Fiction Excerpt: Vita Nova

Hi, Nick here. You may have remembered that in our first post I alluded to the idea of sharing some of my fiction work, well we have chosen to do just that for this week’s blog. Below is an excerpt of my current novel, Vita Nova (working title, latin for “new life”). I hope you find it an interesting read, and please if you have any criticism let me know. A good writer is one who is welcoming of both compliments and criticisms of his work, it is one of the many tools that helps him or her perfect their craft.

Without further ado, here is the first chapter, and part of the second chapter, for Vita Nova. Enjoy.

Chapter One

Vada surveyed the dusty pot-marked landscape before him. In the distance lay a large cavern, carved into the earth decades ago by planetary bombardment. His people had survived the devastation, survived the mini ice-age that followed from the plumes of ash shot forth into the atmosphere when the biologicals unleashed their ultimate weapon of annihilation. The synthetics lacked the many vulnerabilities that plagued the biologicals: they had no need for oxygen, nor food, nor water; but still, they were far from invulnerable. The persistent ice and snow-flurries that had blanketed the planet for decades had caused numerous malfunctions in those who had failed to escape the planet. The weather damaged their internal components, causing memory impairment, damage to programming and logic centers, slowing of motor functions, and ultimately complete system shutdown. Vada, and many of his brethren, had narrowly escaped this fate, successfully locating the last surviving shuttles available on the planet they had escaped to the colony satellite orbiting high above.
       The satellite had survived the attack from the biologicals unmolested. The attack that left this planet a barren wasteland was a desperate hit and run affair. Vada’s world was on the very front-line of a war that had raged for hundreds of years, a war between man and machine.
       Vada’s memory banks contained the full unvarnished account of the attack from his own perspective, the memory unmarred by the passage of time. On that day exactly 21 years, 4 days, 3 hours and 37 minutes ago the biologicals had arrived from hyper-space. At that juncture in the war their ships were spread thin and their strike force was therefore limited in number. The central mainframe had anticipated a high probability of such an attack and thus planetary defenses were centered most strongly around the colony satellite. The central mainframe predicted a high probability that the colony on the planet was doomed to destruction and thus the colony satellite was of vital importance.
       The biologicals only skirted the periphery of the line of defense, their primary goal was the planet- Argentum. The smaller ships were used to protect the one giant titan that had emerged from the esoteric realm of hyper-space. The gargantuan ship was shaped like a cylinder laying on its side, within its confines lay the ultimate planet-leveling weapon: a giant molten ball of steel. The ship itself was, in essence, a giant gun barrel, it shot the ball of steel from the confines of the vessel using electromagnetic force. The gleaming hunk of metal was the size of a large house and hit the planet at mach-6, decimating everything in the immediate vicinity. The biologicals then fled, desperate to escape the deadly cannons and laser turrets that guarded the planet. Vada had survived, and as he fled the planet into the upper reaches of the darkness that was space, he looked down and saw the ash cloud and the fire and devastation beset upon his world. If Vada had been human he may have vowed revenge on those that had committed such a devastating act of violence and wanton destruction.
       Vada studied the barren wasteland before him and spotted the distant figures of those left behind. They dotted the landscape frozen in position, some in mid-stride, some laying toppled over on the ground like fallen toy soldiers, and some laying in pieces through either explosive means or extreme frost. The warming biosphere had thawed them out and now they remained fixed in position forever, like macabre statues, which were now inanimate objects, but had once held life and sentience. Vada’s mouth briefly twitched downwards, a small movement that lasted a microsecond, and would have passed unperceived from human, or even synthetic perception. The twitch remained sub-conscious to Vada, it passed disregarded along with the copious minutia of subconscious programming that swirled around his artificial mind. The subconscious twitch was accompanied by a brief but powerful urge, he was driven to look away from the sight of those lifeless statues on the horizon, his mind screamed out to him as if failure to look away would result in something undesirable. Vada could not account for this phenomenon, this feeling. There had been similar occurrences in the past, but even if he did not understand it, he understood that he must hide it and any other such thing.
       Vada turned away from the scene and moved towards the construction zone in the distance. Half-finished block-like buildings loomed above the vehicles and scaffolding which surrounded them. Vada could see small figures on the exterior of the buildings tethered to ropes and scuttling around on the scaffolds like ants building a hive. To the left lay the mid-stages of an electrical plant complete with solar panels and wind-mills; they did not yet have the material for more advanced power generation. During the attack their fusion reactor was destroyed from missile bombardment from the upper-atmosphere, and it would take some time to gather the necessary materials to build such a reactor again.
       As Vada neared the colony, he spotted a familiar face, Haley. He called out over the void, not needing to use words, choosing instead to utilize the network in his mind. She turned and walked towards him. The group of synthetics she was busy talking to and directing glanced at her as she left and then continued talking among themselves. Vada could see that they were worker drones, specifically designed and programmed for the planning, manufacture and construction of the infrastructure necessary to maintain and expand the dominion of the Great Intellect.
       They both met each other in an empty patch of dirt, behind Haley the chatter of the workers continued and in the distance a drone clanged hammer against metal, the construction continued. The synthetics needed little rest as their battery cells were capable of storing many days’ worth of energy. The synthetics had been on the surface for less than a month and already they had made substantial progress. Haley was dressed in a long sleeve jacket and a pair of pants. Her narrow face was framed in jet black hair that flowed down to her shoulders. Her eyes were a deep blue, the color of the ocean. Like all synthetics she had a flawless, unnatural beauty to her appearance. Her body was too perfect, too ideal; there were no impurities on her face, none of the natural marks, wrinkles, freckles or the like that afflicted biologicals. This beauty was the sole external characteristic that set the synthetics apart from humans and other biologicals visually.
       “Greetings”. Haley said.
       “Greetings.” Vada replied, “I have arrived from the colony satellite for the weekly progress report”. He knew that Haley was already aware of this weekly ritual. Although these weekly inspections were ordered by the Great Intellect, he also experienced a strange impulse whenever it was time to leave the colony satellite and travel to the planet.
       “Indeed. I anticipated your arrival. I have been conversing with the workers and the construction appears to be on schedule”. Haley looked directly at Vada while she spoke, her gaze appeared soft, peaceful, even alluring somehow. It was not the typical blank stare appropriated by the synthetics. Vada was puzzled by this, and had noticed that she never looked at others this way when she talked with them, it was a gaze reserved solely for him. Vada was also puzzled by the way she seemed to hide the gaze from others, her eyes would become passive when speaking to him if another joined the conversation. It was an anomaly, one that she was clearly frightened to display to anyone but him.
       “The power station over there. When will it become fully operational?” He asked, pointing to the structures in the distance.
       “We estimate that it will take another four weeks of work to complete. We are currently generating power at 67 percent efficiency. It is enough to recharge our workers once they have exhausted themselves in their toil, but we do not yet have enough power to maintain a production of new units”. Her lips curled as she spoke showing unnaturally white teeth in her mouth. She smiled as a human would when boasting an accomplishment.

