The final installment in Neal Asher's fantastic Owner trilogy is coming out in the United States soon — but you don't have to wait to get your first taste of the action. We've got an exclusive excerpt right here.
Here's the official synopsis of Jupiter War:
Meet Saul: half human, half robot, and all he wants is to take his sister the hell out of Mars and back to Argus Station, a satellite off of Earth. But Serene Galahad cannot allow that, for while Saul remains in the solar system he might still be within her destructive grasp. Meanwhile, discontent on the Argus grow between the "chipped"—those with a brain implant enabling them to control robots—and the non-"chipped."
As Galahad's Scourge ship limps back to Earth—its earlier mission to annihilate Saul a failure — some members of the decimated crew plan to murder Galahad before she has them killed for their failure. But Clay Ruger plans to negotiate for his life. As events build to a climax, the question remains: what price is Galahad willing to pay for humanity's future?
And here's an exclusive excerpt:
Saul had understood, from the moment Var breathed easily again, that it was time to start acting and stop reacting. Images from Earth he had viewed during his descent to Mars showed that, while the Scourge had been out here hunting them, Serene Galahad had not been idle. He counted at least ten mass drivers operating, the framework of three huge ships taking shape amidst the ever-expanding Mars Traveller construction station, also a structure down on Earth that already looked like a test bed for something similar to the Rhine drive. If he continued just reacting they would die, so he needed to work harder and faster than the sum industrial and technical might of Earth.
"We'll need more power than what's available out here," said Var.
Saul focused his human facet on her, aware already that he was dealing with someone angry and prideful and little in love with being merely a subordinate. Whether his sister had always been like that he did not have sufficient memory of her to know. He also wondered if her recent experiences here might have changed her.
"Fusion should supply enough power to begin the work, but, yes, I agree: we need more power." He turned and stepped into the cave. "I'll take Argus close to the sun when we are done here."
"And what do you intend to get done here?"
"As I said, I want to get the Mars-format space plane up and running," he said. "The people here will be relocated to Argus while I strip Antares Base of anything useful, like the fusion reactor."
"You'll give them no choices?" she asked, apparently pleased by the idea.
"They can stay on Mars and die, if they so choose," he said bluntly.
The floor of the cave was uneven, and in places they had to scramble over boulders, after which Saul found himself panting, despite weighing just over a third of what he weighed on Earth. Deeper in, he began to note calcite formations—the nubs of stalactites and stalagmites that had never had a chance to get as big as anything similar on Earth. They had to be billions of years old.
"But, still, there is the problem of Rhone," Var observed.
Saul grimaced, annoyed with himself now because he had not thought to bring a weapon. Just getting here and rescuing his sister had been an uncharacteristically overriding concern, while anything after that, down here, had seemed of little importance compared to everything else he had needed to do.
Now, because he hadn't been paying attention, the problems down here could become critical. Once out in the open again, he could take over their systems, but there were no readerguns he could use to remove Rhone. He and Var could sneak in and maybe seize some weapons—he had confidence enough in his own abilities in that respect—but all that seemed untidy, and there was still a chance that one or both of them might get killed.
"What do you suggest?" he asked, turning to study her.
"I want to kill Rhone," she said tightly, leaning against the cave wall and seemingly grateful for the pause. "But that's personal. Maybe, if you can link me through, I can talk to the whole base—let Rhone and the rest know the situation and get their response."
It was vague, imprecise.
"You could demand that Rhone step down," he suggested.
"I don't want to be their leader."
"You've fallen out of love with the idea?" Saul commented, moving on.
"Give me something to build and teams to command, and I'm fine. Making life-and-death decisions about people's future I'm not so fine with."
Of course, her pride had taken a heavy blow, and now Saul had offered her a way out. She wanted to deal with the nuts and bolts of a major space engineering project, as if that would be so much easier.
"I collected what data we have on you," he said. "On top of all your other qualifications you're a synthesist, which makes you much more qualified to lead people than many others who would like the job, including this Rhone. Sometimes the job chooses you and there are no other options."
He considered Hannah up on Argus as he said this: how sometimes it was necessary to accept responsibility because really there was no one else who could.
