The Cosmic Codex
The Cosmic Codex
"Long Night On the Endless City"
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"Long Night On the Endless City"

An excerpt from my new novelette in Boundary Shock Quarterly 26
“Looking for the lost” by Brian S. Pauls, 2023; Digital illustration created using Midjourney

My novelette, An Illicit Mercy, is part of a new promotion in March and April, Page Turner Freebies.
Check out nearly 65 books available for free.

Can Brodia slip into the enemy’s stronghold without risking her daughter’s life?
Get your FREE sample of Withered Wizard by Kevin P. Hallett
Grab a sample of the sixth book in the series.
After the Defenders of Vosj split up, Grand Wizard Preem goes south to create diversions to entice the count from his stronghold. Meanwhile Jisana starts a rebellion in the realm’s capital in the hope the enemy won’t see Brodia slinking toward their headquarters. But the crippled grand wizard sees enough and sets his own plans to eliminate the last of his enemies.
Like any mother, Brodia is determined to protect her five-year-old daughter, Tresela. Unlike other mother’s, Brodia is a Defender and must risk all to win freedom for her people. But protecting Tresela will put her in greater danger where she could lose her ability to perform magic.

In my own fiction, I enjoy examining themes such as artificial intelligence, life in the future, religion, and the human condition. I bring all these together in “Long Night On the Endless City,” my latest novelette, available in Boundary Shock Quarterly 26:

On the vast ring habitat Ouroboros, Jel and her synthetic companion Marcus search for Arja, the third member of their triad. This quest leads them to a cryptic technology cult with questionable motives. When they suffer a vicious attack, Marcus and Jel join forces with one of Ouroboros’ most renowned computer and robotics experts to get to the bottom of the mystery.

This thought-provoking sf tale explores artificial intelligence, religion, and the ties that bind families together in a fast-paced story full of action, intrigue, and heart.

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Here’s an excerpt:

“Long Night On the Endless City”

by Brian Scott Pauls

Study others to discern why they do what they do, but first study yourself for the same reason.

Marcus Aurelius, “Meditations”

Ouroboros was well-named. It encircled the world. It was the world.

The City stretched out before Jel, into what passed for night here. She couldn’t call it “dark,” not when compared with a moonless night on the far side of her homeworld, Callisto. But “bright” didn’t fit either, compared to what the City’s day must be like. “Dim” seemed to be the best word. It might be dimmer than twilight on Terra. Although she’d never been there and couldn’t know for sure.

It was dim enough that the Ouroborans used artificial illumination at night.

A broad swath of lights ran ahead of her. Close at hand, she saw the fixed points of windows, and the moving fireflies of traffic in the air and on the ground. Degree by degree, the brilliant strip narrowed with perspective as it gained elevation. In the far distance, it arced up to meet the terminator, where night ceased.

Once in sunlight, the ring’s true glory became visible. Jel gazed upon a blue-green-brown ribbon of water, vegetation, and land. It spanned a width of four hundred kilometers from edge to edge. The City proper, a glittering band of diamond and titanium, ran down its exact center. This colossal structure looped up to an apex over four million kilometers away. There it bent back over her head and descended. It appeared to widen as it approached. The details of mountains and seas grew more clear as the distance decreased. The reflected sunlight shone brighter than hundreds of moons. Close to her, the ring dropped into light-spangled night once more, joining itself where she stood. Far off to her left and right, she saw the unbroken lines of the walls, two hundred kilometers away in each direction. Vast swaths of cropland and wilderness separated them from the buildings of the City. They rose 100 kilometers, higher than the air itself, holding in the sky. Constructing Ouroboros had required many scientific and engineering breakthroughs. No individual understood everything necessary to keep it functioning.

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Jel wished she could see Terra, 60 degrees behind the City, in the same orbit. But at the moment it was “beneath” her, hidden by the ring on which she stood.

Trillions lived here. Legend said if you wanted to find something in Sol system, you could find it on the Endless City.

Somewhere within this mass of buildings and people, she would find Arja. And answers.

“Jel.”

The message broke through her reverie.

“Hi Marcus. Need something?” She’d come up here to be alone, but the synth was the only partner she had left. They had to take care of each other.

“My apologies, Jel,” it responded. “A gentleman has come to our suite. He claims to know Arja’s whereabouts and wants to talk with us.”

“Who is it?”

“He’s refusing to give his name.”

Rend it. What in all the hells?

“I'll be down in a minute.”

