Tag Archives: space opera

Valor’s Duty Snippet 3

Valor’s Duty goes live in just 2 days on May 18th.  In the meantime, here’s the third and final snippet.  If you missed the first two, you can find them here (Link) and here (Link)

***

Back in the private room, we all just sort of slumped.  I found myself sitting next to Sashi, who still hadn’t said anything.  I could see her thinking, but I wasn’t really sure what was running through her head.  I’d always had a problem reading her, even when she’d been my roommate.

“You okay?” I asked quietly.

“What do you think?” Sashi shot me a look.  I didn’t really have a response for that.  I’d been at odds with my parents once before, but not with my whole family.  Even then, it hadn’t been like what Sashi was going through.  With me, they’d shipped me off to my mom’s mother, the Admiral, who had enrolled me in the Academy Prep School.  “They think I’m going to fail out,” Sashi said in a miserable voice.

“Well, sorry, but I think your brothers are jerks,” I replied.

She snorted, “Yeah, they’re my brothers, it kind of goes with the territory.”  She wiped at her eyes.  “It’s just so frustrating, you know?  They think they know what’s best for me and for the family.  They’re angry because I’m not doing what they tell me.”  Her brow furrowed, “I am worried that they are right.”

“You’ll be fine,” I assured her.

She shot me a look, one part grateful and one part angry.  “You don’t know what it was like,” she hissed.  “Last year, I had no help.  I had no support.  I was tolerated by Ogre Company, but that was it.  I’m coming back to Sand Dragon.  Do you think it will be a warm welcome?  Who will want to room with me?  Who will want to study with me?”

I hadn’t really thought about that.  I’d talked with Sara Salter, this year’s Company Commander for Sand Dragon, and she’d approved Sashi’s transfer back.  But that didn’t mean there would necessarily be a place for her.  Sashi and I had roomed together during Academy Prep School.  She’d gone over to Ogre for our plebe year.  I’d probably been the closest thing she had to a friend in Sand Dragon… and she’d very publicly betrayed me during the final exercise.

“You can be my roommate,” I said on impulse.

I saw Ashiri look over at me as I said it.  From the way her expression shifted, I knew that she wanted to say something, but she didn’t.  I thought about what I’d overheard between her and her mother.  Maybe if I’m not her roommate any more, it’ll take some pressure off of her, too.

“Are you sure about that?” Sashi asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  I’d had her stay at my parent’s house with me for two weeks.  How much worse could it be?

“Well, thanks,” Sashi said.  She seemed taken aback.  “I really hope this all works out.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, clapping her on the shoulder impulsively, “I’ve got a good feeling about this year.”  I should have kept my stupid mouth shut.

***

 

We arrived at the Academy without any further trouble and after the initial formation, I knocked out my in-processing checklist and found myself in the large amphitheater where it seemed like so many of my life’s major events had occurred.  This was where they held the first in-briefing from the Admiral.  This was where they had held my Academy Prep School Final Exercise. It had been here that Sashi had betrayed me.  It was here that the psychotic Commander Scarpitti had tried to kill me.

Despite the dim lights and the quiet, I found my heart starting to race in anticipation.

“Attention on Deck!” Someone bellowed.

As one, the entire Regiment of Cadets rose to their feet.  Again, the central platform lit up, and the Admiral, my grandmother, stepped forward, her khaki uniform crisp, her expression stern.  “Cadets, welcome back to the Academy.  Today begins the one-hundred and seventy first year of this institution.  I welcome our new Plebe Class, Class Two Ninety One.  I also welcome our First Class, Class Two Eighty Eight.  You Cadets First Class will graduate this year and go on to your follow-on assignments in our Planetary Militia.”

Her already stern voice hardened.  “Last year we suffered a number of unfortunate incidents.  As a result, we will all of us, Cadets and Instructors, be under additional monitoring.  All of you will be under constant supervision.  We will not tolerate violations of the school’s Honor Code, nor will we tolerate ethical or legal violations.  You are one day to be Officers within Century’s Planetary Militia, and you are expected to set the example.  Any of you who cannot do so will be removed.”

“That said, honest mistakes are a part of your learning experience.  We do not expect you all to be perfect.  Leadership and command are skills that must be learned.  Take the opportunities you are given to excel.  Accept risks.  Show your instructors that you are able to recover from failure, and you will do well.”

“Now then,” the Admiral said, “We’ve had some turn-over of personnel.  Commander Weisfeldt joins us as one of our new Engineering instructors.”  The short, stocky, and dark-haired officer stepped forward, his expression stern.  “Commander Weisfeldt has just completed a tour at Century Station, where he managed the station’s military prototyping department.”

“Additionally, joining our staff is Commander Stirling,” the Admiral went on.  A heavy-set officer stepped forward.  He had a pleasant smile and gave a slight wave.  “Commander Stirling has just finished a tour with the Guard Fleet as an officer observer at their shipyards at Harlequin Station.”

I perked up a bit at that.  Getting a slot like that would be impressive, the Guard rarely allowed non-signatory nations any access to their shipyards.  He would have had a chance to watch ship construction across a huge range of ship classes and sizes.

“Also joining the Academy Staff at this time is Lieutenant General Corgan, of Century’s Enforcer Service,” the Admiral said.  “Lieutenant Commander Corgan will not be teaching any classes, but she will be observing how we conduct our training and our overall operations.”

