Maintaining a watchmaker’s delicate precision Moseek fiddles with the joint under Nassam’s wing, humming to himself as he loosens it just enough to expose the port. He slips the tube in with a slight hermetic squeak and then initiates the feeder pump.
Nassam shivers and lets out a sort of gurgling squawk. The falcon is used to this but doesn’t particularly enjoy the process as the cold metallic carbonation of sange works its way through his vasculature. Exhaling a volume of musty smoke, Moseek puts down the old stained pipe, wipes his dark, wrinkled hands on a cloth, and rubs a bump behind his left ear to initiate the pairing sequence.
It’s easier with his eyes closed. The periphery narrows and sharpens into impossible detail, the colors shifted and slightly muted across a much wider visual spectrum showing him parts of the world occulted by typical human sight. Nassam shares odd bird thoughts with his friend, memories of flight and the desire to hunt, the pairing allowing them to join in this internal space, each self still individuated and yet overlapping in a cold, slightly-prosthetic intimacy.
After their brief inner greeting Moseek initiates the tuning kit. His view of Nassam’s optic feed blurs behind an array of alpha transparencies representing the sange interface. He moves through a set of viz showing various physical stats, runtime exceptions, and waypoint logs now streaming from the bird. Opening a new module, he uploads the package to its container. His humming returns, rising with intensity through the tonal melodies, something old and sad and vast. He binds the package, extracts its contents, and executes the program.
Nassam begins to shake erratically, loosening small feathers into the dimly lit air of the hut. With the sudden shifting of Moseek’s feet, puffs of dust stir in the narrow sunbeams cutting through cracks in the mud walls. The sweat beading his brow is running muddy and tan. Now panting uncontrollably, Nassam lets out a guttural squawk followed by a very unsettled droning. The bird of prey is scared and losing control. Moseek fights back his own autonomous response as his breath quickens and his hands begin to shake. His heart is pounding so loud it seems to boom in the space between them. Through the shared cascade of hormones and adrenaline he struggles to maintain the interface, rapidly adjusting parameters to combat Nassam’s stress while modifying the properties of the new program binding directly to the falcon’s nervous system. In the hut his hands wave in furious gestures grabbing at invisible objects. The humming breaks free of Moseek’s lips and rises into full-throated vocalization of the ancient songs passed to him by the ancestors, their movements and intonations now paired with macro functions driving the constructs. Like a conductor, he works the virtual interface running on Nassam’s wetware with deliberate passion and a divine providence born of faith and faith alone.
The great bird is still shaking but he’s finding a rhythm as the upgrade settles in and seeks homeostasis. The rush of user interface begins to subside showing only a few fundamental metrics. Their small mud hut resolves finely in Nassam’s optic channel as Moseek hums the bird’s name calmly and tenderly, placing his hand softly on the back of his wet, feathered neck.
For a moment of eternity they merge souls and fall into emptiness together through the shared un-space of self.
The sun is high & heavy over the parched desert lands. This burning star that has stood watch over the world since it’s dawn, has given life to the fallow earth and then baked it into dust again and again, unborn witness to the rise and fall of kingdoms like seasons on the wind. This sun is but a messenger for a greater power, a distant race beyond the edges of space.
The streamlined silhouette of Nassam streaks across the raging star like a bullet before opening his wings and banking hard to the west. The village below is tiny and distant, set back to the east and nestled like gathered stones at the foot of the high escarpment. Thermals press upward beneath his wings, lifting him further towards the scattered clouds. In his cells he feels the geosync telemetry broadcasting his location along a finely encrypted invisible filament of data, offering subtle waypoints to guide his reconnaissance. Not especially necessary for a falcon of Nassam’s caliber but it makes his job a bit easier.
The parched and bleached sandstone crumbles softly under Moseek as he shifts his weight. It’s yellow hues paint the dark cotton of his clothes with endless memories of the desert. The mouth of the cave above the village offers a shaded view as long as one is willing to move with the sun. The spotting scope tracks Nassam while Moseek multiplexes the senselink pairing of the bird’s viewport and the hijacked satt uplink. Sitting cross-legged in the dusty cave the three views layer in his mind’s eye, richly intercalated with sange and cannabis. He is Moseek the Watcher, Nasaam the Hunter, and Nommo the God of the Sky.
