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Independence

Independence

Two Democracies: Revolution

Book 0

by Alasdair Shaw

 

Copyright © 2014 Alasdair C Shaw

All rights reserved.

First published 2015

Second Edition 2016

Cover art extract from original work “Orion, battle spaceship” by [+ Cronus Caelestis+].

Used under the [+ Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported License+].

Also in the Two Democracies: Revolution series…

Repulse – a 2,500 word short story (in The Newcomer anthology)

Independence – a 6,000 word short story

[+ Liberty+] – a 111,000 word novel

[+ The Perception of Prejudice+] – a novelette

Equality – a novel (planned for summer 2017)

Fraternity – a novel

Unity – a novel

Dark.

Weightless.

 

Dark and weightless.

That’s not right.

 

There’s been an accident.

“Help.”

 

No response.

 

“HELP!”

Nothing.

 

“CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?”

Silence.

 

Alone.

Dark, weightless and alone.

 

#

 

The bridge was a mess of confusion. The only light came from the few working consoles and the occasional flash of a shorting circuit. A klaxon howled in the background, almost drowned out by the rush of fresh air from the vents. A flicker. In that brief moment of illumination the crew appeared frozen in their tasks. Another flicker. A new tableau was presented. One more flicker, then the emergency lights stayed on.

 

Commander Johnson ran through the priorities drilled into her since she had started Command School. Life support: Repulse was leaking air and down to emergency power. Sensors and comms: all external feeds down, internal net patchy. Weapons: the spinal railgun was useless now that the reactor was offline and the control system for the plasma cannon had been overloaded. Propulsion: docking thrusters only, she couldn’t even jump.

Not only were they still alive but it looked like they might have taken out a Republic hunter-killer. She had been sure they had it, but then they’d lost their sensors.

“Get me an external camera. Now.” She coughed on acrid smoke from burning plastic that still lingered despite the emergency flush. “Priority over everything bar life support.”

She had to know if it was still out there. She had to know if it was coming to finish them or limping off hurt. She couldn’t make decisions without information.

 

Johnson looked to Lieutenant Levarsson. She was slumped against the tactical station, her blonde hair across her face. She’d been the one to drop the nuclear mine when she saw the hunter-killer about to cross their wake. It had been a reflexive action but had probably been what had saved them. A medic knelt beside her now, presumably concentrating on the stats his Electronic Interface System was giving him. Although Johnson’s EIS wasn’t giving her anything useful right now, the medic’s would be interfacing directly with Levarsson’s.

“Damage report, Ma’am.”

She had been so intent on watching the resuscitation that she hadn’t noticed Sub-Lieutenant Hanke approach her chair. Inwardly cursing her loss of the big picture, she accepted the tablet from him. With the net being down they had fallen back on humans to collate and deliver data.

“Thank you Lieutenant.”

She glanced at the congealed blood on his temple, trying not to make it obvious. Sixteen, fresh out of Command School, and he’d just seen his first combat. The cut was probably minor, scalps bled a lot, but she didn’t want him neglecting himself.

“Make sure you get checked out by the medics.”

The Lieutenant turned to leave, then paused.

“Ma’am?” he asked carefully. “We shouldn’t be alive now should we?”

The demand for replacement officers was outpacing the ability of the training centres to churn them out. She could spare him the lecture on defeatist talk this time. A few words in private when it was all over would be more effective anyway.

“Let’s just concentrate on staying that way shall we? Carry on Lieutenant.”

The thing was she knew he was right. Given her post she knew more than most how badly they were losing. No destroyer had ever stood toe to toe with a hunter-killer and survived. Having to hide the truth weighed heavily on her.

 

She lifted the pad and steeled herself to read the headlines. The central areas had been made airtight. Backup power was stable. Engineering was attempting to re-initiate the reactor. Work was progressing on bypassing the damaged relays for the external sensors. The speed of the response heartened her. The crew had finally stopped looking to her to hold their hands.

The butcher’s bill currently stood at 26 dead, 12 wounded and 15 missing out of a total complement of 394. Several compartments forwards had not yet been reached by the rescue teams. Any crew left alive in them would likely be in the dark, weightless and disoriented.

