Archive | August, 2014

The Shadow of Cincinnatus (Barbarians At The Gates II)–Snippet

26 Aug

Prologue

From: Meditations on Power: The Terran Federation, The Empire and Marius Drake (4502 A.D)

What is power?

Some would say that power is the ability to shape events to your pleasing. Some would say that power is the ability to do things denied to other people. And some would say that power is the way to get what you want, when you want it, no matter what others might have to say about it. When asked to chose between sex and power, the cynic will always choose sex.

Why? Because power can be used to obtain sex.

But power can also be used to obtain more power. This was certainly true of the Grand Senate of the Terran Federation. An august body, composed of members who had practically inherited their seats, it reached for more and more power over the Outer Worlds and the Colonies. The Colonies rebelled, of course, but the Senate fought and won the Inheritance Wars, ending the threat of the Federation snapping in two. It should have been the end.

The Grand Senate grew lazy and complacent. It fought a pointless war with an alien race that ended up costing more blood and treasure than it had anticipated, purely out of greed. It chose to ignore growing problems along the edge of explored space, secure in its power and position. But even the more paranoid members of the Grand Senate failed to realise that it was placing more and more power in the hands of its military leaders. One of them, Admiral Justinian, rebelled against the Federation, intent on claiming power for himself.

It should not have taken long for the Federation to crush the upstart. The Federation Navy outmassed the rebels by over a hundred to one. But other military commanders had rebelled, diverting the Federation’s forces, while the Grand Senate took steps to ensure that no future military commander could ever hope to gain enough power to challenge the Senate. And yet, their actions ensured that no quick and decisive war was possible. No Admiral dared take chances when his actions might be taken out of context and used against him. No General dared make plans of his own without fear of being accused of plotting a coup. The Grand Senate was effectively strangling its own ability to make war.

Eventually, Admiral Marius Drake – a hero of the early fighting – came to terms with the Grand Senate. He would marry into their ranks and defeat their enemies. This he did, leading the forces of the Federation to a stunning victory over Admiral Justinian. But the Grand Senate, no longer trusting him, chose to try to kill him. His best friend died saving his life.

And so Admiral Drake led his fleet against Earth, captured the Grand Senate and proclaimed himself Emperor.

Alas for Drake, he was about to discover the limits of power.

Chapter One

Garibaldi, Roman. One of the fastest-rising stars of the Federation Navy and a personal protégé of Admiral (later Emperor) Marius Drake. After his role in the failed peace mission to Admiral Justinian, Garibaldi was assigned to Fifth Fleet as her commanding officer …

-The Federation Navy In Retrospect, 4199

Hobson’s Choice, 4098

“You know,” Elf said, “this is the very definition of using a sledgehammer to crush a nut.”

Roman Garibaldi gave his friend, lover and ground-forces commander a mischievous look, using one hand to brush the brown hair out of his eyes as he looked up at the gathering fleet. It was smaller, in terms of numbers, than the giant fleets that had fought the Inheritance Wars, but it was an order of magnitude more deadly, the most powerful fleet assembled in the last decade of intermittent warfare. Calling the fleet a sledgehammer sent to crush a nut was a definite understatement.

“More like using a sledgehammer to crush an atom,” he said, after a moment. “Or dropping an entire asteroid into a planet to kill a single person. Or …”

Elf snorted, rudely. “Does it bother you?”

Roman shrugged, then shook his head. He’d been on the receiving end of superior firepower – vastly superior firepower – often enough to feel a certain kind of satisfaction at having superior firepower on his side for once. Maybe there were naval officers out there who liked the idea of a fair fight, of matching themselves against an enemy commander with equal strength to themselves, but it wasn’t a sentiment any sensible officer could allow himself in combat. Besides, the more firepower be brought to the party, the smaller the chance of a real fight.

Not that they have much chance anyway, he thought, with a tinge of amusement. A handful of light cruisers would be more than enough to take the high orbitals of Hobson’s Choice.

He looked up at the running lights of Fifth Fleet. It had only been a month since his most recent promotion and he couldn’t resist a thrill of delight at seeing so many ships under his command, although he knew he was far from the only young officer promoted into occupying a dead man’s shoes. The war with the rogue Admiral, Justinian, had been good for eliminating much of the deadweight in high-ranking positions, if nothing else. And yet, seeing so much responsibility resting on his shoulders worried him. He’d barely been a Captain long enough to grow accustomed to his ship before he’d been promoted to the flag deck.

“You’re thinking again,” Elf teased him. “It’s a terrible habit right now.”

“I know,” Roman said, gravely. “But I need to try to plan for everything.”

