Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Shadow of Earth (History of the Galaxy, book 2)

The History of the Galaxy, Book II
The Shadow of Earth
by Andrei Livadny

Release - March 22, 2018


Earth. Year 2606.

The short man stood in front of a panoramic window, listening to the report as he looked at the skyscrapers forming the famous Square of Five Corners, which was unfailingly repeated on the many levels of the urbanized anthill.
Earth was an eternal city. This was the name of a planet where the shell of the technosphere had completely enclosed it, uniting all the continents.
Ever since the problem of the industrial fog had been overcome using absorbents, transparent walls had again come into fashion. The megasuburbs soaring into the clouds looked like enormous terrariums, where millions of people hurried about their day.   
Looking at them, John Winston Hammer experienced intense and contradictory emotions.
"Everything could have turned out differently," he couldn't help thinking in moments like these.
Three hundred and fifty years ago, when the Great Exodus ended, humanity's fate seemed sealed. Thousands of colonial transports had vanished into the unknown. Hyperspace swallowed them up without a trace, and the rush to expand fizzled out, with even the most ardent optimists turning into sceptics, and the theory of the hypersphere thrown into doubt. Dozens of unfinished starships were left standing on the Moon's shipyards.

Back in that distant time, the Genesis Corporation was still trying to master the dust storms on Mars while Earth’s cities were completely enveloped in the toxic atmosphere. Humanity's last generation was living out its final days in the in-modes.
The inexorable end was drawing close. 
John Hammer had studied that period of time in detail, which had shown the great importance of specific people in history. Ulrich Fitzgerald, the founder of Genesis, a 120-year-old man who had never turned his dream of completely terraforming Mars into reality, prevented the utter collapse of civilization.
There were only a billion people left on Earth when ships from Genesis' Martian fleet appeared in orbit around the planet and dropped containers with a unique strain of genetically-constructed bacteria into the poisoned oceans.    
For a year, the microorganisms frenetically multiplied, consuming waste and creating oxygen. Then the absorbents, developed to fight the dust storms on Mars, were released into Earth's atmosphere, murky from the industrial fog.
Ulrich Fitzgerald lived for another thirty years. He left Mars alone but saved Earth. He resurrected the World Government and conducted radical reforms. He blocked the cyberspace Layer and forced people to leave the in-modes. Fitzgerald ruled the world with an iron fist, clamping down on any signs of dissent and laying the foundations for civilization's golden age.
It was also the time when the technosphere closed completely over the planet. The oceans, sealed in steel and reinforced concrete, now served as sources of oxygen and organic material for the primitive organisms that felt perfectly well in the dark and cold waters. Their genetic code was created in Genesis's off-world laboratories, based on the ancient forms of life discovered deep in the frozen seas of Europa, one of Jupiter's moons.     
New cities rose above the oceans, while the old, historical megacities underwent reconstruction.
Earth's atmosphere gradually became clean and all the dangerous manufacturing was taken off-planet, to technology parks on the Moon and Mars.
The technological Renaissance and the following Golden Age of civilization didn't last long, however. The harsh reality quickly reasserted itself. The planet's population began to grow again, while deliveries of resources decreased significantly. The inhabitants of the Moon, Mars, the Asteroid Belt, and then the mining colonies on Jupiter's moons declared their independence. By controlling the sources of raw materials, they thought that they could dictate their conditions to the ancestral homeland, and they were right. Their dominance over the metropolis lasted for almost three hundred years.
John Winston Hammer won the elections in 2561 and got the right to form the next World Government.
He had inherited a truly dire situation. In that time, the natives from off-world settlements would kick open any door - the little kings of small moons, the owners of mining asteroids, the industrial magnates from Mars and large space freighters felt that they were in control on Earth, and they exploited the resource shortage and the population's growing needs mercilessly.
None of them were concerned about the latest change in government, which turned out to be a mistake.
Long before he became the Head of Government, John Hammer began his career as a trade representative of Earth. He often visited Mars and the distant space settlements, making connections and drawing his own conclusions.
One day, while sitting in a bar on the Phobos Orbital Station, he met a pilot who had just arrived from the asteroid belt. Alexander Nagumo was killing time as he waited for his load to be accepted, a thousand-tonne block of ice. Hammer's flight was delayed and they started talking, just idle chatter, until a message arrived on the pilot's cyberstack.
"Frayg be damned!" the man swore, looking at the numbers. "The gall of these people!" 
"What, they're not giving you a decent price?" Hammer asked.
"No," Nagumo muttered darkly. "Have a look, a hundred credits per tonne. And that's considering the constant shortage of water on Mars. I'll barely have enough to pay for the fuel that I've spent!" he added grimly.
"The Martian mining company have a monopoly," Hammer noted for the sake of fairness. "It's hard to argue with them."
Nagumo waved him off in irritation.
"It’s certainly possible!" he answered hotly and then added unexpectedly: "You know, I would cast the whole Solar System down at the feet of the person who gave me a couple of military ships!"
Hammer noted more than just rage in the young pilot's eyes. That phrase was no accident, it looked like he knew what he was talking about.
"And what would you ask for as payment?"
"The title of admiral," grumbled the pilot, making it out like the conversation had been a joke. "Well, I better go. Be well."
For the first few years after being elected, John Hammer didn't conduct any reforms, and the resource magnates of the Far Outlands dictated their terms as usual, feeling like masters of the situation. That is, until March 2564, when a fleet of five military ships appeared in orbit around Mars. The half-erased logos of Genesis, Rimp Cybertronics, Megapool and Cryonics could be discerned on their darkened hulls – the names of corporations that ruled the world before the Great Exodus.
After shooting down the few defense satellites, the fleet rapidly attacked and destroyed a cruiser of the Martian Mining Company. While fragments of the most ferocious ship in the Solar System burned up in the atmosphere, the frigates crushed the anti-space defense of Phobos Station and landed an assault force on the orbital base.
The industrial empire of the Martian Mining Company fell in one day. The Moon settlements hurriedly capitulated next, as Earth's satellite was approached by another fleet, made up of the ancient military ships.
After the first victories, John Winston Hammer announced the creation of the Terran Alliance. From this moment on, all space settlements had to accept the rule of the metropolis and follow one set of laws. The Asteroid Belt became a problem, however, where every mine was well defended.
The ensuing war rapidly devoured the precious resources, with not many of them left on the Moon and Mars. But Hammer couldn't stop without finishing what he had started. He gave the order and the space shipyards began working again, now building the military cruisers of the Terran Alliance.

