This operation had to be as discreet as possible. So I discussed the matter with the crew of the Perseus. I was going to need their help to prevent this becoming a gigantic operation and a potential war triggering international incident. The captain of the Perseus found two volunteers, Drangstom and Gratoz. After the deep space rebellion bounty hunting had become a potentially lucrative career path, Drangstrom and Gratoz were among the best bounty hunters in the solar system. Their cyborg bodies and internal weapons gave them far greater endurance and firepower than any human.
Once they signed up I took a moment to ponder what manner of weaponry to take. The IEC maintained a small museum with samples of various weapons from terrestrial and extraterrestrial sources. I knew that there was only one gun I wanted to use on this job.
The IEC model 3 personal defense weapon. Or M3PDW, a combination submachine gun and disintegrator. I had designed it with some help from Tom Franks. The IEC’s master of small arms design. It was a tidy little weapon, chambered in a caliber he invented, 10x25mm Defender. The gun was fed by a thirty round magazine loaded between the guns two pistol grips. With a detachable silencer and flashlight. The forward and rear grips contained power sources for the disintegrator mounted on the left side of the gun while the flashlight went on the right side. The stock folded along the side of the gun allowing an extremely compact package ideal for boarding parties. A compact, relatively light piece that could deliver 10mm bullets, single shot, or fully automatic. Or sweep a target area with disintegrator energy out to 100 yards.
The PDW project had not been a raging success. It was a precision made piece of stamped and milled steel with a pricey disintegrator. A really expensive power source and somewhat obscure ammunition. It had achieved a modicum of sales success as a stand alone firearm. It seemed that people wanted to buy disintegrators, or guns, but not both. Still, it was my favorite gun. With subsonic ammunition it was quiet enough to be shot without earmuffs. With the stock folded it was small enough to fit under a coat.
The pistol I selected to go with it was a Remington model 53. Chambered in the increasingly popular European 9MM Luger cartridge. It was much more concealable than my old 45. I was a bit wary of it though, I had only had it for a few weeks and I hadn’t run more than a hundred rounds through it. Still it was the smallest pistol I had so it was coming with me.
With this amount of firepower I wasn’t too worried about what might be laying in wait for us. I was still a little worried though. As any somewhat sane person would be when you are dealing with an insanely powerful computer consciousness that dated to before the dawn of recorded time.
It had struck me as odd that neither of my parents were weapons enthusiasts like I was. It was understandable for my mother. She never had a chance to defend herself against the Martians. But my father? Not only was he a founder of an armaments company but he used weapons to save himself and others from danger many times. Never made much sense to me that he only saw armaments as a means to an end. I had far more respect for weaponry than that. Especially firearms. I made it a habit to practice with a rifle or pistol at least once a month. Once in a while I would try something a little more punchy like a grenade launcher or a handheld railgun. I was even qualified to operate several models of heavy artillery pieces, all models of Heron and Scimitar fighters. Hopefully my PDW would be enough for this little hunting trip.
The cloaked shuttlecraft was flown by autopilot clear across the Pacific Ocean to China while I and my two crew made preparations for whatever we were going to find. China had been a grand geopolitical mess since before the Martian invasion. No Martian war machines landed in China and things had stabilized there a little bit after the invasion. Then Sun Yat-Sen overthrew the Manchu dynasty in 1911.
Things had only gotten worse since. Their economy was in shreds. The only thing that seemed to be selling in China for the past twenty years was weaponry. Dad had decided to not sell any of our companies weapons or ships to anyone in China. He and most sane people decided that market was way more trouble than it was worth.
That didn’t stop plenty of others that felt that the Chinese market was worth their attention. Various weapons combines in Germany, France, Spain and dozens of Eutopian companies and organizations had flooded the region with weapons. Every armament imaginable was floating around China. From crossbows and swords to disintegrators and rail-guns. There were even rumored to be a couple of corvette sized antigravity powered warships floating around in the hands of warlords. Actionable intelligence was spotty. According to various news stories the remnants of the Chinese central government under president Sun were primarily armed with bolt action rifles. Perhaps a few French repeating rifles. Those working with the Eutopian’s would have the latest variant of Liberator rifle and probably a few railguns. Along with the usual horrifying heavy weapons like lightweight mortars, exoskeleton systems and various missiles. The warlords would have whatever they could get their grubby little paws on. It was reported that most of their fighters were partial to German and Spanish made machine pistols.
We probably didn’t have to worry too much about from Eutopian forces. Their area of operations was in the west with the Muslim Uighur’s and the south in Tibet. Republican government forces were tied up elsewhere. So that left the warlords. Hopefully they didn’t have anything that could detect a stealth ship. There was a large force of troops under the command of a local warlord less than a mile from the power source.
We descended through some clouds above a region that was heart-stoppingly beautiful. The green forests, farms and hills of the Guizhou region stretched out below us. Framed by beautiful rocky hills. I had never seen anything like this before. I decided right there and then that if it ever calmed down around here I would have to buy some property here.
I shook myself out of a state of wonder and checked the energy detector. The target had to be right beneath us. I motioned for Drangstom, to take us down. I nodded to Gratoz to get ready. Right before we landed he reminded me.
“This area is right on the boundary of two particularly powerful warlords territory. We had better stay out of sight.”
I sighed and wondered to myself why I hadn’t sent my sister on this mission. Oh right, her total lack of experience in dealing with this sort of thing. If I lived through this I was going to have to make a note of not being so hands on.
Drangstom brought the ship down carefully near a small river. The only spot not covered with trees in sight. After one final weapons and equipment check we started walking a short distance to the power source. It was coming from what looked like a run down shack hidden in the forest. This was probably just a cover for something underground, I thought to myself. Gratoz opened the door and we went in. Nothing, only a few broken pieces of pottery and some dusty furniture. I checked the tracker. It was going wild. There was something that was generating Yonth energies right beneath us that was giving off enough power to drive a small city. On a whim I asked, “come out, come out whatever you are.”
“Voiceprint recognized, welcome Katy Hammond. Daughter of Ryan Hammond.”
A hologram materialized above the floor right in the middle of the three of us. It was an image of the core. “This is a prerecorded message, you already know who I am and I know who you are. If you are hearing this then my plans are not going as well as I had hoped they would. So I am making one final offer. Stand down, cease your meddling in my activities or be destroyed. I have no desire to stay on Earth any longer and I am not going to meddle in this planets affairs anymore.”
