A millennium in the future, Earth is returning from the brink of extinction. Nineteen-year-old Eliana struggles to defeat the remnant survivors of an orbital space station, who seek to use their technology to rule the ailing planet as humanity’s new gods. Eliana finds an unexpected ally in Graham, a newly created artificial intelligence, who believes Eliana holds humanity’s best chance for survival.
INFERNO OF EDEN, currently undergoing its final revision, totals 120,000 words. It
is a post-apocalyptic Western about a young woman struggling against the tyranny of the powerful. The novel explores the nature of intelligence as well as our understanding of time. It also contains an element of the mysterious as humanity’s near extinction has catalyzed the emergence of extraordinary talents in the hero.
In 2002 I founded GrubHub.com, which I recently left to pursue a literary career. In my 12 years as leader of the company, I created a brand that has attracted 10 million customers as well as 1.2 million Twitter and Facebook followers. By way of my bona fides for writing a hard science fiction novel, I have a pile of degrees from MIT, where I was often seen hanging around the AI lab. Which is to say, I’m perfectly aware when I sacrifice solid science in the name of a great story.
Thank you for considering this first installment of INFERNO OF EDEN.
Copyright © 2016 Mike Evans. All rights reserved.
Eliana’s stomach rumbled audibly, her body trying to remind her busy mind of her growing hunger. She barely noticed. Her head was bent over delicate work, her concentration wholly fixed on a small piece of metal. The last time she’d noticed her physical needs had been hours ago. Vaguely, she had registered that she was both starving and exhausted, but she’d brushed the sensations aside then and couldn’t be bothered by them now.
She held a pair of tweezers in her hand, the tip hovering over an ancient wristwatch. She was focused on a tiny part made up of three components: a steel center rod, a disc, and a finely machined pinion gear, over a thousand years old. Eliana had created the disc herself. It represented the absolute pinnacle of technical achievement for the modern-day Tinkers of Waskaganish: a nearly perfect circle of hardened steel. The tolerances of machining this disc to within a fraction of a millimeter had been achieved through the dedicated efforts of generations.
Checking her work a final time under magnification, Eliana was satisfied that the disc would be sufficient. It was as close to perfectly circular as anything she had ever created. It was tiny: only a fraction of the width of her small fingernail. Now she would cut the teeth that would turn this disc into a gear.
She had learned about clocks under her father’s patient instruction. Balance wheels and ratchets. Pinions and jewels. The mystery of keyless works. Each aspect of clockwork could be understood through careful examination. Then it was a matter of scavenging from one broken machine to repair another, which was easy enough once the mechanisms were understood.
But scavenging was rarely sufficient. Many half repaired clocks had sat among the benches of the workshop until Eliana’s father had, at last, rediscovered the technique required to create new precision gears. That had been some two decades past. Since then, his technique had been used to repair dozens of clocks, which in turn had been traded to the Academy at Rankin Inlet, greatly increasing her family’s wealth.
Her father’s replacement parts were fabricated from mundane materials like brass and iron. Oldtech alloys would have been better. But even after countless generations of effort, the Tinkerers hadn’t been able to devise methods for working on the materials with any degree of precision. Usually, they just ended up breaking the drill bits. Thus, the replacements were of inferior grade to the original parts.
Those early clocks, made years ago, had been easy in comparison to the much smaller watches that now littered the workshop. No one in recent memory had been able to create a replacement part small and durable enough for a wristwatch.
She caught a glimpse of herself as she adjusted the small mirror on her cluttered workbench to direct more light towards the part. What she saw reminded her that she should probably take better care of herself: Her black eyes, which she usually regarded as quite striking, looked more haunting, on account of the puffy skin underneath them. Her face was framed by black hair, the color of graphite, with the same silvery sheen. It was long, straight, and she had to admit, somewhat greasy.
Her sepia skin tone matched her parents’ exactly, who proudly traced their descent from the James Bay Cree that had originally called Waskaganish home. Though, the influx of European and American immigrants back during The Burning meant that her skin was paler than her ancestry would suggest: more brass than bronze.
Her hollow cheeks suggested she should eat more. Just a couple of generations ago, this would have been unremarkable. But in this era of relative abundance, it suggested she simply needed to take better care of herself.
