FB, Promo, and the Etiquette Dance

This blog was inspired by a recent column on FB and author posts. I’ll be honest–I thought the author was a little too self-reverential at times, but the basic underpinnings were sound. In this blog post I’ll amplify some of his points:

Word count and editing:

I don’t think this is a hard full stop on either. I think the problem most folks have is that they do it all…the…time. To me, I liken it to telling your friends you’re on a trip. Telling someone every mile marker you pass between Los Angeles and Cleveland? Almost guaranteed to have someone arranging for the Hell’s Angels to meet you just north of Vegas. (“Just the phone and his fingers.” “Got it, got it. You just make sure that PayPal clears before then or we’ll be discussing a ransom payment.”)

On the other hand: “Hey, I just passed (beautiful landmark). Here’s why it was awesome…”? Much better, and it helps to build excitement about the trip.

Similarly, the blog author is right about some things are just baked into the writing cake. If you’re writing a book, guess what? You’re going to have to edit the damn thing. Not saying you can’t be pissed about it, but that’s what your _friend_ are for. Your fans? Well they’re probably wondering what’s taking you so damn long. By and large, I’d only mention editing to give a shout out to your editors (like the always helpful Mallie Rust for me) or relate a funny anecdote about a gaff you made. Like, you know, raising a minor character back from the dead after tragically electrocuting her previously.

*pause* Why would you think I was speaking from experience? I am nothing but peace and light to my characters. Now let’s move along before I catch fire.

Vaguebooking

You know how vaguebooking is annoying when your first cousin does it while talking about your favorite aunt/uncle’s health? Yeaaaahhh, unlike crazy Cousin Esther who you know is a drama queen, your readers come to expect you to clearly communicate information. In general, one should write their posts in a manner that someone who has never met you can understand 80% of what you’re talking about. (I would type 90%, but I have visions of at least two of my friends having a “orcas in the seal breeding grounds” field day with that.)

–Hating on other authors / genres

This pretty much falls under my “don’t be a jerk on the internet”-rule. You should not want to be a jerk just because that’s bad form. But, even if innate humanity doesn’t motivate you, reptilian survival sense should at least make you rethink a post that proceeds to rip on a fellow author or their work. No matter how successful you are today, that doesn’t guarantee success tomorrow. When you’re down and out, why let your spite cut you off from a potential avenue that may be the difference between paying your bills another month or not?  To having that person who could, with a mere whisper of your name, improve your sales 300% remember you went ad hominem extremo in a FB group?  You think authors who may have ridiculed J.K. Rowling once or twice are now silently wishing they were still on her good side?  Best way to avoid that sinking feeling?  Don’t go there in the first place.

Also a little survival tip you’ll hear me repeat over and over again: Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate. Given how internet flame wars spiral out of control, it’s not too hard to get to the point people remember your name for all the wrong reasons.  Don’t pick fights nor let your friends pick them for you.  You know who gets to pick fights with other authors without worry?  Authors at the point where people will pay $50 for their grocery list because A. it would still be an excellent short story and / or B. you can probably summon something from an alternate dimension with it.  Not that I’m thinking about anyone in particular…

Plugs

I’ll put this bluntly: Unless it is a site that explicitly encourages self-promotion, don’t do it. Don’t obliquely do it either. Indeed, even when you are encouraged to promote, the phrase “too much of a good thing” definitely applies to doing so.  Everyone remembers “that guy / gal” who the only time you saw them in a group was when they were plugging their book.  Do you think anyone in the FB group bought their book?  Probably not.  Is it maybe more likely everyone in the group noted their name as “Person who is about to live the lyrics from Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” concerning drowning…and not from the protagonist’s viewpoint.”?

Also–if you’ve been fortunate to be befriended by a more experienced mentor, do not tag them while trying to plug your book. This is annoying in the extreme, and it also blows up their notifications. Best selling authors know how to help you. If they’re not doing so, it could be everything from they’re restricted by their press to simply being too beaten down with actually, you know, trying to write their universes. Respect their time even more so than your own.

That’s about it from my end. I’ll try to put more up about promotion later.

 

Warship Wednesday–Damage Control

*cough cough*  Man, it’s kind of dusty in here.  You’d almost think someone hasn’t been in this place for like weeks.  Oh, wait…

Welcome to another edition of Warship Wednesday.  Today, rather than talking about a particular class of vessel, we’re going to talk about something near and dear to ship to ship fights: damage control.

According to Luttwak and Koehl’s The Dictionary of Modern War, damage control is “[m]easures meant to limit or counteract the effects of battle damage.  Naval damage control measures include firefighting, counterflooding to reduce listing, the shoring up of damaged bulkheads or hull frames, and ad hoc repairs.  The effectiveness of such measures depends on crew training, as well as on design features, such as compartmentalization, duplication of key facilities, the number and location of fire mains, emergency electrical generators, and pumps; such provisions account for a significant portion of warship costs.”

Sounds like some complicated stuff, right? Well, that’s because it is and it isn’t depending on what era you want to talk about.  Age of galleys?  Damage control was basically, “Oh f*ck, we just got rammed and…dammit, dammit, that’s it, the rowing slaves are screaming, the ship is sinking, and I’m sitting here in a suit of full metal armor getting pointed and laughed at by the asshats who put a hole in the ship.”  I mean, this is simplifying it somewhat, but both because the source material is kind of thin on the ground and the art of shipbuilding wasn’t all that and a bag of chips, if someone let Mr. Sea in, Mr. Fish and Mr. Crab were getting fed.

Oh and fire?  Yeah… about that.  Basically if you had the misfortune of fighting crazy bastards who were not only comfortable with having incendiaries on their vessels but lighting and launching from a pitching ship, you may have chosen enemies poorly.  Because if those lunatics hit you and got a good blaze going,  especially with something that adhered well to the hull?  Well, suddenly that guaranteed trip to to the bottom didn’t seem like such an inconvenience.  Something about “Drowning sure beats being the long pork at Mr. Arsonist’s Luau on the Sea…”

It was during the Age of Sail that things both got better and worse as far as damage control went.  On the plus side, sturdier ships and actual compartmentalization meant that there was a fighting chance to repair the vessel.  Cannons, relatively extended ranges, and improvements in the ability to maneuver (albeit depending on wind) also meant that there was increased time to effect damage control in many cases.  Best of all, damage control could “make the magic happen” with your basic carpentry kit and the supplies most sailing vessels kept on hand.  Mainsail get carried away because your opponent likes to aim high?  That’s cool, the repair process is the same as if you got Neptune’s pimp hand from a storm.  Since everyone knew Neptune was gonna want his money sooner or later, repairing  / removing masts or filling holes with patches were drills that the crew performed on a regular basis anyway.

On the flip side–gunpowder.  As in, things like this could happen:

orient-makes-a-memory

That’s the French vessel L’Orient going sky high at the Battle of the Nile because of a moderate fire that got out of control.  That’s right–you bring gunpowder to a gunfight, suddenly Mr. Fire becomes even more of a jerk about sinking your ship.  Given the rudimentary pumps of the day, a fire getting out of control wasn’t all that uncommon.  In many cases, the only thing that kept this from happening a lot more often was Mr. Sea won the “How Can We Make a Crew Homeless?”-contest by a few minutes.

Eventually the Age of Sail gave way to the Age of Iron.  That, in turn, became the Age of Steel.  Since I’m not Avalon Hill and trying to sell you wargames, I’m gonna lump the last two together.  (“Just how many ages are there?”  “Shhh, shhh…we’re not going to go to the Age of Missiles”)  Without getting into a treatise on weapons’ advancement during this time, suffice to say things kind of got to be the suck for damage control during this era.  Various nations perfected the means to reliably detonate explosives underwater.  At first, this was only possible via fixed means, i.e. what were initially torpedoes (yes, as in “Damn the torpedoes!”) but now are known as mines.  Then some genius (often attributed to one Mr. Whitehead, but there are others), figured out how to add propulsion–and thus the modern torpedo was born.

“But wait a second–I thought large warships had compartmentalization just to keep a single underwater hit from doing it in?”  Yeaaaaahhh, about that.  In theory, yes.  But funny thing about mines and torpedoes–they seldom seem to hit just one compartment.  For example, the British battleship H.M.S. Audacious, barely a year old and with the most advanced compartmentalization of the time, took a mine hit that opened up multiple compartments at once.  This, in turn, led to “progressive flooding,” which is basically water finding all those passageways that have to left open for a warship to be able to function even at General Quarters.  Even with good compartmentalization, a vessel that has three or four major spaces open to the sea will be swiftly in danger of capsizing.  Throw in the secondary effects of a torpedo hit (e.g., fires, power disruption, bulkhead distortion, etc.), and its easy to see where things get hairy.

Modern gunfire also posed a much larger problem as far as damage potential went.  Outside of the “Golden BB” of a shell going into the magazine (think L’Orient, but instantaneous), there was also the problem of shells passing through the ship’s armored belt or deck and hitting major systems.  What do I mean by major systems?  Oh, little things like flooding oil tanks, hitting the electrical generators, or sending the central communications box to Kingdom Come.  These were all things that could and did happen in the midst of chaotic naval fights, and it was often a life or death matter for the crew to do so.  After all, everyone likes a simple gunnery solution, and if the rudder wasn’t working that made things easy peasy for everyone shooting at one’s ship.  (The crew of the K.M.S. Bismarck are all nodding sadly at this.)

So how did crews save themselves and their ships?  Well, as in the Age of Sail, in both World War I and II most vessels had a kit put together with things like “collision mats,” dimensional lumber.  This was buttressed by improvised stopping materials like crew hammocks or mattresses shoved into a hole.  By the end of World War I, ship builders began to add things like multiple pumping stations to aid in getting water out of the vessel, followed by making some of these stations multi-functional in order to help get water into the vessel in order to fight fires.  Although the Battle of Jutland was the only major fleet engagement, there was more than enough data from that incident to provide ship builders with thoughts on what went well (“Jolly good, the magazine flooding worked well on Lion…”) versus what went poorly (“Bloody hell, we really need to figure out better flash doors…”).

