a science fiction novel
by Tom Cool
Beyond the darkened membrane that obscured the neighboring
realm gleamed a red flare. Trickster looked up from his pearl
and saw the flare, Cat's signal for request-to-enter. Since
he had been devoting energy to the study of the pearl, he had
neglected the landscape of his personal realm.
It won't do . . . a visit from Cat is too special . . .
Trickster waved his hand across the land. Planar surfaces
wrinkled into riotous flowering gardens. Columns
metamorphosed into golden oak and scarlet maple trees.
Hemispheres grew into the more complex shapes of rolling
hills that dropped off abruptly in a cliff. The distance,
once simple darkness, melted into a violet-and-ruby sunset
over a golden sea. Trickster pointed and made a "ghghghg"
sound deep in his throat. A standing lighting bolt erupted in
the middle distance, crackling, charging the air with ozone,
illuminating the landscape in shifting intensities of bright
white light. Trickster smiled. He pointed to the hanging red
flare and beckoned. The flare arched over the frontier into
Trickster's realm, landed on the ground and exploded like a
bomb. The explosion sent a shock wave spreading through the
land, modifying the colors of the gardens, trees, sea and
sunset into something more subtle, sophisticated and
harmonious. The standing lightning bolt, when touched by the
shock wave, tumbled end-over-end until it stood upright
before Trickster's temple, where it imploded into Cat's
default avatar. She knelt respectfully outside of Trickster's
open air temple, one knee raised, one knee to the dirt.
"We need you, Trickster," Cat said. Her voice was simple and
mellow. Trickster loved the simple sound of Cat's voice, so
empty of the nuances he heard in the others.
Cat did not want to intrude any more than necessary, but she
couldn't help staring at Trickster's pearl. She could see
Trickster's convex image swimming and merging in the surface
of the pearl with troubled images of their lost brother.
Trickster opened his ears to Battle Space. "All I hear is
some heavy steel. You losing in the metal?"
"They got screaming steel, Trickster," Cat said. "They're
pounding monstrous hard."
Trickster grimaced. "Talk to me, Cat."
"Talk. My command, Snake's campaign plan. Plan didn't work
and we're eating steel. Take over my position and try to make
the best of it."
"Why should I? Let Snake eat his defeat. He listened to the
iron-hands and went for the frontal attack."
"Because I hope that the tribe's electronic wizard may see
something brilliant. Because I like to watch you move."
Trickster smiled. "I love you too, Cat, but what's love
between software modules?"
"We ain't software, Trickster. We're people."
Trickster smiled more gently. "People. I'll play your
position, because I do love you. You're algorithmically
elegant. But no whining later."
Trickster rose to his feet and tossed the pearl at Cat.
Knowing Trickster, Cat hesitated before she caught it. In the
instant of touching its smooth cool surface, she found
herself immersed in an intense recreated memory . . .
Cat was a small baby, swaddled, pressed against the back of
her parent. The visual input triggered long-forgotten
memories of the comforting warmth, humidity and feel of her
parent's back muscles moving as she walked. The sling
shifted. Looking up, she saw the radiant round face of her
parent. Then her perspective jumped from child to child. She
realized that every child had her own parent, all walking at
the same pace across a vast grassy plain.
Cat remembered that once the world had been wealthy in
parents. This triggered her own suppressed memory of the
disappearance of her parent. A stab of grief surprised her.
Her eyes were filling with hot tears.
Cat dropped the pearl. Exiting his temple, Trickster
elongated one arm and snagged the pearl. He twisted his hand
and it disappeared. He stepped to the edge of the cliff. He
had a glorious view of the red sun setting behind clouds
distant over the sea, rolling golden forested hills and the
glimmering surface of a river winding seaward.
He stepped off the cliff, but rather than falling, he crossed
over the threshold into Battle Space. The rest of the tribe
was gathered there at War Council Rock.
He could see two hundred miles out over the Bekka Valley. It
was a great rift valley, green with irrigated farms between
the western mountains and the eastern rolling hills and
desert. Far to the north lay the next battle problem,
shrouded in mist. Rainbow colors traced through that mist.