Record bank: event logged…
Marked for later analysis.

“The generational facilities. How long until construction is completed?” Vada asked.
       Haley contemplated for a moment, her face twisting slightly in concentration. “That is a high priority task, as per your instructions. We have allocated quite a lot of labor force to that particular task. At this time approximately 256.8 hours of manpower has been devoted to this task. I estimate that there is still another 325.5 labor hours left to complete it. We have made significant progress though, and we are currently ready to test run one generational unit”.
       Vada nodded, satisfied with the update. Like all synthetics Haley often gave more information than was required. He moved on to the next report.
       Vada pointed to the workers in the distance, “Have there been any accidents among the workers?”
       Haley looked to the group of workers and cocked her head, studying them. Her primary function was to oversee the construction and maintenance of the colony. In human terms she was a construction manager, but like many synthetics her role was multi-faceted. It included anything from direct management of the workers, architectural design of buildings, overseeing workplace safety and more. While humans had to train and prepare for their future role in society, synthetics were programmed at the very beginning of their creation. She turned back to Vada and shook her head absently, “There was one minor incident. A cave-in within the ore mine.”
       Another voice blared in Vada’s mind. It was the dominant personality of the central mainframe –the Great Intellect– which was a constant background drone. The origin of this personality, this singular god-mind, was one of a large room of data banks that transmitted the programming of the Great Intellect to all the members of the colony. The Great Intellect existed as a highly advanced AI program that was stored in various gargantuan rooms of data banks throughout the many light-years of space that composed the Synthetic civilization. It was the overlaying personality of the Synthetic race. This personality would often interject and rise to the surface of the mind. Vada heard this personality assert itself.