The way that the Admiral said that and the polite yet cool tone in her voice gave me a shiver.  That wasn’t the way I would have expected her to welcome someone.  It felt more like a warning, to all of us.  What was a senior member of Century’s national police service doing at the school?  As far as I knew, they had no connection to the Planetary Militia.  They operated entirely planet-side and they answered to the Security Director and Charter Council.

“Now, then, I’ll remind you all that companies, sections, and individual cadets are ranked on a points system.  As always, your grades, your performance in training, your punishments and successes, are all counted towards your totals.  Last year, Sand Dragon Company managed to win again, for a second year, by a slim margin.  The Honor Graduates, Mackenzie, Ingvald, and Attabera, were ahead by a few percentage points.  Those who graduate in the top ranks are often given the choice positions upon graduation.”

She gave a wintry smile, “Failure early on can be overcome.  Becoming overconfident early on can lead to a drop in your ranking.  Ambition and hard work are rewarded, complacency is your enemy, far more than anything else.  Good luck, Cadets, let’s have a good year.”

***

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Renegades: Origins Free 21-23 APRIL

The new cover art for Renegades Origins

Hey everyone, I’ve got a new cover for Renegades: Origins.  In honor of that, I’ve put it up free for the weekend.  If you haven’t got a copy yet,  here’s your opportunity and please leave me a review!

The Temple of Light, Available Now!

the-temple-of-light-kindle-v2The Temple of Light, book 5 of The Shadow Space Chronicles, is now available on Amazon.

The greatest threat is the one that you don’t see coming.

Lieutenant Alannis Giovanni has proven herself in battle, but now she has to face a far more personal threat. Her ex-husband, Reese, plans to activate an alien superweapon located at the Temple of Light that could devastate entire star systems and Alannis is the only one who can stop him.

She and the crew of the UCS Constellation will have to fight off Reese’s other pursuers, infiltrate pirate bastions, and defeat aliens bent upon the destruction of humanity in an effort to stop Reese from activating the superweapon.

It’s a dangerous mission, one where a single misstep could not only doom entire star systems, but embroil the United Colonies in a multiway war. Yet Alannis has little choice. She has to stop her ex-husband no matter the cost.

It’s a race to the Temple of Light, and whoever gets there first will have the power to destroy worlds.

The Temple of Light Snippet Three

the-temple-of-light-kindle-v2 Here’s snippet three of The Temple of Light.  The Temple of Light will be available on January 14th.

If you missed the first and second snippets you should read those first.  Snippet three focuses on what Reese and the mysterious Minder are up to…

 

 

 

Trident Forward Operational Base

<Redacted> System

July 7, 2409

 

Captain Reese Leone snapped to attention in front of his boss’s desk.  “My Lord, reporting as ordered.”

Lord Marius Octavious Giovanni, rightful Baron Giovanni, and eldest son of the Emperor Romulus I and his rightful heir, gave Reese a nod.  When he spoke his voice carried both authority and weight.  Marius Giovanni had every bit of the presence that his son, Lucius Giovanni had.  And he’s far more loyal to his people, Reese thought bitterly.  “Reese, I hear that you have almost completed our preparations?” Marius Giovanni asked.

“Yes, my Lord,” Reese nodded.  “I’ve acquired almost all of the items we’ll need.  There’s a few of the more… unique items that my people have located but not yet acquired.  I haven’t wanted to draw that level of attention until we begin our final preparations.”

“Understood,” Marius nodded.  He rose from behind his desk and came around.  As always, it somewhat surprised Reese at how short the man was, he barely came to Reese’s shoulder.  Granted, Reese was a hundred and ninety centimeters.  Marius projected so much presence that he seemed bigger, somehow.  “How has the other project come along… the one involving my daughter and grandson?”

Reese looked down.  “I’ve set things up, my Lord.”  Alannis Giovanni, Reese’s former wife and the mother of his child, was also Marius’s daughter.  The entire situation gave Reese a bit of a headache.  Marius Giovanni had lived in exile since Alannis was three weeks old, when he’d led a failed coup attempt to seize the Nova Roma Imperial Throne from his half-brother, Emperor Romulus II.  His son, Lucius Giovanni, had assumed the title of Baron and everyone had, until recently, believed that Marius had been executed for treason.  When the Chxor had seized Nova Roma, Emperor Romulus III had been executed, along with the crown prince, leaving the young Prince Octavian to assume the throne as Emperor Romulus IV.  Yet Marius’s son, Baron Lucius Giovanni had built alliances and founded the United Colonies, which had then liberated dozens of captured human worlds… including Nova Roma.

Reese didn’t know the details of how his brother-in-law had managed it, but his triumphant return had resulted in the people hailing him as their new Emperor.  He’d managed to pull off the “if I am called upon for the duty, then I will do it” appearance well enough, but Reese knew better than to believe that for a heartbeat.  Lucius must have arranged it all, just as he had manipulated Reese’s wife into joining the military to portray their family’s “noble service.”

Lucius had destroyed Reese’s marriage in the process and Reese wasn’t about to forget it.

