My science fiction novel Afterlife will be a free promotion on Amazon this Friday through Sunday. I wrote Afterlife in 2010, when I was still producing novels for submission to agents, and had to write them to a certain format. When I decided to self publish I had to take out the underlining, single space the type, change the font, and on and on. Now I write everything for self publication, with the proper format to start. I wrote Afterlife, Daemon and Aura in 2010, as well as the very long first drafts of Exodus and Refuge. Some of my books are doing really well, starting with Exodus: Empires at War: Book 1 and Book 2, which have sold over 12,000 copies between them. The Deep Dark Well has sold almost twenty-five hundred copies after a giveaway of over four thousand. Refuge: The Arrival: Book 1 and Book 2 are both in the thousand range, and even Doppelganger and Shadows of the Multiverse are over five hundred sales. So then I have my problem children that are simply not pulling their weight. Being on the electronic bookshelf they can stay, but I would like to see more from them. So back to the promotions that did so well for the other books in 2012. Will probably do The Scorpion, my worst seller, next, and then on to the others. Now I believe in all these books. Not all are of the same quality, I will grant that, though the drop off is not too severe. All are good stories, with mostly quick moving plots. And all contribute to my portfolio as a whole. Of my other books, most have done well after their promotion, some better than others, and Exodus took off without any kind of giveaway.
Now to Afterlife. Afterlife is set in the near future, about fifteen years from now. A method is discovered for uploading minds into computers. Unfortunately, the technique involves scanning the brain with a laser, a catastrophic procedure that destroys the brain in the process. Not to appealing to most people, but what about those who are terminally ill and don’t buy into the life after death offered by the world’s religions. The Afterlife Corporation is started to offer these people a virtual life after death that is, if anything, more interesting that life. And they are in a world where their mental processes are faster, their memories perfect, able to accomplish things their purely organic forms weren’t. Some of the finest minds on Earth take advantage of the process, scientists, philosophers, engineers, generals, until ten thousand of the best and brightest are existing in this virtual world. But many of the living, the organics as they come to be called, are not happy at this state of affairs. The World’s religions, who see the uploading process as suicide and damnation for the souls of the virtuals. And family members who see the inheritances they believe theirs still in the hands of simulations of their loved ones. Led by a fundamentalist United States President the World declares war on Afterlife. But the virtual minds are not helpless, and develop weapons of frightening power that threaten the existence of the world. And now for the excerpt.
I love this, thought the virtual personality that called itself Stuart James. He had spent the entire night, nine hours since he had been uploaded, using almost the full capacity of the system in the Arizona complex. That had equaled over a hundred days of real time to learn the systems and the weapons he would use to defend the complex. And now he was running on overdrive again in the actual defense of the complex.
So far he had not had to use any of the other personalities, including the copies of himself, in the defense. They were active, but mere spectators at the moment. They could be given active control of weapons whenever needed, but so far there had been no need.
James watched another wave of artillery rounds coming in, a slow motion swarm of seventy-two shells. A group of sixty-four mortar shells arched over the sound screen, while several dozen rockets left their launch racks on helicopters and flew a high angle attack profile. Meanwhile, the tanks were cycling through armor piercing discarding sabot rounds as fast as they could. And all were crawling across his perception.
The defense algorithms were good, good enough in many respects to handle this defense. But James’ personality in overdrive was even better. He spotted the leakers that would have made it through the curtain and allocated the defenses to take them out, shifting resources to cover the new gaps that appeared because of that shift. This went on for hours, as the guardsmen expended ordnance and James stopped it. He could see from his sensors that they were getting tired. The barrages were coming in a bit more ragged and spaced further apart. He, on the other hand, felt no fatigue. He could keep going for many more hours, or the subjective week he had already been at it many times over. He smiled to himself again, looking forward to the next phase of the assault, like a video game’s next level.
* * *
“And we were attacked today by forces of the United States Government,” said Travis Fulcher, his image on TV, beamed from the Montana Complex to a Geosynch satellite and down to the Atlanta studios of CNN. “This was an unprovoked assault upon our persons and property.”
“The government is saying little about this assault on your Arizona complex,” said the CNN anchor, looking up from her desk on her side of the split screen. “We’ve only heard from them that there was action taken in Arizona, but nothing about the results.”
