05. Children of Flux and Anchor

BOOK: 05. Children of Flux and Anchor
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SOUL RIDER V: CHILDREN OF FLUX AND ANCHOR

Jack L. Chalker

 

Copyright © 1986 by Jack L. Chalker

ISBN: 0-812-53286-4 0987654

E-book ver.1.0

 

 

This one is for the female members of the Whitley clan:

Eva, who became First Editor when she married me,

and also Brigit and Lucy,

and even Mama Agnes who doesn't like this stuff.

For very different reasons, it's appropriate.

 

 

 

To New and Old Readers of the Soul Rider Saga

 

 

 

This is the fifth, and probably final, novel in what has been labeled "The Soul Rider Saga." Faithful readers, and the books have created quite a large following, will probably wail, but they wailed when I ended my past long-form series as well, and I always have subscribed to Henny Youngman's advice to "always leave them wanting more."

The fact is, this book wasn't supposed to exist at all. The original novel as outlined,
Spirits of Flux & Anchor.
was to be it. One novel, broken into three volumes because of its length. These were published as
Spirits, Empires,
and
Masters of Flux & Anchor
by Tor in 1984. When completed, I discovered that my research and background material had an independent book all its own in it, and this was published as
The Birth of Flux & Anchor
(Tor Books. 1985).

While doing that one, a lot of things I'd wanted to put in
Masters
and could not because of that book's great length coincided with a lot of new interesting problems raised by the situation at the end of
Masters
and the new information

provided in
Birth.
This book is the result. It is less a sequel to the original than a direct continuation. Familiarity with the first three books, and with
Birth,
is assumed, although the book will, I hope, stand on its own.

Readers new to the series, however, are urged to read the first four first to get the maximum benefit. They should be available where you bought this one; if not, your local bookstore has them or can get them quickly and easily (and don't let them tell you otherwise!).

Readers who have been faithfully following the saga will not, I think, be disappointed. If anyone gets through Chapter 15 and claims not to be very surprised, I guess I should hang it up. I will not, though. I'm already thinking up new characters and new strange places to go and new themes to explore, and I'm already working on them. That's what keeps it fun and interesting for both of us.

 

 

Melrose. Maryland

April 15, 1985                                         Jack L. Chalker

 

 

 

1

SOME VISITORS FROM DOWN UNDER

 

 

 

For forty-seven years the seven great Hellgates had been guarded, and the guard duty was the most boring assignment anyone could draw. Mostly it was left to a few people in bad graces with one of the local powers charged with providing the rotating detail.

Gate One, in particular, was fairly remote from even the historical events that made the guard necessary. When, after twenty-seven hundred years, the Hellgates had been opened and the alien demonic enemy faced, that enemy had come through only three Gates, none of them this one.

All Gates, though, as well as direct access to the monstrous computers who ran and maintained them, had been closed by common consent after the crisis had passed. The enemy had been met, and defeated, at a great price in lives, but that enemy was no longer feared. They knew it now, what it was and what it could do, and they knew that now, at this stage, even an invasion at all seven gates could be met if need be. Then, and only then, the computers would automatically reactivate; the human-to-computer interfaces, the Soul Riders and the Guardians, would activate with access to all the defense computers; and the powers that be on World would unite against a common foe.

Thus, the primary concern of those who'd fought the battles wasn't that any enemy would appear, but rather that some people would use the powers of those great computers to dominate or perhaps destroy World. Access to the computers had been terminated for that reason, although not before a tremendous amount of knowledge had been pilfered from it, some little of which was just now beginning to make sense to those who studied it. But only the wizards of World, those with the power, could command anything from those great machines, and they were as limited as always. None could again get into the great control rooms of the ancients nor speak directly to the tremendous thinking machines that ran everything automatically. The Gates themselves were almost an afterthought; they had been closed, and set to "outgoing," but they had been locked. Nobody really knew how they worked, or how to use them, and the computers had been strictly limited by the ancients so that even if they possessed that knowledge they could neither release or reveal it.

The huge dish-like depressions had been filled with debris based on the information that no one could use a dish for transportation if that dish was occupied, but there was uncertainty as to just how effective these measures were. If debris alone could stop an enemy, why had the ancients gone to so much trouble to seal them?

The Guardians, creatures with life created by the great computers out of Flux, roamed the system, beings of pure energy beyond human understanding, and kept things running smoothly and repaired properly. The Soul Riders, kindred creatures who alone possessed the codes that would open the computers to human command, rode as symbiotic things inside people all over World, many of whom were ignorant that they even had such things inside them.

The guard at each of the seven Gates was almost perfunctory and certainly not taken seriously by anyone. Everybody knew that if an enemy were to use any of the Gates, the Soul Riders would already be on station and the Guardians already in place. It was automatic. It had happened last time, when things had been in a state of ignorance. It would happen again.

Around Gate One were the four Anchors—Frinkh, Wahltah, Patah, and the one once called Holy Anchor and still referred to that way even though the great Church whose seat it once was now was no more.

Far beneath the former administrative centers of the Anchors, the "temples" of the old Church, the great control rooms and laboratories lay silent and deserted, access to them barred by command of those who had last been in them and had voluntarily left and surrendered their powers.

