By Mark David Major
Canticle of MarinerisSecond Augury
Furies tear asunder the realm,
The lords of terra firma,
Gather to spawn their pose,
Against the Almighty’s ordained.
Break the binds and throw off the chains,
Adorned on Mars laughs and scoffs,
Then reproaches in anger,
And horrifies with wrath.
Convene a kingdom in the valley of Mars,
Proclaims the voice of God.
Son becomes Father and inherits the realm,
And the worlds in its possession.
He rules with a thistle scepter,
And crushes all into cinders.
Forewarned are you and your brothers,
Praise the curtain rising,
Lest you provoke a terrible fury,
And are destroyed along paths laid.
“The brighter the light of a civilization, the sooner it must burn away
so another can rise from its ashes.”
The Sovereignty had endured for a millennium. Many believed it would survive for the next thousand years. The three planets, Terra, Mars and Venus, their colonized satellites and other outposts of humanity in our solar system composed the Sovereignty. Long ago, the Sovereignty had tightly bound together the human race under the auspices of a single state. Technology allowed for swift movement between the planets, satellites, and far-flung outposts. Spacecraft filled with people and goods wandered from here to there and back again like a marvelously repetitive, celestial ballet. However, technology had not yet conquered the practical problems presented by the vast distances separating one planetary system from another in our galaxy or the curious effects of relativity, if one could travel such distances. This still confounded human ingenuity. What might exist beyond the limits of our own solar system remained a mystery. Early in the history of the Sovereignty, a few manned space flights with the capability to approach the threshold for the speed of light were propelled into deep space. At the time, many considered such expeditions to be pure folly. These blind thrusts into the darkest of nights were never heard from again. The silence about their fate formed the basis for whispered speculations that became the recipe for legends, myths, and horrors conjured to frighten small children. Thus, entire generations of humanity were traumatized about what monsters might dwell beyond the rim of our solar system and manned space flight outside the solar system was long ago abandoned as impractical and dangerous. Deep space exploration was left to the cybernetic intelligences and machines created by Man; a logical pursuit forever obscured from the irrational fears of the creators. Humanity remained isolated in its small neighborhood of God’s creation, contentedly for the most part. And so humans and the things they created were constantly in motion, scurrying from here to there on their little errands of life, as it seemed had always been the case. The Sovereignty itself evolved into an oddly static entity: ever changing but not really different. Seconds merged into minutes and days; days amalgamated into weeks, months and years until whole decades, even centuries, were consumed without notice by the multitude. Little of substance changed in hundreds of years. Individuals replaced their forbearers and new faces stepped on the stage into roles conceived by generations that had long ago passed beyond the veil of this life. Some of the names were familiar, whilst others were less so. But the state remained much as it had always been: monolithic, enduring, and permanent. Or so it seemed.
Mars was the agricultural planet. It had been terra-formed over a century into an environment suitable for human habitation. The planet was rich in growing the sustenance necessary for the billions of people who populated the Sovereignty. Venus was the industrial planet. It was the place where most things were made. Whilst the alien visitors were terra-forming Mars, a disorderly lattice of artificial habitats necessary to sustain human life was also altering the surface of Venus. The hostile environment of Venus represented the harshest of crucibles for human survival, as it does even to this day. Terra was the center of the Sovereignty. It served as the focus of its civic and administrative power. The face of Terra had long ago become buried under the weight of humanity. Tens of thousands of satellites orbited above the atmosphere to monitor the planet’s artificial ecosystem and aerologic control units stationed on the surface below regulated it. Cybernetic intelligences maintained the entire system. So many man-made objects orbited the planet that it now possessed an artificial ring system. Many of these objects were vital for coordinating the beating heart of the mechanical world below. Some was celestial refuse forever trapped in orbit around the planet. Nevertheless, the ring system elegantly illustrated much about the history of Terra. From the surface, a new sky was painted; one that thousands of generations before had never witnessed. This was due to the artificial ring system reflecting sunlight to the planet’s surface. Terra had become something of a zoo for those species surviving the dramatic changes to habitat and the planet’s natural ecology. Humans were merely the prime specimens in this particular planetary zoo. Terra had the qualities of a living, breathing machine floating in space, forever orbiting the inexhaustible source of solar power that drove the gears and pulleys by which the planet survived and thrived.
