Authors: Steve Wheeler
|A Fury of Aces |
|Harper Voyager (2013)|
What will you do when the hand that nourishes you starts choking you?
The crew of
, the interstellar frigate, are major media heroes, famous beyond their wildest dreams. The various factions of the Administration, the Games Board, the Haulers and the corporate Gjomviks all want a piece of their action, and will go to any lengths to manipulate the famous ship and crew to make more money and gain more influence, even if it means savaging
This is the second book in the Fury of Aces series and follows on from the action-packed BURNT ICE.
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[A Fury of Aces 02]
2013 by MadMaxAU eBooks
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16 October, Year 581 post Earth Solar Flare,
Star System Gliese 581
‘Marko, wake up.’
Sergeant Major Marko Spitz liked sleep. He always had. He liked bed in general. In his forty-seven and a bit standard years he had slept in a lot of odd places — sometimes too hot, sometimes too cold, sometimes too comfortable, sometimes deeply unpleasant — but that particular bed in those particular quarters was just right.
He dozed in that wonderful place between sleep and full consciousness. Aware that he was alone, he dreamt of his beautiful Jan, wondering why she was not beside him.
‘Wake up, Warrant Officer Spitz ... Now!’
The Base Augmented Intelligence had taken on a strident schoolmistress tone as she formally addressed him, so he reluctantly opened his eyes, his mind slowly climbing towards wakefulness. ‘Right, come on, out of bed.’ Naked as always, he padded to the small shower area, which had been grown as part of the room; he smiled with the thought that rank still had a few privileges. He pushed into the translucent membrane, which folded and sealed itself as soon as he was through. Once he stood on the almost gritty, coral-like floor, water started pouring over him from the overhead surface at the precise temperature he liked and with just the right amount of soap in it as well.
The soapy water was cleaned as it sank through the porous material below his feet and recycled back up into the header tanks. The material filtered from the water moved further down onto the shower’s organic base plate, where, after the soaps had been recycled, the residue was consumed by the room as it constantly refurbished itself.
Judging himself sufficiently clean, he tapped the wall and pure water cascaded over him, rinsing him off. He tapped the wall again and the water stopped as he pushed his way back through the membrane.
While drying himself with the fresh towel growing from the cubicle’s ceiling, he scanned the day’s schedule in the wall screen, noting who was on base and also where his own crew was.
Pulling on fresh overalls he uplinked to the Base Augmented Intelligence then scanned for Glint. Glint had once again taken his ID offline, so even the BAI did not know where he was. Glint’s behaviour in this respect was a constant grievance of the AIs and it often petitioned Command to have the ACE placed under its direct control, but the major had always managed to block such a move. Undoubtedly, Glint created a certain tension in some people. Everyone knew he could be a bit of a prick at times and he’d made himself deeply unpopular with some of the more straight-laced pompous types on base.
One of Glint’s favourite tricks was to buy some meat from the cooks, mash it up a little and then hurl it at whoever he wanted to rev up. His aim was always as perfect as his ability to catch the target completely unawares and in a fresh uniform. Although Glint was sometimes intensely annoying and his occasional disappearances irksome, Marko reckoned he was becoming a superb entity with an extraordinary mind, good engineering capabilities and constantly improving martial arts skills. He was always grateful that Jan had convinced him to bring Glint into existence and Marko was very pleased to have the ACE around as his son.
After checking that he had on him everything he needed for the day, including the issued communications headband, he walked out through the living wooden door knowing the room would clean itself, sloughing off a fine dust of material from the walls and ceilings to be absorbed into the floor, and that the bed would also make itself as it too was living plant-derived materials.
Moving down the corridor towards the all-ranks mess, he looked up to see the roof slowly becoming translucent, allowing the light from the rising sun to penetrate all the enclosed spaces as the interior of the building reinvigorated itself. Stopping to admire a slowly opening group of magenta-coloured flowers growing from the walls, breathing in their perfume, he smiled as Glint appeared as if out of thin air beside him.
When his chameleon-ware was switched off his sudden appearances still caught most of the base personnel by surprise, but Marko and the rest of his crew had become used to it. And besides, the proud creator thought, what was the use of having special abilities if they could not be used to good effect?
Marko nodded at him while slipping the very annoying headband on. Base AI would not allow any of the
crew to communicate with their line-of-sight light-based comms systems when inside the main base compound, claiming that such use disregarded accepted security protocols. Even the major could not argue the issue so they left it alone. Only problem with the issued headbands was that Base could eavesdrop on anything they discussed.
‘A good night, Glint?’
‘Yes, thanks, Marko. Spent seven most enjoyable hours hacking Gerald. I do believe that he is even more pissed at me than normal.’
Knowing that he was being listened to by the said Gerald, Marko chuckled. ‘Gerald? The Primary Base AI is called Gerald? Ha! Gerald! Who would have thought? So, have you been calling him Gerry?’
‘No, Marko, that would be disrespectful. Gerald is a good name for a Frontier Base AI. A certain air of dignity if you will. And besides, even if he is annoyed at me getting that deep into him he has been most helpful with my latest upgrades.’
‘Well, Glint my son, what have you done now?’
He just smiled in his almost angelic way and told Marko to wait.
They entered the main mess hall, which featured high, structurally curved plant-based wall panels and a roof formed from interwoven giant semi-translucent leaves. It allowed in the perfect level of light for early morning as they made their way through the throng to the area for Senior NCOs. The grown tables and bench seats had the form of a much-altered wood fungus, but none of the associated smells. Marko sat, and Glint did an interesting thing with his tail, forming his own seat that allowed his head to be almost at the same level as Marko’s and the table’s other occupants.
His fellow sergeants and warrant officers nodded at Marko and Glint, murmuring their greetings of the day. Reg looked across at Glint, then looked at Marko to enquire, ‘What the hell is he up to now?’ Marko shrugged and replied that he had a new upgrade but Marko had no idea of what it was. There was a general shuffling of bums with most looking around and calculating the fastest escape route, should the need arise.
The corporal came around and took their breakfast orders but skipped over Glint, as he always had in the past.
‘Yes, Sergeant Glint?’
‘I wish to place my breakfast order, please.’
Oh, shit, Marko thought, this is going to be interesting. Glint with plates of food, in the middle of several hundred potential targets. He loved Glint but the ACE still made him very nervous at times. ‘Ummmmm, Glint, what are you going to do with breakfast food?’
‘Eat it, Marko. What else would I do?’
‘Really, Glint. Oral sensory? Or full digestive and do you now have a shiny new arsehole as well?’
‘Yes, Marko, I now have an anus! Would you like to see it?’
There was an explosive chorus of ‘No, no, no, no thanks!’ with the occupants of the tables around them stopping whatever they were doing to listen in.
As they ate, they also watched with some awe and trepidation as their good friend Glint ate his first-ever meal. He started with a small bowl of muesli, which he consumed with great relish, then fawned over the sugar when he discovered its taste. The milk, he said, was OK but decided that fruit juice on muesli was just the ticket. He followed that with fresh fruit and then pan-fried bacon and eggs, which he thought was most interesting.
Reg cheerfully told him that the plates were edible as well, so Glint bit a piece from the side of his cleared one, chewed thoughtfully for a few moments and declared that although it was bland in taste it would make a good projectile and crunched down the remainder, which created further nervous looks from around the table. Marko smiled, thinking about getting Glint back to the workshops and running a full diagnostic to see what engineering marvels he had created in himself. He did note that Glint’s midriff was definitely larger by the end of breakfast. Coffee the ACE was not that keen on, until Marko suggested honey in it.