Back | Next

Chapter 5

November 3, 2406 AD

27 Light-years from the Sol System

Thursday, 11:35 AM, Expeditionary Mission Standard Time

Alexander Moore stood in his Armored Environment Marine Suit atop the forward hull of the Sienna Madira Expeditionary Starship. This was a super battlecruiser, formerly the flagship of the entire United States of the Sol System Navy. Now it had its own special expeditionary mission.

As far as anybody else was concerned, there was evidence in the archives that there had been a message of nonhuman origin from decades, maybe centuries, earlier, that needed investigating. That is all the history books would ever show.

Alexander Moore had convinced his successor in the Oval Office to make it happen so he could lead his expeditionary force to investigate the potential alien signal. But the hand-picked crew aboard the Sienna Madira expeditionary vessel knew the mission was more sinister. For more than a century now, Alexander Moore and his family had been fighting an Artificial Intelligence Counterpart known as Copernicus, who was hell-bent on enslaving all living creatures in the universe and making them hosts for AICs like himself.

Copernicus had been one of the first experimental AICs that the brilliant president Sienna Madira had allowed to be implanted within herself. Copernicus had twisted and confused the president’s mind, turning her into the revolutionary leader El Ahmi, who eventually would have the daughter Sehera Ahmi, who would rescue one U.S. Marine Major Moore from hell under the thumb of her mother. The two of them thwarted El Ahmi’s plans—which were really Copernicus’ plans—over and over throughout the family’s hidden history. Even while Moore had retired from the Marine Corps and become a U.S. senator, and later on, president, the evil Copernicus still drove American history, unbeknownst to all of humanity but a handful.

That handful, Moore had multiplied by a few tens and brought aboard his expeditionary vessel. The rest of the crew were only enlightened to the fact that there were splinter cells of the former resistance that had established colonies throughout the local region of the galaxy as far as humanity had stretched, only twenty or so light-years, and that they were mopping up after the civil war.

Moore watched the battle beneath him on the small planetoid as the Sienna Madira brought itself down and landed. He had given the order and decided he didn’t want to sit on the bridge any longer, so he donned his suit and made it to the hull. The artificial-intelligence-driven battlebots and fighter planes were relentless, but his crew was moving forward and beginning to overrun them. Having the Sienna Madira land in the middle of the battle, giving them cover and closer artillery support, changed the tide. Most of all, Moore was concerned for one set of Marines—the one unit that carried his daughter. He scanned across the battlescape, looking for the hangar that showed the blue dot that was Deanna Moore.

Abigail, he said in his mindvoice to his AIC, where is she?

She’s on the move, sir. It looks to me like they’ve commandeered a spacecraft. But they’re overwhelmed with battlebots.

Show me.

Quickly, in Alexander’s mind, the direct-to-mind link created a virtual reality in his vision, showing a close-up of the shuttle that Dee’s crew had commandeered.

Who’s flying that thing? It seems to be going nuts, he thought.

DeathRay was all the AIC replied.

Moore knew immediately that there was no better pilot, and that if DeathRay was there, he would protect his little girl, even if it meant his life. DeathRay would always be his go-to man.

All right, Abigail, let’s bounce to it.

Moore hit the jump boots of his suit and shot almost a kilometer into the air. The low gravity gave him plenty of strength in the powered armor suit. With his HVAR at the ready and his full suite of quantum membrane sensors, IRs and radar pinging at him from every direction, he was painting a full picture of the battlescape in his mind. And if it came to the point where he was close enough to take out a target . . . well, there’s no such thing as a “former” Marine.

Moore ran, pushing sixty kilometers per hour toward the shuttle, and he saw the glint of another suit, somersaulting through the air, firing multiple HVAR rounds in every direction, landing on the vessel.

That has to be Penzington, he thought.

Yes, sir, Abigail acknowledged. That’s her.

With one last leap, as the blue dots seemed to freeze in place—except for one, which his DTM link was now showing as Penzington—he dove head-first toward the opening of the erratically flying shuttle. But the shuttle’s path was too erratic, and he skittered across the top instead of hitting the doorway. He reached for a handhold with his left hand, and instead of grabbing, he simply punched through the hull of the vessel, grabbing onto superalloys as they sheared and cracked and creaked against the weight and strength of the suit. Moore finally got purchase on a chunk of metal and stood upright, tearing away at the hull and then stomping through, landing on top of one of the battlebots, which had a claw at the throat of a Marine inside the ship.

