Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
We can't know, at this time, whether the rebels won or lost the final battle in the underground tunnels of the Humlan Hive. I do know the rebels believe that they won.
My father, who was often misunderstood by those who lacked his discipline and physical hardiness, dedicated his life to the people of the Hive. He created a new world for them, one of safety and security, both physically and emotionally. He gave them a chance at a perfectly sustainable system, a culture that might last eons even on this alien world, and in return he asked only for their complete trust in his superior will and vision.
He anticipated the uprisings, and almost welcomed them -- secretly, I think. As his life dragged on he craved these challenges. But he could not have anticipated Jin Long, his most formidable opponent.
It was Jin Long who led the uprisings from the far-flung bases. At first they were mere annoyances, easily countered by my father's methods of ideological warfare. But as my father's attention became split between the rebel uprisings and matters brewing in the human settlements across the sea, Jin took the opportunity to grow his power in the dark sub-basements of the Hive.
In the end, it was the smallest chinks in his armor that betrayed my father. He let his quest for immortal life distract him from the threat of Jin, and he underestimated the woman, Deirdre Skye. These factors conspired against my father, and the jaws of circumstance closed around him.
But ultimately, of course, he remained victorious.
?from the Journals of Yang Mia
At the edge of Chiron's largest ocean, on the opposite shore from the human settlements, a speeder lurched to a halt on a rocky beach. Two men got out and walked slowly toward the water, the taller of the two dressed in elaborate blue and silver robes. The other man was hunched over, huddled into a simple gray-green cloak. Compact filters supplied them with the oxygen-balanced air their bodies required.
They walked over a low rise and stopped at the edge of the water. Centauri A had slipped low to the horizon, and boiled the sea in orange fire. Centauri B was higher in the sky, adding a bright clarity to the air.
The taller man, Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, took a deep breath and watched the sea for a long moment. He looked about fifty years old, of Chinese descent, but with pale skin courtesy of a life lived mostly underground. His glittering black eyes swept the horizon, and he nodded to the sea.
"Fifty years ago we crossed these waters, Akim. Do you remember?"
The older man, skin creased with age, nodded and blinked at the dazzling seascape. "Of course, Chairman."
"Do you remember why?"
"Because the settlement territories were growing toward us, and we wanted to expand in peace." He continued to stare to the horizon, and reached up to brush one frail hand against skin that had grown loose on his ancient face. "We built a transport ship, and took the remainder of the crew, everyone loyal to your vision, and left that continent behind. I remember it well."
"Good." Yang kept his eyes to the horizon. "We built what we wanted to build, Akim. We surmounted every challenge, from the native life, to the hard earth that resisted our intrusions, to the challenges of our own citizens."
"But the settlements have continued to grow, and soon these settlement humans, who have all but forgotten that Executive Officer Yang of the Unity ever existed, will cross the sea and find us. We won't be able to stop them this time."
Akim shifted uneasily, and huddled into his robes against a cool breeze that rose from the sea. "Does the Chairman think that we can work with the settlement citizens?"
Yang smiled. "We can't even work with our own citizens, Akim. The riots have gotten worse; the rebels can smell a victory. We can't afford to show them any mercy."
Akim remained silent. Yang looked down the beach, where a young woman in a red wrap walked from the parked rover and down toward the water. The wind whipped her clothes around her, but she turned her face up to the waning sun. Back at the rover another figure waited, this one in heavy armor and fingering a penetrator rifle.
"Why did you order my scientists to stop their work on the shadow army, Akim?"
Akim felt a tremble start deep in his belly, and his mouth went dry. "I only told them to slow the pace of their experiments, Chairman, for fear that the rebels would learn of them."
"You couldn't stomach it." Yang shook his head slowly. "The rebels are getting aggressive, Akim, and the settlement armies outnumber us. I need those soldiers."
Akim swallowed. "Chairman, the brutality of it. I feared for us if anyone saw..."
"No one will see," said Yang. "I've moved the experiments to the secret lab under Base Five, away from the rebels. But that's not your concern anymore." Akim felt a chill, and looked back at the rover behind them. He saw the figure that stood there, one of Yang's deadly hiveguard, a dark shadow of the setting sun.
"This is no time for mercy, Akim." Yang extended his hand, palm up. "Hand me your seal."