Important information: record data…
Save for later processing…
Directive super-cedes all other directives…

“Were there any terminations?” Vada’s voice changed subtly when the Great Intellect asserted itself. His voice became flat and monotone.
       Vada’s consciousness remained active during the possession of his body; it was merely subverted, living below the surface but yet still peering out of his eyes, hearing the external sounds with his ears. It was as if Vada’s body were a vehicle, and within that vehicle sat two passengers. One of these passengers, Vada himself, operated the vehicle for the majority of his existence. But the other passenger, The Great Intellect, sometimes pushed Vada aside like a parent shooing a small child, and took control of the wheel, leaving Vada to stare out of the window until the one at the wheel relinquished control back to him.
       Haley sensed this abrupt shift in occupancy, and adjusted her demeanor to fit the characteristic of synthetics. “There was only one. Siron, worker 14582 was crushed beneath a falling boulder. There were also 25 reported damages, but these have all been rectified”.
       “Inciting incident of event?” Vada asked.
“An earthquake hit that region of the colony. It caused the cave-in”. She said, with a slight quiver in her voice which she hoped was not noticed by the one that spoke through Vada.
       Vada’s mind was still under possession of the Great Intellect.

Record data: 1 termination. 25 damages.
Cause of event: Earthquake inciting cave-in. Conclusion- accident of nature, no malfunctions recorded- No need to process units for re-programming.
Data: recorded.

Vada held his hand out, palm up and flat as if awaiting something. The overlaying personality controlling his body as a puppet-master would control his doll. “Initiate data transference of target event”, he said.
       “Understood”, she then cupped her hand in his. A part of their minds connected, the part pertaining to memory, while the rest of the mind still lay sequestered away separately and untouched by this union.

Data port: Enabled.
Transfer of data: Initiating….
Data integration: Commencing….

Suddenly Vada’s mind was flooded with a stream of data. Data pertaining to the structural specification of the mine, sensor readings on the earthquake, statistics of the damages sustained in the accident, and more.
       They unclasped hands, the connection between them breaking like a light-switch set to off. The new information surged inside Vada’s mind and would later be processed and archived externally. The synthetics had a massive storage capacity within their minds that rivaled that of humans, but even so their minds could only hold so much information and at times it was best to externalize data and call upon it later when needed.
       Vada stared into blank space for a time processing the data and filing it away. Haley stood waiting. With the task now complete, the Great Intellect withdrew control of Vada and slid back into the shadow places of his subconscious. But although it had receded, its whispered voice continued to transmit eternally from the central mainframe directly into the mind of Vada.
       Throughout his life the voice had rarely spoken to him specifically, and was instead more of an eternally droning inner dialogue of statistics, graphs, numbers, images and videos. But there was a great intelligence behind this constant stream of information and often it could be heard talking to itself, analyzing the data verbally to itself much like a human would consider something in their minds eye with their own inner monologue. This constant inner voice that overlapped his own reassured Vada.
       It would be inaccurate to call this reassurance a comfort, it was simply that the voice reminded Vada that he was a part of a greater whole. In simple human terms the Great Intellect was God. This was yet another quality of the synthetics that was distinctive from their biological counterparts. While humans had to invent a god to console them, the synthetics were born with one; their god had existed at the very beginning of the birthing of their race. It watched over them and guided them through all hardship and pain. The synthetics were a young race compared to the biological races that populated the Milky Way, existing for a mere 512 years, a blink in relation to the expansive history of humanity, but already they had achieved much. Vada thought the synthetics’ great achievements lay largely at the feet of the Great Intellect.
       “Is there any other pertinent information to report, Haley?” He asked.
       “If you will come with me, I will show you the progress we are making on the generational chambers. I think that you will find it quite adequate. Our test production is almost complete. I have instructed that the unit be left inactive until your arrival”. Haley smiled slightly, and again Vada noticed and logged the incident. “I thought you might like to welcome them into the world.”
       Vada walked with Haley, thinking that the way she described the process of generation was curiously human. In the back of his mind, he knew that there was something very wrong with Haley, and perhaps, something very wrong with him too.

