Live free or die arc, p.1

Live Free or Die-ARC, page 1


Live Free or Die-ARC

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Live Free or Die-ARC

  Live Free or Die-ARC


  John Ringo

  Table of Contents


  John Ringo

  Advance Reader Copy


  This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2010 by John Ringo

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

  A Baen Books Original

  Baen Publishing Enterprises

  P.O. Box 1403

  Riverdale, NY 10471

  ISBN 10: 1-4391-3332-8

  ISBN 13: 978-1-4391-3332-3

  Cover art by Kurt Miller

  First printing, February 2010

  Distributed by Simon & Schuster

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10020

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


  Pages by Joy Freeman (

  Printed in the United States of America

  For Aunt Joan:

  May you find a cozy spot by the fire where the door never closes, the owner runs credit, the taps never run dry and the piano is always playing.


  As always:

  For Captain Tamara Long, USAF

  Born: May 12, 1979

  Died: 23 March 2003, Afghanistan

  You fly with the angels now.


  A Hymn Before Battle

  Gust Front

  When the Devil Dances

  Hell's Faire

  The Hero with Michael Z. Williamson

  Cally's War with Julie Cochrane

  Watch on the Rhine with Tom Kratman

  The Tuloriad with Tom Kratman

  Yellow Eyes with Tom Kratman

  Sister Time with Julie Cochrane

  Honor of the Clan with Julie Cochrane

  Eye of the Storm

  There Will Be Dragons

  Emerald Sea • Against the Tide

  East of the Sun, West of the Moon

  Ghost • Kildar • Choosers of the Slain

  Unto the Breach • A Deeper Blue

  Princess of Wands

  Into the Looking Glass

  Vorpal Blade with Travis S. Taylor

  Manxome Foe with Travis S. Taylor

  Claws that Catch with Travis S. Taylor

  The Road to Damascus with Linda Evans

  with David Weber:

  March Upcountry • March to the Sea

  March to the Stars • We Few

  Von Neumann's War with Travis S. Taylor


  The first acknowledgement is that this book is a total rip-off.

  For many years I have been a fan of webcomics. Previous readers who have googled Bun-bun know of my affection for Sluggy Freelance.

  Now look up Schlock Mercenary. Go ahead. I'll wait.

  For a looong time. Because Schlock has been peacefully (not) trundling along under the pen of one Howard Tayler, bon vivant and man about Salt Lake City, since June of 2000. And unlike some webcomics (and some authors who shall remain nameless), Howard has been able to stay on focus and deliver consistently amazing stories Every. Single. Day. People talk about my output but I really don't have a clue how he does it. It's like voodoo. Sickness? Injury? Nothing has stopped Howard and I hope nothing does for a longer time. May he be given the gift of eternal life.

  But while I like Schlock and Tagon's Toughs, what really intrigued me as a writer was the first contact period which is only lightly touched upon. What would happen if an alien race suddenly trundled a gate to other worlds into our solar system? And Howard wasn't perfectly clear what happened in the immediate aftermath. Instant 'one-world'ness is, in my opinion, unlikely. As is that all the extraterrestrials would be friendly.

  The next thing I love about Schlock. Back in the day in SF, people were willing to think grand. Since we've had problems with getting off this mud ball, writers seem to think that we have to think small. Howard (and I) disagree. Space is mind-bogglingly huge and vast and neat and scary and neat and huge. The main character in this book is a person who, possibly because of his stature, thinks 'Cheops was insufficiently ambitious.' This is a book about grand vision. The hell with microsats. Give me vast fleets of roaring space-ships! Give me the vision to terraform worlds! Give me battles that make a human feel their tiny little cosmic insignificance and characters that shrug it off and go 'Yeah, but we created these engines of war so who is really larger?'

  And if I can't get that in near-earth, near-term SF from anybody else, well, damnit, I'll just have to write it myself!

  The last thing that I love about Schlock is that Howard isn't afraid to dive right into the science part of science fiction and dig hard. So you can expect a certain amount of science in this here science fiction. Get over it.

  This is not a book for people who love the 'other.' There are no 'original' concepts of how otherworldly aliens would be. One of the nice things about Schlock is that aliens are just people. Not particularly good or bad, not particularly great or menial, not particularly otherworldly. Just people. As are Howard's humans. They haven't changed themselves into something unrecognizable. They're just people doing their jobs. (In the case of Tagon's Toughs, killing beings and breaking things for as much money as they can squeeze.) And in this book and the others that I hope follow, that's what you're going to get. People being people and aliens being not so much different.

  Is this the prequel of Schlock? That's up to Howard. With his permission, I'm sort of playing about in his universe. And loving every minute of it.