However, Marius Giovanni was the rightful heir to the Nova Roma Empire.  Whatever else had happened in the time since didn’t change that.  And while Lucius had a vast wealth of resources to include the fabled Dreyfus Fleet… Marius Giovanni had quite a few resources of his own.  Reese didn’t expect Lucius to step down –not for his estranged father– but he did expect Marius Giovanni to come out on top of this little matter of Imperial succession.

Reese realized that he’d been quiet too long and he spoke up, “The teams are in place, I’ve set up multiple layers of cut-outs.  They don’t know exactly who they’re working for or anything beyond their part of the plan.  I’ve also kept the information secure from your man on the ground, since you don’t want to compromise his position.”

That last had been more than difficult.  Reese had been shocked to learn that General William Proscia worked for Lord Marius Giovanni.  The Marine General had served under Lucius for decades… but he’d begun his career as a junior officer under Marius Giovanni.  Apparently the same total loyalty that Lucius seemed to generate held true for his father as well.

In any case, General Proscia not only ran the Faraday Military Academy, but he also bore chief responsibility for the Imperial Regiment, the bodyguard unit for Lucius and his close family.

“Good,” Marius said.  His dark eyes bored into Reese.  “Do you feel a high level of confidence towards their success?”

Reese felt sweat bead his forehead as he met his superior’s eyes.  Failure was one area where Reese had seen that Marius was very different from his son.  Admiral Lucretta Mannetti had been Marius Giovanni’s chief agent until only a few years earlier.  After Lucius had defeated her not just once, but twice, Marius had given the order for her death.  He’d managed to arrange for her to die while she was under guard in a prison on Faraday, in a place where she should have been untouchable.

Not only that, but Marius had arranged the death in such a fashion as it looked like an accident… and as far as Reese could tell, no one questioned the story.  Failure brought drastic consequences.

“I’m not, my Lord,” Reese said.  “The security situation being what it is…” he thought about the new Imperial House that had been constructed on Faraday, designed with all manner of electronic and physical defenses.  Reese shook his head, “I wouldn’t give them even odds of success.”  The situation was almost as bad when Lucius’s family was on Nova Roma, but there at least the urban sprawl had encircled the Imperial Palace, which gave his people more freedom to move around.

“Even with your… connection?” Marius asked.

Reese swallowed nervously, “My Lord, I don’t feel confident enough to exploit it fully, not without exposing that source.”

“You aren’t allowing your personal feelings to sway you in this?” Marius asked with an intent voice.

“No, my Lord,” Reese swallowed.  “And I will assure you, I want this to succeed every bit as much as you do.  I just don’t feel this gives us the best opportunity of success.  Given what happened to the last person that tried to kidnap a member of Lucius’s family…”

He shouldn’t have said that, he realized.

Marius glared at him, “The imposter behind that bungled attempt deserved what he received.”  The Centauri Confederation Ambassador, who had claimed to be Marius Giovanni, had actually succeeded in kidnapping Lucius’s daughter.  Parties unknown had returned her… and the charred remains of the impostor had been delivered to the Centauri Confederation with a stern warning not to try such a thing ever again.

“Still, my Lord,” Reese hedged, “I think that even the attempt will be likely to draw more attention to our other activities when we draw near the critical juncture.”

Marius Giovanni cocked his head, his face stern.  Yet he gave a single nod, “Alright, I’ll grant you that point.  The last thing we need is someone getting in the way of some of those preparations… though involvement at the right time might be to our overall benefit.”

“My Lord?” Reese asked.

“It’s easy to forget that some of our opponents,” Marius had never once referred to his son as an enemy, just as an opponent, a point that Reese hadn’t missed, “are at odds.  Putting them against one another isn’t always something we need to take the time to arrange, sometimes they’ll do that on their own.”  His eyes went narrow, “Any further news about our special ‘friends’?”

Reese shivered a bit as he considered those particular enemies.  Up until the battle in Ghornath space, Marius’s organization had only had a theory about them even existing.  Yet the rumors that had come out had already had profound ripples across human space.  Former rivals in any number of systems now had reason to reexamine old grudges.  Even the Shadow Lords had apparently been surprised by the revelation of a hidden force within human space.

But not Marius, Reese thought, whoever these people are, my boss at least suspected their existence and has included them in his plans.

“No additional news, yet, my Lord,” Reese said.  “But I’ve confirmed that the destruction of Admiral Mannetti’s facility at Iota Persei was their work, based off of examination of the wreckage.”  Admiral Mannetti’s research into Reese’s current field of study had come to an abrupt halt when parties unknown had destroyed her facility in the Iota Persei system, killing most of her scientists and engineers.  She’d assumed it was the work of Shadow Lord Imperious, based upon the timing… but Reese had examined some of the wreckage and confirmed that the energy weapons damage was most likely a result of high energy gamma or x-rays.  Since that seemed to be the primary weapon system of this mysterious faction, it seemed evident that they’d been behind the setback.

And so it only stands to reason that they’ll try to do the same against us again, Reese thought.

“Well, then,” Marius Giovanni said, “in that case, I want you to remind all of our involved allies of the importance of secrecy, especially as we draw closer to success.  Go ahead and begin our final round of acquisitions… and I trust you are willing to do what’s necessary to achieve that?”

Reese swallowed as he contemplated the risk, not just to their project, but to himself in particular.  “Yes, my Lord, I’m willing to do it.”  Self-sacrifice wasn’t something he normally valued, but with the stakes they faced, and for his wife and son, he considered the risk acceptable.