Elf tapped his shoulder. “You should know that isn’t possible,” she said, sternly. “All you can do is be prepared to adapt to change at a moment’s notice.”

Roman let out a sigh. “Yes,” he said. “But will there be any change here?”

“Probably not,” Elf said. “But we have been surprised before.”

“Yeah,” Roman drawled. “Better to be careful.”

He shrugged. Hobson’s Choice had been a thorn in the side of the Federation for years, ever since the world had been claimed by an eccentric who had thrown open the doors to anyone who wanted to operate outside the Federation’s gaze. Now, it served as a clearing house for pirates, smugglers, slavers, rebels and all the others who were more than a little unwelcome on Federation worlds. A vast amount of bribes, paid out to senior officers and sector governors, had ensured that the world remained undisturbed by the Federation Navy. But now everything had changed. Hobson’s Choice was about to get a very unwelcome surprise.

His wristcom buzzed. “Admiral,” Flag Captain Scott Palter said, “the 143rd has just reported in. They’re ready to move.”

“Good,” Roman said. “Inform the fleet to begin cloaking procedures. I’m on my way.”

“Good luck,” Elf said. She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek, then headed to the hatch. “Leave some of them for us, will you?”

Roman watched her go, then looked back at the fleet. There was another reason for bringing the entire formation to Hobson’s Choice, even if it was a staggering level of overkill. Fifth Fleet had been put together in a hurry, from starships that had seen service in the recent war to new-build starships just out of the yards, with crews that had barely graduated from the academy. The mission would, he hoped, iron out any problems long before they ran into anything larger than a pirate ship or two. Even if the warlords were gone, there were plenty of other threats out there.

He smiled, then turned to walk through the hatch and down to CIC himself. It still astonished him that he’d been given command of so many ships, even if it was unlikely he’d ever command a ship personally again. That irked him, more than he cared to admit. He’d never expected to become a Commodore, not with his lack of connections. Starship command had seemed the highest achievable goal. And now he was a Commodore, holding down an Admiral’s billet. His family would be proud.

The hatch to the CIC opened up in front of him, revealing a handful of consoles, a large command chair and a giant holographic tank. Lights flickered and flared within the tank, dimming to grey as the ships went into cloak, each one tagged with the starship’s name and current status. The temptation to micromanage was almost overpowering, Roman had discovered, finally understanding why so many senior officers had issued so many unnecessary orders. One look was enough to tell him that Fifth Fleet’s formation looked at little ragged.

An officer with less experience of actual war-fighting would see that as a problem, he thought, as he took his seat. But anyone with any sense would know better.

He looked up at the display, then glanced at Palter. They’d known each other since Roman had commanded Midway, where Palter had been his tactical officer. Thankfully, Palter had been available when Roman had been assigned to Fifth Fleet. A month in command hadn’t given him the time to get to know most of his officers, particularly as Fifth Fleet was still assembling. The Federation Navy might have expanded rapidly, during the war, but it was still badly overstretched. Roman was surprised that so many starships had been assigned to the Rim.

But Admiral – Emperor – Drake fought here before the war, he thought. He felt a duty to do something about the chaos along the Rim.

He took a breath. “Order the fleet to advance,” he said. “And prepare to spring our surprise.”

***

“The cargo is secure, sir.”

Captain Roger Loewi nodded, impatiently. Hogshead had been orbiting Hobson’s Choice for weeks, burning precious fuel, while her agents on the surface had been rounding up the cargo and lifting it to orbit. The crew had been growing increasingly unhappy, after discovering that they would neither be allowed to go down to the surface or play their games with the cargo. He’d had to face down two threats of mutiny and one crewman had actually managed to desert, although he was no loss. Somehow, slavers rarely attracted the best crews.

The cargo, he thought, sourly. One hundred and fifty women, all young, all healthy enough to bear children for a hidden colony thousands of light years from Earth. The crew was already sniffing round the hold and, if it weren’t for the armed mercenaries guarding the hatches, he would have feared for their safety. For some absurd reason, the colonists wanted virgins. God knew it was hard enough to find virgins on Hobson’s Choice, let alone girls who had been captured by pirates and traded to slavers on the planet below. He cursed himself under his breath, then dismissed the thought. If he didn’t think of the slaves as cargo, he would go mad.

It was a living. Hogshead was too old and slow to carry legitimate cargo, even if there hadn’t been a hundred warrants out for her arrest on the more civilised worlds of the Federation. And wasn’t that ironic? Loewi knew for a fact that some of the slaves he’d shipped, properly modified, had been sold to high-ranking Federation officers, who would probably dispose of them before returning to Earth. Who gave a shit about the morality of shipping kidnapped women and children when the alternative was poverty and certain death? Or indenture …

He turned back to the console. “Take us out of here,” he ordered. “Now.”

