Tuesday 25 November 2014

Tuesday Tease - The Northern Star: Civil War by Mike Gullickson

This week's Tuesday Tease is 'Civil War', the second book in Mike Gullickson's 'The Northern Star' series. I read it a few weeks ago and if you enjoy military sci-fi then it's well worth checking out. You can read an excerpt below:

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The Northern Star: Civil War
By Mike Gullickson

Part I

“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

-Mahatma Gandhi


-Chicago. 2065-

Commander Earl Boen waited on the runway at the base north of Chicago. It was four a.m., and while he couldn’t see the massive cargo plane that had flown directly from South Africa, he could hear it and see the blinking lights on its nose and wings as it approached.

Boen was seventy-seven years old, but looked younger. Hormone therapy had progressed by leaps and bounds, and he was on it. He had been offered the opportunity to become a bionic, but he had refused. Boen may have controlled the bionics’ operations around the world, but he still didn’t trust the technology. He’d observed how, in today’s military, there was a caste system that didn’t exist before: the bionic and the soft soldier. It had created an unspoken rift between soldiers, one that superseded even rank. The Tank Majors—goliath bionics—and the Tank Minors—infantry bionics—had made flesh-and-blood men into children.

The giant on the plane was the first deployable Tank Major ever built, and at one time had been Boen’s close friend. Tank Majors were more refined now, even if they shared the same armored and angular shape, but John Raimey was a walking earthquake and still the most effective. He was larger and his unique armor made him—not invincible, nothing’s invincible—but . . .

“Resilient,” Boen said. Raimey’s resilience was why he was stationed in Africa, where the Coalition armies were spread thin and reinforcements were non-existent.

The radio on Boen’s hip crackled. “The girl is here.”

Boen watched as a car pulled up and three silhouettes made their way to a nearby hangar. One was much smaller than the others, but still taller than Boen had imagined. Vanessa Raimey was sixteen now. Boen’s heart tightened. Even when life grows deep, regrets have a tendency to bob up and down on the surface. And to this day, every day, Earl felt guilt for what he had done. He had known Raimey since he was a recruit, and he had been integral in persuading Raimey to become a Tank Major.

But seven years ago, it had been a strange and frightening time. Boen had just come out of retirement during the crisis with China, after the active Secretary of Defense had put a bullet through his own head. The oil was almost gone, the U.S. had united with the EU and China as the Coalition to take what was left, and MindCorp’s mind-freeing virtual technology had created a new online universe that was more important than the real one.

It had also been the dawn of the bionic age. Dr. Evan Lindo, a U.S. military advisor and genius, had adapted Mindlink technology to create the first bionic battle chassis: the Tank Major. Months before, John Raimey and Eric Janis—another soldier—had been crippled in a blast, and they became the first two candidates in the program. In the end, it was Eric who was chosen for the prototype. But the Chinese planted a virus in Eric’s implant, and he went insane, destroying a base that housed the King Sleeper, an incredibly powerful online hacker, a nuclear bomb in the digital age, and an asset a million times more important then a man made of gears and steel.

So the U.S. government had needed John Raimey to become a Tank Major overnight. And to convince him, they’d had to play a trump card that even now made Earl grimace: Raimey’s wife, Tiffany, had just been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

When Raimey was wheeled before Earl, Dr. Lindo, and Cynthia Revo—the chief founder of MindCorp—what followed was nothing short of coercion. If Raimey agreed to the procedure, the U.S. would take care of his family. His wife would get the best medical treatment available, regardless of cost. His daughter’s education would be paid in full. Both would have pensions that would make his existing one look like a child’s allowance.

The only caveat: as a top-secret weapon, John could never see them again.

And if he didn’t agree . . . well, the most effective treatments weren’t covered under standard medical. And it was tough to find work as a quad amputee.

The request may have been phrased as a question, but everyone in the room knew it was a demand. John had no choice.

Tiffany died anyway. She put up a fight, but those little no-purpose cells ran amok and couldn’t be stopped. And John’s orphaned daughter had been tucked under the wing of an unlikely bird: Dr. Lindo, who was now the current Secretary of Defense—and Boen’s boss.

The plane’s tires chirped on the runway as it rushed past Boen. He walked back to the hangar and waited for it to taxi over.

At the hangar, the belly of the plane opened and a team of technicians emerged. One held a remote control that guided a treaded, massive metal chair that carried John Raimey. His footsteps would have damaged the floor of the plane.

Raimey looked down at Boen. Even though the rest of him was now black, bulging armor, and his head was small, seated between his giant shoulders, his face was the same face that Boen remembered. More lines, more worries, but the same. Dark skin, a scar that hooked down the right side of his cheek. Eyes as emotionless as those on a doll. Bitter eyes.

“Is she here?” Raimey asked. No ‘hello.’ No ‘what have you been up to.’ Boen felt the tension. He knew the bond he and Raimey once shared was long gone.

“She is.”

The chair moved slowly down the ramp. Technicians crawled over Raimey like mites, preparing him for the mission that would start in one hour. The chair rocked to a stop at the bottom of the ramp.

“Clear?” Raimey asked.




Three ‘clears’ was a go. John stood up. He was thirteen feet tall and weighed six tons. His jet black armor was an osmium and depleted-uranium alloy coated in advanced ceramic/Kevlar energy-dispersing plates. His entire body, down to the nuts and bolts, had been built from the same material. Two massive drive chains spun slowly around his waist. In battle, they were a blur, a frenzy, rolling inertia that helped him change direction, punch, and provide gyroscopic balance.