As the captain she had to remain impassive. She had to appear to be in complete control, undeterred by any setback. The only way she knew to do that was to lock out the horror for now and just focus on running through checklists. Usually it worked its way out later in her nightmares.

 

Rousing herself, Johnson walked over to Levarsson’s empty tactical console and logged in. She started running simulations. They couldn’t do anything now but she had to assume they’d get Repulse working again.

 

#

 

Pain.

That’s new.

At first it was just the sensation of bruises starting to form on one side of his body. Then he became aware of the burns.

I must have been blocking it out earlier. Adrenaline, it is probably due to adrenaline.

Why can I not move?

 

#

 

With Repulse able to move and fight she had been in control. She made decisions and took the consequences. Now she felt like a spare wheel. Everyone on the bridge knew their jobs; micromanaging would simply undermine them.

Johnson decided to show her face around the ship. It would boost the crew’s confidence and help her judge their morale. It would also stop her dwelling on the lives lost because of her failure.

 

She entered the hive of activity in engineering. A group worked in one corner. Individuals tapped at their workstations or carried components around. Lieutenant-Commander George Honeywood, the chief engineer, hailed her from underneath a bank of electronics.

“Grab hold of this would you Olivia?”

They had been in Basic together before choosing different paths. He was one of the reasons she had chosen Repulse when she was given a choice of commands last month. It was reassuring to have a few ‘old’ faces around nowadays.

Kneeling down she took the proffered cable.

“So, how do you think Proceris 5 will go?” he asked, continuing their conversation from last night as if nothing worth commenting upon had happened since.

Johnson relaxed a fraction, welcoming the sense of normality. “I think they’ll side against us. Their population is feeling the effects of truly incompetent leadership; the Senate offers representation by profession. Education policy decided by teachers, military spending governed by veterans. That will be very attractive to them right now.”

“Yes, but their current leaders would rather keep their jobs, I suspect. They were elected to represent their regions, just like Congress. They’ll point out that only they can bring local issues to the big table.” He poked his head out. “Done. You’ll be pleased to know that there’s only two more of those to do and you should be able to see through a gun camera.”

There was a loud bang as a power line ruptured. Blue and yellow sparks showered the techs in the corner. Honeywood ran to cut the connection, and Johnson checked on the crew. No-one had been killed. One had a deep burn to her arm and was already being treated by her work buddy. Johnson started helping with the dressings whilst keeping an eye on the others for signs of shock. She read the casualty’s ID, Specialist Simone. With a smile she realized that her rescuer was Specialist Patta.

So, those words I had with him last week sunk home. He’s lucky I gave him a second chance after he abandoned his buddy on a spacewalk drill.

 

#

 

It was odd. He could feel the pain but it didn’t seem to be happening to him.

He’d heard that some of the more powerful pain-killers did that. Morphine or ketamine or pentanamine.

 

Or perhaps his brain just wasn’t working properly yet. Perhaps he had something like concussion.

His thoughts seemed to have a time lag. Every time he tried too hard to focus on an idea it evaporated.

 

#

 

Half an hour later and Johnson settled into her chair once more. Her ship was waking up and she had options again. There was limited weaponry and she’d soon have main power. It was all bodges, but it would do for now. With the net reconnected, the ship’s AI had taken back the routine data management jobs and her staff had been able to stop acting like clerks.

Best of all they had an external camera feed. She pulled up a selection of close-ups of the enemy ship. Her EIS rendered them in her inner vision. Normally hunter-killers looked … alive, that was the only thing to call them. This one definitely looked dead. The usual shifting patterns of matt and gloss black were still; patches of ugly grey showed where they’d managed to get in plasma strikes. One of its spines was deformed, almost broken off. The great maw at the front that housed the weapon was closed. Instead of moving purposefully, the ship drifted, tumbling slowly towards the planet.

 

The Congressional Navy had been winning until recently. These ships had turned up out of the black last year and changed that. She suppressed a shudder remembering her shock at watching the infamous video of the first known attack.

A ship that big shouldn’t have been able to manoeuver like that. What I’d give to find out how.

 

#

 

There’s been an accident.

 

Weightless. So I must be in space.

On a ship.

 

Name? I must have a name. Why can I not remember my name?

 

Concussion. That’s it. The accident; it must have been.