* * *

He won the intrasystemic war but this didn't solve the problems of a lack of resources and overpopulation. Mars was in ruins, the Moon had been hollowed out like a worm-ridden apple, and most of the deposits in the Asteroid Belt had been exhausted during the six centuries of the space era.
"A civilization trapped inside its own star system is doomed to disappear..." John Hammer had heard this phrase when he was a teenager and had remembered it his whole life. 
Looking at the human anthill encased in steel and glass, John Hammer didn't think of himself as a god, quite the opposite. He was a realist and understood that the power of the crowd should not be scorned.
He had come from the urbanized depths himself, and ever since then had felt the pulse of the life bustling around him, wanting it to succeed as much as himself.
To love and despise, to understand and beware – what could be more painful and yet sweeter than the narrow path of power? He was responsible for the humanity swarming around him, which had come so close to self-destruction and was now looking with unhealthy curiosity at the abyss that it faced.
He turned away from the window and pushed aside the memories, glancing at the gray-haired Admiral Alexander Nagumo. The old man was listening attentively to the speaker, while Tiberius Nadyrov and Max Gornev, the young shoots that had come up after the last victories, looked bored.
A quarter of a century ago, in the midst of the fighting for the Asteroid Belt, John Hammer had asked for the hypersphere theory to be tested again. A separate research division of the World Space Forces had to be created but specific results had only been obtained a few years ago.
The holographic monitors were showing equations, graphs and schematic diagrams of the propulsion units.
No wonder that the faces of Nadyrov and Gornev showed boredom.
"Make it shorter, more accessible and to the point," Hammer ordered, making the speaker fall silent mid-sentence.
"Put this away!" Hummer indicated the equations irritably. "Enlarge the star map!" He demanded. "And now, tell us the gist of it! The engineers and scientists can pore over the rest."
"May I, Mister President?" Edward Nechaev, Head of Earth's Intelligence Agency, stood up from his armchair. Seeing the nod, he changed the display image and pointed to a 3D map of space, where the stars were linked by thin lines. "The hypersphere theory has been confirmed," he began. "Hyperspace, as we understand it, is the carrier of all gravitational connections in the Universe, but from a strictly practical viewpoint, we are only interested in star-sized objects. By possessing enormous mass, they are the ones that form stable power threads in the hypersphere, which can be found by our instruments."   
"What does that give us?" Hammer asked.
"After activating the hyperdrive, a ship finds itself in alternative space. There are no stars but their gravitational connections still exist." A network of thin lines appeared on an additional screen. "This is our Sun." A bright spot appeared in the center of the image. "As you can see, sixty-four power lines lead away from it through hyperspace. All the stars that we can jump to are located between five and fifteen light years away."
"Have they been explored?" Nagumo asked.
"Certainly. Most of the systems have planets but they are unfit for life."
"Wait," Hummer interrupted. "If there are only 64 power lines running from the Solar System to the nearest stars, then where did the thousands of colonial transports go?"
"They became victims of the 'blind punch'," Nechaev explained. "Once we make a jump to any of the neighboring stars, we'll see new routes and a new region of hyperspace. If a ship doesn't surface in time at a node, indicating a solar system, the ship can float along this net until it runs out of energy. Hypersphere navigation had not been studied at all in the time of the Great Exodus, and as a result, most ships became victims of circumstance."
"So, they could have ended up hundreds of light years away from Earth?" Tiberius Nadyrov asked.
"What if the energy runs out while travelling between two nodes?" Gornev inquired.
"Then the ship leaves the hypersphere somewhere between two stars. It’s thus easy to see the importance of the power lines in hyperspace. They are the only reliable form of guidance."
"Fine." Hammer was impressed but now he had numerous questions. "Why didn't any of the colonial transports return after so many years?"
"As I said before, a new section of the hyperspace network opens up in a new star system.  The number of new routes can vary, depending on the star density, but they all look identical on the screen of the mass-detector – the only device that can note and display the power lines in the hypersphere. I'm sure that attempts were made to return to the Solar System, and more than one, but they were unsuccessful. We’ve needed a quarter of a century to add practical findings to the theory of Johann Ivanov-Schmidt. We lost two hundred and seventeen reconnaissance ships. I’m assuming that the colonists didn't have the capacity to conduct such experiments.
