Category Archives: Science Fiction

Now Live: Jormungandr’s Venom

Jormungandr’s Venom is now live!  You can get your copy on Amazon:  https://amzn.to/2DZMTKj

Jormungandr’s Venom is the third book in the Rising Wolf series.

 

“It poisoned the sky, and the world bled.”

A terrible weapon is hidden on Harmony, a planet still reeling from worldwide revolution. 

Melanie Armstrong and the crew of the Fenris have hired on as mercenaries to ensure a peaceful transition to an elected government, but not everyone is satisfied with the change in power. Enemies old and new battle for domination… but something far more dangerous lurks in the heart of Harmony: 

Jormungandr’s Venom, a poison said to be so deadly it could kill gods, spread across all worlds, and wipe out humanity.

This world-killer is now the key to victory for the competing factions: loyalists to the former regime, corrupt peacekeepers, and a terroristic organization willing to destroy entire planets in its quest for power. 

The crew of the Fenris will have to best fleets of opponents determined to seize this weapon… and if Mel fails, Jormungandr’s Venom will poison the skies of countless worlds.

Mel and the Fenris have taken on psychotic terrorists, corrupt military officers, and genetically engineered horrors – but never anything like this.

Snippet Two: Jormungandr’s Venom

Here’s the second snippet for Jormungandr’s Venom, which comes out February 9th.

Chapter 1

Time: 1500 Zulu, 09 January 292 G.D.

Location: Blisken Station, Hanet System

 

“Five pirates vessels destroyed in as many weeks, color me impressed,” Mr Wilson said, though his tone was still harsh and stern.  His scarred and seamed face showed little emotion, but then again, he’d seen enough reconstructive surgery that he didn’t have much movement left in his face. “You’ve completed your contract term and earned a nice bonus besides. Your employer released the funds from escrow, they should hit your account in the next few minutes.”

“That’s good news,” Mel said with a sigh. Money was something that they always needed. Money purchased connections, completing contracts kept the Mercenary Guild happy, and the combination of both kept Fenris and his crew’s survival a secret. That last was important when merely existing was grounds for destruction.

“Any new work that you’d care to send our way?” Mel asked. Most mercenary units put out bids for work. Mel’s crew was… special enough that they could be a bit more selective about their jobs… plus there was the whole aspect of concealing their identities.

“Well, Mel, what do you know about Harmony?” Wilson sat back behind his big wooden desk.

She immediately thought about the three pre-teen singers who’d just released their latest synth-pop album. She hoped that wasn’t what he meant. “Uh, peace, love, and understanding?” Mel answered nervously.

“Ha,” Wilson snorted. “No, profit in that kind of crap. I meant the star system.”

“Oh, thank god,” Mel said after a moment, “I was really hoping you didn’t mean the music icons, because if you set us up with another VIP escort I would probably kill them myself.” They’d done two such missions, where wealthy media types had paid big for a discrete and powerful escort for themselves. Both had been obnoxious, always wanting more, insisting that their private yachts had far better quarters and service. Add into that the necessity to keep up the illusion that they had a full crew and it made for a serious headache. Mel would take fighting paramilitary types or vicious pirates over that kind of thing any day.

“No, the Harmony Protectorate,” Wilson rolled his eyes. “The semi-autonomous cluster of systems near the Periphery. They just had a military coup, then the Guard sent in a Peacekeeper force to oversee a transitional election. The Mercenary Guild has a whole bunch of contracts to help out… and I got your crew a spot there.”

“I like the sound of that,” Mel replied.

“Good. There’s lots of jostling for jobs, looks like there’ll be plenty of opportunities to look good and establish yourselves, and ninety percent of this work is about establishing a reputation.” Wilson pulled a cigar out of his desk. The Centurians are operating there, Admiral Armstrong just took charge.”

“Wait… what?” Mel asked in shock. Last she’d heard, the Admiral had been in charge of Century’s Military Academy. The last thing that she wanted to do was run into one of the few people who might recognize her.

“I guess she’s looking for a bit more of an active role,” Wilson said as he chewed on the end of his cigar. “Anyway, is that going to be a problem for you?”

“No, no it isn’t,” Mel said. Odds were against her encountering the Admiral under any kind of personal meeting. Most communications between mercenaries were held electronically, and Mel could have Fenris run her face through a real-time altering iteration. Not a lot, but just enough so that her grandmother wouldn’t recognize her.

“Good,” Wilson waved a hand, “go out and do good things. I’ve sent the details to your ship. I’ll want the contracts signed by the end of the day.”

“Thanks,” Mel replied. The informality of his dismissal might have irritated her, but for the fact that this sounded like he’d given her just the kind of job she’d been trying to get for the past couple of months. She stepped briskly out of his office and her mind went two and three steps ahead as she considered what she needed to do.

If the United Nations Star Guard had moved in to “restore order” then that meant they’d be running roughshod over what had once been a semi-autonomous nation within the Guard Charter. There weren’t many star systems with that kind of legitimate authority and it was a huge violation of the technical terms of the Charter for the Guard to get involved this way.

Odds were that Guard Free Now would have people on the scene already. The terrorist organization would see plenty of opportunities to make the Guard look bad in general and to further their cause, specifically to gain access to weapons, manpower, and ships.

That meant they’d have lots of their people on the ground. The more Guard Free Now personnel they had in place, the higher the chances that she’d encounter her brother, Rawn, among them. Mel didn’t care about the rest of them, she didn’t care about their cause, but she wanted ten minutes to shake some sense into her brother.

