Mammoth Books presents Merlin's Gun

Mammoth Books presents Merlin's Gun by Alastair Reynolds

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Authors: Alastair Reynolds
MERLIN’S GUN
Alastair Reynolds
    Though Welsh born, and having spent his developing years in Cornwall and Scotland, Alastair Reynolds (b. 1966) moved to the Netherlands in 1991 where he spent the next twelve years working for the European Space Agency until taking the plunge to become a full-time writer in 2004. He is best known for his Revelation Space sequence of novels that began with
Revelation Space
in 2000. This series is full of innovation in both its projection of future technology and its realization of alien and evolving human biology and cultures. He writes as if that technology already exists. You get that same feeling of immediacy and understanding in this following novella, which takes to the ultimate one of those wonderful space opera clichés of the weapon that can destroy the universe.
    P unishment saved Sora.
    If her marksmanship had not been the worst in her class, she would never have been assigned the task of overseeing proctors down in ship’s docks. She would not have had to stand for hours, alone except for her familiar, running a laser-stylus across the ore samples the proctors brought back to the swallowship, dreaming of finishing shift and meeting Verdin. It was boring; menial work. But because the docks were open to vacuum it was work that required a pressure suit.
    â€œGot to be a drill,” she said, when the attack began.
    â€œNo,” her familiar said. “It really does seem as if they’ve caught up with us.”
    Sora’s calm evaporated.
    â€œHow many?”
    â€œFour elements of the swarm; standard attack pattern; coherent-matter weapons at maximum range . . . novamine counter-measures deployed but seemingly ineffective . . . initial damage reports severe and likely underestimates . . .”
    The floor pitched under her feet. The knee-high, androform proctors looked to each other nervously. The machines had no more experience of battle than Sora, and unlike her they had never experienced the simulations of warcreche.
    Sora dropped the clipboard.
    â€œWhat do I do?”
    â€œMy advice,” her familiar said, “is that you engage that old mammalian flight response and run like hell.”
    She obeyed; stooping down low-ceilinged corridors festooned with pipes, snaking around hand-painted murals that showed decisive battles from the Cohort’s history; squadrons of ships exchanging fire; worlds wreathed in flame. The endgame was much swifter than those languid paintings suggested. The swarm had been chasing
Snipe
for nine years of shiptime, during which time Sora had passed through warcreche to adulthood. Yet beyond the ship’s relativistic frame of reference, nearly sixty years had passed. Captain Tchagra had done all that she could to lose the swarm. Her last gamble had been the most desperate of all; using the vicious gravity of a neutron star to slingshot the swallowship on another course, one that the chasing ships ought not have been able to follow, unless they skimmed the neutron star even more suicidally. But they had, forcing
Snipe
to slow from relativistic flight and nurse its wounds in a fallow system. It was there that the swarm attacked.
    Near the end, the floor drifted away from her feet as ship’s gravity faltered, and she had to progress hand over hand.
    â€œThis is wrong,” Sora said, arriving in the pod bay. “This part should be pressurized. And where is everyone?”
    â€œAttack must be a lot worse than those initial reports suggested. I advise you get into a pod as quickly as you can.”
    â€œI can’t go, not without Verdin.”
    â€œLet me worry about him.”
    Knowing better than to argue, Sora climbed into the nearest of the cylindrical pods, mounted on a railed pallet ready for injection into the tunnel. The lid clammed shut, air rushing in.
    â€œWhat about Verdin?”
    â€œSafe. The attack was bad, but I’m hearing reports that the aft sections made it.”
    â€œGet me out

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