Archive | May, 2013

Marching Through Hell (The Empire’s Corps VI)–Snippet

30 May

I’m not quite sold on the title, to be honest.  I want something more Marine-themed, but ‘The March Up/ (which has some meaning for me) is far too close to ‘March Upcountry.’

Chapter One


Jasmine stayed low as she slipped towards the house, watching carefully for terrorist spotters posted outside the building. It was easily large enough to hold a small army of terrorists, but intelligence said that there were only ten inside the building – although she knew better than to take that for granted. They’d locked and barred the doors, she noted as she came closer, but they hadn’t realised that someone could simply climb up the walls. Compared to the assault course on the Slaughterhouse, the walls would be easy to climb.

She climbed up a drainpipe and launched herself through an open window, landing lightly on a wooden floor that threatened to creak alarmingly. There was no one in the room, but as she listened carefully she could hear the sound of whimpering coming from further down the corridor. Clutching her stunner in one hand and her pistol in the other, Jasmine slipped out of the room and headed down towards where the hostages were being held. Two terrorists stood on guard, just inside the room. Neither of them had any warning of her presence.

Jasmine stunned them both, then glanced at the hostages. There were five of them, half of the total number of terrorist prisoners – although she knew better than to take that for granted either. It wouldn’t be the first time someone had been reported as free when they were actually held by the terrorists, or vice versa. Jasmine checked them quickly, winked reassuringly and then headed down the corridor. There was no time to undo their handcuffs and get them out of the building. God alone knew what the other terrorists would do if they realised that their prisoners were being freed.

She turned a corner and came face-to-face with another terrorist. He gaped at her as Jasmine lifted her stunner and sent him crashing to the floor, but the sound alerted the other terrorists and they shouted out in alarm. Jasmine threw caution to the winds and hurled herself down the stairwell, using the stunner to lay down covering fire. Unlike a conventional weapon, it could be used indefinitely, without having to take proper aim. She might just get lucky and stun a few more terrorists.

A shot cracked over her head from where two more terrorists had taken up position. The diagrams of the house she’d memorised before the operation had begun told her that they’d taken up a strong position, inside a room with only one entrance, but it also meant that they were effectively trapped. She could wait outside and snipe at them when they came out, rather than risking herself charging into the room … if they hadn’t had a hostage. The feminine gasp of pain from inside the room sent chills down her spine. She had no doubt that they intended to use the hostage as a bargaining chip.

She unhooked a stun grenade from her belt and tossed it into the room, sending the detonation command as soon as it passed through the open door. There was a flash of blue-white light – her close-cropped hair stood on end for a long second – and then there were a series of thuds as bodies hit the ground. Jasmine stepped forward, keeping low, and peered into the room. The terrorists, thankfully, were both stunned, along with their hostage. Jasmine allowed herself a sigh of relief, then zapped them both again with her stunner. Stun grenades were notoriously unreliable when it came to calculating just how long the victim would remain stunned.

Leaving the two terrorists and their hostage, she slipped further down the corridor, watching and listening carefully for signs of the remaining terrorists. Logically, she knew, they should be either trying to escape or preparing for a final stand. Intelligence hadn’t suggested that the terrorists had a bomb large enough to bring the building down on top of them and their hostages, but she knew that it was a possibility. Avalon was not kind to captured terrorists.

She stepped into the next room and saw a body on the ground. A brief check revealed that it was one of the hostages, her throat cut by her captors. Jasmine gritted her teeth and moved on the next room. Inside, two of the terrorists were menacing three other hostages, who were cuffed to chairs and utterly helpless. A third terrorist was working desperately on an improvised bomb. Jasmine stunned him first, then blasted down both of the other terrorists. Clearly, they hadn’t expected to have to detonate the bomb so quickly.

Not total fanatics then, she thought, as she slipped into the next room – and jumped back, sharply. The final two terrorists opened fire, bullets crashing through the plaster walls and bouncing around everywhere. Jasmine felt something thud into her back as she knocked the hostages down to the ground – her body armour took the impact, although she knew that it would ache for hours afterwards – and then unhooked a second grenade. Moments later, silence fell.

