It is dark in the submarine, and Maria is ready.
The viewscreen shows nothing, only the void that is human-visible Maxwell Light down at 4 km. Maria can only see her hands in front of her thanks to the dim, candy-colored lights on the control panel. The atmosphere resembles that created by driving a car in the middle of the night. She thinks this every time, although it ceased to have meaning years ago. A stock memory.
The automated voice, impeccably calm, just on the male edge of genderless synth:
Abnormal storm of Boltzmen detected within 500 meters, amplitude 5.6 kCept. Storm statistics are non-Gaussian and heavy-tailed, p < 0.05. Mean Boltzman type is non-human, p < 0.01. Mean Boltzman ethical status on Metric S is Indefinable, Class 2. Heteropneum attack is imminent. Are you ready to engage?
The question is a formality. It does not matter whether Maria is ready to engage. But something will happen when she says yes. It has happened thousands of times before, and she still shudders.
"Yes," she says to the voice.
A flash of light. It is not dark in the submarine. The Pneuma Light that pervades the ocean floor shines in through the viewscreen, a chilly blue expanse of vaguely circular patterns within vaguely circular patterns, something like a pattern a magnet might produce in iron filings. Bits of it vibrate slightly as the harmless pneumatodes wiggle their way along in search of crevices in which to burrow themselves and absorb Pneuma Heat. Further off, Maria can see a mirage-like shimmering in the pattern, the telltale sign of Heteropneum radiation.
Heteropneum at 300 m and closing. Pneumase stores are in position. Weapons systems are primed and ready for innervation. Do you, Maria N., agree to undergo eigensoul decomposition?
She always shudders, even now.
"Yes," she says to the voice.
It begins at it always does: a feeling of curious internal movement like the stirring of hope, romance or perhaps indigestion. An unnaturally uniform pricking of all her arm hair. Then, a full orchestra of internal motion tuning itself.
Voicelessly, she repeats the litany, now just words made empty through repetition:
The lie is the I.
I is the lie. I "am" not.
Nothing this self can achieve can satisfy this self as a self.
Do not cling to the aspirations of this self, whose very coherence has been proven a falsehood.
The cause is real. The pneuma is a fiction.
I will find my satisfaction on the other side, where there is no "I."
I "am" not. "I" is a weapon.
Even the most far-fetched hope can be weaponized.
Weaponize the self.
A mirror shattering; a thousand voices call out in cacophony as the pneumases, crawling like dutiful robotic centipedes across the contours of her soul, radiate their own Boltzman fields. Swimming in some long-forgotten pool. The shape of an elbow, dissolving into mere motionless shape, dissolving into the mere notion of "shape." A Maria who is hungry. A Maria who is tired. A Maria who hopes -- for the unspeakable summer, yes . . .
A Maria tapping her foot lazily on the edge of some floor-set mattress, reading a magazine.
Enemy fire. Multiplicity. Thousands and millions of --