Space can be deadly…
Reznik slammed his fist into the crate. The metallic thump echoed down the corridor. His low growl made Leopold take an involuntary step back. The quartermaster’s black eyes narrowed.
“You have not only insulted me, you have insulted nine generations of my family!” he roared.
Leopold put his meaty hands up in a placating gesture. He was sweating profusely. The fat merchant wiped his brow with the sleeve of his flowery kimono. “Mr. Reznik, please understand, I meant no offense. I am simply –”
“You are simply trying to take advantage of me. Do you take me for some hayseed Rez fresh off the dirt farm?” Reznik said, stabbing an accusatory finger at the fat merchant.
Leopold shook his head vigorously. “No sir. Not at all. I am simply trying to get the best deal I possibly can for my employer.”
They stood in the corridor between the starboard airlock and the main cargo bay doors. The slight vibration from the engines stuttered, then dropped away. The Hell’s Bane had barely docked on Commerce One when Leopold appeared the airlock. Before their arrival, Reznik had posted a full list of the goods they had for sale on the local Q net. The Bane was besieged by inquiries and questions about the cargo they had for sale, but Leopold was first in the queue, waiting to bid on the equipment.
Reznik grunted loudly. He folded his arms and walked around the large cargo crate taking measured steps and giving his prey accusatory scowls. The furry alien stopped on the far side of the crate and placed his hands on the top and leaned towards Leopold. He glowered at the merchant. The spiky fur on top of his head rippled with anger. The pudgy human had a hard time maintaining eye contact. He kept looking away, shifting his gaze to the four large men wearing power armor and holding assault rifles at low ready.
The strikers stood nearby, to the left of the large cargo bay doors. The large and imposing pirates stared at the effeminate merchant as though he were a meal. Leopold’s eyes slid in their direction every so often. He seemed to think they might all pile on him at any second.
Robert Taylor Ford watched the scene unfold before him from inside the cargo Bay. He sat on a crate, a grim smile tugged at the corners of his lip. He considered the merchant carefully, his fear of the strikers was exaggerated. Robert’s smile turned sardonic. It would seem Leopold was a bit of an actor himself, though Robert saw straight through his act.
Leopold mopped his brow again. “Why is it so bloody hot in here?”
Reznik’s head snapped to Leopold. “Oh, I’m sorry, are my environmental requirements offensive to you?”
The blood drained from Leopold’s face, he furiously shook his head again. “No. No, I’m sorry. Again, I meant no offense.”
Reznik finished his circle around the cargo crate. He stood in front of the merchant, holding steady gaze. “Well that’s a start. But you still owe me another apology.”
Leopold squinted cocked his head to the right. “I’m not sure… um, what exactly am I –“
Reznik balled his fists and took half step forward. “You still owe me an apology for that insult of an offer.” He spat out.
Leopold sighed. “Please understand, I have a contractual obligation to my employer, it says that I must get the best deal I am able to acquire.”
Reznik shrugged his shoulders, he leaned his head back and stretched out his arms. “Ancient Ones, why must you give me such tribulations? Have I not delivered the heads of my enemies? How much more do you demand of me?”
Leopold took another half step back. Reznik dropped his arms and closed the distance to the merchant. Leopold was fighting back his growing alarm. Reznik put his free hand on his shoulder. The merchant looked like he might run for the airlock and off the ship.
“See here, I’m just looking for a square deal, yes?” Reznik continued to lean in, his voice dropped an octave. “I’m trying to keep my violent Reznoonian tendencies in check, but this becomes difficult when you are trying to bloody damn rob me!”
Leopold flinched back and stepped to put the cargo crate between himself and the angry Reznoonian. “May I inspect the merchandise?”
“Of course.” Reznik said changing his tone, he slapped the button on top of the crate. The top opened and three sides smoothly fell to the ground revealing a brand-new McPherson Industries fine – tech 3D printer. It was still wrapped in the manufacturers plastic cover.
This type of high-tech industrial equipment was in very short supply way out here in the outback. A fine tech 3D printer could, in theory, replicate itself. It could certainly build things like a medical suite, fusion reactor circuitry, and the smallest communications nodes.
Robert noted as the merchant slipped back into the character of an uninterested buyer. He smirked as the big fop in the flowered robe sniffed and frowned as he picked at make-believe imperfections. He clasped his hands behind his back and slowly circled the printer. He muttered to himself and clicked his tongue.
Reznik pulled a blade from his belt. He stepped forward, grabbing the plastic and slashed open. The plastic covering fell to the floor revealing the pristine new device. Robert suppressed a laugh when this shrewd merchant nearly dropped his act, when he realized that if the manifest was correct he could make a tidy sum once he resold them as new.
Robert looked back into the cargo hold and nodded slightly. Deke and Nigel lumbered forward in their battered exo-loaders, their heavy footsteps clanged against the metal deck plates. Deke scowled at Robert as he passed through the cargo bay door. Nigel gave him a wink took a position next to his foreman.
Leopold turned and looked at the two large, yellow exo loaders and their angry occupants. He turned back to the printer continue his inspection.
Robert noticed the strikers were shifting their weight from foot to foot and were grumbling quietly amongst themselves. Digg and Hack glared at Leopold. The fat trader unsuccessfully tried not look at them.
For the next week (starting midnight PST on 20 SEP 2021) We Happy Few will be on sale for 99 cents.
The audiobook narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds is available at Audible.
Hey. It’s been awhile, I know. I have some news on the work front. I was recently promoted to a salary position. So, I’m now a cubicle dweller. I was an hourly aircraft inspector now I’m a technical writer working on the aircraft maintenance manuals. So far, so good. I like my job. My co-workers and my new boss have been great to work with.
This new job also has the benefit of of a 4×10 schedule, meaning I work 10 hour days, 4 days a week, giving me 3 days off a week. Now I can jump back into writing! I have missed it and I have a lot of pent up ideas to put down on paper. (Yes, I use paper, more on that in a bit.)
I want to talk about a news event that has impacted me professionally and personally. The Fall of Kabul.
I worked as an aircraft quality inspector for The State Department Airwing, first in Iraq then In Afghanistan. I worked with some great folks doing a job I enjoyed. (mostly) I spent over 2 years in Baghdad and almost 4 years in Kabul.
I worked and lived at Camp Alvarado at the Kabul International Airport. We were mostly self-contained, mostly contractor occupied and operated camp. It was the best place I was ever deployed. Also… by industry standards, we lived in near-luxury. I had my own room with my own bathroom. We all did. Not many other contracts in the Sandbox offer that.
How do people spend off time while deployed? Some become gym rats, some work on college degrees, many play video games, or watch bootleg videos from the MWR server. (shout out the the bestest I.T. guys ever!)
I wrote a book.
My first book, We Happy Few was written at Camp Alvarado in 2016 – 2017. Here’s a look at my barracks room. In the back, you can see my laptop and extra monitor.
I worked here. I rarely felt like I was in danger, even though there were plenty of bad guys in and around the airport. There were some fun and games when the goatfuckers figured out we were not a soft target. They never directly attacked us again. We would have IDF (indirect fire) land near or around us, but it was never very accurate. I mean, unless they were aiming for empty fields and mountainside.
I left that contract at the end of 2017. It was by far my favorite gig in the Sandbox. A few months later I was living in a tent in the Horn of Africa. That gig sucked so much that I quit overseas contracting and went back to aircraft manufacturing.
Then, this happened about a month ago…
I worked in this hanger. I sat on that stool they just walked past. I was so angry when I saw this. I still am to be honest.
Then I see this…
It makes my blood boil. Thank God that everyone was evacuated. I also heard many of the locals that worked for us managed to get out. I’m glad for that, though I’m sure not everyone made it, and that weighs on me.
We abandoned allies that risked their lives for the last 20 years. We left a hell of a lot of functional weaponry and equipment. And it didn’t have to be this way.
I can see that this will color the stories I have tell going forward.
I’m taking a fresh look at Into the Breach, the sequel to We Happy Few. And I’m trying to decide what to do with Crimson Sands (I’ve posted excerpts below) All these stories take place in the same universe, so some of them will tie together, or a minor character in one story may be the protagonist in another.
