As her home planet of Araldis burns following an invasion, Mira Fedor has fled to the nearest Orion League planet seeking aid for her devastated world. But the authorities turn a blind eye, appearing more interested in stealing her bio-ship, Insignia. It is not the only mystery she faces, as she discovers an initiative called Tekton takes extreme measures in acquiring a rare mineral alloy. What has that to do with the destruction of Araldis, or for that sake, the Stain Wars? The truth is bigger than even Mira can fathom, as it begs the larger question: is there a Sole Entity out there in the universe, guiding their every move...?
Don't miss the entire Sentients of Orion series: DARK SPACE, CHAOS SPACE, MIRROR SPACE, TRANSFORMATION SPACE.
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Sentients Of Orion: Book Two
By Marianne de Pierres
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2008 Marianne de Pierres
All rights reserved.
The edges of the Dowl shift-sphere were a frenzy of spacecraft. No order in their behaviour. No etiquette. Only panic.
Mira/Primo writhed in vein-sink, her senses deluged with information upon which her imagination piled fear. What have the Saqr done to Dowl? That and a hundred other questions prickled her subconscious. But only one found its way to the top. Insignia? Can we shift?
The biozoon hesitated. Dowl's shift system is compromised.
Then we are trapped here!
I am not. We use your stations as an act of good faith—not necessity—and to protect our humanesque Innate. You do not need to use our shiftspace?
I do not need to use yoursystems.I am bred with Resonance ability. However, your stations are located at our optimum resonance points. I must use this space.
Then we can still resonate?
As I said ... yes.
Mira's relief translated into a surge of energy. Go, then.
Insignia slid precariously between the mêlée of stranded ships. Some were already changing direction, their auras exuding bursts of magnetic waves.
What are they doing?
They are opting for sublight travel. Maglev is still operating but unstable.
That meant someone on Dowl station was battling to keep maglev function available. Mira trembled at their courage. Insignia—go! Leave here!
A visual representation of the shiftsphere blossomed on Mira's retina; a magnificent kaleidoscope of pulsing, spinning concentric rings. Then a low thrum started as Insignia unfolded her cephalic fins. Mira knew that the sound would escalate to something beyond her hearing range. Soon she would be immersed in the thing she had most longed for.
As they entered the outermost ring of the sphere, Mira/Primo lost all connection with her physical self. She became a force amongst other forces, an energy thrusting forward against returned energies.
It's like swimming, she thought. I am swimming, not flying.
Yes, Insignia agreed jubilantly. We are. And it has been too long ...
With each ring they traversed the hum-pitch rose and the opposing forces strengthened. Mira/Primo lengthened her stroke, absorbed in the rhythm and effort of her propulsion.
Then a faint disruption occurred, like a splash disturbing the perfect ripples of her movement.
A craft slid across their wake, travelling with ragged momentum.
What is it?
Desperation, replied Insignia. They are trying to shift.
But we are only partway in.
The ring ahead of us is designated for refuse ships.
They have a different shift point?
Yes. In case there is a spillage or an accident during resonance—so that ultimate shift space will not be compromised.
But they are not resonating at perfect pitch. How—?
Imperfect Shift is possible.
Insignia sent the equations and logistics tumbling into Mira/Primo's mind. In less than an instant she understood. Imperfect Shift was possible, though high-risk, and if they were caught in the wake of it, they would be dragged into Failed Shift.
A warning from Mira's Studium instruction manual flashed into her mind. The result of a Failed Res-shift is catastrophic and will have an irrevocable impact on humanesque tissue. Vibration calibration must be precise or molecules in die tissues will implode the flesh ...
I am ahead of them still and I am able to accelerate but in doing so I will disrupt their accumulated speed. They may be forced into a Failed Shift.
What other option is there?
You know it.
Mira/Primo's fingers clutched at the vein's viscous cushioning, her eyelids fluttering—though she had no awareness of it. Death to them? Or Death to us?
I cannot choose such a thing. I cannot!
Insignia had no sympathy for her. I can. It is very clear to me.
If you choose the riskier option for us your baby will die.
An instant? Or protracted moments? Mira/Primo didn't know which it was, but she felt Insignia's satisfaction as she thought the words ...
Us. Save us ...CHAPTER 2
closer closer/luscious luscious
find'm secrets/know'm all
bring'm home/bring'm home
Thales prostrated himself for the last time that day. As he lifted his lips from the cool marble floor of the Jainist upashraya, he sent a message to his moud: Quesadillas for dinner with spiced ratafia and a side of hot meat-stuffed peppers.
It was really too mild a time of year for such a meal but he could already see the smile on Rene's face when the moud filed the dinner menu to her inbox.
He retrieved his slippers from the racks in the entry recess, shoved his feet into them and pummelled the muscles in his back. Sometimes he longed for a more active lifestyle. Already he could feel a slight softening of his torso, the natural tone of youth stealing away like a mistress at dawn. Prayer and contemplation were no substitute for physical exertion.