“Gotcha, dad,” the helmsman said. His son worked the console with a practiced ease. “I hear some of them are …”

An alarm sounded. Red lights appeared on the cramped display.

Loewi’s mouth dropped open. For a long moment, his brain refused to accept what he was seeing. There were a hundred and fifty starships decloaking around the planet, spearheaded by five entire superdreadnaught squadrons. It had to be a trick of some kind, his brain yammered at him, an illusion created by ECM drones designed to fool far more advanced sensors than Hogshead’s outdated sensor suite. They could barely see another freighter more than a few million kilometres away from them! But the starships had a terrifying solidity that drove all doubts out of his head.

“Dad, I’m picking up a message,” his son said.

“… Is the Federation Navy,” a voice boomed. “Hobson’s Choice is now under military control. Cut your drives and prepare to be boarded. Any resistance will result in the destruction of your vessels. There will be no further warning.”

Loewi thought fast. The idea of outrunning any of the military ships was thoroughly absurd. They could be given forty-eight hours to run and the military would still catch up with them before they crossed the Phase Limit. Not that they’d be given the time, he saw, as new icons flared to life on the display. Hundreds of starfighters were launching from carriers, each one more than capable of blowing Hogshead into vapour. They were caught like rats in a trap.

His son looked up at him. “Dad?”

“Cut the drives,” Loewi ordered. He knew he was dead. Slaver Captains could be shot without the formality of a trial – and if the bribes no longer protected Hobson’s Choice, there was no point in hoping they would protect him. But at least his children and crew would survive. They’d be on a penal planet, but they would be alive. “Cut the drives and tell them we surrender, then lock down the ship. The mercs might have other ideas.”

***

“I think we surprised them, sir,” Palter said.

Roman nodded. There had been seventy starships orbiting Hobson’s Choice when the fleet had decloaked and a third of them had started to try to flee. The others had dropped their drives as per instructions, although there was no way to know if they’d meant to surrender or if they simply hadn’t been able to power up their drives in time to escape. Not, he knew, that it really mattered. The fleeing ships didn’t have a hope of escaping his fleet and making it out into deep space.

“Good,” he said. “Dispatch the Marines. We’ll go with Plan Theta.”

He forced himself to sit back and watch as his fleet’s smaller units moved in to tackle the fleeing ships. A couple cut their drives as soon as the destroyers entered firing range, the reminder kept trying to run until the destroyers opened fire. Roman watched, as dispassionately as he could, as five of the fleeing ships exploded, one by one. They were either pirates or smugglers, he knew, both occupations that earned participants the death penalty. But it was still one hell of a waste.

“The Marines are entering the atmosphere now,” Palter informed him. “There’s no trace of any resistance.”

Roman wasn’t surprised. To all intents and purposes, Hobson’s Choice was an utterly undefended world. There was no government, let alone a military; there was certainly no one willing to fight and die in the defence of a wretched hive of scum and villainy. By the time someone managed to take control, if anyone did, the Marines would already be occupying int the major settlements. Resistance would be utterly futile.

More reports came in as smaller parties of marines boarded the surrendered starships. Most of them were smugglers – few pirates would lurk in orbit when they could be back out in space, hunting for their next prizes – but three of them were slavers. Two of the slavers were empty, having returned to Hobson’s Choice for more slaves, while the third was crammed to bursting with young female slaves. They’d been kidnapped, according to the Marines, or sold into slavery by their families. And if the fleet had waited another hour or two before launching the invasion, they would never have had a hope of freedom.

“Move them to the hospital ships,” Roman ordered. How could anyone sell their children into slavery? He’d grown up on an asteroid and no one had ever threatened him with anything worse than being sent to bed without his supper. But the Rim of explored space was rarely civilised. A family might decide it was better to sell one child, no matter how horrific it was, than lose everyone. “And then transfer their former captors to the brig.”

He looked down at the display as more reports came in from the planet’s surface. A handful of locals, no doubt expecting the death penalty as soon as they were identified, had tried to put up a fight. The Marines hadn’t bothered to try to talk them down, knowing it would be futile. Instead, they’d simply called up heavy firepower from a hovertank and blown the enemy building into flaming debris. The bodies would be found and identified later.

“All the ships have been secured,” Palter reported. The display flickered and updated as the Marines took control of the captured ships, showing their status. “Should I dispatch prize crews?”