I’m looking to Kindle Vella. I might publish some short stories there. In fact, I might put Crimson Sands there. And I have a ton of other material I need to whip into shape.
Also, for the next week (starting midnight PST on 20 SEP 2021) We Happy Few will be on sale for 99 cents.
The audiobook narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds is available at Audible.
Rick Partlow’s Drop Ship series is a worthy successor to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.
Cam Alvarez is a scrappy, young tough guy trying scrape along in a sprawling mega city. When he gets into trouble with the local bad guys the cops give him a choice of going to jail or joining the military.
I’m sure you can guess his choice.
The old story about a talented, young soldier and his progression up the ranks is a time honored trope. This story pulls off a fresh look at it that will have you asking for more.
This is finely crafted military science fiction. It probably helps the Partlow was an Army Infantry officer. The tactics and tech make perfect sense and world itself is believable and immersive. He gives you just enough details to fill out the universe but doesn’t burden you with the math, like RAH did.
The cast of characters is well drawn and you’ll care about them by the end of the book. I really did care about who lived and who died in battle and I bet you will too.
I’m actually about to start the third book in this series. I’m looking forward to it! If my TBR (To Be Read) list wasn’t so long, I would’ve read this sooner! 😛
I am a fan of his work, you should check him out.
“All rise.” Sir Ren shouted from the back of the empty field operation center.
After the battle had successfully concluded the day before they began breaking down their command center to redeploy to the Titan and head home.
Corporal John Rowan jumped to his feet. Sir Basil Singh stood next to him. At the next table, Sir William Pellegrino stood straight as their Duke strode to the front of the room and sat behind a field table.
“Please, sit.” Lord Bryce announced.
Everyone sat. Bryce studied a holo-screen in front of him. Rowen knew that a dozen people were shuffling in and were taking seats on field chairs behind him. He never looked behind him.
Rowen’s wounds mended, and he sat in confinement for a week. The skirmish had ended, apparently. Rowen guessed they had either won or they made a deal.
“Corporal John Rowen. You stand accused of Attempted Murder of a Superior Officer. How do you plead?” Bryce asked, looking directly into Rowen’s eyes.
He a Sir Basil stood. “Milord.” He started to say, but Sir Basil interrupted.
“Milord, the corporal pleads Nolo Contredre.”
Pellegrino leaped to his feet. “I object!”
Sir Basil shot him a questioning glance.
“This tribunal is supposed to be quick, as we are readying to redeploy back to Capella Minor.”
Bryce gestured to Pellegrino to sit. “I’ll allow it. State your case.”
Pellegrino squinted at a holo-screen. “Eight nights ago, this man, this conscript, returned from a failed mission—”
“Objection,” Basil began, “The corporal achieved the objective of that mission.”
“This conscript returned from a mission, dragged his sleeping platoon leader out into the cold where he beat him within an inch of his life. Sir Reginald Redfield barely escaped death and currently in our flagship’s medical facility in an induced coma while nanites mend his broken skull. Also, he awaits three new neck vertebrae. It will be weeks before he can walk again and he has extensive facial scarring that will be difficult and time consuming to mend.”
Pellegrino cleared his throat and continued. “John Rowen is a serf bound to House Bryce. His actions jeopardized the fragile truce between us and House Redfield. Many saw his actions and are not in dispute. This conscript had the temerity to lay his hands on a royal. For this alone, we should conclude this tribunal and he should be executed as soon as possible. That is all I have.” The prosecutor stated, then sat.
Duke Bryce nodded his approval. “Quick and to the point.” He motioned to Basil. “Your argument?”
“Milord, I contend that Corporal Rowen was mentally and emotionally compromised from the effects of losing his entire squad because of the…” Basil paused, carefully selecting his words. “ineffective leadership from Sir Reg—”
“Objection! Are you saying that Lieutenant Redfield was no qualified to lead? Are you really saying this in open court?”
Basil returned his steely gaze. “No. I’m saying the young Redfield was incompetent.”
Pellegrino reddened. “How dare you? He was a fellow noble—”
“Enough.” Bryce commanded. “Sir Basil, have you evidence of this?”
“Yes, milord.” Basil opened a few holo-screens visible to all. “The young Redfield did not join his squad on this important mission. Instead, he followed them from our orbital satellites and body cams.” Basil played some videos. “Here we can plainly see that Redfield did, in fact, undermine Corporal Rowan’s authority.”
“I object,” Pellegrino growled. “The command was Redfield’s not the conscripts. How can an officer undermine the authority of a junior NCO?”
“Lieutenant Redfield was not leading his troops from the front. He was leading from down there,” Basil said, pointing at the officer’s combat console.
“Irrelevant.” Pellegrino shot back.
“He did not have the same situational awareness that Corporal Rowen had.”
Hope swelled in Rowen’s chest. He spent the last week thinking about being executed in the snow and never seeing his home again. He was growing fond of Sir Basil. He never expected such a vehement defense from a blue blood. This man was actually defending him. He had thought this tribunal would be a formality. He only hoped that his own Lord put him to death. He was scared to think what would happen to they handed him if him over to House Redfield. A slow, painful death would be certain. But it was looking more unlikely, as Sir Basil was strongly arguing his case.
Rowen snapped out of his reverie. He was wasn’t sure how much he had missed.
“This man has an excellent service record. In fact, he should’ve already been promoted to Sergeant months ago.”
“This man is still a peasant that works at his lordship’s meat farm when we’re not off to war.”
“This man has proven himself many times in the lest three skirmishes alone.” Basil pulled up a few video panels. It was battle field drone footage. One panel showed Rowen carrying a wounded man over his shoulder as he sprinted to cover behind a desert mound, delivering the man to medics then rushing out to grab another wounded man.
The next panel showed Rowen’s gun camera as they boarded a pirate ship last year. Every target in his site went down before they could react to his blitzkrieg approach. The last panel showed Rowen just a few weeks ago on Wayfar Three. During some otherwise straight forward urban warfare he ended up fighting hand to hand with a huge bloke. The drone footage showed him quickly and brutally taking down his enemy.
Rowen gaped at the carnage that starred him. He’d seen no combat vids before. His jaw went slack at the fidelity of the footage. Then he realized his betters knew literally everything he and his men had done. He wondered if they had the audio to go with it. He racked his brain, searching his memory for anything he may have said that might be frowned upon.
Lord Bryce smiled and slapped his hand on the table at the action in the holo-screens. “I remember seeing this,” he pointed to the panel with the fisticuffs and frowned. “I thought we were going to promote him after that?”
“Sir Reg failed to follow that order, milord.” Singh replied.
Bryce’s brown furrowed. He muttered something under his breath.
Pellegrino gestured to the screens. “Milord, having basic knowledge on combat and being able to brawl is not uncommon among the peasants,” He pointed a calloused finger at Rowen. “This conscript nearly killed a nobleman. We cannot allow this to go unanswered. He must—”
“Yes, yes, Sir William. I heard your opening statement.” The Duke surveyed the crowd. “Does anyone have anything to add?”
The man stood and confidently strode forward. He wore black fatigues with high boots. His only insignia were a subdued set of Captain’s bars on his collar. Rowen did not recognize the man right off.
“Lord Bryce. I am Sir Tobias Smythe of House Lancaster, and commander of the third company, Death Dealers. I would like to offer some testimony if it pleases milord.”
“Of course, Sir Tobias. Your Lord’s assistance in this latest skirmish was most welcome and appreciated. Please speak your mind.”
Smyth bowed slightly. “I met this man last week. It twas I that handed off the modified seeker to him. Corporal Rowen and his team. They approached my squire and I so stealthily that they caught by surprise.”
There was an indistinct murmur of commentary from the audience.
“That’s quite a thing for an augmented officer of the famed Death Dealers to admit to.” Bryce said.
“I believe in giving credit where it is due, milord. And I bring it up precisely because these were unaugmented men with archaic arms and armor.”
