Snippet One: Jormungandr’s Venom

Hey everyone, here’s the first snippet of Jormungandr’s Venom

Prologue

Time: 0730 Zulu, 25 December 291 G.D.

Location: Skynner System

 

Three hundred megatons of matter-antimatter warheads detonated in sequence at less than a thousand kilometers from Fenris‘s warp field. The massive warship shuddered and the drive field flickered for an imperceptible moment. The humans aboard would not have been able to even sense it, but Fenris could feel the agonizing instant that the destabilizing jolt of energy exceeded the safety margins of the drive by over three hundred percent.

“I don’t think they like us,” Mel commented.

“As always, you have a penchant for stating the obvious,” Fenris growled. After all, it was his hull at which they were throwing their warheads. The fact that Mel shared in his personal risk made her humor tolerable… but Fenris wasn’t given to humor.

After all, he was an artificial intelligence housed inside the hull of a battlecruiser. He wasn’t human, he was a machine. As a machine, he was able to sense the pirate warships as they swept around, their warp drives allowing them to execute maneuvers that completely defied Newtonian physics. Their intent to retreat was obvious, as was the fact that Fenris could follow them easily, especially since they’d just volleyed the entire contents of their magazines to no effect.

“Shall we kill them?” Brian asked with a predatory smile. Fenris liked Brian Liu’s attitude. In fact, the two of them shared the most in common of their crew. They were both artificial creations, Brian manufactured in a genetic engineering lab and Fenris assembled in a shipyard. They were both designed for war. They were both relics of earlier times… and they were both predators.

And both of them listened to Mel. She gave them a sort of moral compass that helped them to determine what was right and wrong… and more importantly, who it was okay to hunt and kill.

“Kill them all,” Mel snapped.

Fenris went to full acceleration without hesitation. The three pirate corvettes had military-grade drives, which meant they were deeper and stronger than civilian vessels, but they were nowhere near as powerful or deep as Fenris‘s drive. Larger ships had deeper drives and were able to reach faster sub-light warp velocities… and Fenris was a battlecruiser. More than that, even for a battlecruiser, Fenris had an exceptionally powerful and deep drive.

After all, the warship was fully automated. It had far less space wasted on things like living quarters, radiation shielding, and frivolities like food storage. Even Fenris’s environmental system was mostly an afterthought, included to make construction more convenient in the beginning and never stripped out afterward.

All three pirate vessels scattered as Fenris went into pursuit. They darted off in opposite directions, on radically changing vectors.  To Fenris’s artificial mind, their maneuvers were predictable and their movements arthritic.

Against equally slow patrol craft or possibly even a destroyer, as many as two the small pirate vessels might have managed an escape. Against Fenris, they would have been better off to remain together and unify their fire.

Fenris bracketed the nearest vessel and fired with his secondary battery, even as he moved into pursuit of the second ship. Before his first shots had even landed, he opened up with his primary battery. The third ship had time to see him coming and it volleyed a trio of warp-missiles. Fenris had expected that. He went evasive, even as he sensed Mel firing the interceptor weapons against the fast, but relatively unmaneuverable warp missiles.

Two of the three detonated in matter-antimatter explosions and Fenris successfully dodged the third, Mel picked it off as it fell astern of them. Fenris sensed the third pirate craft spooling up its strategic warp drive and he opened fire with primary and secondary weapons batteries at the same time.

Those batteries would have been a credible threat against a dreadnought, much less a corvette. The pirate’s drive field vanished and the ship disappeared against the massive power of the antimatter projectors and his primary Mark Twenty-Five disruptor cannons. “Targets destroyed,” Fenris growled in satisfaction.

“Damn,” Marcus muttered from communications, “they didn’t even have a chance to signal that they surrendered.” No one suggested looking for survivors. The scale of the weapons that they mounted meant that once a warp field went down, most small ships were rendered to their constituent atoms instantly.

“Our contract specifies shoot-on-sight for all confirmed pirates,” Fenris grated. He didn’t much like pirates.  His makers had created him to protect humanity, and the fact that some of their kind preyed upon their own left him with a hollow, uncertain feeling. To be able to erase such things from the galaxy left him feeling better.

Plus, the opportunity to test out his new armament made him feel better. The new secondary armaments, their antimatter projectors, had performed excellently.  His new Mark Twenty Five heavy disruptors had also been effective, though he’d relied upon the secondary batteries for the kills.  He was glad they’d been able to purchase them. They far outstripped his previous mass drivers, which was saying quite a bit, considering the fact that he’d taken on an entire Culmor convoy and won.  Normally heavy disruptors were only carried by dreadnoughts and superdreadnoughts.  Battlecruisers and battleships mounted normal disruptor cannons, either mark thirteens like his old primary armament, Mark fifteens, which was what the higher end mercenaries used, or mark seventeens, which was the latest generation only available for Guard Fleet vessels.