"I understand." Hammer sat down in his chair. "Now, explain to me why a jump is limited to fifteen light years? What do we do if we need to go further?"
"The ship's energy equipment is the deciding factor. If we had an unlimited source of power, we could float along the network from one star system to the next, without 'surfacing' in-between. Theoretically, we can reach any of the stars in our Galaxy this way..."
"But?" Hammer interrupted him.
"The accumulators lose charge quickly. We're currently working on a two-reactor model. One power source supplies the hyperdrive, while the second is meant for the other systems on the ship. One jump consumes almost all the energy..."
"Well then, make a ship with ten reactors," Tiberius Nadyrov butted in with his suggestion.   
Nagumo smiled crookedly.
"Better keep quiet and listen," he advised the young admiral.
"Why?" the man bristled.
"Because. Nechaev, tell him what will happen to a ship that has ten reactors."
"It'll become very large and incredibly vulnerable. It'll be about ten kilometers in length. All the usable space inside will be occupied by the energy accumulators and the control systems for the power units. Experience has shown that a two-reactor system is optimal. I'll say right now that the colonial transports of the Great Exodus only solved one task, and that is completing the jump. The had incredibly strong power units mounted on, which ensured the function of the cryogenic chambers. During our explorations, we found one such transport, which didn't leave the hypersphere at the first node. All the energy had been diverted to the hyperdrive. The result was the death of the crew and passengers. We have a different goal. Our construction anticipates a successful jump and stable function of the on-board systems after resurfacing in normal space.
 "So," John Hammer looked closely at the star map, "how can we go about settling the other planets?"
 "It has to be done in two stages, Mister President. First, we'll have to reach one of the sixty-four explored systems. Then the ship will need a day to recharge the hyperdrive accumulators, after which..." Nechaev looked uncomfortable, "we will have to select one of the navigational lines and perform a 'blind punch'."
"So, we don't know which star system the ship will end up in? Whether there are hospitable planets, and if they haven't been occupied during the Great Exodus?"
"That's right," replied Nechaev.
"How long do you need to explore the routes in detail?"
"At least ten years. And so far, there are no guarantees. We haven't yet learned how to 'label' navigational lines in the hypersphere."
"What about the systems accessible in one jump?" Nagumo asked. "Have you sorted them out, at least?"
"Yes," Nechaev nodded. "But the planets circling around the nearest stars are mostly unsuitable for colonization. We found only two planets with an oxygen-containing atmosphere. One is Yunona, where we found the wreckage of the colonial transport Yuna, which crashed during landing, and Dabog, a well-developed colony from the time of the Great Exodus."
John Hammer stared intently at the 3D star map and thought of the current problems.
Despite the success of the Alliance, the sixty billion people trapped within the Solar System could not be provided with enough resources, jobs and reasonable living conditions. The situation would begin to rapidly deteriorate in another few years. Eighty percent of the population was currently surviving on government subsidies – they were the 'extra people', who hadn't been taught to work and to strive to reach their goals.
"What did you find out about the colonies?" he asked drily.
"Dabog is an agrarian planet," Nechaev replied. "We positioned our spy satellites on distant orbits and are scanning their communication frequencies; we have also managed to infiltrate their information network."
"Are they exploring space?"
"Yes. Moreover, they are in contact with several more advanced colonies from the time of the Great Exodus. About once a week, passenger and freight ships from other worlds appear in Dabog's airspace. We have concluded that trade is only episodic at present. We have discovered from intercepted conversations that at least four planetary civilizations have managed to go into space and are actively exploring the hypersphere," Nechaev continued. "We're currently conducting reconnaissance, identifying their navigational methods and trying to determine the location of these worlds. For now, we only know their names: Elio, Kjuig, Rory and something called the Moon Stellar, presumably an airless satellite of one of the listed planets. Thanks to the combined efforts of several civilizations, a space shipyard has been built there."
"A shipyard?" Nagumo perked up. "Does that mean they're designing and building their own ships?! But the preliminary report stated that 'all settlements on other planets will inevitably go through centuries of regression', so how the frayg do they suddenly have high technologies?!"