“We were not harmed in any way,” said Fulcher, a smile on his face. “And we harmed none of the Federal forces. We simply used defensive systems to stop their ordnance before it could impact on the mesa under which our complex is built.”
“The Arizona National Guard has claimed that there were casualties from today’s exercise,” said the anchor woman, her face serious. “They claim to have lost six people due to the actions of Afterlife. How do you answer that claim?”
“With this satellite footage,” answered the spokesman for Afterlife. The screen switched to an overhead view. Two attack helicopters collided as they maneuvered for shots at the Afterlife complex. One moved away with smoke trailing from its engines, still under control. The other, two of its rotor blades snapped and the remaining four twirling off balance, twisted in the air as it fell. It landed on top of a Bradley IFV, turning both air and ground vehicles into a ball of flame.
“The Guard lost its people due to an accident over the battlefield,” said Fulcher, his face grim. “An accident they could have avoided if they had just left us alone. Which brings me to my second pronouncement of the day.”
“And that is,” said the CNN anchor woman, her eyes narrowing.
“We of Afterlife hereby declare ourselves to be the citizens of an independent nation,” said Fulcher, his eyes looking with intensity from the screen. “The territories occupied by our Arizona and Montana complexes have seceded from the United States of America. We seek the confirmation of the other nations of the world, through the United Nations, of our status as a free and independent nation. And we offer this warning to the Government of the United States of America. You have seen what we were capable of today. Don’t push us, or you will be sending letters to the homes of young service men and women.”
The image of Fulcher went away and the screen expanded to show only the anchor woman.
“And the government had this response,” said the woman. The screen switched again to show a severe looking white man in his fifties, the triple stars of a general on the collar of his camouflaged fatigues.
“For all we know they knocked one of those helicopters out of the air and made them collide,” said the man, chin jutting out in defiance.
“And what about their warning, General Mitchell?” asked the off screen reporter.
“They’re only two small compounds with what, fifty or sixty square miles under their control,” said the General with a smirk. “Not even that in Arizona. We’ve taken all but a couple of square miles away from them there. And they’re threatening the most powerful military on Earth. Just who in the hell do they think they are?”
The scene switched back to the anchor woman in Atlanta, her intense eyes looking out from the screen as she looked up from some papers to her front.
“In related news, National Guardsmen and women from the land and air National Guard have been called to duty and activated to Federal service. Guardsmen from Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Montana, Idaho, North and South Dakota and California have been called to active duty. Regulars are also getting ready for this developing national crisis.”
The screen switched again with the placard Foot Hood at the bottom. Occupying the screen was a young black man, microphone in hand, train cars with tanks in the background.
“Everett Murphey here,” said the man, looking into the camera. “Behind me are tanks from the First Cavalry Division, which are being mobilized for deployment to Arizona. I will be embedded with the First of the Seventh Mechanized Infantry of the First Brigade. We are expected to cross the state lines out of Texas by evening, and be in Arizona by the next day.”
Fulcher continued to watch the TV broadcast, as well as all the other newscasts, on a separate channel of his mind, just as he was sure all the other virtuals in the room were doing.
“What do you think?” he asked of the other virtuals, and the avatar of General Maxwell, who had joined the meeting from the real world board room.
“I think they’re getting ready to stomp us with ten league boots,” said Jasper Delaquort, a journalist who had made his company into a worldwide megalith. “It might have been a mistake to make that declaration of independence.”
“But we’ve gotten some results already,” said Marlene Joaba, a billionaire who had been the US Ambassador to the UN for over a decade. “China and Russia have both acknowledged our existence.”
“Only because it discomfits the United States,” said Lucious DeFaulq, the automobile maker. “It really does no practical good. Those countries aren’t willing to go to war with America over a virtual country.”
“I think our response is more important than their response,” said Walt Disney, his young voice firm. “We have what, four weeks and some off days before Odyssey orbits. And then we’re home free.”
“Maybe not home free,” said Ted Williams, dressed in his officer’s dress uniform. Not the uniform of the United States Air Force, which was no longer his service. The new uniform of the Afterlife Air Force, which was much more twenty-first century. “We still have to stand off the world’s most powerful military.”
“Half of which is deployed overseas,” said Fulcher, calling up a rotating globe of the Earth over the conference table. Red dots flashed all the US Military assets, and there were indeed a lot of them off the North American Continent. Most at sea, but many in the Middle East and Asia.