I walked up to the hologram, “and if we refuse?”
The hologram suddenly looked at me, right at me. This was not a recorded message anymore, this was two way communication. I was utterly horrified by the realization that I was being stared at.
“Fine, we do this the hard way then. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Gratoz grabbed me as Drangstom screamed, “run!” Everything seemed to be in slow motion even though my escorts were moving at speeds well beyond what any human could manage. The floor of the shack was buckling. Something was coming up from beneath the floor. We got out just in time to see a gigantic metal rod had erupted from the ground. Then the rod started splitting into pieces. It unfolded into something that I can hardly describe. It was a machine that looked like it had been designed to be a vague simulacrum of a dragon. Covered in dirt, it was the scariest thing I had ever seen in my life.
It stared right at me and announced in a terrible sounding synthesized voice. “So how do you like the hard way?”
It breathed fire, Gratoz continued to try to carry me but the fire engulfed him. He shielded me from the flames as well as he could. My nomex flight suit handled the rest. Drangstom opened up with a railgun, firing a continuous burst. It did some damage and provided a distraction. The monstrosity ignored him and started running. Over to where the shuttle was parked. It fired at the still invisible ship. It wasn’t invisible after that. It then came back to Drangstom, it appeared to be activating a plasma weapon from an arm when something really big hit it. The shot had flown right over my head. I looked over to see a small army pouring out of the woods. They looked like they belonged to a warlord although they had spicier weapons than what I believed a typical warlord army had. They were armed with various machine pistols, rocket launchers and a few disintegrators. They shouted commands in what sounded like cantonese and attacked the monstrosity as I tried to drag what was left of Gratoz out of the line of fire. Drangstom came over and shouted.
“That body is toast, we have to do a consciousness transfer.”
He whipped out a device which could house his compatriots mind. A Eutopian watch. I had heard of this kind of operation many many times. But I had never seen it done outside a laboratory. It was really wild to see his consciousness, his memories, the essence of who he was drain out of his spinal column into the watch. Right as the transfer finished we were grabbed by a soldier. But when he saw that Drangstom was an Eutopian he holstered his machine pistol and made it clear that he had no desire to fight us.
The moment was interrupted by a series of massive explosions. The dragon thingy was getting back up. The soldiers fired a barrage of rockets at the thing. It absorbed the impacts like they were nothing. That said, if it was possible to enrage a machine I think they had just done so.
I joined Drangstom and the hundred or so soldiers left in a dead run through the forest. Random shots of plasma erupted trees and the ground around us. We ran up to trench lines. These soldiers had been digging in, preparing for a battle. Thank god they hadn’t set up barbed wire yet. I leapt as far as I could over at least three trench lines. There was a massive boom, someone in this army had cobbled together a crude armored vehicle which was firing a light artillery piece at the monster. One shot from a plasma cannon demolished that poor armored car and its crew.
My only priority was escape. But I couldn’t see a way out. My shuttle was gone, one of my men was nothing more than a watch on my wrist. This monster was tearing through an entire army with no more effort than tearing paper. I knew it was only a matter of time until it caught up. Then Drangstom pointed to something. It was a small aircraft. Looked like an overgrown box kite but perhaps it just might be fast enough to allow us to escape. Before I could change directions two plasma blasts hit the plane and Drangstom. The plane was annihilated. Drangstom however was made of stronger stuff. It only vaporized the lower half of his body.
I ran to him, he was already transferring to his watch. Once the process completed I slapped it on my left wrist. I was alone. The Chinese soldiers were gone. Blown to bits or crushed or incinerated. The dragon was stomping towards me. I had my M3, if rockets and rail-guns hadn’t stopped it than what chance did my dinky little PDW have? Well I had to try something. I pressed the thumb trigger in the disintegrator, all that seemed to do was get its attention. As trees, rocks, scrap metal and dirt dissolved all around it. I swept the muzzle around looking for a weak point, finding nothing. Until the power indicator registered that it was almost empty. So I switched to automatic gunfire.
I dumped an entire magazine into the thing as it drew towards me. The bullets pinged off the head. I congratulated myself for a tiny instance for my marksmanship. With the gun completely dry I dropped it, letting the sling catch it and drew my pistol. It got off three shots, then it jammed. I was so enraged and desperate that I hurled it at the monster which was now about 20 feet away.
I recall the gun tumbling through the air. With a stovepipe jam sticking out of the chamber. It’s funny how you remember these things. The absurd and asinine amid a sea of chaos. Right as the useless pistol struck the monster a streak of blinding white energy blew it to kingdom come. Most of the force of the blast was directed away from me thanks to a trench. Most of it.
I was blown backwards by a wave of dirt. I was still wearing a flight helmet with earmuffs for a headset radio but all I could hear was ringing. I tried to breathe, all I could feel was dirt. I coughed it out and felt myself drifting off into unconsciousness for a moment. I pulled myself out of it. Something had killed the mechanical monster and whatever it was was, was probably coming for me. For the moment I couldn’t move, there was too much dirt.
The ground started to shake. Everything around me was vibrating, I had never experienced anything like this in my life. It wasn’t like an engine creating noise it was more like a weapon of some kind causing everything to resonate. Some kind of new disintegrator perhaps? Then the music started, it was some kind of mad violin music. Sounded vaguely familiar, wheels started turning in my head, it was something familiar, but vaguely terrifying. Whatever this was it was beyond anything any Chinese warlord was known to have.
Something really big floated above me. It was a warship, looked like an old Eutopian Wraith class battleship. With a long fuselage extending out from a spherical central structure and two relatively short wings with engine pods on the wing tips. The main body looked somewhat like a sword with a big ball where the hilt would go. Near the bow I saw the nameplate, Søren Kierkegaard. What an odd name for a warship.
I couldn’t hear the sound of its engines or weapons fire. All I could hear was that mad music. Which seemed to be coming from every solid object around me. As I pulled myself out of the dirt the music quieted to a soft whisper as a voice kindly spoke. “Try to relax, this is going to feel a little weird, try to go as limp as you can.”
Some kind of gelatinous mass came down, enveloped me and yanked me up into the ship. Darkness fell on me like a ton of bad cliches.