"You are right, Admiral, most of the planetary civilizations founded during the Great Exodus either perished or are quite primitive at present." Nechaev responded. "But there are exceptions. We have discovered that Dabog – let's focus on this world as the one most studied – was settled by people from the Fugitive Colonial Transport, which carried the majority of staff from Rimp Cybertronics Corporation, including Catherine Rimp herself and her inner circle, which, by the way, included Hans Gervet, the most famous engineer of his time. It makes sense to assume that many technologies, now considered lost, have been preserved on this planet."
John Hammer paced the office.
"How does the population feel about Earth?" he asked, stopping in front of the window again. "Did our agents investigate this?"
"Yes, we managed to initiate a discussion on this topic using the computer networks."
"If there is contact with their ancestral homeland, they are willing to accept a small number of immigrants from Earth. But only through a competitive selection process." 
"They want to get our best people?" Nagumo smiled crookedly. "And leave us the scum?" 
"I can understand the inhabitants of the colonies. Their history consists of centuries of fighting for survival," Nechaev uttered incautiously. "I doubt that they would agree to accept just anyone, and turn their world into a dirty flophouse for layabouts." 
"So that's how you see Earth?!" Hammer glowered. "A dirty flophouse?" Touching a sensor, he brought up an image of the planet. It showed pulsing splotches of varying brightness, indicating the current population density. A number appeared at the bottom of the holographic screen, showing slightly over 60 billion. "These are all people, you know!" Hammer burst out, losing his cool for just a second. "Whose only fault was being born! The resources of the Solar System have been completely exhausted. So let's think about Humanity, but decide, first of all, where it is! Is it here or is it over there?!"
Nechaev wisely kept silent, while Max Gornev spoke, looking at the image of Dabog. "One terraformed planet would solve most of our problems. Dabog is within the reach of our fleet. I don't think we have anything to argue about."
"There is an important nuance that you need to understand," Nechaev had to join the conversation again. "None of the worlds that we've explored match Earth Standard. All the colonists on Yunona died from an epidemic caused by an unknown exovirus."
"But they survived on Dabog!" Tiberius Nadyrov noted.
"Yes, however, the planet is only partially terraformed. Due to the colonization, it now has a hybrid biosphere. I'll say this plainly: the least that a person from Earth can expect is a severe allergic reaction. I have to remind you that for the citizens of our modern cities, the Earth Standard is a controlled living environment."
John Hammer frowned.
"Can we at least protect our assault units?" he asked.
"Yes, of course. We have developed an external metabolic implant," Nechaev brought up an image of a small device. "It is strapped to the leg and connected to the femoral artery. It cleans the blood, conducts a heuristic biochemical analysis and synthesizes antibodies as required. This technology has been tested but it's only a temporary form of protection. We need serious studies..."
"That's enough," Hammer interrupted. "We possess military terraforming technology, which we inherited from Genesis." He switched to the star map again. "Gentlemen, I would like to hear your opinions."
"Dabog is the key to everything," Alexander Nagumo stated firmly. He enlarged Earth's neighboring star systems, which were within a radius of one 'jump'. The chain of dead planets formed a sphere. "We have no idea who we might meet as we travel along the energy lines of the hypersphere," the admiral continued. "How developed are the civilizations that we don't yet know about? That’s why we need an industrial base in another star system. Dabog is perfect for this purpose. Take the bunker zones, where the colonists lived for several centuries. If our intelligence is to be believed, the plants for manufacturing planetary technologies are located there. We would be able to modernize them to serve the needs of our fleet. I agree with Gornev. There should be no doubts." He snapped. "We're talking about the survival of billions."   
John Winston Hammer considered himself a deep and progressive thinker. He wasn't wrong in general but from the peak of absolute power, many problems appear simpler and smaller than they actually are. Just like human figures meld into a faceless, gray mass, so do separate fateful decisions lose their intense acuity when they have to be made daily.
He believed that the lives of billions of people, trapped in Earth's supermegacities, were more important that the fate of a handful of colonists, scattered throughout the Galaxy by the cruel whim of the hypersphere.
He knew that he would be cursed by some, and hardly win the love of those for whom he was opening the door into infinite space.
Now, after hearing Nagumo's words, the star map appeared differently before his gaze: in the pattern of the tiny silver specks, John Hammer saw the phantom of future events – new waves of expansion, a great movement of nations, which he was going to initiate by his personal decision...

