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Deception Well

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Deception Well

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Author: Linda Nagata
Publisher: Mythic Island Press, 2010
Bantam Spectra, 1997
Series: Nanotech Succession: Book 2

1. The Bohr Maker
2. Deception Well
3. Vast
4. Tech-Heaven

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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In a war of belief, faith is a virus, and it's spreading fast. Remnants of an alien nanotechnology infest the surface of the planet, Deception Well, giving rise to deadly plagues that make the Well uninhabitable-or so most believe.

Jupiter Apolinario saw it differently. He believed the planet was host to an ancient, alien mechanism of transformation meant to embrace all life forms in an ecstatic communion. Jupiter disappeared on the planet along with a handful of followers, though whether they were taken by death or transcendence, no one could say.

Ten years later, Jupiter's son, Lot, stands at the center of conflict. Like his father, Lot has a seductive presence, and a charismatic nature that seems more-than-human. People are helplessly drawn to him. Their faith in him is strong and their numbers are growing, but Lot is beset with doubts about his father's teachings. So he sets out to learn the truth about Jupiter, about his own powerful calling as a prophet, and about the real nature of Deception Well, where a razor-thin line divides bliss from damnation.

Enjoy all four books of the Nanotech Succession, a collection of stand-alone novels exploring the rise of nanotechnology and the strange and fascinating future that follows.


Lot wriggled toward the open vent, his slender, eight-year-old body crushing a path through the brittle foam of rotting insulation that coated the interior of the air duct. A light breeze brought the dust forward, where it lingered in a cloud that beguiled his headlamp, getting into his eyes, his nose, his throat, and clinging to the moist, teardrop-shaped surfaces of the sensory glands that shimmered on his cheeks. He could feel a wet cough down in his lungs, itching, burning to get out. His shoulders shook as he fought with it. Captain Aceret had boosted him into the ventilation system with instructions to proceed with full stealth. He couldn't let himself be discovered. Jupiter's army was counting on him to get through.

He dropped his face against his arm just as the cough ripped out of his lungs.

And it wasn't just one small cough. For a few seconds it felt like he was going to hack his lungs right out. The air duct shook. The organic fingers of his headlamp squeezed tighter against his brow. Streams of dust swirled off in the slow breeze. He imagined Silken troopers in the corridor below, listening to him, laughing at his distress. Tears started to run out of his eyes and he didn't try to stop them.

Jupiter. He grasped at his father's name in half-formed apology. Jupiter, I want to come to you. I do.

He felt his smallness then. He was nothing more than a tiny spark: flash, burn, die, in the black reaches of the void. It was the same for any of them. They were a border people. Half the troopers in Jupiter's army had lost their first families to the mechanized assaults of the old murderers. Some had wanted to run away to the Hallowed Vasties. It was said that no weapons of the Chenzeme could wreck the human civilizations there. But the Vasties were achingly far from their former home in the star cluster known as the Committee, it was over eighty light-years to the nearest cordoned sun. Anyway, Jupiter said they didn't need the Vasties. He'd found sanctuary for them in the Well.

The coughing fit wound down. Lot listened for any untoward sound from the corridor below, but there was nothing. Maybe he'd gotten lucky...if luck was the proper word for it. Every step forward was a step closer to the deadly world of Deception Well. He tried not to think about that as he wriggled toward the vent. He believed in Jupiter Apolinario. Jupiter had survived the Well. He'd found in it the hidden world of the Communion, where self and other might be forever joined into a singular state of nirvana, alien/human/alien, blended in a living matrix that had existed for at least thirty million years, unsullied by the evil of the Chenzeme. Jupiter said they could be part of it too, if they trusted him, believed in him.

I do believe.

