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Jack Campbell is the pseudonym for John G. Hemry, a retired Naval officer and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. As Jack Campbell, he writes The Lost Fleet series of military science fiction novels. He also wrote the Stark's War and JAG in Space series under his real name.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Treason could be as simple as walking through a doorway.
At least that was true anywhere ruled by the Syndicate Worlds, and when the doorway in question had stenciled on it in large, red letters the wordsUnauthorized Access Forbidden OBSTLT. CEO Artur Drakon, commander of Syndicate World ground forces in the Midway Star System, had spent his life following rules like that and only partly because everyone knew that OBSTLT stood for Or Be Subject to Life Termination. “Death” was the sort of blunt term that the Syndicate Worlds’ bureaucracy liked to avoid no matter how freely it meted out that punishment.
No, he had obeyed because there hadn’t been much choice while the endless war with the Alliance continued, when disobedience could leave a path open for the enemy to destroy homes and cities and sometimes entire worlds. And if the enemy didn’t destroy your home as a result of your rebellious behavior, and if you somehow escaped the long and powerful reach of internal security, then the mobile forces of the Syndicate Worlds themselves would rain down death on your world from orbit in the name of law, discipline, and stability.
But now the war had ended in exhaustion and defeat. No one trusted the Alliance, but they had stopped attacking. And the mobile forces of the Syndicate Worlds, the once–unassailable fist of the central government, had been almost wiped out in a flurry of destruction wrought by an Alliance leader who should have been dead a century ago.
That left the ISS, the Internal Security Service, to worry about. The “snakes” of the ISS were a very big worry indeed, but nothing that he couldn’t handle now.
Drakon walked through the doorway. He could do that because multiple locks and codes had already been overridden, multiple alarm systems had been disabled or bypassed, a few deadly automated traps disarmed, and four human sentries in critical positions had been turned and now answered to him rather than to CEO Hardrad, head of internal security. All of this had been done on Drakon’s orders. But until Drakon entered the room beyond he could claim to have been testing internal defenses. Now he had unquestionably committed treason against the Syndicate Worlds.
Drakon had expected to feel increased tension as he entered that room; instead, a sense of calm filled him. Retreat and alternate paths were no longer possible; there was no more room for uncertainty or questioning his decision. Within the next several hours, he would either win or die.
Inside, his two most trusted assistants were already busy at separate consoles. Bran Malin’s fingers were flying as he rerouted and diverted surveillance data from all over the planet which should be streaming into the Internal Security Service headquarters complex. On the other side of the room, Roh Morgan used one hand to flick a strand of hair from her eyes as she rapidly entered false surveillance feed loops designed to fool the automated systems at ISS into thinking that everything still worked properly. Drakon was dressed in the dark blue executive ensemble every CEO was expected to wear, an outfit he personally detested, but both Malin and Morgan were clad in the tight, dull black skin suits designed to be worn under mechanized combat armor. The skin suits also served well on their own for breaking and entering, though.
Malin sat back, rubbing his neck with his right hand, then smiled at Drakon. “ISS is blind, sir, and they don’t even know it.”
Drakon nodded as he studied the display. “Malin, you’re a wizard.”
Morgan stretched like a cat, lithe and deadly, then stood up, leaning against the nearest wall with her arms crossed. “I’m the one who got us in here and entered the deception loops. What does that make me?”
“A witch?” Malin asked, his expression and voice deadpan.
For a moment, Morgan tensed, then one corner of her mouth curled upward as she gazed at Malin. “Did I tell you that I’d calculated the lowest possible cost to fire a single shot from a hand weapon, Malin?”
“No. Why should I care?”
“Because it came out to thirteen centas. That’s why you’re still alive. I realized killing you wasn’t worth the expense.”
Malin bared his teeth at her as he drew his combat knife and balanced it on one palm. “This wouldn’t cost a centa to use. Go ahead and give it a try.”
“Nah.” Morgan stood away from the wall, flexing her hands. “I’d still have to put some effort into it, and like I said, you’re not worth whatever energy it would take to kill you. CEO Drakon, we should eliminate those four sentries. They could still betray us.”
Drakon shook his head. “They were promised that if they played along they, and their families, wouldn’t be killed.”
“So? If they were stupid enough to believe the promise of a CEO—”
“It was my promise,” Drakon interrupted. “I made a commitment. If I violate that, I won’t be able to count on anyone else’s believing I’ll do what I say.”
Morgan shook her head with a long–suffering look. “That’s the attitude that got you stuck out here in the back end of nowhere. As long as they’re afraid of you, it doesn’t matter whether or not they believe you.”
Malin pretended to applaud, his palms clapping together silently. “You know the first workplace rule for Syndicate Worlds’ CEOs. Very good. Now think about the fact that we lost the war.”
“I operate the way that works for me,” Drakon told Morgan, who was pretending not to have heard Malin.
She shrugged. “It’s your rebellion. I’ll check on the assault preparations and get the troops moving as planned.”