Thales paused in the entry of the basilica. It was small in comparison with many on Scolar but no less grand for the religion's inauspicious Cerulean beginnings. It was probably part of the attraction for him, he mused.
He had discovered an innate perversity in his nature that he had recently stopped suppressing and begun to acknowledge. Scolar, the much-lauded hub of ideas and learning in Orion, was becoming as staid and intransigent as a Balol monk.
Oh, and chocolate linguine with pig peaches, he added to the menu.
Perhaps extra carbohydrates would give Rene the energy to make love tonight. She seemed to be gripped by preoccupations these days; a mental fatigue that affected her interest in his manliness amongst other things.
If only she would agree to have a child.
Thales craved one as deeply as he craved new knowledge. At night when he woke and couldn't get back to sleep, he made lists of the things he could teach a child of his own, the wonders he could show them.
But Rene would not be enticed. Although she had never said as much, Thales knew that she found the whole idea slightly primitive. Sensitive to her preferences, he had instead broached the subject of non-biological parenting.
Her reaction had been clear. How could I care for a child that is not my own? It was, perhaps, the only time that he has been disappointed with her.
Sighing, Thales looked to the shards of violet light stabbing downward onto the marble surface where he'd been lying in prayer. They fell like swords from the twists of cut amethyst inlaid into the domed roof. On suns' set, all the basilicas in the Hegel quarter burned with refraction rainbows. Each one of them had been built to capture the rays at rise and fall of Scolar's twin suns. It was as if the universe sent its most vibrant, imperious shades cascading down to Scolar to rejoice at the City of Ideas's importance.
Thales turned from its flaunting display and walked out onto the avenue. Others emerged from their prayers and study, and queued to enter the conduits. Thales caught glimpse of faces he knew—the Cerulean, Msr Lacroix, from the Zionist temple and the uuli near-elder Uumau. But today they avoided acknowledgement of him as though somehow preempting the next moment.
A priority message has been logged.
Thales's heart pumped. His petition must have been approved. He would be the first scholar to be sent to study the Entity on Belle-Monde. Proceed.
Sophos Mianos wishes to inform you that tomorrow you will take up a new post as Grievance Adjudicator at the OLOSS offices in the Bureaucratie district.
Shock caused Thales to sway as the conduit raced past the blossoming cherry trees towards his domicile in the Kant district. Only steady meditative breaths—kept his anger on a leash. He grappled with it until he reached the sanctum of his apartment.
Rene was home already, seated at her studium-adjunct, scanning through her most recent treatise.
Despite his distress, Thales paused to admire her gracefulness as she bent over the desk. She seemed thinner than she had this morning, her frailty accentuated by the freedom she had given her waist-long hair. He often begged her to let him braid it but she said he was clumsy and preferred their maid's adept fingers. In the evenings, though, she would let him unravel it and stroke it loose. She would lean into him, her body as light as the stalk of a sunflower, her eyes unfocused and trusting.
'Thales, calm down.'
He opened his mouth in surprise. 'How did you know?'
She turned to him and he soaked in the sight of her intelligent oval face. 'Your step was rushed and you spoke to Alambra brusquely.'
One of Rene's more delightful quirks was that she never thought of their shared Made Intelligent moud as anything other than sentient. 'But, as you ordered my favourite dinner foods before you left the upashraya, I'm assuming that whatever upset you occurred on the conduit.'
She held her arms out.
Thales ran to her like a child, kneeling to bury his head in her lap. A sudden desire somehow to subsume her into his being beset him. She was older than he but more beautiful than all the young women on Scolar. She would always be so. The beauty of her intellect held him in far greater thrall than any physical loveliness.
Rene let her hand stray through his hair. 'Dear Thales,' she whispered.
Hurt pride tore loose from a burning spot in his chest. 'They have ignored my petition to study under the Entity and are moving me to OLOSS to be a Grievance Adjudicator at the Bureaucratie, Rene. This is because I oppose their staid ideals. The entire Sophos Pre-Eminence treat my arguments against their theories as though I am diseased. What happened to the acclaimed dissension of Scolar? What happened to lively discourse and the intersection of ideas? This place is dying, Rene. And we are in danger of becoming as stultified as them. It is little wonder that the great philosopher Villon abandoned this place.' Thales stared up into her face.
She stroked his cheeks but her expression tightened.
'Villon was a malcontent. We are a better society without him.'
'I don't agree,' said Thales hotly. He pulled away from her grasp. 'His dissent was what kept us honest. He believed in argument and change.'
Rene smiled. 'A philosopher for the youth. Change cannot always justify itself.'
'Don't denigrate his beliefs, or mine, by such a bland dismissal. It is true that Villon challenged everything, even himself. But that is the only way to ensure that our ideas advance.'
'Villon challenged the Pre-Eminence. He sought to displace them with an anarchic model of leadership that would have allowed anyone into governance. That might have made him a champion to the younger and the less prudent, but how could you know what his motivations were? Perhaps he simply sought influence and his own kind of respectability.'
'Respectability! Rene! How stolid you sound.'