It looked more and more like her little brother had become deeply involved with Guard Free Now. She’d already seen what passed for justice under the Guard, especially when they were pursuing people they saw as threats. Which meant that if the Guard caught him, they were going to kill him.

That was, assuming she didn’t strangle him, first.

***

 

“So, we’ll be assigned to the peacekeeper task force there in the Harmony system,” Mel finished. She looked around at the group. Some of those faces were relatively new, some had been with the Fenris since the beginning. Brian Liu, a genetically engineered super soldier was a familiar, arrogant presence. Brian didn’t seem to really understand the emotion of fear and his levels of confidence were born from his ability to survive just about anything. Bob Walker, the mystery agent from an unknown organization was as cheerful as ever, though he had seemed unduly interested in odd details of the briefing. Mel still didn’t know who pulled his strings, but he carried around an oversized hand-cannon and he seemed to be hunting some kind of mutant humans for reasons unknown. Marcus Keller, also known as Jean Paul Leone, a former Guard Intelligence operative who had killed Mel’s parents and had rebuilt his life around atoning for that. Not that he really understands that, Mel thought. Some part of her could never forgive him, despite all that he had done to atone. Lace, the mercenary infiltrator rounded out their original crew. She’d infiltrated corporate, military, and other organizations with disturbing ease. She had the ability to replicate the appearance, voice, and identity of just about any woman with a skill that had to be seen to be believed. Then there was Jeremiah Swaim, a would-be hacker who’d been recruited by Guard Free Now to help them seize control of Fenris. The young, painfully awkward young man seemed oblivious to some of the most basic things, yet he’d proven useful more than once.

Johnny Woodard, formerly of the United Nations Guard Marine Corps, and Aldera Kynes a former scientist under Guard Intelligence, rounded up their crew. Both of them had been brought in by Marcus for their last big mission. Both had their own pasts they were trying to escape. Johnny Woodard had proven to be a tough, capable fighter and his medical skills were particularly useful. Mel initially hadn’t like Aldera Kynes, but the woman’s skills in engineering were useful, and Bob seemed to like her, so Mel had tolerated her. She’d opened up to Mel about some of what she’d been through on their last big mission and Mel had come around on the woman.

Their last crewmember, the artificial intelligence, Fenris, wasn’t in the room. He was, however, monitoring through his shipboard sensors. Technically, they were meeting inside of him, since he was one with the ship. Of them all, Mel trusted Fenris the most.

Mel went on, bringing up an image of a man in uniform, “Admiral Rao led the military coup earlier this year. It kicked off around the same time that we were infiltrating Odin Interstellar. From what I understand, his people seized power within a few hours. He cited general corruption as well as violations of the Guard Charter limitations on weapons of mass destruction as the causes of the coup. He retained power long enough to hold military tribunals for several of the government and military officials, approved and carried out their executions, and then as Guard Fleet prepared to send in an invasion force, he stepped down and requested that Guard Fleet send in a peacekeeping force to oversee a referendum for general elections.”

She didn’t understand that, but she supposed it made a certain level of sense if the man had acted in good conscience. Even so, she couldn’t imagine being in a situation where he decided to lead an armed attack on his own government versus trying to fix the situation from the inside. Mel cleared the display and moved to stand in front of them. “This should be a good assignment and it’ll open a lot of doors in the future as far as good contracts, especially if we establish a good reputation there.”

“Working for the Guard, anyway,” Brian grumbled.

“Maybe not just that,” Bob said. He shifted uncomfortably as the others turned their gazes to him. “The Harmony Protectorate used to be fairly powerful. They had a good-sized fleet and a standing militia larger than most. They also had a big budget and a strong economy, before all this kicked off. There’s going to be a ton of contracts with them to provide anti-piracy patrols and support and training to rebuild their military. Those contracts will be a nice, steady flow of cash.”

Mel nodded and she saw the others seemed to agree. Everyone but Marcus, who wore a scowl. He knows why I want to do this mission, Mel realized. But he didn’t say anything, which Mel hoped meant he wasn’t going to get in her way.

After all, of anyone, he had the least bit of say over what Mel did to rescue her brother from Guard Free Now. He was the one who’d set her brother on that path. While Mel couldn’t quite hate him for it, or for the other things he’d done, she definitely wasn’t about to let Marcus get in her way.

“I notice a contingent from Century’s mercenary unit, the Centurions,” Brian Liu spoke up. “Is that going to be an issue?”

Mel bit her lip. “I’m not certain. They’re not just normal mercenaries, they’re part of the Century Planetary Militia. More than that, my grandmother, Admiral Armstrong, is their commanding officer for this assignment.”

Brian arched his eyebrows, “Interesting. I hadn’t realized you came from a military family.”

“She’s got quite the military heritage,” Marcus scowled. “Her grandmother is something of the war-hero, she saved Century from being taken over by another star system. Her grandfather died in the same conflict.” Mel shot him a look, but he pretended to ignore it. “The Armstrong family has served in their Planetary Militia all they way back to Century’s founding.”

“Interesting,” Brian murmured. His dark eyes seemed to evaluate Mel more acutely, as if he were wondering what other secrets she hid.

Plenty, Mel thought to herself. She didn’t see what her family heritage had to do with anything, though, at least, beyond the risk of being recognized.