Raimey’s hands alone weighed over eight hundred pounds each. The knuckles were bulbous with armor, the hands themselves virtually unbreakable. When they were open, a grown man could sit in the palm; when closed, they looked like the jagged end of a mace.

Technicians wheeled over two massive metal boxes. Raimey plucked the metal boxes off the ground and slid one onto each shoulder. They clacked into place. Using his mind, he racked the slides back on his shoulders and slapped them forward, loading the projectile-less artillery round.

A Tank Major’s size made him formidable. His armor made him almost impenetrable. But it was his hydraulshock punch—where the full energy of an artillery shell was transferred through his indestructible fists—that made Tank Majors the lords of war. That, above all else, was what made them Death.

“He’s all yours,” one of the technicians said to Earl. Earl nodded and he and the giant walked into the hangar.

“You know where he is?” Raimey said. He had come to kill Mohammed Jawal, the leader of the Western Curse, the predominant terrorist organization in the United States. During the King Sleeper/China conflict, the Western Curse had risen above the noise as a primary tool of the Chinese. Xan Shin, a high-level Chinese official, lured them to China with weapons and resources, recruited them to act as mercenaries. Xan Shin died in the conflict—at John’s hand—but the Western Curse, now with modern weapons and near-limitless funds, lived on stronger than ever. Their leader, Mohammed Jawal, was a brilliant man, at one point an advisor to the White House, and he was impossible to track down. The members of the Western Curse did something crazy in this world of cyberspace and Mindlinks and teraflops: they communicated in person, carrying messages written on paper.

“Evan believes so.”

Raimey grimaced at the name. Evan Lindo was there the day Raimey became a Tank Major. “I don’t trust him talking to her.”

“You know I don’t trust him either, but he’s kept his word. She just started college. She interns at the Derik Building. He’s in Washington all the time anyway.”

Raimey grunted. “You know about Israel?” he said. “We stopped a train full of weapons.”

“The Coalition is attempting a diplomatic solution.”

Raimey’s laugh was humorless. The Coalition—the U.S., EU, and China—had occupied sections of the Middle East for two decades, taking the oil. “It’s going to happen. They have nothing to lose.”

“We’re preparing for all possibilities.”

They passed transport trucks with soldiers milling around them, getting ready for the mission. Everyone paused to stare when Raimey passed.

Boen punched a keypad to open a rolling door, but stopped short.

“I don’t know how this is going to go,” he said.

“She agreed to come, didn’t she?” Raimey asked.

“When I contacted her, she said ‘no.’ Evan convinced her. He wanted you for this mission. Evan wants Mohammed alive.”

Raimey chewed on his lip. His eyes searched the ground. “You did your part, Earl. I know she hates me. I just hope I can get her to hate me a little less.”

“I’m sorry, John—”

“I’m a grown man, Earl. I could have said ‘no.’” Raimey nodded at the keypad.

Boen finished entering the code and the door rolled up. In the middle of the empty structure was a sixteen-year-old girl. She had long, curled hair and light brown skin. She’d be beautiful if she didn’t look so angry. She wore a lead vest and gloves, standard protocol around Raimey’s armor. Two soldiers stood nearby.

“Can we be alone?” Raimey asked quietly. Boen nodded at the soldiers and they left through a side exit. Raimey walked inside and Boen closed the door, leaving the father alone with his daughter.

= = =

Vanessa Raimey stood at her full height, and was still just a speck in her father’s shadow. Her hands were clenched into fists, and Raimey could see that she was shaking.

Raimey started. “Thank you for coming, I know you’re angry, I’m so sorry about your mo—”

“Don’t even start,” Vanessa interrupted. “You don’t get to be sorry. You don’t get to apologize. You weren’t there.”

Raimey looked at the ground as if he had come across a rabid dog. “I had no choice,” he said quietly. “If I didn’t do this, she wouldn’t have gotten the medical treatment she needed. They guaranteed you’d be taken care of.”

Vanessa pulled a photo out of her coat. Tiffany Raimey had been vibrant and slender, caramel-skinned, with flowing black hair. She had exuded life. But in the photo Vanessa held, Tiffany was desiccated, starving, hairless. A skeleton with skin, dead everywhere except in the eyes. And in the eyes was pain. “This is what we got when you left.”

Vanessa tossed the photo at Raimey; it fluttered to his feet. “That’s a month before she died. She lasted a MONTH like that! At the end she weighed eighty pounds.”

Tears rolled down Vanessa’s cheeks. “I’d feed her and she’d vomit all over herself. Some nights she would scream all the way through. Toward the end, she’d get confused and ask where you were. When you were coming home. At first I told her the truth because I was stupid and young, and she would cry between the screams. And I think that’s when I became an adult. Kids are told that lying’s bad and we should never do it. When really, it was the best gift I could ever give. And so I told her you were coming home soon. Every night, you were coming home soon.”

“At the end, she was lucid though. Do you know what she said to me before she went? Can you guess?”

Raimey shook his head. “No.”

She said, “Don’t hate him.”

Raimey’s jaw quivered. He had braced himself for anger. He had hoped that after Vanessa had screamed and yelled, a bridge could be built between them. But he wasn’t prepared to hear that his wife’s dying wish was forgiveness. He wasn’t ready for the chasm to open further into his deepest regret.