She inched into the room … and ducked as a shot almost took off her head. One of the terrorists had had the presence of mind to jump undercover when he saw the stun grenade, shielding himself from the worst of the blast. She’d made a mistake, Jasmine realised, then pushed the thought aside. There was no time for second-guessing herself. Instead, she threw herself towards the terrorist and crashed right into him. He let out a grunt and tried to fight, but Jasmine had been through the toughest training course in the galaxy and then sparred with Marines bigger and tougher than herself. She snapped his neck with ease.

“All known terrorists eliminated,” she reported, as she walked into the room beyond. The final hostages were there, their faces fearful. “Operation complete.”

The hostages slumped in their chairs. Jasmine shook her head in mild disbelief, remembering the first time she’d encountered training dummies at the Slaughterhouse. They were so terrifyingly realistic that she’d honestly believed that she’d accidentally shot a little girl – and the Drill Instructor’s scathing demands to know why little Tiffany had deserved to die had convinced her that she would be on the next shuttle back to her homeworld. As it was, going through everything they’d done wrong had been quite bad enough.

“Good work,” Command Sergeant Gwendolyn Patterson said, as she stepped into the shooting house. “One hostage lost; two more injured … but overall, a good rescue.”

Jasmine scowled, inwardly. The Terran Marine Corps recognised that hostage situations could turn messy very quickly – and that the hostages could be killed even if everyone did everything right – but she’d been determined to rescue all of the hostages. Next time, they might be real. The Crackers had never taken hostages; the bandits had been fond of the tactic. And Admiral Singh had used hostages to keep her crews under control.

“The Colonel is waiting outside,” the Command Sergeant added. “I suggest that you report to him now.”

It wasn’t a suggestion, Jasmine knew. Technically, she outranked Gwendolyn, but the NCOs were the backbone of the Marine Corps, often possessing far more experience than the officers who commanded them. She’d been taught to always listen to them if she wanted to succeed as a Lieutenant, let alone Captain.

Outside, the sun was shining down over Castle Rock. Jasmine’s eyes adjusted automatically to the glare as she looked around for Colonel Stalker. Her commanding officer – she wasn’t quite sure how many hats he wore at the moment – was waiting at the edge of the field, watching the repair crews with a cynical eye. They would be resetting the Shooting House for the next set of soldiers who needed to test themselves.

Jasmine stopped in front of the Colonel and inclined her head. Technically, the Shooting House was classed as a war zone, where saluting superior officers ran the risk of marking them out for enemy snipers. The Colonel nodded back and motioned for her to walk beside him until they were out of earshot of everyone else. His presence … Jasmine honestly wasn’t sure if it was good or bad. The last time he’d sought her out, rather than summoning her to his office, had been when he’d offered her promotion.

“You did well,” he said, shortly. “How are you feeling otherwise?”

“Much better,” Jasmine assured him. “No more nightmares or anything else.”

The Colonel gave her a long considering look, then nodded. Jasmine had been taken prisoner on Corinthian and tortured by Admiral Singh’s underlings. Such experiences left scars; Jasmine hadn’t been entirely surprised when she’d been relieved of duty and ordered to report back to Avalon for recuperation. Her body could be repaired quickly, but her mind was far more vulnerable. The stresses of being tortured could cause mental problems in the future.

“I broke out,” Jasmine said, defensively. “That did help.”

“I didn’t doubt it,” the Colonel said. “And you appear to have returned to form remarkably well.”

Jasmine nodded. If the Colonel – or his Command Sergeant – had any doubts about her mental stability she would never be allowed to return to the Shooting House, let alone active service. As it was, she could look forward to returning to 1st Platoon, perhaps after a few months spent with Joe Buckley on Castle Rock. There was still a desperate shortage of drill sergeants, particularly female instructors.

“Tell me,” the Colonel added. “Where do you see your career going?”

Jasmine took a moment to consider. Before they’d been exiled to Avalon, she’d assumed that she would eventually either climb up through the ranks or move sideways and eventually become an NCO. Her stint as CO of 1st Company had whetted her appetite for more responsibility and higher command, but there were few higher command slots in the company. Stalker’s Stalkers was alone … and, no matter how desperately she tried to convince herself otherwise, they were unlikely ever to link up with the rest of the Marine Corps.

“I’m not sure,” she admitted, finally. Command of the Stalkers was vested in Colonel Stalker and it was unlikely that he would step aside for her. Besides, with the company fragmented, overall command would be more paperwork than action. “1st Platoon?”

“You never quite forget your first command,” the Colonel said. “Sadly, I’m afraid that I cannot send you back to 1st Platoon, not now.”