Akim hesitated, but Yang's hand floated between them, waiting. He wouldn't repeat the command.
Akim slowly reached into his robes and pulled out a multifaceted object made of some kind of translucent material. Inside the object a silver dragon coiled, its tiny jade eyes glinting even in the waning sunlight.
He dropped the seal into Yang's hand. "It has been a pleasure serving you, Chairman." He blinked, watching the sunset, focusing on the endless gray seas and not the long life he had lived.
Yang looked back toward the rover. The moment extended as a curl of white surf rushed toward their feet.
From nowhere the young woman appeared next to them, her red robe now wrapped tightly about her. She glanced at Akim, then calmly turned to Chairman Yang.
"I'm cold, Father. Are we almost ready to leave?"
The wave washed back. Yang stared at his daughter, and Akim felt an odd moment of pity for her. Why had he brought her here?
Akim reached out and touched her shoulder. "Wait in the rover, Mia. Your father will be along shortly."
She looked at Chairman Yang, and then back at him. "Thank you, Akim," she said, and her face opened into a dazzling smile. Then she turned and walked toward the rover.
"I remember when she was as long as my forearm, Chairman."
Yang nodded, his face blank. Centauri A had dipped below the horizon, and shadows lengthened over the deserted beach. "Tell me this, Akim. Do you believe I should show the rebels any mercy?"
He swallowed once before answering. "None."
Yang looked at him carefully, and then nodded. "Fine. Come back to the rover, then, Akim. Your days as a Grand Advisor are behind you."
Akim nodded once and lowered his head as Yang walked up toward the rover. When he looked up the world had fragmented through a prism of tears, and Akim could only think of the time he had left, and how he had no one with whom to share it.
The rover left the beach and drove for an hour, over red earth and past sporadic crimson tangles of xenofields. The low red hills of Chiron rolled on in all directions, utterly pristine under the waning light of Centauri B. It was as if this world had never been touched, and Yang watched the landscape quietly, reflecting on the emptiness.
He looked over to see Akim sitting in a rumpled heap, staring out the opposite window. Mia lay comfortably in the upper berth, her robes loosened. She stroked her long hair absently, involved with some kind of game on her small touchscreen. Every so often she parted her lips as a new strategy occurred to her, and Yang remembered years before when she had scratched games of mindworm-sweeper on the tunnel walls, challenging Akim.
He turned back to the window, watching the sky darken.
Finally, the rover reached a low ring of hills, and three citizens in simple gray-green uniforms appeared and pulled red camo netting off two long metal doors. They moved quickly, jerking the doors open, and Yang took one last look at the cold vault of the sky before the rover passed into the throat of the base known as the Hive.
Inside, his hiveguard opened the rover hatch, and Yang dismounted. Two more guards stood in the large, low-ceilinged rover bay, along with a stocky man in a red and gray uniform. The man stood at a respectful distance, but Yang could feel his impatience.
"What is it, General Markos?"
The man approached, scowling. "I think we should talk about your plans, Chairman. We're fighting a battle on two fronts, if what I read in your last decree is true."
"Is this base secure?"
General Markos hesitated, adjusting to Yang's unexpected question. "Of course."
"Is the loyalty of the hiveguard at each key entry point unquestioned?"
He nodded. "In this base, yes."
"Then we're safe, General, and whatever battles we fight will be by our own choosing. Assemble the advisors, and we'll discuss your concerns."
General Markos bowed, still frowning. "Very well, Chairman." He turned away and started barking orders into his quicklink.
Behind the rover the large doors banged shut, so that only pale white glowlamps lit the darkness. Yang turned to see Akim's bowed form vanish into the shadows at the far side of the bay, alone. Yang walked toward the back of the bay himself, two of his loyal hiveguard shadowing him.
He was back home, in the Human Hive.
The Hive was the largest of Yang's five bases. Like each of the other bases, it was built almost entirely underground, with a network of broad, featureless hallways radiating out from a central shaft. The central shaft pierced the heart of the base, ninety meters in diameter and more than four hundred meters deep. Light came down through skylights, touching the periphery of the shaft before being swallowed in the depths.
