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Valor’s Duty: Reviews Wanted

Valor’s Duty by Kal Spriggs

Thanks to everyone who purchased copies of Valor’s Duty!  It has been hanging out in the top ten of its category on Amazon and the initial feedback looks great.  I’m really grateful that everyone seems to enjoy the book, especially since I love writing this series.

If you’ve read the book, I would love to hear your feedback, either by email or through Amazon or Goodreads.  Reviews help to sell books, so please help other people find these books and leave reviews!

If you haven’t got your copy yet, you can find it here: https://amzn.to/2Lc19Bw

Thanks again for reading!

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Now Available: Valor’s Duty!

Valor’s Duty is now live!  You can get your ebook copy exclusively from Amazon.

Link:  https://amzn.to/2Lc19Bw

Duty is heavier than a mountain; death is lighter than a feather. 

Jiden’s life at the Century Military Academy is forever changed when she is asked to volunteer for a special program.  They want to implant her and other cadets with a special, prototype neural computer.  It will make them smarter, more capable, and able to split their attention between dozens of activities.  Her friends jump at the opportunity… but Jiden isn’t so certain.

She sees it as her duty to volunteer. Despite all of her doubts, it’s a duty she owes to her world and to her friends.  But as things begin to go wrong, as her life is put in danger once again, Jiden quickly realizes that she may have shouldered a duty that she can’t bear.  The implants might be driving her fellow cadets violently insane… and Jiden may be next. 
She will need to muster every ounce of courage, every bit of intelligence, in order to save her friends.  Even then, her own survival might be too much to ask.  But Jiden doesn’t know how to back down, and she’ll do her duty no matter the cost

 

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.”

***

Valor’s Duty Snippet 1

Hey everyone, here is the first snippet of Valor’s Duty.  This is from my edit copy as I’m on the road, so I hope you’ll forgive any grammatical errors.

Chapter One:  Winning Is Everything

“Break left, break left!” I shouted as the incoming fire lanced out at my squadron of Mark Five Firebolt warp fighters.

The fighters were fast, faster than the human brain could readily understand.  They attained a nearly instantaneous relative velocity of over point seven C, or seven tenths of the speed of light.  Their  warp envelopes, however, were not particularly maneuverable.  Straight line velocity they could achieve, but they only managed ten degrees of “turn” with their internal warp drives.

That meant the best thing they could manage relative to a sharp bank like in the movies was a long, slow gradual curve.  Against the incoming fire, that was painfully inadequate and three of my nine fighters winked out of existence.

I’d just lost thirty percent of my force.  In military terms, I was combat ineffective and from a practical standpoint, I’d just led those ships and pilots right into the guns of the enemy battleship, knowing that it was going to happen.

But if they’re shooting at me…

At the velocities my squadron moved at, we were almost blind, we could barely see the enemy battleship, it’s powerful warp drive a beacon, it’s weapon fire strobes that pinpointed it’s progress through the star system.  There was no way we’d be able to see the smaller pinpricks of other warp-fighters with their drives offline, waiting for the opportunity to strike.

That was, not until those drive lit off.  The two squadrons of warp fighters came online at less than a hundred thousand kilometers distance from the battleship.  They closed that distance in onlyseconds, the eighteen Firebolts arming their payloads even as the battleship recognized the new threat.  I grinned as those fighters whipped past, releasing their antimatter bombs in a chain of detonations that shone more powerfully than the system’s star.

Before that string of detonations could clear on my screens, they went dark and then red text flashed: Simulation Terminated, Defender Wins.

“Yes!” I heard my boyfriend shout out.  I blinked clear of the holographic projections as they faded out, revealing the faces of  Sashi Drien and Kyle Regan.  I couldn’t help a goofy grin to match theirs.  “Chock up another one for Team Armstrong,” Kyle smirked.  Sashi and I were seated cross-legged on my bed, while Kyle took my bedroom’s only chair.  The space was tight with three, but it wasn’t like my parents’ house was all that big.

Sashi rolled her eyes, “I say we’re Team Drien.  After all, they have an Armstrong, too.”

“Let’s see what they have to say, huh?” I asked cheerfully.  I couldn’t help the urge to gloat a bit.  It wasn’t a particularly nice thing to do, but that maneuver had been hard to pull off… using a single squadron of fighters to herd the enemy battleship into position for the ambush.  Of the various warp ship engagements, Battleship Over Terrapin was one of the hardest scenarios to pull off a defender win.

I toggled over our chat to our opponents.  “Hey guys, good game,” I said genially.

“Good game for you, maybe,” Ashiri Takenata growled.  My best friend sounded particularly surly.

“Well played,” Alexander Karmazin said, far more neutrally.

“That was tricky, Jiden,” my little brother sighed.  Will was just in the next room, unlike the other two.  They’d agreed to take him on their team, though, even though he wasn’t a cadet.

