by Scott Senften
The King watched from his stone balcony as the first of the transition team descended through the clouds. “Transition” was the official term, but it wasn’t correct and the term stuck in his gut. He could taste the bile in the back of his throat. The notification came. He knew the Chancellor was there. The Chancellor had requested to be with him. Again “request” wasn’t the right word. There was no request. He couldn’t decline the request. It was all for show. The bile rose even higher. Soon he would be nothing more than a figure head. Soon his people would be servants…or worse. He had failed. His armies had failed. His diplomacy had failed. He knew he was being petulant, but even if it was his last meaningless defiant act, he was going to stand here in his solitude as he had done so many times before and make the Chancellor wait. This was an occupation force, clear and simple. He may have failed, but until he was dead, he would fight for his way of life.
His balcony sat on the northern side of the castle, and his castle sat on the northern side of the mountain. It was built there to catch the morning rising sun and the evening setting sun of the binary star system. The northern side of this mountain overlooked the valley of the capital. He loved it here. He hadn’t been born here. He hadn’t even grown up here. In fact, he had grown up on the other side of the planet. His mother did not believe in the children growing up anywhere but their home. Like many in the world, they supported the kingdom but they still believed in their own individual cultures. The binary star system made for unique climates all across the planet and made this planet unique in the known or explored universe.
His kingdom, if you could still call it that, had only stood for a generation. His father had brought the entire world together under his rule when he was relatively young. He had fought in those bloody civil wars, growing and rising through the military ranks until he had become the Chief Tactical Officer of the Military. Soon after his father had finally brought the wars to an end and had relied on his skills and compassion to pull together a kingdom of distinct regions and cultures. He had done so by laying out a vision of a world where each distinct region needed and cooperated with the other. The resulting alliance eventually mandated him as king and, over time, the alliance had grown tighter and tighter as the entire world began to prosper. Sadly, tragically, just as his father watched his people feel that unity and peace might be a generational state of life, the Saitiens had launched a brutal attack on the colonies of the outer rim. Ironically, the attacks actually brought the region states even closer together under his father’s rule even as it threw them into another war.
The notification came again.
The Chancellor entered the room. His pleasure was evident in his color. “Your Excellency, an honor to be here today. Your son is not here. I had hoped that he and your wife would have joined us on this momentous occasion, but, in particular, I had hoped your son would have stood with us.” The King’s gut rolled again at the word ‘hoped’. He hated how they flaunted their superiority. The Chancellor was overjoyed at the thought of his people overrunning yet another world but was disappointed that the ‘appearance’ of a friendly alliance would not be complete without his son.
“My son is at our ancestral home with his mother.”
“Yes, we know.”
The Chancellor’s pleasure and disappointment was evident. His feeling of superiority was palatable, but at the same time he felt the defiance in the King It roiled the Chancellor that such a thoroughly defeated enemy was still defiant in the face of the conqueror. Part of him wanted to throw it in his face.
The King knew he was pushing. He simply couldn’t help himself. He despised these creatures. How he had allowed his people to get to this point was beyond him.
The Chancellor wouldn’t let his annoyance drive down his feeling of superiority. He KNEW, actually knew, how completely devastated they had made these people. This idiot’s inability to see the obvious would not ruin his celebration.
The King looked at the Chancellor with a quizzical eye. For as much as he knew and as much or little that he understood about these creatures, their abilities were still difficult to wrap his mind around. The Chancellor expressed what the King had learned was the equivalent of a smile. The Chancellor felt his superiority swell, “Yes, we know. I know this is difficult for you to understand but our technology, that allows each of us to know the entire state of all others thoughts and knowledge, allows me to know that your son is at your home.” He would not let his annoyance at the son’s absence show. “It’s of no concern. When you and your people have gone through the wetware upgrade, you will see the beauty and benefits of joining our culture.”
“I am concerned that not all my people will be so enthusiastic about acquiring your technology.”
The Chancellor had expected this. “Your people will embrace the technology like we have. It is for their own good; their benefit.”