Trickster wondered whether it was Dreamer, once again
ignoring the present battle problem while she reconnoitered
the future problem. Some place called Japan, she says,
He turned his attention to the Bekka valley. Thirty two
surface-to-air missile batteries were deployed throughout the
valley. Anti-aircraft artillery and missile batteries were
attacking some of the tribe's aircraft, while others wheeled
and swooped in close air combat with enemy aircraft. In this
problem, the enemy were monsters called Syrians and
"I take command," Trickster ordered. "Total link. Open all
A flood of information assaulted his mind. Communications
links jabbered. Radars whined and bleated. Icons and images
wheeled and zoomed.
Assaulted by information, Trickster's mind tensed. Too
much information, too much . . . He forced himself to
relax. He was weary of the information and tired of fighting
through it. Energy, energy . . . I'm still stronger than
any of it . . . Dozens of communications links jabbered.
He relaxed, listening to none, hearing all. He monitored each
voice without listening to it, grasping the essential
elements in each. The whining and bleating of radars
skittered across the back of his acoustic attention. Their
noises were reassuring, confirming the validity of the icons
swooping and banking in his mind's sight as the fighter
aircraft turned and twisted in combat.
His fingers waved. When he scowled, portions of the
battlefield zoomed in closer in his mind's sight. He rocketed
his point of view across the battle field, checking rates of
fire of the anti-aircraft artillery, attrition rates of the
dogfights, fuel levels of the engaged fighters. Flashing
through the communications links, he checked a hundred
important details and grasped the multitude of elements of a
ongoing battle. He knew the battle was lost. The enemy had
them located. Fuel levels in the friendly aircraft were low.
The tribe's home airfields were distant.
"System," Trickster said.
The master agent of the world appeared in its default form, a
flat black vertical bar. It opened a semantic interface,
shooting images, sounds and extrasensory information directly
into Trickster's senses.
"What?" System asked.
"New commander prerogative. Back up battle problem to
prehostilities. Double the stakes."
"Battle problem is well advanced. Backing up to
prehostilities will cost an eight-fold increase in stakes.
Also, your command will finalize the battle problem."
An eight-fold increase in stakes were hazardous. Trickster
checked his brothers' personal resources. If he lost, most of
their personal realms would be stripped to empty blue. They
would be reduced to eating grubs and bark. As commander of
such a disaster, Trickster's standing among them would
Yet he had seen the crux of the entire battle problem. It was
the Syrian air defense commander's broadcast. Because of an
overly centralized air defense doctrine, the enemy's entire
force pivoted on that circuit. Trickster inhaled. Exhaling,
he said, "As commander, I'll cover the entire stakes with my
own personal resources. No penalties to the others."
"Done," System said.
Immediately, the battle halted, reversed in thousand-speed to
the previous morning. The only Syrian aircraft were some MiG
fighters in standard combat air patrol over Syria and the
Bekka Valley. The tribe's air forces were in heightened
readiness, but their airborne aircraft were inside the
airspace of Israel.
Maintaining his presence in Battle Space, Trickster opened a
window into the Realm of Night, Dreamer's private realm.
"Dreamer," Trickster whispered.
Through the window, odd extrasensory signals whistled and
glowed. Trickster was unable to determine whether Dreamer,
System or some randomness loose in the Realm of Night was
generating the strange signals. As usual, Dreamer herself was
not visible. Dreamer rarely bothered with an avatar.
"Yes, Hero?" Dreamer's voice replied. Hero was Dreamer's pet
name for Trickster.
"Bust a signal for me, would you?"
"The battle is boring for me, Trickster. Talk to me about
magic. Tell me what is love."
"There is no magic, only science we haven't yet learned. Love
is what allows me to tolerate you when you are difficult."
Once-horizontal streamers inverted to the vertical, changing
colors to deep purple as they ran downwards like sugared
water. Dreamer's voice sighed suddenly close to Trickster's
ear, so strangely close that he thought for a moment that she
had violated his personal space.
"Tolerate? You don't know what patience is."
"Focus, Dreamer. I need a signal busted."
"You are warlike today," she said. "Signal the signal."
"Current problem in Battle Space, enemy air defense control."
"Hear it, plain sense."
"Thanks. Whiff of rosewood."