We’d played the scenario three on three, which was the recommended match-up.  The attackers in the scenario had a battleship and two destroyers in escort.  The defenders had some unarmed sensor platforms and three squadrons of warp fighters.

“Well, we’d been practicing some of the battle plan back here,” I admitted.  “Sashi thought up the piece with the decoy attack from my squadron there at the end.”

“Using the observation platforms as bait for the destroyers was pretty clever, too,” Alexander admitted.  “You took Will and I out early on.”

“Thanks,” I smiled.  Normally the platforms were there to balance the attacker’s advantages in sensors and maneuverability.  Smart attackers made a point of taking them out early on… and I’d decided to set up an ambush with my fighter squadrons on the most likely approach to the main sensor array.

“It wasn’t fair,” Ashiri protested.

“What?” I asked in surprise.

“You three have been playing together solidly for the past week and a half.  Alex and I aren’t even in the same hemisphere, right now, and we got stuck with your little brother,” Ashiri growled.  “Throw in the communications delay, and you three had a clear advantage.”

I didn’t know what to say to that.  I wished we were on a video call so I could see my friend’s face.  She actually sounded angry, over what seemed like a silly thing.  Yeah, those had been some slight advantages, but it wasn’t like the scenario favored us at all.  We’d been facing a battleship with three squadrons of fighters.  Normally Battleship Over Terrapin turned into a bloodbath where the defending fighters died to the last, leaving the attacking team victorious.

“Uh,” I said after a long moment, “I guess we could shuffle up the teams next time?”

“Right… sure, it was hard enough to get this game in, I’ve still got tons of homework to cover, oh, and this certifies you three for our warp fighter simulation project, but because we lost, Alex and I have to get another certified game in, sometime in the next three days,” Ashiri’s bitterness felt like a bowl of cold jello to the face.  It completely blind-sided me and I had no idea where it came from.

“I’m sorry,” I started to say, but then my tablet blinked to show that Ashiri had disconnected.

“What was that about?” Kyle asked.  His freckled face was puzzled.

“Sorry about that, guys,” Alexander Karmazin spoke up.  “She and I were talking before the game started, I guess she’s had a lot of pressure at home and I think she’s just stressed out a bit, you know?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said.  Yet I couldn’t help a guilty feeling as I glanced at Kyle and Sashi Drien.  I’d invited both of them to visit my parent’s house at Black Mesa Outpost over our Christmas break.  Well, in reality I’d invited Kyle because I wanted to introduce my new boyfriend to my family.  Sashi had tagged along because she had nowhere else to go, she’d been all-but-disowned by her family after she’d refused to resign from the Academy.  We’d been roommates, once, at the Century Military Academy.  Then we’d been rivals.  Only a few days before the end of last term, we’d both nearly been killed by a psychotic teacher.  That had made us both reevaluate our priorities and while I didn’t really consider her a friend, I didn’t want to see her have to give up her dreams, especially not when her family treated her so poorly.

I hadn’t really thought about the advantage that brought the three of us.  Most of our assignments over break were ones where we were allowed to collaborate with classmates, so long as we documented our participation and we did it actively, that was, we could discuss the work while we did it, but we weren’t allowed to talk about past assignments, so it benefited those who were present so we could work together.

All three of us were in many of the same classes.  Ashiri and Alexander had the same advantage… except Karmazin lived in the Enclave and Ashiri lived in New Albion.  They were both in the northern hemisphere, but they were a couple thousand kilometers apart.  Plus they’d been involved in a relationship that had sort of fallen apart last summer.  They were still friends, but I’d be willing to bet that spending lots of time together might feel awkward.

“Sorry if I messed you guys up,” Will spoke up.  My little brother sounded worried.

“Don’t worry about it,” Karmazin snorted.  “You did great, way better than your sister did after only a few games.”

“Thanks,” I drawled.  Yet I couldn’t help but agree.  I had come to this whole military thing in a round-about fashion, it had never been my plan.  I’d been dreadfully ignorant about it all, and I’d spent a lot of time catching up.  Will had taken to to some of the scenarios I’d loaned him like a sand-lizard to the dunes.  It had freaked me out a bit when I’d come home on Christmas break and he’d asked me for more advanced scenarios.

“Anyway, Ashiri was right about one thing, we both still have a lot of homework to do.  And I have to set up a certified game with someone else, now, since our team didn’t win that one.  Goodnight guys.”  Karmazin sounded a bit resigned at that.

“Goodnight,” We chorused and he disconnected.

My feeling of victory had been short-lived.  I hadn’t really thought about the pressures some of my other friends were under.  For that matter, while this had completed our certified battle scenario, I still had three more projects to complete, including a much-dreaded Military History paper for Commander Bonnadonna.

