The Shattered Empire Fourth Sample

Here’s the fourth sample of The Shattered Empire.  Follow the links to read the first, second, and third samples.

Halcyon, Garris Major System

Contested

May 3, 2403

Garret yawned and stretched as he climbed out of the cockpit. His long, lean frame fit into the cockpit of his Hammer, but only barely. He ran a hand over his shaved scalp and then reached down and offered Heller his hand. As usual, she ignored it and pulled her light body out with one hand. Garret sighed, “You know, I’m just being polite?”

“Ya,” Heller said. “I’m being polite by not breaking your wrist.”

Garret sighed again, “You know, I couldn’t fly with a broken wrist.” Normally a frown on his hard, dark face was reason enough for someone to change their attitude, especially backed by his size.

“This is reason for politeness,” Heller said as she dusted off her flight suit, doffed her helmet, and put her ear-buds in. Her voice grew a bit louder, “It would take me too long to train new pilot, ya?”

“Right,” Garret said. He shook his head as he turned away, but he didn’t even try to hide his smile. Heller was eccentric, to say the least, but she was a great auxiliary officer on his Hammer.

“Commander Penwaithe,” a voice spoke from behind him.

Garret turned and grimaced to find a man in a black uniform. He recognized it as Nova Roman, which meant he was one of Admiral Mannetti’s people, “Yes?” He recognized the tabs on the man’s uniform, he was a commander as well, apparently. Like most of Mannetti’s people, his uniform did away with any form of identification. Either they liked to keep people guessing who they were dealing with or it was some kind of stylistic choice, much like her infamous low-cut uniform.

“Commodore Pierce sent me to speak with you,” the officer said. “Admiral Mannetti is preparing a raid and the locals are going to accompany us for combat experience.” The smirk on his face told Garret just what he thought of that. “We’re cross-loading some of your missiles to the locals, until they’re able to replace some of their stocks.”

Garret grimaced. They’d captured Heinlein Base intact, but like many officers in the Colonial Republic, it’s garrison commander had been corrupt. He’d sold off most of his stockpile of munitions to the black market, which meant that the locals had a paltry reserve to draw upon after the War Dogs had turned over the Colonial Republic ships to them. In theory, Admiral Mannetti could have made up that lack from the ships she’d captured. Of course, she’d moved those to one of her bases ‘for repairs.’

Garret seriously doubted she’d ever turn over any of the ships and he had some dark suspicions about what had happened to the prisoners she promised to ‘repatriate’ to the Centauri Confederation.

Of course, the people of Halcyon Colony didn’t ask many questions, in that regard. Their allies and hired help had come through, and they had liberated the planet. But funding was tight, the Colonial Republic had cut all trade and the Centauri Confederation had already threatened to retaliate for the loss of their ships and the profit of Nova Corp.

So now the locals had turned to privateering… which meant more work for the War Dogs, of course, but it also meant stronger ties to a pirate. A generous man would have assumed that it was just one of those things that happened. Garret being an experienced mercenary figured it was all according to Admiral Mannetti’s plan… and that the long term survival of his former homeworld was in far graver jeopardy than it’s inhabitants realized.

“I assume that Commodore Pierce has already received payment for the transfer?” Garret asked. Wherever his loyalties might, in theory, lie, he was still a mercenary. Payment of goods and services was a necessity, especially for when this entire enterprise fell apart and the people of Halcyon colony were left holding the bag.

“Of course,” the nameless commander answered.

“Great,” Garret smiled. He knew his white, even teeth would stand out starkly on his dark face and seem even more friendly. “I’ll just call Commodore Pierce, then, to confirm and see how many we’ve been paid for already.”

The nameless commander grimaced, “Oh, well, that’s fine. I, uh, meant to say that the President of Halcyon authorized a transfer for payment and I can arrange delivery.”

“Excellent,” Garret said and his smile grew broader. “I’ll wait then, until the payment arrives.”