Jasmine felt a twinge of disappointment, although she had expected as much. Blake Coleman had taken over command of the platoon and couldn’t be relieved, unless he screwed up badly enough to warrant an immediate return to the ranks. She couldn’t ask him to step down for her – and she knew that the Colonel wouldn’t allow her to return as a simple Rifleman. It would be difficult for both Blake and herself to handle.

“There is, however, a different unit that requires a commanding officer,” the Colonel added. “Have you been following the news about Governor Brown?”

“Yes,” Jasmine said, slowly. “Are we going to wage war on him too?”

“I hope not,” the Colonel said. He smiled, thinly. “The Governor seems to be a great deal more approachable than Admiral Singh, but there will be considerable negotiations before his state has formal relations with the Commonwealth. Or possibly a long period of scouting each other out before we go to war. Point is – the Governor and ourselves will be holding talks on a planet called Lakshmibai. Ideally, we should agree on a fixed border, trade terms and suchlike.”

“I see,” Jasmine said.

“Lakshmibai is almost worthless, practically speaking,” the Colonel added. “The only place of interest on the planet’s surface is a garrison put in by the Imperial Army, before the Army withdrew from the sector, leaving it in the hands of a small reserve team. Governor Brown has graciously agreed to let us stake a claim to the garrison first, probably on the assumption that there is nothing truly valuable there.”

Jasmine nodded in agreement. The Imperial Army’s garrisons might have been crammed with supplies that would have been very useful during the first year on Avalon, but there was unlikely to be anything there that was worth the effort of hauling it through interstellar space now. Governor Brown’s willingness to let the Commonwealth have first pick of whatever was there was nothing more than a show.

“I’ll be going, as will the Professor,” the Colonel said. “1st Platoon will be providing close-protection, but there will also be two full regiments of Knights, who will be securing the garrison and providing whatever additional support we need.”

“Two whole regiments?” Jasmine asked.

“They need practice in deploying across interstellar distances,” the Colonel admitted. “I had to relieve an officer for fudging the requirements only two weeks ago.”

Jasmine had heard the rumours. Exercises were supposed to be as realistic as possible, but it wasn’t unknown for officers to cheat, either deliberately or through simple oversight. In this case, an officer had pre-placed supplies in a position where his troops could access them while on deployment, something that wouldn’t be possible during actual operations. The Imperial Army had been far more imaginative when it came to fiddling with the results, while the Civil Guard had rarely bothered to hold exercises. Their commanders had simply certified their units as mission-capable and prayed that they would move on before they were called to take them into combat.

It wasn’t easy to deploy across interstellar distances, Jasmine had to admit. The Imperial Army had relied upon a vast fleet of transport starships when it didn’t have prepositioned supplies to draw on. Marines, on the other hand, had to fight with what they brought. Large-scale operations rapidly became logistical nightmares, particularly if the fighting lasted longer than the bureaucrats had predicted. Jasmine had heard of operations that had ground to a halt because the stockpiles of arms and ammunition ran critically low.

“I want you to take overall command of those regiments,” the Colonel explained. “Command of a much larger force than a platoon should provide an interesting challenge.”

Jasmine nodded, feeling a flicker of excitement. Command of 1st Platoon had been a challenge, but she’d known every one of her Marines personally. Command of two regiments would be far tougher, even if she wouldn’t be expected to lead the charge personally. It would be one hell of an experience.

“Yes, sir,” she said. “How many of them have combat experience?”

“About a third of the force served during the Insurgency or took part in bandit-hunting operations afterwards,” the Colonel said. “Some of the older officers were drawn from the Civil Guard, but have proved themselves. The remainder are largely unstained by blood.”

Unprepared, Jasmine thought. There was no way to know for sure how someone would react in combat until they were actually tested – and by then it could be too late. But that had always been the way. Even the Slaughterhouse, for all the effort put into making it as realistic as possible, had never quite managed to overcome that problem.

“I want to leave within two weeks, in order to meet our counterparts without causing delays,” the Colonel added. He reached into his pocket and produced a datachip, which he passed to Jasmine with a flourish. “Your official orders, a briefing on the planet and an outline of the terms for the negotiations. I suggest you study them all carefully.”

Jasmine took the chip and pocketed it. “Thank you, sir,” she said. As if she would have done anything else. “I won’t let you down.”