The Nommo visited his people, the Dogon, in the dawn of civilization. Amidst a fiery torrent they descended from the sky into the great lake that once bathed the lands. It is said that the God of the Sky rose from the boiling waters covered in a million brilliant metal scales, each one reflecting the whole of creation. The Nommo came from the lake and gave his people knowledge of the heavens by which they could understand their role in the world of things, and through which they would communicate with the race beyond the edge of space. Sometime in a new age the Nommo would return and take them up to the homeland in the stars.
When the wars of Mohammed came to Africa, he thought the emissaries of Nommo had returned. They shined in the sky and breathed fire on the invaders. One day as a boy, he stood in the street with his arms outstretched, welcoming the emissary of Nommo as it dropped from the sky. But as it drew closer Moseek could see no heaven in its metal skin, only the sudden horror of death as his village erupted in flame. The screams of his kindred tore through his ears and burned themselves into his heart. He knew that the emissaries of Nommo would not return as long as such dragons held the sky.
Now, up in the cave, one instance of Moseek tracks Nassam with the spotting scope verifying his altitude & trajectory while a second uses a combination of sacred gestures and vocal intonations to petition the emissary of Nommo. The sattlink returns the coordinates of a dragon flying above the western quarter – a skunkworks UAV drone under the AFRICOM banner. He passes these to Nassam and watches through the raptor’s eyes as a small glowing point appears on the horizon. Nassam’s sharp focus zooms in on his target a thousand meters below and beyond as he folds his wings and begins to dive steadily.
The great bird is indeed imposing to most mammals yet still small and fast enough to be invisible to the average machine eye. But the newer AFRICOM drones are not unused to sharing close quarters with hybrids like Nassam and have keen senses that can pick up electrostatics within about 5 yards. It’s a thin radius but enough to give the hyperkinetic machine mind time to formulate a response.
Nassam rapidly converges on the drone from above. Then, just as he enters the sense perimeter, executes a double barrel roll placing himself below the belly of the beast close enough to reach out and grab it with his talons. The remote Moseek immediately begins the patching sequence tracing leads through the raptor’s contact into the drone’s own bioelectronics. Nassam is now off-radar, folded into the drone’s cloak, but Moseek’s intrusion is registered and it’s up to him to skate around the internal defenses of the dragon. Chanting again in the dusty mouth of the cave, growing cooler as the evening sun falls into the orange haze of the eastern horizon, he recompiles his three instances into his remote projection and invokes the serpent of Lebe. The invocation executes an icebreaker subroutine in the mind of the dragon breaking through its defenses, granting Moseek access. The interface folds and he now advances through endless Arabesque archways finely decorated in jeweled mosaics and geometric lineworks, falling over him again and again, each one unique and brilliant. The dragon can feel his presence as he pushes closer to its core. The arches dissolve into jagged columns of black iridescent scimitars and pikes, the floors crawling with scorpions and beetles.
In the cave Moseek is rocking and chanting, wildly throwing gestures into the air around him. The setting sun calls the winds up the face of the escarpement, whipping the frayed edges of his worn clothes and spinning up transient vortices of dust. His eyes, half-open, roll up into his skull. With each gesture the defenses of the dragon fall away until he confronts only two immense, deep serpentine eyes opening slowly to show fibrous yellow irises around slitted black pupils. The gaze holds him, bound & immovable, smaller and smaller within the great and horrible eyes of the dragon. A white heat pours out of them, widening beyond the edges of the feed, bleeding into his own mind until he can no longer sense himself at all.
Outside of time, he wakes to an enormous shining emerald lying on its side. It’s so big, or so close, that it fills the bottom half of his view. But then it shifts, the color changing and seeming to move inside itself, flowing along to the left. He senses the ground beneath him is moist; his cracked toes now soft and mushy. He starts to rise, a bit wobbly, pressed up from the algae mats beneath his feet, slowly regaining his sensibility. The emerald is not a stone but the great river Niger. And he is standing at its edge.
