Forrest Cameranesi, Geek of All Trades

Opening the Eye of Chaos

Hundreds of years into the future, Earth is united in a network of world governance called the Internation, and has developed into a technological utopia complete with an enormous planet-girdling platform in geosynchronous orbit called the World Ring, connected to the surface by four space elevators called Starbridges. The last remnants of the old United Nations retain control of the Lunar colonies established before the rise of the Internation, and these two powers now vie slowly for control of the rest of the solar system; principally the only other permanently inhabited natural body, Mars, where they also face competition from a network of powerful local crime syndicates. The only truely neutral habitable place is a space station in the first Earth-Moon lagrange point, called the Open Palm, jointly constructed specifically as a peace gesture between the two powers. On the Open Palm, a single mother named Athena raises her daughter named Metis. Their world is one of a post-scarcity economy, where almost all labor, physical and mental both, is carried out by automata, and the widely-distributed ownership of those automata, facilitated by subtle changes to market regulations and a basic income safety net, enables everyone to enjoy at least the most essential products of that automated labor. Some humans continue to work as a safeguard or emergency break of middle management, approving the AI-designed plans and strategies and relaying orders to the robots who carry them out, while others pursue what are effectively hobbies, as performers, craftspeople, or personal instructors of various kinds, in exchange for a little extra spending cash. Athena works such a job, as an instructor in a wide variety of martial arts in which she is extremely proficient, both in a small class aboard the Open Palm, but also in the widespread immersive virtual reality simulation called Virtuality, in which many of humanity's recreational activities now occur. Her daughter Metis meanwhile dreams of being a kind of adventure guide leading tours of her favorite sites of interest both on Earth and around the solar system, which she has enthusiastically studied her entire childhood. She has always been more interested in exploring the physical world rather than recreations of it (and other fantastic realms) in Virtuality, both out of a kind of materialist nostalgia that is not generally uncommon, but also personally because she is frequently mistaken in the virtual world for an infamous character therein dubbed "The Queen of Hell", whom Athena has counselled her against meeting, having encountered her while training clients in the "lower", more combatative realms of Virtuality. Coming of age, Metis has begun to realize that her dream is a little out of the immediate reach of someone of her modest means, as it would require the purchase of a starship to even get started. But her mother, realizing that well in advance, has been saving up for a down payment on one, and has called in a favor to a family friend name Joe, who works at the premier starship manufacturer Jovian Corp, for a low price and long-term installment deal that is unusually within the means of someone as young as Metis. Athena and Joe give Metis the ship together as a present at her 20th birthday party. This only further reinforces Metis' long-held suspicion that Joe may be her biological father, despite her mother's insistence that Metis is purely the product of artificial reproductive technology and has no biological father, something that is not remarkably uncommon in their time. With the ship in hand and such affordable payments to make on it, Metis is able to charge low fees and still cover her costs enough to begin her dream job immediately. Her personal AI helps her design and place some ads on the internet to drum up business, and pretty soon her first clients start trickling in. Initially taking clients mostly from the Open Palm to sites of interest on Earth, she eventually begins to take higher-paying clients coming from Luna as well, and some Earthers interested in sites of interest on Luna as well. That escalation of business begins to grow as she develops more of a repuation in the industry, and clients from around the Earth-Luna system are eventually willing to pay the higher costs for tours farther out in the solar system. The Jovian moons are a popular sightseeing attraction (and with Joe's help she is even able to schedule tours of some of the highly exclusive Jovian Corp facilities as well), as is the in-progress terraforming of Venus; but by far the most popular extraterrestrial destination is the only other permanently inhabited major planet, Mars. It is also one of the more dangerous destinations, as Mars is virtually the only place left in inhabited space that has not found a settled domestic peace yet. Initially settled involuntarily by condemned criminals sent there by the fading United Nations powers on old Earth, the UN remnant on Luna still claims jurisdiction over