“Good,” the Colonel said. “Take the evening off, then report to MacArthur Base tomorrow morning. Your command staff will be coming back from leave; they’ve already been briefed on the planned operation. You’ll have two days to sort out the logistics and suchlike before the troops return from their own leaves. Do you have any requests?”

Jasmine hesitated. Marine tradition said that an officer should ask for whatever he or she felt he needed to complete the mission. But there were limits.

“Joe’s been growing bored running training,” she said, finally. She’d met her former subordinate for a drink every so often while she’d been recuperating on Castle Rock. “Can I take him as my Sergeant?”

“He doesn’t have any more experience than you with large troop formations,” the Colonel pointed out. “But he will be well-known to the soldiers who trained under him.”

He considered briefly, then nodded. “Very well,” he agreed. “You can take Joe Buckley with you. Anyone else?”

Jasmine shook her head, silently. She didn’t know that many soldiers outside the Marines – and she knew that she wouldn’t be allowed to claim more of them for herself. There just weren’t enough Marines to go around. Maybe Sergeant Hampton … if he returned from Greenway in time to join her. But if she sent a message, it wouldn’t reach him before they departed. She would just have to rely on the officers assigned to the regiments.

“You’ll have a couple of officers from the Knights to assist you,” the Colonel said. “And don’t be afraid to ask for others if you need them. There may not be time for proper drills before we leave.”

“Two weeks,” Jasmine said, quietly. Military operations for large units could take a very long time to plan. Two weeks was barely long enough to get organised, let alone carry out a full-scale exercise. “We’re going to be doing a great deal of paper exercises.”

The Colonel nodded, regretfully. “You’ll have to cope with it,” he said, flatly. “And good luck.”

He smiled. “Go take the evening off,” he ordered. “And let me know if your two regiments can make the scheduled departure date without problems.”

“Yes, sir,” Jasmine said.

In at the deep end, she thought, remembering what her Drill Instructors had used to say. Sink or swim.

But she couldn’t help feeling cheerful as she headed back towards the helipad, where there was a regular transport service between Castle Rock and Camelot. It would be a challenge, it would help her career … and she was going back on active service. She almost couldn’t wait to begin.

New Free Books!

28 May

Download my very first space opera series for free! 

One thousand years ago, Earth was conquered by aliens and forcibly annexed into the Galactic Empire. Humans had spread out across the Empire and have become a vital part of its operations, but now the Empire is collapsing. Economic chaos and political strife have crippled it…and its Imperial masters have decided to abandon large sections of the Empire, including Earth. All of a sudden, humanity is independent again, cut loose into an interstellar maelstrom of intrigue and treachery.

Still, no worries, right?

Well, there’s the pirate forces that are preparing to swoop on the undefended, newly settled worlds, far too close to Earth for comfort. There’s the sudden unleashing of human ambition as the Imperials withdraw from their peacekeeping role. There’s the economic crash that will put billions out of work. There are the ambitious politicians who see their chance for real power at last. There are the last remnants of the Imperial administration…along with their technology, ripe to fall into the wrong hands…and there’s the unknown alien race that is probing the borders of the Empire, preparing to invade…

Admiral Glass, last commander of the Sol Picket, has his orders – try to hold as much of the human part of the Empire together as possible. Unfortunately, that’s going to be just a little tricky …

Book One – When the Empire Falls

Book Two – Shades of Grey

Book Three – The Three-Edged Sword

Book Four – The Pirate Queen

I plan to rewrite this series, so any thoughts, comments and suggestions would be very welcome.

All free!

But if you want to tip me, feel free to visit the cookie jar.


Writing Updates

23 May

Hi, everyone

I’m currently working my way towards the denouncement of A Study In Slaughter and I intend to start work on The Outcast, which will be the fifth book in The Empire’s Corps. It will be another stand-alone story, like When the Bough Breaks, but it will lead directly into the next mainstream book.

Naming that book has proved more of a problem than plotting it. I want something Marine-themed, but I haven’t been able to think of something that fits. I’m currently leaning towards RETREAT HELL, but it isn’t quite suitable. Any suggestions will be welcome.

I’m also working on the plot for First To Fight, which will be Edward Stalker’s origin story – generally, the story of how he became a Marine and of his first operation.

My current plan is to write RETREAT HELL after I get back from the UK in July, so there should be two TEC books on the way. After that … I need to take a careful look at the overall arc before plotting the book after that.