The King looked at the Chancellor with a deep, dark stare, “It is my experience that when someone wants me to do something for my own good that it is usually for their own good.” He did not let the Chancellor reply before seeming to brush away his own comment and step on to another equally cutting topic. “Can you distinguish your own thoughts?” The Chancellor looked quizzically at the King for a moment. Was it confusion? Anger? Simply being caught off guard?
The Chancellor marveled at the ignorance of this creature that had once been the ruler of an entire world. How could he not see the value of being able to share knowledge instantly. This simpleton could not distinguish between information and processing. In most intelligence creatures, there was a central process of some sort. That processor did exactly that, processed information. The result was more information which was stored somewhere, in the case of humans that was the hippocampus. The functioning of that central processor generated low power signals. By boosting those signals and tapping into them, connecting them, information could be shared, not thoughts. Thoughts were the processing piece. Couldn’t this human understand that? It was the ultimate in what was once called ‘cloud’ computing, completely universal and completely distributed. “Your Majesty,” the Chancellor started as if talking to a youngling, “you know that we are not a ‘hive’ culture. Ours is a race of technology and information sharing in which we want your people to relish. Of course we all have our own thoughts. We simply share data universally among our citizens. Everyone knows what everyone else knows.”
The King doubted this was true. His own intelligence network, lead by his son, believed that the rulers could actually throttle what information went to which class of individuals, if not individuals themselves. It was the classic case of some being more equal than others. “Of course. It is difficult for an old man like myself to comprehend all the new technology that you are so graciously sharing with us.”
The Chancellor seemed to be more uneasy when the King spoke with humility than when he was pushing. “Certainly. I believe your son will embrace our technologies. His willingness to be the first will help ease the trepidation of your people. Your son is most beloved and respected.” What was this man playing at? “You speak as if you are near the end, but the incredible longevity of your race means that you will likely continue to live for generations of my own kind.”
“It is true that my son will soon take over the leadership of my people. It is our custom that the new king comes to power in what we call the ‘seconding’ of the current king, basically when the king’s life is half over. My time will be soon. I can feel it within me. The timing is fortunate to correspond with this transition.” The King picked his words carefully. “Even so, I will be the first to undergo the procedure that will connect my being with your network of thoughts…excuse me, information.”
This was another change to the agreed upon treaty. This arrogant failure continued to tweak the noses of the high council and they continued to relent to his ‘minor’ adjustments. The Chancellor did not let his annoyance show. “Let us talk about this no more for the time being. Today is a day of peace and celebration. Let us watch and welcome our new alliance.” The two stepped out onto the balcony to watch the transition teams descend through the clouds. A light rain began to fall from the heavily overcast skies. The gray of the sky matched the darkness of the King’s soul. Was this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?
At once he knew everything, could see everything, and, yet, was in a complete state of calm and rest. He was one with the world and completely separate from it at the the same time.
She sat across the room from her husband and watched as his eyes fluttered open. It was not in his nature to be still, to remove himself from the world and exist beyond it. Their world was so diverse, so many cultures learning different things. This knowledge of the ways of the world was part of her upbringing, part of how her culture became to understand their spiritual faith. She waited as he came back to this world. “You will have to be able to find that place without placing yourself into a trance.” She brushed away the comment in almost the exact way he had brushed away his comment to the Chancellor. In fact, he had learned it from her. She used it often when she was trying to make a point and didn’t want to have a conversation about it. “I don’t understand the desire for everyone to know everyone’s thoughts.” She hesitated, “I know your thoughts without having to have them communicated to be directly. Why the insistence on technology?”
The King looked at his wife, “I don’t know. Maybe their culture evolved toward technology instead of towards interpersonal communication and self awareness. Do you realize that they have no concept of family? They breed, but there is no idea of permanent association. Younglings are raised by the entire community. The mature adults live as completely connected individuals. They like to think of it as ‘one’ family.”
