Authors: P. J. Haarsma
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or, if real, are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2010 by PJ Haarsma
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, taping, and recording, without prior written permission from the publisher.
First electronic edition 2010
The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:
The softwire : awakening on Orbis 4 / PJ Haarsma. —1st ed.
p. cm. — (The softwire)
Summary: As the Scion’s guardian, Johnny Turnbull is expected to begin training as a Space Jumper, a role he promised his girlfriend, Max, he would never take on, and which might not be enough to save his sister and friends when Orbis is threatened.
ISBN 978-0-7636-2712-6 (hardcover)
[1. Computers —Fiction. 2. Space and time —Fiction. 3. Mercenary troops —Fiction. 4. Science fiction.] I. Title. II. Title: Awakening on Orbis 4. III. Title: Awakening on Orbis four. IV. Series.
[Fic] —dc22 2009032482
ISBN 978-0-7636-5238-8 (electronic)
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“Stop it!” I begged.
“I can’t,” Theylor whispered. “Ketheria
“When will it be over?”
My sister’s body convulsed while suspended over a thick block of chrome deep within the Keepers’ lair on Orbis 1. I turned away.
“This is one of the fourteen steps of the awakening,” Theylor reminded me. “We have discussed this.”
“But look at her. Her eyes are going to pop out of her head!”
is doing that. Her eyes will remain firmly inside their sockets,” he assured me. “That is nothing more than an illusion.”
was a clumsy description of what was happening to Ketheria. Her skin was shining with a lustrous golden light that pulsed brighter, not with each heartbeat but with some otherworldly measure that I was not privy to. I stood by, helpless, and watched as the metal block she floated above refused to absorb the glow, tossing it back while her body deflated with each throb of light. During one convulsion, Ketheria’s head lobbed sideways and her eyes seemed to focus on mine.
“Ketheria!” I called out, but her vacant stare just bore straight through me. I don’t think she had a clue that I was even in the room with her.
I felt Theylor place his slender hand on my shoulder. I turned and looked into the eyes of his left head. I had grown to trust Theylor over the last three rotations on the Rings of Orbis, and I searched his bluish face now to find any justification for my sister’s suffering.
“The Nagools have been waiting their whole lives for this moment,” he said. “They will do everything to make the Scion’s —”
Theylor. She’s my
nothing more,” I corrected him. “We traveled from Earth to work on these rings just like the zillions of other aliens who come here every rotation to do the exact same thing. Once our debt is paid, we get to start a new life of our own — as
That was the deal. Not this! The
? None of it makes sense to me, Theylor. I don’t want any of it, and I’m certain Ketheria doesn’t, either. You guys are the ones calling her the Scion. That word doesn’t mean anything to me.”
Theylor bowed his head before he continued. “Even if you do not want this to happen, you cannot deny that it
happening. This is self-evident.” Theylor motioned toward Ketheria. “Yet for some reason, you resist believing what you see right before your very eyes. Your sister
the Scion, Johnny Turnbull. I assure you that the Nagools will do everything possible to make her awakening a painless experience. I do not understand your anger.”
“I’m not angry,” I whispered. “I’m confused.”
“Some things are easier to accept if you simply trust the Universe.”
That was easy for him to say. He wasn’t a knudnik.
“Come now,” he added. “I must get you to the spaceport. There is not much time before the Orbis 4 shuttle launches. Your new work rule has already started.”
Despite the fact that everyone believed Ketheria was the new Scion, the Trading Council insisted that we finish our fourth rotation of indentured service, and the Keepers and the Nagools did not argue. They believed that the Scion had to awaken along the path that the Universe had predicted for him or her, no matter how dangerous that path may be. It was a small miracle that they even let me follow Ketheria to Orbis 1 once she got sick. I had hoped she might come out of her awakening and we could travel to Orbis 4 together, but that did not seem likely now.
“Please,” I begged. “I was hoping for a little more time.”
“I am sorry. I have done everything I could just to let you stay this phase.”
“I’ve been here a whole phase?”