She brushed the thought aside. The tightness of hunger in her stomach gave way to butterflies as she carefully removed the disc from the steel shaft and prepared to cut the teeth that would make it a gear.
She placed the disc in a chock she’d created specifically for this purpose. It would rotate precisely six degrees with a push of the foot pedal. She did just that a few times and was pleased to see the mechanism work perfectly each time.
Then she turned her attention to the cutting tool. She had created this too—though perhaps created was too strong a word. Really, she had torn a crude tool out of the guts of a mechanism that had once been something much more: a computer operated machine designed to make the most precise of cuts. It had the conflicting designation of being priceless, while, for all practical purposes, worthless. It had been hauled here by the Reclaimer guild. And wasn’t technically hers to use.
Last week, she had used a lavish portion of the workshop’s electricity ration to power up the Oldtech machine for a few short minutes. Rather than doing anything useful, the ancient screen had displayed objections such as “insufficient biometric match” and “BIOS update required to continue”. Frustrating… but not entirely a lost cause.
In an act of sacrilege that still had her in deep displeasure of the council, she had stripped the stubborn machine to pieces. She had separated the mechanical milling and lathing tools from the electrical drive and computer control. This simple act had provoked equal amounts of rage and wonder in the council. To defile a machine retrieved at such a high cost by the old Reclaimer guild had brought disdain and anger down from one quarter. A competing faction had marveled at her ability to dismantle a device that had resisted the entropy of decay for hundreds of years. Somehow, Eliana’s punishment had been lost in the subsequent petty squabbling.
To bypass the electronics’ cranky attitude she had replaced the entire electrical system with a decidedly low-tech solution. An arrangement of gears, belts, and pulleys connected the lathe to a heavy counterweight suspended two meters off the ground. Once she released the catch, the stone would drop slowly towards the ground. During that descent, the high gear ratios would drive the bit to rotate at extremely high speed. The whole setup was attached to a vertical track that slid smoothly up and down, aided by its own counterweight system. All she had to do was lower the spinning blade into the disc. Easy!
She checked the setup a final time. She had only two minutes before the counterweight hit the ground. To ensure the best accuracy she needed to do this all in one drop of the counterweight. She released the catch on the counterweight. The drill bit accelerated to a furious pace, while the counterweight slowly made its way earthward.
Ever so carefully, she slid the bit into contact with the disc. The bit sliced away a tiny spiral of metal. Working quickly, before the counterweight hit the ground, Eliana lifted the bit, pushed the pedal to rotate the disc and made another cut.
Lift. Pedal. Drop.
Lift. Pedal. Drop.
Each sequence took just under two seconds. She made sixty cuts, in total. After just two scant minutes, Eliana lifted the drill a final time and locked it in place. Her arms trembled with pent up tension as much as the effort of working the mechanism.
As if to mark the occasion, the counterweight hit the ground with a dull thud. The cutting surface lost its momentum, whirring down slowly. Eliana fancied that the machine seemed… almost happy. Oldtech rarely seemed happy. The machines’ former masters had taught them to be surly things, stingy with their aid to those who were not blessed with the proper credentials. The guardedness of the information wars continued to be a constant obstacle for Tinkers like her to overcome.
Using her best number five tweezers, Eliana carefully removed the steel disc–no, steel gear—from the chock. She examined her workmanship under a loupe. She grabbed a flake of oilstone from the desk with her tweezers. Applying the oilstone to the grooves between the teeth removed any burrs leftover from the machining process.
The metal smoothed under her attention.
As the final edges of the gear became more distinct under the magnification of the ancient loupe, Eliana paused. This would be the culmination of months of effort. The gear finished, she used a small bellows to blow a puff of air over the teeth, freeing them of any final dust or debris. She careful secured the gear on its post along with the pinion that had already been in place. She placed it on the movement and wiggled it until it fell into position.
This wasn’t the first watch she had ever repaired, but this was the first time anyone in the Tinker guild had actually created such a small, hard gear instead of scavenging one from another piece. In some ways, creating a mechanical watch was wasteful and unnecessary. It was easy enough to manufacture the simple electronics used in a quartz timepiece. But regaining the mechanical precision casually delegated to computer-controlled machines just prior to the Burning was as much a matter of elegance as it was a pragmatic achievement.
