Creation Machine is a fast-paced, whip-smart science fiction debut from Andrew Bannister introducing the stunning galaxy called the Spin.
In the vast, artificial galaxy called the Spin, a rebellion has been crushed.
Viklun Hass is eliminating all remnants of the opposition. Starting with his daughter.
But Fleare Hass has had time to plan her next move from exile to the very frontiers of a new war.
For hundreds of millions of years, the planets and stars of the Spin have been the only testament to the god-like engineers that created them. Now, beneath the surface of a ruined planet, one of their machines has been found.
About the Author
ANDREW BANNISTER grew up in Cornwall and studied Geology at Imperial College and went to work in the North Sea before becoming an Environmental Consultant. Andrew is active in voluntary work, focusing on children with special educational needs. Creation Machine is his debut novel.
Read an Excerpt
The thousand and third day of Fleare's imprisonment dawned clear and cold. Frost fuzzed the stone battlements of the Monastery, and the plains fifteen hundred metres below were veiled in mist. Fleare paused halfway through her daily walk up the Shadow Stair and gathered the thin prison fatigues into folds around her as if that would help keep out the cold. It didn't.
She had been climbing for twenty minutes and her clothes were clammy with sweat that was beginning to freeze. An unmodified human would have been in trouble by now, and she wasn't far behind. She shivered, and started climbing again. Movement was vital. She was twenty-two; she intended to live to be twenty-three. Beside her the small, elongated, featurelessly grey ovoid that followed her everywhere gave off its quiet hum.
Do something, anything, to get information out.
The Monastery was the oldest structure on Obel. No one knew who had built it. The name wasn't original; it had first been called the Monastery when it was already a thousand years old, by a sect of flagellant penitents who had lived there at the end of the Second Industrial Age. The title had stuck for seventeen millennia and the present occupants, the Strecki Brotherhood, had kept it.
The Monastery rose from the Dust Plains in a jumble of ziggurats, domes and spires. Not all were vertical. Some stuck out sideways, a few were upside down and one whole section floated a little off to the side and inverted itself like an hourglass every eleventh day. The whole thing came to a point in the slender, rotating Tower of Prayer which tapered over its five-hundred-metre height to little more than the width of a man's outstretched arms before expanding, two kilometres above the Plains, into the Lantern.
Make alliances. Look for weak points, systems to subvert. Biological as well as tech – fuck the guards if you have to. Anything to get a signal out.
Boredom was the issue. Having the sole run of the Monastery had helped to pass the time. Fleare spent days rooting around the huge disorganized archives that occupied most of the lower levels, studying the history of the Monastery and of Obel: two strands that had run parallel for so many millennia that they looked like one.
People said that somewhere in the partly collapsed core of the Monastery were buried the remains of a temple that somehow pre-dated the Spin, or the preserved brain and genitals of a demented god-king, or the secret of eternal life.
The facts were more prosaic. The place had a still-functioning power source of an unknown type, and an apparently senile AI that spoke several dead languages and answered every ninth question with an obscenity. Fleare enjoyed talking to the AI. She suspected it was less senile than it pretended; from time to time it seemed to forget itself and become lucid and even, in a strange way, tender. Then it generally made up for its lapse with a volley of profanity.
There were no other prisoners. What the Strecki knew about her was enough to put her in a security category all of her own. She had been alone on the prison transport, and when the creaking, smoke-belching machine had docked with the Entry Gate – with a thump that had knocked her off her feet – there had been no one to greet her.
She had been conducted along dripping corridors by a floating spherical drone about twice the size of her head. It smelled strongly of ozone. She wondered why, until the first time she slowed down. It nudged her gently, and the electric shock almost knocked her out.
'Where is everyone?' she had asked, in the reception cell. The squat little monk hitched at his stained robes and rolled his eyes, showing dark yellow whites. 'You are everyone,' he told her. 'Solitary confinement. No one wants to get near a filthy slot- crotch like you. Even the guards won't come further in than the Second Circle. So you'll be making your own entertainment. I know what you foul sluts get up to.' He licked his lips. 'There are cameras.'
Fleare suppressed a shudder. 'Don't you prefer boys?' she asked innocently.
