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  • Mateusz Mazurkiewicz

Wit's End

A sea of fog rose above the New Yokate. Neon lights seeped through it, revealing a vague shape of the city. The Wanderer observed the misty landscape. He was wrapped in a dark green synthweave overcoat, sheltering him from the cold of the nighttime. His hair fluttered in the wind.

Sēnu river cut the New Yokate across. The waterway acted as the city's crystallization axis, running from the Palace to the Stargate and along by various commercial districts. The inner city was neither organic nor analytic; it was a chaotic and aperiodic automaton, strategically altered by the Empire planners. The alteration strategy was to satisfy the colonial requirements at the lowest Wasserstein metric—an elegant optimization task with aesthetic results. The shadow anthroposphere was much more vulgar.

Back-alley street hackers set walls of flame in the act of struggle. They fought in enclaves, autonetic communes with no demands but degenerated "freedom." Firewalls did not stop Imperial Dragoons. Armed with the conclusion of the barricade busting technology, they tore open the cybernated brains of the opposition. Alike districts built by the bourgeoisie of the ancients, the architecture of the system left no safe space for resistance.

The streamlined pipelines embodied the highest level of digital utopianism—Rousseauian anthropomorphization of the laws of logic. In the absolute absence of symbolic relativity, achieving computer nature resulted in the purest authoritarianism, one incompatible with anything but itself. Software architecture inevitably became one with the ideology when the agent's policy map became public policy.

Freedom of silicon brains finalized the domestication of biological ones.

"I am a wild man," the Wanderer thought, "I do not belong to this place."

He descended from the place of his meditation onto the streets of New Yokate. Wooden bridges spanned across the Sēnu, traditional woodwork illuminated by the alien neons. Riverside storefronts were full of people, not in spite but because of the late hour.

Artificers, artisans, artists, all open for commission. Street food, moloko plus bars, nephrology transcriptionists, platina brazers, derrick riggers. Shops so specialized, the craftsmen were more alienated than factory workers. The city was a warped combine. Cells to the tissue, locals and strangers brought oxygen to the muscle fiber of laborers. This monetary circulation gave the collective a very physiological character.

Among people dressed in red, black, gold, azure, attire formal and casual, fashionable, imported, handmade, off-brand, genuine, a lone character blended in well despite their odd titanium-alloy body armor. A Dragoon patrolled the precinct. The peacekeeper wore a charcoal chestplate, a sword by their side, and held a rifle phaser in their hands. Dragoons were the unfamous Imperial elite with brains directly connected to the mainframe. The connection, along with extensive biological and cybernetic cognitive augmentations, granted them superhuman speed and intelligence. They wore armor closer to tank shields than bulletproof vests and were armed with the deadliest arsenal in the galaxy.

The Dragoon glanced over the Wanderer. The Wanderer knew that they would execute him on the spot if they saw a hint of hostile intentions. But the piercing sight saw nothing remarkable about him, and rightly so. The officer continued forward, disappearing in the crowd.

The Wanderer knew better than entering any main street local. He needed an enjoyable dinner and a bed for the night, but he did not have much money. The riverside establishments, while boasting superior view, often cost ten times as much as similar enterprises just twenty steps away. He could afford neither, so he turned and entered the deeper side alleys.

He delved into the Procedural; artificial cobblestone roads arranged in an always unfamiliar manner. The storefronts were neglected. The farther from Sēnu, the more ground shined in pieces of broken glass reflecting the street lights. While there was no lack of druggists or herb shops on the main street, where fancily dressed bureaucrats and tourists obtained and consumed premium smokestuff and synthetic neurostimulators, the drug dealers of the Procedural were filthy and rotten. An unlicensed pharmacist could easily mix up proportions of the spices, creating a dose with the effect of occipital lobe necrosis instead of pleasant muscle relaxation.

A shop emerged in between weirdly aligned alleys. Boxes, each labeled in a different alien language, towered behind the lead glass windows. The doors were half-open, above them a sign: "Riet's magical artifacts and other awesome items." The Wanderer stepped inside.

The atmosphere was uncanny. Furniture crooked, wares weird, light eerie. There was an intense smell of chocolate, very pleasurable but also mysteriously unsettling. The entire interior was wooden, from plank hardwood flooring to a light-toned ceiling supported by knotty beams. Behind a counter sat a gracious woman. She seemed around the age of sixty, and most would agree on her disarming beauty and charm. She smiled friendly and stood up, greeting the visitor. Her clothes were strikingly colorful and extravagant, and hair amber and shoulder-length. The Wanderer instantly recognized wisdom behind her aged eyes.

"Do you sell magical artifacts? Are you Riet?" he asked fumblingly, enchanted.

"Your eyes have not failed you in recognizing my humble shop. But I guarantee; they will, and have, since you invaded this haven for the unknown. This place contains things neither true nor false, only ones advancing questions by their mere existence, questions reaching beyond themselves." Her voice was as sweet as the chocolate scent.

The Wanderer examined the items in the showcase behind her. They did not make sense. They boasted familiar features arranged in the most unusual way while bearing overall resemblance to ordinary things, but with an unexpected twist in their essence. Riet reached to her pocket. She took a cigarette and lighted it with a match in a single move. She blew a puff of pale smoke, which cast shadows on her wrinkled face.

"Are your artifacts really magic?"

"They are certainly magical," she answered. "I can see you're not from around here. Don't worry, the items on display would confuse a Dragoon, let alone a regular person. What battle are you going into, knight?"

"I've been not from around here for a long time."

"Are you a wanderer?"

"I guess so."

Her hand flicked the ashes into the ashtray. She noticed the visitor's gaze stopped at one of the artifacts. She carefully picked it up and placed it on the counter. It was fist-sized, had exposed circuitry and vials of glowing fluid, and the probes clearly indicated it was a virtual reality device.

"This artifact allows you to exist outside of time."

The Wanderer's face instantly expressed disappointment. He has already done that—deterministic lobotomization. He considered it one of the most boring and useless things he has experienced.

"It's just a bunch of calculus, nothing magical about it. Unconstrained coherency optimization that binds you to low-entropy realities," he said in a focused, monotonous voice.

She shook her head.

"This one does not retroactively adjust the environment. It grants both simulated omnitemporality and free will."

"How? Is it quantum... temporal reversal?" discontent quickly went back to confusion.

"It's magic," Riet chuckled. "More epistemology than thermodynamics. But it intrigues me where you tried the stochastic version. What is your name?"

"I go by Kai."

"Where are you from, Kai-san?"

Kai paused. He hid his hands in the overcoat, and his gaze showed that he got lost in thought as if trying to remember.

"I was a king in a galaxy far away. I built many cities, I colonized many planets, I lead armies of million men. I conquered and reformed, the economy and culture prospered."

"Which one was your kingdom?"

"It's long nothing but dust. All of whom I governed are dead, all my wealth gone, legacy shattered. I'm sorry for wasting your time. I cannot even afford any of your artifacts, Riet."

"Usually, clients pay with artifacts of equal worth. I am sure your story is a fair trade for the omnitemporality device."

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