Una’s vision blurred as the tear floated out and across her eye, the minute cohesion of surface tension and the absence of gravity forming a neat, fluctuating globe, bobbing past her iris. It distorted the light like a bead of glass. Black plumes of smoke rising from New Chaldea below billowed upwards, spiralling around the horizontal light tube above, and casting grey, misshapen shadows around the inner surface of the cylindrical world. The Legion wouldn’t take long to overrun the city. Once they broke through the last lines of defence around the manufacturing district it would all be over. If they took the vast automated cybernetic factories undamaged, and if Angelhaven was to become the latest acquisition in the LightBringer Legion’s war, they’d have acquired the military industrial muscle to tip the balance. The Union would react; the bloodshed had just begun.
She leant in closer to the glass to see the opposite side of the world. She followed the river as it snaked around the light tube, across the upwardly curving land until it joined the great lake directly above, seemingly upside-down. On one side of Lake Clara sat the town of Phillipsville, essentially the rich suburb of New Chaldea, nestled between twin evergreen forests. Composed of spacious three and four bedroom houses with large gardens and picket fences, it almost resembled an old nineteenth century English town with its quaint brickwork and mown lawns apart from the fact the bricks were made from the black basaltic asteroid rock carved from the heart of this world and built by robots to speculative blueprints, artistically recreated from old image archives from Earth. The grass was never mown, it had been genetically designed to grow only to a couple of inches in length. Only the rich could afford to live in Phillipsville – engineers, administrators, traders, scientists, even singers and actors. The lower-paid Havenites, predominantly factory workers and support personnel, made do with AngelCorp-owned hab modules in the city; while the small farming community lived in a trio of small villages to the south.
The city of New Chaldea followed a spider web-like pattern, broad streets radiating out from the centre in straight lines, linked by a chain of circular tributary roads. In the middle of the web nestled the archaic cobbled stone Chaldea Plaza and surrounding it was a circle of glass-fronted shops; the trendy commercial zone that sold mainly fashion items for the young population of Angelhaven. The shopping district extended in increasingly concentric circles from the centre; simple, box-like buildings predominantly constructed from plasteel flat-packs. As the environment was completely controlled, there was no need for weather resistance or much structural sturdiness, so the lightweight structures were connected in various configurations to form residential blocks, schools and offices. The centre of the city looked from up here as if it were built of children’s building blocks.
The simple pre-fabricated components of the homes here couldn’t subdue the Havenites’ intense sense of civic pride and aesthetic vanity; residential areas consisted of subtly terraced stacks of homes, giving each habitation unit its own garden on the protruding half of the home below. The inhabitants took great pride in their gardens; every variety of genetically designed flower, vine and plant was imported from across the Union to adorn people’s homes. Tiger Roses from New Eden snaked up and around walls, thick yellow serpentine stalks striped with wavy black lines congealed in labyrinthine bushes; enormous red and white blossoms erupted along their length, rubbery teardrop-shaped petals exposed curling white stamen and a long black pistil dripping with the oily perfume so valued by Havenites.
Wide boulevards had carefully tended rows of pine trees and long stretches of lawn between roads with broad pavements. The narrow self-repairing plascrete roads here were mainly populated by electric AngelCorp buses which rolled along silently at pre-determined times, connecting the various residential zones to the commercial centre and monorail station; Angelhaven’s mainframe AI system controlling them, along with the world’s myriad sub-systems and environmental controls.
On the riverside quarter of the city was the financial and administrative district of New Chaldea; organic-looking glass spires rose high above the boxy, tree and flower lined streets and blocks below, looking like huge inverted icicles encrusting the edge of the city. The wealthier traders and administrators occupied the upper floors, the lower gravity at high altitude considered a luxury commodity in Havenite real estate. Tallest of all was the winding spiral of the AngelCorp Tower; apparently, the president’s office on the highest floor, where the gravity was a mere quarter of a G, had a breath-taking 360 degree view of the city below.