At the beginning of World War II, ship design had made another evolutionary lurch forward based on the threat of modern aircraft and submarines.  Unfortunately, as became quickly apparent, damage control was still very hit or miss.  The British lost the carrier Ark Royal to a single submarine torpedo despite being fairly close to their base at Gibraltar, and had several other vessels succumb to levels of damage their sister ships would later survive.  The Italians, while not quite as incompetent as some sources like to portray them, seemed positively fatalistic when it came to what mitigating actions should be performed.  The Japanese Navy’s relative indifference to damage control (with a few exceptions–see IJNS Shokaku‘s longevity) meant that their fleet units were knocked out longer when hit or, in all too many cases, had major damage become mortal due to officer incompetence (see IJNS Taiho).  In short, damage control success / failure for most navies became as much a matter of how seriously the captain and executive officer took things prior to the hit as said strike’s location.

The massive exception to this was the United States Navy.  This is not to say that the USN was inherently better from start to finish.  Indeed, this was inherently not the case.  Given that the USN started the war after its major ally (the RN) had been taking knocks for over two years and sharing the information about said beatdowns, the Navy’s early war performance was shockingly abysmal.  Pearl Harbor (surprise attacks are always bad) and the Asiatic Fleet (overwhelming force) can be eliminated from the narrative.  However, from Coral Sea through the end of the Guadalcanal campaign, the Pacific Fleet lost at least four major combatants (Lexington, Yorktown, Astoria, and Northampton) due to damage control miscues when all four vessels could have been potentially saved.  Other vessels were saved more through good fortune than necessarily excellent damage control work.  In short, the IJN took the USN behind the School of Hard Knocks and proceeded to take their lunch money, their glasses, and their dignity.

The difference between the USN and most of its contemporaries is that the USN learned.  The Department of the Navy collated all of the loss and damage reports and proceeded to distribute them regularly to the fleet.  It forced officers and ratings to attend damage control schools and training until every member of the regular crew had at least been exposed to some degree of what to do when the ship got hit.  It leveraged the United States’ incredible industrial advantage to produce literally thousands of portable pumps, breathing apparatus, hoses, and fire fighting equipment to issue to its ships.  Finally, ship designs were changed while on the ways to improve fire main survivability, add sprinklers, and otherwise make it easier for a vessel to survive when hit by a torpedo or bomb.

Did it work?  Yes.  One need look no further than comparing the damage that put paid to the Yorktown at Midway versus the utter mauling suffered by the U.S.S. Franklin (newsreel footage here as well) and Bunker Hill.  To their horror, the Japanese found themselves facing the nautical equivalent of Jason Vorhees, as ships they were certain they’d sunk just kept coming back…and back…and back again.  Meanwhile, especially after the USN got its torpedoes to work, their vessels were getting sunk or knocked out of the war by one or two major hits due to their failure to propagate lessons.

So how does this all translate into writing?  The obvious is that if you’re writing historical fiction and placing your character aboard a vessel, do a quick Wiki sweep to see what happened.  If you’re doing alternate history, feel free to extrapolate actual ship damage in a notional battle that is analogous to what happened to a sister ship or similar size combatant in that navy.  For science fiction, read through some of the war reports and get a sense of how vessels die, then realize that vacuum and advanced systems add “special sauce” to what you can do to place your characters in peril.  Being an author means one gets to play a deity…and we all know deities aren’t always benevolent.

 

 

Contract Law (With Special Guest Amie Gibbons)

There are certain milestones with every blog.  First post.  100th post.  That post that summons a scribe demon from an alternate dimension and leads to a 30 minute write off where you save humanity at the cost of truly epic carpal tunnel.   Well, two out of three of those have happened on this site.  So, while I’m waiting on that portal to finish coalescing and conducting my wrist exercises, I’ll turn the wheels over for another major happening: first guest blogger.

Amie Gibbons and I actually knew of each other through mutual friends before we met in person at Libertycon last year.  “Though she be but little, she is fierce” seems to get tossed around a lot with my friends, but I think Amie’s kilowattage / kilogram ratio is as high as her IQ.  Without further ado, here is Part 2 of her discussion about author legal issues.  (Go here for Part 1: Copyright Basics over on Cedar Sanderson’s blog, Cedar Writes.)

[Update] Welcome Mad Genius Club Readers!  I have other posts on writing if you’re interested as well.  Feel free to poke around.


Contracts for the Writer (Amie Gibbons)
:

As always, this is not legal advice, merely generalities and opinions by a lawyer that loves the sound of her keys clacking on the keyboard. I am a lawyer, I am not your lawyer. If you want legal advice, go hire a lawyer.

In the last post, I wrote about the generalities of copyright law for writers. This one is what comes after that. What comes when you have the finished piece and you know your copyright rights, and you are selling them to a publisher and you’re looking at a contract.

Well, first up, most publishers have a form contract they expect you to sign and if you don’t want to, they’ll tell you it’s standard across the industry and you can take it or leave it. If you leave it, don’t worry, there are a hundred authors behind you who will have no problem with it.

That is one of the big things to look at in contract negotiations. Does one side have more bargaining power than the other? Usually the answer is yes. Unfortunately for writers who are set on going trad pub, the answer is extremely yes. The publisher has all the power because they don’t really need you. Unless you have already made it huge like that Fifty Shades woman and they want to get on board the train, you’re replaceable.

Does that mean you can’t try to negotiate? Of course not. Hire an IP lawyer who specializes in author contracts to look at the contract, to explain it to you if need be, and to go to the table to negotiate on your behalf.

First rule of negotiations, you never send the person with the power to say yes to the table.

Why? Because if you as the author are at the table, they can pressure you right there to agree to something. If your representative is there, there is nothing they can say to get the rep to say anything but, I’ll take it to my client, because the rep legally cannot say yes, no matter how good the deal sounds. Even if you tell them they can say yes if the deal has XYZ terms, they’ll still most likely say they’ll take it back to you because they know how to negotiate and that no legit deal requires you to say yes in the room.

Again, will this help if the publisher says this is the form contract that is standard across the industry so you will take it or leave it? Probably not. But you never know. There might be a few things that are just egregious to the author that publishers have in there because they know they can get away with it, but really don’t mind dropping if you ask.

But lawyers cost money.

Yes, yes we do, especially IP attorneys.

And isn’t that what my agent is for?

Yeah, that’s what I thought starting out. From what I’ve heard (and keep in mind, this is what we lawyers call hearsay) somewhere in the past twenty years, agents stopped working like Bebe on Frasier to get their client the absolute best deal in whatever underhanded, manipulative way possible and you love them for it because they’re on your side, and they started working as a gatekeeper for the publishing houses that the authors have to pay for.

Now, they do stuff after they get you the deal, so I’m not saying agents are useless. And I’m sure big name authors love their agents and the agents really earn their fifteen percent by organizing stuff for the author and shopping around stuff like film rights.

What I am saying is from what I’ve heard, they no longer work to get you the best deal in publishing houses. Their job is to shift through the thousands of manuscripts, grab the good ones, offer to rep you for a percentage, and then to shop the manuscript around to the publishers to get the publishers to say yes, and you’ll take what they give you.

Agents are not advocates, they are salespeople. Again, I’ve never worked with an agent, I’m sure there are good ones out there that bust their butts to get you a good deal as well as get you in, but even if there are, they have the same problem you do, and your IP lawyer would. The publishing house can say that’s nice when they try to get you a better deal, and move on to the next agent, IP attorney and author who do want to play ball by their terms.

I can’t help with any of that, but I will say, no matter what, never sign anything you are not comfortable with, and never ever sign anything until you have read through the entire thing and understand the entire thing.

I swear legalese is not as daunting a language as TV makes it out to be. It’s a very precise language, and provisions will make references to other parts so you’ll have to jump to those and reread them to understand this one, but it’s not actually a different language from English.

Now, most of this is just me saying rights in general, but technically the copyright is split into a bunch of little ones, a bundle made out of sticks of rights, if you will.

So one thing you want to look at is what rights are they buying? This includes, but is not limited to: print, ebook, audio, international, and subsidiary rights (usually these will be listed out too, and these are the things like movie deals, merchandizing, translations, some people consider ebooks and audio books part of these, but it doesn’t really matter, what matters is exactly what is listed out in the contract. They aren’t going to just say subsidiary rights, at least they shouldn’t, they will list them out. If they don’t, ask for that change so they are all listed.)

So if you are able to negotiate around the publishing house and keep your ebook rights (not happening unless you’re already a huge indie hit, but hey, it’s an example), then they sell the paper ones and you get royalties off that, but you sell the ebooks and keep a hell of a lot more royalties off those. If you keep the rights around translations and/or to sell internationally, then you could go to publishers overseas and get deals with them separate from your deal with your American publisher, or just sell indie overseas.

You get the idea. Make sure you know what rights you are giving up specifically. Here, I’m talking about them in a bundle because it’s simpler, but in real life, they are separate. The publishing house could buy all or only some of them, and they could also have some of the rights have certain provisions with them, and different provisions for other rights. For example, they could say international, translations, and movie rights revert back after ten years, and print, ebook, and audio never do.

I’m not saying they would do this, or wouldn’t, I’m saying you need to know exactly what you’re giving up and for how long.

So then you ask, what’s egregious? What are terms I absolutely do not want in there? And what are terms I do want in there?

Wellllllll. A good resource for a lot of this is a blog called The Passive Voice. He’s a lawyer who goes into all of this in a lot my detail in many, many posts, and is where I got some of the horror stories and examples I based my opinion on.

One of the big ones is what I just used in my example. When do your rights revert back to you?

There absolutely must be something in there about reversion of rights. What does that mean? If there is not, there’s nothing in the law saying it automatically reverts back to you after so and so many years or some triggering event. No. Those need to be stated in the contract. The contract is the governing law on this.

You are selling your rights, and you want to make sure there is a set period of time for that sale. If you sell your house and the buyer dies, you don’t get the house back. That’s not a great example since IP is pretty much as far away from real property as you can get on the property spectrum, but you get the idea. If you sell them completely, they are gone completely. So, there should be something saying how many years the publisher gets the rights.

This could be something like ten years after publication or seven years after the book is no longer in print. Something like that. Make sure that is very specific, as in, no longer being printed out in physical books. Don’t just assume they mean once they stop printing physical books. Because “in print” means physical and ebook usually (as an aside, there’s almost always a definitions part in a contract, and they should specifically define what each term such as “in print” means in the contract).  There’s no reason for them to take the ebook down, so in reality, it could stay up there forever and you never get your rights back.

Also, make sure there’s a reversion provision for if the company goes out of business. This is probably just a problem for the smaller publishers right now, but it could be a problem for big ones in the future, and you never know.

If the company goes belly up, you want to make sure there’s a clear path to getting your full rights back. Like if they go out of business, or go out of the publishing business, the rights revert back to you immediately, or something like that. If they go out of business, and you don’t automatically get your rights back, what happens to your rights get fuzzy. The business could sell off their catalogue so someone else has your contract, they could just go bye bye without addressing this, in which case you may have to go to court to either use your rights or to stop someone else from publishing your stuff.