The crowd stirred at this comment.
Bryce frowned at the growing crowd. “All right, keep it down.”
They complied instantly.
Sir William Pellegrino turned to the Death Dealer. “Apologies, Sir. Are you saying we should outfit our conscripts with the same arms and armor reserved for the professionals?”
Smyth crisply pivoted towards the prosecutor. “Not necessarily, sir. But if they could approach us without the advantage of a modern kit, just imagine how effective they could be with it,” He smoothed his tunic. “That is neither here nor there.” He turned back to Lord Bryce.
Pellegrino stood and sneered. “These are not nobles. They are only peasants.”
Smythe regarded him coolly. “A man that is not a noble is still a man. And every man that bears your colors is an asset on the battlefield.”
Pellegrino opened his mouth to retort, but he caught the warning in his Duke’s eyes and sat back down instead.
The Death Dealer continued. “it saddened me to hear that we lost this squad. Their sacrifice in completing that mission allowed my company to have a victory nearly devoid of casualties.”
The knight looked to Rowen and nodded out of respect for the man, if not the title.
Rowen found little comfort in all this. He knew his station. And while he appreciated the kind words, he felt awkward. He did not know how he was supposed to respond to praise in this setting. He gave a slight nod back, then averted his eyes to the ground. He also noticed he left out the part about offer to kit the squad from his own pocket. It mattered not since he was the only one left. He appreciated that fact that a noble had stated the obvious about equipping all troops to succeed. He wished he could tell Sir Tobias that.
“I contacted Redfield right after our hand-off. I told him same as I’ve told you. And he rebuffed my comments.”
“I understand that you must address his actions towards the young Redfield,” He slid his eyes towards Pellegrino then back to Bryce, “But I would ask that if this man must die for that crime, at least make it a clean death. A warrior’s death,” he paused. “This man’s bravery in the face of certain doom saved my blood blooded arse, and my men, so we didn’t have to die light years from home and hearth.”
A few light chuckles came from the still growing crowd.
“Thank you for that, Sir Tobias. I will inform your Lord that your wise council helped me to make a difficult decision.”
Smyth bowed and took a step back, then reclaimed his seat that his squire had saved from the throng of officers and soldiers that had arrived to hear the verdict.
Bryce made eye contact with Sir Ren, he acknowledged.
“All rise!” Ren shouted to the crowd. They jumped to their feet.
Rowen stood. He could feel the eyes of his duke boring into him. He was afraid to look him in the eye. It went against everything they taught him growing up. He took a deep breath and met his lord’s gaze. If he would die. He might as well look his judge in the eye.
“Corporal John Rowen.” Bryce announced as if he was doing roll call.
Rowen snapped to the position of attention. His eyes stabbed the wall in front of him.
“For your undisputed crime. I find you guilty.”
Those words quietly rippled through the crowd.
Bryce paused, weighing his words. “The sentence for that crime is death.”
He glared a warning to the unquiet crowd. They quieted.
The command center was so quiet, straining to hear, you could’ve heard a mouse fart.
“I have the authority to offer a choice.”
The room was utterly still.
“You may accept death by firing squad to be carried out forth with. Or…”
Nervous tension ripped through the room like an electric current.
“Or, you may fight for the glory of my House and the opportunity to clear your name in the Imperial Circus. What say you, Sergeant Rowen?”
Rowen blinked. It took a moment to digest the duke’s words. “Milord. I accept.”
“The firing squad or the games?” Bryce asked, trying to keep the smirk off his face.
Rowen gasped. “Oh. The games, milord. The games.”
“Very well. You will be transported to my Household, where you will train under the master that taught me.”
Rowen bowed deeply. He didn’t trust his voice to speak.
“Make it so.” Bryce commanded. Striking the table with a fist.
The crowd erupted. A huge smile split Sir Basil’s face. He slapped Rowen’s shoulder.
Rowen was still gob smacked. It never occurred to him that there was even the slightest possibility he might live past this day. It was a lot to process.
Sir William Pellegrino approached. He let out a long breath and shook his head. “I wonder…”
Rowen straightened. “Yes, sir?”
“I wonder how long it will be before you realize that the firing squad would have been an easier choice.”
Rowen brushed by the conscript private guarding the bunker entrance. The junior man gasped. “Corporal! I thought you were dead.”
The corporal spun on his heel and put his finger to his lips.
The wide-eyed private just nodded quickly and backed towards his guard station.
Rowen descended the stairs four at a time. He reached the bottom and looked through the heavy glass of the double doors leading to the Operations Center. It would do no good to be seen by any of his officers and how long would that private hold his tongue? The lights were subdued. Faces were lit by holograms and floating monitor panels. His eyes darted from person to person looking for his target.
Sir Reginald Redfield was not there. In a way, he was glad. His only plan, with so many standing around, was to stab him through the heart with Harris’ spiral knife. He was not optimistic about his chances for success under those circumstances.
The Watch Officer’s bunk room was just inside the door to the right. He hoped no one would look to see who entered as the double doors hissed open. He put his head down and swiftly entered the bunk room.
He closed the door and let his eyes adjust to the darkness. A soft snore came from the cot. Only a small part of his face was visible from the mummy sleeping bag. He saw the wispy mustache that positively identified his target. He pulled the dagger and silently approached his victim.
He stopped within striking range. He grunted softly and sheathed his knife. He needed to feel pain before his life ended.
“Psst. Hey.” Rowen said.
Redfield groaned. “Come back later.”
The blue blood pushed his face from the tiny opening of the sleeping bag. His bleary eyes went wide when he saw his dead squad leader hovering over him with murder in his eyes.
“you’re… you’re dead.” He stammered.
“Not as dead as you’re about to be.” Then Rowen punched the much smaller man in the face, knocking him out. He pulled the drawstring closed and dragged the sleeping bag out of the room by the feet.
Rowen rushed through the outside ring of the Command Center. He again hoped no one would pay attention to a large, bloody man in a raggedy uniform dragging a sleeping bag with a limp body in it.
One face looked up from the holographic battle map in center of the dimly lit room. He looked back down, then sharply up again as he noticed a body in a sleeping bag being dragged up the stairs as the armored glass doors whooshed shut. “What’s this about?” He pointed towards the doors, other turned to see what the officer was pointing at. A half a dozen of them made for the door.
Rowen bolted up the stairs, dragging his platoon leader. The blue’s head bounced on each stair. His captive thrashed around in his fart sack. His muffled shouts made Rowen grin. He knew time was running out.
The bunker guard stood gaping, not sure how to react. At the mad man coming up the steps.
“Be a good lad and open that door.”
The youngster dimly nodded again and followed the NCO’s command.
“Unhand me, you brute!” Redfield cried.
Rowen saw a terrified eye peering out of the puckered opening in the sleeping bag. Rowen grabbed the fart sack and pulled that eye closer to his. “You killed my team, you bloody bastard. And now I will kill you.” He growled.
More muffled yelling came as Rowen grabbed his legs and swung his lieutenant into a corner of plasti-crete T-Wall. His head cracked open from the first impact. The yelling abruptly stopped. He kept swinging as red bloomed from the head of the sleeping bag.
Armored marines stood watching, not believing, or understanding what was going on in front of them.
Six men burst from the command bunker. Rowen pulled his dagger and lunged towards his victim. One of them grabbed his hand with augmented strength. Rowen growled and put all his remaining energy into sinking his spiral blade into Redfield. More augmented hands grabbed and pulled. The blade fell from his hand and stuck point first into the frozen ground.
They wrestled the large conscript to the ground as he howled and cursed.
The officer that first spotted Rowen, Sir William Pellegrino, stood up and straightened his tunic. He tapped his ear and spoke. “I need a surgeon at the Ops bunker, ASAP.” He motioned to the marines standing nearby. “You two! Restrain this man!”
The marines hurried to comply. They hauled Rowen to his feet, clamping his arms tight on each side. Sergeant Major Handley grabbed Rowen by the collar. “What the hell were you thinking?” his gruff voice said near a low whisper.
“He is responsible for the deaths of six men. There’s no way he would have been brought to justice.”
