Chapter Three: The Military-Industrial Complex
“It isn’t a hardware problem.” Dominic Magnus’ voice came out in a whisper. His attention was focused on his left hand. Under the translucent flesh he saw no problem with the connections. The synthetic muscles still moved smoothly, and the abstract mirrors of the printed circuits hovered unbroken just under the surface of the flesh.
He had noted his fingers drumming unconsciously, and he had hoped to trace it to some concrete miswiring. Unfortunately, the finger tapping and the facial tic originated in his brain, not the prosthetics. They’d always been with him, but lately— with some of the latest upsets in the munitions industry— they’d been getting worse.
He kept hoping to find some sort of mechanical difficulty, something he could get a handle on. Something to fix. Something to control. He didn’t like things he couldn’t control.
He made the mistake of looking up from his hand and caught sight of his reflection in the black marble of his desk. He closed his eyes, but since the pigment was off it didn’t do any good.
Not that he didn’t know what he looked like when he turned off the skin. He just didn’t like the reminder.
Most of the time, Dom resembled any other man in his mid-thirties, olive-skinned, shorter than average, unremarkable. But, with the pigment off, all the reconstruction was visible. Under the transparent skin, half his torso, as well as his entire left arm, snaked with wire filament and printed circuitry. All the musculature on that side of his body was synthetic and only slightly opaque. Underneath, the gunmetal-grey bones glistened. A few of his remaining human organs were visible under his titanium ribs. On the right, a few natural muscles shone red, nourished by transparent capillaries carrying a watery fluid that passed for blood.
Worst of all was the face.
A titanium-alloy skull grinned from under the marble of his desk. Its teeth were too white to be real. A pair of brown, human-looking eyes stared up at him. He willed the pigment back and the skull was slowly obscured as his skin took on a olive cast, like slightly tarnished bronze.
The doctors had said he’d get used to the idea eventually. . .
So far it had been ten years standard and he had yet to get used to it.
The klaxon sounded the half-hour warning, announcing the tach-in of a cargo ship. The ship was cruising in-system and should maneuver for planetfall any minute. The scheduled ship was the Prometheusout of Cynos.
Dom supposed the coming deal was why he’d felt a sudden wave of self-consciousness when he realized he’d been drumming his fingers on the desk. CEOs weren’t supposed to get nervous.
Though, perhaps he had a right to be a little nervous. The Prometheuswas a Hegira Aerospace C-545— a damnbig cargo ship. It had contracted one of the biggest sales Godwin Arms & Armaments had ever contemplated, on-planet or off.
The order was big enough for Dom to have forgone some of his normal caution. In the seven years he had built GA&A, Dom had played the corporate game more conservatively than most, more conservatively than anyonewho did business on Bakunin. The lawless atmosphere of Bakunin bred corporations that seemed to thrive on risk.
Not Dom, not GA&A.
Not until now, anyway. Dom still had a few contacts in the Confederacy from his days after the TEC. He heard little from them nowadays. Not until one of his old intel sources close to the Terran Congress sent a tach-comm warning him that the Prometheuswas a Confederacy front-job.
A few years ago that would have been enough for Dom to trash the whole megagram deal. However, during the past year Dom had winded an instability in the air, the sense of a storm on the horizon. Nothing concrete, but the paranoia was enough for him to sink a large chunk of capital into a mountainside bolt-hole. Even his chief of security, Mariah Zanzibar, thought that purchasing the virtually unknown commune wasn’t the best financial move— even if it was an admirable precaution.
Ironically, after sinking that money into that commune, he wasn’t in a position to refuse the Prometheus. Dom had to force himself to ignore his last disastrous involvement with the Confederacy, if not forget it. Past was past, and Dom doubted that anyone in the Executive Command still knew his name— with one exception.
Dom slid a drawer out from his desk and contemplated what kind of sidearm he should carry into the deal.
The suit he wore was tailored for either a shoulder-holster, or one on the hip. He chose both. On the hip he holstered a cartridge weapon, a slug-thrower with nine-millimeter projectiles. It would do nothing against even halfway-decent body armor, but it was custom on Bakunin to go into business dealings visibly armed. The chromed antique would both be expected, and non-threatening.
However, because he had a Bakuninite’s distrust of the Confederacy, he wore a considerably more effective weapon in the concealed shoulder holster. A GA&A random-pulse variable-frequency anti-personnel laser was built to play hob with a personal field.
An Emerson field— force-field was an unfortunate misnomer, since the Emerson effect dealt with energy, not fields of force— could suck up a considerable amount of energy at its target frequency. However, only the very-high end military models had processors able to compensate fast enough to defeat a laser that changed frequency at random microsecond intervals.