It was rare for the family to dine in the kitchen in the palace, but these were rare times. When they were at home, it was very common for the family to sit in the kitchen and rare that they used their dining room. When they were in the palace they normally presented themselves as the ‘royal family’. Tonight, though, the King’s wife had dinner served in the kitchen. It was important to her that they just be a family, at least for a short time, tonight. She knew they couldn’t push off the world for the entire night, but she wanted it, and she knew that her husband an her son needed it. At home, dinner in the kitchen, would turn into a whole night affair. They would eat continuously and drink, and the night would stretch out with stories and games and laughter and…and…and just being a family. Some night their son would wander off to his own affairs and leave the husband and wife to carry on. They would talk of simpler times and their land and traveling again to see their world. They would talk about times after his rule had been handed off to their son. It was her favorite thing to do…be with her family. Tonight, the mood was not as light as it normally would be. They had done their best to let the world drift away and be the family they had always been. They had laughed uncontrollably when dad’s true clumsy self had come out and he had spilt his last bierrant that he had imported from their home. They smiled at the son’s telling of the boys and girls that circled around the palace. It seemed that above all else the timeless courtship of male and female would never end.
The Queen had given the kitchen staff the night off and had ordered the Palace Guards to keep everyone out of the kitchen wing. She cleared the dinnerware herself. As she did so, the King’s son took on a serious look. He pulled out his data tablet and projected information, time-lines, military status, schematics, personnel, etc, for them both to see. “We need to go over a few last minute details. There won’t be time or opportunity tomorrow before the procedure.”
The Queen sighed. “So soon”, she thought, but she knew it was more than she could have hoped. She also wanted and needed to hear this.
The King studied the information for a bit, nodding his head, in silence. The son spoke up on a topic for the first time since his father had made a decision, now, almost a decant, a 10th of their seasonal year, ago. “Are you certain that you want to do this?” The King fixed a stare on his son and then it melted into a knowing look. “I can do it, if it needs to be done. I am better suited for it. I know the technology better. I know how it works. They wanted me to be the one anyway. I can do this.”
The King smiled at the son as The Queen came back to stand by the dining area. Her face had a tight smile of pride, and her eyes shifted from soft sadness to a worried intent. She fought back tears and touched her son’s face. “This is for your father and me, my son. Your time is fast approaching but it is not here yet.”
The King looked at his wife like he had so many times before, with complete amazement and love. She always understood intuitively what was in his head and heart. She was still a mystery to him, never ceasing to amaze him. She, of course, didn’t see it that way. She always smiled when he looked at her in this way. She liked that he was oblivious to her understanding and loved that he was oblivious to his own understanding of her. He spent so little time looking inside himself. This process of getting him to find a place of complete stillness was easily the most he had ever spent considering his own being.
The King pulled his look away from his wife and back to his son, “Your mother is right, of course. While your love for me is overwhelming, this is not your duty. Plus, I may not know the technology as you do, but you and your mother have prepared me to succeed. I am not so old that I can not still learn from those smarter than I am.” The son dipped his head in embarrassment. He had not meant to insinuate that his father wasn’t smart enough. He knew so much better how smart his father actually was. As the son raised his head, the King smiled the smile he gave his guard when he would slip away from them just to tweak their noses and prove to himself that he still could. The son let a small smile cross his face. “Besides, the truth is that you need to coordinate our response teams. There will be a lot less confusion if those commands come from you. Are your commanders and task forces in place?”
“Yes. We moved them into defensive positions as security and crowd control for the procedure. This was actually a welcomed gesture by the Saitiens.
“And our own operational security?”
“Intact. No one besides the three of us no the full plan. I didn’t want to risk telling anyone. With the Saitiens abilities, even the slightest deviation would be analyzed and the likeliness of our deception exposed. Our scientists know, obviously, but only what they’ve analyzed as a weakness. We will be using the ‘project resist’ plans that we put into place several decants prior to the takeover. I believe that our commanders will recognize the time and opportunity and will respond even without prior warning.”
“Any idea what the reaction time will be or how far the extent will be?”