Vanessa paused, buried in the past. “When I told her I didn’t hate you, that was my hardest lie. Because there was nothing I wanted more than for you to be in that bed instead of her, wasting away with no chance to live. Nothing.”

She looked up at Raimey, her eyes filled with watery hate. “I never want to see you again. Don’t contact me. If you die, don’t have anyone reach out. I don’t want your stuff, I don’t want your money. I don’t care. I want to be happy. And I can’t do that when I think about you.”

= = =

Boen waited outside for only two minutes before he heard Raimey call through the door. “You can open it.”

He did. Behind Raimey, Vanessa was gone. Boen was confused.

“She came here to tell me that she never wants to see me again, and she never wants me to contact her,” Raimey explained.

Boen was speechless. Raimey stared out at the transport and soldiers. His calm was unnerving, and Boen realized it was resignation. Raimey had thought this was how it would end.

“Is that the team?” Raimey asked.


“I don’t want to come here anymore, Earl. I can’t be this close to her, and not have her in my life.” Raimey looked down at Boen. Tears clung to his eyes. “I’ll do whatever you or Evan want overseas. If I do that, you’ll take care of her, right?”

“Raimey, it’s not like that.”

“YES IT IS,” Raimey growled. “Evan’s all over her. He’s the one teaching her. Not you. If I’m a good boy, she’ll be fine, right?”

“Yes,” Boen said quietly.

“Make sure of that, Earl.”

Raimey left Boen and stepped into the transport without a nod to the Tank Minors. Twenty minutes later, he was rumbling off toward Chicago.

= = =

Mohammed Jawal, the founder of the Western Curse, was an educated man. Sixty, tall and long, he had the frame of a basketball player. His chest-length beard and salt-and-pepper hair hid a chiseled jaw and hard, attractive lines. Without the facial hair, he might have looked like a Bond villain.

He had been in Chicago for many years. It was too dangerous to move around. Not because of the police or the bionics—the Mega Cities stretched those eyes thin. No, it was the wandering gaze of a senior citizen on the subway that he feared. The curious child he passed on the street. Mohammed knew what few others did: that through the Mindlink, both MindCorp and the government could read your thoughts. And this knowledge had turned him into a paranoid recluse.

It was so obvious, and so ignored. The Mindlink was a two-way street. Data flowed out and in, to create the immersive experience of “being there.” In his dark room, Mohammed laughed, but it was hollow and tired. The great unwashed, how they flocked to a device that opened their mind up like a wound. They watched what they ate, but gave no second thought to the five thousand radio frequencies bombarding their brain cells and transforming their consciousness—what made them them—into a space run by a corporation and overseen by the government. Fear doesn’t make people wary—it makes them trusting and short of memory. They want to be taken care of. They want to be told everything’s okay. They want to believe. And the Mindlink did all those things. But cost has nothing to do with currency. Cost is a part of life, concession a scale constantly tipping one way or the other.

Nowhere was safe.

“We’re almost ready,” Sharif, his second lieutenant, said quietly from the doorway. Mohammed knelt east in the dark, praying for victory. But he was not an extremist, or a terrorist, though he was framed by the news as such. He was a nationalist, and his country had been pillaged by the Coalition for its oil.

Once, he had been a happy man. There was a time when he had hope. But then his extended family in Iran had been moved into boroughs, ghettos, that housed them like Jews before the Holocaust. Some had been murdered. It was a history repeated without the ovens or gas.

“Make an example out of him,” Mohammed said.

“For Allah.”

“No. For Iran. For Iraq. For Saudi Arabia and all of our forgotten brothers.”

“Yes, sir.”

= = =

Dr. Brad Zienkiewicz’s heart hammered in his chest. He could not believe that Cynthia had offered to use him as bait. He was one of the founders of MindCorp. He and Cynthia had stood side by side on that historic day when Tom, a test chimp, used a functional Mindlink to choose corresponding animals with his thoughts. It was Brad who had developed the consumer browser interface that took them from portal to portal without causing a seizure. He owned one percent of the company. He was worth over one hundred billion dollars.

And he had been demoted to a worm.

“Relax,” the hook said. Tank Minor Razal, a stocky Filipino, sat across from Brad as they rode to the MindCorp data node north of the city, where intelligence Sleepers had predicted the good doctor would be abducted and beheaded on a live feed.

“Easy for you to say—you’re bulletproof,” Brad replied.

Razal smiled and looked out the window. He had never been in a consumer vehicle before. Only the ultra-wealthy could afford them.

“How much did this thing cost?” he asked. He slid his hands over the leather seats.

“Twenty million,” Brad replied. He wasn’t interested in discussing the car. He was interested in living through the next hour.

Razal whistled. “Wow. How much are tires?”

It wasn’t the leather that made the car expensive, nor the metal. The oil was almost gone and what was left was hoarded by the government. Plastics of any kind were a luxury.

Brad slapped his legs, exasperated. “I don’t know, a couple hundred thousand per.”

“Crazy, huh?”

“Yeah . . . crazy. Could you focus on me not dying?”

Razal’s eyes clouded up as if he were stoned. The bionic’s constant smirk vanished. “Roger. One mile away. Got it.”

All Tank Minors were connected wirelessly. His dazed look vanished and that inside-joke smirk reappeared on the stocky Filipino’s lips.

He turned back to Brad. “You’re not going to die.”

Brad hitched a finger toward the front of the car. “You and the green-eyed guy are gonna make sure?”

