Sunday, 18 May 2014

Eden's Endgame - Teaser #1 - space battle

As regular blog readers may know, as well as finishing off the Eden Paradox series, I'm also writing a diving thriller (Sixty-Six Metres), since diving is a passion of mine, so I'm currently in the Indian Ocean doing some 'research' (aka holiday - I took the photo). But I'm also editing the manuscript of Eden's Endgame, the last book in the Eden Paradox series, and thought I'd give a taster of what's to come. Okay, off to dive a wreck...

To put it into context, a group of humans have been cpatured and are being held on the Alician homeworld Savange. This is the beginning of the rescue mission. Micah is in the as yet undetected space-ship Shiva, facing the orbital space-station where several Q'Roth warships are docked. This section explores highly advanced weaponry, as well as a Commander's compassion during battle...

Micah sat in the command chair, Vashta at Tactical behind him. He replayed the scenario in his head again. They were on Plan F now – Ash’s strategy. When he’d first heard it, Micah had winced, but it made sense. He just had a hard time hearing such an aggressive manoeuvre coming from someone as philosophical as Ash.
The space station, a gleaming crystal city, lay ten kilometres dead ahead, hanging in space like a jewel, a marvel of engineering. Three Q’Roth battleships were docked there, while two Marauder Class vessels patrolled the perimeter. He checked the ship’s chronometer. It was time.
            “Fire,” he said.
There was no recoil, no sound; the missile shot like a flare towards its target, not seeming to be in a hurry. Micah counted down. Ten, nine, eight… A Q’Roth Marauder jumped into its path, pulse cannons blazing, lighting up space. The missile continued, puncturing the ship, which stuttered, its onboard lights flickering before going out, the vessel suddenly inert, adrift. The missile emerged from the other side, homing in on its prize.
            Five, four, three… It breached the orbital city shield, which flashed once then vanished.
There was no explosion. The only noticeable change was that lights began to fade and go out all over the space station. Two of the Q’Roth battleships had managed to detach before the missile made contact, and tore towards Shiva’s position, which hadn’t deviated a centimetre.
Micah touched a panel. “Approaching Q’Roth ships, break off immediately or be destroyed.”
The screens in front of Micah blazed white and yellow as Shiva was bathed in pulse fire and high energy particle beams.
“Final warning,” he said, not bothering to check Shiva’s hull integrity.
The larger Q’Roth ship fired an anti-matter cluster bomb. Micah tapped a remote cam and watched the illegal weapon scorch all the way around Shiva’s elliptical shield, space dust erupting like fire-crackers surrounding the hull before evanescing into gas, giving the impression Shiva had been dropped into boiling water flashing to steam.
“Take them out, Vashta.”
It was like watching two trucks race headlong into a giant hammer swinging the other way. He’d heard about gravity weapons, but never imagined what they could do; this one had been Hellera’s gift for the Level Twelve Shiva.
The two battleships were first flattened, then turned inside out, as if a giant arm had reached down their throats, grabbed their tails, then pulled hard. Amidst the carnage, hundreds of Q’Roth warriors, most of them unsuited, flailed their limbs in cold space. Vashta targeted all of them with a dazzling spray of laser fire. In a few seconds they were all dead.
Micah closed his eyes. “Was that necessary?”
Vashta spoke, the sound of her voice an unholy choir of out-of-tune fingernails scraping down an antique blackboard. “Better for them. Dying in space is agony.”
He glanced back at the display. A single Marauder was intact. He touched the pad again. “Q’Roth vessel, the people onboard the station are still alive, but all power is gone, including life support. You may proceed to rescue –”
The ship jumped out of the system. Micah scratched his chin. The Marauder had gone for reinforcements, for sure. The whole point of Plan F, Ash had said, was brutality, creating shock in the enemy to throw them off-balance. But Micah was at the helm. He stared at the city, imagining hundreds of Alicians and Q’Roth beginning to chill, local gravity nullified, oxygen recycling ceased. They’d all be dead in thirty minutes.
“Switch it off, Shiva.”
“Are we on a new plan, Micah?” Shiva’s voice always had an aloof, slightly mocking tone.
“No. Switch it off. Now.”
A few lights flickered on inside the station. Vashta arrived next to him, her voice grating louder than usual. “Want me to take over? You have reinstalled a threat. If you cannot stick with the plan –”
He tapped another panel while he looked Vashta in the eye. “Aramisk, blast the base of the tether to smithereens.”
Vashta’s fast-moving quicksilver eyes stilled for a moment, then she returned to her station.
They waited a full minute before seeing a wave travel up the tether like the curl of a whip. When it reached the city, it snapped clean off, shunting the city out of orbit. The two Q’Roth ships powered up and undocked from the station.
“Your orders, Micah?” Shiva asked.
He imagined Vashta’s eyes lasering into his back.
Micah stared at the vessels, recalling the final battle for Earth, when he’d watched from a distance as the Q’Roth slaughtered billions. “Ram the closest one.”
The inertial dampers on Shiva were so good that he felt nothing, simply watched the screen show wild movement as Shiva, a Scintarelli Scythe-ship, lived up to its name. Shiva tore away from the closest ship before looping back at terrifying speed. Micah barely had time to register the Q’Roth ship accelerating towards him on the screen, then there was a flash of white followed by open space again. The aft screen showed the two halves of the destroyer careening away from each other. Micah doubted there would be survivors.
The other ship had moved off but had not yet jumped out of the system. Its commander hailed Micah.
“Enemy ship, identify yourself.”
Micah and the others had discussed this at length. Technically humans and the Q’Roth were on the same side – Kalaran’s – in the war against Qorall. But certain Q’Roth tribes had allied themselves with the Alicians. Micah didn’t see any point in subterfuge.
“We are humans. This is a private matter between us and the Alicians. I suggest you stay out of it; you have seen what this ship can do. Return now to your Queen. Tell her that Kalaran favours us rather than the Alicians, and that she must choose her allegiances carefully. You can return for your colleagues tomorrow.”
“Your name, human?”
The Destroyer jumped out of the system.
Micah relaxed a little, then took a breath. “Take us down, Shiva. Prepare for ground assault.”