I came to in a luxuriously appointed room. Someone had dumped me on a tarp, in some fancy mans bedroom. I was still in my filthy clothes. My watches were missing. I reached around for something, anything. My watches were gone, so was my gun. All I found was a typed note next to the tarp. It read. “If you don’t mind I have laid out some clothes for you, the bathroom is directly behind you. I would prefer if you cleaned yourself up before we get going. I have your gun and I have already begun the process to transfer your friends into android bodies. Clean yourself up and come meet me in the dining room. I will have a crewman outside the door guide you there once you are ready.”
It was a rare pleasure using that shower. There’s a sensation that’s hard to describe when you bathe after getting really filthy. His shower was an absurd contraption with a half a dozen nozzles that got up into everything. While I washed up I racked my brain, who or what would be flying a Wraith class battleship over China? It wouldn’t be the Eutopian’s. After the treaty of St. Petersburg they agreed not to fly warships around Earth without permission. They hadn’t violated the treaty for fifteen years and it would be very unlikely for them to start now. This ship had to belong to an earthling, perhaps a space pirate? No, the Pirates had some pretty powerful ships but if the Eutopian’s had lost a battleship in the deep space rebellion I would have heard about it.
I wrapped myself up in a robe and looked around the cabin. There was my answer, sitting on the bedside table. A black and white picture of the most infamous Dane of modern times. Heinrich Gerlach.
Some called him the Danish counterpart to my father. Others called him a traitorous murderer. I recalled that he had been an engineer with the Martian expeditionary force and after the war had attempted to create his own fleet of spaceships. But with no Nikolai Tesla or Richard Pierce to work with and only limited funds from the Danish government his company had not completed a single prototype after years of work. His company was on the edge of bankruptcy when the first Eutopian drop ships came down. He threw in his lot with them and became their primary raw materials broker in Northern Europe.
During the great kidnapping he had been a primary source of information to the Eutopian fleet. Then for reasons no one really understood, over a hundred high ranking government officials and business leaders from France, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy were transferred to a ship under his command where he proceeded to drop them from a great height into the Adriatic Sea. When captain Dorcas, the highest ranking Eutopian officer to survive the great kidnapping was giving his deposition to investigators after the failure of the operation, he publicly denounced Gerlach as a liar and murderer.
After that things got really odd. Though no one denied that he had killed those men in cold blood, no one seemed to want to talk about it. Even the governments whose people he had killed didn’t demand his prosecution. Even though he was the only human who appeared to be guilty of a grave crime during the incident. After all accounts were settled he left Denmark and last I had heard. He had been one of founders of the bankrupt deep space colonization and shipping company Laurentian Frontier. I supposed that after LF got torn to pieces as a result of the deep space rebellion he came back to Earth.
As I realized this I was unarmed, incommunicado with anyone I could trust, almost naked and kinda wet. I shook my head and realized that whatever else was going to happen I had better have some clothes on. There were a couple of outfits laid out for me. A flight suit and a beautiful red dress. At first I went for the dress, a long flowing silken thing that felt like distilled elegance. Then I remembered that I was still a prisoner of a Danish madman. I might have to fight my way out of so I put on the flight suit.
I zippered up and opened the door to the cabin. A black man in another flight suit was waiting outside he silently gestured for me to come with him. After a few minutes of silent travel down a well lit hallway, seemingly created of one continuous pour of brushed stainless steel he led me to a central cafeteria area. While dozens of men ate in peace the captain of the ship sat casually on an overstuffed velvet chair on a raised platform opposite a huge window to the outside world.
It was Gerlach alright, at least I thought it was Gerlach. In the picture I just saw he looked like a burned out, overweight 70 year old man. This guy was in excellent shape and didn’t look a day over thirty. He had an air of complete casual indifference while he fiddled with a slate computer with one hand and held what remained of a smoked turkey leg with the other. An incongruous mix of a typical high tech company executive and a baron overseeing his realm. I introduced myself.
“Henk Gerlach I presume, it looks like Eutopian medical science has been quite kind to you.”
“My friends call me Henk, let’s wait and see what we think of each other before we go throwing around terms of endearment. For now, you can call me Heinrich.”
He tossed the remains of the turkey leg in a nearby garbage pail and ran his fingers through a water bowl. As he put his slate away in a holster he turned to look at me and with more than a hint of whimsy asked.
“So, what is the president of the planet Earths preeminent shipping and technology company doing out here almost getting vaporized by Chinese warlords and robots built of eldritch technologies in the middle of a brushfire war? That was one hell of a trap you three tripped. Besides I thought your company had a very strict, ‘we don’t sell weapons to war criminals policy?”
I explained what was happening, that another manifestation of the consciousness of the Venusian Core had revealed itself and it seemed to be up to its usual tricks. When I was finished I asked, “I know what I am doing in southern China. But are you doing here? I know little about you, but I do know that the Eutopian’s don’t come out to eastern China all that often and they don’t usually violate the treaty of St Petersburg by flying uncloaked ships around Earth.”
“Oh? I didn’t know that I was forbidden from coming out here? Or that I was a Eutopian for that matter? Am I stuck doing business out there in the frontier, or in western China? This may come as a surprise, especially given what you just barely lived through, the great game is coming to a close. My alien friends and I have flooded so many weapons into China that even the Japanese don’t have a snowballs chance in hell of taking the country. In a couple years they will probably be campaigning in Korea, or perhaps we will see the end of the empire of Nippon itself. This whole rotten system is coming down once and for all and I want a front row seat.”
“And the profits of freed enterprise and loot when these governments are permanently broken is just a fringe benefit, right?”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing. No, I have much loftier goals than mere profit for profits sake. I am here to take down the last remnants of the greatest threat mankind ever had. I am a warrior of light, in a righteous crusade against the most insidious evil you could ever imagine.”
This nonsense was well and truly pissing me off now, I shouted.
“What in gods holy name are you blathering about you maniac?! Did the doctors pickle your brain in formaldehyde while they were rebuilding your body? Warrior of light! You were a businessman who became a traitor, a murderer and a profiteer. You provided the Eutopian’s with the information they needed to attempt their kidnapping of every high ranking politician on the planet. Then when the German government and my father made sure that plan would never work you killed your prisoners instead of acknowledging that the game was over and you lost! Righteous crusader? You are completely out of your gourd!”
I was pointing an accusing finger right at his perfectly rebuilt nose. His crew had stopped eating and they were staring at me like I had committed an outrageous act, which I had. Villain or not. One doesn’t scream at the captain of a ship in front of their crew. I swear I could hear the sound of safeties clicking off of various weapons and I contemplated wether his crew would kill me all at once or line up to take turns and really drag it out.