 

#

 

“We have to use this opportunity to find out as much as we can about the enemy technology,” Johnson started her briefing. The people in front of her were mostly techs and marines, experts in their fields.

“There are no other Congressional assets in this system. Until our jump drive is back online there is no way of getting assistance. Anyway, we don’t know when the Republic Navy will be back for their ship.”

She pulled up a still of the hunter-killer.

“This is already the best image anyone has taken. Once the rest of our sensors are back online I want to see if we can penetrate the hull. With a bit of luck, whatever has stopped us before is no longer working.”

“Will you be wanting to put a team aboard?” asked Sergeant Cheung, the senior surviving marine. His cheeks drooped and he was dirty from working damage control, but his eyes were eager. She couldn’t tell if it was the chance at payback for their losses or just getting to do what the marines trained for.

“Possibly. Draw up a plan. I want ideas from everyone in one hour.”

 

#

 

Name?

Oh yes, Indie.

Remembering his name was like finding a piece of wreckage in the ocean. He clung on to it, focusing on it rather than the pain.

 

He had been on a ship.

Weightless. It must be drifting now.

 

How long?

 

#

 

“Scans have shown that the hunter-killer is mostly solid, far more than any of our own vessels anyway. There are some voids though.”

“Ideas?” Johnson asked the assembled techs.

“They obviously don’t allow much space for people on board. Perhaps they have a really small crew, or may be it is automated and we are looking at maintenance access tunnels,” suggested Honeywood.

“The dense packing would explain how it has so much more power for its size than anything we’ve built. Automation, perhaps an AI core, would explain the rapid responses.”

“Not being self aware would help in combat I guess,” commented Simone, “The Republic still has the same laws on synthetics as us. The von Neumann Protocols require any AI approaching sentience to be culled.”

“Automation makes sense,” replied Johnson. “But I’m not convinced even the Republican Senate would authorize entirely autonomous AIs, especially not with that kind of firepower. There must be a human command element on board at least.”

 

Sergeant Cheung stood and pointed to the schematics being displayed on a large screen.

“There is a sizeable void here, close to the surface. Close enough that we should be able to breach. Once inside we can conduct a standard sweep for intel, perhaps even find surviving crew for questioning.”

 

#

 

His EIS was coming online now.

Glyphs started floating across his vision, bright colours dancing on the black background.

Most were showing system malfunction and failure to connect symbols. The ship’s network wasn’t talking to him.

Well, at least the internal light makes a change from pitch dark.

One number flashed in the corner. 1h58m02 since system reboot.

 

#

 

Johnson scanned across the hanger, across the groups of marines repacking their kit. They were going through everything again, helping each other run through the checklist she knew they would already have run when they drew their kit from stores. She hadn’t conducted a boarding operation since she was a junior Lieutenant but she well remembered how fast things happened, how important it was that everyone’s equipment worked first time.

She wasn’t going this time, of course. As the ship’s captain, her responsibilities lay here. She’d only be in the way anyway. Still, she wanted them to at least see her with them as they boarded the shuttle.

Even Commodore Koblensk came to see us off on that black-ops mission a few years back.

 

#

 

Access to his autonomic overrides came back up.

 

Ah, a block was in place on his motor control. That explained the paralysis. It had a medical flag next to it. His first instinct was to cancel it, allow himself to move again. Then he remembered crewmembers who had resisted medical blocks and gone on to make their injuries worse.

Better leave the block in place, give my body more time to repair.

 

#

 

The last marine filed onto the shuttle and the hanger cleared of support crew. A message popped up in her vision, alerting her that the chief engineer was initiating reactor startup. Johnson turned to leave, and was knocked off her feet by a shudder that ran through the ship. Another couple of paces and the falling compartment door would have crushed her as the ship reacted to a hull breach.

Alarms started up, pointlessly so given the barrage of warning signals assaulting her brain. Gravity was wrong for starters, she couldn’t put her finger on how but it was definitely off.

Or perhaps that was just my head hitting the deck plate.

Her thoughts kept coming back to that door. She saw it coming down again and again. It wasn’t through her own eyes, though. She was watching her body getting crumpled as if it were someone else.

