Archive | March, 2012

The Era of the Superhuman

29 Mar


From: Dawn of a New Era: The Journal of Lieutenant-Colonel Ennis, US Army (Ret). Unpublished.

Hitler was an evil man. The Nazis were evil people.

I know; that goes without saying. You might as well say that water is wet or the sun is hot.

Depending on when you read this, you probably will know about the death camps, about the gas ovens that living men and women entered and came out dead, about Hitler’s grand dreams and the price humanity paid for their destruction. You’ll have heard about Himmler, the man who dreamed of the superman, and Mengele, the doctor who experimented on the inmates, torturing and killing them in the name of science. But you won’t have heard of Gerhard. Few people ever have and I may be the last person alive who remembers his name.

Wolfgang Gerhard was a genius. I hate the man and everything he represented, everything he did in the pursuit of his mad dreams, but I have to admire his mind. He was also more than a little insane, a man who moved from emotionless detachment to passionate lunges for knowledge that came with a bloodstained price. I have the reports filed by his SS supervisors and the woman who served as his mistress until 1945 and they all testify to his instability. Small men all, they didn’t really understand his mind. Some of them thought he was a mental patient who had somehow managed to convince their superiors that he was a genius. None of them liked him.

Curious, that. These were men who had watched impassively as thousands of victims were murdered in cold blood, or supervised experiments so horrific as to be beyond description. And yet they didn’t like Gerhard. I wonder why.

Gerhard and Himmler had one interest that bound them together. They both dreamed of the superman, of unlocking humanity’s potential so a new master race could be unleashed upon the Earth. I’m sure that Himmler never considered what would happen to him when the blonde Aryan supermen came into existence, but fanatics never ask themselves what would happen if they got what they wanted. Gerhard believed that the key to creating the superman was to dissect the brains of thousands of victims and somehow distil their potential into a form that could be transplanted into a test subject. The few papers left have been carefully studied and deemed nonsense. Gerhard was careful to disguise what he was actually doing and none of his guards were qualified to follow his experiments. By then, Gerhard was kept separate from the rest of the Nazi scientists.

Eventually – and there are a dozen theories about how – Gerhard created a virus which he swore would unlock the superman inside the mundane man. By then, Nazi Germany was in a desperate plight. The Russians were advancing from the East and the Allies had just won the Battle of the Bulge. Gerhard tested his virus by unleashing it on the prisoners in several concentration camps. Nothing happened. Himmler blamed it on the choice of test subject and ordered the virus tested on Allied prisoners of war. Nothing happened.

At first. The real changes were beyond their ability to detect until it was far too late.

Everyone knows what happened next. Some of the test subjects developed superhuman abilities. Not all, but enough to form an army. There were men with invulnerable skin, women with the ability to fly, children who could run at supersonic speed. The SS weren’t even remotely prepared for the sudden outburst as the superhumans turned on their tormentors. Some just wanted to escape, to safeguard their friends and relatives. Others wanted revenge. They advanced on Berlin and nothing the Nazis could put in their way could stop them. The entire world has seen the picture of a young Jewish girl, Anne Frank, tearing Hitler apart with superhuman strength. Germany fell before their might.

The war ended, soon afterwards. By then, the era of the superhuman had begun.

I killed Gerhard in 1947. Unfortunately, his dream lives on.

The Planters: Vague Idea

29 Mar

One stable of Star Trek is that various alien life forms can breed together. Spock, for example, is a hybrid of Vulcan and Human. In real life, this isn’t really likely even when superpowers and suchlike aren’t added into the mix. (Could Lois Lane carry a half-Kryptonian child to term?) Cross-race sex might be possible, but not hybrids.

What if it WAS possible?

Humans have a wide range of physical appearances and some of us are dumb enough to believe that people are superior or inferior depending on something as minor as skin colour. If humanoid life evolved upon different worlds, it may well look different to humanity with still have the same basic form.

Let’s assume that some long-gone (perhaps) race sowed the seeds of life in the galaxy billions of years ago. Perhaps something happened to wipe out most other forms of life and the sole survivors (the Planters, for want of a better term) started a long-term project to reseed the galaxy with life. Engineered life was dumped on suitable worlds, programmed to turn them into habitable planets which would eventually evolve intelligent life. Nothing was mapped out completely; the Planters were wise enough to leave some latitude for evolution that would alter the seeds for new worlds. Not all of the seeded worlds blossomed to life. Some worlds – maybe like Mars or Venus – had problems and couldn’t cope with the transformation into a habitable world. The remains of the seeds died out, leaving little trace of what had happened millions of years ago.

Having completed their work, the Planters went into stasis. Or transcended. Or died out. No one knows for sure.

Fast forward a few million years later. One of those seeds has grown into humanity. Others have grown into humanoid races, all descended from the same basic stock. The ones that have developed space technology have discovered some Planter technology, portals that take people from star to star. Some races have fought wars over the portals, or made friends with nearby races. And they have discovered that they can interbreed. Some hybrids are mentally subnormal, others are more intelligent and capable than the ‘pure’ races. Different combinations of races produce different results.

But some of the Planter technology is very dangerous.

And the Planters are coming back…

Background: The Rammer Universe

28 Mar

The Rammer Universe

The first Rammer arrived in Earth’s solar system in 2050 and immediately made contact with the human race. They were not particularly interested in conquest or colonisation, at least not on Earth; they were really interested in trading with the human race. In exchange for permission to claim Jupiter as a refuelling station for their trading ships, the Rammers gave humanity the keys to the stars. Over the next hundred years, humanity slowly joined the galactic community outside the solar system.

Despite endless research programs by the Involved (races interested in talking, trading or occasionally fighting with other intelligent races) there is no form of workable FTL drive in this universe. Rammers are powered by a drive system that draws power directly from the fabric of space itself (vacuum energy). This allows them to travel at speeds up to 0.95C, cutting the time travelling between stars to the bare minimum, but the trip from Earth to the nearest stars still takes around five years. Rammer crews are either very long-lived (through medical nanites or biological immortality) or spend the years in suspended animation. The starships are shielded from the interstellar dust and debris by force fields (if belonging to the more advanced races) or simple ice. It is very difficult to hide an approaching starship from a race that has advanced into space itself.

Humanity has barely started moving into interstellar space, but some races have been travelling the galaxy for thousands of years and are so widespread that they need not fear extermination by natural disaster or war. There are systems that are inhabited by several races whose ancestors have arrived on Rammers centuries ago, where they have learned to live in peace with their neighbours or maintain an armed truce. Some races have encountered primitive races and uplifted them to spacefaring status; others have enslaved the primitives, or chosen to avoid contaminating them with their interference. There is no such thing as a united galactic government. The time taken to move between stars renders it impractical.

What does exist is a limited consensus among most of the spacefaring races about what constitutes proper behaviour. Radio messages sent from star to star spread knowledge and warnings about races that are more hostile to newcomers than would be expected. Attempting to deliberately invade another star system is considered bad form; accidentally sending a colony ship ten light years to an inhabited planet without knowing that it was inhabited is much less serious. Some unified cultures have been founded on such accidental contacts and become the sum of both races. Other contacts have turned to war, or separation between the locals and the newcomers.

As you might expect, there is no shortage of lies and misunderstandings on the galactic network – and some data is hundreds of years out of date. Even the most social and experienced races (or multi-race political and social entities) have problems when it comes to talking across the species divide. The Rammers often find themselves first discovering a new race through its radio broadcasts – and then struggling to make sense of messages that would be simplistic to a native of the new race. Culture shock is common when races meet for the first time – or travellers return home after twenty or more years crawling between the stars.

Technology varies from star to star. Some colonies have been established by aliens (and humans) who want to return to low-tech societies and choose to deliberately renounce the technology that brought them to their new home. Other stars house races that have advanced so far that some of their technology is literally incomprehensible to most of the other races – or have moved on and become energy beings with vast powers. There are rumours that the Elder races (as they are called by the younger ones) have actually mastered FTL travel, but none of this has ever been proved. The way information disseminates itself through the galaxy, as noted above, makes it easy for tales to grow in the telling. Every Rammer knows someone who knows someone who met someone in a bar who talked about visiting the fabulous worlds left behind by Elder races as they departed for a higher plane. Some artefacts from such worlds can bring the wealth of entire solar systems to the lucky finder, if he doesn’t get his throat cut first.

