Monday, June 24, 2013

Work in Progress: DoP Update 4

As happens when writing a book, time loses meaning on occasion, so simple things like remembering to post an update become delayed. But at last it's here, my 4th excerpt, so enjoy! 

And remember again to send any questions to comments you'd like to.

            Depths of Perception
            (Excerpt 4)

Interlude I - Coloni

He knew his duty. Every moment of exsomnis he was absorbed by each infinitesimal millimeter of his assigned area. He was not yet an overseer, but he didn’t worry about such things. He had plants to prune, lights to check, soil to clean. His farm was a delicate ecosystem of overlapping roots and algae nurtured by carefully-set UVbulbs that had to be constantly tended in turn. He had to peer at each rounded facet, his inner lids shielding his eyes, and check for any hairline cracks. The monstrators taught that on the seafloor, even a hairline fracture might doom a UVbulb. And, as he had often been drilled, there were too few resources to replace them. So he worked ceaselessly during all the hours of exsomni, snacking sparingly on a seaweed cake or two, just enough to keep him going.
His eyes were often strained, his spine unable to straighten from the long hours he spent curled obsessively over his field. He thought endlessly of the health of his plants, joyful at every new growth or successful harvest. Of his own health or physical problems he thought not at all. It was his duty to provide food for the city so that it could remain strong against all predators. And he had seen with his own eyes the leviathans that sometimes wandered too close to the Outer Gate. He knew exactly how important his work was.
My duty to feed.
So when the first signs of missing seaweed and algae appeared, he immediately became suspicious. Only one who had been as careful as he would have noticed the difference, but in his mind, it was a significant transgression against all he was taught. Upon discovering the theft, he wavered for a moment, his tails lashing as he tried to decide if it was better to leave his precious field to report the missing plants to his overseer, or to double his efforts that day in an attempt to make up for what was lost.
In the end, he knew his duty was to provide food, and he couldn’t waste time by finding an overseer and filing a report. It would take hours away from his work, and he couldn’t bear the thought of missing some vital part of his inspection, perhaps leading to the loss of a UVbulb, his lovely plants replaced by chaulidius-macoundi or something equally able to thrive in the darkness. No, he would stay and work. Perhaps the missing seaweed was from some passing animal. Though rare, given the safeguards around the city, it wasn’t impossible.
So the coloni returned to his pruning and sowing and tilling, peering carefully at every square millimeter of his area, from roots to strung UVbulbs a two meters above, adjusting and repairing and husbanding.
But then it happened again.
This time, he didn’t worry about leaving his field for hours. He knew he had to make a report. Thus he swam out of his field and headed to the entrance of sector two. His myopic eyes struggled to make out the figure of an overseer, used to as they were to the blue glare of the lights for his field instead of the natural semi-dark of that all other zones except the Complex existed in. Uncertain, he finally called out, using a mindvoice rusty from disuse.
There was a moment’s silence as his mental echo resonated outwards before it was absorbed.
State your designation.
He realigned himself to the direction from where he felt the mindvoice and swam closer as he responded, his bent body unable to straighten itself fully for inspection.
C’Gen23ff, sector twosubfourteen hedophyllum sessile-algal hybrid field four.
Why have you left your field unattended, C’Gen23ff?
To report a theft.
Very well. Prepare yourself to be scanned.
The coloni opened himself up for a psi-scan, creating a mental picture of what he had seen that exsomnis as well as the previous one in which he’d discovered the first theft. He showed the missing stalks and bare rock that should have been covered by algae.
He felt the mental vibration of the psi-scan, but kept his mind calm, just as he’d been taught. He needed to get back to his field, and the only way to do so was to make his report as quickly as possible.
The mental intrusion withdrew. C’Gen24ff couldn’t see what the overseer was doing, but he knew better than to interrupt. After what felt like hours of wasted time, the overseer addressed him.
C’Gen23ff, you are to return to your field immediately and continue working.
He was being dismissed.
But what about the thefts?
The outraged cry sprang from his mind, so unlike his usual placid disposition. He immediately cowered down, expecting punishment for his disobedience. But the overseer didn’t move.
The ‘thefts’ you report are not considered significant enough for investigation, the amount of missing food negligible. Now, return to your field.
C’Gen23ff responded automatically.
My duty to feed.
He turned around and began swimming back to his field, his mind numb with disbelief.
They aren’t going to check. No, they don’t believe me!
He struggled to grasp that the overseers, and through them the monstrators and praesdium would not protect their food supply. Oh, he knew it was little enough taken, but hadn’t he been drilled that every harvest counted for the good of the city? How could they just ignore the incident?