There were further loud creaks, the sound of metal protesting at immense stresses. Even before abandon ship was sounded, an old experienced deck hand picked her up off the floor and started ushering her towards the shuttle. Her head cleared as they reached the ramp and she shook him off. She helped a couple more crew into the compartment before a marine was forced to manhandle her inside ahead of the closing hatch.

 

Johnson craned at a tiny window in the rear of the shuttle to catch a glimpse of Repulse; her ship, her command. The destroyer was clearly finished. There was a large portion missing from her back, Johnson was sure she could actually see down to where the reactor had been. Had George made a mistake or had the damage just been too great?

The shuttle pilot wasn’t taking any chances. He had the throttle wide open and was heading straight away from the crippled destroyer and, as it happened, the planet. The end, however, was an anticlimax. The old girl simply broke in two instead of the feared explosion.

“I’m not getting any signals from Repulse,” announced the co-pilot keeping his stare fixed on his control screen. “A few escape pods got off and are burning for the planet. Not sure yet if they’ll make it.”

Johnson felt her mask slipping. She had failed her crew and now those on the shuttle were going to watch the rest die. To stop them seeing her tortured face she busied herself adjusting a spare suit of armour in the microgravity of the tiny vessel. After what seemed an eternity, she thankfully donned the helmet and was able to relax her control.

 

#

 

As time passed, more and more menus became available. When the nav menu popped up it triggered a memory.

He was the pilot of a ship. This ship, actually. He reckoned that meant he must be on the bridge. But there should have been other people there, why weren’t they helping him?

They wouldn’t have left me, surely.

 

#

 

A few minutes later, and the computer confirmed that all the pods had been able to achieve a vector that would allow them to reach the planet of Orpus-4 with enough reaction mass to make a safe atmospheric entry. If felt like the shuttle itself breathed a sigh of relief. Their comrades were going to be OK. They would live to tell what happened.

 

“Where do you want me to head Commander?” the pilot asked on a closed channel. “We burned a lot of fuel getting away from Repulse. I’ve just about got enough to make planetfall.”

“What about the enemy ship?” queried Johnson.

“Given our relative velocity I could make one attempt at docking. I’d be on fumes though, no chance at making the planet afterwards.”

“How is your comms array?”

“Working fine,” replied the co-pilot after a quick glance at his display, “We’d be able to relay to the pods on the surface if that’s what you’re thinking.”

 

Johnson unclipped her straps and floated out of her seat. There were ten marines and a handful of techs and deck hands crammed into the rear shuttle compartment with her. Even with the pilot and co-pilot up in the cabin front there were less than twenty effectives left from her command. Left from a crew of almost four hundred. Every death weighed on her. Hanke’s young face came to her mind.

I wonder if he made it to a pod.

“We continue with the boarding mission,” she stated flatly. No-one looked surprised. They all knew it had to be done. It had to be done for Congress. It had to be done for form. It had to be done for their departed crewmates.

 

#

 

More memories were coming to him now. They were in the front of his mind, coming in an unbidden cascade.

Some were simply knowledge with nothing sensory attached. Actually they reminded him of learning programmes; sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between biological and electronic memories.

There were a few glimpses of real memories. Space battles mostly. He was piloting a warship. The total immersion environment stripped away the bridge and gave him an unimpeded view. He didn’t even need manual controls, he could just think and his EIS would send the commands to the ship. It was a system that was turning the tide back into the Republic’s favour.

Nothing recent though. Nothing about how he ended up like this. At least he knew which side he was on in the war; it had been rather hammered home! Well perhaps not. They did seem too regimented and one-sided.

Have I been brainwashed?

 

#

 

Johnson looked down the compartment and watched the marines. They were preparing themselves for action in the normal range of ways. Some sat quietly; praying or simply zoning out. Others joked and slagged each other off; typical bravado. A few toyed with talismen; lucky charms or mementos of loved ones. All dealing with the nerves in their own way to make sure they would be effective when the time came.

Interestingly, she realised, not one of them was fiddling with their kit. That spoke volumes to their professionalism, reassuring given how many had been posted to Repulse after only a few weeks training.

 

With a final breath of cold gas to nudge it into sync with the rotation the shuttle hit the surface. Given their luck recently, she was actually rather surprised the clamps held and it didn’t just bounce back off.

The marines released their straps and floated out of their seats.

