Some bad ideas go back a long way and this one goes all the way back to the original home planet: Someone's god told them they had a right to more territory--so they figure they can take what they want by divine right. In the far future among the colonized worlds of the galaxy there's a war going on between the majority of civilized worlds and a colonial theocracy.Trystin Desoll grows up fighting against religious fanatics and becomes a hero, a first-class pilot, then, amazingly, a spy.What do you do if you're a relatively humane soldier fighting millions of suicidal volunteers on the other side who know that they are utterly right and you are utterly wrong, with no middle ground?Trystin Desoll has an idea. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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Tor Science Fiction
February 01, 1997
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Excerpt from Parafaith War by L. E. Modesitt Jr.
Trystin Desoll shifted in the control seat of East Red Three and tried to ignore the acrid smell of plastic decaying under the corrosive assault of Mara's atmosphere and the faint hint of ammonia that lurked in the corners of the perimeter station. Both odors mingled with the false citrus of too many glasses of Sustain mixed in the small galley behind the duty screens, and with the staleness of air recycled and reprocessed too many times.
At 13:02.51, his implant-enhanced senses seared alert-red, and Trystin stiffened, fingers reaching, implant clicking in. As his direct-feed commands flared through the station net, he could sense the shields dropping into place even before the faint vibrations through the station confirmed the electroneural signals.
"Revs at zero nine two--"
Before Ryla's words had reached his ears, Trystin triggered the direct-feed for the eastern sector, splitting his mental screen into the four all-too-familiar images. In the upper right were the forward reclamation towers, still well behind the eastern perimeter; in the upper left the line of brown-suited attackers; in the lower right the computer enhancement showing the various hidden defense emplacements, the attackers, and the probability figures for each system, the numbers changing as the revs moved toward the towers. The lower left simply showed the entire sector as if from a satellite plot, with a colored dot showing the location of the downed--and since destroyed--paraglider, a reconstruction of the probable revvie tracks, East Red Three itself, and the hazy spot where another storm was forming over the badlands to the northeast.
Trystin scanned the revvie communications band, ran the comps, realizing that the revs had almost reached the perimeter before the sensors had discovered them. He triggered the line of antisuit bomblets, checking the display that seemed to scroll before his eyes against each clickback, finally nodding as the mental images indicated that all the bomblets had vaporized. Immediately, the lower left display showed the slowing of the revs' advance.
Nearly simultaneously, he fired off a standard attack report to Perimeter Control, to keep them informed, not that they could help him now, but PerCon would be all over him if he reported the attack after the fact. That was one reason for the implant and standard format--it took less than an instant.
To take out the revs, Trystin could have gone with the gattlings, or with the laser, but the input from the scanners indicated new reflectives on the revvie suits. Besides, he preferred giving some of the revs a chance to survive, a preference that some of the other perimeter officers, especially Quentar, who was one of the duty officers in East Red Two immediately to the north, suggested might be Trystin's undoing.
According to the net's computations, there was a ninety-percent probability that the revvie assault had originated from the downed paraglider that had hit the badlands less than a day earlier. The radar-transparent paraglider had come from the revvie troid ship that had gotten through the SysCon DefNet before being neutralized by the backups. How many assault wings had gotten free before the neutralization was another question. So was how much equipment the revs had pulled out of the glider before the patrol wing had lobbed in rockets and scorched it out of existence.
Trystin needed to find out. So some of the revs would survive, not that they'd necessarily enjoy the experience.
"Ryla. Get the wagon ready for revvie pickup." Voice was slower than direct-feed, but the noncoms weren't equipped to handle direct-feed.
"Yes, ser. We need info, ser?"
"That's affirmative. Looks like a follow-up from that troid ship. The sensors didn't register. Run a sampling on the suit fabric of a deader. If it's new, let HQ know."
"There's at least one deader...the bomblets impacted a rev. The others are in shock, mostly milling around."
"We can use the organics. I won't be taking the wagon until they're almost stiffed."
"That's fine, so long as you get a couple. Use Block B. No double-celling, and if there are more than ten alive, use the end cells in A."
Trystin refocused on the close-up of a dozen figures--probably men, given the revvie ratios--in outside combat suits, the solid brown with the white lightnings of the Prophet running up the sleeves. The respirator hoods and low backpacks gave them a hulking appearance, even as the synthfab coveralls began to shred.
"Pretty new suits, ser," added Ryla.
"Only twenty years old," snorted Trystin.
"Still don't feel sorry for 'em, ser."
"No. You don't have to. Out." Trystin went back to the overhead view, clicking in the enhancers and trying to see if another squad of revs had surfaced anywhere in the red-brown hills beyond the perimeter.
