Archive | January, 2012

Cry Havoc–Snippet

27 Jan

Chapter One

Beth Carlyle checked her weapon as she led the way towards the pair of airlocks that blocked access into the orbital fortress’s command centre. Years of planning had gone into the operation, but she knew better than to take anything for granted. The last thing the underground needed was a failure so close to zero hour. They’d prepared the right access papers and bribed a number of bureaucrats to look the other way at the right time, yet too much could go badly wrong. She swallowed hard, realising that her throat was as dry as the desert on the planet below, before halting in front of the guards. They were the President’s Own, but that didn’t mean that they were trusted to think for themselves. The papers Beth had prepared for her and her four-man team claimed that she was the Admiral’s latest mistress, with her own team of bodyguards. Admiral Lopez had so many quirks that no one would think anything of it. And if they did, they’d be considered suspect and executed.

She smiled. Her short red hair and carefully-tailored uniform, tight in just the right places, could be counted upon to distract the guards. Two of them hadn’t even looked up at her eyes yet; absently, she wondered if they were even going to bother checking the papers. They’d seen her before, after all. And Lopez was in the habit of showing off his women to his command staff. They’d see nothing out of the ordinary in it.

The guards checked the papers and Beth tensed, despite herself. It seemed to be hours before they passed the papers back to her and opened the first of the airlock hatches. Years seemed to pass before the second and third hatches hissed open, revealing the command centre. A glowing hologram of Lance – the President-for-Life had named his capital after himself, in one of his less remarkable displays of egoism – hung in front of them. It was surrounded by dozens of consoles, each one manned by an operator charged with monitoring a specific section of the sky – or monitoring the work of another operator. The slightest mistake would mean accusations of counter-revolutionary subversive planning, leading to an interrogation that wasn’t – always – survivable. Beth’s elder brother had vanished into an interrogation centre when she’d been eight years old and had never been seen again. He was far from the only person to have simply vanished within the Verge. President-for-Life Curran Lance had a simple remedy for any suspicion of disloyalty. The suspect was transported to a prison camp and worked to death.

Admiral Lopez sat in the centre of the massive compartment, staring down at his screens. Beth had heard that Lopez actually spent most of his time viewing pornographic material – when he wasn’t amusing himself with his small harem of girls rounded up from the families of suspected underground members – and personally she believed it. Lopez’s sole qualification for his position was complete devotion to President-for-Life Lance – and a complete lack of imagination. He was simply too stupid to pose a threat to the President.

She smiled, lifted her weapon, and fired. A burst of superheated plasma blew Admiral Lopez’s upper body into bloody fragments. The operators turned and stared, a handful reaching for alarm buttons before Beth’s escorts gunned them down. She waved at them to stand up and keep their hands firmly in the air. They’d assumed that the alarm would be sounded, but Beth intended to delay that as long as possible.

“Secure them,” she ordered. One by one, the command staff were cuffed with plastic ties and pushed into a corner of the compartment. Beth sat down in front of the main console and pressed a datacard into the slot. The hackers swore blind that it would unlock all of the security features, but the President was a paranoid man – who knew how many security systems existed that the underground hadn’t had time to analyse? His friends in the Federation could have provided him with the latest gear.

There was a ping as the system unlocked. Beth allowed herself a moment of relief and then started tapping commands into the console. The first command sealed the command section on the fortress from the remainder of the station, before sleepy gas was unleashed upon the unsuspecting crew. Once they were all out of it, Beth keyed in the second command, bringing the fortress’s weapons to bear on the automated systems orbiting Lance. She checked her timepiece, smiled again, and pressed the trigger. Years of careful planning was about to come to a head. The President-for Life was about to have his reign brought to an end.


“We have to keep moving,” Lieutenant Simon Plax insisted, as the alarms grew louder. The Presidencial Palace on Lance was huge, easily large enough to house a garrison, and very well defended. It didn’t seem to matter to the rebels. At last report, several of the outlying guard posts had been overrun – or simply surrendered by the guards. The President-for-Life was feared even by his own men. “Mr President – keep moving.”

President Curran Lance, the effective Dictator of the Verge Republic, was grossly overweight, the legacy of late-night marathon eating sessions after finishing his official business for the day. Simon found him personally disgusting, but he didn’t always get to choose his client – and the several million pounds awaiting him in a numbered bank account on Masada provided an excellent reason to stay loyal. The underground’s insurgency, however, was almost enough to get him to change his mind. Who would have dreamed that the underground, notorious for its inner feuds and betrayers, could have put together such an effective operation? They were on the verge of actually toppling President Lance.

“I always told you that you were too soft on those scrum,” an acidic voice proclaimed. Bridgette Lance was thin where her husband was fat, a screw who revelled in the power her husband wielded. She was almost as unpopular as her husband, without even Lance’s handful of redeeming features. “You should have ground them into the gutter.”

Lance ignored her. “God damn it,” he said, to Simon. “Where’s the fucking garrison troops?”

“Sitting in their barracks,” Simon countered, with some irritation. The President feared competent subordinates; if any of his commanders had shown initiative, they would have been purged. Simon wouldn’t have been too surprised to discover that the commanders were waiting for orders that were never going to come. Verge’s defence force had lost its command and control network in the opening moments of the coup. The soldiers would probably be happy to swear loyalty to whoever came out on top. “We have to get you out of here before the mob comes in.”

“I’ll be back,” Lance vowed, as they clambered into an emergency shaft. Simon was mildly surprised that he managed to climb up the ladder, but he supposed the thought of being torn apart by outraged mobs was enough incentive for anyone. “I’ll link up with my son and then come back and crush the rebels into the dust.”

Simon tuned him out as he reached the top of the shaft. President Lance had hired him and his team to provide protection from his enemies, but they had no friends among the government or military on Lance. They couldn’t rely on receiving any help on the ground, which meant that the only hope of safety was to get off-planet before the rebels gained control of the orbital defence network. If they ended up in control of the planet’s orbital defences – and they’d certainly taken the network out of commission – they could crush any opposition before it had a chance to develop. There was no way of knowing just how much time was left.

He poked a head out of the tube and peered along the bare corridor. It looked empty, but he launched a miniature drone ahead of him anyway, just in case. The Verge Republic was decades behind either the Federation or the Dual Monarchy; their guards wouldn’t be watching for a drone so tiny that it couldn’t be seen with the naked eye. He kept one hand on his assault rifle as the President pulled his body out of the tube, sweating like a pig, followed by his wife. At least she’d run out of bile, thankfully. A few more sentences from her and he would have seriously considered leaving her to the mob. It was a mystery why President Lance, who could have had his pick of girls from the Verge, remained with his wife. Or perhaps there was no mystery at all. Simon wouldn’t have wanted to get on the First Lady’s bad side.

“They’ve left their posts,” the President said, as they moved down to the hanger. Simon silently blessed the underground’s oversight – assuming, of course, that it was an oversight. In their shoes, he would have dropped an assault group onto the hanger as soon as the coup began, blocking off all hope of escape. “I’ll have them shot for it.”

Simon ignored him. The shuttle – a standard civilian design, but with a few modifications – was waiting for them on the landing pad. He moved towards it carefully, keyed his ID code into the panel on the metal hull, and then checked inside as soon as the hatch hissed open. The interior was as dark and silent as the grave. He began the power-up sequence as he waved for the President and his wife to run towards the shuttle. They might get away from Lance after all.