Moore looked forward and saw the transparent flight cabin door closed. Through it was Penzington at the helm, not in her suit, and his suit systems immediately projected his blue dot into her DTM Blue force tracker through her AIC. He noted her suit standing frozen near the hatch with the escape rear panel blown out. Penzington didn’t say a word to him. She kept flying the vessel. The general was confident that she would keep the shuttle flying, knowing that Alexander Moore was in the back, kicking ass.

“Why is everybody frozen?” Moore said.

Penzington set off an EMP that shut down the suits as well as most of the bots. The atmosphere integrity is barely holding as the SIFs are not back online yet.

“That explains why the cockpit hatch is closed,” he said out loud.

The EMP had stopped the overflow of bots that had been on the ship, but the bots outside continued to fly to the ship and enter it. For some reason they were hell-bent on stopping the shuttle. But they didn’t know that they’d come to play with Alexander Moore. And they sure didn’t realize that they’d been picking on his little girl. Alexander was about to bend Hell and maybe even break it loose.

Moore moved like a whirling dervish and a Tasmanian devil combined, on immunoboost and stimulants, spinning and punching, kicking and throwing, and firing the HVAR with precision so as not to hit any of the frozen soldiers on board the ship. The erratic flight path the shuttle was taking made it more difficult to balance, so Moore didn’t bother with that. Instead, he bounced from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling of the little shuttle’s rear bay. The walls of the craft began to show the strain of the fight with tears, AEM suit fist-sized holes and boot impressions scattered about.

Abigail, is there not any way you can reboot these suits?

I’m working on it, sir.

Penzington, get us inside the hangar bay of the Madira!

Goddamn right, sir! I’m workin’ on it. Hold on back there!

The ship banked and bounced, throwing Moore left and right. But Moore used each motion as a deadly blow toward any of the encroaching swarm of battlebots.

Abigail, how about some air support? Or maybe some ground support? Where are the Warlords?

The general is overwhelmed at the moment, sir.

Goddamn it, Moore thought. Move this thing, Penzington!

Moore kicked the last of the bots out the door, but more were approaching. He dropped into the doorway on one knee, firing bursts as needed, and loosing grenades and flares from the shoulder mounts on his suit.

Spitap! Spitap! Spitap! The HVAR sounded nonstop.

I’m gonna run out of Goddamn ammo!

Abigail immediately threw into Alexander’s mind that there were weapons about the ship that weren’t being used. Moore didn’t even think about it. Instead, instinctively, as his HVAR counted down to zero rounds, he reached behind him with his left hand, picking up the weapon highlighted in his mind.

Your suit’s getting low on grenades, too, sir.

How are we doing on rebooting the troops?

The suits will come on in a moment. They have the automatic safety mechanisms that shut them down when our own EMP weapons are ignited.

We need to work on that. That’s not a good design plan, he thought.

At the same time, he bull’s-eyed a battlebot flying through the door with the weapon in his left hand, using his right to smash another with the stock of his empty rifle. They were getting closer and closer to the Madira. Moore could now see its shadow across the planetoid, stretching out just beneath them.


Goddamn right! Moore thought. Oo-fuckin’-rah!

Moore punched through another battlebot as he looked over his shoulder and saw the light on his daughter’s suit kick on. They’d been in the suits for a couple of minutes without refreshing life support, so the CO2 levels were getting close to dangerous without power. But immediately, as the suit kicked on, it would scrub the air, and these were new, state-of-the-art suits. They’d be fine. The organogel could keep a person alive for a very long time. After all, Alexander had spent over a month in one before organogel had been invented. But that was another time.

Nancy Penzington fought the controls of the shuttle as best she could. The thing seemed to have been designed to be flown by monkeys. Even though there were seats for humans, it was unlikely that any human had ever flown the craft.

She could see the hangar doors on the aft port side of the Sienna Madira glowing as dust would fly up from the planetoid surface and ionize against the structural integrity fields that held the atmosphere within.

Allison? she thought to her AIC. Cycle through the security codes and let us fly right through the fields. If there are any bots behind us, hopefully they’ll just get fried on the SIFs as we fly through. The general will take care of any that do.


Tell me when we’re clear.

Roger that, Nancy.

Nancy took only a second to glance to her left at her husband. She could see through the tinted visor, DeathRay was wide awake and watching. But there was no way she could hear him with the power out. She could DTM through an AIC-to-AIC connection, though.

You alright in there, Boland? she thought.

Just fly the ship and don’t think about me. Deathray replied. Nancy, how’re their suits coming?

Abigail and I are working on it.

No better people to do it, DeathRay replied.

Only seconds later, the lights in DeathRay’s helmet kicked on.

