A woman listens to the world burn.   <br><br>It's hard to miss. It's on every channel. Reports rendered in toneless staccato, attack sequences confirmed by unseen machines, horrified civilian newscasts that suddenly go silent . . . the woman's jaw hangs loose while her mind surfs the signals reachingthe room in which she's riding out the storm, as far away from this craft's hull as possible. Vibrations pound through the walls as energy smashes into the ship from the vacuum beyond. The woman hears shouts as the soldiers in the corridors around her reactto the blast-barriers starting to slide shut. She hears the muffled boom of each one closing, growing ever closer, the succession of walls parading past her and echoing in the distance.  <br><br>She's locked into one of the modular sections now, along with ten other guards--and the prisoner in the high-security cell they're guarding. She looks just like the rest of those sentinels, though really she's nothing of the kind. She's not sealed in either;she may be confined behind these doors, but she's still in touch on zone, her razor awareness reaching out to the rest of the ship. Nearly half a klick long, the Lincoln sits at the heart of the L5 fleet's defenses, on the libration point itself. The wholefleet turns around it. Beyond that is a sight like nothing ever seen . . . <br><br>  World War Three began ten seconds ago, with a sudden U.S. attack on the Eurasian Coalition's forces across the Earth-Moon system. A cacophony of light hit the East--and within a second the East hit back with everything it had left. A myriad of guns keepon flaring like there's no tomorrow. For many millions, there won't be. The war to end all wars is underway in style. Way behind the speed-of-energy weapons come the kinetics: hundreds of thousands of hypersonic missiles, projectiles, railgun-flung rocks--allof it swimming through space and streaking through atmosphere. And right now most of it's way too slow in the face of massed particle beams and lasers: directed-energy batteries that flail against incoming targets even as they triangulate on one another. Onthe screens, the woman can see the Earth glowing as portions of the outer atmosphere reach temperatures they really shouldn't. Chunks are coming off the Moon's surface. The room in which she's sitting starts to shake even harder. She hears one of the guardspraying--his words audible only inside his helmet, but she's hacked into that helmet, getting off on every fucking word--and every word is just one among so many . . . because now she's honing in on Earth, sifting through the traffic that's getting throughthe swathe of energy that's bathing the planet. It's so bad she has to take one of the mainline routes in; riding on the command frequencies, she plunges through air that's shimmering with heat, drops deep beneath the Rocky Mountains and into the command bunkerwithin which America's planetside generals are monitoring events.   Those generals are exclusively InfoCom and SpaceCom. All the other ranking officers have been purged, or have sworn to obey the new order. The death of the president has been announced to the armed forces, along with the order to take revenge upon theEurasian foe whose assassins struck him down in his hour of triumph. There's a new president now, and everyone's getting in line fast. They're too busy dealing with the blizzard of death blazing through the sky to do anything else. But so far the cities inboth East and West are being left untargeted. Neither side can afford to bother with them. Both sides are bringing every resource they can to bear upon the challenge of breaking down the def-grids of the other, def-grids largely consisting of DE cannon arrayedin strategic perimeters, shooting at the waves of projectiles heading in toward them. It looks to be the mother of all free-for-alls.  <br><br> It's anything but. The woman can detect an initial pattern already. The American preemptive strike has drawn blood. The Eurasians are reeling. She's studying the planetside portion of the Eurasian zone now, watching the webwork of nodes that stretch fromRomania to Vladivostok, from the wastes of Siberia to the Indian Ocean. She takes in the Eastern def-grids as they struggle to adjust to the onslaught. She's looking for an opening, following the routes she's been instructed to take. Moving beneath the Americanfirewall and through a back door into the neutral territories--into a data warehouse in London, from there to Finland and across the Arctic Circle and through long-lost phone lines beneath the tundra, straight into the Eastern zone . . . straight into Russia.She's never worked the zone like this before. She's running codes that make her virtually unstoppable, swooping in across the steppes, closing upon a target.    <br><br>   The target's a man. He's sitting in the sixth car of a Russian train, several hundred klicks east of the Caspian Sea, going at several thousand klicks an hour: full-out supersonic maglev, heading southeast. The train just went below the surface, and there'spalpable relief aboard at getting underground before the rail got pulverized. It looks to be a normal transit train--the last ten cars of the train are packed with equipment, the first ten cars with specialists and staff officers, bound for various bases andvarious locales. There's nothing aboard that's even remotely atypical.   Except for the man the woman's tracking.   <br><br>He's one of the staff officers, sitting in a compartment all his own, staring at the wall that's rushing past the window. She can see him quite clearly on the train's vid, but somehow she can't seem to get near him on zone. His codes are too good. Shecan trace the route they've taken, though. Doesn't surprise her in the slightest that he's come from the very center of Moscow, from cellars deep beneath the Kremlin itself. <br><br>  And yet he's undercover. No one else aboard this train has the slightest clue he's anything but what his ID says he is: a medium-range gunnery officer, attached to somebody's staff in Burma. But the woman has been told this man is key--has been told shehas to watch him closely. She expects she'll find out what that's all about soon enough. In the meantime, she's tracing some signals he's sending--riding alongside them as they flick out ahead of the train, along the rails and through a maze of tunnels, headingbeneath the Himalayas, diving down toward the root of the mountains--       <br><br>Down here there's nothing to see. Nothing to hear. Nothing going on at all. It's just the two of them now, waiting in this room. The lights of zone went off fifteen minutes ago.  <br><br>"Too long," says Sarmax   As he speaks, the mech triggers a light in his helmet. His face is two-day stubble and half a century's worth of lines. The only warmth his grey eyes hold is some kind of distant amusement.   <br><br>"I don't think so," says Spencer.  <br><br>"Who cares what you think? It's already begun."   <br><br>"Probably."  <br><br>"Definitely."  <br><br>"So why haven't they switched this thing on?"   <br><br>"I presume," says Sarmax, "that they're waiting for their moment."  <br><br>Spencer nods. He figures that moment will come soon enough. The two men are deep inside something that was separated from the exterior zone to begin with, machinery that's situated in a mammoth cave beneath several klicks of rock, cut off from the restof this black base, with all systems shut off as an additional precaution. Because you can never be too careful.  <br><br>"Failsafe after failsafe," mutters Spencer.  <br><br>"Hostile razors could be inside already," says Sarmax.   <br><br>"Imagine that."   <br><br>"We'll need to keep a close read on the politics when it all lights up." <br><br>  And that's putting it mildly. The Eurasian Coalition is like two bodies sewn together. There's a reason its zone felt so jury-rigged--why it was so difficult to line up all the operational hierarchies. Spencer's wishing he had paid more attention to themon the way in, before they left the zone behind and reached this compartmentalized microzone deeper in the Earth than he's ever been before. Parts of it were opaque to him even then--the inner enclaves, presumably, but now the entire thing's been turned off,and he's blind. He doesn't like it. <br><br>  Apparently Sarmax likes it even less. The mech's blind by definition, and it wasn't hard for Spencer to get him to agree to stay here until things clarify. So they've remained in this chamber for the last quarter-hour--just them and the unholy amount ofnuclear warheads that line the walls around them.  <br><br>"What do you think the total count is?" says Sarmax.  <br><br>"About fifty thousand."  <br><br>"Gotta be more than that--" <br><br>  "I'm talking about the ones we've seen," says Spencer.  <br><br>"I'm asking you to guess about the ones we haven't."  <br><br>"We're more than a klick deep into this bitch," says Spencer. "How the fuck am I supposed to guess--" <br><br>  But that's when he feels something clutch at his mind--      <br><br>And retract. Sitting here at L5, she can't reach that deep. She knows someone's down there, though. Right now that's all she needs to know. She hauls her mind back to the borders of the zone--lets herself slot through that zone, out of the Himalayas, outbeneath China--and back into the U.S. zone, back out into space. Earth is getting closed off to her now anyway. The carpet of directed energy has become too thick. It's all interference now--all satellites spitting light and plasma at one another in a web that'sstarting to look almost solid. Earth's upper atmosphere blooms incandescent. The lower orbits are a chaos of wreckage.   <br><br>It's only slightly cleaner higher up. There's more space, though, and so far both sides are maintaining the integrity of their positions. The woman routes her signal through the American flagship Roosevelt, in the center of the perimeters at the Americangeosynchronous orbits. From their ramparts, she looks back upon the Earth . . . and either the air down near the surface is shimmering too, or else the oceans are starting to boil. Maybe both. But the overall picture in the Roosevelt's battle-management computersis clear: the terrestrial Eurasian grids can't withstand much more of the battering they're taking. The woman sets various codes to work aboard the Roosevelt; she shrinks the Earth in her purview, and collapses back upon the Lincoln and her own body in theroom somewhere near its center, her mind taking in the duel that's raging between the American fleet at L5 and the larger Eurasian one at L4. They're going at each other hammer and tongs, feeding in all reserve power, generators cranking and solar panels suckingin every drop of the Sun that washes across them so they can surge that much more energy into their guns. The shaking in the room the woman's in has gotten so bad it's like she's in the throes of an earthquake. Her visor's vibrating right in front of her. Butshe's not worried. She won't die. That's what the prisoner told her. He explained to her the reasons why, and they were utterly persuasive. She's staring at him now, on a screen that looks in on a room scarcely ten meters away, separated from her by still morelocks. She's the nearest human being to that room.   <br><br>Or she would be, were she human.   <br><br>She certainly looks it. Same way she looks like a guard. She's more of a guardian, and she worships the man who's not really a man and certainly not a prisoner--worships him with all her heart. Nor is her worship based on something so narrow as faith.It's based on what he's told her--on what he's shown her. Before he was arrested as a traitor and taken to this place he's in now; before she even knew the full extent of where this was all going--back when he told her that she'd come to a room someday andsit there and watch him take in the universe, both of them hiding in plain sight at the heart of all networks, observing everything unfold. The war's almost a minute old, and it's looking better by the second for the Americans--and almost perfect for theirpositions arrayed around the Moon. The extreme flanks of the L2 fleet are starting to scramble from their positions behind that rock, commencing runs that are clearly intended to get the drop on the Eurasian lunar positions. They're flinging out directed energywhile they're at it, bouncing beams off the mirror-sats strung in orbit around the Moon for just this purpose, impacting the Eurasian ground-to-space artillery dug in along the nearside.   <br><br>Which surprises the woman. She would have thought that the L2 fleet would have joined with L5's guns to catch the Eurasian L4 fortresses in a crossfire. But it looks like the American high command has elected to allow the duel between L4 and L5 to continueto play out. It's not what the prisoner told her he expected. She wonders at that, wonders if he was deliberately misleading her, wonders if he's engaged in unseen battles of his own. But she sees the logic in the American move. They're gambling that they canshut down the Eurasian forces on the Moon before the L4 guns break through L5's defenses. So now she focuses on the Moon; her vantage point at L5 gives her a partial look at the farside--but she needs more than that. She routes herself through to the farside'scenter--Congreve, the main American base there--whips past its dome, drops through the city and into its basements and on into the sub-basements. The traffic is thinning out along with the wires, but she keeps on threading deeper all the same, honing in onthe activity that she's detecting. Some kind of chase is in progress. She's almost at the limits of the sub-basements now, at the edge of the natural tunnels that honeycomb so much of the Moon--lava tubes that bubbled through ancient magma, some of them riggedwith zone and used for mining, so many left unexplored even to this day. The woman drops in around the pursuers. An elite InfoCom squad . . . and she can't see what it's pursuing. She doesn't need to. All she needs to do is hack in and do what she does best.   Listen.   <BR><BR><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>The Machinery of Light</b> by <b>David J. Williams</b> Copyright © 2010 by David J. Williams. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.