Quickly, he tried to access what remained of the local traffic control network. There seemed to be heavy fighting going on in orbit, between loyalist starships and the ships and stations controlled by the rebels. The rebels had switched their IFF codes, allowing him to identify them – although he had to warn himself not to get over-confident. He shut the shuttle’s hatch as soon as the last of his team had slipped into the ship, and then boosted for open sky. The threat receiver lit up the moment they cleared the building, warning him that teams armed with modern High Velocity Missiles were lying in wait. He activated their countermeasures and prayed that they were good enough to allow them to survive. There was no way they could dodge any incoming fire.

An alarm sounded and he cursed. The shuttle shook alarmingly as it launched decoys, one of them managing to lure the incoming missile away from its target. It exploded close enough to shake the shuttle again before Simon managed to take it out of range. The underground probably knew that their main target had escaped. He just prayed that they’d have time to get the hell out of dodge before the rebels started using their orbital assets to destroy the shuttle.

“Get us up faster,” the President growled.

Simon ignored him. The shuttle had been modified by his team, but it hadn’t really been designed for a speedy getaway. He scowled as they passed through the atmosphere and out into the inky darkness of space, heading towards their destination. The President’s personnel starship hadn’t been touched by the rebels, thankfully. Their intelligence hadn’t been complete, Simon told himself. They probably assumed that they didn’t need to worry about the ship. How long, he asked himself, would it be before they changed their mind.

“I suggest you get on the line to your crew,” he ordered the President, who seemed surprised to be ordered around by his bodyguard. “Tell them that we will have to jump out as soon as we’re onboard.”

“They’ll do as I say,” the President assured him. Simon would have been happier if the President had called them at once, but he couldn’t snap at his employer too much. He resolved silently to change positions as soon as possible. Serving as a mercenary in the Marches was less dangerous, even if it was less rewarding. “Just get us onto the ship as quickly as possible.”

Simon broke every orbital traffic law in the book as he drove towards the starship. It had been designed as a luxury liner, but the President had invested a vast sum in ensuring his own personal safety – and comfort. The Federation shipyard that had converted the ship swore blind that it could match a battlecruiser for speed and protection, although it carried far less firepower than even a heavy cruiser. Simon would have been more impressed if the President had converted a battleship or even a dreadnaught, but the Verge could only afford a handful of such ships and they were needed on patrol. Besides, everyone knew that the Verge didn’t have a hope of standing off either of the major powers if they felt like overrunning the small republic.

“Damn it,” he swore, as the gaping hanger deck loomed in front of the shuttle. The threat receiver was lighting up again; the orbital fortresses had realised the danger that the President might escape and were opening fire on the starship. He brought the shuttle into the hanger bay, just in time for the first missile to detonate against the ship’s shields. Simon heard the President’s wife cry out as the entire ship shuddered and the shuttle crashed into the bulkhead on the far side of the hanger bay. “Is everyone alright?”

The starship shook again. Simon couldn’t understand why they hadn’t simply jumped out of orbit, leaving the rebels and the orbital defences far behind. The President was running for the hatch, trying to get out and into his ship, just as enemy fire slammed into the shields again. Simon realised, cursing the President’s paranoia, that he’d kept certain command codes to himself. The ship literally couldn’t jump out of orbit without his permission. His paranoia was going to get them all killed!

“Transmit the fucking codes,” he heard himself yell, heedless of the danger. What did it matter if the President was offended? They were all about to die, just because he hadn’t trusted his own fucking officers! “Get us out of here!”

He heard the sound of the ship’s drive fields growing stronger, as if her commander was trying to put as much space as possible between his ship and the orbital fortresses. Simon wasn’t an expert on space warfare, but he doubted that they could get away in time. Battlecruisers were designed for hit-and-run slashing attacks, not for standing up to overwhelming firepower. And the President’s ship didn’t even carry the weapons of a standard battlecruiser…

The President opened the hatch and ran across the hanger deck, into the nearest airlock. Simon followed him, praying that the President knew how to reach the bridge. It was in a non-standard position, towards the rear of the ship. The President was puffing and panting when they reached the compartment and ran inside, just in time to be knocked down by another direct hit. Simon cursed as he saw the display. The jump drive was offline.

“We’re heading towards the transit point, Mr President,” the ship’s commander said. He wore a uniform that was mostly gold braid, certainly more gold braid than Simon had seen on uniforms belonging to the Federation. “We might be able to make it to Sanctuary before they manage to catch up with us.”

“I don’t want to go to fucking Sanctuary,” the President snapped, between wheezes. Simon thought about rolling his eyes, but it would have taken too much energy. “I want to rendezvous with the Main Strike Fleet.”

The Captain looked horrified. Simon jumped in before the President could lose control completely. “Mr President, the jump drive is offline,” he said. “It’s the transit point or nothing.”

He could understand the President’s feelings. Sanctuary was – technically – part of the Verge Republic, but in practice it was effectively an independent state. And, conspicuously unlike the remainder of the Verge, it was a thriving economic powerhouse, protected by the Dual Monarchy. There were millions of former refugees on the planet who would love to have a chance to take revenge on the man who’d forced them to flee the Verge. It would be a dangerous place to go at the best of times, but there was no other choice. The crew would take hours to repair the jump drive – if it could be repaired – and that would give the rebels plenty of time to send ships after the fleeing President. They couldn’t even hope to hide.

“Very well,” the President said, finally. “Take us to Sanctuary.”

Simon settled back to watch the display as the ship powered its way towards the transit point. Luckily – although the President hadn’t seen it that way – the Verge Republic had been forbidden to emplace defences around the transit point, ensuring that they could make transit without having to fight their way through more fortresses. It seemed that the rebels on Lance were too busy dealing with loyalists in orbit to send ships in pursuit, which made Simon relax inwardly. Once they got to Sanctuary, he could poll his men and see if they wanted to abandon the President. It would be easy to get passage from Sanctuary to Masada.

“Damn ungrateful rebels,” the President muttered. “I shall return.”

He might, Simon knew. There was one person the President trusted – his son, who just happened to be Admiral Thomas Lance of the Verge Navy. His task force was only a handful of light years from Sanctuary, easily within reach once the jump drive was repaired. And then the President would return with his son’s fleet backing him. The rebels might end up losing after all.


An hour after fleeing Lance, the President’s ship entered the transit point and vanished. Beth cursed as she watched the icon disappear, knowing that it meant that the uprising was far from completed – and victory was uncertain. If communications had been better…but no, the Demon Murphy had put in his appearance and the rebels in orbit hadn’t been able to intercept the shuttle in time. And the President had gotten lucky.

She shook her head. Most of the remaining loyalists had surrendered, once the underground had promised them their lives. They’d have a few weeks to prepare for the President’s return – assuming he didn’t just take the money he’d stolen from the Verge Republic and set himself up in the Federation. If nothing else, the Verge Republic would never be the same again.

And they might even win!

“Contact the stations on the ground,” she ordered. “Tell them we’re ready to bombard hold-outs at their command.”

Story Idea: The Hero

26 Jan

I’ve just had this funny little idea going through my head. Basically, there’s a future war on and it’s been going on for years. It seems to have stalemated and public opinion isn’t really supporting the fighting. The top brass thinks that sooner or later the public will grow so tired of endless war that they might start pressing for peace – and they have ample evidence to suggest that attempting to talk peace might result in a BSG-style genocide of the human race.

So they come up with the idea of a hero the public can rally around. Commander Hero is really a mediocre officer, but he has a stroke of luck which the PR officers play into an act of military genius. They brand him the greatest military leader since Alexander the Great – generally, he’s a version of Patton, MacArthur and Monty all rolled into one. A massive ego, an ability to ‘act’ like a military leader should, and a very real gift for publicity. He may actually believe in his own legend or he may just be playing along – if someone pointed out that it was the best way he could help the good guys, he might go along with it. Basically, he’s got the reputation of Honor Harrington without any of her undoubted military genius.