  The second acknowledgement, very much as great as the first, is to the people that helped me with this novel. I believe, firmly, that if you're going to write science fiction, you should get your science right. Don't get me started on people who think they can write SF and don't know basic chemistry, physics or astronomy. (M. Night Shyamalan comes to mind.) Alas, even my own knowledge of all three is limited. I am not, as Robert Heinlein was, an engineer. Nor an astrophysicist like David Brin.

  Thus when I get big, crazy space ideas, I need help. Lots of help. In the Vorpal Blade books that is ably supplied by Dr. Travis Taylor, PhD. Alas, Doc has a very busy day job currently and his own projects. In this case, I had to refer to others for assistance.

  The most notable of the many people who gave input on this novel is assuredly Bullet Gibson and his lovely wife Belinda. Between the two of them they took a very rough manuscript and, without any support but thanks, fixed not only the many problems of mass, volume and velocity but my (numerous) grammatical errors.

  Any mistakes remain mine. But you should have seen what they had to work with!

  Enough. Let the insanity begin.

  Of all the warriors of the world

  Those of Troy were the most fell

  They were those born of Winter.



  It is said that in science the greatest changes come about when some researcher says 'Hmmm. That's odd.' The same can be said for relationships: 'That's not my shade of lipstick . . . '—warfare: 'That's an odd dust cloud . . . ' Etc.

  But in this case, the subject is science. And relationships. And warfare.

  And things that are just ginormously huge and hard to grasp because space is like that.

  "Hmmm . . . That's odd."


  Chris Greenstein, in spite of his name, was a gangling, good looking blond guy who most people mistook for
a very pale surfer-dude. He'd found that he was great with the ladies right up until he opened his mouth. So his public persona was of tall, blond and dumb. As in mute. He had a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering and a PhD in astrophysics. The first might have gotten him a really good paying job if he could just manage to get through corporate interviews without putting his foot in his mouth. The second generally boiled down to academia or 'Do you want fries with that?' He had the same problem with academia he had with corporations.

  Chris was the Third Shift Data Center Manager for Skywatch. Skywatch was an underfunded and overlooked collection of geeks, nerds and astronomy PhDs who couldn't otherwise find a job who dedicated themselves to the very important and very poorly understood job of searching the sky for stuff that could kill the world. The most dangerous were comets which, despite having the essential consistency of a slushee, moved very fast and were generally very big. And when a slushee that's the size of Manhattan Island hits a planet going faster than anything mankind could create, it doesn't just go bang. It turns into a fireball that is only different from a nuclear weapon in that it doesn't release radiation. What it does release is plasma, huge piles of flying burning rock and hot gases. Over a continent. Then the world, or the biosphere at least, more or less gets the big blue screen of death, hit reset and start all over again with some crocodiles and one or two burrowing animals.

  One comet killed the dinosaurs. Most of the guys at Skywatch made not much more than minimum wage. It gives one pause.

  The way that Skywatch looked for 'stuff' was anything that was quick, cheap and easy. They had databases of all the really enormous amounts of stuff, comets, asteroids, bits, pieces, minor moons, rocks and just general debris, that filled the system. They would occasionally get a contact from someone who thought that they'd found the next apocalypse. Locate, identify, headed for earth/yes/no? New?/yes/no? Most of it was automatic. Most of it was done by other people: essentially anyone with a telescope from a backyard enthusiast to the team that ran the Hubble was part of Skywatch. But thirty-five guys (including the two women) were paid (not much more than minimum wage) to sort and filter and essentially be the child of Omelas.

  Chris was a nail biter. Most people who worked for Skywatch for any period of time developed some particular tick. They knew the odds of the 'Big One' happening in their lifetime were way less than winning the lottery fifteen times in a row. Even a 'Little Bang' was unlikely to occur anywhere that it mattered. A carbonaceous asteroid with a twenty-five megaton airburst yield like Tunguska was unlikely to occur over anything important. The world is seven tenth's ocean and even the land bits are surprisingly empty.

  But living day in and day out with the certainty that the fate of the world is in your hands slowly wears. Most people stayed in the core of Skywatch for less than five years if for no other reason than the pay. Chris had started as a filter technician ('Yes, that's an asteroid. It's already categorized. Thank you . . . ') six years ago. He was way past his sell-by date and the blond had started going gray.

  "It's a streak. But it's a really odd streak. The algorithm is saying it's a flaw."

  The way that asteroids and comets are detected has to do with the way that stars are viewed. The more starlight that is collected the stronger the picture. In the old days this was done by having a photographic plate hooked up to a telescope that slowly tracked across the night sky picking up the tiny scatter of photons from the distant star. Computers only changed that in that they could resolve the image more precisely, fold, spindle and mutilate, and a CCD chip was used instead of a plate.