Interstellar warfare is not practical unless one race is vastly more advanced than the other, for the simple reason that the defender will have the resources of an entire star system and several years warning of the approach of an intruder, while the attacker will only have what he has brought with him. It is possible to hit enemy worlds with c-fractional strikes from interstellar distances, but again the defender would see the signs of an incoming attack and retaliate. And it would be considered very bad form by the galactic community.

Interplanetary warfare is more practical and takes place regularly. Few races are truly united politically and there are endless struggles between the homeworlds and their colonies, or encounters between different races in the same star system. Weapons range from chemical-powered rockets to mass drivers, nanotech, antimatter bombs and directed-energy weapons. Most races accept that weapons of planetary destruction (bioweapons, radiation weapons or antimatter) shouldn’t be used within a biosphere. There aren’t really enough life-bearing worlds (however defined) to risk rendering one permanently uninhabitable.

Some races have accidentally wiped themselves out and/or caused problems for spacefaring societies. There is no shortage of tales about races that lost control of their nanotech and seen their entire worlds dissolve like sugar cubes in water (grey goo), or created automated self-replicators (Von Neumann Machines) that attempted to spread their culture to other star systems without realising that they might be inhabited by other intelligent races. One cautionary tale shared by the Rammers is of a race so determined to survive they built self-replicators that took centuries to cross the gulf between their homeworld and the nearest star, often arriving long after the warning reached them and was forgotten – if there was any warning in the first place. Advanced races have little difficulty in dealing with such machines, but primitive races are often destroyed before they can fight back.

The Rammers themselves are a very loose federation of massive trading ships and trading posts spread out across thousands of light years. In one sense, they are a static society even though they bring in new blood from countless races; in another, they are a profoundly shifting and mutable culture. Precisely where the Rammers begin and end is impossible to determine, even for the Rammers themselves. It can be thousands of years before a message from a Rammer starship in one place reaches the Rammers on the other side of explored space. Indeed, the very concept of ‘explored space’ is slippery.

New recruits generally join the Rammers at the trading posts they maintain in star systems and train with recruits from both the Rammer colonies and children born while starships are in transit. Those with racist tendencies or an unwillingness to conform are generally weeded out before they are accepted as part of a starship crew. Once in transit, they may never return to their homeworlds, or return after hundreds of years have passed to discover a radically changed world. Entire civilisation may have risen and fallen while they hovered in suspended animation. It can be a very lonely life.

But some lucky crews see things that no groundhog will ever see.

Ideas…comments welcome, of course…

28 Mar

Got a few more ideas buzzing around my head today.

One would be a sequel, of sorts, to The Mind’s Eye. A telepath hunting rogue telepaths would discover a terrorist conspiracy aimed at telepaths – one that had secret backers from within the government intent on establishing a new world order. And she finds that everything she knew is wrong.

Another is an idea that occurred to me while planning FIRST STRIKE. Hyperspace is used by humanity to get around the light-speed limit. Unfortunately, hyperspace is actually inhabited by very alien aliens and human ships travelling through hyperspace irritate them…


Snippet: Inverse Shadows (v.2)

23 Mar

As a birthday treat to myself, I wrote a snippet.  Enjoy!

Chapter One

The alien city was vast, immense, unknowable.

Professor Joseph Buckley felt it in his bones as he walked through the grey city. It sprawled out for thousands of miles, a towering maze of ziggurats and strange, blocky buildings that seemed subtly wrong to human eyes. No one knew what the aliens who had built the city looked like, or why their worlds were completely dead, leeched of all life and colour. It was a mystery that had attracted him and thousands of others from the Confederation of Mankind, each one hoping to solve the question that had been puzzling humanity since the first Ancient world had been discovered in 2326. What had happened to a civilisation that had had the power to spread out across the stars to render it extinct?

The world was dead. No plants grew in the soil; no birds flew in the sky. There wasn’t even a trace of life energy on the planet, raising the question of why the atmosphere was still breathable after so long. The Ancients had lived and died over a billion years before the human race had started to take its first steps into the interstellar void. And yet, Joseph had the feeling that their world wasn’t completely dead. Every so often, there were things in the corner of his eyes, flickers of movement that vanished when he tried to look at them. The sensation of being watched was overpowering. He wasn’t the only researcher to have such experiences. Telepaths couldn’t visit the dead worlds without picking up psychic residue that deafened their talents. Whatever had happened to the Ancient civilisation had been so traumatic that it had permanently blighted their worlds.

He stopped in front of a pyramid and looked up at the statue the Ancients had placed in front of the building. It was the same as many others on the dead worlds, a vaguely octopus-like shape with a single big eye staring down at him. No one knew what the statues represented, but theories were rife. One school of thought held that they were depictions of the Ancients themselves – there were at least four other races known to be non-humanoid, so alien that communication was incredibly difficult – while another believed that the octopuses were gods, or monsters. Joseph himself wasn’t sure what to believe. The alien buildings might well have been designed for a non-humanoid race, yet there were aspects to the city that suggested that the inhabitants had been humanoid. Or maybe he was just imagining it. There were no points of reference in the city to suggest how the Ancients had populated their buildings.

It was one of the many mysteries surrounding the Ancients. Over a thousand dead worlds had been found within the space claimed by the Confederation – and several hundred more were known to exist in alien empires. The mystery puzzled every sentient race; races that rarely cooperated with aliens on anything had joined the ongoing research project into what had killed the Ancient worlds. Their input had been just as speculative as humanity’s. No one knew anything for sure about the Ancients. Even the attempts to work out precisely when the Ancients had died out were fraught with uncertainty. Nothing quite seemed to make sense on their worlds.

No one knew how they’d moved from world to world either. Humanity had started with primitive rockets and gone on to warp drive, wormholes and hyperspace travel. Most of the known races with an interest in space travel had followed the same basic route, unless they’d been contacted by someone more advanced and offered the chance to obtain more advanced technology instead of developing it for themselves. But the Ancients? No one had ever discovered one of their starships, or indeed any space installations at all. A starship should have remained preserved in the vacuum of space, while the worlds should have decayed and slowly returned to life, but instead the opposite had happened. It was a mystery. The most likely solution, the consensus of the Confederation, was that they’d developed planet-to-planet wormholes and bypassed the need for space travel, yet no other race had been able to construct permanent wormholes without developing warp drive first.

He shook his head as he looked up at the statue, plucking his terminal off his belt and using it to take a picture, uploading it to the monitoring satellites orbiting the Ancient world. The technology was primitive, something recognisable to a human from the pre-Confederation era, but more advanced technology had a tendency to glitch – or fail outright – on an Ancient world. AIs couldn’t work on the dead worlds, nor could the implants that were every human’s birthright, the implants that connected them to the gigantic data network spanning the entire galaxy. Precisely why certain kinds of technology failed to operate on an Ancient world was yet another mystery, one that fascinated most of the researchers. It was almost as if some god had ordained that advanced technology wouldn’t work on their worlds. There was certainly no hyperspace disruption, like the Dead Zone, or absorption field sucking in energy from every possible source. Technology like that should be detectable, but there was nothing.

The best guess – only a guess – was that the Ancients or whatever had destroyed them had used their technology to ensure that their worlds remained preserved as a testament to their existence, or as a warning of the power that had crushed their civilisation. If there was a technology that could keep functioning after a billion years, without maintenance, the Confederation wanted it. Humanity had come far in the five thousand years since they had started pushing into space, developing technology that would have awed their pre-space ancestors, but no one had matched what the Ancients had done. There were even those who believed that the Ancients had been so advanced – or so different – that their technology had been effectively magic. Maybe they’d been capable of interfacing with the quantum foam directly and teleporting themselves from world to world. Humanity’s telepaths could teleport small objects over vast distances, with enough power and support. The Ancients might have been far more powerful, or maybe they’d evolved into beings of energy, leaving their worlds and migrating to a higher dimension. It was a popular theory among those who didn’t want to consider the possibility that they’d been exterminated by an outside power, a power that might still be around to menace humanity.