Una had always intensely envied those who lived in the city and suburb below, amongst all those people, all that activity and energy, human contact, community. At the end of their day, they were able to leave their work in the city or the factory behind them and retreat to their peaceful homes and communities. They weren’t perpetually sealed in a lab, isolated from humanity, with only their father’s insomnia to keep them company. Now however, it wasn’t envy that she felt. Those poor Havenites were now crammed into the fleet of hijacked buses fleeing hastily abandoned homes, the monorail to the industrial area in the north running at full capacity, unable to cope with such a spontaneous mass migration. They were all flocking to the mountains at the north cap, seeking refuge in the tunnels to the outer surface industrial domes, and within the various subterranean factories; there the mainframe could be ordered to seal the immense pressure doors that guarded the tunnels behind them.
Una had walked through the streets of New Chaldea only once. Nine years ago she’d had a blazing argument with her father and had slipped the security team in the lab and made her way down to ground level. She was only ten years old and had never been among so many people in her life. Excited, she’d spoken to everyone she came across, amazed at their warm, affectionate faces. They were delighted by the pretty, inquisitive girl’s innocent sense of wonder. She’d gone missing from the lab for a week. There was no way her father would not have known her whereabouts for that long; she’d always assumed he’d let her go as some kind of sociological experiment, to see how she would progress amongst other people, always with his finger on the button, ready to send in the security team to fetch her if he became unsatisfied with the results.
During that time she’d befriended many people, and remembered all of them vividly, particularly a boy who seemed to be of her own age. He was tall, and had dark, olive-coloured skin and deep, green eyes and he’d taken her under his wing. He’d never mentioned his name for some reason; perhaps afraid of being too closely associated with the almighty Dr Baghdasarian’s missing daughter, maybe he’d been right to be so cautious; Una was quite unaware of the politics of Angelhaven at that age, and new nothing of her father’s position of authority within AngelCorp, the corporation that founded, created and owned Angelhaven and directly or indirectly employed every soul that lived within its thick skin.
The quiet green-eyed boy used to take her down the wide tree-lined boulevards, the rich sugary smell of Tiger Rose filling her nostrils in the morning breeze as the air warmed; the terraced homes covered in a rainbow of flowers and vines. A nebulous haze of white Mothlilly pollen sparkled around them at night when the shutters closed around the axial light tube; the tiny umbrella-like seeds fluorescing in the precious moments of twilight that only existed in the thirteen minutes it took for the shutters to fully enclose the white hot plasma of the great tube above. Her senses, used to the sterility of the zero G lab, were in a perpetual state of overload, smelling, tasting and seeing. The boy had taught her everything she knew about her fellow Havenites – their music, their theatre, the uniquely Havenite sport of gliding the tube. She missed those magical seven days, the only period of her life when she’d felt alive.
On her last day of freedom, he’d taken her into the middle of a grass field and laid out a blanket where they had a picnic of sweet, yellow fyrthistle and pears stolen from a nearby farm. South of New Chaldea, the remaining third of Angelhaven’s interior was a patchwork of green fields of grass, corn and other luxury crops; it was littered with greenhouses and orchards. In the centre of the green belt was the circumference-spanning band of longwheat: the hybrid wonder-crop that provided most of Angelhaven’s nourishment. It formed an impenetrable ring of green around the world; one continuous field tended by AngelCorp robots. The fields north of the longwheat ring were intersected by three small farming villages built of the same pre-fabricated units as the homes in the city, but laid out in simple, single-storey configurations. Years of unchecked vegetation growth left them seemingly fused with the vines and bushes around them, the farmers embracing and deliberately assimilating the nature around them.
She was in the process of asking him a typically naive question about a pretty blonde-haired singer from an open-air concert they’d attended the night before when he’d done something she hadn’t understood, and feared at the time. He’d taken her hand and kissed her softly, saying nothing. Una felt a tinge of sadness every time she looked southwards to those warm yellow cornfields and remembered the moment she’d regretted for nine long years of social deprivation. She still didn’t understand why she’d run away crying. She hadn’t seen or spoken to the boy since, and didn’t know his name to find him. He’d probably grown up within the Gliding community he’d been so close to, parents having died in a mining accident a few years before. Una hoped with a nostalgic pang of affection that he hadn’t been part of Omura’s ill-fated strike at the dock, though she knew she might never know.