“See to it,” Roman said. It galled him, but Fifth Fleet’s logistics were appallingly weak. The Grand Senate had been willing to build thousands of new warships for the Federation Navy, but they’d been reluctant to pay for new freighters. It was a piece of short-sightedness that, he suspected, would come back to haunt them. Fifth Fleet was far too dependent on a small handful of bulk freighters for his comfort. “And prepare them for transit to Athena.”

The hours ticked by, slowly. Roman felt growing impatience, even though he knew the invasion was proceeding with astonishing speed. Hitting a more normal colony world, even one without defences, would take much longer. Hobson’s Choice was only a handful of minor settlements, after all. They could literally round up everyone on the planet, load them into prison ships, and drop them off at the nearest penal world.

It was nearly nine hours before Elf contacted him, privately. “Roman,” she said, once the link was secure. “The planet is under control.”

“Good,” Roman said. “Any problems?”

“None,” Elf said. She sounded perturbed. “But there’s an odd shortage of captives.”

Roman frowned. A planet was a large place – and someone with the proper training or equipment could remain undiscovered for quite some time, if they tried. And finding them would require more time than he had.

“Did they have a chance to go to ground?”

“I’m not sure, but I don’t think so,” Elf said. “They only had around twenty minutes of warning before we came down and landed around the settlements. We’re interrogating some of the captives now, but it sounds as though quite a few people have been gone for quite some time.”

“Someone’s been recruiting,” Roman said, slowly.

“It looks that way,” Elf agreed. “The missing people are all mercenaries or starship pilots, as far as we can tell. And we know we didn’t capture many mercenaries when we occupied Admiral Justinian’s territory.”

Roman considered it. “What about our agents?”

“No sign of them,” Elf said. “They weren’t planning to stay on Hobson’s choice indefinitely, though.”

“True,” Roman agreed. The last time he’d visited Hobson’s Choice, he’d helped to insert a number of agents from ONI. And no one had heard from the agents since. “Have the prisoners moved to the ships, then earmarked for interrogation,” he said. If someone was recruiting … pirates? Smugglers? Or Outsiders? “If we offer someone a chance to escape a hellworld, they might talk.”

“I’ll see to it,” Elf said. Her chuckle echoed down the link. “Easiest invasion I’ve ever seen, Roman. I didn’t lose a single Marine.”

“We could do with an easy victory,” Roman agreed. The Federation Navy had fought hard in the war, but it had also been badly demoralised. Between the certain knowledge that some senior officers had turned on the Federation, and the Grand Senate’s relentless attempts to control the Navy as thoroughly as possible, there were too many officers frightened to do anything without orders, in triplicate. “Good work, Marine.”

He took a breath. “Detach a handful of Marines to sweep the surface,” he ordered. There was no point in keeping the entire fleet in the backwater system, but they could leave a few surprises behind. “I’ll assign a destroyer squadron to the high orbitals. If we’re lucky, we should snag a few strays before word gets out and rogues start avoiding the planet.”

“Aye, sir,” Elf said.

“And then we’ll set course for Athena,” Roman concluded. He felt a thrill of anticipation at the thought of seeing the Rim. “And see just what’s waiting for us there.”

He closed the link, then settled back in his chair. All things considered, it had been a cakewalk, almost laughably easy. Thousands of captives had been liberated, hundreds of pirates, slavers and smugglers would face justice and Hobson’s Choice would no longer be a thorn in the Federation’s side. And the fleet’s morale would improve as news of the victory sank in.

Emperor Marius would be pleased.

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The Thin Blue Line (The Empire’s Corps IX)–Up Now

25 Aug

Up for purchase now!

Earth has fallen … and humanity is holding its breath, waiting for the next blow to fall.

On Terra Nova, Earth’s oldest colony world, chaos and anarchy are threatening to break out, with total collapse only one disaster away. In a desperate attempt to save the rest of the Empire, the planet’s Governor has summoned the leaders of the Core Worlds to Terra Nova, in hopes of sharing power and preventing civil war. But dark forces are on the move, intent on ensuring that the conference fails.

As the first strands of a deadly plot are uncovered, Imperial Marshal Glen Cheal finds himself fighting to uncover the plot before it is too late. Meanwhile, on her own mission to save the last best hope for peace, Specialist Belinda Lawson of the Terran Marine Corps is plunged into a nightmare where she can no longer trust her own mind, while her decisions will save or damn the Empire …

Failure isn’t an option. But success may not be an option either …

[Like my other self-published Kindle books, The Thin Blue Line is DRM-free. You may reformat it as you choose. There is a large sample of the text – and my other books – on my site. Try before you buy.]