But a threat didn’t need to be billions of years old to be dangerous. There were a dozen races that resented humanity’s effortless domination of the Milky Way. Many of those races had sent survey teams to abandoned or dead worlds, picking through the rubble in the hopes of finding something so advanced that they could break humanity’s technology and rule the galaxy for themselves. Joseph suspected that they wouldn’t be able to find anything on the Ancient worlds that would help them to advance past humanity, but the Peacekeepers – the Confederation Navy – took the threat seriously. One piece of advanced technology in the wrong hands might have disastrous implications for the human race.

His terminal bleeped, acknowledging the upload, and he returned it to his belt. There were hundreds of humans scattered through the vast city – like bugs crawling over something they couldn’t even begin to comprehend – but he was alone. He’d chosen to leave the eager young newcomers from the Confederation at base camp, allowing the more patient scientists to assist the younger researchers in adapting to a life without direct and permanent access to the data network. It had been years since he’d immersed himself in the endless flow of news and entertainment produced by his fellow humans, but he still remembered the wrenching days when he’d been isolated, trying to grow used to living without voices in his head. Some of the newcomers would leave within the first few days, taking the shuttle – no teleporters on an Ancient world – back to orbit and returning to the network. It wouldn’t be held against them by the Confederation, but they’d lose their chance of making a discovery that might allow humanity to finally unravel the mysteries surrounding the Ancients. Joseph had promised himself, over fifty years ago, that he would solve at least one of those mysteries personally. It was a promise that he had, so far, been unable to keep.

Pushing his thoughts aside, he stepped up to the entrance and peered into the darkness. It was almost a living thing, seeming to press in around him as he stepped into the building. Shadows moved at the corner of his eye, sending a chill down his spine as he unhooked the flashlight from his belt and shone it into the darkness. Centuries of genetic tinkering had given him – and most of humanity – eyesight that his ancestors could only dream of, but even his eyes were useless without any light at all. Some of the Ancient buildings were illuminated – the exact source of light was yet another mystery – while others were as dark and silent as the grave. This one seemed to be one of the latter. No one knew if some parts of the city were illuminated as a matter of course, or if some of the ancient machinery was breaking down. But then, as far as anyone could tell, the buildings were made of nothing more interesting than stone. There was no sign of any advanced technology within the city.

The beam of light illuminated the far wall, revealing an endless string of writing. It looked like a combination of Greek, Egyptian and Arabic scripts, but no one had ever been able to decipher it for human readers. The AIs, humanity’s incredibly intelligent children, had been able to establish communications with beings that lived in gas giants and beings that existed as compound hive minds rather than individuals, yet they couldn’t understand what the Ancients had carved into their walls. Joseph had heard that the AIs found the Ancients to be an incredibly frustrating puzzle, one that threatened their very existence. The technology that caused advanced technology to glitch could be used against Calculus, the world the AIs had adapted as their own. Unlike humanity, they couldn’t survive in such an environment.

He stepped closer, tracing the writing with his fingertips. As always, there was the vague sense that there was meaning, if only he could stare at it long enough for his mind to grasp what the Ancients were saying. The Ancients couldn’t be that alien, could they? Humanity had encountered several alien races that thought in ways that made little sense to human minds, but they had been able to communicate. Why were the Ancients so beyond their comprehension? And why had their civilisation not survived into the modern era?

Centuries ago, before the human race had developed the first primitive warp drive, human researchers had speculated that the absence of contact meant that there were no other intelligent races in the universe. They’d postulated that a race older than humanity would have been able to settle the galaxy – and Earth – long before the human race learned how to make fire on demand. Such a race would have foreclosed the possibility of other races evolving by settling their planets. And yet – apart from the Ancients – there was no clear proof that races much older than humanity had ever existed. Had something happened to exterminate all life in the galaxy long before humanity could evolve, or had something changed to allow intelligent life to start evolving? There were a million and one theories, but no one knew anything for sure.

Recording the writing as he moved, he stepped from room to room, struck – once again – by the wrongness of the alien building. The proportions were strange, almost as if the designers had been creating rooms for several separate alien races. Some doorways were wide enough to admit a shuttlecraft; others were so small that it was a struggle to squeeze through them and into the room beyond. Joseph had even heard rumours that some of the buildings had changed between visits, reconfiguring their internal structures, although no one had ever been able to prove it. Even primitive monitoring systems had a tendency to fail if left too long in the alien city.

Another passageway appeared in front of him, leading down under the ground. Carefully, he stepped down the slope, shining his flashlight ahead. An eye looked back at him and he nearly jumped out of his skin before realising that it was yet another octopus statue. This one seemed almost alive in the half-light. It wasn’t until he flicked off the flashlight that he realised that it was glowing faintly. The single eye looked unpleasantly malevolent in the darkness. Joseph shivered and walked past it, into the chamber beyond. The air seemed…different, somehow, poised in nervous anticipation. It felt as if the chamber was waiting for someone. He flashed his light over the far wall and blinked in surprise when the writing came to life, casting an eerie red light over the chamber. In the centre of the vast room, mounted on a pedestal, was a small cube, small enough that he could have picked it up with his hands. It too started to glow as the room came to life, flickering a strange, almost alien colour. The sense of power building up grew stronger; his flashlight winked once and blinked out, leaving the room illuminated only by the alien technology. Frightened, despite the chance to learn more about the Ancients than countless researchers had done over five thousand years, Joseph turned to the passageway…

…And stopped. The passageway that had led down into the chamber was gone. Frantically, Joseph glanced around, trying to find another way out of the room, but he saw nothing. The light was growing brighter. Panic bubbled at the back of his mind as he touched the stone walls, only to receive what felt like a mild electric shock as soon as his fingers touched the wall. He stumbled back, suddenly realising where the Ancients had hidden their technology, a billion years ago. Their technology had been so advanced that they’d literally been able to inscribe it into stone, infusing the raw material with their power. The Confederation and every other race had been looking at the alien technology all along and they’d never realised it! It had been right in front of their very eyes.

He turned and looked back at the cube. It looked brighter now, illuminated by an almost sickly light that both repelled and attracted him. There was something about it that was surprisingly familiar, as if he’d seen something like it before. He’d started by studying other dead planets before moving on to the Ancient worlds…something about the cube triggered a memory. But what? His enhanced memory seemed to have failed him and none of his implants would work in the city. He stepped forward, not quite realising that he was doing so, and reached out towards the cube. His mind screamed in horror as it finally made the connection, remembering Essence and what had happened on that doomed world, but it was too late. His fingers brushed the cube…

…And something flooded into his mind. There was an instant of comprehension, a dawning horror at what he’d done, at what he was going to unleash upon the galaxy, and then his awareness simply winked out of existence and was gone. Something would walk and talk and wear his body, but it was very far from human.


Commander Nadia Portman was irritated and trying not to show it. Few of the researchers – particularly the older ones – had any real understanding of the dangers involved in poking away at alien technology, particularly alien technology that was beyond immediate comprehension. If even primitive alien technology could produce nasty surprises, how much more dangerous could Ancient technology be? But none of the researchers were interested in listening to the Peacekeepers who had been sent along to nursemaid them and ensure that any discoveries were transmitted to the Peacekeepers first, before they were announced to the entire galaxy. Some of them just wandered off into the city and emerged days later, after she’d worried herself sick that they’d vanished – or had been eaten by the city, for all she knew.

She ran a hand through her short brown hair as she reached Professor Buckley’s last reported location and glanced around. The search would be so much easier on a Confederation world, where technology functioned perfectly – but then, if technology functioned perfectly on an Ancient world, she wouldn’t be so worried about the researchers. Buckley hadn’t reported in after he’d transmitted his pictures of the building – maybe he was lost, or playing a game, or maybe something bad had happened to him. She caught herself peeking into the darkness, unable to avoid the impression that the shadows moved every time she looked away from them. The city wasn’t built for humans; in fact, she suspected that the best course of action would be to quarantine the Ancient worlds altogether and leave their mysteries alone. It was not a belief that made her popular with the researchers.