“Jiden, are you and your friends done playing games?” Mom called in from the next room.  Since Will was probably sitting on the couch only a meter or so away, I knew she knew the answer.  Yet that was her “polite” way of saying she’d had enough of us all holed up in simulations.

“Yeah, mom,” I called back.  I turned off my datapad and stretched.  “I guess we need to go be sociable or something.” I couldn’t help but give Kyle a hopeful smile.

He matched it and reached out to give my hand a squeeze.  My heart did a little hop in my chest and I felt like parts of me melted at the same time.  I really, really liked Kyle.  He was supportive, he was smart, and he was just nice.  He reminded me a lot of my dad, only not nearly so nerdy.

I headed that thought off and stepped out of my room.

Will had just finished packing up his datapad.  He didn’t have one of the newer model academy-issued ones, after all, his application hadn’t even been officially accepted yet.  He had one of dad’s older model datapads, so he’d had to use a VR headset to play the game.  My mom stood with her arms crossed, a polite but probably fake smile on her face.  She hated having guests, I knew.  She  frequently complained about new scientists and interns showing up here at Black Mesa Outpost, “joggling her elbow” as she put it, and even when Dad’s mom, Granny Effy, visited, she got uncomfortable sharing the house.  I hadn’t really thought of that when I invited Kyle and Sashi Drien.

Add in that Kyle Regan was my boyfriend and neither my mom or my dad really knew how to handle that.  It helped that Kyle was respectful and polite, but there was still a lot of awkwardness about the situation.

Then there was the fact that the Armstrongs and the Driens were longstanding rivals in the Planetary Militia added to the overall discomfort with Sashi’s presence.  Plus there was something about a Drien being behind an attempt on my mom’s life when she’d been a Cadet at the Academy… so yeah, to say my mom was uncomfortable with the guests would be an understatement.

“I thought we might eat something special for dinner, your father and I just got approval on our next research grant,” Mom said.

“That’s great!” I smiled.  While I didn’t really want to go into archeology like my parents, that didn’t mean I didn’t find it interesting… or that I didn’t realize the importance of their work.  The ruins under Black Rock Mesa were alien, and over a million years old by best estimate.  My parents sort of ran the operation here, in as much as anyone “ran” the gaggle of scientists and archeologists here at the Outpost.

“Yeah, your father just signed the paperwork a few hours ago at Duncan City, he picked up some food there before he left, he should be arriving soon,” Mom’s voice took on a tone of relief, like she’d half-expected me to say something snarky.  Maybe a couple of years ago, I might have, just out of irritation and maybe even a little insecurity, I could admit to myself.  But now, I really appreciated that my mom was trying to be as friendly and gracious a host as she really knew how.  After all, it wasn’t like we got many guests out here and Mom… well, I guess she’d never really been much of a people person.

“If you could help me set the table, Jiden,” Mom said, “Will and, um, Kyle, we have some spare folding chairs out in the storage shed…”

“Sure thing,” Kyle smiled.  He nodded at Will and they stepped outside.

My mom trailed off and stared at Sashi Drien.  “Um…”

“Sashi, want to help me with the cups?” I asked.

“Sure thing,” she replied.

We set up the table quickly.  It wasn’t like it was a big table.  I hadn’t really seen it through outsider’s eyes, yet the house seemed so… well, small.  The cups and plates weren’t anything special, just generic ceramics made from fused silicates, processed out of the Outpost’s fabricator.  The silverware was just simple steel, unadorned.  The table was just a modular metal table.  Metal and silicates were cheap on Century.  My sandy, dry homeworld had plenty of both.  Wood and plastics were expensive.  The planet didn’t have any real forests to speak of and hydrocarbons weren’t particularly plentiful.  Most of both had to be imported from other worlds or manufactured from raw materials.

My parent’s house was built of local stone, with thick, heavy blocks to provide insulation, the black basalt cut out of the plateau’s stone by laser drills and held in place by their own weight.  It had a metal roof with a double layer of insulation to keep the heat out of the living areas while using that heat to warm water for bathing.  There were six rooms to the entire house, my parent’s bedroom, mine, my brother’s, which Sashi got to use during her stay, the living room, the dining room/kitchen shared space, and the one small bathroom.  Here at the outpost, we had a water ration of three liters for bathing.  We had to use a water recycler on that, since even the deepest wells hadn’t found any ground water, not this close to the equator.

Even so, my parent’s home was the second largest house here at the outpost.  The largest one had belonged to Champion Enterprises.  Tony Champion’s family had lived there when they’d visited the Outpost for almost a year.  Now, if I remembered right, it housed a group of engineers who provided technical assistance to my parents.

There were twenty-nine full-time residents at Black Mesa Outpost, including two Enforcers who’d been tasked here relatively recently.  It was the furthest south outpost in the northern hemisphere of Century. I’d grown up here, and especially in the last few years before I’d first left, I’d been sick of the place.  It had seemed confining and restrictive and just so… boring.