“Our team is positioned around the node. Stick by me and don’t do anything stupid.”


“Like run away or something, or get in the way while I’m shooting. Stupid stuff.”

Razal was dressed in a suit to hide his modified body. He held a leather briefcase that concealed a submachine gun. He wore sunglasses and a wig to conceal his eyes and face. He was a Level 2 Tank Minor and one of the best marksmen in the bionic division.

“I can’t believe Cynthia has gotten so involved,” Brad said, shaking his head. Cynthia had worked with the U.S. military for almost a decade—from the first bionic, to the collusion against China, to the Terror War that had plagued the world since the superpowers had occupied the oil-rich nations. It was a conflict of interest that many of the founders objected to, though quietly.

“Without her, we’d be blind, sir,” Razal said. “And you would have been driving here not knowing whether your head was going to be put on a platter.”

Zienkiewicz gulped and changed the subject. “I’m just glad this is the last of it. It is, right? You’re going to take them down, scan their brains, and get that bastard?”

“I can’t discuss that information,” Razal replied, while nodding ‘yes.’ “But hypothetically, if we had permission to do that, and we found pertinent information, then we’d have another team on standby to act on that information immediately.”

= = =

First Team did not have a Tank Major: they needed to be quick and discreet. But they did have Mike Glass, the only Level 5 Tank Minor in existence.

The day before, Glass had attached to the team on special instruction from Evan Lindo. Razal and the other five Minors couldn’t believe it when he walked through the door. Most soldiers had only heard of him. He alone had toppled the resistance in the Middle East and hunted down terrorist leaders on our soil. Day-to-day, he was Evan Lindo’s right hand. In the field, he was an assassin. At all times he was a ghost. Even Tank Minors, strong men capable of flipping cars, looked away in his presence.

His Alabama twang was thin and labored because of the single cut-down lung that provided his biomass oxygen. His eyes didn’t blink—they were lenses. There were plenty of bullies in the military, but he wasn’t one. In fact, he barely spoke. What made him intimidating was the extreme detachment he had with those he interacted with. And because of his modifications—especially his eyes—he had slid into that uncanny valley where something is disturbing because it is so close to life-like, yet seems manufactured. That, plus the hearsay, and the potential for violence from his frame that even a Level 3 would be helpless to defend, had made him into something approaching myth.

And that myth now stood before Razal and his team, outlining the upcoming mission.

“Sleepers have picked up a tail that leads to the outskirts of Chicago. A low-level lieutenant of the Western Curse was going online for . . .” Glass paused.

Everyone at the same time said, “sex.” The majority of the breaks they got on terrorists were from the parties breaking down and going online to pork.

Glass nodded. “His name is Matt Campbell. He was the in.”

There was no screen in the briefing room. All of the Minors could see in their heads what Glass was showing them. It became memory. They saw a standard map overlay that turned into a detailed satellite feed. It shifted to a perspective near the top of a skyscraper.

Razal realized they were watching the footage through Glass’s eyes. He must have been a hundred stories up. Birds flew beneath him. The zoom made the men nauseated, and a few of them shook their heads as the view from the skyscraper kept moving in toward the crowd. Then suddenly the view locked in on a white male walking through the crowd, looking around nervously. The footage swayed from side to side like the sight of a riflescope. They were seeing firsthand how Glass’s vision worked.

One of the soldiers started to dry heave. Glass paused.

“Should I take you off the feed?” No sympathy, no nothing. Words.

“No, sir. I’m fine.”

The zoom kept up with the man, and then he turned the corner. The tight zoom vanished and they were a thousand feet above the city and Glass was on the move, working along the rooftops. The image cut—this part was unimportant for the brief—but Razal was beside himself with awe: Glass had effortlessly leapt across chasms that were fifteen yards across. He must be lighter than he looks, he thought. Most Tank Minors weighed around three hundred pounds.

The footage reappeared in their heads. Glass was looking down into a cyber-cafe, again from high above. Campbell walked out, looked around, and took a different route from the way he had come. Glass followed, again moving effortlessly along the rooftops.

Campbell went into an old brick high-rise, and Glass stopped moving and zoomed in. An overlay scanned over the HD picture, and heat signatures were picked up through the brick. They could see hundreds of other glowing silhouettes, some faint as they walked farther back into the building, others intense flames at the front.

Not infrared, Razal thought. It was too far away and it couldn’t go through the brick. Rotoscoping technology? Radiation sonar? Whatever it was, it was something Razal had never seen before.

Another perspective shift and time gap. Glass was on the ground now. He walked into the alleyway and quickly scaled the wall. He didn’t look through the window—he was using that funky vision that could go through walls. He found Campbell. In the soldiers’ heads, they could hear the conversation of the terrorists:

“Where were you?” a glowing blob asked. It was seated with others at a table, working with a long, black, angular object: a rifle.

“Went for a walk, wanted to clear my head,” Campbell said.

“We got the message. It goes down today.”

Holy shit, Razal thought. This intel is from right before Glass arrived.

“Is your head clear enough?” another blob, radiating orange and yellow, asked sarcastically.

“Fuck off, Chris. When have I let you guys down?”

“We’re cutting that motherfucker’s head right off,” one of the blobs said. “What’s his name, it’s a weird one. Polish, or something.”

“I’m Polish,” another blob said.


“He’s going to do it.”



“He’s here?”

“Apparently he doesn’t leave his safe house anymore.”

“Why would he do it himself?”