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MV8VMSS

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00MV8VMSS

Updates

23 Aug

Hi, everyone

Writing news first, The Thin Blue Line is now ready for purchase <grin>.

The good news is that we finally made it to Britain. We spent two days at LONCON UK, much to my wallet’s horror, as I spent more than I probably should have done on books and stuff. A very big THANK YOU to everyone who dropped by the Elsewhen table to see me – I sold and signed a number of books, which was a strange and surreal experience. But not an unwelcome one.

I seem to have been invited to two more conventions in quick succession. I’ve been invited by the publishers to NOVACON in the UK, in November. It’s in Nottingham, but I should be able to make it there, barring unforeseen events. We’re planning to launch the paperback copy of Necropolis there, so please come if you can.

[In related news, the paperback copy of Schooled In Magic is finally out. Please ask your local library to buy one <big grin>.]

I’ve also been invited to RAVENCON, where I may be on a panel or two. I’ve provisionally agreed to go, but for various reasons I may not be able to make it. Watch this blog for further details nearer the time.

Right now, we’re currently looking for a house in Edinburgh. Like before, it’s a pain in the butt – several places have been taken before we even knew they were there, while one place (marked as being available at once) was actually only available from October. We found a strong prospect, but we won’t know for sure for a few more days. <sigh>.

I’m planning, vaguely, to start BATG II on Tuesday or Wednesday, but it depends on how things go. I’m actually having problems with the plot, making it gel … it may be pushed back, depending. I’ve also snippeted Warspite and Hard Lessons. One of them will be coming after BATG II.

I’m also looking at ideas for a second Imperium book. (There’s three or so books upcoming, from different authors). I have a vague idea based around something like the Jacobite Rebellion, but it will take time to plot and write it.

On a different note, I would like to say ‘thank you’ to the person who sent me a book from my wish-list. Unfortunately, there was no note with the book, so I don’t actually know who to thank. So … thank you!

As always, comments, reviews and encouragement are warmly welcomed.

Hard Lessons (A Learning Experience II)–Snippet

23 Aug

Chapter One

… Based upon reports from operatives and private news agencies we are looking at the collapse of North America within twenty years. By then, Europe will have fallen into chaos too …

-Solar Union Intelligence Report, Year 51

“That’s the bus, young man.”

Martin Luther Douglas jerked awake, then rubbed his eyes as the bus came into view, moving brazenly down a street that even armed policemen feared to tread. It looked absurdly civilian, nothing more than a yellow school-bus, but the sigil on the front warned gangsters and drug lords – to say nothing of ethnic rights groups – to stay well away from the bus, its passengers and those who would join them. No one fucked with the Solar Union.

He rose to his feet and nodded to the elderly man who’d been sweeping the street, as if it was a habit he could not break. He’d been there when Martin had arrived, nodded to him once and then simply ignored the younger man while he waited for the bus. It had been hard to tell if the man was too old to be nervous around a young man from the derelict parts of Detroit or if he’d been beaten down by the system, like so many others. Martin rather hoped it was the former, but he suspected it was the latter. In the end, white or black, the system screwed them all.

“Thank you,” he said, trying hard to speak without the ghetto accent. Young men and women had been taunted for ‘acting white’ until the ghetto accent had almost become a separate accent in its own right. “I …”

The roar of the bus’s engines drowned out his words as it pulled up to the marker and stopped, the door hissing open a moment later. Martin reached for his ID card as he climbed up the steps – it was impossible to do anything in America without an ID card now – but the driver merely waved him into the vehicle. He put the card back in his pocket, feeling oddly exposed as he made his way down the aisle, looking for an empty seat. There was only one, next to a teenage girl who seemed to be a mixture of White American and Asian, with long black hair and very pale skin. The girl, her attention held by the handheld player in her lap, barely paid him any attention as he sat down. Moments later, the bus lurched to life and started back down the road.

Martin sat back in his seat and stared out at the surrounding buildings. They were rotting away, slowly collapsing into rubble. No one, whatever the politicians said, was interested in investing in Detroit, not when the gangs controlled much of the city. There was no point in spending money when it would be wasted, not when what little capital remained in the United States was heading to orbit. And besides, he had to admit, who would want to help the residents? They were either members of the gangs or their victims.

He must have fallen asleep, for the next thing he knew was the bus shuddering to a halt. Opening his eyes, he looked out of the window and saw a large fence, blocking the bus’s way. A large sign, perched prominently on the gate, warned the passengers that the territory beyond the fence was governed by the rules and laws of the Solar Union. Below it, there was a second sign informing drivers that they could abandon their vehicles to the left. Martin looked and saw a colossal car park, crammed with rusting cars. They’d simply been taken to the complex and abandoned. He couldn’t help wondering why no one was trying to take the cars and put them back into service. It wasn’t as though the original owners wanted them any longer.

