Bibi sat in the neuro-suite at Small Torus Station wearing nothing but a paper exam gown, vulnerable and docile in her nakedness. She hadn't seen anything tropical at the Elevator Base, not a glimpse of a mangrove swamp or a palm tree: now there was nothing to tell her that she was already in Outer Space. She knew she weighed maybe half what she'd weighed on earth (gravity was expensive), but she couldn't feel the difference. The micro-gravity games arena at Gagarin Circus had been more convincing.

Honesty had elected to make the transit to Speranza in dreamtime. Bibi wanted to be awake. That was why she was here, having passed the physical that everyone had to take. She was terrified of the Buonarotti process, but the idea that she would be having a fake experience, which was like being in prison, while her real mind and body were taken apart, scared her even more.

'It's a case of whether or not you want a blindfold when you face the firing squad,' Honesty had said, grimly. 'I do, you don't.'

'Does everyone have to do this, every time?'

The doctor was a dark-skinned woman in a reassuring lab whites. 'The physical? Yes, but we streamline it except for newbies. You'll get a thorough medical scan every transit: but it'll take seconds and you won't feel a thing.'

'What about the brain scan for staying awake?'

'Same thing. This assessment happens once, but you'll always have a health check. The couches themselves are cognitive scanners you know.'

'Thank you, er, Doctor-?'

'I have no name, I'm a bot. I'm a facet of the Small Torus System.'

Bibi felt a shock. A doctor couldn't be a bot! It was only whores and robocops. . . She looked around wildly: when had she entered the virtual, why didn't she remember? The bot laughed. 'No, Bibi, this is the still the material world. The Torus Station is 4-spaced, therefore I can be visible to you. Speranza is the same.' She passed her hand through a piece of shiny desk furniture. 'And it's legal. See, I'm not an embodied!'

'Now I feel like a country bumpkin.'

'That's because you are one.' The facet of Small Torus smiled, with the cool, amused kindness that belonged to her kind: as Bibi would come to know. 'Don't worry, it'll pass. You're going to Speranza now.'

They went through a bland questionaire, patently designed to calm the victim, then she lay down on the scanner bed. 'You know too much, don't you?,' said the doctor. Bibi froze, bug-eyed in panic. 'About the Buonarotti process, child. That's why you want to make the crossing awake?'


'Well, let's talk through it. What do you know?'

'The couch will use the forbidden powers of the void to break down my body, and, and my mind, into information space code, the signals that are the building blocks of being. The code "me" will be t-torn in two, and the two halves will be thrown into a collider, a kind of particle accelerator called the Torus. When they collide I cease to exist. All that I am will be written into the code of a different place. Another couch will make a body for me there, out of the ambient chemistry of the universe.'

'That's nice and clear,' said the bot. 'And over five years old, I see. You have a retentive memory, Bibi. One correction: you are not "torn in two". A facet of your informational self is generated. There could be any number of them, without diminution of the source: but I believe humans don't like to think about that. When the facet collides with the original -a manner of speaking, as both are original, of course- at very high energies, you achieve fusion, and make the crossing. In the old days you had to know the 4-Space coordinates of your destination, and became embodied there by an act of will: which gave the traveller a very shaky, demanding psychological platform. Nowadays everything is programmed, and there's a trained crew on board to do all the work. One more correction. You do not "cease to exist" at any point. You exist, throughout, as much as you ever did.'

'How do people have "nightmares", if the transit takes no time?'

'Time is not what the embodied think it is,' said the bot. 'Fusion with the simultaneity, although at several removes in the Buonarotti process, is an intense experience. Your consciousness may process the intensity as duration, just as brain activity in certain kinds of sleep is percieved as dream; with false duration. But context is everything. Crossing to Speranza you probably won't feel a thing, as there is now a consensus that it is "a short hop" out to the Kuiper Belt. Some people, for reasons we don't yet understand, make transit after transit "awake" and never experience duration-'

Bibi had been waiting for the cognitive scan to begin, but she'd been lulled by the bot's calm voice. She only realised that an ephemeral shell had formed, a half-dome over her head and body, like the reader for a virtual avatar, in the moment that it dissolved. The bot stood by the couch, looking up and sideways: smiling, warmth in her eyes, as if listening to a voice she loved. Bibi thought of Nightingale's coding face.

'Yes. . .' she said. Her attention returned to Bibi. 'I see you've never had an eye soc', that's good.'

'I don't like them.'

'Nor do we. Well, Bibi, you may join the Active Complement. In fact, whenever you transit, you should join the Active Complement.'

'Thank you.'

She didn't like the 'should', but she didn't dare to ask what it meant.

'You'd be a welcome addition to any crew.'


The Transit Lounge was a leveller, it did not separate grades and ranks. Bibi walked into it blind to her surroundings, blind to the knowledge that Lady Nef and the General, Honesty and Francois, everyone else on the Mission List, plus the soldiers who would act as their household guard, were all with her, lying down with her, on this departure. She was telling herself (a simple trick that had been reccomended to first timers) that this was a simulation, a practice run, no need to be anxious. She was thinking, another time when people's brains give them false-duration REM experiences is at the point of death. She was wishing she did not know that. . . and was not aware of having shut her eyes when the lid of the couch was opened. A young man with vertical pupils to his golden eyes, and sleek-furred ears that stood up like a cat's, stood there, in a fine-looking uniform of a pattern she'd never seen before.

'Welcome to Speranza,' he said.

Bibi covered herself with confusion by trying to put her hand through his arm. He was not a bot, he was a sentient biped from the Blue Planet, who happened to have some cosmetic body-mods. He was just like Bibi, a member of the community of numinally intelligent species, five of them so far, who were able to use instantaneous transit: who had the freedom of the stars.

This was their capital city, their native home.

She'd had no dreams but she felt, as if waking from a vivid dream, that everything behind her had just vanished. She was in the real world now.

Spirit, Or The Princess Of Bois Dormant

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