Rogue Berserker (Berserker Series #14)

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Overview

Harry Silver has already had a lifetime of trouble from ordinary Berserkers, the automated killing machines programmed an age ago to denude the galaxy of life. Now when his own family is kidnapped, he faces a deviant machine, a good fit for some or all of the Galactic Dictionary's definitions of ROGUE:
ROGUE: (1) A deceitful, double-dealing evildoer .. . (4) A fierce elephant or stamodont that has been banished from the herd . . . (10) Having a peculiarly malevolent or unstable ...

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Rogue Berserker

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Overview

Harry Silver has already had a lifetime of trouble from ordinary Berserkers, the automated killing machines programmed an age ago to denude the galaxy of life. Now when his own family is kidnapped, he faces a deviant machine, a good fit for some or all of the Galactic Dictionary's definitions of ROGUE:
ROGUE: (1) A deceitful, double-dealing evildoer .. . (4) A fierce elephant or stamodont that has been banished from the herd . . . (10) Having a peculiarly malevolent or unstable nature . . . (11) No longer loyal, affiliated, or recognized, and hence not governable or accountable . . . erring, apostate. - Galactic Dictionary of the Common Tongue
Ordinary Berserkers armed with weapons powerful enough to kill an entire planet were enough of a nightmare. What worse deviltry will a killing machine gone rogue attempt-and even if Silver can stop it, will he ever see his family alive again?

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416520696
  • Publisher: Baen
  • Publication date: 5/23/2006
  • Series: Berserker Series , #14
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 1,139,602
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 4.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Fred Saberhagen is the top-selling author of many popular science fiction and fantasy series. His Berserkers® have menaced the universe for over 40 years. His "Swords" and "Lost Swords" stories have caught the imagination of many fantasy readers. Equally intriguing are Saberhagen's exploits in the area of historical fantasy where figures such as Hitler and Lincoln, Daedalus and the pharaohs, populate his alternate worlds. On the border of history and fantasy Fred has created a unique picture of an old favorite, Dracula. More recent is the "Book of the Gods" series, a new telling of the ancient myths. Many of his works also appear in tape and e-book format. Before abandoning himself to imagination, he served in the US Air Force, worked as a civilian electronics technician, and wrote and edited articles on science and technology for the Encyclopedia Britannica. Born and raised in Chicago, he now lives and works with his wife, Joan Spicci, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Read an Excerpt

Rogue Berdserker


By Fred Saberhagen

Baen Books

Copyright © 2005 Fred Saberhagen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-7434-9873-9


Chapter One

ROGUE: (1) A deceitful, double-dealing evildoer... (4) A fierce elephant or stamodont that has been banished from the herd... (10) Having a peculiarly malevolent or unstable nature... (11) No longer loyal, affiliated, or recognized, and hence not governable or accountable... erring, apostate. -Galactic Dictionary of the Common Tongue

The tall thing with four arms came close to catching Harry Silver with its first three-legged rush at him in the dark alley. In frightening silence it burst out at him from the deeper darkness behind a tall stack of crates and boxes. It wasn't really running, but stepping rapidly across the gray resilient pavement on its trio of padded feet. Some inner alarm, a distillation of small clues and experience, clicked a warning in Harry's brain an instant before he actually saw the thing, granting him the essential moment to drop to the ground and roll out of the robot's way. One of its grabbers brushed Harry's right sleeve as its thin legs carried it by.

Dark alleys on unfamiliar planets were good places to avoid; this was the first time in standard years that he'd tried to use one for a shortcut.

The fact that the natural gravity on this world was a bit weaker than Earth-descended normal gave him the ability to move a shade faster than usual. He wasn't moving as swiftly as his opponent, but the disadvantage was not as great as it might have been... some part of his mind was still playing the role of spectator, and as he fell and rolled and spun away, he noticed that the alley floor was remarkably clean and smooth. Evidently the people living here on Cascadia prized neatness.