They trudged on through the darkness with long slow steps, their suit lights stabbing ahead of them. In his mind, Saul tracked their position on an old seismic map of this cave, pausing occasionally to study his surroundings. Some hours of silence passed as they laboured on, at one point crossing the bed of an ancient underground stream scattered with rounded pebbles. As he paused to aim his light in each direction along the pipe cut through the rock on either side of them, Saul understood that Var's decision to take Antares Base underground had been the best one in the circumstances, but that would have come to nothing once the might of Earth reached out here. It really did not matter how capable were the individuals or minor groups scattered about the solar system, because they simply could not bring to bear the kind of resources Serene Galahad had available. He started to move on, but Var suddenly swore and sprawled on the ground.
"You okay?" he asked.
She got back up onto all fours, then probed her side with one hand. "I need to rest."
"Are you hurt?"
"Cracked rib, but that's not my main problem." She stood up. "Thinking I was going to die, I didn't waste much of the little time I had left on sleeping."
"We'll take a break here," Saul said. "Do you have food?"
"Then eat and rest." Saul stepped over beside the wall of the stream bed and sat down, feeling grateful for a break himself. Var sat opposite him, sucking from her suit spigot for a while, but did not seem inclined to talk further. He watched her eyelids sag then finally close, detected the change in her breathing, and envied her—she'd fallen straight into a deep sleep. Checking his own physical condition, he felt no need for sleep, for he had slept long enough, but did feel the need for his body to recharge. He sucked from his own suit spigot—a protein paste packed with sugars, vitamins and minerals—until it was dry. He then switched over to fluids and gulped down a liter of some unidentifiable citrus liquid. Then he consciously ramped up the activity of his organs, cleaning out poisons and recharging all round, doing the best to bring his body to optimum efficiency in the shortest time. But even all this, involving considerable detail, occupied only a small portion of his intellect, so he considered other matters meanwhile.
Saul summoned up in his mind a schematic of the standard construction robot, along with ideas he had played with before about how it could be vastly improved. At present it was a singular machine and, though it looked like an ant, the idea of social insects had not been taken to its logical conclusion, and beyond. The robots must be designed as parts of a logical whole—all their components rendered interchangeable down to even their minds. Robots that consisted of three body parts and three sets of limbs should be made capable of both separating and conjoining. He visualized robots with just one body section and one pair of limbs mating up with similar fellows to create robots with any number of body sections and pairs of limbs, even up to centipede monsters. Outlining this general idea, he next concentrated on the specific: the alloys and meta-materials to be used, the dimensions of all the components, a new design of processor to run a whole new kind of software. Seven hours later, by the time Var reopened her eyes, he had perfected every detail.
"I'm sorry about that," she apologized.
"No problem at all," he replied, standing up. He really didn't resent the delay at all because he felt stronger after those hours of respite, and knew he had designed something truly inspired, even for him.
When they moved on again, Var wanted to talk. Hours passed as she picked at him for details of recent events. In turn, he tried to fill in some of the blanks in his recollection of her history, and occasionally ventured to fill the blanks in his own. He thus learned more about their parents, about their sheltered upbringing, about the tutors he drained of knowledge and discarded, and his steady progress to adulthood. It was all distantly interesting, but Saul could find no emotional connection there. Really, Var was telling him stories about someone else. Then, coming with a kind of inevitability, her next question focused on something he had been skirting around within his own mind.
"So, you'll turn Argus Station into something bigger and better—a spaceship the like of which has never been seen before," she said. "Then what?"
There was the question. Until they first started up the Rhine drive, every effort made had been towards survival. Now the Scourge was no longer a problem and, with luck, it would be some time yet before Earth could send anything else against them.
"Then I leave," he replied.
"The solar system."
"There will be some aboard Argus who won't like that."
"I'd like to offer them an alternative, but that's not feasible. I could take Argus to Earth right now, but there are Earth's defences to consider and also the fact—which I have made plain to them—that their next destination once they set foot on Earth would be an adjustment cell."
Glittering dust still hung in the air in front of them, even though it had been several days since the mining ahead had ceased. Many more hours had passed since their rest and, glancing at Var, Saul could see that she was again as weary as he himself felt. It would be better, he reckoned, if they did not approach the base in this state. Recollecting what he had seen on the way down, he said, "There are some pressurized cabins at the head of the shaft this Martinez began opening out?"