The full chapter is titled 'Plan F', and it doesn't take long for things to unravel...

The Eden Paradox Series:
The Eden Paradox - where we find out we are not alone
Eden's Trial - where we struggle to survivie in a hostile galaxy
Eden's Revenge - where it gets personal
Eden's Endgame - where it all ends... (due Fall 2014)

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

What if we're the bad guys?

I'm watching Continuum these days, about a cop from the future sent back to today. It's not brilliant but one reason I like it is that although the cop wants to get back to her future and secure it from being changed, it's not at all clear that her future is really worth saving. Meanwhile, the 'terrorists' in this time period are trying to derail a pretty awful future. This moral duplicity leads me to a more general question not so often dealt with in science fiction, namely, what if we become the bad guys as far as other alien species are concerned?

So, to be clear, I'm not talking about man's inhumanity to man (read any history book) or our environment (ditto for any recent nature book), but us as a hostile force in the galaxy. Of course Avatar is about this, albeit at a localized level, in the quest for resources, like plundering the Amazon except on another planet. And even Star Trek - famously pro-human-nobility - had a go at it with the film Star Trek Insurrection. But these are meant to be non-mainstream activities, our dirty (read greedy) laundry in an otherwise blossoming future based on strong governance and wholesome values.

It gets more interesting when our badness gets institutionalized. Ender's Game tackled it head on in both the film and the book, as experienced by Ender (literally a child) as he begins to grasp the nature of the enemy he is tasked to destroy. But at the end of the day, his attack on the alien fleet is borne from humanity's collective fear, and yes, the aliens did attack us first.

What if fear and xenophobia led humanity down a dark path, one where we subjugated other races and began to despise them, a kind of galactic apartheid, so that other races feared and reviled us?

I tackled this issue in two of my short stories, based on a future version of humanity united under a military governing system called Sphericon. The stories have no relation to each other except that they both occur with Sphericon in the background. The first is called The Sylvian Gambit, the second is called Executive Decision. In both stories you get to see a vision of humanity gone wrong.

Is there no hope? Of course there is, humanity has hope hard-wired into it, and there will always be those trying to protect the underdog (or alien). Also, as in my Eden Paradox books, the likelihood is that we won't have the luxury of a choice, as it is just as likely that we'll be bottom of the ladder in terms of alien intelligence, hoping that our alien betters have their own brand of nobility and altruism.

Coming back to Continuum, at one point the future cop has the chance to kill someone who in her future has caused millions to die, but right now he's just a kid. This is sometimes called the Hitler dilemma. If you could go back in time and you met Hitler as a young man, and you had a gun, would you shoot him? Aside from temporal paradoxes, there's a moral dilemma here. And it relates to who we choose to become in the future. If you pull that trigger, and get away with it, then conventionally you still have five bullets left, so who's next? As is said in the episode I just watched, once you pull that trigger, there's no going back, you've crossed a line. That path leads to the type of future society Continuum envisages, and the kind of galactic version I call Sphericon.

In Terminator 2 there is the same dilemma, but in the end, the protagonist (Sarah Connor) talks to the man whose invention will enslave humanity, tells him what his life's work will lead to. He listens to it all, and then throws up.

Like I said, with humanity there's always hope...

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