Coming up out of his roll into a crouch, Harry saw that his attacker was ten or fifteen centimeters taller than he was. Of course it would be vastly stronger. That he had managed to dodge it on its first rush meant it was slower than most machines, but no doubt it was fast and capable enough to get its job done, ninety-nine times out of a hundred. By now he'd recognized the type. People who dealt with such devices on a regular basis called them handpads, or more commonly just paddies-a step up from a footpad, an old name for a stealthy strong-arm robber. They were also a long step in the wrong direction, of robots designed to hurt people in some way. Such were thoroughly illegal, on every world that Harry knew about, but right now that fact was of very little help.

Even though a paddy was bad news, the identification brought relief. For just a moment Harry had feared that he was facing something infinitely worse. That fear was already proven baseless, the evidence being that he was still alive.

The robot he was facing would have been built, or rebuilt and illegally modified, in some clandestine shop. Quite possibly it toiled by day, like countless innocent general purpose machines, at some dull routine job. This one was equipped with four padded hands, or grippers- Harry had seen some paddy models that carried five, when you counted a sort of ropelike monkey-tail, which served the same purpose of grabbing and holding on. The monkey-tail had never worked the way it was supposed to, as Harry recalled. The carefully fitted pads were meant to prevent injury to the people they were designed to capture and restrain. The robot's master could hope that this calculated forbearance might offer a chance to avoid draconian punishment, should he or she be caught.

And a human master there would be, somewhere. One certainty was that the machine had not decided to do this all by itself. The robot's fagin would be staying in the background, out of sight, safe from fists and feet and whatever other form of opposition might materialize, waiting until the victim was blindfolded and helpless, before coming on the scene.

The model of paddy currently confronting Harry had no tail. Neither were its grippers divided into fingers-the fagin's all-too-human hands, at this point still remaining safely out of sight, would provide all the fingers necessary. He or she would walk on the scene only after the victim had been rendered helpless, clamped into immobility and probably blindfolded. Paddy's only function would be to hold the victim still while the human operator rifled his or her pockets, or got on with the commission of whatever other offenses against the person that might seem like fun. Robbery, without serious bodily harm, was not punished on the same scale as mayhem or murder. On any world where human law prevailed, as far as Harry knew, the penalties were severe for building, employing, or even just possessing any kind of self-guiding devices intended to actually injure people.

Following the robot's first rush, it had turned, unhurriedly reassessing its target. Now it was methodically stalking Harry. What little the man could see of his dark opponent in the dim light suggested that its head and body and arms were made of some composite material. If he punched any part of that surface with all his strength, he was probably going to break his hand.

To turn his back on it and run would only make the damned thing's job a little easier; he knew he wasn't going to outspeed those three long springy legs...

... the robot closed in, and suddenly there was an opening, and before Harry could make a conscious plan his body was doing its best to take advantage of the opportunity. His right leg got home with a thrusting kick on the bulky torso. The impact sounded like a note from a bass drum, and would have caved in the thickest human ribs. The robot was rocked back half a meter or so, but that was all. One of its grabbers, flailing wildly, thrown off its aim by the force of the kick, bruised Harry's extended leg but failed to catch hold.

This was not the kind of machine that people used when they set out to commit murder. There were a lot of simpler ways of killing, less trouble and more reliable. So, even if Paddy caught him it wouldn't kill, which meant he could take a bigger chance... he decided to let his left arm be seized.

One gripper had caught Harry by the left wrist, and yanked him almost off his feet, but he would bet his life that that one was pretty quickly going to let go of him again...

Now another gripper had Harry by one ankle, so he could no longer kick effectively with either foot. One second later it had seized his right arm... but his left arm was no longer being held, and he put the newly available fist to good use, rattling the thing's head with a karate blow that he could hope (not much of a hope, really) was hard enough to jar its senses. He struck again and again with his bladed left hand, satisfied to keep pounding even though he could get nothing like full power from the awkward position in which he was being held.

