About the Author
Travis S. Taylor is the author of Warp Speed and The Quantum Connection for Baen. He has worked on various pro-grams for the Department of Defense and NASA for the past sixteen years. He's currently working on several advanced propulsion concepts, very large space telescopes, space-based beamed energy systems, and next generation space launch concepts. "Doc" Travis is also a black best martial artist, a private pilot, a SCUBA diver, has raced mountain bikes, competed in triathlons, and has been the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of several hard rock bands.
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Von Neumann's War
By John Ringo Travis S. Taylor
Baen Publishing EnterprisesCopyright © 2006 John Ringo & Travis S. Taylor
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTime: Present minus twenty years
The teachers looked up at the rocket towering over the exhibit and then at each other.
"Duct tape?" the female teacher asked. Usually she taught junior high school science classes, especially "female health" and "earth sciences." It was the first time she'd ever seen a ... what was it the boy called it ... a "sounding rocket."
"Only for support of the outer casing," the young man said, smiling broadly and scratching at his nearly white hair. "The primary casing is cardboard. I wanted to make a rocket entirely from discarded and readily available materials. The term is 'off-the-shelf.' NASA hardly ever uses anything that anyone else uses and I think that's a damn shame. There are so many things around that you can make rockets out of. The igniter is a spark plug from my daddy's old Chevy. The energy components, the fuel, are made from common household materials. I made the fins in shop class when we were working with sheet metal; I brought in a hood off a car in my Uncle Bubba's backyard and cut it up. You can see the original paint! And the payload is a sodium tracer round made out of an old Jack Daniels bottle I found under the porch."
"So, when are you planning on putting the fuelin?" she asked.
"Well, it's solid fuel," Roger Reynolds replied, as if she were dense. "You can't just pull it out and put it in."
"So ... it's fueled?" the woman squeaked. She suddenly realized that all the, many, rocket scientists who were judging the Northern Alabama High School Science Fair had chosen to examine exhibits a long way away from this one.
"Well ... duh."
Roger went on to the International Science and Engineering Fair where he placed in the top five overall and first in his category. He also won a scholarship and a job at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. There he was described on his performance evaluation as "precocious." In private he was described as "that young snot-nosed pain in the ass. And keep him away from the fuel...."
* * *
Time: Present minus one year-first Russian Mars probe failure
As the improvised explosive device turned his lead Humvee into expensive confetti, Captain Shane Gries, USA, took just one more moment to consider how very much he hated all academic eggheads.
Captain Gries was tall, 6' 2", and slim, with a square cut jaw, mild blue eyes and light brown hair cut to stubble at the sides. Behind his back his men called him "The Greyhound" both for his looks and his running speed on morning PT. He had been raised in the Iron Range of Michigan, one of the coldest, snowiest and hardest localities in the entire United States. As a teenager, he'd spent more time hunting the massive bucks to be found in the Iron Range than he had cracking books. Despite that fact, his grades were excellent. Between those, and a friendly congressman, he had gotten an appointment to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. His ability at track and field hadn't hurt.
At West Point he'd studied another type of hunting, the hunting of armed enemies of the United States. And he'd studied hard ever since. His first unit assignment as a brand new shavetail lieutenant had been to the First Infantry Division two days before it crossed the Line of Departure and entered Iraq in the first Gulf War. He'd been sent in to replace another lieutenant who had "cracked under pressure" at the thought of actually being in combat.
He'd been carefully instructed by his company commander on his duties the day he arrived. In a flash, as he always did when the shit hit the fan, he recalled the lecture as the first rounds from the ambush cracked across the road.
"You have no clue what your job is supposed to be," Captain Brantley had said. To Shane, at the time, he had seemed immensely old and grizzled, probably, gasp, thirty or so. "You have no clue what you're supposed to be doing and no clue how to function in combat. It's my miserable job to teach you. But I don't have time before we cross the LD. So you're going to have to learn from your NCOs. The way you're going to do that is to ask them what to do, listen carefully, then repeat what they say. Second lieutenants are the lowest of the low. First lieutenants think they have a clue. By the time you're up to captain, if you survive that long, you're going to realize you never will have a clue and all you can do is make it up as you go along. But by then, the ones that are the worst at making it up are gone. And you'll have to make it up as you go along."
