Book Announcement

After a troubled period in its development, I am delighted to be able to announce that the third book in the Tales of the Associated Worlds series, Darkness Within and Other Stories, will be released on December 12th this year in Kindle e-book and paperback. Pre-orders will be open soon.

Additionally, to accompany this release, the previous two books in the series, Vignettes of the Star Empire and The Core War and Other Stories will be on sale starting December 1st, so if you haven’t already got them, that would be a good time.

(Or if you’re looking for a Christmas gift for a fellow SF reader, of course!)

Darkness Within (26)

Sometimes Athnéël’s random factors are kind.

I grin like an idiot, staring into the hole my obliging drones have cut into the engineering bulkhead. Although, to be fair, that might be the oxy-tox.

It’s there.

It’s intact.

A geodesic sphere wrapped in golden foil, glittering in the weak starlight and its own sputtering photon-discharge glow. No signs of damage, leakage, or short-circuits. It’s a factory-spec, fully-operational, command-ready vector-control core.

And right now, I decide – as I order the drones to execute the clean shutdown-and-remove-for-maintenance procedure, then bring it out to me – it’s the most beautiful, unlikely, ridiculously perfect thing in the whole damned galaxy.

Hells, if I weren’t in this suit and it weren’t dangerous to touch, I’d kiss it. If it gets me out of this, I might anyway.


FROM: CS GOUGER (FIELD FLEET RIMWARD)
TO: CS GRITFIST (FIELD FLEET RIMWARD);
CS UNDERBELT (FIELD FLEET RIMWARD) ;
FIELD FLEET RIMWARD COMMAND (CS ARMIGEROUS PROPERTARIAN)

*** ROUTINE
*** FLEET CONFIDENTIAL E256
*** OVERDUE FOLLOWUP

REF: TASK GROUP R-4-118
REF: OVERDUE STATUS, CS GUTPUNCH

  1. AS PER TASK GROUP ORDERS ORIGINATING CS UNDERBELT, HAVE SEPARATED FROM COHORT CS GRITFIST AND HAVE PROCEEDED AT BEST SPEED TO NARIJIC SYSTEM.
  2. SYSTEM LONGSCAN BUOY CONFIRMS INBOUND GATING OF CS GUTPUNCH IN ACCORDANCE WITH PATROL ROUTING.
  3. SYSTEM LONGSCAN BUOY REPORTS LOSS OF TRANSPONDER SIGNAL FROM CS GUTPUNCH AS OF MET 183-10-1:16.
  4. INITIAL ACTIVE SENSOR SWEEP REPORTS PRESENCE OF MULTIPLE TARGETS CLASSIFIABLE AS HULKS WITH P > 0.85 MATCH, LEAKING WEAK EM EMISSIONS. NO TRANSPONDER SIGNAL PRESENT. NO INTENTIONAL SIGNALLING DETECTED.
  5. SELF COMMENCING CONIC SEARCH GRID SWEEP WITH ORIGIN AT MALTEVIC STARGATE AND LARGEST HULK TARGETS AS FOCI. REQUEST IMMEDIATE TASK GROUP REINFORCEMENT.
  6. MORE FOLLOWS.
  7. AUTHENTICATION AXE MOUSE FRANTIC FAN RIPPLE NUMERAL / 0x1DEED3A79926FFE2

ENDS.


Oh, you lovely, lovely thing.

All tucked in nicely into the thrust frame, right between the motors. I can’t see you, but I can feel the edge-effect take hold. The drain on the accumulators is more than I’d like, but low enough I can live with it. Heh, for long enough, anyway.

Right then, you drones! Enough gazing! I have Spark One and Spark Another clamp themselves onto the girders that brace my remass tank. I’m not going to get much more thrust out of them, but every little helps. Besides, can’t leave them behind after they might just have saved my ass. That’d be rude.

Checklist. What’s left on the checklist?

Course? The gyros screech again as I fire up the navigation program, spinning slowly to put the Kerjejic stargate prograde. Looks right, close as eyeball can tell, which isn’t very much, but it’s a bit late to start rechecking your numbers now, Isif. Time to see if that cross-training paid off.

Ackles. Ackles? Ackles! Remote access enabled. A fine lot of good it would do, running into some rescuers if they have to shoot the drives off this thing to stop me.

Anything else?

Not that I can think of. Just one last thing to do.

Node<-# lastchance exec.

The acceleration hits at the same time as the drugs, the pain of thrust on bruised bones mingling with the cold numbness of nepenthol. Nothing worth being aware for now – if anything breaks, I’m dead, and with nothing to fix. Or no-one’s searching in the right place and I’m about to turn into a one-woman expedition into the deep black. Either way, I’ll pass on the experience, especially as that’ll save battery and oxygen both.

– Good luck – , my muse whispers in the back of my mind.

I have just enough time to think that she needs it every bit as much as I do before –

Personality execution suspended.

 

Darkness Within (25): Helpers

(And now, we continue.)

The bytescanner sings in my ears, a song of disconnected network segments, lost packets, and failed rerouting attempts, interrupted by the few remaining segments of the ship’s mesh still on-line in the hulk of the aft section. Few were major nodes, most were isolated, and none of them, dammit, recognized my command-succession captainly ackles, which meant chewing through engineering diagnostic override codes at a snail’s pace.

Attitude control system command sequencer.

Life support auxiliary circuit B partial pressure intermix regulator.

Low power bus secondary transfer point, aft section.

Engineering light panel controller, main bus A.

