From the Philip K. Dick Award nominee author of Cowl, an adrenaline-powered new SF adventure: Brass Man. Neal Asher returns to his trademark Polity future setting, in a sequel to Gridlinked, which SFRevu.com called "brilliant and audacious work, chock-full of cutting-edge ideas."
Ian Cormac, a legendary Earth Central Security agent, the James Bond of a wealthy future, is hunting an interstellar dragon, little knowing that, far away, his competition has resurrected an horrific killing machine named "Mr. Crane" to assist in a similar hunt, ecompassing whole star systems. Mr. Crane, the insane indestructible artificial man now in a new metal body, seeks to escape a bloody past he can neither forget nor truly remember. And he is on a collision course with Ian Cormac.
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Neal Asher's first novel was Gridlinked. He has since won acclaim for The Skinner, The Line of Polity, and Cowl. He lives in Chelmsord, Essex, England.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
1 The lethal results for a human of directly interfacing with an AI have been known since the apotheosis of that being who was, briefly, both Iversus Skaidon and the Craystein Computer. This joining killed Skaidon and sent the Craystein far to the other side of weird, where even other AIs find its communications somewhat ... gnomic. But what is this 'direct interfacing' - surely we do this through our augs and gridlinks? Not so. These two methods of connection, along with planetary servers and so forth, act as buffers between the human and the AI minds. This is necessary because though, in most cases, the human mind is something that an AI could run as a brief sub-program, in some cases it has something that is beyond our silicon saints. Call that something imagination, vision, psychosis ... it is something that is rooted in our primeval psyche and was never anything to do with the pellucid logic with which we created AI. Direct interfacing gives the AI this human madness, and in turn the human acquires the vast processing power of AI. The resultant composite being transcends all its contemporaries. Briefly, huge synergy is achieved, then the human dies - his mind burnt out like a wristcom connected to a tokomac. Note: In recent years there has been much speculation about the possibility of interface filters and biotech support systems. This is all fog, and my opinion is that if it really could be done then someone, somewhere, would be doing it. - From How It Is by Gordon
Standing on the black glass floor of a virtual viewing chamber aboard the Jack Ketch, Cormac took in the scene projected from a holocam a kilometre out from the hull. The ominously namedTheta-class attack ship bore the shape of a cuttlefish bone, but with outriggers on either side holding torpedo-shaped weapons nacelles. It was the dark red of old blood, and smooth as polished stone. A more modern product of the Polity, its controlling AI, named Jack, took no orders from any human captain. Cormac wondered if it could withstand Jain technology subversion any better than had the Occam Razor and its interfaced captain, Tomalon. In such a ship as this, there was no facility for AI burn - for killing its AI - it having been built after the time of extreme paranoia about AIs taking over ... when they had. To one side of the Jack Ketch he observed other Polity ships surrounding, like flies around a healing wound, the reconstructed area of Elysium. Dreyden, the ruler of this Out-Polity community, had fought against allowing them to render assistance, and threatened them with the smelting mirrors of Elysium just as he had used those same mirrors against the attacking Occam Razor. But the damage to the community had been more than it could sustain and, without help, his little empire here would have fallen apart anyway, but with a greater resultant loss of life. Now, after one year of quarantine, all assistance had been rendered, and Dreyden was just a businessman in yet another community subsumed by the Polity. Eight hundred and twenty-three thousand, one hundred and nine ... That was the figure at the last count, though by now it would have risen by a few souls as people continued to die in the hospital ship, or took the easier route of memcording to escape bodies made irreparable by isotope poisoning. My choice. It had been the risk of this, balanced against the slaughter of millions on Masada. There had been a chance that no one would have died here. But they did. His call. Cadmean victory ... Cormac wondered about the name of this ship he had boarded,now that quarantine was over. Perhaps Jack Ketch the hangman was here for him. He now turned his attention to one whom Earth Central Security was allowing to escape the noose. The trispherical Lyric II was only just visible, by the white light of its fusion drive, as it moved away from Elysium. It was unusual for Polity AIs to make such value judgements on the actions of individuals, and normally they applied the law harshly and without favour. John Stanton had been a mercenary killer, in the past working for the Separatist Arian Pelter, and perhaps deserved to die, as had Pelter. Cormac winced at the memories: Pelter's brass killing-machine, Mr Crane, coming for him; the Golem Cento and Aiden bringing Crane down; and his own subsequent pursuit of Pelter, and killing of the man. Even so, the Earth Central AI had decided, that for what Stanton had since done and risked, no one would be looking when he and his wife Jarvellis returned to their ship and headed away. Cormac observed white fusion flames blink out inside a distortion that seemed to pull at his eyeballs, and knew that the ship had now entered underspace and was gone. He envied John Stanton such freedom - from prosecution, and from responsibility. 