A deep heaviness rises from his chest and he feels the tears begin to spill down his parched cheeks. He’s turning inside out failing to understand why until the emerald surface stirs and a form rises. The murky river water slides off the visitor showing a billion mirrored scales covering its body. In each scale he see’s a moment of his life playing back to him. He see’s every single moment simultaneously flashing across the flesh of this being from the great river, every soul he has touched, every eye he has held in his gaze, every act of love, of hatred, of will and desire. Every rivulet of water on every scale is matched by the relentless tears streaming from his eyes. A deep, sonorous rumble rises from the throat of the visitor, universally vast but only for Moseek:
“You are almost ready…”
The Emissary of Nommo slips silently back into the womb of the river, leaving merely an echo of a ripple on its endless and enfolded surface.
Everything turns black. His body slackens onto the dusty remove high up in the Dogon escarpment. In the west, a flash reports in the evening sky and Nassam falls to the earth.
The fragile light of dawn edges into the cave, tentatively revealing the new day. The winds have settled to a faint breeze clearing away the cold night air. Nassam, ruffled and a bit askew with feathers flickering in the cool breeze of morning, nestles against the unmoving body of Moseek. His clothes are covered in yellow dirt and his arms are tossed against his chest in counter angles. A thin rivulet of blood runs from his nostril, red and iridescent with sange. The great bird, Nassam The Hunter, is purring and nuzzling the warm and silent body of his friend.
From some desolate void, Moseek slowly wakes, bleary, his eyes crusted and dry. Barely understanding himself or his situation he drapes a weakened arm across the back of the great raptor and tugs the bird even closer, innocently cherishing the life and love of his familiar. In their embrace the sange fields couple and Nassam shares the flight record from their encounter with the AFRICOM drone. Moseek, more awake but longing for some thick coffee, sighs with an unresolved combination of relief and regret. They have survived a serious brush with the dragon but there is no record of his meeting with the Emissary of Nommo. He is left with just a crash log from the icebreaker and a handful of stack traces off Nassam’s sange.
The great bird shuffles slightly in the dust.
The street market is bustling with busy villagers moving to and fro under the mid-day sun. Rugs and carts and makeshift tables covered in goods & produce beckon to the senses with a dazzling array of intriguing qualities. Moseek pauses to inspect a vat of cheeses packed in dry ice, the dioxide steam licking up and quickly evaporating in the heat of the day.
“Opiated goat cheese, my friend! Will the miracles of medicine never cease?”
He feels a dull pang of horror (and a slight bit of shame) at the thought of goats genetically engineered to express narcotics through their milk. Something unholy, yet fundamentally appealing to a hashish eater like himself. He drifts momentarily to sad thoughts of goat kids getting weaned from their mother’s soma… then to the children of his village getting hooked on cheese tar. With a courteous nod he moves on. He can’t afford to get lost in an opium dream. There is too much work yet to be done.
Several weeks have passed since his encounter with the Emissary but the impact of it has only burned more brightly through the passing of time. He sends Nassam out every afternoon to search for the dragon, convinced it is the key to his salvation and to the safety of his tribe. He knows he must bind with it again and then destroy it before the fiery rain falls on his village. But there have been no signs, and the dry Harmattan trade winds are announcing their annual return. Soon the sky will be too thick with dust for the dragons to fly, and the river too low for the…
“Moseek! My friend! How is that great bird of yours? Why does he not visit this old merchant? The sun gets taller and the winds blow hotter and too long have I not scratched his chin and patted his head!”
The booming voice of Haman the Merchant breaks him from his ever-drifting obsessions. The man is tall and thick and not without his share of padding, always expressing an avuncular fondness for Moseek and his bird. He has a kindness tempered by strength and experience, made all the more genuine by his steady manner.
“Ah, peace be with you, Haman.” Moseek extends his hands and they clasp, exchanging constructs through the sange coupling. “Nassam has been very busy.”
“Chasing your dragons, I suppose, eh? Let him rest! Send him to me. I have a nice plate of organs set aside just for him!” He rests his finger along the side of his nose for a lingering moment, peering over his black sunglasses with eyes boring into Moseek’s.
