We are delighted to welcome Gavin G. Smith back to the Gollancz Blog for a special guest post. Gavin’s new book A Quantum Mythology is out in bookshops on Thursday and we are thrilled to share with you a deleted scene from it. Gavin G. Smith’s new epic space opera is a wide-ranging exploration of the past, present and future of mankind.
Enter the world of A Quantum Mythology . . .
In the far future, many years after the loss of earth, humanity has changed. Strength is the only way to survive. And the most vicious man alive has a new con in mind…
Here and now, a man with unnatural powers hunts down a killer with impossible abilities. Infused with a barely-understood alien technology, the two are merely pawns in a bigger game…
A long time ago, the last tribes of Northern Britain face an unimaginable enemy. Demons risen from the sea, absorbing and twisting everything they touch. But there are some among the tribes who have power, who will fight…
And all of these times are connected…
A note from Gavin: So this is basically a set up for events I can’t explain without spoiling. The events still happen but basically this scene was far to long for what it did narratively. I was also uncomfortable with how General Nix had become a war criminal (which was inspired in part by an early Pat Mills ABC Warriors story and the lyrics to Down in the Park by Gary Numan). Shame. I like it as an action scene.
Crabber reflected on just how difficult it was to become a war criminal these days. In the Thunder Squads he remembered laughing as he detonated nuclear charges that he’d set at the base of a starscraper on a Conflict Resolution world. The falling building had created a tectonic event, it had thrown enough debris into the air to block out the sun for several months, and it had killed tens of thousands of people, in part due to the domino effect. It would have killed more, but the naval military contractor had bombarded the planet with an experimental flesh-eating nanophage as part of an R&D initiative the week before. Most of the planet was already dead. The executive responsible for the nanophage had been fired, despite its success. It had rendered the biomass it had killed effectively unusable as raw material. Yes, you had to try very hard to be a war criminal these days. Impressively, General Nix had managed it.
Nix was not his real name. His real name was a series of mandibles clattering together and pheromone secretions. Nix was the name that had been given to him by the military contractor which had employed him. He was a warrior caste ‘sect who had been extensively hard-tech augmented for operations in normal and high-G environments. To Crabber’s mind that put him about one step below an Elite in just how dangerous he was.
Nix had been used to fighting ‘sect conflicts, in a ‘sect manner, on ‘sect hive habitats. The warrior caste had been bred for single-mindedness, though Nix’s intellect, individuality and, arguably, creative problem solving pointed to either a severe genetic abnormality or genetic manipulation, perhaps by his native hive queen.
The problem had come when he had been deciding on how to add a psychological warfare element to a conflict with an opposition that had largely been made up of humans. His answer had been to mass-produce simple, insectile, automatons designed to rape their victims to death.
There had been outcry from the Consortium population that claimed to still have a sense of decency. Crabber, for his part, suspected that they were just pissed off. There was an entertainment element to all conflicts. The rape machines had been a step too far for most people. Or so they claimed publicly. Crabber was of the opinion that Nix was a war criminal because he had spoiled a lot of people’s enjoyment of a good war. The problem was the public outcry meant they wanted Nix alive for a show trial. People wanted their pound of flesh when their fun was spoiled.
Crabber’s bounty crew, his imaginatively named Crabs, were a heavy team designed to take down heavy targets. Even so, they were taking no chances with Nix. A lot of debt relief had gone down on bribes to the queen of the Solitude Hive’s bureaucracy, to allow them to take in heavy weapons, combat hoppers and some heavy duty, and very illegal, software.
Nix’s second in command, and co-conspirator, was an electronic warfare specialist known as the Widow. She had begun life as a member of the worker caste in Nix’s home hive. Rumours abounded that the male worker had undergone a cosmetic/mechanical sex change to turn himself into what was called a princess ‘sect. She was also rumoured to have become an arachnid, a huge social stigma in ‘sect society. It had been the Widow who had designed and fabricated the rape machines.
Crabber’s electronic warfare people were closing in on the Widow. She spent most of her time immersed. If they could capture her by hacking the immersion then they could close down a significant amount of Nix’s protection, including the automated weapon systems in his sumptuous hive chamber and the small S-Sat network that she controlled, which helped protect the general.
The command hopper Crabber was riding in circled around one of the polygonal hive buildings. The huge buildings were clustered together in the centre of the massive hollowed-out asteroid habitat, and then spun slowly enough to provide microgravity. There was a hopper gunship in front and below the command craft, and another behind and above.
