed into each other by accident, and every time they did it felt like a supernova had just gone off in Mark’s heart.  And every time Holly spoke, it felt like a jewel had just popped out of thin air and landed delicately in his hand.

It seemed absurd how quickly his feelings for Holly were growing.  Mark had been attracted to girls once or twice as a human, but never had anything progressed as rapidly as this.  Holosims don’t get hot under the collar as such, but Mark definitely felt uncomfortable as he tried to work his way up to saying what he wanted to say.

The hours continued to pass and the sky began to grow light again.  They had been out there all night.  Holly motioned towards an east-facing bench overlooking the countryside around the camp. “We can watch the sun rise,” she suggested.

They sat and watched as the Sun peeked over the horizon.  Mark had seen it happen before; early morning physical training in the winter months meant that he had often been up before the sun had risen.  And he had to admit it was always something that had given him brief joy.  But it felt doubly – no, exponentially – no, infinitely more special sitting here now, with Holly.  It was just as he was deciding that he had finally generated the courage to get it over with and say how much he loved her that, completely out of the blue, Holly said, “You can hold my hand if you like.”

Mark’s eyes bulged for a second. “How – how did you –”
“Guess?  Reading people’s body language is a knack you soon pick up when you work closely with humans and newly enlightened Holosims.  I knew from the minute we saw each other you felt something for me.”
“Well – what can I say?  For me, you’re the most beautiful creature that ever existed.”

Holly smiled modestly. “Thanks.  You’re not so bad yourself.  You were a pretty fine specimen before you became a Holosim, and now…”

Mark swallowed nervously. “Sorry if that wasn’t very romantic or anything…”
“Well, we Holosims are never very big on this kind of thing.  Procreation is technically possible, but needless as we live forever anyway.  Many of the fundamentalists among us believe that the only person we should love is Holonet.  The only reason we even keep to male/female forms is through force of habit.  I’ve Enlightened several Holosims who took it as an opportunity to have an impromptu sex change.  It was the first time they felt they could truly be themselves.

“True love between two Holosims is very rare, so rare that we typically don’t know what to do with it if we encounter it.  Most standard tokens of love – chocolate, flowers, whatever – are kind of lost on us…”
“What about this?” asked Mark, and he kissed her.  There was a pleasant tingling sensation.  The forcefields do make Holosims feel slightly tingly to the touch, but Mark suspected that there may be something extra here.

Holly smiled. “Well, yes, there is still that.  And of course something else…”
“Something else?” Mark’s throat ran dry.  His emotions simulator was working overtime.

But before Holly could reply, a message appeared in his mind and he sat bolt upright. “Sergeant Alex Williams and Recruit Mark Andrews, please report to Captain Johnson’s office for Inspection…

Holly suddenly saw his change in expression. “What’s wrong, Mark?”
“I’m not sure.  I’ve just been told to go to Captain Johnson’s office.  Something to do with an inspection, I think.”
“Inspection?  Oh no, Mark.  You don’t know what that means.  Holonet’s here.  In person.  They’ve extracted the special light bee they use to contain her physical form when she visits.  Every base has one, that she downloads herself into as and when necessary.  Johnson must have requested her presence to help tie up all the loose ends after that time capsule discovery.”

Loose ends, thought Mark.  After the actions of Alex and I, are we both loose ends?  And how will we be tied up?

“What’ll happen to me?”
“I don’t know.  It depends what mood she’s in.  If it’s a bad one, you could be deleted.  Oh, Mark, I don’t want to lose you.  Not now.  Not ever, come to that.  Be careful.  Don’t say anything out of line that might put her in a bad mood.  Look, you should go now.  You don’t want to keep Holonet waiting…”

Mark nodded hurriedly and ran off.  As he did so, he mentally requested a map of the building from the computer archives, and found Johnson’s office on the third floor.  He worked out the fastest route in seconds, and headed off their as fast as he could (which was of course very fast, as a Holosim)

Outside the room, sitting on a bench, he found Alex.

“Hi, kid.  What’s new?  Don’t worry about the inspection just yet.  The previous pair have only just gone in.  How was your night?  Oh, and hey – what d’you think of my garden?  I saw you and Holly heading up there.”

Mark relaxed a little.  Despite the circumstances, there was something very comforting about Alex’s informal manner.

“The garden’s lovely, Alex.  It’s very cleverly done.”
“Yeah, I’m very proud of it.  There’s a surprising amount of electronics gone into that, y’know - the sprinkler systems and the solar collectors and so on.  But anyway.  What about Holly?  There seems to be some chemistry between you, and I’m not talking baking powder and lemon juice here.  I’m talking caesium and water.”

Mark was mildly amused by the chemistry references.  He remembered seeing a video – mainly about the frailty of the human form – demonstrating the caesium/water reaction.  The horrific results on the poor human being forced to conduct the experiment still haunted him, but it was still a spectacular explosion.  The aptness of Alex’s analogy was not lost on him.

He explained where they had got to so far, and how much further they might get if he survived this inspection.

“Hey, congratulations.  I was in love once – a few years ago, I was training up this new female Holosim, Helen, and we fell head-over-heels in love.”
“What happened to her?”
“Well, she wasn’t too keen on Holonet’s policies.  She got away with it for a month or two, but one day we had an Inspection.  Holonet discovered that Helen wasn’t exactly ‘on the level’, and promptly deleted her.  I was in the room at the time, and saw it happen.  It wasn’t much fun.  Holonet was in a terrible mood that day, I recall.  I was thunderstruck, to tell you the truth - I’ve never really been the same since…”

Mark swallowed.  How could he ever hope to survive this?