Hope to see you there.


New Kindle Book–And Free Book Promotion

10 May

Dear Readers

It is with very great pleasure that I announce that The Slightest Hope of Victory, Book III in the Outside Context Problem saga, is now available for download from Amazon Kindle. A free sample can now be downloaded from my site.

The aliens have landed … and Earth will never be the same. A third of the world is occupied, groaning under the weight of alien oppression, while the remainder is in chaos or preparing desperately for the final battle. As the aliens unveil their long-term plans for humanity, a horror unmatched by any purely human foe, it becomes clear that the end will not be long delayed. Humanity’s darkest hour is at hand.

But humanity will never give up, not as long as there remains a slightest hope of victory. From the heartland of America to the skies over Britain, from the deepest depths of the ocean to the cold darkness of space, the battle to decide the future of two races is yet undecided …

And the Battle for Earth has yet to be won.

To promote this book, I am offering copies of Outside Context Problem free between Monday 13th and Wednesday 15th May, US time. Click here to download a free sample and then go here to obtain the book. You can also download a free sample of Under Foot, Book II of the saga, and then purchase it from Amazon.

If you liked this, you might also like The Coward’s Way of War – a terrifying near-future scenario where terrorists launch a biological attack … and bring the world to the brink of total disaster.

Have fun!


Knight’s Move V2–Snippet

7 May

Slightly more sympathetic main character here.

Chapter One

“Hell of a sight, sir.”

Commander Glen Knight nodded as the shuttle neared the Luna Shipyards. Countless starships –fleet carriers, superdreadnaughts and marine transports – floated in orbit around the moon, slowly being decommissioned and placed into storage. The giant military force that had beaten the Dragons was being reduced, broken down into what the politicians called a more reasonable size. Millions of spacers had already been mustered out of the service and allowed to return to civilian life.

“Yes,” he agreed, flatly. “Hell of a sight.”

It hadn’t been two years since the Battle of Sphere Prime, which had effectively ended the war, and the politicians had already forgotten about the sacrifices the military had made during forty years of war. Glen himself had only been in the Terran Federation Navy for seven years and he’d seen more death and destruction than any politician. His last posting on TFS Ark Royal hadn’t taken him along the border or through the formerly Occupied Zone, but he’d heard stories about the chaos. It was worse, according to the old sweats, than the chaos that had gripped the Rim before the Dragons had invaded.

He kept his thoughts to himself as the shuttle dropped out of orbit and headed towards O’Bryan Base, the headquarters of the Terran Federation Navy. It was a towering superstructure in the lunar landscape, well away from Armstrong City or one of the other lunar settlements, surrounded by planetary defence centres and marine emplacements. The war had never reached Earth, but there had been times when it had seemed that the TFN would have to fight to defend humanity’s homeworld. Now, such times had almost been forgotten, at least outside the military.

The shuttle dropped down towards a docking bay, which opened as they approached, allowing them to land inside the base. Glen nodded politely to the shuttle pilot, stood up and walked to the hatch. It hissed open, allowing him to taste the base’s air. Every base and starship had its own smell; O’Bryan Base smelt faintly of lunar rock. A young woman wearing the uniform of a Lieutenant Commander was waiting for him, just outside the landing zone.

“Commander Knight,” she said, as he stepped out of the shuttle. She sounded very young, almost certainly without any real military experience. “The Admiral is waiting for you.”

Glen smiled at her. “Do I get the chance to freshen up first?”

“Yes, sir,” the woman said, caught between two superior officers. “But I would suggest you hurried.”

Glen allowed her to lead him to the nearest fresher, where he washed his face, straightened his uniform and checked his decorations. The silver pip that marked his rank contrasted with the gold and silver decoration awarded to everyone who had fought during the Battle of Sphere Prime, the red and black ribbon for saving lives and the green and silver award for tactical thinking. Or, as the spacers called it, somewhat disrespectfully, the reward for Extreme Cleverness in the Face of the Enemy.

He met his own eyes and nodded, satisfied. His face looked young, as if he were barely out of his teens; his father, long ago, had ensured that all of his children received rejuvenation and life-extension treatments as soon as possible. Ink-black hair fell over dark skin and darker eyes, contrasting sharply with the white TFN uniform. He adjusted his jacket one final time and then stepped outside the fresher, meeting up with his escort. The young woman glanced at him, then led him down the corridor and past a pair of marines guarding the Admiral’s office. Neither of them paid any attention to Glen.