Chairman Yang walked down several wide tunnels until he reached the inner ring, the open area that circled the central shaft on each of several levels. Here citizens walked the broad open ways and played games at small stone tables, or stopped to pass the time in quiet, sparse gardens. The Hive had four upper levels, clustered near the surface. Deep below, near the bottom of the shaft, were the mines, and it was a paradox of Hive life that anyone could look over a stone railing and into those awful depths, where political prisoners toiled and suffered.
Yang looked into the shaft and smiled. Citizens walked by in their simple gray-green clothes, doing their best to look industrious. A plain woman with green eyes looked away from him, and he thought of Mia. A Hive poet had once called her the jewel of the underground, but that man was now gone, locked away for spreading rebel sentiments in his poetry. That had been six years ago, when Jin Long was still a Grand Advisor and Mia had just turned eleven.
His quicklink beeped once, softly. The advisors were assembled, and he headed for the meeting room.
Inside the room his Grand Advisors awaited him, now wearing their colored robes of state. There were usually ten advisors, one from each of the five bases, along with his ministers of war, protocol, service, production, and ecology, though with Akim gone there were now nine. In the dark room, with its charcoal-gray walls, the ministers shimmered like so many dewy flowers.
"Let's begin," said Yang. "I regret to say that Akim won't be joining us. His role as minister of production will remain unfilled for now."
The advisors sat stiffly, not reacting to the news. Yang continued, "What have we learned from the settlements?"
Kint, his minister of protocol, spoke in a nervous warble. "The Gaians continue their research into the native life forms, somewhat obsessively. The spymaster reports that one of them has raised a five-kilometer boil of mindworms and used it to attack a Morganite mining drill."
"And what does Morgan say to that?"
"He makes no secret that he believes the Gaians are responsible, but has no proof. In other matters, we are unable to duplicate the stolen Gaian technology here in the labs. It appears they have a certain looseness of character that allows some of their citizens to assume control of the native life. Though that same looseness of character has made it easy for us to conceal three operatives inside their labs."
"Could our warriors stand up to the Gaian mindworms?"
"Difficult to say," said the gruff voice of General Markos, now in his red robes of state. "We've trained, but living underground we hardly see the damn things. And if we were to send troops across the sea, well, that would limit their effectiveness somewhat."
"Are we talking about attacking the Gaians?" Kint blinked nervously. "I've heard no indication..."
"We've outfitted a force of our new soldiers in the secret labs at Base Five. We may deploy them to the other shore if it becomes necessary."
"The new soldiers." The rate of Kint's blinking increased. "The combined settlement armies outnumber us four times. Santiago alone has four bases now, and more than twelve thousand citizens, almost half of them soldiers. And then there is the rebel activity here..."
"My point exactly," said Markos. "Chairman, I have great respect for your tactics, but forcing our way into the settlements while dealing with the growing rebel sabotage here seems foolish, especially with this untested shadow army. And if we send our regular hiveguard overseas, we leave ourselves open to rebel attacks at home."
Yang nodded as nine faces turned to him. "The army is untested, and we're worried about the rebels. So the problem is not so difficult." He looked at Kint. "We've already moved the shadow army to Base Three in anticipation of a rebel attack. So we'll make it easy for them. We'll take a dozen rebel prisoners and parade them through the base as a demonstration. The rebels will be unable to resist the chance to free their comrades, and we'll attack them there."
"Are you sure they'll attack?" asked Markos, folding his arms across his chest.
"Jin Long, the man who leads the rebels, was once the prefect of Base Three, and we suspect he's hiding in the lower tunnels. He'll be unable to resist this chance." Yang looked at Kint again. "Jin is the key. His spirit is leading this rebellion. If we capture him, we can break these rebels."
Kint nodded weakly.
"I still don't think they'll be that foolish," said Markos in a low rumble.
"Then give them a reason to be that foolish," said Yang. "Torture the prisoners, and bruise their faces. Call our regular guard away from Base Three for drills on the surface. Make the rebels think they have a chance, and then use the new shadow army to crush them. We have no more time to waste."
He frowned at them all. Nine heads nodded, and only silence answered him.
Yang left the meeting room and walked down the hall as his advisors dispersed behind him. He walked until he came to a narrow copper-colored door, which he opened with a coded key.
Beyond the door was a wide circular room, almost completely bare except for layers of thin mats in the center and glowlamps set around the periphery. Once in the room he changed out of his robes and into a pair of cotton pants that waited, neatly folded, on a wooden bench.
