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Chapter Two

North came out of the Matrix, gasping and wheezing as he always did.


Hanging in the Matrix, the world that connected the Eight Worlds, was like drowning in ice water. The infinite series of minute events forced itself into his being, through him; chilling his flesh, freezing him, threatening to grind him out of existence in an avalanche of nine-times-simultaneous discrete realities.


It would almost be better not to be a god.


"But that is a lie, North," said Dowson with the dry precision which was all that remained to him since emotion had been cut out of him with his body.


"Who are you to speak of truth and lies, Dowson?" North said. "All you know are facts."


"Facts are all there is to know, North," replied the disembodied brain suspended in a vat of nutrient. The words washed across North to ring coldly within his skull, but they were not as cold as the Matrix. . . .


He shuddered again and looked up at the roof of his palace, shards of sunlight frozen into groins and vaulting that could cover an army.


"There's another one coming," North said. "From outside, from the Consensus."


The liquid flowing through Dowson's vat kept up the same soft susurrus it had whispered for ages. "What will you do with these?" asked the non-voice as colored waves which sprang from a cone of ice beside the vat. "Find them a plane of their own?"


"There are no unoccupied planes, Dowson!"


"None that you know of, North," the brain replied. "None that I know of either."


For a moment, North imagined that the pause was one of sadness, but Dowson's words were as emotionless as ever when he continued, "Send them to the lizardmen, then. Let them destroy one another."


North's laughter bellowed out in response to the bitter joke. The sunlit building trembled and quivered with shadows. North stretched his long, sinewy arms high above his head, and the air cleared.


"The others will need to know," Dowson warned.


"The others will want to know," North corrected. "I'll summon them."


His right hand twisted in the air. Motes of light sprang away as though condensing from the atmosphere; a score of sparkling blips that drifted in widening circles until they touched the walls of the palace, spat, and vanished on their missions.


"They're only sending one this time," North said, trying to control the shudder which remembering the Matrix induced in him. "A man."


"You'll kill him?" Dowson asked, carelessly, uncaringly.


"His name is Hansen," said North. "And he will serve my purposes."


 


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Framed