C’Gen23ff reached the seventy-by-seventy square meter expanse of seaweed and algae, appearing to glow in the light of the UVbulbs. Upon blurred sight of it, he realized what he needed to do in order to convince the overseer that someone was endangering the farms and through them, the city.
For the rest of that exsomnis, he toiled, working harder to make up for his missed time, ignoring the pain in his bent joints and his brief spells of dizziness. He had no time to eat or stretch. Finally, he deemed his crops ready for harvest the following day. Which meant it was time to put his plan into action, though he quailed inside at the thought of what was to come.
But it is the only way.
He returned to his tiny dwelling, ate a sparse meal, and closed his eyes in an attempt to relieve the pain knotting his skull. But he didn’t rest. Not yet. There was one more task left to complete.
Hours passed before C’Gen23ff finally stirred, his limbs heavy with exhaustion. He slowly pushed himself off his sleepnet and swam to the door. He peeked out, searching the darkness, knowing none but the praesidium would be out. And they would not be searching the farms.
Carefully, he eased himself out, swimming to his field and hiding himself within the shadowed growth. He worked his way deeper, to where the fronds grew highest, steeling himself.
It’s the only way, he repeated to himself.
He reached out with his webbed hands and began tearing out clumps of seaweed and algae, ripping apart the pale roots and fibrous leaves, clearing a ragged area about a meter in diameter. Enough to feed a nutritor for a month, a lautus for two. Surely that would get their attention.
The devastation tore at him, and he savored the sensation, storing it inside for the overseer to read in his psi-scan when he made his report the following exsomnis.
He carefully gathered the shredded foliage. He would have to eat it, because he couldn’t bear the thought of all his work going to waste. He took one of the floating strips and used it to tie the mass together into something he could take back with him. More slowly than he came, he returned to his dwelling and placed the bundle of stolen food inside his single chest. Only then did he swim to his sleepnet and allow himself to rest.
Exsomnis began only a few short hours later, the sonic blare from the Complex waking him from a sound sleep. He was groggy and hungry, so he allowed himself to eat a little more than he normally would, knowing it would be a long while before he got another chance.
When he arrived at his field, he decided to check the UVbulbs before beginning the harvest. He swam up over them, beginning his careful examination. It was then that he saw a deeper shadow within the field. He swam closer to see what it was.
An uneven circle of seaweed was missing.
Outrage filled him and he fixed the image in his memory, careful to think of nothing else. Then he turned and began swimming as fast as his tired body could. This time, when he reached the front entrance, he didn’t search for the overseer. He simply opened his mind and projected the image he’d carefully memorized.
Theft! Theft!
This time the overseer was properly shocked. This time the overseer told him to stay while he fetched the praesidium. This time he was promised a full investigation. This time the culprit would be apprehended.
C’Gen23ff kept his elation locked deeply inside.
In less than an hour, a squad of praesidium entered the gate, their long, powerful bodies coming to rest before the overseer. From the bands wrapped around their upper limbs, he saw the mark of the Complex – a circle with two spirals circling each other, connected by thin horizontal lines that ran the entire length of the helical curves.
His glee knew no bounds. The Auctors themselves had deemed the theft severe enough to warrant the attention of the most highly trained force within the city.
The lead praesidium turned his helmed head and roughly psi-scanned C’Gen23ff. Again, he quashed the elation, striving to focus on his anger at the desecration of his field. There psi-scan stopped and there was a brief pause as the praesidium regarded him. Had some hint of the truth come out?
But the praesidium merely turned back to the overseer, letting C’Gen23ff overhear the conversation.
There is no need to see the field. The psi-scan had provided all the information necessary to conduct our investigation. Continue tending your fields. We will increase patrols during both somni and wakecycle. Do you comply?
Both the overseer and C’Gen22ff bowed deeply, their webbed hands held open above their finned heads, responding as one.
My duty to feed.
Satisfied, the patrol turned and left. The overseer turned and ordered C’Gen23ff immediately back to work. He meekly obeyed, turning and scuttling back to his neglected, abused field as fast as he could, working nonstop on the harvest until the signal for restcycle was sounded.
But deep inside, he rejoiced. The sacrifice had been worth it. His fields would be safe from the depredations of some unknown creature. That it might be a hungry citizen never occurred to him. He knew his teaching, knew he had made the right decision. In the somni that followed, he ate the stolen food secure in the knowledge that he had acted for the good of the city.
My duty to feed.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Work in Progress: DoP Update 3