He grinned, showing black teeth. 'Say what you like,' he said. 'Your ransom's ten billion standard. Until someone raises that you're stuck here on your own. Or not quite.' He waved towards the cell door. 'Some company for you.'
Fleare followed his gesture, and saw a featureless grey ovoid, floating at head height. It gave off a hum that, although soft, managed to set Fleare's teeth on edge. She looked back at the monk, whose grin was even broader.
'You'd better get used to it,' he said. 'It will follow you anywhere, through anything. It can flay you in ten seconds. Watch.'
He thumped an old-fashioned looking switch on the wall beside him. The room darkened, and images covered the far wall.
Fleare lasted nearly thirty seconds before being sick.
What the monks would have done if they had known everything, instead of only something, she didn't like to think.
As it was, they found ways to amuse themselves. Nothing so elaborate as the little floating ovoid, although even that could be used subtly. Sometimes, especially in the early days, she had woken from the fitful sleep which was all the hard shelf and thin, smelly covers allowed, and had heard – silence. No buzzing. She had sat up quickly and stared round her cell, her heart knocking a sickly rhythm while she tried to locate the thing, listening to the silence with her hearing so enhanced that sooner or later nothing could be silent, and the darkness became full of the buzzing and hissing of the noise floor of her own ears.
Then the thing had appeared beside her head, its noise so loud and sudden that she had jumped violently enough to pull a muscle in her abdomen.
Somehow, the monks seemed to know. The next day there had been something wrong with her food; it looked and tasted only as bad as usual but a few hours after eating she began to retch. She ran to the toilet hole in the corner of her cell and crashed, vomiting, to her knees with every spasm tearing at her injured muscle so that she howled bile.
Eventually, she slept a little, and woke to find that the attack had shifted so that she was voiding jets of scalding filthy-smelling liquid shit. She had no choice but to use the floor because the toilet hole had closed itself up while she slept.
Remember, almost anything can be information. Even just a repeated behaviour-pattern, if that's all you can manage.
The early abuse had tailed off. She had learned to ignore the ovoid's absences and after a while it seemed to have given up. These days it contented itself with floating a metre above her head while she tried to sleep, tilted slightly downward so that the blade- end of its casing pointed at her crotch. The buzzing made it almost impossible to sleep. Even when she managed, she was quickly woken by hunger.
Just once she had flicked at the thing in anger. Just once; a tongue of violet light had licked out of the front of the casing, almost too fast for her eye to follow, and then she had her hand cradled in her lap while blood welled from her half-severed finger. Inevitably, the cut had festered. Even a year later it still hadn't quite healed.
We'll be watching.
Fleare hoped someone still was.
At last the Shadow Stair turned inwards, climbing through a narrow access into the heart of the Tower itself. Another handful of steps led out on to a wide platform. She had reached Millien's Vigilance.
Who or what Millien had been was one of many Tower unknowns, but everyone agreed that the Vigilance had been created after the Tower was finished. Where the rest of the Tower was inscrutably unmarked, the inner surfaces of the Vigilance showed faint, irregular tool marks almost as if something had gnawed its way through.
The other thing everyone agreed on was that the creation of the Vigilance should have felled the Tower like a tree.
Take a round tower. Punch through it with something rectangular, a bit over half its own diameter wide and twice the height of an average human. Rotate ninety degrees. Repeat.
The four columns that remained at the corners of the Vigilance were obviously, wonderfully, stupidly too thin to carry the weight of the hundred metres of Tower above them, never mind the unknown quantity of the Lantern. The first time Fleare had seen them she had actually flinched at the enormous weight that seemed about to crush her to two dimensions. These days the flinch was internal, but it never quite wore off.
She took a deep breath that was half unconscious and stepped on to the platform, rubbing her palms together and kneading her fingers. At this altitude frostbite would happen in twenty minutes no matter what she did, but if she did nothing it would happen a lot faster. So far she had done this a thousand times – the anniversary had not escaped her – and still had all her fingers.
The muscles in her legs felt hot, cold and numb at the same time. The weakness was getting worse. If she let herself think about it she knew that she was being starved to death, as slowly as possible. It was one of a growing list of things she didn't dare let herself think about.