“Could we use this?” Brian asked. “We have identities that provide cover, but a powerful ally within a planetary government, particularly out on the Periphery, could be very useful…”

“We are not endangering my homeworld,” Mel snapped. She hadn’t realized how loudly she’d spoken until she saw the shock on all their faces. She moderated her tone a bit, “We have cover identities, but the last thing I want to do is paint a target on my homeworld. If the Guard realize they’re harboring fugitives and an artificial intelligence, they won’t hesitate to launch an attack.”

Bob frowned, “I think you’re overestimating their ability to launch an attack like that…”

“I don’t care,” Mel snapped. “Life is rough enough out there for them already, we’re not going to bring our troubles to them.”

Bob and some of the others didn’t look convinced, but Mel moved on, “If we have to deal with the Centurions at all, then either I’ll send one of you to talk with them or I’ll use digital conferencing and have Fenris modify my appearance and voice so as to avoid recognition.”

“Accent and word choice as well,” Fenris spoke up for the first time. His deep, growling voice always struck her, it was far too real-sounding for her to think it came from a synthetic source. “I can do that with some moderate delay if we have enough distance to justify the time delay, such as if we are a few light minutes from their location.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Mel noted. There were any number of good reasons to keep the ship elsewhere in the system, particularly if they could spin it as some kind of counter-piracy patrol.

“So your grandmother’s presence shouldn’t be a problem,” Brian said, “even if you don’t let us make it into an opportunity.”

Mel leveled a glare on him, but Brian ignored it, much as he ignored any other criticisms or threats. If he wasn’t so damned useful, I’d cut him loose, Mel thought to herself.

“Alright,” Mel said after she gave off the glaring at Brian as futile, “It seems we’re all in agreement. I’ll sign the contract and we’ll set our departure for tomorrow morning. Anyone else have any business?”

“I’ll need to check in with my company, to see if they’ll have me go with you,” Lace said casually. “If they don’t have anything else too interesting, I’ll be aboard before you leave.” The way she said it, it almost sounded as if she didn’t care one way or another.

The words hit Mel harder than they should have. So far their little group had stuck together, but she knew that things wouldn’t always stay that way. Lace wasn’t on the run, she was a member of a different mercenary unit. Presumably she had friends, possibly even family, that would welcome her back. Still, the thought of her leaving…

“I’ve got to check in with my people,” Bob spoke up. “Our encounter with Giles shows that I was on the right track, but that trail ended, they may reassign me.” His words felt like the other shoe dropping. Mel had come to rely on Bob, his cheerful nature and his variety of contacts had made him an invaluable member of their team.

“What trail is that?” Marcus asked. “What exactly was our late friend Giles, anyway? No one deals in biological weapons like he made use of, even research in those areas is strictly forbidden.”

Bob gave a tight smile, “Need to know, my friend. And frankly, the less you know, the safer you are.”

Mel wasn’t so sure about that. Not knowing what Giles was had put them all in danger, especially since Mel had killed the man twice now. Granted, the first time had been an accident. The second time, he’d apparently risen from the dead and made use of some kind of biologically engineered parasites that turned corpses into robot-like slaves. He tried to use those parasites on me.

“I don’t feel all that safe, friend,” Marcus growled.

“Ooh,” Brian Liu said, “he took that tone with you… you shouldn’t take that, Bob.” He’s always instigating shit, Mel gritted her teeth.

Bob’s smile turned into a frown and his hand dropped to his BFR Twenty-Five.  Since his over-sized pistol fired rounds that could puncture the hull, Mel thought it best that she intervened.

“Well,” she said, “I think it best that we call it a day. Bob, Lace, please let me know if you’ll be going with us.” She hated the note of pleading that crept into her words. She really hated to think of how lonely the ship would feel without the two of them. “The rest of you, please take care of any business you need to finish off before we leave.”

“Sounds good,” Johnny Woodard stood up. Mel was tall for a woman, but she still had to crane her head up to look at the big man. “I’ll check our medical supplies and order anything we need.”

“I will order any necessary parts for some of my… experiments,” Aldera Kynes said softly.

Mel didn’t really like the sound of that, but Fenris had said that he was working with her, so Mel assumed that meant he was keeping an eye on the the woman.

“Right, see you all later,” Mel said. The group headed out of the bridge and she waited as Brian and Marcus went out, both of them bickering about last minute weapons purchases. As the hatch closed behind them, she breathed a sigh of relief.

“Well, Fenris, how does this job look to further our goals?” Mel asked.

“I project at least an eighty percent chance that your brother is involved in Guard Free Now’s operations in that area or will be by the time we arrive,” Fenris growled. “I’d give it a sixty percent chance that the unknown artificial intelligences that I detect manipulating the United Nations Star Guard are involved in the recent take-over, either directly or indirectly.”

Mel considered that for a moment. “Those are nice round numbers,” she commented absently.

“I’m working on sounding more human,” Fenris replied. “It’s a seventy-nine-point-three-seven-five percent chance regarding your brother, with a eight-point-nine-eight-five margin for error. But I rounded it off to sound less like a machine. Humans do that sort of thing, right?”

“Yeah,” Mel smiled. “Though you already sound pretty human, Fenris.”

“Thanks, Mel,” Fenris replied. “Have you thought about how to make contact with your brother?”

Mel didn’t answer for a long moment. In truth, she wasn’t really certain. Any approach ran a gamut of risks, ranging from accidentally revealing her real identity to getting herself shot or even killed in the process. Guard Free Now was a terrorist organization, after all. They’d blown up police stations, civilian transports, military barracks… She thought about the recent bombings in the Triad system. Fenris said that Guard dispatches identified her brother’s DNA on some of the bomb-making materials from those attacks.