Now it just seemed small and sort of homey.  But it was like an old shirt, familiar and nice, but not something that I really fit in, not anymore.

The Academy was my life now, and while part of me dreaded the hard work to come, the rest of me was eager for the challenge.

***

“We made great progress, the past few months,” Dad was in full form, gesturing grandly as he ate.  Normally that wasn’t an issue with just Mom, Will, and I around the small table.  With two more, it meant I had to dodge a fork-full of mashed potatoes as it lanced at my left eye.

“Nelson’s fronted the money as soon as they saw our initial data,” Dad went on.  “I mean, a lot of this is going to be revolutionary.  Some of the first finds were great, advances in metalurgy and composites, but some of this tech we’re getting online…”

“Wait,” Kyle interrupted, “online?  I thought this was an archeology site, you know, like pottery shards and that sort of thing.”

My parents looked at him and started laughing.  I couldn’t help but join in, especially at the the thought of my mother picking up alien pottery shards.  Kyle just looked confused and I decided that I’d probably better explain a bit.  “So, as far as my parents can tell, Century’s ancient aliens weren’t native to the planet.  They settled at a few locations, mostly near the poles where it’s, well, a lot nicer.”

“Yeah, there’s some ruins near my parent’s house,” Kyle nodded, “but there’s not much there, just tumbled stones and the Wall.”

“Right, the Wall,” my dad nodded.  “That’s the big clue that they were technologically advanced.”  The Wall was a massive, gutted construct, over a thousand feet high, which surrounded the main sets of alien ruins.  “Our first colonists, well they weren’t too focused on preserving things and the ruins provided some useful building materials.  Plus there was sort of an initial artifact rush with some of the Second Wave, and well…” he shrugged, “anything that might have survived a million years of exposure was pretty much destroyed, or else sold to private collectors off-world.”

“Except for pottery shards and that sort of thing,” my mom nodded.  “There’s a few finds, most of it already extensively cataloged, but you have to go into the deep desert here in the south to find any of the ruins that weren’t thoroughly picked over.”

“So, you guys found something special?” My boyfriend looked puzzled.

“We think that Black Mesa was a research site or maybe even a military outpost,” My dad said.  “The main site is deeply buried, almost a kilometer below the mesa.  Most of the upper levels were filled with junk and sand, it took us years to work our way deeper.

“We reached the central zone about five years ago,” my mom said.  “Since then, we’ve found dozens of artifacts in excellent shape.  The cool dry air down there has preserved things in remarkable fashion.  Other sites on Century, there are clear signs that these aliens, they packed everything in an orderly fashion and left, they didn’t leave much behind.

“Here, though,” my dad smiled, “here it looks like the equipment was either too difficult to recover or they just didn’t have time.  We think they purposely collapsed part of the main access tunnel and dumped sand down there to prevent access.  But after we got past that…”

“Dozens of finds.  Much of it preserved almost perfectly,” Mom nodded.  “Stuff that’s fifty, maybe a hundred years ahead of us, maybe more.  That’s why we got the grant, the research we’re doing is going to give Century a huge leg up over the next few decades as we figure out all kinds of things about these aliens and their technology.”

“Doesn’t that violate the Alien Act, though?” Kyle asked nervously.

He had reason to sound nervous.  The UN Star Guard enforced the Alien Act of 483 GD.  One might say, they did so in a draconian fashion.  Any contact with aliens, beyond shooting them on sight, brought with it a host of penalties, up to and including death.  The causes for that were topics of our military history classes, and the violence of the Erandi and the constant warfare with the Culmor were among the central reasons.

“No,” Dad snorted.  “It’s not like we’re talking with these aliens, their civilization visited Century over a million years ago.  They predate even the rise of the Erandi Empire, as best as we can estimate.  They’re long gone.  What we’re doing is no different from salvage efforts to recover Culmor or Erandi ships or equipment after a battle… only we’re learning a great deal in the process.”

My mom nodded quickly, though I noticed her dart a glance at Sashi.  I wonder what that’s about.

“We’ve thoroughly vetted this through Nelson University’s law section, and believe it or not, it’s gone all the way to Century’s Central Courts for review, just to be certain.  We’re well within what’s allowed by the Guard Charter… even if we aren’t technically under the Charter.”  My mom adopted a tone of bitterness at that last part, and I couldn’t blame her.  The more I learned about the Guard and how they enforced the UN Star Guard Charter, the more bitter I felt about how we got all of the restrictions and none of the benefits out here on the Periphery.  Century wasn’t just a barren, dusty world, it was a distant and lonely one.  We were on one of the outermost flanks of colonized space, way out past the official borders of Guard Space, in what most people referred to as the Periphery.

