From the viewpoint of a roving UWC reporter, Tim Bancroft. Part 1 is available here.
As our United World Convocation has signed the Treaty of Confederation with the Panhuman Concord, we’re now being allowed closer access to their core technology. This is the second of a two-part report on first impressions of the weaponry of the Concord Combined Command, the C3. Previously, I attended a shipboard training school to see at firsthand the infantry weapons with which our armed forces will be equipped.
This time, Sergeant Teron (not his real rank, but an equivalent) met me aboard the same diplomatic ship, but the whole UWC delegation was taken to a completely different system through the Antares nexus. The journey seemed to be a day or less, but turned out to be several weeks elapsed time in our system – time dilation is in effect on Antares. Others have written about their first interstellar flight, so I will leave those details for others.
At the new system was a C3 training and provision orbital habitat. This was a huge, rotating wheel about 80-100km in diameter and something like 25-30km wide at the rim. All sizes of starships hovered in space around it, from small scoutships to vast liners. At the centre of the wheel was a miniature sun – which poured out the correct amount of radiation for life, advised Teron – whilst around its surface I could see vast lakes, prairies, woods, plains, cities and even stranger environments. This orbital was shared between the diplomatic arm of the Concord and the C3, said Teron, so was the ideal place to demonstrate the heavier weapons of the C3.
I finally asked the question that was concerning us all: ‘Why are the Concord so eager for us to see their weaponry?’
Teron seemed astonished that I even asked the question. ‘You are part of us now, another shard. You will certainly have individuals whose life would be enhanced by a career within the Combined Command, so why would we not do so?’ He paused, tilted his head, then continued. ‘The ship has reminded me that you may be worried about the power of our weapons – don’t be. All our weaponry is for defensive and counter-disharmony management and is only used by superbly trained professionals and specialist combat intelligences. Individual well-being and quality of life is at the very core of the Concord ethos.’
He sounded like a promotional advert, but there was not a trace of dishonesty in his expression.
Teron fitted me into a suit of armour and then we took a transmat to the outdoors, heathland training area on the giant orbital. The most striking image was that of the training environments forming a patchwork of colour arching up either side until becoming obscured by the central ‘sun’. Teron pointed out some floating vehicles far across the heathland from us. ‘Those are T7 transports and M4’s – lighter vehicles. I want to show you the heavier stuff, though.’
Teron took me round the side of the transmat and pointed out what looked like a huge, curved tank, though this was hovering above the ground. Rather than raise the crew by radio – or comm, as Teron called it – he spoke to the vehicle directly. To my surprise it answered, not over the suit radio but on audible wavelengths.
‘I am C3M35-A5105-MWD,’ it boomed. It was a huge drone! ‘In your language, you can call me Asios. I am a multi-weapon demonstration platform dedicated to this training area. I believe you wish a demonstration of our heavier, vehicle weapons.’
‘If you please.’ I thought about its designation. ‘I thought Teron had explained that the Concord normally fielded M4s, M25s and M50s?’
‘That is correct. However, I am specifically engineered by the IMTel for demonstration purposes, able to take a wider range of weaponry in my mounts than either of the three disharmonious environment vehicles.’
That phrase again: disharmonious environment. It’s not one you can really argue with, but does it really express war in the way we understand it?
Asios continued. ‘Be prepared: demonstration begins.’ A target drone erupted from scrubland a hundred metres away. The turret spun, the huge, plasma carbine-like cannon embedded into it flared and flecks of light appeared in the air. A ball of flaming plasma erupted around the target drone, sending dirt and bushes flying and setting fire to others, though the flames quickly died down, almost as if blown out by an inrushing wind.
‘A plasma bombard,’ explained the drone. Was there a note of pride in its tone? ‘Level seven, though sometimes subject to plasma fade. Please wait whilst I request a rapid refit of a fractal cannon.’ The transmat hummed faintly, glowed and a multi-armed drone appeared, a whole weapon assembly underneath its belly. It hovered above Asios and placed the plasma bombard assembly with the new weapon.
Such rapid refits are something else our troops will have to get used to, never mind intelligent vehicles that have minds way beyond those of our self-driving cars!