Part of her wanted to think that it would be easy. That she would just find him and shake some sense into him. But she knew it would be more difficult than that. Her brother had sabotaged their parent’s freighter, destroying the one place that he and Mel had considered home, all for the chance to help Guard Free Now to take over a warship. Finding him would be the easy part… convincing him to give up his personal crusade to avenge their parents would be far harder. And that wasn’t even considering the fact that the Guard would be after him, too.

For all she knew, even now her brother had been arrested and he was awaiting either execution by the Guard military or deportation to one of their prison worlds.

Thornhell, she remembered, that’s where they were going to send us… and that was just for endangering the civilians on Dakota when our freighter fell out of orbit.

Places like that measured survival in months and most sentences lasted years. The handful of broken men and women who emerged alive were considered “redeemed” but most of them were simply examples of what happened when you stepped out of line.

“Mel?” Fenris asked.

She shook her head. “Sorry, Fenris, just lost in my thoughts.” She thought back to his question. “I’m not sure how I’m going to get through to my brother. It’s something that I’ll probably have to figure out on the fly, depending on the situation.”

“I understand,” Fenris said. “It is a very… dynamic situation. I can’t say I fully understand human relationships, but you must feel some level of responsibility to him, especially since he is younger than you.”

“Yes,” Mel answered. “And don’t underestimate yourself. Even humans can miss things like that.” As she said it, she thought of Marcus. Marcus was the cause of all of this… and again, she almost wished she could hate him for it. More and more, though, she just felt empty when she thought of him. Marcus had come to her not long after the death of her parents. She’d later learned that he’d planned to have her kill him out of vengeance, but he’d chickened out. Instead of telling her that he’d instigated her parents’ deaths in some kind of conspiracy for Guard Intelligence, he’d given her a sob story about being a down-on-his-luck spacer and he’d hired on to help on her ship where he’d become a friend, a confidante… and eventually her lover.

At some point, the guilt over the fact that he’d killed her parents in his duties as a Guard Intelligence Agent had eaten through him and he’d finally come clean to her little brother, of all people. That had set Rawn on his path to joining Guard Free Now, but first he’d forced Marcus to skip out and framed him for the theft of Mel’s savings… The combination of theft and betrayal had left scars that hadn’t healed when she had encountered Marcus years later.

Even after learning the truth about him, she hadn’t been able to hate him… but as she’d come to understand him more and more, she just felt empty. In some ways, Marcus was simply broken. He understood human emotions well enough to emulate them… but not well enough to understand the impact of actions he took.

“I have a question for you, Mel, it’s something that came up earlier, though it’s one I’ve wanted to ask since reviewing your records,” Fenris said.

“Oh?” Mel asked. She couldn’t think of anything particularly interesting that had come up.

“You came from a military family on Century. Your grandmother was the Superintendent of the Century Military Academy when you chose to join the military, but you applied and were accepted to the Guard Fleet Academy at Harlequin Station. Century is not a member of the United Nations Star Guard Charter, they’re not even a protectorate world… why the Guard?” Fenris’s deep voice showed curiosity rather than any sense of judgment.

Mel let out a tight breath. “You don’t pull any punches, right?” It was a question she hadn’t thought about in years, but it was still one that left her feeling uncertain. She thought back to the initial reactions she’d faced when she told her parents her decision… and the reaction from her grandmother. The Admiral took it better than I’d expected, looking back, not that it should have surprised me…

“The Admiral… that is, Admiral Armstrong, my grandmother,” Mel started, “was the Superintendent that year. In part, I didn’t want there to be any sense of privilege, I didn’t want anyone to think I didn’t earn my place or any of my achievements. I wanted to succeed on my own right.”

“And you wanted others to see that,” Fenris’s growl had a musing tone. “But why the Guard? Doesn’t your world have exchange programs with other nations?”

“We did,” Mel acknowledged. “But that didn’t solve the whole problem. I was still an Armstrong, and that carried too much weight for my liking.” She grimaced a bit. “I mean, unless someone grew up out in the deep desert or something, they’re going to know what that means. There’s a weight of responsibility and familial rivalries and a whole lot of other baggage that I didn’t want.”

She gave a sad smile, “I wanted life to be simple. I wanted to earn my place, to know that my accomplishments were my own… so I went as far away from my family name as I could. Plus, I sort of convinced myself that it would be good for my homeworld. If they had a good officer on their side from within Guard Fleet, then maybe it would make things a bit easier for them.”

Mel shrugged, “Besides, I grew up on my parent’s freighter as much as anywhere else. I’ve been addicted to traveling from system to system… it’s how I was raised. The thought of being assigned to the Century Planetary Militia and never going anywhere else… that sounded so… boring.

“I see,” Fenris said.

“So I submitted an application to the Harlequin Sector Military Academy, and they accepted me,” Mel shrugged. “And if things had been different, I would have accepted their commission… and then…”

“Then things would have been rather different for me, too,” Fenris grated. Mel didn’t have to ask him what he meant. If Mel hadn’t been present, then there was a high probability that either Guard Intelligence’s effort to turn him into a weapon of mass destruction against the Vagyr system would have succeeded… or else Guard Free Now’s effort to hijack him and use him as a weapon against the Guard would have worked. Either way, Fenris would never have freed himself, he never would have had a chance to explore his autonomy. “I’m sorry for what happened to your parents, but I’m glad that your path brought you here.”

