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Authors: Christopher Nuttall

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BOOK: Storming Heaven
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“We can’t do that,” Brent said.  He smiled, thinly.  “We’d never get everyone to agree to commit suicide.”


Patti looked down at the image of the galaxy.  There were
of known Killer star systems and
of known Killer starships.  It seemed absurd to believe that the Community could wage war against such a foe and yet…they were right.  The human race was in hiding, the Defence Force only capable of observing and monitoring the enemy…and it was tearing the Community apart.  There were groups launching colony fleets to the nearest galaxies, using the Anderson Drive to cut the journey times down to a manageable level, but what would happen when the Killers reached those galaxies as well?


And humanity was alone.  There were no allies out there, no aliens who might be friendly or would join humanity in war against the Killers.  The Killers had wiped out thousands of races over the years, leaving humanity alone.  It didn’t bode well for humanity’s future.  The human race wasn't the only race that had reached space before the Killers arrived, but no others had survived, unless they were in hiding.  She would have liked to believe that some of them were hiding under the noses of the Killers, but the Killers would probably have ferreted them all out – eventually – and destroyed them.  Humanity was just the last in a long line of defeated and exterminated races.


“Can we even break into the craft?”  She asked, finally.  “Can we board craft coated with invincible hull material?”


“We believe so,” Brent said, simply.  “We have studied the craft carefully and believe that it might be possible to board it with Footsoldiers.  There is an element of risk, as I said, but we believe that it can be minimised.”


“And if it is not, they all die,” Patti said.


Tabitha smiled.  “Shall we move to a vote?”


Rupert, the Spacer, spoke first.  “We support this risky endeavour,” he grated, slowly.  “We will grant what support we can to the Footsoldiers.”


“We agree,” Arun added.  His voice was distressingly eager.  “We need insight into their technology and this is the only way we can obtain it.  The risk is worthwhile.”


It isn’t you who will have to take the risk
, Patti thought, but she knew that it wasn't quite accurate.  The Technical Faction would be intimately involved with examining the captured ship – if it were captured – and if the Killers arrived to recover their ship, they’d be caught in the firing line.  She made a mental note to ensure that the starship was flown well away from any inhabited human settlement, just in case, before waiting for the next person to speak.


“I believe that this is futile,” Father Sigmund said, tightly.  Patti wasn’t too surprised by his stance.  The Deists believed the life was sacred and not to be risked, ever.  Their beliefs would make very little difference if the Killers attacked, just as they had slaughtered most of humanity’s religious adherents on Earth.  “I cannot in good conscience support this crazy plan.”


“I must agree with you for once,” Matriarch Jayne said.  The Rockrat leader stared at Brent harshly.  Her ancient face refused to budge.  “This plan risks far too much for a very chancy reward.  We cannot afford another High Singapore so soon.”


Patti smiled.  The Rockrats had formed the basis of much of the Community – and one of their traditions was female leaders.  After Earth had been destroyed, the women on the asteroid belts had suddenly become worth far more than their weight in gold and had been prevented from going outside sheltered accommodation.  While the men struggled to build a new society, the women had quietly taken control of the asteroids and ended up running the original Community.  They were generally more careful than men in their dealings with the Killers.  They knew what was at stake.


“So does certain death,” Tabitha said.  Her voice hardened slightly.  “I cast my vote in favour of this plan.”


“As do I,” Brent said, unnecessarily.


“Four in favour, two opposed,” Patti said.  She sighed, heavily.  If she cast a vote now, it would be useless, whichever way she moved.  Her constituents would not be too happy, but there was little choice.  “I choose, therefore, to abstain from the vote.  Admiral, you have your permission to proceed.  Good luck.”


“Thank you,” Brent said.  He looked down at the image of the Killer starship for a long moment.  Patti wondered if he was having doubts now about the wisdom of his plans.  “We won’t fail you.”

Chapter Three


As soon as the meeting ended, Tabitha Cunningham translated herself out of the meeting perceptual environment and back into her own apartment – or what she thought of as her apartment.  It looked like her old apartment back on Earth – nothing more than radioactive dust now – even to her enhanced senses, but she knew that it was not.  It was an image, formed in her mind and given a certain trace of reality by the MassMind, yet it was nothing more than the tiniest tiny section of the network that linked the human race together.  Tabitha knew that the illusion was an illusion and could never give herself completely to it, but she needed the comfortable to remind her that there was something worth fighting for, even if it was a dream long gone.


Was she human?  It was something she had struggled with for centuries, ever since the
– a starship only called a starship by the grace of semantics – had reached a new star and encountered humanity’s first warp-capable starship.  The aging Tabitha had dreamed of a new world, but instead she’d been warned that no Earth-like world was safe for humans, and she could seek a kind of immortality as a ghost in the machine.  Her mind, her personality, perhaps even her soul, had been transcribed into the growing MassMind…but was she human?  Was she still Tabitha, who had captained a Bridge Ship and led humanity’s desperate struggle to survive, or was she nothing more than a tiny computer program that dreamed it was a woman?


