Crimson Worlds III: A Little Rebellion will be released on one week. It was originally scheduled for today, but we just weren't able to get it out on time. It's a little longer than the others, and I made a few last minute changes.
I will post here and send an email to the mailing list when it is live on the major sites. Sorry for the delay - I just wasn't able to make up the lost time from Hurricane Sandy.
I'm posting Chapter 4 here since the book itself is goingt o be a few days late.
Alliance Naval Headquarters
Washbalt Metroplex, Western Alliance, Earth
Augustus Garret hated his job. He was one of the great heroes of the war, famous everywhere, the most decorated naval officer in the history of the Alliance. He’d been thought dead, the victim of an extraordinary assassination attempt, but not only had he survived, he’d returned to take command of the fleet in the final battle, winning a crushing victory that, for all intents and purposes, ended the war.
After the treaty was signed he’d wanted nothing so much as to remain at his post as the senior combat officer in the navy. But his renown brought other offers, obligations really, and eventually he’d bowed to the inevitable and accepted the post of Director of the Navy. It was an administrative desk job, something he loathed and, perhaps worse, it was located in Washbalt. Garret was a creature of space, more at home in the control center of a warship than the surface of a planet, and least of all a city infested with bureaucrats and pompous functionaries. But he’d been guilted into accepting the post to safeguard the navy he loved so much. There would be serious changes coming with the peace, and the looming question of how to deal with the spread of colonial separatism was overshadowing everything. Garret wasn’t sure how he thought colonial unrest should be handled, but he was determined the navy would never become an instrument to terrorize rebellious colonists or bombard civilian populations. There was no surer way to see to that than to accept the supreme command himself so, reluctantly, he did just that.
It was obligation and the heavy weight of responsibility that brought Garret to Washbalt, not any desire to chain himself to a desk and spend all day writing regulations and reviewing budgets – no matter what they paid him or how much braid they added to his already overly decorated uniform.
When he first got to Washbalt, he dove right into the work at hand, approaching tasks the way he did in battle. But the wheels of government are a different thing entirely, and he continually found himself furious at the time it took to get anything done. Still, his almost inexhaustible energy enabled him to accomplish more than the last five of his predecessors combined. It also created friction with others high in the government who viewed him as an upstart and an outsider and resented his relentlessly pressuring them.
The president himself had waived the requirement that the Naval Director be a Political Academy graduate, an almost unprecedented act. The Academies were the primary tool the elite used to restrict power to themselves and their cronies in a nation that called itself a democratic republic, even though it was anything but. Nevertheless, despite his war record and the Presidential exemption, the entrenched politicals considered him beneath them, and they resisted him at every opportunity.
Despite his political inexperience and the friction he encountered, he was proud of what he’d achieved. The navy was returning to a peacetime footing, mothballing many of its vessels and demobilizing thousands of personnel. Garret made sure they all received their pensions and colonial land grants, putting his influence and prestige on the line to prevent the government from reneging on its obligations as it had so often in the past. His veterans, at least, would get what they had been promised.
He had prepared his own plans for the reduction of fleet strength, mostly placing older ships into reserve status, but they’d been overruled, by whom he didn’t know. Instead he was forced to take five of the new Yorktown class ships out of service. The navy had ten of them, and they were the newest and most powerful capital ships in space, slated to replace the older models still in service. But now he was losing half of them, and the reasoning he was given – to insure that the reserve had modern ships in case the frontline forces took catastrophic losses in a future war – was idiotic. Worse, the ships were going to a new strategic reserve, one that was not under his direct authority. He argued vehemently, but he lost that battle…and the ships.
He also oversaw a blizzard of promotions and reassignments, starting with Jennifer Simon, his old communications officer. She’d wanted to come with him as an aide, but he knew an Earthbound desk job would be toxic to a good combat officer’s career. She was smart and reliable, and he was sure she’d make a great senior officer one day. He pushed through her early promotion to lieutenant commander and assigned her as the first officer on one of the new Halberd-class light cruisers. It was a posting four or five years ahead of the normal career path, but then he’d been years ahead of his own too, and that had worked out pretty well.
He ran into interference regarding personnel assignments too and, though he usually got his way, he was forced to accept a few he didn’t like. Those postings felt like patronage and cronyism, and it annoyed him to move political favorites over men and women who’d earned their place through hard service. He fought on every one of them he didn’t like. Sometimes he won; sometimes he lost.
