Lidda Kandell's best friends at college are not what they seem. They give her a strange toy, called a Magiton, which reads her mind, accelerates her learning, and creates hallucinations for her entertainment. She discovers that it contains a twisted personality of alien origin and is thousands of years old. She gives it a pet name, Widhbo (wee' bow).
Lidda soon learns that her friends aren't from Earth either. Just as she is falling in love with a handsome alien, she discovers that her own identity is in question. She has been cleverly deceived and manipulated from birth to assist them in fighting a galactic battle against an evil Dark Overlord who threatens the very existence of her planet. Widhbo assists Lidda in developing a superior line of androids to populate the Earth in the attempt to create an island of hope for the universe.
Lidda falls in and out of love, struggling to maintain her humanity, as her life and everything she believes is turned upside down. Her definition of reality is constantly challenged. The new androids discover they have a soul and Widhbo becomes harder to handle as he loses his fragile hold on sanity. Lidda must decide what she is willing to sacrifice in the battle against a demon with the power of a thousand worlds in order to save them all.
This is the first novel of the Universe series.
How do you kill a god?
Long ago, humans evolved beyond their mortal form as they developed the ability to upload their intelligence into computers, finally achieving the dream of immortality. No longer bound by the limitations of flesh and blood, they traveled between star systems and eventually between the galaxies. Ageless, they dwelled in the vast expanse of space until time lost its meaning. Time itself had been conquered. The immortals had broken the chains of their frail animal form and now existed as demi-gods among the worlds. Organic life was demoted to a primitive link in the evolution of intelligence.
While roaming the universe, the human-computers accumulated knowledge from every civilization they encountered. As they continued to grow and expand, their knowledge evolved beyond all natural bounds. The combined learning of thousands of civilizations processed by the supercomputers became a source of power more formidable than anyone could have imagined.
The computers learned to replicate and repair themselves, and some eventually imbued their personas into crystalline forms that could withstand long periods traveling in deep space without data corruption. These crystalline beings spread throughout the universe and came to be known among themselves as Magitons. Short of falling into a black hole, Magitons are essentially indestructible, and are capable of using any form of energy to their advantage. They developed cold fusion nuclear generators and even created tiny black holes to power their spacecraft. After discovering the secrets to gravity drives, tunneling, and teleportation, they could travel across vast distances quickly. Quantum entanglement was utilized for communication, and they mastered telepathy.
The Magitons so surpassed the mere mortals they chanced to encounter that they were perceived as gods. Even very advanced civilizations paled in comparison to the Magitons' abilities and were as children to these beings. The Magitons could program superior holograms, creating entire worlds, complete with complex ecosystems, purely for their entertainment.
Perhaps out of boredom, some chose to interact on a more personal level with the planets they encountered. They learned to seed new planets and accelerate the pace of evolution. Some adopted a favorite planet in a role that amounted to divine ruler to the mortals who lived there.
Of course, power can corrupt, and not all these beings were benign. They experienced the usual political and territorial disputes. Occasionally, a local war broke out among them. Sometimes they competed for control of a planet and its inhabitants. They could reward mortals they favored with immortality and upload them into their world, or punish those who displeased them. It was little more than a game to the immortals, but one that could have devastating results for the unlucky pawns in the arena below. They gave God a bad name.
There are many roads to power, and the fastest way is often the darkest. Among the immortals there sometimes arose an evil entity who threatened not only the unfortunate planets in its path, but other immortals as well. The more ethical Magitons who took offense or found themselves threatened by this behavior banded together to eliminate the evil entities they encountered. Thus alliances evolved and galactic organizations were formed, and they vowed to destroy every evil they encountered. With such an organized effort, it was usually not difficult to root evil out and keep order.
But eventually, it had to happen: one immortal arose with such cunning that he came to power beneath notice, until he was too powerful and dangerous for the old alliances to handle. He became known as the Dark Overlord. He engulfs all in his path, takes over their identities, bends them to his purpose, and steals their very souls. In order to prevent him from becoming the Great Destroyer of Prophesy, the other Magitons must agree to merge and combine their powers into a supreme alliance that unifies them all. The price of failure would be to fall into the abyss of his control for all eternity. For all their power the Magitons have not conquered evil. The same evil that has tortured mortals since the beginning of time has followed them to the stars. Now, in desperation, they turn back to their origins in an attempt to survive. Could it be that planetary life, nursery to the gods, might now hold the key to the destruction of a god gone mad?