The Sergeant Major dropped his head and sighed heavily. “Lord Bryce has already relieved him of command.”
“He’ll be moved to another unit. Nothing more will happen. What Justice—”
“And what kind of justice do you think you will get?” Handley said, cutting him off. The old NCO glowered at Rowen. He turned away not saying another word.
There was something shared in that last look. He may have sympathized with the corporal, but he could never put voice to that.
Rowen slumped. His anger turned to shame. He could not avenge his squaddies. The last of his energy dissolved with his rage.
Sir William Pellegrino stood behind the senior NCO. He looked at Rowen with contempt and disgust. He would not deign to speak to this ogre of a serf. He tapped his ear again. “Where’s that surgeon?”
Two of the other staff officers opened the sleeping bag. The youngest son of Duke Angus Redfield was motionless. His face and skull reduced to a mashed pulp. The sclera of his left eye ran down his bloody cheek.
“Gods have mercy.” One of them said turning to retch.
The surgeon and two medics rushed from the bunker. The staff officers gladly stepped back to let them work.
A commotion preceded Duke Alfred Bryce erupted from the underground bunker. He and two of his aides, or household knights to be more precise, stopped an arm’s length away from Rowen.
“What is the meaning of all this?” The Duke demanded.
The Lord Bryce was a formidable man. A warrior’s warrior. His thinning, graying hair revealed a stunning lack of vanity for someone in his exalted position.
Sergeant Major Handley turned and pulled the creases from his tunic with a crisp snap and bowed his head. “Milord, this man just lost his entire squad—”
Bryce put his hand up, silencing the old Noncommissioned Officer. “Yes, Top, I saw the battle holos.” He stepped over to the surgeon. “report.”
The ground reverberated with an explosion that was only a hundred meters away. Red lasers and bright white auto-pulser fire stitched across the black sky. The marines that lollygagged watching the show moved off with purpose.
The surgeon nodded his respect but did not stand from his patient. “Milord, his skull has multiple fractures. His face is pulp. His left eye is gone. I need to get him evacuated to a capitol ship before the swelling in his brain kills him.”
Bryce turned to the aide on his left, Sir Basil Singh “Can we risk a dropship landing?”
Sir Basil frowned at his busy holo-screen and shrugged. “It’ll be dicey but I think we can get a bird on the ground within ten minutes.”
Bryce turned back to the surgeon. “Get Sir Reginald to the landing pad.” He paused. “Doctor, I need not explain the ramifications if the young Redfield dies, do I?”
“I understand fully, Milord. I’ve already contacted the Titan. They’ve assured me the medical suite will be prepped and ready once we land.” Said the doctor as his medics loaded their patient on the hover gurney.
“Very good. Keep me informed.”
The doctor bowed, and they dashed out. Bryce turned to his knights. “This is a call I’m not looking forward to making.”
Pellegrino furrowed his brow. “If that little bastard dies—”
Lord Bryce cut him off. He motioned to Rowen a few paces away. “We do not have provisions for a stockade here. Options?”
Sir Basil cleared his throat. “We can use Redfield’s quarters. He’s not likely to be back soon. And we can secure the door.”
Sir Ren Woodford approached carrying a set of shackles. “I’ve just had these printed.” He approached Rowen. “Corporal, would you be so kind?” He held the steel bracelets in front of him.
Rowen dutifully put his hands in front of him. The knight clamped the restraints on the corporal. The prisoner’s eyes were downcast. He cleared his throat.
“Sir. I just want to—”
Sir Ren put his hand up. Rowen stopped speaking.
“Corporal John Rowen. You have the right to remain silent. I suggest you do just that. It is one of the few rights you have.”
The two armored marines stood holding their prisoner. One finally worked up enough courage to speak. “Forgive me, Sir. But what are our orders?”
Sir Ren cast a glance to his Duke.
Bryce stepped forward. “Take him to medical. Wait there until they are done treating his wounds. Then take him to Sir Reginald’s quarters and lock him in.” He started to turn away. “Thank you for your service in this matter. After you’ve completed this duty. I grant you a full day of liberty and extra grog rations.”
They stood straighter. “Many thanks milord.” The talkative one said. They turned and marched off with their prisoner.
The Duke sighed. “Dammit. I don’t want to execute that man.”
“It’s the law, sire. We must set an example, or the other conscripts might…” he paused to select his words. “Become unmanageable.” Pellegrino said.
“It would do us well to consider Duke Redfield in this matter. Our actions to his son’s attacker may have future consequences.”
Bryce folded his arms. “I’d like to promote him.”
Pellegrino gasped. “Milord. Please don’t say such things, even in jest.”
“You watched the drone cams of his mission?” Bryce asked.
“That little shite, Redfield practically sabotaged his own mission. Those men died for nothing. Those men had jobs and family just outside our castle walls. That corporal finished his mission. A mission I never sanctioned.” Bryce clasped his hands behind him and paced. “The seeker could’ve been released far sooner.”
“My lord, if I may.” Sir Basil interjected.
Bryce nodded his consent.
“I believe we should hold a tribunal. The corporal earned that much.”
Pellegrino stepped forward. “I object in the strongest possible terms. If we are not going to summarily execute him, then we should hand him over to the Redfield and let him deal with him.”
Lord Bryce arched an eyebrow. “You object?”
“Milord, I…” Pellegrino stammered.
Bryce smiled and waved off his apology. “Looks like I found my prosecutor.”
Sir Basil chuckled.
“and you’re his council.” The Duke said.
Basil beamed and bowed at the waist. “It is my honor to serve.”
Sir Ren Woodford smiled blandly and awaited his task.
“Sir Ren, please see that the intel from Rowen’s seeker is uploaded to the battle map. With that info, we should be able to end this skirmish and be back home on Capella Minor within a fortnight.”
Rowen’s eyes cracked open. He just laid there trying to figure out why the barracks were so cold. And why did his body hurt so much? Then he remembered he was laying in a trench and his mission had gone straight to hell and he was covered in dark, sooty snow.
He sat up too quickly. Pain shot from every part of his body to his spinal cord and up to the base of his skull. He knew his was good news, in a way. No nerve damage or paralysis. The plasma burn in his side ached.
Rowen dug into his cargo pocket looking for a small med bag. There should be something pain there. He was in luck. He stabbed the tiny ampule into his neck. The pain eased and his senses cleared with a small whoosh.
He tried to sit up. It hurt. He’d need to wait a few minutes for the drug cocktail to take full effect. He tried to focus his eyes on his wrist chrono. The small LED digits swam around on the clock face. He squinted, and the numbers calmed into a legible number. It had been sixteen hours since they left the base and about eleven hours since the last fight.
No one came to collect our bodies. No one. Deep inside the flicker of anger bloomed into white hot rage.
He pulled himself to his feet bit by bit. His full energy still eluded him. He blinked away the forming ice crystals. It was still dark, at least the snow had stopped falling. He also noticed that the ubiquitous sound of battle had fallen off. The tempo of explosions and gunfire dropped off to occasional sounds that drifted far to the north of his location and away from the direction of his House’s HQ bunker.
His kit was in tatters. His helmet was gone. His weapon was gone. His armor was shredded. He unbuckled and unhooked the various pieces. They fell soundlessly into the snow. His chest and back plates dropped with a thump. His battle utilities were muddy and torn. The only weapon he had left was Harris’ spiral dagger.
It occurred to him that the frigid air was keeping the smell of death at bay. He looked around at the carnage. It was thankfully covered by a blanket of snow. The bodies of his team were obscured. He pocketed their meat tags while giving thanks to the gods he couldn’t see their faces.
He was not a pious man. It occurred to him he should say something. “I’m sorry, lads. It never should have come to this. I should have taken a stand against that blue blooded dolt.” Rowen took a deep breath. “I should’ve died with you. I failed you… and my punishment is to be the last one standing.” He blinked back tears.
Rowen’s jaw tightened. His fists clenched. He pulled the dagger from his boot. “I make this oath to you now. I will avenge your lives, then I’ll meet you at the Meade hall in Valhalla.” He drew the blade across the palm of his hand and made a fist. The blood dripped to the ground, melting the snow.