The scene flashed as a gestalt while his mind simultaneously processed the nature of the current ambush. Within a second he'd assimilated the nature of the situation, enemy force, friendly force and secondary conditions. Of course, by then his troops were already returning fire.
The American Occupation Force, Iraq, had long experience of ambushes, especially in the Sunni Triangle. The Triangle consisted of the area surrounding Baghdad, situated more or less in the middle of the country, and delineated by the cities of Al-Najaf, Baghdad and Tikrit.
American forces had developed a standard initial response that came down to one phrase: "Overwhelming firepower." As soon as they took direct fire, they returned it with everything the unit had to offer, from pistols to the Mk-19 automatic 20mm grenade launchers on the "gun" Humvees. And they'd been so tightly drilled, and experienced so many ambushes, that the response was automatic at a level that had them returning fire in less than a second. Even if they'd been napping at the moment of the ambush.
It was Shane's job to determine, in brief seconds, what the response beyond "initial" would be. He had to determine from the volume and position of fire whether the best response was to sit it out and return fire or assault the ambush. And he had to do all of this while dealing with the "surprise" of the situation. Moments before he'd been cruising along minding his own business. Now he had to react, intelligently and thoughtfully, but in less time than most people took to decide between a mocha and a caramel latte. While bullets were bouncing off the armor on his Humvee and rocket propelled grenades, which would tear though the armor like paper, were flying past.
But Shane was very good at combat gestalt. Even back in the first Gulf War as a "clueless" shavetail he'd been good at it. He knew he was clueless, but you generally were in war, you never had all the information you'd like, and he was good at working with what he knew.
He knew his primary mission was securing the group of International Atomic Energy Agency scientists that had been "inspecting" a possible covert nuclear site. The group of fifteen international eggheads had been a pain in the ass all day. His job was simply to get them to the site and back, intact. But they assumed that "escort" meant that he was supposed to supply them with food, by which they meant something better than Meals-Ready-To-Eat, water, bottled, not from the five-gallon water cans on the Humvees, snacks, pop, caviar, champagne, candy or whatever they'd thought of that moment. And to carefully lead them around by the hand, bowing and scraping as a good little grunt should.
He figured there'd be a bit of a reprimand in the future for not supplying their every need, want and desire. But not nearly as large of one as he'd get for letting the group get wiped out. And as he considered the situation, he could see the egghead idiots popping out of the Canadian light armored vehicles that were their protection.
He knew that the narrow road they had been forced to use in this section was blocked by the shredded Humvee. Even if the Humvees could creep past-or fly past, the way most of the drivers would handle it-the first vehicle had slewed sideways from the explosion, creating a narrow gap that the LAVs couldn't negotiate. And they probably couldn't push it aside, either. LAVs didn't have the gription. Therefore, they couldn't simply drive out of the ambush.
He knew he had all three platoons of his company that were on the jaunt mounted in Humvees, some armored and some unarmored, with second platoon, that had just lost its lead Humvee, on point, then first, then the LAVs, then his command group, then third as ass-end-charley. Third was short a squad, which was back in Fort Samson pulling guard detail. First and second, except for the usual sick, lame, lazy and wounded, were up to strength. Of course, second had just lost half a squad in a Humvee.
The ambush seemed to be about fifteen to twenty shooters, at least five RPG grenadiers with the rest firing light weapons, AK variants. There did not appear to be any automatic weapons, either light, medium or heavy. The ambush did not appear to have indirect fire support; usually by now there would be mortars crumping down. They were firing from the ground and second level of a three- story building on the right-hand side of the street. The building, based upon usual construction, would have walls made of unbaked brick faced with, in this case, fake marble. Those could be penetrated even by light arms, and the Mk-19s had blown several holes in the walls already. There would be rear entrances and probably windows on the side.
All of this, and the lecture from his first company commander, flashed through his mind in the first moment of the ambush in one continuous gestalt. Surprise occurs in the mind of the commander. Shane had learned, long before, to never be surprised. He hadn't managed the Zen trick of constant wonder, to be in each moment, treating each new moment as a constant surprise, but he was darned close.