And you want to make sure there is something in there about remedies for nonpayment. And a schedule for the payment so you can point and say the publishing house has breached by not paying by the promised date of every six months, or whatever it is.

Another provision to look out for is the publisher having the right of first refusal on your next book, or on your next book under that name (by this I mean whatever you publish under, your real or pen name). Now, this sounds perfectly reasonable up front. You have a book, of course you don’t want to have to find another publisher for the second one, so having them look at the next book is perfectly fine.

No. If the contract just says right of first refusal, then that means the publisher can look at it, and do nothing. They can hold it forever and they aren’t breaching the contract because there’s nothing in there saying they have right of first refusal that they have to use within a specific time frame. So they can kill your career, at least under that name if the contract specifies that, by sitting on everything you ever write because they can.

Yes, I’ve heard of this happening, and yes, it was because the editor didn’t like the author.

Here, you want to make sure anything like this has a time limit and genre limits if you can. Right of first refusal on the specific book for a year after you give them the next manuscript, and they only have right of first refusal over anything for a specific amount of time, like five years or ten. And the right only extends to books specifically in the genre this book is in, like if it’s an urban fantasy, they only get the right of first refusal on other urban fantasies.

If they have the blanket right of first refusal, it means they can sit on everything and you’re dead in the water. It means you can’t decide to do one series as an indie author unless they okay it. No, the contract doesn’t specifically say that, but in practice, they get your books, and if you want to go indie instead of even trying another publisher, too bad, the contract doesn’t say they get the right of first refusal of any new book you want to sell to publishers, it says right of first refusal on any new book you create.

The reversion of rights and the right of first refusal are the two big ones I’d look out for. There are others. Basically anything in there without a specific limit is suspect.

Also, anything saying you can’t talk about this contract with others, and you can’t show the provisions online, basically saying in the contract you’re signing that you are agreeing to a non-disclosure agreement, of that contract.

Very fishy! I’m not saying there can’t be a good reason for that. But ask a lawyer about it if you see that in your contract. Think about it, you are selling rights, there’s no trade secrets in the terms of the contract, you’re not even in a possible copyright violation. because you’re saying in general terms what’s in there, not posting the exact language. (Whether contracts can be copyrighted or not is a different subject, I’m just putting it here so no one comes back with that as an argument for not talking about the terms of your contract.) So why would the publishers have that in there, unless they wanted to hide what authors are agreeing to?

Now, what do you do if someone doesn’t follow the contract and screws you over? This doesn’t happen often with a reputable company because word does get around, but, as I said up front, the publishers have the power. So if word gets around, it’s not going to deter enough wannabes to really hurt the publishers, unless it’s a small house or the company screws over a large percentage of their authors, or both.

You sue for breach of contract. But there’s the rub. Remember, lawyers are expensive. An actual lawsuit is going to cost you a hell of a lot to litigate. Possibly more than what you’d get if you won. And the publishers know this, which is why they pull that crap in the first place. This is why you’ll see things about class action suits, because the way to pay for lawsuits like this is to have hundreds of people join forces, because the cost of that lawsuit isn’t much more than the cost of an individual one.

Again, this does not happen often in the grand scheme of contracts. The main point of a contract is to lay out whatever everyone expects of everyone else in a deal. The secondary point is to plan for if something goes wrong, like if the business goes under, which is another variation of making sure everyone knows where they stand, and the third one is to give you a basis to sue if the other side pulls something untoward.

So, always make sure to read and understand everything in the contract, and run scenarios in your head of if I do this, or they do this, under this contract, what would happen. Try to negotiate out the particularly bad clauses, the ones that would take your rights forever or trap you if the editor so wishes, either through your agent or IP attorney, and never sign anything you don’t thoroughly understand.

And now for my not so subtle push of my new book, Psychic Undercover (with the Undead)Psychic Ariana with the FBI has to go uncover as a singer at a club to catch a serial killer… but things get complicated when it turns out it’s a vamp club.

amie-gibbons-cover

Write Pack Podcasts

Sorry I’ve been a little behind in posting these.  Had the great fun of being ill for a bit and got behind.  I did two more Write Pack Radio Podcasts that have been published.

First off, “Online Writing Courses” .

Second, “Recovering From A Setback.

Go ahead and give them a listen if you’re so inclined.  There will be more to follow–we’re probably going to start doing distance participation.  😀

Also, tomorrow, there will be a guest blog on Contracts by fellow author and lawyer Amie Gibbons!

Not able to offer Pre-Order

So the great thing about the Con circuit is you meet some amazing authors. A.D. Trosper is a fantasy writer who is out of southern Kansas, and I share this as a cautionary tale for folks looking for external companies. Bottom line: Contracts, contracts, contracts, written in such a manner that if someone ends up screwing up your work to this degree they don’t get paid.

A.D.Trosper

I got my ebook files for Unveiled finished. Went to KDP and uploaded everything, but it wouldn’t let me set the pre-order option.  It said I was ineligible to use that function. So today I called Author Central and they put me through to KDP. And it was as I feared. The files for my last book weren’t uploaded in time (you have to have them uploaded in advance of the release date) and so my ability to set up pre-orders was suspended for a year.

As irritating as it is, I have to blame myself. I was using a design company and they consistently failed to get files to me in time for release. Every single time they got them to me just in time to upload with no time to proof them before release. This resulted in having to go back in and make corrections in both the…

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News! Snippets!

Just a quick post–Collisions of the Damned is in the final stages of post-production as an audiobook.  Hopefully it will be available by Black Friday, with the collection On Seas So Crimson being shortly behind.  If you know someone who would enjoy alternate history but may either have difficult finding the time to sit down with a hard copy book or is visually impaired, the Usurper War is now available as a thoughtful gift.

Also, an additional snippet from Though Our Hulls Burn.  

“So you say he is a rapist?” Agenor asked Commander Taylor, indicating Oliver at the end of the compartment.

“Yes, he was standing Captain’s Mast when we were alerted you had captured the aviso,” Taylor said, raising an eyebrow.

Agenor nodded.  Walking back down the noticeably cooling corridor, he drew his vibro katana.

“Prisoner!” he called to the man hunched in the corner, shaking.

“What do you want?!” Oliver cried, trying to scoot further away from the cell door.  Looking at the enclosure for a moment, Agenor took a deep breath…then punched through the lock with his battle armored fist.  The impact shot the lock and its fragments to the far side of the cell, Oliver screeching in surprise.

“Stand up,” Agenor said, shoving the door open.

“I-I-I didn’t do anything!” Oliver screamed, trying to scuttle away from him.

“I said, stand up,” Agenor shouted.  “If I have to lift you up, I swear you will suffer for it.”

Oliver stood, his eyes fixed on the blue sword, heat shimmers emanating from it as it hissed.

“Tell me, between us men, is your officer lying?” Agenor asked.  “Did you rape that woman?”

Oliver looked at Agenor, trying to meet his eyes through the tinted face shield.

I know he can still see the dried blood on me, Agenor thought.

“We Spartans are a reasonable people,” Agenor continued.  “If it was simply a misunderstanding, you could not help yourself, or she was intoxicated, our justice is more merciful than you are obviously used to.”

“They were going to throw me out an airlock,” Oliver said, his voice less afraid.  “It was simply a misunderstanding.”

Agenor moved with terrible swiftness, Oliver not even having time to flinch before the katana had severed his right arm beneath the elbow.  The man had just enough time to scream and start to reach for the limb before Agenor struck again, this time lopping off the left arm just above the wrist.  Stunned, Oliver fell backwards, screaming in pain as he looked at the two spurting wounds.  He had just enough time to look back up at Agenor before the man struck one last time.  Oliver’s head fell to the compartment’s deck, followed shortly by his crumpling body.  Steam briefly flashed off the vibrokatana as the man’s blood evaporated from its heat.

Resheathing the weapon, Agenor turned back to where Taylor stood between the other two Painbringers.  Her eyes were wide in shock and horror as she looked up at him.

“In Spartan lands, we usually geld a rapist in addition to removing both of his hands,” Agenor said conversationally.  “Does his victim live?”

Taylor looked at him, her mouth working but no sound coming out.  Manipulating his internal controls, Agenor raised his face shield so that he could meet Taylor’s eyes.

“Commander,” Agenor continued, “does his victim live?”

“P-p-probably not,” Taylor said.

“That is unfortunate,” Agenor said.

The deck groaned beneath their feet, reminding Agenor that they were still standing on a ravished hulk being dragged towards a star.

“Take me to your secondary bridge,” Agenor ordered.  “Quickly.”

 

B-Sides and Outtakes–Armageddon Dawn Part VIII (Conclusion)

Epilogue

 

C.C.D.F.S. Emancipation

1455 Confederation Common Time

30  June, 2011

 

“I’m telling you right now, you little weasel, this is it!  No more kids!” a woman said as Eric entered the medical ward.  The woman was leaning up in the bed nursing her newborn infant, brown curly hair about shoulder length down her shoulders.

“Julie, we’ve got to start repopulating,” her husband, a short, stocky man named David said.

“Let me put this in terms you can understand, Mr. West Point Man,” the woman replied.  “There will be no more sex for you until one of us gets fixed.  Three is enough, especially when they’re all boys.”

“Don’t you want a little girl that can grow up to be as beautiful as her mother?” Dave asked sweetly.

“No, and flattery isn’t going to get you laid.”

Eric shook his head.  Julie Donze had to be the most stubborn woman he knew.  After receiving her Doctorate in Mechanical Engineering from University of Missouri, Rolla, she had been set up with Dave by some crazy friend of hers.  Dave had been an Army officer, a veteran of Iraqi Freedom and Crescent Justice, the war with Saudi Arabia.  Neither one of them knew the ultimate fate of their friend, but the survivor’s rolls were still being compiled across the Confederation Fleet.

“Hey Dave, Julie,” Eric said, moving past the bed.

“Eric,” Dave said, then turned back to his wife and child.

Eric continued walking down the nearly empty medical bay.  There hadn’t been many wounded during the final evacuation, and what there had been had been quickly fixed up by the Dominionites medical nanobots.  Only four other beds besides Julie’s were filled, two of them with expectant mothers.  For all their medical technology, the Dominionites couldn’t speed up the labor process.  One more bed was filled with a vacant-eyed psychotic casualty, the stress having finally made the man snap.