He started moving out as fast as he was able. He wasn’t quite able to pick up a full run even without his heavy armor, but he could achieve something close to a double time march.
He became aware that his body sock that was worn under his fatigues must have had some tears in it as he was feeling the chill air in various parts of his body. He fumbled for another ampule in his cargo pocket. He slowed to a walk and jabbed his neck again. He continued his leisurely stroll until he felt the full effects of the drug.
Just keep moving.
He picked up the pace. His feet were numb. He blew into his hand and rubbed them together. He would need the use of them soon.
He passed the area where Dorn and Owens died. The snow covered everything. Not seeing the carnage did not stop his blood from growing hotter. By the time he passed what was left of Ferrell, he was at a dead sprint. He approached the outer boundaries of his Lord’s host.
He slowed to a quick, confident stride. Rowen ignored the looks and comments from the marines in the wide trench near the chow hall where his doomed mission began. Hot steam flowed from his nostrils like a Three Horn Aurochs. His vision narrowed as he pushed past the armored men.
One of the Death Dealers stopped and raised his visor. “Damn my soul if that’s not the angriest conscript I’ve even seen.” He looked to his fellows and laughed.
Corporal John Rowen, leader of the fourth squad, Beta Platoon of his Lord Bryce’s Auxiliary Combat Forces, set out to right this wrong. They trained him from an early age to respect and obey his betters. It was literally beaten into him. He had also heard whispers about some kind of other conditioning that would not allow the serfs to harm the nobles. He was about to find out if that was true.
The men were shaken. They were no strangers to combat. But they had lost none of their own in a long time and they had known each other for years.
And even if this wasn’t the first death of a comrade they had experienced, it certainly was the most senseless.
Rowen retrieved the remaining meat tag from Ferrell’s boot and put it in his pocket so he could turn it into his command to verify his death in combat.
“There’s no time for a memorial. We can do it later if we retrieve his body. Get moving.” Sir Reg commanded in the squad channel.
They started moving out. Everyone tried not to look at the remains of their medic. Their friend. Rowen tried to wrap his head around the situation. As conscripts, they were used to the poor treatment from blues and even the regular military people, and they were barely a step above conscripts.
They were serfs. They were born of serfs, and the vast majority die as serfs. It was their lot in life.
Rowen took a few calming breaths then toggled a private channel with his platoon. “Sir. I’d like a word if I may.” He said, taking care to keep the anger out of his voice.
Redfield sighed heavily into the mic. “Fine. If you must.”
He took another deep breath. “Sir, I humbly request that you stop interfering with my command—”
“Interfering.” He snapped. “Listen closely, corporal. I am well within my noble right to command you and the squad as I see fit.”
“It’s just rather unusual, Sir. Master Sergeant Wolfe usually—”
“I am not your platoon sergeant. I am your platoon leader, corporal. He exhaled loudly again. “You know, corporal. Sergeant Wolfe has been badgering me to forward your promotion paperwork, but since you are inclined to question authority, I think those orders will continue to go unsigned.”
Rowen felt heat creeping up his neck and into his cheeks. He was raised to respect his betters no matter what. His composure was slipping. “Sir…”
“This conversation is over, corporal.”
Rowen stifled a growl when the comm clicked off. He was fairly certain they still listened even when the dim green light turned off.
The night grew colder. The sooty snow fell leaving a grey carpet over the frozen mud and slush. A junction in the trench blinked red on Rowen’s HUD. They approached with caution. A black armored boot lay in the middle of the trench. The recent snowfall diffused the bright red puddle next to it to a dull pink.
The constant thump from mortars had almost completely tuned out when a shriek and ear-splitting boom erupted fifty meters behind them. The squad broke into a run as dirt and plasti-crete chunks rained down.
They burst through the tee junction, guns up. And skidded to a halt. It was pure carnage. They ran eight Death Dealers through on spikes. The guys were facing head down, impaled from ass to mouth. Thick piles of entrails and thickening pools of blood spattered the ground.
“Doors,” Owens announced. The pair of blast rated doors were pockmarked from explosives and projectiles. Someone had written Do not OpeN across the doors in human blood.
Dorn stepped up and shook his head. “The N is backward.” He looked to Owens who brought his weapon up to bear and he reached for the handle to pull the doors open.
“Wait!” Owens commanded.
The conscripts complied. Dorn looked puzzled.
“Something’s wrong. I don’t think—”
The comm crackled. “That’s right, corporal. You don’t think. You execute. Dorn… enter that bunker and report.”
Rowen growled. “Sir!”
“We already discussed this, corporal. You are one more comment away from being relieved for cause.”
Dorn put his hand over his mic boom. “It’s fine. I’ve got this. Don’t get in trouble.”
Owens took a step back to cover the doors with the muzzle of his heavy slugger. Harris and Horn took up positions against the backside of the trench, their rifle trained on the door.
The rifleman, Dorn pulled the handles and the double doors swung open. A dull metallic cylinder dropped to the ground in the middle of the doorway. It flashed, then exploded with a fizzing noise into a mass of translucent gel.
“Sticky!” Harris yelled. Everyone jumped back.
Owens and Dorn’s upper bodies were engulfed in the acidic goo. Their screams cut off as their flesh melted, leaving only skeletal remains suspended in the fizzing green gel.
The smell of burnt flesh and acid made everyone gag. Rowen motioned the others to move out. He held his breath and stopped only long enough the rip the meat tags off his comrade’s boots.
They stopped ten meters down the trench and gulped for air. “Anyone take a full breath of that?” A chorus of no’s followed.
Rowen wrapped his hand around his mic boom. The remaining squaddies did likewise. “We will not deviate off-mission again. If that ponce gives any more orders, just act like you have a bad connection.” He made eye contact with each man. “Agreed?”
“Agreed.” They said, then moved out at a double time.
The trench grew treacherous. The mortars hit the mark here. They had to jump over craters filled with muddy water and blood.
“Two hundred meters from the objective,” Rowen announced. “Right turn at the next junction then twenty-five meters. That’s it.”
The incoming suppressing fire stopped. They skidded to a halt at the junction. Horn looked up and smiled. “Right. We have that going for us at least.”
Cort shook his head. “No. not good. It probably means—”
The War Dog jumped into trench right in front of Cort and between them and their objective. It stood over two meters tall at the shoulders. Its shiny black and brown fur was dirty and matted with mud and ice crystals. It roared and lunged forward.
Rowen dropped back, pulling the seeker from his cargo pocket. He activated it and hurled it towards the coordinates with a powerful side arm throw. It bounced once, then sped off on the pre-programmed mission.
Cort must have thought he didn’t have enough time to go to his heavy slugger. He pulled the massive auto-pistol from his chest holster and got off two rounds before the beast sank it’s teeth into his throat.
The War Dog shook its head violently and released Cort’s limp body. It seemed to absorb the rifle rounds being methodically pumped into it by the squad as they stepped back, trying to put some distance between them and the GMO killing machine.
It pounced on Horn. He screamed and emptied his magazine into the dog’s midsection. It stumbled. Rowen moved up for the close kill. It swiped a huge paw and his helmet went flying off, enormous claws left two bloody gashes. His hands went to his face, and he went to the ground hard.
Harris fired his rifle rhythmically into the animal until it went dry. He dropped it and positioned himself between the beast and Rowen. He pulled a long Jagdkommando Tri-dagger from a boot sheath. “C’mon, pup. Come and get some.”
Blood dripped from the War Dog’s pelt where rounds pierced the dermal armor. It bared its bloody fangs while slowly circling the last rifleman.
Harris brought his spiral bladed knife up and looked for a suitable place to stick. He moved with the gigantic dog, trying to decide where the beast’s carotid artery was located. He decided. “Righty-O, pup. Time to die.”
They both lunged nearly simultaneously. The spiral blade sunk deep into the War Dog’s neck, causing massive trauma. Black red blood gushed out. The War Dog sunk its fangs into Harris’ neck and shoulder. He grunted but did not scream. He twisted his blade one last time.
