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Machine Gods (Star Crusades Nexus, Book 2), page 1


Machine Gods (Star Crusades Nexus, Book 2)

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Machine Gods (Star Crusades Nexus, Book 2)

  Machine gods


  By Michael G. Thomas

  First Edition

  Copyright © 2012 Michael G. Thomas

  Published by Swordworks Books

  All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

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  It was nineteen years since the last battles of the Great Uprising had been won in 340CC. That terrible war had started as a decade-long series of violent terrorist actions that exploded into open revolt on a number of worlds. The Confederacy was almost totally destroyed, with entire planets turning to join the rebels and their violent pseudo-religious faction. From the violence of that war, emerged the creation of the Centauri Alliance, an artificial political and social structure that absorbed billions of war-weary citizens. The worlds that once fought on opposite sides joined together into this new Alliance, and much to the surprise of its many critics, the Alliance survived. As years move to decades of relative peace, a new golden age for mankind seemed just on the horizon. Scores of well-established colonies now existed in worlds of Alpha Centauri as well as Sol, the ancient solar system that housed the original eight planets of humanity. Out on the fringes, a whole array of new colonies was founded as far away as Epsilon Eridani, Gliese 876 and Procyon. These new colonies were only a few months or years old, but already great fleets of industrial ships and corporations plowed their way through space to exploit them in every conceivable way. The vast populations from the overpopulated worlds like Carthago, Prime and Terra Nova flocked to the new opportunities offered outside of their old systems.

  In the middle of the Great Uprising, an Anomaly was found that connected Proxima and Alpha Centauri together. This technology was quickly reverse engineered, and the construction of the Network began. By creating a series of artificial Spacebridges, it became possible to connect stars and worlds several light years away. In a matter of months whole chains of these Rifts, as they became known as, were constructed, and the Alliance expanded at an exponential rate. Whole industrial, commercial, and civilian corporations were founded to take advantage of every new world and resource that was located and made available.

  It was not just the children of Earth that now lived in this new age of mankind. A new race now shared their worlds; one created as terrible weapons in the war during the Uprising. Large numbers of these monstrous beings were saved from the thrall of the enemy, and they soon became the most dependable soldiers in the last years of the War. Now that the fighting was over, these Jötnar, as they were named as, had found peace on their prized planet. This almost inhospitable jungle world was called Hyperion; a planet seeded with vegetation back when the first colonists had arrived in Alpha Centauri so many hundreds of years earlier. It was this world that had been the scene of the last battle of the War. A terrible and savage battle that stopped the violence but also gave Alliance scientists clues to create a new kind of Spacebridge; one that when built in the appropriate place, could take them further than just a few light years, and one that after years of hard work would send humanity out to the Orion Nebula and their encounter with destiny.

  It was in this new part of the galaxy that the greatest discoveries were yet to be made. Alliance ships soon moved into the area of space around the first star system to be explored, New Charon, and in less than a year, a dozen primitive colonies were under construction. Tens of thousands of citizens uprooted and moved in to explore and harvest the riches that were there. Alliance scientists sent their top people to study the newly discovered technologies that were smashed and abandoned on many of the planets and moons. This was also the first confirmation that sentient life had been found outside of the human worlds.

  All of these discoveries paled into insignificance when compared to the first contact between humanity and their brothers in the stars; a race of people know only as the T’Kari. A people of knowledge and technology, they numbered in just the tens of thousands after having been almost completely annihilated by the same enemy that clawed at the worlds of the Alliance. With offers of peace and equality, the T’Kari requested and was granted status as citizens of the Alliance, and the first stage of the multi-species Alliance began.

  The Alliance appeared strong, with its scores of worlds, billions of citizens, thousands of marines, and fleets of military ships. The hidden enemy, one that had plotted and connived to bring down the Confederacy appeared to have vanished, perhaps forever. All that remained were its violent children that included T’Kari Raiders, a small group of corsairs and bandits that flocked like carrion to the weak worlds of their kin whenever the situation favored them. If only the Raiders had given as much thought to the Jötnar as they had to raiding civilian outposts. It was the only way the Black Rift would have avoided discovery by the Alliance.


  Trade and industry were the prime drivers behind the first Terran colonies that spread out from Earth and the other planets of the Solar System. As people settled on new and fragile colonies, so did their need for supplies and materials increase. Moving ahead to the new worlds of the Alliance that were spread over many light years, and it is easy to see how so many major trade corporations were able to thrive. As each new moon or planet was opened up for exploitation, a gold rush of civilian companies would rush in to snap up the mineral, settling, and trade rights. Without this successful and competitive industry, it might have taken centuries to make progress in the Orion Nebula, as opposed to the much shorter reality of just a few years.

