Road to Damascus

Road to Damascus

3.5 6
by John Ringo, Linda Evans

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Keith Laumer's Bolos are Back-and New York Times Best-Selling Author John Ringo has Signed on with the Bolo Brigade! First Time in Paperback.

When a ruthless political regime seizes power on a world struggling to recover from alien invasion, a former war hero finds herself leading a desperate band of freedom fighters. Kafari Khrustinova, who fought Deng

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Keith Laumer's Bolos are Back-and New York Times Best-Selling Author John Ringo has Signed on with the Bolo Brigade! First Time in Paperback.

When a ruthless political regime seizes power on a world struggling to recover from alien invasion, a former war hero finds herself leading a desperate band of freedom fighters. Kafari Khrustinova, who fought Deng infantry from farmhouses and barns, finds herself struggling to free her homeworld from an unholy political alliance, headed by the charismatic and ambitious Vittori Santorini, which has seduced her young daughter with its propaganda and subverted the planet's Bolo, using the war machine to crush all political opposition. To free her homeworld, Kafari must somehow cripple or kill the Bolo she once called friend. Unit SOL-0045, "Sonny," is a Mark XX Bolo, self-aware and intelligent. When Sonny's human commander is forced off-world, Sonny tries to navigate his way through ambiguous moral and legal issues, sinking into deep confusion and electronic misery. He eventually faces a dark night of the soul, with no guarantee that he will understand-let alone make-the right decision. And caught in the middle of this volatile battlefield is Yalena Khrustinova, Kafari's young daughter. Will she open her eyes in time to save herself-and millions of innocents-or will Santorini's relentless brainwashing campaign continue to blind her while the tyrant engineers the ultimate destruction of a helpless and enslaved population?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Readers interested in ethics as well as tactics will welcome this splendid new entry in the late Keith Laumer's Bolo series from military SF masters Ringo (When the Devil Dances) and Evans (Far Edge of Darkness). When the planet Jefferson faces an interplanetary Volkswanderung every bit as nasty as when the Huns drove the Goths into Roman territory, commander Simon Khrustinov and his Unit SOL-0045, a "Surplus on Loan" Bolo, "but still the finest Bolo any man could claim as partner and friend," defeat the alien menace. (Bear in mind that a Bolo is a self-aware tank roughly the size of the Pentagon that packs more firepower than most combatant powers of WWII.) However, this turns out to be just the start of the trouble. Much of Jefferson's infrastructure has been devastated, and the reconstruction entails unpopular taxes and conscription. When the government falls into the hands of radical utopians, the planet's new rulers eventually attempt to use the Bolo to destroy their class enemies in a blaze of ethnic cleansing. The subsequent conflicts within the sensitive Bolo's core programming cause the machine to question the reason for its existence. Laumer may rest easily knowing that his creation is in good hands. Ringo and Evans have written a strong cautionary tale that entertains as well as instructs, even if at times those lessons can be less than subtle. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In the midst of an ongoing interplanetary war between human-colonized worlds and the hostile alien species known as the Deng, one planet chooses to rebel against the sentient BOLO war machines that serve as the primary line of defense against the Deng. Ringo (Hell's Faire) and Evans contribute another tale of military sf to the series of novels featuring the BOLOs originated by sf author Keith Laumer. Despite the general hawkish politics lacing the plot's subtext, the authors provide a wealth of military action along with a cast of well-developed characters, including a sympathetic BOLO named Sonny. A good choice for series fans and readers of military sf. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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Bolo Series
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5.00(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.30(d)

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The Road to Damascus

By John Ringo Linda Evans

Baen Books

ISBN: 0-7434-7187-3

Chapter One

I crawl toward the enemy, blind and uncertain of my every move. This is not the first battle I have fought over this broken, bloody ground, but it may be my last. The enemy is ruthless and keenly skilled, led by a commander whose battlefield brilliance has consistently outmatched the government's admittedly wretched field-grade generals. Any commander who can catch a Bolo Mark XX in one successful ambush after another is a force to be reckoned with. I do not make the mistake of underestimating him.