It's here, folks! Update 3 of the new book. As always, feel free to look up any Latin words you cannot puzzle out. And feel free to leave any comments/suggestions for me. The book will be out very soon, so I hope this continues to whet your sci-fi appetites! Enjoy!
            Depths of Perception

Part II: Auctrix

She who gave birth to me was an Auctor. My earliest memories are of her crooning to me, her voice seeming to drift unaware out of her heavily covered body.
Because I, too, was born an Auctor, I learned the old words mother and song, though the low-pitched sonar calls apparently held little similarity to what the Histories described.
Just like my mother, from the moment of my birth I was wrapped in layers of woven plasti-cloth and hidden from all sight – the citizens, the Auctors, and myself. But because my mother was an Auctor, I learned at a very young age why. From her I received mental images showing me the different features between humans and us – well, them, at any rate. The other castes.
But when I was just over four city-cycles old, or years, I was given to the head Auctor, he who, within our caste, was known as the Auctrix. Though my earliest memory is of my mother, my most vivid memory is of his hands.
Like any child of the city, I had spent time in behavior classes, enviously watching the other children swim freely, unencumbered by layers of veils like myself. I was young, my thoughts-sentences still simple, so I didn’t pay attention to the subtle differences of webbing and pinnulas and scale patterns.
When I asked why I wasn’t allowed to swim unencumbered, I was punished, left alone in one of the smallest chambers to think and reflect on my actions until I figured out what I had done incorrectly. Only then could I leave.
Though angry, I forced myself to relive the encounter. I hadn’t disobeyed, that was clear. My wrappings remained secured around me. So it must have been something I had wanted to do. All I could think of was wanting to swim with the other children, to play as one of them. Ah, but to truly be one of them, I must uncover myself. And to do so would reveal my differences. Which I could never do.
When I had reached this realization, I understood why I had been punished. I mindcalled my mother. When she entered, her body as obscured as mine, and simply waited for me to speak.
We cannot play with them because then we couldn’t do our duties. And because they would want to know why I was covered up. But I can’t tell them.
She hadn’t praised or encouraged me in response to my simple sentences. She’d merely nodded and gestured for me to leave. It was hard to understand why, because even compared to the other Auctor children, I was restricted more than most. It was only years later, when the Auctrix died, that I understood that I was always meant to shoulder heavy burdens alone. From the time of my birth, I was presented with obstacle after obstacle, forced to work harder, study longer, train later, because my genetic make-up pointed me in only one direction.
The Auctrix.
Thus, when I was four, I officially became his acolyte, the only one he had, for none others had been born with a specific type of deoxyribonucleic acid, the recessive alleles in my genetics combining in such a way as to produce the distinctive features that marked a true genetic recombination.
But that I learned much later. In truth, my first years under the Auctrix’s tutelage were learning and relearning the physical characteristics of the other castes so that I would understand what I saw whenever one ventured inside the Complex to consult with the Auctors. Not that I would ever deal with them directly – that was not to be my role. But I must be able to understand their place within the city, their duties, so that I could understand my own.
The first rule the Auctor taught me was the rule of Order. It must always be held in mind when making decisions for the city. The castes must be held separate, must be kept to their places, must not question their duties. They must work and serve the city, because Atalaens was always one disaster away from annihilation. Citizens must never question their duties. Auctors were at the top because we alone had the capacity for deep thought and learning. Not because we were better, but because we were unexpected results, leaving us free from the strictures of caste and particular genetic predispositions.
It was only over time that I understood that I was outside even that hierarchy.
Auctrix, may I query.
Of course, acolyte.
The castes… they are all single-gendered?
Yes. All except us.
So only our caste can be male or female?
Yes. Now then, if you have figured that out, list the castes and their appropriate genders for me in order from lowest to highest genus.
Lautus-male. Coloni-male. Nutritor-female. Praeceptor-female. Praesidium-male. Obliquator-male or female. Auctor-male or female. But obliquators don’t really count, do they?
No, acolyte, they are simply a way for us to explain the inconsistencies in our city’s progeny.
You mean to lie?
To carry out the will of our ancestors.
What did they do?
Not yet, acolyte. First you must complete your genomic studies.
When will that be?
It must be soon.
Do any others study this?
No. Just you.
Not yet, acolyte.
Though he refused to tell me everything, we spent long hours learning subject after subject. He often tested me on what I was learning, setting aside two hours of every cycle to review what we had spent the previous twelve hours studying. We always began with a discussion of the citizens in the city.
What is the single most important characteristic of lautus, coloni, and praesidium.
They are all male.
Why is that?
Because fertile females of all castes save Auctors are nutritors.
What do the non-fertile females become?
The praeceptors.
And obliquaturs?
Outside the castes, anomalies, not suffered to live. Sent to the Auctors for disposal.
Because only we know why they are born deviant.
Why do only we know?
That is our duty – to serve.
Only the city. Only the ancients’ work. Never a single citizen.
No matter the circumstances?
No. Auctors must only care for the good of the entire city. Obliquaturs threaten that stability.
And the duty of an Auctrix alone?
My duty to serve.
No. Your duty is to preserve. It is a difference you will come to understand in time. For now, know that you are not Auctor. You are acolyte to the Auctrix. Your work will always be greater than theirs. Now, what is your duty?
My duty… to preserve.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Work in Progress: DoP Update 2