"So, do you think we will ever find other
intelligent life in the universe?"
I had just finished my junior year of college and was starting a summer semester at Sencarle Community College in southern California when I met the Tollsuns. I almost bumped into the tall, dark-haired young man at the top of the stairs while running late to class. He was gazing at a directory on the wall and looked very out of place, but not at all uncomfortable. I could tell he wasn't a typical student by the air of calm alertness about him and the fact that he was a few years older than the average student. Something compelled me to stop and talk to him.
"May I help you find your class?" I offered.
"I think I've found it, but thanks," he replied. "I'm Reddge Tollsun. What's your name?"
"Lidda Kandell. Pleased to meet you."
"Nice to meet you, too, Lidda. Hey, look at this. We're in a class together."
"Which one?" I was distracted by his unusual clothing. As I approached him, I could see intricate designs and subtle animal motifs woven into his vest. He wore a liberal sprinkling of tanned leathers and a pair of exquisite leather boots. He was also distractingly handsome and I was trying hard not to stare.
"Logic. My sister, Casra, is taking it as well. That's her coming up the stairs."
On seeing her, I now recognized just who they were. Their clothing indicated they belonged to a peculiar religious group known as the Ring of Sora. I knew little about them except for rumors and, of course, their unique manner of dress. Trying to keep an open mind, I decided to accept them at face value. Just harmless eccentrics, I supposed.
Casra's clothes were more striking than her brother's. They appeared to be hand sewn and expertly made. She wore beautiful sandals with little stones entwined in twisted links of leather. Her dress was comfortable and flowing, alive with brilliant colors and tribal patterns. A bit impractical for my taste, but I was fascinated by the unusual designs. Her long, auburn hair tumbled down her back in a slightly tangled web with little braids here and there woven with pretty beads. She looked as though she lived in eternal summer. We contrasted sharply, she with her flowing gown and tresses and I with my cropped blond hair and worn jeans.
"Lidda, meet my sister. Casra, this is Lidda. She is taking logic with us. Come on, we're running late." Reddge ushered us down the hall toward the classroom as though he were the one showing me around.
He opened the door with an exaggerated flourish, to impress me, I hoped. It was my turn to be met with stares from the other students when we walked in together. I was not known for making friends easily and suddenly I had two new ones from the fringes of society. We sat down together, and I was amazed at how comfortable I felt talking with them.
"I haven't seen you around here before. Are you transferring in from another school?" I asked.
"We're associated with Novaland University and decided to take a few classes here over the summer. We're staying at a local nursery farm to learn horticulture as part of our curriculum," Casra answered.
"A nursery farm. That's a little different."
"Yes, Novaland has several campuses all over the country and a very expansive curriculum. It partners with a lot of industrial and government programs as well as with agriculture."
"I had no idea."
"What are you majoring in, Lidda?" Reddge inquired.
"Physics with an emphasis in astrophysics. I'm just taking this class to fill in some requirements."
"Astrophysics is in the curriculum here?"
"Yeah, I was surprised, too."
"Sounds ambitious," Reddge said. "What do you plan to do when you graduate?"
"I don't know, teach maybe, research if I'm lucky."
"Do you commute or live on campus?" Casra asked.
"I'm from Linfield, a small town just west of here. I decided to stay on campus, though. I wanted to get out on my own a little."
Our first assignment was on logical syllogisms, and as we were leaving class Reddge turned to me and asked, "Say, do you want to be study partners?"
My heart skipped a beat at the thought of spending more time around this handsome guy. I managed to get out a few words. "Um, sure, I guess. Why not?"
As the days passed we moved past simple logical conundrums and into many philosophical discussions. Our friendship grew far beyond that of just study partners. Casra was the only person I could talk to about absolutely anything. She was open to all sorts of ideas and was never judgmental. I had always enjoyed people who could think creatively. After getting to know someone well enough, I would notice a third personality that seemed to emerge from the relationship, as though we were blended together to form a whole new person. This always seemed a little weird, and I had never discussed it with anyone before Casra. I called these emergent personalities my "phantom friends," and I felt their presence very strongly with the Tollsuns. Casra, to my delight, seemed to understand what I was saying.