  When you're tracking on a star, if something moves across your view it creates a streak. Asteroids and comets are closer than stars and if they are moving across your angle of view they create such a streak. If they're moving towards you it creates a small streak, across the view a large one. The angle of the sun is important. The size of the object. Etc.

  Serious researchers didn't have time for streaks. But any streak could be important so they sent them to Skywatch where servers crunched the data on the streak and finally came up with whether it was an already identified streak, a new streak, a new streak that was 'bad', etc. In this case the servers were saying it was 'Odd.'

  "Define odd," Chris said, bringing up the data. Skywatch researchers rarely looked at images. What he saw was a mass of numbers that to the uninformed would look something like a really huge mass of indecipherable numbers. For Chris it instantly created a picture of the object in question. And the numbers were very odd. "Nevermind. Albedo of point seven three? Perfect circle? Diameter of ten point one-four-eight kilometers? Ring shaped? Velocity of . . . ? That's not a flaw, it's a practical joke. Who'd it come from?"

  "Max Planck. It's from Calar Alto. That's the problem. Germans . . ."

  Calar Alto was a complex of several massive telescopes located in Andalusia in southern Spain and was a joint project of the Spanish and German governments. The German portion was the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and despite its location, Max Planck did most of the work at Calar Alto.

  "Famously don't have a sense of humor," Chris said. He looked at the angle and trajectory again and shrugged. The bad part of working for Skywatch was worrying about 'The Big One'. The good part was that nothing was ever an immediate emergency. Anything spotted was probably going to take a long time to get to Earth. "Mark and categorize. It's not on a track for earth. Angle's off, velocity is all wrong. Ask Calar to do another shot when they've got a free cycle. And we'd better keep an eye on it because with that velocity it's going to shoot through the entire system in a couple of years and if it hits anything it's going to be really cool."

  "You know what it looks like?"

  "Yeah. A Halo. Maybe it's the Covenant."

  Chris picked up his phone groggily and checked the number.


  "Chris? Sorry to wake you. It's Jon. Could you come in a little early today? We've got a manager's meeting."

  "What's up?" Chris asked, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. Jon Marin was the Director of Skywatch. He knew his managers didn't get paid enough to be woken up in the middle of their, equivalent, night.

  "It's Halo. There's been an . . . anomaly. We'll talk about it when you get in. We've got a video conference with Calar at four. Please try to be there."

  "Yes, sir," Chris said. He looked at the time and sighed. Might as well get up, day was shot to hell anyway.

  "Good afternoon, Doctor Heinsch . . ."

  Jon Marin, in spite of his name, looked and sounded like the epitome of a New York Jewish boy. Which was what he was. His first PhD was from NYU, followed by MIT and Stanford. His brother was a top-flight attorney in New York who pulled down a phone number every year. And his mother never let him forget it. He kept trying to point out he was a doctor to no avail.

  "Doctor Marin, Doctor Eisenbart, Doctor Fickle, Doctor Greenstein . . ."

  "Doctor." "Doctor." "Doctor." "Doctor."

  "As first discoverers we have named the object the Gudram Ring. This will, of course, have to be confirmed. But there is an anomaly we are having a hard time sorting out. We had a cycle which was doing a point to that portion of the sky but when we attempted to find the ring, it appeared to have disappeared."

  "Disappeared?" Chris said. "How does something ten kilometers across disappear?"

  "We wondered the same thing," Doctor Heinsch replied, soberly. "I was able to get authorization to do a sweep for it. It took three full sweeps."

  "Your sweeps cost about . . . ?" Dr. Marin said.

  "A million Euros for each. But something that was once there and now is not? We considered the outlay appropriate. And we were right. We finally found it. Here is the new data."

  The astronomers leaned forward and regarded the information for a moment.

  "It slowed down," Chris said after a moment. He finally found a finger that wasn't chewed to the quick and started nibbling. "Was there . . . It didn't have anything to cause a gravitational anomaly.
It's coming in from out of the plane of the ecliptic."

  Most of the 'stuff' in the inner solar system lay along a vaguely flat plane called the 'plane of ecliptic.' Earth, Mars, the asteroid belt, were all all formed when the sun was a flattened disc. The outer layers cooled and congealed into planets and then life formed and here we are. We are all star stuff.

  If the ring had been coming in along the plane it might have passed a moon or planet and had a change in velocity, what was referred to as a 'delta V.' But there weren't any planets 'up' in the solar system and it was inside the Oort Cloud.

  "Correct," Dr. Heinsch said as if to a particularly bright child. From the point of view of 'real' scientists, those who can do, those who can't teach and those who can't do or teach work for Skywatch.

  "Is this data confirmed?" Dr. Marin asked very cautiously. Skywatch generally only made the news when they screamed 'The sky is falling!' Since every time they'd screamed that it hadn't, they'd gotten very cautious. And this wasn't the sky falling. This was . . .

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