We got comms, DeathRay’s voice rang in her head on the tactical net channel. My suit’s warming up. It’s still gonna take a few seconds before I’m any good.

Understood. I’m hoping in a few seconds this thing’ll be over. DeathRay? Can Candis handle the external weapons on this ship?

There are no external weapons on this ship. The EMP took ’em out. At least that’s what Candis is saying.

That’s what I thought.

Who the hell is that in the back makin’ all the noise?

I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count, Nancy said.

Well, if those bots are unfamiliar with the concept of Hell, I’m sure he’s introducing them to it. Hey, I’ve got use of my arms now, Nancy, she could hear DeathRay say through the comms.

Roger that. Don’t take the helm; I’ve got this.

At that moment, Allison responded, We’re all clear, Nancy! We’re clear to board the Madira!


Nancy put full power to the thrusters, throwing the shuttle through the Madira’s hangar, and then immediately throwing them into reverse. The g-load slammed them forward in their seats, and the reverse thrusters and structural integrity fields slammed against the hull. The pursuing bots vaporized as they smacked into the SIFs with a strange twanging sound like a struck tuning fork. The ship creaked and rocked against the strain from the reverse thrusters. The fact that it had been torn to hell and gone during the ruckus didn’t help.

Nancy managed to turn the shuttle a hundred and eighty degrees as it skittered across the floor of the hangar bay and through the noses of several mecha fighter planes that were on deck and waiting to deploy.

“This thing isn’t gonna slow down in time!” Nancy shouted. This is so gonna hurt, she thought. And I’m not in my suit!

The end of the long hangar bay approached extremely fast, and it was clear the vehicle was about to slam into the bulkhead plating near the elevator shaft. Then something seemed to reach out and grab the shuttle, and slowed it down as if it were being dragged from behind. Then something else seemed to slow it even more, and the shuttle screeched with an earsplitting roar to a halt, only inches from the elevator wall.

What the hell? Nancy thought.

Well, DeathRay said with a smirk, since you wouldn’t let me fly, I figured I’d call a few friends to help out. He rose from the seat and clanked outward. As the other soldiers’ suits came online, they all barreled out of the holes in the wall and what was left of the doorframe of the shuttle. Nancy rose from her copilot’s seat and followed.

Moore stood beside his daughter, looking her over to make sure she was okay, and the only thing Dee could do was take it. Nancy kind of felt sorry for her sometimes, but at the same time she wished that her father even knew she was alive to care for her like that. Nancy looked around to see what had stopped them, and saw DeathRay saluting two mecha FM-12s in full bot mode, standing upright, saluting back with their huge armored hands. The two ships’ canopies popped and slid upward, and DeathRay’s old wingman, USN Commander Karen “Fish” Fisher, grinned on the left. A pilot with the word “Poser” written across her helmet nodded from the other.

“Everybody all right in there?” Poser asked DeathRay.

“No. Poser, get us a medevac down here, we’ve got wounded. And we’re also gonna need technical. Most of the suits are pretty much wiped out.”

“Roger that.” DeathRay could hear the bot mode mecha pound off away from the shuttle, clanging against the floor.

DeathRay popped the helmet of his suit, hanging it from the shroud over his right shoulder as he walked toward Penzington and gave her a big, armored hug.

“Not in front of the kids, Boland,” Penzington said with laughter in her voice.

Alexander looked at his daughter. It hurt him to see his little princess missing a hand. The suit had sealed off the wound and the med techs could print her a new hand in no time, but it still broke his heart. Then, there was the mission. They were both Marines and they both had a mission.

“Dad, I’m okay. Rackman is worse than I am.”

“The hell you say, Marine,” the Navy SEAL responded faintly from behind them.

“Yeah, I understand that, Dee, I need to know—did you find it?”

“No. The best thing we could see is that there’s some sort of computer nexus in there that is housing whatever is controlling all these bots. They’re not simply AIs. They’re mostly controlled from somewhere else, through some sort of membrane transmitter.”

“I was afraid of that. So, Copernicus could be anywhere.” Moore had a distant look for an instant as though he were listening to his AIC.

“Well, you smashed him yourself. It’s got to be a copy.”

“That seems unlikely. Abigail doesn’t believe that’s possible.”

“Well, it’s Copernicus. Who knows? Anything’s possible. Maybe it’s a . . . a subordinate.”

“No. If it’s a subordinate, it seems like it would have taken too long to train him to be as crazy as Copernicus.”

At that moment, Abigail excitedly said into his mind, Maybe Dee is onto something, Alexander.

What do you mean? he thought.

Maybe it’s not a subordinate. Maybe . . . it’s an offspring.

Back | Next