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Dogs of War: from the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award by [Adrian Tchaikovsky]

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About the Author

Adrian Tchaikovsky is a keen live role-player and occasional actor, fantasy author and winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award. --This text refers to the paperback edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Dogs of War

By Adrian Tchaikovsky

Head of Zeus Ltd

Copyright © 2017 Adrian Tchaikovsky
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78669-388-4

CHAPTER 1

Rex


My name is Rex. I am a Good Dog.

See Rex run. Run enemy run. That is Master's joke.

My squad is Dragon, Honey and Bees. They are a Multiform Assault Pack. That means they are not Good Dogs.

I am coming close to the enemy now. I am coming from downwind. I can smell them: there are at least thirty human beings in their camp. I can smell guns. I cannot smell explosives. I cannot smell other dogs or any Bioform breeds, just humans who are enemies.

I am talking to my guns. They tell me they are ready and operational. All systems optimal, Rex, they tell me. Good Dog, well done for remembering, says my feedback chip.

They are called Big Dogs, my guns. This is a joke by the people who gave me them. They are on my shoulders and they will shoot when I talk to them, because I need my hands for other tasks than pulling triggers. They are called Big Dogs because humans are too little to use them without hurting themselves.

I do not like the thought of humans hurting themselves. Bad Dog! comes the thought. I like humans. Humans made me.

Enemies are different.

I am talking to my squad. Dragon is not replying but his feedback signal shows that he is alive and not already fighting. Dragon is difficult. Dragon has his own way of doing things and often he conflicts with what Master has told me. Master says "Dragon gets results," and so I cannot tell him to stop being Dragon, but I cannot be happy with him being Dragon. Dragon makes me uncomfortable.

Honey is talking to me. She is in position with the Elephant Gun. This name is also a joke. Like the other jokes, I do not understand this one. Honey is not an elephant.

Bees is talking to me. She reports 99 per cent integrity. Bees doesn't have or need a gun. Bees is ready. Honey is ready. Dragon had better be ready or I will bite him, even if that makes me a Bad Dog.

I am talking to Master on our encrypted channel. Master tells me I am a Good Dog. I am in position and there is no sign from the enemy that they know I am here.

Master tells me I can attack. Master hopes I do well. I want very much to make Master proud of me.

I tell Honey to start. She has gone crosswind of the enemy camp. I can smell her but they cannot. She talks to her targeting system and I listen in as it identifies targets of opportunity. Honey agrees. They send eleven explosive shells into the camp from a distance of four hundred metres, aiming for maximum disruption. As soon as the eleventh is away, even as the first shell hits, I am moving in.

I see the fire. I hear the sound of human voices, shrill above the explosions. Run enemy run.

Bees pulls herself together and attacks, swarming through the camp, eddying away from the fire, stinging everyone she can. Her units do not die when they sting, although they run out of poison eventually. Today she is using the poison that makes the enemy go mad and fight each other. That is her favourite.

I still don't know where Dragon is. I talk to him but he won't tell me.

Honey tells me she is moving in to close quarters. I am already there. Humans are running towards me: I have chosen one of their roads to make my approach. Some of them have guns. Most of them have no guns. I am running on all fours but I talk to my Big Dogs. We choose targets together and I start to kill the enemy, using three-round bursts like it says in the manual. The Big Dogs work hard to compensate for my movement. Sometimes they miss, but more often they hit with at least one bullet per burst. Good guns, I tell them. Good Dog, says my feedback chip.

One of the enemy is shooting me. I feel his bullets hit me in the shoulder and in the chest, like he was jabbing me with his little fists. My vest flattens the bullets before they can flatten themselves against my skin and muscles. I talk to my database and cross-reference my damage tolerances against his calibre and muzzle velocity. He would have to shoot me in the eye or the roof of the mouth to kill me, though if he shot me in the gut it might take me a few days to heal. That is why I always wear my vest like I am supposed to. Dragon never wears his vest.

Now I am with the enemy and I stand up on two legs to use my hands. The enemy are small. Some of them come up to my shoulders, some of them only come up to my waist. They are screaming and I can smell how frightened they are. I know one of the reasons I was made was to frighten enemies. I am doing my job well. Good Dog, says my feedback chip. I am very happy.

I get my hands on them and tear them open. I take the small ones between my teeth and shake them until they break apart, because that feels good. I can smell their blood and their excrement and their fear. This is all good.

Honey is in their camp. She has switched her Elephant Gun to automatic and is laying down covering fire to keep the enemy where they are until I can join her. Bees reports 81 per cent integrity but only 47 per cent venom reserves and says that she is evacuating her empty units as they can no longer assist in the attack. She estimates that she has injected 34 per cent of the enemy population with her poisons and reports that they have not deployed antidotes.

Honey confirms that many of the enemy are now fighting and killing each other and congratulates Bees on a job well done. Although I am leader and that is my task, I do not mind when Honey says these things. Honey is the cleverest of us. I go into the camp and carry on killing the enemy. Some of them I kill with my Big Dogs but mostly I tear them apart because this is economical. I am saving ammunition. Good Dog, my feedback chip tells me.