“Oh, okay,” Kyle said.  “So, not pottery shards, actual technology and devices.  What kind of stuff, then?”  I couldn’t help but lean forward.  My parent’s hadn’t told me much about what they’d been doing, specifically, only that things had been “very promising.”

“Well…” Dad said with a glance at my mother.  “Some of it is… well, not really classified, so much as confidential.  Regardless of the purpose of this facility, there are some definite military applications to some of our discoveries.”

I felt a chill at his words and I couldn’t help but think about Tony Champion’s interest in my parent’s work… and how he and his father Issac had been selling weapons technology to smugglers and pirates.  And Scarpitti tried to kill me, because she was worried I’d recognize a map of my parent’s dig site…

Surely, though, the presence of the Enforcers out here and the fact that the entire smuggling ring had been rolled up would keep my parent’s safe… right?

“None of it is secret,” Mom rolled her eyes.  “Yes, there’s some definite military applications, but there’s also generic engineering and scientific applications.  Even medical applications.  In fact, a major part of what we’ve been involved with is a smart-material that may one day be useful for medical implants.  This stuff is tough enough that has survived a million years with minimal decay, while at the same time still retaining it’s reconfigurable properties…” Mom trailed off.  “Well, anyway, that’s just the leading edge of the sandstorm.  Some of the machinery on the lower levels is massive, orders of magnitude beyond anything we’ve found up until now.  Some of it is clearly power production.  This might have been a main power hub for their presence on this planet…”

Mom had clearly warmed up to the subject and as she began to go into detail, I just sat back and let the words roll over me.  For a moment, I felt like I was a kid again, listening to her and Dad talk about all the little details, the puzzle pieces of the past that they tried to put together.  Some part of me understood their fascination.  Yet, at the same time, it was the future, not the past that called to me.  I didn’t want to piece together long-dead civilizations and ancient technology, I wanted to be building a future for my world.

Well… now I wanted to be building and protecting that future.  I’d seen that not everyone was as willing to get along as one could hope.  There were people out there who would use violence to get what they wanted… and I’d learned the hard way that I could use violence of my own to stop them.

My feelings of home and family felt distant.  For a moment, my mind went to a dark closet where the smugglers had locked me, to the place where they’d nearly killed me… until I killed them.

And again, I thought of Commander Scarpitti, who had nearly killed me, all because she thought I was a threat.  I’d killed her, instead, in a combination of planning and sheer luck.

Both times I’d barely survived.  I just hoped that next time I faced a situation like that, I’d be better prepared.

“Jiden, you okay?” Will asked from next to me.  My little brother looked a little worried.

“Yeah,” I said, forcing myself to smile.  My dad was gesturing with his mashed-potatoes-laden fork again, while talking about how they’d excavated the initial dig.  He had clearly warmed up to his captive audience, and I could tell from how Kyle’s and Sashi’s eyes had glazed over, that he’d lost them both.  This was why I’d chosen to join the Militia, defending my family, protecting them from the people who would do them harm.  It was something I was good at… winning when my life was on the line.

I felt the knot in my stomach unclench and my smile became more genuine.  All of my uncertainties melted away and I went back to enjoying the moment.  Tomorrow there would be plenty of time to worry about the future, tonight I could enjoy the fruit of my victories.

***

Valor’s Calling Now Available!

Valor’s Calling is now available from Amazon!

http://amzn.to/2fuCp8I

 

The past calls you back.

Jiden made the decision to join the Century Military Academy after her attempt at a normal school ended in disaster.  She’s embraced this new chapter in her life and she’s ready to do her best.

Jiden’s best may not be good enough.  Her relationships with her friends have changed since she’s been away, her classes are harder than she expected, and things aren’t quite what they seem.  Jiden made enemies when she chose to return to the Academy, and those enemies will settle for nothing less than her death.

Jiden must fight with everything she has, not just to succeed, but to stay alive.  Jiden will prove that she isn’t afraid of the challenge, because the military life isn’t just a simple decision, the military is her calling.

Valor’s Calling Snippet Three

Here’s the third and final snippet for Valor’s Calling.  You can find the first two here and here.  Valor’s Child is available today from Amazon!

The Enclave was weird. As we drove through it, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The buildings were all squat and low to the ground, vehicle garages were all underground. It wasn’t a big city, or at least it didn’t seem to be.

That was, right up until Karmazin drove down into what looked like an oversized garage… and the road kept going. I craned my head around in surprise as I saw that the road descended into the ground, winding deeper and deeper.

Karmazin gave his smirk, “My people come from Dalite Three, what we call Acrotan, where the cities are all underground. The planet’s environment isn’t as friendly as here.”

