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Authors: David J. Williams

The Burning Skies

BOOK: The Burning Skies
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Praise for David J. Williams’s
THE MIRRORED HEAVENS

“Calling to mind Clint Eastwood and Dirty Harry …
Mirrored Heavens’
action is wild and relentless…. Cleaves closely enough to the cyberpunk canon to be clearly identified with it, while departing from it sharply enough to refresh and renew its source.”


The Seattle Times

“Slam-bang action and realpolitik speculations.”


Sci Fi Weekly

“A crackling cyberthriller. This is Tom Clancy interfacing Bruce Sterling. David Williams has hacked into the future.”

—Stephen Baxter, author of the Manifold series

“Explodes out of the gate like a sonic boom and never stops. Adrenaline bleeds from Williams’s fingers with every word he hammers into the keyboard. The razors of
The Mirrored Heavens
would eat cyberpunk’s old-guard hackers and cowboys as a light snack.”

—Peter Watts, Hugo-nominated author of
Blindsight

“The Mirrored Heavens
presents an action-jammed and audacious look at a terrifyingly plausible future. … Highly recommended.”

—L. E. Modesitt Jr., author of the Saga of Recluse series

“The Mirrored Heavens
is a 21st-century
Neuromancer
set in a dark, dystopian future where nothing and no one can be trusted, the razors who rule cyberspace are predators and prey, and ordinary human life is cheap. It starts out at full throttle and accelerates all the way to the end.”

—Jack Campbell, author of the Lost Fleet series

“The Mirrored Heavens
is a complex view of global politics in time of crisis. Williams understands that future wars will be fought as much online as off. It’s also a rousing adventure with breathless, nonstop action—Tom Clancy on speed. And you will NOT be able to guess the ending.”

—Nancy Kress, author of the Probability trilogy

ALSO BY DAVID J. WILLIAMS

THE MIRRORED HEAVENS

Dedicated to the memory of
George Cotton, S.B.St.J., QFSM
1913–2003

CONTENTS

The Europa Platform

Dramatis Personae

Part I:
Sun’s Messenger

Part II:
Heaven’s Runners

Part III:
Rain’s Shadow

Part IV:
Gravity and Rapture

Part V:
Riptide

Acknowledgments

2110 A.D
. Maximum security doesn’t even begin to describe it.

No one talks to the prisoner. No one enters his cell. No one sets foot in his cell-block. No one else is confined within. The guards charged with carrying out these directives stand outside the cell-block doors in powered armor. The presidential seal has been placed upon those doors. Only one man can break that seal. And he’s not taking calls.

The cell-block is located at the far end of one wing of a massive space station that’s the aggregation of several smaller ones, each one capable of operating autonomously should the need arise. But none of the crew have ever witnessed such a moment. Nor do they expect to. Nor, if truth be told, do they think of themselves as a crew. They consider themselves a
garrison
. And the space station they man is one of the largest fortresses ever built.

The structure is situated at L5, the libration point that’s been an American possession for almost a century now. Its defenses are organized into several orbiting perimeters. Clouds
of mini-sats and space mines begin a hundred klicks out. They comprise the first perimeter, stretching as close to the center as sixty klicks in places, forming a continuously shifting pattern that only those kept current with the correct routes can navigate through.

Fifty klicks out, the directed-energy batteries begin to appear: a variety of sats equipped with lasers, particle beams, and microwaves capable of lacerating targets at the speed of light, arranged in several layers, intended to both maximize crossfire capability and ensure maximum redundancy of hardware. Most of those weapons are optimized to hit targets in vacuum, but some of the larger ones are intended for planetary bombardment.

Twenty klicks out the manned defenses begin. Some are troopships designed for rapid deployment to the lunar or terrestrial theaters. Some house still more guns. Some contain the razors who defend the U.S. zone against net incursions. Many are just decoys, intended to eat up the enemy’s shots and give the real weapons a chance to do some damage.

Ten klicks out are the giant slabs of rock—chunks of asteroids that have been towed into position to orbit L5 like fragments of some incomplete sphere. Five klicks out is the second, inner layer of slabs. Each rock has more weapons racked upon it, including more directed-energy cannons, along with rows of mass-drivers that can take advantage of a ready supply of ammunition.

At the center of all this sits the L5 fortress—half a kilometer across. It’s manned by razors, logistics-masters, and AIs intended to direct L5’s defenses in the event of war with the Eurasian Coalition, ready to make adjustments as enemy fire degrades the libration point’s assets and enemy targets are reprioritized. Scenarios are constantly played out, assessed, and reassessed. The men and women of L5 train daily for the day of final reckoning.

But national security takes many forms. Not all of it involves planning for the next war.

Some of it involves the war that’s going on right now.

The prisoner is in his sixties. He wears the regulation uniform that everyone in American military custody wears. His cell contains no furniture, just toilet facilities and a small hatch through which food and water comes.

The man drinks the water, but he barely touches the food. He doesn’t seem to sleep either. He just sits cross-legged on the floor, staring at the locked door opposite him.

But then he notices a screen on the wall where there’s no screen he knew of.

Even as he hears a voice he thought he’d never hear again.

Hacking L5 is impossible. Not just for all the usual reasons—interlocking firewalls, elite razors, guardian AIs, uncrackable codes, systems switching on and off randomly so that even were hostile razors to get inside they’d still be kicked back out into the cold—but because of L5’s location, almost four hundred thousand kilometers away from both Earth and Moon. Any razor based at either of those points would operate at a decisive disadvantage, working more than a second behind the razors based at L5 due to the limits of light’s speed. A razor could operate out of a spaceship closer in—but for that very reason L5 accepts no signal traffic that hasn’t traveled a certain distance.

All of which makes a hack on L5
almost
impossible. Unless the attacking razor is based at L5 itself.

Or unless that razor’s something more than razor.

• • •

T
he face now appearing on the screen opposite the prisoner is that of a woman. She looks like she’s about thirty. She’s got brown hair and freckles. She looks like she’s neither slept nor smiled in a long time.

“Matthew Sinclair,” she says.

The man smiles. “Nothing’s beyond you now,” he says.

“You knew all along.”

“I’d put it no higher than
hoped.”

“Which doesn’t mean you didn’t plan it.”

“But you’re the one who’s gone and done it.” His voice is lit with a strange sort of pride. “I assume that the ones who watch this room are seeing the same footage they’ve been too bored to watch for days now?”

“It’s like I’m not even here,” she says. “I’m a long way out too.”

“Oh? Where are you, Claire?”

She smiles:
right
. “Right here, Matthew.”

“No one’s called me that since my wife died.”

“I didn’t know you were married.”

“She killed herself.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why have you come here?” he asks.

“To see you.”

“To learn, you mean. But I fear you’ve chosen a man sadly out of every loop. You have the advantage of at least knowing that I really am Matthew Sinclair. I don’t even know if you’re really Claire.”

BOOK: The Burning Skies
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