Previously: Ianno Starling takes a hike. He falls down a hole. The hospitality of a disembodied voice. Glimmer's true form.
To his starved eyes the faint light of the indicators was as bright as the sun. When Glimmer's voice faded the silence of the vault roared in its absence. The weight of the quiet stilled his breath, stopped his heart, until she spoke again.
"Will you take me with you?"
His tongue was heavy in his mouth, and he gulped, worked his jaw, eyes not wavering.
The lights pulsed, the shadows danced, Glimmer's voice came from the wall behind the drawer. "Wherever you were going. You never talked about it when you were sick."
He leaned against the wall and slumped to the floor, thoughts racing. A computer? Or was that some strange test? Would she need him to find heavy equipment to move her? Where was he going?
"What's wrong? You set out with a goal, didn't you? You don't just start a journey without some place to get to. Even I know that and I've never left this room."
"Hold on... Hold on... This is a lot to process. Can you just...?"
"Am I strange to you? Does your country not have AI? Well, I know it doesn't have it like me! I'm self-contained in this central unit. Everything else is just an extension. Even my power supply is self-contained, a base of nuke gel that recharges from the ambient field energy of -"
He lost track of her voice, left it as background noise as he desperately searched his memory, trying to remember where he was going, what he was doing, if there had been hints in his ragged shouts in the desert, and then he remembered Scandi, remembered Sula City at night, deals over drinks and the rise and fall of one very fancy department store, and he remembered that he had not always been a ragged traveler.
"I went on a journey with some place to get away from," he said loudly. Glimmer cut off, but he couldn't let the mystery of the place overtake him again, and he went on. "I went to the Unknown Zone because I didn't want to know where I was going. I left because I -"
"Did you go on a journey because you wanted to die?"
Her voice was sharp, serious, significant, and he wanted more than anything he could remember to tell her a lie she could believe. "No," he said quietly, reinventing, reframing, rewriting history, "No," he said louder, and through his disorganized sun-bleached memories he struggled and searched, the brightness of the dim light pitiless and foreign as the bare lightbulb at God's interrogation table, and he seized on an answer he gave an adult at a birthday party when he was barely old enough to think.
"No, I left because I wanted to get rich."
Silence, then a simulated snort. "You what?"
"I wanted to get rich. To seek my fortune. To have enough money to do whatever I want, so I can live in a big house with fancy food and servants to feed it to me and be able to buy anything I want." He stood up, stood up straighter.
"Yes. I want to be rich, richer than anyone back in Scandi, so I had to go to the Unknown Zone because there could be anything out here, right? And if I did die, if there was just nothing out here, that's part of the risk, but I knew I could make something happen no matter what happened," and he closed his eyes and shouted, "BECAUSE I'M IANNO STARLING AND I MAKE THINGS HAPPEN."
He panted, embarrassed, aware again of just how incredibly hungry he was.
The sound of hands clapping came through the speakers. "Woohoo!" Glimmer sounded half mocking, half enthusiastic. "So you can take me somewhere because you can go anywhere, is that right?"
"And with your drive and my brains and my good looks, we can do anything."
"That's right. Your what?"
"So we are going to go on an adventure and get rich and see the world and meet everybody, right?"
"Yeah... Sort of..." The shadows were dancing. He looked down at Glimmer's casing. The lights were flashing, beating a festive rhythm. "Yes. That's exactly what we're going to do."
"Shake on it?"
He started to say something, caught it in his throat, and grinned like an idiot. "Sure." He stuck his hand out towards his companion and shook it, up and down.
"It's settled," she said. "Now get me out of here and let's make money."