It was the occupant of the fourth bed that Eric was interested in.  Lying flat on her stomach while the nanobots continued to work on her back, Jessica Banner had not regained consciousness since her injury.  The doctors had run out of ideas, but then had heard she was somehow known to a Star Colonel Eric Walthers, apparently her only close friend that had survived Earth’s demise.  Upon further review, the doctors had realized that it was Eric ‘Lightning Rider’ Walthers, Hero of Earth that the bedraggled members of 1st Shock Brigade had been referring to in the aftermath of their own personal Little Big Horn.  The one that had killed the Crown Prince and personally rode a Griffinfull of assault troops into the ground, then recovered from the heart of the explosion to charge his badly damaged mecha into a flank assault of Praetorian Guards.  Apparently he had even survived that despite several eyewitness accounts that stated his mecha had exploded, starting the galaxy’s largest dead man’s switch.

The actual truth was a bit less heroic.  The Praetorians had fixed the majority of the 6th and 7th Shock, their massive advantage in numbers being somewhat helpful.  If Eric hadn’t destroyed the third Griffin, the battle would have been lost.  As it was, a Praetorian detachment had been hustling towards his still active transponder, expecting to avenge their Crown Prince’s death, when Karin had arrived on the scene with a scratch detachment of Powell’s from the 2-70th Armor led by Jason.  Utterly outclassed, the men from the 2-70th had fought and died bravely, allowing Jack enough time to shift forces to deal with the threat.  With the Praetorians in a temporary retreat to await reinforcements, reinforcements that were already burning into the Earth’s atmosphere, Karin and Jack had extricated Eric from the wrecked Nikita.

With the enemy closing, Karin had made a snap decision.  Working quickly, she had attached Eric’s transponder to her own mecha.  She had given Jack a direct order to find Jessica, dead or alive, and given him the required information.  Then, kissing the unconscious Eric goodbye, she had revved her hovertank up to its maximum speed and headed north, away from the Praetorian landing site.  Predictably, the movement had the desired effect, the Praetorian and the incoming vessels starting to give chase.  Karin had met her end, her Grizzly shattered under a tidal wave of battle armor.

Her death left Jack to carry out her last order, and quickly.  Jack had found Jessica almost bled out, but had stabilized her.  Spinal injuries were relative child’s play for the Dominionites, and she was expected to make a full physical recovery.  With both Eric and Jessica strapped to the stop of his mecha in its hovertank mode, Jack had hauled ass back to Fort Riley.  The last ship, the Valhalla, had been just preparing to take off when he pulled onboard.  Lighting off her propulsion units, the Valhalla was followed out of orbit by General Connelly’s ship, the delay for the latter caused by a detour to Washington, D.C..  General Connelly was always a man of his word.

Not that it particularly mattered.  With the destruction of Eric’s transponder, a massive time bomb had begun ticking.  General Connelly had directed the Tectal to surreptiously place anti-matter warheads on the Earth’s major faultlines during their recovery operations.  Triggered by the destruction of Eric’s transponder, the bombs simultaneously triggered forty-eight hours after the destruction of Eric’s transponder.  The result had gone much like General Connelly had expected.  Earth was no more.

With a heavy sigh Eric sat down in front of Jessica’s bed.  He had just come out of the body and fender shop himself two days before.  It took awhile to get used to alien technology.  Reaching out, he stroked Jessica’s hair.  Tears began to run down his face as he looked at her sleeping.

“You know, you really need to wake up,” he said softly, sobbing.  “You don’t need any more beauty sleep.”

“You said that yesterday and the day before,” Jessica replied softly.  “A girl gets tired of hearing the same lines over and over again.”

Eric nearly jumped out of his seat in joy, suddenly unable to speak.  Jessica’s next words stopped the celebration.

“The first day, I thought I was in heaven,” Jessica said.  “To hear your voice again…it was one of the most powerful emotions I’ve ever had.  Then I realized that I was still alive, and I suddenly didn’t want to be anymore.”

Rolling over, Jessica met Eric’s eyes, her face set.

“I don’t know what’s happened to you for the past six years.  I don’t care.  I never want to speak to you again, Eric.  Ever.  Go back to wherever the hell you’ve been and stay there.  Leave me alone.”

Feeling as if he had been sucker punched, Eric stood up.  Taking one last look at Jessica, he turned and headed for the door.

***

So for those of you who read this far, what’d you think?  I’ve always debated going back to this universe and fleshing things out.  I will say that I got about another 10,000 words into a longer version of this, but stopped when I realized that it really did seem like I was channeling John Ringo plus had grad school to worry about.

I’ll be honest–I didn’t want to end the story so abruptly, especially after introducing new characters.  At the time, it was being written for short story markets.  Since I submitted it, I’ve come to realize that it’s really a full novel trying to wear a novella’s outfit.  (“High waders!  Get your high waders here!”)  With the Vergassy, Usurper’s War, and Scythefall Universes all vying for time, this will likely stay somewhere in the back of the cupboard.  At any rate, hope you enjoyed.

B-Sides and Outtakes “Armageddon Dawn”–Part V


Things are tracking along nicely with the end of the world.  By this point if you’re dropping in with no background, strongly suggest you start back here .  Welcome all TOPCON and Time Eddy visitors–hope that you enjoy your visit!

Fort Riley, Kansas

 1000 Local (1100 Eastern)

 

Putting off their characteristic whine, the last of Jason’s fourteen M-9 Powells settled down off of their hoverfans, the thirty-ton tanks’ bulk raising a puff of dust as it settled down heavily onto the Kansas dirt.  Jason turned away from the settling tank back towards main post, now able to hear the rhythmic rumbling of a battalion’s worth of M-1A2SEP main battle moving up from the motorpools to the south.

So hard to believe a force so powerful for this planet is the equivalent of horse and lance for the stars, Jason thought to himself.  There was a low whine coming from the east, gradually building to a crescendo.  Although I think this is about to be reinforced, he thought.

With a flash, the rises to the east of Fort Riley suddenly became alive with movement as the 6th Shock Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Mecha Division, Terran Expeditionary Corps, crested the intervening terrain in a charge that took Jason’s breath away.  Moving at over one hundred miles an hour, seventy-five hovertanks weighing in excess of seventy tons apiece hurtled over the terrain towards Fort Riley.  At a silent signal, all seventy-five hovertanks suddenly came to a dead stop.  At another signal, the vehicles transformed into bipedal mecha, their main guns becoming the end of their left arm, the missile launchers usually mounted abreast their turrets swiveling to flank the “head” of their cockpit.

“Danger, inbound unidentified…” Jack’s helmet indicator began to intone, the Powell’s internal sensors detecting airborne targets via satellite feed.

The rest of the warning was drowned out by the ear-splitting roar of engines, as over a hundred aircraft thundered overhead from east to west, flying a perfect Vs upon Vs formation.  The aircraft, all hailing from the 5th Mecha Dragoons, came in various shapes and sizes.  The two most numerous ones were the Sparrowhawk, a mecha that resembled a tailless cranked delta-wing when in fighter mode, and the Kestrel, fighters that bore a marked resemblance to the American F-15 Eagle yet with swept wings.  Like their hovertank brethren, the aircraft stopped on a dime without signal, the exhaust of their retro-thrusters visible in the humid Kansas air, then transformed into hovering two-legged war machines that sat at altitude, their engines suddenly silent as they hung on repulsors.

“Sir, let me just state how utterly amazing a moment this is,” his gunner, and longtime Japanimation fan Sergeant Clark Blackwell said.  Turning, Jason could see the man standing with tears in his eyes, staring reverentially up at the now descending mecha like they were descending Playboy bunnies.

Too bad he doesn’t know what I do, which is those things are the only thing that can stand on the same battlefield as our soon to be opponents, Jason thought.  Which means that it’s a good thing we’re just here for crowd control, and will be on those damn evacuation ships in a jiffy.

            As Jason watched, one of the former hovertanks strode towards him.  Beside him, Blackwell was almost beside himself in joy, seeing the war machine start to get closer.  The mecha stood just over twenty feet tall and twelve feet wide, the seventy tons moving forward with a measured stride.  While all mecha could move forward using repulsorlifts and thrusters, both of those systems took about twice the energy as simply utilizing the “musculature circuitry”, yet another good enough translation, in the legs.  Unless a mecha had to be somewhere very, very quickly during a fight, it made more sense to divert power to the weaponry systems and shielding, especially in the face of an Orionan ground assault.

The particular mecha in question was a Grizzly, or so Jason’s mind suddenly told him in a flash of cognition that made him a little dizzy.  Jack said the mind flash takes a little bit getting used to, he thought.  Colored in all black with a gold trim, a roaring stylized lion’s visage in the center of the cockpit canopy, the Grizzly was the command mecha for the “Golden Lions”, the 6th Battalion’s nickname bestowed upon them by their first commander, the late Lieutenant Colonel Ajax McCarthy .  One of two hovertank types in the CCDF, the Grizzly like its namesake was designed for close-in battles with the Orionan Horde.  Just over the horizon, near the turnoff for Manhattan proper, were the Woomera fire-support hovertanks of the 7th Battalion, the “Horsemen”.

As Jason watched, the canopy cleared from its opaque mode to reveal a single figure at the vehicle’s controls, obviously female by the contours of the battle armor.  Jason suddenly felt a gust of wind and looked behind and up, watching as the command mecha for the fighters, a Phoenix, descended from above his head and landed just expertly beside the other mecha as it stopped twenty yards short of Jason and Blackwell’s position.  The two massive plasma rifles that constituted the Phoenix’s main armament were retracted to their normal positions, the barrels pointed vertically into the sky behind each of the mecha’s shoulders.  Man, looks like the Japanimation folks got something right, Jason thought, not knowing that the Phoenix pilot had been the guiding force behind the prototype for the mecha.

“Okay, next to that whole threesome fantasy with Natalie Portman and Kirsten Dunst, I’m pretty much at a ten,” Blackwell breathed.  Jason turned and looked at the man, shaking his head.

“Okay Sergeant Blackwell, I’m going to have Top sedate you if you keep making comments like that,” Jason said.  Blackwell looked over at him, and Jason realized he could’ve told the man he would shoot him in both his kneecaps and he wouldn’t have cared.  The short, stocky African-American was in rapture, his brown eyes wider than dinner plates.

“Mecha.  Women mecha pilots.  Multiple types of mecha.  Sir, all we need now is some princess that needs rescuing and we are in Blackwell Heaven,” the NCO breathed.  Jason suddenly found himself thinking of Elvis groupies back in the Sixties, fully expecting Blackwell to scream and faint in a moment.  He turned to say something when the situation suddenly changed.

