Back in April, I announced an SF collaboration with fellow Gollancz author Gavin Smith: “Caught between battery-farming and annihilation, can mankind find a way out in the face of Gavin’s personal guarantee that at no point will any vastly technologically superior alien races be defeated by a single big shouty man with a large gun or by some sort of computer hack? Find out next year . . .”
I’m pleased to say that my Empires: Extraction is ready to submit and Gavin’s companion volume is going through the proof-reading. It’s been slightly delayed due to being gazumped by another project that affects both of us but it’s basically on schedule. When it actually comes out is up to Gollancz. The results, though are some sort of monstrous hybrid of my penchant for extreme physics and Gavin’s special forces expertise.
What we’ve ended up with isn’t quite what we thought we were going to do but I’m pleased with the result. I don’t think I can claim any great depth of commentary on society with this one, just snarky spacehips, aliens, deranged sentient hallucinations, sweary SAS men, lots of guns and explosions, I get to be rude about the Cleggeron and we just won’t mention what Gavin gets up to across the Atlantic (mostly because it’ll get cut in the edit ).
Here’s an (unedited) extract:
June 28th, 1600 hours, One hundred miles east of Damascus
The cloned Fermat construct approached from the east. It had become irritatingly difficult to conceal itself crossing the desert. It could cloak itself perfectly well from all the standard senses and sensors but moving at any kind of speed close to the ground would throw up clouds of dust that would then be hard to conceal. It could stutter in little wormhole jumps and the natives wouldn’t be any the wiser but then there was the matter of who else was in this system. The Shriven appeared to have exceptional sensor arrays hidden somewhere and they might pick up the muon trail the stutters would leave behind. It couldn’t allow that. It wanted to optimise its chances to take them by surprise.
It settled for riding in the back of a native truck, concealed and invisible. It had engineered a xeno-fungus whose spores made their way into human nervous systems and made them entirely suggestible. It was a calculated risk – anything more complex that would have allowed more reliable subjugation might have aroused suspicion from the Shriven but it needed pliable natives. It considered flying but again the elimination of its own signature would have been imperfect.
The truck was slow. The clone took the time to flit its consciousness among the several hundred tiny drones that now orbited the earth. Individually they were simply things, barely even self-aware, but the network they made was showing interesting phenomena that even the Irrational Prime wasn’t picking up lurking out among the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn. Most of all, the orbital network was showing consistent steady signs of pion decay somewhere in Damascus. The network had it pinned down to a few dozen yards. The clone would do the rest.
It assessed the tactical options it had prepared for whatever it encountered. Shortly after it did that, the truck ground to a halt at some sort of native checkpoint and an exchange of conversation occurred. From the back of the truck, the Fermat couldn’t intervene without giving itself away. It seemed that the conversation went logically enough but it nevertheless ended with the soldiers at the checkpoint hauling the driver out of his truck, dragging him behind a shed and shooting him in the head.
The Fermat considered this for an instant then unshrouded itself and climbed out. It didn’t trouble to not to scrape its armoured limbs against the side of the truck. The two soldiers who’d shot its driver came running back from behind the shed. They took one look at the clone and started shrieking as they opened fire. The Fermat phased so the bullets passed straight through and ignored them. It swept its hand across the soldiers’ hut and the rest of the checkpoint. For a nanosecond, magnetic fields several quadrillion times stronger than the earth’s own ripped apart the atoms of everything in front of it. The checkpoint disintegrated.
The Fermat turned to the two soldiers left behind it. One had fallen to his knees and was praying. The other was trying to reload and shaking too much to do it. The clone killed both of them by stopping their hearts. It left the praying one and hauled the other body into the truck, propped it up behind the wheel and infected the corpse with a modified version of its fungus. While it was waiting for the body to reanimate, it rewired the truck and took control. The dead man just had to sit up and loll there, that would do. An hour later, that was what it was doing. Another six and synaptic decay would be too far advanced for the deception to work any more but that was more than it needed.
“So your idea of stealth is to set off a magnetic pulse they’ll feel in orbit and create walking dead men?” asked the Irrational Prime.