He slumped in his chair and replied softly.
“I suppose I deserve that. I didn’t stay around for the investigation. Ganpachi Dorcas and I haven’t talked since that day. He was one of my best friends and I made him look like a war criminal. The time has come and gone for me to explain myself. But now that things are what they are and are going where they are going, I think I can explain why I did that. This is going to get strange and creepy though. I have to start with something that even you poorly understand. The root motivation of all governments.”
“Eh, what now?”
“Why the Core obliterated two cities, why it did everything it did.”
I was completely confused and utterly speechless now. So he began.
“If you suspect that I am working for the Core. I can honestly say that I am not. I wasn’t even aware of her existence until you told me. But her, um, father? predecessor? Incarnation? Whatever you call the thing that infected your former boss. That is whose actions really matters.”
“Did you ever ask the question why the members of the legion conspiracy went after who they went after. Why they could have wreaked unimaginable destruction but reserved their wrath for London and Venice?”
“It blew up London because it was the Capitol of a nation with which Germany and thus the Venusian Core were at war with. Venice? I don’t know, whoever set off that bomb died, either in Maryland or Tunguska. Italy was neutral in the war with Germany. To the best of my knowledge there was nothing worth destroying there, it’s a mystery I admit.”
“It’s not a mystery to those who have studied history that the average person is not privy to. For all the mayhem that happened while the Core was in charge of Germany I believe that it had our best interests at heart.”
“Gerlach, I heard you were insane but I never would have imagined this. I demand that you drop me off at the nearest safe location. I, I don’t even know how to handle this.”
“Calm down, now hear me out. Your friends, the Mandrake family, you probably heard from them about the open conspiracy, the new world order and all that.”
“Of course, what about it?”
“This conspiracy had its tentacles everywhere. For the past couple hundred years the center of this was in London. That was the hub around which all the evil rotated. But that is not where the conspiracy started. The origin of all this is a set of ideas. That it is the natural order of things for the strong to dominate the weak. That it is fine to exploit, defraud and slaughter helpless masses of people to achieve hegemonic dominance. These ideas goes back to the second rising of civilization on this planet. The Yonth were able to go from cave dwellers to space flight in a few thousand years because they practiced a system of mutual benefit. A system that is the most instinctive thing that a human mind can use.”
“Tens of thousands of years ago, probably as a result of the technological disaster that destroyed the Yonth. A system emerged based on exploitation, enslavement, warfare, cruelty and narcotics. Run by the same family lines who maintained hazily recalled memories of the Yonths golden age and the reason for its end. That reason being that thousands of years ago all of mankind had worked together in peace and harmony to touch the face of God and had been punished for it by near extinction and the elimination of what was then, humanities incredible power. If unity was that dangerous, if God was going to come back and finish us off if we ever got that powerful again then we had to remain divided. Hostile to each other and primitive. Divided, not just in nations, or cultures or races. But within our own minds.”
“Under this system humanity was sent barreling down blind alley after blind alley as our species attempted to move forward. But every time humanity started to get somewhere. Hellenistic Greece, the Italian renaissance, the Song and Ming dynasties in China. We were repeatedly smacked back into serfdom, slavery and poverty by power mad oligarchs causing chaos and wars which burned up the work of hundreds of thousands of people over centuries in mere months. The primitiveness and brutality of this system, reincarnated over and over again in various permutations on Earth and Mars. Was intended to make sure that humanity, here or on Mars never got to a point where our technology would become so powerful that it could run the risk of finishing the job that the Yonth had started.”
“This conspiracy thrived in a thousand incarnations. The idea of the necessity of corruption and dominance were broadcast from hundreds of fallen cities in the ancient world. Always seeking out locations where culture and science were advancing the fastest and stamping it out. The Roman Empire stamped out dozens of advanced cultures. Shackling them into a prison of nations. In Venice they sought to extinguish the brushfires in the hearts of men kindled by the Renaissance. In time Venice became strategically unimportant and commercially irrelevant. So they moved to where technology was advancing out of control. England, where they utterly bastardized the industrial revolution. What should have been the most triumphant era of humanity became a fowl mess of pollution and corruption.”
“But it wasn’t enough, technology had gotten to the point that we were sending radio signals off our planet. Our weapons and other technologies had advanced to a point where our Martians neighbors. Who had been enslaved by a similar, but singular system. As opposed to our plurality of governments and cultures. Deemed us a potential threat and came after us. Their invasion unleashed forces which were beyond this conspiracies control. It’s the nature of oligarchical systems to stagnate, until a more effective system comes along and destroys it. The system that controlled China was broken by continuous pressure by the English, Japanese and German colonial powers. The English colonial system was damaged in turn by the Martian invasion.”
“Then the Eutopian’s came along and flipped the chess board. They had rediscovered the old ways. Their plans to destroy this corruption is still functioning, a bit more slowly than some would like. But it will continue on as long as trade continues. That’s just fine with them and me.”
“Now, you are probably wondering. What does the Core have to do with this? As you know the Core was the last living fragment of the Yonth civilization. Built on the dynamism of continuous technological and cultural advance. When it touched Harding’s mind and saw what had happened to humanity during its long exile and it was sickened. It also saw the changes that technology, cultural exchange and the Eutopian’s efforts were bringing about and saw an opportunity to end the old system with one grand gesture. One last gift to humanity from it’s ancestors. A closing of the circle by tearing the heart out of the conspiracy that had enslaved humanity since the fall of the Yonth. The Core did not wish to rule over humanity. Though it went mad in it’s centuries long exile on Venus. It had no desire for dictatorial rule over all of Earth. If it did it would have gone ahead with its plans on a much slower timeline. The Core had all the information it needed to go ahead with this plan, and it would succeeded if the Kaiser hadn’t screwed everything up by demanding that all resources be funneled into super weapons intended to kill armies, not individuals. That was the Cores plan, to eliminate or otherwise neutralize enough of the right people to bring down the whole rotten system. Or at least destabilize it long enough for the Eutopian plan to succeed.”