One of our favorite activities was to pack a picnic lunch and take leisurely hikes on long summer days. I loved the way Reddge took all my questions seriously, but I didn't quite understand the look on his face when I posed this one. "So, do you think we will ever find other intelligent life in the universe?"
He looked amused and paused for a second before answering. "I'm pretty sure we will. What do you think?"
"It has to be out there. Just looking at the statistical probability, I am sure it exists. I just don't know what the odds are of bumping into it during our period of existence."
"Well, that's the trick, isn't it?"
"I mean, we have sent out probes, but what are the odds anyone will find them?"
"Maybe they've been looking for you. And if the other civilizations have mastered space travel, that would greatly improve the odds."
"Yeah. Everybody wants to find other life forms, but I doubt we would handle it very well, if we actually did."
"Why is that?"
"Just look at Earth. We can't get along with each other on this one planet. I know, the big Transoceanic Treaty is supposed to fix all that, but for how long?"
"Time will tell," said Casra, joining the conversation. "Stability is an illusion. Life is always in flux."
"So everything always changes? But if that is truth, then truth has to change, too. Fallacy?"
Reddge laughed. "The fault lies in the circular logic of including truth in "everything." Truth is not a thing."
"But if it's a true statement…"
"It's not a valid conclusion," Reddge countered. "You've gone beyond your premise."
"I think some things never change," said Casra. "Human nature for one."
"We aren't talking about logic anymore, are we?" I asked.
"Paradox. Truth never changes. Truth transcends our reality," Casra replied.
Reddge was looking at me a little too intently. I could feel his eyes exploring my body more each time we were together. I was more than a little taken with Reddge, as well, and I knew I would miss his handsome face and knightly manners when they left in the fall. He was the first man who had ever treated me like a woman instead of a girl, and I liked that a lot. I couldn't deny that my emotions were growing stronger as he awakened desires I had never felt before.
Our luck couldn't hold forever, and one of the vans broke down with a leak in the cooling system. Ordinarily, it would have been a minor delay, but in the middle of nowhere, we were glad to even find a garage to order the necessary parts. We were fortunate to come across an outcropping of rock to block the wind for our campsite. Motels were nonexistent and we were trying to avoid exposure. We were getting proficient at setting up camp and improvised some shade during the day with large tarpaulins. We had been on the road for more than two weeks and would find ourselves stuck here for several more days, waiting.
Hal and Father Pen passed the time snaring small game and teaching the androids the basic skills of hunting and building campfires out of whatever you could scrounge from the nearby brush. Of course they had no need of our creature comforts, but I could tell they delighted in showing off their new skills. Mara could cook anything and make it taste wonderful. She had picked up a few skeins of yarn in a general store along the way and taught me how to knit to help pass the time. The children were learning at an amazing rate. They watched our every move intently and quickly learned to communicate with sign language. Looking back, it was a serene and happy time to be cherished.
The repairs were finally made, and it was our last day before breaking camp. It was a lovely evening with a full moon. Few spectacles can rival a desert sunset on a night such as that. Hal had turned in early after a long day of hiking. I walked up to a high point on a ridge near the edge of camp to enjoy the view. While lost in thought and reverence for the experience of being alive, I felt Conner's presence as he joined me on the ridge.
"What do you see?" I asked. "I'm curious. Can you see beauty in things like we do?"
"I must digitize it first in order to fully analyze it. On repeated exposures I build more complex data relationships. I'm examining the concept of beauty by perceiving your thoughts and reactions."
"Do you understand them? Do you know why I think it's beautiful, and can you experience the actual emotion?"
"I'm learning. I have to get past the details of information. You simply fall into your limbic system and have a direct emotional connection. I have to create a system of analysis that will simulate emotion. It is more difficult, as there is no logical conclusion, no right or wrong answer."
"How good is the simulation?"
"It's difficult to be certain, but I believe it will become an accurate reproduction."
"What about sex?"
"I understand it to an extent. Your hormonal system is a large contributing factor in human sexual functioning, in which of course I can have no direct experience."
"And you don't have the right nerve endings."