That one day came to her in dreams; again and again. Every last detail undiminished from the previous night. She always wondered how an essentially artificial mind such as hers could dream. Perhaps it was a natural consequence of the architecture of the human brain, her core personality existed within a perfect reproduction of it after all, recreated in exacting detail within the vast logic core of her brain. She knew from years of study that humans did not dream as she did. Human dreams were fractious, disjointed, chaotic affairs. She always dreamt of the same thing; those green, sparkling eyes and her tears of confusion and regret. Every Mothlilly petal, every scent, every sound; crystal clear and perfect. The dreams came to her particularly during times of stress; timely reminders of the enigma of her existence. Their artificial perfection reminded her of her artificiality; their piercing emotions convinced her of her human soul.
She looked down at the now empty suburb of Phillipsville, perched on the edge of Lake Clara; on the opposite shore, base camp for the invading Allied forces was being set up. Vicious-looking eight-legged tanks, bristling with weapons, formed an impenetrable perimeter as the troops poured from the Landers. They looked like black ants from here, swarming from their nest, preparing to devour her world.
She hooked her toe into the grab ring and pulled herself away from the window, she’d seen enough. If her father wanted to cower in his zero-G laboratory while his fellow Havenites died down below, he’d have to do it alone. Una would fight. She knew that a few of the remaining security team had the same intentions. Some of them had even been ex-military so were bound to be a good starting point for a resistance movement. She pulled herself hand over hand along the rail running through the centre of the canteen until she reached the central hub corridor; Releasing the rail and kicking gently with her feet, she floated into the access way connecting all the zero-G units, swimming towards her father’s study.
Most of the staff had fled hours beforehand, guessing this Lab to be top of the Legion’s hit list. Details of varying accuracy about Dr Baghdasarian’s research had been leaked years ago. His work was bound to raise eyebrows, even within the relatively progressive Free Worlds Council, let alone the religious fanatics of the New Jerusalem government. The Legion policy advisors had blacklisted him long before his involvement in the Chaos Pattern project. Neither side felt comfortable with his controversial research methods. His claims of being able to create living artificial intelligence within specially nano-engineered crystal logic cores that controlled and stored almost infinite patterns of light in multiple quantum states were hailed as a breakthrough by the Union and an abomination by New Jerusalem.
Nobody had been able to use the virtually immeasurable computing power of these new logic cores. They’d been invented for the seemingly insurmountable task of deciphering the Chaos Pattern but were so powerful that no one could write a program sophisticated enough to harness the multiple dimensions and states that the light within them moved: until Baghdasarian’s controversial breakthrough. He’d created a true sentient mind within the logic core, the ultimate operating system whose very thoughts were integrated into the calculations. Progress on the Code had been fast, and so was the Legion reaction.
Una heard a muffled explosion, deep, far away. She wondered which brave Havenite had just died defending their home.
She pressed her hand against the security pad and held onto the rail as the giant iris-like titanium doors slid apart, stale warm air rushing out to mix with the cool sterility of the facility outside the lab. He was there of course, as he always was, plugged into the mainframe, strapped to the access couch, eyes closed, as if asleep. He wasn’t asleep of course; that was impossible. His neurological implants during his tenure in Stockholm ensured that. Una was sure that thirty years of permanent insomnia had to drive a man insane, no matter how ingenious the regeneration software and nanological stimulants were.
She closed her eyes and activated her own interface. A blossoming kaleidoscope, splintering shards of colour, abruptly purged the darkness. The rainbow of radiating data lines filled her vision until she saw the one she wanted. With an almost sub-conscious command, the other lines quickly joined together and trickled out of sight, leaving a single blue line in the centre. The blue line exploded into detail, revealing hundreds of access nodes, like transparent glowing beads strung out along its length. She saw the access node connected to her father’s terminal and zoomed in close. She reached out and touched it with an invisible mind’s hand, a bell-like chime ringing out.
“Come out of there Father, we need to talk.”