“I guess he wants to send a message.”

The images and sound vanished. Glass was done transmitting.

“Evan contacted Cynthia. With her permission, we’re using Dr. Zienkiewicz to draw them out, taking them at the node, where she’ll interrogate. This mission’s success is measured in minutes. Questions?”

Soldiers asked about logistics and tactics. Glass answered them. They got ready. Glass handpicked Razal to ride with the target.

= = =

“Two hundred yards from the entrance,” Glass projected mentally. The others picked it out of the air like it was a radio signal. Two Minors were on the ground, hidden in dumpsters. Three were in sniper positions ten stories overhead so that each covered one hundred and twenty degrees, totaling a complete circle. Razal directly protected the package. In the front of the limo, Glass chauffeured behind a tinted windshield.

“You ready?” Razal asked Zienkiewicz. He put his hand over the briefcase.

“Don’t let them shoot me,” Zienkiewicz said. His uppity demeanor had disappeared, replaced by the fear of a child peering under their bed.

“Don’t worry, our intel said they want to behead you.”

Dr. Zienkiewicz blanched.

Razal looked out the tinted window as they approached. “You’ll be fine.”

Glass pulled the car up to the data node. Data nodes were MindCorp offices, located throughout the world. Mega-cities such as Chicago, New York, Singapore, and London would have up to a dozen apiece, scattered throughout. They were nondescript, subterranean in design. Some had office space topside—this one stood three stories tall—but almost all of the infrastructure was below ground. Data Cores—the giant pulsing tubes of fiber-optic light—were much easier to build down than up.

Situating them underground also served to shield the insanely complex structures from the elements. Depending on a Core’s size, up to thirty million people’s thoughts and metaphysical actions might be coursing through the giant, crackling fuse at any given time. All of it monitored, and, when needed, read, by MindCorp.

Razal opened the door, got out, and went around to the other door as if he were a chauffeur.

“We got movement north and south,” Tank Minor Banks, a sniper to the west, said over the comm. “Moving quick. Two trucks.”

Glass sat in the car as still as a fencepost, bouncing his eyes off the driver side mirror, perfectly aware of his surroundings.

The canvas trucks rumbled into view and cut off any exit, their air brakes hissing as they came to a stop. A dozen soldiers jumped out of each one and made their way to the limo, catching Brad and Razal halfway between the car and the data node entrance.

“On the ground! On the ground!” they yelled in perfect English, most of them natives to this country—members of cells that had been embedded for as long as fifty years, like it was a family business and not a jihad.

Dr. Zienkiewicz immediately dropped to his knees. A soldier came up to Razal and fired point-blank into his chest, then followed up with a shot to his head. Razal collapsed to the ground.

Glass was no longer in the limo.

“Let’s go!” the men yelled. They grabbed Zienkiewicz and dragged him away.

“What are you doing? What are you doing?” Zienkiewicz yelled back at Razal, who was still lying facedown on the ground.

The men took Zienkiewicz to one of the trucks and threw him in. He stumbled, staring at feet. When he looked up, he saw Glass, already inside. He pulled Zienkiewicz past him.

“Hit the deck,” Glass whispered.

The first terrorist looked up upon entering and noticed that their hostage had turned into a soldier the size of a linebacker with rolling green eyes. Before he could say anything, Glass shot him in the legs.

Glass jumped out of the truck, pulling the wounded terrorist behind him and tossing him aside.

Holy shit, one of the Minor snipers projected to the others on the team. Through shared eyes, they could see what he was seeing through his riflescope, and they were in awe. Glass moved among the terrorists with a liquidity that displaced standard time. He wasn’t jolting like a jumping spider, nor was there any sign of strain, like a sprinter in their last kick to the finish line. His speed and precision were so effortless that he made the world around him look slow. Even for the other Tank Minors, the contrast between Glass and the terrorists confused their senses, as if their implant itself were malfunctioning. It was a pace that a normal human couldn’t comprehend, and that fact was illustrated by what was happening on the ground: the terrorists—highly trained—were getting chopped down. Glass’s movement was constant and evasive, and his ability to predict an attack—aided by his incredible vision—caused the terrorists’ bullets to find air. But his own sidearm wasted not one round, blowing out knees and shattering trigger hands.

Razal stood up when the terrorists focused on Glass. Three turned toward him and fired. Razal held the briefcase against his chest lengthwise and pressed a button on the handle. Out of its side erupted a 9mm, spraying the three men down. Razal then popped the briefcase open: cradled inside was an MP5 submachine gun. He pulled it out, dropped the empty magazine, and reloaded. He switched to semi-auto and fired methodically at the backs of knees as the terrorists tried to take down Glass or flee.

Zienkiewicz laid belly-down in the truck bed, his hands covering his head, flinching with every shot and shaking uncontrollably, while the lead ponged against the transport’s metal sides. Finally the gunfire stopped, and in its place was a chorus of screams. The truck dipped a bit as someone stepped on the back bumper.

“Die, you infidel!”

Zienkiewicz screamed and scrambled to the front of the transport. When no bullet ended his life, he looked up through his hands. Razal smiled at him.

“NOT FUNNY!” Zienkiewicz yelled.

“Kinda funny. I told you it wasn’t a big deal.”

Glass: We’re clear, team. Come in and sweep up.

The Minors rolled in and dragged the injured terrorists into the data node.