  Origins of Private Space Travel

  Teresa Morato checked the scanner one last time as the heavily modified six-wheeled Bulldog moved down from the ridge. The large, bulbous tires stuck out underneath to fill the flanks of the V-shaped hull. Originally intended for use in asymmetric warfare, they were one of the few survivable vehicles in the Alliance inventory for use against both mines and missile systems. Two more identical vehicles bumped along the trail behind them, leaving a long dust trial that followed them like a clou
d of flies. The road on the moon of Zatha Seven was in a poor state of repair, much like all the facilities on the inhabited moon. This didn’t make it unique though, as it was the same through the rest of the T’Kari colonies that had survived the ravages of the genocide committed against them over the last hundred years. None of the thriving cities on the planets remained, just the shattered remnants of a few dozen moons where they had lived in hiding for so long.

  “Drone is in range, feed coming up now,” said one of the technical operatives who sat behind the driver, facing a number of video screens.

  On cue, the three cameras on board the aircraft appeared on one of the flat panel displays. Like all the equipment in the vehicle, it was heavily reinforced and embedded into the internal bulkheads of the Bulldog. The video feeds included detailed data on height and target identification. Teresa examined all three, her eyes darting between the many shapes. From the air, the compound looked quite small, but Teresa recalled the briefing she’d had via videoconference less than an hour earlier. More importantly though, she knew how big the colony was that lay beneath it.

  “Any idea why they hit this one?” asked the technician.

  Teresa ignored him and pointed at the shapes on the display.

  “Are these all the landers that we detected during our descent?”

  The man nodded.

  “Yes, that’s also backed up by the distress data sent to us before the civilians went dark.”

  “Show it to me.”

  The man seemed a little irritated at being ordered about, yet Teresa Morato ignored it. She was thinking of the mission now and nothing else. The man could think about whatever he liked, providing it didn’t interrupt her operation. The last video transmission from the colony appeared on the screen closest to her; the voice of the T’Kari male speaking automatically translated by his suit’s translators.

  Are they ever out of those damned suits? she thought, skipping to the part she was most interested in.

  “...thirty-two minutes ago. Our surveillance masts detect three Raider vessels. Our defenses have destroyed one...”

  Teresa moved her hand across the display to jump ahead fifteen seconds.

  “...landed. Forty, no fifty Raiders and a machine. Retreating underground.”

  The face of the T’Kari male moved closer to the screen; his face looked pained and sweat ran down his face. Even though he wore a visor, it was clear, and so every hair was visible on the high-definition video. Gunshots were now audible in the distance, as well as the crump of explosions. To Teresa’s trained ear, it seemed to be specifically grenades and there were the unmistakable cracks of L42 rifles.

  That has to be what was left of our security unit, she thought angrily.

  The moon was a low priority mining outpost for the T’Kari, and APS had been contracted to bolster the security with just a single six-man team, including communications gear and a single air defense unit.

  “Please hurry, we cannot hold out much...”

  He then staggered backward and lurched to the side as if being struck by a heavy object. Dark armored shapes rushed past before the video feed finally cut. Teresa wiped her brow and looked back to the aerial feed. She counted the shapes with her hand, mentally comparing what she saw with the video from the T’Kari and the other signals from inside the compound.

  “Okay, we’re in the right place. Those must be the landers. Look at the outline. They are the same specification as the light transports the T’Kari use as heavy loaders or shuttles.”

  The ex-military vehicles made quick progress over the uneven surface as their semi-active suspension made minute adjustments with each revolution of the wheels. The high-speed shook the passengers about, and it was only the semi-stabilized mounting used on the seating that allowed Teresa to continue to watch the screen with any kind of accuracy.

  “Look!” said the technician.

  He pointed at the landers, and a column of figures moving off to the right on the third display unit. The first of the group reached what looked like a wall or perhaps an entry point to the compound. One of the shapes staggered and then dropped to the ground. A white flash sent dust out from the wall before the attackers unleashed a fusillade of gunfire. They then continued into the breach as more and more figures rushed out from the landers. Teresa slammed her fist down onto the flat metal mounting near the display.

  “Damn it, they are inside already. We’re going to be too late,” she muttered bitterly.

  Teresa wiped her long black hair away from her face and focused her efforts on the task at hand. She had a lot to worry about these days and not just this operation. Being ex-military though, she knew when it was time to switch off and to concentrate. For the next few minutes, or however long this took, the operation would be the only thing to occupy her mind. The screen to her left showed four video feeds from the civilian compound that was home to almost a thousand T’Kari. The ancient masonry was being blasted to powder, as several teams of lightly colored Raiders rushed through the complex. She tapped the driver on the shoulder.

