Sentient Domain: Chapter 21

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The ring of ships blockading Kempus stretched across the view screen before Alessandra. Her chip projected an overlay with status updates and reports for the various ships as she glanced at the view, giving her the information she might need or want to plan her next steps. The spy and the pirate were definitely going to make a break for Kempus, and Alessandra could not allow it.

“Commander, we’ve got the connection with Aydan Command established,” Camlagh said.

“Thanks,” Alessandra said. Then she synced with the connection so she could have the conversation privately.

“What’s your situation?” Admiral Liger asked. Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 21”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 20

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Pavi became aware of her surroundings well before she regained consciousness. She could sense Aliph and Bett sitting near her, and she could hear the station computer chattering away in the distance. Even further away, at the very edge of her perception, Pavi could hear Mike.

<Welcome back, Admiral Valshorn.> Pavi heard the voice in her head, though nobody spoke.

<Is this a dream?> Pavi asked.

<No. You’ve integrated with the colony of nanites. We are speaking across the network.>

<I can’t feel my body,> Pavi said. Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 20”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 19

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 “Admiral Valshorn, we don’t have much time. Wake up, please.”

Pavi’s chest hurt. It didn’t just hurt, it felt like she’d been crushed. Every breath she tried to take, and she couldn’t actually make her lungs work, sent sharp splintering pains through her whole body. She was queasy and thirsty and so tired that consciousness was painful. And through all of that, she was wide awake.

“What…” she couldn’t finish her sentence.

“You were shot. We pulled you onto the shuttle and left the Harper’s Cry three hours ago. The first aid kit on this shuttle contained a substantial dose of nanites. Admiral Valshorn, if we leave your care to the nanites, you will die.” Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 19”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 18

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Rita and Donegal were playing a word game over lunch in the mess when Linda interrupted them. “I think there’s a problem.”

“What’s up?” Rita asked.

“I haven’t heard from Pavi, Aliph or Bett in ten minutes,” Linda said.

“They’re on the Harper’s Cry. Maybe there’s network interference,” Donegal said.

“I should be able to hear them. I can’t. And the computer on the Harper’s Cry has gotten stupid in the last hour,” Linda said. Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 18”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 17

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Pavi decided to pull the panels out of the wall. She was going crazy with boredom and she couldn’t think of anything else to do. They’d probably come and tie her up again, but if she were fast and lucky she might find a way to break out first. She started with the panels next to the door.

Just as she suspected, there’d once been a manual interface to the computer in that section of wall. The front end was gone, just leaving the wires, but it was a relief to know that her instincts about the infrastructure for the ship were right. Even with working chips, there was no way she could use the crippled manual interface to get into the system, so she moved on to the next panel. Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 17”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 14

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Alessandra was lost. That thought ran through her head over and over again as she stared at the young man. He was sitting in the dust of a City street, leaning against one of the buildings, and though pigeons thronged around him, he did not move. His hair fell around his face, his lips were curled in a slight smile, almost regretful. He must be one of the fixed points in the City, but Alessandra had never seen him before.

Seeing anybody else in the City by accident was rare. Everybody could walk the City organically, flickering in for a brief moment in their sleep then disappearing just as quickly. Most never remembered it, or discounted it. A few, very rare people could stay longer, exploring the City in a lucid dream. They were the models the ICA had used in creating the prototypes.

But this man, sitting stock still and eternal before Alessandra, couldn’t be here organically. Walking the City naturally was safe – do whatever you like and then you’d wake up and the City would forget you. To become stuck like this, he must have used the synthetic gateway. Judging by his clothes – they looked like a costume from an Earth epic – he was probably part of the ICA’s early experiments with the City. He’d been trapped there a very, very long time. Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 14”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 13

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Donegal was thinking about Mystery Lady. He sat on the floor of the Mike‘s mess, bouncing his ball and trying to make sense of her.

“Hey Mike, answer a question for me?” Donegal asked. Bonk.

“If I can.”

“How long would it take for Pavi to hack into a public spider network and appropriate some of the spiders for her own uses?” Bonk.

“On a back world, I could do it in less than a minute. It might take Pavi on her own an hour. Neither of us would do it on a civilized world.”

Bonk. “Why not?”

“Public spider networks would be part of the larger planet-wide network, and so part of the Aydan-machine. We agree that hacking into the Aydan-machine is a bad idea.”