Most smaller ships relied on mass drivers with antimatter warheads or antimatter projectors.  The intent of both was to cause a massive enough energy release in proximity to a drive field to knock it out, which was effective enough against ships up to cruiser size.  But larger ships, capital ships, had too great of tactical warp speed for those types of weapons to be entirely effective, especially not in a battle of maneuver.  That was where disruptor and heavy disruptor cannons came in.  They utilized the same exotic particles used in creating warp drives and caused massive destabilization in warp fields on impact.  They also tended to severely damage hull if they managed to penetrate a warp field and hit the ship beneath, so having a good disruptor armament was particularly nice.  Fenris wanted a bit more practice with his before he was willing to admit they were superior to his previous armament, but he was happy enough with them for now.

“We confirmed that all three vessels were on the known wanted lists,” Mel noted. “We gave them an initial opportunity to surrender, they chose to attack us and then flee.”

“Not like we have a prize crew aboard anyway,” Brian Liu snorted. “Though I wish I’d had a chance to kill a few of them in hand-to-hand, this trip has been boring for me. At least we get the kill bonus as specified in our contracts.”

“Only once we fill out the paperwork,” Mel reminded him.  Fenris could have volunteered to do that, but there was being helpful and there was being too helpful. Just because he could do it quickly didn’t mean he wanted to do it. Fenris was an artificial intelligence, but that didn’t mean he enjoyed the reams of official documents that would go into proving their kills for the Guard Fleet contract bonus. There would be a sensor addendum, signed and witnessed documents, official statements, all of it in the archaic legally-required formats designated centuries earlier at the founding of the Mercenary Guild.

Fenris could have done all of it in only minutes, but those minutes would feel like years.  Besides, he’d made certain that their mercenary charter put the onus of the paperwork on someone else. Fenris stuck to what he did best.

Brian, apparently, agreed with his sentiment, “That’s your job, Captain. Have fun with the paperwork, I’m just here to break things and kill people. That’s a very merry Christmas to everyone involved.”  He smirked, “Well, except for them.  I guess they should have been good little boys and girls.  Now, since that task is done, I think I’m off duty… Who’s up for steak?”

Fenris didn’t miss Mel’s glare after the man, but she didn’t stop him.

“Fenris, please transfer the appropriate sensor data to my console,” Mel said after a moment. He noted that she didn’t ask him for any help beyond that. He suspected that some part of her relished the tedious work, it gave her some privacy and time to think.

“Of course, Mel,” Fenris replied, even as he monitored the crew. The bridge crew wasn’t large. Brian, Mel, and Marcus Keller filled out the primary bridge crew. The others included Johnny Woodard, the team’s medic, Bob Walker, who acted as a contact man and spokesperson, Jeremiah Swaim, who acted as a sort of hacker and general hanger-on, Lace, who acted as a scout and infiltrator, and Aldera Kynes who served as their engineer. It was a small crew, particularly for such a large ship… but Fenris had been designed to be entirely autonomous, it wasn’t as if he really needed a crew. Most of their duties were entirely superficial, merely to provide a human interface for their dealings with other ships. Since autonomous warships were illegal and artificial intelligence was expressly forbidden, that interface was a necessary fiction so that Guard Fleet didn’t realize the truth and have him hunted down and destroyed. Now that Fenris knew that he was sentient, sapient, and free-willed, he would have to oppose that destruction, but he would rather not have to kill innocent men and women serving in Guard Fleet just to protect himself, at least, not when he could maintain a fiction of having a crew relatively easily.

Plus it means I have friends… of a sort.

Fenris watched the humans as they went about their routines inside his hull. They were a strange lot, even for humans. Brian was a fellow predator, arguably as inhuman as Fenris. Marcus was a former Guard Intelligence Agent who’d done terrible things for a cause he no longer believed in. Bob Walker was some kind of agent for a mysterious organization. Lace was a mercenary infiltrator. Woodard was a former Guard Marine Corps medic. Aldera Kynes was an escapee from a secret Guard Intelligence science lab.  Swaim was… well, he wasn’t sure why they kept the young man around.  Probably because he’d get himself into a lot of trouble without some adult supervision.

Then there was Mel, the glue that held them all together. She was hard enough to order the execution of their pirate attackers and yet soft enough to believe in all of them… even a multimillion ton self-aware battlecruiser.

In the quiet solitude of his artificial mind, Fenris could admit that he didn’t really care all that much about the others or even his risk of discovery by the Guard. He was just glad for Mel’s presence.

***

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