So. And so. He had been carrying his mike in his hand, standard procedure in Ambush Alley, and he picked it up and keyed it exactly two and one-half seconds after the detonation of the IED. One second to assess, one second to plan. Two and a half seconds were a long time in combat, but he'd needed at least that much time to ensure he had all his facts in order. And, hell, the half second was lifting the mike. He'd give himself that as a Mulligan.
"Second platoon, lay down base of fire on ambush. First platoon, deploy and secure the science detail. Ensure the safety of mobile personnel ..." As he was speaking an RPG penetrated the side armor on one of the LAVs which began to belch diesel smoke and spill scientists out the back like suit-covered maggots, "And recover wounded from damaged vehicles. LAVs, lay down base of fire. Third platoon, set one squad as security. Remainder dismount and assault ambush from right to left, clearing the building."
* * *
"Top! What are you doing?" Specialist Fort yelled as First Sergeant Thomas Cady bailed out the side of the Humvee into the buzzing fire of the AKs.
"My job," the first sergeant replied.
Thomas Cady was in many ways the antithesis of his commander. He'd been raised in government housing in Decatur, Georgia, where the choice was working in the 7/ll or being a crack dealer. His mother had managed to raise five kids, all from different fathers, on the basis of welfare and occasional child support payments. Thomas was pretty sure "his" father wasn't even his genetic dad; they didn't look a bit alike. But the man, who was white whereas Thomas was as black as the ace of spades, had been the only one of the five to make regular support payments. And he'd even visited his "son" and made sure he had regular presents for Christmas and his birthday.
Maybe it was the example of somebody with some honor and class or maybe Arthur really was his dad. But whatever the reason, Thomas had managed to keep his nose clean. His grades in school weren't the greatest, but they were good enough that the Army would accept him. And one of the services seemed to be the only way out of the rat hole that was life in Decatur. He didn't want to chip paint in the Navy, his AGT scores weren't high enough for the Air Force, and the Marines were full up when he tried to join.
So two months after graduating from Columbia High School in Decatur, Georgia, he'd raised his right hand and never looked, or been, back.
Over the succeeding fourteen years, he'd gotten married, twice, divorced, twice, had two kids, both by the first wife after which he got a vasectomy, and made sure he not only kept up with the payments and gifts but that he visited his kids as often as his career made possible. He'd also dialed in on his career and his neglected education, picking up an associate degree when he was still a buck sergeant, then his bachelors a few years later. He was currently working on a masters in history when he wasn't doing his primary job.
His primary job, in his opinion, was to enable his commander's orders. That meant, to First Sergeant Cady, anticipating the captain's orders, then ensuring that all the little details got filled in. Whether the order was "get chow to the men in the field" or "wipe out those rag-head motherfuckers in the building." He'd been with Captain Gries for less than three months but Greyhound was one of those officers with whom First Sergeant Cady "clicked." He knew the primary mission was securing the scientists. But he also knew that Captain Gries wasn't going to sit on his hands. Some officers froze when they got shot at. Some hunkered down and returned fire, hoping that the rag-heads would run. Gries believed in the infantry motto: "In the Absence of Orders, Assault!" Which meant some rag-heads were about to get the shit kicked out of them if they didn't run now.
He also anticipated that Captain Gries would use third for the assault. The first sergeant's vehicle was forward with first platoon so if he wanted to get it stuck in the rag-heads, he'd have to make it to the back of the ambush. And along the way, he could do some little things to clean up the captain's orders. If he shagged his ass.
Behind Sergeant Cady's back, the men called him "The Gazelle." Like his commander, the spade-black NCO was tall, 6' 4" and a runner. But unlike the wiry captain, Cady looked like an NFL linebacker with a huge torso and massive shoulders. Despite weighing in at nearly two hundred and fifty pounds, he was, if anything, faster than the captain in a sprint.
He used that speed to good effect less than a second into the ambush, rolling out of the Humvee and darting to the rear, his M-4 in his left hand pointed towards the ambush like a giant pistol. As he ran he spotted targets, firing at them in three-round bursts as he pounded towards the LAVs in the middle of the column. He knew he wasn't hitting anything, but the combined firepower of the unit was suppressing the fire from the rag-head ambushers and that was the point.
As he pounded past the first LAV, one of the scientists stumbled out into the fire and stopped, looking around with an expression of acute stupidity. He was a very smart guy, a Swede who had something like six Ph.D.s. But he was in a situation for which he'd never prepared himself, mentally or physically.