But then, if the researchers on Essence had been a little more careful, they might not have destroyed an entire colony – and condemned thousands of humans to a fate worse than death.

Nadia heard a cough from inside the building and peered inside. Professor Buckley staggered out, looking as if he was on the verge of death. He was pale and sweating, moving almost as if he were drunk, or hyped up on one of the glandular drugs the hedonists used to expand their minds. Nadia stepped forward and he looked at her. For a moment, she could have sworn that a total stranger was looking back at her. Whatever had happened inside the building had clearly been traumatic, even if he looked intact. His smile when he saw her was skewed, almost inhuman.

“Professor,” she said, finally, “what happened to you?”

“Tripped and fell,” Buckley said, slowly. He sounded as if he’d forgotten how to talk and was having to learn again from the beginning. “Don’t worry about it. I’m fine – and I have made a wonderful discovery. I know what happened to the Ancients!”

He smiled. It looked more natural this time. “Nothing bad, nothing bad at all,” he added. “And I know how we can do what they did – and reach for supreme power.”

Background: The Inverse Shadows

23 Mar

The Inverse Shadows

Little is known about the Inverse Shadows. Their extra-dimensional nature ensured that no human met them in person and lived to tell the tale. Indeed, they were unquestionably the strangest – and the most dangerous – race encountered by humanity. The following report is largely comprised of informed speculation.

The Inverse Shadows – their real name is unknown; the Ancients dubbed them the Inverse Shadows for reasons unknown – exist in a dimension apparently adjacent to humanity’s home universe. Their universe has very different physical laws, accounting for their bizarre and often incomprehensible capabilities. It seems clear that the Inverse Shadows are the dominant life form in their own dimension, although it isn’t clear if there are other races that exist alongside them. Some researchers have speculated that the Inverse Shadows might keep other races as livestock, but it seems likely that the physical laws of their universe will not allow life as humans understand it. There is no way to know for sure.

When manifesting within the human universe, an Inverse Shadow appears as a giant octopus-like form, with tendrils that reach down to its victims. The form is translucent and physically immaterial, rendering them largely immune to physical weapons. Indeed, their presence appears to be a mental projection rather than anything real; AIs and automated sensors cannot detect their presence. Given time, advanced technology within the entity’s zone of influence starts to glitch and then to fail completely, a manifestation – researchers assume – of their own natural laws leaking into humanity’s home dimension. It makes it difficult to research their nature and develop countermeasures, although most sensor technology is unable to pick up anything that might prove their presence. The only sign of their physical existence is disruption in the local quantum foam.

Nothing is known of their political system, assuming they had one. Some researchers believe that the Inverse Shadows, sharing thoughts openly, were governed by a form of communism, while others believe that there is only really one Inverse Shadow breaking into humanity’s dimension at numerous different points. What is clear is that they (or it) maintained a total and absolute contempt for all other forms of life. As far as can be determined, the Inverse Shadows made no attempt to communicate with humanity as equals, or even as slaves. Their telepathy presumably allowed them to understand their human captives, but they never seemed to realise the advantages it gave them. But then they hardly needed to communicate to make their presence known. The staggering power they possessed was daunting even to the Ancients.

In order to gain access to a target dimension, the Inverse Shadows required someone in the other dimension to open a gateway into the quantum foam that would intersect with their universe and allow them to reshape the gateway to gain permanent access. Once open, thralls within the target dimension could open up new gateways through mental power alone and offer their life energy to the Inverse Shadows. This provided them with the power to make the new gateways permanent and take up residence on populated worlds. Their telepathic power (although not telepathy as humans understood it) allowed them to touch the minds of millions of humans and other races, either enslaving them or driving them mad – or killing them outright. Even the briefest mental contact was enough to cause a person to fall into thrall.

While humanity was not inexperienced at dealing with telepathic mind control – the Great Minds of Sigma III used mental powers to control unwary colonists – the sheer scale of the Inverse Shadows and their power created vast problems for uncontrolled humans. Worse, the Inverse Shadows viewed humans (and all living things) as livestock, draining them slowly, but surely of life energy. Enthralled humans began to die, along with the entire biosphere of worlds tainted by the Inverse Shadows. The Inverse Shadows appeared to be indifferent to the fact that they were (put coldly) eating their seed corn. Instead of breeding humans for food, they chose instead to keep expanding their holdings in searching for more victims. Their more fanatical thralls were happy to open gateways for them in previously safe worlds.

If the mental assault was not bad enough, the Inverse Shadows also deployed fleets of ‘needles,’ tiny starships apparently based on organic technology. (Theoretically, this allowed them to operate in universes with different physical laws.) These ships possessed a largely incomprehensible method of travelling at FTL speeds and a single, but extremely destructive weapon. Drawing energy directly from hyperspace (rather like a planetoid core tap) they blasted it out at their targets, knocking down even Peacekeeper-grade shields at terrifying speed. Early encounters between human starships and the needles ended badly for humanity and even when the Peacekeepers learned to adapt their weapons the needles were still very hard to kill. Energy weapons had little effect on their biological hulls. Only projectiles and nanotech weapons were able to kill them.

When human thralls were not sufficient, the needles would deploy ‘spiders,’ terrifying monsters carrying weapons that served as ground forces. Early researchers believed that the spiders were actually the masterminds of the incomprehensible invasion, but later work proved that they were little more than thralls, although ones with more independence and initiative than other mind-controlled slaves. The spiders showed little regard for self-preservation, considering themselves expendable in service to their unseen masters. Functionally hermaphrodites, the spiders laid eggs as they charged across targeted worlds, eggs which rapidly hatched and released entire clutches of spiders to join the offensive.

Their exact origins are unknown. Researchers believe that the spiders were genetically-engineered by the Inverse Shadows or their thralls. An alternate interpretation is that they were created by mental effort alone, devised into forms that would terrify humanity. It seems unlikely, however, that the Inverse Shadows ever considered humans to be worth terrifying.

Worst of all, although the Inverse Shadows were unable (or unwilling) to enter hyperspace themselves, they are capable of disrupting it to an extent that any starship entering hyperspace is destroyed, or simply unable to jaunt out. Warp drives cannot be jammed in this manner, but by locking human ships out of hyperspace it makes it much harder for the Peacekeepers to respond to any new crisis.

It is impossible to say exactly how intelligent the Inverse Shadows are, or even if they were intelligent at all as humans understand the term. Some of their tactics showed an understanding of their opponents and deliberate attempts to disrupt any response to their intrusion. At other times, they have shown no concern for human activities and have been content to ignore human starships watching from their sphere of influence. Overall, it seems that their sole interest was in gorging themselves on life force and they took steps to ensure that they could continue to do so.

Confusingly, some of their thralls show no initiative at all, while others display remarkable intelligence in the service of their masters. Consumed with what can only be really described as religious fanaticism, the thralls will do anything for the Inverse Shadows – and revolt seems to be impossible, even inconceivable.

However, it is clear that the disappearance of the Ancient civilisation (and of all races that might have existed prior to the Ancients) was the work of the Inverse Shadows. Their dead worlds stand in mute testimony to the cost of failing to defeat the Inverse Shadows. Indeed, their last incursion into the Milky Way exterminated all life forms within the galaxy. Intelligent or not, the Inverse Shadows are the most dangerous race known to exist – and a terrifying threat to the entire universe.

The Federation And Its Universe

23 Mar

Approximately 60’000 years ago, a star-travelling race – known merely as The Elders – watched in horror as one of their younger contemporaries committed suicide, destroying their entire world and race in nuclear fire. The Elders had gone through their own period when they possessed the ability to destroy themselves, but they had survived and assumed that the younger race would also pass through the dangerous era largely unscathed. By the time a rescue mission was mounted to the destroyed world, there were no survivors and very little in the way of artefacts to recover. The Elders designated the dead world as a shine and pondered mightily on how they could prevent another such tragedy.

Their solution – discussed endlessly with the other races sharing their technological level – was simple, yet effective. The elder races would combine themselves into an interstellar power that would solve the ills plaguing the galaxy (including warfare between newly spacefaring races), protect primitive races and – if necessary – intervene to prevent the younger races from destroying themselves. Their technology, which was already capable of sustaining a post-scarcity society, would ensure that no spacefaring race ever needed to compete with its neighbours. There would be literally nothing to fight over.