She wasn’t the only one to have those doubts, but as humanity grew older, it seemed to her that the number of humans who had those doubts fell.  She had been Roman Catholic on Earth, but humanity’s religions had been almost completely exterminated by the Killers.  By becoming part of the MassMind, she had wondered at the time, was she trying to cheat God?  Was she doomed for punishment on the Day of Judgement?  And yet, she thought from time to time, could anyone cheat God?  If He wanted to summon her, He could do it with ease, no matter where she hid.  He could certainly reach into the MassMind for her.


Her eyes closed as she slumped into a chair that was not a chair.  It would have been easy to lose herself within the MassMind and thousands of human patterns did so every year.  She could hear the faint whispers of the collective MassMind at the back of her head – everyone in the MassMind would hear them – and she knew that one day she would succumb to the song herself.  She was the oldest personality within the MassMind, over a thousand years old, and she was tired.  The illusion of being tired was the only link she had to being human.  There were people – personalities – in the MassMind who never grew tired, or bored with their games.  They could do anything in the MassMind; it never failed to shock her, even after a thousand years, how far people could go.  The MassMind never judged, for no one was hurt, but she still struggled with her own morality.  Was it right to lose oneself in a rape fantasy, even if no one was actually hurt?  Was it right to take part in a paedophilic encounter if the child was nothing more than a computer-generated illusion?


She remembered her own early days in the MassMind and shuddered.  She’d explored all of the possibilities.  She’d been a man for a few dozen years, learning what it felt like to be the opposite sex, before reconfiguring herself back into a woman.  She’d been a child again, and then an animal, and then creatures out of modern myth.  It hadn’t been real, yet it had felt real, and when she had finally pulled herself out of the endless illusionary luxury, she had realised the truth.  The MassMind existed to keep the human race distracted from the truth.  If the Killers stumbled across the MassMind and its remote nodes, they would wipe out billions of human personalities without a second thought.


A magazine appeared on her coffee table and she picked it up thoughtfully.  It claimed to be a listing of various entertainments, but none of them drew her attention.  She was perhaps the only personality still active that would have recognised the origins of some of the entertainments, the programs and illusions that distracted humanity from the truth.  It still astonished her how much had been lost over the years, but the latest version of
Star Wars
, in which the heroes went up against the Galactic Empire, was still going strong.  She didn’t think that there were so many nude scenes in the original though – and she would have given her soul to
fight the Galactic Empire.  Humanity faced a far worse foe.


She shook her head impatiently as the MassMind transmitted a signal to her, informing her that someone would like to enter her personal environment.  She nodded, transmitting an acknowledgement, and smiled ruefully as the door opened, revealing Administrator Arun Prabhu.  In the MassMind, he reassembled a Sikh from Old Earth, although Tabitha was probably the only person who recalled what the Sikhs actually were.  It was even more of an illusion than her own personality; Arun lived outside the MassMind, in reality.  She envied him more than she could say.


“Captain,” he said, in greeting.  Tabitha rolled her eyes inwardly.  Her title of Captain was the only one she’d kept over the years, even though she’d been Administrator of the Asteroid Belt, President of the Community and Matriarch of the Rockrats in her long life.  “I love what you’ve done with the place.”


Tabitha scowled at him, knowing that she was being teased.  “To business,” she said, tightly.  The environment could quite easily have been a nude steam bath, or a simple Government-Issue conference room from her own time; her apartment was merely a matter of personal choice.  “I trust that the Admiral is on his way?”


“I believe that he was briefing some of his subordinates,” Arun said, as Admiral Brent Roeder stepped in through the door.  He looked like a fairly average military man, although the Defence Force uniform owed more to various science-fiction movies that had survived the years than anything Tabitha had seen from a human military.  She had once been a Colonel in the United States Space Force – which had ceased to exist along with the United States and Earth itself – and part of her found the uniform amusing, and silly.  “Ah, Admiral.”


“Captain,” Brent said, calmly.  He, at least, wasn't too awed with her reputation.  “We had better make this quick.  I’m scheduled to attend another two briefings before the end of the day.”


Tabitha smiled.  She approved of efficiency and the Defence Force, even though it was largely helpless against the Killers, was an efficient organisation.  Brent had handled much of that when he became its Commanding Officer, rebuilding what had been a rapidly decaying communications and reconnaissance force into a formidable military machine – formidable against anything, but the Killers.  He controlled firepower that would have been unimaginable back in her youth and starships that could span the galaxy in mere hours, yet the Killers didn’t care.  To them, humanity was just another race of insects that needed to be exterminated.


She sent a mental command into the MassMind and the image of the Killer starship materialised in front of them.  It didn’t look any less formidable than it had looked in the Council Chamber and she wondered, suddenly, if they were doing the right thing.  Humanity had survived by hiding in the asteroids and out in interstellar space, but now…now they were talking about going on the offensive, against an overwhelmingly superior foe.  Tabitha had been a military officer long enough to know that that was dangerous, yet there was little choice.  The only other choice was to flee the galaxy entirely and escape.  The MassMind couldn’t be moved so easily.