= = =

The ground level of the data node consisted of a few nondescript offices. The Minors dragged the terrorists past these, shoved them into a large elevator, and together they descended. The elevator cleared the cement and girded ceiling of the data node, and then faced open space.

The Data Core—a twenty-story tall, blue fiber-optic cylinder—thwapped and moaned in front of them, filling the cavernous expanse with shadowy blue light. It was lightning in a bottle. Worse, it was billions of thoughts and millions of minds, deconstructed into pulses of light. Even the terrorists quieted at its reveal.

When they reached the bottom, they were ushered through the Sleeper floor—where hundreds of computer programmers were reclined in chairs, oblivious to their surroundings—and into an adjoining room.

The room featured a single Sleeper chair in its center—it looked like a dentist’s chair—which faced a theater-sized monitor on one wall. From the monitor, Cynthia Revo stared down at the terrorists and Minors like they were bait fish in an aquarium.

“Brad, I see you’re fine,” Cynthia said. Even on the large screen, it was clear she was a petite woman. Cynthia was business-pretty: she had a red bob haircut she was known for, thin lips, and a straight, small nose. Her eyes were blue and piercing. She was considered the smartest person in the world. She invented the Mindlink, was chief founder and CEO of MindCorp—the largest corporation in the history of man—and created an online world that allowed an oil-less society to limp onward.

“I may have pissed myself,” Brad said. Cynthia flashed a smile.

“Send me the dry cleaning bill.” She turned her attention to Mike Glass. “Let’s get this over with. I want to be done with this war. I want to be done with this role. Put one of them in the Sleeper chair. Hold or strap them down.”

She turned her attention to the terrorists. They looked up at her like she had risen from a fire. They shook in her presence and prayed openly.

“You want me? Now you have me,” she said. The first terrorist clawed at Glass, ignoring his shattered knees and hands, as he was dragged to the chair. Glass slammed him into it like he was built from straw, then strapped him down.

A technician, visibly shaken by what he was witnessing, put an unrestricted consumer Mindlink on the terrorist’s head.

With little caution for the terrorist’s well-being, Cynthia combed through each of his brain cells like she was pushing clothes around in a messy closet. The effect was catastrophic for the terrorist. When one terrorist had been used up, seizing, Glass would throw him off to the side and snag another. And one after the next, Cynthia sifted mercilessly through their brains. There was no judge, no jury, but a sentence was handed down. Both the United States and MindCorp were tired of this war. And war, in general, doesn’t reward compassion.

= = =

When the other terrorists were dragged into the node and he was left behind, Albert—a fifth-generation, American-born Iranian—thought for a moment that by the grace of Allah he had been overlooked. He was the driver for the number two truck, and when the shit hit the fan outside the data node, he had—admittedly, not bravely—hid in the driver’s side footwell. The gunshots had ended, and he’d heard the screams of friends and patriots, but he’d stayed curled up, hoping that he wouldn’t be found. He didn’t hear the gurgle of another diesel truck approach while his bellowing comrades were forced down below.

“Hey kid,” a voice said from above. Albert tucked his knees in tighter. Maybe they weren’t talking to him. “Kid, I can see you. Get out of the footwell.”

Albert slid up and yelped in surprise: the head of a huge metal soldier filled the side window. He was a black man, with grey eyes and a goatee, and a hook scar that ran down the right side of his face. It was clear he could crush the truck flat if he chose. Albert had never seen a Tank Major before.

“What’s a kid like you doing here?” Raimey shook his head. “Here’s the deal: if we find out where your esteemed leader lives—you’re driving me there. What’s in it for you? I won’t kill you.” Raimey held up a hand that would do well in a scrap yard. “Do you agree to these terms?”

Albert nodded. He felt wet on the front of his pants.

Minutes passed. Albert sat quietly, staring straight ahead while the smaller bionics mulled about and bullshitted, waiting for something. The giant—they called him “Raimey”—continued to look around, as if he was on watch.

They snapped to. The Minors vanished. Raimey filled the window like a storm cloud.

“You’re taking me to 110 Lincoln,” Raimey said. “Don’t be a hero. You can’t be. Got it?”

Albert could only nod—the power of speech was no longer a faculty he possessed.

The truck barely handled Raimey as he got into the bed. The muffled command “go” made its way into the driver’s compartment. Albert drove deep into the city, trailed eight blocks behind by the team of Minors.

= = =

Ten minutes later, a Western Curse lookout spotted the truck. From a rooftop, he followed it with binoculars as it passed. He was four blocks from the safe house.

“One of our trucks is coming to the building,” he said into a radio.

The engine sounded labored and when it turned the corner, the rear axle hopped—it was bottomed out.

Sharif, Mohammed’s lieutenant, responded: “Where’s the other one?”

“I don’t know.”


Other spotters around Mohammed’s perimeter echoed a negative. It was just the one.

“Maybe they’re bringing back the injured?” the lookout suggested.

Sharif didn’t bother with a response. “Destroy the truck,” he said. Rapidly, Sharif ordered twenty ground soldiers to block the vehicle from coming closer, and the rest to the rooftops to fire down.

= = =

Sharif burst into Mohammed’s room. Mohammed raised his head from the mat.

“One of the trucks is approaching,” he said, out of breath. His eyes were full of fear.

Mohammed stood up. “Yeah?”



This was not part of the plan. Mohammed’s security detail rushed into the room. He put a hand on Sharif’s shoulder. “Be safe. Report to me as soon as you can.”