The Federation (as it came to be called) embraced three principles. First, following disastrous contacts between the elder races and younger races that had yet to develop spaceflight, the Federation would quarantine worlds populated by younger races and forbid open contact until the younger race had matured to the point where it could accept the presence of advanced alien races. Second, the Federation would keep a semi-paternal eye on all discovered primitive races and intervene – openly or covertly – if the race seemed to be on the brink of self-destruction. Thirdly, the Federation would accept and enforce a decree of legal equality between member races, regardless of their age or the time they’d spent developing spaceflight. It would also provide technological assistance to newly-spacefaring races so that they would be able to bring their own technological base up to match the Federation’s overall level.

Politically, the Federation would be divided into homeworlds and colony worlds. Homeworlds would be ruled by the race that had evolved on them, effectively disenfranchising non-natives who settled on those worlds. Colony worlds would embrace democratic principles and grant the franchise to all mature adults (as defined by their race), joining the Federation as equal members. The Elders calculated that the colony worlds would serve as crucibles, allowing the best of each race to merge together into a unified whole. It was a far from simple process – different races had different standards – but overall it worked fairly well. Colony worlds tended to show a dynamism that homeworlds lacked.

The first two thousand years saw the Federation gaining experience in both meditating conflicts between member races and intervening in primitive societies. Most of the interventions were covert, although one race had to be saved openly after one of its madder leaders unleashed a biological plague that would have exterminated his people if the Federation hadn’t intervened. Careful study of the primitive races was credited with making it easier to explain the Federation to the locals – and to minimise the culture shock as much as possible. Indeed, the race in question – having looked extinction in the face – became one of the most committed of the Federation’s member races. A couple of other races refused to join the Federation, but remained on fairly good terms with its Council.

Disaster struck when the Federation’s expanding border washed over space claimed by the Kayos Tyranny. The Federation had assumed that most spacefaring races would develop a form of democracy before stepping outside their own solar system, but the Kayos had remained under the iron rule of a dictatorship even as they produced their first warp drives. If this wasn’t bad enough, they had discovered two other worlds inhabited by primitive races and invaded them both. The Federation was not seriously threatened by the Kayos – their technology was centuries ahead of the dictatorship’s – but their existence challenged the Federation’s very reason for being. Intervening on primitive worlds was one thing, yet the Kayos were hardly primitive. The political debate lasted for years before the Federation Navy reported that the Kayos were heading towards another populated star system. Reluctantly, the Federation Council authorised an intervention. The Federation Navy met the Kayos ships outside their target system and ordered them to return home. Instead, the Kayos opened fire.

This surprised the Federation Navy – which had assumed that when confronted by a superior force the Kayos would back down – but it didn’t slow their reaction. The Kayos ships were disabled (preventing unnecessary deaths being part of the Federation Council’s orders) and their crews taken prisoner. Many of them had been pressed into service, but others were fanatical in their pursuit of new territory and there were several nasty incidents before the two groups were separated. Following the brief battle, the Federation Navy pressed its way into the Tyranny. The Kayos were totally outmatched, but through suicide tactics managed to destroy a handful of Federation ships before their homeworld finally fell. Using their far greater transport capability, the Federation evicted the settlers on the conquered worlds and shipped them back to their homeworld. Long-term social engineering programs were begun in hopes of convincing the Kayos to live at peace.

It was not long after the war when the Elders began to leave the Federation. Their race was old, far older than most of the other member races. They returned to their homeworld over a period of several thousand years and eventually closed all lines of communication to the Federation they’d created. Their last request was for the Federation Navy to quarantine their star system to prevent uninvited guests from visiting their homeworld. It was generally assumed that they died out or ascended to some higher plane. Over the next few thousand years, a number of other older races followed the same route. Their departure left the Federation discomfited, but it endured. The blending of racial traits had seen to that.

By the time of First Contact, the Federation has roughly 900 races as permanent members and is watching (and covertly taking action if necessary) on 170 primitive worlds. Several races are believed to be on the verge of withdrawing from galactic affairs and seeking seclusion for their transcendence.

The Federation is governed by the Federation Council, which consists of one representative from each member world. Each race is guaranteed one member (from their homeworld), but colony world political leaders have to appeal to several races in order to become elected, promoting unity and compromise politics. The Federation Constitution guarantees certain basic rights to all members, although the exact meaning of those rights varies from race to race. Some races, with non-sentient sexes, keep them in thrall. The Federation would not support, however, keeping an intelligent sex in bondage. Quite what the Federation would do if confronted by a member race that did is an open question.

As a general rule, the only right extended to primitive races is to be protected from outside contact before they are ready to handle it. The Federation does not intervene unless the race is on the verge of destroying itself. While there is a case to be made for teaching younger races from their Stone Ages onwards, the Federation has generally chosen to ignore it. The suffering caused by primitive technology – and warfare – is a part of each race’s history, granting them maturity. Or so the Federation claims. More cynical voices point out that the member races don’t want to push the Federation into intervening too often, or its social engineers might start meddling with the Federation itself.

When a new race is discovered, the Federation will attempt to find out all it can about the new race before making open contact – if that seems advisable. They have been known to spend years watching races that have already opened up their star systems and are on the verge of developing warp drive before opening communications. This allows them to approach the new race without accidentally giving offense. Newly-contacted races are often surprised to discover how much the Federation knows about them, including recordings from their history that they lost themselves. The Federation’s observers record everything.

The Federation uses warp drive as the basis for FTL travel between star systems. Tiny zero-width wormholes are used to provide instant communications between member systems, but the Federation discovered early on that attempting to open wormholes large enough to take a starship was not only power-intensive (even by the Federation’s standards) but also very dangerous. Wormhole research and development is forbidden by the Federation and younger races that do start experimenting tend to be contacted and warned of the dangers.

Standard starships can reach 1LY per day. Federation Navy vessels can reach 1LY per hour.

Oddly, the Federation prohibits the development of Artificial Intelligence and uplifting species into sentience. The Elders tried both during their expansion phase, only to discover that AIs were either heavily restricted or showed a distressing tendency to go mad, while uplifted races had problems coming to terms with what they were. Such matters, the Elders thought, were best left to nature, a dictum that the Federation has taken to heart.

The Universe of First Strike Version 2

8 Mar

The Universe of First Strike Version 2

Although rumours of older civilisations and godlike alien beings pervade the known galaxy, it is generally acknowledged that the cat-like Tarn’li were the first race to develop a working form of FTL drive. 30’000 years before First Contact (2021), they opened the first gateways into quantum space and started to expand beyond their solar system. Early expansion proved tricky – quantum space, being a higher energy dimension than normal space, is difficult to navigate – but within 500 years the Tarn’li had mastered it to the point where they could start to lay the foundations for their Association. As entering quantum space required colossal energy levels, they built the first gates (although rumours of older gates are known to exist) and a network of beacons that allowed navigation through the unpredictable eddies of quantum space.

Their expansion was rapid, allowing them to claim a vast portion of the local region. A number of alien races were discovered and – having been found to be rather less advanced than the Association – were helped to develop the technology for space flight and even encouraged to settle alongside their new friends. Not all of the new races enjoyed the discovery that large swathes of the galaxy were already claimed, or the permanent assumption of superiority held by the Tarn’li. Several of them turned on their masters, forcing the Association to fight to push them back to their homeworlds and seal them off from outer space. Others fled into quantum space and attempted to settle worlds well beyond the expanding edge of the Association.

The discovery that not all of the younger races were grateful to the Association for what it had done for them caused considerable soul-searching among the Tarn’li. One school of thought held that the younger races were naturally barbarians and could never be fully trusted, no matter how thoroughly they were integrated into the Association. A second school of thought claimed that the introduction of advanced technology into primitive societies had precluded any form of social maturity – immature primitives had suddenly been granted access to technology (including weapons) that they were ill-prepared to handle. The discovery that one such race had destroyed itself with Association technology tipped the balance in favour of the latter school of thought and all further contact with primitive races (defined as not possessing FTL travel) was banned. Unfortunately, it was already too late to prevent considerable amounts of Association technology from falling into the wrong hands.