With the ambient heat and the gusting winds, only motion analysis had much chance of picking up revs at any distance. The satellite feed didn't have tight enough discrimination for something as small as a trooper, not one in camouflage brown, and the high-intensity scanners on the perimeter towers lost discrimination beyond five kays--or the nearest hilltop.
Besides the revs, the near scanners were now showing the storm buildup, and that bothered Trystin. The revs, if there were any more in his sector, could almost walk to the perimeter behind the storm front, if it drifted westward--except the revs already had arrived almost unnoticed, and they shouldn't have been able to do that.
He flicked into the meteorological module. "Interrogative storm, badlands, outsector."
"Not projected to intersect perimeter line at this time." The words, and the supporting data, seemed to scroll across his mental screen before he clicked back into surveillance.
The screens showed no other revs, no sign of anything besides the badlands, the growing storm, and the normal backdrop. He took a deep swallow of Sustain from the cup in the holder, then swallowed before he clicked on-net, direct-feed priority to Ulteena, the sector watch to the south, and to Quentar, who was now on duty at East Red Two to the north.
"Trystin in East Red Three. Just had a revvie thrust from that paraglider. Single squad. Sensors didn't pick up revs until late. Might be something new."
"Thanks, Trystin. Nothing on the screens here. We'll keep a watch." Ulteena projected almost a cuddly feel through the net. Trystin snorted to himself. Her neutralization ratio was the highest on the eastern perimeter.
"Stet, buddy," came back from Quentar. "Clear here. We'll up-scan, though. Remember. The only safe rev's a dead rev."
"Just wanted you to know."
Trystin wiped his forehead, damp despite the cooling system. He sniffed. The station still smelled of Sustain, ammonia, and a bit of the floral incense Gerfel had burned to mask the acridness of the station's odors.
"Ser?" called Ryla. "They're all down. I'm taking the wagon."
"If it moves, nail it."
Trystin wiped his forehead again. He didn't need a non-com being wiped out by a deader play. Thanos knew when the station would get a permanent replacement if that happened, and he was already dead on his feet. The last thing he wanted to do was break in another tech.
He refocused on the split screens, but there was no discernible motion on any screen--either revs or local wildlife. Then, the last of the local hyenas had disappeared when the scumpers had. Trystin hadn't ever seen a scumper, but the system files showed them as oblong rough rocks with big extrudable feet, just the sort of thing to fascinate Salya. His ecoscientist sister had voiced more than a few doubts about the ethics of planoforming a planet with advanced life-forms, and for her a scumper was advanced.
Trystin half frowned and shifted his weight in the command seat, then scanned the power screen. The shrouded turbine fans were swiveled into the wind and holding at thirty percent of load, the balance coming from the fuel-cell banks in the plastcrete bunker beneath the station. After checking the fuel status, he triggered a request for resupply. The organonutrient glop was low, and tankers didn't run the perimeter lines when the revs were out.
The winds had been low lately, and that meant the station was drawing more from the fuel cells. He shook his head as he realized that he hadn't deployed the fan shields. There was too damned much to think about and too little time when the revs appeared without any warning. At least, he'd had the power, but that wouldn't have counted for much if one of the revs had punched holes through the blades or jammed the bearings with shrapnel. Neither Ryla nor PerCon would have been too happy.
Hhhstttt...craccckkkk!!! The storm that had begun to form above the badlands discharged into the dry wash five kays east of the tower.
He almost screamed with the intensity of the static before the overload breakers cut in. His hands trembled, and his eyes watered.
"Ser? You all right?"
"Friggin' stormlash...that's all." Trystin shook his head, angry that he'd actually broadcast. His implant cutoffs should have dropped him off-line more quickly. Idiot, he thought.
"Times, ser, I'm real glad I'm just a noncom."
Hhhstttt...craccckkkk!!! The second static flash wasn't as bad as the first, but his system still twitched. He kept his mouth shut, idly wishing that the station could tap the storm's power, as he watched Ryla guide the pickup wagon along the line beyond the perimeter, checking the area beyond the bomblet line. As the big-tired wagon passed, designed to keep from sinking into the too-fine soil, Ryla placed a replacement bomblet in each of the holders, and triggered their retraction into the artificial cacti. In one way, the revs were lucky. The antisuit bomblets were only installed around the stations. If they'd attacked the towers, it would have been gattlings or rockets, neither of which left much--except a crude form of fertilizer.
The wagon scooped the inert figures into the numbered bins.
"Pickup and replacement complete, ser. Looks like about five live, and seven for organics."