I am in pitiful condition for battle, but this rebellion must be stopped. As the only fighting force left on Jefferson with any hope of defeating the rebellion's high command, it is up to me to restore law and order to this world. Civil war is a bloody business, at best, and this one has been no exception. I am not happy to be caught in the middle of it.

I am even less happy with the terrain in which I must face Commodore Oroton and his veteran gunners. The terrain through which I creep is ideal country for the rebel army which has made its strongest camp here. Klameth Canyon is more than a single, twisting cut of rock slashed through the heart of the Damisi Mountains. It is a whole series of canyons, narrow gorges, and tortuous blind corries. Tectonic action buckled ancient sandstone badlands and shoved the broken slabs upwards in a jumble that stretches the length of the continent. The deep canyons carved by wind, weather, and wild rivers still exist, but they have been twisted askew by the titanic forces inherent in the molten heart of a world. Above the ancient canyon walls, the high, broken peaks of the Damisi range climb toward the sky, jagged teeth above a spider's tangle of gashes in the earth.

I have never seen terrain like it and I have been fighting humanity's wars for more than one hundred twenty years. Even Etaine, the worst killing field I have ever known, was not as disadvantageous as the ground I cross now. If it had been, humanity would have lost that battle-and that world. I fear I will lose this one, for there is no worse terrain on Jefferson for fighting an entrenched army. Commodore Oroton, naturally, has chosen it as his final battleground.

The only way into-or out of-Klameth Canyon by ground transport is through Maze Gap, which I cleared nearly an hour ago. I anticipate ambush from moment to moment, but the commodore's gun crews do not fire. I mistrust this quiescence. I have all but given up trying to outthink Commodore Oroton, since I am almost invariably wrong. His battlefield decisions are frequently devoid of straightforward logic, which makes any attempt to predict his moment-to-moment actions fiendishly difficult. If I had a Brigade-trained human commander with plenty of combat experience, he or she would doubtless fare much better than I have, working on my own.

But I do not have a human commander, let alone a Brigade officer. The president of Jefferson, to whom I report and from whom I take directives that equate to orders, has the power to issue instructions that I am legally obligated to obey, under the terms of Jefferson's treaty with the Concordiat. The president, however, is not a soldier and has never served in any branch of the military, to include Jefferson's home defense forces. He has never even been a police officer. When it comes to conducting battlefield operations-or outfoxing an enemy commander-Jefferson's president is spectacularly useless.

None of these facts raise my spirits as I crawl through terrain I can barely see. If not for the battle archives I carry in my experience databanks, my situation-and my progress through Klameth Canyon-would be impossible. Using my on-board records, I am at least reasonably able to steer a course through the twists and turns of Klameth Canyon. I am less concerned with ephemera such as houses, barns, and tool sheds that did not exist when I last fought for this ground, because small structures pose no navigational hazards. If necessary, I will simply drive through them. My main concern is what may lie hidden inside or behind those structures.

So far, no enemy weapons have opened fire.

I am tempted to accept the simplest reason, that no one has opened fire because everyone in the canyon is already dead. That guess cannot be far from the truth. The only visual images I am able to obtain-ghostly medium IR splotches of muted color-reveal a scene of carnage. Thousands of cooling bodies have dropped below the ambient air temperature of evening. The dead lie packed into training camps where the enemy sheltered, armed, and trained them in techniques of guerilla warfare. Had Commodore Oroton been able to field this army, today's setting sun might well have gone down on a very different scenario.