It was also too late to prevent considerable discord among the younger races who had been permitted into the Association. They realised, correctly, that they would almost certainly be regulated to second-class status and would never be permitted to ‘mature’ to the point where the Tarn’li would treat them as equals. Several revolts (and refugee flights) are known to have taken place during this period, but the Tarn’li remained firmly in control. It was during this era that the Association scouts discovered Earth, in 1536. As humanity was clearly a primitive race, Association sociologists established a observation post on Earth’s moon and watched humanity’s development from a distance. Earth would be a protectorate without ever knowing what it was being protected from, or even that there was any protection at all.

This coincided with the development of biological immortality among the Tarn’li. Already a long-lived race, with a relatively low birth-rate, their population almost creased to expand – indeed, it began to contract. A mental lassitude had gripped the entire race, sending hundreds of thousands of settlers immigrating towards Capital, their homeworld and the heart of the Association. In their absence, the rim of the Association began to suffer from attacks by races from outside explored space – some given advanced technology by renegades, others claiming to have developed FTL travel on their own (and therefore claiming equality with the Tarn’li). One such race was the Mer’fuk, who had originally been hired as mercenaries (in defiance of Association Law), but had managed to use what they’d learned from their masters to gain control of a space fleet of their own. The Association could have eliminated the threat they posed with little effort, yet there was no longer any will to defend the borders of explored space. The Mer’fuk Hegemony was permitted to start expanding until it controlled three lesser races (and treated them as slaves) and came up against other expanding powers.

Strategically, the Association’s position was dire. While it maintained a technological advantage, it would have found it difficult to fight multiple border campaigns simultaneously. The Commune (the Association’s Parliament) attempted instead to buy off the barbarians along the rim. This worked about as well as one might expect. The barbarians used the money extorted from the Association to build up their own fleets, preparing for the day when they could take the rest of the Association for themselves. By 2000, there were no less than fifteen galactic powers pressing against the Association. Several of them had formed alliances in anticipation of a coming struggle for supremacy.

One Tarn’li – who took the name Mentor – had the nerve to go against the Commune and break the laws banning contact with primitive races. Taking a small fleet of freighters and a handful of older warships, Mentor made First Contact with Earth in 2021. Mentor’s logic was simple; humanity would be crushed when one of the expanding powers stumbled across Earth, unless humanity build a defence in time to save their world. And if they did, Mentor reasoned, the Association might have a powerful (and grateful) ally.

Although shocked by the arrival of an alien fleet, the various nations on Earth responded well to the challenge. While Mentor’s hoped-for political unification never came about, all of the major powers on Earth contributed money and manpower to the Federation, which would serve as Earth’s interstellar representative. The Federation Navy, originally using the warships Mentor had donated, was established to defend human space. It is a testament to the ingenuity of humanity that by the time the first non-Association starship entered the Sol System, Earth already had bases on the moon, an ongoing asteroid mining project and the beginnings of a shipyard. By 2027, the first extra-solar colonies were founded on uninhabited worlds near Earth. The worlds were not suitable for unprotected life, but in time they could be terraformed and made habitable. One year later (2028) a human scout ship discovered an inhabitable world, which was promptly named Terra Nova. With enthusiastic support from the Federation’s member states, colonisation began almost immediately.

Unfortunately, this was noticed by the Mer’fuk Hegemony, who maintained that they had a (spurious) claim on Terra Nova. They brought the matter before the Association Commune, claiming that the humans were trespassing on their world. Reluctantly – and aware of how Mentor had armed the human race – the Commune sided with the Mer’fuk Hegemony. Earth had no choice, but to accept the Hegemony’s occupation of the human colony. The humans on the planet’s surface were declared third-class citizens of the Hegemony. In recompense, of sorts, the Commune ordered the Hegemony to pay compensation for the lost investment. Rather surprisingly, the Hegemony paid up – humanity, simmering with rage over their treatment, put the money towards expanding the Federation Navy. The entire population of Earth (and the worlds the Hegemony hadn’t bothered to claim, yet) was determined that it wouldn’t be allowed to happen again.

In the wake of the Terra Nova disaster, humans started to spread through the known galaxy, many choosing to live and work in the Association. Others became mercenaries, fighting for alien powers, or traders exporting human goods to the stars. Human entertainment flicks became surprisingly common within the greater universe; the Galactics found movies like Independence Day to be magnificent comedy. Wherever they went, humans sent back regular reports to Earth about the dangerous universe they had entered. No one expected the Hegemony to leave Earth alone for long…

New Ebook–Storming Heaven

8 Mar


I have published a new book to Kindle, Storming Heaven (called, in the draft phase, War of the Gods.  Please buy and/or review.  A free sample is below:

Cover Blurb

A thousand years ago, the enigmatic Killers destroyed Earth, leaving only a handful of humans in surviving space-based habitats to rebuild as best as they could. Now, the human race has spread through countless star systems, but remains hopelessly inferior to the Killers. The god-like aliens are systematically driving humanity to the verge of extinction.

Desperate times need desperate measures and humanity launches a crazy plan, to board and seize a Killer starship, hoping to unlock their technology. But the Killer plan to rebuild the universe from scratch is well underway, leaving humanity at the verge of total extinction. If they fail, the Killers will be the only form of life remaining in the entire universe…


For Once-Captain Tabitha Cunningham, the dream was always the same.

She was on the observation deck of her spacecraft, the massive bridge ship Endeavour, as it started to rock violently. They were midway between Earth and the Ceres Asteroid Colony, millions of kilometres from anything that could have threatened her ship, safe in the vastness of interstellar space. The political situation down on Earth might have been heating up again, as the Russian Confederacy and the Chinese Hegemony confronted the Atlantic Alliance, but no one would have taken a shot at a Bridge Ship. Only wreckers – terrorists – would have dreamed of harming the ultimate symbol of man’s achievements in space…and no terrorist could have penetrated the security blanket protecting the ships. They should have been safe.

The ship rocked again as she stumbled onto the bridge. “Report,” she gasped, unable to understand what was happening. Endeavour was rocking like a boat out at sea, caught up in a tidal wave, yet there were no tidal waves in space. “What’s happening?”

“I don’t know,” her first officer said. Colin Hastings was young for his position, but out in interplanetary space, there should have been nothing that could have threatened them, or forced them to act quickly. “There’s no damage; the ship…”

A final wave struck the spacecraft as new alarms sounded, reporting the build-up of weird energy patterns in space, far too close for comfort. Tabitha’s eyes snapped towards sensors she never expected to have to use – military-grade sensors intended to watch for possible tracking radars and incoming missiles – to see a massive source of energy shimmer into existence. It struck her, suddenly, that the…event was producing gravity waves as well, and it had been the gravity waves that had rocked her ship. The event wasn’t natural – it couldn’t be natural – but if that was the case, then who was behind it?

She ignored the increasingly frantic calls coming in from all departments of her ship and pulled up the images from the ship’s telescopes. The wave of energy was visible even at their distance, a boiling mass of space that, even as she watched, was drawing into a funnel. It was already large enough to swallow Endeavour and her sister ships and it was still growing. She saw, with a sudden frisson of pure excitement, stars at the rear of the funnel that bore no resemblance to stars seen from Earth, but before she could articulate what that meant she saw the starship appear.

It was massive, fifty kilometres long if it were a kilometre, large enough to utterly dwarf everything that humanity had put into space. It looked like nothing less than a massive iceberg, pointed right at Earth, glittering with strange lights and weird power fluctuations. It was impossible, yet it was in front of her; it was beyond her comprehension. It was almost impossible to grasp the sheer size of the starship.

It was terrifying.

It was as alien as hell.

“First contact,” Tabitha breathed, feeling excitement, yet disappointment – and terror. What value did Endeavour have compared to the behemoth that was closing its wormhole behind it and was advancing steadily towards Earth? What was the human race to the people who had built that massive ship? Were they friends, or would they see humanity as nothing more than ants crawling around their feet? She wished, with all her heart, that she was in Earth orbit to meet the aliens, yet she also wished that she had died before she saw their arrival. The galaxy, the galaxy that humanity had barely touched, was already taken. Nothing would ever been the same again.