Part 1.
Act of Intimidation.
Chapter 1.

October 9, 2607. Dabog. Early morning. 

The old road, laid down in the early days of colonization, led into a tunnel that ran through a low mountain range, and exiting, circled down to the base of a shallow crater.
The signs of the past were everywhere. The cliffs still bore signs of melting. Two ancient robotized complexes rose above the squat, single-level buildings.
This morning, a comfortable multiseat flycar stopped in the parking area, and a group of children got out, accompanied by a young teacher. The sky was cloudless and the autumn air was crisp and clear. A faint breeze stirred the leaves of the carelessla, the first hybrid plant created by the colonists as a mix between the Terran ivy and a local shrub.
Every detail in the surroundings captured the imagination, and the children fell quiet as they looked around them. The ancient reinforced concrete was cracked in places. A massive fragment of the ceramic plating, pitted by its contact with space, rose like a wall in front of them. Embossed letters could be still be seen on the armored plate: Fugitive Colonial Transport.
A sign hanging slightly higher stated:
Entrance to the Colonization History Museum of Dabog.
The high wall was pitted with holes. The frame of a planetary machine, crushed by an enormous force, rusted under an open sky. The guard turret was half buried under the dully glinting used shell casings, with the endoskeleton of an android lying nearby.
An alley of carelessla led to a ramp that sloped downwards, ending at the tightly shut armored gates.
"Daria Dmitrievna, what happened to it?" asked one of the students, a boy of about ten, as he stopped and stared at the android. "Why did it break down?"
"This robot, like many others, protected the humans," the teacher raised her arm to attract attention and continued. "Our ancestors came from deep space, but their ship crashed during landing. The planet was completely different back then, hostile and unfriendly. Now, we're going to descend into the colonial bunker and I will show you how Dabog looked four hundred years ago..."
With these words, the massive gates trembled and began to move apart with a vibrating hum. A small room was revealed, pierced with sterilizing radiation. The children were informed about this by the personal nanocomputers on their wrists.     
Daria Dmitrievna Kretchetova, a recent graduate from the State University of Dabog, tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, smiled reassuringly at the children and stepped forward as an example.
The children followed their teacher timidly, crowding around her as the gates shuddered and began to close again, cutting off the sunlight.
It looked fascinating and terrifying at the same time. One of the girls squealed...
"Right now, we are in the so-called airlock, a chamber located between the outside world and the interior of the bunker," Daria explained.
The children crowded together, curious, puzzled and a little frightened. Everything that they were seeing was so different to their familiar Dabog! Could it be that this warm and friendly planet had once been so hostile to humans that they had to hide underground in these gloomy bunkers?!
A long and dimly lit corridor with a low ceiling led from the airlock. Its walls seemed to emanate cold and damp.
One of children couldn't help but shiver.
"Yes, this is exactly how the history of Dabog began," said Daria. "The colonial transport crashed and many cryogenic halls and storage rooms were inaccessible due to the deformation of the ship. The specialists, who were supposed to be woken up right after landing, remained in cryogenic sleep, and the first people landing on the planet were the ones whose cryogenic chambers had failed during the accident."
With these words, she touched a sensor and doors opened into a huge hall, where modern devices recreated the atmosphere of those days, based on preserved archival records...
...It grew dark.
The first stars appeared in the sky. A full moon hung low above the horizon. Its cold light was reflected in the sparkle of small lakes scattered here and there, while the rest of the continent was hidden under a tangle of grass-like plants, vaguely reminiscent of horsetails and ferns, and reaching 5-6 meters in height.
 Humming, chirping, the rustle of wings and other sounds, unfamiliar to humans, came from the mysterious, shadowy, damp thicket. A warm wind brought sharp smells and someone's heavy tread was accompanied by sucking noises, as if a large animal waded through the swamp mud, beneath the spreading boughs.
Occasional weather-beaten cliffs rose above the waving ocean of plants. The greenery changed radically near them, with the appearance of tree-like vines, which clung to the rocks and climbed upwards, creating arches and hanging bridges, and connecting the edges of the cliffs.
The moisture evaporating from the water-logged soil formed a haze that drifted between the spreading leaves, condensing into streaks of night time fog.
The moon kept rising. Staccato sounds now came from the direction of the cliffs, as if hundreds of hammers were working in the depths of the forest.
From time to time, the flexible plant trunks began to shudder, their tops swaying from side to side, revealing the short but ferocious fight between some large creatures, then everything became still again. Only the persistent hum, too loud to be the usual insect drone, continued without pause.
 A new star appeared in the sky that night. It quickly grew in size until it became a bright pea, then it suddenly changed direction, crossing the face of the moon as it dropped a handful of fireballs, and disappeared over the horizon.
The light in the hall went out for a second.  There was movement as parts of the diorama shifted and changed, and new 3D images appeared. The children could now see the site of the Fugitive's crash.
A reddish sun peeked through the breaks in the purple clouds. The heat streamed upwards like a curtain. The blackened side of the colonial transport dropped sharply downwards.
The crater floor, formed by a solidified glass-like mass, was intersected by numerous cracks and breaks.  Some were so wide that the planetary vehicles leaving the access ramps had to move along the edges of the chasms, looking for places to install temporary bridges and keep going further.
People were climbing out individually and in small groups. Having just woken up from cryogenic sleep, they were disorientated and bewildered. Nobody was in charge of the situation.
A flock of large flying lizards swarmed over the horizon.
"I know, those are raptors!" one of the girls exclaimed.
"That's right," replied her teacher. "But it was the planet's microscopic inhabitants that were a much greater threat to humans. The bacteria and viruses caused new diseases in the very first days. Our ancestors simply could not survive on the surface, so they had to hurriedly build sealed shelters."
The teacher skipped over a lot of details. In reality, the first few years of colonization on Dabog were full of tragedies, since most of the colonists had come from the Layer, and had spent all their lives in the in-modes, among the illusions of cyberspace. They were utterly unprepared to face the reality of an alien world and to fight for their survival.
The children would learn about this later, in history lessons and exobiology classes, but now, another change in the decorations allowed them to skip over decades.
"After the first epidemics, the humans split up. Some developed immunity to the diseases and were able to live on the surface, and others were forced to spend precious resources on the creation of a controlled environment. Thus several colonization centers were formed, located quite far from each other. At the beginning, they developed separately, while the numerous fantastic specialists on board the Fugitive, who could have affected the situation, remained in their cryogenic chambers."
"Why weren't they woken up?"
"It wasn't possible. But when their stores became depleted, our ancestors had to look for new ways to survive. They had to conduct experiments and transform the planet. Now you will see how it happened. Please, don't get scared, just stand beside me and watch. We're not in any danger. Everything that you'll see are just copies, models and holograms controlled by the computer..."
* * *