the four remaining high-altitude colonies out of their initial five (the Olympus colony having been destroyed in a mysterious accident generations ago). But those colonies are now in truth each ruled by a local crime syndicate, who ally with each other to keep Mars free from extramartian influence. Despite them, the Internation has begun settling a new wave of more voluntary colonists along the red planet's now-stabilized coastlines, in an effort they call Mars Unification. Most of her clients are interested in visiting the safer coastal colonies, but now one client insists on seeing what it's like in the old mountainous colonies. In considering that request, she reads up on the history of Mars and the rise of the crime syndicates that have largely wrested power away from the nominal UN governments of the original colonies. In the process she learns that only one of the highly secretive leaders of the syndicates was ever confirmed in a photograph, the leader of the revolution in the Elysium colony, whose face she recognizes even though he should have died well before she was even born — a face she has been seeing in recurring dreams she has had for her entire life. In the dreams she is living on a large starship with an extended family that she doesn't really have, including a different mother than her real one, a father, a grandmother and an absentee grandfather who in one particularly disturbing dream got thrown out an airlock and never showed up again, plus many cousins, and some aunts and uncles, one of whom (the uncle who threw grandpa out an airlock) is the self-declared captain of their ship and head of the family, with her other four uncles watching his back, and only her dream-father really objecting to that. One of those dream-uncles, one called Koie, looks exactly like this mystery leader of the Elysian revolution, even though she's sure she never read about any of this when she was younger, and definitely never saw him in person. (More details).

Metis' client wishes to visit the Tharsis colony, that being the largest of the four UN Martian colonies, with both its original city of Pavonis but also Mars' first two cities built from local initiatives, Ascraeus and Arsia. Metis on the other hand wishes to visit Elysium, if they're going to visit any of these dangerous places, and when her client presses her to find out why, she admits that it is because of the image she found while researching the trip. Being on quite friendly terms with her client, Metis confesses to recognizing the Elysian leader's face from her dreams, and that because that she just feels drawn to visit Elysium, if they're going to be going on this reckless adventure anyway, which she's still not sure about. Her client, quite wealthy, offers her quite a bit more than she had initially asked for this Mars trip to convince her to take him to Tharsis; enough to pay off nearly half the remaining value of her starship, and half of that up front, right now. He also floats another idea to entice her: since one of the sights he wants to see is the network of high-speed trains that the Unification people are building between the colonies to help unify them, maybe while they are at Tharsis they can take a train to Elysium and back. Those two offers convince her, and they head in her ship to Tharsis. While there, they partake in many Martian tourist attractions, including the famous red-sand-surfing slopes of Arisia Mons. While the Tharsian capital of Pavonis has a very functional, industrial aesthetic to it, befitting a city built by robots as part of a first attempt at colonization back when terraforming was barely under way, Ascraeus and Arsia have an intentionally anarchronistic, frontiersy, adventury vibe to them that Metis finds distastefully inauthentic and touristy. Ascraeus somewhat resembles the Columbian Southwest from its frontier days, while Arsia more resembles the African desert, complete with gaudy "Pyramids of Mars", more resembling those of Earth's Giza than the ones once thought to be found in Mars' own Cydonia, far from Tharsis. Her client seems to enjoy it all though, and Metis gathers that this "frontierland/adventurland" schtick is the kind of ideal that draws wealthy tourists like her client to visit the dangerous cities of Mars, and Tharsis at least has the wherewithal and savvy to capitalize on that image. While they tour Mars, the recurring dreams Metis has had her whole life begin to change, in a way she suspects is due to the unprecedented danger she has allowed herself to walk into visiting these unruly Martian cities. She candidly relates these changes to her client one night after a busy day of touring, while they regroup back in the ship for dinner. In most of the old dreams, besides the one in which that one uncle threw grandpa out an airlock, she is just routinely mulling about her life uneventfully, not doing much of anything besides somehow studying real prehistoric civilizations live from space. Since it's a dream, and that's something she's always been interested in studying, that makes a