“Be wise and talk with our friend in the caves…” he says softly then, booming again, “Let Nassam come visit, yes? I am lonely!”
“Soon, Haman. Soon.”
The afternoon heat is thick and the winds are lifting the yellow dust from the steep slope and throwing it into Moseek’s face. Each steady step he takes up the escarpment launches clouds of fine particulate into the air. He tugs and slides the light headscarf, narrowing the slit through which he can see just enough to stay on track. In the distance, the reedy melody of the Prophet uncoils sinuously, modulated by the flickering of the winds.
Ibn al-Alaaq is tall and wiry and, in spite of his age, he paces across the cave erratically. He’s been living here since the Oil Wars when the westerners returned to Africa hoping to contain the Islamists. Many died on the sword of their own fanaticism but Ibn al-Alaaq was among a strain of anarcho-jihadist’s far more pragmatic than their Sharia-toting brethren. If he couldn’t convert you to the words of the Prophet, perhaps he might interest you in some Moroccan hashish or Malaysian pornography before the inevitable Rain of Fire comes from Allah to purge the non-believers? Straightening his white beard, he walks towards Moseek and embraces him.
“Allah akbar, Moseek. How do the days guide you?”
“Not too clearly, I am afraid. And the winds do not promise better sight.”
Ibn al-Alaaq sets an old tarnished kettle on a heating element embedded in a small table. The scent of cardamom and clove begins to fill the still air in the enclosed cave, walled with built-in fineries and well-appointed with rugs and linens.
“Tell me, Moseek… Why has the Prophet brought you on this day to me, hmm? I do not think you are here again already for cigarettes.”
“No, sayyid. Not today.” He reaches out his hand for Ibn al-Alaaq to grasp. “I am looking for a dragon.”
The sange couples between them and in an instant the same package that Haman shared in the market earlier now copies to Ibn al-Alaaq. The packet unfolds and they both watch the infrared satt feed of a drone grounding out beside a wide river, tucked just below the fold of a low hillside.
A grin spreads across the wrinkled face of Ibn al-Alaaq. “Nothing escapes the sight of Haman, eh? Just like your falcon, he has eyes! This craft you seek, last night it fell. You would indeed be lucky if by the river it still rests. The scout herds, they are most fastidious! But I happen to know they have a distraction… recovering a smoldering fleet of oil rigs. The jihadists, you see, they are also fastidious!”
“Will you help me find the dragon? The trace, it is corrupted.”
Moseek has already reconnoitered the site through Nassam but still the fear antagonizes his gut. The lands here are unsafe and his cloaking efforts may not have protected him completely. As if understanding his apprehension, the shadow of Nassam passes ahead of him reassuringly, from high up above, his sentinel. And of course, Nassam does understand the fear that cuts at him, in an intrinsically animal way, through the remote coupling that binds their senses and in the ancient bioelectronics that drive the trembling gut of all creatures. For Moseek, the simple fear of discovery is slight compared to the deeper apprehension of grappling with the mind of the dragon… or facing the Heart of Nommo and the merciless existential cleansing that attends all such confrontations with the infinite. It is biology that sounds the alarm of fear in the face of physical threats but it’s only wisdom that rightly prepares us for the willful annihilation of the self.
The great bird sends the crash site coordinates to Moseek’s visual stream, hanging faintly but distinctly in his view. The two triangulate, leading him over marching dunes fuzzed with sand blast until they flatten out to the edge of the shimmering river. There is no one else anywhere near. He must cross. Without the wings of Nassam he must cope with natural barriers on his own so he edges into the cool flow of the water. Soon he’s almost up to his neck digging his feet into the river bed to fight the current. But the river seems just calm enough, its fury dimming by heat & wind taxing the headwaters. In a flush, he feels the Nommo tugging at him from under the surface. The vision of the emissary attenuates his affect and turns his heart gently towards the timeless moment of communion. Then he feels himself slipping with the current, loses his footing and comes free, his head gone under. Flailing his limbs to find ground, his toes scrape at the sandy riverbed looking for a hold. He’s able to just kick off a few times towards the opposite bank and into the shallows. Pulling himself to the shore, panting and soaked, he gapes at the river aghast as if betrayed, then up at the baleful star beating down on him without mercy. His legs give as he collapses on the muddy banks straining to hold his conscious mind.