Dreamer didn't answer. Trickster closed the window and turned
his attention back to the battle problem. The exchange with
Dreamer had taken ten seconds, a delay well worth the
expense, because now he could understand the Syrian air
defense commander's communications as if he were speaking
Trickster aligned the tribe according to everyone's strength
and weaknesses. He gave the Israeli army to Crush, not
Berserker, because in the heat of the battle, Berserker was
capable of crossing the frontier. Trickster was determined to
limit this battle to the air. He broke the Israeli air force
into squadrons, giving a squadron each to Cat, Trance,
Cut-Back, even Skipper, who was as brilliant in the air as
she was miserable on the ground.
He explained the campaign plan. Snake tried to criticize, but
Trickster shut him off and put him in charge of the Israeli
navy, which had no role in the battle strategy. Then the
tribe launched 247 aircraft in radio-silence, keeping them in
low orbit so that Syrian radar could not detect them. Then
Trickster sent a diversion flight of six F-16 Falcons
northeast, toward Syria, high and fast.
As soon as the diversion flight crossed the frontier, the
Syrian air defense system alerted. Trickster listened to the
Syrian air defense commander declare the diversion flight
hostile and switch the air defense doctrine from ground-based
to air-based. In doing so, the Syrian commander ordered his
own surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery
batteries to hold their fire until further command, so that
they wouldn't shoot down his own fighters.
"JAM!" Trickster shouted.
This was the moment Trickster had based his entire campaign.
With ground-based jammers and electronic warfare aircraft, he
began to noise-jam the Syrian commander's circuit. It was a
soft kill, temporary but total. The last command the Syrian
ground-based air defenses had received was to hold their fire
until further notice.
"GO!" Trickster shouted.
Already airborne, the entire Israeli Air Force crossed the
frontier, low-level and fast. Seconds later, they began to
bombard the missile batteries in the Bekka Valley. F-15 and
F-16 fighters climbed to altitude, looking up and shooting up
at the Syrian fighters coming from the east. Within fourteen
minutes, the Israeli air force destroyed nineteen missile
batteries and shot down twenty-nine Syrian aircraft. It was a
flawless victory. The entire Israeli air force recovered
without a single loss.
Snake materialized at Trickster's side. Snake was wearing his
combat avatar -- all black-armored plates, spines and horns.
"Ya smart-assed show-off -- " Snake screamed.
Snake's mouth continued to work, but soundlessly. Frustrated,
Snake formed a horny fist and swung it against the membrane
separating his personal space from Trickster's. The flat
black bar of System replaced Snake's avatar. Striking a
membrane around a brother's personal space was a taboo
"Close combat," Trickster ordered.
The tribe began to cheer. Trickster smirked and stepped off
the cliff, returning to his personal realm. Here, the sun was
still setting west of peaceful lands. Without changing his
breathing, Trickster sat down tailor-seat in his marble
temple and resumed studying his pearl.
He studied the recreated memory of the parent. Using his
hands and poetic commands, he modified the image of the round
face, adding lines around the eyes that hinted at watchful
Cat knocked. "Trickster? Victory dance at the waterfall?"
"No thanks," he replied.
"You were monstrous subtle today," Cat said. "Come on,
everyone wants to dance for you."
"Not now," Trickster said.
"The next victory, then, hero. Thanks for your help. So
After hours of study and crafting the memories, the pearl
felt too heavy to hold. Trickster realized that he was tired.
He disappeared the pearl, stood, and stretched. The sun was
setting beyond the distant cliff. In the gathering darkness,
the sounds of extrasensory information began to rise.
Trickster wished he could turn it off, but it was night. Like
every night of his life, the light died and as the darkness
rose, extrasensory information wailed and whirred like the
sound of insects and iguanas in the jungle. Dreamer emerged
from her personal realm. Bodiless, she rode the pulsing
sounds of the night. Trickster knew she was there only
because he could sense the strange effects of Dreamer's art
upon the streamers and tones of extrasensory night.
Collapsing into his hammock, in the central chamber of his
temple, Trickster threw a stink at System, the Syrians, the
Egyptians, night and all of the world. Then he lost
His dreams were of Iva, moving in the other world.
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