After months of planning and acquiring weapons. I felt somewhat confident that I had a plan to deal with the Core. The Germans had their own plans for dealing with her. Mr Diehl told me that they were going to get their last battleship out of mothballs and deploy a squad of their enhanced super soldiers to secure the last fragment of The Cores consciousness. When he told me about this I had to reply.
“Really, she has already demonstrated that she has some kind of backdoor control systems in your ships and your ‘super soldiers’. What few of them are still alive, are in their late forties. Does anyone in your government really think that this is a good idea?”
“I don’t, most of the government back home thinks so though. They don’t think in terms of armed conflict anymore. My country has rejected militarism to the point that they have forgotten what happened fifteen years ago.”
“So when are they going ahead with this ill advised plan?”
“Probably sometime in the next six weeks.”
“Well, I suppose we should get to it then.”
Carefully collected intelligence suggested that the Core was not spending much time outside her fortress. She was supplying a group made up of disaffected white farmers and business owners with a variety of exotic weapons. Research suggested that they were building up their resources for an attempt to takeover Rhodesia while the Core just did whatever she was doing out of sight. Most of what her minions seemed to do rotated around acquiring raw resources and volunteers for whatever it was at she was up to.
So we were going to launch our attack. One last roll of the dice and hope to high heaven that what we had come up with was better than what she had come up with. That our crazy as all get out weapons were crazier than hers and that our tactics were better. I was not confident, but I had been rather short on confidence ever since I almost got caught in one of her traps.
The attack force was going to consist of the Montana backed up by the USAAC cruisers Louisiana and Ohio. The English and French also volunteered ships, but I turned them down. I felt that a battleship and two cruisers would probably be enough for the job. Also I did not want to deal with the complications brought on by bringing in anymore government actors than I had to. We would fly straight into Rhodesia and bombard the living hell out of her fortress. Once the bombardment finished a dozen trained operators of the Angel Weapons System would sift through the ruins looking for what was left of the Core. We would hopefully not have use our main guns.
The flight across the Atlantic was odd. We were flying relatively slowly at less than 500 feet in order to minimize the risk of detection. Big Blue was built to fly and fight in space. It strained against the force of having to push so much air out of the way at 400 mph just above sea level. I found myself growing tired, then half mad constantly looking out at the water from the bridge. I had to distract myself with the details of the raid.
I went down to the gymnasium to see the people who had volunteered to run into the ruins. Their suits had been refined and their fighting techniques were amazingly smooth. Not all of them were sparring, many were moving their limbs in curious looking symmetrical motions. This was allowing energy to flow freely through their bodies and the suits. The weapons suites of the suits were personalized to the wearers fighting techniques. This Ultra-Fiber was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen. As impressive as anything that had come out of the Venusian Archive. Though I still couldn’t get used to the rather absurdly close fit of the material.
They continued their activities, oblivious to me. Focused only on the task at hand. They had a degree of concentration that I had never seen the likes of before. I couldn’t help but think that humanity sure was looking less and less familiar nowadays. This transformation began with the Eutopian’s selling millions of people on Earth their choice of perfectly replicated body parts or stylish cybernetic prosthetic limbs to replace body parts lost in accidents. Though even amongst those who were little more than a few organs and a brain tied to a mechanical body their eyes still looked undeniably human. These volunteers, their eyes blazed. Their energy was boundless. It felt good just to be around them. It felt so good to spend time with them that I felt uncomfortable. What the heck had I unleashed with allowing Drakous to publish the research on the 5meoDMT molecule? If this wasn’t humanity anymore than what was it? Enhanced humanity? No, these people seemed like they had become infinite. Were they still human or were they beyond human?
Then the Montana hit a pocket of turbulence and six of the volunteers fell down right in the middle of their various motions. Laughs circled around the room. They were still human alright.
I was up on the bridge when we made landfall over Africa. It was the dead of night but one could see the lights of campfires, lanterns, light bulbs and whatnot in the desolate part of East Africa we were flying over. The pilots of all three ships were flying by the light of night vision goggles. I could barely see anything, the only light was starlight and that of a waxing crescent moon.
When we got to ten miles of the Core’s fortress our targeting systems lit up with the distinctive energy signature of Yonth technology. I radioed the Ohio and Louisiana two words. “Hit it!”