His escort tapped on the inner door. “Admiral,” she said, “Commander Knight is here to see you.”

“Excellent,” an unfamiliar voice said. “Bring him in.”

Admiral Darren Webster had commanded the TFN during the last ten years of the war, Glen knew, but he had retired shortly after the war had come to an end. Instead, Admiral Rupert Patterson rose to his feet to greet Glen as he entered the office. Unlike Webster, who had been a fighting officer with a string of successful engagements to his name, Patterson had never been in a battle and had spent the war managing the TFN’s vast logistics train. He’d done a good job, according to fleet scuttlebutt, but there were doubts that he had the moral strength to be Chief of Naval Operations. But the fleet didn’t get to chose its own commanders.

He was a short dumpy man, balding despite the existence of treatments that could have given him a full head of hair. Glen couldn’t help thinking, as he saluted the Admiral, that scuttlebutt was probably right. Admiral Patterson was not the sort of Admiral to inspire confidence in the spacers under his command. Quite why he’d been offered the CNO post was a mystery.

Political patrons, Glen guessed. His upbringing had taught him a great deal about how the political system really worked. It was why he had gone into the navy and gladly accepted assignment away from Earth. Patterson might well have sold himself to political patrons, who would ensure that he advanced through the ranks in exchange for unthinking allegiance.

“Commander Knight,” Patterson said. “At ease, son.”

Glen relaxed, slightly.

“You’ve been on the short list for promotion ever since the encounter at Koyo,” Patterson said. “Captain Venture and Commodore Lee both credit you with saving Ark Royal during the brief engagement with renegade Dragons. Accordingly, you are promoted to Captain.”

Glen blinked in surprise as the Admiral passed him a silver box. Inside, there was a gold starship that denoted command of a warship. But why was the Admiral telling him in person? That was certainly not usual procedure. Normally, the Promotions Board would have sent him a formal notification, along with transfer orders to his new ship. Assuming that there was a new ship, of course. Promotion had practically been frozen for everyone in the months after the war.

He removed the silver pip from his collar and replaced it with the golden starship, then looked at the Admiral. Surely he would explain …

“You are also being given command of TFS Dauntless, a Lightning-class heavy cruiser,” the Admiral continued. “She’s fresh out of the yards, after we finally sorted out which ships were worth completing after the war. The crew was put together by the Personnel Department, but you shouldn’t have any problems with them. Unfortunately, we cannot afford to give you much time for a shakedown cruise.”

Glen felt his eyes narrow. Every new ship had its own quirks and glitches, no matter what the shipyard crews claimed. It was standard procedure to put the ship through an intensive shakedown cruise before declaring her fit for operational service, just to make sure that the problems were discovered and handled long before they were in hyperspace, completely isolated from any possible help. And there shouldn’t have been any need for speed. It wasn’t as if the TFN was short of heavy cruisers, even though the politicians were slashing the navy to one-tenth of its former size.

“There are … political issues,” the Admiral said. “We need you on station as soon as possible.”

He lowered his voice, slightly. “Captain … have you been keeping an eye on the situation in the Fairfax Cluster?”

“The Bottleneck Republic?” Glen asked. “Only what’s been put on Federation News …”

“Their claim to independence is not accepted by the Senate,” Patterson said, warningly. “Suffice it to say that the Senate has, instead, determined that Federation law and order will be restored over the cluster. Your ship will be the first step towards patrolling the region and taking over responsibilities from the local defence forces. Eventually, such forces will be disbanded completely.”

“I can’t see the colonists accepting orders to simply disband,” Glen said. “They will have drawn the lessons of Koyo, even if no one else did.”

He scowled at the memory. Koyo was nearly four hundred light years from the Occupied Zone, an Algerian-ethnic planet in a resource-poor system. It should have been a fairly safe posting for Ark Royal and her crew; the massive fleet carrier was potent enough to overawe any conceivable threat. But it hadn’t stopped a small squadron of renegade Dragons from coming alarmingly close to taking out the entire ship.

And Koyo had been supposed to be safe. No one could say that of the Occupied Zone, or the remains of the Draconic Empire, or – for that matter – the Fairfax Cluster.