Theylor nodded, and I remembered the moment when I had found Ketheria in the middle of one of her spells. It was right before we were all about to leave to meet our new Guarantor on Orbis 4. Ketheria had started doodling those little spirals on the walls while everyone else was packing. Soon afterward she slipped into the catatonic state that now consumed her. Usually Ketheria came out of one of her spells by the end of a cycle, but this time she hadn’t. Instead, the glow had started. I told Vairocina, my friend inside the central computer, the moment it began, and she contacted Theylor immediately. Soon Theylor and an army of Nagool masters converged upon Ketheria. As they shuttled both her and me to Magna on Orbis 1, Theylor informed me that the glow was the Source working through her, making connections with the rest of the universe. Max, Theodore, and everyone else were shipped off to Orbis 4.
“Johnny,” Theylor called. “I’m sorry, but it is time.”
Reluctantly, I turned from my frozen vigil and followed Theylor out of the room, entrusting my sister to the Nagools. When I thought about waking up the next cycle not knowing a thing about my sister’s condition, I felt as if a Neewalker had clamped his hands around my throat, trapping the air inside me. It scared me and I hated it.
Theylor paused next to one of the many treelike pillars that supported the largest cavern of the Keepers’ lair located beneath the city of Magna and waited for me. I looked up to where the deep blue stone pillars made contact with the roof. Bands of yellowish light oscillated from the top of the support with a beat that was oddly reminiscent of the glow. I then followed Theylor as he navigated around huge pools of black water that glittered from deep below the surface.
A small domed craft waited on a rail of shorter pillars next to a platform. I followed Theylor aboard, and we sat in silence during the short trip to the surface. It gave me time to think. What had happened? Why Ketheria? No one had any answers for me, but that didn’t mean no one knew. I had heard stories of other Scions and the horrible fates they met. No matter what part of the universe they came from, new Scions were always persecuted by one group or another, tested until they broke. I had also heard tales of the Tonat, the guardian entrusted to protect the Scion once the awakening was complete. That’s who they wanted me to be. But if the Tonat was so important, why was I leaving my sister behind? It didn’t make sense, but then when had my life on the rings ever made sense? No one ever explained anything here. Three rotations had taught me that most people on the Rings of Orbis protected their knowledge more than they did an Orodi Orb.
Once we disembarked from the small craft, I followed Theylor up a wide staircase that led to two metal doors, scuffed and marred by eons of use. At the top of the stairs, Theylor paused and turned to me. “Others may have come to see the Scion,” he said, as if it were a warning.
“I thought no one knew where Magna was located.”
“Idolatry has a unique way of bringing light to the blind,” he replied.
When Theylor pushed back the thick doors, the glassy glow from a distant star burnished my eyes, and faster than my pupils could contract, a throng of aliens burst upon us.
“Who are these people, Theylor?”
“Worshippers,” he replied, holding up his hand to the crowd. The effect seemed to push the people back, which allowed us to move forward. “I did not expect to see so many. I am afraid news of the Scion has spread quickly. This is not good.”
“Why is the Scion so important to them?”
“It has been a very long time since a Scion has been discovered. In fact, most people thought it was no longer possible. Your sister is their last hope.”
There must have been thousands of people gathered there. Every one of them seemed to be whispering something at me. Hushed pleas called to me from every side as we pushed through the crowds.
“They worship my sister?”
“They worship the Scion,” he said, as if Ketheria was a separate entity entirely. “And some even worship the Tonat.”
“I’m not the Tonat, Theylor. The Trust said
have to make that choice, and I don’t want to be a Space Jumper. In order to be the Tonat, I have to be a Space Jumper.”
“I believe the Trust merely presented you with that choice as a gesture.”
“A gesture of what?”
“To appease your fierce need to control your own existence. I wonder how much choice you actually have in this matter.”
“What does that mean, Theylor? It
But Theylor did not respond. It frustrated me to be fed these cryptic answers all the time.
“If this is so important, why won’t you tell me anything else?” I shouted as more people pushed in on us, but Theylor did not answer. His attention was now on the crowd. More and more people rushed toward us, and the crush was beginning to smother me. One alien tugged at my vest, another simply rubbed her hands over me, while another squawked in my face. Theylor tried to force them back, but that only created an opening for more to pour into.