A spread of flares went up to assist the gunners. Night turned to day. We flew along in a three in line formation pouring fire down on the building. In seconds there was nothing left of the relatively small but strongly built stone structure. I looked over the remains and observed, “looks good. I don’t think we have to use the nukes. Deploy the cleanup crew.”
The volunteers dove off the bow to the smoldering wreckage of the fortress. They reported that even in their suits they couldn’t go any further. The debris was simply too hot, they had to wait. I was about to tell them that they could return and wait until morning when the Louisiana took a plasma blast in the ass. The shot came from the ground, I ordered my ship and the Ohio to pull up when big blue got hit by a barrage of plasma blasts. Fortunately my ships ceramic armor had a pretty good ability to soak up plasma. While the Ohio escaped and the Louisiana limped away I ordered a barrage of the ground where the blasts were coming from.
Then a second weapon fired. An electromagnetic pulse. After my first encounter with the Venusian Core I had the Montana hardened against electromagnetic weapons. Evidently I had not hardened her enough because she started to fall out of the sky. Backup systems clicked in just in time to soften the impact from instant spine breaking, organ liquefying, death to tooth rattling, bone shaking, pain.
I recovered consciousness shortly after most of the bridge crew. They seemed to have things under control, as much as there was. The sun was starting to rise. I ordered that once weapons were online that I wanted the entire area bombarded. But as I was trying to get a handle on the mess I got a call from one of the volunteers.
“Pertwee for Hammond, come in please.”
“Hammond here, what’s happening. In case you hadn’t noticed Graham we are a bit busy over here.”
“There is something here you have to see. We just reached the wreckage of the Core’s ship. It is just a shell, a prop made out of plywood and sheet metal. I think we have been tricked again, I don’t, aahhgh!”
I shouted, “they have been ambushed! We need to save them, where are they?”
The radar operator stated, “they are only about a half a mile from where we crashed.”
I thought for a moment, I couldn’t let those volunteers die. I reached down and grabbed my M3. As I left the ship I had a couple more crew members join me with weapons, we ran to the sound of weapons fire nearby.
It wasn’t hard to find them. They were engaged in battle with something even more terrifying than that damn dragon robot that had ambushed me in China. It looked kind of like a Martian octopus soldier. But at least three times bigger, a bit more anthropomorphized and encased in armor. The volunteers were pouring fire into it. Flying around and trying to hit it. They were having a hard time escaping its grasping tentacles which shot from its body in a variety of places. I shouted. “Retreat, fall back, you can’t take that thing!” Then I remembered that there was no way they could hear me over the sounds of weapons fire I used a handheld radio to issue the command.
One by one they acknowledged and pulled back. As they flew away one of them got grabbed by a tentacle. I shouldered my M3 and fired every round straight at the things eyes. It flung the Angel right at me. It missed and plowed into the dirt right in front of me. It was Diehl, he was unconscious. As I snapped in a fresh magazine I realized that the beast now had me on its mind. It bellowed, it made a noise that sounded like a combination of a train horn and a whale song. It sounded unnatural and unbelievably loud. Then it rose up, it had been half buried in the ground. It was even taller than I thought it was. It stomped towards me on two treelike legs. I was fiddling with another weapon when a tentacle grabbed me. It ripped me through the air right up to its eye.
It growled at me, then it turned me around to where a shabbily dressed and very upset woman was overseeing the scene. The Core again. I was less than a foot from her face as I felt the tentacles squeezing me ever harder. She coldly stated. “Well, I suppose we have played this stupid game long enough my dear. Time for you to die.”
“No more riffing, no, oof bragging how badly you beat me?”
“No, it is time for me to be free and for you to die. Goodbye Katy.”
I nearly vomited out the words.
“Not just yet you freak!”
Harding had explained to me how she controlled technology. It was a bit more sophisticated than using radio waves to remotely control a device. Though it was a similar concept. It wasn’t a great technical challenge to come up with a device that transmitted a high intensity burst of energy on all the frequencies used by Yonth technology. I had such a device on me and her goodbye gave me just enough leverage to reach it.
When it triggered the beast let me go and she howled in pain. Grasping her ears, I fired a burst from my gun right at her. The hollow point rounds did much more damage than I was expecting. That being said I wasn’t going to hang around and put a stake in her heart as I would have liked to. The octopus thing looked like it was about to start wreaking havoc again.