“Me too,” Mel said. “Though I can wish it hadn’t hurt so much.”

***

Snippet One: Jormungandr’s Venom

Hey everyone, here’s the first snippet of Jormungandr’s Venom

Prologue

Time: 0730 Zulu, 25 December 291 G.D.

Location: Skynner System

 

Three hundred megatons of matter-antimatter warheads detonated in sequence at less than a thousand kilometers from Fenris‘s warp field. The massive warship shuddered and the drive field flickered for an imperceptible moment. The humans aboard would not have been able to even sense it, but Fenris could feel the agonizing instant that the destabilizing jolt of energy exceeded the safety margins of the drive by over three hundred percent.

“I don’t think they like us,” Mel commented.

“As always, you have a penchant for stating the obvious,” Fenris growled. After all, it was his hull at which they were throwing their warheads. The fact that Mel shared in his personal risk made her humor tolerable… but Fenris wasn’t given to humor.

After all, he was an artificial intelligence housed inside the hull of a battlecruiser. He wasn’t human, he was a machine. As a machine, he was able to sense the pirate warships as they swept around, their warp drives allowing them to execute maneuvers that completely defied Newtonian physics. Their intent to retreat was obvious, as was the fact that Fenris could follow them easily, especially since they’d just volleyed the entire contents of their magazines to no effect.

“Shall we kill them?” Brian asked with a predatory smile. Fenris liked Brian Liu’s attitude. In fact, the two of them shared the most in common of their crew. They were both artificial creations, Brian manufactured in a genetic engineering lab and Fenris assembled in a shipyard. They were both designed for war. They were both relics of earlier times… and they were both predators.

And both of them listened to Mel. She gave them a sort of moral compass that helped them to determine what was right and wrong… and more importantly, who it was okay to hunt and kill.

“Kill them all,” Mel snapped.

Fenris went to full acceleration without hesitation. The three pirate corvettes had military-grade drives, which meant they were deeper and stronger than civilian vessels, but they were nowhere near as powerful or deep as Fenris‘s drive. Larger ships had deeper drives and were able to reach faster sub-light warp velocities… and Fenris was a battlecruiser. More than that, even for a battlecruiser, Fenris had an exceptionally powerful and deep drive.

After all, the warship was fully automated. It had far less space wasted on things like living quarters, radiation shielding, and frivolities like food storage. Even Fenris’s environmental system was mostly an afterthought, included to make construction more convenient in the beginning and never stripped out afterward.

All three pirate vessels scattered as Fenris went into pursuit. They darted off in opposite directions, on radically changing vectors.  To Fenris’s artificial mind, their maneuvers were predictable and their movements arthritic.

Against equally slow patrol craft or possibly even a destroyer, as many as two the small pirate vessels might have managed an escape. Against Fenris, they would have been better off to remain together and unify their fire.

Fenris bracketed the nearest vessel and fired with his secondary battery, even as he moved into pursuit of the second ship. Before his first shots had even landed, he opened up with his primary battery. The third ship had time to see him coming and it volleyed a trio of warp-missiles. Fenris had expected that. He went evasive, even as he sensed Mel firing the interceptor weapons against the fast, but relatively unmaneuverable warp missiles.

Two of the three detonated in matter-antimatter explosions and Fenris successfully dodged the third, Mel picked it off as it fell astern of them. Fenris sensed the third pirate craft spooling up its strategic warp drive and he opened fire with primary and secondary weapons batteries at the same time.

Those batteries would have been a credible threat against a dreadnought, much less a corvette. The pirate’s drive field vanished and the ship disappeared against the massive power of the antimatter projectors and his primary Mark Twenty-Five disruptor cannons. “Targets destroyed,” Fenris growled in satisfaction.

“Damn,” Marcus muttered from communications, “they didn’t even have a chance to signal that they surrendered.” No one suggested looking for survivors. The scale of the weapons that they mounted meant that once a warp field went down, most small ships were rendered to their constituent atoms instantly.

“Our contract specifies shoot-on-sight for all confirmed pirates,” Fenris grated. He didn’t much like pirates.  His makers had created him to protect humanity, and the fact that some of their kind preyed upon their own left him with a hollow, uncertain feeling. To be able to erase such things from the galaxy left him feeling better.

Plus, the opportunity to test out his new armament made him feel better. The new secondary armaments, their antimatter projectors, had performed excellently.  His new Mark Twenty Five heavy disruptors had also been effective, though he’d relied upon the secondary batteries for the kills.  He was glad they’d been able to purchase them. They far outstripped his previous mass drivers, which was saying quite a bit, considering the fact that he’d taken on an entire Culmor convoy and won.  Normally heavy disruptors were only carried by dreadnoughts and superdreadnoughts.  Battlecruisers and battleships mounted normal disruptor cannons, either mark thirteens like his old primary armament, Mark fifteens, which was what the higher end mercenaries used, or mark seventeens, which was the latest generation only available for Guard Fleet vessels.

Most smaller ships relied on mass drivers with antimatter warheads or antimatter projectors.  The intent of both was to cause a massive enough energy release in proximity to a drive field to knock it out, which was effective enough against ships up to cruiser size.  But larger ships, capital ships, had too great of tactical warp speed for those types of weapons to be entirely effective, especially not in a battle of maneuver.  That was where disruptor and heavy disruptor cannons came in.  They utilized the same exotic particles used in creating warp drives and caused massive destabilization in warp fields on impact.  They also tended to severely damage hull if they managed to penetrate a warp field and hit the ship beneath, so having a good disruptor armament was particularly nice.  Fenris wanted a bit more practice with his before he was willing to admit they were superior to his previous armament, but he was happy enough with them for now.