The bead’s glow turned red and the necklace of glowing nodes suddenly disappeared. She opened her eyes as Dr Baghdasarian opened his.
“Una… What’s the matter? This is most irregular; you know I’m in the middle of a major processing run. Have you uploaded your latest pattern scans for me?”
She stared at him in disbelief, fighting hard to keep her voice down.
“Pattern scans? You want my last batch of pattern scans? Is that really what you’re most concerned with right now?”
He didn’t seem to understand.
“Of course… How can I complete my analysis on the seventh code string without your results?”
“Seventh code string? Are you serious? There are almost a thousand Legion soldiers disembarking their landing craft two miles beneath our feet right now… They’re burning our homes and killing our neighbours and you’re worried about the seventh code string?! Are you even a human being?”
“Una, Una, please. Don’t say such things. You are my greatest creation, my greatest pride, how can you say such things?”
“Your greatest creation, yes. Your most important guinea pig.”
Baghdasarian frowned bitterly. Disconnecting the cortical interface cable from the tiny silver node on his temple, he touched the release pad on the straps holding him down. They silently slithered away into the armrests, releasing him from the bench, the patch of sweat in the small of his back made his grey tunic cling to the cushion. He gently launched himself towards the short, slender figure of his daughter floating before him, her brow furrowed, round, elfin face scowling. He took one arm softly, brushing the long white hair from her face with the other.
“You always look so beautiful when you let your hair loose, but it is so impractical up here; how can you see where you’re going?”
She pulled her arm out of his grasp, her large, iridescent blue eyes stabbing at him angrily.
“I can see everything that’s happening here! I came here in a misguided attempt to convince you to come with me. I don’t know what I was thinking; how could I ever ascribe any kind of normal human emotion to you..?”
“What are you talking about? You’re not leaving the lab? You’re not seriously considering going down there with the others??”
“Down there with the others?? So you are aware of other human beings outside of your lab? You do have some grasp of the holocaust that is about to happen around us?”
The soft-edged, doting father mask evaporated, replaced with wide-eyed panic. Una’s resolve faltered for a fraction of a second; she’d never seen a glint of fear in her father’s eyes before. He leant closer, voice deepening.
“Una, you must not leave my side… I cannot protect you if you join this foolish resistance, you must stay with me! The Legion will destroy you! I cannot allow it… You know how important your role in the Chaos Project is. You are far too important to risk your life here. You also happen to have the entire Chaos Pattern in your mind; we cannot risk it falling into their hands…”
“I never wanted any of this.”
“Una please.” His voice grew stern, “I created you for a purpose; the most important purpose anyone could hope to exist for. You must not endanger the most incredible event in human history because you want to save your friends.”
“People are dying right now! There are more important things than the project…”
“No. Nothing in this galaxy is more important. I love you Una, but you must understand. The people in this world, everyone; they are expendable. We are not. We need to get you safely to Prometheus. We cannot risk involvement in a guerrilla war; the stakes are too high…”
Una pushed away from him, determined to end the debate. Baghdasarian let her arm go, waiting for her to reach the door.
“Have you considered the strong possibility of the NJIS knowing about you? We’ve had many leaks over the years; the New Jerusalem Intelligence Service has moles everywhere. It’s very possible the Legion know what you are, and that you’re here with me; don’t you think that represents a serious risk to your comrades if you choose to join them?”
It seemed as if he’d broken through. Una had always been petulant, always resisted her purpose. She stopped in the doorway. Her shoulders began trembling. She tried to suppress the tears.
“I never wanted the life you created me for, you know. I never had any choice in the matter. I just wanted to be a normal girl, like the others.”
“But you’re not a normal girl, Una. You never were. You know you’re not like the others. I’m sorry for the burden I have placed on you. I know it’s not fair. But we all have our duty to perform for the human race.”
She turned to face him, defiance turned into sad resignation.
“Even for those of us who don’t belong to the human race?”
A tear streaked from her eye as she grabbed the door rail and launched herself through, thumbing the security pad as she passed, doors closing. Baghdasarian felt a stabbing pang of guilt in his gut. He called after her feebly, but knew the damage was done.
