With the last strands of his grand plan meshing together, Durban Chola is beset by doubts about his own motives and identity.
The consequences of his past actions make it difficult to persuade old allies to support him or to find new ones. His enemies have their plans well advanced.
Then there is the price of his ultimate success to consider – a price that will be paid by all of humanity for good or ill.
Who am I?
How can I be sure I am who I think I am?
The question had begun to plague Durban. Any time he was not actively engaged with one of the other myriad and pressing problems, it crept back and nagged at the edges of his conscious mind.
To be fair, it was a question he had asked himself many times since the first moment, in childhood, when he had realised that not every boy was brought up in a high tech castle on a technologically primitive planet. As a child, his answer had been based around the idea he might be the son of a wealthy Central dweller who was one day going to come and reclaim him from the endless round of focused discipline which constrained his life. Later, as his understanding of both his situation and of the possibilities offered by the biotech lab beneath the castle grew, he became convinced he was some kind of genetic experiment.
But that was an illusion too. An illusion that Alize, the woman whose guardianship dominated his life on Temsevar even after childhood, had brushed aside carelessly. As if the fact that his entire life had been based upon lies was irrelevant. To her it was. To the being he had once been it should have been too. But to the Durban Chola who had until then lived a human life, it mattered profoundly because it meant he was not human.
He was an alien being which in its natural state knew no physical form, did not even come from a physical reality, but which had been housed in a human body to help prepare the way for more alien beings to make the same transition. His kind wanted to exploit the human ability to take energy from their physical base and convert that into a form accessible and utilisable by their own higher consciousness.
A truth which was hard to accept even though his full awareness and memory of that alien existence had been restored. A truth that had far-reaching implications and consequences. Having lived all his conscious life as a human up to that point, it’d been a truth too far. Durban had rejected his own people and chosen to sever their link with this universe. In closing that linking Nexus, Durban had stranded himself and Alize in this physical universe—except at that time Alize had no physical body, sustaining herself from the energy of the fusion core that powered the lab on Temsevar.
In a brutally honest moment of self-analysis, Durban had come to see that it wasn’t a pure, selfless love of humanity that had been his sole motive in that decision. He had been spurred as much by a cold and bitter hate.The only person who Durban ever loved had been sacrificed to further Alize’s ends.
Alize had let his sister, Jaelya, die when she could have been saved.
He had spent the years since burying that hate and denying it, knowing hate destroyed the one who held it close far faster and more thoroughly than it destroyed its object. And he must have succeeded to some degree because when Alize’s non-corporeal form had been eliminated, along with the final remains of his childhood home on Temsevar, he had felt nothing. No sense of victory. Not even relief. Just a flat sense of closure. There was just no cause to feel hate anymore as the object of his hatred had ceased to be.
Or that was how things had been.
Until Avilon suggested the possibility that it had been Alize who had walked away from the final act on Temsevar wearing his body, with Durban nothing more than a puppet personality under her control. Durban was very certain that wasn’t true, even if he had no way to prove it to Avilon. But he couldn’t be equally sure that her second suggestion wasn’t true—that perhaps Alize had survived by somehow attaching herself to him and was influencing him from a threshold below his usual level of consciousness.
That idea was chilling because unlikely as it sounded, it could be true.
How could he be sure he was his own master and not under another’s influence?
How could he prove—even to himself—that he was still the same person he had been before those events on Temsevar three years ago?
Whenever his mind was not engaged in anything else, it homed in and teased away at the problem, seeking a way to prove to his own satisfaction that he was still Durban Chola, uninfluenced and in control.
How can I know who I am?
Out tomorrow – Iconoclast: A Necessary End by E.M Swift-Hook, the final book of Fortune’s Fools.
Portrait of Durban Chola by Ian Bristow.
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