Crabber watched via an AV ‘face feed direct to his neunonics as his five best immersion warfare specialists closed in around the Widow. She existed in a ball of metal web at the centre of her ‘face network. The feed in Crabber’s head showed massive metal crab-like pincers closing on the ball.
“Well?” he asked the second head on his grotesquely broad shoulders. The automaton second head that Crabber shared his reconstructed hard-tech man-plus body with turned to look at him.
“This seems too easy,” Little Crabber said. The command hopper banked hard. Like Crabber, all the other Crabs in the Hopper had attached their heavy combat exoskeletons to the aircraft via locking slots on the cabin floor. The hopper’s cabin was wide open, and depending on what side they were on they got a good look at the composite polygonal cluster of the hive or the internal rock wall of the asteroid.
“Have we got her external media feeds spoofed?” Crabber asked. Little Crabber nodded. The automaton head wasn’t just a bizarre affectation designed to make people feel uncomfortable – the head was packed with electronic and immersive warfare hard- and liquid-ware. It was also detachable, and the stump contained very illegal corpse-hacking hard- and nano-ware. This was Crabber’s own little warcrime, and something that he liked to keep secret.
“I’m sending out the media tender now,” Little Crabber said. There was a moment’s delay. “We’re receiving bids.”
“Okay, drop the M-Sats,” Crabber told his second head. The hoppers started to defecate small, black spheres. Effectively modified P-Sats converted for media use. “Give the rights to the second highest bid.”
“Second bid?” Little Crabber checked. Crabber was running diagnostics on his internal systems, his armour, his close quarters assault cannon, and his P-Sat in its heavy combat chassis securely connected to the back of his armour.
“I know the company who made the highest bid, they’re arseholes.”
Little Crabber nodded.
Crabber groaned inwardly. Every time he did it, he felt like a whore. The classier bounty killers like Scab and Vic didn’t do this kind of thing. On the other hand, they didn’t have a crew of over twenty to look after, and a converted light freighter that wasn’t far off the specs of a frigate.
“That is a lot of debt relief,” Little Crabber pointed out. “It could change your credit rating.” Crabber checked the figure. It was indeed high. “We could do with a new fusion injection system for the drive.”
“Fuck’s sake. Fine,” Crabber muttered, and as soon as he said it he felt the violation of the immersion link. He ran neunonic routines designed to keep some of his more unpleasant thoughts secret, and locked off his memory, classifying much of his mind.
“We’ve got the Widow locked down, she is secure,” Little Crabber told him.
“All call signs, we are go,” he ‘faced to his Crabs.
The lead gunship turned to point in at the hive. It was going to seed a part of it with programmable smart explosives that would blow out a section of the composite material. Before it had the chance to do that the front of the hive exploded outwards. Crabber watched his clone insurance skyrocket, as the first hopper gunship tumbled slowly, in the microgravity, down between the hive and the asteroid wall, a crumpled, burning mess.
That’ll look bad in the media coverage, Crabber thought.
The gaping, smoking hole in the hive revealed its honeycombed interior. This part of the hive was for the wealthier inhabitants. The hexagonal chambers were made of dark composite material, a legal S-tech derivation of the resin that ‘sects themselves secreted. The chamber was large and spacious.
Through the various AV feeds ‘faced to him, Crabber could make out a very large, deceptively spindly-looking, six-limbed armoured sect stalking through the smoke to stand on the edge of the partially-destroyed hexagonal chamber, and raise one of its grafted weapons. General Nix fired a small fortune in autonomous, AG-driven micro munitions at the hopper. With a thought Crabber released the armour locks that kept him attached to the hopper, and he was in slow free-fall. A moment later the AG drive on his S-Sat kicked in, and drove him away from the command hopper. It blew up above him, multiple hits from the micro munitions reducing it to a rain of debris. Crabber saw more of his Crabs, those that like him had made it out of the hopper, exploding in mid air as more AG-driven micro munitions overwhelmed their armour.
Crabber curved back in towards the hive, smoking wreckage raining down on his combat exoskeleton. With a thought he triggered his CQAC, its hypersonic scream adding to the others as electromagnetic force drove the assembler-fed, heavy calibre, solid-state rounds towards the target.
Nix was running now. Strobing red light burnt through the smoke and debris, painting exoskeletons neon as their energy dissipation grids tried to cope with the laser fire. Crabber saw the General stagger from multiple hits but somehow still keep moving. The composite material of the honeycomb was being eaten away by fire from the third hopper.