“Holy Prophet Salazar, protect us and guide us in our crusade against those who would destroy you. Blind those who seek to deceive us. Smite down those who seek to destroy us. Forgive us this day for using the unholy weapons of the Serpent against him.”
The Minister raised the long black AK-94 rifle high above his head with both hands, pausing to look upon the troops congregated before him. Aja’s squad of thirty men and women knelt silently in a neat crescent around the APC, weapons laid across their knees, black head scarves and combat helmets removed.
Their uniforms were not all identical; the camouflage patterns varied considerably, as did the cut of the one-piece fatigues, some sporting different pocket arrangements and fastenings, some being of a uniform green colour as if home-made. It was an eclectic mixture of donated military gear from the various States within the Alliance. Many still bore the faded insignias of the colonial army they came from, hand-me-downs for their holy crusade. What they did have in common was the black polykevlar armour. Inter-connected plates encrusting their torsos and limbs like the carapace of some giant insect, capable of stopping most small arms fire. It was a generous gift from their wealthy Alliance sponsors.
The Minister paused, noticing the young, scared faces amongst those of the experienced, hard-set, determined. A mixture of races and descendants from a dozen worlds – some sons of recent Union emigrants, some descended from the first wave.
“Do not allow fear to cloud your hearts my sons. Our crusade is righteous and Salazar watches over us, Salazar protects us all. The LightBringer will lead his Legion against the Serpents who seek to oust our Lord from his throne in Heaven. And when we have succeeded in restoring the Light of our Lord to this unholy Union of worlds, He will reward us with everlasting life!”
Aja snorted under her breath, not even trying to disguise her disgust.
“Next he’ll be telling us there’s a hundred beautiful virgins waiting for us in heaven after the Union troops cut us in half with their fusion rifles.”
“Keep your voice down!” Gabriel pleaded. “Do you want the minister to hear you?”
“If he could even hear his own conscience he wouldn’t be preaching that shit to conscripts like us in this Godforsaken place. I didn’t choose to sign up to his war.”
Gabriel shifted uneasily, fumbling with the unfamiliar rifle on his lap.
“I heard a lot of the older guys talk about deserters that got executed when this division took that mining outpost in Centauri. I don’t want to get my head cut off, so keep your voice down!”
Aja glanced around to make sure the others weren’t listening. They seemed entranced by the minister standing atop the armoured personnel carrier ahead. Speechless reverie all around – she understood why people followed the LightBringer Ministers, even to war and bloodshed.
Since the Chaos Pattern discovery over a decade ago, the grass roots support for Restoration had been building in the poorer systems of the Union. Aja wasn’t stupid; unlike most of the sheep around her, she’d had a decent education, albeit outside the Free Worlds curriculum, and she fully understood the theological implications of the Chaos Pattern outside the rhetoric they were fed by the Ministers. They were just trying to recruit fresh meat for their army anyway… No, Aja understood precisely why the Union’s research on the Chaos Pattern was such a threat to their faith. Amongst the war-mongering Legion speeches and sermons was a bitter grain of truth: the UFW scientists were indeed trying to replace God with themselves.
Aja’s faith didn’t extend as far as martyrdom. The Union of Free Worlds Navy was the single most powerful and technologically advanced armed force in the galaxy. Military resistance to Free Worlds rule had scaled down drastically in the last forty years since the Solar Governments decided to put their full industrial might into the navy. It was the best way to keep in check the galaxy-wide colonies they’d founded at great expense.
If any of the others knew her feelings they’d brand her a coward, a traitor, a woman of weak faith. She didn’t care for their cause or their methods; she had more important reasons to stay alive now. She wasn’t prepared to die so the fat cats backing the war with their money and hardware could reap the spoils of this supposedly holy crusade. Her father had taught her that the real power behind the LightBringer Legion was in the politicians and frustrated industrialists of the Alliance; outer worlds who wanted to break free of Union control and taxation so they could bloat their coffers with their own holy grail of free trade. The crusade to restore the glory of the LightBringer was a convenient way to amass some anti-Union muscle.