It was okay to think about heights. Heights were distracting. When she had first seen the Vigilance the unprotected drop had sent her into a dizzying panic which had not faded until she was back on the solid lower terraces. The next time she made the climb she had brought a long coil of lightweight rope, surplus to Monastery needs and dusty from centuries of storage. Working partly with her eyes shut, she had tied it round the four columns to form a token rail, just above waist height.
The next day it had gone. She replaced it two days running, with the same result.
After fixing it a third time, she found a sheltered balcony near the base of the Shadow Stair and settled herself in with a flask of hot water and a bag of the bitter herbs the Strecki used for everything from making infusions to flavouring food or smoking. They were the only thing she was allowed in abundance, probably because they had nil nutritional value. She watched well into the evening until the stair was slick with unclimbable frost. She saw no one.
The next day the rope was gone. Fleare concluded that the Tower itself objected to the rope and must have removed it. How, she could not imagine. She didn't mind. The lack of protection felt a little like an invitation. Not one she planned to accept yet; maybe she would never accept it. But she needed to know it was there. She knew she would always be able to force herself to complete the climb, but if the day ever came when the weakness got so bad that she couldn't make it back down again, then perhaps flying, even for a short time, would be a more glorious end than freezing. But not yet.
The old thin air was dry and very clear. With nothing to blur its outline the sun was a tiny pinkish-white disc in a uniform blue-black sky. Or at least, usually uniform. This morning there was something else. A patch of air was hazy, as if full of the smoke from a distant fire.
We'll be watching. And one day, no matter how long it takes, we'll come.
The smoke moved, swirling towards the Tower and wrapping itself round the column nearest Fleare. It wasn't smoke, she realized. It was more like fine black dust. Dust that moved.
She stepped back reflexively and glanced at the hovering ovoid. Its hum was getting stronger, and a tongue of violet light sprang from the front of its casing. Just like the video.
'Shit!' Fleare backed away. And then stopped and turned, as another sound – a loud buzz – filled the Vigilance.
The dust flicked away from the column and closed in on the ovoid like a swarm of insects. The buzzing rose to a screech, then fell away.
The ovoid was gone.
The cloud re-formed, looking a little bigger than it had before.
Then it spoke, in a voice like pouring sand.
She stared at it, shaking her head slowly. 'You're not real,' she told it. 'You're a trick.' Her legs were hurting a lot now. She focused on the pain. Real things were safer than tricks or, worse, hallucinations. If she was starting to hallucinate then maybe it was time to take the last flight, right now.
'I am real. Fleare? You don't look so good.'
'I'm fine.' It was a stupid denial but that and the pain were all she had left. She had to sit down. She began to lower her hips towards a squat but her muscles wouldn't listen and she collapsed backwards, landing with a ringing blow to the base of her spine. I'm falling apart, she thought, and suddenly she wanted to believe, or didn't care enough not to. She looked up at the cloud.
'Muz? Is that you?'
'Of course. How many other floating talking clouds do you know?'
She nodded, and propped herself up on her elbows. 'Well it's about fucking time,' she said. Then her arms slipped out from under her and she was on her back with the remaining breath knocked out of her.
The cloud swooped low to her side and she felt a quick stab in her upper arm.
'Sshhh. Stimulants, analgesics, vitamins, mixed-release sugars, a circulation modifier. You're malnourished, and you're not far from freezing to death.'
'No shit.' The stuff worked fast. Her head was clearing. She managed to sit up and this time it felt feasible, but her reviving senses flinched at the cold. 'Thanks,' she added quietly.
Fleare felt her eyes pricking. She raised a hand and wiped it roughly across her face. 'So,' she said, 'since you've finally turned up, shall we get out of here? I take it you've arranged a way off this rock, if we do manage to get that far?'
'Yes.' The cloud dipped forwards as if it was nodding. 'There's a net-cloaked Orbiter, ten seconds out.'
'Good.' She stood up and tested her legs. They seemed fine, so she turned and headed for the Shadow Stair. Over her shoulder she added: 'And disguise yourself. You look obvious.'
