Marianne de Pierres’s epic series the Sentients of Orion has been called “a grand space opera” (Times Literary Supplement) and “brilliant in all senses of the word” (Sean Williams). All four books were short-listed for the prestigious Aurealis Award, with the final book winning for Best Novel.
Don’t miss the entire Sentients of Orion series: Dark Space, Chaos Space, Mirror Space, and Transformation Space.
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Transformation Space: Sentients of Orion 4
By Marianne de Pierres
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2010 Marianne de Pierres
All rights reserved.
BELLE-MONDE OBSERVATORY—OUTER MINTAKA SYSTEM
Belle-Monde chief of station Astronomein Balbao poured over his daily analysis data flow of the gas entity known to them all as Sole. Something was wrong. Wave readings showed a disturbance in Sole's near space. In the months that the OLOSS scientific community had been studying the Entity, nothing like this had shown in their sweeps.
The Balol scientist pondered whether to discuss this with the tyros. For the most part he found the Godheads—as they liked to think of themselves—a most self-serving and conceited bunch. There'd been a marginal improvement in their attitude these recent weeks, with the absence of the Lostolian Tekton. Of all the tyros, the chief found Tekton the most unreasonable. The pompous archiTect had even tried to foist an unqualified noblewoman upon him as an intern. The very thought of it made the chief's neck frill stiffen.
Tekton always acted as if he had influence, when the chief suspected that he had little. His cousin Ra, however, was a different matter. It had come to the chief's attention that Ra had been seen in the company of Commander Lasper Farr, veteran of the Stain Wars and Defender of Peace. Though the chief wasn't terribly interested in the specific nature of the tyros' projects, like all station masters (and for all intents and purposes, that is what he was—signing damn recreation passes and maintenance schedules all day when he should be addressing more important things), he liked to know the state of play on his station. Belle-Monde may have once been a pleasure palace, but the gigatonne, spinning superficial world was now his observatory.
And he found ArchiTect Ra truly the oddest of creatures—unfriendly and jewel-eyed since his most recent transformation by Sole Entity. The chief admitted he'd felt a tang of jealousy knowing that the tight-skinned bastard from the Tadao Ando studium could now see all the waves of the light spectrum. What an amazing gift!
And terrible. Having one's humanesque thought architecture so profoundly changed must have flow-on effects, not all of them positive. But then the whole mind-shafting process that Sole insisted upon so that he could better communicate with his tyros was as profoundly altering as a thing could be—and no great asset to the already profoundly selfish natures of these professionals.
Take Dieter Miranda Seeward and Lawmon Jise. When they weren't indulging in unashamed sex games in the rooms and corridors of the pseudo-world, the pair were most concertedly trying to upset the research projects of the others. Labile Connit had gone quite insane over Miranda's constant prying into his affairs. Connit had come to the chief, begging protection from the woman, citing that she was stalking him.
The only effect his begging had was to irritate the chief. Why should Bald's pre-eminent scientist have to deal with such petty doings when there was an unparalleled scientific discovery in front of his nose, excreting screeds of empirical data?
And now that data was telling him something had changed.
With more reluctance than he cared to acknowledge, Chief Balbao instructed his moud to call an immediate meeting of the tyros. Decision made, he ordered a hearty roast beffer. The least thing he could do was face the glory-seeking parasites on an empty stomach.CHAPTER 3
Mira lay in the Primo vein, struggling to deal with her dread. Even the soothing nano-replenishers swimming through her blood couldn't calm her emotion. She had begun to lose her pregnancy waters in the conference room on Intel station. Only a trickle at first, but increasing by the time she reached her ship, Insignia.
Will my baby die?
The biozoon did not respond through their mental link immediately, and she hoped it was weighing alternatives, not ignoring her.
There is a facility on Scolar that is trialling cell acceleration. They may be able to help us, Insignia said finally.
Your foetus is too immature to survive. It's only weeks old. Cell acceleration may save it. The Pod knows of them and approves.
But Thales believes Scolar society to be affected by the virus. We could be at risk if we go there.
The facility is quite isolated. I don't believe it to be a problem.
You think that is the best option?
Yes. Insignia sounded patient, but Mira knew the creature was fretting to leave Intel station. The normal quiet hum of its biologies roared through her body.
How is shift space? Mira asked.
Insignia relayed an image to Mira's visual receptors. The rings of the Intel shift sphere flared with activity. Queues had already begun to form. Craft jostled each other to gain advantage.
Word is spreading quickly that the Dowl sphere has reopened. 'Esques and aliens are scared. We must leave now, or they may disengage the sphere.
I've caused mass panic, Mira thought.
We don't have time to absolve you of your mistakes. All pretence of patience had left the biozoon's mind tone. It sounded preoccupied. Its anger would come later. You have shared the truth. The Post-Species have amassed significant weaponry, and some of it is thought to be located on Araldis. OLOSS's existence is under threat. Now is the time to concern ourselves with our survival.
