Book One of The Sentients of Orion
On the arid mining planet of Araldis, Baronessa Mira Fedor finds herself on the run from the authorities, her life in tatters and her future stolen. Araldis itself buckles under the onslaught of a ruthlessly executed invasion. None of this is coincidence. The more Mira discovers about her planet's elite and the forces arrayed against them, the more things seem to point to a single guiding intelligence. Nothing that has happened to her or her world is an accident. But the intrigue is only beginning, as Mira must fight for her very own survival, or embrace the dark space that threatens to consume her.
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 One
By Marianne de Pierres
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2007 Marianne de Pierres
All rights reserved.
Dark space is not really dark.
Neither is it empty.
Beings roam the corridors between galaxies and the gargantuan tracts of dark energy. These creatures, though self-nourished, will on occasion merge and barter their knowledge of the universe with each other—the true nature of neutrinos for anti-quark jokes, the complete catalogue of variations in time/space rifts for amusing anecdotes about the behavioural idiosyncrasies and anomalies of their most exotic particles, the reason for the left-handedness of the universe, for ... love.
They adore collecting data and keeping secrets. But more than anything they enjoy arguing over the truth about death.
Gluttoned with knowingness, they pride themselves in their comprehension of the incomprehensible. No concept is beyond their understanding. No action is beyond their ability. They attain knowledge from the exponential synergy of interaction.
Yet they are denied the knowledge of one thing ...
Applied history download, alternative version (including aural anecdotal evidence).
Accessed by Artificial Intelligence 339997^ Wanton.
Extropist stream to Vreal Studium via Scolar hub.
Jo-Jo Rasterovich's verbal recount of first contact:
'I got lost way out past the edge of Orion's Belt on account of crap uuli navigation software. (Don't buy it, people!) Last inhabited place I'd seen was some naff planet called Foregone that wouldn't even give me shortcast rights.
'I tried to mag-beam right back to Mintaka's civilised worlds to get some new nav but my beam credit expired (lousy floating banks). I sent a SOS to the nav centre on Foregone but the naff buggers probably thought it was a local radio station.
'I had no choice but to use res-shift. I ran a debug on the nav and it seemed to work so I charted a shift back to Hum-Uuli figuring if they paid me to keep quiet about the nav I'd have enough lucre to top up my mag credits (course, I never would have kept quiet afterwards). It was a dumb risk, I know, but without shifting I was likely to be stuck gassing around beyond Foregone so far past my next rejuve that the salvage crew'd be lucky to find my bones.
'Turned out the nav was still bugged. I calmed way too close to unmapped space about thirty LYs from Hum-Uuli. The particle analyser went jammy on me. Told me the atom count had fallen to .04 and that I was on the edge of a gas tube that tracked way up out of the galactic plane. Last thing I remember was the infrared array playing shadow puppets. These ... things ... like freaking huge leeches were hanging, sucking at an area in the tube. One of them, a great bloated bastard, dropped right off and shot out at me. I only had one thought in my head as I watched it come.
'I am so fucked.
'It swallowed me whole. I felt like I'd been dropped down the bitch of all volcanoes. Life support died and so did I. Amazing thing was, I woke up again.'
End verbal recount.
Studium Narrative Summary:
After Jo-Jo Rasterovich returned to inhabited space, news spread through the Nations of Orion Sentients that he had encountered a new being. Governments sent envoys escorted by nuclear-armed warships to meet and greet. It was concluded that the mysterious entity—quickly given the name Sole—that had reanimated Mr Rasterovich was not only benign but of an order of intelligence greater than anything previously known or imagined.
Sole, it appeared, was God.
Better still, Sole seemed willing enough to share information with the Sentients of Orion. But only on a strict system of barter: one clearly delineated feat of cleverness on the part of the Sentients in exchange for new knowledge or a key to knowledge.
This turned out to be a cryptic and often unsatisfactory arrangement but crumbs from Sole's table were valuable even so. And anyway, Sentient history has been built on never understanding anything fully.
NOS exported a select few of their best minds to Sole's local area (a couple of rather inferior ones managed to squeeze past as well) but Sole, though patient in the manner of any quasi-eternal being, didn't seem able to interact successfully with the chosen minds.
For a time a stalemate occurred, without an exchange of ... anything. Sole and the chosen academics eyed each other from a ship-to-God distance.
The ship's little colony of eager minds with not enough to do turned quickly to a nasty claustrophobic cauldron. The first murder occurred within three Foregone-weeks—a Geneer vac'ed 'accidentally' after winning the daily Minds Tournament twelve consecutive times.
Whether motivated by a desire to stop the obvious disintegration of the colony or not, Sole instigated some bridging steps to enhance the communication process between quasi-eternal and Sentient.