“You humans and your damsel in distress fantasies,” the walking hovertank boomed from hidden speakers, causing everyone within earshot to jump.  “Any female who finds herself in such a situation lacks the intelligence to be good breeding stock—why would you want to share your bloodline with hers?”

The voice coming from the mecha was obviously feminine, and imperious to boot.  With a hiss, the canopy opened, whipping from left to right as one complete unit.  With an almost feline grace, it’s pilot jumped out, dropping to the ground from a heigh that would have broken most humans’ legs, if not killed them outright.  The pilot hit with only a slight flexing of knees, then started striding over to where Jason and Blackwell were standing..

“Holy shit,” Blackwell said as the woman got closer.  She was easily six feet tall if not more, with broad, muscular hips that met at a narrow, waspy waist.  This waist then broadened back out as it moved up to her full chest and broad shoulders, the entire package moving without the gangly awkwardness of many tall women.  Reaching up, the woman touched the sides of her armor, the helmet portion flipping back then sliding into the back portion of the suit between her shoulders.  The face revealed was a deep, rich chocolate brown in complexion, the features soft and narrow.  If not for the completely sapphire blue eyes, the pilot would look like a beautiful human woman, stunning enough to be a supermodel.

“Okay, I’m going to go see Top now,” Blackwell breathed, captivated by the woman’s beauty.

“Might be a plan,” Jason observed quietly, set back himself.  He had once watched a documentary on ancient Egyptian queens like Cleopatra and Nefertiti that had described their beauty as being without description.  At the time he had scoffed, refusing to believe any woman could be that beautiful—a comment that had gotten a bucket of ice dumped on him and sent his chances of marital relations dropping so low they made Hell seem like Mount Everest.  While Kathy had eventually forgiven him after much flowers and chocolate, he had quietly continued to believe such descriptions were a bit excessive.

Yeah, well, looks like one learns something every day, he thought as the woman walked up to him.

“Jason, close your mouth, you’re drooling,” Jack said as he suddenly came up behind him.  Turning to the female pilot, his face grew hard and he brought his arm across his chest in a form of salute.

“Star Colonel Tobarakh, welcome to Earth,” Jack intoned, his voice low and dignified.  The pilot returned the salute, ending it with a short bow of her head.  Her features softening somewhat, which is to say they downgraded from polite glaciality to cold, she extended her hand towards Jason.

“Greetings Jason Mitchell of Fort Riley,” the pilot said.  “My name is Karin Tobarakh of Adjibouti, the planet of Dominion.”

Jason took the pro-offered hand, suddenly surprised by the strength of Karin’s grip and the nascent strength he felt behind it.  Sweet Jesus, she could crush my hand if she wanted to, he thought.  Jason had once shaken hands with a professional bodybuilder, four time winner of the World’s Strongest Man contest.  At the time he had believed that he would never shake hands with another person as powerful.  Obviously I was wrong about that one.

“Sir,” Jack said, saluting as the pilot of the figher mecha came up beside the woman and dropped his visor.  Jason was shocked to see the features of a human, the man returning the salute.

“Jack, you can stop that shit at anytime,” Eric replied, his voice weary.  Turning, he extended his hand and shook Jason’s.  “Star Colonel Eric Walthers, formerly of Topeka, Kansas.”

Jason sighed in relief, not realizing he had been holding his breath.

“Yeah, I know, it’s good to see a freakin’ human,” Eric said.  “No offense, honey,” he said quickly to the woman.  Karin raised one of her narrow eyebrows at Eric, the ghost of a smile crossing her face for the first time.

“I do not recall you complaining about me being a non-human when we coupled last night, Eric Walthers of Earth.”

There was an extremely awkward silence amongst the four individuals, Eric’s skin blushing as much as someone his shade could.  Karin looked at all three men, then shook her head.

“You humans are such prudes,” she said in her native tongue, utterly beguiling Jason.

“Dear, it’s not polite to discuss what happens between husband and wife in mixed company, especially when you have just met,” Eric replied softly in the same language.  Jason continued to look back and forth between the two of them, the flow of sounds utterly astounding him.  In a perverse reversal of the usual order of things, the family members and non-combatants being loaded on the ships had been the first in line for translator chips.  Space was unforgiving of mistakes, and all it took was someone not understanding that they were about to open a hatch to kill a shipful of people.

“This man finds me desirable, and I did not need a sensor array to tell that had I but offered his subordinate would have coupled with me right here.  Do you not want them to know that you have, and can continue to have, me?  Is our coupling not pleasing to you?”

“You know, I don’t think I need a translator to realize someone’s stepped in deep shit,” Jason said bemusedly.  Jack snickered, turning away to hide his grin.

“You have a mate, Jason of…Jason?” Karin asked, forcing herself to remember Human custom with names.

“Yes, yes he does,” Jack said quietly.  Jason turned and looked at him, then back at Karin.

“Yes, my wife, Amy,” Jason said.  There was a flash of recognition in Karin’s eyes, and she looked quickly back and forth between Jason and Jack.  Before she could say something potentially embarrassing, Jack held up his hand.

“Yes, my ex-girlfriend,” Jack said.  “And yes, I know on your world this would be cause for a blood match to the death.  There’s more than it would take to explain, Karin, let’s just leave it at that.”

“After the idiocy of your most prominent world leaders, nothing surprises me anymore,” Karin said with a shrug.  “My father provided them with various more efficient power sources, cures for diseases, and weapons technology that was several generations ahead of where you would have been normally at this time.”

“General Connelly has taken care of that problem,” Eric replied fiercely, his eyes lit with barely contained fury.

“I am afraid that their being consumed alive isn’t quite going to cut it,” Jason said, his voice heavy.  The enormity of what was going to happen had just started to sink in for him, and he hated himself for being incredibly glad that his and his entire immediate family’s seats on the last ships out of Dodge were guaranteed.  Although I’d love to see Mom’s face when the Tectal showed up at her doorstep, Jason thought with a grin.  The Tectal were the scouts of the CCDF, tall, elfin featured creatures with generally willowy builds and almost human eyes.  While no one could confirm it, according to Jack, most of the humans were reasonably certain the Tectals had been using Earth as a vacation spot off and on for several millennia.  Jason broke out of his reverie to see Jack staring at him.

“Thinking about Lucy when the Tectal shows up at the door?” Jack asked with a big grin.  Lucy Mitchell was enough of a Middle Earth fan that she had camped out for two days waiting on the first movie to be released.

“You know, Dad’s been dead for two years,” Jason observed.  “I think the poor bastard will be lucky if she doesn’t jump his bones right there in the living room.”

“Okay, that’s something most normal folks don’t think about their mother,” Eric said in shock.

“Look, I walked in on my parents when I was ten,” Jason said.  “They figured the cat was out of the bag at that point.  Made them happy—someone they could tell to take my brothers for a ‘long walk’ when Dad got back from the field.”

Jack whipped his head around in shock.

“So that’s why you were always coming by to get me so we could go to the park when our parents were stationed at Fort Lewis!”

“Uh, dude, it’s no big deal—how do you think they got Sarah?  Look’s like Dad got what he paid for with the vasectomy,” Jason said, alluding to the fact military personnel were given free medical care.

There discussion was broken up by the sound of several mecha powering up their weapons, then standing down.  All of htem looked up as far overhead, several contrails indicated the path of a squadron of positively outclassed F-15 Eagles.

“Why do military pilots continue to fly when they are assured of evacuation?  Did not General Connelly advise this planet of their impending doom just one hour ago?”

“Yes,” Eric said heavily.  “Some men are refusing to obey his orders, and are going to defend their families, their homes.”

“They would have more chance of stopping a comet or flying through a star,” Karin said flatly.  “They will be killed like…like flies against a windshield.”  Karin smiled, turning to Eric.  “A good use of your quaint sayings, yes?”

“Yeah, except those flies are our people,” Jason said heavily.  “And that windshield is heading for our planet.”

“You humans are technologically backwards, but you do not lack for courage,” Karin said, her voice touching on sadness.  “It is unfortunate that your leadership was so poor.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not like the average person knew.  There’s a reason they had everyone report to Area 51 prior to shipping out for Barren,” Eric said bitterly.  “Some of us involuntarily.”

“Speaking of your involuntary expulsion to somewhere over the rainbow, have you gotten in contact with Jesse?”  Jack asked, suddenly remembering the picture that Eric carried in his wallet.  Eric gave a short snort.

“What would be the point?” Eric asked, his voice melancholy.  “We were all reported dead, remember?  I even got to read my own obituary and the eulogy delivered by my best friend.  Dumb bastard still owes me the $500 I loaned him for his engagement ring.”

“I suppose you’re going to collect once we get to Barren?”

“No, I’m not.  He collided with a Saudi Tornado over Riyadh,” Eric said quietly.

“Why do you not contact her, Eric?” Karin asked.

The low warbling sound of the post tornado siren sounded off in the distance, cutting off the conversation.  Almost at the same time, there was the sound of several weapons being powered up all around them, the mecha moving to give each other space to align their weapons down I-70 towards the west.  Jason looked as the mecha brought their weapons to bear, then turned back just in time to see Jack, Eric, and Karin all cycle their helmets back over their head, the clear faceshields snapping into place.  All three of them had the same look of intense concentration on their face, speaking rapidly into their microphones.

“Jason, REDCON-1!” Jack snapped, a tinge of fear in his voice.  “Get your soldiers mounted up and back to the evacuation ships, now!”

“What?!  We don’t even have all the family members aboard the vessels yet!”

“Get moving, dammit!  You guys cannot stand in this fight!”

Jason cursed at his friend, then ran back towards A-66, his fourteen M-9s already spooling up.  Thank God Hitchcock is naturally paranoid, Jason thought.  Hopping up on his tank’s front skirt, he felt the Powell shift and lift off the ground.  Sliding into his commander’s station, he plugged up his CVC.

“Okay Apache Five, what’s up?” he asked.

“Sir, I have no clue but Hammer 6 just told us to go to REDCON-1,” Hitchcock replied.  The battalion commander was a huge sci-fi buff, and since the Powell was a hovertank the new battalion nickname had been too good to pass up.  Colonel Donovan had drawn the line at adding the full nickname, citing copyright laws.

“Funny, that’s the second time I’ve heard that.  What’s up?”

“It looks like someone kicked off the aliens’ plans early, because apparently all Hell is breaking loose out in space.”