“No, we’ve been running simulations for decants now, but we simply don’t have enough information.”
“And you will know when to make your move?”
“When mom tells me to.”
The King glanced at his wife. “I will know”, she simply said.
The King nodded. “OK then; anything else?”
The son shook his head negatively.
“Then let’s secure this information away, and I have a few more family items.” The projections ended and the son pushed his data tablet to the side. “Son”, he started, “Your time to rule is soon. You have done well, so far, in managing yourself and your affairs and surrounding yourself with people you trust. That will become even more important as you take over ruling. You will need a confidant.”
The son shifted a little uncomfortably in his chair. He knew where this conversation was going. “Father, …”
“Hush”, came the King’s retort. “Son, I am not going to tell you that you need to get married. What I will tell you is that you will need someone that you can trust unconditionally and that trust can only be found in one that you truly love and one that truly loves you. Those people are rare…your mother and me, of course, but beyond that for you….” He let his voice trail off. “There is someone else for you. Do not marry for any other reason than love, but”, he continued cautiously, “don’t let it slip by either. Remember, always, that your mother and I love you with our whole heart. If you are uncertain about anything, ask.”
The son could only nod as he held back tears. He raised his head and looked at his parents. He smiled. It was time for him to leave. “It is late for me and tomorrow is a busy day. I will see you both in the morning.”
Their son took his leave and left the couple sitting at the table. She gazed at him for a short while. She felt like there was so much left to say and yet knew that there was nothing that needed to be said. Each knew the others thoughts. All the words had been spoken so many times before. Then, the one thing she knew he struggled with came to mind. She took his hand and he lifted his eyes to her. “I will be there on the other side of all this.” His eyes flickered. “I promise.” The King leaned in and kissed his wife.
They stood and left the kitchen and dining wing. The King’s guard lead and trailed them at respectful distances as they walked silently to the residence. He had her arm in his and she leaned in on him as they walked. They made love that night as husband and wife, man and woman. They knew each other so very well, knew every part of each others body better then they knew their own. Their love was passionate but not carefree, and they made love throughout the night, alternately fading to sleep and rousing each other, neither wanting to let go of the night, as if their love making could delay the coming day.
The binary star system gave their night a peculiar glow, as no part of their world was ever totally without light. The ‘night light’, as they called it, drifted through the windows in the residence even though the residence was positioned to be shadowed by the mountain for optimal rest. His Queen had finally drifted to sleep. Her dark navy blue skin glistened under the ‘night light’. He laid quietly watching her. His thoughts drifted to a simpler time when their world was their own. As he laid there, lost in his own thoughts and the view of his wife, the morning began to break. The light increased sharply as the binary stars came into view.
The day was beautiful. One of the days that had elevated their world to almost legendary status. The twin stars both showed brightly in the clear emerald sky. The King always loved the feel of the suns on his skin. It always made him feel like he was one with his world.
The procedure would be simple enough. So simple, in fact, that it would be done publicly and viewed across the various data nets. Many thought that the process was organic, that it ‘grew’ into the data paths of the brain. This was true in a sense, but in reality the procedure was carried out by nanobots that built the new data paths and tied them into the the brain’s structure. The King would be sitting reclined, more to help him relax than anything else, and the nanobots would be injected into his neck. The reaction would not be immediate. It would take time for the nanobots to construct the data connections. It would take hours for the entire network to be in place but only minutes for the first connections to be made and the first low powered signals to be transmitted and received.