(Many junior officers believe in him; others, a little wiser, realise there isn’t anything under the flashy exterior.)

Unfortunately, this act is so good that he winds up in command of the fleet – just as the enemy start launching their massive war-winning offensive.



Snippet–Their Darkest Hour

26 Jan

Chapter One

RAF Coningsby/Salisbury Plain/London

United Kingdom, Day 1

“It looks like a busy day for us, boys and girls.”

Flying Officer Alexandra Horton smiled as Squadron Leader Rupert Paddington opened the briefing. The men – and single woman – of No. 3 Squadron rarely had an uneventful day, even when they were patrolling the skies over Britain. After 9/11, every civilian aircraft that went off course sent ripples of alarm running through the United Kingdom Air Defence Region and it wasn’t uncommon for Tornados or Eurofighter Typhoons to be scrambled in response to an aircraft that had simply lost its way. Not that anyone was allowed to become complacent, of course. The Eurofighters were scrambled with live weapons and everyone knew that one day a hapless pilot would be faced with the choice of shooting down a civilian aircraft or watching it plunge into the Houses of Parliament. Alex was mildly surprised that none of the thousands of terrorist plots monitored by MI5 had ever come close to taking off.

“We’ve been informed that the UKGDE boys have been tracking more ghosts,” Paddington continued. “Someone higher up the food chain is getting just a little bit concerned with these reports and they’d like some hard data. You may be directed to perform an interception if a ghost shows up while you’re in the air.”

Alex frowned, thoughtfully. Over the last few weeks, radar sets in Britain – and America as well, she’d been given to understand – had been tracking a handful of transient contacts that seemed to be travelling right at the edge of Earth’s atmosphere. The general feeling was that someone – perhaps in Britain, but more likely in the United States – was testing a new model of stealth drone by flying it through one of the most advanced air defence environments in the world. It wasn’t an uncommon procedure, but surely someone would have said something by now, if only to prevent an interception that brought one of the craft down. Rumours she’d heard suggested that some of the top brass were more concerned than they admitted, at least to the pilots. There was a distant possibility that the Russians might have produced something new that they were using to probe NATO’s defence environment.

She shook her head, reaching up to feel her short blonde hair. Her fellow pilots had nicknamed her Starbuck back when she’d started training to fly the Eurofighter and the name had stuck. Being assigned to No. 3 Squadron was hardly a blot on her record, even if defence cutbacks did make their position increasingly insecure. She’d heard that some of the top brass were worried about their ability to defend the UKADR if more squadrons were placed in reserve, or eliminated altogether. Buying the Eurofighter might have seemed like a good idea back before 9/11, but now the money was flowing to the army and aircraft that could provide support to British troops on the ground. The Eurofighter was an excellent piece of kit, yet it didn’t have the close-support capability of an Apache helicopter. Their service in Afghanistan had always been far less decisive than the MOD had hoped.

“Horton and Davidson, you’ll be on routine patrol, taking over from the lads out there now,” Paddington said, finally. “Jackson and Stuart will be on QRA, ready to provide backup if there’s a problem or you need to return to base. Don’t forget to keep one eye on your radar sets at all times. You never know what you might run into up there.”

There were some chuckles from the pilots, although they all knew that a mission could shift from routine boredom to sheer terror within seconds. Up in the air, they would be in the front line, not some paper-pusher in Whitehall who would happily question every little decision made by the men at the front. Alex knew pilots and soldiers who had been hounded out of the service by the MOD, or the government, merely for making poor decisions on the battlefield. It seemed to have escaped their notice that soldiers and pilots had to make their decisions within seconds and there was no time to take a balanced view of anything…

She shook her head as Paddington dismissed them and headed for her plane. The flight plan said that she would be in the air within half an hour. There was nothing quite like flying over Britain as the dawn rose. And if she was lucky, it might even be a routine patrol.


Darkness shrouded Salisbury Plain, but the sound of humming engines could be heard – faintly – in the gloom. Dawn was approaching, the horizon starting to light up in the distance, leaving the French with little time to get across the river. Brigadier Gavin Lightbridge-Stewart allowed himself a tight smile as he lay on the ground, using his night-vision goggles to peer into the shadows. The French didn’t know it, but the British Army had prepared a nasty surprise for when they tried to reach the mock town.

Full-scale exercises were rare – the days when the British Army could roam across Germany on exercises were in the past, and it was incredibly expensive to ship men and equipment to Canada or the USA – but the bean-counters had finally agreed to allow a joint exercise with the French. A section of French tankers had agreed to play the attacking force, simulating an attack from Russia into the European Union. Officially, the French were playing a fictional nation – it was typical of the politicians to be more worried about upsetting the Russians than helping out the soldiers who defended them – but everyone knew the truth. Russia had been rather more noisy than usual over the last few months and senior officers had been warning the politicians that important skills were being lost.

His lips twitched into a smile. The British Army was intimately familiar with the terrain and they’d used it to their advantage. A troop of Challenger tanks had been positioned to give the French a bloody nose, while ground-based air defence systems had been deployed to prevent the French from using a drone to spy out the British defences. Once the French tanks started to cross the river, they’d find themselves caught in a trap – unless they had a surprise of their own up their sleeves. The politicians on both sides of the Atlantic might deride the French, but the French military was tough and very professional. And it had picked up rather more experience in the years since Algeria than many outsiders realised.

He keyed his radio, speaking barely above a whisper. “Prepare to engage,” he ordered, calmly. It wasn’t common for a Brigadier to lead from the front, but he’d missed the advance into Iraq and knew himself to be less familiar with armoured warfare than he would have preferred. Besides, paper exercises were all very well, but it took real manoeuvring to gain a real understanding of what his force could – and could not – do. Murphy never failed to put in an appearance in the real world. “On my mark, launch flares and then engage at will.”


“The bloody protesters are still there, I’m afraid.”

Sergeant Robin Harrison, London Metropolitan Police, nodded as he strode up towards Buckingham Palace. A small army of men and women carrying signs protesting against the latest cause of the month were gathered outside the gates, shouting at passer-bys while sharing drinks and food amongst themselves. It seemed that there was no shortage of protesters in London; Robin knew from secret briefings that anarchist and other radical groups were streamlining their ‘rent-a-mob’ systems. The Police had responded by monitoring Facebook and other social networking sites, but the technical staff had warned that their ability to take down parts of the internet was very limited. Robin wouldn’t have cared so much – people had the right to protest, as long as they behaved themselves – if criminal gangs hadn’t started using protests as places to rob the protesters blind. It had only been three months ago when the Police had had to intervene when the dedicated protesters started turning on freeloaders within the camps.

“So I see,” he said, tiredly. Overtime seemed to be a fact of life in the Police force these days, as was permanent tiredness and general unhappiness. The number of Bobbies on the street was going down and, despite the vast number of CCTV cameras all over London, crime was going up. Every few months, they’d even get new targets from politicians who didn’t realise that they’d systematically crippled the Met over the last two decades. “Anything we ought to keep an eye on?”

“They seem a surprisingly nice bunch,” Sergeant Singh said, seriously. He nodded towards the protesters, who were trying to convince a pair of pedestrians to join them. It didn’t look as if they were having any success. “No real fights or anything, just shouting. A few of them keep looking daggers at us, I’m afraid.”

