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Orphans of the Helix

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Worlds enough

Orphans of the Helix is the second novella in Dan Simmons' book Worlds Enough & Time.

Introduction

Orphans of the Helix is a novella set in the Hyperion Cantos universe, centuries after the events described in The Rise of Endymion. The events in the tale take place during the voyage of the people of the Amoiete Spectrum Helix out of their former home, the desert planet of Vitus-Gray-Balianus B, and towards a new yet-to-be-found ideal planet.[1]

SPOILER ALERT! The section(s) below are MAJOR SPOILERS.

Synopsis

As the entirety of the people of the Amoiete Spectrum Helix make a long deep-sleep voyage towards their yet-to-be-found new world aboard their Aenean-made Helix spinship, the ship’s AI’s find an anomaly and decide to decelerate into real time. They awake nine of the Amoiete to inform them that they have received a distress signal from a binary system consisting of a G-type star around which there was a non-Templar startree; and of a red giant. The distress signal is from an ancient Ouster and Templar population whose seedship had malfunctioned and dropped them off in this alien-built tree ring, subsequently being destroyed by the monstrous ship known as the Destroyer which would arrive from the red giant system every several decades and “harvest” the tree ring, causing great destruction and the loss of millions of lives at each visit.

The Amoiete accept an Ouster and Templar delegation into the ship, and they are asked to eliminate the Destroyer. Before they do so, the Amoiete want to ensure that no other societies are dependent upon the Destroyer, so they vote to visit the red giant system. There, they eventually discover a rocky world inhabited by billions of sentient aliens. Initially unable to communicate with them, they are eventually able to do so because of their secret “Aenean” on board - Ces Ambre, daughter of Dem Loa (both characters from the Endymion books). The aliens communicate deep regret for the loss of life and transmit the code to reprogram the Destroyer.

The ship returns to the G-star system and reprograms the Destroyer, to the great joy and salvation of the Ouster/Templar population. Ces Ambre also shares of her DNA sacrament with the envoys, who were so eager to provide their people with the opportunity to become Aenean - something that so many of them had desired.

After accomplishing their short mission, the Amoiete return to deep sleep and go on with their long voyage. A few months later, however, the ship’s AI’s welcome three very surprising guests, there to make a small adjustment to the People of the Helix’s destination.[1]

Summary

Five hundred years after the Aenean Shared Moment, and 400 years after the fall of the Pax, the 684,000 remaining members of the Amoiete Spectrum Helix people are in deep sleep in their state-of-the-art spinship, the Helix, custom made for them by the Aeneans.

Having lost a great amount of its population to conversion to the Cruciform, then to wars, and later to conversion to the Church of Aenea, the survivors were headed towards the galactic center, away from known human space, far from places touched by the Hegemony, the Pax, Ousters, or even the Aneans. The followers of Aenea had greatly supported them in this endeavor.

Their plan was to find a very Earth-like planet for their permanent habitation. The People were looking for a very specific, paradisical planet: G2 sun, at least 9 on the “old Solmev Scale”, oceans of blue water and enjoyable temperatures, and were ready to spend thousands of years to find it.

The Helix was piloted by five autonomous AI’s while its passengers were in deep cryogenic sleep, all of who had taken on names and personas based on the Old Earth Japanese culture: Saigyō, a 10th century monk; Lady Murasaki, wearing a 3000-year-old robe and kimono; Ikkyū, based on an ancient Zen poet; Basho, a great haiku expert appearing as a 17th century Japanese farmer - coned had and clog shoes included; and Ryōkan, gracefully  wearing long hair and stunning robes of blue with gold trim. These AI were autonomous because the TechnoCore had been broken up by the Aeneans, allowing the individual AI’s to live only as autonomous entities.

Thirty-six ship-time years into their voyage - more than 400 years in time debt - the AI encounter an “anomaly of interest” and decide to take the ship out of C-plus Hawking space and wake up 9 of the Amoiete people. The “anomaly” was found due to an old radio transmission from a system that the AI thought may be a possible source of resupply.