“Let me know if any problems develop,” Drakon replied. “I appreciate your support in this.”
“That was always a given.” Morgan started to leave, now ignoring Malin’s presence completely.
“And, Morgan . . .”
She paused in the doorway.
“The sentries will not be killed.” He said it flatly and with force.
“I heard you the first time,” Morgan replied, then continued on out.
After the door closed, Malin looked at Drakon. “Sir, if she notifies the snakes of what we’re planning, she’ll end up in command and you’ll be dead.”
Drakon shook his head. “Morgan won’t do that.”
“You can’t trust her. You must know that.”
“I know that she is loyal to me,” Drakon said, keeping his voice even.
“Morgan doesn’t understand loyalty. She’s using you for her own purposes, which remain hidden. The moment you’re no longer useful, she might put a shot in your back. Or a knife,” Malin finished, raising his own knife meaningfully before resheathing it with a single thrust.
Morgan has told me the same thing about you, Drakon thought as he considered a reply to Malin. “Morgan realizes that she couldn’t count on the snakes rewarding her for turning us in. They’d be just as likely to shoot her, too, no matter what agreement they had reached with her. Morgan knows that just as well as I do. But I am keeping an eye on her. I keep an eye on everyone.”
“That’s why you’re still alive.” Malin shook his head. “I’m not suggesting that you get rid of her. As long as she’s alive, you need to have her where you can watch her.”
Drakon paused, eyeing Malin. “Are you advising that I take care of the ’as long as she’s alive’ part?”
“No, sir,” Malin answered.
“Then you’d better not be planning to take care of that yourself. I know it’s common practice with some CEOs’ subordinates, but I don’t tolerate those kinds of games on my staff. It’s bad for discipline, and it plays hell with the working environment.”
Malin grinned. “I will not kill Morgan.” His smile faded, and Malin gave a worried glance upward. “We can take down the Internal Security Service on the surface, we will take them down, but if the mobile forces in this star system aren’t also neutralized we’ll be sitting ducks. From what I know of the mobile forces commander, CEO Kolani, she will support the Syndicate government and the snakes.”
“As long as we eliminate the ISS snakes on the surface, CEO Iceni will handle CEO Kolani and the mobile forces.” I hope.
“Sir,” Malin said with exaggerated care, “if I may, I understand that you and CEO Iceni have agreed to run things here jointly. You are justified in believing that it is in her self–interest to stick to that agreement. But how will you run things, sir? I know how unhappy you are with the Syndicate government—”
“Sick to death of the Syndicate government,” Drakon interrupted. “Sick of watching my every step and every word.” It felt strange to be able to say that, now that the snake surveillance gear was neutralized. “Sick of bureaucrats a hundred light–years away making life–and–death decisions about me.”
Malin nodded in agreement. “There are many who feel the same way even though few have dared to say it, even in private. But I am unclear as to what system will replace that of the Syndicate.”
“Are you?” Drakon smiled wryly. “Me, too. Iceni and I couldn’t talk about it before this, before we had these surveillance systems short–circuited. Too great a chance of being caught by the ISS. We both agree that we want to get out from under the merciless thumb of the Syndicate. We both agree that the Syndicate government proved its incompetence, and that we can’t depend on that government to defend this star system or to keep us safe. That’s always been the argument, that we have to accept tight controls on everything we do in exchange for security. You and I and everyone else knows how false that proved to be. And now we know that the Syndicate government is moving to try to maintain control by replacing CEOs wholesale and executing anyone whose loyalty is doubted in any way. It’s revolt or die. Beyond that . . . Iceni and I will talk when the snakes are dead.”
“The Syndicate system failed, sir,” Malin agreed. “The control has always been there, but it didn’t provide the promised security. I strongly advise that you consider another way of governing.”
Drakon eyed Malin, knowing why he hadn’t brought that up in front of Morgan, who would surely have reacted with derision at the idea of anything less than an ironfisted dictatorship. “Your advice is noted. Our priority for the moment is survival. If we achieve that, we’ll think about how to run things without repeating the mistakes of the Syndicate. I don’t want anyone like the snakes working for me to keep the citizens in line, but I also know we need order and that means some control. Now I need to talk to Iceni so she knows this surveillance node is blinded, and so we both know the other is getting ready to move.”
“Do it in person, sir. Even though we should’ve blinded ISS, they might have some security taps we’re not aware of yet.”
“Let’s hope not.” Drakon nodded farewell to Malin, then made his way out through the multiple layers of security that had protected the main surveillance node. The sensors watched him but saw nothing, feeding routine images of empty hallways and sealed doors to their masters at ISS, the men and women responsible for the very broad range of actions categorized as internal security on Syndicate Worlds’ planets. He passed by the armored room where two of the turned sentries were pretending to see nothing. Then a little farther along before he reached the new, concealed access that had been painstakingly dug into this building from a neighboring structure, a task that itself had been a very delicate operation, requiring diverting and spoofing various alarms and sensors as well as the cooperation of those co–opted sentries. Walking down a roughly hewn passage, Drakon entered the basement area of a shopping center, ignoring surveillance cameras there which had also been blinded, then went up a set of stairs and through an EMPLOYEES ONLY door whose lock combination had long since been compromised.