The alien starship ignored all attempts to communicate with it as it closed in on Earth. It ignored pleading messages from one political faction or another. It ignored the UN’s attempt to greet it in the name of Earth. It ignored offers of friendship and military alliance, pleas and supplications, promises and threats, choosing instead to maintain its ponderous approach. Despite its size, it was moving far faster than Tabitha’s ship, seemingly unconcerned with the laws of physics, as humanity knew them. It slid past the moon’s orbit, past the L4 and L5 colonies, and seemed to pause, only a few thousand kilometres from Earth itself. There was a sudden jump in power…

…And a white streak of light flashed from the alien starship towards Earth. Tabitha watched in horror as the pulse came down somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, sending great gallows of vaporised water into the atmosphere and causing tidal waves all across the planet. The second came down in Europe, detonating with the force of a thousand atomic bombs; the third came down in China. Pulse followed pulse – the Middle East, North America, Russia, Antarctica and countless more – until the entire planetary ecosystem had been thoroughly destroyed. The orbiting defences, designed to stop missiles rather than alien attack, could do nothing. The alien ship was sitting well outside their range.

Her view changed as the firestorms raged across the planet. She was no longer on her ship, but standing on the surface, watching her friends and family, her country and her planet, burning away under the alien bombardment. She was untouched by waves of fire that eradicated cities and continents, wiping the human race out of existence. She could hear the sound of nine billion people crying out in agony as they died, smell their burning flesh as they burned, feel their hands desperately grabbing at her for a safety she couldn’t offer them. Again, she watched her planet die…

And she was floating in space, watching the alien craft completing its task and slowly moving away from the planet, ignoring the orbital habitats and the remains of the human race. It seemed to pause, just long enough to look on its work and find it good, before it opened up the wormhole again and vanished, leaving a dead world behind. On the surface, the planet was still burning.

And then she woke up, screaming.

Chapter One

“We have entered the system,” the AI said. “Awaken.”

Lieutenant Chiyo Takahashi came awake as her bio-implants pushed stimulants and refreshers into her bloodstream. For a long moment, she stared around in confusion, before remembering where she was – and why she’d been in hibernation. The tiny scout ship, so small and insignificant that no one had bothered to give it or its AI a name, was approaching a Killer star system. In theory, even the Killers would be unable to detect her presence. The tiny ship had been stealthed completely, using the most advanced human technology, but no one knew just how the Killers did what they did. Her probe into their space might end with her death at their hands.

“I’m awake,” she slurred, as she pulled herself upright in the command chair. Her mouth tasted bad despite the best efforts of her implants and her enhanced genetics, so she washed it out with a glass of recycled water. She called up a reflector field and winced at her face. Her oriental features looked tired and drawn. “Report.”

“Passive sensors are detecting traces of Killer activity,” the AI reported, its voice as dispassionate as ever. No one programmed a scout ship AI to show emotion. “Optical observation confirms the presence of a major Killer base. We are flying right through the heart of their territory.”

“And it all seemed so easy back when the Admiral was briefing us,” Chiyo muttered, peering down at the holographic display as it sprang to life in the darkened cockpit. Back on the carrier, her task had seemed simple, but now she was flying through a Killer star system at a reasonable percentage of the speed of light, it was much more daunting. If the Killers caught a sniff of her presence, she wouldn’t last long enough to do more than scream for help that wouldn’t come. “Show me what you’ve detected so far.”

The holographic display expanded to reveal the solar system in all its glory. Humanity might not have mastered gravity technology – just how the Killers were able to manipulate gravity so easily was a mystery – but the scout ship’s sensors could detect the use of gravity technology at a considerable distance, along with the presence of anything else that cast a sizeable gravity field. The planetary system was fairly average – seven planets, three of them gas giants – but the waves of focused gravity crossing the system told another story. There was no way that such gravity waves existed in nature. The Killers were in residence.

“I am detecting powered sources from four of the planets,” the AI added, illuminating the active planets. “It would appear that the Killers are tearing the planets apart.”

Chiyo winced, wondering if the planets had developed intelligent life – or any kind of life at all – before the Killers came calling. Humanity knew little about their tormentors, but one thing they did know was that the Killers were brutally xenophobic and completely ruthless. A thousand years of covert space exploration and careful observation of thousands of star systems had confirmed that the Killers had wiped out hundreds of other intelligent races, leaving any survivors well hidden, as well hidden as the remains of humanity itself. It was quite possible that the only forms of intelligent life left in the Milky Way were humanity and the Killers.

And, if the Killers had their way, one day it would just be them.

A thousand years ago, humanity had been pushing into space when the first Killer starship arrived in the Solar System and opened fire on Earth, bombarding the planet into a radioactive wasteland. The starship had ignored the bases on the moon and the asteroids, perhaps in the belief that the remainder of humanity would writher and die without Earth. Instead, humanity had managed to survive and eventually escape the Solar System, only to discover hundreds of other dead worlds and a handful of habitable planets. Several of them had been settled by humanity…only to be eventually located and wiped out by the Killers. The remainder of humanity now lurked in asteroid settlements and dead worlds, knowing that if the Killers found them, all of humanity’s technology wouldn’t save them. The only saving grace was that the Killers didn’t seem to care about asteroid settlements. No one knew why.

It wasn’t the only thing humanity didn’t know about their alien foe. No one, even after a thousand years, knew what a Killer looked like, or even spoke their language. Human archaeologists had explored hundreds of alien worlds – their populations exterminated by the Killers – and decrypted several alien languages, but no one had found a dead Killer world to explore. No one knew why they were so determined to wipe out all other intelligent races, or even how far they’d spread across the universe. The Defence Force’s probes had located dozens of bases…and hundreds of their massive starships, wandering across the galaxy on seemingly-random courses. The sheer scale of the galaxy itself defeated such efforts. Even on the scale the Killers operated, it was like searching for a tiny needle within a very large haystack.

But Chiyo’s commander had lucked out and located this system.

“Wormhole opening, seventeen million kilometres away,” the AI said, suddenly. Chiyo looked up from the display towards the near-space monitor. It wouldn’t have done any good if the wormhole had opened up right on top of her position, but at least she would have seen her enemy coming at her. “Confirmed; one Iceberg-class Killer starship, heading in towards the inner solar system.”

“I wonder why they’re heading in at such a clip,” Chiyo said, thoughtfully. If the Killer starship had come in via wormhole, rather than using their still-inexplicable normal space FTL drives, there wouldn’t be a human scout following it. According to the last report she’d downloaded from the Network, there were at least seventeen known Killer starships within a hundred light years of the star, and all of them seemed to be wandering at random. There seemed no purpose at all to their journey, unless they were watching for signs of other intelligent life.

“Unable to speculate,” the AI said, pedantically. “Alert; passive sensors have detected traces of seven other Killer starships powering up their drives. Gravity fields are expanding; brace for possible impact.”

“Understood,” Chiyo said. She’d been told that there were things called tides on a planetary surface, where the gravity of a moon pulled the water into waves and sent them crashing into the land. Space had gravity tides caused by the presence of several heavy bodies – or Killer gravity drives. They could generate waves that propagated across the system faster than light and shake humanity’s starships like a child shaking her toys. She couldn’t have said how it confirmed to being on a beach, or a boat on a real sea; she had never set foot on a living planet. Very few living humans had and those who lived in the MassMind swore blind that no simulation matched the reality. “Alert me if the waves come near us.”

She turned her attention back to the display as the Killer starships came to life. They were massive starships, each one shaped like a massive iceberg, studded with eerie lights and flickering with strange energies, almost like a city come to life. Whatever else one could say about the Killers, they thought big and built bigger; their starships utterly dwarfed everything humanity had produced. No such starship had been lost in combat with human forces either; the massacres at Terra Nova, Hope, New Jehovah and Peace had been little more than routs. Humanity’s attempts to make a stand against the Killers had been doomed from the start. No one even believed that the Killers had noticed humanity’s stand. It certainly hadn’t prompted them to go after the remaining human settlements.