I shot him a disbelieving look. Century was a dry, dusty world. We didn’t get anything near a winter and it only ever rained near the two polar seas. I hadn’t ever heard anyone call our world “friendly.” It’s a dry, barren dust-ball, and most of us think our ancestors were crazy for leaving behind the cool green hills of Earth…

“We’re used to living underground,” Karmazin went on. “Most of the Enclave is below ground. It’s easier to maintain temperatures and it provides better defenses that way, too.”

“Who are you defending against?” I asked.

“Anyone who might attack,” Karmazin hedged. It was a vague enough statement to make me feel uneasy. I’d heard that Enclave citizens were prohibited from service in the Century Planetary Militia by a recent Charter Council decree. Was that because they felt the Enclave was some kind of security risk? For that matter, if there is some kind of fight, which side would Karmazin pick?

I knew they were refugees, from the Three Day War with the Dalite Confederacy. I hadn’t expected them to have defenses or for their aerospace port to look so militarized.

Karmazin pulled into a side street and then into a vehicle garage. He climbed out, “I’ll help you out with your bags,” he offered, moving to open the cargo compartment.

“I’m good,” I said quickly. “I can’t stay long, this is just a quick visit on my way to the Admiral’s house.” The words came out before I could help them. I’d planned

He cocked his head at me, “You’re sure?” There was something in his voice, almost an edge of disappointment. I wasn’t going to think about that, though.

“Yeah,” I forced myself to smile. “I’ve got a lot of the pre-class assignments to knock out.” That wasn’t a lie. I still had several papers to write and three more books to read. I hadn’t even started the military ethics research paper itself yet, in part because I felt like it was sort of pointless.

I’d planned on working with Ashiri and Karmazin. I can do it on my own. The very thought of spending hours with them left me feeling sick. “There’s an evening flight I’ll need to catch, I just have a few hours.”

I had seen there was an evening flight. I had no idea if they had any seats left, but I was going to the aerospace terminal regardless. I’d spend the night there if necessary.

“Well,” Karmazin said, “I’ll give you the quick tour, then.” He gave me a solemn nod, almost as if I’d hurt his feelings. Well, he probably should have thought of that before he started dating my best friend.

I banished the thought before I could go on. I wasn’t going to resent my friends. This wasn’t their fault. I was the one who’d changed her mind. I was the one who had been wrong and I couldn’t expect things to be the way I’d secretly dreamed they’d be.

“This way,” Ashiri said, leading the way. I followed them through the door.

Alexander Karmazin’s home was far more spartan than I’d expected. There was a small dining room, a smaller living room, both with a few simple prefabricated tables and chairs. There were a couple of decorative holoprojectors, which painted two of the walls with vistas of a rainy, lush planet.   I thought I recognized the pattern as one of the default settings, one that most people typically replaced with some kind of custom display.

A tall, dark-haired woman greeted us as we stepped inside. She have Ashiri and I both nods, “Ashiri, welcome back.” Her gray eyes locked on me. There was something watchful there, evaluative and somehow threatening, as if she didn’t know what to make of me. “You must be Jiden Armstrong. I’ve heard quite a bit from Alexander about you.” She had the same olive skin, the same quiet watchfulness as Alexander, I saw.

“Jiden,” Alexander Karmazin said, “this is my mother, Diane Karmazin.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am,” I said.

“Yes,” Alexander’s mother said. I wasn’t sure if that was agreement with what I’d said or simply an acknowledgment. “Alexander tells me that you’ll be staying for a few days?” Her voice almost sounded resigned.

“I’m afraid not,” I replied. “I’d meant to clarify, I only had time to swing through and say hello, I’m quite a bit behind on my studies.”

“That’s too bad,” Alexander’s mother replied. She somehow managed to make that sound both sincere and insincere at the same time. I didn’t know if that was because she really didn’t want me here or if she somehow realized why I didn’t want to stay. Either way, I was eager enough to take that as a way to make my exit.

“Well,” I said, studiously glancing at my datapad, “I probably should get back to the terminal if I’m going to catch my flight.” I looked up, “Thank you for inviting me to your home.”

“Of course,” Alexander said. He was looking at his mother though, almost as if he sensed something was wrong. I had no idea what was going on, but I felt like leaving was going to be the best thing I could do.

All I wanted to do was get out of there and I think Alexander was really regretting the invitation to visit. I felt like an idiot, but I managed to say polite things as I backed out and Alexander gave me a ride back to the terminal. I passed the trip in silence. Thankfully, he didn’t seem very talkative, either.

***

 

A few hours later I’d boarded a commercial skimmer and had my datapad out while I worked on some of my projects. I’d been lucky to get a ticket on the flight, the only one leaving the Enclave that day… but I’d scrapped my plans of staying with Karmazin and his family. Not with his relationship with Ashiri.

I’d managed to message the Admiral to let her know I was coming a few days early, just before I boarded. Now I was buried in work. Some people hated to work on a flight, but I welcomed the chance to tune everything out, to not think about how my expectations had been completely overturned.