The ISS snakes are going to be in for a real shock in a few hours, Drakon thought. For over two hundred years, the snakes have been staging surprise arrests and security sweeps. Now we’ll see how they like surprises.
It would have been nice to be able just to hit the snakes right now, but Drakon knew the process was like a long line of dominoes that had to fall in turn, each knocking down the next as the plan progressed, as sensors and spies and surveillance gear all over the planet were spoofed or silenced, as military forces loyal to Drakon began to move under cover of those actions, as rebellion gathered without the knowledge of those who could still inflict terrible damage to this world if not taken by surprise. So he kept to the plan, which had been unfolding slowly for months now and would soon begin moving very quickly indeed.
That was why Drakon wore his executive suit despite his dislike for the garment mandated for all CEOs. No average citizen seeing him could tell by his outfit whether he was assigned to overseeing manufacturing or sales or administration or any other aspect of the integrated economic, military, and political system of the Syndicate Worlds. Having spent almost his entire adult life in the ground forces, risking death and leading troops, Drakon didn’t care for the thought of being outwardly indistinguishable from someone who had spent the same amount of time in advertising. He had once even suffered the indignity of being mistaken for a lawyer.
But he knew that he had to appear to conform to routine right now in order to avoid tipping off the ISS. Drakon walked briskly but without any sign of concern by storefronts and out of the mall, then turned to walk past the outside of the nondescript building that secretly housed the ISS surveillance relay facility. It took practice to look truly casual when you were guilty and strolling past those charged with enforcing laws, but no one reached the rank of CEO without plenty of experience at doing so.
The citizens he encountered on the streets automatically moved aside when they saw the CEO–level executive suit, some eagerly seeking eye contact on the chance that a CEO might take notice of them, but just as many striving to avoid attracting his attention. Citizens of the Syndicate Worlds learned their own lessons, and one of those was that the attention of a CEO was a double–edged sword which might bring benefits or calamity.
Watching the citizens react with mingled fear and fawning submission, the first real and the second probably faked, Drakon thought about Malin’s recent words. What would come next? He had been consumed with figuring out how to kill the snakes without having half of this planet blown apart, and what he had said about not being able to discuss the matter with Iceni was true. They had barely been able to risk the few, occasional, and brief meetings in which coded phrases and words sketched out the agreement to cooperate in taking down the snakes, saving their own hides, and perhaps giving this star system a chance to survive the ongoing collapse of the Syndicate empire. Midway would either get caught in the death throes of the Syndicate Worlds or get free of that tyranny and look out for itself.
But after that? All he knew was the Syndicate way, and as Malin said that had failed. How else did you keep things running without everything’s falling apart? The Alliance way? He had learned little...
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Book Description Titan Books, 2012. Paperback. Condition: New. Next day dispatch. International delivery available. 1000's of satisfied customers! Please contact us with any enquiries. Seller Inventory # mon0000205404
Book Description Titan Books Ltd, United Kingdom, 2012. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English. Brand new Book. 'Tarnished Knight' follows the events in the Midway Star System during the same period as 'Dreadnaught'. The story of the Lost Fleet universe is told through the eyes of citizens of the Syndicate Worlds as they deal with defeat in the war, threats from all sides, and the crumbling of the Syndicate World. Seller Inventory # AA79780857689238
Book Description Titan Books Ltd, United Kingdom, 2012. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Tarnished Knight follows the events in the Midway Star System during the same period as Dreadnaught . The story of the Lost Fleet universe is told through the eyes of citizens of the Syndicate Worlds as they deal with defeat in the war, threats from all sides, and the crumbling of the Syndicate World. Seller Inventory # AA79780857689238
Book Description Titan Books. Condition: New. Follows the events in the Midway Star System during the same period as Dreadnaught and Invincible. In this title, the story of the Lost Fleet universe is told through the eyes of citizens of the Syndicate Worlds as they deal with defeat in the war, threats from all sides, and the crumbling of the Syndicate empire. Num Pages: 320 pages. BIC Classification: FLS. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 198 x 133 x 33. Weight in Grams: 328. . 2012. Paperback. . . . . Books ship from the US and Ireland. Seller Inventory # V9780857689238
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Book Description Titan Books, 2012. Condition: New. Follows the events in the Midway Star System during the same period as Dreadnaught and Invincible. In this title, the story of the Lost Fleet universe is told through the eyes of citizens of the Syndicate Worlds as they deal with defeat in the war, threats from all sides, and the crumbling of the Syndicate empire. Num Pages: 320 pages. BIC Classification: FLS. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 198 x 133 x 33. Weight in Grams: 328. . 2012. Paperback. . . . . . Seller Inventory # V9780857689238
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