He walked to the center of the room and began a series of slow, controlled stretches. As the heat increased in his body he considered the events of the day, trying to disperse any tension that would cloud his thinking.
He thought of his scientists, working at a feverish pace in the teeming laboratories to form his new shadow guard. They would solve once and for all the problem of raising a loyal army among his reclusive citizens.
He stared at his hands as they carved slow patterns in the air. He had done these movements ten thousand times, a hundred thousand times in his many years of life. He controlled his impulses, and controlled his body, and expected his citizens to do the same.
They don't understand. I've focused them so firmly on doing the tasks at hand, while thinking little of the future, that they no longer have the long view at all. If there will be a future for the Hive, I must guide it.
He thought of the new technologies coming out of his central labs. While his advisors worried about citizen reaction to the shadow army, he was already focused on his next breakthrough, a technology he would one day use on the advisors themselves.
The virtual world, a projection of thought transformed into a shared virtual space. His scientists had developed it a few years ago, and still thought of it as a spirit-stealing form of corrupt recreation. But he saw its potential. He saw a way to examine and control the spirits, thoughts, and secret selves of his citizens and advisors.
And when every particle of thought was laid open, when every secret desire of his citizens was unmasked, they would have no choice but to behave correctly. There would be no rebels, because every rebellion would be crushed at the genesis, at its first contemplation.
He held his hands in front of his face and stared at them, at their fine fibers of muscle and bone. A picture could capture his flesh, but this secret project, the virtual world, could capture the inner thought projections of self.
He could dream a thousand uses for such a tool.
Jin Long struck a glowlight, and its beam penetrated the darkness. Around him he could see the shadowy faces of his lieutenants, none of them over twenty-five, all wearing expressions of mixed fear and anticipation. They huddled in a small maintenance room deep below the main levels of Base Three, the narrow space suffused with an oily smell.
He was a man of medium height, with a stocky build and a strangely rounded face, like a half-cooked dumpling. Still, his penetrating eyes and rich, powerful voice gave him all the charisma he needed to lead the largest rebellion in decades.
"Chairman Yang has organized a public demonstration against the captured rebels," said Jin. "I believe he wants to force our hand. From all indications, he wants us dead so that he can pursue his new agenda over the sea."
"So he's set on his plan to reenter the settlements?" asked Ani, a breathless young revolutionary with a pale face and wide, dark eyes. If it weren't for her limitless energy, he would think that she could be dispatched with a single flick of his finger. Instead, she was now his second in command, and wore the yellow armband of a trusted officer.
"He wants something from them," said Jin, "and we're getting in his way. Which he means he'll rush, and frighten his advisors, and that may play into our hands."
"But they say he's going to parade captured rebels down into the mines. Surely we're going to try and free them." That was Doc, a stern-faced young man whose dull nasal voice spoke truisms even in the darkness.
Jin shifted back into the shadows a little. "No. That's why I've called you here. Most of the Base Three hiveguard have been sent to the shore for war games."
"This is some kind of setup," said Doc.
Jin nodded. "I believe he is going to use the shadow army against us."
The leaders fell silent as the rebels digested the news.
"It's about time we finally saw this mysterious army," grumbled Doc. "I don't believe it exists."
"We know there are secret labs that Yang hides in the mines," said Jin. "We know there is a night train, unregistered with the transportation inspectors, that moved between Base Five and this base last night."
"These prisoners are friends of ours," said Doc. "I say we take our chances."
"Then Yang gets us all." Jin shook his head. "Yang knows we'll hear about this demonstration, but the demonstration isn't for three days. So instead" -- Jin took a deep breath and looked at them -- "we act tonight. Right now. If Yang has moved the shadow army out of Base Five, then to Base Five we will go."
"Into the mouth of the tiger," said Ani.
Jin nodded. "Yang won't suspect it. We'll come through the lower levels, through the mines, and kill all the guards. We'll set choke points at the upper levels, and cut off access from the other bases. We have enough people to do it."
Doc grunted. "It might work. If we can find the equipment storage for this secret army, we'll be in better shape than ever. And Base Five is a manufacturing facility."
Jin nodded. "Prepare your group leaders. We're moving tonight."