The gate opened, revealing a handful of buildings set within a garden. One large building, rather like a school, was right in front of the bus; behind it, a number of smaller buildings seemed to be surrounded by people, stalls and several teleoperated machines. It reminded him of the one and only bake sale he’d attended at school, before they’d been banned. The sight brought an odd pang to his heart, even though he would have sworn he would never look back on his school days with anything approaching nostalgia.

“If I could have your attention, please,” the driver said, as he parked the bus. “Go into the main building for the orientation talk, then follow instructions. Make sure you take all your personal possessions with you. Anything you leave on the bus will be discarded and either recycled or junked, depending. There will be no chance to recover anything after you leave the bus.”

Martin shrugged. All he had was a holdall containing a change of clothes, some money he’d been able to scrounge up from the remains of his home and a picture of his family, in the days before they’d fallen apart. There was no point in keeping it, really; whatever happened, he was privately resolved never to go back to Detroit. Beside him, the girl unplugged the earbuds from her ears and placed her handheld terminal in a small bag. She didn’t seem to have much else, not even clothes.

“Yolanda,” she said, holding out a hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Martin,” Martin said. The girl’s face, so exotic compared to the girls he knew from home, left him feeling tongue-tied. “Are you planning to leave too?”

“Nothing to stay for,” Yolanda said. She followed him out of the seat, then down towards the ground. “What about yourself? Any family?”

“Not any longer,” Martin said, feeling a fresh pang. Life was cheap in the ghetto – only a handful of families enjoyed both a mother and a father – but it shouldn’t be that way. “I’m trying to get away from the memories.”

Yolanda nodded, then looked past him towards a large bin. A handful of their fellow travellers were dropping cards into the bin. It puzzled Martin until they reached the bin and looked inside. It held ID cards, Ethnic Entitlement Cards and Social Security cards. He reached into his pocket, recalling the dire warnings about what happened to anyone who happened to lose his or her card, then dropped the ID card in the bin. It wouldn’t be needed any longer.

His Ethnic Entitlement Card glowed faintly as he dragged it out of his wallet. A line of coding seemed to shimmer under his touch, informing all and sundry that he was descended from Africans who had been abducted from their homeland by white slave traders, granting him specific rights of recompense for past wrongs. His face glowered up at him. He’d been going through a rebellious phase at the time and he’d insisted on scowling into the camera, when his picture had been taken. In hindsight, it hadn’t been a very good move. It might explain why he’d never been able to get a proper job after leaving school at fifteen.

Yolanda’s card was more detailed than his, he noted, as she dropped it in the bin. He wondered, as he dropped his own card after hers, just what sort of benefits a mixed-race child drew from the society security bureaucrats. But it was never enough, he knew, recalling his mother’s endless struggle with the social workers. No level of resources provided could get the family through increasingly troubled times. He’d grown up angry and resentful. It had taken him far too long to realise that society itself, in the name of helping him, was keeping him in the ghetto. Discarding the cards left him feeling free.

“This way,” a man called. “Hurry!”

Martin smiled, then walked next to Yolanda as they entered the building and walked into a large auditorium. Warning signs were everywhere, some simple and easy to understand, others complex and puzzling. The walls were decorated with large portraits of men and women, looking larger than life, wearing the black and gold uniforms of the Solar Navy. He had to admit they looked impressive. And, unlike so many others, proud to wear their uniforms.

“Be seated,” a thin-faced white man said, standing on the tiny stage. His voice echoed around the chamber, even though he didn’t seem to be wearing a microphone. “Welcome to the Solar Union. My name is Horace Bradley, Director of this Immigration Centre. This is a very small talk to get you orientated, then you can proceed to the next step. I suggest you listen carefully and save your questions until after I have finished.

“The good news is that you don’t have to worry about much bureaucracy here” – there were a handful of cheers, swiftly muted – “but the bad news is that there are few people charged with helping you. We believe that immigrants succeed or fail by their own devices. There are opportunities galore for all of you, no matter where you come from, but you have to take them for yourselves. None of us will give you a kick in the ass to get you started.”

He paused, then continued. “There are no real government handouts in the Solar Union. We will give you a basic immigrant’s pack, which contains a terminal, a basic guide to the Solar Union and a bank chip loaded with five hundred solar dollars. The terminal comes preloaded with email and other facilities you can use, if you wish, to find a job and a place to stay. It also contains a set of guidelines, an introduction to society and other pieces of information you need to know. None of us will make you read the documents, but remember; ignorance of the law is not an excuse.”