Once he was properly armed he told his onboard computer to activate the observatory. He wanted to see the Prometheusland. The computer wired into his skull sent a coded pulse to the hemispherical white walls of his office, and they vanished from view.
His desk was on a raised dais in the center of the room, so he could sit behind it and get a panoramic view of the GA&A complex.
In the high-backed chair he could look down on the whole complex. The blinding glare reflecting off the landing quad splashed white light off of the mirrored U-shaped office complex. The smaller of Bakunin’s two moons was rising behind the concrete tower of GA&A air-traffic control, above the offices.
A slight heat shimmer above the perimeter towers obscured the Diderot Mountains beyond. The shimmer was a side-effect from the defense screen generators in the towers, housed below the anti-aircraft batteries.
Dom sat on top of the twenty-story residence tower. The deal he’d worked with the owner of the Prometheuswould bring an influx of income that would not only compensate for his purchase in the mountains, but would be enough to give every one of the fifteen-hundred employees living below him a ten-percent bonus this year.
It was almost too good to be true.
The ten-minute klaxon sounded five minutes ahead of schedule.
Dom turned the chair away from the quad and faced west. It was a nice sunset. The ruddy orb of Kropotkin dominated the horizon, larger than either of Bakunin’s moons. An awesome sight, a reminder that, in the cosmic scheme of things, life should not exist on this planet.
But then, Bakuninites had a habit of bucking the natural order of things.
Dom squinted. The ship was on its orbital approach. It would come over the city of Godwin to make its landfall. He’d see it in a few minutes.
A different klaxon sounded. The heat-shimmer around the perimeter towers disappeared in a sheet of electric-blue light, the St. Elmo’s fire from the defense screen’s excess charge. The field had deactivated for the Prometheus‘ approach.
Something was wrong. He hadn’t heard the all-clear first.
He told his onboard computer to call up the GA&A communications net. He needed to contact the control tower, now. Air-traffic control was supposed to confirm the ID of any approaching craft and sound the all-clear before anyone even thoughtof lowering the defense screens.
He turned around and faced the holo projection above his desk.
Nobody was manning the control tower. He was looking at a totally empty room, lit only by the computer schematics showing the local airspace. There was no one to authorize downing the screens.
Dom called security.
The holo fuzzed and the empty control room was replaced by the dusky face of Mariah Zanzibar. “Yes, Sir?”
“Red Alert. Prepare the defenses for immediate attack.”
Alarms sounded, and the anti-aircraft batteries began turned to track the incoming target. Dom had the feeling that it was already too late. He turned back to watch the approaching Prometheus.
The ship that was just becoming visible over the glowing sprawl of Godwin wasn’t the Prometheus, or anything close a Hegira cargo liner—
The lines were unmistakable, even at this distance. It was a Confed troopship.
“Damn it, Zanzibar, get those screens back up—”
Even as he spoke, he could see a streak of light emerge from the ship. It split into five arrows of fire, heading right for the perimeter towers. EM-tracking missile with independently targetable warheads. If the screens were up, the ECM would take out 70% of them.
The screens did not go back up.
Five field generators and accompanying anti-aircraft exploded into cherry-red balls of flame. Dom felt the building shake underneath him and knew that defending the complex now would be a futile gesture.
The realization was like a sheet of ice slicing through him. He was suddenly very calm.
He turned back to the holo. Zanzibar was facing away from him and shouting orders at her security team. She turned back. “We can’t get the defense screens back up, Mr. Magnus. Someone scragged the independent power supply. We’re trying to hook into the factory generators. That’ll take another five minutes and the power supply will be vulnerable.”
Dom nodded, he knew his own complex well enough. “Start evacuating personnel,” he said, his voice a monotone. “It’s a lost cause.”
“Get everyone you can to the Diderot Commune. That’s an order.”
“Yes, Mr. Magnus. Good luck.”
Dom cut the connection.
Behind him the holographic walls flashed with more red light. Five more warheads,Dom thought, another five perimeter towers. Even if Zanzibar could get power to the remaining screen generators immediately, the screens would only cover three quarters of the complex.
Dom looked back toward the invader. The ship was slowing, disgorging its landing-craft. It wasn’t going to blast the complex.
They were going to try and take it.
His thoughts were ice-fine and cold, like filaments of metallic hydrogen. Only briefly did he wonder whythis was happening. But the fact that the invaders were shifting to a ground assault gave him a chance to salvage something—
It also gave him a chance to deny them at least part of what they were after.