The virtual world
Yang drifted alone in the virtual world. He had blanked the world before entering, and so floated in a void, and from this void he shaped a landscape with his thoughts. He laid down earth, with undulating hills, but underneath that brittle crust a darkness seethed and boiled. He pulled scarlet towers into the void, slender but towering, with razor-sharp tips. He brushed in the sky, and the sky was pale white, and wan.
He felt tired from the long day, and so he dusted the earth with ancient white dust, and made rocky white bluffs that crumbled with age. He felt angry, and so he cracked the earth, and in places orange fire bubbled forth. He felt devious, and populated the world with small animals with darting eyes, and large animals with muscular limbs that ran the far hills.
He floated above this world he had built, and reflected the parts of him it revealed, parts of him he might not even recognize in himself. An enemy would give much to see this world he built, and the psyche profiles that he was generating and storing on himself during these experiments. But no enemy would see them, because the records of these sessions spooled into a secure corner of the datalinks not even his closest advisors could access.
He stared at his world, not feeling proud or humble. It was just a world, built over hours instead of eons. Its existence meant nothing independent of his own observations.
His body, which lay in a low chair in the real world, touched a switch, and the projection vanished. "It's ready," he said aloud, knowing the attending scientist could hear him. "Widen the experiments to our first test citizens. And put a console in my office. I'll want to keep using this."
From the virtual world Yang went to his command center, a long, oval room with smooth walls and various hand-carved desks and tables, including a large datalinked tactical table in the center of the room. As night deepened he sat at a small desk, reading reports on his jaunt into the virtual world from a small touchscreen. As he read a shadow of a man slipped across the doorstep and hesitated.
"I see you there," said Yang, without looking up.
There was a hesitation. "Yes, Chairman."
Yang glanced up. His spymaster was a thin, bony man, more pale than most of the Hive citizens, if such a thing were possible. He fancied himself a ghost that could come and go as he pleased, but to Yang he was mostly a good organizer, seething with paranoia and deathly afraid of failure.
The spymaster approached the desk. "Information about the demonstration has made it to the underground, but there is no indication of when the rebels will move. They're somewhere down in Base Two or Three..."
"Never mind that now. I want to know what's happening in Zakharov's labs."
"Oh?" The spymaster's face twisted as he shifted gears to this new topic. "Well, as my last report to the Chairman says, we are still unable to get to the new genetic treatments. Zakharov is very smart, and if he decides to put something into deep cover, there it will go. He has effectively locked his top longevity scientists into a secure lab of their own."
"Why did he do this?"
The spymaster began rocking back and forth on his feet. "We aren't sure. It's possible he got wind of our spying, and since we have stolen technologies from those very labs..."
"Stop," said Yang. He studied the spymaster. "Lacking those genetic technologies, my plans for the future of the Hive are threatened. Do you understand that?" He stared at the surface of his desk. "I want you to plant a Gaian flower in Zakharov's territory."
A Gaian flower was a small transmitter traceable to the Gaian networks. The spymaster's face pinched into a troubled frown. "What could that accomplish, Chairman?"
Yang gestured to the touchscreen. "According to your own reports, Director Morgan has been working on a technology that will help him to fight the mindworms, but he has been unsuccessful so far."
"So we make sure that Zakharov doesn't like Deirdre, either, and Zakharov will give or sell his anti-mindworm technology to Director Morgan.
"But if Zakharov and Morgan cooperate against Deirdre, how does that help us, when none of them even knows we're here?"
"We benefit because Deirdre will need an ally, although she doesn't know it yet." Yang looked back to the touchscreens. "Instruct your spies to plant the flower. And I want to set a watcher on the Gaian territories. Offshore, hidden but waiting, something that will intrigue the Gaians when we reveal ourselves to them."
"Certainly, Chairman." The spymaster slipped away.
An hour later, Chairman Yang finally went to his sleeping chambers for the night. He had ninety-nine chambers, scattered throughout his five bases, and he would choose which one to sleep in each night at random. Only Mia and one of his attendants would know which one he had chosen.
Tonight he chose his red room, a simple room furnished with high-quality hybrid mahogany furniture and deep red tapestries on the wall. He took off his clothes and washed from a metal basin, then lay in his bed. A spoken command dimmed the lights.