Martin frowned, then understood. At school, they’d been drilled extensively to recall pieces of pointless knowledge, which they’d then cheerfully forgotten after passing the exams. The teachers had been considered liable for not teaching their charges everything and so they’d struggled to stuff information into unwilling brains. But the Solar Union, it seemed, wanted them to have the motivation to learn on their own. There would be no one forcing them to learn – or to succeed.

“There are fifty-seven stalls in this complex,” Bradley concluded. “Those of you who have contracts with established companies and suchlike can make your way directly to their stalls, where you will be escorted to your final destination. Everyone else, unless you want to join the military, can visit the different booths and choose your destination. Military recruits are advised to go to the barracks, where the next introductory talk is starting in one hour. I advise you to check the paperwork carefully before you sign anything. Good luck.”

He nodded to them, then turned and walked out, without waiting for questions. Martin watched him go, then looked at Yolanda. The girl was eying her handheld processor wistfully, as if she wished she were listening to it now. Martin hesitated, then asked the question that had been nagging at his mind since Bradley’s speech.

“Where are you going?”

“The military,” Yolanda said. “I’ve been practicing with navigational sims and I think the military is the best place to get spacer qualifications.”

Martin gaped at her. “The military? You?”

Yolanda smirked. “Don’t you think I can hack it?”

“I don’t know,” Martin confessed. “I was planning to try out for the military myself.”

“Then we go together,” Yolanda said. She rose to her feet, then started to walk towards the door, where a pair of young men were handing out the promised terminals. “Come on.”

The barracks didn’t look like a barracks, Martin decided, although his only experience of barracks came from semi-forbidden movies showing the military life. He experimented with his new terminal as he joined a line, which slowly moved into the building and past a grim-faced man with a facemask covering half of his skull. No, Martin saw as they came closer, it wasn’t a mask. He’d chopped away part of his face and replaced it with a cyborg attachment that seemed to defy logic or common sense. Martin couldn’t help staring at him as he took the sheet of paper, then checked it quickly. It was nothing more than a standard recruitment form.

“You can fill it out on your terminal, if you like,” the man grunted. Even his voice was vaguely electronic. “Then just upload it into the datanet.”

“I don’t know how,” Martin confessed.

“I’ll show you,” Yolanda said. “The operating system will be as simple as possible …”

“I want to make a complaint,” a girl said, pushing her way up to the guard. “I should be first in line and …”

The guard cut her off. “This isn’t the socialist states of America,” he said. “We don’t care what entitlements you might have from anywhere outside the wire. Wait your turn in the line.”

Martin stared. It was rare – vanishingly rare – for anyone to stand up to a claim of entitlement from anyone. Anything that could be used to screw an advantage out of the system, be it race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or anything else would be used. It had pleased him, at first, to know that his skin colour gave him precedence over others, until he’d realised that the system was nonsensical. He’d never been a slave, nor had his great-grandparents. And he certainly didn’t have any Native American blood running through his veins.

The girl stared at the cyborg for a long moment, then – when he seemed utterly unmoved – turned and stamped back to the rear of the line, muttering just loudly enough to be heard about how the guard should check his privilege. Her words were almost drowned out by snickers and an overwhelming sense of relief that seemed to spin through the air. Martin smiled to himself, then followed Yolanda into another large chamber. A holographic image of a giant starship floated in front of them, then shifted into a man wearing a massive suit of powered combat armour. The gun he was carrying in one hand looked larger than he was.

Yolanda gigged as they sat down. “He must be compensating for something,” she said. “Do you think he’s a defender or a mercenary?”

“I have no idea,” Martin confessed. He opened his terminal and started to fill out the form, cursing his poor reading skills. Each question was simple, yet he needed to read through them twice to be sure he was saying the right things. Thankfully, none of the questions actually required him to lie. “But I’d be either, if it meant getting out of here.”

The holographic image faded away, leaving the room dark and bare. Martin felt another pang, then sat upright as a man wearing a black uniform that matched the colour of his skin strode out onto the stage. He looked too muscular to be real, Martin thought; it didn’t seem possible that any human could have so many muscles. And yet, from the ease he carried himself, it was impossible to think otherwise. Martin was impressed. He’d met too many thugs, gangbangers and snobbish social workers in his life, but this was the first real man.

Maybe my father was like him, he thought, suddenly. But would he have left if he was?