“We confirmed that all three vessels were on the known wanted lists,” Mel noted. “We gave them an initial opportunity to surrender, they chose to attack us and then flee.”

“Not like we have a prize crew aboard anyway,” Brian Liu snorted. “Though I wish I’d had a chance to kill a few of them in hand-to-hand, this trip has been boring for me. At least we get the kill bonus as specified in our contracts.”

“Only once we fill out the paperwork,” Mel reminded him.  Fenris could have volunteered to do that, but there was being helpful and there was being too helpful. Just because he could do it quickly didn’t mean he wanted to do it. Fenris was an artificial intelligence, but that didn’t mean he enjoyed the reams of official documents that would go into proving their kills for the Guard Fleet contract bonus. There would be a sensor addendum, signed and witnessed documents, official statements, all of it in the archaic legally-required formats designated centuries earlier at the founding of the Mercenary Guild.

Fenris could have done all of it in only minutes, but those minutes would feel like years.  Besides, he’d made certain that their mercenary charter put the onus of the paperwork on someone else. Fenris stuck to what he did best.

Brian, apparently, agreed with his sentiment, “That’s your job, Captain. Have fun with the paperwork, I’m just here to break things and kill people. That’s a very merry Christmas to everyone involved.”  He smirked, “Well, except for them.  I guess they should have been good little boys and girls.  Now, since that task is done, I think I’m off duty… Who’s up for steak?”

Fenris didn’t miss Mel’s glare after the man, but she didn’t stop him.

“Fenris, please transfer the appropriate sensor data to my console,” Mel said after a moment. He noted that she didn’t ask him for any help beyond that. He suspected that some part of her relished the tedious work, it gave her some privacy and time to think.

“Of course, Mel,” Fenris replied, even as he monitored the crew. The bridge crew wasn’t large. Brian, Mel, and Marcus Keller filled out the primary bridge crew. The others included Johnny Woodard, the team’s medic, Bob Walker, who acted as a contact man and spokesperson, Jeremiah Swaim, who acted as a sort of hacker and general hanger-on, Lace, who acted as a scout and infiltrator, and Aldera Kynes who served as their engineer. It was a small crew, particularly for such a large ship… but Fenris had been designed to be entirely autonomous, it wasn’t as if he really needed a crew. Most of their duties were entirely superficial, merely to provide a human interface for their dealings with other ships. Since autonomous warships were illegal and artificial intelligence was expressly forbidden, that interface was a necessary fiction so that Guard Fleet didn’t realize the truth and have him hunted down and destroyed. Now that Fenris knew that he was sentient, sapient, and free-willed, he would have to oppose that destruction, but he would rather not have to kill innocent men and women serving in Guard Fleet just to protect himself, at least, not when he could maintain a fiction of having a crew relatively easily.

Plus it means I have friends… of a sort.

Fenris watched the humans as they went about their routines inside his hull. They were a strange lot, even for humans. Brian was a fellow predator, arguably as inhuman as Fenris. Marcus was a former Guard Intelligence Agent who’d done terrible things for a cause he no longer believed in. Bob Walker was some kind of agent for a mysterious organization. Lace was a mercenary infiltrator. Woodard was a former Guard Marine Corps medic. Aldera Kynes was an escapee from a secret Guard Intelligence science lab.  Swaim was… well, he wasn’t sure why they kept the young man around.  Probably because he’d get himself into a lot of trouble without some adult supervision.

Then there was Mel, the glue that held them all together. She was hard enough to order the execution of their pirate attackers and yet soft enough to believe in all of them… even a multimillion ton self-aware battlecruiser.

In the quiet solitude of his artificial mind, Fenris could admit that he didn’t really care all that much about the others or even his risk of discovery by the Guard. He was just glad for Mel’s presence.

***

Coming Soon: Jormungandr’s Venom (Fenris Book 3)

“It poisoned the sky, and the world died.”

Jormungandr’s Venom was said to be so deadly that it could kill gods, kill the very world itself.  Melanie Armstrong and the crew of the Fenris have taken on psychotic terrorists, corrupt military officers, and genetically engineered horrors, but they’ve never taken on anything like this.

The planet Harmony has undergone a revolution and is in the process of electing a new government.   Mel and Fenris have hired on as mercenaries to ensure a peaceful transition, but not everyone is happy with the change in power.  Corrupt peacekeepers want to install a puppet government.  Their opposition, a terrorist organization that’s willing to kill entire planets to get their way, is trying to turn Harmony into a base of operations.  The former regime wants to take their planet back and they’ve assembled their own forces for the job.  Old enemies and new opponents alike want their piece of the pie… but something far more dangerous lurks on the heart of Harmony.

Mel and her crew have learned of a terrible weapon that is hidden on Harmony, a weapon designed to eradicate entire planets.  It is a poison that could spread to all worlds, wipe out humanity and lay waiting for ten thousand years or more.  The crew of the Fenris will have to best entire fleets of opponents determined to seize this weapon… and if Mel fails, then Jormungandr’s Venom will poison the skies of countless worlds.

Jormungandr’s Venom comes out to Amazon on February 9th!  Check back here for snippets!