The commander grimaced, again, “Usually this sort of thing is done on trust.”

“Good, then you can trust me to transfer the munitions upon receipt of payment,” Garret said. “In the meantime, I’ve got some preparations to make.” Garret turned away and didn’t bother to listen for a reply. He could almost hear the other man’s teeth grind in frustration. He listened as the other man struggled a moment to think up some way to dig himself out of the hole he’d dug and then turned and stalked away. This kind of move was exactly the sleazy treatment he’d come to expect from Mannetti’s people. Why, after all, did they need to even pretend to be fair to the hired help?

Garret loved to turn that around on one of them, especially since he had caught the other man trying to cheat him. The War Dogs couldn’t afford the best munitions, but if they were transferring over enough to augment the Halcyon ships, then it would a quantity be worth hundreds of thousands in any currency worth mentioning. The crews of those ships needed those munitions, Garret didn’t doubt. So far, they and the War Dogs had gone on two similar ‘raids’ with Admiral Mannetti. To Garret, it looked more like the Admiral wanted to use them in high visibility missions to lessen her own exposure.

Commodore Pierce had remained remarkably quiet about why they had remained under the contract at Garris Major. Garret had fully expected news that they would depart just after they’d turned over Heinlein Base to the locals. Instead, the Commodore had attended a number of meetings with the newly elected President Monaghan and his staff. One of dad’s old cronies, Garret thought, if I remember right.

“You want me to let them know to prepare to transfer the missiles?” Heller asked. Her light voice and thick accent somehow managed to make even that sound sexy, Garret noted. He nodded, “Yeah, but don’t authorize movement until payment clears.”

“Ya, of course,” Heller said with a roll of her eyes. She popped her ear-buds back in and bounced away. The small, blonde woman looked almost like a teenager as she flounced away.

Garret just shook his head and headed for the War Dogs offices. The huge bays of Heinlein Base were originally built for commerce, but they served more than adequately for warships. His eyes picked out the men and women of his squadron as they moved out after the patrol. Clint, Jason, and Caela headed with purpose towards the civilian section, no doubt to find a card game and company. Ted, more cerebral, looked to be headed for the barracks, no doubt to dive into a book or one of his strategy games. Jay and Ahmad both had girlfriends among the crew and they headed off together in a rush that made Garret smirk a bit.

The other four, Hugh, Tyrone, Jacel, and Jude, all oversaw the post-flight maintenance as the flight crews serviced their Hammers. The big gunboats required extensive maintenance after each flight, far more than a fighter or even dedicated bomber. The gun systems, especially, caused intense structural stresses on their hulls, but also all of the auxiliary systems, engines, and every other part of the big craft needed a full inspection after each flight and extensive maintenance.

Garret worked his way over to the War Dogs’s offices. Almost as soon as he stepped inside, he found Commodore Pierce waiting. “What’s this I hear about you refusing to transfer munitions?”

Garret sighed, “Not refusing, just requiring proof of payment, first, sir.”

“Well, good job, then,” Commodore Pierce said. “It didn’t sound right when that sniveling worm called me a moment ago. How did the patrol go?”

That was one thing that Garret loved about the War Dogs. Some mercenary companies went with rigid military structures and enforced draconian discipline, to the point that reporting was an intensive process. “No sign of any activity from the RLF at Eldorado, but we didn’t have time to linger and do a full scan. I uploaded our data already to our network, if you want, I’ll go brief Josh on it.” Captain Josh Wachope was the War Dogs’ operations officer.

“Nah, he’ll want to review it and compare it to what Mannetti’s people sent us from last week. I think they filtered their sensor data before they turned it over.” The tall, blonde man shook his head, “I’m about entirely fed up with those lying bastards at this point. If not for…” he trailed off and shot Garret a sharp glance. “Well, let’s just say that the locals are lucky we’re still here.”