He swiped at the sticky droplets of his sensory tears, vainly trying to clear their clogged surfaces. He'd come into the city of Silk with Captain Aceret, as part of the advance mission. They'd arrived here aboard a shuttle under the pretense of friendship, never mentioning Jupiter's name as the great ship Nesseleth settled into a distant orbit beyond the fifty-five-thousand-mile limit of the space elevator that supported Silk. Captain Aceret had launched his commando raid to seize control of the elevator system, just as Nesseleth dropped her cargo slug containing the regular army: fourteen thousand troops, men, women and children, with Jupiter at their head. By the time the slug moored at the upper end of the elevator, Captain Aceret had secured lift control, and Jupiter's army began to descend.

That should have been the end of it. Jupiter Apolinario had no interest in the city of Silk. It was only an inconvenience that Silk had been built on the elevator column, two hundred miles above the seething green equatorial forests of the Well. The army had no choice but to pass through the city. They would have preferred to go peacefully, dropping straight down through Silk's unpopulated industrial core. But the Silkens wouldn't allow it. They were scared of the Communion. They never went down the Well, and they were determined to stop Jupiter's army from going down too. They'd cut the tracks where the elevator passed through the city, forcing the loaded cars to stop on the upper industrial levels, trapping the army in separate, sealed loading bays.

Captain Aceret couldn't help them. His tiny force was pinned down inside lift control by the frantic efforts of Silken security. Only Lot had been able to slip out undetected, escaping moments before air locks in the duct system closed, sealing off lift control. There was no going back. But that was okay. Lot knew the moves. Jupiter had kept him in commando training since he was five. He knew how to pack his sense of self away in cold storage, fear and doubt chilled down to a static background hum. He hauled himself forward.

His lungs burned, but soft little coughs helped to ease the pressure. The vent that he'd struggled toward came into view through the swirling dust. He whispered to his headlamp to switch off. Then he peered down through the grating.

The corridor below was dark. Motion sensors controlled the lights, so that meant it was probably empty. Better, the sticky drops of his sensory tears didn't detect any human presence. He lay still for a moment, concentrating on not getting scared. Then he ordered the headlamp back on. The beam pierced the dust, revealing a dead end to the air duct: a closed air lock just a few feet beyond the vent. It wouldn't be long before oxygen ran out on the other side.

Reaching to his waist pack, Lot took out the pocket torch Captain Aceret had given him. It made a soft hiss when he turned it on, then spat loudly as the white flame cut the seam that sealed the grating. An acrid smoke made Lot's eyes water and his lungs itch. Coughing softly, he moved the hot grate aside before it could self-repair.

He still didn't hear any sounds, or detect any human sense from the corridor. Captain Aceret said the Silkens had only a few security troops. If any one segment of Jupiter's army broke out, the Silkens would be quickly overwhelmed.

He touched his headlamp. "Hark, release," he whispered to the Dull Intelligence that controlled the device. The organic fingers loosened their grip, and the lamp came away in his hand. He tucked it into a pocket, then grabbed the vent's hot rim with his gloved hands and dropped to the floor, landing with practiced quiet.

Lights flashed on, revealing white walls tinged brown with mildew or perhaps with age. The smart fibers in his camouflage suit instantly shifted in color and reflectivity to mimic the dirty white walls. The camo paint on his face shifted too.

He could see for maybe a hundred yards in both directions, before the corridor cubed out of sight. A heavy door was set against the inside curve. Jupiter would be waiting just beyond it, trapped in a loading bay along with a small section of his army.

The Silkens had disabled the electronic system that controlled the pressure door, and there were no manual overrides on the interior. The army had tried using assault Makers to dissolve the door and the surrounding walls, but the molecular-scale machines had inexplicably failed. So it was up to Lot to open the bay door by hand.

Captain Aceret had thoroughly drilled him. First thing, find the control pad. It was set high in the wall, and Lot had to stretch to reach it. He slapped the reset button, then turned to the manual lever.

The door had been designed to protect against accidental decompression; it wasn't a security device. So long as the sensors registered equal pressure on both sides, it could be opened manually. In a minute, Jupiter would be free. The army would move out again, this time on foot, winding down through the spiral corridor of the city's industrial core, down and down to the lower elevator terminus, for the final descent to Deception Well.

Copyright © 1997 by Linda Nagata


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