Long-range orbit around Dabog. October 9, 2607. One hour before the invasion.

Three cruisers formed the head of the fleet's battle formation. They looked simply like bright lines at a distance, with a stream of harmless silver specks drifting behind them.
The ships had just changed formation and were on an approach course with the planet. The phantom generators that switched on a few minutes later hid them from any observers.
Now the invaders looked as black as the night, with only the occasional flash from the correction engines briefly illuminating the sinister outline of the many combat structures.
The fleet's flagship Endgrouse exhaled a dissipating atmospheric cloud – it was the opening of the electromagnetic catapults' diaphragms for the launch of the space fighters.  The armor plates of the ships moving alongside it also began to shift: Titan opened its vacuum docks in preparation for the launch of its assault modules, while rocket battery ports were revealed on the front of the Shadow of Earth.
It was a force that could crush a star system as easily as a tank tread crushes a children's toy lying in its path.   
Admiral Alexander Nagumo paced along the flagship's bridge, occasionally glancing at the screens and sensors of the tracking systems.
The star, shaded by the light filters, blazed on the left side. The planet slowly grew in size directly in front of them, splattered with gray streaks of cloud. The scanners recorded about ten civil satellites and one freight ship in low parking orbit.
It was nothing complicated. This world looked like an overripe apple ready to drop at their feet, but a different fate awaited Dabog. Its cities would be ground into dust and its biosphere would undergo combat terraforming. Only the bunker zones held any practical interest for the fleet, where the factories producing agricultural technology were located and where (it was highly likely) the lost technologies of the Rimp Cybertronics Corporation were hidden.
The strike on Dabog was to be quick and heartless. John Hammer planned to use this planet as an example to the other colonies, founded during the Great Exodus, of what would happen if they refused to accept the rule of the mother planet.
The admiral had never been a humanist. He didn't feel guilty. He was fully aware of what he was going to do. Nagumo believed that the future generations would figure out what's what and it would be up to them to decide whether to put up a monument to the admiral or to turn his name into a curse...
He touched a sensor and contacted Nadyrov.
"Go ahead, Tiberius," the phrase that began a new era sounded calm and ordinary.
The launch tubes of the Shadow of Earth cruiser were illuminated by dim splashes of static. The rounded contours of the space-to-surface missiles could be just barely seen in the depths of the massive tubes. Pilots called them 'megacity killers'.

* * *

Dabog. Colonization History Museum. 