By now there are no enemies with guns who are shooting at me. Bees has prioritised armed enemies and so most of them have already emptied their weapons into each other.

Some of the enemies are trying to escape, but they are not very fast, and when the big enemies go back to help the small enemies it makes them slower. I am very fast. I run around them and herd them back into the camp. This is another thing that makes me feel good even without the feedback chip.

Honey is talking to me. Where are the rest of them?

I tell her I don't understand.

Honey's channel: Armed resistance has been negligible.

These are not rebel fighters. These are civilians.

I tell her: These are enemy. All this talk is going on as we kill them.

Honey's channel: Our brief was that we would encounter armed resistance from rebel combatants. Is this the wrong camp?

I take another of the little enemies in my teeth and it squirms and screams. One of the big enemies is hitting me with tiny fists. I transmit to Honey: Master said to attack.

Honey's channel: Rex, this isn't the camp we were briefed about.

Bees' channel: Integrity at 74% Venom supply 31% Estimated venom take-up 42% overall; 19% of surviving enemy.

Dragon's channel: Target acquired.

I query Dragon. The small enemy is still in my teeth but I have not shaken it or crushed it. I am unhappy. I do not like what Honey is saying. Something in her words makes me feel like a Bad Dog, not from the feedback chip but from inside me, where the other feelings come from.

Dragon's channel: Bang! Target neutralised.

I want to know what target. The bigger enemy is still hitting me and trying to make my jaws open but there is insufficient strength in a human body to achieve that.

Dragon tells me that Master gave him a secret mission to kill one particular enemy. Dragon sounds very pleased with himself. Perhaps his feedback chip is telling him, Good Dragon, for finding the special enemy and neutralising him.

Neutralise is a word Dragon uses for special enemies.

Other enemies just get killed.

Honey has stopped shooting. I query her, and she transmits, Rex, I am concerned about insufficient data. I want to contact Master.

I do not like contacting Master in the middle of a mission.

It might make Master think I cannot do my job. It might make Master unhappy with me. Honey is cleverer than I am, though. If she thinks we need to contact Master then I will do.

Master responds quickly; Master has been watching everything through our transmitted video feeds.

I explain that the enemy parameters do not match those we were given. I ask for confirmation that we should finish the mission.

Dragon has reported a successful neutralisation, Master says. You are in the right place. Good Dog. Finish the mission. Good Dog.

I whip the small human in my jaws and hear its bones break. I pick up the bigger human in my claws and rip her in two pieces. Honey lumbers in and joins me. She uses her strength and her own claws to tear open the vehicles and the buildings that the enemy is hiding in so that we can kill them. Dragon shows up then, changing the colour of his scales so I can see him, though even then I cannot smell him. He has done his work and just watches as Honey and I kill all the rest of the humans. Dragon is very lazy.

Bees swarms about the outside of the camp and stings anyone who tries to leave. She has changed to the venom that stops hearts.

Bees' channel: Integrity 67% This squad member will require replacement units shortly; please accelerate the hatching of new bodies.

Most of the humans who are hiding are the small humans, the immature ones. Master says we must kill all of them.

Honey says this is because we are on a covert operation. Bees concurs. Dragon doesn't care now he has neutralised his target. I don't care because I am doing what Master wants and Master will be happy with me.

I am Rex. I am a Good Dog.

CHAPTER 2

(redacted)


There is a theatrical anecdote: an actor takes a friend to see a play. Midway through, from their seat up in the gods, he says, "This is a good bit. This is where I come in."

This is where I come in. Right now at this moment I am waiting for my own entrance, to see what role I will play: hero or villain or just a spear-carrier in someone else's war.

Do I say 'This is where it starts?' There's nowhere where it starts. Life is constant creation, change and destruction. The trick is knowing one from the other. Did it start with the first working Bioform? With the first computer? What about hu- man ingenuity; what about the first time man laid hand on dog and said Good boy?

My involvement with the Campeche insurrection at the start was mostly the day job, but in the secret back rooms of my mind I held committee meetings from which arose a very personal interest in the cutting edge of Bioform research. Rex's Multiform pack was that cutting edge, the first time a lot of that tech was being deployed in the field. And the rumours about where that point was being inserted were already popping up on conspiracy fora worldwide. Redmark's own brand management team was fanning them, in fact, exaggerating them to take the accusations from serious speculation into balls-out flat-earth-lizard-people-land. Everyone knows the best way to bury a story is in another story.

But still, those rumours were gaining traction, seeping out into the more respectable political blogs. No matter how much of a valiant rearguard action the brand managers were fighting, there were going to be questions that couldn't just be smirked away.

So I went to the Campeche to see the wolves run.

I did not know how momentous a meeting it was going to be.

I made the same mistake as the others, at first. I thought that Rex was just a thing, and bad PR. I thought I would need to spin it as nothing more than 'dog bites man' and shut down the programme. I was not ready for Rex and Honey and Dragon and Bees.

Bees, especially, I was not ready for.