 

C.C.D.F.S. Huntress

Luna Orbit

1025 Kansas Time

 

“Sir, the enemy is advancing!”

“In the immortal words of Star Colonel Walthers, ‘No shit, really’?!” Kwirh growled.  “Could I get a coherent report?”

“The enemy fleet is beginning to collapse towards Terra, Star Admiral,” Star Colonel Anastasia “Ice Princess” Zdhanov, Third Fleet’s intelligence chief, intoned from her station.  A former Russian spy, Ana was the stereotypical Russian female of that profession-tall, brunette, and beautiful.  The last often distracted men from realizing that she had one of the highest IQs ever recorded, usually to someone’s great dismay when she sank a knife in their exposed back.  Next to Eric, she had been one of the quickest to grasp the nuances and intricacies of space combat and intergalactic warfare.  She had found a niche on Kwirh’s Dominionite dominated staff, accepted quickly due to her cold-blooded military mind and amazing ability to analyze enemy actions.

“I must say, that plan worked all too well,” Kwirh rumbled.

“What exactly did Star Colonel Walthers say in his message?” Ana asked.  She had been sleeping when the message had been beamed utilizing usual Orionan protocols.

“He stated that Argnor had begged for his life before he killed him, then described the great joy he found in shoving his energy lance into his loins.  Finally, he stated how the Crown Prince’s meat was so tainted, his fighting skills so poor, that it had not even been worth consuming, which was why left it for the Tauran crows to feast upon it.”

“So basically insulting all three of the Orionans’ tenets of bravery, fighting skill, and purity of body.  Yep, we’re fighing to the death today,” Ana said, swiveling back around to look at her screen.  She self-consciously pulled her skirt down, brushing her bangs from in front of her eyes.  Had she been on one of the human-crewed vessels, the movement would have distracted every male on the bridge and probably led to a collision with a solid planetary body.  On the bridge of the Huntress, it led to every member of the bridge tightening down their restraints and doublechecking their environmental suits.  If the Ice Princess was nervous, things were very bad.

“Sir, the Illustrious reports all fighters deployed, requesting further orders.”

“Tell her and the rest of the carriers to get the hell out of here after launching their fighters,” Kwirh responded.  Thank God we finished retrofitting hyperdrives on all of the small craft last month during the Mourning Lull, Kwirh thought.  The Orionans had taken six months to bury Argnor, holding a festival of bloodsports, feasting, and combats to determine who would now succeed Krognar.  Given the reports of the intensive combats, it was amazing that any of the Orionan nobility had survived to make the journey to Earth.  There had been no reports on whom had won the right of succession, the news that the Orionans were beginning their general offensive with an attack on Earth superseding all other news.

Illustrious acknowledges and wishes us Godspeed.”

“You humans are so quaint with both your naming conventions and your wishes for good luck,” Kwirh said to Ana, shaking his head.  “Especially with your continued clinging to theology.”

“We have evidence of our God’s works,” Ana said stiffly.  A strictly practicing Eastern Orthodox, she found the Dominionites logical disdain for God disturbing, one of the few downsides to being on the Huntress’s bridge.

“Where is your God now, Ana?” Kwirh asked.

“Almost all religions have a portion of their main tome that deals with the final battle between Good and Evil on Earth,” Ana replied.  “Krognar’s visage is close enough to the common perception of Satan that an argument could be made this is the Day of Judgment, and the Orionans are God’s punishment for our sins.”

“Fighters making contact.”

“Well, if this is so, then I hope your God decides to make himself manifest in our favor, and soon.”

“We will see,” Ana replied quietly.

 

Depictions of fanciful space combat were as numerous as there were sentient cultures.  While the swirling, whirling dogfights that were a staple of atmospheric warfare were almost impossible in space due to the crushing influences of inertia at just barely sublight speeds, Confederation inertial dampeners had made things far more closer than they had been ten thousand years ago the last time that the Orionans and CCDF had met.  Given the crushing advantage in size and numbers enjoyed by the Orionans, it was only their overwhelming advantage in fighters and technology that allowed the CCDF to contest space against the Orionan Fleet.

For their part, the Orionans had tried various ways to counter this advantage, everything from converting vessels up to cruiser size into massive flak batteries to simply filling the mass drivers aboard their vessels with debris and flinging this like a massive shotgun towards the swarm of CCDF fighters.  So far, nothing had consistently worked, especially against the heavily Earth-influenced Third Fleet.  It was just accepted that the CCDF small craft were going to get their licks in, but that eventually enough Orionan capital ships would push through as to make things a costly proposition.  As Ana regularly pointed out, the Orionans would have made marvelous Russians.

So it was far above Earth, as CCDF pilots flung themselves as the advancing Orionan Fleet with a tremendous fervor.  There were numerous examples of bravery that would go undocumented, with a great proportion of these being conducted by the beings whose blue green planet lay at the 3rd Fleet’s back.  In the end, the ferocity of the attack turned back a full third of the Orionan Fleet, several destroyers and even a few cruisers exploding from the stinging attentions of the attacking fighters.

But there was only so much the attack aircraft could do.  As the range closed, the CCDF battleline began engaging at long range with energy weapons, their superior technology giving the CCDF a full four minutes of uninterrupted fire as the Orionans passed the system’s asteroid belt.  With a tremendous explosion, a Gorgon-class battleship was the first capital ship to be destroyed on either side, its foolish captain having underestimated the amount of time it would take to close into Orionan weapons range.  With the majority of its power going to weapons instead of shields, the battleship’s hull was suddenly penetrated by a particle projector, the explosion taking a pair of escorting vessels along with it.

Then the Orionans were in extreme range, and the air between the two fleets suddenly came alive with mass driver slugs, plasma bolts, and anti-matter missiles.  On their side, the CCDF vessels began vectoring at an angle, employing the standard fleet tactic of cutting across the Orionan noses as they exchanged fire, culling a portion of the Orionan Fleet away on their way out of system.

The problem with standard tactics were that an opponent eventually caught on to them.  While Argnor had been the true guiding light for a renaissance of Orionan tactics, his changes had not died with him.  To the utter horror of several Third Fleet captains, the far side of the Orionan Fleet curled away from Earth and hurtled towards the rear of the Third Fleet, sloughing from in front of the nine Emperor-class battleships, so named because they were the flagships of the eight greatest noble houses of the Orionan Empire.  Only two of them, the Emperor’s own ship and that of the heir, were fully equipped with the massive laser that ran the length of the vessels’ keel.  This was a fortunate fact for the CCDF, as the Orionans also moved from in front of the vessels, a departure from usual practice where everything possible was done to protect the Emperor and the Crown Prince.

A moment later, it became blazingly obvious why the way had been cleared from in front of the two battleships.  The massive lasers from both ships fired, the azure bolts stabbing out towards the approaching Third Fleet.  Fortunately warships moved with a lot more agility than planets, and the human captains of the targeted ships had watched enough anime to know what it meant when lesser vessels cleared a path in front of flagships.

With panicked transmissions starting to come from his companion ships, it was at that moment Kwirh demonstrated why he was widely celebrated as the greatest of the CCDF Admirals.  Seeing a golden opportunity to end the war at a stroke, he barked his orders.  Utilizing their superior maneuverability gained by virtue of their smaller mass, and in quite a few cases the helpful hand of gravity, the Third Fleet reversed course and charged right down the throat of the onrushing Orionans, straight towards the advancing Empires.

It was brilliant and suicidal at the same time.  By charging into the Orionan Fleet, Kwirh limited the arcs of fire of most of the Orionan battleline while simultaneously putting the Emperor at risk.  Like a novice chess player suddenly confronted with a looming checkmate, the Orionan Fleet panicked.  Desperate to protect their Emperor, all order and formation disappeared.

It was at that moment that Kwirh played his hole card.  Raising on a massive plume of Lunar dust at the outer edges of the Orionan Fleet, the Fifth Squadron of the still forming Fourth Fleet rose from the light side of Earth’s moon.  Kwirh had slowly infiltrated the ships within the comings and goings of evacuation vessels and resupply ships, their transponders squawking false identity codes as they passed through the Third Fleet.  The security had not been for the sake of the Orionans, as there were no spies amongst the CCDF.  Instead, Kwirh had determined to stiffen his own fleet with the surprise, a move that seemed almost prescient given the current circumstances.

Under Admiral Arvid Thorsen, the Fifth Squadron was composed almost entirely of the oldest Terran exiles.  A former Norse Viking that had been saved from his shipwrecked vessel by the Dominionites over two millennia before, Arvid was one of the oldest Terran exiles.  Having sailed into battle under Eric the Red, been resurrected in what he considered to be Valhalla, and done battle amongst the stars for the previous millennia, Arvid had never truly shaken the trappings of his barbarian past.  Even now, his seat was covered with the furs of the wild bears of Barren, killed at close range with his traditional sword.

Thorsen’s flagship, the Eviscerator, was the newest of the Emasculator-class battleships.  Accompanied by her two slightly older sisters and six Victory class battlecruisers, the Eviscerator quickly closed in mortal combat with the nearest Emperor battleship.  With the Emasculators the CCDF had broken from its usual tradition of smaller, more maneuverable vessels.  While nowhere near the same bulk as an Emperor, the Emasculators were one and a half times larger than the Revenge-class, the next nearest CCDF battleship.  Most of that additional weight went to armament, as demonstrated with great violence to the Orionan Fleet.

While many beings would have attempted to continue their path and attempt to end the war, it was quickly apparent that the CCDF could attempt to kill Krognar or run, but not both.  As the Orionan Fleet reeled from the sudden assault, with the evacuation ships starting to lift off from Earth’s dark side, the call was made.

 

The Huntress shuddered, the impact whipping down her length.

“Shields down to forty-five percent, hull breach decks seven, eight, and nine!”

“Dammit, what was that?” Kwirh growled, turning to look at his sensors operator.

“Sir, we were engaged by the main laser of an Emperor-class battleship, the Star of Argnor from her identification code.  It was a glancing blow.”

“Remind me to strangle the Chief of Intelligence when I see her next,” Ana muttered.

Kwirh was about to retort when there was a massive explosion twenty miles off their port bow.  Looking, he recognized the bow section of the battleship Revenge tumbling crazily away from the blast.

“That was the main laser from the Heart of Orion,” the sensor operator said, his face as pale as a Dominionite’s ever got.  “She was hit dead on.”

“Do we have a clear line to that bastard yet?” Kwirh asked, seeing the Huntress’s viewports start to roll as she was brought around.