High in the sky above, Nassam let’s out a falcon cry while simultaneously pinging Moseek repeatedly through the sange link. The great bird executes an agitant batch to kick Moseek’s endocrine system, pumping adrenergics into his bloodstream. His visual field shimmers and Nassam’s view embeds above his right eye showing him the proximity to the fallen dragon. With a bit of a jolt he sits up and rights himself, finding his feet and picking up the march again, barely aware, back onto the dry faint yellow sands curving and rolling with the serpentine river.
Finally, tucked into a fold of the dunes in the foothills below the graying eastern escarpment, Moseek finds the dragon. Scarred and broken, it’s wings shattered, the abraded gunmetal hull lies at rest already being consumed by the desert sands. He brushes the sand aside and with a careful prodding finds and releases the board hatch. OLEDs flicker in machine semaphore communicating it’s dire state to some esoteric technician who will never arrive in time to meet its needs. For Moseek these are signs of life.
With Nassam on watch above and the falcon’s viewstream piped into his field, he centers himself and begins a light chant, humming just under his breath. As the falcon keeps watch, Moseek will patch directly into the dragon. For this he takes advantage of the drone’s still-flickering perimeter electrostatics, invoking the sange to couple into the field manifold. His humming grows more distinct, each inflection and modal shift triggering functions in the interface, exploring the dragon and revealing its secrets.
Once again he’s passing through the Arabesque gateways, again and again, jeweled and ornate but now more dulled and tarnished. With each gateway that rolls over him, the textures decay further, the jewels and scripts and carvings flaking aways as he passes beneath them, eroding into sands spilling off their crumbling facades and picked up in the whipping wind. The decay turns to dust swirling around him, the once-glorious gateways now disappeared into time and memory. Through the maelstrom a blackness appears and he’s gripped in sudden terror anticipating the terrible eyes of the dragon to blink from the void beyond. He feels a scuttling at his feet and looks down to see the ground crawling in obsidian scarab beetles, their tiny legs picking at his toes. He wants to jump, to scream and cry but he’s held motionless, paralyzed. He’s sure the dragon is upon him.
Nasaam is circling lower, descending towards the figure of Moseek on the sands below. His coupling has been obscured and he can’t see what Moseek see’s. Only a black obsidian wall obscuring the interface. He must return to his friend and manually link.
The scarabs begin flowing away revealing an empty desert expanse under night skies speckled with starlight. He is alone in the emptiness beneath the firmament. On the far horizon the impossibly swollen moon hangs yellowed and full. Instinctively, he begins to walk towards it. His feet track across thistles buried in the cold sands pricking his skin and drawing out small drops of crimson life onto the desert floor. From each drop green sprouts push up through the crust, arching skyward into buds that yawn open into colorful flowers. He trods on across the barren wasteland leaving a rainbow trail of life in his wake. His heart is bursting.
Gliding lower, Nassam sees Moseek stumbling back towards the river and fails to comprehend any reason. He folds his wings to quicken his approach.
He’s walked an eternity across the wasteland, his aching feet bleeding under the baleful moon, but now behind him a vibrant jungle rises with life. The noise of it all booms with birdsong, the cackling of primates, and the furious cries of leopards and jaguars. As soon as he’s aware of the sound the cacophony shifts into an insectile droning, rising up to a crescendoing wall of noise that resonates in his very bones. Every cell seems to be held in its impossible harmonic. And then, suddenly, silence.
Two black obelisks stand before him, just beyond them a soft pool of aquamarine. His heart stops. The surface of the water stirs. He falls to he’s knees and prostrates himself before the shimmering vision rising from the pool.
“Moseek.” the impossible voice intones.
He lifts his head to once again witness his life painted across the infinite scales of the Emissary of Nommo.
“It is time.”