“Still,” said Disney, looking up from something he had been studying. “Half is still a lot.”
Gary had been listening to the others with half an ear. Of course, with a virtual that meant that he heard exactly everything said, and could play back the conversation in his mind verbatim, with all nuances and tones intact. There was never a misunderstanding in the virtual world of anything anyone said. He had loved that part of it with Elaine, no arguments. But it had hurt politicking as usual here. It was hard to lie, and then say you didn’t.
“What about that special project Dr. Frankle has been working on?” asked Walt, looking over at Fulcher. “That held some promise, did it not?”
“Probably not enough to help us through this current crisis,” answered Fulcher, the defacto President of Afterlife. “We could still probably develop a weaponized version of the device, even if we can’t teleport ourselves out of here.”
“I, for one,” said Disney, his eyes growing fierce, “will not countenance the use of extra-dimensional weapons on Earth. The horror and devastation we unleash could be unprecedented. I’ll not see that done to my home.”
“Even if it could save your virtual skin?” asked Fulcher, looking Walt squarely in the eyes.
“Some things come with too great a cost,” said Walt, looking around the room as several others nodded their agreement.
“What do you think, Jeffers?” asked Fulcher, breaking Gary away from the project he was still caught up in.
Gary left the project with his copy in the lab and turned all his attention to the meeting. He thought for a moment before answering. Frankle was a genius in astrophysics and cosmology, who was working on practical applications of twenty-one dimension theory. Some of those applications were wonderful, possibly opening up faster than light travel by way of the almost infinitely small dimensions. Some were terrifying, such as the creation of singularities, and could be used as the most destructive weapons imaginable. Gary couldn’t even follow some of the math involved, but was gratified to find that the brilliant scientist couldn’t make heads or tails of some of the magnetic field equations that Gary used in his work. But all in all.
“I agree with Walt and Ted and the rest,” said Gary, nodding to those around the table who thought it too risky. “Maybe when we get into space we might want to fool around with some of the theory. I would say far off from wherever we happened to be at the time, since I don’t want to see the inside of an event horizon. But right now I would say, no. Don’t use that stuff on Mother Earth.”
“Even if it saves your life?” said Fulcher, his eyebrows raised.
“Not even if it saves my life,” said Gary, looking at the man’s eyes and not liking what he saw. “Some things are not worth that kind of risk, including all of us.”
“OK,” said Fulcher, in a tone that meant it was anything but. “We’ll table the development of extradimensionals for the time being, and concentrate on what we already have in hand. How about the development of the battle robots?”
“They have advanced about as far as they are capable at this time?” said Gary, smiling as he looked at what he had developed for the common good. “We will have infantry support that is every bit as intelligent and mobile as the human forces we might face. And much more mobile in other respects.”
“Invulnerable warriors?” asked Walt with a laugh that spread around the room.
“Not invulnerable,” said Gary, shaking his head. “But damned tough. You’ve all taken rides in the last model, but these are much more agile. You might want to run some sims and see how they handle. The real deals are undergoing the last of the modifications. In other words, the bugs are working on them, and they’ll be ready and able to go by tomorrow.”
“And how do you feel about releasing them on living humans who are trying to destroy you?” asked Fulcher, a tight smile on his face as he looked at Gary.
“I have no problem with that whatsoever,” said the electronics expert, returning the smile in kind. “If they want to end me, I say bring them on.”
Gary stopped and thought for a moment while the conversation continued in the virtual room. He replayed that last sentence he had said in his head, and the thoughts and emotions that had gone along with it. He didn’t think he had been that gung ho a month ago. He was sure he worried more about the well-being of his fellow man, especially those vulnerable specimens out in the real world. When had this change of attitude come about? Had he changed, as people were wont to change in the real world as they went through trials and tribulations? Or had he been reprogrammed without his consent?
I’ll think about it tonight, he thought, also resolving to discuss it with Elaine, to use her as a sounding board. And if he figured that someone had been changing his mind for him? He would consider his options then.
Gary looked at Fulcher as the man continued to speak. How had he become our leader? He thought. Had it been because Fulcher had been a big wheel with the Afterlife Corporation? Or because he had been the first of them to be uploaded? Or something else? Again Fulcher looked at Gary, his eyes gleaming with predatory intensity. Gary felt himself shudder for a moment, then looked away. Tonight would be soon enough for these thoughts. Today was time for the strategy of survival.