“All call signs, we want him alive.” It was Little Crabber who had ‘faced the warning. The first of the Crabs to reach the ruined hive chamber were about to touch down.
“No, wait!” Crabber shouted over the ‘face link. The shockwave of the second blast sent him tumbling backwards into the air as the booby trap went off. Five more Crabs went tumbling slowly down the side of the hive, bouncing off it in torn and mangled combat exoskeletons.
There was more hypersonic screaming as the cut-down assault cannons fired. Crabber steadied himself, but he did not have a target. Information ‘faced from the other Crabs told him that they were firing blindly as well.
With a thought Crabber had his combat P-Sat power him towards the ruined chambers. He performed an active scan for explosives, but found nothing, though it was by no means conclusive. Through the smoke and debris he saw nothing, the resinous composite helping to mask heat signatures.
He flew through the smoke. Three more Crabs landed in the honeycomb chamber at the same time as him. He half expected it to explode again, but it didn’t. His S-sat separated from his combat exoskeleton. It was performing its own active scans, and ‘facing the data back to Crabber’s neunonics. Crabber stalked through the hexagonal chamber, moving the CQAB where he looked, checking everywhere.
There was an armoured immersion shell attached to one of the walls.
“The Widow’s in there, and secure,” Little Crabber assured him. The exit from the chamber was a rectangular hole that was starting to seal itself. Little Crabber ‘faced a hack through a backdoor he’d created in the Widow’s security system. The hole started to open again.
The first Crab made it to the exit. The anti-personnel mine imbedded in the composite material fired hundreds of armoured piercing flechettes though his helmet. The flechettes detonated when surrounded by warm flesh. Crabber kicked the headless corpse out of the way.
The headless corpse tumbled down the large drop immediately outside the exit, bouncing off more hexagonal chambers which arced down from Crabber’s level. He glanced up and saw more of the same, this time arcing upwards. There was another honeycombed polygon within the first. Between the two structures was a large gap. Warriors flew between them on armoured wings in the microgravity, workers had to make do with crawling along support struts.
The S-Sat secured itself to his combat exoskeleton again, and he launched himself into the gap, scanning all around. More of his Crabs joined him. The warrior caste ‘sects, many of them fraternally loyal to General Nix, had been ordered by the Queen of the Solitude Hive to stay out of the bounty hunters’ way.
One of the other Crab’s scans had found the target. The General was in a dive, trying to get under the curve of the inner hive polygon. Crabber and his people followed. Little Crabber ‘faced a request to the unhappy Queen for her to order her warriors, and other airborne inhabitants, out of the way. She reluctantly did so. Equally reluctantly, the warriors started to obey her.
The first line of red light connected one of the Crab’s S-sats to the general’s armoured wing. The General’s biotech energy dissipation matrix lit up. It happened again, and again, and then the general was tumbling in the microgravity, twisting, bringing weapons to bear. Electromagnetically driven rounds and beams of burning red light filled the air. The Crabs used AG stabilisers on their CQACs to make precision shots as they dived. They disabled and destroyed Nix’s weapon limbs.
Even as they closed with him the nearly weaponless general hadn’t finished. He wrapped power-assisted legs around the first one to reach him. Power-assisted mandibles bit through the reptile he/she’s faceplate, and then bit his/her face off.
Even when he bounced off the inward curve of the hive, at what passed for terminal velocity in Solitude, the general did not stop fighting. Crabber would have respected him if it hadn’t been so irritating.
In the end they got the general when he managed to stomp his way through the chest plate of one of the combat exoskeletons, and got his foot stuck in his victim’s chest cavity.
They surrounded him, covering him with the stubby barrelled cannons, and Crabber stepped forward with a thermal machete and hacked off his remaining limbs.
“So much for a new fusion injector,” Little Crabber muttered. He had been calculating the cost of the operation as they went along. If it hadn’t been for the immersion rights, they would have lost debt relief on this job.
Gavin G. Smith is the Dundee-born author of the hard edged, action-packed SF novels Veteran, War in Heaven, The Age of Scorpio and A Quantum Mythology, as well as the short story collection Crysis Escalation. He has colloboarted with Stephen Deas as the composit personality Gavin Deas and co-written Elite: Wanted, and the shared world series Empires: Infiltration and Empires: Extraction. You can find out more about Gavin by visiting his website or following him on Twitter @gavingsmith