“Excellent,” Marius said.  “I’ve said before that you’ve impressed me as my son-in-law, but you continue to show that my daughter has excellent taste… even if she may be a little confused at the moment in her priorities.”

Reese knew the comment was meant to be a compliment, but that didn’t take the sting out of it, either.  Alannis had rejected him at their last meeting, too focused on her own perspective to see the big picture.  Everything I’ve done, he thought, I’ve done for her… for us.

“That will be all, Reese,” Marius straightened and walked back around his desk.  Reese turned away, headed for the door, his mind already going to the preparations he had to make.

“Oh, and Reese?” Marius Giovanni’s words caught him in the doorway, and Reese turned attentively.  “Go ahead and initiate your secondary operation.  I’ll accept the risk of failure for the opportunity it presents: bring my daughter and her son to me.”

***

 

Location Unspecified

<Redacted> System

July 7, 2409

 

The being that called itself Minder had worked at his task for decades.  He took pleasure in his schemes and manipulations.  The human race, the greatest threat his kind had ever faced, were a persistent foe.  They had come back from defeat after defeat, and Minder and his predecessors had still managed to keep them contained and focused inwards.

It had taken carefully-tailored plagues, massacres, assassinations, and even the occasional destruction of entire star systems.  Minder had personally killed thousands and his efforts had killed humans in the hundreds of millions.  As detached as he was from it all, even he felt a little sick considering the number of intelligent beings he had snuffed out of existence.

And yet they continue to be a threat, he pondered.  More and more it feels as if I’m merely fighting a holding action.  Despite the darkness of the thought, he let no trace of it touch his face.  It wasn’t merely emotional control.  It was an element of instinct… for while he wore a handsome face and looked as indistinguishably human as anyone, facial expression was not an element of his genetic ancestry.  Well, he thought wryly, except by a sort of adoption.

He summoned his daughter with a thought and his door opened.  She stepped inside, a smile on her face.  She looked as human as Minder did, but while he was handsome, she possessed a stunning level of beauty.  Even as disconnected as he was from human emotions such as physical attraction, he could still appreciate her appearance, just as he could enjoy human artistic expression.  She was every bit as breath-taking as one of the classical human sculptures… and just as human as a sculpted piece of marble.  Of course, only a few years ago she had been entirely human.  In fact, his decision to convert her to one of his kind had been a reluctant one, yet between his outward duties and his secret efforts, he had needed someone with enough authority among the humans to act in his interests.  “You called, Father?”

Even here in the offices that they absolutely controlled, they sustained the appearance.  After the many years of his kind’s efforts, it would not do to slip up, to let their guard down and so spoil things.  Besides, he left a small number of listening and observation devices in place in his offices, to better manipulate his human underlings.  More than once he had used such devices to lure humans into false expectations, including at least one assassination attempt where humans had expected their leader to be merely human.  He felt real pleasure as he remembered their shock and horror at how easily he had defeated them.  “Any progress on that matter I asked you to look into?”  The interest in the Enemy’s artifacts, he projected his thoughts, has it continued?

“Unfortunately not,” She replied aloud.  My sources have confirmed that there has been an increased interest in their acquisition, she replied in his mind, they continue to investigate and Sidewinder has intervened as necessary.

“I understand,” Minder said.  “Please keep me informed of any changes in the situation as they occur.”  Sidewinder is to be used only when we are left with no other options, he told her, the humans have begun to suspect our existence and if they start to examine things too closely, too many of our projects will fail.  He formed an easy smile as if the matter he’d mentioned was of little import, even while he shifted the topic to one that any potential observers would find of more interest, “Now, I was looking at the financial sector reports…”

***

The Temple of Light Snippet Two

the-temple-of-light-kindle-v2Here is the second snippet from The Temple of Light, book five of The Shadow Space Chronicles.  You can get The Temple of Light on 14 January.  Find the first snippet here.

***

“Well,” Captain Daniel Beeson smiled, “that could have gone better.”

“Sorry, sir,” Lieutenant Giovanni said, her expression downcast.

“Well, we’ve received the official thanks of Tigel’s planetary government for ‘removing an entire criminal organization,’ so I suppose it didn’t work out too bad,” Daniel said.  “But as I considered just how to break it to the Emperor that I got you killed —if I got you killed– I somehow don’t think that thanks would be worth all that much.”

Lieutenant Giovanni looked down and Daniel’s smile faded.  “I think it is best that we return to Faraday.  From what I understand, they’ve had some developments there and the Admiralty may have a better grasp on the situation rather than us continuing to chase after rumors and false leads.”

Lieutenant Giovanni gave a nod at that and Daniel’s gaze went to Lieutenant Commander Perkins.  He’d turned a blind eye to their relationship mostly because they kept things professional and as his XO, Lieutenant Commander Perkins wasn’t directly in her rating chain.  That didn’t mean he didn’t know about it.  “Besides, Forrest, you’ve just come down on orders.”

“Orders, sir?” Forrest stared at him in surprise.  “I’m being transferred?”

“You are.  Apparently they’ve had an officer vacancy aboard the destroyer Bowie, so once we get back to Faraday’s Sanctuary Station, you’ll transfer immediately,” Daniel said.  He couldn’t help a smile at Forrest’s obvious dismay.  A transfer to a destroyer after his time aboard the Constellation was something of a demotion.  While that wasn’t technically true, that’s how it would be seen… except for one important point.  “I understand you’ll be replacing Lieutenant Commander Felton as the new CO of the Bowie.  Congratulations.”