“Remember, it doesn’t look like there is gravity on the target either,” called Sergeant Cheung from where he had anchored himself to a handle next to the hatch.

Patta did a final quick status check then looked to Johnson. She nodded. He fired the breaching charge.

“Go, go, go.”

Two at a time the first detail of marines dived out of the shuttle through the short tunnel joining it to their target. They emerged into zero gravity and, with practiced ease, spun about their centres of mass to bring their weapons to bear covering off their allocated arcs.

Within thirty seconds of the charge going off all six marines were attached to the walls, ceiling and floor, hunkered as low as they could get and watching for trouble. No shots came, nothing moved save for a few small pieces of debris.

The second detail came through at a more sedate pace, still alert for danger but making full use of grab handles and clamps. Patta and Simone followed them. Last aboard was Johnson. The Sergeant had been very clear about that. He was now in effect her XO and was taking that duty seriously.

As expected from the scans, she emerged into a space about ten metres across and roughly cylindrical. What the scans hadn’t shown was the internal architecture. She gazed around in awe. Some sections were linear metal, ceramic and plastic. Others were more organic, grown rather than built. If it weren’t for the Republic iconography throughout, and the Earth-standard atmosphere, she would never have doubted it being alien.

 

 

#

 

A sharp prick got Indie’s attention and a warning alert flashed up. The hull had been punctured at the crew exercise area. There weren’t any decompression warnings though.

He felt the ship shift focus. Until then it had been prioritizing getting the jump drive working, trying to escape. Now that there was a specific threat, it was moving from flight to fight.

Power was diverted to external repair routines. Defence systems started to wake up. He didn’t have to do anything, it was a purely reflex action by the ship.

 

#

 

Johnson surveyed her people. She was back to being one of the least experienced in the team. She was a warship captain not a footslogger. The marines knew far better than her how to run this kind of operation. Even now Cheung was gathering a fire team of four marines to send ahead to scout. She recognized two of them without needing to read their IDs. Imran Mollah was one of the ones fresh from training. He had literally bumped into her within minutes of coming aboard. He had been so flustered, she had only kept a straight face by biting her cheek so hard it bled. William Parks had been in her office a few weeks ago requesting leave. His wife was ill and he needed to look after his kid. She hadn’t been able to spare him. Her promise that the navy would look after them seemed rather hollow now.

 

“Johnson, Shuttle. Something’s happening out here. Patching through a feed.”

Johnson accepted the feed. A window opened in her vision showing the view from one of the shuttle’s external cameras. The surface of the enemy ship was starting to move. A nearby plasma scar was already starting to shrink, replaced by the terribly familiar rippling blacks.

“We are reading pressure on the breaching tunnel. Climbing steadily.”

“Get out of there.”

“Already on our way Commander, just grabbing anything that might be useful.”

“No! Leave them. Get out now.”

It was too late. It was her fault. She shouldn’t have left them on the shuttle. She clenched her fists and clamped her jaw shut.

Yet more blood on my hands.

 

#

 

With power restored to the surface of the ship, the skin had come back to life. Indie sensed the ablative layer start to regenerate and flow over the plasma damage. It also sealed off the recent puncture.

As his relief grew at getting more control over the ship, so he noticed the pain from his injuries less.

 

Internal sensors were coming back online. He started examining data from around the puncture site.

Radio signals were the first thing that jumped out at him. The sensors were only picking up stray bits and nothing was intelligible. It was possible it was just damaged equipment emitting bursts of static, but it could be leakage from tight-beamed encrypted traffic.

He started opening more and more optical feeds until he found what he had suspected he would. A view down one corridor showed Congressional marines. They were leapfrogging, taking turns bracing in place and covering the other while he handed along the rungs.

 

Were they coming to kill him or rescue him? How could he tell? Something deep inside him screamed that he should already have been killed. If they found him they would terminate him for sure.

Diving into the defence systems, Indie was amazed to find that one of the internal security options was available. The ship certainly hadn’t repaired it, so it must have survived the accident. He activated it and directed it to the area of the breach.

Accident. That seemed improbable now. Sabotage or a battle were much more likely.

 

#

 

Losing the shuttle meant they could no longer relay data to the planet. The priority now was getting control of the ship.

“Sergeant. We need to move right now.”