Rowen sat up, groaning. His senses reeled. His blurry vision subsided. Harris and the beast came into view. He jumped up, charging hard, he put his shoulder into the dying animal. Pulling it off Harris, but the War Dog jerked its muzzle towards Rowen’s head with its dying breath. They both collapsed to the frozen mud.
Harris dumped his helmet to the ground. He used one hand to stop the blood that was squirting from his neck. He searched a cargo pocket for a pressure dressing or a packet of Hemo-Stop.
It trapped Rowen, only his head and one arm was free. He looked at Harris. “You gotta stop that bleeding.” He struggled to pull free from the giant mass of dead weight. He gasped for air. His vision dimmed as the crushing weight slowly took his life.
Harris found a plastic package. He tore it open with his teeth and poured the white granules on his neck and shoulder. Most of it missed the target, but some of them hit his bloody wound and started expanding into a pink foam. His blood stopped squirting out in time with his rapid heartbeat. His face was ghostly white. He took a deep breath and looked at his squad leader. He pointed above Rowen. “Take that… It might help.”
Rowen craned his neck and just barely made out the hilt of Harris’ dagger with his peripheral vision. He reached up blindly, feeling for it. He found it. With a twist and a pull, it came free. A torrent of blood poured from the animal, covering Rowen’s head and arm. He gagged.
Harris sat with his back to the wall, taking shallow breaths. His eyes widened and red plasma bolts ripped through his chest. A Spider Mech was perched on the edge of the other side of the trench. It poured gunfire into everything. Bodies, equipment, even the War Dog were shot to ribbons.
Rowen pulled his arm and head in as close to the beast’s corpse as he could. He hoped the Mech wouldn’t see him and could not tell his vital signs from the giant bag of hot meat and gristle laying on top of him.
He felt a burning pain in his side. A plasma bolt finally worked its way through the large mass of the War Dog. He struggled to stay silent and not move.
The Spider Mech stopped firing. It ran an active scan beam over the area. A few seconds stretched into an exceptionally long moment. Time seemed to creep to a halt. He held his breath. It felt like hot needles in his lungs.
The Mech turned and stomped off. Rowen gasped and filled his lungs with putrid air. The mech shredded the War Dog and weighed less now. He slowly extricated himself from the tattered carcass. Harris’ dagger was useful for cutting loose chunks of meat and for scrapping the hard mud under himself. He was finally free of the dead animal.
He pulled out his own packet of Hemo-Stop and poured it on his various wounds. It stung and hissed. “I’m just gonna close my eyes for a minute.”
The snow was growing deeper. Empty ammo crates and discarded, broken equipment lay were they were hastily dropped. The first signs of recent combat.
The continuous din of battle grew ever louder. The low hanging cloud lit up from gunfire and explosions.
Cort swiveled his heavy auto slugger around a corner as they advanced. “Blood.” He pointed with his chin.
Blood was everywhere. Wide spray patterns indicated that there were more than one, and possibly several people’s worth of blood here.
Dorn frowned. “No bodies?”
“Corporal, I have a bad feeling about this.” Harris began, “why didn’t they just release the seekers? They could find the coordinates without us.”
Everyone’s comm crackled. “That’ll be enough of that, Horn!” Sir Reginald Redfield said in a pinched, nasally tone.
“Harris, sir… He’s Horn” He gestured to the rifleman behind him even though he would probably miss the gesture.
“Whatever. Just shut up.”
“Shutting up, Sir.”
“Corporal Rowen, I’m only getting video feed from you and Ferrell. And no telemetry from anyone.” Redfield asked and Rowen had to wonder how long he had been listening in.
“Yes, sir. I tried to explain this before you dismissed me from the mission brief—”
Sir Reg sighed heavily. “Save your excuses. You are approaching a set of stairs. Three hundred meters ahead after the next turn. Contact me when you reach them.”
“Yes, sir. Will comply.”
They continue along the trench. There was more evidence of heavy fighting, Empty battery packs and magazines, pock marked walls, black grenade craters. They took the next corner. Everyone stopped and gaped the horror in front of them.
Six marines impaled on large spikes. The crude spikes stuck out of the corpses’ mouths. Their entrails poured out on to the red soaked ground.
“Bloody Hell!” someone said.
“Stay alert.” Rowen says. “We’ve seen worse. At least they’re not dismembered.”
“Beta Actual, are you seeing this?” Rowen reported.
“Yes. We expected this. Were you not in the mission brief?” His voice dripped with disdain.
“No, sir. You dismissed me.” He said through gritted teeth.
There was a pause. “Ah, yes.” Another pause. “Continue to those stairs.”
The squad warily passed through the gore and carnage. “Who are these guys?” Horn asked. “I don’t recognize that patch.”
“Me either. But that armor is not much better than ours. Conscripts?” Dorn asked.
“I recon so.” Harris added. “Poor bastards.”
Rowen put his fist in the air, halting the squad. “Listen.” Everyone complied. “You hear it?”
“Can you be more specific, corporal? Cort asked. “Are you talking about the spider mechs or that ungodly howling?”
“I was talking about the howling but… What spider mechs?”
“The mechs are not headed towards us. That howling is at our eleven o’clock. War dog. I can’t tell the breed.” Cort answered. His uncanny ability to hear certain things amidst battle always impressed Rowen.
The comm crackled. “Rowen, get your squad moving we’re on a timeline here.” Redfield demanded. They started moving forward at a trot.
They approached the stairs and slowed; all guns brought to bear. The stairs dissolved into a crater. “Sir, are you seeing this?”
“Yes.” He paused. “Ferrell, I want you climb out at that point and see if you can spot our auto-turrets. They should be eighty meters dead in front of you. We need to know if they have been destroyed.”
The blood drained out of Farrell’s face. He swallowed hard and looked to his squad leader.
“What? Um, sir… I don’t believe that’s necessary. We’re plenty close and we can’t hear any auto turrets.” Rowen shot a quick glance to Cort.
He shook his head.
“Corporal. It is imperative that we find out if those turrets are operational.”
“He’s our only medic, sir.”
“He’s the only one with a high def body cam. I need to see.”
“Can I launch the seeker?”
“No! That must be dropped at the waypoint. I’m growing weary of your questions.”
Rowen took a breath and tried to calm himself. “Sorry, sir. But can I just use my helmet cam? The enemy’s sentry guns are likely to shoot anything that pops up from the trench.”
“Your helmet cam is grainy. I can barely make anything out. I will not warn you again, Corporal!” Redfield cleared his throat. “Farrell, jump up there and just take a quick peek.
Rowen clicked on his other comm channels to see if any of the squad leaders or their First Sergeant were online. All status’ black.
Ferrell shrugged and moved to the blasted stairs. He braced his arms on the ruined walls and took a few deep breaths. “In position, sir.”
With a grunt he vaulted himself to the top of the trench one meter above. “Sir, can you—”
A bright plasma blast evaporated Ferrell halfway up. His legs stood a moment while his entrails leaked to the ground just before his legs collapsed.
“Bloody hell!” Rowen shouted into the comm. Several others cursed and flattened themselves against the dirty trench wall.
Rowen took several breaths trying to calm the primal rage building in him. Harris just stood there, mouth agape. Owens was visibly shaking until he threw back his head and unleashed a dark howl.
Rowen keyed his mic, breathing hard. “Sir…”
“Yes, corporal, I saw.” Redfield said casually. “Police up his meat tag and carry on your mission.
After twenty minutes of trudging through dirty snow and mud they no longer saw any other soldiers. The thud of explosions grew closer and brilliant streaks of light were coming much more often.
“Who are we fighting again?” Harris asked. “Not Redfield? Right?”
Several of his squaddies turned to hush him. “No, you dolt. That’s our new platoon leader. You better have comms off.” The heavy gunner, Dorn said.
“Oh, now big, silent guy wants to talk. Of course my comm is off. You think I’m new?”
Dorn grunted and lowered his visor probably hoping to cut out Harris’ blathering.