Trystin continued to scan the perimeter at high intensity until the telltales showed the wagon inside the station and the five captives in their cells in Block B.
"They're in, ser. Five are breathing."
"Stet. Mangrin will be pleased."
"So will Yressa. She likes making those revvie boys work."
Trystin pursed his lips, then steeled himself as his visuals picked up the lightning stroke.
After the shiver passed, he listened.
"She says they'll make that island bloom yet," Ryla continued.
"Maybe. She'll have to convince them that it's the will of the Prophet. You ready to go back on the board?"
"Yes, ser. Just a minute. Got to get the wagon in the stall."
Trystin waited, still scanning the screens, but there were no signs of the other revvie squads, although he and Ryla knew the paragliders carried more than a single squad, usually a lot more. Where those squads might be in the twisted hills of the badlands was another question, although Trystin would have liked to have known. Then, so would PerCon.
"Stet. Going down to see our visitors. Let me know about the suit stuff after I get back."
"Luck, ser. Don't be too nice."
As the storm rose, Trystin checked the fans--carrying half the load. Maybe that would slow down organonutrient use in the fuel cells. With a deep breath, he slipped out of the command seat and walked down the narrow steps to the lower level, to the right and through the permaplast door into Block B.
After ensuring the block door was closed behind him, he triggered the combat reflex biofeedback, unarmed module, and slipped through the sliding grate into the cell of the first rev--blond-haired and blue-eyed, like most of them, and probably in his early twenties, T-time.
The young military missionary launched himself right at Trystin, seemingly in slow motion, as Trystin stepped aside and his hands moved through two short arcs. The rev lay gasping on the stone floor for a minute, then lurched toward the Coalition officer. Trystin's knee snapped across the revvie soldier's shoulder, and threw the man against the stone wall.
"Are you finished?" Trystin asked conversationally.
"That's not the question. I'd prefer not to hurt you." Trystin watched, saw the tensing muscles and stepped inside the rush, using his elbow and stiffened fingers to drop the rev back onto the stone.
"We could keep this up all day, but sooner or later, I'm going to miscalculate and really hurt you. Not that it matters to you. You're perfectly willing to die for the Prophet." Trystin paused, watching the rev and his eyes. "Have you considered that, since you're alive, He might have some use for you besides fertilizer?"
"Fert--" The soldier snapped his mouth shut.
"All the stories are true. We can't afford to waste anything here. Who knows? If you keep this up until I have to kill you, you just might end up as fertilizer or as nutrients for the pork industry. We keep the pigs in tunnels," Trystin lied.
"Golem! Infidel? Why should I believe anything you say?"
"Because I could have killed you and didn't. Because what happens to you depends on me." Trystin's eyes fixed on the other, triggering the superacute hearing. "How I many squads came in on that glider?"
"Four" came through the subvocalization even as the rev snapped, "None but ours."
"Four," mused Trystin, direct-feeding the information to Ryla's console.
"Four? Shit, Lieutenant," responded Ryla through the link. "We got nothing on the screens."
"Did you get all your equipment out of the glider?"
"Yes..." "I don't know."
"Did the other squads have back-strapped heavy weapons?"
"I don't know."
"How long are the others supposed to stay under cover?"
"Days..." came the subvocalization, followed by the spoken words, "I don't know."
"How many glider wings were there on the mother troid?"
"Twenty... " subvocalized, followed by the spoken, "I don't know."
"How many gliders came off the mother troid?"
"I don't know." Subvocalization revealed nothing. A line soldier who wasn't much more than the Prophet's gattling feed wouldn't know, but Trystin had hoped.
"Was your troid one of the new ones with twenty in-system scouts?"
"Thirty...golem... " followed by, "I don't know."
Hsssttt! Despite the static burst from the storm and the headache, Trystin forced himself to remain calm.
"Was your Sword a Cherubim?"
"Seraphim." "I don't know."
"A Seraphim? My goodness. And did your troid bring in an EMP-Slam?"
"...'course..." covered by the inevitable question, "What's that?"
"Is it hot in those new suits?"
"Yes." "I don't know."
"How many of the other squads were angels?"
"One." "I don't know what you're talking about, golem."
"Any of you have fun with the angels?"
The rev lurched at Trystin, who blurred aside and let him crash into the wall.
"It's nice to know that you do have some remotely human drives," Trystin found himself saying conversationally. Careful...you're not supposed to bait them. Careful--the warning seared through him from somewhere. He took a deep breath.
"You going to kill me now? Turn me into fertilizer?" The blue eyes were bleak, and Trystin almost felt sorry for him. Almost.