The biozoon was right. Can you shift early?
Imperfect shift again?
Of course. The Omniline are already preparing for it themselves.
They will return to the Pod?
Yes. Are you able to make a decision as to where to go? Or is your mind impaired by your hormones? If so, then I will choose.
Insignia's last question held no trace of humour.
Mira hesitated, floundering. Where should they go? With the Dowl sphere open, they could try shifting to Araldis and attempt to rescue the survivors on their own, but that would be dangerous, and her baby would surely die.
The Geni-carriers she'd seen leaving Extro space had been headed there, she was sure of it. The Post-Species had sent a formidable force to her home world. But why Araldis? And when would they loose their arsenal on the rest of Orion? Was that why the Dowl shift sphere had reopened? An attack?
The two 'esques to whom she would have looked for counsel, Rast Randall and Josef Rasterovich, were captives of the Extros. She could not help them. They could not help her.
And yet it felt cowardly to retreat and abandon the survivors on Araldis. Cowardly to run to a distant world and hide and hope that the Post-Species did not go there. But where could she hide? Which planets would the Extros choose to destroy first?
She broke from her inward reverie and glanced at the Secondo vein. The scholar Thales Berniere was enveloped by the vein-sink; only his face and the tips of his fingers were visible where he grasped the edges. A tall broad female soldier in plain garb bent solicitously over him. What was her name again? Fariss. Fariss O'Dea.
'Thales?' said Mira.
'Yes, Baronessa?' he croaked, lifting his head above the cocoon so that they could see each other.
'My baby will be born prematurely. Insignia tells me that there is a facility on Scolar that could save my child.'
'Mount Clement,' he said. 'It is ... I'm told ... the best of its kind. But it's foremost an experimental facility—not available to the public, as far as I know. They focus on in-vitro genetics. Bethany spoke of it. She has expertise in that area.'
Bethany. Mira felt a pang of loss for Bethany Ionil's brief friendship. A woman's company right now would reassure her. Fariss O'Dea was not one, Mira guessed, to concern herself with affairs of childbirth. 'Where is Beth?'
The soldier straightened. 'Bethany Ionil travelled to Intel with us.'
'Bethany? On Lasper's ship? You didn't say,' said Thales, looking up at her in surprise.
Fariss laughed. 'You didn't ask. Figured it was best left at that.'
'Bethany may know someone at Mount Clement, Mira.'
'Can we contact her?'
'Yeah, sure, if you want to attract the Commander's attention to us,' said Fariss in dry tones.
Mira, we do not have time to wait. Do you comprehend this? Insignia's urgency sent a skewer of energy through her.
She wavered for another moment. Wait and try and contact Bethany, or leave now? The memory of the Geni-carriers blossomed in her mind. Waiting could mean death for all of them.
'Soldier Fariss, seat yourself in the Autonomy nub. It will protect you through imperfect shift,' Mira said.
'Imperfect shift? Shit! Always wanted to do that.' Fariss gave Thales's shoulder a squeeze and stepped across to the command seat mounted in a tubercle.
Protect her, Mira told Insignia.
Res-cushioning flowed around the large body from the tubercle's pores.
'Don't touch any of the functions,' Mira added.
Fariss crossed her arms. 'Wouldn't think of it.'
Insignia, we should leave.
Yes. I will manage shift. It is better that you rest.
Mira hesitated. Insignia had sedated her twice without her permission. And yet now fear and fatigue made her almost welcome the idea of oblivion. How long since she had truly rested? How long since she'd had a moment of peace? How long since worry had not gnawed its way through her bones? Will it help slow down the loss of fluid if I am ... sedated?
Insignia's reply was relaxation stealing across her neural pathways, a drowsy warmth and sense of security. She felt all her muscles loosen and her churning stomach settle. Insignia? Can you do the same for Thales?
She drifted, then returned to say one more thing. I had to warn them. You understand?
Yes, she heard Insignia say before she succumbed. And no.CHAPTER 4
They stumbled across the caves in the grey light of predawn. Exhaustion would have stopped them anyway. Most had used up the stimulant pods which had helped them climb up through the tangled undergrowth that cloaked the mountain. There were pods left, but Trin wanted to conserve them until Djes could harvest more and they could build a store.
'Wait! Stay here in the bushes,' Trin told his band of survivors. 'We'll search the caves just before sunrise.'
Djes moved closer to him as the others sank gratefully to the ground.
'Are these the caves you saw when you came here before?' Trin asked her.
She sat down on the moist ground, legs curled out to one side, and waited for him to join her.
His stimulants had worn off as well, and a stale aftermath crept over him. He reached for her as he settled, and she leaned into his arms. Around them, others were doing the same, squatting or lying in the undergrowth close to each other, staring at the dark shadows that signalled cavities in the mountainside.