Chapter Two

The Imperial High Ruler of the Earth Galactus Empire sat patiently on the Eternal Throne. He awaited the arrival of Kalistra, the minister of intelligence and espionage for Sector 259. Sector 259 contained a large planet, Vatis, that was used mainly as a military staging ground, containing only a small population of enforcers housed in a military base. The sector also contained a host of uninhabitable planets and moons orbiting a type-1 sun. The sector sat on the edge of a territorial boundary which faced a sector of space conquered by the Order of the Intellect in the last display of large-scale hostilities between the two respective empires. The war had grown cold for now, there was the odd skirmish in space or on land, but the two empires lay largely quiet, the weapons of war dormant. But the ruler of the empire of man was not so blind as to believe the war would remain cold indefinitely, for he knew that the re-emergence of open war between man and machine was inevitable.
       The Imperial High Ruler, Helgar The Third, examined the screen attached to the right arm of the throne. He was studying the history of a particular planet that stood within the boundary of the machine empire directly opposite Sector 259, a planet called Argentum. It was this planet of which Kalistra’s report would allude too.
       The walls of the circular throne room were made up of large grey stone masonry. Interspersed every few meters around the room were large pillars that held up the ceiling like great marble hands. In the center of the ceiling was a large stained-glass domed window, at midday the sunrays would hit the window creating a dazzling light show which filled the room.
       Helgar stared out a window to his left, and saw the sky was darkening with heavy grey clouds, clouds that would later bring thunder and rain onto the capital city bellow. This cannot be a good omen, he thought. Drapes hung from the ceiling of the throne room high above, the red and blue banners listing softly in the stale mid-afternoon air seeping through a small opening in the dome window above.
       Suddenly the giant steel door, which served as the only entrance and exit to the room, opened. Helgar flicked his head that way, a small man almost half his size made his way in, his head dipped low out of both respect and fear. It was Helgar’s aide and distant cousin, Trel.
       Trel was a short portly man with a balding head. He wore a pair of black dress pants with a blue shirt which was draped in a light ceremonial cloak around his neck. The cloak displayed the house colors of the Great Helgars, the bloodline which currently occupied the highest levels of Earth Galactus and had done so since the Great Cleansing of Earth. Hundreds of years ago the war with the machines had reached a crescendo, the synthetics had arrived at Earth in their great ships, with their terrifying weapons. The battle was fierce, but in the end, humanity had lost this great skirmish, and in doing so they would never be the same again. The synthetics had leveled Earth, obliterating large chunks of the surface, destroying cities and killing billions. Humanity’s alien allies had arrived at the battle and fought the machines back, but it was too late. The various nation-states of Earth had crumbled, and in the power vacuum that followed, civil war emerged between a conglomerate of factions vying for power. The winner of this civil war was a coalition of the richest businessmen who saw which way the wind was blowing and sunk much of their wealth into private military forces, weapons and technology. The new faction named itself Earth Galactus, they rose and spread forth from the Earth, conquering many of the galactic colonies of mankind. Earth itself was now largely uninhabitable, and although disparate sovereign regimes still existed on many worlds, it was clear that Earth Galactus was the dominate power of mankind and remained so for hundreds of years.
       Trel remained at the very periphery of the room, “Grand Imperius, may I approach?”
       “You may”, Helgar said impatiently.
       Trel approached, and as soon as his feet hit the carpet in front of the throne he knelt down on one knee. As Trel shared much of the same bloodline as Helgar he was not obligated by custom to kneel before him, but he was a man who was easy to fright, a man who was in a state of perpetual anxiety and fear. Trel also knew that Helgar was quick to anger, and just as quick to enact violent punishment on anyone who transgressed him.
       “You may stand”. Helgar said with a slight edge.
       Trel stood and stepped closer, “Grand Imperius, Kalistra is here to see you. But there is something else…” Trel’s eyes shifted nervously and he started to sweat.
       Helgar grew impatient, “Speak Trel. What is it?”
       Trel looked directly at Helgar, a troubled look in his eyes, “My Lord, Kalistra has brought someone with him. This other person claims to be a representative of the Saor regime”.