How Sole communicated effectively its plan to the proletarian wastrel Jo-Jo Rasterovich is a complete mystery to Sole-aphiles and it has been deemed that in their initial contact Jo-Jo had been somehow altered to make it so.
Jo-Jo Rasterovich conveyed Sole's desire for a selection process preceded by a procedure.
Sole-chosen Sentients submitted to an event they dubbed shafting where their brains were altered so that their minds operated in distinct layers. In humanesques like the Lostols and Ceruleans (rumoured to have originated from a singularly blue planet on the far edge of Orion) the procedure occasionally resulted in psychoses. Non-humanesques like the uuli displayed no observable change.
The selected Sentients called their tutelage an apprenticeship and a graduate therefrom a tyro and once the ground rules for selection had been set, the race began in earnest.
Scientists came first, all types and species. When it became obvious that most would be rejected they were forced to look outside their fraternity. Reluctantly, they invited in professionals from other disciplines—all fine thinkers as well but, because of their place in the course of things, intransigents.
Radical thinkers from the philosophers' city of Scolar also bid for entry but were resoundly denied a chance to meet with Sole by the multi-species organisation that had set up the whole event.
This body of bigots called themselves the Group of Higher Intelligence Affairs and rejected the applications of Scolar-based academics on the basis that their unquantifiable methods were likely to endanger the Sentient-Sole relationship.
Even the outlawed, secretive trans-humanists (indeed, that's what they call us!) attempted to place a member using subterfuge. The member was discovered and expelled.
Jo-Jo Rasterovich the 33rd, contract minerals scout of rather dubious integrity and the original 'discoverer' of Sole, remains the only un-learned person to have open access to New Bubble space. He was, after all, the first contact and no one could take that away from him.
The Studium concludes that this humanesque should be the focus of further attempts (by us) to contact the Sole Entity.
NB: It should be added that, these days, Rasterovich is more entrepreneur than scout, having sold his personal recount the length and breadth of Orion's Arm for an untidily large sum.CHAPTER 2
I've heard you are beautiful.
Insignia was whispering to her again. This time the words were lucid. It was not always that way: mostly the voice in her mind was a mere hum, punctuated by peaks and troughs of half-formed words, as though the effort required to shape them into something she could understand was too great.
Could Insignia hear her replies? She did not know really, but still she spoke to it—it had been her only companion here when there had been no other.
Tonight is graduation, she explained.
Insignia sighed and Mira Fedor felt it as a pressure in her chest, a slight involuntary lift of her shoulders.
I have been alone for a long time ...
Since my father died, said Mira.
She hoped her words might prompt it to say more but the biozoon's presence subsided back into an irregular drone. As always, Mira felt its withdrawal keenly, and yet today would be the last time.
She inspected herself in the gilded mirror. Today, for graduation, she wore her familia's traditional five-thousand-gold-thread fellala with its blood-jewelled silk velum. The velum's rubies burned under the chandeliers. Faja had sent it to Mira from their villa in Loisa as a sign of her sisterly pride—for only one ceremonial robe remained in their familia now. It was heavy and stiff, and restricted her movement, but it gave her belief.
Smoothing loose tendrils of her dark hair under the headdress, Mira allowed excitement to twist her lips into a smile. It was said that for Fedors, first union with a biozoon was like a wedding night. The moment of her life's purpose had finally come, and it was not too soon, for dark, impulsive thoughts lurked near.
Her need for union with the Cipriano Clan's organic pilot ship had become a craving, a hunger in her mouth that she could not satisfy, an ungovernable heat in her lower belly. Such feelings were improper for a Baronessa—but then, a Baronessa had never harboured the Inborn pilot gene before: indeed, a woman had not.
The Studium bells tolled, jolting Mira from her reverie: the formal ceremony was beginning. She gave her room the barest of glances despite knowing that she would not return. Her years here had been at best disagreeable. She had detested the sly behaviour of the other aristos and the way they hung off the young Principe, Trin Pellegrini, as if he granted meaning to their lives.
'You are different,' Cochetta Silvio had drawled loudly enough for all at one dreary patrizio soiree to hear. 'So sombre, Baronessa. So thin."
And, of course, there was the unspoken thing, the thing Cochetta was too refined to mention but which stood between her and the other aristos in the way that an infectious sickness created its own distance—her hereditary talent.
'Different? Si, thank Crux,' Mira had replied. But the sting of the snub stayed with her.
She dragged the heavy doors of her room closed with two hands and stepped out into the vast portico. The nano-filtered baroque arches lent Mount Pell a soft, almost benign appearance—so deceptive when the real Araldis sweltered under intolerably dry heat.
Mira let the view down to the Studium menagerie calm her: All their taunts will mean nothing after today. Straightening her shoulders, she sealed her velum and set the filter to hide everything but her eyes. Then she descended the central helicoidal staircase to the grand ante-room.
