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Chapter 5: Syntha

I am the beginning and the ending.

First words spoken by the Prime AI

The Syntha Sector

The approach to either of the Syntha Sectors on Kyklops is somewhat startling, one minute the traveller finds himself in the vibrant bustle of the Free City - wealthy sectors of Iskandria Major such as Ordol and Antioch, or industrial communities such as those of Eith or Sindant on Iskandria Minor - and the next minute the tall buildings and busy citizens are gone, replaced by a barren strip of blackened earth. In the distance strange structures can be seen rising high above the landscape, artificial mountains of chrome and glass sparkling like ice. This sterile strip of open ground is the Syntha border, a space cleared and flattened all along the edges of the Syntha sector patrolled by flying probes and watched by hundreds of mechanical eyes. To cross this space is to come to the attention of Iskandria's reclusive Syntha.

Even if a hypothetical visitor were to journey unopposed across the no-man's-land and into the Syntha Sector proper he would find himself in an eerie alien world, a world for the most part devoid of motion and sound, a world of towering structures arrayed with a maddening logic unfamiliar to the city-dweller - for here exist no streets, no pedestrian paths, no storefronts or homes, no variety of structure or recognizable system of urban layout. The great looming buildings, semi-circular disks packed one upon the other in successive levels or protruding from the jagged cliffs that dominate these southern shores, have no doors, no external access, not so much as windows below the height of one hundred meters. These are the termite cities of the Syntha, hermetically sealed and imposing structures in which the Syntha conduct their mysterious and secretive existence.

The occasional flying transport can be seen here, flitting from building to building, or arriving from elsewhere on the planet. But the majority of movement between these termite communities is believed to take place underground. Indeed, as densely packed as the termite cities are, one upon the other in endless gleaming thickets, it is thought the underground presence of the Syntha here is even greater. Not only do the habitats and factories of the Syntha reach deep underground in a vast tunnel system, so the rumours go, but the hidden corridors of the synths extend well out to sea, linking both Syntha sectors and reaching far into the deep ocean - where secret research bases and hidden enclaves exist far from the light of day. If the wild speculation about the Syntha Sectors is even half true the population of the synths, both men and machines that need very little in the way of space or privacy, could easily be imagined at half a billion.

But speculation is all the people of Iskandria and the Tripartite Alliance have to go on in the case of the Syntha, especially of the Iskandrian variety, who have been especially secretive and reticent for centuries. It is rare for the Syntha to live so closely alongside the normal run of humanity, and it has long been thought that the extreme measures in which the Iskandrian Syntha insulate themselves from the outside world are merely an outgrowth of their fear of contamination, both physically and intellectually, by the undesirable members of a race they desperately wish to leave behind.

All the more surprising then that the Syntha of a century ago suddenly began to pursue partnerships with nearby Free City corporations, offering staggering resources and access to the Syntha's formidable research muscle for a select few businesses. For a time it appeared the Syntha were making a bid to integrate with their neighbours in much the same way the Plutocrats of the Junker Sector had been eager to engage in the opportunities offered by the far more progressive economic system of the Free City to turn a profit. Indeed, an entire generation of strange and sophisticated new consumer products emerged from these Syntha partners, who gradually took on more traits of the Syntha even while they grew into larger and more integrated manufacturing firms. Only after the wildly successful VR games (Deepsims) and portable personal assistant AIs (Advisors) were recalled from the market in the face of wide-spread boycotting and accusations of their psychologically damaging effects did the new- model Syntha firms retreat back into seclusion.

These corporations became the Syntha Satellite Cities, closing their doors and ceasing all trade, cutting their business contacts, and sealing themselves away from the outside world in much the same way the Syntha Sector has. Now they can be seen rising aloofly above the buildings of the Free City, forbidden towers linked to the Syntha Sector by long aerial maglev tubes. Three such cities exist in Iskandria Major, two more on its sister-continent, and they have been a point of contention with the other parties of the Tripartite Alliance, who insist they are against the spirit of the Partition Treaty, for decades. It was from these Satellite Cities, the northernmost roots of the spreading Syntha weed, that the Dark Prime armies emerged, simultaneously and in force, and without any forewarning, to subjugate the southern sectors of Iskandria and throw the Tripartite Alliance and the whole of beleaguered Kyklops into chaos.