The first to be awoken was a woman named Dem Lia, who was a “green” out of the many colors that the Amoiete associated with and grouped themselves around. Dem Lia was introduced to the other nine awoken individuals: Res Sandre, another green-band woman; Patek Georg Dem Mio, a red-band man; Den Soa, a white-band female; Jon Mikael Dem Além, an ebony-band male; Oam Rai, an older yellow-band woman; the blue-band male Peter Deleon Dem Tae; a violet-band female, Kem Loi; and Ria Kem Ali, or Dr. Sam, an orange male.

The ship’s AI’s explain to the Amoiete people that the system from whence the old radio signal had come was a binary system, consisting of: a red giant that was formerly a G2 yellow-white dwarf star (like Old Earth’s Sol); and a G8 white star. The AI’s had decelerated the Helix into the G8 star system. The ship did not detect any planets around the red giant. However, around the G8 white star there was a fully developed and bountiful orbital forest. Saigyō explained that the radio transmission is a distress signal on early Hegemony code band being emitted from someone living on or near the ring.

They concluded that the signal must have been sent by Ousters that were part of the original Hegira and out of touch from the rest of humanity for around 1,500 years or more. The Ousters in the forest ring were estimated to be in the hundreds of millions to several billion. This orbital forest was different than the ones usually built by the Ousters in that no Akerataeli or zeplins were present; and that it wasn’t placed at the usual 1AU distance from the sun - it circled the star at only .36AU. They concluded that the orbital ring was of alien built rather than Ouster or Templar bioconstruction. The AI’s reveal that this is the anomaly that caused them to put their mission on pause.

In addition, the ship detected a huge alien spacecraft. Its base was at least 1,000 kilometers long. It was described as a broad, bulbous, ugly, carbon-black insecticidal monster. In front,  it had what seemed to be a maw with steel teeth, with a series of mandibles and blades for shredding. It was headed towards the orbital ring and was set to arrive in 9 days. The Amoiete conclude that this machine must be the cause of the distress signal.

Knowing this information, the Amoiete people decide to assign roles, duties and decisions. They do this using their characteristic consensus-reaching method consisting of little to no talk, hand gestures, body language, shorthand phrases and silent nods. They decided Dem Lia would be in command. After further deliberation, they also decide to approach the orbital ring to see if they can be of assistance and to replenish fresh provisions if possible.

As the Helix enters the G8 star system, they notice that the Ousters have detected them, as thousands upon thousands of Ouster angels take off from the forest ring to greet them. They begin their 24-hour trip towards them. They establish radio contact. The Ousters state good intentions. The Amoiete people also take into account that at the time these Ousters had left Old Earth’s vicinity, the wars with the Hegemony and later with the Pax had not started. In an abundance of caution, Dem Lia orders that automated containment fields be set for protection.

The Ousters had asked if they were Pax. The Amoiete deny, informing them that the Pax had been destroyed 400 years before. Based on this, Dem Loa concludes that they must be aware of recent human history. She then realizes that the Shared Moment must have reached them.

The Ousters also asked if any followers of Aenea were on board, to which the Amoiete answered negatively. The Ousters also ask if anyone on board had ever met Aenea or Raul Endymion. The Saigyō AI explains that no one in the ship ever met Aenea, and that the Spectrum family who had met Raul in Vitus-Gray-Balianus B had all perished, except for Dem Loa, who had become an Aenean; and her daughter who had gone missing but was presumed dead. The AI goes on to explain that Dem Loa’s daughter that was presumed dead had actually been shipped off from Vitus to the final Pax stronghold planet of St. Theresa to be born-again Christian. She had received the Cruciform. Nine years had gone by before the world was freed by the Aeneans. Dem Loa learned that her daughter was alive and freecast to St. Theresa. Ces Ambre had the cruciform removed but did not accept Aenea’s DNA sacrament. She returned to Vitus-Gray-Balianus B and lived there as a teacher for almost 60 years. Saigyō then reveals that Ces Ambre is actually on board in deep sleep. Realizing the the Ousters and Templars’ great interest in meeting someone who had been in contact with either Aenea or Raul, they decide to awaken Ces Ambre from her deep sleep.