All the men and women around her were here because the Legion offered them hope, a future without the Godless technocratic oppression of the Union. Aja knew that not everyone wanted to abandon the reassurances of faith, that living on one of the Free Worlds as a Believer was to live the life of an outcast and of a criminal. The religious ghettoes around the Union were hotbeds of frustration and resentment and provided a steady supply of alienated immigrants to New Jerusalem who were soon sucked into the cause. Aja understood all of this thanks to her father. Her faith had been an act of choice not imposition.
Her father had shown her the scientific wonders of the Union, the genetic manipulation every Free World Citizen underwent while still in the womb to immunise them from all known diseases, the gene therapy settlers on new worlds were given to adapt them to new climates and biospheres. The extensive genetic crafting of crops that would grow on any world, not to mention the incredible particle displacement technology that created gaps in the universe’s own fabric for ships to slip through.
Her father also taught her of how these wondrous advances were rejected by those who Believed; among the first wave of settlers on New Jerusalem, almost half had died due to the alien biology of the new atmosphere. New Jerusalem’s air had an earth-like composition, but its ecosystem had evolved for billions of years with no intention of ever supporting humans. The ruthless microorganisms of the dry-baked world ravaged through the unprotected populace and it took many painful decades for their immune systems to acclimatise. The seeds they brought with them suffered similarly in the harsh new biosphere and had to be inelegantly crossbred with tough native breeds to overcome the years of starvation and reliance on Free Worlds aid packages. The slow adaptation of their immune systems to this harsh new world was ironic evidence of Darwinian natural selection most Believers would never realise, as her father liked to point out.
Union citizens who chose to settle on distant colonies had none of these problems; they were all gifted with a raft of adaptive genetic enhancements before birth that protected them from most biological threats. Immune to disease and alien bacteria, this new breed of humanity was a deep bone of contention for the Faithful. Ministers claimed the ‘serpents’ weren’t even human anymore. How her father scoffed at that: like dying of Andromeda’s disease was a show of faith. Half of your children had to asphyxiate with some alien lung infection to prove their worth to the LightBringer.
The rejection of technologies that their faith had branded unholy had been partly responsible for the painful birth of their World, but helped to fuel the resentment and ignorance on which the Legion fed. Despite all this, her father had been a man of faith. The Union’s technology-dependant lifestyle did little to provide comfort and hope, something her father believed was as important as food and health to a man, if not more important. However, faith on New Jerusalem had stopped being a matter of choice many years before she was born and there was little room for her father’s even-handed approach; her father refused the Act of Repentance that symbolised the acceptance of the LightBringer faith and the result had been the same as the Havenite man in the city plaza.
Aja would never be a true follower of their ‘LightBringer’. She wanted to live and die her own way. Not cut down by the Navy soldiers that were bound to be on their way as they all knelt here, praying to their false Messiah. Aja looked at Gabriel as he nervously adjusted the strap on his rifle; they were the new blood in this squad. Most of the more experienced guys were volunteers; they weren’t drafted in when their farms got burned down like her. Many of them were in it for the cause, their crusade for God. Aja was counting on them not giving a damn if they disappeared when things got messy.
“We’re expendable. We’re all expendable, Gabe.”
She noticed a familiar face a few rows ahead of them; the tall, serpentine figure turned to face her. They exchanged hateful glances. The small silver sabre on his helmet illustrated his rank.
Gabriel shifted uncomfortably; he looked imploringly into Aja’s almond-shaped brown eyes. They were set in an unusually delicate and pretty round face, seemingly at odds with her tall, muscular frame.
“We should be careful, Aja; I think that animal Lieutenant Lazarus is onto us. I heard he done executions himself in Centauri.”
“Don’t worry about Lazarus, he’s a coward; the others will realise this as soon as the bullets start flying. He won’t have the nerve to execute anyone when they see him trembling in a ditch.”
“I hope you’re right my love, I hope you’re right…”
Aja shot him an angry glance at the slip. Gabriel smiled at her serenely, placing his finger over his lips in mock apology only to use it to blow her a discreet kiss.