During a lifetime, a person might be determined, fortunate, or talented enough to rise through this society: from the brutality of Venus to the relative security of Mars and finally into the seductive embrace of luxury and power on Terra. However, very few did. Many found their niche in one place or another and there were content to remain. Others were assigned a role to play at birth on behalf of family, community, or society. Moreover, some sought an upward ladder of success only to experience the downward spiral of a misbegotten fall. The Sovereignty thrived on the success and failure of its citizens in order to weld its society into a cohesive whole. Slavery permeated every corner of the Sovereignty. It was not the slavery of a conquered race or religion, as in the ancient past, but rather slavery of the machine and the coin.
Slavery of the machine referred to Synthetics. Synthetics were cybernetic organisms created in the image of their human makers. They appeared human in every way except for minute differences. The physical differences were legally stipulated so humans could easily distinguish a Synthetic. Their skin tone was perfect and slightly paler than normal for humans of the time. The eye color of all Synthetics was also a striking grayish-purple hue. These prescribed augmentations gave Synthetics a hint of artificiality that was obvious to all. But such measures were not necessary. Any human except for pre-pubescent children could easily identify a Synthetic. The reason was simple. They possessed an incredible artificial intelligence and a remarkable capacity for learning and storing information. Their bodies carried warmth and they could converse as well as any human, perhaps even better in some cases. There was no doubt they were self-aware. Nevertheless, it was abundantly clear that Synthetics lacked the essential spark of life differentiating the natural from the unnatural, the real from the fake, the original from imitation. They could emote but it was only the mimicry of emotion. Synthetics could utilize their senses but could only process and analyze what humans could feel and taste. In short, Synthetics had no soul.
Synthetics represented the pinnacle of human achievement in artificial intelligence, organic technology, and cybernetics. And though they were undeniably remarkable, they were also a profound disappointment to their makers. The limits of human ingenuity and science were stretched in pursuit of artificially creating, even perfecting, life itself. It had failed. Though Synthetics lived, they were not alive. Humans had sought to capture the power of creation but they could not breathe life into their creations. Something was missing. Something was beyond their grasp. It was a paradox, and troubling on a fundamental level. It had a stunning effect on the human population. It set off an explosion of religious fervor. Humanity recognized that some secrets of the universe remained solely within the purview of the Creator, perhaps forever. Therefore, humanity renewed its faith in the one true God.
The consequences of scientific disappointment and religious renewal were curious. Humanity did not abandon their creations, in fact quite the opposite. Over time, millions of Synthetics were manufactured to serve the needs of humanity. Initially, they were exclusively used for large-scale manual labor but, as the size of the human population exploded, it became no longer practical to use Synthetics in this manner. Synthetics could not be economically manufactured in sufficient numbers to meet the demands of their makers. There was also a bountiful and burgeoning workforce readily available in the human population for the more labor-intensive industries. In a twist of fate, the leaders of commerce realized it was more cost-effective to reimburse large human workforces rather than purchase, operate, and maintain Synthetic ones of a size necessary to meet economic demand. It was historically counter-intuitive. The use of machines throughout the entire progress of human civilization, until this point, had been an exercise of increasing the efficiency of production via automation. And Synthetics were faster and more efficient than humans were but the new economy was an undeniable reality.
Over time, Synthetics became humanity’s aides in the home and workplace from servants and administrators to researchers and even concubines. Synthetics were used for anything so long as it was for the longest time with the least amount of cost to the greatest benefit for their creators. There were Synthetics who had served entire generations of a single family in the same role: never-changing, ever-present, and permanent, much like the Sovereignty itself. There was almost no place in the Sovereignty where Synthetics could not be found. They were the helpers and playmates of humanity. Synthetics had no legal status in the Sovereignty. They were commonly called slaves but it was a misnomer to suggest Synthetics were in a state of bondage. The concept was meaningless since they were not alive. Rather, it was humanity ensnared by slavery of the machine because the creators had become so dependent upon the creature comforts brought into their everyday lives by their creations.
Slavery of the coin referred to Vassalage. Vassalage had its origins as an illegal transaction between debtors and creditors. In its earliest days, it was an unregulated and unseemly practice. Some people would contract themselves or their children into Vassalage. Usually, it was a temporary arrangement though, on some occasions when the debt was excessive, it could also be a permanent one. In a few instances, whole generations of a family were even compelled into indentured service. And a few enterprising criminals even kidnapped children and contracted them against their will into Vassalage for profit, especially young females. Female vassals were a highly sought-after commodity and fetched the most exorbitant prices. Finally, the practice became so widespread and corrupt that the leaders of the Sovereignty decided to arrest and prosecute the criminal elements profiting from Vassalage.