The inhabitants of the Startree then send three ambassadors aboard the Helix, inside the Helix’ solarium which the ship had wrapped in an airlock at 1/10 normal gravity for the space-adapted Ousters’ comfort. Five of the Spectrum people join them, including Ces Ambre. The Ouster delegation consisted of a true space-adapted Ouster, called Far Rider (who communicated via radio transmitting glands in his neck); a partially-adapted Ouster, Chief Branchman and historian Keel Redt (who seemed to be the leader of the group); and finally a young woman Templar - the True Voice of the Tree Reta Kasteen.

When asked by the envoys, Dem Lia explains the purpose of the Spectrum people’s journey, and the nature and philosophy of their people and of the Halpul Amoiete’s opera.

The Ouster delegation explain their history of having passing through most of human space history and how it is that they had intermittent access to information of the status of the rest of mankind. They explain that they ended up so far away because their ship had malfunctioned, keeping them in cryogenic fugue for centuries while ignoring potential systems for an orbital world tree. When the ship figured out its errors, over a thousand of the people had died, and it began stopping at every system, encountering stars unsuitable for the Templar-grown tree ring. Finally, the ship found a solution in the form of a binary system, which included a white star heliosphere perfect for the Ousters, and a tree ring already built. The ship’s discovery had taken place over 1,200 years before.

The tree ring’s biogenetics were completely alien to Earth’s. Reta Kasteen then explains that when they were about to attempt to begin the construction of their own star tree, The Destroyer arrived - the ship that the Spectrum people had observed as they arrived in-system - and destroyed their seedship, explaining that society’s lack of metal. The ship had also destroyed thousands and thousands of kilometers of the tree ring, and returns every 57 years to “harvest”, coming from the other star of the binary system -  a red giant, called the “hell star”. The ship always comes to destroy a populated area of the tree ring.

The Ousters and Templars had attempted to communicate with The Destroyer for many centuries, without response. The ship is believed to be fully automated and very ancient - maybe millions of years old. They believed that there used to be world around the red star when it still was a G-type sun, which inhabitants had built the tree ring and the Destroyed to harvest it, but who were long gone. The Ousters understand that the machine passes very close to the hell star on its way back to the system, and that there may be an artificial world such as an asteroid, where the ship returns to and where there may be a civilization. Attempts to destroy the machine had been futile.

Dem Lia asks what the Ousters would like for them to do, and their response is that they would like for the Spectrum people to kill the destroyer, provided there is no inhabited world still orbiting the red giant. In return, the Ousters/Templars would provide food and fruit, water, and advanced genetic techniques, among other things.

Four of the Spectrum people excuse themselves as Ces Ambre remains to converse with the delegation, who begin a friendly interrogation of Ces Ambre’s knowledge of Aenea and Raul Endymion. Ces explains that she only saw Raul when she was a teenager, while he was ill and staying at her parents’ house. The Ousters were disappointed at the very little contact that Ces had with Raul, and at the fact the Ces Ambre had decided to flee her house to accept the Cruciform. Ces shows them the scar on her chest from where the Cruciform had been. Although free of the Cruciform, Ces had supposedly refused to become an Aenean to join her parents’ culture.

The Ousters explain that since the Aenean Shared Moment, the Church of Aenea had grown in the tree ring to the point that at last a fourth of their population would become Aenean if given a chance. That explained the Ousters’ great enthusiasm in greeting the Helix.

At that point, Dem Lia returns to the Solarium and informs them of their decision to assist. They will take the fully-armed system exploratory probe to investigate the Destroyer. As they approach the ship, they realize it relied only on primitive radar technology and had no life on board. The Destroyed fired, but its attacks were no match for the probe’s defenses. Dem Lia sent one warhead towards the ship to test its defenses, and succeeded in inflicting damage. The Ousters begged for its total destruction. The Spectrum people refuse for the time being and return to the Helix, wishing to further investigate whether the Destroyer serves a purpose for the race responsible for its existence.

They decide to take the Helix towards the red giant system. However, under maximum fusion boost, the trip would not be over before the Destroyed had already reached the orbital world tree.

After many deliberations regarding the slowness of fusion boost travel, and the dangers of Hawking-drive propulsion in such a tight binary system, the Spectrum people all vote to visit the red giant system via Hawking drive.

