Neal Asher: Zero Point (Owner Trilogy 2)

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    Zero Point (Owner Trilogy 2)
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Dear Reader,

Thank you for buying this book. You may have noticed that it is free of Digital Rights Management. This means we have not enforced copy protection on it. All Tor ebooks are available DRM-free so that once you purchase one of our ebooks, you can download it as many times as you like, on as many e-readers as you like.

We believe that making our Tor ebooks DRM-free is the best for our readers, allowing you to use legitimately-purchased ebooks in perfectly legal ways, like moving your library from one e-reader to another. We understand that DRM can make your ebooks less easy to read. It also makes building and maintaining your digital library more complicated. For these reasons, we are committed to remaining DRM-free.

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Very best wishes,

The Tor UK team & our authors

To all you steady researchers and developers of our technology,

for recognizing the optimistic road to the future,

rather than seeing a slippery slope to doom.

Contents

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

1

Power to the People!

The rebellion was doomed to failure, even had its ostensible leader General Malden succeeded in his plan to drop the Argus Station on the largest bureaucratic conclave of the Committee, which was then located in Brussels (originally the centre of the old European Union). Malden, like so many would-be rebels of the time, was under the illusion – which the Committee promulgated – that the world government actually possessed a heart that could be cut out. In reality the Brussels governmental sprawl was just a larger and more wasteful version of the old European Parliament – real decisions weren’t made there at all, but during teleconferences between Committee delegates generally residing like old-time kings in their regional palaces which, along with the Inspectorate HQs, were the real centres of power. Alan Saul’s attack proved more surgical, destroying many of those HQs, and thus killing a large portion of the Committee Executive and annihilating much of the infrastructure of control. However, the government of Earth was like a hydra and, even though Saul cut off a number of its heads, they soon began to grow back. It could also be argued that he cut off many diseased heads, and the lesser number that grew back had sharper eyes and all their teeth.

Zero Minus Ten Days – Earth

It seemed somebody had left food on a barbecue for too long; the rich saliva-inducing smell like that of cooking belly pork was overwhelmed by the stench of charred fat and burning meat. Delegate Serene Galahad’s stomach rumbled inappropriately and, trying to ignore the fact that she had wet herself, she checked various computer channels through her fone and linked implants. Everything was down; the worst-case scenario had occurred, and the Chestrekon Protocol had been applied. As a result, trillions of specially designed computer chips all across Earth had dismembered Govnet. WiFi was down, because optics, cable, simple fone-lines and satellite channels had been electrically unplugged. Bluetooth was now black.

Shakily, Serene uncapped her water bottle, took a swill and spat it out to get the dust out of her mouth, then finally took a swallow. She had been right about that – about the necessity of the Protocol – as she had been right about so many things. Certainly she had been right about the danger inherent in the requirement for every citizen of Earth to have an ID implant. For those in the higher echelons of government – like Committee delegates such as herself – should not be thus encumbered or so easy to track down. This could be turned against them by terrorists and subversives, just as it seemed it had now been, though on a scale unforeseen.

Recapping her water bottle, Serene gazed out from under her desk – past where her bodyguard Jimbo lay face down, a gaping hole in his back where the first two readergun bullets had struck; most of his head missing where the final one had slammed home. At the edge of the spreading pool of his blood lay her watch. This contained her ID implant, which responded to electronic queries as if it was actually where it should be – inside her forearm. She had pulled it off her wrist and cast it away the moment the readergun, fixed up on the conference-room wall, had flashed into life to set the Sectoring Consultancy team jerking about in their seats, and spraying chunks of them across the wide teak desk before them.

She expected to feel sick, but just felt numb. Perhaps it was shock, so maybe some stronger reaction would occur later.

But the carnage was over now and it was probably safe for her to come out. Certainly it wasn’t safe for her to stay here – that noxious smell told her there was a fire inside the Dome’s conference chamber, burning up what was left of all those frightened idiots who had come here to the Straven Conference to debate further their unimaginative solutions to Earth’s population problem. The anger and the contempt that had driven her here in the first place quickly banished her current numbness, and now impelled her out into the open. She stood up, placed her water bottle down on the gritty surface of her desk, pulled a wad of perfumed tissues from her personal dispenser to clean her hands, then tried to brush some of the debris from her tight grey jacket and skirt. Annoyingly, bits of Jimbo smeared to leave streaks of blood and brain. She took another wad of tissues to clean her hands again, and finally surveyed her surroundings.

The blast had taken out one entire side of the Millennium Dome, even while the readerguns were turning the Straven Conference attendees into broken meat. Through the smoke the new opening gave a view across the Thames, over what looked like the mangled remains of the nose of a scramjet. The same view showed that the Gull developments and sectored areas of Blackwall looked undamaged, yet to their left, on the other side of the West India Canal that divided Canary Island from the main city, and where Committee tower blocks and cubic Civil Service arcologies clustered, pillars of smoke rose into the sky amid numerous massive collapses.

Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. Serene should never have been here.

The conference had just been getting under way when a nuke took out Inspectorate HQ London. Yet, while it had been mooted that they should suspend the conference for the interim, Messina had issued orders for them to continue – business as usual. When Serene subsequently learned that one space plane had been crashed in Minsk spaceport even while another was being stolen, and that a hundred and fifty Committee delegates had been slaughtered in a terrorist outrage in Leuven, she had realized that the expected rebellion had begun. But still Messina would not shut down the conference. Meanwhile he and many of his pet delegates had disappeared – all further orders received from him coming by sat-link. Even as terrorists continued their concerted attack on the state all across Earth, Serene had to stay here discussing decidedly un-radical plans for population control.

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