Hello all! It's time for my weekly excerpt of "Depths of Perception." This next one is from the first part of the book and involves one of the main characters. Again, feel free to look up all the Latin words on Google translate or something similar. Meanwhile, enjoy!

          Depths of Perception

Part I: Praesidium

The current whispered past me, hinting at a warmth I’d rarely experienced, living as I had in the depths of the ocean. It raised a shiver of curiosity down the scales of my body, from the top of my upper limbs to the tips of my tails.
My guard duty had brought me as far from the city as I was allowed to go. It was a much-avoided assignment, for I was completely alone for two cycles and was a frilled shark or other predator to attack me, I would have to fight it alone.
After warning the city, of course.
But truly, I didn’t mind. The dark clear water offered an endless horizon of possibility, of freedom from the strict confines of the city and my life in the praesidium caste, forever bound to protect.
But against what?
Warmth slithered over my scales again. Curious, I decided to follow the current back to its source. What could possibly produce such a temperature change that could endure so close to the ocean floor?
Concentrating, I accessed the microprocessor embedded in my spine, giving it the mental sequence command: track current. The sensors in my eyes created a dim green grid that began to assess the temperature differences in the currents swirling around me. At the same time, tiny wires embedded in my skin began to pulse in time to my heartbeat while also scanning the water. In a few moments, the unusual stream was identified. As I kicked my tails out and began moving, I wondered if following the current would be considered insubordinate.
I’ll tell them the water was calm in my sector and that I felt it prudent to make sure the unusual current posed no potential threat to the city.
Truthfully, I didn’t think I could convince them, but it was better to have such a thought now when my memories could easily be searched later in one of the Auctor’s psi-probes. So I stretched my body out and let my muscles enjoy their movements through the water. There were endless drills and training, but rarely the chance to swim at will to a far-reaching location, especially one that left the city far behind.
Many hours later, a line of deeper black rose began to smudge the distance. By now, there were several warm water currents surrounding me, so I didn’t mind losing the one I’d been following. Instead, I paused to study the ocean floor stretching out in front of me.
Command: enhance vision, I directed the microchip. Accordingly, my optics increased the light-dark ratio and overlay the images in front of me with a bright green. I wanted to flick my inner lids closed at the brightness, but instead gave my eyes a few moments to adjust. When they did, the panorama in front of me showed a gradual upslope marked by tumbled rocks scattered across the floor. As I swam closer, I noted that one area had a large cluster covered with algae. It was only when I was within sonar range that I saw the regular shape of it.
Command: analyze anomaly.
For a brief moment, I wondered how my processor could recognize what it had never seen, but the command embedded in my consciousness took over, distracting me as it began to streak black lines across my vision.
Millennium era ship, wrecked by hostile force.
Again, frustration filled me as I wondered what the ‘millennium era’ was, knowing that when I returned, an Auctor would simply access the data and expect me not to ask questions – especially as I was praesidum, born to follow orders. Still, I could see the ‘hostile force’ had somehow torn a hole through one side of the long oblong shape.
Was this why we were not allowed so far from the city?
But as the current was coming from beyond the wreckage, I continued past it, despite my desire to stop and explore. Not yet. First I needed to find the source of the warmth.
The line of tumbled rocks began to rise, becoming mammoth boulders in a broken line that rose far above me as I continued swimming. The water was much warmer – in fact, I could not recall a single moment in my life where I had felt warm to such a degree. The ocean floor was cold and mostly lifeless, with only a few large predators to deal with on occasion. My processor regulated my temperature, so I had never truly paid any attention to the sensation. I had to stop frequently to give my sensors a moment to catch up – they didn’t appear to have been built with atypical temperature fluctuations in mind. Still, my heart rate remained normal and my enhanced vision continued to function, so I continued to head upward.
About three quarters of the way up the slope, my eyes began to burn. I stopped and hastily closed my inner and outer lids.
Command: disengage vision enhance.