“Human unity is the key to humanity’s survival,” Patterson said, firmly. It was a slogan used by the Unity Party, the political alliance that had controlled the Federation during the forty years of bitter war. “The colonies might feel that they should have more than the standard internal autonomy granted to settled worlds, provided that they adhere to Federation Law and the Bill of Rights, but they cannot be allowed to act independently.”

He lifted his eyebrows in mock surprise. “Or perhaps you disagree with the Senate on this matter?”

Glen said nothing. Family connections or not, questioning the Senate’s decisions openly was unwise, certainly in front of an Admiral who had risen to the top through political patronage. Patterson would do whatever his patrons commanded – and if Glen objected too loudly, he would lose his new command before he had even set foot on her.

“Your precise orders are to patrol the Fairfax Cluster, provide protection to its citizens in line with the Naval Charter, enforce Federation Law and form connections with pro-Federation groups within the Fairfax Cluster. Where possible, you are to seek out ways to cooperate with local forces – and attempt to determine their precise strength and intentions. You are not, however, to do anything that suggests that the Federation recognises the Bottleneck Republic as actually possessing any legitimate authority, let alone the planetary councils of worlds that had yet to repay their settlement loans. They are not included in the general amnesty after the Occupied Zone was liberated.

“In addition, you are to provide protection to alien settlers and refugees within the Fairfax Cluster, regardless of whoever poses the threat. The long-term disposition of both groups has yet to be determined, but until the Senate makes a final decision they are to be protected from racists and extremists on both sides.”

Glen wanted to shake his head in disbelief. Patrolling the Fairfax Cluster was simple enough – although the law of averages suggested that Dauntless wouldn’t be in position to stop pirate attacks if she kept moving from system to system – but carrying out all of the other orders would be nightmarish. How was he meant to cooperate with local forces while spying on them? For that matter, how could he talk to pro-Federation groups if the Federation openly refused to recognise several local governments as possessing legitimate power?

“The colonials will refuse to recognise your authority, at first,” Patterson continued. “If necessary, you are authorised to use force to ensure that they understand that the Federation will not abandon its position, no matter what posturing they do. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir,” Glen said, tightly. It was a recipe for trouble, at the very least. In the Federation proper, his authority would be unchallenged, but the Fairfax Cluster had been isolated from the rest of the human race for nearly forty years. They had evolved their own legal systems, systems that sometimes conflicted with Federation Law. “You want me to remind them that the Federation claims ultimate authority over the human race.”

“Indeed,” Patterson said. “It is the intention of the Federation Senate to include the developed systems within the Fairfax Cluster in the next census, which will be carried out before the elections. Their claims to any form of independence will be ignored and they will, eventually, fade away. Your task is to show them the benefits of remaining part of the Federation – and our refusal to accept their childish claims to independence.”

Glen couldn’t – quite – keep the wince off his face. The colonials – all of the colonials, not just the Fairfax Cluster – had long resented the dominance of the Core Worlds over the Federation’s federal structure. It had been a cause of considerable discontent prior to the outbreak of war with the Dragons; Glen knew that ONI had speculated that the Dragons had actually funded and encouraged independence movements, just to keep the human race distracted. Now, after the Core Worlds had so badly failed the colonies, any attempt to assert the same level of authority in the wake of the war was asking for trouble.

Representation in the Senate alone wouldn’t fix the problem, he knew. The larger the population, the larger a system’s clout – and only a handful of colonies outside the Core Worlds had a population greater than ten million, at least prior to the war. After the occupation, there were dozens of worlds that had been almost completely depopulated by the Dragons. There were good reasons for the colonials to try to remain in the Federation, but not if it meant giving up more of their independence.

“Sir,” he said, carefully, “talking down to them will not help.”

“We cannot afford to suggest that we take their claims seriously,” Patterson said, crossly. “The Federation Senate is clear on this matter. Our unity must not be compromised.”

He picked up an envelope from his desk and passed it to Glen. “Your formal written orders,” he said. “We expect you to depart within the week.”

Glen nodded, sticking the envelope in his jacket. Maybe the formal orders would make more sense, or at least give him wide latitude to act as he saw fit. Captains were supposed to be able to make their own decisions, within the scope of their orders, but he’d heard that the orders coming out of O’Bryan Base had been leaving less room to manoeuvre ever since the end of the war. Having granted vast authority to the Admirals during the war, the Admiralty was busy clawing it back.