The new Lieutenant was an issue. He had not been receptive to any of Rowen’s questions or comments during the planning phase of this operation. In fact, he had been dismissed before the end of the session. Rowen sighed and kept his eyes up on the trench.
“Corporal, I have a bad feeling about this.” Horn began, “I mean, weren’t our Lord Bryce and the Duke Redfield fighting each other last year? Didn’t we square off with them on St. Albans?”
“No, Zephyr.” Harris corrected.
“Wait, we’re on St. Albans, right?” Harris asked.
“No. we’re on Somerset IV.” Rowen corrected.
Harris and Horn both shrugged. Harris continued. “I mean really. This bloke was a legit foe not long ago and now he leads us?”
Ferrell shook his head. “Look this is how the blues have done this for ages. They swap some of the sons,”
“Like prisoners?” Horn asked.
“No, well, yes, well… it’s complicated. Anyways, they train with us, we sent them Sir Garvy. It supposed to keep the status quo. Keep the peace.” The medic replied.
“Oh, Gods. I never thought I’d miss a ballbuster like Garvy.” Horn said.
“At least he walked patrol with us. Sir Reginald Redfield has yet the leave the Command Bunker, as far as I know.” Harris whispered.
The gunner, Owens put his hand up. “So, which House are we fighting?”
Everyone glanced around at each other. Rowen shrugged. “I guess if it were important, they’d tell us.”
“Could it be House Bryce?” Horn asked.
“We are in House Bryce, idiot.” Harris shot back.
“I know. Why are we the only squad out here then?” Harris looked around. “Where are our fellows?”
An uncomfortable silence hung over Rowen’s squad. The sound of pitched battle grew ever closer.
Horn tried to lighten the mood. “Is it true that our new platoon leader is some kind of expert swordsman?”
The third rifleman, Cort half turned. “He don’t look like much.”
Harris began, “Don’t let that fool you. A lot of blues have extensive body augmentation. And you’d never know it until he—”
“Or she.” Harris interrupted.
Horn smirked. “Or she, put a fist through your rib cage. And pulled your heart out.”
The heavy gunner, Owens grunted. “Bollacks. Those are just stories.”
“No, it’s true.” The medic interjected. “They can have incredible strength and speed.”
“But you can see subdermal armor. The regular army blokes have all those little hexagons marks on their skin. It’s a dead giveaway.” Owens said.
“You think the royals can’t afford the good stuff? Those RA grunts have the ‘made by the lowest bidder’ stuff.” Ferrell added.
“Valid point.” Owens conceded.
Rowen cleared his throat. “Alright. We’re coming up on our objective, we take a right at this next junction.”
“Cort, I need those ears of yours and your heavy auto-slugger up front next to Dorn.” The rest of the squad covered their sectors.
Despite the ice and hard mud they moved forward with speed and grace just like they had practiced in the kill house thousands of times. They stopped just short of the junction.
Rowen triggered the haptic signal controller imbedded in their chest plates. They would go on the third buzz, guns up, ready to lay down some hurt.
Buzz, buzz, buzz.
The squad lunged forward into the junction with all guns up. Two large Death Dealers stood there. Their helmeted visors shot towards them.
“Stand down!” Rowen commanded. He quickly came to attention and saluted the captain that glowered over him. “Apologies, sir.”
Rowen realized with a growing sense of pride that they had caught these marines unaware.
A captain and a corporal. This was unexpected. This man was a ranked knight. The corporal was probably his squire. Why the devil are they out here alone?
The Death Dealer looked him up and down and returned the raggedy looking corporal’s salute. “Is this how you were trained to perform a link up, corporal?” The dark helmeted voice said.
“Again, apologies, sir. We were just given coordinates. Our orders said nothing about a link up.”
The captain said nothing. He turned and took a step to a large ammo crate. He unsealed his helmet and took it off. He took a deep inhale of the crisp night air and set his helmet on the crate. “Very well.” He waved a gauntleted hand and a 3D battle map appeared between them.
Out of respect, Rowen flipped up his visor so the officer could see his eyes.
“I’m Captain Tobias Smythe. I have your next set of coordinates here.” He waved his hand to push the information to Rowen’s battle map. He received an error.
There was an angry buzz that Rowen heard as much as he felt in his temples. The corporal grimaced. “Sorry, sir. My kit is not advanced enough to process that packet. Would you please should me the coordinates? I can input the numbers manually.”
Sir Tobias Smythe did what he was asked without comment. Rowen’s fingers blurred as he entered the digits to his battle map. By now, he was used to having to do this manually, though he always felt slightly embarrassed that his equipment was always several generations behind. In fact, there were only two working helmet cams in the squad. Frankly, it was a miracle that everyone had working comms, night vision, and navigation software.
Smythe reached into a pouch and pulled out a shiny black sphere. “You know what this is?” The knight asked.
“Of course, sir. A seeker.” Rowen tried not to bristle at the insult that was probably not meant to be an insult.
Smythe noticed the slight. “I’m sorry. Of course you know what that is.”
He bowed his head to the Death Dealer. “No offense was taken, sir.”
Rowen’s battle map updated with the new coordinates. The knight frowned. “That kind of lag is unacceptable. What unit do you represent?”
The corporal straightened. “We are Fouth Squad, Beta Platoon, in my lordship’s auxiliaries.”
“I’ll have a word about this with your Lord when next I see him.”
Rowen’s eyes widened. “Sir, we’re just conscripts. We are grateful to have—” The knight put his hand up. Rowen stopped talking.
“Fear not. You and your men deserve better. You were able to catch us unawares without the aid of technology. If Lord Bryce will not outfit you, I shall.”
Rowen stammered a thank you.
Sir Tobias bent towards the map and pointed at the new waypoint. “We have no intel past the point where we are standing. Also, our trench system has been compromised past here,” He pointed to a spot nearby. “It will be safe to assume that anyone you encounter from here out will be hostile. Since they don’t seem to be the kind that take prisoners.” He said with a sneer.
He put the seeker in Rowen’s hand. “Once you reach your destination, activate and release the seeker, then return to the command bunker with due haste.”
The corporal put the seeker into a cargo pocket and acknowledged his orders.
The knight put his black helmet back on and placed his gauntleted hand on Rowen’s shoulder. “For what it’s worth. I’m sorry.”
With that the two armored marines took off back towards the company area at a double time.
The squad looked around at each other trying to process that last statement.
Harris was the first to reclaim his voice. “Why the bloody hell is he sorry? for what it’s worth.” He said trying to pull off his posh accent.
“Let’s get this done. Form up. Guns up,” Rowen commanded. “And good job, lads. We caught those blues smoking and joking.”
A few of the grunts chucked as they moved out towards the objective.
“What bloody planet are we on?” Private Harris said, blowing gray snow from his slug rifle sights.
“Is this Zephyr? No, wait. It’s St. Albans.” Another rifleman, Horn offered.
Corporal John Rowen switched off his comm and turned to his squad. He looked at them until the banter stopped. He never waited long.
Harris swallowed. “Sorry, Corporal.”
Rowen waved a finger at his HUD. A holo-screen opened. He spun it around and made it visible to his six squaddies. “Right. Here’s our orders.”
Dark snow fell around them. The battle trench was cold and muddy. Distant explosions sounded like gentle pops. The occasional pulse bolt or railgun round streaked by high above, addressed to no one in particular.
The men moved in to look. They squinted, cursed, and muttered. PFC Ferrell, the medic was the only one to offer an actual good question. “Corporal, since when do recce patrols go out by themselves? Are we linking up with another unit?”
“We’re heading to these coordinates.” Rowen pointed to his battle map.
“Oy! That’s not far. An hour hump at most. We don’t even have to leave the trench complex.” Harris said, grinning.
Horn’s face soured. He turned towards his squaddie. “Are you daft? You think we’re just gonna walk for an hour and that’s it? Maybe have some tea?”
“I’d love some tea.” Harris said wistfully.
Horn spat. It turned to ice before it hit the gray mud.