Low-temp thermal control circuit C emergency pressure relief to space isolation valve.

Robot hotel –

Robot hotel!

A flurry of mental commands mapped a pathway of circuits that might be intact enough to carry current at least for a little while, and crammed amperage from the remaining aft accumulators into the hotel’s circuitry. With one thought, I commanded the space door of the hotel to open, and with another ran a quick inventory. Drones! Two perfect, lovely, beautiful, Sparks-class starship maintenance drones, polished octahedra with arcjets on their tips and a quartet of modular arms spaced around the multifunction toolbelts at their waists. Drones that, most importantly, still had power and were responsive to commands. It was the matter of a moment to unslave them from the unresponsive damage-control systems and merge minds…

…and the matter of some minutes for them to finish cutting their way out through the warped space door. But before long, my helpful assistants were hanging in space before me, a little battered-looking in the light from my helmet – one had even lost an arm entirely – but still entirely functional. Certainly enough so to save me from having to wield a hullcutter in an oxygen-soaked suit.

“Okay, boys,” I said to them. “Tear down that bulkhead, if you please.”

 

Darkness Within (24): Cutter

I frown at the vibration – almost a mechanical scream – of the reaction gyros against my back, then dismiss the thought. For certain, they are out of balance: holding this much mass on true means overdriving them, even if they haven’t been damaged by the collision. Nothing can be done; nothing to be done. As long as they hold long enough.

The vibration dies away as the candle completed its flip.

Oh.

Well.

This doesn’t look good.

The module in the Nelyn when the impact occurred – well, it should have been a standard passenger/small freight loadout, but there’s no telling that now. Either – both – of the original impact or being dragged out of the bay has hammered it almost flat along most of its length. I can see the forward bulkhead of the engineering compartment for most of its height, torn away at its upper edge. A tangle of torn cables spill like water-serpents out of the broken-off upper conduit, and I hope the breakers have all opened cleanly. Erosion marks on the hull shows where pressurized tanks had broken open and vented to space.

A background clicking calls my attention to my suit’s rad-counter. In the green-caution [1] – significantly elevated over background, or what I’ve told it is the new background after accounting for the rads I’m riding. I squint at the forward ACS – enough to see a split in the case, and some reflections that might be spilled fuel pebbles. Low activity, scattered like that, but still best not to linger.

I flip open my local-space antenna, hook in, and start the bytescanner running. Dírasán’s staff, there has to be at least one functional node in this wreck. It’s no place to go poking around with a suit oxy-soaked and a body oxy-high…


[1] Green-caution, in this case, is that part on an Imperial gauge between blue-go and yellow-warning.

Darkness Within (23): Ping

ping ping ping ping ping

Grid minus two, plus eleven. Negative ping response.

This is taking too long. It’s been almost two of my three hours. And so far…

ping ping ping ping ping

Grid minus one, plus eleven. Negative ping response.

…no sign of the cutter. Just some small scraps, nothing big enough by half. Now…

ping ping ping PING ping

Grid zero, plus eleven. Positive ping response. Profiling.

…maybe? Ah, crap. It’s clean, but it’s tiny. Can’t be any more than a toolbox.

ping ping ping ping ping

Grid plus one, plus eleven. Negative ping response.

So be it. Five minutes. Then I make for the aft…

ping ping ping ping ping

Grid plus two, plus eleven. Negative ping response.

…section. No delays, Isif. No more scanning. Just make the run you can.

ping PING PING PING ping

Grid plus three, plus eleven, positive ping response and — void gods’ imperceptible excrement! Thirty by eight, cylindrical profile! That’s the damn cutter!

navmod<- !gyrospin exec (spotter::current)

I’m coming for you.

 

Darkness Within (22): Coming Back

FROM: CS GRITFIST (FIELD FLEET RIMWARD)
TO: FIELD FLEET RIMWARD COMMAND (CS ARMIGEROUS PROPERTARIAN)

*** ROUTINE
*** FLEET CONFIDENTIAL E256
*** OVERDUE FOLLOWUP

REF: TASK GROUP R-4-118
REF: OVERDUE STATUS, CS GUTPUNCH

  1. AS PER TASK GROUP ORDERS ORIGINATING CS UNDERBELT, HAVE PROCEEDED WITH COHORT, CS GOUGER, TO LAST KNOWN POSITION CS GUTPUNCH, MALTEVIC SYSTEM.
  2. NO TRACES OF CS GUTPUNCH OR RECENT SIGNS OF COMBAT APPARENT OR RECORDED IN SYSTEM LONGSCAN BUOYS. TRANSPONDER LOGS CONFIRM OUTBOUND GATING TO NARIJIC SYSTEM IN ACCORDANCE WITH PATROL ROUTING.
  3. RESPONSE TO FORWARDED QUERIES TO SYSTEM ENTRY BUOYS IN NARIJIC AND KERJEJIC SYSTEMS INCLUDES NO HIGH-ENERGY EVENTS.
  4. CS GOUGER WILL PROCEED FORTHWITH TO NARIJIC SYSTEM AND COMMENCE SEARCH GRID SWEEP.
  5. SELF WILL PROCEED FORTHWITH TO KERJEJIC SYSTEM AND COMMENCE SEARCH GRID SWEEP.
  6. MORE FOLLOWS.
  7. AUTHENTICATION MORAINE HAMMOCK VAULT SIMMER GOLDEN PAWL / 0x9981ABD43E3ECC22

ENDS.