Spheres Of Influence – Chapter 02

Chapter 2.

          Ariane stood unmoving in the doorway, afraid to break the magic of that moment. Her own heart had leapt when Wu Kung’s hand moved to stop DuQuesne, but the incredible light that had seemed to shine from Marc’s face was something she’d never even imagined possible. She had heard tears of sadness being blown away in a wind of relief and happiness that she’d never thought Marc would ever feel. She just watched, holding her hand out to keep Davison back for however long that shining moment of pure joy continued.

          Finally the massive form of DuQuesne turned slightly, and – still with a smile that held a touch of a young man’s innocence – he spoke. “Come on in, Ariane.”

As she did, Dr. Davison just behind, Wu Kung’s head turned slightly, and his eyes widened. She wasn’t sure what caused that reaction, but whatever it was he got it immediately under control; not surprising in a Hyperion.

What was surprising was that Wu Kung suddenly leaped from the bed, staggering, then forcing himself upright; she saw with startled eyes that he was holding to the bed with his tail, keeping himself from falling.

Davison was there immediately. “Sir! You’ve been in virtual sims for fifty years! You can’t just –”

She could see that the diminuitive Hyperion – he’s maybe a few centimeters taller than Gabrielle, if that – was weak, and he had to be in agony no matter how good the nanosupport had been, after five decades unmoving. Yet his head came up and he smiled, a sunshine ray of joyous pride that denied the very existence of pain or weakness. “HA! I can, because I did, and I do!” His voice was another surprise; it was gentle yet slightly rough, and much higher-pitched than she had imagined, the voice not of a great warrior god but of a laughing child.

Abruptly, however, the Monkey King realized that he was standing proudly in the buff. With a grimace of mortified embarrassment so comical that neither she nor DuQuesne could quite restrain a laugh, he half leaped, half tumbled over the bed, dragging the sheets with him as he fell to the floor, knocking the monitoring equipment aside. “Aaiiii!” he shouted, followed by several Chinese, mixed with some Japanese, words she was sure were either curses or something close to it.

DuQuesne was still laughing, with more hints of tears in the corners of his eyes. “Ahhh, still the same old Wu, leaping first and looking later for the landing spot!”

“It is all their fault!” came the voice from behind the bed and a screen of white sheets. “When I lived on the mountain I had none of this modesty! I do not remember learning it, but there it is!”

Dr. Davison had made his way over to that side. “Please, sir, at least let me look you over first. I’ve never even HEARD of someone waking from that long a virtual simulation, let alone moving immediately thereafter.”

“Oh, you’re… a healer. Yes, okay, look, then, do your poking and whatever.” Despite the words, it was clear that the Monkey King was already tired, glad of the excuse to sit still for a few moments.

“Well, I’m pleased to meet you at last, Sun Wu Kung.” Technically, she knew that the Monkey King would be referred to as “Sun” by his friends, but in the Hyperion version apparently “Wu” had been his nickname. She, not being a friend yet, used his full name. “Marc has told me a lot about you.”

“Heh. Not a surprise. She is yours, eh, DuQuesne? But where is K?”

Even under the olive-toned skin she could see DuQuesne’s skin darken with a blush. “Mine? Don’t you go making mistakes like that, Wu. She’s her own and no one else’s. As for K…”

“Never mind. It will be a sad story, I can hear that in your voice, and I … I am not ready for sadness. It is not a time to be sad.”

“So… Sun Wu K—”

“Wu, please, like all the other barbarian friends I have call me.” She saw the flash of his smile to take the sting out of the words; the little fangs added sharp punctuation to the grin. It’s odd, she thought. I’ve seen people with much more extreme mods than he has on the surface, but I feel a little different about his. Maybe it’s because his are ones he was born with, if “born” is the right word, and the ones I see in the typical crowd weren’t.

“Wu, then. Thank you. Call me Ariane. ”

“It will be an honor, Lady Ariane.”

“Don’t you go using formal titles on me. And it’s Captain if you insist.” She was surprised to find that she meant it. Captain Ariane Stephanie Austin was who she was now.