Rowen sent that look again. They grew quiet. He waited one more heartbeat then spoke again. “Once we reach this point, we will get another set of coordinates and further orders.”
Harris groaned again. “So much for that tea.”
Rowen shook his head. “Whoever wants a cup, go and get it.” He said pointing towards the mess bunker. “We roll out at midnight local, you have ten minutes.”
A few of the squaddies slung their rifles and headed for the hot beverages. The trench junction was getting crowded as various types of troops passed by. Rowen saw his medic sizing up the other troops. They wore fancy power armor and carried pulsers and railguns.
Rowen looked down. “I’m sorry, Ferrell.” He looked at his own weapon, an old style slug thrower, scarred with age and hard use.
Ferrell took a step forward and lowered his voice. “Look, I know you pled our case to Command.” The medic shrugged. “All we can do is hope these big, well-armored lads will be right behind us.”
Rowen smirked. “I’m not sure if that actually comforts me.”
Ferrell laughed. “Well, look at the bright side. Maybe we’ll fight other conscripts.”
The men shuffled out of the mess bunker with steaming hot cups, hurriedly gulping the hot tea. The heavy gunners, Dorn and Owens cross checked each other gun mounts and gear.
The traffic in the trench was picking up. A squad of Death Dealers parted the crowd. A couple of those guys stood almost three full meters tall in that fancy power armor. The black of their plates seemed to pull the light right from the air.
Harris had a cup in each hand and was crunching towards his squad leader. “Oy! Corporal, I didn’t forget-“
A Death Dealer with sergeant’s stripes casually pushed Harris out of his way. He followed both steaming cups to the cold ground.
The rifleman sprung back to his feet ready to make an issue of it. The behemoth barely broke stride. He turned his closed helmet towards the conscript. “Go on, bait! Get out there and do your thing.” It said through the darkly filtered vox.
“Bait? What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Horn said, getting ready back up his battle buddy. The giant marine just kept going.
Harris brushed dark mud from his pants. He glowered as he quickly tightened up his battle rattle. He muttered to himself. “Bloody high born bastards, let me catch you in Cheapside without kit.”
“Hey. Quiet that noise.” Rowen said. “They’ve got good sensors.”
“Sorry, Boss. I just hate being made to feel like shite.”
Rowen just nodded. His six men formed two columns and they marched out into the dark night.
I don’t get alerts when someone leaves a comment. I don’t check very often. So I just saw this review from JD in Australia.
Unfortunately, I was not the recipient of a Larry Correia Book Bomb. I did get a few bumps from some very generous sci-fi writers.
Thanks again, JD! I really needed that!
I want to start off by unequivocally stating the following: I am not abandoning Book 2, Into the Breach.
I’ve had a hell of a time with this book. I think it works, structurally. I’m almost 40K words into it and I feel like something is wrong with it though. It picks right up where We Happy Few ended. Lex’s dark fleet docks at Free Port.
There’s just something… Something I can’t put my finger on. It’s just flat? or uninspired maybe?
Maybe it’s me? Maybe I’m being overcritical? Perhaps… I am planning on paying for some developmental edits. But, that’s not cheap. It will take me some time for that.
I am out of practice. When I wrote We Happy Few, I was working in Afghanistan. I had a couple hours a day to dedicate to writing and I did it every day.
I have been writing much more regularly lately, but I still have to get back into the swing of the routine and just like any other skill when you’ve slacked off now you have to rebuild it.
In the meantime…
I’m honing my skills with a sci-fi serial set in the same universe. I think this will also serve to get the creative juices flowing again.
[untitled Gladiator meets Warhammer 40K story]
Corporal John Rowen is an Imperial conscript and he’s in deep trouble. His court martial was short. He’s convicted for beating his inept platoon leader within an inch of his life because the blue blood caused the needless deaths of his squad mates.
The sentence is death. It’s not fair, but what the hell is? His choice is simple, stand in front of a firing squad or fight as a gladiator in the New Imperial Circus.
It seems like the right choice. He’ll wish he had picked the firing squad.
̿’̿’\̵͇̿̿\з=( ͠° ͟ʖ ͡°)=ε/̵͇̿̿/’̿̿ ̿ ̿ ̿ ̿ ̿
That’s the idea anyway. And I figure that the sci-fi serial is probably due a resurgence in popularity. It was on its way with Hugh Howey at the helm, then he had his melt down in 2016 and sailed off into the sunset…
I’m happy to pick up where he left off.
In fact, now I’m wondering if Into the Breach should come out in serial form. Hmmm… Something to ponder.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!
Greetings! I know, I know… It’s been a while. I apologize for that. Life, as they say, gets in the way.
I think most will agree 2020 has been a hell of a year so far. It helps that I’m not doing the insane amount of overtime at work and that has allowed me to shift my focus back to my writing.
I’ll be honest though. We Happy Few has made very little money. Here’s a snapshot of my sales since release, Jan 2018.
- EBooks – 245
- Print Books – 18
- Kindle Unlimited Page Reads – 28,857
- Audible Audiobooks – 63
In the last 12 months:
My costs for editing, art, book cover, book formatting, etc. were over $2500. My book royalties have totaled $417.49 all together.
The audiobooks have hurt the worst. I spent over $4500 to have it made by a great audiobook producer with an excellent, well-known voice actor and I’ve only made back $261.45 in audiobook royalties.
I share this just so people can understand why the second book hasn’t had a higher priority. It’s not all about the money, but I need to at least break even in order to justify the amount of money I spend on this. I do love the story and I will continue it, even if it means just posting it here chapter by chapter.
This is still a labor of love more than anything else. I have had a little bit of feedback. It has been positive or at least constructive. And I sure do appreciate that.
I would welcome feedback if you have any!
Send to email@example.com
I have more to share about upcoming books, but will continue in another post.
I was hoping to get my second book, Into the Breach completed by New Years, Unfortunately, this has not come to pass. Work is still pretty crazy and I am coming up with a few strategies to get the words down.
- I’ve pretty much stopped watching TV
- I’m trying to write a little bit during lunch and breaks at work
- I’m about to experiment with recording audio during my daily commute. (I’m not sure if this will work out, but it’s worth a shot)
I am pretty excited about this story. It picks up just after We Happy Few ends and the stakes have risen significantly! I’m also trying to get some more artwork commissioned, my primary artist is also very busy at the moment. I’ll post the art when I get it back.
Again, sorry for the delay. I hope to get this all sorted out soon!
The good news is that my new job at the major aircraft manufacturer [REDACTED] is going well. I am in Quality Assurance. My schedule is a bit hectic right now. I worked a 16.5 hour shift the other day and am working about 80 hours per week.
This has had an unfortunate effect on my writing. It has stopped it cold. ಠ_ಠ
I’m not sure how long this will delay the completion. I am hoping for around New Years, but… it might be a bit longer. Sorry about that. Unfortunately, this job has to take priority over my writing, at least for now.
More updates to follow.
I was on the Sci Fi Shenanigans podcast.
Sorry for the excessive use of ‘um’s… I was a little nervous. 😛
Robert Anson Heinlein was born on 7/7/1907. Today would have been his eleventy-first birthday.
I have been a fan of his for a very long time. His work has had a big influence on me.
If you have seen the 1997 movie Starship Troopers, you should check out the book, if you haven’t already. I’m really hoping they reboot that movie (since they are rebooting everything else) and maybe they will actually base it on the book this time!
Also, one of my favorite books The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is supposedly stuck in “development hell” under the direction of Bryan Singer. I’d much prefer to see this book made into a series. A two hour movie just won’t do it justice.
Her name is Khasa Kedar, she is better known as Striker Pink. She is a pirate aboard the Hell’s Bane. She was born on New Mumbai in Alliance space.
Look for her story in Book Two of the Leviathan Universe: Into the Breach. I am pushing for a late summer release.
Keep your eyes peeled.
Blip showed up in a crate bound for the outer colonies. The only problem is that his very existence is illegal. The vast of majority of robots and advanced computers have been banned since the A.I. Uprising of 2071.
Who built this robot? Where did he come from? Does he intend to continue the uprising against humanity?