"No." Not yet, thought Trystin. Not that I care. After triggering the door, he slipped outside and let the door seal the rev inside.
Outside, Trystin dropped a physiological overlay in place to call up some reserves for a few minutes, then took a series of deep breaths, letting the strength flow back into him. He'd pay for it later.
Even after months of sporadic interrogations, he still wasn't used to the mindless hatred the revs had been indoctrinated with or the fact that they saw Coalition officers as golems, more machines than human. Trystin didn't appear different from any other human, and looked, unfortunately, more like a rev than an Eco-Tech. He wasn't wired with metal--his implant was totally organic and invisible.
After a last deep breath, he triggered the second door and stepped around the moving grate and into the next cell, link-closing it behind him.
"You creatures really are part of the machinery." Another blond-haired blue-eyed rev, older than the first, studied him. "Indoc or
"Interrogation." Trystin noted the muscular tightening. "I wouldn't."
"Golems, aren't you? All machine, no soul." The muscles relaxed, but not totally. "Worse than the Immortals. You even look like a son of the Prophet. Did they re-create you in that image?"
"Hardly. I was born this way." Trystin continued to monitor the rev's muscular tension. "Did you really expect that a glider with only four squads could do much?"
"Hoped" was the subvocalization. "That wasn't my duty, ser."
Trystin tried not to frown. The "ser" bothered him. "Did you really want to throw away a squad of angels?"
"No." There was no conflict between the answer and the subvocal message.
The man was clearly an officer who'd been thoroughly briefed on Coalition officers' capabilities. Trystin pushed. "Why are you hiding that you're an officer?"
"I'm not hiding anything. You never asked."
"Why were you in the first attack?"
Trystin wanted to shake his head. All the subvocalization detection wouldn't help in the slightest if he couldn't keep the other man off balance.
"What's your rank?"
"Assistant Force Leader."
"What squad was the Force Leader with?"
"Second" was followed by the verbal, "He stayed with the other squads."
"What do you really hope to get from these attacks?" Trystin let his voice become more conversational.
"Officially, that would be for others to say, ser."
"What do you want?"
"To wipe that mechanically superior grin off your young face."
"Do you want to live?"
The subvocalized "Yes" was followed by, "I'm not that certain survival is an option. You people don't seem to believe in the sacredness of life."
"Do you?" snapped Trystin.
"Then why are you out here trying to kill us?" Trystin wished he had bitten back the words. The man was getting to him. How could anyone who belonged to a faith, a system, that sent thousands of young troopers out to die, just to wear the Eco-Tech systems down for conquest--how could he claim that life was sacred?
"...abominations...not real life..." "You surrendered your souls."
"Is that why the troid ship was carrying an EMP-Slam?"
"Yes." "I wasn't aware of that."
"How many more troid ships followed yours?"
"Three...think." "That's certainly none of my business."
"How many wings cleared the troid before you?"
"None." "I don't know."
"How many come after you?"
"...three...more..." "I'm not a pilot, ser."
"How many troids are scheduled to attack Mara in the next year?"
"I don't know. Until the land belongs to the Lord."
"Are all your troops--"
"They aren't troops. They're missionaries."
"Excuse me. Are all your armed missionaries wearing the new suits?"
"When will you start bringing in heavier weapons?"
"Soon." "When the Lord wills."
Trystin looked at the composed man who stood there in what amounted to a white shipsuit. All the telltales and scans indicated, prisoner or not, that the rev was indeed as composed as he looked. "Won't you ever stop?"
"No. Not while we're about the Lord's business."
"Why does the Lord's business just involve our real estate? Why don't you go after the Hyndjis or the Argentis?"
"...go after abominations..." "We follow the Lord's will."
Trystin shook his head, and stepped back.
"While I believe, nothing you say, golem, can shake me."
As the cell door shut, Trystin was certainly aware of the truth of the rev officer's convictions, and that nothing any outsider could say would shake his faith. Outside in the corridor, Trystin gathered himself together before entering the third cell, trying to ignore the more prevalent odor of ammonia and the ultrafine grit that seemed to settle everywhere in the blocks.
Trystin triggered the grate and stepped into the third cell.
The cold green eyes of the third rev looked at Trystin impassively, then his body lurched upward and toward the tech officer, almost as though independent of the rev himself.
Red seared through Trystin's system, more quickly than the mentally scripted alert system, or the report of electromuscular generation, and the door was opening as he kicked the rev back and threw himself out the door, triggering its emergency closure before he was quite clear of the cell.