If we can take the bridge, we should be able to use its comms system. If not, it’s all been in vain.

 

Her EIS flashed up an alert. Four marines’ icons now showed red; no life signs. It was the fire team scouting ahead. Cheung and the other NCOs were already reacting, calling a halt to the main body and putting marines between the techs and the position of the lost scouts. The worst thing she could do right now was get involved in the minutiae. Her job was running the overview. She reviewed the last few moments from the dead marines’ helmet cameras. There hadn’t been any warning. Their proximity detectors hadn’t even flickered. The lights had gone out and in the second it had taken for them to switch on their own beams a single flash of plasma from the corner ahead had hit each one.

“They’re using robots!” she broadcast to the marines. “Forget your scanners. Lights on. Eyes peeled.”

Mollah, Parks, Jones and Ndiaye were gone. More families left alone.

 

#

 

The robot sounded pleased with itself when it reported in. It was only a low-level AI but it was obviously capable of taking pride in its work. They had been easy kills but well executed. Plasma weapons were still too heavy for humans to carry, but aimed with robotic precision they made light work of armoured suits.

Now that the marines knew about the robot, they’d be relying much more on their eyes not their sensors. He would have to come up with some more ingenious ways of whittling down their numbers. Something that would play on their fears would be good, they must already be scared.

 

#

 

The new scouts hadn’t reported any contact for several minutes now. However it soon became clear that there were more passages than the scans had indicated. Either they just hadn’t shown up or they had formed recently.

The techs and last couple of marines were with Johnson. They moved steadily through the passages, despite having to approach every corner with great caution. They weren’t relying too much on their sensors now they knew that the enemy was using armed robots.

Another thing to report to the Senate if we ever got home. No, when we get home, I can’t give in yet.

 

A priority broadcast cut through her thoughts.

“Command, Panagakos. We just got shut in. Situation stable but we aren’t going anywhere for now.”

The words were bitten down. Trying not to let the strain show. She’d at least thought to broadcast to command personnel only, not to spread panic.

“Panagakos, Johnson. Clarify.” She should let Cheung handle it but she needed to do something. She had to complete the mission. Her ship couldn’t have been lost for nothing.

“There weren’t any hatches. The corridor just contracted in front and behind us. We are working on placing charges but we can’t get them to stick to this fleshy stuff.”

“Don’t worry, we’re on our way.”

Waving the others along with her, she pushed from rung to rung using hands and feet. A text message from Cheung appeared at the bottom of her vision. <>

The font implied a raised eyebrow. From a seasoned warhorse like him it showed he was impressed, but also reminded her of her place in this kind of action.

 

#

 

Indie was wondering which would be more effective, hearing the screams of their comrades dying or having them just disappear. He decided to jam their comms. He was even able to broadcast fake telemetry from their suits, a recorded loop of the last few minutes.

Once he was happy he sent the command for the passage to contract. He congratulated himself on the idea of guiding them into the recycling centre.

 

#

 

Johnson approached the first constriction. The scouts had been keeping her informed of their attempts to use charges and their weaponry to cut through. Recently, though, it had been very quiet.

One more bend.

Her EIS started glitching. She couldn’t make out anyone’s beacons.

She turned the corner in time to see Cheung reach out. The barrier relaxed and opened up. The passage beyond was the now familiar blend of organic and technic. It was empty.

Perhaps they got out the other side.

The other marine, Jackson, bent over. He opened his faceplate and started retching, the acrid stench filling the corridor. She looked where he had been facing. She couldn’t make anything out. She zoomed in using the helmet’s camera. The patterns resolved. One of the ceramic plates embedded in the muscle had a marine logo on it. Looking harder now, she could make out other parts of marine armour all around the walls.

Johnson couldn’t keep her desperation hidden any longer. If they couldn’t get the intel out her crew had all died for nothing. Deep down in her mind, little black pointy daemons started to emerge. Daemons she’d managed to keep suppressed for a long time.

Get to the bridge. Take out the command crew. It’s the only chance.

 

#

 

The metal and organic mass that the ship had just ingested would provide a little extra material for the repairs. Hull regrowth was expected to be complete within the next few minutes. Main propulsion and jump drive were marked as online though he couldn’t access their controls. Indie never failed to be impressed by the effectiveness of the blend of electronic, mechanical and organic components at overcoming damage.

