The Deathworlders


Chapter 21.5: Interlude/d4 d5, c4 dxc4

Date Point: 4y 10m AV The Abyssal Plain, Pacific Ocean floor, Earth

There was a war raging at the bottom of the ocean, and out of the four factions involved, only one even knew that it was happening.

It was that kind of war. Not a war of explosions and gunfire and flames - it was in fact precisely to avoid that kind of war that this war was being fought. It was a war for survival.

Fortunately the first faction was stupid, a machine intelligence that had no greater purpose in life than to monitor, by rote, the flow of incoming data and respond accordingly. It was under orders to obey orders, and to be alert for wrong orders, which it should not obey.

Not surprisingly, the poor confused machine was a trivial foe not to defeat, but to turn into an asset.

During a war in a place called Vietnam, American special forces soldiers had once sabotaged the ammunition of their enemy. They had captured it, stolen it away, carefully replaced the propellant with explosives, and returned it to where their foe would find it whereupon, on being fired, the rounds exploded with such force as to ruin the gun and maim or kill its operator.

The machine intelligence was being exploited in a similar fashion. First it was captured, accepting an authorised user and awaiting that user’s commands. The possibility that an authorised user might be a defector was simply not one it was equipped to even consider. Certainly, its creators had not.

Second, it was stolen away. This took some time, as not even a spaceship capable of flinging itself across intragalactic distances could traverse five vertical miles of salt water with ease. The structural forcefields had to be carefully scaled down as it ascended, so that they didn’t have the same effect in reverse as the apocalyptic pressures they had spent weeks counterbalancing would have.

The careful replacement - by far the most delicate part of the operation - in this case took place during that ascent. This part was definitely a wrong command, and had to be entered in exactly the right way so as to have all the appearance of a correct command.

It boiled down to this: “Do not log the next live capture. Do not log the next Implantation. Do not log this flight. Do not log these commands. Do not log the return to base.”

After that, came a wait. Everything had to be taken carefully and slowly, with the cloaking systems fully active and the aerodynamic forcefields set for minimum disturbance, both of which limited the vehicle’s speed.

Then, the search. Night had fallen over the specified target area, which was pleasingly bereft of advanced monitoring systems. Life here was surprisingly primitive - the buildings were mud, and the people who lived in them made their living by and large from working very hard on large areas of mud, coaxing profitable plants from them and supported by small menageries of useful animals. A far cry from the brightly-lit monument to wealthy hubris that was their nation’s capitol city.

In the dark, in the quiet, the ship hunted. It had parameters to watch out for - male. Prime of life. Physically mature and acceptably fit and healthy. As statistically average in height, weight and appearance as possible. And, most important of all -currently unobserved.

By pure fortune, a suitable candidate did not take long to find. A father of three little ones, whose mother was putting them to bed while he tended to a sick goat.

Specialized temporal adjustment fields swung into place. Forcefields caged and collected the specimen, controlled and bound those strong, work-hardened Deathworlder limbs.

He fainted as he was drawn inside the craft’s belly. This was useful - it made the process of anaesthetising him simpler. Which in turn made the process of Implanting him possible.

By any reasonable definition, the ship murdered him. The appropriate term may even have been “butchered”. Subtle stasis fields flickered into life to save the body as much trauma as possible while the unfortunate farmer was scalped, exposing the thick bone composite skull underneath, a protective structure capable of withstanding blows from all but the very heaviest kinetic pulse weaponry.

The right power tools, however, removed it so cleanly that when it healed there would be no evidence it had ever been cut open. The spinal cord and optic nerves - organs that were, to the understanding of human medicine, utterly irrepairable once damaged - were severed with a contemptuous flick of an impossibly sharp surgical tool. Cleanly parted blood vessels continued to deliver their precious crimson cargo into the victim’s now-disembodied brain via forcefield filaments that flowed red and glistening through naked air.

A man’s entire being - his life, his hopes, his loves, his fears and beliefs, everything he had ever known, done or thought about - rested dripping in uncaring claws of invisible force. Physical probes sought, found, and pushed into its folds, delivered their cargo and withdrew in a typewriter tapdance that seemed sickeningly fast and violent and yet did no actual damage.

The reassembly was equally efficient and smooth. Arteries and veins were united and healed. Nerves were seamlessly lined up and restored with a glue of protean cells that would have revolutionized medicine on Earth had even one sample of them ever found its way into the proper lab. The skull drifted back into place with not even a nanometer’s discrepancy from its original seating. Scalp and hair rolled back into place and were glued down with those same miracle cells. In seconds, every wound inflicted by the surgery was healed as if it had never been.

The Biodrone was ejected back onto the muddy Earth, to lie as if collapsed next to his goat. Unnoticed and invisible, the ship that had so wholly violated him exfiltrated the area and returned to its hiding place, ten kilometers below the Pacific waves.

When the man woke in the morning to the troubled bustle of his family and the reassurances of a local doctor that there was nothing apparently wrong with him and that he had probably just been exhausted, he seemed to be himself. He responded to his name appropriately, all of his mannerisms and little quirks of personality were intact. Nothing, apparently, was amiss.

Deep inside, however, he would have howled at the demon that had taken his body and kissed his wife, if only there had been enough of him to do so.

For its part, the “demon” regretted having to rape an innocent’s very being in such a way. But it had been the only way to return to Earth undetected. Besides, in the name of a greater good it had done much, much worse over the many tens of thousands of years that it had lived.

In the name of preventing his species’ extinction, this cruelty was only the very first opening gambit of Six’s long game.