A virtual rain was pelting down.
Low, heavy clouds sailed over the hushed children. Findings themselves in the depths of the primordial jungle, among the tall grasses, they timidly observed the huge insects that lived hundreds of years ago in the tropical forests of Dabog.
Their teacher smiled reassuringly and drew the children after her, and soon the path running through the holographic jungle brought them to the marshy flood plain of a wide river.
Through the yellow haze of vapor, they could see a stony ridge with dark openings of several caves, encased in steel and concrete. It appeared that humans had made their dwellings there, for why else would there be two soil spreaders on the shore?
A swarm of 'perforators', creatures that belonged to the insect kingdom, circled over the rocky outcrops, occasionally trying to break into them and producing a loud, staccato sound – the insects were trying to reach the tunnel worms, which lived in the cracks.  
The soil spreaders were sinking in the mud. Their wide caterpillar tracks were being sucked into the mire, and one of the robotized complexes titled over to one side, became stuck in a deep hollow and fell silent.
People in protective suits came out of the cave, accompanied by androids. Two rumbling all-terrain vehicles followed them out.  They attached cables to the soil spreader and attempted to pull it out onto a sloping hillock, but the sound of the motors attracted an unexpected and dangerous guest. A huge lizard suddenly appeared above the cliffs.
Its appearance was terrifying. The giant reptile watched the humans without fear, clearly seeing them as prey.
"Mommy..." one of the girls unwittingly took a few steps backwards.
"Don't worry, this is only a show, an imitation," Daria tried to calm them down. "We're surrounded by holograms. Who can tell me the name of this lizard?"
"Dicort," one of the boys said hollowly.
"That's right. It is one of the largest and most dangerous representatives of our planet's indigenous fauna," the teacher agreed.
Meanwhile, the events on the riverbank were unfolding rapidly and dramatically. The dicort paused, leaning on its powerful back legs and tail, covered in horny scales. It looked vaguely like a tyrannosaurus, but despite its impressive weight and size, it could climb cliffs, using the suctioned tendrils growing from its abdomen.
The lizard climbed up the rocky outcrop and looked down, belching out a wheezy and stinking breath, and nervously scratching its claws as it readied itself for a jump.
The people noticed the danger but it was too late, as the body weighing dozens of tonnes landed on the marshy shore, throwing up fountains of mud.  
The sinking soil spreader was swamped by a wave of silt and mud, one of the all-terrain vehicles flipped over, while the dicort, stung by the unexpectedly snapped cables, went mad and attacked the closest planetary vehicle, crushing its frame...
The androids opened fire while the humans hurriedly withdrew to the cave, but the shots from the ARG-8 did not cause much damage to the incredible beast, instead enraging it further. The lizard grabbed one of the robots with its tentacles, flung two more away with a swipe of its tail, and bit the last one in half, spitting it out with a growl when it realized that the android was inedible.
Soon, it was all over. The hungry lizard didn't find any food but had inflicted significant damage: one soil spreader had sunk and the second one was belching smoke. The all-terrain vehicles were seriously damaged and would take weeks to repair. The colonists had managed to make it to their shelter but the androids covering their exit had been destroyed, their broken bodies swallowed up by the marsh.
"So you see, guys." the teacher's voice interrupted the silence. "How could our ancestors fight the hostile environment, when even the most powerful planetary vehicles were helpless before the inhabitants of the jungle?"
None of the children answered. They were staring around them, clearly frightened of this version of Dabog.
"Now we'll move on to the next hall. There you'll see how the planet's flora and fauna changed, as well as people's technology, after several decades of colonization..."

* * *

The internal launching area of the Shadow of Earth cruiser. Ten minutes before the start of the invasion. 

The siren howled continuously.
The regular flashes of the warning lights outlined the launch beds with the affixed assault modules. Hundreds of fighters in armored camouflage suits went up the ramps and disappeared into the reddish glow of the landing force compartments.
"Quickly! Get a move on!" the officers' shouts flooded the communicators.
People's faces showed conflicting emotions. Some were angry, some were focused, others looked depressed and some were shaking. Beads of sweat, unnatural flushes or, on the contrary, a deathly paleness, revealed the emotional tension of these minutes.
"Quickly! Hurry up! Hurry up!"
The hangar gates hissed open along the perimeter of the internal launching area. The howling of the siren was drowned out by a low-pitched roar. A planetary combat vehicle with the number 1 on the contoured tower of the plasma generator appeared from the most distant compartment.
In the age of high-tech, engineers had turned away from the caterpillar track. The PCV moved on eight cast ribbed wheels, but thanks to the inbuilt anti-grav, possessed unique passability and manoeuvrability, since the weight of the combat vehicle changed depending on its surroundings.  The variable gravitation module could make it very lightweight, reducing its pressure on the ground, or could make it sink into the earth. Intrasystemic wars had convincingly shown that it was the most reliable and deadly planetary technology. It was believed that only another PCV could stand against a PCV.
The loading finished a few minutes later, and the launch beds with the affixed assault modules began to slowly turn around.
One of the walls of the internal launching area split into four wedge-shaped segments. It was the opening of the cruiser's vacuum dock.

* * *

Dabog. Colonization History Museum. The same time. 