“Incoming wave,” the AI said, suddenly. The scout ship rocked suddenly. “No damage; no major course adjustments.”

“Thank God,” Chiyo breathed. The course they were on should take them through the star system without passing too close to any Killer facility – although no one, of course, was sure what ‘too close’ actually was. The Killers might have ignored a routine fly-though their system, but she knew that if she came too close to one of their facilities, they would respond. Her tiny scout couldn’t stand up to their weapons for more than a second. “Show me their position.”

“The fleet is moving towards Planet One,” the AI said. “They do not seem to be in a hurry.”

Chiyo eyed the AI’s icon suspiciously, suspecting that it was making an impossible joke, before turning her eyes back to the display. The Killer starships didn’t use warp bubbles or even the Anderson Tachyon Drive – at least as far as humanity could tell – but it didn’t seem to hamper them any. No human technology could have generated a warp bubble large enough to cover a Killer starship, but their gravity drives could propel them through space at sublight speeds with ease – and then there was their inexplicable FTL drive, or their wormholes. The AI was right; whatever they were doing, the Killers were in no hurry. They advanced on the world, ominous intent clearly written in their formation, and surrounded it. Chiyo had the mental impression that the world was cowering under their gaze…

“Power spike,” the AI snapped. “Major power spike…”

The display seemed to blur as the Killers went to work. The rocky planet was struck by beams of powerful energy, rapidly disintegrating into an asteroid field. Chiyo watched in terror and awe as the Killers wove their gravity net around the asteroids trapping them and slowly funnelling them towards the star. The sheer power left her speechless; the Killers hadn’t just rendered the world uninhabitable, they’d torn it apart! It made no sense to her at all. The system had plenty of asteroids they could have used without destroying an entire planet.

“They may have required additional resources,” the AI suggested, finally. It would have been monitoring her physical condition and would have known that she was on the verge of going into shock. She relaxed slightly as her implants fed more calming drugs into her system. “Human theorists suggested, at one point, destroying Mercury in order to use the presence of Sol to assist in working the released ores. The Killers may have evolved a similar concept.”

Chiyo said nothing for a long moment, watching as the Killers continued their task. “We may even be on the verge of discovering another Killer shipyard,” the AI added, in hopes of raising the human’s enthusiasm. “The construction of Icebergs certainly requires considerable resources.”

“Maybe,” Chiyo said, slowly. “They could still have mined the asteroids for a hundred years and not run out of material to produce a thousand Icebergs.”

The next few hours passed slowly. The Killers were wrapping the entire system in beams of gravity, somehow using the star as a source of power. Beams of gravity reached out across the star system, catching the newly formed asteroids and pulling them in towards the star. The Killer starships broke off as the beams of gravity took over and headed towards their next target, the second rocky world. Chiyo watched as that world, too, was shattered, the raw material released pulled towards the star. The sheer scale of their power kept her focused. She couldn’t believe that anyone, even the Killers, would destroy an entire star system just for fun. There had to be a deeper purpose in mind.

“I am picking up additional power fluctuations from the star itself,” the AI said, as new icons appeared on the display. “They do not seem to confirm to any previously observed Killer activity.”

“They’re not planning to rip apart the star,” Chiyo said, in flat denial. It seemed impossible…but with such command of gravity, it might just be possible. It would also mean certain death for her. Without the star’s gravity, her scout ship would be hurled away on the wrong course and she’d never locate the carrier again. She would have to risk a transmission, which might bring the Killers down on her. “They can’t…”

“Apparently not,” the AI agreed. “Power fluctuations are coming from an installation orbiting the star at ten thousand kilometres.”

“It should have melted,” Chiyo said. Ten thousand kilometres was nothing on a cosmic scale. If she took her scout ship so close to the star, it would be destroyed. “Show me; direct optical observation.”

The image appeared in the centre of her display, dimmed to protect her eyes. The star was a massive white globe; the installation, a massive hexagon seemingly floating just above the star, was a black shape. The AI put up a scale for her without even being asked; the hexagon was over a million kilometres across, huge beyond imagination. The Killers had built vast structures before, but this…Chiyo felt, not for the first time, the huge gulf between humanity and their tormentors and felt afraid. How could anyone hope to stand against power like that?

“What is that?” She asked, finally. “Are they trying to enclose the star?”

“Uncertain,” the AI replied, flatly. “I am unable to obtain accurate data at this distance. My current position is not suitable for active observation, but I believe that even if they mine the entire resources of the star system, they would be unable to enclose the star unless they mined material from the star itself. Their use of wormholes and gravity technology would suggest that they could accomplish that, but it would seem to be pointless. Even a partial enclosure of the star would give them access to considerable power.”

“Or they might mine other star systems as well,” Chiyo said, flatly. Unlike a warp bubble, there was no theoretical limit to the size of a wormhole. She could see the Killers opening up a wormhole in another star system, capturing an entire planet and launching it into their new system. It would be industrial engineering on a massive scale, but not beyond their technology. “Do we have any bases near this star system?”

“Unknown,” the AI replied, flatly. “My data banks do not contain information that might be tactically useful to the enemy.”

Chiyo nodded, ruefully. The Defence Force was outmatched enough without risking giving the enemy the locations of humanity’s remaining settlements in one disastrous mission. No list would ever be complete – the Community included hundreds of settlements that preferred to keep their location a secret from the rest of the human race, for various reasons – but a disaster could expose billions of humans to their fire. It was something she would have to report to higher authority when she returned to the carrier. If the Killers were mining entire star systems now…they might scoop up and destroy human colonies, quite by accident. They wouldn’t even know what they had done. Resistance would be, quite literally, futile.

There was a sudden pause. “I am picking up a second hexagon,” the AI added, sharply. “It just came into range. This one is smaller than the previous one, but definitely growing larger. They must be using nanotechnology to break down the asteroids and other debris as they are propelled into the hexagons and used as building material.”

“I’d love to get a look at their power field specifications,” Chiyo mused. Humanity had developed its own form of nanotechnology, but the Killers used it on a scale far beyond anything humanity could accomplish – again. Her body had thousands of the tiny machines running through her blood, fixing any damage and extending her life as far as they could, but there were very definite limits. She had never wanted to become a Spacer and give up her gender in exchange for effective immortality, but one day she would have to choose between that or entering the MassMind. “What about…”

The AI sounded an alarm before she could finish. “We were just scanned,” it said, flatly. Chiyo felt her body jolt to full wakefulness again as the implants did their work. “They just located us.”

“So much for the stealth field,” Chiyo said, grimly. “How much did they get?”

“Uncertain, but enough to locate us,” the AI said. “We are unable to take evasive manoeuvres without leaving a trail for them to follow.”

“Compress a full report into the transmitter and prepare to transmit,” Chiyo ordered, tartly. It was just possible that the Killers would ignore them – a tiny scout ship was hardly a threat – but there was no point in taking chances. If she had located an alien ship in her system, she would have wanted to ask them a few questions before letting them go – or destroying them. “Stand by…”

The scout ship rocked suddenly. Chiyo found herself caught in a field that seemed to tear at her entire body for a second, before the Structural Integrity Field compensated for the sudden change in environment. Red alarms flashed up in her virtual vision, warning of massive internal damage to her body; she fought down a wave of pain and struggled to focus. She couldn’t even talk and had to use her implants to transmit a command to the AI. Report.

“They have locked onto us with a gravity beam,” the AI said. It displayed an image of the ship’s course. They were plunging right down towards the sun. Chiyo realised – and almost laughed aloud – that the Killers hadn’t cared who they were or why they were in their star system; they’d just decided that the scout would make additional raw materials for their project. It was almost insulting, but quite typical of the Killers. “Twenty-two minutes to impact.”

“Transmit,” Chiyo ordered, knowing that she would be dead long before the nanites started disassembling her ship. The gravity waves were compressing her, trying to squash her flat. “Get the information out of here.”

“Transmitting,” the AI said. There was a pause. “Signal sent.”

The gravity field increased suddenly and Chiyo blacked out.