Sharif nodded and he ran out of the room, yelling commands. Mohammed’s bodyguards ushered him out the door. He was on the fiftieth floor.

= = =

The Minors dumped early and moved by foot to Mohammed’s location. Tank Minor Bennett climbed a fire escape a half a mile out and lay prone on a roof. Exhaust vents twirled around him, and the big A/C units hummed.

He watched through a 20x sniper scope as the Western Curse’s commandeered truck slowed down near another cookie-cutter skyscraper and terrorists poured out of the surrounding buildings like jelly beans. Their hands were held out wide, some with their guns drawn.

“They’re approaching the truck,” Bennett said into the comm. He looked to the rooftops of some of the shorter buildings. “Lots of activity. I see six—no, ten RPGs.”

“Roger,” Raimey whispered.

Bennett felt a twinge of guilt. Soldiers on opposite sides are still soldiers. He’d read once that during World War I, on Christmas Day, the opposite sides crossed, bartered, sang carols, and even played football. He understood the sentiment. Through the scope he could see real concern on the faces of the men approaching the truck. But sides were sides.

The other Minors used his surveillance to avoid sightlines and work their way toward Mohammed’s location. Raimey would clean up the street.

= = =

The men approached Albert’s side of the truck. He white-knuckled the steering wheel, checking his mirrors.

“Albert! What are you doing here?” one man yelled. Another man behind him asked, “Are men hurt?”

Go, Albert mouthed to them. He gestured with his chin. They didn’t catch on.

“Where are the others?” the first man asked. His name was William. They’d eaten lunch together a few months ago. He was from Ohio.

Go, Albert mouthed again. Understanding swept across William’s eyes. He slowly stepped away.

“They’re on it,” Bennett said. The entire group of terrorists had their guns ready, and were slowly backing away from the truck. Bennett saw the RPG men lean over the side.

“RPGs,” Bennett said. He put one of the men in his crosshairs and fired. The other nine RPGs ripped down from the rooftops and the truck exploded.

An electric whine radiated from within the fireball and John Raimey tore his way out of the wreckage. Orange, flickering teeth of diesel fuel burned on his frame, but he was uninjured. Half of the men scattered, and the other half fired with their submachine guns and assault rifles. The bullets peppered him harmlessly. Raimey ignored them. An RPG hit Raimey in the shoulder, and Bennett took the shooter out.

“Sorry,” Bennett said.

They were all gnats to John, harmless. Two hover-rovers—his eyes in the sky—boosted off Raimey’s back like disc-shaped rockets. The large central propeller in each spun up, and they rose high into the air over Mohammed Jawal’s skyscraper safe house. The hover-rovers flipped through standard, x-ray, and infrared, and found a group of red, yellow, and blue amoebas running away.

“Got ’em,” Raimey said, and catapulted forward into a run. His feet slammed the ground, cracking the asphalt, sending aftershocks like two blunt jackhammers. The electric motors built into his massive thighs produced two thousand foot-pounds of torque each. The upper section of his thighs looked like ten rubber slabs mounted together, rising and falling as he ran, adjusting for his weight and trajectory with every impact. Around his waist, the drive chains spun counter to one another at ridiculous speeds, creating the illusion that Raimey’s upper body and pelvis were connected by a grey cloud. The sound they made was like a rollercoaster and a buzz saw rolled into one. It was the telltale sound of impending death; more feared than the rack of a shotgun slide to one’s back.

Raimey ran toward the building to cut off Mohammed Jawal’s escape. A terrorist froze in front of him and fell backward, uselessly protecting himself with outstretched arms, his life flashing before him as a foot the size of two snow sleds eclipsed his sight. Raimey adjusted and missed the man’s body by inches. The Minors appeared out of the alleys and handled the rabble.

Raimey tore around the building at twenty-five miles per hour. His hover-rovers led the way, and he could see the fleeing mass of men as they maneuvered through the alleys. They were a quarter mile away and approaching a vehicle. This section of the city was dilapidated and uniquely unpopulated. The buildings in front of him were unoccupied.

“You see what I’m seeing?” Raimey said. An open comm was built into his helmet. Unlike Minors and new Tanks, it was not wired into his implant.

Commander Boen’s voice crackled over the speaker. “Buildings are clear of civilians. Do what you have to do.”

Raimey ignored the sharp turn of the alley and ran straight through the building in front of him. His speed dropped by one mile per hour, but he quickly recovered.

= = =

Mohammed heard the giant behind them. It sounded like they were being chased by a runaway train. He felt the dusk of his mortality in those sounds and prayed to live.

“The truck! The truck!” a bodyguard yelled. One of them sprinted ahead to it.

The truck was a last-resort vehicle. Mounted on a turret on the back was an old, but very functional, Mk 19 grenade launcher. The Mk 19 was belt-fed like a machine gun. Each grenade had enough velocity to puncture most armor and packed enough power to crater a five-meter hole in the ground. If a grenade hit a Minor, they would explode into oily rags.

The bodyguard jumped into the turret and quickly fed the ammo belt into the grenade launcher. He racked the slide and aimed the barrel toward the sound of the approaching chaos.

Mohammed and the others got to the truck. Mohammed was put into the back, sandwiched between two men. The driver got in, fired the truck up, and gunned it.

Raimey exploded through the last building as they tore off. The man in the grenade launcher momentarily forgot his hand was on the trigger as the giant altered its vector to chase them. The giant’s foot slipped, but it put its massive arm down like a kickstand and kept its legs pumping. It righted itself and barreled toward them.