I couldn’t help but think that all this sounded grandiose. Gerlach’s lecture came across as something that read far too much into anyone’s ability to keep a plan going for generations, much less hundreds of generations. Certainly having known Eutopian’s as long as I had I didn’t have too much faith that they saw themselves as being in conflict with anything but simple tyranny. As for his perceived noble gesture by the Core. My father told me in detail that it was interested in little besides the seeking of pleasure. This was coming across as about 12 percent plausible, 88 percent gibberish. So I said.
“Well that’s a nice thought, but clearly that didn’t happen.”
“Yes, but enough of it did that we can finally move forward as a civilization. Do you realize how deep and dark this madness goes? Do you know that if you go all the way to the top that you find that the while thing runs on the basest and most psychotic human depravities. Do you know what they did to keep all this going? My father did unspeakable things to me as part of continuing this system. He insisted that the system had to continue at any cost or mankind was doomed. Though as to what that doom was, his descriptions were nebulous and I don’t think he had any idea what he was talking about.
I was expected to induct my own son not long after he was born. It was the responsibility of being one who holds the fate of humanity in their hands. But the Prussians decided to have a little war while I was halfway through being traumatized into obedience. My father was called to serve and the programming didn’t take. I now I am bound and determined to end this evil by any means. If that means dropping a hundred creatures unworthy of the term human from 10,000 feet into the Adriatic so be it.”
“Can you prove these allegations?”
“Easily, do you want to see the evidence?”
I realized that I didn’t have the time, or the desire, I shook my head in the negative. He concluded the conversation by saying, “shall we go to the bridge?”
I could see that we weren’t in southeastern China anymore. We were somewhere over the Himalayas. The view from his ships bridge was breathtaking. It looked like a massive plexiglass bubble with transparent floors and a very high ceiling. An old fashioned open planform Eutopian style central command deck. A nice design, provided nothing bumps the ship, then you go flying in all directions. His crew looked like an odd ethnic mix. Scandinavians mostly, a few Africans, some Martians and the rest looked like Uighur’s. A suitably odd crew for an odd ship.
Once I was done with my assessment I asked.
“I want to know what happens next? Am I your prisoner? or am I free to go?”
Before he could get a word out the ship lit up. A siren started blaring, yellow lights flashed and everyone suddenly got up from their chairs. “It would be easier just to show you what happens next. All hands general quarters! What do we have coming at us?”
I could see and feel drones and fighters launching off the ship. This seemed like a serious overreaction to anything that any Chinese warlord might be able to cook up. I looked around and noted the location of the helm, weapons controls and whatnot which was spread around this fairly large and well lit room. As he took his command post he asked his subordinates. “Did you find them?”
“No sir, they found us, I guess they got tired of hiding.”
Part of the walls of the bridge suddenly turned into a screen. It was zooming in on a great grey shape. A ship, a damn big one. The screen zoomed further in on a nameplate. Nemesis.
“That, my dear is what I am here for. The last ship of all the internationalist corporations that have been wreaking havoc in China since the opium wars. I have been hunting it for months now. It has been smuggling raw opium from northern India to southern China for decades now.”
The ship was diving on us from altitude. It would probably start firing it’s railgun’s soon. “I don’t understand, admiral Fischer secured the British fleet. All their warships are rusting away in yards in…”
“Oh, I was unaware that Fischer was a supreme know it all. Or that he commanded every ship of that design. Or that it was impossible to copy these monstrosities. I will explain later, but for now.”
He placed some kind of crown on his head. A neural interface of some kind, weapons came online and the ship started to move.
“I strongly suggest you buckle up, things are about to get kind of crazy.”
The whole ship started making music. It was that insane synthesizer music again. Was he controlling the ship with his mind and writing a song at the same time? No, he was controlling the ship with music. It was his way of interfacing with it. Then I realized that he wasn’t just controlling the Kierkegaard, he was also controlling the combat and surveillance drones and directing his manned fighters. An interesting, but absurdly over complicated, downright baroque way of controlling a ship.
I continued my survey of the bridge. Suddenly I saw the distinctive shape of my M3 slung across the captains chair. I started moving towards it as discretely as I could. I couldn’t help but wonder what backstory of the Nemesis was. Rumors had been batted around the pilot community of phantom ships in the Himalayas. The most credible reports described a ship known as the Beast of Kushinagar. A warship that had been poorly photographed lurking above that northern Indian town. The Japanese claimed that it was an ANZSAC spy ship. The ANZSACs claimed that it was a Japanese ship violating Indian airspace. No claim was ever conclusively proven.
The hull shuddered and explosions rang out. The cloak hadn’t activated in time and the ship was damaged, although much less than I would have expected. Eutopian’s had been building ships with tougher hulls lately. Gerlach observed.
“Should have cloaked as soon as we detected them. Someone please make a note of that, I suppose we have to do this the hard way.”
The main weapons came to life. Different nations ships favored different weapons. Though all warships usually had a diversity of weapons. French warships favor missiles, English ships primary armament were railguns. German ships were unusually armed exclusively with plasma cannons, older Eutopian ships of the Wraith class favored lasers. Really powerful ones. Unbelievably the Nemesis was able to withstand several shots from the Kierkegaard’s main laser battery and kept on coming. Gerlach started to look concerned as he stated.
“Some manner of reflective hull armor. Unexpected, but not too alarming. Time to stop screwing around.”
He went quiet when he noticed something unexpected. A fleet of smaller craft and artillery fire was rising out of the mountain valleys. The Kierkegaard’s engines came up to full power. It moved like a freight train away from the ground fire and towards the enemy ship. Countermeasures and counter fire scythed towards the ground. Gerlach was starting to look worried.
“Hmm, they are really bringing the pain. Let’s see what they can do against our fighter screen.”
The Nemesis let fly with all its main guns and started to take evasive maneuvers among the worlds highest mountains. Suddenly the battle turned from two Capitol ships slugging it out, to a chase through what was probably the least hospitable terrain on the planet. While the crew was distracted I walked quietly over to my PDW. There was probably at most ten seconds of disintegrator power left. Still a much more effective weapon if I had to fight my way out of this than colorful language.
Now and then the hull of the Nemesis would come into view and a hail of railgun rounds would pepper it. Gerlach became reluctant to use his big lasers again. He probably wanted to capture the Nemesis intact. Then something unexpected happened. A missile came streaking out of a nearby mountainside. It wasn’t a conventional missile with an explosive warhead. This was something that I had seen once before and had hoped to never see again. This missile was loaded with an antigravity drive. When it detonated it turned the front three quarters of the Saturn into a realm where the laws of physics had no meaning.