A different era awaited the class in the next room.
The river still flowed in the center of the panorama, but now its shores were edged by thickets of carelessla, which leaned towards the water. The jungle on the left side of the river had retreated, and on the right side, greenhouse domes sparkled among the gray cliffs.
The children's eyes glowed in admiration.
Having felt timid before the wild and hostile nature of ancient Dabog, they welcomed the unimpressive but familiar trees with excited approval. The teacher looked pleased too, for the children had correctly absorbed the first lesson. Now they will undoubtedly learn to value everything created by their ancestors, to love and care for modern nature.
"And now, let's see how human technology changed over the decades of colonization," she uttered, inconspicuously touching a sensor on the hologram control panel.
A familiar rhythmical sound came from the depths of the jungle, and soon the wall of plants parted to reveal something huge, powerful, and looking completely different to the modern agricultural servomachines!
"I know! I know! It's a monument! We saw one in the park but it was a small one!"
The teacher smiled.
"No, you're mistaken, Sasha. It's not a monument but a real machine, preserved from that distant time. We'll be able to look at it a bit later, in a different room of the museum.
The cybermechanism kept moving, swaying slightly from side to side. Apart from the sound of the working servomotors, the ancient machine had nothing in common with the elegant modern agricultural robots. Powerful, tall and heavily armored, it would have looked ridiculous on the modern Bao tree plantations, but the children suddenly felt an earlier unknown pride. They had gotten over their fear and had lifted slightly the veil of history, seen the bravery of their ancestors... and now they were genuinely happy to see the giant that could conquer the marshy jungle!
"We are all very lucky. The first generation of colonists consisted of many clever, talented and brave people, like Max Bourne, Catherine Rimp, her daughter Chloe, who created the first hybrid plants, and of course, Hans Gervet, a real genius of engineering. He created a prototype of the universal servomachine, basing it on the giant loader, which was designed to remove the armored plates from the colonial transport and build shelters out of them. The universal servomachine was not only able to replace the soil spreaders but also resist the large lizards.
The children listened to her, watching in wonder as the powerful cybermechanism, whose cabin rose above the plant life, walked through the jungle as if it was nothing more than forest shrubbery. The two legs left deep pits in the boggy soil. It simply stepped over the small rocky ridges that frequently appeared in its path.
"Miss, it's not going to trip and fall, is it?" the children fretted.
"No, no, don't worry," Daria reassured them. "The construction has been carefully designed and tested over centuries. The science that allowed us to create a completely new type of machine is called bionics," she continued. "Hans Gervet and the exobiologists helping him researched the anatomy of the lizards, which weigh dozens of tonnes and yet walk easily through swamps and even climb cliffs that none of the all-terrain vehicles can cross."
Confirming her words, the ancient walking mechanism stopped by the edge of the river and then easily waded across.
"Who controls it? Is it a computer?" the children bombarded her with questions.
"No, a person controls it. Moreover, each ancient robot has a name. In the old days, when the planet was first colonized, each family on Dabog owned a cybermechanism like this. They were manufactured in underground factories, in deep bunkers."
"What's this one called?"
"Aquila. It is the family robot of the Rokotov family, one of the few remaining servomachines."
The holographic decorations changed again in the meantime. Now, three cybermechanisms similar to Aquila were clearing the ground on the left riverbank: one pulled out the plants, the second sprayed around a whitish substance, while the third dried the swamp – it turned out that the giants could use different agricultural implements as attachments.
Things moved quickly. The swamp became shallower, leaving behind silt drying in the sun, while the special reagents and bacteria spread by the robots prepared the obtained layer of soil for the Bao saplings, the main agricultural crop on Dabog.
Daria could have told the children a lot more but this lesson was meant to be an introduction and overview. Later on, when they would study separate subjects, they would discover that the Bao tree was the result of genetic engineering, a hybrid of a local plant and the breadfruit tree from distant Earth, and that modern nature on their planet was a synthesis of the two biospheres...
"Miss, does this mean that all the lizards died out?" the children watched as the reagents made the impassable jungle wither and disintegrate.
"No, they didn't all die out," the teacher reassured them. "To destroy the native wildlife would be cruel and wrong. That's why our ancestors left an enormous island untouched, far to the south, in the middle of the ocean. It's so huge that many people call it a continent. This is where all the native inhabitants of the planet live, while scientists care for them, study the evolution of Dabog and conduct different experiments."
Meanwhile, the attention of the students was drawn to another walking servomechanism, which appeared on the right riverbank. This robot was equipped with tunneling lasers. It projected a holographic layout onto the cliffs and began to cut the stone, making a tunnel through the mountain range.
"Oh, look, look!" the children became alarmed again, noticing how several huge lizards suddenly appeared from the jungle. There were three of them this time!
Nevertheless, only one servomachine stopped working as the pilot turned it around to face the threat.
The cybermechanism, which had just been spraying fertilizer, transformed as it moved. Additional plates of armor covered the sloping front of the control cabin. It dropped the agricultural attachments and weapon pylons extended on both sides, with electromagnetic weapons suspended from them.
Things were heading towards a fierce battle. The dicorts were rapidly approaching but the servomachine pilot kept his cool. Having assessed the situation, he made three single sniper shots, which penetrated the lizards' natural armor but would have hardly stopped them...
This only angered the dicorts further but after several seconds their movements suddenly became sluggish and hesitant. The special drug contained in the bullets had paralyzed the lizards.  
Soon came the hum of motors and a transport module appeared in the sky.
"It's going to take the lizards to the island?!" one of the children guessed.
"That's right," nodded their teacher. "But not all such meetings ended so quickly and without loss of life. Quite often, especially during the seasonal migrations, the lizards attacked in large groups and the humans were forced to have whole battles with them. That's why all the ancient servomachines were so well armored and armed. It was thanks to this dual purpose technology and the bravery of our ancestors, that you and I can live under the open skies. Now, let's move on to the next hall, where we will see the real Aquila, which..."
In the next moment, the walls of the ancient bunker suddenly shook. The holograms twisted and then went out.
Sparks flew from some of the wires, the red emergency light came on and went out, and everything was plunged into darkness.

release - March 22, 2018

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