Forrest’s eyes went wide, “Thank you, sir.”

A command after such a short time as XO aboard the Constellation was a sign that his performance had been noticed.  Granted, Forrest Perkins was older than most Lieutenant Commanders, at nearly fifty, though his youthful demeanor and access to the United Colonies’ longevity treatments made him look no older than twenty-five.  He’d only served in the United Colonies Fleet for six years, but he’d plenty of civilian ship experience and had graduated from Saragossa’s Fleet Academy over twenty years previously.

And since Saragossa may sign on to the United Colonies, Daniel thought, using him as something of a poster-child isn’t a bad idea.  Daniel didn’t know if Forrest realized such politics were involved, but he wouldn’t be surprised if he would figure it out soon enough.  Not that he hasn’t earned it, Daniel thought.

“No, thank you for your exemplary service,” Daniel said.  “Once we make port, Lieutenant Commander Rickard will take over as XO until your replacement arrives.”  He couldn’t help a look at Ensign Giovanni.  “At that point, I’d understand if both of you might want to take some leave.”

Both of them flushed and neither looked at the other.  Well, he thought, serves them right for them thinking they’re fooling anyone, but at least they kept things professional.

“Did we learn anything from the smuggler’s files?” Lieutenant Giovanni asked.  The short woman’s olive-skinned face was intent.  Captain Beeson understood why, but that didn’t mean he fully approved of her dedication.

“I see that you’ve spoken with Gunny Tam,” Daniel snorted.  “We’re still sorting through the data.  Strictly speaking, I shouldn’t be telling you this as the assistant tactical officer.”  She blanched a bit as he said that, but his tone eased, “however, since I figure you’ll be seeing most of this information from your brother, the Emperor, I might as well save a couple of steps.”

She rolled her eyes at that, but she gave him a nod, so he went on.  “We’ve found some sales data as well as indications of where Reese Leone has made purchases,” Daniel said.  “Which did include this system, but apparently he hasn’t been seen here for at least four months.”

She looked disappointed at that, especially since they’d come here based upon information that he was based out of or operating in this system.  If he hadn’t been seen in that long, it suggested that this was yet another dead end.

There’d been a few of those over the past six months.  The Constellation’s mission was to investigate any leads on Reese’s whereabouts, activities, and his mysterious patrons.  Certainly the amount of money and resources Reese accessed on a regular basis suggested that he had some powerful allies.  “The word I’ve received from Faraday says that they’ve put together a working group for this specific job.”  The somewhat cryptic statement had come through the ansible network.  They still didn’t know for certain if the network was compromised.  The Ghornath had discovered indications that a mysterious group could intercept ansible transmissions.  The United Colonies Fleet had begun to limit the critical information they transmitted.  Most of what they did send now was either entirely administrative or personal.

“Now, we’re headed back home.  Lieutenant Commander Perkins, I understand some of the other officers will be throwing you a congratulatory party, so I expect you to be appropriately surprised.”  Daniel smiled, “you are dismissed.”

***

The Temple of Light will be available on 14 January.  Find out more here.

Renegades: Out of Time

Renegades: Out of Time
Renegades: Out of Time

Renegades: Out of Time is now live!  You can get it from Amazon as an ebook and coming soon as a paperback.

The Renegades are running out of time.

Captain Mike Noguchi has led his band of Renegades out of the heart of a interstellar war, forged them together into a privateer crew, and has learned of an ancient alien facility that may hold clues to a conspiracy which seems bent on his crew’s destruction.

But that facility is on a planet conquered by the Chxor. The Renegades will need to slip across the battle-lines, infiltrate a conquered world, and find their way inside a facility which has kept its secrets for untold generations. Along the way they’ll need to fight genetically engineered monsters, a psychotic military commander, and an entire army of Chxor.

Yet even if they manage that, some secrets may be too much for them to handle. Their enemies have already done terrible things with the knowledge found there… can the Renegades survive secrets from outside of time?

Second Snippet Renegades: Out of Time

Here’s the second snippet for Renegades: Out of Time.   Be sure to read the first snippet!

***

Lord Admiral Valens Balventia sighed as his communications officer notified him of another civilian ship wanting to talk with him.

“Lieutenant,” he said, “I’ve told you, give them the standard evacuation orders.  I’m trying to plan a defense, if you interrupt me again…”

“Sir,” the Lieutenant looked nervous at speaking up, but Valens had worked hard to develop a staff that trusted him.  If he had interrupted him mid-sentence, then clearly he felt it was important enough.  That meant that Valens listened as the younger officer spoke.

“She’s not a normal civilian vessel, my Lord,” Lieutenant Sicarious said quickly.  “The Aurore is a privateer… and she’s behind the Chxor battle line.”

Valens’s eyes went wide at that.  That could be very useful indeed.  “Put him on.”