“Sir, we cannot…”

“I asked a question, damn you!” Kwirh roared.

“No…yes!” the sensor operator replied, as the battleship Emasculator blasted a pair of Orionan heavy cruisers out of the way.  The CCDF capital ship looked like she had been grabbed by a great beast and had pieces torn from her, flames clearly showing through her viewports.

“Ramming…” Kwirh began.  He did not get to finish as Emasculator, obviously seeing his plan, chose to steal his thunder.  Nimbly avoiding one of her Orionan counterparts, the CCDF battleship hurtled towards Krognar’s flagship.

“Sir, recommend that unless we are going to follow, we go with your original order and get the hell out of here,” Ana said.  “I’m willing to die, but I want it to have a purpose.”

The advancing Orionan Fleet had been thrown into disarray, and would take at least three or four hours to reform.  Looking at the threat display, Kwirh could see four assault ships arrowing for Earth, having made it through the cordon of the charging Fifth Squadron.

“Computer, losses?” Kwirh asked, even as Huntress’s main batteries flayed an Orionan destroyer starting a missile run.

“Twenty-five percent,” the computer replied.  “If we do not disengage the fleet in the next five minutes, the losses will be at least double.  The Orionans are beginning to recover.”

Looking up, Kwirh watched the last minutes of the CCDF battleship.  While the Heart of Orion’s shields had stopped the smaller ship’s charge cold, they had been sufficiently weakened to allow four of Emasculator’s heavy missiles to shoot through to arrow into the ship’s massive hull.  The Emperor’s life threatened, the Orionan Fleet was collapsing back towards the Huntress’s position.  The Emasculator erupted in a silent explosion, her fusion engines venting their fury in an explosion that took a pair of destroyers with her.

“Give that bastard our regards, let’s get the hell out of here,” Kwirh barked.  “Let General Connelly know he has company inbound, and that we are departing system.”

With a roar conducted through her hull, the Huntress disgorged her battery of twenty-six anti-matter missiles.  Each the size of a SLBM on Terra, the missiles had enough warhead power to split an unshielded planet in two.  Unfortunately, the Heart was very shielded, not to mention surrounded by a fleet that was willing to die to save their Emperor.  Four heavy cruisers and a pair of frigates made the ultimate sacrifice, putting their vessels in between the missiles and their intended target.  In the end, only two warheads passed through to explode against the flagship’s armor.  To the cheers of the bridge crew, the Heart lurched hard, spewing atmosphere and propulsion fuel as she turned away from the Huntress.

“That’ll teach them to try something new and leave the family jewels uncovered,” Ana muttered grimly.  Kwirh turned and looked at her.

“My translator must be reading incorrectly.  Did you just say family jewels?” Kwirh asked.  “Why do we care about jewelry at a time like this?”

Ana shook her head, looking out the viewport as the Huntress passed low over Luna, her passage stirring the space dust in the Sea of Tranquility.  Exhaling, she took one last look at Earth, receding behind them.  Turning to her sensors, she could see the first of the evacuation ships starting to take off from Earth’s darkside, away from the Orionan Fleet.  The four assault vessels continued to descend towards Earth, pursued by several remaining fighters.  There was a last furious exchange of fire, causing one of the assault vessels to begin spinning out of control and head towards the planet’s Southern Hemisphere at an angle that almost guaranteed it would hit the Earth as an uncontrollable mass, not a fully intact ship.  Realizing that there was little they could do inside the planet’s atmosphere in their space fighters, the last Third Fleet fighters pulled up and used Earth’s gravity to slingshot past the sun.  With several bright flashes, they were gone.

“Jump in five, four, three, two…”

With a bright flash, the Huntress entered hyperspace, the remainder of the Third Fleet jumping out with her.  Earth’s final hours had officially begun.

B-Sides and Outtakes– “Armageddon Dawn”–Part IV

If you haven’t been following the story–long story short, the crap has hit the fan for Humanity.  Angry aliens are coming to basically turn Earth into one big butcher shop.  You can pick up the first part of the story here.  This Part begins Chapter 2.  So, without further ado…

Chapter 2: Recriminations and Reckonings

 

Topeka, Kansas

0755 Local (0855 Eastern)

 

With a deep, throaty roar, the sleek looking fighter made another dizzying pass over Forbes Field, moving so fast it was almost a blur.  Its sonic boom rattled all the windows on the base and some of the surrounding communities.  If anyone had gotten a good glimpse of the aircraft, some would have thought the Combat Air Museum’s F-14 Tomcat had been brought out of storage and re-engined.  Others would have believed that the Museum’s hard-working curator had managed to somehow secure an F-15 Eagle from the Air Force, a feat nigh impossible given the USAF recalcitrant aircraft loan policy.  Still more would have thought they were seeing some futuristic prototype, as while the aircraft shared many of the Eagle and Tomcat’s physical characteristics, it’s lines were too smooth, its demonstrated agility as it suddenly stood on its tail and snap climbed for altitude all in one motion too great for both of those wonderful aircraft, the likely G-load so great it would have snapped either fuselage in half not to mention killing the pilot.  Not to mention neither of those aircraft had canards in lieu of tail surfaces, or sharply angled out tail fins like an F/A-18 Hornet.

All would have been wrong, and none would have thought the aircraft was the same Phoenix-class mecha that had been standing guard over the field just a few moments before.  As the aircraft rocketed upwards at near escape velocity, it’s pilot kicked the rudder controls again.  The fighter’s nose whipped sharply to the left, into a cartwheel, the big wing’s control surfaces biting on Earth’s thick atmosphere while its repulsor lifts provided the necessary physical thrust in opposition to Earth’s gravity.  While the surfaces were arguably not necessary, Confederation repulsors having more than enough power to make the turn itself, the Phoenix’s primary concept developer, one Eric Walthers, had pointed out that repulsors took energy, control surfaces less so.  While no Earth metal could have sustained the forces put upon it by the sharp turn the fighter had just undertook, the Phoenix hadn’t been built on Earth.  The energy savings in turn could be used for weapons, or for stronger shields, something always helpful when facing a charge of Orionan armor.

“Okay jackass, you’ve proved your point,” Jack’s comset crackled as he finished the dizzying turn.  “Now get back down here before someone wonders what in the hell you are driving and calls the Air Force.”

“Roger Sir,” Jack replied laconically.  Eric had not been aware that Jack had become fully proficient in the operation of his Phoenix, something the hovertanker had undertaken while Eric was on his honeymoon leave.  While odds had been good the Orionans would still have been so stunned by Argnor’s death, as the ranking remaining officer in the 1st Shock Brigade, Jack had thought it might be a good idea if he learned how to use the brigade commander’s mount, or at least that’s what he told himself.  In his heart, he truly knew he had been motivated to see how the other half lived, and the fact that Eric had been provided with a brand-spanking new Phoenix hadn’t made the decision that terrible.

There was the sound of a warning tone in his helmet, causing him to turn his eyes to the threat display mounted on the left side of the cockpit.  By the time his eyes reached the screen, the computer had analyzed the sensor paint and found it to be non-threatening, changing the tone in his ear.  Shaking his head, Jack keyed his microphone.

“It would appear that the best pilot the Confederation has ever known has put in an appearance,” he stated, deliberately goading Eric.  As the current leader atop the Confederation’s total kill board, Eric was justifiably considered the greatest pilot by many of the alien races that made up the Confederation.  However, among the humans, that topic was quite open for debate, as the current arrival had actually had a hand in destroying several warships, to include a pair of the incredibly tough Orionan battleships.

“Certainly better than anyone who would fly a piece of crap like that mutant,” Star Commodore Kevin Connelly stated snidely, using the derisive name for all mecha.  “Flying one of those things is like a man admitting he lets his wife strap on the ol’…”

“Aren’t you supposed to be running a vacuum or something?” Eric asked.  “Oh, no wait, I’m sorry, that’s supposed to be in a vacuum.  I thought there was some rule against you guys actually flying in atmosphere—something about accidents.”

Kevin growled over the net, biting his tongue.  The incident Eric was referring too involved the first time that Kevin had flown an advanced Confederation aircraft.  His translator chip had made an error in dialect while Kevin and his Dominionite instructor had been eight hundred feet over Barren’s Great Kalahari Glacier.  Eight hours later, after rescue crews had dug down to the plane, they had found Kevin and his instructor having an in-depth discussion on the evolution of Earth swear words and the differences in “English” versus “American”.  While it was an error that any pilot could have made, especially with the translator chip difficulties, the fact was that Kevin had been the first to do it, and he had cracked up a plane and caused an avalanche doing it.

“Commodore Avalanche, I have visual on your aircraft,” Jack said, switching allegiance quicker than a Balkan country during a World War.  He could see the silver Peregrine fighter, its flying wing configuration rather distinctive as Kevin placed it into a bank ten miles south of Forbes Field.

“At ease, Star Major!” Kevin barked, to the great amusement of Eric and apparently a couple others who had been monitoring the net.

“I take it Admiral Tobarakh sent you down with the latest telemetry?” Eric asked over the net.  His battle armor was not as advanced as General Connelly’s, the difference being that his actually had to fit inside a standard mecha cockpit.  That meant he could not conduct a live feed of the Huntress’s sensors without the Phoenix, and that might have been a tight fit within the Combat Air Museum Conference room.  While his briefing was not nearly as important, he still wanted to have decent bells and whistles for when he briefed Kansas’s governor and the gathered military commanders from its posts.  There had been some trouble chasing down some of the Reserve component commanders, but the Kansas State Troopers had gotten it done.  Sure, there were a couple of husbands that would have some explaining to do, especially the one found with his nineteen-year-old neighbor at a Junction City Motel, but Eric figured the end of the world would probably put off divorce proceedings.

Or maybe not depending on whom hubby likes better.

“Well, that and to read you in on the battle plan once you’re done scaring half of Kansas.  By the way, the first evacuation ships have entered hyperspace,” Kevin said.  “Let’s just say if I were you I wouldn’t go anywhere near Barren in the next few weeks.”

“Yeah, well, those folks should thank me, they’re the last ones who get a free trip without getting genetically checked,” Eric snapped.  “If they don’t like it, they can stay aboard and take their chances with the Orionans.”

“Hey, I understand, but just realize not everyone’s a freaking orphan, Eric,” Kevin replied.  “Some folks might have wanted to have a chance to say goodbye.”

“Look, get your ass down here and give me the data, we can have a morality lesson later, Hatcheman Six out,” Eric snapped, cutting his end of the transmission.