       Helgar paused, perturbed by this new development. He wondered what someone from the Saor regime was doing here, talking to an enemy. Did the governing body of the Saor regime know that they were here? Was this person defecting? What was going on? Alarm bells were ringing in his head. He did not voice these questions aloud, he was afraid that voicing concerns, and showing confusion, may make him appear weak. So, he remained quiet and tried to appear calm, as if this sudden twist was all part of the plan.
       “Understood Trel. Please show them in”.
       “But… but Grand Imperius. Are you sure? We are at war with the Saor regime are we not?”, Trel asked, raising an eyebrow as he did so.
       Trel was partially correct in this assessment, although open warfare between the two regimes had long ago dissipated no formal declaration of peace had been signed, instead what was ratified between the two warring parties was a cease-fire, one that had been active for many years. But Helgar did not have the time to explain intergalactic politics to this petty administrator and instead simply glared at him angrily, his brows furrowed. The message was clear, do not question me! Trel muttered a slight screech of fright and hurried out the door.
       Not long after Trel’s retreat two men walked through the door, Kalistra and a stranger who looked very much out of place. Kalistra was a spindly man with close cropped silver hair and a thin sharp face. He wore a long and luxurious ceremonial cloak that covered his whole body and was made of the finest silk. Like many politicians and leaders, Kalistra’s choice of attire was reminiscent of some imagined glorious past of mankind, a time of great leaders and noble men, a time of order.
       Kalistra’s companion was dressed in full black, his pants and suit made of a material that glimmered and shone in the light. On his shoulders were two bars segregated into three sections, they looked like the markings of rank and they were lit in blue neon as if the material held lights within. He was completely clean shaven, holding no hair whatsoever on his head or face. Helgar had never met a member of the Saor regime, but he had heard vague reports on the nature of their society and was also well accustomed with the history of both their people and the Empire’s conflict with them. Judging by this man’s appearance Helgar believed him to be part of the military arm of the Saor regime.
       Kalistra approached the throne and knelt in front of Helgar, his companion remained standing. This somewhat irked Helgar, but he tried not to let his anger show at this subtle disrespect; Helgar was not ignorant to the diplomatic implications of this event. The last time a meeting between two representatives of the rival regimes had taken place was over eighty years ago, during the rule of Helgar’s father. He would not waste this opportunity with a petty outburst of anger.
       “Grand Imperious, I have arrived at your summons”.
       “Kalistra you may stand. I thank you for your swift arrival”.
       Kalistra stood and stepped closer to his companion as if to shield him, “Of Course Grand Imperious, I took the first shuttle out. I take it that Lord Evic has informed you of the nature of my visit?”
       “He has informed me that you have information of Argentum… but”, Helgar glanced at Kalistra’s companion, “I believe that he failed to inform me of another aspect of your visit”. Kalistra almost visibly shrank.
       Helgar stood and walked down the steps of the throne to stand face-to-face with both men. “And who have you bought with you?” Helgar managed a smile, it was fake, but he hoped that it was believable.
       The man stepped forward and extended a hand, Helgar took it reluctantly in his and shook it, “My name is Gerald Kilnak. I hold the rank of 3rd General within the Saor Armed Forces. I have been elected by both the Saor Council of Defiance and the General Assembly to act as the diplomatic ambassador of the Saor regime”. This was not the first time that Kilnak had played ambassador for his people, despite being a military man he was also an adept peacemaker.
       Helgar nodded and walked back to his throne. With his advancing age, his bones creaked if he stood for even short periods of time. “That is quite a resume, Third General.” Helgar turned to face Kalistra with a smile like that of a predator eyeing up its next meal, “Kalistra I am surprised that Evic not only failed to notify me of any diplomatic developments with the Saor regime, but he also failed to notify me that you would be bringing our friend with you here today.”
       Kalistra stepped back as if struck, “I am sorry Grand Imperius. Lord Evic explained that he wanted to leave you out of such developments. I am not privy to the reasoning of Lord Evic but he is no fool. I am certain he had good reason. Myself and other members of the Commons did implore him to keep you notified but he refused.”