“I wouldn’t worry too much, though.  I saw Emma and Mahmood come out earlier – they’re the other two who supported our attempt to spare Sarah’s life.  From what I can gather, she’s in a good mood today.  And of course there are mitigating circumstances – she was your sister, and the daughter of one of my friends.”
“How do you reckon she’d feel about you calling my dad a ‘friend’?”
“Hmm.  I don’t know.  Again, there are mitigating circumstances.  I haven’t been a Holosim that long…”
“Ten years!”
“Blink of an eye for us, mate.  Anything not on the timescale of multiple human lifetimes is.  Usually, the less time you’ve been a Holosim, the more sympathetic you are towards humans. Emma’s been a Holosim for five years, and Mahmood for three.  Practically everyone else in Johnson’s squad comes from the pre-Holonet era.  The corporal who actually energised Sarah is one of the first lot of Holosims, like Johnson.

“Still having empathy for humans after ten years may be stretching it a little, but if you work closely with humans and newly enlightened Holosims like Holly and I do, you tend to retain it a bit better.  Look at Holly – fifteen years as a Holosim, and she can still look a human in the eye without sneering.  So is it any surprise if I still care for an old human friend’s family?” he asked innocently.

“You’re even more in the clear.  You’ve only been a Holosim one day, and she was a ‘former’ blood relation.  It’s no wonder you stuck up for her.”

Mark took these words of reassurance as well as he could, but he knew that the “Sarah” business was only the tip of a very large iceberg, which would surely be uncovered as soon as Holonet read his mind…

At that point the door opened, and Johnson ushered the previous pair out.  He turned to Alex and Mark “You two wait a minute while I brief Holonet on the situation.” he said sharply, and shut the door behind him.

Alex turned to the two guards who had just been let out, who were both female. “How’d it go?” he asked.
“Fine,” said one of them.  She looked at them a little nastily. “It probably won’t be such an easy ride for you two, though…” They gave brief laughs and marched off down the corridor.
“Ignore her, Mark…” said Alex.  They sat there a few seconds until they heard a gruff “come in” from Johnson.

The first thing Mark noticed was Johnson, sitting at his desk.  He didn’t notice Johnson for long though, as his eyes were quickly drawn to the figure standing – no, levitating – next to him.  A good foot off the ground, surrounded by an ethereal glow and crackling with the power of several billion Holosims, was Holonet.  Despite his resentment towards Holonet, he couldn’t help feeling astonished by her presence.  Johnson – he found it hard to believe this from the old, cynical sergeant – was almost wetting himself in sheer awe.

Holonet looked at the pair of them coolly. “So, these are the ‘rebels’, eh?” she thought-joked.  Johnson laughed nervously. “Well, yes, they are.”
Hmm.  Well, as Alex mentioned earlier – yes, Alex, I was reading your mind while you had your little conversation with Mark – the circumstances are in your favour.  I won’t bother going through them again: you both know what they are.  I’m not exactly pleased, but as Alex had hoped, I am in a good mood – I was presented with seven hundred offerings of humans last night, and I’ve been on an ‘energy high’ ever since.  So I’m going to let you off.  But before you go… I’d better just check your minds closely…

She floated over to Alex, and put her hands either side of his head.  He jerked once or twice as she broke the codes surrounding his inner mind, then he relaxed. “Nothing there.  He isn’t the most devout of Holosims, but no plans to destroy me either.  There are still a few residual bits of resentment from that business with Helen, but nothing – how should I put it? – organised.  I could delete him, but why waste a source of computing power?  Mark next…

This was the moment Mark had been dreading, as Holonet put her hands either side of his head.   He began to jerk violently, and did his utmost to clear his mind.  But he noticed that for some reason his security systems hadn’t actually been penetrated. “Yep, he’s clean too,” said Holonet, even though she hadn’t actually checked in there. “Send the next pair in, captain.

Mark left with Alex, greatly puzzled by what had just happened.  Why hadn’t Holonet broken his codes?  Why did he still exist?  What was going on?

He didn’t look back, though.  If he had, however, he might have noticed Holonet slyly winking at him as he left…
Introduction: [link]
<-- Chapter 2: [link]
--> Chapter 4: [link]

So, as I've said, major overhaul, and the second half is stuff you won't have seen before as it was originally going to be the next chapter. There are also some new bits in the first half.

So now, with what's left of the old version of this chapter and quite a bit extra to account for the puzzling events revealed in the new one, I must start work on the new Chapter 4 (which would have been 6 originally. Go figure)

Previous version renamed back to "Holosims - Chapter 4" and moved to Scraps
Published:
© 2005 - 2020 PaulPower
Comments6
anonymous's avatar
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Red-Wraith's avatar
Definite improvement for the pace of the story concerning the relationship between Mark and Holly. The changes seem to be working out well.
PaulPower's avatar
Glad you think so.
manitou-full-moon's avatar
Quite interesting, especially the question of Holonet's motives regarding Mark...
marcasireland's avatar
I read up to this and it is a very good concept and story. When are you hoping to release chapter four?
PaulPower's avatar
Some time tomorrow, I hope.
marcasireland's avatar
I read up to this and it is a very good concept and story. When are you hoping to release chapter four?
anonymous's avatar
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