"Yes—and I don't think Rhone would have had time to close them down." She paused thoughtfully. "In fact, I wonder what he is doing, and what he now thinks is best for the base. He must know by now that the Scourge isn't coming here, and that puts him in a bad position. The base either has to be moved underground entirely or everything that has already been moved underground has to be brought back to the surface. Will your people up above have spoken to him?"
"I left instructions for them to ignore any communications sent from anyone but me."
"He'll be shitting himself," said Var. "He gambled on Serene Galahad and lost, so he might now be desperate enough to do something stupid."
Metal glinted under their suit lights and in the next moment they stepped out onto an area of compacted rubble. Looking up, Saul could see, silhouetted against the night sky of Mars, the scaffold leading up to the surface and the derrick above with the lifting platform firmly in place underneath it. No connection here with Argus which, by his calculation, sat just above the horizon and would fall behind it in just another half-hour. He would have liked to have put it geostationary above Antares Base but, with two moons whipping about out there, it was easier to put it into a stable orbit.
The cave directly ahead had been greatly enlarged and at their limit their suit beams vaguely picked out regular shapes: stacks of regolith blocks brought down from the old base, an ATV plus trailer, piles of equipment in plastic packing cases and other stacks of steel frames rescued from a geodesic dome. There were robots here, too, just a couple of them looming in the dark like steel herons. Saul reached out to them and found them on standby, but resisted the temptation to power them up and seize control of them. There seemed no point.
"We'll have to climb," Var pointed out. "Is that a problem for you?" Saul asked. "Not at all."
The low gravity made climbing so much easier. However, the low air pressure threatened to rack terminal velocity up high should either of them slip and fall. But, of course, as Saul reminded himself, his sister was quite well aware of that. He reached out and closed a hand on one of the nearest scaffold poles and found his grip firm. Without further ado, he began hauling himself upwards.
It was easy enough, and he only had to pause once to rest, wedging himself between the pole and the rock wall of the shaft. Checking Var, he saw that, despite her cracked rib, she had not needed to rest. When he reached the top of the scaffold she was there to help him out onto the surface. He still wasn't up to full fitness and wouldn't be for some time yet.
"Thanks," he said, because that was what you were supposed to say.
As he moved away from the shadow of the derrick he could sense the Antares Base computer network, far over to his left, like a three-dimensional flow diagram for a heating system. He could link into it from here, but there seemed no point at the moment. Instead he gazed at Argus over on the horizon. Now that its smelting plants were extended and gleaming like eyes in dimly reflected sunlight, it reminded him of how it had looked from the surface of Earth. A second later he was fully connected with the station's computer system, whereupon he immediately inserted his new robot schematics, also instantly generating an order for the necessary materials from the smelting plants. Next he tracked down Brigitta Saberhagen to her cabin, checking recent history to discover that she had only gone to bed after being awake for nearly forty hours. He left her alone and instead found the connections to ten particular minds and riffled through them to find the one he wanted.
Judd was one of those minds. The proctor was an amalgam of human and machine, either an android or a cyborg, the product of research carried out in Humanoid Unit Development aboard this station. On discovering the proctors here and under-standing the horror involved in that research, Saul had considered destroying them. But he had activated them, and now found them indispensable. In a way, they were more like him than any human aboard.
Judd was repairing and rerouting damaged optics leading from the Rhine drive to Tech Central, assisted by a human team of four people, one of them in an EVA unit. He sent Judd the schematics of the new robots, meanwhile idly checking what the other proctors were doing. Paul was in the Arboretum, pruning shattered trees and replanting those that had been uprooted. Two more proctors were out on the Arboretum skin, working with human teams and construction robots to remove vacuum penetration locks and to make repairs, while the rest were scattered around the station in similar pairs, doing similar work. They never slept, these proctors, though they did take time out for themselves, sitting like natives around technological camp fires, communing in some manner Saul did not want to intrude on because he felt that seeing through their eyes was more than enough.
"Interesting," said Judd.
"When you're done there, I want you to assist the Saberhagens," said Saul. "Let them take the lead, and only intervene if they start to go wrong."
"I will be done in two hours." "Good."
A further search now revealed Angela Saberhagen standing on a newly replaced glass floor above the robot factory, smoking a hand-rolled cigarette. Saul initiated a connection through her fone.