“Nothing to worry about then,” Robin agreed. The small police force would keep an eye on the protesters, some of whom might even be relieved that the police were there. They might claim to be an anarchist commune, but in his experience those broke down rapidly into chaos and the rule of the strong if there was no presence from the forces of law and order. It hadn’t been that long since the London Riots of 2011. “Don’t worry – we’ll keep an eye on the Palace for you.”

Singh gave him a one-fingered gesture and sauntered off in the general direction of the police station, where he’d catch something to eat and a few hours of sleep before he went back on duty. Robin watched him go and then turned to look back at the Palace. It was all lit up, allowing the protesters to see the very heart of the establishment they hated so much. The handful of policemen didn’t waste time staring at the Royal Residence. They had to worry about keeping the peace.

A pair of protesters made eye contact with him, and then looked away as if they’d seen something dirty, or obscene. Robin wasn’t too surprised. Some of the protesters saw the police as the enemy, the men who broke up protest marches and beat up protesters. His father had been a policeman, as had his grandfather, and neither of them had to endure the level of public distrust modern policemen faced. But back in their day, the police hadn’t been cut back to the bone, to the point where ordinary citizens started to see them as the enemy.

He shook his head tiredly. Maybe he’d jack it all in early and find a place in a private security firm. They were hiring and the pay was generally better than the Met. And maybe then his family would get better care than they could from the NHS. His wife wouldn’t even come into London. She preferred to live outside in the suburbs, away from the crowds and pressure. He couldn’t really blame her at all. London just wasn’t a safe place to bring up one’s children any more.


“Wake up,” a voice snapped, in her ear. Doctor Fatima Hasid swallowed a word as her mother pulled away the blankets. “Get up, you lazy girl. You’re supposed to be on your way to work.”

Fatima scowled at her stepmother, but couldn’t quite bring herself to snap at the older woman. At twenty-seven, she should be married and producing kids of her own – at least according to her stepmother. If only her father hadn’t married again…but he had, leaving her to put up with an older woman who resented Fatima’s presence in her life. Her stepmother had started putting forward the names of suitable boys, most of who lived in her grandmother’s village back in Pakistan. Fatima had responded by taking more overtime with the NHS every time her stepmother arranged a meeting. None of the boys she had met had seemed keen to marry a woman who was far more qualified than they could ever hope to be.

She pulled herself out of bed and scowled at her face in the mirror. Dark eyes set in a dark face stared back at her, leaving her with an almost waif-like expression. The uniform she donned rapidly belonged to the nearest hospital, where she worked ever since graduating as a medical doctor. It would be years before she could pay off her debts and go into private practice and until then the NHS owned her, body and soul. She washed her face and headed downstairs, to where her stepmother was banging pots and pans together. It wasn’t as if she was doing anything useful either. Fatima had to get her own coffee and cereal before heading out of the house.

“They’ll give you the sack and then where will you be?” Her stepmother demanded. Fatima ignored her as best as she could. Her father was already on his way to work, after visiting the mosque for morning prayers. “Who’ll want you if you lose your job?”

“The boys you seem to think are suitable for me have no jobs,” Fatima replied, as calmly as she could. It was true; her stepmother’s family had been pressing her to convince Fatima to marry a boy from Pakistan, who could then be brought to Britain. The fact that Fatima herself didn’t want to marry a stranger didn’t mean anything to them. They’d all had arranged marriages and they’d turned out fine…well, publicly, at least. Fatima knew that at least one of her stepmother’s relatives beat his wife. “And I still have an hour to get to the hospital before I start scrubbing up.”

Her stepmother started to bleat again, but Fatima tuned her out with the ease of long practice. There were times when she cursed her decision to study medicine, even though it provided an independence many of her friends would envy. The screaming kids in the waiting room, the injuries inflicted by chance or deliberate malice, watching men and women dying slowly in front of her…there were days when she just wanted to walk away from it. But that wasn’t an option, not when she still had to pay off her debts. The NHS was dreadful when it came to arranging life-saving medical treatments, yet somehow it was very good at tracking down students and demanding that they repay the loans they’d taken out to study…

She shook her head as she finished her coffee and headed for the door. She’d just have to endure until the day she could leave the NHS behind. And then perhaps she could set up in private practice, or maybe even leave the country. There were high-paying jobs for medical staff in America, she’d been told. Maybe she’d emigrate and leave her stepmother behind. The thought made her smile, even as she saw the dawn rising over the horizon. Another day was about to begin.


He couldn’t sleep.

Prime Minister Gabriel Bryce stood in Ten Downing Street and peered through the bullet-proof glass at the protesters at the end of the streets. It seemed that there wasn’t a day when the protesters weren’t there, screaming and shouting as if they blamed Gabriel personally for the economic malaise that had gripped Britain over the last ten years. The country didn’t seem to be able to hold together a government for more than a year either, not after the latest round of parliamentary scandals. Gabriel, two years ago, had been nothing more than an up-and-coming MP, a safe pair of hands for a Parliamentary seat that was solidly Conservative. He’d never dreamed of becoming Prime Minister, certainly not after his predecessor’s career had been blown out of the water in the latest expenses scandal. His opponents had remarked that the only reason Gabriel had avoided being implicated in the scandal had been because he didn’t have the imagination to fiddle his expenses, let alone do anything more interesting. There were times when Gabriel feared that they were right. Nothing he did seemed to please everyone, or even anyone.

He looked down at his desk and shook his head, bitterly. It was covered in folders, each one a wordy report from the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence or the Security Services. He was supposed to read them all, but reading them was a chore. Didn’t anyone use plain English these days? He’d once spent an hour reading a briefing paper on recent developments in Iraq only to discover that it could have been condensed down into five or six sentences. At least he’d been able to make his feelings clear on that point. It was a shame that the Civil Service took so long to adapt. The next Prime Minister would probably not see any improvement.

One of the walls of his office held a large painting, commissioned by his immediate predecessor. It showed all of the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, from Pitt the Elder to Gabriel himself. He’d been surprised to receive it, only to be told that it had taken so long to produce that the Prime Minister who’d ordered it had left office by the time it had arrived. The Prime Ministers seemed to be gazing disapprovingly at him, as if they felt that he was letting the side down. They were probably right. When Gabriel compared himself to Pitt, or Churchill, or Thatcher, he always found himself lacking. But then, they’d never had to worry about an economic crash that was slowly bringing the country to its knees…

“Lucky bastards,” he muttered, as he returned to his desk. The files sat in front of him, mocking him by their silent presence. His secure palmtop buzzed, reminding him that he had the daily security briefing in an hour, followed by several meetings with MPs before his speech in Parliament in the afternoon. The speechwriter had promised him a good speech, one he could read out before the assembled MPs, but it wouldn’t go down very well. It never did, not when all he could deliver was bad news. There were times when he felt that the only reason the Opposition hadn’t pushed for a no-confidence vote was because they didn’t want to be saddled with commanding the sinking ship. They found it more congenial to snipe and shout abuse.

He opened the first file and looked down at it. It was just as he feared; a short summery, and then twenty pages he’d have to read, just in case some bastard with press credentials hurled a question at him. They’d have a field day with an ignorant Prime Minister. Cursing under his breath, he tapped the intercom and called for coffee. He’d read through one of the files, he promised himself, and then he’d have some time to relax. And then he’d attend the briefing.

And then all the alarms went off at once.

Lost In Space

25 Jan

Just a weird little idea for a short story that’s been going through my head.
It is the far future. Mankind has learned how to harness mental powers to allow FTL travel, with telepathic movers jumping ships from star to star. One day, something goes badly wrong and a telepath and his starship are accidentally shifted into an alternate universe. Investigating, they find the remains of countless other starships – and discover that there is a price to pay for telepathic gifts.

