Sample Chapter (For We Are Many)

Per request from a reader, here is a sample chapter from book 2 of the Bobiverse: For We Are Many

Hunted

Howard

September 2189

Vulcan

The buster struck the raptor at just shy of Mach one, spreading pieces of carnivore over the hunting party, other raptors, and most of the nearby vegetation. The red cast that it added to the greenery lent an eerie, dangerous aura to the scene.

Not that a dozen hungry raptors needed help looking dangerous.

This was the third hunting party this week to run into a raptor ambush, and I was glad I’d decided to bring a couple of busters along. The raptors were getting bolder since they’d been successful in taking down a couple of settlers. The Landing City planning committee was still smarting over that—it was their decision to reprioritize guard details that had led directly to the deaths.

The spectacular death of one of their number caused the raptor hunting pride to hesitate, just long enough for the humans to regroup and open up on them. The raptors were tough, but they hadn’t evolved to withstand a 22nd century assault rifle.

Within seconds, the raptors were down. The hunters bent over, panting, more from nervous reaction than exertion. My observation drone hovered nearby, keeping watch.

The group leader, Stéphane, looked up at my drone. “Eh, thanks there, big guy. They come out of nowhere, those bastards.”

I bobbed the drone once by way of acknowledgement. The raptors had set up an ambush for the hunters and almost pulled it off. They were intelligent—there were still ongoing arguments about how intelligent. The original three-person hunting parties were now double the size. And everyone involved took the duty very seriously.

“No prob, Stéphane. A little buster billiards now and then is great fun.”

Stéphane laughed, and the group organized themselves back into a proper skirmish line. We had another kilometer of perimeter to cover before we could head back. I silently ordered down another buster from orbit, and assigned a mining drone to come pick up the remains of the one I’d just expended.

Bob’s personnel busters were a versatile tool for wildlife control. I still wasn’t sure if it was more economical than rigging up an armed drone, though. I resolved to discuss Bob’s plastics-backed shells, if I ever had five free seconds to rub together.

Security was turning out to be a much bigger deal than we’d initially planned for. This planet’s ecosystem was incredibly rich, diverse, and competitive. Even many of the plant-eaters had weaponry that would give an Earth predator pause. In that particular, it was very much like the popular vision of the dinosaur era.

We’d gotten the hint in the first week on Vulcan, when a pride of raptors had paced through the new town-site like they owned the place. Without so much as a please-and-thanks, they’d tried to eat one of the AMI backhoes.

I grinned at the memory. The backhoe wasn’t harmed, other than needing a new paint job. But it suddenly occurred to the planning committee that they weren’t in charge. At least not yet. Hunting and guarding details had been beefed up forthwith, and we’d mostly managed to keep people and raptors separate. Mostly.

And speaking of which, I had a job to do. I sent the drone up to a thousand meters to get a thorough scan. The colony spread below me, looking a lot like 21st century suburbia—except for the very large fence around most of the perimeter. The fence was backed with sonic stunners, to handle the more unruly wildlife, and the trees had been cleared back an additional half kilometer. A small herd of brontos munched on leaves at the edge of the treeline. Like the raptors, they only generally resembled Apatosauri, and they were only half the size of their namesakes. The colonists had gotten on a dinosaur kick when naming the local fauna, even though some of the associations were a bit of a stretch.

I did a quick overflight of the cleared perimeter. Nothing big enough to matter revealed itself. Satisfied, I turned back towards Landing.

The larger buildings at the center of the town comprised the administrative hub, while the airport and two manufacturing centers formed a triangle around it. People and goods moved around in communally-owned AMI-driven vehicles, available in all sizes from commuter cars to buses. The colonists had decided to build their new life on Vulcan with some social changes, starting with the abolition of private vehicles.

Only three months after landing, the city looked and felt established and stable. I was truly impressed at how quickly everything had gone up. Of course, the USE staff had literally decades to refine their plans while they were stuck in the enclave after the war. No surprise that they’d worked out a lot of the bugs.

I finished my aerial sweep. It looked like the raptors were done for the day. I called Stéphane. “Hey, chief. All clear. There’s nothing anywhere near the fence now.”

Stéphane grinned into the phone. “Bon! I guess the fence crew will have to come up with something new. They keep thinking they are finished…”

We both laughed. The Fence Construction group was taking a lot of flak lately.

“So, Howard,” Stéphane continued after a moment. “We will be going to the Groggery after our shift, to sample the latest attempt at beer. Care to tag along?”

