Neal Asher shares the story behind The Soldier, the first novel in the Rise of the Jain series. The Soldier is published in hardback, ebook and audiobook now. 

As with so many stories, some characters grow bigger than their roles and the reader would like to hear more from them. One such dumped herself neatly in a hole in my Polity chronology between the events of the Agent Cormac series and those of the Spatterjay series. She was also a bit of a loose end . . .  

Orlandine is a haiman, the nearest possible amalgamation of AI and human without the organic human brain burning out like a fuse. Only she is more integrated than others of her kind because she has conquered a Jain node and deployed its technology in her body. A main character in the Cormac series, who helps with the annihilation of a terrible threat to the Human Polity, she is cast adrift in space. She puts herself into cryonic hibernation to survive because she might not be found for millennia.

And then, she wakes:

The photovoltaic cells on the surface of her interface sphere were supplying just enough energy for her to wake, and to power-up the passive sensors dotted about the same surface. Her body temperature sat a spit or two above absolute zero, and though the cryonic technique she had used as she froze would have prevented the formation of damaging ice crystals, she knew there would still be a lot of repairs to make. She also needed much more power than was presently available to be able to think at more than a mere human level, and to see her surroundings with more than the present limited proportion of the electromagnetic spectrum available to her.

Belatedly, she checked the time, wondering if the universe was filled with dead suns and red giants, and that her present wakefulness was due to her briefly warming herself on its cooling embers. But a mere two hundred years had passed.

The stars here were sparsely scattered, vague dots without a sufficient light-output to power up her interface sphere, however, she was being supplied light. Unfortunately it was lased, focused upon her sphere, and all but blinded her to its source.

Energy levels gradually increased and she managed to gain another percentage point of processing power. No, not Polity AIs, for in two hundred years they would have utterly understood and conquered Jain technology or been annihilated by it, so in either case would have no need to study her. Few others possessed the resources to find her, though it was possible that had changed in the intervening centuries. Running projections, calculations, and her limited suite of programs, she could not find the answer, so did something utterly human: she took a wild guess.

“Hello, Dragon,” she sent.

Dragon is a giant alien entity – a sphere fifty miles across of advanced biotech with a mind part Delphic oracle and part Machiavelli. It also played major roles in the Cormac books (‘roles’ because there are more than just one sphere of this creature). It has snared Orlandine to ‘build something numinous’, but first sums up an existential threat that is Jain technology:

“Over the last two hundred years there have been great dangers, near-extinction events and many like the biophysicist Skellor. Quarantine and selective sterilization of many areas within the Polity has destroyed all the Jain technology there, however, Jain-tech remains a severe threat, one that the Polity, especially since it is as undeveloped as when you departed it, is not truly equipped to deal with. Whilst the accretion disc swarms with Jain technology, even though it is now an interdict area and surrounded by massive defences and watch stations, the evil keeps escaping its box.”

Orlandine is in perfect agreement, because she understands Jain tech so well.

“The Polity will go the same way as the other races,” she said. “Some future race might find just a few ruins.”

“Just so, especially when the accretion disc’s sun fully ignites and blows a sandstorm of Jain nodes across the Polity.”

“What do you want me to build?” she asked.

“You say that you want to build, Orlandine, but two hundred years ago you demonstrated a greater facility for destruction.”

“I see.”

“You are,” said Dragon, “going to spend the rest of your existence annihilating a technology, tearing it up by its roots and utterly erasing it. In effect, the numinous thing you will build, will be the future of the Polity. Do you agree?”

“Did you think for one moment that I wouldn’t?”

The light grew brighter.    

Orlandine’s immense weapons platforms surround the accretion disc to keep the Jain tech there in check. Meanwhile she is building something else – a more ambitious solution to the threat it represents. Unfortunately, something lethal, and very very powerful, is working against her.

The Soldier begins.