'A satisfactory conclusion,' said a breathy voice beside his ear. 'Cut visual feed,' said Cormac and, as the external image blinked out to reveal the glass-walled projection chamber he stood in, he turned to the ancient Japanese man standing beside him. 'This must be a new definition of "satisfactory" of which I have been unaware. Would you like to elaborate?' Horace Blegg kept his expression bland as he replied, 'Masada and this place are under the control of the Polity, and Skellor now so much interstellar ash.' 'And here, and at Masada, nearly a million dead,' Cormac added. 'Such loss of life is unfortunate, but base your calculation on lives saved, not lives destroyed. Had you and John Stanton not ledSkellor here to be incinerated, he would have killed every human being in the Masadan system, and for him that would have been just the start.' Cormac smiled tiredly. 'I'm not an infant; I made that calculation at the time. But you forget, I've been in Elysium for a year and seen what happened.' 'My assessment still stands. What is there for you to regret?' 'My original assessment of Skellor, I would say.' 'You did not know he had gained possession of Jain technology.' 'But when I did know, I assumed that, like any Separatist upon encountering Earth Central Security, he would go scuttling for cover. I didn't register how quickly he disappeared after our first encounter, and I didn't make the connection between that disappearance and his work with chameleonware.' 'Hindsight can be brilliantly incisive, and never misses the banana skins of existence. Do you want to be punished?' 'No ... what I want is to go back to Masada and find out who is alive and who is dead. I want to retrieve my Shuriken, and see what Mika has to say about the dracomen there - and find out what the EC decision on them is. But, most of all, I want to know how the fuck you got on board this ship. There was no one here last time I looked, and nothing has docked since then.' 'You well know I don't answer such questions.' Earth Central's leading and most mysterious agent liked to remain inscrutable. 'You did it on the Occam Razor, and I at first thought you a projection. I touched you and you remained solid, though something happened to you when the Occam went into U-space. But then, is my memory of events true - because you've screwed with my mind before.' 'Your memories are true.' Cormac nodded contemplatively. 'I think I know what you are, Blegg. I think I've finally figured it out. You're an avatar of the Earth Central AI - the human face, or interface, which transfers itsorders to its agents. Sometimes you're a projection, sometimes Golem.' He looked directly at Blegg. 'All that bullshit about Hiroshima is precisely that: bullshit.' Blegg grinned. 'If only things were so simple. You are perhaps eighty years old in personal time, Ian Cormac, but with a mind possessing the plasticity of youth and a brain constantly replacing its dying nerve cells, and your apprehension of the world is at the foot of an exponential curve. Immortality is possible for all of humankind now, and many humans will discover what it means to keep on learning and keep on understanding, though many more will simply stagnate. I myself am many centuries ahead of the race as a whole.' 'Which still doesn't explain how you manage to keep popping up like the Cheshire cat.' 'Abilities can be acquired, given the time. This is something you will come to understand, as you are one of those who will definitely not stagnate.' 'What abilities had you already acquired that enabled you to survive the blast from an ancient fission weapon at Hiroshima? You were supposedly a child then.' 'Maybe I didn't survive it.' Cormac could now feel something, the edge of something he strove to understand, and he knew that Blegg was slipping away from him. With some sense he had never known before, he reached out for the man and found himself groping after shadows. Quite calmly he said, 'You're an avatar, Blegg - I know it.' I am the future ... The projection room now contained only Cormac. He sighed and shook his head. One day he would know precisely everything there was to know about Blegg, but that day was not yet close. With cold precision, he compartmentalized speculation. Now Earth Central Security - ECS - had work for him. There was always such work. When are we heading into U-space? he asked the Jack Ketch AI. 'There is a hold on all transport at present, but when we are ready to go I will inform you,' the AI replied. It was only as he was leaving the projection chamber that Cormac realized he had just used his gridlink - hardware inside his skull that had enabled him a near-direct interface with AI - to communicate, which was impossible. It had been deactivated long ago.
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