His flesh begins to flake off and float up above him into a small whirling dust devil. With it his memories unspool, racing past him in loops and eddies, detours of time and space now freed from the corporeal constraints of existence. His life collages before him, each frame holding his entire self as it was at that moment, as if he were a thousand Moseek’s living parallel but somehow joined in union or perhaps continuously recompiled into the sense of a single self. The countenance of eternity enfolds his awareness completely into its plenum. That which is Moseek has been exhausted, drawn out and collapsed into nothing, everything. His awareness, his consciousness, and his entire life compressed into a singular infinite point. He is the Emissary. He is Nommo.
At the river’s edge, Nassam the Falcon stands next to the rigid body of Moseek, nudging him with his beak, scanning him for signs and states. Panicking, he initializes administrative agency and begins cutting deep into Moseek’s construct. Immediately he see’s the sange has been compromised by the drone ice. The virus is spreading quickly throughout his nervous system, replacing the sange mesh with its own scaffolding. The great falcon executes an array of aggressive icebreakers while fire-walling off the remaining native sange. With a unique gutteral call that rings into the heavens, Nassam opens a backdoor to the coupling interface allowing him direct access to Moseek’s core ontology. His feed glitches and shifts and then he’s staring directly at the Emissary, his own avian life blinking back at him in silvery luminescence.
A falcon may hold to myths but they are the archetypes fundamental to nature’s majesty. The sun, the sky, the waters, the land… He has no vision of a glorious afterlife forever waiting to be fulfilled upon his death. His mythos is in life and its living. He lets out another cry.
Before Nassam the emissary shivers, and in a brief moment the dragon slips out from behind its beautiful mask. He hops onto Moseek’s back and cries into his ears, pressing his talons into the flesh until they touch the bones of his ribcage, pouring all of his computational power through the conduction points. The emissary shatters and the merciless eyes of the dragon howl with blackened fury at this defilement from a lowly bird.
On the plains of eternity, the un-Moseek that was Moseek splits from its singularity inside the Emissary, yielding a second point, a copy of himself. The copy begins to reflect, becomes aware. Tears pour down it’s cheeks at the magnificent loss of divinity held just a moment before. And yet, this Moseek remains bound to the graduated Moseek now joined to the Emissary. He raises his head and looks back at the shimmering vision, seeing only himself standing before him on the perfectly still surface of the pool. The Moon beyond darkens to show the yellow eyes of the Dragon closing. Above the clear pool Moseek the Emissary nods to Moseek the Child and slips silently back into the waters without leaving a single ripple on its surface. Moseek, now alone, collapses onto the desert sands as the night sky washes over him like a thick, syrupy wave of nothing.
At the river’s edge his body goes limp and Nassam the great bird let’s out a cry to end the Ages.
Sand blows in tan sheets across the folding expanse, dried and spare revealing little more than the signature of wind and the distillation of night and day. The river runs thin and languid, its calm betrayed only by the cooling air and listing sun drooping towards the autumnal horizon. Soon the headwaters will swell and spill down the back of the serpent returning life to the Dogon expanse. Along the embankment a frail but willful kapok sprout reaches up from a small mound in the river bed.
The wind races under his wings, banking and rolling against the thermals, then tucking to dive a thousand meters before opening to catch the air again, rising up to the sky, a silhouette against the raging sun. Nassam the Emissary sees the world through both old and new eyes, a phoenix born of a fire that forged two minds into a third.
The attempt to recompile the machine image of Moseek the Child into his corporeal form failed, unsurprisingly. This has never been done to much success. His body was left to the sands and the vultures and, eventually, the return of the river tides. So Nassam merged the construct of Moseek the Child with his own, leaving Moseek the Emissary inside the Dragon, maybe wandering the eternal desert or, hopefully, tunneling into the AFRICOM networks. Although there’s a continuity and an intimacy granted by the merging of selves in the un-space of sange, Nassam the Falcon misses the warm comfort of his friend, as he would miss the blowing winds and the heat of the sun.
Pausing on the free lift of a thermal, he looks towards the earth and sees the kind hand of Haman the Merchant waving up at him, an enduring smile stretched across his weathered face. Thankfully, blessedly, there are others who are so moved to offer their good graces to those who would have such friendship. And sometimes, these friends will help a bird to hunt the dragons.
Nassam the Emissary beats his great wings and climbs the sky with the power of the aeons.