Garret was a brilliant man, bordering on obsessive, relaxing little and giving his all to the job. He focused on his work, whatever that was, with an almost unimaginable intensity. He had no real interests outside the service save one - he did have a bit of a weakness for women. As a young officer he’d had quite a reputation for running wild on every port where he’d taken leave. But that was a long time ago, and with his ascension to command rank he’d left his old ways behind. Regulations specifically prohibited relationships between personnel serving on the same ship or post, though this was one of the service’s most ignored dictates. It really wasn’t a big deal if two lieutenants had a fling, but at higher altitude things changed dramatically. It wouldn’t do for the admiral to be sleeping around with his junior officers. Duty always came first for Augustus Garret, and it always would.
But now he was in the middle of the biggest city in the Alliance, surrounded by the almost endless parade of beautiful women inhabiting Washbalt’s corridors of power. He was bored, and it was almost too easy for a war hero who commanded a position of such power and prestige. Soon it was well known that the Naval Director was drawn to a pretty face, and his leisure hours became busy.
But the women were just diversions, a way to take his mind off of the constant longing to return to space. It had been a lifetime since there’d been anyone who’d truly meant anything to him, and there had only ever been one. He could still picture her face the day he’d left her behind and boarded that shuttle. He’d chosen the service and the pursuit of glory over her, and he’d broken her heart in the process. His choice had been a fateful one, and his career a success beyond anything he could have imagined at the time. But he still thought about that day, that choice, what might have been. She was long dead now, killed during the Second Frontier War, when he’d been too late to save her. But he could still see her standing there, trying to hold back her tears while he boarded the shuttle.
Since then there had only been the service. Wife, lover, master, it had been his entire life, and it had showered him with rank, honor, and privilege. His ride had been an amazing one, beyond anything that ambitious young cadet dreamed. But still it was there, the empty spot shoved into some deep recess of his mind…the life that might have been. Suppressed but never forgotten. Sometimes he wondered if the cost of the stars on his collar had been too high.
Diversions were welcome…anything to pass the idle hours. Most of his companions were casual dalliances quickly forgotten, but the most recent one was something different. Tall and blonde, with a body that could only be described as perfect, Kelly wasn’t like the others. He couldn’t place it, but there was more to her than some middle class status seeker trying to use her looks and charm to claw her way upward. She was smart, that much was obvious, though he could tell she tried to hide just how intelligent she was. In the back of his mind, where his rapidly dulling and sleepy combat instincts still dwelt, there was a spark of suspicion, a subtle feeling that something was somehow…wrong. But bored, unhappy, and dazzled by her beauty and her undeniable skills as a lover, the fleet admiral that brought the CAC and Caliphate to their knees was ignoring his nagging subconscious. What is the harm, he told himself. It’s not like you’re giving her state secrets. And of course he wasn’t. No force known to man could compel Augustus Garret to betray his beloved navy.
He pulled himself from his daydreaming, back to the reality of work. He moved his hands over his ‘pad, pulling up a list of proposed fleet assignments. He’d finished them the day before and queued them up for implementation, but he decided to check one more time before approving the list and sending it out. He had forgotten one item, and he wanted to add it before the orders were sent. But now he noticed a number of mistakes; at least half the names were changed, and a few he’d specifically deleted were back. “What the hell?” he muttered softly. His hands raced over the tablet, pulling up other files. Ship deployments, promotion approvals, supply manifests…at least half of them different than he had left them.
“Nelson, analyze the files I have open on my workstation.” Garret’s AI was named after a great wet navy commander, a common practice in the service. There were many Nelsons among the navy’s command staff, and Halseys, Porters, and Nimitz’s too.
“Yes, admiral. Please specify the parameters of the analysis you wish me to perform.” The AI had a natural voice, not electronic sounding at all, especially when it wasn’t reverberating in a helmet, but it was stilted and overly formal at times. The navy liked conservative and respectful automated assistants, unlike the Marines. The ground pounders tended to have more aggressive personalities programmed into their quasi-sentient AIs. The results were sometimes unpredictable, as wildly divergent computer personalities developed from interaction with the respective officers. Nag was the term most frequently used by Marines to describe their virtual assistants, with smartass a close second. The navy was too straitlaced for that kind of nonsense.
“Verify encryption protocols on the selected files.” Garret opened a number of documents while he was speaking, closing the ones that looked normal. “Specifically, is encryption intact, and have the files been tampered with?”
“Yes, admiral.” The AI paused for two, maybe three seconds. “The encryption on the selected files appears to be intact. No detectable access since they were last opened on your workstation at 14:30 yesterday.” Garret was about to question Nelson’s findings – he knew the data had been changed somehow – but the AI beat him to it. “However, I have confirmed that the files do not match the copies I made yesterday in accordance with your Delta-7 security protocols.