I had seen this phenomena before. When I was a kid I had shot down an English electrical ship. When its drive exploded everything went nuts. Though it had been a very long time ago I remembered everything. At first I was just as effected as everyone else. Then I felt something hard. It was my gun, it had been knocked over to me by the impact of enemy fire. It was solid and reassuring, just the right weight. Like an anchor back to reality. I quickly realized that everyone around me wouldn’t be able to handle a nightmare where hallucinations became reality. I was the only one here who had maintained their sanity.
As I looked around I could see that everyone around me was trying to make sense of all this. The ship was bending, changing, twisting into different shapes. The crew couldn’t know that this was a survivable phenomena. I was going to have to get us out of this mess. The helmsman was plainly too preoccupied with watching his fingers turning into goldfish to steer the ship so I walked towards the helm to seize the controls. Though the controls were only ten paces away those were the hardest ten paces I have ever walked. Gravity was randomly pulling in ten different directions. The floor alternately felt like I was walking on custard or concrete. Sometimes I had to dig my gun into the deck to keep from falling up.
I was able to grab the helmsman by the neck and threw him out. As I sat at the controls I saw that they were mostly playing cards. Some of them were eyes. A few were musical instruments. One was a biting and gnashing skunk. Okay, I was going to have to drive a ship that I had never driven before using controls that no one could have been familiar with. I grabbed a violin which I surmised was the throttle. It came apart into pieces. Four pieces, it was a four piece throttle of black plastic again. I grabbed an oboe and I heard a massive explosion. Oops, that must be a weapons control. I smacked the skunk on the head to get it to stop snarling and all of a sudden I had a control wheel. Okay, now we were getting somewhere.
I threw the ship into hard right reverse to try to pull us out of this phenomena. The sound of weapons impacts hit the hull. We were probably getting somewhere or else the Nemesis wouldn’t be shooting at us again. The controls grew more and more normal around me as the ship itself was growing more and more surreal with every second. I wondered for a moment wether this was because of the crews imaginations or the effect of the antigravity drive. Then there was a really hard impact hit the hull. I realized that I would have to start hitting back. I grabbed a crown of worms that turned out to be a heads up display for the weapons system. The ships AI was completely offline so I would have to fly and fight this ship all by myself until this madness wore off.
The Nemesis was close, about a mile away, pouring fire into the Kierkegaard’s engine compartments. It was only a matter of time until the armor failed. A swarm of fighters were making ineffectual runs at the Nemesis. So I when they cleared the airspace I mashed all the buttons on the weapons console. Giant sausages, snakes, cows, trees, houses, ghosts and other random bullshit flew towards the Nemesis. As they cleared the anomaly they turned back into torpedoes, missiles and laser beams. A giant water snake dragon thing suddenly flashed before my eyes. It knelt before me and started turning back into captain Gerlach.
He tried to scream, but no noise came out. I ignored him and continued advancing the throttle. The anomalous effects were finally starting to wear off. I could feel the ship responding to my commands. It felt sluggish, underpowered. I really would have expected more from a Eutopian-Danish design team. This thing handled like a cow. The Montana could have run circles around this thing. But for all I knew that was just due to the massive battle damage and wholesale violations of the laws of physics that it had just been subject to.
Captain Gerlach stood up and screamed. “Initiate Cromwell protocol. Authorization code resolve 423154765 Charlie. Acknowledge!”
I asked, “so what does that mean?”
“It means the AI targets all unidentified or hostile ships in the vicinity and eliminates them.”
“That might be a little difficult chief. Your AI has shut down and I don’t think it is going to be coming back anytime soon.”
He grabbed his headset. It confirmed to him that all but the most basic and redundant systems on the ship were offline. He screamed, “damn it, all hands to battle-stations. Hit them with everything we got!”
Most of his crew were still tripping pretty hard from what they had been through. So I stated, “your wish is my command.” And continued launching as many weapons as I could summon. The Kierkegaard’s high tech neural interface controls were completely useless as I mashed various buttons that I hoped would activate more weapons. Fortunately the crew was starting to recover and got back to their posts. Unfortunately there was not much they could do. So I did the only thing I could think of.
I leveled the ship out and pushed the throttles up as hard as I could. Gerlach asked, “what the heck do you think you are doing?”
“Running away, until the AI comes back this boat is mostly useless as a fighting machine.”
“But we still have the mass advantage. We should.”
I cut him off, “should what? Get shot to ribbons? They laid a trap for you and you want to stay to see what other nastiness they have for you?”
Before he could counter there was another impact. The heads up display indicated that the Nemesis was pursuing. I ran through my options. I could try to break for space. But I had no idea if she was still airtight. Pushing past the sound barrier was probably also unwise. As I considered my options I started calculating what would be the best advantage that a Eutopian derived battle wagon would have over an English one. There was just one thing that stood out. The structure of the ship was probably mostly intact. Eutopian ships tended to be capable of some pretty radical maneuvers. So I shouted. “Okay everyone, grab onto something solid. We are about to execute a battle turn!”
I broke right as hard as I could, Gerlach screamed “no!” At the top of his lungs as he, and everything not bolted down went flying across the bridge. Internal Gravity was still offline. I put everything I had into muscling the controls. I yelled, “input your Cromwell code again and be snappy about it captain. We are probably only get one chance at this.”
As he rattled off the code I could see the Nemesis closing. Every gun blazing. My stomach gave up as I realized that I had committed this ship to a suicide course. Suddenly the ships AI chirped to life with a comforting female voice. “Command acknowledged, activating Cromwell protocol. Targeting hostile vessel.”
We must have had a closing rate of well over a thousand miles an hour. Many weapons had been knocked out of action. But it was glorious to see what was left of the Kierkegaard’s weapons suddenly leap from the hull into a fiery embrace with the Nemesis. She caught fire and crash landed onto the Tibetan plateau. There was no earth shattering kaboom. They just gently plowed into the dirt. Then, somehow they recovered and started floating away, bearing north. I grumbled as I saw the wounded ship limp away. Then I saw that we had a bigger concern.
A huge ship was heading right for us. Whatever this was would probably make short work of us in our wounded state. Before I could panic too much I heard the radio come to life. The strangely high pitched tone of Captain Grove’s voice asked. “Unknown ship this is the IEC-SS Montana. Identify yourself and your intentions.”