“Why? She’s done it before. Rita used to tell me stories about Pavi pulling pranks on their school servers…”

“When Pavi was young, the ICA let her get away with some things because they wanted to recruit her. Now, they have no reasonable expectation that she would work for them. They’ll simply jail her.” Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 13”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 12

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Alessandra sat down at the table with two mugs of coffee and a danish. She slid one of the mugs toward Mahkrim and took a bite of the pastry. “Feeling better?” she asked.

He had to be. The fever was gone, he’d stopped coughing, he’d even put a little weight back on, according to his medical records. His wounds, physical and otherwise, had only begun to heal, but he was well out of danger of dying. They’d rescued him just in time; twelve more hours and his body probably couldn’t have recovered.

“You can have the caffeine, I checked. Might help to make you feel human again,” she said.

“Human,” Mahkrim grunted, but he took the mug and wrapped his fingers around it.

“We’re still looking for her. Even her sister is, if I can trust what my equipment tells me.”

Mahkrim’s gaze didn’t leave the mug.

“I can’t figure out whether you’re not talking to protect her, or to save revenge for yourself. Which is it?”

“It could be both,” Mahkrim said.

“Why did she leave you there?” Alessandra asked.

He shook his head.

“I’m not sending you back. I could, but under the circumstances I can’t really consider it humane. I haven’t found somewhere that will take you yet, but when I do, we’ll get you there.”

“You declare war Kempus, betray us, then try to buy my loyalty with citizenship?”

“I didn’t declare war on anybody. And even so, it’s just a blockade. A negotiating tactic from one bully to another. We’re just the bigger bully this time.”

“We’re not equals. We couldn’t hope to have your power. Worlds like Calvary exist only because you allow it. You made them to be that way. They’re just test scenarios, pawns.”

“Even Kempus?” Alessandra asked.

“Probably,” Mahkrim sighed. “But if one must be a pawn, better to feel like a rebel.”

Alessandra laughed. “I like that.” She sipped her coffee, nibbled her danish. “Where are you actually from? It might help me find somewhere for you if I know that much.”

Mahkrim swallowed. “Calvary.”

“Before Kempus. Before your assignment. Where were you born?”

“Calvary,” Mahkrim said. “The shop they caught me in was my mother’s. She was Kempari, too.”

“And they made you go back because you had real ties there?”

“No, I asked to go back. Calvary was home.”

Alessandra was afraid he’d start to cry. She never knew what to do with people when they cried. Fortunately he’d reached a numb phase where he didn’t seem to feel anything. That was much easier to deal with. “We’ll find somewhere for you. And we’ll keep you safe. Build a new home, Mahkrim. Live a life you don’t have to hide or be ashamed of. And when you decide how you feel about Rita, let me know.”

“It’s not shame,” Mahkrim said, his voice low.


“I didn’t hide from shame. When we hide…it’s love.”

“I don’t follow you,” Alessandra said.

“Calvary is a tiny, miserable little back world, compared to the civilized worlds. But it doesn’t compare itself to anything. It is what it wants to be. Your experiments allow that for now. But you’ll destroy Calvary before it’s done.”

“We’ll help it,” Alessandra said.

Mahkrim shook his head. “We have our god. He’s ineffable and omnipotent and absent. And you would change that.”

There’d been talk, silly it seemed to Alessandra but persistent all the same, about what new experiments they could run with the prototype project. What new variables could they test with humans who could become part of the network, especially when they were surrounded by people who didn’t know it existed? But that talk hadn’t left the underground levels of the ICA tower, not as far as Alessandra knew, and it was her job to know. Had she failed, or was he talking about something else? “Wouldn’t that be good?” she asked.

“We don’t want him.” Mahkrim looked up at her. Dark circles hung under his deep-set eyes. “That’s what the ICA refuses to see. Man seeks god, longs for something greater than himself, but we don’t really want it. We will live with anybody. We’ll tolerate their different beliefs. But their gods must be just as absent. If you give us god, there is no co-existence.”

“Maybe,” Alessandra said. It was strange to think of the Aydan-machine’s children, the three kids she used to chase through the hallways of the ICA tower, as anything other than young and awkward. “But if it turns out that way, we made the gods. We’ll unmake them.”

“If you can. Will the Aydan-machine let you take away the gifts you made for it?” His shoulders slumped forward.

