Part 3: The Theeds
Separating the lively from the ancient was crucial to keeping Meridian upright. Without the young, none lived long enough to grow old. Without the antiques, there was no mystery to life's promised luxury.
Without the theeds, the ancients nesting atop the Inner Spires in their amber voxels were only human.
A theed separated the Weeping Desert's old world relics from their expressed design, however mysterious. A theed kept the antiques from killing their owners just long enough for them to grow old.
The key responsibilities were mobility and disposal. Theeds came and went from the Inner Spires. Their payloads rattled with ancient requisitions too dangerous for the former owners' peace of mind. The risk was worth it for the ancients. If they wished to live the extended life the Inner Spires afforded, they would hoard the world's illustrious treasures from inhospitable lands. This meant risk by the owners, true. It meant a risk of a mysterious antique possibly transforming their daughters into marble statues, or a techno-organic sarcophagus cloning its owner with nanobot gray goo.
There were signs. Some were heeded, but not all.
There were competitions and staring matches at parties over cursed artifacts. Long-shot gambling was conducted, wagers on what odd destructive plague, hex, or undesirable cybernetic affliction may occur, should the antique stand unattended for too long.
The mysterious was simply too seductive to ignore. The chance an objet d'art might restore its owner's skin to youth was often considered equal to the possibility the same rusted instrument freed from the Weeping Desert might reduce the human body to a heap of carbon ash. None knew and the risk was worth the chance they could live forever, far above the acid rains of Meridian's edge-towns.
But when it became too much, they hired theeds to move the offensive antiques away for disposal. These were the games the ancients of the Inner Spires played with one another. This was how Orry and his fellow theeds kept alive.
Orry was often found moments from better judgment. He understood the destructive potential of an antique while often failing to determine just how the danger might manifest. His joints popped when he worked longer days. His palms were burned by the acid rain as a boy. He didn't fear the wash though. His continued survival in Meridian's toxic jungle was the only self-evidence that he would have to fail terribly to end up dead.
Rahz still had her skin. The active nerves were a treasure. She only removed her tinted lenses off her eyes when examining display screens. Otherwise, the dark prisms kept out the ultrapixie lights, the acid, and any other curses that might threaten her livelihood.
Suna was born in the south. Raised by the crones, he was protected by a loving wind. No alchemic theorem or archival search could explain how he was kept safe, or if the loving wind was a documented force. Suna didn't know and the crones had clipped their telex lines decades earlier.
Rostand came from over the sea on a vessel of bones and sails of wax. She could split atoms, given time.
Without each other, the four theeds would fall deeper into the funnel of death that Meridian churned. To go on was to embrace the indifference to danger those of the Inner Spires wove from almighty invisibles they did not fathom. To retreat meant the Weeping Desert, or the Valley-cities, or the Running Glaciers, where the automatas drained the sun.
Meridian was the humans' promised plot—the last patch of neglected ground where they might grow old.