I scan continuously for power emissions, particularly in the range common to most military equipment, but my search remains futile. Commodore Oroton's troops have vanished into these broken mountains and the forests that fringe them, leaving me hunting for needles in a thirty-seven-kilometer-long haystack-not counting the hundreds of kilometers of side canyons. I grind forward, pausing at each twisting turn, each junction with another gorge, each farmhouse, barn, and refugee-camp shack, looking for emissions that might conceal mobile Hellbores or lesser field artillery, scanning with sputtering IR for some trace of enemy infantry that might be concealed, ready to strike with hyper-v missiles or octocellulose bombs. I have had entirely too many encounters with octocellulose to ignore that particular threat. At each road junction, I chart temperature differentials that might indicate mines scattered in my path, mines that I could see clearly, if my visible-light-spectrum sensors were operational. With nothing but IR working, I could blunder into a minefield-or virtually anything else-without the slightest warning.

by the time I swing into the last stretch of canyon between myself and the largest rebel stronghold, night has fallen, increasing my visual-acuity woes. This last stretch of ground is the worst I will face, for the commodore has tucked his base camp into the dead-end turn of the canyon that houses the Klameth Canyon Dam and its hydroelectric power plant. The retaining wall of the dam has turned the deep gorge into a box canyon, of sorts, since there is no way out except by turning around and going back or climbing up the face of the dam.

I cannot climb the dam and I will not turn around until my task here is done. The commodore knows this. That is the reason he chose this spot to make a final, defiant stand. I cannot blow the dam. My own probable demise-or at least crippling injury-is not the cause for my reluctance. Even discounting the critically needed crops in Klameth Canyon's fields, which would be destroyed if several billion tons of water were to come crashing through the canyon, there are other important considerations. Not the least of these are the towns lying downriver from Maze Gap.

Madison, the capital city, is one of them.

I cannot blow the dam.

How, precisely, I will dislodge Commodore Oroton, I have not yet worked out. If nothing else, I will simply sit there until I starve him and his crew to death. But he will not leave Dead-End Gorge alive. Anticipation builds in my Action/Command core as I move down the final stretch of road toward the narrow opening into Dead-End Gorge. The Klameth River runs deep and swift, here, through a channel artificially deepened by terraforming engineers to carry the overflow between the towering cliffs and out into Klameth Canyon, where it irrigates the fertile fields that feed most of Jefferson.

I have already crossed and recrossed this river many times, since entering the canyon through Maze Gap. This one, last crossing will take me into the teeth of Commodore Oroton's guns. This is not mere conjecture. Satellite images of the sheltered canyon, taken over the preceding five days, have revealed a heavy concentration of enemy artillery, including mobile 10cm Hellbores.

I detect power emissions of a military type rising faintly from the narrow gorge, all but masked over by the emissions of the hydroelectric plant. The commodore has shut down power to the floodplain-and the capital-by shutting down substations that route power across the Adero floodplain, but the plant itself is still fully operational, fueling the commodore's operations. The faint military emissions do not match the power signatures of Hellbores, which the rebellion has acquired in a distressing quantity, but I do not count that as evidence. Oroton has played a long and cagey game with his Hellbores. I assume nothing and merely note the momentary absence of emissions that would positively identify the presence of Oroton's heaviest artillery.

My greatest question is whether or not there is anyone alive to operate that artillery. The biological war agent the government troops detonated prior to my arrival will have killed anyone not protected by biochemical containment suits or inoculated against virals. It is known that Commodore Oroton has access to both, smuggled in from the neighboring star system's weapons labs. If the gunners were protected, they will launch an attack the moment I am close enough. I have finally reached that point. I rumble toward the narrow bend that gives access to Dead-End Gorge and the dam. The canyon walls, radiating heat they have absorbed during the day, glow more brightly than the pastures and fields. The road is a ribbon of light, warmer than the soil by several degrees centigrade, depending on the nature of the surrounding soil, vegetation, or outcroppings of stone.