New Release: Dead Train: All Aboard

Dead Train: All Aboard is now available on Amazon.  You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2ycj324

It’s all aboard and full speed ahead because when the dead roam the Earth, no place is safe.

Civilization has fallen, brought low by a combination of war, terrorism, and by the restless dead rising in ever-greater numbers.  The world’s militaries fought until they ran out of bullets, but in the end, the cities were choked with bodies and the dead just kept on coming.

Captain Jack Zamora has put together a band of survivors who stay alive by staying on the move.  They’re fleeing the charnel-house remains of the East Coast, headed to survivor enclaves in the West, travelling on a jury-rigged train that’s held together by desperate hope and paid for in the blood of its defenders.
There’s one barrier for their train of survivors: the mighty Mississippi River. Someone or something has been destroying the bridges, trapping survivors on the east bank.  And survivor enclaves in the East are going dark, one by one.  There’s nowhere to go and the only set of train bridges left run through the ruins of St Louis.
Something waits for Jack and his people there, though.  Something ancient, something evil, and if Jack can’t find a way through, then his hope, his people, and their train will all die.

Dead Train: All Aboard Snippet One

Hey everyone, here is the first snippet for Dead Train: All Aboard.  You can expect Dead Train: All Aboard on 12 October, 2018.

Chapter One

The zombies didn’t move out of the way as two thousand nine hundred and fifty tons of steel rolled into them.  The train didn’t lurch, it didn’t shudder, it didn’t even really slow as it crushed dozens of the rotting corpses and rolled right on through.  The train snow plow on the front mostly sent the mindless undead tumbling out of the way, shattering their bones and leaving those it struck limp and motionless.  Jack couldn’t even hear the sound of crunching bone and tearing flesh over the sound of the train’s wheels on the tracks and the grumble of the diesel-electric locomotives.

A few would sometimes find their way under the wheels or would catch a grip on one of the sides of the cars in passing.  That was why the train riders went to full defensive status as they passed through towns.  In towns, the train had to slow down for curves and track switches.  As Jack watched, hundreds more zombies shambled out of the otherwise dark and deserted town, drawn by the noise of the train.  Most of them were too slow to reach the train in time, but a handful were either fresher or simply more energetic, and those managed a stumbling run.

Most of those grasped blindly for the train and many of them lacked the dexterity necessary to accomplish anything beyond falling beneath the wheels and being ground into a red paste.  Survivors fended off the handful that caught hold, using improvised spears.  This situation wasn’t severe enough to warrant the use of ammunition.

“Watch for clingers,” Jack shouted over his radio.  “Report in your status by car!”  Captain Jack Zamora waited patiently, his body armor, weapons, and helmet a familiar weight.  The gray-eyed former Army officer kept a confident expression on his lean face, even as he felt worry eat at his gut.

“Car forty-nine, all clear,” Chris Peck reported.  The former construction project manager from Cincinnati had a proper attention to detail, which was why Jack had chosen him for the trail car.  “No clingers and we’re clear of the town.”

The other cars reported in, one by one, and as the train began to pick up speed again, Jack gave a silent prayer of thanks.  It looked like they’d made it.

“This is car twelve!” A panicked voice shouted over the radio, “Taylor is down, there’s a zombie, oh god, they’re killing us!”

Jack didn’t take the time to swear.  He waved at the response team and started running back along the line of cars.  Twelve cars, he did the math as he ran, trying not to think about how many women and children were in car twelve, fifty-five and a half feet per car, that’s six hundred and sixty-six feet.

Jack didn’t even notice the gaps between cars as he jumped them, shotgun clutched in his hands.  A single zombie wasn’t too bad of a hazard, not by itself, not normally.  They’ll be alright, he tried to tell himself.  Yet he knew just how close they were to Indianapolis.  He knew that bodies rose quicker the closer they were to the dead cities.  One zombie would kill one person and the corpse would rise.  Two would kill two more…

As he rushed forward, he saw car twelve.  Children clustered on the top, center part of the car, passed up by their parents to safety.  As he watched, a screaming woman tried to pull herself up on the side, clutching at the ropes that the survivors had run across the top for just that purpose.

Reaching arms caught her and pulled her back.  She let out a shrill scream as they dragged her back and Jack knew the look on her face, he’d seen it far too often over the past six months.  It was terror, but it was also disbelief.  She didn’t understand –couldn’t understand– why this was happening to her.  Before Jack could raise his shotgun, he heard that scream cut off with brutal finality and even over the noise of the train he heard the grinding crunch as she fell beneath the rail wheels.

Jack knew that there probably weren’t any other survivors in the car, but he didn’t hesitate.  He ran forward, caught a side rope, and swung into the open car door feet first.

His boots slammed into a cluster of undead and the zombies tumbled back from the impact.  Jack found his footing and brought up his shotgun.  He recognized Taylor’s gray and bloodless face, the former Marine’s throat ripped out.  He fired the Remington 870 Express and blood and bits of brain matter splattered his face and eye protection.  As the headless zombie stumbled back, Jack pivoted, racked the slide, and picked his next target.

This was an older zombie, its flesh gray and its face sunken.  It came at Jack with a jagged shard of bone sticking out of its arm where its hand should have been.  Jack fired into the thing’s center of mass.  As the zombie stumbled back, Jack moved forward, clearing the area.

The rest of his response team came through the open door behind him.