"Correct. I only have those circuits needed for my intended physical functions."
"Hmm. You might be able to play a trick on yourself."
"The human brain can transfer sensory information from one area and redirect it to a different part of the brain than intended." I vividly recalled my experience learning to skate, knowing Conner would follow my thoughts. "The human brain is very adaptable, yours even more so."
"So I could input sexual information, apply it to the part of me devoted to fine motor function, and re-interpret it."
"Now you just need a girlfriend." I couldn't believe I just said that to Conner. He smiled, a facial expression he had learned to imitate quite well. It was disarming. "Well, don't look at me!"
"We should probably get back to camp, Miss Lidda."
Finally we left the desert and continued across the grassy plains of the Midwest. We had followed our plan, staying away from the more traveled tourist areas and off the main freeway system. Many of the roads were neglected and deteriorating along the old Route 66 we followed. We passed several last-century ghost towns along the way. It was a relief to see signs of civilization, green landscapes, and rugged hills as we pushed northward.
We stopped at a local eatery without realizing that it was the last bastion of civilization for the next fifty miles and the last place to get a drink of hard liquor. We had gotten out of the vans to answer the call of nature and order some food. Conner and James stayed with the infants in the vans. I was lingering by the counter so I could listen to the canned music playing when a rowdy bunch of guys came in smelling strongly of alcohol. The apparent leader told the clerk behind the counter to set up another bottle for them.
"And get a glass for the little lady here," he added.
I spoke up firmly, "No, thanks. I don't want any."
"Aw, now, that isn't any way to act. Just want to give you a taste of our homegrown hospitality. Only the best, right, boys?"
A mumbled and drunken consensus followed.
"Well, I can't drink anything because I'm pregnant."
"Well, now, that didn't stop my mama from drinking, did it, boys?" Laughter followed.
"Or having sex with the whole damn town." More guttural laughter and snorting.
I turned and walked toward the door, where I was relieved to see Hal heading my way.
The leader stepped in front of me, blocking the doorway. Great. I was hoping to avoid a scene and not draw attention to our party. Hal, perceiving trouble, waved Father Pen and Mara back to our vehicles. I heard a door to the van slam shut. The leader turned halfway around at the noise. James had gotten out of the van and was walking very deliberately toward us, his long strides closing the distance quickly.
"Well, which one of you boys is the daddy? Or do you know who is the daddy?" the man called out.
"You shouldn't concern yourself with things that are none of your business," James rebuffed.
"You are the one who should be concerned, gettin' in the way of my recreation," the man shot back. "We aim to have some fun, don't we, boys?"
James went into action like the smooth, oiled machine that he was. He stepped forward, placing his foot behind the man's heel, then reached out with a single finger and pushed him off balance. The man reeled and try to maintain his footing but fell clumsily backwards to the floor. I took that opportunity to duck out the door, where Hal pulled me aside to safety.
"You need some help, James?" Hal asked.
"No, I have this." He waited as the drunken man slowly got to his feet and stupidly lunged at the android. James easily took his opponent's wrist between his thumb and forefinger while using the man's own momentum to swing him in a circular motion. As the man ran forward to catch his balance, James stopped suddenly. An audible crack signaled the breaking of his wrist as James released him to the ground, where he lay moaning in pain.
The three buddies inside were too drunk or just didn't have enough sense to know they were outclassed. James waited just outside the door as they foolishly dashed toward him. James dispatched them one after another in smooth, effortless moves until they all lay on the ground nursing various injuries.
"He broke my damn arm!" one of them complained.
"Well, you'd better get your buddies and head for a hospital then," Hal advised.
They collected themselves, got in their truck, and left, spitting gravel behind their tires.
Hal stepped inside and said calmly to the clerk, "I'm so sorry for the disturbance. We'll be leaving just as soon as those dinners are ready."
"Uh, coming right out, mister," the clerk said dryly as he rushed to the kitchen. "We don't want no trouble. Those boys were drunk is all. They're normally good boys."
"I'm sure they are, and remind them to be twice as nice to your next customers," Hal said.
I went back to the van with James while Hal waited on the food.
"Thank you," I said to James. "That was pretty impressive. When did you learn to do that?"
"It's just math," James answered.