His boots scraped the door, and some of the force of the explosion skidded him along the smooth stones of Block B, but he scrambled to his feet and looked back toward the bulging grate-door to the third cell. Wisps of greasy smoke curled through the bent frame of the door.
Blood dripped from the side of his jaw as Trystin scanned the corridor, then shook his head, and called his implant into the maintenance level. Only the single cell was damaged.
Now the smell of explosives, smoke, and charred meat joined the fainter odor of ammonia. Trystin swallowed hard.
"We've got a new wrinkle, Ryla. Put this on-line, for all perimeter stations--no...I'll do it." Trystin took another deep breath and walked slowly back up toward the control center. After the heavy door to Block B closed behind him, he off-lined the unarmed combat step-up and the acute hearing and slogged toward the console seat, where he slumped as he coded the transmission. He took a long swallow of Sustain and walked to the galley to mix more as he direct-fed the message through his implant.
"PerCon, from East Red Three. New rev tactic. Bioelectric detonation of organic explosives..." After checking the data picked up by the scanners, he went on to summarize the use of biologically generated electric fields to detonate pseudomuscle or bone mass that was actually a form of plasex. "...thus, scanners pick up no electronic components. The electric generation is apparently triggered by a crude form of biofeedback. Could be dangerous for interrogators or others in direct rev contact."
He poured the Sustain powder into the glass and stirred, taking the glass back to the console seat with him.
Almost as the report went direct-feed, Ulteena clicked in.
"Sounds nasty. How are you, machman?"
"Sore. Few cuts. Angry. Why don't they leave us alone?"
"'Cause the Prophet says we're the ungodly and golems. Or worse--descendants of the cursed immortals."
"Shit, we both fought the immortals. That's why old Earth and Newton are charred cinders."
"They've got a selective memory for history. You know that. So get some rest, and snap clean."
"I will. I will. After I download the interrogations and the info."
"Always the one to do it proper." Her voice--direct-fed or not--gentled.
"I know." The last transmission was even softer before she off-lined.
He wondered what Ulteena looked like, since they'd never synced off duty. He shrugged. Probably not at all cuddly, but with shoulders broader than his and a nose sharper than a skimmer prow.
With another deep breath, he clicked into the log and began to itemize the results of the interrogation, including the facts that there might be as many as another sixty paragliders swirling into Mara's atmosphere, if they weren't already, not to mention that the troid ships were now carrying thirty in-system scouts, and that three more squads from the downed glider had yet to show up. He added the business about the insulation and the continued determination of the revs that Mara would fall to the Prophet.
"You were right about the fabric on the revvie suits. Something new, and it's not only heat-shielding, but wave-transparent. I direct-lined the results to HQ, and they asked me to send a sample on the shuttle. It'll be ready for the afternoon pickup."
When the log-out report was in-lined and out on the DistribNet, Trystin sat back in the command seat. Then he sat up and refocused on the scanners in the two cells holding the revs he hadn't interrogated.
They scanned clean, right down to muscle density.
He looked up.
Gerfel stood beside him, stocky, dark-skinned, and dark-haired. "You ought to be careful. Could have been a rev."
"Shit...good luck. Revs up to some new stuff. In-feed the log before you scan."
"I mean it. They got new suit shields and new tricks."
"Praise their friggin' prophet."
"I wouldn't." He paused. "We pulled in five--in Block B. I only got through three of them. One of them exploded-suicide-type. There are two left. Can you handle them?"
"Can I handle them? I've been doing this longer than you have."
"I know. But B three is a mess. Rev was a live bomb. Bioorganic explosives. I did scans on the last two. They look clean, but be careful. Bastards really explode in your face."
"So that's why you look like that."
"Yeah. Be careful."
"I will. Especially now." Gerfel paused and offered a slight smile. "One thing I like about you, Trystin. You're lucky, and that counts for a lot."
"Can't always afford to count on it." Trystin climbed out of the command seat.
"No. But it helps."
"I've got it."
Trystin logged out and off-lined, sensing Gerfel's aura on the net as she slipped in. He cleared his throat. "The incense helps. Thanks."
"Not enough, pretty boy, but I'm glad it takes some of the edge off."
He forced a smile before turning. His legs felt watery as he walked toward his cubicle.
"Off-line, Ryla. Gerfel's on. Call her if another batch of revs pops up before you're relieved." It wasn't likely, not with the noncom relief a half a stan after the duty officer, but Trystin didn't know what else to say.
He trudged onward, thinking that he really should be going to the exercise room. He really should, but his feet carried him toward his cubicle, and his bunk.
He managed to lie down and close his eyes before the wave of blackness washed over him. Eight and a half hours on-line with an hour of step-up--too much, far too much.