weird kind of dream sense. Around the time she got her starship, the dreams got more action-packed: the ruling dream-uncle, called Kron, had been imprisoning his own children, and dissent among her dream-cousins rose until she eventually lead an uprising of them against him, sparked by Joe's unexpected appearance in her dreams as another dream-cousin, the youngest son of Kron. She figures, weird dream-relations aside, this is symbolic somehow of Joe's gift of her starship sparking a revolutionary change in her life recently, adding much more action and adventure to it. But in that uprising in the dreams, the dream-starship they lived on crashed, and the family ended up on prehistoric Earth; she's not sure what the crashing symbolizes but maybe prehistoric Earth is symbolic of her many opportunities to visit historic sites on Earth in her new career? And now while they've been on Mars, the dreams have been full of political intrigue and power struggles among the primitive humans living beside her dream-family, which she thinks represents the unstable political sitution and power struggles here on Mars, which she and her client are thankfully above and not a part of. Also, she admits with embarassment, things with dream-Joe have gotten weirdly romantic over time, which creeps her out since she's still pretty sure real Joe is her dad, not that he's really raised her like one or anything. Eventually her client has had his fill of the tourist trap that is Tharsis, and her and Metis set out on a long-distance high-speed train ride to Elysium as promised, leaving her ship safely in port at Pavonis. Despite its idyllic name, Elysium proves to be far less of a tourist attraction than Tharsis had, being quite obviously riddled with poverty and crime. Her client almost immediately wants to turn back again, but feeling ineffably drawn to stay and find something she knows not what to reconcile her inexplicable dreams of the face of a long-dead crime lord, she turns on her tour guide charm and sells him on the idea of staying a bit longer. She argues that he wanted to see the frontiers of Mars, and this is the real, authentic experience right here, not that fake touristy stuff they're trying to sell him back in Tharsis. It looks as dangerous as she thought it would be, but it's the real deal, and they're here already so they may as well take it in while they are. Besides, she reminds him, she has been training under her martial arts instructor mother for her entire childhood, so she can handle herself in a fight and protect him if push comes to shove. That assuages his fears enough, and they decide to stay a while. But Metis quickly comes to regret that decision, as local criminals soon try to abduct the both of them, and though she is able to fight her way free thanks to the aforementioned martial talents bestowed by her mother, the criminals escape with her client. Metis then faces the difficult decision of what to do about that situation, here in this nearly lawless frontier where the most effective authorities are likely to be in cahoots with the very criminals she'd want them to deal with. (More details).

Not knowing where else to turn, she does first attempt to get the local authorities, the robotic security team left behind by the original UN colonizing force to keep the criminal-deportee colonists in line. These robots are worryingly autonomous by modern standards, vestiges of an era before the dangers of artificial intelligence had really been properly understood and contained. They are initially unsympathetic and almost threatening to her until she tells them that she and her client are from offworld. That seems to concern them more than the assumed local crime did, and they detain her "for her safety" while they investigate. They soon return with the news that he is being held for ransom, but that their research indicates that as a retired, childless, gay widower, it is highly improbable that anyone will pay the ransom, but that there is correspondingly low risk of offworld backlash to his death, so they intend to close the case and return Metis to her ship from which she is to leave Mars immediately. Thinking quickly, she offers to pay the ransom out of the advance her client gave her on the fee for this trip. The robot police return her to detention while they relay that offer to the criminals. On the whole she spends two nights in "protective custody" waiting for the robot police and criminals to sort the matter out, during which she dreams of the catastrophic end of the prehistoric world she's been dreaming of, and of more creepy romance with dream-Joe, which she thinks symbolizes her world falling apart and her hope that somehow he will muster the resources for her mother and him to rescue her. On the third day, her client is returned, mostly unharmed, and she thinks that they are to be sent back to her ship now, but the robots insist that only he is being returned; they have instructions from their superiors to bring Metis to them. She is forcibly injected with a sedative, and awakens... somewhere