“Lord Admiral, I am Captain Mike Smith of the Aurore, out of Nova Roma.” the Asian ship’s captain wasn’t wearing a ship’s suit.  Given the current battle conditions, that suggested either a blatant disregard for safety or that he misunderstood the situation gravely.  Neither of which boded well for the conversation.  I hate privateers, Valens thought.  Most of them were little better than opportunistic pirates.  Still, if it was their ships and crews dying against the Chxor instead of Nova Roma Sailors and Marines, then Valens was willing to hold his nose.  “We are currently five thousand kilometers behind the main element of the Chxor battle line.  We’re picking up survivors from one of your vessels.”  He looked off-screen, “The Kestrel, is what my salvage… uh, rescue team has heard from survivors.”

Valens Balventia couldn’t help a scowl at the word “salvage,” yet the fact that the privateer had already picked up survivors was a good thing.  He considered the rest, though, “Wait, Captain, did you say you’re only five thousand kilometers behind the Chxor force?”  That sounded absurd.  How could any ship survive that close to the enemy?  For that matter, how had he managed to get so close?

“Correct, Admiral,” Captain Smith said.  “We also have military-grade sensors, so if you have platforms capable of hitting them, we can provide targeting data.  They’re moving away quickly, though, so we’ll probably lose quality targeting data in the next thirty minutes.”

Valens began to smile.  “Captain, send me your targeting data.  How do we have you, laser, I assume?”

The delay was painful, now.  The data wouldn’t be real-time.  If the privateer had an ansible, it would have been best.  But his ship’s crews could run simulations on the Chxor movements, program those target parameters in…

A few minutes ago, he had seen this as a final defense, a last stand.  With data on the enemy’s ships, he could actually win this.

“Yes, Admiral,” Captain Smith said.  “Though we’re having issues pushing transmissions through their screen and jamming.”

“You’ve one hell of a communications officer to manage,” Valens said.  He moved his estimation of the privateer upwards again.  “We’ll set up a relay, I think we have several platforms in place.  My communications officer will coordinate.”  He nodded at Lieutenant Sicarius and looked at his staff, “Order all fighters to launch.  We have a narrow window and I intend to hit these bastards so hard they feel it back on Karis.”

***

 

“Hold him still, I have not yet stabilized the subject!” Run shouted in his shrill “command voice” as he waved his staple gun around.  The wounded Nova Roman Marine fought hard, despite the injuries that still spurted blood.

Mandy glanced at Miranda.  The pair of them had been assigned to help with the wounded, since they both had some medical skills.  “Do you think we should tell him that the Marine thinks he’s been captured?”

They watched as the two medics assigned to Run finally held the Marine down, even as he started to scream obscenities.

“Nah,” Miranda said as she bandaged the injured Nova Roman on their table.  “Wouldn’t do any good.” She gave the young man a friendly smile, “Marines, right?”

He smiled back at her and Mandy just rolled her eyes.  She didn’t much like the Nova Romans.  Really she didn’t like most people, except for Miranda.  She finished gluing the wound shut on her unconscious patient and moved on to the next.  This woman had been badly burned.  Most of her face and upper torso was a mass of blisters and the smell….

Mandy fought down a memory, of a house in flames and the screams of children.  For a second, it seemed so real to her that she froze.  No, she thought, I’m not there and even if I was, I’m stronger now.

She felt Miranda’s hand on her shoulder and she took a deep, reassuring breath.  “Thanks,” Mandy said.  It was all she had to say.

The two of them went to work on the wounded woman.  Mandy just hoped the Nova Romans had good medical care for their people.

***

 

“Status?” Mike asked as he came back on the bridge, pulling his ship’s suit on and placing his helmet on the rack behind his command chair.

“The Nova Roma forces launched their fighters and their ships are moving into attack positions,” Ariadne said cheerfully.  “Their Lieutenant Sicarious has been very helpful in setting up a relay system.  They seem confident of victory.”

Mike’s eyebrows went up at that.  At best he would have assumed they would stage some kind of fighting retreat.  Malta was key to the Nova Roma defense, but the Chxor numbers were daunting, to say the least.

If they think they can win, he thought, good for them, but I’m not putting my ship and crew at any more risk than necessary.  “Any threats?”

Ariadne brought up a Chxor dreadnought with three cruisers in a loose formation ahead of it.  Mike frowned as he saw it.  It was behind them, trailing a line of debris… and as he watched, it opened fire on a bit of wreckage that Simon had identified.  “Looks like it’s cleaning up behind the main force… and we’re on the path,” Ariadne said.  Her voice held anger and Mike wondered if the fire he saw behind the psychic’s eyes was entirely figurative.

The wreckage it fired on was what had probably been a human destroyer.  The dreadnought chewed the wreckage into a fine cloud of debris, no doubt killing any survivors in the process.  He didn’t know if the Chxor somehow realized they had someone behind them relaying messages or if they simply had a procedure in place to cover behind them.  For that matter, it wouldn’t surprise him if the Chxor ship’s commander simply took it into his head to run target practice.  The Chxor Empire showed little care for human lives, so any of those were likely.

“He’s getting pretty close,” Mike said, even as he reviewed the sensor data.  The damaged ship had engaged the remains of a cruiser before the destroyer.  Both times he’d drawn within five thousand kilometers.

Mike stared at his ship display in thought for a long moment.  The Aurore wasn’t a standard civilian freighter.  She was originally designed as a fast transport ship, and her hull had a sleek, predatory look, with angular hull facings to deflect incoming fire.  The engine pods were in tight against the hull, in a fashion designed to give them greater protection, which only further added to the sleek nature.