The skimmer was surprisingly empty for a holiday season flight. It made me wonder if Karmazin’s people celebrated Christmas… or for that matter, if they celebrated off-season from everyone else. After all they were from another world. I knew there were some Christian and Jewish sects that followed the standard Earth twelve month calendar, in spite of the fact that it didn’t remotely match up to Century’s fifteen month years and three seasons.

My mind went off on a bit of a tangent, sort of wandering as I stared out the window. I watched the hydrogen-powered gas turbine, just sort of staring at the heat distortion from the jet wash. It was mesmerizing and I just sort of watched as the superheated gasses blurred the setting sun and desert.

I had a perfect view of the missile that came streaking in at us.

My eyes went wide as I realized what I was seeing. But by the time I could open my mouth to shout a warning, there was a flash of light and the entire skimmer shuddered. The detonation was muted, but the skimmer went into a spin. I heard shouts and screams from the other passengers and the whine of the turbines altered pitch. The smooth flight became a rough spin and I was smashed against the side window. Staring out, I had a great view of the burning engine as the skimmer cork-screwed towards the ground.

I’m going to die. The thought wasn’t as jarring as it should have been. I’d nearly died several times. It just seemed unfair that I’d survived being shot down and attacked by criminals, only to be shot down in a commercial aircraft.

There wasn’t time to panic. There wasn’t time to do much of anything. I found my hands going to my seat restraints, tightening them, even as I heard the skimmer pilot come on over the intercom, “Brace for landing, brace for landing,” his voice sounded abnormally calm and some absent part of my brain wondered if he was a graduate of the Century Military Academy.

The remaining engine roared as the pilot fed it power. The skimmer stabilized and the nose swung up. I watched the spinning sky and sand transition to mostly sand and some sky. This side of the aircraft was lower, the damaged engine providing little or no lift. The sandy, rocky ground whipped past, far too fast for me to pick out details and far too close for me to focus on it.

We hit, a bone-jarring, grating, sliding, and world-ending chaos. Passengers and their possessions flew through the compartment. Something heavy struck me a glancing blow to the head and I saw stars. I saw the skimmer engine ripped away and then a moment later we smashed, hard, into something and the entire craft jerked to a halt.

I unbuckled my restraints and stood. Passengers looked around dazedly. An attendant fumbled with one of the doors up front, but I didn’t see the attendant here near the rear. I pushed past my seat-mate and moved to the door, moving on impulse. The skimmer was damaged, the hydrogen tanks were probably leaking. We had to get off the craft before the hydrogen caught fire or exploded.

I wrenched the door open and the smart-plastic ramp extended. I started to jump down it, but then I saw that no one was following me. I stared at the passengers, most of whom were either in shock or possibly denial. “Move it!” I shouted, “Get out of here!”

I reached over, popped the restraints off a nearby woman and jerked her to her feet. Without thinking I pushed her down the ramp, then grabbed the man next to her. “Go!”

Passengers started to move. Some fumbled with their restraints and I hurried to help them, pushing them towards the door. I didn’t want to think about how little time we had. Hydrogen gas would be spreading through the aircraft. All it would take would be a spark and the entire skimmer would go up like a bomb.

“Go!” I shouted, shoving a business-man ahead of me. I looked around, not seeing anyone else near the rear of the aircraft. I started towards the door when I heard a whimper of pain. I looked over and saw movement under a pile of bags. I reached down, throwing stuff out of the way and found an arm. I pulled, dragging the attendant out from under the pile. She was battered and bloodied, her eyes unfocused. “Let’s go!” I shouted, pushing her towards the door. We ran out, sliding down the ramp and then plowing into a group of passengers milling around the bottom of the ramp. “Get clear!” I shouted at them. “It’s going to catch fire!”

I pushed and shoved at people, even as I heard a whoosh. The sound turned into a roar and I felt a wash of heat, even as I stumbled away. The dusk turned bright as daylight and I looked back to see the entire aircraft engulfed in flames. “Go!” I shouted angrily at people as they stopped to gawk.

We weren’t anywhere near a safe distance away. I helped an attendant to herd people away from the crash site and the roaring flames. We’d managed to get two hundred meters away when the hydrogen tank exploded like a bomb. As the blast knocked me to the ground, I finally gave up and just stayed down. A moment later another hydrogen tank detonated, then the third.

I lay on the ground, listening to the roaring flames and the panicked shouts of the people around me. Someone shot at me… again. There was no reason that I thought of myself as the target, but somehow I knew that I must be. Someone had fired a missile at me. They’d nearly killed dozens of people… trying to kill me.

As I lay on the hard, hot ground, I had a dread certainty that they wouldn’t stop until they succeeded.

***

Valor’s Calling Snippet Two

Here’s the second snippet for Valor’s Calling.  You can find the first snippet here.

