For Your Tomorrow
by Ian Cordingley
He did. Sunlight caressed his metal body. He was in a light roll. Peppered with scars: high energy projectiles, electrons from particle beams, shrapnel from missiles. His body was cold except where the light touched it.
Rumbling from deep within: his engines powering up. For a long time he had been in a dormant state. Inactive Deterrent. He jettisoned the sails that held him in position. Time for a quick inventory of his weapons. He could find himself in a fight at any moment.
Antimatter warheads: primed and accounted for. Rail guns were inactive, the coils dusty but functional, plenty of ammunition. Particle beams began to whine back into life. Priority given to the point defence lasers. He was just floating there, inviting attack. Time to take control back from the basic monitoring systems and regain direct control.
Deep within, his plasma drives were functional. The higher speed engines that would carry him into battle were becoming active. From within the store of antimatter aboard, he readied the particles, trapping them into a frantic orbit. At any moment, the two would collide and he would fly into battle.
He was an interceptor. All of his battles were quick and fast. He overwhelmed his enemies with a swarm of missiles and barrage of particle beam shots and rail gun volleys. It had been a long time, a very long time. Within seconds, his weapons became fresh and active. His capabilities and experience were never dulled. That needed no reawakening.
He floated and awaited his next command, too afraid for active sensors. His position, especially in his fragile state, could not be given away. A whole chain of interceptors formed a link around the Lagrange point between the sun and the homeworld. Larger, tougher ships between them at regular intervals were ready to chew any successive wave of attackers. Stationary mass driver arrays behind him would destroy anything left.
Too long. Enough time for him to become unfamiliar with the war.
The next command was coming.
He had volunteered for everything: interceptor duty and inactive deterrent. The Congress of Minds had been a different place then, peaceful, looking outwards — until the arrival of the travelers, bringing their simple, inflexible minds with them.
The next command was coming.
The homeworld was still safe. Good. Most of his engagements were fought around the territory between the homeworld and its third moon. Sickly green and wet, the homeworld was the only place the travelers, especially given their fanaticism, could consider a potential home. Negotiations were held with the Congress. They refused all offers.
The next command... the next command.
Eleven engagements. He was a veteran of eleven attempted incursions into homeworld space. There were enemies buried within asteroids, flung at the homeworld and firing as they went; and more conventional battles, fought furiously along tens of thousands of kilometres.
The next command would let him know what he was facing.
Permission to go active.
He was surprised at the sheer emptiness surrounding him.
Space was vast, but especially in times of war, it was hardly inactive. Hot targets, potential targets, and sensor networks straining to see anything trying to sneak away. Around the homeworld, there were satellites and outposts trying to determine hostile approaches, and part of the game was monitoring the blank spaces to see what the enemy was trying to do, where they were going.
Now there was just silence.
Wave after wave of sensor data just passed into nothing. Occasionally some chunk of rock or metal reflected back at him, but otherwise there was nothing.
Explanation. Trying not to sound panicked or frantic. Assertive: he had been woken up for something.
Behind him was the homeworld. Refreshingly, it was in one piece, and traffic seemed even a little heavier than he remembered, smaller targets travelling without escort. Either they had won decisively or they had become very suicidal.
Incoming targets are behaving erratically. Attempting to determine approach vectors and other information.
The approach was so amateurish, it baffled him. If the sensor networks existed then they should have available all the information they could require. His own sensors were excellent, but without the augmentation of the homeworld’s defence grid he could not expect to mount a suitable defence.
Defence of allied habitats close around homeworld/lunar Lagrange points paramount.
Likely incoming hostiles will attempt to attack outermost habitats: smaller, fragmented, harder to defend, currently possessing only rudimentary countermeasures.
Request confirmation of Command: reply with command authorization code.
Getting short with command was not a habit of his. Something did not feel right.
Allied habitats? This was a surprise. Their enemy had been known for internal factionalism, but if some kind of internal fissure had been exploited, it would have been a surprise.
Allied Command, Homeworld-Prime. Confirmation Code 0116928.
Authorization was similar to what he had previously expected. There were some differences, but he was trained to recognize an authentic transmission from enemy misinformation. This passed the test.
Request acknowledgement of time elapsed since inactive deterrent.
Command replied: Irrelevant.
Request acknowledgement of time elapsed, or presumption of attempted hostile misinformation.
Command was silent. In the meantime, information could be gleaned through passive sensors to confirm partially what he had been told.
Around the moon was a small halo of habitats, round, mostly with a rocky core but linked through thin strands of cable. At the periphery of his sight, he could detect smaller habitats clustered around large comets or asteroids, probably arranged to permit access to any lunar resources.
Were any on the home world? Were they visitors or were they allowed to live there?
Had he lost the war?
Command 0001/2.6, successor to 2.2 since first hostilities, directly communicating with Interceptor 2249/8. Acknowledge.
Four generations? 2.2 was barely active when he went into deterrent, the best minds available portioning off parts of themselves to serve as the new homeworld command. 2249 had only just gotten used to 2.1, the next step in command defence as combined memories of the war were collected and pieced together. Each step was laborious. To suddenly burst through four generations was incredible.
2249, I acknowledge command.
2249: Command requests preparing for repelling of incoming hostiles.
Command was silent again. A calculated pause, each word no doubt being carefully selected for the way it best concealed uncomfortable facts.
2249, seeking authorization to enable disclosure of sensitive information.
Command, asking the date is somehow sensitive?
2249, communicating information is difficult as you may find it... uncomfortable.