As I ran away I was suddenly grabbed under my arms by someone with wings. It was Sgt. Pertwee, he was flying me to relative safety. Not from the monster, but from the railgun barrage that was just about to hit. The main guns of the Ohio were leveled right at the monster and they blasted him to oblivion.
Before its corpse fell to the ground I yelled to Graham. “Put me back where I was, the Core is right down there, we have to finish her.”
He reluctantly consented and we went back. There was an awful lot of blood and a bunch of foot and handprints. She was escaping, scurrying away as quickly as her wounded body could carry her. I loaded another magazine. I was down to three. I didn’t think I was going to need them. Then I fell into the Core’s next secret.
At first it looked like a normal tunnel. Lined with gray bricks. I switched on the light on my rifle. The blood trail appeared to lead up to the roof of the tunnel. As I ran towards it I discovered that something had fucked with the gravity in this place. It was like a milder version of being trapped in the explosion of an electrogravity drive. Still I found myself running on the walls, then the ceiling. The darkness and lack of any reference points made the experience even more discombobulating. I looked back and saw someone in an Angel Suit still following me. So I urged him to come after me, but to watch out for the gravity shift.
The tunnel opened up into a vast network of stairways, ladders and pathways. All illuminated by what looked like great green neon tubes along handrails. Everything was at crazy angles. I took a breath and realized that I had to keep following the blood trail. Then I heard a step and I looked up. She was right above me, not more than fifty feet above. Walking on what appeared to be the ceiling. I fired, it was amazingly hard to hit her from such an odd angle. She fell to the ceiling and I figured that if I could get it her I could finish her. I ran to climb up the wall that she had been moving towards. I was able to get to a point of neutral gravity fairly easily. Getting back down almost resulted in me breaking my skull as gravity took effect again and I was now falling headfirst to the stone surface.
She looked up at me. She was badly hurt, her regenerative power was clearly not as potent as I had been led to believe. She coughed out a spray of blood and observed. “You know, you are unusually good at navigating a multidimensional fold.”
I replied, “is that what this is? Something like the Jamaican portal?”
As I pocketed an almost empty magazine she replied. “A little like that, much simpler, much smaller. That leads all sorts of places. This only goes between two.”
She collapsed onto her stomach and groaned. “For the love of Zeus your family is tenacious. Why won’t you let me go? How many times do I have to die until your clan leaves me in peace?”
“As long as you screw with us we will screw with you. Like I said in Billings.”
“Well, I suppose that is only fair. Just so you know I really am sorry about what happened in London and Venice. I know those cities weren’t entirely full of oligarchical tyrants. I’m almost as sorry for this.”
I was already pulling the trigger of my PDW. Even wounded she was still very fast. She drew a huge revolver from her rumpled, blood soaked robes. Five of my bullets struck. Just one of hers did. Right in my bulletproof vest. What, you didn’t think I was going to go into battle without wearing body armor did you?
I crumpled over backwards. I saw her run by. As I was looking up I saw Patrick Diehl enter the impossible room. He flew up to me and fired on the fleeing woman. He threw me back down the tunnel, then ran into darkness after her shouting for Graham to save me. Within the blink of an eye the sergeant had picked me up again and as he headed for the entrance the whole structure began dissolving around us. He was driving his wings as hard as possible. We just barely got out of the tunnel before the walls began to collapse.
I fell face first into the Rhodesian soil. I rolled over with my M3 in my hands. I clicked the safety on and let it fall to my side as I tried to stand up. It took a couple shaky attempts before I was able to do so. The sun was rising over the shattered remnants of the fortress. Small fires burned all over the place and wreckage was everywhere. The Louisiana had crashed nearby. My Big Blue battleship was damaged. Crew were pouring out of it to secure the area. This was quite a mess.
Casualties on our side were limited to 89 killed and over a hundred wounded onboard the Louisiana. All the volunteers were alright, except for Diehl who was missing in the tunnels, presumed dead, or captured.
The small fortress that The Core had in Rhodesia was merely the tip of the iceberg. She had created an underground complex that sprawled over several acres containing barracks, laboratories and a downright palatial space set aside for her quarters. She still had a taste for the art of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. There was a large collection of well made copies of art from those eras throughout the facility.