Valor’s Calling will be available on September 29th, 2017.

Dad was the one who flew me back to civilization. He’d raised an eyebrow when I’d asked him to drop me at the Enclave, but he hadn’t questioned it. He talked as he flew. Dad wasn’t as good a pilot as mom, so the skimmer bobbed a lot, but Dad’s stories were interesting enough to keep me distracted. It sounded like they’d found a lot of interesting stuff in this next level down of the old alien ruins under Black Mesa.

I was glad for the distraction, because I’d started to feel nervous. I’d messaged Alexander Karmazin to let him know I’d be coming by on my way to the Admiral’s house. He hadn’t responded other than to say he’d meet me at the Enclave’s landing terminal. Most towns on Century just had landing pads in residential areas. With almost all of Century’s surface being land mass, it wasn’t like we didn’t have enough room to spread things out a bit.

The Enclave, though, was supposed to be different. Karmazin had told me that they were refugees of some type, military refugees if you could believe that. His grandfather was the Enclave’s leader, his mom was some kind of important official there too, so Alexander should know.

The terminal we set down in looked like a military base. Most of it was underground, with a few buildings with sensor masts and what looked like weapon emplacements above-ground. Off to the side, past a few big cargo and personnel transports, I actually saw a row of military skimmers and beyond them I saw the big, sleek forms of Mark V Firebolt warp-drive fighters.

Okay, I thought, maybe there’s a reserve unit doing drill here or something.

Dad talked with traffic control and then settled us down near one of the personnel transports. As he dropped the ramp, I looked over to see Alexander Karmazin and Ashiri Takenata come out of the nearby terminal building.

I unstrapped quickly and hurried to the ramp. I felt a smile growing on my face, it felt good to see them in person. Alexander Karmazin stood tall, almost two meters, with dark brown hair and olive skin. Ashiri stood next to him, her short black hair tossed in the hot dry wind.   I opened my mouth to shout a welcome… and then I saw them standing close to each other, holding hands.

Oh.

I forced myself to smile, “Hey, guys, good to see you.” My voice sounded robotic and I felt like an idiot.

“Yeah,” Ashiri smiled back, her expression was wooden, “good to see you too.” She sounded nervous.

“So, these are your friends?” Dad asked from behind me.

All I wanted to do was turn around and run back up the ramp. I felt so embarrassed. Of course they were together. It wasn’t like Alexander Karmazin had showed any real interest in me. We’d been friends… and the one time he’d even hinted at wanting to be anything more, I’d thrown it back in his face by telling him I was leaving the Academy.

Instead I forced my face into something between a smile and a grimace and turned to my dad, “Yeah, these are my friends, Karmazin and Takenata.” I deliberately used their last names. It let me distance myself from it. If I thought about them as classmates, it didn’t feel like a betrayal.

“Great, well, I commed the Admiral, she’s covered your ticket from here back to Duncan City, so I guess I should get back home,” my dad said cheerfully. On impulse, I stepped forward and gave him a hug, burying my face in his shoulder. I wanted to cry, but I told myself that was silly.

He patted me on the back and gave me a last squeeze, then turned away and walked up the ramp.

I turned back to face my friends, they still held hands. It hurt, like my whole chest constricted around my heart… but at this point, I should be used to pain. “Let’s get out of his way, right?” I said as casually as I could manage. I shouldered my duffel bags and moved out of the way of the skimmer.

I was thankful for the sound of the turbines. It meant I had some time where I didn’t have to talk. Carrying the weight of my bags meant I had an excuse not to look at my friends. As the hot air blasted over us, I could pretend that the tears in my eyes were from the turbine wash.

***

 

“So…” Ashiri said a few minutes later as she and I stood by the curb, waiting while Alexander Karmazin brought up a ground vehicle. “We didn’t know you were going to be coming back. Alex and I started spending a lot of time together and…”

I realized with horror that she was going to explain how she and Karmazin had hooked up. The last thing I wanted was to hear any details. “Ashiri, it’s fine. Really, you don’t need to explain.” I swallowed, “It wasn’t like Karmazin or I were dating. We’re just friends, like you and me.” I said the words with as much sincerity as I could manage.

Ashiri shot me a look. I forced myself to meet her brown eyes. “You mean that… I mean, I thought you two…”

“There was nothing between us,” I interrupted before she could finish. “And clearly, you two are together. It’s fine. I’m happy for you both.”

“You’re okay, then?” Ashiri asked, her voice intent.

“Yeah,” I replied. “I’m okay.” It wasn’t like I had some sort of claim to Karmazin. Besides, I liked Ashiri, she was my friend. I couldn’t be angry with her. We’d been through too much together.

I’d be okay. Everything would work out.

If I just kept telling myself that, maybe I’d even believe it.

***