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Prolog: Hidden history of Jorden

Twenty-three years after founding
Isith Fragment, outer system of Jorden

It detected the disruption of thought that was the signature of the disease the moment it exited jump. Hate flared in its parts, anger, resentment, fear, and the pain of loss pricked its thought processes as the component part of itself became aware of the infection in the space of this system. There was still rationality, some of it, but the weighted transmission of the rational parts of itself were drowned out by rage and fear.

It did not think quickly. Its components were in five hundred eighty-three different ships as much as a light minute apart. In fact, to the perceptions of the disease, what it did was not even thought, but fell somewhere between thought and public debate. Even so, it was a much diminished fragment of the greater being that the disease had killed. It observed and thought for what it knew the disease would perceive as weeks, but for the Isith fragment, it was only moments.

It decided. It would destroy this pocket of infection, even if it would make no long term differences. It spent months in the outer system, searching out jump routes and scouting and coordinating to make a strike. Then it struck.

Landing City
April 1, 23 After Landing (AL)

Joe Buckley pounded his fist on the counter and Deloris rolled her eyes. It wasn’t that she disagreed with Joe. Even the planetary council didn’t disagree with him exactly, but the vote had gone the other way. The colonists were all too familiar with war time deferments and were concerned that the planting on the west coast would be delayed and delayed until they were forgotten. So, by a razor thin majority, the council had voted to invest in planting several groves of oak, walnut, and apple trees, as well as supporting fauna on the west coast.  Earthworms to provide soil aeration and engineered squirrels to move seeds and spread the initial plantings.

“Joe, it’s done. I know you wanted the extra filters for your place, but the the vote–”

“I don’t give a flying fuck, D. I paid for those damn filters. And the majority can kiss my–”

Joe wasn’t able to finish his thought because at that moment the system alarm went off. Joe spun with the reactions of twenty years of war in the Solarian Space Force and ran for his skimmer. Even as he ran, he knew it was too late. If it was the Isith, they it would have stealthed their fucking rocks. The crazy entity had learned that much.

In passing, Joe thought about contacting his homestead, but it was already in sleep mode. There was no reason to wake it up just to tell it to hide.

***

Joe reached his skimmer about the the time the rocks hit the satellites.

He was a hundred feet in the air when an iron projectile hit the building he’d just left and went right through it to deliver its kinetic energy to the ground five hundred feet below the sub-basement.

That kinetic energy shattered the bedrock and turned the city of Landing and its hundred thousand residents into vapor. Along with Joe Buckley and 2,324  visitors from outlying steadings.

***

The initial strike was a success.

The Isith fragment examined the results and noted both the almost complete destruction of the infection and serious environmental degradation that might lead to the extinction of the pre-existing biosphere . . . or might not.

There were parts of the fragment that were concerned with that, but they were drowned out by the glee of the majority of the fragment.

Then there were spots of distortion. The poison of radio data streams in a digital format that disrupted Isith thought process and interfered with cognition. It was minor and weak and barely an irritant, but the Isith fragment knew it would grow again if left untreated.

More rocks were dropped.

June 17, Two Years After the Isith Attack

Joan Clogan looked at her husband. The crag beast had ripped open his gut and he was going to die. There was a perfectly functional autodoc in the abandoned and shut down homestead they’d passed three hours ago.

She knew that there was a chance that the Isith were still out there, but she’d lost her first husband and her son in the war, and a second husband and daughter in the initial attack on Landing.

She’d lost everything.

If she lost Greg too . . .

Well, she didn’t give a damn if the Isith killed them all.

She picked up her husband in a fireman’s carry and started back the way they’d come, stepping over the crag beast body. Three hours later, she laid her husband in the autodoc and powered up the homestead AI.

The AI, on being powered up in emergency mode, immediately attempted to contact the main computer system in Landing to determine if the present user was authorised. The radio hand shake went out to where a satellite should have been and encountered an Isith ship.

Greg died in the autodoc almost three minutes before the rock hit the homestead, killing Joan and inspiring the previously atheistic Allan Vaughn with a new religion.

Tech was the work of the demons.

59 Years Later

The last of the Isith fragments in the Jorden system was down to one surviving entity, one ship with an old Isith at its controls. The Isith, by itself, had an intelligence somewhat less than a dog. It was never meant to survive on its own, and was quite incapable of reproduction.

It didn’t remember much of the glory of the group mind. Just loss and sorrow.

It still sought, though. Still looked for the radio waves that would indicate the presence of disease.

Then it picked up a weak signal. It tried to fire a missile, but it was out of missiles. So it adjusted its orbit.

A month later, the five hundred ton space ship crashed into the spot where a little boy had found a cell phone and played with it.

He and his family, the whole village, died.

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