'Not sure. I think the ones I saw might have been lower down. Perhaps we missed some. We're so close to the summit here. I don't think I climbed this high; I didn't have time. It was dark ... I'm not sure.'
He stroked her arm. Her skin still had an odd texture from spending so much time in saltwater—slippery, like an eel's, and yet wrinkled. How did he find her even remotely attractive? he wondered. She was not familia, and she was part alien.
Yet, her part-Miolaquan heritage—her ability to swim like a fish—had saved their lives. And he'd watched as she'd changed a little more with each passing day she'd spent at sea. The webbing between her fingers and toes had become thicker, her hair thinner, even her eyes; the aqueous membrane showing as she blinked and adjusted to the bare sunlight.
She ventured no further comment now, and Trin found himself drifting to sleep, one arm around her and his back wedged against the trunk of a stunted tree.
He woke like that a short time later, his arm cramping. The lightening sky showed the caves as gaping holes in the pale rock. The mountain is soft, he thought. No wonder the wind has eaten at it.
Around him, others stirred. For so long now they had slept in short grabs, through the daylight, as they sought to escape the invading Saqr. It was impossible to imagine a full night's sleep.
Juno Genarro, Trin's most trusted carabinere, crawled from the arms of his cousin Josefia and over to them. 'Principe? What are your orders?'
'We should eat, Juno. Then take Tivi and look inside the caves. Joe will stay in command of the group. If the caves are not safe, we'll need to find thicker cover before the sun rises.'
Juno nodded. 'And you?'
'Djes and I will walk to the top. It is only a short distance now, and it is important that I see how the land lies from above.'
'You'll have to hurry, or you will be caught without shade, Principe.'
Trin touched the carabinere's arm briefly. 'Tell Tina to bring us some food. And be careful in the caves. The checclia that we saw at the base of the mountain might not be the only mutations on the island. The vegetation is lush by Araldis standards; other creatures could survive here.'
Juno nodded and crawled away.
'Djes?' Trin shook the sleeping girl.
She woke quickly and fearfully, her webbed fingers grasping at the air and her eyes flickering open, revealing her secondary lids.
Trin still experienced a shock when he saw them, yet he'd grown to depend on her devotion; her belief gave him confidence even though his feelings for her see-sawed.
Recently, when it had seemed that she knew more than him, he'd resented her. Trin wondered whether his attachment to her would survive her growing assertiveness and his men's tacit approval of her decisions. There was a place for only one leader among them, and it was not the bitter and gaunt Cass Mulravey, nor the dour Kristo, nor Djeserit, nor any of the others. This was his world, his birthright, and he would do anything to see that it remained so.
Djes's gentle question broke him from his trance. He held out his hand and pulled her to her feet, smoothing away his guilt with action.
'We should go to the summit before Leah rises,' he said.
She glanced upward and nodded, seeing no need to question him this time. On many things they were of one mind.
Not all, though, he reminded himself, as they accepted a breakfast of dried fish from the hands of Tina Galiotto. Djes had discovered and used the stimulant pods herself, without telling him about them. She had done it to ensure they were safe, she'd said, a foolish and bold risk. In their flight from the mainland, they'd depended on her to lead their boats across the islands. Without her abilities to swim and fish, they would have perished.
She followed closely behind him as he dragged his weary body up the short but steep distance of bush-covered rock to the mountain peak.
At any other time, the view from the peak would have lifted his mood: sheets of brown sea broken up by the irregular shapes of tiny white islands, and the roaring stretch of the Galgos Strait that they had just navigated and, by Crux's blessing, survived.
To the west he saw larger islands, separated from each other by greater distances and then eventually becoming lost in the Southern Sea. Their yachts would not have made it to any of them, he thought. This island was their only hope.
He swivelled east, to look again in the direction that they'd come. Beyond the strait and the delta of tiny islands nestled against the coastline, the central continent of Araldis was a slim snaking line tinted red by the rising haze of blown sand.
Trin looked back across their track and felt a pang of loneliness. He was cut off from all the places he knew, forced now to find a way to survive on this island mountainside.
'We've travelled so far. It's hard to believe,' said Djes.
'Si, bella. Surely the Saqr will not bother to pursue us here.'
She nodded. 'I hope not. I suppose, though ... it depends on why they're here.'
He dragged his gaze from the wide vista to Djes. Why were the Saqr here? Every one of the survivors pondered that question endlessly, he was sure, but there had been no time for discussion, no energy for anything other than keeping the will to survive. 'You have ideas on that?'
She shrugged. In the growing light she looked so tired and jaundiced that he pulled her into his arms. For all his concerns about her growing independence from him and her natural leadership qualities, he could not bear to lose her.
She leaned closer and slid her own arms around his waist, reaching beneath his fellalo to stroke his bare skin.
Excerpted from Transformation Space: Sentients of Orion 4 by Marianne de Pierres. Copyright © 2010 Marianne de Pierres. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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