There’s something out there, waiting in the darkness. It eats souls. And the starship and her entire crew are in deadly danger.

The Concordance

25 Jan

Humanity’s Golden Age began in the year 2078, when a deep-space exploration mission beyond Pluto discovered the first Gate. The Gates, alien technology of unknown origin, provided access to thousands upon thousands of Earth-like worlds, allowing humanity to spread across the stars. Thousands of worlds were settled from Earth, many founded by nationalist, commercial, religious or other groups. Some became powerful within the expanding frontier, others deliberately attempted to turn their backs on the stars. And some, marginally habitable, were populated by genies – genetically-engineered humans designed for life on hostile worlds.

No one knew who had built the Gates, or why. The first alien race to be discovered by humankind was even more primitive than humanity. A handful of others, including star travellers who had found and accessed the Gate network for themselves, were just as mystified as humanity. The Gates seemed likely to remain a mystery for the end of time.

In 3045, disaster struck. The Gate network closed down. All attempts to reactive the network failed, leaving countless thousands of worlds cut off from the rest of the galaxy. Some collapsed back into barbarism. Others managed to thrive despite losing their export markets. But all were isolated. Humanity seemed doomed to fall back on primitive STL colony ships; even interstellar radio contact took years to reach the nearest inhabited worlds. Trillions of lives were lost, or ruined, by the closing of the Gate network. And no one ever found out why.

One such isolated world was Concord, founded two hundred years ago by social engineers who believed that they could create the ideal world for technological expansion. Concord was designed as a raving meritocracy, where hard work and success would be rewarded with political and social power. The system was designed to allow men of ability to rise to the top, culminating in the office of Tyrant. He would have the power of life and death over Concord, but his office would be hedged about by restrictions intended to prevent a monster from rising to power. The collapse of the Gate network gave the serving Tyrant unrestricted power. In the short term, Concord avoided much of the anarchy that consumed other worlds; in the long term, this posed a disaster. The seventh Tyrant was eventually overthrown and exiled into interplanetary space by rebels, who altered the system.

Instead of a single Tyrant, there would be two Consuls, who would share ultimate authority. They would be elected by the Citizen population (see below) and supervised by the Senate, who would also be elected into office. In theory, they possessed the same ultimate power as the former Tyrants, but in practice they were restricted by the Senate and the Tribunes. They also served a single five-year term in office and were banned from returning to political power afterwards.

Citizens on Concord became Citizens through three different procedures. They could be born to a Citizen, effectively inheriting their position; they could serve in the Legions for twenty years, earning their Citizenship – or, finally, they could perform a worthy deed for Concord. The latter was originally intended as a way to reward scientists and others who might otherwise be unwilling to earn citizenship, but it would later become linked to local rulers outside the Concord. They could become citizens in exchange for selling out their planets.

Two hundred years after the Gate network closed down, scientists on Concord discovered a way to travel faster-than-light without using the Gates. This allowed Concord to start expanding, eventually setting itself the goal of uniting all human worlds into a single union – the Concordance. The non-Concord humans would not be automatically granted citizenship within the Concordance; they would have to earn it, just as newcomers had always had to earn it (at least according to official dogma). What this meant, in practice, was that Citizens were effectively an aristocracy; the local Legions would support them, which meant that natives often became prisoners on their own planets. It was quite possible for the locals to earn citizenship themselves, but the system tended to ensure that the new Citizens were rarely permitted to return to their homeworlds. Instead, they would be settled on a newly-discovered world and become aristocrats there.

The system was further weighted in favour of Concord-natives by rules that stated that all votes had to be cast in person. It was rare for non-Concord Citizens to take time off their duties to travel to Concord to vote, which meant in practice that Concord ran the Concordance to suit itself. There was also a certain level of official discrimination against newly-minted Citizens, although the children of such Citizens were accepted into the Concordance without question. They were also encouraged to marry other Citizens.

Hyperspace travel imposed limitations on warfare which were poorly understood at the start of Concord’s expansion. Starships, possessing no form of force field defences, were vulnerable to being targeted by planetary defence centres (PDCs) located on the surface of the targeted world. When a world possessed a modern tech base and the defences to go with it, the Legions found themselves having to take the world by storm. They would be launched from starships in shuttlecraft – along with a host of decoys and planetary bombardment weapons – and flown down to the surface as quickly as possible, where they would attempt to form a beachhead and destroy the nearest PDCs. Such assaults were always very casualty-intensive for the Legions. In the event of the world not possessing any planetary defence systems, the starships would simply assume orbit and bombard the world into submission.

The Legions serve as the Concordance’s enforcers. They are separated into the Citizen Force, formed from Citizens who have volunteered for service, and the Auxiliaries, who have volunteered for service in the hopes of receiving their own citizenship. Officially, there is no difference between the two sections, but in practice the Citizen Force tends to receive the best equipment, the most daring missions (military service is the key to a political career on Concord, the more spectacular the better), and its officers have automatic seniority over the Auxiliaries. The Auxiliaries tend to find themselves launching the follow-up assaults and providing occupation forces for newly-occupied worlds.

Each Legion has an official strength of 10’000 soldiers. They are broken down into Cohorts (1000 soldiers), Centuries (100 soldiers) and Maniples (10 soldiers), although the precise division tends to vary from legion to legion. They are commanded by a Legatus (General). Each Century is commanded by a Centurion; Maniples are commanded by Decurions. Seniority is decided by time in grade, although Citizen-born officers automatically outrank non-Citizen officers. There are also a number of long-serving Sergeants who have held their positions for years. Smart junior officers know to listen to them. Mustangs are common among the Legions, with a certain amount of social cachet being attached to officers who served their time as Sergeants before applying for promotion.

Training in the Legions is harsh, brutally so. It isn’t uncommon for recruits to be killed during live-fire exercises, or worked to death by their Drill Sergeants. Those who pass the final tests are assigned to a Legion and generally expected to serve their entire service within the same unit (transfers are rare, but they do happen.)

Each Legion is assigned a specific base that serves as its primary R&R facility. Legionaries are forbidden to marry, but the rule is generally ignored (not least because it provides additional settlers for newly-discovered worlds) and each base is surrounded by small settlements of wives and children. The Legions generally provide a certain degree of protection to such families, even if their Legionnaire dies on active service. It is a point of honour to take care of their families afterwards.

The Concordance Navy has primary responsibility for transporting the Legions, maintaining their supply lines and scouting for new worlds to invade or settle. It is a purely Citizen force, although a number of newly-minted Citizens have found places within its ranks.

Two thousand years after it began its expansion, the Concordance is reaching the limits of pre-hyperdrive settled space. It has become alarmingly corrupt. The votes of the newer Citizens are being increasingly marginalised while the Senate is dominated by families that have effectively become aristocrats. There is growing discontent on thousands of worlds, often only held in check by the presence of one or more Legions keeping the peace. The Legions themselves are being pressured by serving as the mailed fist of the Senate. Many are openly wondering what they’re doing serving the Concordance while their families are often being reduced to poverty. It doesn’t look good for the future.

Snippet–The Lunar Dream

24 Jan

Chapter One

The moon, Alfred Bonnet thought to himself, is a harsh mistress.