"Don't you know those are bad for you?" he remarked. "The least of my worries," she said, taking another drag.
"How close are you to getting the factory up and running?" he asked.
"You already know," she replied bluntly.
"Very well. I have a schematic for new robots for you to build, and the materials requisitions have gone to the smelting plants," he said. "I want you to retool as quickly as you can. Whenever you need to sleep, I want the work to continue, so I've sent Judd to assist."
She gazed up at the nearest cam. "New robots . . . How long before you start replacing us outdated humans, Alan?"
"That will never happen," he replied, and cut the connection. It was, he considered, a relevant question. He could allow the people up there to update themselves in the same way he himself had been updated, but he knew what the inevitable result would be. They would then be in competition with him, his power would be diminished and some would try to take it away from him. He might lose control. This was the same fear that turned democracies into totalitarian regimes and he wasn't immune to it. In fact, he did not care to be immune to it. The people aboard Argus would remain under his heel until he found some viable way to be free of them, though for the moment, he wanted that way not to necessitate exterminating them.
Even as he considered this quandary he accessed some of the brain-implant designs Hannah had stored in her system. He needed something to raise the people there above simple humanity—which, as his new robots came online, would be all but obsolete—but not something likely to raise them beyond his control. Where, though, in the plans developing both inside and outside his skull, to insert human beings? He saw them as control nexuses: either mentally controlling subgroups of robots or else controlling complex telefactored machines. Transforming them to his purpose would seem as dictatorial as the Committee, but what use were they to him if they were not . . . useful?
"So how are things there?" asked Var.
He pointed to the station. "The smelting plants are extended. One of them is already at work, while the other will be ready within a few hours. The robot factory will start producing our workers within that time too."
"We just need to get back there, then," she said, turning away and striding over to one of the cabins.
Saul hurried after her, crammed himself into the small airlock with her, and soon the both of them were inside the cabin itself. Var immediately undid her helmet and took it off.
"At last," she said, then turned and stepped through a door into the small washroom and toilet.
Saul removed his helmet and sniffed the stale air before surveying his surroundings. Along one wall of the cabin stood a single workbench loaded with equipment: dismantled electric motors, some hydraulic rams, a vice and a wide selection of hand tools that were run from pressure lines coiling down from a pipe along the ceiling. The rest of the room was occupied by a scattering of chairs around a low table improvised from food and drink boxes, with similar boxes stacked by the near wall, some foam mattresses and rolled-up sleeping bags, and a single desk with an old-style computer sitting on it, optics leading up from this machine into the ceiling.
He sat down at the desk to turn on the computer, and what had been a hazy and distant network suddenly etched itself into his brain as the computer connected to Antares Base and he linked to it via its modem. He slowly began to open up the bandwidth and explore, sampling here and there until he found the protection securing the computer in Mars Science, which he broke with a thought. He then speed-viewed the recorded exchanges between Rhone and Serene Galahad, understood the man's fears, lack of imagination and naivety, and moved on to locate the cam network and see what the base staff were doing.
The medical bay contained four bullet-riddled corpses on gurneys, while a doctor Saul soon identified as Da Vinci sat on the floor with his back against the wall, drinking some concoction out of an Erlenmeyer flask—probably surgical alcohol cut with fruit juice. Sixty of the personnel were confined to their rooms, each room locked down from Mars Science, while the rest occupied a community room. Those who were armed were gathered about Rhone himself on one side of the room, most of the rest sat in nervous silence while a few of them were arguing with Rhone and those accompanying him.
They wanted assurances but he now no longer had any to give them. He spoke eloquently of the tragic deaths of Var Delex and Lopomac, and expressed his displeasure at how some had sought to blame these deaths on him. The "some" were, Saul suspected, those four corpses in Da Vinci's surgery. No one believed him, even those around him with the guns, but those busy arguing obviously weren't prepared to state that outright. He talked about how they must now work together to survive and how the damage done during that lunatic move under-ground must be swiftly reversed. When they asked about Argus, he told them it was irrelevant, since there was no way anyone on the station could get to them. It seemed everything Saul was hearing had already been said and that Rhone was now reaching the end of his patience. The people were dismissed to their rooms with the instruction to await their work orders, and a warning that disobedience would not be tolerated. Saul with drew—he now knew all he needed to know.