‘Asios continued talking whilst we waited. ‘The fractal cannon is best used on stationary targets. Like compression weapons, it is a variant of tools that are also used in mining, construction or demolition. It creates fracture paths in the target’s superstructure, causing it to fall apart.’ The hovering maintenance drone backed away to the transmat and disappeared. Once more, the turret swung, but this time aimed at a blockhouse that obligingly lifted itself into view. ‘The target building should suffice for a demonstration,’ said Asios.
The muzzle of the fractal cannon glowed with multiple lights and a puff of smoke appeared on the building as a piece of its facing tumbled away.
‘A lighter weapon that the plasma bombard?’ I asked.
‘Wait,’ said Teron. ‘Watch.’ The fractal weapon’s muzzle had continued to glow and a haze appeared to form around where the fragment of blockhouse had fallen away. Suddenly, a crack appeared and a larger chunk sloughed off, collapsing to the ground in a pile of different-sized fragments. ‘And wait,’ said Teron.
We did not wait long for the longer the fractal cannon remained locked on the target, the larger the chunks of disintegrating blockhouse. It was a matter of moments before the building was nothing but a pile of rubble.
I had changed my view of the fractal cannon and was relieved they had never turned such a weapon against our UWC buildings.
|Fractal Cannon||20||30||50||1×SV4+3||–||Breaching SV5+4, Fractal Lock|
|Fractal Bombard/Disintegrator||50||100||200||1×SV5+3||–||Breaching SV7+4, Fractal Lock|
‘There is another technology worth demonstrating,’ said Asios. I turned to see the fractal assembly being removed and a different, longer assembly being attached. ‘This is a compression weapon, something adapted from our mining and boring equipment.’ Drones were already sweeping away the remains of the blockhouse and another appeared in view. ‘Watch.’
Once more, there was little fuss and little noise: the cannon hummed and a hole the size of my torso appeared in the centre of the wall facing us. ‘I believe having a look at the results might be instructive,’ said Asios. ‘Live firing is now suspended on this practice range.’
Teron beckoned me to follow him down-range and I nervously followed. He smiled. ‘Don’t worry. The IMTel will make sure nothing will come near us whilst we have a look at the results.’
‘How can you trust a cloud of computing intelligences so much?’ I could not keep the incredulity out of my voice.
‘Why would I not?’ Teron looked genuinely puzzled. ‘The IMTel has our needs and care foremost in its mind at all times,’ he said. ‘Nothing will happen.’ Of course, nothing did happen – even the drones and vehicles in the distance stopped moving. Teron suggested I examine the hole in the wall. It was roughly circular and at its core was what looked like a thin, metallic wire. ‘Pick it up,’ he suggested, so I tried.
That piece of wire, no longer than my forearm, must have weighed hundreds of kilos: I could not shift it an inch.
‘It’s compressed matter,’ explained Teron. ‘All this’—he waved at the surrounding hole in the building—‘compressed to a minimum space.’
|Compression Cannon||20||40||80||1×SV8/5/3||–||Fade, No Cover|
|Compression Bombard||30||80||150||1×SV10/7/5||–||Fade, No Cover|
When we returned to Asios, he – it – had yet another weapon fitted, this one longer barrelled than the others. I glimpsed grooves inside its barrel that I thought I recognised. ‘A mag rail weapon of some form?’ I asked.
‘Very good,’ said Asios. ‘An X-howitzer. A long-range munitions delivery system. I believe you are aware of the explosives already.’ The howitzer hummed and spat a round from its muzzle that boomed as if breaking the sound barrier. ‘Supersonic,’ said Asios. ‘I checked to make sure you were wearing your armour, first.’ Far across the training ground was an explosion, soil being thrown into the air.
|X-howitzer||(20)50||100||250||1×SV2||–||OH; EITHER Blast D8, No Cover OR special munitions|
‘Teron mentioned some other munitions,’ I said. ‘I’ve experienced ‘net ammo, but—‘
‘That must have been a very unpleasant experience,’ interrupted Asios. Did the drone shake? ‘And I don’t like what you’d call ‘grip’ much, either.’
‘What does grip do?’
‘It uses a hyperlight mesh to create a maze of mass sinks. In effect, it slows you down – drastically. Arc munition is similar, but uses the mesh to create an energy sink that alters the trajectory of weaponry. We also have blur that creates a localised spatial distortion that is difficult to target and shoot through.’
‘What about the scoot and scramble Teron mentioned?’