HA! You strike back! Good! I do not want to be treated like a weakling. So ask, you were going to ask something, yes?”

“Yes, I was. It seemed like you weren’t going to wake up… and then suddenly you did. What happened?”

There was an embarrassed tone to his laugh, and one slightly furry clawed hand went behind his head. “I had some sense beaten into me.”

DuQuesne’s laugh was almost a snort. “I get it. Sha, right?”

“He picked me up and threw my self-pitying and worthless ass into the river! Then when I came up he told me that I was even more of an idiot than he had believed, and he kicked me over the mountain!” Wu was now kneeling on the floor behind the bed, leaning on the mattress and gazing at them with a fond smile that seemed rather at odds with the violence he was describing. His eyes, she realized, were a brilliant shade of green-gold. “That hurt. And so I tried to argue with him and put him through a couple of cliffs, but that just got him to laugh at me for not even having the conviction to throw a decent punch. That was when I realized he’d dragged the waterfall over to fall on my head.”

She glanced at DuQuesne. “Um, is this the usual way you have discussions with Wu Kung?”

DuQuesne grinned. “It’s like with a mule. ‘First, you get his attention…'”

“ANYway,” the Monkey King continued, with a twinkle in his eye acknowledging DuQuesne’s jibe, “He then sat down on top of me and told me why I was an idiot. That you had come to me for help that only I could give, in your world, and that I was too much of a coward or too soft from living here to actually show the honor that the Monkey King should display, and that if I didn’t have the courage to go with you I didn’t deserve his friendship, Sanzo’s love, or even a name to be called by.” He laughed again. “You want to know his exact words after that, DuQuesne? He said, ‘He gave us life, you stupid monkey! Rescued us from your enemies, rebuilt our world so you could crawl in here and hide! Kill us? We’ll still be here, you fool, even if you go away for a hundred years! Now if you ever were the Monkey King, if you ever wielded that Staff for love and mischief and defeated a thousand enemies, if you ever were the Great Sage Equal Of Heaven, you will pick yourself up and go help that man, go see the wonders we can never dream… and one day, perhaps, bring us out with you.’

“And,” Wu Kung concluded, looking somewhat shamefaced, “he was completely right. Sha usually was whenever he got preachy, you know. I was just being a coward, hiding inside myself. FIFTY YEARS? I’m ashamed, DuQuesne, ashamed, mortified! I’m amazed you even wanted to come back for me.” The Monkey King looked around. “Did you… come for the others too?”

DuQuesne shook his head. “Not sure how to approach them yet, Wu. But we will.”

“Of course we will. Once I understand this new world enough to tell them, we will come back for them all.” He glanced over at Dr. Davison. “Well, healer?”

Davison shook his head. “You must be in agony every time you move. You really should –”

“Pain is nothing. I will work hard and I will not be in pain after a while. Pain passes. Am I healthy? Can I go?”

“Well… yes, the nanomedicals kept you healthy, and your… unusual metabolism certainly helped, but –”

“No buts! If DuQuesne came here, it’s time to move! I need my clothes!”

She looked at DuQuesne. “After fifty years, his clothes –”

“– Had better be right where I locked them up.” DuQuesne said. “Hang on, Wu, I’ve got the only key code to unlock ’em. Except you ought to shower off, first. Nanos or not, there’s nothing like a real shower to get a guy going after a long sleep, and you’ve been playing Rip Van Winkle for about five decades.”

Davison looked reluctant as his erstwhile patient (still clutching a sheet around him) made his painful way into the indicated bathroom. “I’m not sure…”

“It’s okay, Doctor.” DuQuesne spoke surprisingly gently. “This is what I always hoped might happen. You’ve done your part. He’ll be fine, I guarantee it. You know what he is.”

The serious face suddenly gave a boyish smile, and Davison shook his blond head. “Yes, I do, and I suppose that’s part of it. I would give … a great deal… to see what happens next.”