Ten or a dozen hits like that, and suddenly he was free. The robot was reeling back, legs gone awkward, stumbling to a collapse that left it wedged half under a metal railing, a kind of fence that defended a sunken areaway beside a dark-walled building

Gasping, picking himself up from where the thing had dropped him, Harry Silver stood unsteadily, a dark-haired man of indeterminate age, average height and wiry build, wearing the lightweight boots and coverall that served almost as a uniform for professional spacers. His chosen color for the coverall was mottled gray, almost a camouflage, aimed at avoiding attention rather than attracting it. Another violent encounter, long years ago, had left his nose pushed sideways, and it had never been entirely straightened. What the dim light revealed of his hands and forearms indicated strength.

Before approaching his fallen opponent, Harry looked around. It appeared that whoever might be paddy's fagin, its human master and controller, was going to remain out of sight. Screw up one robbery, robot, and you're an orphan. Nobody ever heard of you.

But the orphan was interesting. Probably it was not totally disabled, but it did appear to be stuck in a position where a reasonably careful man ought to be able to take a closer look at it with a minimum of risk.

Cautiously Harry moved forward, trying to get a better look at Paddy the Bad, wishing he had some extra light. Now he could see, with a certain satisfaction, that the parts of the robot's body that had come in close contact with Harry's left hand, beginning with one of the machine's wrists and its attached forearm, had been chewed into a ruin.

There were a couple of deep, narrow holes, each one fringed by a raw edge of composite, where material had been shredded into shagginess with little pieces falling off. The side of the robot's stubby head where Harry's bladed hand had pounded was in similar shape. An empty socket showed, where an eye lens had been crudely carved out of its lifeless skull. All in all, Harry's quondam opponent looked like it had lost a fight with a giant sewing machine.

It wasn't his merely human muscles and training that had wrought such havoc. Didn't he wish. He twisted the plain-looking, silvery ring on the little finger of his left hand.

As Harry, still breathing hard, backed away from his late opponent, a slight noise made him turn.

A well-dressed man, by his appearance most likely a tourist, was standing some ten meters away, in the mouth of the alley, bending forward a little, watching Harry warily. When Harry looked around, the man straightened and said, almost defensively: "I've called the police."

"That shows good citizenship," Harry grunted. This was one of the rare occasions when he wasn't going to mind having a conversation with the cops. Still keeping a wary eye on paddy-the well-dressed good citizen had disappeared-Harry moved to a handy curb and let himself sit down.

* * *

About five minutes later, a uniformed policeman had stepped out of his vehicle, taken his first look at the robot, and was remarking: "First time I've seen anyone get away from one of these."

Harry was about to retort that he hadn't got away, he was still here, but his better angel reminded him to be nice. Now an ambulance came rolling up, smoothly and silently, to stand beside the police vehicle. Harry grunted, turning his ring round on his finger. He would have to remember to recharge it soon. He was well aware that even with his secret weapon he had not vanquished the robot so much as caused it to recompute the situation and decide to call off its attack.

"Did it look like this when it first came after you?" the cop asked blandly. "I mean, was it all chopped up? Or maybe you had some kind of help."

"Maybe I did."

Approached by the human medic from the ambulance, Harry firmly declined a ride to a hospital, then compromised by submitting to on-the-spot first-aid treatment for his own trivial injuries. These consisted of a few scrapes, and a bruised calf where the grabber had failed to grab.

While this was going on, he gave the officer a good look at his ring, and began an explanation-he had no reason to believe that he was currently being recorded. Any of several combinations of commands and conditions triggered the action of a forceblade concealed in the ring, a nonmaterial cutter somewhat sharper than a microknife and a little stronger than ordinary steel, that stung and stabbed into anything or anyone whose behavior had triggered the defense.

The Cascadian cop was professionally interested. Harry demonstrated, briefly, on the robot's torso. The operation was almost silent, and the thin blur of concentrated force offered nothing at all to see except a little spray of fragments from its target.