Dark Prime Syntha

What the Syntha, despite all their knowledge, cannot fathom is the simple fact that it is the potential locked in man and not that of the machine that is the true source of power. Should they ever discover this I fear for the fate of all humanity.

Iskander, Reflections (HoloRec DCCCIX bio, case a4)

Unfathomable. Simply stated, no one knows the true motivations of the Syntha on Kyklops, let alone what their connection is, if any, with the controlling machine intelligence of Prime. The strange actions of the Syntha in the wake of the Koralon invasion, their complete communications blackout with the rest of human space and absolute refusal to assist Tripartite efforts against the Koralon have been the cause of much speculation and concern among the other Great Powers. They have begun to refer to the Syntha AI as 'Dark Prime,' mysterious, uncommunicative, an unknown quality in galactic politics. On Iskandria the name has stuck for here, more than anywhere else, the unexplained belligerence of the Syntha and their disturbingly strange new army has earned them a sinister reputation.

That the Syntha managed to develop and build such a force in secrecy speaks volumes, not so much as to their ability to prepare and conceal such a large conventional force - their society is, after all, hermetically sealed to infiltration and informational leakage - but of their willingness to use it on fellow members of the Tripartite Alliance. The offensive nature of their army cannot be in doubt - from the droves of fast attack jet bikes to the bunker-busting gun platforms known as macrosynths, the Syntha army has been designed from the ground up to wage war in an urban environment.

This new model army of the Syntha is at once more and, seemingly, less sophisticated than their traditional forces. The SPOMM AIs that govern the Syntha artificials, the androsynths and other fully robotic components of the Dark Prime armies, have improved dramatically over older models, allowing an unprecedented degree of autonomous action, even spontaneous decision making.

Many have theorized that the new SPOMMs themselves cannot possibly account for this, rather that new techniques in 'synth control such as the use of hyper-thread transceivers by biomech leaders or some other principal of organization, perhaps a city-wide network of coordinating AI nodes for example, is the real secret behind the enhanced performance of the Syntha AI. Regardless, the next generation of Syntha artificials are proving themselves far more suitable to the task of urban warfare than their predecessors.

What is perhaps most puzzling about this next generation is not its improved SPOMM, for this, after all, was always a clear goal of the Syntha, but its strange new biomech program. Original biomechs were an attempt to create a perfect melding of man and machine, and were actually organic hybrids of human DNA and prime obsidian micro-circuitry, an extremely difficult and rarely successful process. The new generation of fighting biomechs on Iskandria are much simpler constructions, and hence more numerous, and owe at least as much to the kind of cybernetic augmentation common in prosthenes, the cyborg elite of Syntha society, than to biomech cybergenetic technology. The latest evidence suggests that the Dark Prime biomechs do not arise from embryonic gene-splicing at all, but rather from a form of organic grafting that transplants tissue that has already been successfully gene- spliced into fully formed individuals. In this way a few cultures of cloned biomech tissue can provide material for an army of vat-grown standards, and it is thought that this tissue has even been engineered as self-replicating in a manner reminiscent of coraline - but whether that substance is actually utilized in the creation of the new biomech tissue cultures, or serves merely as an inspirational model for it, is unknown.

One can imagine just what this new process might mean for Syntha society - is this a new shift in priorities or merely a temporary expedient? Can the strange facts of Iskandria's Dark Prime, such as the unprecedented occupation of the neutral zone by the Syntha following the Koralon invasion, somehow be explained by these new cyborgs and, if so, are Iskandria's Syntha acting independently or in collusion with the Prime AI? Could these imaginative biomech designs be indicative of a new kind of intelligence at the very heart of the Syntha, something in which the coldly rational has given way to the twisted dreams of a not-quite human mind? Are we seeing an introduction of the irrational, of the human, into the dominion of the 'synth, and is this change transforming the once sterile and emotionless Syntha into something far more frightening: a nightmare glimpsed through the eyes of a machine?

The Syntha at War

I watched their chrome forms emerge from the dust cloud left by the fallen building - clearly the collapse hadn't stopped them as Captain Ursyn had intended. The line of Suppressors opened fire, flechettes sparking on the androsynth's metal frames, but still they advanced, relentlessly. Larger forms could be seen in the dust, moving forward with a slow, steady step. We hastily withdrew.

