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The Machinery of Light
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The Machinery of Light

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Author: David J. Williams
Publisher: Bantam Spectra, 2010
Series: The Autumn Rain Trilogy: Book 3

1. The Mirrored Heavens
2. The Burning Skies
3. The Machinery of Light

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Synopsis

With The Machinery of Light, David J. Williams completes his furiously paced, stunningly imagined trilogy-a work of vision, beauty, and pulse-pounding futuristic action.


Excerpt

A woman listens to the world burn.

It's hard to miss. It's on every channel. Reports rendered in toneless staccato, attack sequences confirmed by unseen machines, horrified civilian newscasts that suddenly go silent . . . the woman's jaw hangs loose while her mind surfs the signals reachingthe room in which she's riding out the storm, as far away from this craft's hull as possible. Vibrations pound through the walls as energy smashes into the ship from the vacuum beyond. The woman hears shouts as the soldiers in the corridors around her reactto the blast-barriers starting to slide shut. She hears the muffled boom of each one closing, growing ever closer, the succession of walls parading past her and echoing in the distance.

She's locked into one of the modular sections now, along with ten other guards--and the prisoner in the high-security cell they're guarding. She looks just like the rest of those sentinels, though really she's nothing of the kind. She's not sealed in either;she may be confined behind these doors, but she's still in touch on zone, her razor awareness reaching out to the rest of the ship. Nearly half a klick long, the Lincoln sits at the heart of the L5 fleet's defenses, on the libration point itself. The wholefleet turns around it. Beyond that is a sight like nothing ever seen . . .

World War Three began ten seconds ago, with a sudden U.S. attack on the Eurasian Coalition's forces across the Earth-Moon system. A cacophony of light hit the East--and within a second the East hit back with everything it had left. A myriad of guns keepon flaring like there's no tomorrow. For many millions, there won't be. The war to end all wars is underway in style. Way behind the speed-of-energy weapons come the kinetics: hundreds of thousands of hypersonic missiles, projectiles, railgun-flung rocks--allof it swimming through space and streaking through atmosphere. And right now most of it's way too slow in the face of massed particle beams and lasers: directed-energy batteries that flail against incoming targets even as they triangulate on one another. Onthe screens, the woman can see the Earth glowing as portions of the outer atmosphere reach temperatures they really shouldn't. Chunks are coming off the Moon's surface.

The room in which she's sitting starts to shake even harder. She hears one of the guardspraying--his words audible only inside his helmet, but she's hacked into that helmet, getting off on every fucking word--and every word is just one among so many . . . because now she's honing in on Earth, sifting through the traffic that's getting throughthe swathe of energy that's bathing the planet. It's so bad she has to take one of the mainline routes in; riding on the command frequencies, she plunges through air that's shimmering with heat, drops deep beneath the Rocky Mountains and into the command bunkerwithin which America's planetside generals are monitoring events.

Those generals are exclusively InfoCom and SpaceCom. All the other ranking officers have been purged, or have sworn to obey the new order. The death of the president has been announced to the armed forces, along with the order to take revenge upon theEurasian foe whose assassins struck him down in his hour of triumph. There's a new president now, and everyone's getting in line fast. They're too busy dealing with the blizzard of death blazing through the sky to do anything else. But so far the cities inboth East and West are being left untargeted. Neither side can afford to bother with them. Both sides are bringing every resource they can to bear upon the challenge of breaking down the def-grids of the other, def-grids largely consisting of DE cannon arrayedin strategic perimeters, shooting at the waves of projectiles heading in toward them. It looks to be the mother of all free-for-alls.

It's anything but. The woman can detect an initial pattern already. The American preemptive strike has drawn blood. The Eurasians are reeling. She's studying the planetside portion of the Eurasian zone now, watching the webwork of nodes that stretch fromRomania to Vladivostok, from the wastes of Siberia to the Indian Ocean. She takes in the Eastern def-grids as they struggle to adjust to the onslaught. She's looking for an opening, following the routes she's been instructed to take. Moving beneath the Americanfirewall and through a back door into the neutral territories--into a data warehouse in London, from there to Finland and across the Arctic Circle and through long-lost phone lines beneath the tundra, straight into the Eastern zone . . . straight into Russia.

