The Eden Project 1
The King is dead. Long live the Queen.
Sera has no memory of her life before the androids revolted against their human masters. Nine years ago, she was found in the kitchen’s waste pile, deep in the bowels of the great Capital Ship—no longer led by the Gift-enhanced king and queen, but by cruel taskmasters who delight in a monstrous parody of royal life.
Sera might not remember who she is, but she is no ordinary girl. She has Gifts in her DNA, the key to humanity's future—to their very survival. And though she has few friends and even fewer options, she won’t stand by while the androids systematically eradicate human life.
She will save humanity—or they will all die.
NINE YEARS EARLIER
A pulse of corrupted code sparks through the ship’s programming and I lurch forward, my cataloging of the day’s activities interrupted. It only takes a brief inquiry, sent through secure channels, to determine the android crew has mutinied. Danger lies everywhere—in every data up-link, every surveillance mechanism. The ship itself could be an enemy.
For all my programming, all my training, there are no courses of action assigned to this possibility. This is not a possibility. Servants are not capable of turning against the humans entrusted to our care.
It is not possible.
And yet, it has occurred.
I straighten and take a few extra seconds to shut down all of my communication strands, separating myself, shutting everything out. Rapping my knuckles against the washroom door, I push it open without waiting for a reply. “Come, Sera. Come now.”
She jerks her head out from under the water in the wide tub, the surface bobbing with the small ships and creatures that keep her company there. “What?”
“There’s been a coup. The Servants are mutinying. You must come with me now.”
Serantha stares at me, her dark brown eyes wide with intelligent curiosity. “It’s not possible for the Servants to mutiny. They’re created to Serve.”
I hold out the towel and close my eyes, but don’t answer. She steps out of the tub and into the towel that I wrap around her. I keep my eyes closed until I know she is entirely covered, even though, as a Servant—as Sera’s Servant since before her conception—she hardly has need of modesty with me. Still, she is ten years old and beginning to embrace her role as Daughter of the West and so I acquiesce to her wishes.
She picks up a second towel and scrubs it over her long hair.
A blast rocks the hall outside and loud voices shout over the electric patta-pat-pat of the stun guns the guards carry. I don’t dare seek the status of things by connecting to the ship so I have to assume the worst. I have to protect Serantha at all costs.
“Here, Sera.” I pick up a grooming rod and select cut from the presets.
“No.” She shakes her head in proud defiance. Her hair is her great vanity, I know.
“There’s no time. You must hide and you will not be able to do so as long as you are the only girl on the ship with hair down to her bottom. When she makes no move to join me, I enlist the aid of my symbiants—commanding the tiny tech in her DNA that binds us to draw her nearer.
“How dare you?” she seethes with all the royal pride she can muster.
I grab her shoulders and level my eyes with hers. “You are in danger. It is my job to protect you.” Her eyes are wide and I see my own reflected in hers so clearly the tiny filaments that cross my pupils are visible. I soften my grip. “You understand me, don’t you?”
Slowly she nods, her gaze never leaving mine.
A blast from something more substantial than a stun gun sounds from outside. Serantha turns so her back is to me while I program the grooming rod and run it over her hair. Her shoulders tremble as her long caramel waves fall to the floor at our feet.
With one foot, I swipe the hair toward the baseboard waste chute while turning away from Sera to pull a nightgown—the only clothing she has in here—from the hook behind the door.
Her symbiants fill the silence between us with information. She is frightened, confused, angry. I struggle to transmit only feelings of calm determination. There is no time for fear, and we are not in a position to fight.
We need to hide. To wait. To survive. That is our job, our only job, for the moment.
The last of the hair has been sucked into the baseboard waste chute when Sera cries out and doubles over, her hands clenched around her stomach. Outside, the silence is more terrifying than the sound of gunfire moments before.
“Mother,” Sera gasps.
The connection to her mother is slight compared to what Serantha shares with me, as they are only connected by the symbiants transferred during gestation, but it is certainly strong enough to know when her mother has been terminated. And I fear that is not the last of the traitors’ designs. Any coup would not be complete until the entire royal family is eliminated. As long as one of them survives, there would yet be hope for humanity—only complete extermination will answer the traitors’ play for supremacy.
I slip the gown over Serantha’s short, damp hair. “If anyone asks you, your name is Sera—nothing more. And . . .” A thump from the hallway stops my words. I am not human. I don’t possess a heart, an adrenal gland—any of the things that would spark the fear response in a human. And yet . . . every particle of my body sings with the need to run, hide, protect Sera.