Yet she wasn’t a warship.  The ship had no heavy armor and its defense screen was only a single band, projected along the length of the ship.  The Aurore‘s primary weapon was a concealed energy torpedo turret.  The weapon was extremely powerful for a small ship… but it had the downside of extremely short range.

The Chxor dreadnought sweeping along the enemy fleet’s rear would be able to tell that they weren’t a standard freighter.  While Mike didn’t have much confidence in the Chxor’s ability to identify the ship as a threat, he had less confidence about whether or not that ship commander would even pause to think about his orders.

In all likelihood, he’d been ordered to screen the ships to the rear and eliminate any human survivors.  With how he was blasting active radar along with his screening cruisers, it wouldn’t be long before he noticed the Aurore in the shadow of the Kestrel‘s wreck.

With a human officer, Mike might have tried to explain that he was engaged in rescue operations.  Even a military ship might have been spared under those conditions.  But the Chxor wouldn’t care.  Mike didn’t know if the Chxor even picked up their own survivors under normal circumstances, much less in combat.

“What’s the status of the Admiral’s counterattack?” Mike asked.  Mike’s first impulse was to simply order the Aurore to jump to shadow space.  Over the past twenty minutes they had already recovered the majority of survivors from the Kestrel.  Yet they also were supplying the Nova Romans with targeting data.

Simon didn’t need to look at his screen, clearly he was a good pick as the communications and sensors officer.  “He’s launched his fighters, I estimate they’ll launch missiles in three minutes.”

Mike could do the math well enough.  The enemy dreadnought would be in range to pick them up in the next four minutes.  At that point, the data they sent to Admiral Balventia would be crucial.  If they jumped to shadow space, they’d abandon the Admiral’s forces at the most critical time.  The missile flight would need data right up until they went in on final attack mode, in order to bypass the enemy’s directional jamming.  Without that, the attack would almost certainly fail.

Mike stared at the display and went back and forth between the two engagements from the dreadnought.  While the capital ship’s fusion projectors had a potential engagement range of sixteen thousand kilometers and the missiles had a substantially larger engagement window, it seemed that the ship drew far closer than that in both engagements.

It was possible it did so from damage.  Certainly it left a debris and gas trail in its wake, a sure sign that it had received damage earlier in the battle, before the Aurore‘s timely arrival.  There could be any numbers of reasons for that.  Damage to the weapons systems, damage to its power systems, or maybe even with the cruisers providing targeting data, it still needed to approach in order to see its targets.

If it repeated that maneuver, the ship would come within range of the Aurore’s weapons.

I wish I’d shelled out for a pair of fighters and some military-grade munitions, Mike thought absently.  A few ship-killer missiles launched from close range could have damaged and maybe driven off the enemy ship.  The Aurore had external racks for interceptor missiles, but it would be reliant upon carried fighters to launch offensive missiles.

Anubus’s prowler carried two fission warheads, but Mike didn’t know that he trusted them to properly detonate.  For one thing, Pixel still hadn’t had a chance to do more than a cursory inspection of them.  For another, they were Wrethe technology… and the Wrethe weren’t known for their craftsmanship.  Killing people, he thought, yes, betraying and murdering one another and their allies, yes… but building quality ships… not so much.

Besides, replacing those two missiles would be a painful expense.  Less painful than dying under the dreadnought’s guns, but Mike knew that Anubus would demand replacement, probably with a newer, more powerful munition.  And if we don’t replace them, there’s the whole betraying and murdering allies thing to consider, Mike reminded himself.

Then again, better to be alive and in debt than dead.

“Anubus,” Mike said, “go ahead and launch your prowler, we have inbound.”

“I am not going to be a suicide attacker against a Chxor dreadnought,” Anubus growled.

“Of course you aren’t,” Mike said.  “I’d like your missiles to back our main battery.”  He soothed the Wrethe without even thinking about it.  At this point, he knew that Anubus viewed the rest of them as expendable… but the Wrethe also knew they gave him access to human worlds, weapons, and opportunities to enrich himself.  “Besides, think about the value of that dreadnought for salvage,” Mike said.  Doesn’t hurt to lay it on, Mike thought.

Anubus didn’t respond, but Mike decided to take that as agreement.

The cruisers had drawn closer, but Mike focused upon the dreadnought.  The cruisers mounted a minimal armament, designed around intercepting fighters or missiles.  He could take the four of them, especially damaged as they were.  The dreadnought was the threat.  Besides, after they identified a target, they seemed to move on in their search pattern along the fleet’s course.

Here he comes, Mike thought as he saw the dreadnought alter course.  The slow, ponderous ship had lined up a vector that would bring it’s starboard batteries to bear on the wreckage of the Kestrel.  That spiked interest in Mike.  Combined with the dreadnought’s slow acceleration and arthritic maneuvers, the fact that the ship didn’t rotate, but altered it’s overall course suggested it was either low on fuel for its maneuvering thrusters… or that those thrusters were damaged enough that it couldn’t rotate.  Certainly the course was out of its way.

Mike began to smile as he typed in some commands on his console.  “Rastar, get your salvage team aboard immediately.”  Mike didn’t look up as he addressed the navigational officer.  “Mister Nelson, prepare to plot me a maneuver.”