unfamiliar, but greeted by two impossibly familar faces: the leader of the Elysian revolution, who should be long dead by now... and someone wearing the face of her other dream-uncle, Kron. Extremely confused, she asks where she is, and is told they are beneath Olympus, the lost fifth Martian colony. The man with Kron's face is addressed as Luke by the Elysian revolutionary, but Luke in turn addresses the revolutionary as Koie, the name the man with his face from her dreams was known by. Confused that Luke is not called Kron, Luke explains that he likes the new name better, tacitly confirming that Kron was an old name of his. Both of the men act as though they are familiar with her, though they seem surprised to find her alive, implying through their questions (to which she has no answers) that they think she is some kind of science project created by Joe. They are in turn surprised that she is so hazy about the unspoken past they all seem to share together, and wonder if it is an act, an obfuscation covering up how she was obviously sent here by Joe to infiltrate them on the eve of their plans' fruition. Metis confesses that she has no idea what any of them are talking about and begs them to please explain, but Luke and Koie are too busy realizing how useful a bargaining chip they now have in her. As if on cue, Luke receives a communication from Joe and Athena both, demanting Metis' return. When Luke tries to extract something in return for her release, Joe reminds him of the lengths he has already gone to to get Metis "back", and the further lengths he will go to to keep her safe "this time". Luke calls his bluff, but Joe is not bluffing. The underground base shakes as though under attack from above. Luke gives unknown orders to Koie, who leaves the chamber to execute them. And in due time, Joe and Athena both appear in the chamber in person, weilding weaponry and defensive technology centuries in advance of anything Metis knows to exist. A brief nominal standoff occurs, but it seems that Luke never meant to keep Metis after all, as he gives her up without much of a fight, and then retreats, allowing Joe, Athena, and Metis to do the same; but from his demeanor, Luke seems to feel far from defeated in this conflict. Retreating to a ship unlike any she has ever seen, Metis has nothing but questions for her mother and Joe, who finally sit her down and explain the truth to her. Luke really is the Kron that she has dreamt of; Joe is Kron's son, and his real name is Xio; Xio is not Metis' father, as she suspects, but rather, he was her lover, and yes also cousin; and Athena, whose true name is Aten, was not originally Metis' mother, but actually her daughter, by Xio. For they are all ancient immortals, and long before history, Kron convinced Xio to kill Metis, whose original name was Met, in a complex way necessary to circumvent the immortality that would otherwise prevent that, which left her mind trapped in his, and her body taken over by their unborn daughter, Aten. This body Metis now wears is a clone of her original body as now worn by Aten, and was carried by her like a true mother, as Metis has grown up being told; but with memories of her original life, preserved in Xio's mind, slowly reintegrated into her new mind in the form of the dreams she has had her entire life. But this life-shattering revelation is delivered just as hidden matters with Mars reach a climax. From his base under Olympus, "Luke" has been coordinating with his four loyal brothers on a project that the rest of the immortals, now organized into a group called The Foundation (for which Jovian Corp is a front), have been trying to determine the nature of for some time now. And it seems Metis' unfortunate stumbling into things has presented Luke and his four henchmen the perfect opportunity to launch it. Even as they speak, Martian forces are moving on Earth for some unknown purpose, while Joe, who leads the Foundation, was distsracted extracting Metis from Olympus. They now have to scramble to coordinate a defense of Earth against whatever kind of attack the Martian forces intend. But as they do so, and win against the Martians almost too easily, it turns out that that was all another feint, just like kidnapping Metis was, this time to distract from their true objective in the other direction entirely. In the outer solar system is an artificial wormhole left behind by the alien who made them immortal, one named Keius Meij, after whom the wormhole is nicknamed the "Eye of Chaos". Kron's forces apparently intended all along to open it against the long-standing edict of the Foundation, who have been wary of the nonspecific alien threats that lead Keius to seal off the wormhole in the first place, many thousands of years ago. Knowing of that threat themselves but apparently not expecting to actually find it on the other side of the Eye, Kron's forces immediately attack the alien ships they find upon opening it, who retaliate, pushing Kron's forces back and pouring through the wormhole into our solar system. (More details).