'And you sound like a boy suffering from hero worship. Thales, you did not know Villon. It is most likely that he used dissension as a tool.'
'A tool? Dissension has been Scolar's life blood. We are not taught to study in school, we are taught to think. Why assume that anything is how it seems? Or how we are told it is? And yet we are governed by old men who want nothing more than the status quo.'
'I do not need a lecture on Scolar's education methods, Thales. Or a mocking precis of the Pre-Eminence. Have you forgotten that my father is among them?'
'Have you forgotten what we learned?'
Rene frowned, and pressed her fingers to her forehead. 'Dissension creates conflict. I do not seek conflict, especially not with you. It is uncivilised and stressful.' She dropped her hand from her face and gave Thales an almost pleading look. 'Equilibrium is our secret weapon, dearest.'
'It is an excuse for much to be left undone.' He grabbed her pale smooth hands to his chest. 'We should leave. You could apply to study with the Sole Entity on Belle-Monde. The Sophos would not be able to deny you as they have me. The tyros are only Dieter's, Lawmon and Geneers. How could they have a true dialectic with the Entity without a philosopher? It could be a new start for us.'
'Thales, my exposition is almost finished. When it is accepted, you know I will be made Provost Laud.' Rene's expression softened. 'Don't you enjoy our lifestyle?'
Petulance boiled up in Thales. 'You will call it a symptom of youth, Rene, but lifestyle is not all. Knowledge is all. It used to be that you thought that way as well. Now you seem more moved by status and position. I think that sometimes you prefer the company of your father and his antediluvian Sophos to mine.'
As the words tumbled from his lips, Thales saw his hopes for the evening evaporate. Yet he could not stop himself. Anger had gripped him—righteousness felt more gratifying than any judicious reply.
Rene pushed him gently away and stood. 'I will be in muse when you are ready to be rational. I have made many sacrifices for you, Thales. It is unkind for you to reward me with such childishness.'
Thales could not let it drop. 'What sacrifices? How have I encumbered you?'
But she had turned away already, rebuff apparent in the frail set of her shoulders, the tremor of her thin fingers.
Contrition played him. 'Rene, please ...'
'Go for a walk, Thales. Young men need exercise.'
She shut the door between them quietly.CHAPTER 4
'Fedor? You still with us? Or are you napping again?'
Rast/Secondo's voice vibrated through vein-fluid and disseminated into Mira/Primo's mind. Her several days of immersion with the organic ship Insignia had robbed her of any interest in the mercenary's needs or demands. She was enthralled by the biozoon's unique biology, its adaptation from water to space.
Yet the speech vibrations became insistent and louder.
'Hey! Baronessa! Answer me or I'll come over there and rip you out of your cosy little bed!'
Mira/Primo sighed at the banality of the threat. The Primo vein could resist any attempt at forcible entry short of res-shift error. Even then, there was a possible chance of survival, although 'where' Mira/Primo was not sure. The composition of the Eter-nix was sheer theory.
With reluctance she began the process of separation from Primo, finishing with an instruction to the vein to release her body. It disgorged her into an upright position, supporting her gently while she regained her balance.
Rast, no longer in Secondo, was already waiting for her. The mercenary lay on her side still, flicking the black scrawls of drying vein-fluid from her skin as she clenched and unclenched her muscles. A pistol bearing the Cipriano crest lay propped against her stomach.
Mira felt the last reassuring intimacy of the Primo drop away, leaving only the faint and dissatisfying distance of waved interface. She could feel and hear the biozoon but she was no longer it. 'Where did you get that?' Her voice rasped with suspicion and the aftereffects of immersion.
'This is the flagship of a war fleet, Fedor.' The mercenary waved a hand at the luxurious trimmings that disguised the fact that they were in the biozoon's cheek. 'Where do you think I got it?'
Mira felt a twist of indignation. Perhaps the Primo influence was upon her still. Or maybe she was more patriotic than she thought. 'The biozoon is not a weapon ship; it is a sophisticated macro-organism.'
Rast shrugged. 'Whatever. It still carries a weapon stash that will do me nicely, seeing as I never got paid for the whole frikked-up mess down there. Now you will take me where I want, and on the way we can negotiate how you might get out of this with your skin on.'
The memory of their situation flooded through Mira's mind. The invasion of Araldis, Faja's death, Trin Pellegrini and ... She closed her mind to the last thought and studied Rast.
The mercenary's face was pale, and her injuries had not been repaired by the Secondo. The veins were only matched to heal the Cipriano genotype.
She was a mess.
Mira rubbed the back of her hand and watched vein-flakes slough into the air. She imagined she looked much the same. 'I left a child ... my child on Araldis in the care of an unstable man while my world is being violently colonised by alien creatures. I will not take this macrorganic anywhere but to the nearest OLOSS protectorate where I will get help for Araldis. According to Insignia that will be Scolar in the Utmos system.'
Excerpted from Chaos Space by Marianne de Pierres. Copyright © 2008 Marianne de Pierres. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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