DuQuesne nodded. “Maybe you will, Doc. If that’s really what you want. You proved you’ve got what it takes. There aren’t many people I’ve ever trusted in the last fifty years, but I’ve had to trust you with Wu every single day. And you did good. If you want, I’ll recommend you for any damn job you want, including the one we aren’t talking about right now.”

Davison smiled back. “Thank you. And I will think about it.” He turned to go, obviously recognizing that they’d have private things to discuss, then paused. “Out of curiosity — when I first started, I got records of … Wu Kung’s condition, but you’d sanitized all the records. How many of us were there?”

“Taking care of Wu, you mean? There were four before you, not counting the years I did it myself at first. You were the fifth.”

“One every ten years. I see.” Davison nodded, the minor question answered, and left.

DuQuesne watched him go, then nodded. “Come on.” He led the way to a door panel at the rear of the room. As he opened it, Ariane could see that it, and the entire structure of the vault behind it, were reinforced ring-carbon composite, the toughest material available outside of the Arena. “A vault like that for some old clothes?”

DuQuesne shook his head. “Very special clothes.” From within he pulled out a surprising folded mass of clothing, edges glittering with gold, red, purple, and other shades. The big man reached back in and pulled out a long, bright-red enameled staff with gold-capped ends and a slender circlet of gold. He strode over to the closed shower doorway, knocked, and opened it. Wisps of steam drifted out. “Hey, Wu; I’m putting your clothes here on the counter.”

Wu Kung said something she couldn’t quite catch, but it seemed satisfactory because DuQuesne came out empty-handed and closed the door. They waited.

A few minutes later the door suddenly opened and Sun Wu Kung tumbled out, bounding to his feet and halting before the two with a gesture at once so grand and comical that Ariane found herself laughing and clapping at the same time. Wu Kung’s outfit was something that had never existed outside of Hyperion, a strange cross between the robes of a Chinese Emperor, the simplicity of the martial-arts gi worn by countless students of karate and kung-fu, the formal dress of the Japanese Samurai, and the fancies of any number of writers. It was layered and colorful, with formal lines yet open design for movement, symbols and patterns stitched across it in rich, deep colors, Imperial crimson and royal purple and majestic azure and immortal jade. His black-red mane of hair was bound back by the golden circlet, a single water-clear diamond like a glittering eye in the very center of the circlet, and his clawed right hand gripped the staff. He bowed extravagantly low, and then grinned up at them both. “Behold the Monkey King, reborn into this foolish world anew. Show me your adventures, for else I will grow bored!”

DuQuesne shuddered theatrically. “And there’s a disaster we don’t want to see!” With an uncharacteristic and surprising show of affection, he suddenly swept them both into a crushing hug. Just as abruptly he pulled away, held Wu out at arm’s length, looking straight into his eyes. “You don’t know what this means to me, Wu. Thanks.”

Ariane was still recovering from the hug as Wu said, “After that, I think I do. You’ve gotten soft, DuQuesne!” The emerald-auric eyes sparkled, and one dipped in a wink. “I think I like it! Now let’s go – I want to hear all about this ‘Arena’ place and why you need a simple warrior like me.”

DuQuesne snorted, looking a bit embarrassed and much happier. “You’re just about as much a ‘simple warrior’ as I’m an ordinary power engineer, Wu, so let’s not overdo the modesty.” He led them out.

“Marc,” she said, glancing back, “weren’t there … any others in this ward?”

“Four more,” he answered quietly, the smile fading but not gone. “Don’t worry. That’s why Davison left. He’ll be moving them now.”

“Why moving them?” Wu was curious. “Why not wake them up too?”

“They all had their reasons to stay in their worlds, just like you, Wu. Before I try to drag ’em all out, I want to know I’ve got a place for them, like I do for you. And as for moving them? Safety.” DuQuesne saw the confused expression, shook his head. “I’ll explain, once we’re out of here.” He smiled again. “It’ll be okay, Wu. For the first time in years… I think things are finally going to work out all right.”