Dom called down to the computer core. The control center for GA&A, its heart and brains, was buried in a concrete bunker two klicks under the surface. Even a direct hit by a micronuke would leave GA&A’s assets and records unharmed. If he had some warning of the attack, he could be down there and control most of the aspects of the complex, including defense.
By the time he had stopped talking to Zanzibar, the cold reptilian part of his mind had decided that there was a traitor, who he was, and where he had to be.
Cy Helmsman, his Vice President in charge of operations, was one of the more powerful cogs in the GA&A machine. Dom had built GA&A, but much of it had been on the foundation of Helmsman’s expertise. In many senses, Helmsman was Dom’s sword-arm. Helmsman fought GA&A’s secret battles, and had brought many of GA&A competitors to their knees. Helmsman had come out of the same background that Dom had— war, espionage, the TEC.
Which all meant that Dom had never fully trusted him.
Helmsman was the man who answered the holo call down to the core. The core was the only place where it was possible to override the defense screens without Dom himself present.
“I’ve been expecting you,” Helmsman said.
Helmsman was middle-aged, white haired, a slow, plodding, methodical thinker used to deception and double-think. Dom had felt he could keep Helmsman’s ambition in check by using Helmsman’s incredible cowardice. Dom had miscalculated.
Very slowly, Dom asked him, “how much did they offer?”
“Ownership of the company.”
Helmsman had abandoned the TEC to save his own precious skin. Apparently he had returned to the fold because he thought he deserved a bigger slice of the pie.
Helmsman was a fool.
“Don’t try to come down here,” Helmsman went on, “I’ve planned this for quite a while. The blast-doors are all down and locked. I’ve reprogrammed all the access codes—”
Dom shook his head. Helmsman had thought everything through. He had made sure that he would pass through the battle unscathed, safe in the armored bunker at the core. Helmsman had made the assumption that he knew everything about GA&A’s security set-up.
“Code Gehenna Hellfire.”
The holo cut out and the power to GA&A died. There was an earthquake rumble as glass blew out from the office complex. The walls to Dom’s office became temporarily opaque. It took the emergency generators three seconds to kick in.
Dom had activated a very small program buried in the communications software of GA&A. If Dom said those three words through any communications channel on the GA&A web during a full alert, the program switched a mechanical relay. Anyone who looked at the program wouldn’t even know what it did unless he dug into the heart of the mainframe and traced the wires. Something Helmsman couldn’t have done and maintain his little secret.
The relay activated a GA&A half-kiloton tactical warhead that was located about twenty meters away from Cy Helmsman, deep in the core. Helmsman and the GA&A mainframe, with its assets and sensitive information, had just become an integral part of the bedrock two kilometers beneath the complex.
It was a desperation move, to prevent a good deal of sensitive information from falling into unauthorized hands. It would also make life hell for the people taking over a complex operation that suddenly had no records, no brain. It would save many people, clients and employees, a lot of grief.
It was also the equivalent of shooting a decade of his blood in the head and leaving it to die.
Dom wanted to feel something.
The only thing there was a deep, aching chill in his metallic bones that he really shouldn’t be able to feel.
When the power came back, Dom looked back behind him. The walls went transparent on the scene of the troopship hovering just outside the perimeter. Landing craft were putting down inside the complex. The landing parties looked like marines, though all he could make out from this height in the dark were the battlesuits in striped urban camouflage.
Time to get the hell out of there.
The marines were at the base of the residence tower. He stood up and walked to the curve of wall that faced the ship. Dom saw the details on the ship now.
The hundred-meter long monster was a Paralian-designed drop-ship, a Barracuda-class troop-carrier. Hovering, it blotted out most of the Western sky— a dead-black rectangle with a drooping nose and stub wings. The drive section to the rear was half again the size of the rest of the ship. Missiles clamped to hardpoints in ranks across the skin of its midsection. Ten landing craft had clung to parasitic blisters under the wing like suckling young. Each could handle ten marines in full battle dress, and all had dropped. A five-barrel gatling pulse-cannon stuck out of the troopship’s nose. The cannon could waste the whole GA&A complex with a single strafing run.
Dom didn’t look at the ship long enough to determine if it had a full bomb-load.
Once he was close to the wall he could make out where the door was. He found the switch and placed his hand against it. He could have had his onboard computer open it, but he wasn’t going to risk a transmission.
The invisible door wooshed aside and let in the smell of smoke. Dom ran out on the roof of the residence tower. Behind him, from the outside, his office was a matte-black hemisphere. As soon as he emerged a high-freq laser lanced out from somewhere in the sky, to score on the dome. Dom smelled kilos’ worth of electronics crisping in the walls behind him.
