The Death Of Toby Mulholland Vol. 7

“Commander: this cannot be allowed to stand. Our position is untenable; our morale is low; our tactics are simply not working against this force. It must be accepted that we have failed. Mission objectives lie in tatters, and our momentum has withered to absolutely nothing. You must stop.”

Defence against this kind of onslaught came naturally to The Commander; his resolve against the continuing revolt of his upper echelons was a marvel to behold. It wasn’t that he just ignored them: he listened; he took all of their points on board; he accepted their opinions as those of his experts.

Attacking an enemy which felt that it had the divine right to supremacy on its side was something which we were all still coming to terms with; The Commander was no different. But he seemed to be motivated less by the attack; more by the idea: he wanted to know the enemy; what made them.

Success is an absurd measurement for anything. Achievement or completion are the things we tend to strive for naturally. Survival in the face of extermination could never be a short term goal while the machines still knew how to replicate; we needed to play a much longer game than they were.

Failure would come from looking too close to our current position, and telling ourselves that that was where we were locked in to. Such trains of thought are self-fulfilling prophecies at best, and they are no way to wage a war. The Commander was right to follow his own path, even alone.

Conflict between the top brass of any military operation will always filter down to the grunts, and it will always sow uneven patterns of discord. Factionalism always needs to be snuffed out as priority, as it is based on a simplistic reading of unreadable events by people without sufficient information.

Collective wisdom could never be trusted, even when it is being put forward by the majority. It is a fallacy to trust the wisdom of crowds. Crowds are a protectionist wet dream, fuelled by its own need to survive against all other objectives. It is why the assassin works best alone. I am The Assassin now.

Wonder fills me as I look to the list of potential targets, both within and without. I have never felt the thrill of anticipation before a mission like I have this time. My duty is to kill and it suits me well. I will discharge my duty to the best of my abilities, and I will never dwell on the lives which I will take.

Crisis comes from uncertainty; that much is known. Uncertainty can either be cured by filling the gap of knowledge or by removing the cause of doubt. It takes a lifetime to acquire the kind of knowledge The Commander has at his fingertips; it could never be shared to everyone in the base. Not ever.

Survival can only come about without complacency. I was destined to be on edge until I had secured my targets; for that they had augmented my ration pack with stimulants. They heightened my ability to respond, but took me away from myself. I could see what I was doing, but I couldn’t stop shaking.

Hatred of the enemy was not about to bring a resolution to this conflict, no matter what The Kernel felt. They would dissipate from here on in, and their influence would wane. I killed the first of them at close range, suffocating her as she slept. It was a gentle entrance to the terror which was upon us.

Fear grips a complex of lost souls on a daily basis. It can only be relieved by constant reassurance and mutual support. If the latter is removed, the former suffers. The second was the mouthpiece, rather than the brains. I removed his throat as a symbolic gesture; the message was well received.

Abuses committed by The Kernel could not be allowed to go unpunished; we all knew that. But there also needed to be progress. They had advocated a series of “Small Victories” to boost morale: The Commander listened, and he chose to allow it. Targets had been found; the machines would suffer.

Thunder caught the air as I dismantled a dozen radio repeaters placed around the chasm and the area around us. Eventually they would be replaced, if it were noticed that they were gone. Our reconnaissance missions had shown that the link was not always true. Morale boost confirmed.

Cataclysmic change is never a path to success. We view it warily as a species. It seems great in the fictions we read, but we know that it always rips worlds apart in reality. Incremental change, even imperceptible change, is what we are built to withstand; we thrive on development, not shock.

Arbitration had been attempted; arbitration had failed. The third part of The Kernel was the worst of them, and the hardest part of the mission. She had been a friend when I first found the tunnels; she had argued forcefully against The Commander; she had died badly, her eyes red and haunted.

Kinetic weapons were no use against the machines, but The Kernel had advocated stockpiling them nonetheless. Our troops regarded them as a child views a comfort blanket. It was irrational, but kept the peace. We needed electromagnetic weapons, but they were too scarce. The Kernel disagreed.

Force would never win this war, but intelligence easily could. It could tell us that by discharging an electromagnetic field we could disrupt the sensors of the machines. It could tell us that by placing listening coils within their arrays we could listen in to their chatter. Even if we could not decipher it.

Time was on our side, not theirs: we did not rust in the rains of the dark European forests. We had a number of data and linguistic teams on the task of deciphering their communications, in a matrix, with access to what remained of the old quantum computing toolkits of the great ring. It was slow.

Speed was an irrelevance as long as the war was one of attrition. That was not to be the case with The Kernel, but the machines were our real enemies. Our focus must remain on them, individually and collectively, and it must remain unbroken. The Kernel had to be excised from The Corps.