Eliana’s attention wandered a moment as she thought about her friend Jacques. He was out in the wasteland somewhere; wearing the watch she’d given him. It was the first she had successfully fixed from scavenged parts. She’d been as happy to have him use it. Where was he now? What was it, mid January? She could never keep track. At any rate, he was probably headed home by now. She looked forward to showing him her latest masterpiece; with the gear she had created herself.
Eliana was excited to test her results, but schooled herself to patience. She methodically reassembled the watch movement, face, hands, and case.
She used the ancient clasp to attach the watch to her wrist. It felt like a theft. By law and custom, the device belonged equally to the Reclaimer and Tinker guilds. She would definitely hear about it if she were seen wearing it in public. The Reclaimer guilds often felt more like lawyers these days. They were greedy with their possessions. That guild wasn’t what it had once been, since Oldtech was getting even older. As the centuries passed, it became increasingly difficult to find anything worthwhile in the old abandoned cities to the South. Nevertheless, Eliana permitted herself this small moment of possession of a device on which she had lavished so much attention.
She twisted the winding lug a few times. The second hand began its movement. To test the accuracy, she held her wrist up to the working clock above the workbench. The second hand of the watch tracked in time. They made their revolutions: once, twice, the two timepieces ticking seconds off in perfect synchronization.
With a thrill of pride she’d realized her work had been a success. Smiling, Eliana began to unhook the watch’s band.
A commotion from the surface cut through her attention. There was a series of explosions, in rapid sequence. It was almost like a belching or coughing, but from a machine. The noise became more regular, more like the clockwork she had been working on. It was unlike anything she had ever heard. But her trained Tinker’s ear recognized it as mechanical.
Eliana felt a hint of anxiety. She looked around for her apprentice, Misha. When was the last time she’d seen the girl? An hour ago? A day?
The mechanical coughing became more urgent.
With a lurch of fear in her belly, Eliana raced to the ladder of the workshop and climbed up. She opened the hatch. She prepared as best as she could for the blast of heat, but it still shocked her body, even under the stars on a relatively cool mid-January night. Immediately, she felt sweat forming on her back, and over her eyebrows.
Eliana’s workshop was on the edge of Waskaganish. She had an unobstructed view towards the center of town. Just to her right, her workshop’s air conditioning machinery, hugged close to the ground. The machine was humming along contentedly. It inhaled the dusty air, filtering and cooling it before exhaling clean, cool air into the living spaces below.
Eliana sneezed. She hated the surface. She wasn’t sure what was worse, the ever-present dust blowing in the wind or the smell of decay. There were dying small plants everywhere this time of year.
The view to her left was dominated by an enormous hangar building that dwarfed the ground-hugging mechanical life support structures. It housed the nearly completed prototype dirigible that had been the result of a rare cooperation between the Tinkers and Reclaimers. At first, she thought the source of the mechanical noise was coming from there, but it was just the sound reflecting off the broad surface of the building. The echoes made it difficult to pinpoint the source of the noise.
Dozens of stunted bushes dotted the landscape, situated among the towns’ vents and hatches. Their branches were raised heavenward, waiting for the short span of daylight that would start in a few hours. They were the product of ever-ongoing genetic botany experiments. Her town had been trying to create low-light heat, resistant plants for generations. There were a few surface farmers out in the cool of night. They had been brushing the dust off the plants’ leaves before the sun came up. They had all stopped their work, and turned, horrified, to the source of the noise.
She followed their gaze. Her eyes slowly adjusted to a landscape illuminated only by the stars and moon. Others were emerging from underground as well, drawn to the terrible noise. The fear of the other townspeople was palpable.
In the dim starlight, she saw her absent apprentice, Misha, standing triumphantly next to the piece of Oldtech responsible for the clangor that had pulled Eliana from her workbench. The Oldtech was jumping erratically as flames shot out of a metal pipe on its side. Misha’s small form radiated pride and triumph as she stood beside the long dormant device come to life.
The girl noticed Eliana, and the look of pride faltered. Then it reflected the fear she saw on her mentor’s face.
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