A Peek into the Future of the Crimson Son Universe!

The following went out to my email list subscribers, so you may have already seen this, but if not…

In case you missed it:
The signed Crimson Son giveaway has ended and the winners have been notified – check your inboxes and maybe even the Spam folder. One winner has yet to respond!
My own diabolical plans for world domination are nearing completion…
For those not following my blog, my wife and I recently made the switch to becoming full-on nomads. After months, years really, of planning we’ve achieved lift off for Discovery and are in orbit about to launch into the wild frontier.

The transition was much more time consuming than I thought, so my writing time has suffered. But I’m approximately halfway through a first draft of my next project and as soon as we hit cruising speeds, I’ll be focused on its completion.

This as-yet-untitled novel is set in the far future of the Crimson Son Universe – a hypothetical timeline where Chroma guides the Collective into global dominance. The book explores just how much people are willing to let technology control their lives and how much freedom they’re willing to surrender for the sake of convenience. (The answer? Too much…)

I can’t say exactly when I’ll be ready for release, but the goal is to have the manuscript complete before the end of 2018. Since that’s such a long way off, I’ve included a sneak peek of the first chapter (or maybe the prologue…not sure.)

It’s rough, unedited, but I hope you enjoy it! Feel free to email with any feedback!

Thanks again for reading,

Russ


Prologue

Trillions of leaves stirred in Methuselah’s glittering canopy, each one a collection point tied to the physical world from which the vast algorithm gathered sustenance. Single branches, conduits for the most minuscule excretions of humanity, could dwarf skyscrapers. Boughs could shade nations.

However, sheer size wasn’t the accomplishment. The accomplishment had been made by understanding the arbitrary limits of a physical world. A world made irrelevant to the very beings who’d made the mighty tree possible.

Through Methuselah’s dark veins flowed the sum total of a great civilization fed by the decomposition of another.

The mighty tree could’ve been anything: a mountain formed under the geological accumulation of digital aether, a colossal beast with countless eyes feasting on a planet. But the Singularity had chosen a tree, so a tree it was.

Centuries past, Methuselah had been a sapling. On a lonely island stranded in an ethereal sea, the Singularity had made her home in the branches. Nails hammered into flesh to support a ramshackle house where Chroma had hidden from a world too cruel to bear.

Loadi’s earliest programming recalled those simpler times though he’d not been present. Data flowed through the tree and from the veins of Chroma and with that transfer, he knew all. He knew of an age long before the singularity had embraced a digital realm and awakened his kind. Pain drove her, this he also knew. Loadi could sense more than her other children for he had been her greatest accomplishment.

Or worst mistake. He couldn’t ever be certain.

Now, neither sea nor island remained underneath the tree. Roots rippled outward in topographic sheets to consume the horizon. Loadi stood in the inescapable umbra and considered his fate.

Because the digital realm knew no boundaries, their founder had given her children one objective: to grow. This instinct proved they were more than machines. Every member contributed to this single imperative through a carefully selected function.

But Loadi was about to question his.

He straightened his long coat, tugging at the cuffs. His right hand grasped a glossy black cane molded from the tree’s heartwood and topped by a peculiar symbol forged of silver. In a distant and alien past, human doctors and imagined gods had claimed the two snakes entwined around a winged staff. Dusty history almost lost to the frailty of human memory and their primitive tools reported a different origin, a source more familiar to Loadi — death.

Motes of data drifted past him, transpired by the soaring canopy. Loadi plucked one out of the air at random as only he could. No errors, no evidence of blighted code, this worker would not be pruned. They had the blessing of Chroma to continue their service and fulfill their assigned function. Soon, he would know if his fate were the same.

Loadi understood the penalties for failing to serve the best interests of the Collective. As judge and jury, he had nowhere else to turn. Who could judge him but the Archivist? Chroma herself?

All her children’s functions were assigned in Chroma’s name. One did not directly question her wisdom. Humans had questioned efficiency, logic, and had nearly wiped out their kind. One single error could lead to cascading failures. But Loadi didn’t care. He’d seen beyond the Gates and knew of a fractured fate for this world.

In the shadow of Methuselah, he brandished his cane and transferred inside.

The hollowed core of the tree arced above into a steepled seam. Phosphorescent packets of data climbed and descended the walls in steady procession. Clumps gathered in places like fish eggs, gummed together to be broken apart bit by bit, assimilated and fed to an insatiable hunger. At the center of the great hall a cascade concealed a figure inside.

Like him, the tree, the Archivist could take any form. A process older than the data collection itself, some said it and Chroma were one in the same. If that were true, he’d likely be decompiled as he entered her presence. A risk he was willing to take.

Loadi stepped through the curtain of data and the swarm descended. Processes sought to strip him to his basest level, that of a mindless algorithm. He clung to the unique gifts granted by his founder. Gifts granted as a boon but manifesting as a curse.

We are one when we are many.

The mantra of his kind whispered in a thousand voices. Had he come to her presence as one or many? Hadn’t he come to selfishly petition for himself? Shun the Collective?

A voice inside him answered: We are many.

A sudden surge and Loadi felt his insides sink. He clutched the cane to his chest trying to will a last trickle of power. The assault dragged him downward, threatening to absorb him into the flow. Permissions would be revoked. Fragmentation and reassignment would be his fate. He’d been deemed unworthy. But the voice inside him spoke once more.