Sounds drifted from below. Explosions and screams.
Without a wall between him and it, the Paralian ship seemed bigger than ever. It nearly blocked his view of Godwin. He ran paralleling its profile, hoping another laser wouldn’t target him.
Dom raced to the edge of the roof, where one corner was paved for a small landing area. In the center of the area was a canvas tarpaulin. Dom threw it aside to reveal a Hegira personal luxury transport. It wasn’t armored and it wasn’t armed. Dom had only used it to get around the GA&A complex—
There was a very ancient proverb about beggars and choices.
The canopy silently slid up, over the drive section, and Dom jumped into the leather bucket seat. He started the power sequence wishing for wings, a hyper-sonic drive capability, life-support capable of low orbit, a tach drive—
A pulse laser strafed the roof in front of the car, leaving a blackened groove. Dom looked up and saw a marine landing craft heading for the roof.
The Hegira’s vectored jets hadn’t reached full pressure yet. Dom didn’t wait for them. He hit the main drive units on full and rolled off the edge of the roof. The car was designed for vertical take-off. It needed those vector jets to maneuver. It fell.
Dom had a great view of a platoon of marines below him. They saw the descending craft and— probably a smart move— broke formation and ran. Behind him, the main drive blew out windows down the side of the residence complex.
He wasn’t in free-fall. The drive accelerated him faster than gravity wanted him to. Dom watched the pressure of the vector thrust build. Slow, too damn slow. The ground was too damn close.
He opened the vector jets prematurely and hoped it would be enough to maneuver the craft.
The Hegira shot away from the wall and Dom desperately tried to get the nose up. The front end of the Hegira drifted upward, giving him a view of scattering marines, landing craft, and the blown perimeter defences.
The G-force he pulled would have made him black out if he was still built with his original equipment.
According to the altimeter, he couldn’t have dropped as far as it had felt like. He could have sworn he’d kissed the ground, but when the car’s trajectory flattened out he flew by just under the top of the fifty-meter tall perimeter towers.
Once he cleared the edge of the GA&A property, the ground started dropping away. The foothills below him began to sprout thick purplish-orange forest as he shot west, away from the mountains.
Red lights began to sprout across across the control console. The Hegira had soaked up a few hits. Even as Dom started to assess the damage, the little craft began shaking.
The view out the windshield wasn’t encouraging. It looked as if he was skimming right on the top of the forest canopy. Barely a second would go by without a outflung branch throwing ochre foliage across the nose.
He switched on the rear video. There wasn’t any sign of pursuit. The attack didn’t want him, or, at least, he wasn’t a priority target. They were after the GA&A complex. That gave him room to breathe. Ifhe could land this thing.
Woods shot by around him, getting closer. Godwin was still a good ten klicks away, and now that the grade below him had flattened out, he was losing altitude. The pressure in the vector jets wasn’t enough to keep him airborne, and there was no way he could cut them and let the pressure build back up.
He should have budgeted for a contragrav.
The view out the nose was now totally obscured by dark foliage. Warning beeps sounded from every available speaker. The Hegira was shaking like it had a seizure. It crashed through the canopy with a sound like it was tearing the universe a new asshole.
He needed to gain altitude, quick.
He lowered the rear of the Hegira. He hoped to use the main drive in the rear to boost him up.
The craft reached a forty-five degree angle and he stopped losing altitude. The craft began rising on a ballistic arc. The violent shaking subsided, and the night sky drifted into view.
Just as Dom started smiling, the Hegira hit something. A final violent thud shook the entire craft, and the remaining half of the warning lights came on in front of him.
In the rear camera view, Dom could see a single tree pointing out of the canopy, about twenty meters more than it had a right to. It was broken and burning. He had clipped it with the main drive.
He assessed the damage. Rear vectors were out. All he had was the nose jets and the main drive, and the main drive acted erratically. He was in trouble. The damn thing now needed a runway—
The craft hit four hundred meters altitude and the main drive started stuttering. Damn it!He needed at least another fifty meters for the ejection seat—
Five klicks to Godwin and he was losing altitude and going three hundred klicks an hour. Time to start decelerating and hope for the best.
It was an opportune time to make that decision, because the main drive quit altogether. He was going to ballistic into Godwin on only his maneuvering jets, a third of which were dead.
Dom pulled the crash harness around him just in time. The Hegira plowed into an abandoned warehouse on the east side of Godwin at one-fifty klicks an hour.