***

 

Ship Commander Chxun updated his fleet commander even as he noted they were drawing close to the latest bit of ship wreckage.

He understood that the Fleet Commander wanted to clear the navigational route of debris and enemy threats for the follow-on occupation force.  He did not feel emotion, so he certainly did not think such efforts were beneath him.  Still, he thought it would have been optimal to have a squadron assigned to this duty, rather than his damaged vessel.  Certainly the remnants of the human defense fleet posed little threat to the Fleet Commander’s forty dreadnoughts.

If Fleet Commander Kxrass had peeled off a dreadnought squadron, then Ship Commander Chxun would have been free to begin repairs of his own vessel.  He could admit that those repairs would take some time.  The multiple missile hits to his port side had crippled his vessel and Chxun felt certain that the ship would need months to be brought back to full operational readiness.

“Time to optimal range?” Ship Commander Chxun asked.

“Thirty seconds, Ship Commander,” his targeting officer said.

Chxun noted that on his log. Fleet Commander Kxrass’s orders had been to clear large debris.  He had not mentioned recovery of personnel, so Kxrass hadn’t bothered to recover any humans, though he had noted the positions and vectors of Chxor survivors, should the Fleet Commander decide to expend the resources for recovery.  The three Chxor and two human vessel debris he’d cleared so far had developed a pattern.  He’d found that if he drew into close range, his weapons batteries produced the most efficient result, reducing any large debris into objects small enough to pose no real navigational hazard.

He had not noted any surviving ships on this path, though that matched his expectations.  Logically any surviving human vessels would have retreated from the system.  The holdouts, in the midst of a futile counterattack, were simply a further sign of the illogical insanity of humanity.

They should have abandoned the planet upon the Fleet Commander’s arrival to the system.  The logical tactic would be to withdraw in the face of a force they could not successfully oppose.

The humans couldn’t win this war, but Chxun knew they would lose it far slower if they didn’t insist upon dying for points of honor or for the sake of civilians who provided no contribution to the war effort.

“Ship Commander,” his sensors officer said. “One of the screening cruisers indicates they have detected a possible radar contact to our port side.”

Chxun considered that.  It seemed unlikely that a ship would be so positioned.  It would have had to either come in behind them at a high enough velocity with low emissions as to be undetected by passive sensors, or it would have needed to be present, yet hidden from the cruiser screen’s radar systems and then somehow now detected.

“Tell them to recalibrate their radar systems and scan again,” Ship Commander Chxun said.  He could have rotated his damaged ship to detect the vessel, but that would have used an alarming quantity of his remaining thruster fuel.  He could explain away the loss of the fuel due to damage, but it would still reflect badly upon his evaluation if he dropped below safety minimums.  Besides, it was highly unlikely that the humans had any kind of warship in position to pose a risk to his dreadnought.  Certainly if they had, they would have used it before now.

“Prepare to engage the debris,” Chxun said.

***

 

Mike smiled coldly as the Chxor dreadnought closed into position.  It had all come down to timing.  As the Chxor cruisers moved past the wreck of the Kestrel, he’d brought the Aurore out on her maneuvering thrusters, a series of slow burns timed to move them away from the Kestrel, keeping in its shadow from the nearest cruiser and just outside of radar range from the enemy dreadnought.  That had consumed almost all of their thruster fuel, but that could be replaced… and they’d only needed to move a bare eight thousand kilometers and then hold relative position.

From the other side, Simon had been able to detect the heavy damage on the dreadnought’s right side.  While it might have passive sensors, certainly its active radar was down.

“Pixel,” Mike said, “Bring up the plant.”  He looked over at Eric, the twitchy weapon’s officer leaned low over his weapons console.  “Eric, engage at will.”

This would be the first time they fired the Aurore‘s weapon outside of a simulation.  They’d already extended the concealed turret from behind the false rear “cargo” hatch.  The three fusion torpedo projectors were slow firing and they used up a quarter of what had been the Aurore‘s cargo holds.

Each of the torpedo projectors created a short-lived, magnetically condensed fusion reaction and then accelerated it in the direction of the target.  They couldn’t maintain the magnetic containment past three thousand kilometers so the weapon’s effectiveness dropped off sharply after that as the plasma released across a broad region of space.

The magnetic torpedoes weren’t terribly accurate, either, and the magnetic containment of defense screens caused a number of issues with that, making the accuracy suffer still greater against intact vessels with full-strength defense screens.  To top things off, the torpedoes didn’t travel fast, a result of the necessity to maintain magnetic containment over such distances.  In short, the torpedoes were slow, inaccurate, and short ranged.

At just under a thousand kilometers away, the damaged dreadnought didn’t have its port defense screens functioning.  In fact, jagged rents showed in the dreadnought’s armor, where earlier hits had already savaged the ship.

The fusion torpedoes crossed the distance in only five seconds.

All three hit a tight grouping directly in amidships on the dreadnought.  The superheated plasma inside the magnetic containment then released inside the enemy ship.  Fire began to blossom all along the ship’s hull, and then the dreadnought simply detonated.  At this range, the bridge ports actually darkened as the Chxor dreadnought vanished in a chain of secondary explosions.

“Target destroyed,” Simon said.

“Oooh,” Ariadne said, “pretty.”

***

You can pick up your copy of Renegades: Out of Time on November 12th!  (Oh, and see below for the awesome cover art!)

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