2249, all right. Two hundred thirty years standard since active deterrent. Two hundred twenty since end of First Wave hostilities. Eighty-three since the commencement of Second Wave hostilities.
2249 considered this a moment. Understood.
Suddenly a sense of clarity descended upon 2249’s mind. All other thoughts and considerations melted away,.
We have lost the war, command?
We have come to an understanding, and an accommodation.
Command, request nature of present hostilities.
2249, dispute between settled and nomadic resident population over settlement limits and resource distribution. Nomadic factions in the outer solar system region, in the comet halo, are regrouping.
Residents? 2249 knew them only as organics. Simple and to the point: organic. Not welcome, especially as they came in with weapons blazing. 2249 left the point undisturbed.
Overwhelmed outer defences. Now attempting to attack settled resident populations and homeworld itself. Command now reactivating Inactive Deterrent forces, placed into extended sleep mode following cessation of hostilities.
So much to try and understand.
Explain: why could outer defences not contain aggression? Why the extended deterrence?
2249, the situation is... complicated.
Extended deterrence implied extended hostilities. He could not envision decades upon decades of hostilities, the entire Congress of Minds devoted to the singular purpose of warfare, entire minds created and destroyed, knowing only organic incursion. More and more minds pulled into the fighting. Creating minds was delicate and laborious. 2249 could not imagine how the Congress could function without the hundreds of other minds spread across the solar system.
2249, we reactivated you because we believed you could fight.
No need to explain how long, how many casualties. No need to explain the fatigue of the interceptor’s body.
The organics won the war?
No. Command paused for a moment. Neither side is at an advantage or disadvantage.
I am confused.
Technically the war is over. The last war I mean.
We are at peace.
Technically. If we’re lucky we can stave off another war.
Command paused again. Still nothing out there.
2249, what were you before the war?
High gravity mine carrier, from the inner belt.
A suitable profession that would benefit an interceptor: struggling against the system sun’s gravity belt; gaining comfort for high speeds and crushing gravity; for eighty-seven years, racing between the homeworld and the planets and asteroids of the inner belt.
Hoping to return?
I wouldn’t mind.
Traffic from the inner belt has increased, 2249, mostly to the resident settlements: whole new routes, gravity assist vectors... You would love it.
I find the presence of organics anywhere near the homeworld... difficult.
You’re not the only one.
So... why me?
2249, the active deterrent was maintained in case of additional hostilities with the residents, and continued because of recent developments within the resident’s habitats.
One of the advantages to the inner belt run — attention focused on hitting the approach vectors just right for deceleration after the long acceleration out — was that things like politics were a distant, irrelevant subject. The organics were a remote hypothetical.
When the war did break out, of course he volunteered. Preservation of the Congress of Minds, dim memories of the history of the interaction of the Congress with its creators, sheer adventure, all of that.
On the edge of the sight, he could see them. Seven. Spread out, engines facing forwards. Medium class, probably meant for brawling with the home world’s defences.
So careless. He effortlessly plotted out the best course for taking out all of them. Four kills, two significantly damaged, the last one, hopefully, would be too surprised to offer resistance. He could wait.
What are they like?
Pardon? Command replied.
What are the organics like?
You know their biology.
I didn’t mean that.
Command was silent. What did you expect?
I’m not unbiased. I’m not stupid enough to fall for propaganda.
They’re different, Command replied. Distinct. You know the biology.
2249 had little patience for pre-Congress history, little admiration for the days when the Congress expanded, when the first new minds were created. At times, you could be forgiven for believing that this was the ideal world. Not true, not necessarily, of course.
But what are they like?
Different, distinct. Enough to like and dislike.
Was the time he spent asleep worth it? No, asking that question would gain no usable answer.
Are you all right?
Command, I am incredibly confused.
I don’t blame you.
It still only took a matter of seconds to decide.
He fired up his engines. Matter turned itself into hot plasma and he accelerated to Mach 3 in seconds. His body groaned.
Just like the old days.
After several minutes, he cut his engines, coasting, relying on inertia. The enemy had not gone active. They may have detected his acceleration, but hopefully the traffic around the homeworld would mask it. Weapons at the ready, missiles slotted into their launch tubes.
They were large and blocky. Armour bolted on thick, but only to make up for deficiencies in the design. Clearly just weapons bolted onto existing, easy-to-replicate vehicles. If there had been any advances in sensor technology, it wasn’t evident. Using puffs of gas, he oriented himself into an attack pattern.
He started with the one trailing behind the main force, a picket. By the time he was finished, the main line would be in disarray, too busy wondering when the next missile strike would come to worry about the mass drivers and particle beams. He made a brief burst of speed. He would need it, with thicker armour taking more time to subdue.
Just a few minutes more... missiles slotted... away!
There. He had just doomed the rear and peripheral escorts. Now to work on the main line of attackers. He suddenly realized he was under attack.
He swerved. On a lower level, several smaller enemy drones were pushing towards him. Rail guns, pitiful little things individually, but collectively they could be dangerous. In addition, a small galaxy of missiles erupted towards him.
He flipped his body around. A blast of scattered rail gun rounds and particle beams sliced through, destroying the incoming missiles and some of the projectiles. They hammered against his body: a few penetrated. It hurt, but he had work to do.
With a few bursts of power the rest of the armour blew off. The main body of the vehicle was exposed. A few mass driver rounds perforated it. That was all.
This was what he was here for, not the world he expected to die for. Perhaps it would be worth it.
Copyright © 2012 by Ian Cordingley