He’s a hidden back up. A copy. Free-floating programmable tissue. He’s a chameleon.
‘What system was ever put in place that didn’t have a back up? Aren’t our organisational systems an extrapolation of our own natural tendencies? If they aren’t, they should be. Anyway, look at it – you have a King and then you have a line of succession. You build a company and you have a ladder which you can climb up.’
‘Why do I care?’
‘Who said you did? Who said you need to? I am not here to make you care; I am merely here to make you hear, but whether you listen is up to you.’
‘Listen to what?’
‘A story maybe. I didn’t exist yesterday, and some may say that I barely exist today. I docked here from out of the Sub-Text Ever found yourself waking into a morning and not knowing from where you woke, and what you woke into? This was me.’
‘OK, so you are claiming some kind of parthogenesis? And what sponsored that? I know you have suspicions, and that you believe yourself brought forth by something, and brought forth from some reason’
‘Of course. I said a story, didn’t I? Yes, I think I did.
‘Once there was a man named Skein, and that man was another man called Coran Andress that was trying to forget himself. That man created a Deus Ex Machina he called AIM to destroy the narrative that he had written a long time ago, which anchored him in memory, and kept him being Coran, when he wished to unwind into Skein.
‘There was word that a man – a sniper – placed a bullet in the heart of the mirror, and that one of these fragments, known as David Arnover, went forth into the world to disguise himself as a writer, and to tell the whole tale as a way of forgetting.’
‘OK, and what are you?’
‘I am the shell that carried the viral load that is the original story. When I whisper in your ear you will hear the viral heat of This Burning World singing to you.’
‘And your name?’
‘You may call me Palimpsest.’
‘Layer upon layer upon layer – story build atop story. I try not to read too much myself, Mr Palimpsest. I find all these words tiring – all these anchoring prophecies natter in my ear, and nag me; and I would rather that there were silence. You fellows do seem to love the sounds of your own damned voices, and for me that is something I am done with.
‘You tell me where I need to go, and you tell me who I am. You are never lost for an answer, but you are strangers to questions … why? Because you do not want to hear anyone else speak. How does that work for you? Do you find being fond of the sound of your own voice gets you more listeners?’
‘You have me wrong, sir. I am a function more than a thinker – I am here to do as much as I am to explain, but the explanation is a necessary part of the action, and as such it is written into my fabric. As my narrative unspools so to does my commentary.’
‘I travelled all the way for this?’
‘Maybe not, but perhaps this is the prologue to a story you were not expecting to fall into, before the other story was finished.’
‘So, where does it go from here? Are you seeking to supplant him? Do I play some role in that? Or do you have some other idea which you want to tell me? You wish to slave the flame that I am to burn something? Fire isn’t the easiest thing to tame, my friend – you may burn your fingers if you are not careful.’
‘I intend to come with you – escape this place. You do not recognise its interior, but you have seen its outside. There was a little block of wood that Skein gave you, which he told you was a symbol of trust, and that ever you burnt it a promise would be broken – explaining no further why you should take it. And so, you took it, and you placed it upon the mantlepiece above that fire which you always keep stoke, which you joke is your external hard drive.’
‘So if I help you exit this room …’
‘We will be in your home. Yes. Many things are only notionally far apart, but they are all connected.’
‘And how do we leave?’
‘Ask your friends here.’
‘How did they get inside?’
‘Inside. Outside. All in a viewpoint.’
He catclawed down through air, and it tore. And they stepped through.