“I might just meet you there, Stéphane. I have a meeting with the colonel first. I do love watching you guys fall over dead, though.”

Stéphane grinned at me. “Eh, the last batch did remind me a little of actual beer. I think they’ll have it right, soon.”

I nodded and promised to be there.

***

“Afternoon, Howard.”

“Colonel.” I noted that the colonel had his bottle of Jameson out again. Not that I disapproved, but there couldn’t be much of the stuff left, and the supplier was sixteen light-years away. And no longer in existence, but who’s counting. I said, in an aside to Guppy that wouldn’t show on the colonel’s video feed, “I have a TODO to build a distillery, right?”

[Affirmative. And set to a high priority]

Well, all work and no booze… I chuckled, and merged back into my public avatar.

The colonel had been talking during this sidebar. I frame-jacked momentarily and played back the video to get caught up.

“No deaths for the last three days on the patrols. I hope we’ve gotten ahead of this issue with the raptors.”

I put my hands behind my head and stretched while I considered that statement. The raptors weren’t really dinosaurs. They weren’t really anything Earth-equivalent. They were bipedal hunters, slightly larger than the velociraptors in the first Jurassic Park movie. They had large mouths full of teeth more reminiscent of a shark than the peg-shaped teeth of the canonical carnosaur. The raptors—and the USE settlers—had discovered that biocompatibility was a two-way street. Judging by the subsequent increase in raptor incursions, humans had proven to be a tasty treat.

“I wouldn’t want to get complacent, colonel. These are intelligent animals. They won’t just keep marching into weapon range like a horde of zombies.”

“Yes.” The colonel waved a hand in a dismissive gesture. “Which is why I like the aerial surveillance system that you are implementing. Thermal imagers at night. And take out any that approach within a minimum radius.”

“Well, I doubt that the committee will give you any grief about that decision, now.”

The colonel, snorted, nodded to me, and ended the connection.

Colonel Butterworth and I got along much better than he and Riker ever did. Whether that was a difference in personality, or just the fact that the colonel was less stressed, was anyone’s guess.

I sighed and scrubbed my hand across my chin. It was time to get back to work.

I took a moment to check the status on the Artificial Womb construction. We were going to be force-growing a generation of farm animals, just in time for the completion of the secure ranching area. If raptors liked human, they’d love cow. Best be prepared.

Everything seemed to be in order, so I called up a session with Bob and Bill. It took a few milliseconds for the connection, and then they both popped into my VR, sitting around the campfire.

“Hey, Howard,” Bob greeted me with a smile. “Always love the camping theme.”

I smiled back, handed both of them sticks, and laid out the marshmallows and wieners. I’d put a lot of effort into getting the campground just right. Evenings around the campfire had been one of the highlights of my summers when my dad would take us out to the cabin. Even as a child, I had felt the spirituality and timeless Zen of sitting around the fire with the trees looming in the semi-darkness.

This fire had just enough poplar in it to cause the occasional pop, but not so much that it began to sound like gunfire. I’d edited out insects—we Bobs tend to be a little obsessive about realistic detail, but come on, who needs mosquitos?

Once everyone was properly set up and ruining perfectly good marshmallows, I started the meeting. “One of our hunting parties ran into a dozen raptors today. They’d set up an ambush, and a pretty good one. I had to busterize one of them, or we’d be down another settler.”

Bill shrugged. “I’ve said it before—I know it looks like really intelligent behavior, but pack predators on Earth did that kind of thing all the time. It’s easily explained by instinct. Get Jurassic Park out of your mind.”

Bob was grinning at me, so I just smiled and nodded. “Yeah, okay, point taken. Anyway, Bob’s automated surveillance system should be pretty valuable, once we get it set up. Especially with Bob’s new and improved ordnance.”

“Guppy ran the surveillance system on Eden for years,” Bob said. “It’ll be interesting to wire up a dedicated GUPPI to handle the job, though. No replicant oversight. You sure about that, Howard?”

“Not entirely,” I admitted. “But I don’t see us using up resources to build Bobs just for running guard details, you know?”

Bill and Bob said in perfect unison, “Butterworth will have a cow.”

We all broke up in laughter. With certain notable exceptions, the Bobs all had similar senses of humor. What tickled one funny bone tickled all.

There were a few milliseconds of contemplative silence. I looked at Bob. “How’s it going with the Deltans?”