Patterns of synthesized moonlight appeared on the ceiling, cast from hidden projectors. He stared at the patterns, calming his mind. Images rose up, including the face of Sandra, Mia's mother, who had shared this bed so long ago. It was always her face that sometimes came to him on the edge of sleep.
A series of tones echoed softly through the room. He recognized their pattern and commanded the door to open. Someone entered the room and crossed to a large, soft chair about four meters away from the bed. He recognized the soft footsteps and breathing of his only daughter.
Fabric rustled as she slid into her familiar position in the big chair. He waited, watching the patterns of moonlight. His daughter would often sit with him late at night, sometimes not talking at all until he sent her away, but tonight she hardly waited.
"Are you going to kill the old man, Father?"
He let a long exhalation slip through his nostrils. "Not yet."
"Why do you want to kill him at all? He's been so loyal."
"He has been loyal. But people grow soft in old age, and come to regret the things they have done in the past. Akim was once as merciless and cunning as anyone in the Hive, which is why we became friends." He took a deep breath. "When you get to my position, Mia, you may be allowed only one mistake. It isn't fitting to be swayed by emotion."
"Of course not, Father."
He shifted, trying to stare through the darkness at her. She sat with her legs over the large chair, a slender form in the darkness, the pale white of her sleeping gown barely visible. "He's well trained. He could read you like a book. Bury your suspicions, erase them completely from your mind like I taught you."
"OK." He heard her let out a long, soft breath. "Is that rebel, Jin Long, now the most cunning man in the Hive?"
"What have you heard about him?"
"I know what people talk about, Father. They're afraid to stop me from going anywhere, so I hear things."
"Forget about him, Mia. And be careful where you go. Does a hiveguard stay with you at all times?"
"Mostly. Not when I bathe." She was teasing him, and he shook his head.
"Go to your room, Mia. It's time for bed."
He heard her get up and pad across the room. Before she left he heard her voice float from the darkness.
"Will I lead the Hive someday, Father?"
He remained silent, closing his eyes. She was his daughter, but he hadn't chosen her. A part of her was Sandra, and that would always make her less.
The silence deepened, and finally he heard the door open and click shut again. He blanked his mind and commanded himself to sleep.
In one minute, he slept.
Jin Long signaled Doc, and Doc signaled the advance force of rebels, men and women who had mixed levels of training, and an odd variety of weapons, but shared expressions as hard as stone.
They streamed into the tunnel station at Base Three, in the deep of night, and the sterile metal platform rattled with gunfire as they dispatched the one guard and one transportation inspector. No trains waited on the platform, so two of the dark-clothed figures jumped down onto the tracks and jogged back into the tunnel, where an out-of-service car waited. A third figure ran to the other end of the tunnel and fiddled with something on the floor, disabling the trigger device that would alert the transportation ministry that an unauthorized train was leaving the station.
Jin, Ani, and Doc waited on the platform. Behind them gathered more rebel fighters in twos and threes, most young, their faces set. Some of them stared at the dead bodies on the platform.
"Get rid of those, Doc," he said. "There's a recycling chute down that hallway."
Doc motioned to two others, and they moved with him, dragging the bodies across the clean metal floor. A low whine started, and a train inched forward. Jin could see the impassive faces of his soldiers through the glass of the front window.
"Get aboard," he said, his voice tense. Doors swung open, and rebels boarded, all in their simple uniforms with colored armbands, holding their mismatched array of weapons.
Doc returned and followed Jin onto the train, heading for the front car as the doors closed. Ani waited for them, coordinating troop movements on her quicklink. "We've taken a train at the Great Collective as well, and the others have assembled at Base Five to meet us. Odds are good we won't be discovered for the next two hours at least."
"Let's go then," said Jin. "If we're caught in the trains, we're as good as dead. Does everyone in your groups know their roles?"
Ani and Doc nodded. Jin set his jaw and continued, "Regular citizens are to be detained in the refreshment halls for now. Everyone else we kill, quickly and cleanly." He pulled out his own weapon, a sawed-off penetrator. "We're outnumbered. This isn't the time for mercy."
"Right," said Doc. His face looked soft and worried in the darkness. The train built up speed, until it rushed down its sleek metal tube toward its sleeping destination.
Copyright © 2001 by Electronic Arts