He was naked, if a thing of metal and plastic can be naked. His chest was jet; some shining black alloy or smooth plastic, I could not tell. His arms and legs were transparent plasteel. Beneath that false skin, I could see the dark metal of his duralloy bones, the power-bars and flexors that were muscles and tendons, the micromotors and sensing computers, the intricate pattern of lights racing up and down his superconductive neurosystem. His fingers were steel. On his right hand, long silver claws sprang rakishly from his knuckles when he made a fist.
He was looking at me. His eyes were crystalline lenses set in metal sockets, moving back and forth in some green translucent gel. They had no visible pupils; behind each implacable crimson iris burned a dim light that gave his stare an ominous red glow. "Am I that fascinating?" he asked me. His voice was surprisingly natural; deep and resonant, with no metallic echoes to corrode the humanity of his inflections.
"Kleronomas," I said. "Your name is fascinating, certainly. A very long time ago, there was another man of that name, a cyborg, a legend. You know that, of course. He of the Kleronomas Survey. The founder of the Academy of Human Knowledge on Avalon. Your ancestor? Perhaps metal runs in your family."
"No," said the cyborg. "Myself. I am Joachim Kleronomas."
I smiled for him. "And I'm Jesus Christ. Would you care to meet my Apostles?"
"You doubt me, Wisdom?"
"Kleronomas died on Avalon a thousand years ago."
"No," he said. "He stands before you now."
"Cyborg," I said, "this is Croan'dhenni. You would not have come here unless you sought rebirth, unless you sought to win new life in the game of mind. So be warned. In the game of mind, your lies will be stripped away from you. Your flesh and your metal and your illusions, we will take them all, and in the end there will be only you, more naked and alone than you can ever imagine. So do not waste my time. It is the most precious thing I have, time. It is the most precious thing any of us have. Who are you, cyborg?"
"Kleronomas," he said. Was there a mocking note in his voice? I could not tell. His face was not built for smiling. "Do you have a name?" he asked me.
"Several," I said.
"Which do you use?"
"My players call me Wisdom."
"That is a title, not a name," he said.
I smiled. "You are traveled, then. Like the real Kleronomas. Good. My birth name was Cyrain. I suppose, of all my names, I am most used to that one. I wore it for the first fifty years of my life, until I came to Dam Tullian and studied to be a Wisdom and took a new name with the title."
"Cyrain," he repeated. "That alone?"
"On what world were you born, then?"
Cyrain of Ash," he said. "How old are you?"
"In standard years?"
I shrugged. "Close to two hundred. I've lost count."
"You look like a child, like a girl close to puberty, no more."
"I am older than my body," I said.
"As am I," he said. "The curse of the cyborg, Wisdom, is that parts can be replaced."
"Then you're immortal?" I challenged him.
"In one crude sense, yes."
"Interesting," I said. "Contradictory. You come here to me, to Croan'dhenni and its Artifact, to the game of mind. Why? This is a place where the dying come, cyborg, in hopes of winning life. We don't get many immortals."
"I seek a different prize," the cyborg said.
"Yes?" I prompted.
"Death," he told me. "Life. Death. Life."
"Two different things," I said. "Opposites. Enemies."
"No," said the cyborg. "They are the same."