"Get out of the line of fire," Cady bellowed. He slung the M-4 and in one continuous motion snatched the scientist off his feet by his suit collar, barely slowing in the run as he lifted the overweight physicist into the air to drag along behind with only his toes touching the ground.
The far side of the road had a low wall surrounding a vacant lot. Cady wasn't sure why anyone would put a wall around a vacant lot, but you saw that sort of thing a lot in Iraq. Some of the guys from Humvees that were drawing heavy fire had already bailed out and unassed to the wall. Cady just adjusted his run to the right a bit, switched hands on the physicist and tossed him over the wall towards one of the defending squads.
"Keep an eye on him, Reese," he yelled as he continued down the wall. He ducked a bit since people were firing right past him, but he figured none of his men would dare blue-on-blue him. "And if you see any more of these shit-heads, get them under cover!"
"Top's coming down!" Sergeant Reese yelled to the rest of the fighters crouched behind the wall. "Check fire for Gazelle!"
Two more scientists were out in the road, one down with a bullet in his leg and the other bending over him, waving his hands around as if reciting a magic spell. What was actually going on, Cady knew, was that the second scientist had no idea what to do for a guy with a three finger thick chunk blown out of his thigh. It wasn't gushing arterial blood, though, so the guy'd probably live. If he didn't go into shock and die from that.
Excerpted from Von Neumann's War by John Ringo Travis S. Taylor Copyright © 2006 by John Ringo & Travis S. Taylor. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Pretty on track for today's world.
Ringo's characters and writing style send you into the world that he is creating. It has a feel of War of the Worlds and is thrilling from beginning to end.
Forget little green men, this time the threat is from machines smaller than your desk...but, as a single snowflake is small, the problem is when you're faced with MILLIONS of them. This is the predicament of Earth...hordes of robots have slowly taken over and robbed the solar system of metallic ores, leaving lifeless 'cities' in their wake...and they're coming straight at US...and we know nothing about them. Even when we learn that they 'eat' metal (so fast they'll take your necklace or dogtags, and your head with it) and replicate by 'mitosis' our problems are only beginning...how do you defeat something that EATS metal when most of your society...tools, vehicles, and weapons...are MADE of metal? In 'Von Neumann's War' we might not be facing the collapse of civilization by direct assault, but by suddenly finding ourselves in a situation where we must reinvent the wheel overnight or find ourselves in a new stone age. Ringo outdid himself on this one...at times a little 'too geeky' in the rocket science and techno-wizardry, but still a gripping, believable story of human inginuity and determination. A definite must-read that can start a new series or a wonderful stand alone! (Now if we could only get Ringo to drop his 'Paladin of Darkness' series...)
Within months of one another three probes are sent to Mars from Russia, Europe and America respectively, but contact is lost on all. Astroscientists are further stunned as Mars seems to have abruptly changed from the angry red planet to an aging grayish orb. No known natural phenomena can be postulated to have caused this radical sudden change. Finally communication with Mars probes vanishes entirely.--------------------- - Desperate to learn what is going on to insure it does not spread inward to earth, a special probe is sent, but this one is destroyed far from the planet. The conclusion is a foreign force is industrializing Mars with no concerns as to the environment. The only reason to destroy communications with probes from earth would be that the aliens are setting up a home base to stage a military invasion of Earth. While the military strategists work on a plan to prevent the invasion and the scientists work on a weapon, they come, but these are not little green men. They are the race of Von Neumann probes ignoring people while stripping all planetary metal to replicate themselves some misfortunate humans die as collateral damage. Meanwhile the American military establish new command posts where metals are not a major issue such as the Huntsville hooters because breasts, wings and beer attract men, not Von Neumann robots.------------- VON NEUMANN¿S WAR is an excellent military science fiction thriller that pundits will read in one delightful sitting as fans will need to ¿watch the second half¿. The key to this Armageddon thriller is humor as John Ringo and Travis Taylor lampoon the sacred icons of society. The story line contains a solid Mars attacks tale based on the theories of late Hungarian mathematician John von Neumann, but filled with a droll wit as we have finally found the weapons of mass destruction in our face.-------------- Harriet Klausner