The King strode out onto the dais. His mere presence completely commanded the attendees attention. The Chancellor bristled with envy at his ability to do so. The King stopped to formally greet the Chancellor and then turned and stood next to the recliner. It struck the King how ironic it was that the recliner was dressed up to resemble his thrown. He stood there for a moment scanning the crowd, letting the crowd’s applause rise and letting the murmurs settle, but, in reality, he was searching to find exactly where is wife was and exactly where his son was. Then he settled into the chair. The Saitien technicians immediately approached and checked to see if the King was comfortable. He asked for a moment, closed his eyes, and tried to relax. A passed, then another. The crowd started to rumble. The anxiety of the Saitien dignitaries on the dais started to rise. Finally, the King nodded; his eyes still closed. The dignitaries all began to inch closer to the edge of their seats. The technicians approached and injected the King.
passed and the expectation rose. It was like waiting for a shuttle to break through the ionosphere and communication to be reestablished. The Chancellor consciously searched the data-streams for evidence of the King’s presence in the net. His proximity would allow him to be one of the first to share the King’s knowledge. The King’s son stood just off the dais. In his hand, he held his palm-sized data tablet. He did not watch the proceedings but kept an eye on his mother. The King’s wife sat quietly, still; her eyes closed.
The King, at once, knew everything and nothing. He knew the first data connections were in place and should be transmitting. He could feel others searching for him. It felt as if they were knocking on the door, demanding that he open up to their requests.
Then he let go. He could feel the connections crash onto him like the great waves off the coast of his home hammering the 100M Kryeon cliffs. He held himself in his sanctuary but could feel…what? It felt like this thoughts were tethered, strung on ropes and were pulled on by others’ thoughts and as his own thoughts changed they pulled back. It was truly amazing. Quickly, he learned that he could be passive and just ‘know’ what was at the other end of the rope or he could ‘crawl’ down the rope and pull in more and more detail including who was on the other end. Thread was probably a better notion than rope as there were hundreds, thousands, and they were multiplying exponentially, and it wasn’t really crawling. It was more like plucking a string of an instrument and feeling the vibration transmitting data back. It was easy and…natural? No, not natural, but very intuitive. The threads, in fact, were sorted, organized. Connections and groupings happened automatically and at amazing speed. Ideas and facts that might be related were available along a thread and connects that others had made were known as well. It was all so tempting, amazing, enticing.
The King knew that he was just being petulant, but either his pride or ego or some other flaw in his nature wouldn’t let it pass. He plucked hard on a thread that he learned would lead him to the Chancellor.
The King’s wife opened her eyes and sought out her son. He was where she knew he would be. She caught his eye and simply nodded. He quickly tapped a few commands into his palm data-pad and nodded back to his mother. Almost immediately, throughout the Kingdom, specialized troops, trained for specific scenarios, began moving at the command.
What mentally seemed like took noticeable time, in reality, was only a moment as information spread through the massive parallel network in the brain. The Saitien central processor was even more efficient than a human’s. As information flowed, in that moment, the Chancellor knew — even more so than when he ‘knew’ how dominate his species was — He knew now that the seemingly futile attempt to extend the war was really intended to buy the time for the King’s engineers, doctors, and scientists to learn about the Saitiens and ultimately something about how their technology worked. He knew how important the King’s people sense of individuality, culture, and being is to them. He knew too that the virus was about to attack everyone and everything on the Saitien network. He knew they had actually lost. He knew that fear alone would cause his world to sever all ties to the network and control of the King’s world, and ultimately he knew that he was likely to die. He sent a warning out to the network.
The virus spread out from the King, and as he let it go, it attacked him as well. The virus was designed to inhibit the communication paths of the Saitien’s network. In doing so, it would also, likely, inhibit the communication of the processing units of the brains that were connected to the network. Paralysis, brain death, or actual death would likely occur.
The virus would spread at the speed of all other data on the net as it simply appeared as a piece of data, a thread — a thought– The Saitiens didn’t even fully understand how the data in their network was processed. Ultimately that’s really what the virus was — a thought. It was a series of ideas, not just data entities, that instructed the processing units to shut down.
Almost immediately every Saitien in the auditorium convulsed, fainted, went dull, or died. With the intense interest of the event, the virus flew across he network. The Chancellor’s warning spread as quickly by the nature of their network, but the individual focus allowed the connections to the virus to be stronger; those threads to be plucked harder and more frequently.
The King closed his eyes. His own thoughts shutting down. In the space between, he found his wife as she physically rushed to him to hold him.
Binary Star by Scott Senften is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.