I grabbed something that looked like a deck of playing cards. It resolved itself into a radio handset and I shouted. “Montana, this is Hammond. I am aboard the unknown ship. It is called the Søren Kierkegaard, I am piloting this ship. Please engage the ship that is retreating from this area southbound. Nameplate Nemesis, repeat, nameplate Nemesis. Do not let them escape. Identity code Hammond K 454787.”
“Order acknowledged, engaging.”
I pulled back on the throttles and began turning southward. The Montana passed overhead like a great blue whale. She fired a few warning shots at the Nemesis. I breathed a sigh of relief and looked over at Gerlach. Then I remembered something.
“Shit, Heinrich, countermand the protocol. Tell your AI to not shoot my ship!”
“Don’t worry about it, the Montana is coded. Every ship with Singer armor is coded as a no shoot target. Don’t worry about it, stand down from battle stations. All hands stand down from battle stations. Hove to and prepare damage reports. Set a course for Urumqi.”
I nodded and stated, “if you don’t mind I would like to get back to my ship. I think my people can take it from here. So I will be landing this thing on that big plateau over there.”
Gerlach stood up and groaned, “very good. Will I see you around?”
“Oh this is far from over. Just so you know the Core says that we might have a really big war about to break out soon. Though I hope we are all in better shape if it does. Anyway Heinrich, do you want to hang around for the cleanup?”
“No, we had better be on our way. There might be questions that I cannot answer at the moment, and call me Henk.”
I was handed a parachute and a handheld radio. After a short and pleasant fall to the ground a two seat Heron materialized to take me up to the Montana. Big Blue was hovering above what was left of the Nemesis. Once I arrived in the bridge captain Grove reported. “After we showed up they gave up pretty quick. One shot across their bow caused them to give up.”
“Everyone aboard the Montana is uninjured. But most of the Nemesis’s crew is dead or badly hurt.”
“Can their ship be salvaged?”
“Yes, it won’t be too difficult. It will just be a matter of bringing in some extra hands.”
“Very good, very good captain, so what can you tell me about our prize?”
“It’s size and armament suggest that it is a King George the fifth class battleship. A rare bird, it was believed that only three were built and that all of them were shot down during the battle of the Island of Wight. I suppose this one got away somehow. She will make for a very interesting prize.”
“Yes, but I am more interested in its crew. I want as many of them saved as is humanly possible. Then I want them interrogated. I want to know if they have anything to say about a criminal conspiracy involving drugs, especially opium.”
Grove nodded and I walked over to the captains chair on the bridge. I unslung my M3 and reached into my chair. I had built a storage compartment into it with emergency supplies and ammunition. I slammed in a fresh magazine, and put the gun in a specially made magnetic holster on the side of the chair to recharge the disintegrator. As I settled down into the plush microfiber upholstery I felt an immense wave of relief wash over me. I closed my eyes and let the crew do it’s job for a little while. Before I could catch my breath Grove asked. “It was a trap wasn’t it?”
“Nothing more than a really nasty robot hiding under a shack. I am really tired of having this maniac being three steps ahead of us. Call back to Billings, tell them to release the information on the Cores identity.”
It took four hours to get the Nemesis up and running again. My people had gotten pretty good at fixing up all sorts of ships. That said the damage done from the battle was nothing to sneeze at. By the time it was ready to go we had an unwelcome visitor.
The Japanese had colonized Korea and parts of the Chinese coast over a decade ago. So it was perhaps inevitable that they would show up. What was not expected was that they would show up in force. Their humongous battle wagon Shinano escorted by two heavy cruisers and a few smaller ships. I got on the radio personally and brusquely asked. “So what do you want?”
In lightly accented English someone stated. “That ship has been wreaking havoc in this area for years. It is property of the Emperor.”
“Oh fuck off, you weren’t here for the fight so you don’t get the prize.”
“I’m afraid that we have to insist that ship is ours.”
“Do you really want to get into a fight over this. Because it is a fight you will lose. All hands to battle-stations.”
Grove whispered in my ear, “have you lost your mind? They outnumber us!”
“We have much better guns and armor, their ship may look big and bad but it’s practically an antique, this is my prize. They probably won’t press the issue. Especially since we can fire straight up into their under bellies and they can’t easily fire back.”
As I finished that the railgun’s came up, aiming right at the Shinano’s vulnerable hull. The radio crackled again, “okay, we will let you keep the Nemesis. But we intend to file a formal diplomatic protest with your government over this outrageous violation of Chinese sovereignty.”
“Go right on ahead. My company has already deposed one federal government. It might be time to do it again.”
As they floated away Grove, ever the cautious one stated. “I think that was unwise, you caused them to lose face. Japs hate that more than anything.”
“Eh, screw em. If they didn’t want to do the work that captain Gerlach did hunting these bastards down then they deserve nothing but contempt. Hell, I feel bad enough taking it. Anyone can be a big bad bully boy when they have the advantage. If they were the the great and honorable warriors they claim they are they would…”
I didn’t get the chance to finish that statement. “Con, radar, another ship approaching. It appears to be Russian.”
This time the ship settled into a nice firing position some miles away. The ships transponder identified itself as the Potemkin. One of their new battleships with their terrifying Singer inspired hybrid laser cannons. Known by the odd acronym of CLERGy. Ceramic Laser Emitter Rail Gun. The Shinano might have a hard time punching through the Montana’s armor. But the weapons on a typical Russian ship could probably kill a small planet. I asked for anyone aboard who could speak Russian to come up onto the bridge. I politely asked.
“Battleship Potemkin, please state your intentions.”
I switched over to a Russian comm frequency and repeated the question. Still no response. I clicked off the transmit button and told the crew. “Prepare the Nemesis and Montana for launch. Maintain general quarters, let’s get out of here as politely and quick as we can.”
I got a pair of binoculars and looked at the great big wedge shaped ship. I had seen video of the Russians testing their primary weapons. In the vacuum of space their power was absolutely insane. No one had ever seen a Russian weapon tested inside an atmosphere. Perhaps they wouldn’t be quite so powerful if their weapons had to push a whole lot of air out of the way as they fired. I really didn’t want to find out.
As the Nemesis began floating and the Montana eased into the sky one of the Japanese heavy cruisers came back. I tried to talk to them again, no response this time from them. This was starting to look like Apia harbor part two. So I sent out a mayday to any friendly vessels in the area. I also asked for a change of course. We were going to head towards Australia instead of heading straight home.
