Today we’ve got an excerpt of The Life Engineered by L.T. Dubeau. The Life Engineered is an Inkshares project, which means that authors pitch a book, readers pre-order, then once the preorder threshold is met, Inkshares offers a full service publishing experience. You can read more about Inkshares at their website.
The Life Engineered is one of the top five books in Inkshares’ Sword and Laser Collection contest, and every week throughout the contest, Inkshares will post chapters from the works that catch their eye. Enjoy this excerpt of The Life Engineered, and be sure to support the project if you like what you read!
Here’s what The Life Engineered is about (via Inkshares): “I like to think that one day robots will take our place and they will be awesome. This is a story about that future.”
Read on for the excerpt!
Return to Babylon
There was no stranger feeling. After the space fold, I was left floating astride a strange Capek, out in the middle of interplanetary space. It had taken a moment for my navigation to pinpoint exactly where he had taken me, though knowing didn’t make me feel any better. Stars were tiny points of light far in the distance. I couldn’t see any planets, not even on long-range sensors. If we were within a solar system, we were so far at its edge for it not to matter.
I’d maneuvered myself to sit on one of Anhur’s dismembered thruster-spines. I did not feel comfortable riding a strange Capek and was getting disoriented floating around with no point of reference.
Hermes had excused himself, saying his attention was needed elsewhere. From our short discussion, I gathered that he was an odd cross between a Von Neumann and Sputnik class. Much like Skinfaxi, he was a born traveler and enjoyed moving around the galaxy, seeing new places, meeting new people. Where my first companion was more interested in transporting passengers, Hermes was a messenger, carrying sensitive information and small goods or serving as a mobile quancom node.
As the hours dwindled on, I kept my mind busy by inspecting the broken pieces of the malicious Lucretius that had been hunting my friends and I through the galaxy. It helped me keep my mind off of Skinfaxi and Koalemos’ fates.
As luck would have it, the damage done to Anhur unlocked the files I had on the leviathan. This was a twofold blessing. It allowed me complete and unrestricted access to everything about the functioning of this Capek – a precious resource considering how dangerous and secretive his kind were reputed to be. The other good news was that Hermes’ daring prank must have done considerable damage to the monster.
There was a lot to learn about Anhur and the whole Lucretius line of Capeks. In broad terms, they were sentient cities, designed to fly the gulf between galaxies on great exploration ventures. The personality culled from the Nurseries that were adequate for this kind of mission, this level of isolation and independence for thousands of years were few indeed. Those like Anhur were equipped with every conceivable technology available, up to refineries and fabrication complexes. A Lucretius was thus capable of consuming materials to assemble new items, systems, or automatons. Aside from the multiple types of propulsion systems available to them, they were also equipped with a primitive version of a Nursery. A virtual world where they could store their personalities to better endure the trials of intergalactic travel.
“I’m back,” Hermes called out all of a sudden. His prideful exuberance was gone “You have to come with me.”
I latched on to the little ship as he once more folded space for the convenience of fast travel to distant places. This time, however, I recognized the destination with ease; we were going back to the City, or so I thought.
As we approached Ziggurat, I could somehow tell that something wasn’t quite right.
“When Hera realized who had sabotaged my little brother Koalemos,” Hermes explained unprovoked, “she contacted me. I’m one of the fastest Capeks in the Milky Way, so she wanted me to come and assist you in saving what was most important to her. I also went out to warn as many of the other Gaias as I could. I sent messages to some but had to visit others.”
I felt terrible. I had been so focused on saving the legacy of my own progenitor that I hadn’t been able to take Hera’s with me. I lacked the background necessary to truly understand what this might mean for Hermes and Koalemos’ people, but somehow I doubted it was anything short of catastrophic.
“You think Aurvandil’s going after the other Gaias?”
“So far he hasn’t, but his actions have messed things up anyway.”
I quickly saw what he meant. By the time we reached Babylon, there was very little of it left. The great City had been ravaged; large portions of it had crumbled into the clouds below, vanishing into the crushing depths of the atmosphere. Small dots swarmed around the ruined citadel, scrambling to either minimize damage or look for Capeks that might have been damaged in what I assumed was an attack.