Frustration overcame her. She and Marcus had searched half the outer system by the time they’d received word Arja might be on Ouroboros. They’d hauled their asses all the way from Titania to the orbit of Terra. Now a stranger showed up out of nowhere, wanting to play games.

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Giving the dusk-shrouded City one last glance, Jel stalked toward the lifts. She ignored the man laying on a bench in a euphoric high. And the pair of lovers embracing near the railing.

A lift capsule arrived. She instructed it to take her down to the 200th floor.

It had cost a pretty credit to get a room in the tallest building on the City. But Jel had told Marcus to clutch the expenses. As long as they were here, they were going to enjoy themselves.

But Marcus' call had upset her. She didn’t even enjoy the precipitous, stomach-flopping, 300 story drop. Usually, she loved freefall. This time, she gripped the safety bars with impatience. The capsule plummeted through its evacuated shaft. Electromagnetic coils eased it to a stop and apparent gravity returned. The increase from her weight on the roof was slight, but noticeable.

When she reached her room, she keyed the door with her implants and stormed through. She stopped right in front of the stranger, close enough to make her (and, she hoped, him) uncomfortable.

“Just what the hells are you doing clutching us around like this? Where's Arja?”

It was only when she got it all out that she noticed the man's size. He stood over two meters tall and a meter across at the shoulders. She was shouting up at him.

He glared down at her with ice-blue eyes and wore a short brown beard. His black leather jacket and kilt looked expensive—almost natural.

“Jel.” It wasn’t a question. “Arja says don't come find him. He's got a new family. He doesn't want to see you.”

The visitor gave Marcus a curt nod.

A human-sized, orange-furred caterpillar, the synth lay curled on the sofa, looking like something out of Lewis Carroll.

The man pushed Jel aside and stalked out, his walking stick tapping the floor with each step.

She followed into the corridor, stomach churning.

“Wait!” she shouted. “What are you talking about?”

The man turned.

“He's done with you. He doesn't want to see you. He doesn't want to talk to you. Leave it alone. Quit asking after him all over the system.”

He turned away again and disappeared around the corner.

Marcus stood at her elbow.

“What was that all about?” she asked. Out of habit, her hand dropped to give a fistful of its orange fur a reassuring squeeze. Without waiting for an answer, she strode back into the suite and threw herself onto the sofa.

Marcus flowed across the floor and up onto the couch, its many feet causing it to ripple along its entire length. The synth squeezed itself between Jel’s body and the back of the divan. It emitted a soft purr.

“We knew this was a possibility,” it said. “We've had no communication from Arja, nor do we know his reasons for leaving.”

She looked up from the pillow, into giant, expressive, brown eyes. Tears glistened in her own.

“He didn't leave because he wanted to get away from me. He left for some reason we haven’t figured out.”

Marcus trilled, its version of a nod.

“But what our guest said makes sense. It seems like Arja doesn’t want to be found.”

“You know how he gets when he’s deep into a new project,” objected Jel. They’d been over this many times. “He doesn’t answer messages, doesn’t take calls.”

“Still, one of the best intelligence architects in the system should leave a trail." Marcus refused to let her delude herself. "You know how good Arja is at what he does. People pay attention when he’s working a job, and word gets around.”

”That’s what he told us when he was bragging,” Jel replied. “I don’t know if it’s true.”

“It’s true,” the synth replied. “Just as I know you’re a gifted synth engineer, I know Arja’s a brilliant architect. Over the four years we’ve all been together, he’s sorted out a lot of inefficiencies in my original code. I’ve met few who are his equal, and none better.”

“OK, but why hide? We didn’t have a falling out. We were talking about having children. All of us. One day, he was with us. The next he was gone.”

“I understand it’s very unsettling,” Marcus replied. “We're not going to clear it up until we talk to him ourselves.”

“So we keep looking?”

“Of course,” the synth assured her. “We're not going to call off a search for our third just because some guy we don't know shows up and tells us Arja doesn't want to see us anymore.”

“He didn't say Arja didn't want to see you,” she said.

Marcus nuzzled the back of her head.

“‘As your thoughts,’” it paraphrased, “‘so your mind. Your imagination colors your soul.’”

“Your namesake was the emperor of Rome. I doubt he had to worry about his partner walking out on him.”

“I think you’d be surprised,” it responded.

If you’ve enjoyed this excerpt from “Long Night On the Endless City”, you can read the entire story in Boundary Shock Quarterly 26: Tomorrow’s Crimes, available at Amazon and other online booksellers.

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The Cosmic Codex
The Cosmic Codex
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