“Fire!” Mohammed yelled. The gunner snapped out of his shock and squeezed the trigger.

The Mk 19 had very low recoil and the shots landed true. They peppered Raimey, exploding against his chest, his arms and legs, in black and red fireballs.

The giant was undeterred. He accelerated to his top speed of thirty miles per hour. But the truck was faster, and would gain ground in the straights. Raimey made up that ground in the corners, when the truck would have to follow the road and the massive man could blast straight through the buildings. Building after building toppled behind the fleeing vehicle as the bionic forced its seismic will.

= = =

The truck kept slipping away and Raimey couldn’t keep blowing through buildings—they were approaching a populated area. He had to knock these guys out of commission. In a populated area, civilian casualties would escalate into the thousands, and the chance of the terrorists’ escape would increase too.

“How expensive are hover-rovers?” Raimey asked.

“About twenty million a pop,” Boen said. “Why?”

Boen, linked in to the hover-rover feed, grimaced when he saw why Raimey had asked.

= = =

As the giant faded into the background, Mohammed felt a granule of hope. Ahead was a very populated section of the city. He could see the bedheaded masses walking across the streets, shaking off the numbness of a day linked in, only to go back for more. He heard music echoing down the columned streets. The truck slid around a corner and the driver abruptly swerved.

Dumpster divers, derelicts that foraged ahead of waste services, spilled into the street ahead, combing through dumpsters for anything that could be recycled. Like a pod of dolphins leading a schooner, they always announced an approaching garbage truck.

The driver made a quick adjustment to avoid them, causing the top-heavy truck to sway violently, but he got it under control.

“We lost him!” the driver said. Another mile and they would be deep into the massive city, buried under hundreds of stories and concrete. The dark streets and the disheveled millions would create the perfect camouflage—if they were on foot, anyway, rather than in a jeep with a grenade launcher on its back.

The granule of hope grew, but they were still exposed as they careened down the street. They had to get to shelter and the underground in order to truly be safe.

“We need to get out of the open,” Mohammed said. “Where can we change vehicles?” Vehicles were hard to find and conspicuous by nature.

“We could hijack that garbage truck,” a bodyguard suggested. It was just up ahead. The driver was out of the truck, angrily throwing garbage back into the dumpster.

Mohammed nodded. “Yes. Good.” It would be a perfect cover.

The garbage man looked dumbfounded when they veered in front of him, but his surprise was quickly redirected overhead. Before the truck was fully stopped, a shadow rolled across its windshield. Mohammed’s driver leaned forward and looked to the sky just as the hover-rover swung past, arced up, and then accelerated into the windshield like the pendulum of a grandfather clock.

The driver’s scream was cut off as the aerodynamic disc crushed through his and the other front passengers’ chests, separating their heads below the shoulder. The hover-rover slammed through into the back seat, where it minced Mohammed’s knees. The bodyguard to Mohammed’s right slumped, thick clumps of blood pulsing from his ears. Mohammed was pinned.

The garbage truck hissed and groaned, reversing, getting the fuck out of Dodge. It bumped into something and stopped. The engine groaned for a second and the back of the truck rattled about. Raimey pushed past it, and with a screech, the wheels suddenly got traction and the truck shot back before the driver could slam on the brakes.

“Watch your blind spot,” Raimey muttered.

The gunner fired a barrage of grenades in one last hoorah before he saw either black or a sea of virgins. Black came first. Raimey was too close to the gunner, so when the grenades detonated, shell fragments ricocheted back and sliced the gunner’s skin. And then Raimey grabbed him in his giant fist and pitched him into a building. The gunner’s body slapped into the side of it like a ripe tomato and slowly slid down, leaving a trail of blood.

Raimey slammed his fist down and destroyed the engine block. The front axle snapped, and the wheels curled into the wheel well. He ripped off the roof. Mohammed and the last surviving bodyguard stared up at him. Mohammed had a trigger in his hand.

“Die, you devil. For Iran!” Mohammed thumbed the trigger. Ten pounds of C-4 located under the seat detonated in Mohammed Jawal’s last stand.

The explosion vaporized Mohammed and his bodyguards and turned the car into shrapnel. Around Raimey, windows imploded and the front of the closest building crumbled. The garbage man jumped out of his truck and ran away screaming. The front of his truck was ablaze.

Mohammed would have been disappointed: Raimey was completely unharmed. He walked out of the fire and waited for his team. A “cycler” came out of an alley.

“What just happened, sir?”

It was a boy, fifteen or so. Probably one of the few who couldn’t go online.

“Just caught a bad guy.”

The boy scanned the burning wreckage. “I don’t think he made it.”

Two hours later, Raimey was on a plane back to South Africa. He planned to never come back.

Click here to buy The Northern Star: Civil War from Amazon US / Amazon UK (and it's an excellent military sci-fi read)

About the Author:

Mike Gullickson is the author of The Northern Star: The Beginning, an Amazon Bestseller that Examiner hailed as the "Top 5 Indie-Published Books You Haven't Read, But Should." As a child, Stephen King, Ridley Scott, and James Cameron shaped his mind for the macabre and fantastic, but it was a freak illness contracted on his honeymoon that kept Mike housebound for a month and got him to write his first novel. Mike's a videophile, audiophile, and car nut. He loves MMA and will talk endlessly about video games, movies, and hypothetical battles between, well, anything. He lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with his wife and two children.

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