‘Scrambler,’ corrected Teron. ‘Scoot wouldn’t affect Asios – it just affects the nervous system of living creatures by instilling massive amounts of fear.’ He shook his head. ‘Nasty stuff. You have to run or hide: there’s no other option.’
‘Scoot seems a bit too specialised, to me.’
Teron shrugged. ‘Once you’ve experienced it, you realise how it can be used to upset artillery positions or flush snipers from hiding – or keep them down. It just can’t be ignored.’
This time, I was sure I saw the huge bulk of Asios shudder. ‘That’s highly destructive,’ it said. ‘It releases a cloud of nanophages that disrupt and destroy whatever they can access. Our own nanospore can defend against it, but whilst the nanospore is fighting off the nanophages, it can’t power or co-ordinate our defensive systems and interferes with the intelligence of smaller drones.’
‘Leaving you defenceless?’
‘Not quite, but its effects are severe, nonetheless.’
‘Didn’t Teron mention something about nanospore being the domain of the NuHu?’
‘That’s not quite true,’ said Teron. ‘What I said…’ He trailed off, looked over my shoulder and paled. ‘My l-lord,’ he stammered. ‘I was trying to explain to our new member, here—‘
‘Do not worry,’ said a calm, lilting voice behind me. ‘The IMTel requested my attendance, estimating the direction of the conversation arriving at this juncture with a probability exceeding nine-five quanta.’
I turned and saw what must have been one of their NuHu: slender, robed in pastel colours, floating above the surface of the orbital on what looked like a hazy cloud of particles. In his hand he held an ornate staff, along which were depressions, sliders and finger controls. Hovering behind him was a four-armed drone.
It was the first NuHu I had seen close up. He seemed ethereal, wraith-like and with a distant expression. Somehow, though, he exuded a presence that demanded attention. I refused to be intimidated, however, as have we not been told that all are equal within the PanHuman Concord? ‘So what do you do with that staff?’ I asked the NuHu, directly.
Teron look aghast; in contrast, the NuHu looked faintly amused. ‘It is an IMTel stave, an advanced technological item for use by advanced beings, those in full integration with the IMTel.’
Though Teron seemed intimidated, I decided a show of defiance might be good for the UWC. ‘Well, sorry: what do you do with the stave, then? Teron was somewhat evasive.’
‘As well he might,’ said the NuHu, smiling broadly. ‘I instantiate a locus within the nanosphere into which a concentration of nanophages and deconstructive nanospore are repetitively focused.’
The explanation meant nothing other than it sounded like the scrambler munition. I looked at Teron. ‘A big implosion and a corresponding explosion,’ he explained. ‘Several of them, one after another. The mandarin understates its effectiveness.’
|NuHu Stave||10||20||30||3×SV3||3×SV6||Blast, No Cover|
The mandarin looked affronted, then relaxed. ‘Ah. A little bang and a big boom. A translation for our new shard. How accommodating of you, Teron.’ Teron bowed and Asios dipped his body. In return, so did the NuHu mandarin, so I followed suit. The mandarin turned and glided away, closely followed by the four-armed drone. I could not help noticing that neither Teron nor Asios straightened – or levelled in Asios’ case – until the mandarin had transmatted away.
‘What’s that drone he had?’ I asked Teron. ‘It’s not one I’ve seen.’
‘A nano buddy,’ explained Teron. ‘It provides his staff with additional nanospore, protects the NuHu with a boosted hyperlight shield and provides a number of other functions such as scrambling enemy nanosphere. They normally run around with batter buddies and gun drones.’
A gun drone seemed obvious, but a batter? ‘What’s a batter buddy?’
‘A buddy drone that projects an energy sink. It absorbs energy.’ Teron saw my puzzlement and changed tack. ‘It is a barrier that is difficult to shoot through.’
I nodded as if I understood. To be honest, I was astonished that a flexible and portable energy shield could fit in something little bigger than a football. Then I began to sweat: the scrambler munition, scoot, the fractal and compression bombards… it’s a good job we did not know about this sort of technology beforehand as many of the UWC leaders would have had heart attacks! But then, we all would have been terrified at the power of the C3 weaponry I’d had demonstrated to me by Teron and Asios. That such offensive capability was used purely for peaceful purposes was a sombre thought, indeed.
And a relief. The UWC made the right choice in signing the treaty of Federation with the Panhuman Concord.