Here’s the second sample from The Shattered Empire, picking up where I left off in the first one, here.
“Command, Azure Actual, targets down, we are black on primary ammo, new orders?” Garret asked. His gaze went to the developing battle as the enemy capital ships closed with the Warwagon. They had launched their fighters and his sensors showed areas to avoid as the old dreadnought filled the space around it with interceptor fire. Going to be one hell of a mess to clean up no matter how this ends, Garret thought. That was the downside of projectile weapons, bombs, and missiles. Energy weapons diffused, eventually, the others just caused additional navigational hazards.
“Azure Squadron, standby,” Commodore Pierce said gruffly. “Attention Centauri Confederation ships, this is Commodore Frank Pierce of the Halcyon Defense Fleet.” Garret rolled his eyes at that. They were mercenaries, it seemed silly to hide under a title that meant nothing. “We have declared our independence from the Colonial Republic. We have no desire to fight you and should you stand down, you will be allowed to withdraw.”
The voice that responded held all of the familiar arrogance of the Centauri military. “That’s a grandiose proclamation. Regardless of what your transponders say, you have attacked, unprovoked, ships and property belonging to Nova Corp, which is made up of Centauri Confederation citizens. That requires retaliation… and your pathetic antique is not going to stop four top-of-the-line warships from exacting that retribution.” The Centauri Commander’s harsh accent added that special touch of totalitarian arrogance to his statement, Garret decided. Maybe I should give him a character reference to work with my father, he thought dryly.
“Perhaps not,” Commodore Pierce said, his gruff voice calm. “But we have no grudge with the Centauri Confederation or its citizens… and I have to wonder how much loyalty you have in corporate interests.” Garret watched the Warwagon close with the Centauri ships. On his screens he could see that the Helot had withdrawn out of the immediate fight. Garret chewed on his lip at the bluff from the Commodore. They couldn’t take on the four ships, not without some serious advantages. He knew why they’d targeted Nova Corp’s goons first. Hitting corporate security mercenaries was one thing, taking on Centauri Confederation warships was another. But it looked like they would have to do that anyway at this point and Garret would have rather punched a cruiser than a couple of destroyers in that case.
“Azure Squadron, form up in screen position delta along vector seven three,” Captain Gizmon said softly over their encrypted net. Garret relayed the command even as he tried to figure out what the plan was. That screening position would allow the gunboats to provide interceptor fire for any missiles fired from the enemy ships. But getting there meant they would have to swing wide of the fighters currently engaged with the Warwagon.
It must be as a response to the carrier, which began to spew forth fighters at an alarming rate. The sensors relay from the Warwagon painted them as Harassers, the Nova Roma combat fighter. Those were tough, powerful craft, Garret knew. He had a single brush against the Nova Roma Fleet once, before he joined up with the War Dogs. He and the other few survivors from that mercenary company had learned a solid lesson on the capabilities of Harassers.
Still, Harassers weren’t nearly as tough as the Hammers of his squadron and the extended missile racks that Azure squadron carried would thin their numbers as they closed. His squadron formed up and swept around into position, even as he watched the enemy attack wave form up on his sensors.
“This is your last warning, friend,” Commodore Pierce said. “Power down your ships or we’ll use whatever force necessary.” Garret shook his head at that. They were seriously outgunned. Still, clearly the Commodore thought they had some kind of edge, else they would have disengaged. They were mercenaries and there was no profit in suicide.
Garret’s eyes narrowed as he noticed the enemy carrier had launched what looked like assault shuttles. Why would they need to launch those, he wondered, it’s not like they’d want to board the Warwagon. The ancient dreadnought was probably worth more to the Centauri as scrap than as a warship. Besides, they would have to knock a ship completely out of action to use boarding shuttles with any chance of success. Even a few functional turrets could shred those craft.
Garret spared a glance at the civilian traffic. Most of it had cleared out, all but a pair of civilian transports caught in between the two closing forces. Either they assumed that by staying powered down they’d be unnoticed or they simply hadn’t had time to bring up their engines. Either way, Garret would hate to be in their position. As he thought that, the Centauri formation swept past the two ships. A moment later, they both detonated. At first, Garret assumed that the Centauri had fired on them or that they’d just been unlucky enough to take a random hit. But that didn’t make sense, Garret knew. They had detonated simultaneously and the huge spike of radiation from them both suggested something else altogether. The intense burst blinded his sensors for a long moment as Heller cursed her way through a reboot process. As his sensors went live again, it took Garret a while to figure out what they showed.
The four Centauri Confederation ships drifted without even emergency power. The assault shuttles from the carrier dove in among them and Garret zoomed in his gun camera to see the shuttles slam home into the warships. Must have been some kind of device, high yield radiation burst, he thought, something that knocked the engines out or maybe caused some kind of electromagnetic interference.
“Commodore Pierce, so wonderful of the War Dogs to join us,” a woman’s voice said. “It is always a pleasure to work with such a consummate professional.” Her voice was almost as sultry as Heller, but held an edge of arrogance that managed to set Garret’s teeth on edge.
“Admiral Mannetti,” Commodore Pierce said calmly. “Thank you for the assistance. I assume our employers approved of your tactic… though it would have been nice for you to warn us. Half my forward sensors are still down.”
“We had to maintain the element of surprise, darling,” Admiral Mannetti answered. “Don’t worry, it shouldn’t cause any lasting harm to your ships, just requires a reset at your range. Our friends, however, will be unable to bring their power systems online for several hours. My boarding crews will secure all four vessels before then.” Garret blanched as he remembered where he’d heard that name. She was some kind of rogue Nova Roma officer, more pirate than mercenary. Clearly she’d worked out some kind of deal with Halcyon… which made Garret’s lips twist in disgust. Hadn’t they learned how dangerous it was to bring in unscrupulous types from what happened with Nova Corp?
Yet, as his gaze finally slipped over to stare at the clouded blue sky of his homeworld, some part of him understood, at least, why they’d done it. Even so, he wondered how far they were willing to go… and just how dangerous their new allies were.
The Shattered Empire will be available on the 25th of October. I’ll be doing a Book Bomb on October 25th at noon. It is currently available for pre-order on Amazon here and will be available on Barnes and Noble, Apple, and Kobo soon!