But I was still young and learning, and I sent myself into the Campeche.

CHAPTER 3

Hartnell


"When I was a boy," said Hartnell, "everyone said it would be robots. Robots would fight the wars for us: drones and metal soldiers and tanks with electronic brains. And they'd rise up against us and exterminate the human race, granted, but up until that point it would be robot soldiers on every battlefield on earth. When I was at Yale, half my class were going to be the next big thing in autonomous cybernetics. Now they're wondering where it all went wrong for them." He squinted at his guest to see if she was listening. Her face displayed only a sort of polite interest he suspected was easily faked.

Her name was Ellene Asanto. Four hours ago she had touched down in Hopelchén in a little two-seater flitter that had got the hell out of there the moment her feet touched the ground. Air travel further into Campeche was not advised for health reasons, and so Hartnell had seen her jostled and jolted down a succession of dirt roads, through checkpoints, and occasionally through opportunistic shooting, all to bring her here.

Also, she didn't drink, or she didn't drink to match him. Hartnell travelled with two bottles of whiskey at all times and rationed them religiously, taking minute sips every time true sobriety reared its ugly head. And where did it all go wrong for me, then? came the self-pitying thought, but he managed not to voice it. Asanto was the only woman he had seen in some time who wasn't a Redmark grunt or a terrified local, and he was entertaining desperately doomed hopes of getting her to like him.

After all, what nice girl doesn't like a cyborg systems whizz with a diploma from Yale? Except things had gone badly enough for this boy genius that here he was in a war zone playing assistant kennel master for Redmark Asset Protection. There was a lieutenant's patch on his wilfully unkempt uniform, but he was the only man on Redmark's payroll here who didn't carry a gun.

Asanto was some kind of corporate stooge sent to see how Redmark's mad science division was spending its money, or that was the impression he got. He also got the idea that it wasn't his place to question her about it. She was a tall, slender Hispanic woman – not much shorter than long- boned, skinny Hartnell – who had turned up in the beating heart of a Campeche State September wearing a long dark coat, with a white scarf about her neck. With the sunglasses it made her look like last century's film star. He'd offered to take them for her, because he was in his shirtsleeves and still sweating like a pig. Her refusal had been coolly cordial. She had thermoregulatory implants, she had told him crisply. "It's got me job security, if nothing else. Whenever something kicks off near the equator, they send for me. Nobody else wanted this job."

She was still looking at him, waiting for him to get to the point about the cyberneticists, so he blurted, "It was that clusterthing in Kashmir that did it, of course," taking another sip and waving the bottle hopefully at her.

"You can say 'clusterfuck', Hart. I'm not going to start bleeding from the ears."

He blinked rapidly. Call me Hart, he had said, so she had and now he felt wrong-footed every time she did. "You, ah, ever see any of the footage that came out of Kashmir?" he asked her.

"I saw enough," she confirmed. Machines hacked by machines hacked by machines until it was all corrupted code and nobody had any control over what was going on there. Abruptly nobody had wanted to hire a robot army. It had looked as though the human race was going to have to make do with waging war the old-fashioned way, with human flesh and blood. But more than a few far-sighted weapons divisions had seen the collapse coming. They'd already been working on options.

Encryption had come a long way since then; there were plenty of cyberneticists saying it was time to give the robots another crack of the whip. Hartnell kept professional tabs on a number of replacement soldier programs aiming for the infallible and perfect robot infantryman. But the footage from Kashmir was still in people's minds. It had been a humanitarian disaster. Parts of the region remained no-go zones because some of those machines were still going strong, drinking in the sunlight and killing anything that moved.

Thus leading to the rise of Bioform infantry; thus to the age of the dog, to Hartnell's posting here and to Ellene Asanto flying out to Hopelchén because someone up the chain was curious, but insufficiently so to actually go themselves.

The air inside the armoured car was like an oven, and smelled of sweat and metal and the sharp tang of his whiskey. When they slowed to a crawl for the hundredth time, he cursed and banged on the ceiling as though trying to encourage a coachman. A moment later the message pinged in his implant: Arrived. From Asanto's expression, she'd already worked that out.


(Continues...)Excerpted from Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Copyright © 2017 Adrian Tchaikovsky. Excerpted by permission of Head of Zeus Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

--This text refers to the hardcover edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B06XXJ4P9H
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Head of Zeus (November 2, 2017)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ November 2, 2017
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 2039 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Sticky notes ‏ : ‎ On Kindle Scribe
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 302 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,781 ratings

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Adrian Tchaikovsky was born in Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire before heading off to Reading to study psychology and zoology. For reasons unclear even to himself he subsequently ended up in law and has worked as a legal executive in both Reading and Leeds, where he now lives. Married, he is a keen live role-player and occasional amateur actor, has trained in stage-fighting, and keeps no exotic or dangerous pets of any kind, possibly excepting his son. Catch up with Adrian at www.shadowsoftheapt.com for further information about both himself and the insect-kinden, together with bonus material including short stories and artwork. Author Website: http://shadowsoftheapt.com/

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