Deep in the heart of an alien mountain range, I.C.C. has lain dormant, its ships silent, for eons. Now, after one hundred thousand years, the AI is awakening. Someone is roaming the convoy’s halls—someone that isn’t human….
The journey that began with Noumenon and Noumenon Infinity continues in Marina J. Lostetter’s Noumenon Ultra—available now from Harper Voyager. Read an excerpt below!
Deep in the heart of an alien mountain range, I.C.C. has lain dormant, its ships silent, for eons. Now, after one hundred thousand years, the AI is awakening. Someone is roaming the convoy’s halls—someone that isn’t human.
This planet, Noumenon—created by the megastructure known as the Web—is too young and brutal to have evolved intelligent life. Its surface is bombarded by unusual meteors. Crystal trees abruptly and violently arise from its bedrock. Its solar system is surrounded by a frightening space-time anomaly. So where did these visitors come from? What do they want? And do the people of Earth, whose ancestors launched Convoy Seven, know they are here?
I.C.C. reaches out to the descendants of its convoy crew to help decipher this primordial riddle. Noumenon was created and seeded by ancient aliens, and clearly their plans for it are unfinished. Together, the AI, the new lifeforms who have awakened it, and the humans will embark on an epic adventure of discovery billions of years in the making.
Ivan only vaguely recalled that his name was Ivan. In the dream, his name was a sense of reach, of mental touch by another dreamer. He’d been told his name—the word, the letters, the sounds of it—when he’d first joined the dream. Only a few weeks out of the tank.
Cloning tank to dreamer. One womb to the next.
He’d been studying Nataré records just now, while letting an emotive symphony swell through him, reading a book that two other dreamers were currently writing and rewriting in real time as he read, and allowing the sensation of soft kittens to travel over his fingers. He liked blue, and all of his world was blue today.
But there was that annoying sound again. One he heard with his ears, not in the dream. Was today… ? No, it couldn’t be. Not yet.
Had his time to be caretaker come already?
Why hadn’t the current caretaker come to him in the collective? Why hadn’t they prepared him in the dream?
His limbs convulsed. His real limbs—the ones attached to his actual body.
Everything tightened, everything pulled. All his muscles contracted at once. He could sense his skin stretching around the anchor bolts that kept the exoskeleton screwed solidly to his bones. Things twisted—his spine twisted. He wasn’t supposed to be able to feel his spine.
His eyes opened.
Air, he could feel the air on his eyeballs and it was unnatural.
It was dark all around—thank the ships for small favors— but there was a shape right in front of him. Too close. It was blurry and pale. Everything was blurry, he realized. His eyes hadn’t tried to focus for years.
Taking stock of what he could, he noticed he was standing, his exoskeleton held upright by the hydraulics and wires attached to tracks in the ceiling. There were other figures nearby, as they should be. Their bodies played out scenes here in meat-space, letting their muscles work, their bones and organs experiencing some level of stress. It helped keep them healthy on the inside, which was all that mattered.
Last time he’d had his eyes open he’d been in a group of other children, their exoskeletons playing a wires-and- tubing friendly version of leap-frog. A group of autons had settled him into place, their robotic faces blank but their touch gentle—they were consciously guided by other dreamers, of course. The crew still had to perform in the “real world,” and they did it through these extensions—how else could they obtain samples and records when they visited new locations on the Nataré map? But all the intellectual work was done in the dream.
The autons had been transferring him into his adult exoskeleton that day. The last exoskeleton he’d ever need.
At some point in his life he’d been transferred out of his first small exoskeleton into his toddler exoskeleton, and then into increasingly larger ones to fit his growing form. He had teetered on the edge of awakeness each time, but had never fully reached it, and he couldn’t remember most of the configurations of the crew around him, what mime of a task they’d been performing. Though the dream made memories clearer, he had trouble settling on which memories were his. The dream was collective, the dream was all, and the younger he was when a memory was formed, the more like everyone else’s memories it seemed.
Ivan wasn’t sure how old he was now—fully grown, though, for certain. He’d been able to do three lifetimes’ worth of professional study so far in the dream. That was why the crew had given up meat-space, after all. The dream made so much more possible.
Fully grown and fully capable. And now he had to face a responsibility he’d always dreaded.
“Ivan!” said the pale shape again.
“I think you are supposed to call me Doctor Baraka,” he tried to say. Tried. But his mouth had never fully formed words before, and his tongue was underdeveloped and clumsy.
“Don’a try to speak, not yet,” said the shape. There was a sharp creak as the shape moved. Hands came up to Ivan’s face, drew back his lips, looked at his teeth. “Not a grinda, good.”
I’m not supposed to be awake yet, not for another year in real time at least, Ivan tried to say with his expression. But his face felt stiff, skin too taut. Why not come to me in the dream first? Why am I awake?
“You’a confused,” the shape said. Slowly, Ivan’s eyes were adjusting. He could see the outline of a face now. He might see more, if the person backed up. They were so close his eyes nearly crossed trying to focus. “I see… I see the confusion. But I couldn’t inside. Inside everyone knows all at once. I needed… need just one. One first, then the others.”
The figure made a gesture with one arm—a movement too fast for the automated system. This person was in full control of their own exoskeleton. They had to be the current caretaker, Hilaria Neciosup, but what she was saying made no sense.
Or was that just because Ivan wasn’t used to words?
Ivan’s body lurched. His exoskeleton lifted off the floor, the entire weight of it suspended from the ceiling.
The clack clack clack of wheels turning over followed him as the system carried him off, through the darkened husk of the ship. “Where—?” he tried to ask, but she was gone, left behind by the pulleys.
The wires pulled him higher, so that he could fly above the clusters of his crewmates. Those he’d been with had been posed playing a game of some kind. The pieces were nonexistent—as it was only the movements that were important, not the items—so it had been impossible to tell which. Now he wound through people casually leaning against a bar, as though having drinks at a party. Two individuals were wrestling, another group playing some kind of team sport. There—babies! A group of adults, surrounded by the autons they controlled, held them close. The autons were in constant motion, seeing to the infants’ real-world needs, while the crew members’ bodies provided all-important human contact.
The darkness allowed his weak eyes to take in shapes and silhouettes, along with minimal definition, without being injured. Nutrients that were typically synthesized via light exposure were pumped in through one of the various IVs stuck throughout his body. But still, everything about this—outside the dream—was alien. In the dream, things were only quiet when you wanted them to be. Everything was brightness, action, socialization, learning, progress. Nothing stilled unless you asked it to. There was no aloneness unless you sought it.
And the scents of the dream—vibrant, always pleasant. Here everything smelled of… nothing. A constant scent so familiar to his olfactory senses that his nose no longer properly registered the smell.
Ivan was fairly sure he’d never experienced true darkness—not like this. The dream allowed them to rest different parts of their brains at different times, so as long as he was hooked up, he was never truly unconscious. It was a dream, but it was not sleep.
Excerpted from the book Noumenon Ultra by Marina J. Lostetter. Copyright © 2020 by Little Lost Stories, LLC. From Harper Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.