“Our target,” Brent said, seriously.  “The planning sessions have all been completed.  As we know nothing about the internal environment of the Killer starship, we were very limited in what we could tell the Footsoldiers about it.  We believe that we are prepared for anything reasonable, but…”


He didn’t need to finish the sentence.  They all knew how formidable the Killer starships were…and how little humanity knew about their interiors.  The Killers didn’t take prisoners, or capture starships; they just came, saw and destroyed.  The commando teams boarding the enemy starship were risking everything.  It was quite possible that they wouldn’t be able to survive within the Killer ship, although every destroyed world had been quite Earth-like.  There was no reason to believe that the Killers were


“It’s out of our hands now,” Tabitha said, feeling – once again – the helplessness of being part of the MassMind.  By long tradition, the MassMind only had one vote on the War Council, or even as part of the Greater Community.  It might be the largest single population – if one counted human personalities as being part of a population – but the living would not permit the dead to dictate to them.  Besides, Patti might be the President of the Community, but the Community was such a decentralised system that the President counted for very little.  “What about the other project?”


“The Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator is in final development now,” Arun confirmed.  Tabitha had chosen the name herself, secure in the knowledge that no one would connect the name with any actual project.  “The problem remains testing it.”


Brent changed the image – a serious breech of MassMind etiquette – to the final images from Lieutenant Chiyo Takahashi.  “I have a target right here,” he said, coldly.  “If we strike that star, even their technology would be unable to prevent a disaster.”


“We’d have to blow up a lot of stars to make an impression on them,” Tabitha pointed out, coldly.  The Killers had thousands of star systems.  She had a dark suspicion that humanity hadn’t located even a fraction of them.  It was a mystery why the Killers seemed to ignore uninhabited Earth-like worlds in those systems, but it wouldn’t matter – humanity couldn’t use them so near the Killers.  “How many stars do you want to kill?”


“As many as we have to,” Brent said.  “We’re at war.”


“They may be able to counter the effect,” Arun said, reluctantly.  “My team have been going through the images from the scout ship flight and they believe that the Killers are actually attempting to take control of the star.  If they are capable of operating on such a level – which is theoretically possible – they may be able to compensate for the supernova effect.”


“They dismantle entire star systems to build their structures and now you’re telling me that they’re taking control of entire stars,” Brent said.  “Why?  What’s the point of taking control of a star?”


Tabitha said nothing, thinking hard.  One benefit of the MassMind was that it allowed the brightest scientists and technicians of humanity to work together without being lumbered with their own care and feeding.  Arun might have been the Administrator of the Technical Faction, but much of the real work was done in the MassMind, by the ghosts of scientists who had centuries of experience and the ability to assimilate data and study the implications almost instantly.  They could use the MassMind fantastic processing power to run simulations and experiments that would have been impossible in the outside world and repeat them as many times as necessary.  They’d been concentrating on the mystery of Killer technology for thousands of years.  They’d even cracked some minor mysteries.


“The best we can suggest is that they want the power the star represents,” Arun said, finally.  “If they took control of a star, they’d be able to tap into its power on a far more effective basis than anything they’d have even if they enclosed the star completely.”


“But why not use energy drawn from the universe itself?”  Brent asked, shaking his head.  “Or even other sources?  Why go to all that trouble just to take control of a star?”


“We don’t know,” Arun admitted.  “They already have more power at their disposal than we have.  Anything they want or need…they can get it with the power they have already.  Why would they bother to reconfigure a star?”


“We’ll just have to hope that capturing one of their starships will give us some answers,” Tabitha said, grimly.  “If we can’t crack one of their starships, we may be reduced to blowing up stars just to get them to pay attention to us.”


She winced inwardly, remembering Patti’s concerns.  The President knew that humanity was in a fragile state and the Killers could come after them at any moment.  She believed that it would be better if the Community did nothing to anger the Killers, but humanity couldn’t live like that.  The hundreds of thousands who fell into the MassMind and its illusions, or committed suicide or even fled the galaxy entirely were merely symptoms of humanity’s growing despair.   The human race couldn’t go on being the hunted prey.  Whatever it took, she knew, the war had to end.



Paula Handley allowed herself to feel a hint of nervousness as she was called into the Administrator’s office on the Technical Asteroid.  She hadn’t seen the Administrator in person since she’d joined the Technical Faction as a young girl just out of school and qualified to become a Technical in her own right.  She was proud, very much so, of what she had accomplished, yet she was young and knew that it would be a long time before she rose to the position where she could pick and choose her own research projects.  She’d been funnelled into studying Killer technology – gravity science was an interest of hers – and she took some pride in knowing that she had enhanced humanity’s understanding, yet she knew how little it was compared to what the Killers did so effortlessly.  It didn’t help that certain old women of both sexes were worried about the consequences of experimenting with gravity technology.  Gravity waves propagated instantly across space and they believed – feared – that they would attract the Killers.  They could hardly fail to respond to someone attempting to crack the secrets of their own technology.

BOOK: Storming Heaven
5.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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