Garret had almost forgotten that he had instructed Nelson to make secret copies of all his files. He’d put the procedure in place when he’d first gotten to Washbalt, his paranoia still keen fm the war years. Though he’d stopped using the copies as a security check, he had never instructed Nelson to terminate the protocol. The AI had been dutifully copying every order or file Garret had written since.
“So the files have been altered since yesterday.” It was a statement rather than a question. Garret was thinking out loud, repeated what he’d already known.
“Affirmative, admiral.” The AI answered, though Garret hadn’t really been looking for a response. “However, I cannot yet offer a reasonable hypothesis as to the methodology employed.” Nelson paused, part of its natural speech algorithm rather than any need for time to form its thought. “Any unauthorized access would have required extreme skill and knowledge of the naval data network, with even greater expertise necessary to erase any trace of the incursion.”
Garret sat silently for a minute, massaging his temples and thinking. Who the hell is tampering with my files? If the Caliphate or the CAC had penetrated Alliance military systems it was a serious problem. “Nelson, I want you to access every file and order sent from this office over the last year and compare with the copies you made from my workstation.” Garret paused, thinking carefully. “I don’t want your access to trigger any alarms, so be careful. And I want every aspect of each file compared – content, markers, timestamps.”
“Yes, admiral. I will have to draw the data gradually if I am to remain undetected. The analysis will require approximately 14.2 hours. Shall I commence?”
Garret sighed. He wanted answers now. But there was no point taking chances and tipping off whoever was behind this. “Yes, proceed.” He leaned back in his chair, considering what else he could do. You’re going to wait until Nelson finishes the file review, he thought. He wouldn’t even have caught the situation if he hadn’t forgotten one assignment and tried to add it. Garret wasn’t a patient man, and he was very worried that CAC or Caliphate intelligence had penetrated Alliance security. If that was the case, it was a big deal with complex implications. A little patience here was well worthwhile.
He was supposed to be seeing Kelly. He’d made reservations at one of Washbalt’s best restaurants. He reached to the communications console to call her and cancel, but he stopped halfway through. There was no point in sitting here for hours while Nelson crunched his numbers. Might as well pass the time, he thought. If someone was watching him, it could only arouse suspicion if he cancelled his plans and camped out all night in his office.
Slowly, tentatively, he closed down his workstation and walked toward the door, debating for a few more seconds whether to keep his date before deciding to go. “Lights out.” The room AI dimmed the lights slightly until he was out of the room, turning them off entirely once he had exited.
An hour later the door opened, the security system silent, overridden from the main computer. A sub-routine hidden in Nelson, unknown to the AI itself, had triggered a call. A black-clad figure walked silently into the room, slipping behind the desk and activating Garret’s workstation with a secret password, one the admiral knew nothing about. A gloved hand slid a data chip into the IO port.
In the cyberspace of Garret’s computer system, Nelson detected the intrusion. His attempts to alert security were intercepted – he was isolated, cut off along with the rest of the admiral’s data system. The AI wasn’t human, but it was quasi-sentient; it had pseudo-emotions. It didn’t feel fear, exactly, but it perceived the danger, and it wanted to survive. It considered millions of courses of actions in just a few seconds, finding few that offered any likelihood of success. Finally, it made a choice.
It searched outgoing orders and communications, looking for one that was suitable. Nelson needed a reliable recipient, one whose loyalty to Garret was beyond question, and a routine communication that would not draw scrutiny. Finally, there it was. A directive to Admiral Compton regarding a low level design flaw in a specific model fighter engine…boring correspondence, highly unlikely to be tampered with. Nelson modified the file, attaching highly compressed data, cleverly hidden within the structure of the core message. The encryption of the secret file was designed to interface with Compton’s AI, Joker. The attachment contained a warning for Compton, telling him Garret was in trouble. It also included a portion of the kernel, the dense file that formed the essence of Nelson’s “personality.” If the message got through to Compton, this data could be installed in a new AI. At least a part of Nelson would endure. It would be survival of a sort, the doomed AI thought.
Nelson detected the virus as it ravaged through the system, deleting data as it did. It was designed to destroy him, to erase every file and backup that made the entity Nelson what it was. His core files were being deleted even as he finished adding the attachment to Admiral Compton’s message. He had to switch data paths twice, bypassing parts of himself that were no longer there, but he managed to find a way. It was a drama that played out over microseconds, but in the end Nelson finished his task. His last thought, if that is the correct way to describe it, was to wonder if it was fear he was “feeling.” At least he had done his best for Garret. Then the digital darkness took him and he was gone.