Chapter 22: Fort Sentinel - The Boneyard

Copyright© 2017 by Hunter Johnson

Jason’s ship, along with most of the battleships and carriers, moored at the huge space dock. It was just one of seven around the planet and large as the ships were, they were dwarfed by the enormity of the dock. Jason had never seen such a colossal structure. The docks supplied and serviced tens of thousands of ships mothballed in orbit around the planet or parked in groups nearby. Warehouses covered the surface of the planet. The warehouses were filled with every weapon and shuttle produced in the Empire. The defenses around the planet were formidable. Multiple layers of space-based armament platforms bristled with missiles and cannon and an active fleet, protected the planet. Each reserve fleet supply planet had its own fleet protecting it and two further reserve fleets patrolled between the planets.

“James, you mentioned previously that you can show us around. I’m really keen to see what you have. I’ve got some ideas about what I’m looking for, but am always open for inspiration. I’ve noticed that the simulations have hardly changed over thousands of years and few new concepts have been introduced for ages. The weapons got better but no radical new ideas?

“My thinking is that if the enemy has been studying the Empire we need some new ideas and concepts or they will know exactly what to expect,” said Jason thoughtfully.

“I can’t agree with you more. It has been a concern of many.

Jason, I’m sure you and your good ladies would love to see what we have in those warehouses. I’m constantly on the search for new ideas. Your great grandfather was very creative in inventing weapons and I miss him a lot.

“I suggest we have a tour of the facilities. I suspect that most of you will be inspired by something unexpected and I have specific weapons systems in mind that I’d like to show you. I’m also sure you’ve things that would be on your imaginary wish list,” said Morgan grinning widely and rubbing his hands together.

“I’ve also contacted our cousin Bertie Kargo, Jason, and he’s setting up a meeting with the Empress. He said he was due to talk to her about some new courses they were setting up in conjunction with the University, and needed to talk to her about it in any case. He was very curious about you, and wanted to know what was going on and how you were, Jason. He said that he was very worried about your great grandfather and had been told he was too ill to visit. He said he pushed hard, but he was fobbed off.

“I said to him that all would be revealed and he would know a lot more after the meeting with the Empress.

“He was a well-regarded general, Jason, and a fine man. He’s now a professor at the War College and specializes in Gunship and Tank Warfare. He fought in both Mob wars and was regarded as a fine officer and gentleman. I’ve worked with him on several occasions. I’d regard him as highly trustworthy.”

Gen. Morgan James flew Jason, the General Officers, and their staff to the surface.

“There’s a lot of interesting and esoteric equipment that has been stored here that has never been used. Generals and admirals commissioned equipment to be researched and built and then moved on. It was forgotten about. Many systems were never implemented as the original protagonist moved on and quite often implementation was resisted strongly by others.

“It’s all kept in perfect order. No one prior you and your group has been interested in looking at what we have. I’ve never conducted a tour for anyone on this facility above the rank of Captain in the Navy or Colonel in the military.

“I’ll be very surprised if you don’t find something that interests you. You can take as much of anything that appeals to you as you like. The more effective and better supplied we are, the better. What you can also do is order more supplies later and we can ship them. If you look to your left, you can see at least a thousand of our biggest logistic cargo transporters. There’s so much here that will otherwise just sit unused. I’ve five such planets under my command, so don’t be shy.

“The Empire will mobilize the reserve fleets when The Mob attacks. I can hide your acquisitions easily, if needed, but I doubt that it’ll be needed. They will be begging for our help and supply won’t be an issue. The boneyard is a repository of equipment for forces to prepare for diverse conflicts. I hope you find unexpected and irresistible temptation so that I can clear some space. There’s enough equipment here to supply fifty fleets, and keep them in the field for a hundred years. The space dock can prepare five fleets per week for action. I’m preparing my staff for a fast response to The Mob and I’d suggest you load your fleet to capacity.

“The Empire will be ready earlier than The Mob expects. I’m doing the same on the other planets.

“In peacetime, the Navy shrinks to a shadow of its wartime self, but even so many fleets are active. The Empire is massive. There are large active fleets that protect planets and won’t be able to be used. Other fleets patrol to keep the Empire safe from pirates and serve as a first reaction force. My concern is how quickly the Empire will react and I’ll do all I can to get things going. I’m sure internal sabotage will be active.”