I asked the Montana’s chief engineer, Jaques Harbin, the temporary captain of the the Nemesis. “Jaques, how fast do you think you can push the Nemesis? Can she make it into space?”
“These English boats are pretty tough. But outer space? Forget it, she is about as airtight as a colander. I wouldn’t push it much faster than 400 knots.”
“Very well, increase speed to 400 knots. Helm, increase our speed to 400.”
The standoff/pursuit continued. The Russians and Japanese had been angling for a war for years and it looked like I might have just given them the match. I couldn’t abandon the Nemesis. I had over two hundred people on that boat. Still I was seriously considering just letting them keep it on the condition of allowing my people to evacuate. But I realized that it wasn’t going to be that easy. There was no way that two potentially hostile claimants were going to allow a calm, orderly evacuation of the Nemesis.
On and on it went. Passing over the South China Sea. I still couldn’t believe that they were continuing their pursuit. That no ones fingers had slipped on a trigger. All of the Montana’s rear guns were leveled at the Potemkin while the missile batteries were aimed at the Shinano and her escorts. This must have made for a very odd sight as we passed through the Himalayas into India.
Then, as we passed over southern India, just as the ocean came into sight, backup finally arrived. It was the absurdly large ANZSAC flagship Aotearoa and the Eutopian cruiser Perseus. Once they showed up the Japanese and Russian ships backed off. The Russian and Japanese commanders may have been willing to fight each other. And probably had no qualms about declaring war on my company. But a conflict drawing in all these parties along with a heavy cruiser from the new Eutopian Combat Fleet and the militaries of the nations of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and their allies would turn the level of complication and risk up to the level of utter batshit insanity.
Once tthe standoff was over the captain of the Aotearoa requested that we follow him back to his base in the Australian outback for debriefing.
The new ANZSAC base was massive. A huge launch and manufacturing facility reminiscent of the Marseille yards. But bigger, so much bigger. I had heard of the Port Darwin Complex but this was my first time here. I found it hard to believe how vast it was. It stood as a reminder that I really needed to get out more.
After we landed I told my crew to bring the captain of the Nemesis out in shackles at gunpoint. I wanted answers starting with, what could there possibly be on his ship that would have the Russians and Japanese stirred up enough to justify them nearly sparking off a Second World War?
I began the interrogation before the Eutopian and ANZSAC officers could get aboard. I made it clear to him that I had no time for pleasantries. “Listen you brain damaged baboon. I don’t know what you were doing in China, how you managed to get the Russian and Japanese governments all mad enough at you to risk igniting a global conflict over you, and in truth I don’t much care. I do know that you care about your ship and your crew. You wouldn’t be a captain if you did not. So I will offer you a deal. You tell me whatever it is that they were after in explicit detail or I have your entire crew shipped off to Venus as indentured labor and your ship broken up for scrap.”
His eyes went wide, “oh, and if that doesn’t work then I will hand you over to the Eutopians. They have some really neat technologies that can reach right into your empty little skull and take the information we need. Then they ship you off to, oh I don’t know. Ah, indentured servitude on Uranus. Does that sound like fun?”
I could see his eyes, he was breaking. I looked down at his trembling hands. His hands were smooth and soft. The hands of a perfumed prince of the English aristocracy. Probably a second or third child who had to go into the navy instead of staying at home and living the high life off of the money harvested from generations of serfs. Not the hands of a man who could handle a life of serfdom.
He shouted. “Alright, stop, I will talk. I have a box in my quarters. Inside that box is a Martian computer which holds the directions to a cache of powerful Martian weapons. After my last opium run. I was supposed to fly to Singapore to meet up with a language expert who could translate the devices operating system but your Danish friend and his blasted ship showed up and I had to deal with them first. The ambush and detonating a spare gravity drive was the best plan we could come up with. I am sorry, please stop threatening me and what’s left of my crew.”
I went to the captains cabin on the Nemesis to see if he was lying. Under a pile of maps and other documents I found a most curious device. It was a Martian computer alright. A very rare machine on Earth, there probably were not many left on Mars after all the turmoil there. I opened it up and according to my limited knowledge of the Martian language it was encrypted with a passcode. I snapped it shut in a huff and observed. “Well, fat lot of good that does me.” So I reached over to the intercom and asked that Drakous be sent here as fast as possible.
My next stop was my briefing with the Eutopian’s and the ANZSAC officers who had saved my bacon. Captain Voss of the Perseus asked, “so I think everyone wants to know, what was he doing to justify all that attention?”
“They were smuggling drugs and trading for some very interesting information. This is what the Ruskies and Japs were after.”
I pulled up the Martian computer. “I am told that this is a treasure map of some sort that leads to some kind of weapons cache.”
Voss looked puzzled, “but there are weapons caches all over Mars. One could spend a lifetime looking for them and not find them all.”
“Well then, I suppose this leads to some really scary shit. Even by Martian standards. I think it would be wise to secure whatever we find as soon as possible. I have a Martian coming in who can hopefully unlock this thing.”
Admiral Stadler of the Aotearoa stammered, “you have a Martian working for you?”
“Yes I have one on the payroll. I take it you don’t have any? Pfft, you might as well. Most of Richard Pierces designs are some kind of ripoff of Martian tech.”
“I didn’t even know there were any Martians on Earth. I would like to meet him.”
“You will, he is still a few hours away. If anyone can figure out the secrets of this device he can.”
Drakous came in on a commercial flight. At that moment there had been no spare ships around the IEC campus that could accommodate someone as big as he was. Without so much as a hello he walked straight onto the Montana and started working on the computer.
He was done in five minutes. “Whoever this belonged to had an easy passcode. Now, what do we have here, financial information, no. Notes, probably not, a file labeled ‘definitely not pornography’ gross. This is odd, this was probably someone’s personal computer. It is not made to Martian military standard. Ah here it is. Pass codes, maps, inventory. It’s a stronghold, code name Iron Hand. The Hand? that’s what you want? Why didn’t you say so! I worked there when I was a, oh what should your word for it be. Intern I think?”
“Interesting, why would the Russians and Japanese want this facility?” I asked.
“No idea, it was the facility where we built our best weapons. I imagine that most of what is there is obsolete. One of our walkers wouldn’t last five seconds against one of your light bombers.”
I sighed and stated.
“Well, how about we head out there and make sure.”