Cautiously, my outer lids flicked back. Instead of utter darkness, the water was lit some color I’d never seen.
Red, my processor supplied.
Fascinated, my inner lids opened as well as I slowly started to move forward, looking around myself as shapes reformed themselves under the new-colored light. I’d lived my whole life with black, grey, white, green, silver, blue. But red was wholly new to me, and I found myself wondering, yet again, why the Auctors had never described other colors. Because they knew, I was sure, the shades that filled our hidden histories.
The currents swirled around me, marking my skin with touches of hot and cold imprints. Certain now that I needed to know what lay at the top of the ridge, I flexed my tails and shot up. The light grew stronger, less red and brighter light red.
Orange, the processor rang out in my head.
Amazed, I reached the highest peak. And quickly forced my inner lids shut as a wash of heat and light stabbed at my eyes and skin. But the image remained clearly in my mind. An abyss lay below me, a rent in the ocean floor. Through its center ran a line of bright orange-red, flowing in thick sheets.
Radioactive lava. Warning! Extreme danger.
Surprised, I closed my outer lids to better read the data scrolling out of my processor. Because of that, I didn’t see the rippling edge that signaled a shock wave rolling towards me. Instead, I was suddenly caught in a riptide, conflicting currents tearing at me from different directions, flipping my body carelessly around. Despite my enhancements, it was several long minutes before I pulled free by slipping into a nearby current. But I misjudged, not realizing how strongly the current was moving directly upwards. I fought to escape, my training screaming at me beware the surface beware the surface as I struggled to kick myself out of moving water. Yet I was well and truly caught, so I realigned my body to move with the flow, ready to dive down the moment I freed myself.
Again, I flicked opened my outer lids to see the light around me completely changed. It was blue, a color I knew but a shade I didn’t recognize. It was bright, nearly white, and when I looked down I realized I could no longer see the ocean floor. Its absence sent a pulse of panic through my veins, which I quickly suppressed with a mental nudge to my heart, slowing it down.
Command: assess. A hum filled my mind as my processor worked to obey.
Mesopelagic zone, also known as twilight or middle pelagic zone. 800 meters wide. Insufficient light for photosynthesis. The metalimnion, or thermocline, located in this region, contains rapidly changing temperatures -
Frustrated, I cut the feed off. Too many strange words sounded in my head. What was photosynthesis? What did my processor mean by 800 meters wide? Were there more layers? Years of schooling crashed in against me. We were taught that there was only one ocean, made of up the seafloor, the dark, and the predators. We were taught never to surface, and that safety lay within the dark.
Yet as I continued to drift up, able to escape the now-gentled current, I found myself unwilling to deny the sheer strangeness of clearly seeing the open ocean around me, though my inner lids remained firmly closed against the lightening water.
Suddenly, a white light went off in my sensors, barely visible in the brightness.
Warning! Within 50 meters of epipelagic zone. Turn back.
     Command: cease alarm.
     But my processor refused to obey.
     Numb with shock, I repeated myself.
     Command: cease alarm.
     Warning! Within 30 meters of epipelagic zone. Turn back immediately.
Angrily, I readjusted the volume so I wouldn’t have to hear the repetitive chant. I took a deep calming breath before turning my head to face towards the now-painfully bright source of the light. With a defiant burst, I kicked my tails out to move with the current.
Warning! Epipelagic zone breached. Turn back immediately   or –
Ruthlessly, I lowered the volume to a subsonic level that I normally reserved to enhance my biosonar call for long-range communication. I could still hear something like sound, but the words became a meaningless series of notes.
Above me, I could see a change in the water. Some disturbance was making it fracture in unusual ways, but above it stretched an expanse of blue wide and calm. Something inside me hungered for the feel of that ocean against my skin. My hands appeared, reaching up of their own accord towards that unwavering vision above the whirling eddies splintering ceaselessly over me.
Agony arced through my nerves. My spine bent, the back of my head nearly touching my tails. I tried to access my processor, to scream out a command, but the pain kept me insensate and unable to move. My subsonic volume command dissolved as words began to form.
Trepass! Initiating involuntary removal via neural shock.
No… I merely wanted…
… to see…
… see…
Electricity surged and arced, racing along my nerves.