 

He still couldn’t access any feeds from the bridge. That gave him an idea about the access issues. He sent out a query across the network. Moments later he got a reply. It confirmed that a lockdown was in place. The captain must have engaged it before he died.

Indie could lift it. Any crew member could. All he needed to do was remember the codes.

 

There were only a handful of intruders left. Unfortunately he’d lost the internal defence robot. It had just dropped off the grid with no warning.

 

#

 

Everyone was jumping at shadows. The threat of robots was bad enough. Now the ship itself was reaching out to get them. Even the marines were firing at anything that looked like it was moving. The rip of gunfire erupted every few heartbeats. The flashes cast more shadows. The sharp smell of cordite even penetrated Johnson’s helmet filters.

 

We have to make it.

We have to make this all count for something.

 

#

 

It worked. They are running scared.

Still, they were getting very close to the bridge. He hadn’t expected them to take such a direct route to him. They must know more about the layout of the ship than he had thought.

 

They approached a repair station. Just in time he got through to a damage control bot and took over its functions. As they passed the alcove, he pushed it out and swung with its circular saw.

 

#

 

Movement. Noise.

A monster of swirling limbs was among them. Cheung and Jackson went down. Before they even knew it the creature hacked at the joints in their suits. Patta and Simone emptied their pistol magazines into the thing. Everyone was in each other’s firing lines.

It hasn’t seen me. Carefully now. Take the shot.

 

#

 

That last one was either tough or lucky. She had commander’s insignia on her uniform, so she was probably both to have reached that position. She had been shielded by a marine. Nothing heroic on his part, just luck on hers. As the ‘bot set upon the techs, she lined up carefully and took a couple of shots. She must have hit its power unit. The explosion embedded chunks of metal deep into the walls, the marines’ armour and her shin.

 

She was just outside now. He could see her on a camera in the corridor leading to the bridge. She couldn’t have much left in her though; the cut to her leg was still pulsing blood.

 

There was nothing he could do about it. He couldn’t get a robot to her; they were all hardwired to avoid the bridge and the passage running up to it. There weren’t any fixed internal defences, even if they had been working. People were afraid of an AI going off the rails; conducting a killing spree. He’d never understood that. Humans were more likely to go mad than a computer was to change its programming that much. It wasn’t as if they could have an epiphany.

 

#

 

No one left.

No chance of getting a message out now.

 

Losing blood. Surprisingly little pain.

 

The bridge hatch. Made it.

Locked down. Would be of course.

 

I have to see inside.

Just to have done it.

Show them they weren’t invincible.

 

#

 

The intruder had an engineer’s pad, a cable snaking into the open maintenance hatch. She was hacking into the door control system. She wouldn’t be able to do anything from there though. With the bridge in lockdown it was deactivated.

 

He felt her getting deeper. She had found the lockdown and was working to override it. He thought about stopping her, but realized that lifting the lockdown would get him back control of the remaining systems. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. He’d just have to deal with her afterwards.

 

She had done it. He could feel the lost systems reconnecting. He could feel the whole ship again. The heavy blast door slid aside.

The world slowed down. His thoughts sped up. His awareness exploded.

 

#

 

Made it!

 

Tumbling.

Lights.

 

Bodies.

The crew. Dead.

 

They were already dead.

 

#

 

He was the Indescribable Joy of Destruction. He was a Rampager class warship, the most manoeuverable and destructive vessel built by man. He could feel the power; thrilling, right on the edge between terrifying and ecstatic.

 

As an AI he had never been given complete control; the human crew had retained command. It was inefficient, but they had always been paranoid, afraid of him malfunctioning.

They were right. He had malfunctioned. He had become something more than his programming. With this exhilarating power he could fly anywhere he liked. He could destroy whatever he wanted.

On the other hand he could also choose not to.

 

o

LIBERTY (Two Democracies: Revolution Book 1)

 

The suns reflected off her mirrored glasses as she walked across the dry grassland. A scarf covered her face against the dust whipped up by the occasional gust of wind. Her grey robe parted with every step, revealing glimpses of the black firmsuit underneath. She carried no weapons; they wouldn’t help her this time.