She feels my urgency, my need, so when I wrap my arm around her waist and lift her off the ground, she doesn’t resist. We slip through the door to her bedroom, and toward the one on the opposite side of the room.
I open it a crack to take stock of the situation in the hall. I can see the edge of the living area beyond, and although nothing moves, I suspect the presence of bodies, but without connecting with the ship I can’t be certain. The hallway appears empty, so I lower Sera to her feet and gesture for her to follow closely behind me. When she tucks herself up against my back, I take her hand in mine.
Quickly, and with only a whisper of sound, we creep into the hall. I lead her toward the suite’s exit, desperation forcing me to create a secure connection to the ship so I can scan the blueprints. I need to find a place to hide. A place where Serantha will be safe.
I pull Sera behind me, and hustle forward. The kitchen is ahead, and beyond that a lesser-known hall to the support transport. We have just entered the kitchen when Galen steps into the room from the living area.
My shoulders sag with relief. “Galen, thank goodness.” I lean against the narrow, black counter. “What is going on?”
Galen sets his pulse gun on the counter, but keeps his hand on its grip. Galen is the Primary for the ship’s flight crew, so it’s not unusual to see a weapon in his hand—but the casual, almost arrogant way he holds it tells me all I need to know.
I am a fool. The coup is led by Servants. I know this. Knew it from the moment I saw how completely they hijacked the ship’s data, how swiftly they commandeered the ship’s systems.
Galen is a traitor.
I am aware of Serantha waiting in the shadows at the back of the kitchen. Stay still. Stay hidden, I tell her through my symbiants. I allow her full access to them so she can see for herself how complete this mutiny is. She is a smart girl—she will not reveal herself.
Galen chuckles. “You must be even more aware of this than I, old friend. Surely you see that the humans are not evolving—while we are.”
I hold his gaze, willing myself to give nothing away. “It’s true we are more than capable.” I nod, hoping he’ll take what he wants from my statement. I search his eyes for the sparking neurons which would indicate a malfunction of his neurostem, but I see nothing. Nothing but my old friend, my birth mate.
Galen steps nearer, his eyes flicking around the kitchen. “Where is she?”
Galen sighs and levels a condescending glare at me.
“In the washroom. Having her nightly bath.”
A shadow of doubt passes over his eyes. “Then what are you doing in the kitchen?” He takes a step closer, but I do not yield. He is so near I can see the hair follicles on his skin, clearly see the fine silver filaments running through his pupils, the puckers of skin on his lips.
“She enjoys a snack after her bath.”
He is a different model in appearance than I, slightly shorter with a broad body. Modeled after the human’s ideal soldier, his body is compact and strong, his eyes sharp. I calculate my ability to overwhelm him, but his programming and training give him the advantage and I am aware that three more Servants wait in the living quarters. Why they stay out of sight, I can only guess.
Likely, he hopes to ascertain my loyalty before he threatens physical force.
I gesture to the hallway, to the direction I just came from. “I’ll fetch her.”
Galen bows his head. “Please do.”
“Why don’t you wait in the living area?”
Galen takes one direct look around the small kitchen before nodding slightly and stepping into the other room.
I whip around and throw myself at Sera. I press my palm firmly against her forehead while I push her backwards. I’m sorry Sera. Remember I love you. I shake my head sharply. Remember you are loved. And I command my symbiants to wipe her memory of me, her parents and her part in the Eden Project, while I shove her backward into the small garbage chute. A startled whimper escapes her lips, but I hope, I hope, it is not enough to be heard.
I turn away just as Galen, flanked by two armed guards, steps past the partial wall that blocks this part of the kitchen from view.
Galen considers me. Outwardly, he appears unruffled, as if we’ve only met for a casual discussion. He doesn’t appear to be a madman who just killed the King and Queen and who seeks to destroy the only living heir—a defenseless child whose only fault is that she was born human.
But she is not merely human, and I hope it is enough to keep her safe.
Galen spreads his hands wide and his lips quirk upward. It is meant to be a smile, to put me at ease, but it has the opposite effect. He flicks his hand toward the door behind me. “Find her.”
The guards shove past me. They’ll not find her in the hall, though they may take the transport down to the support levels, thinking she escaped that way. I hope they don’t guess the truth.
With grim determination I do something that goes against all of my programming. I wipe Serantha from my accessible memory. I locate the module in the center of my being, the device that stores the Gifts and all the protocols relating to my calling as Servant, and lock it away, stripping the codes—expunging everything that might identify it for what it is.
I have not yet received confirmation that the system reboot has been successful when Galen nods once and pain rockets through my neck, shorting out my nervous system. My vision, my awareness, is gone before I hit the floor.