The entire Studium attended graduation, even the untitled Nobile. Now, as she entered, they jostled for position alongside the patricians like a gaggle of ornately feathered birds. Threading her way between them, Mira took her place on the dais to the side and a step behind the young Principe, Trinder Pellegrini, and his cousin Duca Raldo Silvio.
'Bonjourno, Baronessa,' said Raldo. He stroked his stiff moustache with practised affectation and gave her a smirking sideways glance.
'Duca,' she acknowledged with suspicion and the barest curtsy. Since when did Raldo Silvio use his guile on her?
On her other side Trinder Pellegrini dipped his head—enough to satisfy courtesy—but did not speak. In fact, he had not spoken to her for months now, not since ...
'Patrizios, please be seated.' The Principe's maestro appeared at the edge of the dais. The ante-room's smart acoustics dispersed his command as if it were a whisper spoken directly into each person's ear. When satisfied that the audience was settled, he announced simply, 'The Principe.'
Utter silence fell as Franco Pellegrini, dressed in sweeping olive-velvet Studium regalia, strode to the centre of the dais. The silk inserts of his sleeves ruffled down past his waist in a dramatic display of his status. Unable to walk on the ludicrously high platform of her dress shoes, his wife Jilda was chair-lifted to the side of the stage. Only the toes of her footwear showed past her hemline.
Though he was in later middle age, Franco retained all the physical qualities of a younger Latino male. His thickset body and heavy patrician features hinted at an irrepressible virility. Mira thought he looked more determined and assured than his son. He had certainly been a forceful leader—as had his ancestors—though she had never seen him in true performance mode before. She had not been invited to Franco and Jilda's court for reasons of politics. When the Pellegrini familia left Latino Crux they had invited only those of their clan who supported the Machiavelli politic. Yet the Insignia Pilot familia that they so desperately needed to fly their ship were of the Castiglioni ideal. The Pellegrinis had ever since played a double-edged game of inclusion and exclusion with the Fedors. Fedors were necessary to them but they would never be given a chance to influence the court.
Mira's sorella, Faja, had warned her of this when she had been preparing to attend the Studium. 'And it is just as well, Mira,' she said. 'Court is a place for rapists and societal cannibals.'
At the time Mira had shrugged off Faja's words as theatrical but her later acquaintance with the Silvios had added an uncomfortable flavour of meaning to them.
As Franco began to announce the list of successful baccalaureates, Mira's stomach fluttered. Her feminine degree in Latino Studies, Orion Literature and Genera would be among them. What no one knew about, though, was the knowledge that she had carefully—secretly—acquired about the designs and functional procedures of air and space vehicles. The long nights of complete absorption learning about flight: a labour of love in voluntary preparation for the thing that she so desired.
'Pilot First' was a discrete decoration that would be bestowed at the end of the ceremony. Then she would be properly honoured. Pilot First would confer on her a vaunted, influential position and Cochetta Silvio and her brittle friends would dare not speak aloud their demeaning thoughts of her again.
Mira left her place and curtsied before the Principe to receive her Literature laurel, her expectation of what would come next leaving her deaf to the perfunctory applause of the audience.
The Principe cleared his throat when he had finished. 'Our history on Araldis is still only fleeting, a little over two hundred years, and in that time there have been only three pilots of Inborn Talent able to fly Insignia,' he said.
Mira's heartbeat quickened.
'Each of those pilots was a descendant of the Fedor
Barony as has been tradition from the very early days on the planets of Latino Crux. The Fedors were chosen for union by the biozoons after the First Exchange, an honour to be preserved for as long as their line existed. Accordingly they were bestowed with the Inborn gene.
'Today is an auspicious moment in our history. Today the honour of Insignia Pilot will be transferred to a new line, as the Fedor birthright has come to an end with the Inborn gene falling to a woman. Throughout history, Orion's finest geneticists have not been able to unlock the biozoons' secret—but now there is a way: a way that will allow us to bring new blood to this remarkable skill. In preparation for this, Trinder Pellegrini will be our Insignia Pilot designate. Trinder, mio figlio, step forward to receive your honour.'
No! Was it her or Insignia who cried out in her mind? In the moment of uncertain silence before the applause, Mira Fedor lost her self-possession. She stumbled down from the dais and through the ante-room in front of the many eyes that narrowed in amusement and curiosity.
Her instinct to flee the Studium steered her through the Grandioso Foyer and out onto the mosaiced promenade. As she reached the edges of the Studium menagerie she tore the tear-wet velum from her face. A flock of purrcocks cacawed and scattered as she sank to the mirrored path.
Excerpted from Dark Space by Marianne de Pierres. Copyright © 2007 Marianne de Pierres. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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