He was standing below the great dome of Armstrong City, staring out at the scene below him. Dozens of sealed tractors were digging into the lunar surface, or transporting lunar ore from the mines towards the mass driver in the distance. Men wearing regulation colour-coded spacesuits walked the surface, performing their tasks under the watchful eye of the rising Earth. Most of the civilians on the Moon lived in the vast underground warrens that had been dug under the lunar rock, providing some protection from the storms of radiation that bombarded the moon frequently. There was never any shortage of volunteers to work the surface, even if it did pose some health risks. Living down in the warrens was enough to drive a man stir crazy.

Alfred lifted his eyes towards Earth and smiled to himself. It had been ten years since he had answered an advertisement for a man to serve as a combination of secretary, librarian and general gofer on the moon. The dream had captured him ever since Tony Jones had landed on the moon in 2018 and proclaimed that this time the human race was here to stay. Ten years…he’d spent ten years serving four different Administrators, all the while working overtime to keep the moon’s limited bureaucracy functioning. And if they asked him if he wanted to go back to Earth, he already knew what he would say. He wanted to live and die on the moon.

Earth wasn’t what it had once been, he reminded himself. The war still raging in the Middle East, the riots spreading across Europe and the Southern United States, the release of a tailored bio-weapon in North Africa, the brief, but nasty nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan…it all seemed a distant nightmare to those on the moon. They might have been working to place the human race firmly in space, and to mine HE3 that could replace the crippling dependency on oil, yet there seemed to be a certain distance between the Earth and the Moon. He caught sight of a flicker of light as the mass driver launched another payload of lunar rock into orbit, the first step in its journey back to Low Earth Orbit, and smiled again. No matter what else happened, he never grew tired of seeing that sight. It was a mark of humanity’s achievements on the High Frontier.

His wristcom buzzed, reminding him that his break was almost over. Shaking his head, he tapped a command into the small panel and the window became a mirror, blocking out the sight of Earth. Instead, he saw his own balding head looking back at him, along with signs of muscle decay. It would be dangerous to return to Earth now, even if he needed the kind of medical treatment that Armstrong City couldn’t supply; Earth’s gravity would drag him down and leave him feeling trapped in his own body.

Shaking his head, he left the observation dome and stepped through the airlock, opening it with his priority override. The dome was really meant for high-ranking visitors from Earth, but one of the early Administrators had given Alfred permission to use it and it had never been rescinded. They all knew that Alfred was the man who really kept the lunar colony working – and he did it all while also serving as a librarian, of sorts. Physical books might be rare on the moon – boosting cargo to orbit was expensive – but he had ties to all the major publishers. Electronic books weren’t quite the same, yet what other choice did they have?

The original designers of Armstrong City had been more than a little paranoid – with reason, Alfred considered. It was only forty metres from the observation dome to Administrator Howard’s office, but he passed through no less than three airlocks before he finally stepped into his cubicle. If there was ever a blow-out, a leak into the airless vacuum surrounding the moon, it would be limited. Or so they had been assured. No one, in his certain knowledge, had ever considered testing the system the hard way.

He took his seat and placed his fingertips against the computer monitor, allowing it to identify him and unlock the Administrator’s files. They’d been growing more paranoid about computer safety too lately, somewhat to his annoyance. It was a headache sorting his way through all the different security passwords and firewalls, although he had managed to convince the system administrators to give him admin-level access. He could read all of the files stored on the network if he saw fit. But there had never seemed a reason good enough to invade their privacy.

Besides, he added in the privacy of his own thoughts, it would only upset people.

The computer screen lit up, revealing the Administrator’s timetable. Alfred served as his secretary, something that had upset several government officials who had believed that the position of Administrator demanded a full staff to support their position. Their complaints had never made any difference; it was costly to boost people from Earth to LEO, let alone to the moon. Alfred would have to keep moonlighting as a personal secretary until the day he died.

He keyed a switch as soon as he saw the first item on the timetable. “Administrator,” he said, when the channel opened, “you have a meeting with the miners in twenty minutes.”

“I’m busy,” Administrator Howell snapped back. “Can’t you tell them to come back later?”

“You’ve already put them off three times,” Alfred reminded him. Half of being a PA was managing the boss. Howell wasn’t the worst Administrator to have been sent to the moon, not by a long chalk. Alfred sometimes wondered who he’d managed to annoy to get the post. It wasn’t always seen as the most important position in the American government, even though the lunar colonies were vitally important. Trillions of dollars were tied up in the colony. “They’re not going to be too happy if you put them off again…”

He waited. “Very well,” Howell said, grudgingly. “You may show them in when they arrive.”

Alfred returned to his computer and started to key through a number of emails from Earth. Most of them were simple enquires that the people on the ground thought had to be answered instantly. During his first year on the job, he’d run around like a crazy man trying to answer them all, but eventually he’d started taking a more relaxed approach to such demands. No one had ever complained. By the time the hatch opened to admit the miners, he’d managed to shelve over forty demands for information or pass them on to specific individuals. It passed for a good day’s work.

“Alfred,” the lead miner said. Johan Richardson was a tall burly sort, who’d emigrated to the moon five years ago and brought his wife and two baby girls with him. Alfred couldn’t say that he knew the man, but he had a good reputation among his fellow miners – and a string of black marks in his file, all issued by temporary supervisors. “Is His Nibs in for us today?”

Alfred shrugged. In truth, Richardson intimidated him a little. “He’s willing to see you,” he said, as the other three miners staggered into the cubicle. It was barely large enough for two people. “I hope you’re not here to waste his time.”

He keyed the hatch and allowed the miners to enter the Administrator’s office, following behind them quietly. Administrator Howell lived well, by the standards of the moon, even though his office was tiny compared to an office on Earth. It was large enough to house all four miners, Alfred and the Administrator himself, who was currently watering one of his plants. Alfred sighed inwardly as he felt the suppressed anger shimmering around the miners. Their water was rationed and the Administrator was watering a plant! And it wasn’t even the genetically-engineered grass that passed for carpeting in the city!

Administrator Howell had been a General during the invasion of Iran, although his personal file – which Alfred hadn’t been supposed to read – stated that he’d made a better administrator than a leader of men in combat. It didn’t disqualify him from serving on the moon; indeed, an experienced administrator would be far more useful than a fighting man. Howell was a tall, dignified man, with an unfortunate tendency to billow up in low gravity. It made him look depressingly overweight.

“I’ll come right to the point,” Richardson said, when both sides had exchanged insincere greetings. “The safety situation has gone critical.”

He placed his hands on the Administrator’s desk, silently daring him to interrupt. “We have had three cave-ins in the last two weeks alone,” he said, ticking off points on his fingers. “We have nearly lost four men because a vacuum seal on one of the tractors was not replaced. Much of our equipment is old and frankly, Administrator, it is wearing out! It is only a matter of time before we have a serious accident that kills half the mining crews!”

“The equipment you use has been rated for many years of service,” Richardson said, flatly. “The only problems are caused by men who don’t know…”

“Don’t give me that crap,” Richardson snarled. Alfred, behind him, sighed inwardly, wondering if he should send for the Sheriff. The miners were known for settling their disputes physically. “The equipment was the lowest-bidder, wasn’t it? They didn’t bother to test it properly before they bribed some congressman to insist that it be bought off some fat cats who own factories in their states.”

“The proper procurement procedures were followed,” Howell countered. He didn’t look as if he was going to back down, unsurprisingly. “I happen to know that the Oversight Committee…”

“Fuck the Oversight Committee,” Richardson said. There was a dull rumble of agreement from the miners. “And even that doesn’t begin to touch on the conditions here, sir! My kids aren’t getting the proper education they were promised. The food here is dreadful, we keep being charged extra interest on our contracts and…”

“You signed the contracts,” Howell thundered.