Now, though, in the transportation and communication centers of all four Anchors surrounding Gate One, lights automatically came on, and complex instrumentation became lit with flashing lights and digital readouts. A bell struck, and then some klaxons sounded, although there were no ears to hear, and then a woman's voice sounded in all four control rooms, the voice of the master transportation computer.

"Incoming, Gate One," the voice announced, casual and without real expression.

Guardians, taken completely off guard, rode the transmission lines down to check on things. This was simply not supposed to happen. An alert was suddenly sounded through the entire worldwide computer network, including the Soul Riders, but they were not yet activated.

The Guardians checked the information with their computer masters, then called off the alert. No one, in fact, was even aware that an alert had been called, least of all those in which bodies the Soul Riders lived. The defensive programs had never been designed to guard against Earth, but only against an alien menace, to block its progress towards Earth along the great strings of the Flux universe. This traffic was not inbound—towards Earth—and thus was not a threat by their mission and charge. It was outbound traffic.

The Guardians and Soul Riders of the Great War had been people of World: ignorant of high technology, backward, superstitious, and unable, really, to ask all the right questions or think of everything. They had been assured that the Gates could not be purged of debris by any invader's incoming signal without the joint consent of the Soul Rider and the Guardian. Their context, however, was defensive, and the types of computers and programs to which they had direct access were military in nature. These were the Forward Fire Base programs, modified thousands of years earlier to meet an unknown threat. By definition, though, incoming
from
the inbound direction was friendly; only incoming from the outbound direction was assumed hostile. The Gate locks had been absolute, barring friend and foe alike, but the Gates had not been re-locked. It seemed futile, since the codes to open them were now known but the means of changing them was not.

The Guardian assumed quite naturally that traffic from this direction was friendly, and the four Guardians of Gate One agreed and sounded the outer alarms for a purge.

The dozen men and women sitting in their camp at the edge of Gate One, reading or sleeping or playing games to amuse themselves, had been there for several weeks and had only a few days to go. Just a few days more to keep from going mad in the silence of the Flux and the eerie crater of the Gate. They all had some of the power and included a lean, hawk-nosed man named Bandichar who was a powerful wizard. Unlike the others, who were there because they were ordered to be, he was there because, by common agreement of the Fluxlords of each region, somebody powerful must be on duty at all times. Bandichar had been practicing some new spells and making everyone else nervous, but it was quiet now.

Suddenly a loud klaxon sounded three times, echoing across the crater floor and bouncing off its walls; it sounded as if the end of the world were coming, and guards jumped in startled fear, one woman rolling off her cot.

Bandichar had been asleep but was quickly brought awake by the terrible and unexpected noise and stormed out of his tent wearing only a pair of shorts. He certainly did not look like a powerful Fluxlord. He looked, in fact, like a man caught with his pants down.

"What the hell was
that
?"
he demanded to know.

Atita Saag, a small, lean woman in an olive military uniform who was the officer in charge, shrugged and shook her head. "It came from the Gate." Suddenly the enormity of that statement hit her, and she yelled, "Everyone up! Full arms and packs immediately! Positions in view of the Gate but well back of the apron!" The apron, or lip, was a smooth area several meters wide that led to the depression.

"Attention! Attention! Please remain clear of the Gate area until further notice,"
said a ghostly, amplified woman's voice from the crater's center. It, too, echoed eerily around the complex.

"Son of a bitch!" swore Bandichar. "Something's coming through! It had to be on
my
damned watch, too!"

There was a final warning buzz, and then the voice of the gate announced,
"Purging!"

The small company of guards edged back as the entire Gate complex began to glow a sickly yellow-green. Then there was a roar that sounded like a huge volume of water coming down a pipe, but there was no water.

An incredible amount of junk had been thrown into the massive crater, from the remains of buildings to concrete and steel-like masses created out of Flux and allowed to flow in and harden. One could almost walk across the top of it.

Now that mass of junk glowed, was outlined in a crackling fire, and then vanished.

Atita looked at Bandichar, who was just staring, transfixed. If she didn't know better, she'd have sworn that the Fluxlord was as scared as she was. "I thought this couldn't happen!" she said, her voice trembling. "So what do we do now?"

"It couldn't! Wasn't supposed to, anyway," Bandichar responded, his voice not sounding any better. "Still, that's why we're here. Just in case."

"Well, it's just in case! Now what? Anybody tell you 'just in case' of what?"

"We see what shows up, then if it's bigger than we can handle we run like hell and get help," he responded honestly.

"Maybe they won't come out here anyway, just go down the tube," she muttered hopefully.

"Uh uh. Even those furballs of fifty years ago couldn't get by that. It'd run another purge automatically, destroying them in the tubes, unless they knew the codes, and nobody that's not from here can know that code. No, they'll come out this way."

"Purge complete,"
the Gate announced.
"Stand by. Flag set to incoming. Incoming received. Gate flag reset to outbound. Transport personnel may now attend to offloading duties."
The glow died, and the silence returned.

Atita nervously stared at the Gate. "I don't see nothin'," she noted. "We should see it, shouldn't we?"

"I was there at Gate Two when they came the last time," Bandichar responded. "We should see a ship in there." Fear was being replaced by nervous curiosity. "What in hell happened?"

BOOK: 05. Children of Flux and Anchor
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