She didn't hear a reply, but a few paces down the Shadow Stair something nuzzled against her side. She jumped, and then looked down.
'Oh, very funny,' she said.
The perfect replica of a dildo somehow contrived to look up at her innocently. 'What?'
She let out a patient breath. 'I meant, disguise yourself as something' – she waved her hands impatiently – 'something that blends.'
'Huh. Okay, how about this?' The phallus dissolved into specks and coalesced again.
Fleare looked down at it. It was the image of the ovoid, although it somehow managed to look more solid than the real thing. 'Yes,' she said, quietly. 'That's a better look.'
The image snickered. 'Oh, believe me, it's more than just a look.' It floated up until it was level with her eyes. 'Now, shall we go and find some monks to play with?' It giggled, and a tiny tongue of violet flickered round the front of its casing and vanished.
Fleare suppressed a shudder. 'Yes,' she said, taking a deep breath. 'Let's. By the way, Muz, are you still ...' She paused, uncertain.
'Psychotic?' It giggled again. 'Oh yes, definitely. Quite mad. As mad as a sack of scorpions. Wasn't the dildo thing enough of a hint?' Its voice became concerned. 'Does it bother you?'
She shook her head. 'Right now it reassures me. And it's really good to see you.'
'Did you visit me when I was in my jar?'
'Yeah. Just once, before they brought me here.'
'I wasn't sure if it was a dream.'
'It was real.' She stared at nothing for a moment. Then she shook herself. 'Let's go.'
'Don't be sarcastic.' She paused. 'Anyway, you used to be senior to me when we first met.'
'Yeah, I know. Three years.'
'I've been here for three years. It's nearly four years since I joined up.' She set off down the stair, with her mind ranging back to the start of those years, whether she wanted it to or not.
* * *
So, nearly four years ago: it had been sixteen days since she had joined the rapidly growing militias of Society Otherwise, which she had done exactly at the moment she passed the age threshold meaning her family couldn't prevent her; eight days since she had arrived at the training centre; and most of a day since they had decided the best way to use their last free time before immersive training was to get very, very chemical.
'What about the mods?'
They were in the smoke bar of the Dog's Dick. Fleare wasn't sure how they had got there. They had been there for a long time.
'Sorry. Can't hear. Too fucking noisy!'
Fleare sighed, and leaned over so that her mouth was next to Kelk's ear. 'I said, what about the modifications?'
Kelk grinned, and put his drink down. 'I want a fucking enormous knob!'
She slapped him gently. 'Be serious.'
'I can't, I'm pissed.' He looked at her worriedly. 'So are you. How come you can do serious when you're clattered?'
She raised her hand again and he drew back in pretended terror, knocking his drink over. 'Bollocks!' He patted clumsily at the pool of spirit then looked up again, his eyes unfocused. 'I still want an enormous knob.'
Fleare sighed again and sat back. She was pissed, definitely, but Kelk had left her well behind. So had most of the others. She squinted up through the smoke haze at the old-fashioned timepiece above the bar, and winced. Four hours. It had seemed like a good idea when they started.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Creation Machine"
Copyright © 2016 Andrew Bannister.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Taussich, Fortunate Protectorate, Cordern,
Liberty Station, Society Otherwise, Outer Rotate,
Private Estate, Semph Leisure Complex,
Silthx, Fortunate Protectorate (disputed), Cordern,
Old City, Catastrophe, Catastrophe Curve,
Taussich, Fortunate Protectorate, Cordern,
Catastrophe, Catastrophe Curve,
Great Stadium, Citadel, Taussich,
The Tanks, Catastrophe, Catastrophe Curve,
Yeveg Island, Taussich,
Tail End Port, Catastrophe,
Privateer Orbiter, Catastrophe Curve,
Fragment recovered from Archive, unknown,
Deep Simulation, Plenum Level ('Entry Hall'), Catastrophe Curve,
Fragment recovered from Archive,
Server Farm Atrium, Catastrophe Curve,
Recovered personality — Creation Machine,
Clipper, Distal orbit Traspise,
Excerpt: Iron Gods,
The Spin Trilogy by Andrew Bannister,
About the Author,