“I suspect that the Empress won’t be easily swayed,” said Adm. Peter Kane. “She has to be inordinately careful in how she’s seen to act, particularly as her views on the Patriarch are so well known, as are his about her. It can’t be seen as payback by her.

“I’d suggest you tell her of your trip first and the activities of the priests and then I’ll tell her what happened to my son and then we warn her in the bleakest of terms about the impending attacks. We tell her the problems, but don’t lead her by the nose to any solutions. Let her steam about it first.

“Let her cogitate about the impending problems, or you risk her biting your head off. I’m scared to death of that woman. I heard her take one of the intelligence staff, a colonel if I’m not mistaken, apart piece by piece after an economic analysis of the industrial capacity of the Norvast. She’s a renowned economist, and lectures at the University.

“Jason, the Norvast control a remote Empire that they call a conglomerate in our galaxy. We trade with them, and have had some conflict over a border. They are a prickly people. At the time in question the situation was very tense and it was looking like a major conflict was coming.

“The Empress took her analysis apart line by line and showed how she was underestimating the enemy’s capacity. The Empress then went to the holograms and showed how her economic appraisal fitted with the observations made on ten enemy planets. We sat there with our mouths open.

“She then said her house relied on economic intelligence, and she had been exposed to it her whole life, but she wouldn’t tolerate garbage. She said competitor analysis is much the same as the analysis of the enemy and techniques were well known. She had been asked to attend because of concerns that the enemy were being underestimated. In this case the concerns were warranted.

“Then she said to the Colonel that the work was sloppy and would have endangered the lives of others and said she should reconsider her career,” said Peter Kane.

They sat in silence for a few moments after hearing Adm. Kane’s experience of the Empress.

Jason, do you know what you are looking for?” Morgan James asked.

“Morgan, do you have a very large mechanized vehicle that a man or an AI can direct? It would look like a very big mechanical man, and be heavily armed. The ones in stories and games on Earth, have a concept of such a mechanical warrior where they’re directed by a soldier who climbs up to sit in the head. They are like a walking tank. Secondly do you have soldiers that are AI driven?” Jason asked.

“Yes, we do have both of those systems. Neither was ever used. You may be able to fit all the ones we have into your fleet. Your fleet has a lot of unused space, even when fully armed and supplied. You will have over forty percent reserve space with the existing fleet. The Empire builds big ships, and carries a big stick. You have many logistics supply ships which are armed and more lightly armored freighters in reserve which will have fifty percent spare space unless you take some other stuff with you. As I said before, if necessary I can give you as many more supply ships as you need. You may be getting my message, please take as much as you can. There’s an overabundance here for the size of the conflict the Empire will be facing. There are more of those military freighters floating around this planet than anyone will ever need. There’s enough here for fifty merchant fleets. If there’s anything here that you like that was commissioned to be built and has never been used you can take my entire supply. ___________________________________________\

Morgan and his group were all dressed in heavy armor as James had recommended, for reasons that he said would become clear later. The ground facilities where they landed extended for many city blocks and consisted of offices and computer facilities. The buildings were all built five floors high. Defensive missiles and cannon could be seen prominently displayed throughout the area on roofs and at some intersections. Drones continuously vacuumed the roads for dust and humanoid and insect like drones and AIs could be seen moving about everywhere. Many people waved at Morgan and the group. He introduced far too many people to them for Jason to ever recall. Small open transports moved constantly between facilities transporting men and machines. Jason saw several very large transports carry unidentifiable variously shaped and covered pieces of equipment or large crates.

“I’ll take you to see the AI Marines first,” said James excitedly, “they were a brilliant idea of your great grandfather that no one has implemented. They have amazing functional capacity and can work in environments that humans can’t tolerate, even with armor. I can’t understand why they have not been used when we use them in every area of the fleet except as soldiers and naval personnel.”

Gen. James took them to a breathtakingly massive warehouse.

“This warehouse is like nearly a million others of the same size on this planet. Now you can get an idea of how the Empire operates,” said Morgan He pressed a button on his pad and two doors, almost as high as the warehouse opened to show thousands upon thousands of armored soldiers standing forty rows deep in the front near the door. They looked like soldiers standing while asleep. Jason could see boxes and boxes piled into rows, fifty boxes high, that extended into the distance behind them.