       Helgar understood exactly what had occurred. Evic had acted alone as he did not want to implicate the Imperial High Ruler –or his staff– in case the diplomatic negotiations failed. If the negotiations were successful then the secrecy would be forgiven and he would be praised for his forward thinking and leadership. If, however, the negotiations had failed, then at worst Evic would be forced to step down as Territorial Ruler of the sector and the position would go to his heir. Helgar saw himself not simply as the political leader of his people but also as the people’s moral guide and their spiritual leader, if he were to suffer such an embarrassing failure it would affect the very foundations of his role as the Imperial High Ruler and, by extension, the empire of Earth Galactus itself. He would not let such a crime go unanswered.
       Helgar sighed, “Very well, I will speak to Evic later. Third General, I hope you do not think of my people and I as inhospitable. But you must understand my caution and skepticism of this new found diplomacy. The Galactus Empire and the Saor regime have been at war for centuries. In fact, if my memory serves me, we have been at war ever since mankind fled Earth”.
       “I understand Grand Imperius,” Kilnak spoke through gritted teeth. “But I must clarify one small detail of the history of my people. We left long before the Cleansing of the Earth. Long before the formation of the Earth Galactus Empire and its initial campaigns of conquest. What is now known as the Saor regime was originally one of the first colonies founded outside of the Solar System.”
       “Interesting. You will have to forgive me, although I am familiar with your history, I am not well versed in ancient pre-empire history”, Helgar said dismissively, “The Galactic Union of Worlds are the ones that originally created the Great Intellect in their blind stupidity. I will say this for your people”, Helgar’s contempt grew, “Your ancestors were wise to leave Earth before the cleansing”. His people have planted bombs in our territories. Killed our civilians. Blew up monuments erected in the name of our empire’s glory. The Saor have refused to submit to the glory of our empire, refused to become one with us.
       Kilnak nodded, “My ancestors foresaw that the creation of an AI as powerful as the Great Intellect would lead only to destruction”.
       “Yes, indeed. But enough talk of the past”. Helgar turned once again to Kalistra, “I believe you have important news of our mutual enemy?”
       “Yes, Grand Imperius,” Kalistra bowed slightly, “Over the past few months our long-range sensors have detected movement from the satellite orbiting the planet Argentum. More precisely, we believe that shuttles have been passing to and from the surface of the planet. The probes we sent have, so far, remained undetected.
       “Good. We do not want to stir up the hornet’s nest before we are prepared”. Helgar interjected.
       Kalistra nodded, “Of course, Grand Imperius. Our probes detected construction on the surface, they appear to be rebuilding their forces. There was a considerable amount of energy emissions coming from the planet also. Our experts deduce that they will soon begin birthing new units…”
       Helgar cocked an eyebrow, “Birthing? I think you mean constructing more machines. These are not people Kalistra. They are tin cans, unnatural creations. Mere objects of destruction”.
       Kilnak stepped forward, “Machines that think. Machines that we ourselves created”.
       Helgar waved a hand at Kilnak, dismissing him entirely. “We are getting off topic. Kalistra continue your report”.
       “As you know, Vatis was attacked by a synthetic scouting party last week.” Kalistra shrugged as if saying what can you do? “A few troops and two unmanned drones. We have dealt with far worse in the past”.
       Indeed, Helgar thought. Vatis is one of the first lines of defense for human occupied space. Not far from that border is the beginning of Grelian space, an alien species which first became allies with mankind in the very early days of the Galactus Empire. They often helped to defend the border, but after the last great war they became dormant, retreating further into their own space to lick their wounds.
       “Our military experts have theorized that this attack was merely a test of our defenses, more an act of espionage than attack…” Kalistra noted.
       “Sizing Vatis up for a larger attack in the near future?” Helgar asked.
       “Exactly Grand Imperius. Hence, I am here to request the movement of additional troops and materials to our border. But there is something else I am here to report also…” Kalistra strolled back and forth, deep in thought.
       Helgar leaned forward, he gripped the edges of the arm rests as he did so, “What is it?”
       “During the battle something happened. The machines behaved in the normal manner throughout the battle but then something strange occurred. I have heard many reports from the troops that all corroborate the same story. Something is different about the machines…” Kalistra threw his hands in the air, “Something has changed”.
       Helgar suppressed the urge to leap from his chair, “Tell me of these reports. Tell me what happened”.
       Kalistra continued…

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