“That’s more than just ‘messing things up,’” I mumbled. “What happened?”
“That other Lucretius, Pele, attacked here before going to Tartarus. She destroyed the City.”
I had to brace myself more carefully, and Hermes was forced to slow down as we entered the thick atmosphere of Ziggurat. While the band of clouds at this particular parallel were not that dense, the speeds my new friend was used to would have torn me off him at this barometric pressure.
The careful approach allowed me to take stock of the destruction. Sputniks were zipping around, collecting other Capeks incapable of flight from the more unstable portions of the City. There was no question that the entire structure would eventually fail and plummet down to be consumed by the storms in the lower atmosphere. The plants inside Babylon already showed signs of withering from exposure to whatever foreign gasses enveloped Ziggurat at this altitude.
“I’m dropping you off here. I think you’ll find you have your work cut out for you,” Hermes said before leaving me on the side of a terrace and taking off.
I took stock of the grounds I was standing on and realized why he’d brought me here. This trip wasn’t for my benefit, despite the helpful exposition. Half a dozen Capeks lay broken and damaged around the terrace. Collected and deposited here, in a makeshift infirmary, so they could hopefully be saved. Another Capek, shaped like a horrendous long-legged spider, was already stalking amongst the victims, giving care where it could.
I started work immediately, giving my attention to a large Sputnik resting on the terrace. Shaped like a streamlined humpback whale and almost as large, the poor thing listed to one side, immobile like a beached carcass. Its hull showed signs of severe compression damage.
“He dived down into Ziggurat, too deep, to save another Capek who had fallen,” came a soft, familiar voice.
“Proioxis…” I turned to see the snakelike Capek winding her way gracefully between the victims. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, thanks to Opochtli here. Can you help him?”
She had been the one who fell into the depths. I couldn’t imagine a worse demise, and despite my youth, I had faced destruction enough times to consider myself a fair judge. To plummet for hours, enduring ever-increasing heat and pressure, systems failing one after another, each moment making it less and less likely to be saved.
“I will do my best.” I began pulling out information on the great damaged Sputnik. “How did you manage to make it unscathed?”
“I am caretaker of a large farm planet. I am built to thrive in all environments my ward can provide, including the crushing depths of its oceans.”
I nodded and began work on Opochtli. My first priority was making sure he was stable and that none of his systems, physical or otherwise, were in any danger of developing further irreparable damage. If he was stable, I would have to abandon him and move on to the next victim.
The work was relentless. With Proioxis’ help, I cut off one of the giant’s long lateral fins to gain access to his main service hatch. Thankfully, Capeks didn’t experience pain, or rather, could only if they wished to.
“Opochtli? Do you hear me big guy?” I asked as I stepped into his guts.
“I hear you,” the whale groaned.
“’Opochtli.’ That’s a Mayan name?”
“Aztec. My progenitor is Coatlicue.”
“Excellent. I’m going to be doing a few strange things to your cognitive core. Let me know if anything feels out of place. Also, don’t worry if I keep asking the same questions over and over.”
His voice was deep, calm, and melodious. I doubt he would have been able to remain this serene were he seeing what I was. The lower atmosphere where he had delved was composed of thick clouds of sulfur dioxide, which apparently remained lodged inside the breached sections of his body, compounding the damage. Large portions of surface components suffered massive corrosion, making repairs more complicated and riskier.
“Your friend did this,” he said as I took apart the framework that kept his various cognitive systems firmly in place.
“No friend of mine would do such a thing, and you shouldn’t speak. You need me to concentrate.”
“Aurvandil. He’s been plotting this for a while,” he continued, his deep voice strained in its urgency.
“How would you know?” I didn’t want to sound like I was defending Aurvandil. I’d seen for myself what he was capable of, and I knew what he was responsible for.
“He has been preaching his strange brand of emancipation for centuries. No one thought he meant anything by it. Clearly, we were wrong to ignore him.”
“Alright. I really need you to be quiet now.”
“No! This is nothing little one. Ask Proioxis, she’ll tell you what Aurvandil, the great thinker, is really up to.”