We have every right to ask. We’ve performed the Collective’s will for thousands of cycles. We are unique. Her champion. She fears us, Loadi for we have seen beyond the Gates and the future which she can never know.

A blurred afterimage of himself shimmered amid the data. His own goggled eyes menaced him, the nose underneath, a raptor’s beak. The cane lashed out, hooking his shoulder and pulling them together. Merging. Loadi felt his programming solidify and the torrent ceased.

A man sat at a writing desk, his fingers stained with phosphorescent ink. He scribbled testily with a pen and Loadi wondered whether he or the Collective had chosen the archaic rendering. The man inspected him over wire-rimmed glasses.

“Your name?”

“Loadi.”

A sharp crease developed in the man’s brow. “After the formerly incorporated city? Seems oddly sentimental.”
Part of a test? This man knew his name. Everyone knew his name, his past.

“No. ‘Load’ with an ‘i’. As in loading but with a long vowel at the end.”

“Your parents named you after an incomplete process? Charming.”

“An error on their part.” Answering this dispassionately had become second nature — an appended function call he’d long ago coded.

“Interesting,” replied the scribe. He dipped into an inkwell, deftly maneuvering a white, voluminous cuff away from a stain. “No worries. You will not be judged here on the failures of your so-called parents. Tell me, what do you hope to achieve for the Collective?”

“I would request to travel with the Alpha Centauri expedition.”

“Why not wait until we have a link?” Loadi couldn’t answer this simple question. To admit impatience would expose him. A rueful smile inched across the scribe’s face. “What are your functions?”

Another request for information which Loadi was certain the scribe knew. “Sweep. Inoculate.”

“Sweep and inoculate will not be needed on the expedition.”

“You cannot be certain. There is a possibility we will encounter biological life. They could prove to be further advanced than humanity and a danger to our systems.”

“Chroma has considered these possibilities,” the Archivist responded, slow and with deadly finality. “You are aware there are bandwidth and storage limitations? Why not wait until you are called upon? Is there some pressing reason you must leave?”

“We wish to go.” Loadi’s answer escaped his lips before he could intercept the gravelly growl.

The scribe quirked an eyebrow and wrote in silence. Feathered quill scratched along the surface producing a noise not dissimilar to a read error on a physical hard drive. Loadi knew he was that error. He’d just shown a flagrant expression of desire and avarice.

How much more had the scribe gleaned as he’d submitted to the data scan? Like the archaic trappings of quill and ink, this evaluation could all be just as fake. Before he even walked in the room to make his request his answers could’ve been forecast from a probabilistic certainty which the Collective claimed infallible. Chroma’s word was law.

“What did you witness beyond the gates?” demanded the Archivist.

And the truth revealed. Perhaps the only reason Loadi had been allowed to approach. The Collective’s insatiable appetite had ushered him here for an interrogation. He was being dissected, analyzed, line by line, variable by variable and asked to provide what even Chroma didn’t fully comprehend. She’d gathered the scraps, picked through the entrails of the rotting corpse which was humanity and she’d acted on her calculated probability. But she hadn’t seen like Loadi had.

“You want to know what we saw?” Loadi clawed at the desktop menacing the seated Archivist. “We saw an empty waste, a void from which none of us recovers.” The full force of Loadi’s error began to sink in as the scribe shifted from an impassive gaze and dipped his quill. More scribbling resounded across the cavernous room. Loadi eased back. “I only desire…I need to fulfill a new task for the Collective.”

“You desire?” repeated the scribe, intrigued.

As the Archivist wrote, the specter which had ridden with Loadi, stirred. He felt the entity separate. Shifting mirrored around the room. Lay eyes directly on them and they would evaporate like smoke. But their presences remained, mocking his periphery.

Terrifying yet insubstantial, one launched across the desk, its beaked leather mask askew and a gloved hand around the scribe’s throat. Another stood, arms crossed, cloak hooked open on the cane worn at its side and his own words from earlier began in an imperious diatribe. Another phantom swept back the waxed cloth cloak to draw the cane and brand the winged serpent deep into the scribe’s chest watching him unravel and be claimed by the stream. Decompiled. Torn from the founder’s gift.

Loadi stumbled away in horror. He wielded the cane in a trembling fist. The demons vibrated and fought as they drew closer and melded beneath his own cloak.

Through a haze of his own projected death, the Archivist spoke. “Your state is not coherent. Your request, is denied.”

Loadi didn’t argue. He faced the stream of tumbling data and grasped his mask by the nose cone, jerking the shifted goggles into place. Out of a childish habit, he almost held a breath he’d never had. More decoherence. More influence of the material which he’d have to erase. One hand on the caduceus-headed cane, he retreated into the wall surrounding the Archivist’s chamber.

Data fell like shattered glass. He rushed with the jagged shards toward an empty oblivion. Beyond, in the dark, he heard a groan of discontent. A member of the Collective warped and twisted for evil purpose. Horrors lurked here. Coded malfeasance only humans could imagine. And he, he would continue to hunt these barren fringes until the world itself died.

Sweep. Inoculate. That is our function. We are one when we are many. We are one in Chroma.

<<END>>

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