There was no finesse to what they did.  As they joined him, Jack dropped his shotgun, letting the friction strap swing it back against his chest, even as he drew his hooligan crash ax. The short, ax-like blade was designed purely for chopping and Jack swung it as the next zombie came forward.  His heavy blade split the zombie’s skull and as the undead child stumbled, Jack tried not to think, tried not to see, tried to turn off his mind as he split skulls, separated shoulders, and kicked moaning undead out the open side of the train-car.

Clearing the car took less than thirty seconds.  He’d become so disconnected that it took a panicked shout “No, no, stop!” for him to halt, mid swing, about to brain a survivor who stood behind a makeshift barricade.

Jack lowered the ax, the blade covered in blood and hair, with bits of skin stuck to it.  He tried not to think about the crusty, sticky nature of his stained uniform.  The man that he’d nearly killed stared at him with a mixture of fear and shock, but with a level of hero worship that made Jack want to vomit.  He turned away.  “Status?” Jack barked.  He answered his own question in the same way he had drilled his team.  “One up.”

“Two up,” Joshua Wachope reported.  The tall, bearded, lanky Special Forces man gave him a thumbs up.  Josh was solid and there wasn’t anyone that Jack trusted more than him in a fight.  I wish he was in charge of this shit, Jack thought, not for the first time.

“Three up,” Johnny Woodard said as he wiped down his ax.  The tall, dark, former combat medic looked care-free, as if dismembering people was an everyday occurrence.  Come to think of it, Jack thought, it very nearly is…

“Four up,” Hector Chavez snapped.  The stocky, perpetually angry man glowered at the survivors of the train car.  “How the hell did this happen?!”

“A zombie came in through the latrine hole,” a woman said, her voice distant.  “It crawled up and it stabbed Taylor with its arm.  Just like that and then he attacked Sophie and…”  Her voice trailed off into a confused babble.

“How many survivors?” Jack asked as he turned back to face the men clustered behind the barricade.  They’d flipped up a couple of the bunk beds and chairs, he saw.  Quick thinking, Jack thought.  Though he wished they’d been quicker.  One man with a weapon could have stopped all this before it got out of hand.

“Uh…” the two men looked around, both of them clearly shell-shocked.

Jack restrained a sigh.  “All of you, come out.  We need to check you for injuries and infection.”  He shouldn’t blame them, it wasn’t their fault that they didn’t know what to do, how to function.  The cars at the center of the train were for those survivors who didn’t understand, who couldn’t defend themselves.  They’re weak… a voice spoke in the back of his mind, but he squashed that voice.  His people would train them, they would become useful members of his group… one way or another.

“Are they…” a woman gasped, “… are they contagious?  I saw Frank, he got bit!”  She pointed an accusatory finger at one of the men on the barricade.

The group surged away from the man and Jack just shook his head.  “No.  No they’re not contagious.”  Well, he admitted to himself, only in the sense that they’re dead and they can make you dead, too.  “But if you’re injured, then your wounds could turn septic and you could die.”  And then you’d rise from the dead and try to kill us all.  “We’ve got a medic, he’ll check you out.”

In theory, all the people on the train should know that… but they’d just picked up a few dozen survivors two days ago.  Train car twelve was one of the places they put those survivors.

The latrines have covers that should have been latched until we got the all clear, Jack thought to himself.  It wouldn’t surprise him if one of the newbies had left that cover open.  That meant someone in the car had effectively killed Taylor and all the others.  Jack just hoped that whoever it was had paid with their life.

If not, he thought grimly, I’ll kill whoever was responsible.

***

Kal’s October Forecast

Hey everyone, October is here!  I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, so here’s what you can expect:

I’m happy to announce that I plan to release the first book from my post-apocalyptic series, Dead Train: All Aboard.  This series follows the adventures of a group of survivors in a zombie apocalypse, who are travelling by train as they seek safety.  You can expect Dead Train: All Aboard on October 12th.

I’m currently mostly done with my latest work in progress, which is titled Lost Valor.  Lost Valor is the first book of the spin-off series Forsaken Valor, which is a spin-off of the Children of Valor series.  Those of you who read Valor’s Cost can probably guess the identity of the main character.  My goal is to finish it up and publish it 26 October.  I’m really excited to get this one out, because it’s a very different story-line and set of experiences from the Children of Valor series but just as action-packed.  I’m hoping you all will enjoy it just as much as I have writing it.

Finishing off the month, I’m putting the finishing touches on book three of the Rising Wolf series.  Yes, I’m finally getting back to Melanie and Fenris.  This third book closes out the initial story arc and brings their initial arc to a close.

What I’m working towards with all three of these series (Children of Valor, Forsaken Valor, and Rising Wolf) is to set the stage for the greater conflict that’s been brewing in the Periphery.  I hope to tie all three series to a close and then start a series I’m currently labeling The Colonial War, which will cover a greater conflict involving Drakkus, the Star Guard, Century and other systems.  That in turn sets the stage for more events yet to come.  Suffice it to say, there’s lots of exploding space-ships in the future of the Star Portal Universe.

Closing out October, I plan to start the second Argos book, the sequel to The Colchis Job, to be published with Chris Kennedy Publishing.  I expect to finish it sometime in November, so ideally you can expect it late November to early December.  After that, it’s the fifth book of the Children of Valor series and the second book of Forsaken Valor.  I’ve got a very full plate at the moment, but I also intend to get the seventh book of the Shadow Space Chronicles out as well as to finish the fourth book of the Eoriel Saga.

Did I mention I’ve got a lot on my plate?