So he was talking about the prototypes. It was possible for them to know things on Kempus that weren’t known to the ICA. But for Kempus to know a secret from Aydan, it would have to travel through somewhere. Kempus might be a black hole for intelligence, but the rest of the ICA domain was transparent. How could the Kempari learn a secret without any traces of it between Aydan and Kempus? When this was over, she’d have to make a serious project of figuring this out.

Mahkrim had fallen back into silence, so Alessandra gathered her dishes and left.

The hallway outside Mahkrim’s quarters was empty. Alessandra used the privacy to stretch, loosening the muscles that inevitably started to cramp when she was around too much emotion.

Camlagh met her as she turned the first corner on the way back to the bridge. “No important updates, Commander,” he said as he met her.

Alessandra glanced at her queue. He was right, and that was remarkable. It normally took them much longer to learn that there didn’t have to be something important enough to highlight. She made a note on his file so she’d remember that for his evaluation in six weeks.

They knew about the prototypes on Kempus. The prototypes had fallen in with an allegedly ex-Kempari agent, the sister of an infamous machine-whisperer. That machine-whisperer was, theoretically, chasing them down, but despite an ICA file that indicated she was unfailingly brilliant at these sorts of tasks, she seemed as lost as the ICA. There was too much coincidence, too much trust to the universe’s good will. The admiral could trust that the Aydan-machine would guide them as it wanted all he liked, but it had given her a page with weft-pilot training and no help since Calvary. Something was wrong.

“I have a project for you,” Alessandra told the page.


“Research Pavi Valshorn. Research anybody connected to her. Find out if she’s ever dealt directly with Kempus, or with us.”

“She interned at headquarters…”

“Since then. Her official file says she broke all contact and we blacklisted her, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t taken a small contract project at some point. And check her people. Especially check for human weft-pilots. We should know if she’s managed to corrupt our trainees.”

“Yes, Commander,” the page said.

If Alessandra did the research herself, she’d be accused of wasting time needlessly checking a dead end. But this was the perfect project to give a page – his time didn’t have to be productive, just educational, and if he couldn’t learn from looking into the workings of a pirate and machine-whisperer, then he ought to be packed back to pilot school.

Sentient Domain: Chapter 11

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They were up with the sun the next morning, and hiked across the same red clay and moss landscape until late that afternoon. Without warning, or any telling shift in the landscape, a canyon opened before them, more than two kilometers across and a kilometer down.

Bóshì Tuan led them to the edge where a staircase with narrow, shallow steps was carved into the side of the canyon. Climbing down felt like sliding down an uneven, treacherous ramp, but nobody fell and they made good time.

As they descended, the sulfur smell grew more potent. Steam rose up from the canyon floor, obscuring the ground and at points, the steps before them. Rita would have preferred to fly in with the shuttle, but that was clearly asking to lose it. Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 11”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 10

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 Rita was slumped in her bunk. Her head hurt, she felt unbearably tired, and faint lines from that damned Atraxan ink still lingered in her skin.

“Hey, boss?” Linda asked.

Rita clicked her teeth.

“I’ve been meaning to ask, since I got to read your file from the Kempari, do you want me to forget it?”

Rita winced. She’d forgotten about that. “Don’t bother. Cat’s out now.”

“It can go back. If you’d feel more comfortable, I’ll wipe it.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Rita said.

“Rita, I’m getting worried about you. It’s been a week. You usually snap out of it faster than this.”

Rita sighed, then leaned over on her side and pulled a pillow over her head.

“You’d always said you only did the anthropological training. Some of this looks more like the movies.”

“I spent my first year on Loki. Turned out it wasn’t me. I joined up to annoy the ICA and team up with people who could help me when they catch Pavi and bury her under their tower.”

“Why did you switch?”

“Master Yao tapped me on the shoulder. ‘You have the capacity for more interesting things, Magritte.’ So I took a term with him, met Donegal, and never went back.” Donegal. There was a another reason to stay in bed. She’d been the one to flirt with being an actual spy, and he’d been the one nearly staked.

“It’s supposed to be a secret, but Pavi’s going to break him out.”

“It’s not a secret.” Pavi was terrible at keeping secrets – she’d listened patiently when they heard about Donegal’s arrest. Ten minutes later, she looked giddy and determined, classic plotting-Pavi.

“There’s nothing in your file about why you left.”

Rita closed her eyes and swallowed. “I can’t tell you, Linda. You don’t want me to, either.”

“Just saying that tells me a lot, boss. Either you crossed the ICA, or the Aydan-machine.” Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 10”