R. Habel Qveton, Notes on the Iskandrian War, pp. 123-4

The Dark Prime armies were the first to assail the Free City, plunging it into chaos in the wake of the Koralon invasion - only the coraline spore attack and subsequent amphibious invasion by the aliens months later could compare to their initial devastation attack by the synths. Early on it was identified that the Syntha's immediate goals seemed to be the occupying of key sites around the planet, Iskander's Mausoleum and the Acropolis being two such, and the displacement or extermination of the inhabitants of the Free City. Perversely, the Syntha showed little interest in the actual consolidation or defence of adjacent territories beyond that required for the maintenance of their field forces and the preservation of their links with certain conquered areas. This has led many to speculate that the Syntha's primary goals are the investigation of possible Iskander-related legacy technologies and the creation of a sterile zone around their Sectors.

It is thought that the indiscriminate hostility of the Syntha to the Free City population holds has its ultimate purpose the removal of these people as possible coraline hosts. Under this model the Syntha were simply the most ruthless of all Tripartite Alliance members in identifying the potential threat - millions upon millions of unprotected human beings that might each be made into pawns of the Koralon - and eliminating it in the most direct manner possible. Their unwillingness to engage in any manner of dialogue with their Alliance members and their absolute hostility to any and all forces in the NZ may merely be an outgrowth of this policy - an indication that they do not dare trust any human agent on a planet infected by coraline, for even the uninfected will have their judgment clouded by the terror of the situation, as well as be influenced by certain useless attendant emotions such as compassion.

But there are problems with judging the Syntha by old standards. Not only have they ceased cooperating with the Alliance throughout the galaxy but they have also unveiled a new generation of strange machines and even stranger biomechs that may well indicate, as some experts have insisted, that the Syntha have become prey to something akin to a computer virus, an infection at their heart that may be the cause of their new belligerency and strange new forms. Furthermore, reports of Syntha vessels fighting one another, or attacking their own colonies, have come to light - and this may very well indicate a kind of civil war is taking place amongst the followers of Prime and the unguessable phenomenon that has come under the name Dark Prime.

The Syntha armies on Kyklops show no signs of needing reinforcements, even though the other powers of the Tripartite Alliance have quadrupled their strength with Operation Arkadian Dawn the Dark Prime Syntha still boast one of the largest and most powerful armies on the planet. Their fluid battle line means that they have been very difficult to dislodge in the south, and their general tactic has been to give ground to Viridian or VASA attackers while concentrating their forces elsewhere for a deep raid or spoiling strike. Their inexhaustible numbers have recently been augmented with new urban assault synths similar to macrosynths but even larger and more formidable, and it is thought these weapons are a direct response to the CLAU battlesuits developed jointly by VASA and Viridia - though how the Syntha ever got wind of these highly secret plans is anyone's guess.

The Dark Prime Syntha maintain the highly flexible military organizational doctrine of their homeworlder cousins, indeed their breakthroughs in SPOMM AI and biomech hyper-thread command software make them even more adaptable. Preferring to create forces for specific tasks and then break them down and reassign their components when they are no longer needed, the Syntha rely on small groups called Cells as the basic building blocks of their army. Each Cell could be a basic squad or platoon of 'synths, or perhaps a single macrosynth or biomech, and multiple cells are assigned to Cores dedicated to specific roles. Cores, ranging from three to twelve Cells, are themselves assigned to Clusters of three to twelve Cores for large-scale engagements. These various Clusters are controlled in the field by a command Nexus, itself a fighting force the size of a Cluster, and a general called a Strategicom. The Strategicom often assigns its subordinate commanders to the various Clusters under its command, and also coordinates the efforts of various independent commands in its region. Such independent units, Com-Clusters, Com-Cores, and even Com-Cells, are usually highly specialized and assigned to the campaign for a specific purpose. The entire Nexus-Cluster-Core-Cell system, and the sophisticated logistic and processing software at its heart, allows entire armies to be built, disassembled, recombined, and redistributed at a moment's notice.

The Syntha seem ever-present in the Free City, existing in enormous numbers in Colchis, New Karnus, and Ur-Mandigant, locked in continual battle with the Koralon in Four Bridges and Sun City, and raiding as far a field as Fors Mathori on the Junker Border. Every faction has felt their sting - often at the most unexpected times and places. They seem to indiscriminately assail all forces, human and alien alike, perhaps confident that they can single-handedly defeat all non-Syntha on the planet. They have yet to be proven wrong.

  • Syntha Landscape 1
  • Syntha Landscape 2
  • Syntha Landscape 3