  “How much longer?”

  “Less than a minute. When we hit the next bend, we’ll be at the breached perimeter.”

  “Good,” she replied calmly.

  Teresa Morato then turned her attention to the forward facing screen. Unlike most civilian vehicles, the Bulldog had no windows or vision slits. Instead, the entire front was a large display that showed camera feeds in all directions from the vehicle. Teresa tapped the left screen to bring up the layout of all three Bulldogs. They had been heavily modified to carry her unique cargo, three teams of Jötnar warriors. These three-meter tall synthetic creatures had been the final generation of Biomechs created in the Uprising, but they had become some of the most stalwart and courageous fighters in the Alliance.

  “Okay, this is it. Now remember, the compound is twenty meters underground. We breach the perimeter and then take the two entry points so that none of them can get out. One team per breach and Gun’s hunting party.”

  Gruff acknowledgements came back from the other two vehicles. She glanced over her shoulder and to the massive armored form of Gun. He was the leader by rights of seniority of his people, yet these last few months had been spending time filtering groups of Jötnar to the APS private security firm. Officially, this was just a way for them to earn money, but Teresa knew better than that. He was using APS as a way of keeping his youngest warriors experienced and ready. Not that Teresa minded; the two were close friends with a long history. She smiled at him, and he returned it with a slow nod.

  Typical Gun, she thought.

  “Ten seconds!” shouted the driver.

  Teresa took a last calm breath before giving the command.

  “All teams, weapons free!”

  The three armored vehicles slid around the final bend and crashed through what remained of the damaged perimeter fencing. It was a new addition to the site, as were all the buildings on the surface. A dozen corporations were already busy with their deals on these moons, and she could see their motley collection of equipment, machines, and vehicles all over the complex. But more importantly, they were already burning. Teresa glimpsed the scanner built into the display, noting that over thirty bodies had already been identified in just a few seconds.

  That’s not why we’re here. We need to get to the T’Kari, and fast!

  The small armored column pushed onward and through the outer section of the compound. This was the least developed part of the site, and mainly consisted of a rough road and stacks of raw materials, many of which had now toppled over. In the distance were a number of thick, black smoke columns. They drifted upward in lazy spirals, disappearing into the ink blackness of the sky. The effect was mesmerizing, but Teresa was alert. She found the first target before the computers could even differentiate them from the ground clutter. Two Raider ships of T’Kari design were waiting out in the open. Each was twice the size of an Alliance shuttle, and she quickly estimated they could carry about f
ifty people, perhaps more. Shapes moved about them, armored forms in lightly colored plates of ballistic armor.

  “Raiders,” she said under her breath.

  Each Bulldog was had a robotic turret mount fitted to the topside of the vehicle. It was equipped with a pair of chain-fed L48 cannons that fired the large 12.7mm caliber rounds previously used in the Marine Corps. These projectiles were variable mode charges that detonated on contact or proximity, depending on the setting chosen. All three of them opened fire at the same time, and the effect was devastating. Those Raiders caught out in the open were shredded by the overwhelming firepower. A few returned fire; but their rounds bounced harmlessly off the double layered plating on the Bulldogs. They crashed through the Raiders and moved on and toward the two entrances that led into the main compound. One Bulldog continued firing at the Raiders foolish enough to not hide, while the other two tore chunks of the two spacecraft sitting impotently on the open landing pad. The ammunition did terrible work at this range, and the two were quickly rendered useless by the attack.

  “Good work, prepare to dismount!” Teresa said, doing her best stay calm. Her pulse was now pounding with nerves and excitement. She’d experienced battle many times before, but the thrill it gave her had never left, not even since leaving the Corps so many years before.

  Do I miss it? Hell I do!

  Her Bulldog screeched to a halt, and the large armored door on the right dropped down to form a sturdy ramp to the surface.

  “Go!” roared Gun.

  Gun was first out of the Bulldog and running for the dark octagonal doorway that was cut into the rock. It had already been badly damaged, presumably by the Raiders. Teresa watched him from the camera feed in the vehicle. He was inside the structure as the last of his team jumped down from the ramp. She spotted the darkened doorway flash several times, and then the other three were inside and following him in. Teresa looked back to her bank of video screens; each showing multiple feeds from the modified military armor all the operatives wore. As private contractors, they made use of surplus military gear and this was no exception. With the disbanding of the Jötnar Battalion, a great deal of military equipment for their oversized bodies had been sold off cheaply. Gun had been able to purchase large amounts of it while the rest was melted down for scrap or bought by companies like APS. Jötnar smiths on Prometheus and Hyperion had produced aftermarket ballistic plates that were now fitted at key points along the shoulder, chests, and elbows.

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