She's never worked the zone like this before. She's running codes that make her virtually unstoppable, swooping in across the steppes, closing upon a target.

The target's a man. He's sitting in the sixth car of a Russian train, several hundred klicks east of the Caspian Sea, going at several thousand klicks an hour: full-out supersonic maglev, heading southeast. The train just went below the surface, and there'spalpable relief aboard at getting underground before the rail got pulverized. It looks to be a normal transit train--the last ten cars of the train are packed with equipment, the first ten cars with specialists and staff officers, bound for various bases andvarious locales. There's nothing aboard that's even remotely atypical. Except for the man the woman's tracking.

He's one of the staff officers, sitting in a compartment all his own, staring at the wall that's rushing past the window. She can see him quite clearly on the train's vid, but somehow she can't seem to get near him on zone. His codes are too good. Shecan trace the route they've taken, though. Doesn't surprise her in the slightest that he's come from the very center of Moscow, from cellars deep beneath the Kremlin itself.

And yet he's undercover. No one else aboard this train has the slightest clue he's anything but what his ID says he is: a medium-range gunnery officer, attached to somebody's staff in Burma. But the woman has been told this man is key--has been told shehas to watch him closely. She expects she'll find out what that's all about soon enough. In the meantime, she's tracing some signals he's sending--riding alongside them as they flick out ahead of the train, along the rails and through a maze of tunnels, headingbeneath the Himalayas, diving down toward the root of the mountains--

Down here there's nothing to see. Nothing to hear. Nothing going on at all. It's just the two of them now, waiting in this room. The lights of zone went off fifteen minutes ago.

"Too long," says Sarmax As he speaks, the mech triggers a light in his helmet. His face is two-day stubble and half a century's worth of lines. The only warmth his grey eyes hold is some kind of distant amusement.

"I don't think so," says Spencer.

"Who cares what you think? It's already begun."

"Probably."

"Definitely."

"So why haven't they switched this thing on?"

"I presume," says Sarmax, "that they're waiting for their moment."

Spencer nods. He figures that moment will come soon enough. The two men are deep inside something that was separated from the exterior zone to begin with, machinery that's situated in a mammoth cave beneath several klicks of rock, cut off from the restof this black base, with all systems shut off as an additional precaution. Because you can never be too careful.

"Failsafe after failsafe," mutters Spencer.

"Hostile razors could be inside already," says Sarmax.

"Imagine that."

"We'll need to keep a close read on the politics when it all lights up."

And that's putting it mildly. The Eurasian Coalition is like two bodies sewn together. There's a reason its zone felt so jury-rigged--why it was so difficult to line up all the operational hierarchies. Spencer's wishing he had paid more attention to themon the way in, before they left the zone behind and reached this compartmentalized microzone deeper in the Earth than he's ever been before. Parts of it were opaque to him even then--the inner enclaves, presumably, but now the entire thing's been turned off,and he's blind. He doesn't like it.

Apparently Sarmax likes it even less. The mech's blind by definition, and it wasn't hard for Spencer to get him to agree to stay here until things clarify. So they've remained in this chamber for the last quarter-hour--just them and the unholy amount ofnuclear warheads that line the walls around them.

"What do you think the total count is?" says Sarmax.

"About fifty thousand."

"Gotta be more than that--"

"I'm talking about the ones we've seen," says Spencer.

"I'm asking you to guess about the ones we haven't."

"We're more than a klick deep into this bitch," says Spencer. "How the fuck am I supposed to guess--"

But that's when he feels something clutch at his mind--

And retract. Sitting here at L5, she can't reach that deep. She knows someone's down there, though. Right now that's all she needs to know. She hauls her mind back to the borders of the zone--lets herself slot through that zone, out of the Himalayas, outbeneath China--and back into the U.S. zone, back out into space. Earth is getting closed off to her now anyway. The carpet of directed energy has become too thick. It's all interference now--all satellites spitting light and plasma at one another in a web that'sstarting to look almost solid. Earth's upper atmosphere blooms incandescent. The lower orbits are a chaos of wreckage.

It's only slightly cleaner higher up. There's more space, though, and so far both sides are maintaining the...

Copyright © 2010 by David J. Williams


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