However, the Sovereignty sought to regulate Vassalage and bring its more seedy elements under control rather than extinguish the practice altogether. The reasons were two-fold. First, the illegal practice of Vassalage had grown to such a scale that vassals were a critical component of commerce in the Sovereignty. The recovery of debt enabled the expansion of credit so that, in turn, the entire process could begin anew. Thus, the economic reality of Vassalage was its self-sustaining nature. Second, because of their experience with the Synthetics, human sensibilities were dulled over time to the more subtle abuses possible in the practice of Vassalage. Some have argued this was germane to the reasons why it took so long for the leaders of the Sovereignty to finally address the criminality surrounding the practice.
Vassalage was legalized in the Sovereignty. It was prescribed under what circumstances Vassalage could be practiced. A vassal was a person whose parent or legal guardian had contracted them into indentured servitude so a creditor could recover a debt. Parents or legal guardians retained the right to indenture any of their children or wards from the age of five to twenty. These age limits were designed to make sure vassals were at their most energetic, productive, and attractive during the term of indentured service. It was also thought that new freedmen could more easily assimilate back into society as mature adults. There were stringent protections put into place to ensure vassals were not harmed, physically disfigured and impaired, or even killed by their masters. The penalty prescribed by law for any of these offenses was death.
The most common way a creditor would recover debt in this manner was to accept a Contract of Vassalage on a young person from their guardian. The creditor would sell the vassal named in the contract to another person obligated to accept the terms of the contract and take the vassal into their service. The age limit also helped to sustain the institution of Vassalage itself. Any offspring of a vassal born during their period of indentured service was the ward of the master. The master could then contract the offspring into Vassalage to offset their own debts when the child was old enough, if the master so wished. This happened regularly but the most common practice was for the master to accept such children into their own family. It was not uncommon to hear of a master who married their newly freed vassal. However, it was also considered somewhat scandalous. In any case, the debt was always eventually retired. At that point, the vassal would rejoin society as a freedman to begin their life anew. Vassalage flourished in the Sovereignty since there were others readily available to assume the place of the new freedman in the social structure. Vassals were not nearly as common as Synthetics. After legalization, vassals became prizes that denoted social stature. This was especially true of female vassals, which were rare. There was a large demand for human labor so most vassals were actually male. A significant number of vassals labored in the agricultural fields of Mars, which had the largest vassal population in the Sovereignty. On Mars, the vassals could be efficient, well taken care of, and relatively safe from the dangers common to other labor-intensive professions in more hostile, alien environments.
The Sovereignty enjoyed an epoch unparalleled in human history for prosperity. Nevertheless, prosperity was not equally shared amongst all its citizens, as was the case in many previous periods of human history. Race and religion were no longer a source of conflict in the Sovereignty, as had been the case in the distant past. Long ago, the many colors and faces of ancient humanity had been assimilated into an almost homogenous society. There were a few who still portrayed the ethnic distinctions of their ancestors such as red or blond hair, blue eyes, skin a little too pale with freckles or a little too dark with chocolate, and so on. Those who did possess such attributes, however minute, were highly sought after as consorts, concubines, studs, mistresses, and spouses by a society drowning in its own genetic similitude. It was a condition only matched by the uniformity of human faith. There was but one God in the Sovereignty. The enigmatic Marineris High Attestar and her priestess nymphs were secluded in the Valles Marineris sanctuary on Mars. She was the direct conduit from the Creator to the people. The mysteries of the Marineris Sect stretched back thousands of years into the ancient history of Terra to a time when we were many people bound to one planet instead of one people who stretched forth our hand and conquered entire worlds.
The Sovereignty was dying. It is only now, many decades after its collapse, that we can recognize the symptoms of the disease in its heart. A privileged class that was too comfortable in their luxuries and the exercise of bureaucratic power, which was united only by a shared fear in the possible loss of that power. The deterioration of the principles of representative government established at the inception of the Sovereignty, their transformation over time into quasi-oligarchic political institutions, and eventually into autocratic actions by powerful individuals. An indentured class of laborers primed for recruitment and revolution. And a military class drawn more and more over the decades from the agricultural plains of Mars, whose first allegiance was not always to the Sovereignty. Obscuring these symptoms like an ashen veil were mysterious whispers from Valles Marineris that foreshadowed a new dawn for humanity.
By their very nature, civilizations must rise and fall. This is the story about the fall of the Sovereignty and the rise of an empire.
Note from Kasma's Editor: 'Mars Rising' is actually an excerpt from Mark David Major's first novel of the same title.