They make the jump to the red giant system and survey it. Initially, they find no signs of life or signs of any planets or harvested asteroids/comets, assuming everything had been engulfed by the red giant as it transitioned from a G2-type star. But upon closer inspection of the star itself, they find a single rocky world in orbit, around ⅘ of Old Earth’s size, with evidence of former ocean bottoms and riverbeds. They realize the planet is not that deep into the sun’s troposphere.

They approach the rocky world and realize that while it’s hot, it’s filled with life, honeycombed inside with internal oceans of water, and host to at last three billion sentient beings. They detect machines, forms of transportation, and city like hives. They can also see the port where the Destroyer must park every 57 years.

The ship attempts to send communication signals. The return broadcast is made up of modulated gravity waves indecipherable by the ship. The AI’s state that it could take weeks or years to decipher the signals.

Suddenly, Ces Ambre begins to empathically being able to communicate with the aliens. She understands the aliens not to be so different from humans, although they were not human at all: breathing oxygen but unlike the Seneschai empaths. They were ”modular, with multiple minds, and fibrous” according to her description.

Ces sends via thought the image of the Destroyer harvesting the Startree and the destruction it causes, and that the Ousters are sentient beings. The aliens come back with an absolute apology, saying that the Destroyer doesn’t bring images, only food, air and water. They explain that the machine is automated to eliminate infestations. They are very sorry for the loss of life, offering the suicide of their entire species if it would atone for the destruction.

Upon Ces’ request, the aliens send the reprogramming data for the Destroyer to stop its harvesting. Ces communicates their gratitude and farewell. They immediately leave the system as the red giant has a solar storm brewing inside.

Upon return to the G8 star system, they broadcast the reprogramming data to the Destroyer, which had already altered its trajectory toward populated areas of the forest ring. After reprogramming, the machine changes course towards remote and unpopulated areas. Far Rider, the Ouster angel, shows the crew a hole of the rejoicing ring cities, platforms and branches on the star tree.

They turn their attention to Ces Ambre. Asked why the aliens didn’t leave their world once their star went red giant, Ces explains that is because the rocky world is “home” to them, and that the aliens think it’s dark and empty out in space.

Dem Lia asks why Ces didn’t inform the rest of them that she was an Aenean, to which she replies that she is not an Aenean, though she confesses that her mother, Dem Loa, had given her Aenea’s DNA sacrament after she was rescued from St. Theresa. However, Ces decided not to develop her Aenean abilities or obey orders, and to remain Amoiete.

She explains that she was able to communicate with the aliens through the Void Which Binds. She had fought for years not to pay attention to the voices in the Void, and refuses to freecast even if she can. She declares her commitment to proceeding with the Amoiete to their final destination. The Amoiete then unanimously vote to keep Ces’ potential Aenean nature as a secret for only her to share.

After deliberation, Dr. Samel, the medic, provides the Ouster/Templar delegation with a vial of Ces Ambre’s blood containing the sacrament. The delegation leaves, then Ces returns to deep sleep.

As they engage in Hawking drive travel, the nine originally awoken Amoiete look at the star from which they are departing and see that several billion Ouster Angels had turned out to say farewell.

After pondering on the fact that the Aeneans' objective was to create diversity in the university so that life would take over galaxies, a goal which included having cultures such as the Amoiete pass up on the sacrament, Dem Lia goes into cryogenic sleep, and is the last one of the nine to do so.

Three months into their trip away from the binary system, as all of the colonists slept on, three figures appear onboard: the Shrike; a man in early middle age - Petyr, son of Aenea and Raul Endymion; and Dem Loa, Ces Ambre’s mother. The AI’s welcome them. Upon his request, Petyr resolves many internal conflicts within Basho by warmly embracing the AI.

Petyr checks the ship’s course and orders a correction towards a G2 star with a planet ranking 7.6 on the “old Solmev scale”, but that had evolved “very nasty viruses” and very fierce animals. Lady Murasaki inquires, and Petyr informs them that by the time they arrive, most of the viruses will be gone, but the fierce animals will still be there.

Petyr and Dem Loa together set his hands against the Shrike, and disappear. The Helix continues on in its long voyage toward a planet that doesn’t quite fit the Amoiete’s requirements for their new home.[1]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Worlds Enough & Time, 2002, 73-130

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