“These are my pride and joy. They are magnificent, powerful, and intelligent and have never been commissioned or even used as far as I know. They were your great grandfather’s project towards the end of the second Mob war. The current military are painfully conservative. If it’s not in the simulations they’re not seen to be useful. No one has defined how it should be used, proved it and put it in the simulations. It’s their loss and your gain. No one wants to risk an error and making a fool of themselves. The military is slow to change in the Empire, except during longer wars. They tend to try new things if they’re not doing well. I think this war will be over in weeks, regardless of which way it goes. People are used to doing the same for thousands of years. They crave novelty but won’t risk it in work situations.”

Morgan turned one on using his pad. Jason watched it quickly awaken.

“All systems checked and validated. Sensor scan confirms Archduke Kargo in command. AI B77 KLX reporting,” said the AI. “My Lord Kargo, what is your command or to whom do you delegate command?”

“Report to me. State your current available weaponry and alternative loads that you can accept.”

The AI marine went through a long list of weaponry. Jason recognized much of it. It then listed optional weapons loads. Jason looked quizzically at Linda.

“They have impressive weaponry but I struggle to see their use and value when we have so many troops who are well armed, and armored” she answered.

“Morgan, I can clearly see the problem. The simulations on the ship, throughout the fleet and in the war colleges don’t include AIs. They don’t see potential use if no one else has demonstrated it. If I had talked of mines no one would have adopted them. Now Patton has included my techniques in simulations and will promulgate them after the war and then they will be commonplace. If we use the AIs and they were included in demonstrable ways, people would think of them. Linda I’ll change your mind in twenty-seconds,” said Jason confidently.

“Never!” Linda said with a grin on her face, looking at Jason impudently and mischievously. “I’m an old conservative and will never try anything new!”

“AI ... Specify your reaction time, relative to species within the Empire and your operational specifications.”

“My reaction time to fire a weapon is one-thousandth of the fastest species in the Empire. My weapons rate of fire is seventy-five percent faster than the fastest species in the Empire. I’m impervious to telepathic attack. I’ve telepathic capacity and telepathic attack capability. I can operate indefinitely in space. I can operate on planets of high temperature. I can operate in radioactive environments. I can fly in space for limited distances.”

“I have a series of questions for you. Please answer in the order of the questions. What operational advantages do you have relative to humans? What environments can you operate where humans cannot? I’d also like to know what kind of combat you were designed for, as well as your limitations,” Jason asked.

“I can operate continuously for fifteen years, day and night without refueling. I can fly independently from the ship to the ground, and also limited distances in space, as I said before. I’ll be ready for combat and can even commence combat before landing. I can operate satisfactorily in a vacuum and up to the melting point of the metals of my construction. I can survive both heavy weapons and more sustained weapons fire directed against me for between ten and a hundred times that for an armored person. I can continue to fight when severely damaged. My intelligence level is that of an AI on a destroyer. I can act as a battlefield AI for ten thousand troops and equipment while continuing to operate fulfilling other functions. Fifteen of us clustered can operate as a war AI and assist in the control of up to fifty-million troops, via battle AIs. We can do the same for an admiral and integrate with ship AIs. I can relate to a human as a team member and as a friend. This training was provided by our King, the great-grandfather of the Archduke, together with the family. Many of us lived with the Kargo family for some years. For reasons that disturb us, the remaining group with the older Archduke Ex-King have been deactivated on the estate.

“I can fulfill a series of objectives independently without further instruction. I’ve the capacity to analyze changed battlefield contingencies rapidly and act as a battle AI for squads and specially tasked human troops.

“We are designed to be front-line shock troops. We can reduce troop casualties. We were designed to substitute for troops as the Empire population reduced. We were designed to have the firepower of an armored shuttle, but below a tank. Each of us has the same firepower as twenty Marines.

“We are silent in operation and are designed to work with Marines. The AI unit is highly protected, but can be readily removed by an appropriate technician with sufficient security clearance and placed in a spare unit. We have inbuilt microbot and nanobot capacity for self-repair. We are designed to function in full use for a minimum of 1000 years. All parts are interchangeable and replaceable if major repairs are required. We augment the function of Marines.”

Jason was deep in thought. Everyone looked at him. The AI marine waited for the next question.

“Morgan these AI Marines are absolutely fantastic. How many do you have,” asked Jason. He would use them regardless of anyone else’s opinion. They were an army unto themselves.

“There are ten thousand in this facility for immediate use and deployment. The ones out of the boxes will help prepare the rest for shipment along with the logistics AIs. There are twenty million stored in boxes. I’ve another twenty or thirty million on one or other of the planets under my control. There may even be more, I’ve not looked elsewhere.