Bob smiled a sad smile and shrugged. “Archimedes has a growing family, now. Time marches on. People age, you know? It’s starting to freak me out a little. I’m watching people I know live their lives, getting older…”

Bill and I both nodded. Immortality had sounded like a great idea back on Earth, but there were costs, especially when you became attached to ephemerals. I glanced quickly at Bill as I had that thought. I knew Bill was touchy about the use of that term. But no, he couldn’t read my mind. I hoped I didn’t have a guilty expression.

Probably a good time to change the subject. “We’re ahead of schedule overall. We’ll probably be finished decanting the settlers from Exodus-3 this week. Riker will be happy to get back in touch with our relatives.”

Bill and Bob both nodded. Bob said, “I enjoy watching the exchanges, but I have to admit that it would be too painful for me to talk to them. I’m glad Riker is up for it. I keep seeing my sisters in various faces, and it’s gut-wrenching.”

I smiled slightly. I don’t think anyone had ever come out and said it to him, but the common feeling was that Bob-1 had gotten an extra dose of original Bob’s anxiety. He tended to get wound up about stuff like that.

I said to Bill, “Before I forget, I need to contact Riker. I want to find out if he can locate some oak and scan it for me.”

“Oak?” Bill raised an eyebrow at me.

“If Riker can get a good enough scan, I should be able to print some real oak barrels.”

“It’ll take forever to print something biological, you know.”

“I know, Bill. It’s more a proof of concept at this stage. I’ll have a printer doing nothing but making staves until I have enough.”

Bill looked confused for a moment, then grinned. “Going into business?”

“No, just doing my part to maintain morale.”

We talked for a few more milliseconds about miscellaneous items, then they signed off. And Guppy popped in with my next TODO.

Oh. That one. I’d been putting that off…

***

Butterworth was livid. This was no mere cow he was having, this was the whole herd. I listened, jaw agape, as he carpet-bombed his tirade with expletives. I hadn’t even been aware he knew of the existence of the f-word. Turned out he was an expert in its use as a verb, noun, adjective, adverb, article, and several forms of punctuation. I made sure I was recording.

Finally, he calmed down. Relatively. Sort of.

“So these, these… Others—moronic name, by the way—are going around depopulating planets? Just because?”

“Well, according to Mario…” I noted that Butterworth couldn’t quite suppress an eye-roll. He didn’t think much of our naming choices. “…they kill all the life on any planets in the system, then extract all the metals and rare elements.”

“And we’re parked out here like a juicy target!”

I looked down and took the time to rein in my tendency to sarcasm before answering. “Colonel, it’s not like you’d have been any safer on Earth. If anything, Vulcan is slightly farther away from where they appear to be operating. And Earth has been advertising its presence for a couple of centuries with radio pollution.”

The Colonel nodded, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. I felt for him. He had no doubt thought that the worst was over with the landing on Vulcan. Now we were all back in the frying pan.

“So what plans do the Bobs have, Howard?”

Now I was on more neutral ground. “Mario has built a bunch of scout Bobs, and they’re checking nearby systems. He’s going to keep building cohorts, and they’re going to keep spreading out until they’ve mapped the Others’ depredations. Then we’ll take it from there. Bill has turned his attention to methods of destruction. Unfortunately, the Others are probably ahead of us technologically. We have some bootstrapping to do.”

“Keep me informed, please.” He wandered over and sat at his desk, rubbing his forehead. I enjoyed the few seconds of silence as he reviewed his notes.

“Farm donuts.” He said, looking up at me. “Those appear to be exceeding expectations.”

“Yes, colonel. Bill came up with a lot of engineering improvements while breeding up the plant stock for release on Ragnarök. He has something called free time. I hope to experience it someday.”

Butterworth snorted and gave me a wry smile. We were both going full-bore, getting the colony up and running. The fact that replicants didn’t need to eat or sleep just meant that I was available seven days a week, twenty-two hours and thirteen minutes a day. Or thirty-one forty-nine, on Romulus. Scheduling was going to be a headache once the Romulan colony was up and running. Funny, I couldn’t remember any science-fiction stories that actually dealt with how you’d handle timekeeping on a new planet.

“And that means,” Butterworth continued, “that we’ll be able to set up the Spits and FAITH colonies on an accelerated schedule. I expect you’re looking forward to your descendants coming out of stasis.”

“No one more than Riker.” I grinned. “I have to admit it’s been a pretty popular program in BobNet.”

Butterworth grimaced. “BobNet. Seven billion people on Earth in the early 21st century, and FAITH decided to replicate a nerd slash engineer with a Star Trek fixation.” He grinned at me to take the sting out of the comment and reached for the disconnect button. “Until tomorrow, then…”