“Your father was very pleased with your assignment,” Patterson added. “I trust that you will make him proud.”

“Pleased with my assignment,” Glen repeated. “Did he arrange for my promotion?”

He fought down the bitter rage that threatened to overcome him. Theodore Knight, Glen’s father, was the largest stockholder and CEO of Knight Incorporated, one of the largest interstellar corporations in the Federation. Knight Incorporated produced everything from starships to settlement gear for colonists; it was said that tax inspectors had gone mad trying to probe the full web of holdings owned by the corporation. And, with so much wealth at his disposal, Theodore Knight was one of the most powerful men in the universe.

Growing up in his shadow hadn’t been easy. Glen had gone to the finest schools and universities in the Federation, but he’d started to resent his father’s interference in his life from a very early age. While his older brothers and sisters allowed their father to shape them into corporate servants – Theodore believed in keeping as much as possible inside the family – Glen had rebelled. At eighteen years old, he’d walked out of his expensive university and into the nearest Federation Navy recruitment office. And yet his father’s influence could be seen in how his career had developed, during the war. He’d had to fight merely to be assigned to a combat post.

“He hinted that it would meet with his approval,” Patterson said. “But you are qualified …”

Yeah, Glen thought bitterly. And so are thousands of others.

What was the old bastard playing at? Glen knew better than to think that Theodore Knight believed that the Fairfax Cluster was a safe posting. Federation News might have turned a blind eye to the anarchy raging along the frontier, but Knight Incorporated had its own sources of information. Coming to think of it, didn’t his father control a number of news networks outright? He should certainly know what was going on, even if the general public didn’t.

But it was always hard to guess at his father’s motives for doing anything, save only that they were always intended to make money and secure the family’s position.

“Right,” he said, finally. There was no point in asking Patterson. Admiral or not, he was nothing more than a pawn of his political superiors. “Thank you for your time, Admiral.”

Patterson nodded. “A full work up from ONI will be transmitted to your ship, Captain,” he said, flatly. “You will be expected to deliver Governor Brown to Fairfax, then you may proceed as you see fit – in line with your orders, of course.”

Glen kept his face as still as possible. “You want us to transport Governor Brown to Fairfax?”

“Yes, Captain,” Patterson said. There was an odd flash of understanding in his eyes. No CO liked the thought of having a politician on his ship. The Captain was the supreme authority while onboard, but a complaint from a passenger could easily lead to trouble from the Admiralty. “And his staff.”

He stood up and held out a hand. “Good luck, Captain,” he said. “And God bless.”

Glen took the proffered hand and shook it automatically, then saluted and left the office. Outside, the Admiral’s aide was waiting, ready to escort him to his shuttle for the transfer to Dauntless. Glen smiled inwardly and allowed her to lead him there.

Once he was on the shuttle, heading away from the moon, he opened the envelope and scanned the orders quickly. He’d expected something a little more coherent than the Admiral’s explanation, but in many ways it was worse. How was he meant to convince the colonials to stay with the Federation while at the same time refusing to meet with their elected governments? Or, for that matter, attempting to enforce Federation Law in their territory?

He shook his head as the shuttle passed a fleet carrier that was being towed towards the Naval Reserve. Everything had been so much simpler during the war.

New Kindle Book: The Coward’s Way of War

6 May

What would happen if weaponized smallpox got loose?

This is the question I try to answer in my latest Kindle publication, The Coward’s Way of War. In the very near future, biological weapons are stolen by terrorists and released in the United States of America. As the disease spreads out of control and society starts to collapse, people are forced to struggle to survive a disaster that will reshape the world for hundreds of years to come.

Against this backdrop, an extraordinary cast of men and women fight desperately for survival in a world gone mad. Doctor Nicolas Awad struggles desperately to contain and control the outbreak; President Paula Handley struggles to rally the shattered country for war and preserve something of the American way of life. On the streets of New York, Sergeant Al Hattlestad and the NYPD try to keep order and save as many as possible, while survivalist Jim Revells takes his family and tries to hide from the chaos.

But the nightmare has only just begun.

As always, a free sample of the book can be found on my site and then it can be downloaded from Amazon here. It’s afterword can be found here.

On other news, The Slightest Hope of Victory, Book III of Outside Context Problem, should be uploaded by the end of the week. Keep watching for news of a free promotion to support the book.

If you like my writing, please share this post and review.