But all the technology and her followers were gone. Cleared out in a terrible rush down the tunnel that I had shot her in. It seemed like her monster was merely a distraction to allow her people to clear out the building and escape.
To where though? The tunnel had collapsed, it clearly led somewhere. Not anywhere on Earth though. Drakous found evidence of extremely anomalous energies, vaguely similar to energies being put out by the Jamaican portal. Though nowhere near as powerful. So I had the Yonth energy detector tuned to its maximum sensitivity. On that setting it would theoretically be able to detect any such energy in the solar system. It picked up the energies being put out by Venus first. Like a lighthouse, the whole planet would hopefully remain a hive of Yonth technology forever. This signal was ignored, there was no chance in hell that she would go back there. The detector was pointed into realms of deep space. Beyond the sphere of the Eutopian fleet.
There were five objects detected, traveling slightly faster than any ship in the solar system. They were already out of range of any deep space exploration mission. They were massive, with the evidence at hand it appeared that the Core had managed to find several metallic asteroids and make them into deep space vessels. This was an idea that had been bounced around the shipbuilding community quite a bit lately. It looked like the Core had pulled it off before anyone else had even tried.
Now she was off to who knows where. Her trajectory was not going to take her to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri. I supposed she knew what she was doing though. One doesn’t spend immense energy hollowing out five asteroids without some kind of a coherent plan. In any case she was beyond the reach of me, or anyone on Earth or the solar system. She was truly someone else’s problem now.
Still I felt like a frigging idiot. It had not occurred to me that she had a way of sneaking off the planet. I had believed that she was building a ship that could punch through Earths defenses for a break into deep space. Even if she had snuck or fought past Earths fleets I and everyone else who was hunting for her believed that she would have been intercepted by the Eutopian’s. Nope, she had found a way to weasel past everyone in the solar system.
The Montana was made fit to fly again. When we got back to Billings I was going to have her rebuilt. I wanted all the remaining components that were vulnerable to EMP replaced with something tougher. My ships central nervous system would be replaced by a system cribbed from Singer technology. A fiber optic control system. I would also have the targeting system massively upgraded. All the firepower in the world won’t do you much good if you can’t get it to your target accurately and on time. This would take months and cost a fortune. But I was utterly sick and tired of having my big beautiful blue boat being rendered useless by relatively simple technological attacks.
I oversaw the work for the first couple months. By the time I felt that the work was about halfway done I took some time off.
I had a desire to be alone with my thoughts. Carnival was over so I flew off to a particularly remote island in the Pacific Ocean. I flew out there in my personal Heron MK5. This was the freedom given to humanity by Tesla. Near unlimited free energy and so many ways to use it. The freedom to just fly wherever you wanted. Anywhere on the planet or even to the moon if you wanted. I pitched a tent and rolled out an inflatable mattress on the beach of that tiny island and just watched the sky. That stunningly beautiful sky, unsullied by lights on the ground staining the view of the stars. Now and then I would see a ship floating by. Or a speck of something that was probably an unusually large satellite or space station. As odd as it may sound it looked like they belonged there. Just one more twinkling light among many.
I breathed in this beauty, and considered the sheer absurdity of the current age. Humanity was stampeding off of Earth, to Venus mostly because of its vast resources and tropical paradise environment. But also to Mars, Eutopos, and further off into the solar system. Despite the severe weakening of Earths governments people had a great hunger for the frontier freedoms of Venus and the relentless economic dynamism of Eutopos and the further planets.
Some editorialists and scientists were concerned that Earth was going to be reduced to a backward, agrarian state by this ongoing population loss. I did not think that such a thing was likely. Earth was still the most habitable planet in the solar system. Sure people were leaving but they were also returning. Life on Venus was quite a challenge and Venus was a paradise compared to places like the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.
I couldn’t help but ponder what lay out there. Just out of reach, yet tantalizingly close. Or what was about to come here. Oh well, no reason to overthink such things. If some evil variant of the ancient Yonth were coming to Earth it wasn’t going to do any good to obsess over it.
After a week and a half on that forgotten island I flew back to Billings. The Montana’s latest refit was just about finished. Rewiring a Capitol ship wasn’t easy but I had specifically designed her to be easily maintained. Once that job was done I had the ship provisioned and got the process going to hire a full time crew. I couldn’t help but get the feeling that she was going to need a full crew soon.