There was silence over the command net.  Nominally Eric and Kevin were peers, the rank of Star Commodore being invented to avoid the traditional confusion between a naval captain and a ground forces captain.  While according to Confederation rank conventions Eric was senior due to his higher number of kills, that was a Dominionite invention and didn’t hold much pull within the TEC.  Before the invention of mecha, both men had been in the same squadron, and their honors had been about even.

It was only after Eric had been given command of first a battalion, then his current brigade, that he had started to draw away.  Funny thing about ground combat with hundreds of Orionan battle armor, it tended to give a person a greater opportunity to score.  In the mind of most of the men and women who knew them both, Eric’s higher score didn’t matter, and the fact that he was pulling rank on Kevin at this moment would probably spark a few heated arguments, if not some fights, in various TEC barracks.  It was also completely out of character for Eric, who was usually rather focused and emotionless in tense situations.

That’s not a good sign, Jack thought to himself.  C’mon boss, we don’t need you to start losing it now.  He watched as Kevin’s fighter shot past him then stopped three hundred feet over the Forbes Field tarmac.  After hovering for a moment to lower his landing gear, Kevin brought the fighter straight down in a smooth, effortless landing.  As Jack brought his own craft in for a landing, he saw the Peregrine’s canopy pop open and Kevin hop out, helmet rotating back into his suit.  From the way he was striding, Jack had an idea that there was about to be one hell of a fight.

 

Kevin let the screen door slam shut behind him as he stormed into the aircraft hangar, fists balled and his eyes scanning for the source of his ire.  He saw Eric standing in the museum’s aviation art gallery, his hands resting on the guard rail as he looked over the museum’s primary display aircraft.  Kevin moved to the narrow metal staircase that spiraled up the east side of the gallery platform, taking the steps two at a time, his armored shoes ringing on the aluminum.

“Here’s your telemetry you son-of-a…” Kevin started, then stopped as Eric turned to look at him.  Kevin had never seen a person look as guilty as Eric did at that moment, as if he was carrying the shame of the entire world on his shoulders.

Holy shit, he looks bad.  Kevin had never seen the man so haggard since the early days after First Contact.  While most of the others had volunteered to go fight for the Confederation, Eric and his flight leader had been given the stark choice of leaving Earth or remaining in Area 51 the rest of their natural lives or until the government had gotten around to notifying the rest of the world what had occurred.  While Eric had desperately wanted to believe

 

Weather Mountain

1000 Local (0900 Central)

John Rutledge swam out of unconsciousness slowly and painfully, his head throbbing painfully.  Coming to, he found himself unable to move, affixed with some transparent putty to the wall.  He attempted to blink his eyes, than realized he had no control of any muscles but those in his eyes.  Swiveling these, he saw General Connelly and Conrad conversing near Prime Minister Yeldham.  The woman’s eyes and face were earnest as she said something, obviously a plea for mercy from General Connelly and Conrad to let her down.  Then, with a rush, POTUS could hear her words.

“I’ll do anything you men ask.  Anything,” she was saying desperately.  Connelly placed his hands on Conrad’s shoulder, then turned away.

“Madame Minister, I suggest you make your peace with whatever God you believe in,” Conrad said in his clipped British accent.

“Colonel Bradstock, I’ve seen your records, you are a decent man,” Yeldham said desperately, her chest heaving.  Her blue eyes were filling with tears, her face coloring.  “I have three children, and a husband.”

“I promise to grant them the same mercy I am giving you, Madame Minister,” Conrad said coldly.  “More mercy than my own mum, my brother and sisters, their children, and five billion other people on this planet will probably get.  Now make your peace with God and die with some freakin dignity.”

POTUS suddenly found himself gaining his capacity to speak.  Moving his tongue around his mouth, he looked up as General Connelly stood in front of him.  The General reached up with a flask, emptying some water in the President’s mouth.

“You just killed all of these men,” POTUS said breathlessly, looking at the bodies of the security detachments around the room.

“No, Mr. President, you and the other idiots gathered in this room killed these men,” Connelly said, gesturing at the other world leaders and their aides similarly trapped to the walls.  “I simply rendered them a more merciful killing than you will receive.”

Behind General Connelly, Yeldham stopped uttering her prayers, then looked up at Conrad.  Her mouth opened like she was about to say something, but never got a chance as the Englishman fired the rail gun mounted on the inside of his suit’s forearm.  The device’s slug killed the Prime Minister instantly, evacuating her skull.  Conrad sighed heavily, dropping his arm back to his side.

“Is that what you are going to do with all of us, you bastard?” General Reilly asked from beside POTUS.  “Shoot us in the head then cut our bodies down?  What, too cowardly to fight like real men, you’ve got to…”

Connelly punched General Reilly in the throat, the blow just hard enough to cut him off.  He followed it up with an augmented blow to the top of the head, causing the man to slump back into unconsciousness.  Looking over at him, he checked his vital signs and heaved a sight of relief to see he hadn’t killed the fellow officer by accident.

“I’m cutting her down,” Conrad said heavily.  “She was a good person, even if a bit misguided.”

“Carry on,” General Connelly replied, turning to face the President.

“Was Reilly right?  Is that what you intend to do to all of us?” POTUS asked solemnly.  To his utter shock, Connelly began laughing.  It was not a laugh of happiness, but more one of a man who was just barely holding on to his sanity.

“Mr. President, what Conrad did to Prime Minister Yeldham was a mercy,” Connelly said flatly.  “What will be done to you is justice.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You obviously have a short memory, or we wouldn’t be at this juncture,” General Connelly replied.  “Remember the part the Dominionites mentioned about the Orionans being a carnivorous race?”

The President suddenly felt the bottom drop out of his stomach.

“Oh my God,” he said, his face becoming absolutely pale, his memory recalling the briefing given to him.  The Orionans were more accurately omnivores with an overdeveloped carnivorous side.  What made them such savage opponents and the scourge of the galaxy was the fact they took great pleasure in eating sentient beings.  That little fact echoed in the President’s mind, and he found himself fighting even harder to get free of his trappings.

“Give it up, Mr. President,” General Connelly said quietly.  “This is Dinotilian stasis silk, about thirty to forty times more powerful than steel, yet as flexible as rubber.”

“You bastard!” the President shouted.  General Connelly could tell he was becoming quite agitated and raised his fist.  A red beam of light flashed from Connelly’s suit, and suddenly the President felt his limbs go slack again as his muscles were turned into putty.  To his great terror, he suddenly realized that he could still see and hear everything around him.

“Orionan stunner ray,” Connelly said.  “Now, as I was saying, you are all enclosed in stasis silk.  I would be greatly surprised if any of you are able to break out, and even if you are it will more than likely be after the last evacuation vessels have departed this planet.”  Turning, Connelly looked around the room, realizing more of the world’s allegedly great leaders were starting to stir.  He would have to hurry up, or he would end up having to stun them all.  Downside of that is the sensation isn’t as great, he thought viciously.  Leaning forward, he put his mouth right up to the President’s ear.

“As I was saying, the Orionans take great pleasure in eating sentient beings,” Connelly whispered.  “What the Dominionites failed to mention is that the victim usually lives through the entire event, until their brain pan is crushed in their jaws.  It usually takes them a couple of victims to figure out how to keep a race alive for the longest.”  Reaching into his suit, Connelly pulled out a picture of a smiling young man, the spitting image of his father, and held it in front of the President.

“I think you recognize my son, Captain Francis Jason Connelly, Mr. President?” he whispered fiercely.  “He was the fifth human being captured alive by the Orionans, by the Crown Prince whose death they are coming to avenge.  I received the holovideo four months later.”

POTUS could see tears forming in the other man’s eyes, rapidly blinked away.

“You know what it is to see your youngest son consumed by aliens, Mr. President?  To see them gnawing on his legs while he screams?  To watch as they make their way upwards, all while he is still alive?  No, of course not…but you will.”

The President widened his eyes, the only movement he was capable of.

“Oh, you actually thought when we took your DNA earlier that it was truly to ensure we were able to rescue your families and eliminate any false identifications?”  Connelly chuckled as he looked out the window.  There was the roar of jet engines as a flight of F-22C Raptors passed overhead in tight formation, part of the Combat Air Patrol assigned to cover the leader’s meeting.  Today those aircraft are kings of the sky.  Tomorrow they will fall like clay pigeons.

“Mr. President, entire family lines are going to be ended tomorrow once the Orionans land.  I wanted to ensure that those of the people most responsible were among them.  I am sure once Krognar realizes that you were the former leaders of this planet…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to have any DNA in common with you.  I’m sure a few of your fifth cousins are going to be quite surprised when they find themselves being placed back on shuttles for return back to this planet.”

Conrad came back in at that moment.

“General, we have control of all the world’s communications networks and broadcast stations.  We are are ready for you.”

“Has Eric finished his message to Krognar?”

“Yes, and it is being beamed to the Orionan Fleet as we speak.”

“Hopefully we can get them to jump early and Kwirh can give them a bloody nose.”

“If anyone can do it, Kwirh can.”

“All right, let’s go put the world on notice they’re all about to die and at least give them a chance to make peace with whatever God they believe in,” General Connelly sighed resignedly.  “Get me a direct link with Star Colonel Walthers.”

Metal Monday–When Terror Struck the Land

Gettysburg.  The name alone brings forth historical visions of desperate fights in wheat fields, bodies heaped before stone walls, and that poor bastard Pickett writing an after action report so incendiary in its rhetoric that General Lee literally had it burned. Whether one thinks that the Union was saved on this day or that Northern numbers and industrial capacity would have made a Southern victory Pyrrhic, the sheer magnitude of this fight cannot be denied.

So hey, what better thing to do than make heavy metal songs about it?!

Today’s offering comes from Civil War (not to be confused with The Civil Wars).  I found this song through an I-tunes recommendation, and it has grown on me the last couple of weeks:

 

Still, if I had to choose songs to commemorate the battle, I’m rolling with Iced Earth’s trilogy from their album The Glorious Burden.

Day 1

Day 2

Let the record show this begins with what I call “A Hancock Pledge.”  Don’t make a pledge asking deities to strike you down if you have to attack your best friend’s position–it can have a bad outcome.

Day 3

No seriously, a bad outcome.

 

Out of the three, I play “Hold At All Cost” the most often.  I have a couple playlists used for desperate scenes or times in my books.  No bayonet charges (yet), but I’m sure fans can guess at least a couple of points where I had this blaring in the background.  Feel free to put guesses in the comments section.