“Jason, when he says fly, it does not convey the true situation. They can fly to a ship in orbit at the same speed as a shuttle.

“There are twenty-thousand readily available in quick exit crates in each of five facilities. I’ll ship the reminder to the ships as cargo. The larger crates are designed as assault craft and can be deployed from any ship. I’ll give you the launch systems. They are very much like fighter launch systems but use cargo doors.

“You have the capacity to independently activate any of the AI Marines from here using the activated marine in front of you. I’m amazed that he recognized you so quickly and fully identified you. They communicated with each other and anything one learns they all know instantly. Any other AI marine has the same capacity. Only one needs to be activated per ship to activate the remainder. Place your hand in this position on his neck and he will identify your palm print or fingerprint.

“The attack crates are reusable. The AI Marines or Battle AIs can self-pack into their crates, which can be returned to the ships or transported elsewhere. We deploy and return our own marines using similar methods, but fewer marines per box than AI marines.”

“AI, can you tell me if there any operational roles,” asked Jason of the AI, “that you wouldn’t undertake or couldn’t undertake?”

“We can’t fight against the Empire unless certain stringent conditions are met. These conditions include an illegitimate coup d’état or an insurrection that occurs within the Empire. We have strict criteria as to what constitutes an insurrection.”

“Are you allowed to become part of the forces of a duchy, and more specifically act to return legitimate control of this duchy to its rightful owner?”

“I’m aware of this question in relation to your holdings. Your great-grandfather or it may be your great-great-grandfather was involved our design. We are connected and learn in our suspended state. We connect to the Empire at all times. We keep informed about events in the Empire. We won’t be used by illegitimate parties. We have political analytic tools as part of our recognized sentient status.

“This is the first planet of the Empire that you have landed upon, and we welcome you. We see ourselves as children of your great-grandfather. We hoped that your grandfather or his progeny would return. You look remarkably like he did. His illness triggered your return. We are sad to hear that he’s ill. His misbegotten nephew is in control of the estates. He was certainly not the best contender. We’ll be happy to serve you.”

“We are arming our fleet to bring the villain and traitor, the archpriest Papa Zora, to justice and to free his hostages,” Jason said. “The Mob also intends to attack somewhere between five and seven industrial planets within the Empire. It’s likely our fleet will be requested to assist the Empire.

All of these issues will have to take priority over my mission to help my great grandfather. I’ll take back the family estate at the soonest opportunity. I’ll authorize the ship to provide you with the evidence on Papa Zora, so that you can make your decision on the evidence that we have collected. As of now, you are authorized to communicate freely with the Ship AI.”

Jason heard Ship ask if Jason gave permission to provide the assembled information on the Patriarch. Jason assented.

After scarcely a pause the AI marine began to speak. “My Lord we would be honored to join your military and assist in the removal of that scourge from the face of the planet! We are horrified to learn of the poisons used in the Empire and the activities of the Patriarch.”

“Linda I’d like to take this first lot of AI Marines onto our ship and pack the crated ones into the attack carriers. I’ve a strong feeling that they will be able to play an essential role in the future. I’d also like two platoons of them on each ship to join the intelligence groups. I want two of them to be on every planning group. They will add a different perspective and can help plan themselves into roles where they have strengths. Different types of intelligence working together will be helpful. They will add to our efforts and I welcome their input. I’d like two per admiral, per general, and for myself, to join our bodyguards. Their reaction times are invaluable. They will learn from us and we’ll learn from them. Five of the Battle/Marine AIs will become part of our general officer planning group.

He called Col. Phoebe Harris over.

“Phoebe, I want you to listen to this.

“AI can you pilot and operate weapons on fighters, tanks, and gunships?”

“We are trained fully in all space and land combat roles. We fully integrate with all weapons systems including fighters, tanks, gunships, and shuttles. We can fly them all and operate all systems. Our reaction times will provide your forces significant advantages.”

“Excellent,” said Jason, “Phoebe, please put them in with your planners and let’s get them into fighters and other ships and get them going. They, like us, need to feel useful. I think we’ll all get some surprises.”

“They will help us understand their advantages and disadvantages and get a perspective of their limitations. They can help reprogram the simulations to take the new weapons that we’ll acquire into consideration.

“We have a powerful force to achieve our objectives. I want to be over prepared and risk our assets as little as is possible.

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