“At no point were we informed that a Nazi Concentration Camp would have better facilities than this place,” Richardson said. “At no point where we informed that we were going to be taxed for oxygen, water and food – which means, Administrator, that we can never get out of debt. And I am fucked if I am bringing my kids up in this goddamned place without some goddamned improvement…”

“Write to your congressman,” Howell suggested. For a long moment, Alfred was sure that Richardson was going to punch the Administrator. Howell was either too stupid to notice or too brave to allow any apprehension to show. “There are very limited budgets…”

“And who, precisely,” Richardson demanded, “is the congressman for the moon?”

He had a point, Alfred knew. Officially, the Administrator was appointed by the United States Government, but he would be pushed forward by the corporations that had invested heavily in the moon and would be expected to serve their interests. Congress looked at the barely ten thousand people on the moon, then looked at hefty campaign contributions from the corporations, and then generally turned a blind eye to problems on the moon. The lunar citizens were supposed to be represented by the politicians from their home state on Earth, diluting their vote.

Howell opened his mouth, but Richardson spoke over him. “I want to make it clear, Administrator, that we are not going to allow ourselves to be ground under purely to serve the interests of some goddamned profit margin,” he said. “We want a good place to bring up our children, not some poxy little hole in the wall because all of the money we earn vanishes somewhere within the system…”

“If you have problems,” Howell began…

“We seem to have no legal way to complain,” Richardson snapped. “Your paymasters have tied us up in legal red tape. Well, I’m telling you right now that we are on the verge of cutting through the damned red tape…”

“This is treasonous talk,” Howell thundered. “This city exists to support the interests of the United States of America. The prosperity – the freedom – of the entire country depends upon Armstrong City. I will not sit here and listen to your attempts to dictate terms to the government!”

Richardson stared at him for a long moment. “Administrator,” he said, finally, “it will not be long before something finally breaks and we have a major accident. And when that happens, we’re damned if we’re going to allow a bunch of penny-pinching corporate hacks to pass the blame onto us. We want our rights as American citizens, the rights laid down in the Constitution. And if you’re not going to give us those rights, we will take them by force.”

With that, he turned and stalked out of the office, followed by the remaining miners. Alfred watched them go, feeling a tremor of uncertainty deep within his heart. In truth, he knew that Richardson had a point, and yet…why rock the boat? It would be worse for the miners and most of the others, he realised slowly. They had their families on the moon with them, their children growing up without ever seeing a butterfly, or running on grass. And what sort of society would the moon become if it made no attempt to educate those children? God knew that Heinlein had been right, years ago; the moon’s environment punished stupidity – or ignorance. A child who had never been taught how to don a vacuum mask was certain to die if there was ever a leak in the city’s atmosphere.

“That man,” Howell remarked, “is dangerous.”

Alfred said nothing. Few of the Administrators ever seemed interested in his opinion, even though he knew Armstrong City far better than any of them had ever bothered to learn. It was safer just to listen from the sidelines and do as he was told. The Administrator was the one charged with the safety of the colony.

He nodded his head as the Administrator turned back to his desk and headed back to his cubicle. Someone was waiting for him there, seated in front of his desk. Alfred allowed himself a puzzled frown as Richardson stood up and held out one massive hand. He took it in some surprise and shook it firmly.

“I thought we’d better have a chat,” Richardson said. “We so rarely have a chance to meet down in the warrens.”

They didn’t meet at all, Alfred knew. His routine was moving between his office, the library and his apartment, little else. There were plenty of miners who wanted to download and read the latest books, or watch the latest movies, but Richardson had never been one of them. He shrugged as he took his own seat, half-wondering what would happen if the Administrator saw them talking together. Howell would probably see it as a sign of disloyalty.

“You’ve been one of us loonies for ten years,” Richardson said, cheerfully. “What do you think of our living conditions.”

Alfred considered the answer, carefully. He had been quite happy – but then, he’d always been on his own. A man with a wife and kids would probably feel differently…of course, he’d never even come close enough to a woman to get engaged. How was it, he asked himself often enough, that he just froze up when the time came to get out the chat up lines? Other men seemed to find it easy to talk to women. He couldn’t hope to convince a girl to give him her contact code, let alone anything else.

“Could be improved,” he said, finally. “They won’t do it, of course.”

Richardson lifted an eyebrow. “This colony pays for itself,” Alfred explained. He’d seen all of the accounting reports. “Every dollar above the cost of running this place is one that is pure profit. They’re already talking about expanding the HE3 mines so they can fuel more reactors on Earth. I don’t think they’re going to be responsive to any suggestions that more of those profits should be spent up here.”

“Which isn’t very good for our kids, is it?” Richardson pressed. “How often can you take them to McDonalds before you get sick of semi-beef and synthetic Freedom Fries?”

Alfred nodded. With the exception of the very highest levels, and the rich oldsters in their separate habitat, the food they were served was locally-produced pap. It was possible to improve the taste slightly, but it never had the flavour of real food. There was no real reason why they couldn’t bring up a breeding population of sheep or even cows, yet the expense would be considerable. He was sure that there were kids in the warrens who had never realised that most food wasn’t grown in algae vats.

“We need to convince them to listen,” Richardson insisted. “What can you do to help us?”

“I don’t know,” Alfred admitted. Part of him wanted to join up with Richardson, to fight oppression; the rest of him wanted to stay safe. It was the same sort of caution that had kept him in his present role, rather than trying to reach higher. “What can I do to help you?”

Richardson patted him on the back as he stood up. “You’re in quite a vital position, Alfred,” he said. “I think you should keep an eye on our esteemed lords and masters. And if you see anything you think we should know about, why not give me a call?”

“Our calls are recorded,” Alfred said.

“Then come and visit me in person,” Richardson said. “Battle lines are forming, Alfred. It’s time to take a stand.”

ISOT In Spaaaace!

22 Jan

Just an interesting little thought.

We’ve all seen versions of ‘The Final Countdown’ or the ‘Axis of Time’ where ships from the future are tossed back in time. What if that were to happen to a fictional interstellar empire? Perhaps have a long war being fought out between two evenly-matched galactic powers, neither one of whom can win a decisive advantage. (Unlike Honor Harrington, tech advances on both sides evenly – so one side can’t get a super-weapon that turns the tide of the war completely in their favour.)

Anyway – one of those sides gets a sudden windfall. A few years after the war began, they discover a fleet from 100s years in the future – with all of that tech advantage that the other side doesn’t even know exists. All of a sudden, instant victory is possible…

How would that play out, I wonder?


Nazi Germany’s ISOTed Carrier

22 Jan

My long-term readers may recall that I wrote a story entitled Graf Zepplin. Basically, it was a take off The Final Countdown – but with a battle fleet from a Nazi Victory timeline arriving in our timeline. In their world, Hitler was a bit smarter, Britain was crushed in 1940 and generally Germany rules most of the world. They have a more advanced fleet than anything in 1942 – roughly comparable to a 1980s USN fleet – although their technology is not completely god-like.

However, I have been recently considering the implications of a long-term ‘Nazis Rule’ world. I was thinking that the Nazis would probably either cover up the Holocaust (lying to their own people) or perhaps even glorify in it. If German school kids were taught from Day One that Hitler was always right, the Jews deserved to die and the Slavs are the Reich’s natural servants, they would probably accept it unquestionably. They wouldn’t have many good examples of ‘good’ Jews to counterbalance the Nazi claims. Their attitude towards the Holocaust would be a little like the attitude towards the American Indians, at best – yes, what happened to them was tragic, but it happened in the past. And they were all savages anyway.