Harry had given his ring's programming some thought. On its first flickering thrust, the blade of force stabbed out only one centimeter. The initial wound inflicted on a human body was hardly likely to be serious, but it would get anyone's notice. After an interval of one and one half seconds, it stabbed again, and one second after that blurred into a frenzy, the rate of repetition going up rapidly, along with the depth of the penetrations, the latter maxing at ten centimeters. Good armor would stop the little stabber cold, of course, but Paddy was neither a military machine nor the horror Harry had feared in his first bad moment.

The cop was shaking his head. "Cute. But you know your gadget's illegal on a lot of planets."

"Not here, I hope."

"Not on my beat, not if it gets a paddy off the streets." The policeman had already determined that Harry had no criminal record, at least none that showed up in this planet's database. Now he took a quick look up and down the alley. "But I wouldn't do any public bragging about it."

"I wouldn't either."

Harry went on answering the investigator's continued questions, mainly by coming up with what seemed appropriate monosyllables. Half his mind was elsewhere. His anger at having been attacked was growing, all the fiercer when he recalled that moment of fear when the mechanical body first confronted him.

The cop's next question brought his attention back. "You know anyone who might think they have some reason to-get back at you for something?"

Harry was nodding. No need to ponder that one. "I might come up with a few names. But none of them sent this."

"How do you know?"

Harry was smiling faintly now. "I doubt they'd be satisfied just to pick my pockets."

* * *

The ambulance had gone on its way, and a police team of robotic experts had arrived. The team was headed by a human tech, a woman who gave the impression of being dedicated to her job, in command of a couple of specialized machines. These were sturdy, functional units, slightly larger than most full-grown humans. They had two thick arms and two sturdy legs apiece, and their surfaces of scarred metal armor suggested they were used chiefly in jobs considered notably unsafe for humans. That type of work included the immobilization of any of their fellow robots that might demonstrate a tendency to be dangerous or unpredictable.

The lady was soon briefed on the situation, and quietly issued orders. In a few seconds her two mechanical bodyguards, approaching the stranded paddy one on each side, had strong- armed its massive body out from under the guard fence and were holding it clamped between them. Each bodyguard was twisting one of Paddy's arms, and using one of its own large feet to pin down one of Paddy's three.

Precautions having been taken, the human tech herself, optelectronic probes and other gear in hand, cautiously approached the renegade robot, while the cop and Harry stood back.

The lady applied her probes.

Continues...


Excerpted from Rogue Berdserker by Fred Saberhagen Copyright © 2005 by Fred Saberhagen. Excerpted by permission.
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.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    action-packed Berserker thriller

    Harry Silver, with a wife and as a new father, needs money, but a Berserker destroyed his vessel. Wealthy Winston Cheng offers him a small fortune along with a quality ship in exchange for Harry leading a private army to rescue his granddaughter and great-grandson kidnapped by a Berserker. Harry knows that if these killing machines allow a 'Goodlife' to live it is only because they become subservient. Winston feels this abduction is different because the death machine is a rogue who acts dissimilar from the others. Still Harry says no as he has two reasons to live.--- However, Harry learns that the rogue Berserker kidnapped his wife and son. His only hope to save his beloved Becky and Ethan, assuming they have not been terminated as ¿Badlife¿ and that Cheng¿s theory is correct, is the deal. Harry meets old friends, several enemies, and other adventurers while preparing for an assault. Though Winston¿s strategy seems logical, Harry knows from first hand experience that the best laid plans of Silver always goes astray when confronting a Berserker so why should this quest be any different especially when another machine seeks to kill Cheng¿s crew.--- ROGUE BERSERKER is a throwback tale to the earlier novels with Berserkers in the forefront leading to non-stop action. Harry seems more complete as he seeks vengeance, prays for a miracle expecting none, and accepts any means is fine as long as he rescues his family. Fueled by anger and helplessness, his obsession makes him less ethical yet more human than hero. Fred Saberhagen provides a terrific entry in his long running series as he returns to the basics: human vs. invincible killing machine within a tense story line.--- Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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