A farmhouse sits next to the road, so close to the verge, I will have to drive through a substantial portion of the structure to reach the dam. This house was not here twenty years ago. Comparison between my on-board records and current conditions reveals the reason for this. A massive rockfall during my battle with the Yavacs devoured nearly a third of the acreage inside a perimeter of well-maintained fences. The original farmhouse was buried in the collapse and doubtless still lies beneath the colossal pile of stone that has not been removed.

The farmer rebuilt near the road to conserve land for replanting. A creative solution, but it will lead to a flattened house. I doubt the owner will care, since I can see at least one body lying near the open front door, sprawled across the foyer floor, doubtless running to reach shelter in a "safe room" concealed within the house. If Commodore Oroton plans an ambush before I reach the entrance to Dead-End Gorge, it will be launched from this house. I approach with extreme caution and consider simply blowing the house apart as a prophylactic measure, striking at a possible enemy before he strikes at me.

I move forward, sensors straining to their utmost, damaged limits. I am six point zero-nine meters from the corner of the house when sudden motion flares to life. A single person emerges through the front door on a direct attack run toward my warhull. I whip port-side guns around. Acquire the target. Lock on fire-control relays-

-and hold my fire.

There is, indeed, a person running across the narrow yard toward me. But that individual is not an adult. Given its height, girth, and toddling gait, I surmise that I am facing a very young child. It is perhaps six years old, at most. It carries something in both hands, an object I classify-for seventeen nanoseconds-as a rifle or carbine. I revise that assessment as I note its dimensions and the heat signature it gives off, which suggest a toy rather than a functional weapon. The child carrying it rushes purposefully across the narrow front yard and stops in the middle of the road, directly in my path.

"You stop!" the child says in a high treble voice that I cannot decipher as either male or female. The fact that this child is on its feet at all, let alone barring my way, is astonishing, since it wears no biocontainment gear at all. The sole explanation I can devise is that the child was inside a virus-proof safe room when the attack came and that Sar Gremian was correct when he advised me on the anticipated duration of the bioweapon released here: lethal action was expected to cease after forty-five minutes. It has now been an hour since the initial attack.

I file the information away as useful data, then engage the child in conversation.

"I must enter Dead-End Gorge behind this house. Move out of the road."

"Uh-uh," the child says, standing fast in front of my treads. "You're noisy. You'll wake up Mommy and you'd better not do that!"

My initial estimate of this child's age drops by another two years. I scan the house as best I can and detect two other faintly warm shapes besides the one near the front door. I suspect these bodies, which are rapidly assuming the same temperature as their surroundings, belong to the child's parents or older relatives. I know a momentary anger that these people did not remove their young child from a free-fire zone declared in rebellion. These people chose not to leave. Their young child now stands directly between myself and the rebellion's high command.

Legally, the child is a rebel, a declared enemy. Regardless of its legal status, the child must be removed from my path. If I cannot persuade it to move, I will have to kill it, a prospect I do not relish. I must move through this narrow pass, however, and the destruction of one human-even a child-is well within the bounds of acceptable collateral damage.

I engage my drive train and move forward.

And jerk to a halt.

My treads have locked up, stopping me literally in my tracks.

I sit stupefied for nine point three-eight seconds. My treads are locked. They have locked on their own. Without conscious orders from my Action/Command Core. I attempt to drive forward again. I move a grand total of thirty centimeters. Then my treads lock again. Have they developed a mind of their own, independent of the rest of my psychotronic circuitry? I perform a rapid self-diagnostic on the processors and subassemblies governing control of my treads and discover no malfunction anywhere in the system.

This is cause for serious alarm. I have developed another ghostlike electronic glitch with no apparent determinant. I am now not only blind in most frequencies, I am immobilized. I consist of thirteen thousand tons of flintsteel, advanced weapons systems, and sophisticated psychotronic circuitry and I am stuck like a fly on tar paper. I experiment with reversed engines and succeed in backing up smoothly and efficiently, covering twelve meters effortlessly. I drive forward again. And lock up.


Excerpted from The Road to Damascus by John Ringo Linda Evans Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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