“Right,” Garret nodded. It was reassuring, in many ways, to see that the Commodore had the same feeling as far as Admiral Mannetti. At the same time, Garret felt uncomfortable about the thought of leaving the planet to her tender mercies, especially since they didn’t seem to realize how dangerous their alliance with her was becoming. In some ways, the War Dogs prevented Admiral Mannetti from entirely leveraging the colony into her pocket.

“Garret,” Pierce’s tone changed and Garret heard the slightest hesitation in the other man’s voice. “I know that you are originally from Halcyon. I haven’t brought it up before… I know damned well where your loyalty lies.”

Garret stood a little straighter at that. His face flushed, though with his dark complexion it would have been hard to tell. The War Dogs weren’t just any mercenary company, in many ways they were family. Better than his family had been, anyway. “Thank you, sir.”

The Commodore shrugged, “Just calling things the way I see them.” He cleared his throat, “However… I wonder if you might have contacts, here?”

“What do you mean by that, sir?” Garret asked. He felt uneasy at the thought. Granted, he hadn’t any loyalty to the planet, but the way his superior had phrased it, it almost sounded as if they were talking about spying on their employers. Which is just good business sense for a mercenary company, Garret thought.

“Friends, former companions, even family,” Commodore Pierce said. “Anyone that you can talk with, possibly even leverage. There’s more here than their struggle for independence, you’ve seen that. Hell, it’s half the talk of our company. The shift to privateering went too quickly, their crews were too eager, and their government is getting too friendly with the likes of Admiral Mannetti and Admiral Collae.”

Garret shrugged uncomfortably. Not that he disagreed. “Sir, what does that have to do with us?” Granted, Admiral Mannetti and her people were snakes, but Admiral Collae had something of a good reputation as an opponent to the corrupt leaders of many of the Colonial Republic systems.

“I want to know why they’re making such a big deal about such a backwater world. They pissed in the faces of the Centauri Confederation and they seem to count on the likes of Admiral Mannetti to keep them safe… and I want to know why they trust a pirate so much and what leverage they think they have on her. Because if their assumptions are wrong… we’re going to be left holding the bag.” Pierce leaned back against the wall, “And I don’t like being left holding the bag.”

“Yes, sir,” Garret said. He frowned in thought. When he’d left, he hadn’t stayed in touch with anyone, for good reason. My father was vindictive enough, Garret thought darkly, that he would have used my old friends against me. Of course, he could always try to to talk to Jessica…

“I’ll figure something out, sir,” Garret said. Yet he felt a spike of unease. If there was some mysterious leverage, then he didn’t doubt that his father was involved up to his neatly trimmed beard. Spencer Penwaithe lived off of wealth and power like food and drink… and his plots were always labyrinthine. For that matter, the new President was one of his father’s old cronies, which basically ensured that his father was running things, or thought he was, from behind the scenes. Getting involved in this would almost definitely draw him into his father’s schemes yet again. On the other hand, with the fate of the War Dogs on the line, there wasn’t really much choice. Garret let out a deep breath, “After all, I remember where my loyalty lies.”

“Good,” Commodore Pierce gave him a pat on the shoulder. “Oh, and when Mannetti’s people call you back on the missiles, tell them there was an accounting error and that we’re hiking the price by ten percent.”

***

The Shattered Empire will be available on Amazon on the 25th of October, 2014.  Read below for the blurb.

Baron Lucius Giovanni has managed to buy the human race a brief reprieve from the two alien races which seek humanity’s extinction. In the process he has become the leader of a new nation and the commander of a powerful fleet. However, victory comes with consequences. Without an imminent threat, old feuds have sparked back to life and tenuous alliances falter. There are also old enemies who cannot forget that Lucius has what they wanted. He must find a way to hold off scheming rivals, sociopathic psychics, and even former friends. If he can’t do all that and take the fight to humanity’s true enemies, billions may die under alien servitude.

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