They’d probably also have a warped view of Hitler and his minions. What would they make of the REAL Hitler, in all his foul glory? Or Himmler – the guy was known for his warped world-view, but he was hardly an Aryan superman? They’d probably be horrified when they come face to face with the truth – the truth that has been whitewashed away in their own universe. And how would they react to that?


Man of War?

15 Jan

I was reading about the later days of Rome and I had (another) idea.

Imagine a far-future Empire that handed out citizenship (and the right to vote) based on military service, particularly for those not lucky enough to be born on the Core Worlds. What this means, in practice, is that a relatively small caste can exploit hundreds of poor worlds that don’t have many Citizens to defend their interests. Many DO go into military service, but as the Empire is in a constant state of ferment, they are often unable to return home. And the baddies do a lot of tinkering to ensure that only a relative handful manage to enlist.

The hero enlists in the Imperial Marines after accidentally/deliberately killing an overlord who was trying to rape his sister, steal his farm, or something else unpleasant. He slowly climbs up the ranks until he finds himself in a position to reform the empire – or destroy it, utterly…



The Archangel Marie

10 Jan

Just a little snippet that might become a story…

One second.


A pinprick of light appeared against the inky blackness of space as the wormhole formed, allowing a tiny object to enter the besieged star system.  It was small, barely larger than the average man, almost invisible to the naked eye.  The forces fighting within the star system detected its presence almost at once, but they discounted it.  Something so small could hardly be dangerous…


Marie gasped as her higher combat functions came online, allowing her to throw out a sensor field that scanned the entire system and returned the data to her at FTL speeds, something literally incomprehensible to the meat-minds fighting their pointless war.  Data downloaded directly into her upper cortex, checked against both reports from intelligence and live feeds from a dozen sensor platforms covertly inserted into the system.  Comprehension was almost instantaneous.  Seventeen thousand, nine hundred and seventy battleships, crewed by a single alien race, were patrolling the outer edge of the combat zone.  Ninety-seven orbital forts, one thousand and nineteen starships and over a million fighters, mines and orbital weapon platforms guarded the planet below.  The energy field surrounding the planet was clearly in serious danger of failing completely, judging from the energy readings she was picking up.  It wouldn’t be long before the attackers managed to pop something through the field and then the planet would die.  The Association Senate had decreed that that would not be allowed to happen.


New data flowed into her mind as she took stock of the situation.  Alien Race #1 was a race of neo-barbarians from the edge of explored space, one given advanced technology by another race that hadn’t realised that their technology would be exploited by the thrusting and greedy barbarian government.  Alien Race #2 was just as bad, a more sophisticated race that formed alliances with other races that were just a disguised form of imperialism.  The encounter between the two races had been a disaster waiting to happen.  Their leaderships deserved to die, to be punished for the suffering inflicted on their own people, but what about the innocent masses below?


Two seconds.


Marie’s higher battle analysis mentalities completed their final scan of the system.  Neither of the combatants were presenting anything beyond basic weaponry systems, certainly no technology as advanced as a singleArchangel.  Not that she’d expected anything, of course; they had yet to develop the mindsets that would free them from dependence upon planets and set out to inhabit space permanently.  They could fire their weapons at her all day, from standard directed energy weapons to quantum field busters that could reduce a star to hard energy, and she would barely notice.


She linked a command into the remote pods and new disruptions started to flicker through normal space.  One by one, the weapons swarm emerged beside her, unfolding down from the pocket dimension that held most of her systems, processors and fabricators.  They weren’t that advanced compared to the locals – there was no point in adding massive culture shock to their other problems – but they’d be enough to make her point.  Or so she hoped.  Barbarians couldn’t be counted upon to be rational.  It was why they were barbarians.


Three to ten seconds.


Her communications functions activated at her command.  “Attention,” she broadcast, projecting her signal forward on multiple frequencies.  They wouldn’t be able to block her message from reaching every ship, station and planet in the system.  Associate functions ensured that the message was downloaded into every computer core, a stunning display of superior force.  “By order of the Association Senate, you are ordered to stand down and end hostilities at once.  Your criminal assaults on innocents will no longer be tolerated.  Stand down or be destroyed.”


Eleven seconds to five minutes.


Her sensor probes could reach right into the starships holding the command authorities for both fleets.  Their panic was clear, easy to track, as was their determination to continue their senseless war.  Those who might have surrendered and accepted that they would no longer be allowed to terrorise the local galactic arm were overruled.  Many of the others simply didn’t believe her threat.  They still thought of power as being measured in starships hundreds of kilometres long.  What little they could see of theArchangelwas tiny.  Even the swarm of remote pods wasn’t intimidating.


Their response finally came in; a flat refusal to obey orders.  Marie didn’t hesitate any longer, even though her orders allowed her discretion.  The only way to impose peace was to overawe the barbarians, to make it clear that nothing they had could match a singleArchangel.  And if a few hundred thousand of them had to die, it would only underline the message she intended to send.


Five minutes to seven minutes.


At her command, the swarm rocketed forward, instantly accelerating to 0.9C.  There was no attempt to cloak them, but they would arrive hard on the heels of any warning of their coming.  The barbarians tried, firing enough energy to cook an entire planet in an attempt to take out the remotes before they could strike home.  It was utterly futile.  Each of the remotes was wrapped in nothing less than the fabric of the universe itself, invulnerable to any force that could be mustered within the universe.  If they’d been able to do more with hyperspace than use it as a means of transport, perhaps they would have been able to do something, but instead they were helpless.


Alien Race #1 was struck first.  A thousand starships, the smallest being seventeen kilometres long, were rammed by the remotes, which smashed through force shields and hull metal as if they were nothing more than paper.  The force of the impact alone would have wrecked them, but the remotes plunged onwards, fissioning matter and converting it into antimatter as they passed.  Each of the ships went up in a colossal explosion, leaving the unharmed remotes to speed onwards on a course that would hold them in readiness to return to the attack, if necessary.  Alien Race #2 fared little better.  Marie’s concession to them had been to spare them the antimatter, knowing that it might destroy the planet’s biosphere.  A dozen stations were blasted to debris and left to burn up in the atmosphere.


Marie re-manifested her communications function and repeated her message.  She’d carefully targeted the starships and stations commanded by those who wanted to fight, wiping them selectively from the universe.  The remainder saw sense and surrendered at once, apart from a handful that jumped back into hyperspace in an attempt to escape.  Marie let them go.  They couldn’t evade her when she chose to go after them – and she would, if they caused trouble.


She pulled back the remotes and issued orders to the two fleets, separating them from each other before someone could reactivate their weapons and resume the fight.  Her cyber assaults penetrated their computer cores and overwhelmed their pitiful defences, slaving them to theArchangel.  Once the bigger ships arrived, the crews would be evacuated back to their homeworlds or newer colony worlds along the Rim, somewhere where they would be safe from their own governments.  Or perhaps the Association would permit her to make a few home truths known to their leadership, starting with the fact they were very small fish in a very big pond.  The galaxy was a dangerous place for arrogant upstarts who thought they were the lords of creation.


The aliens seemed to be pleased, almost.  She felt an odd spurt of envy for them.  They were soldiers, just like herself, but they had a brotherhood that none of the Archangels ever knew.  The Archangels were humanity’s defenders and enforcers, yet that didn’t make them popular.  They could kill – and that, to most of the human race in all its myriad forms, made them terrifying.  The easy brutality she’d used to keep the aliens in line could so easily be turned against her fellow humans.


Depressed, she turned away and waited.  It wouldn’t be long now.