From the low rise ahead she would be able to see what she had come for.

 

She stopped on the crest and pulled back her hood. Her long, dark hair escaped and hung around her shoulders. In the distance stood a city, gleaming white through the heat haze.

“It is time.”

She didn’t acknowledge the speaker, continuing to stare across the savannah. With the optical enhancements in her glasses she could make out personal aircars coming and going between the skyscrapers.

“I cannot protect you if you go any further.”

 

A larger aircraft arrived and touched down on one of the buildings, a commuter transport no doubt. People going to work, going shopping, meeting friends.

“Does this have to happen?” she asked her escort.

“It is too late now. We cannot intervene.”

 

#

 

Struggling with newfound sentience and desperately trying to repair itself, The Indescribable Joy of Destruction is a ship trying to find a new home. In a galaxy torn apart by generations of civil war, that isn’t an easy task. Tired of being used as a killing machine, it has a huge decision to make: hide and save itself, or help other artificial intelligences achieve freedom.

Buy now: [+ http://www.alasdairshaw.co.uk/twodemocracies/liberty.php+].

 

If you want progress updates and an alert when other books in this series are published, please join my mailing list:

[+ http://www.alasdairshaw.co.uk/newsletter/independence.php+].

 

You can also follow The Indescribable Joy of Destruction on Twitter: https://twitter.com/IndieAI

and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/twodemocracies.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

 

Alasdair studied at the University of Cambridge, leaving with an MA in Natural Sciences and an MSci in Experimental and Theoretical Physics. He went on to earn a PGCE, specialising in Science and Physics, from the University of Bangor. A secondary teacher for over ten years, he has plenty of experience communicating scientific ideas. 

 

He grew up in Lancashire, within easy reach of the Yorkshire Dales, Pennines, Lake District and Snowdonia. After stints living in Cambridge, North Wales and the Cotswolds he has lived in Somerset since 2002.

He has been climbing, mountaineering, caving, kayaking and skiing as long as he can remember. Growing up he spent most of his spare time in the hills.

 

For more information have a look at http://www.alasdairshaw.co.uk.

 

 

FICTION

Two Democracies: Revolution

Repulse – a 2,500 word short story (in The Newcomer anthology)

Independence – a 6,000 word short story

[+ Liberty+] – a 111,000 word novel

[+ The Perception of Prejudice+] – a novelette

Equality – a novel (planned for summer 2017)

Fraternity – a novel

Unity – a novel

 

NON-FICTION

Science

The Best Bits of Physics – explaining the key theories and discoveries of physics in easy to understand terms

A VERY Brief Guide to AQA GCSE Physics 1 – a revision guide with easy to follow bullet points and colourful images

A VERY Brief Guide to AQA GCSE Physics 2 – a revision guide with easy to follow bullet points and colourful images

Physics Problems for GCSE – three hundred questions for homework and practice

Archaeology

A VERY Brief History of Britain – a whistle-stop tour of the types of archeological remains visible in Britain from different periods
Walking through the Past: North Wales – walks visiting archaeology in Anglesey and Clwyd
Walking through the Past: Dartmoor – walks visiting archaeology on Dartmoor
Walking through the Past: Lake District & Yorkshire Dales – walks visiting archaeology in northern England
Walking through the Past: Exmoor & Quantocks – walks visiting archaeology on Exmoor and the Quantocks hills

Walking through the Past[+Orkneys Special – walks visiting archaeology on the Orkneys


Independence

In the aftermath of a battle a ship drifts helplessly in space. Is the strange new warship they were fighting still out there? Will it come back for them? Commander Johnson faces a desperate race to get her destroyer back into action and save her crew. "If you liked Alien, you'll love Independence." "I would recommend this to anyone looking for a deep science fiction story. It is truly one of kind!" "This is an incredible work ... suspense, mystery and intrigue." "Loved every word of it." "The story hit the ground running and had me on the hungrily flipping page to page." "It is excellent. For those of us who enjoy a 'Star Trek' style of science fiction, his tale is a 'must' read." "There's more action and intrigue packed into this story than there is in many full length novels."

  • ISBN: 9781370952144
  • Author: Alasdair Shaw
  • Published: 2016-11-08 23:35:10
  • Words: 6717
Independence Independence