“Good afternoon,” the man said. His voice was sharp, oddly accented. He spoke in a manner that demanded their full attention. “I am Drill Instructor Denver. You are here because you are interested in joining the Solar Navy or associated forces. If you wish to be anywhere else, piss off now and save me some time.”

There was a pause. No one left.

“Good,” Denver said. “You will know, I think, that the Solar Union is a very loose society, almost anarchistic. There are relatively few laws to follow and you can do whatever the hell you like, assuming you don’t harm others. That is not true of the military. Depending on which branch of the service you join, you will have to serve a five, ten, fifteen or twenty year term. During that time, we will own your asses. You will have very limited choice in assignments and, unless you earn a medical discharge, you will not be allowed to leave without fucking up your future. If you’re not committed, like I said, piss off now and save me some time.

“The Solar Navy is charged with defending the human race against the Galactics,” he continued, without a break. “You may not like Earth as it is now, but it would be a great deal worse if the Galactics took over. We cannot afford to fuck around like the politically-correct” – he pronounced the words as if they were curses – “officers who have ruined the western militaries over the past seventy years. The Solar Navy is all that stands between us and alien rule.

“There will be a three-month period at Boot Camp for all of you,” he concluded. “This is to get you used to life in the Solar Union and, also, to give us a chance to evaluate you. After that, you will be assigned to separate training streams, where your talents can be shaped to suit our needs. At that point, you will be committed.”

He paused. “Any questions?”

“Yeah,” a young man said. “When can we quit?”

Denver eyed him darkly. “You can quit up to one week in Boot Camp without penalty,” he said. “At that point, you will receive your implants. Should you quit after that, you will be charged the full price for the implants, which have to be tailor-made for you personally. And then, when you are steered into your training streams, you will be committed. The military life is not for everyone.”

That, Martin knew, was true. But it was also his only hope of leaving Earth behind. He had no educational qualifications that meant a damn in the Solar Union, no hope of obtaining them … it was the military or grunt labour, which offered no prospect of advancement. If he’d wanted that, he would have gone to work for McDonalds-Taco Bell, if there had been a place available. Most fast-food takeouts were purely robotic these days.

“The choice is yours,” Denver said. “If you’re still interested, walk through the doors at the rear of this chamber. There will be a brief medical exam, then a shuttle flight to Sparta Training Base. Good luck.”

Martin and Yolanda exchanged glances as Denver walked out of the room, then, without hesitation, rose and walked through the door.

Warspite (Ark Royal IV)–Snippet

21 Aug

Comments welcome.  And The Thin Blue Line is still on pre-order.

Chapter One

London wasn’t what it used to be.

Captain John Naiser stood in Trafalgar Square and looked towards the War Memorial, placed below Nelson’s ever-watchful eye. It was nothing more than a piece of the Ark Royal’s hull, salvaged from the wreckage of the once-mighty ship, but it had a special meaning for the men and women of the Royal Navy. He took a step closer, ignoring the handful of children clustered around the memorials, until he could see the faint edges of the names engraved into the metal. There were far too many names listed of those who had died during the war.

He looked for a specific name, but it wasn’t visible. The Royal Navy had lost over ten thousand officers and men in the war, a loss that had crippled the post-war navy. Each of the names were too small to make out with the naked eye, carved out of the metal by cutting lasers guided by computers carefully programmed to include each and every known casualty of the war. There was no point in looking for the names of those who had served on HMS Canopus, still less his friend and lover. He took one final look, then forced himself to turn away. There was no point in dwelling on the past.

The children headed back towards the teacher standing at the edge of the square, their faces pinched and worn compared to the children he remembered from his own childhood. They knew what it was like to be hungry, he knew, and what it was like to lose everything in one afternoon. God alone knew how many of them were war orphans, fostered out to whoever was willing to take in a child after their parents had been killed, or how many had seen nightmares as they struggled for survival. Three years after the end of the First Interstellar War, large parts of the population were still traumatised.

He drew in a breath, then started to walk down towards the Ministry of Defence. Most of the once-white buildings looked torn and faded, damaged badly by the giant waves and endless rainfall that had swept over London. Even crossing the Thames was an adventure these days, after the waves had knocked down all the bridges. The Royal Marines had established pontoon bridges in the early days of the recovery, and the Royal Engineers had added a handful of more solid structures, but there was nothing as reassuring as the bridges he’d once known. It would be years before the city recovered from the attack on Earth – and decades, perhaps, before the population recovered from the war.

A line of young men, wearing the muddy-brown overalls of the Civil Reconstruction Corps, marched past him, swinging their tools in a manner that reminded him of soldiers carrying rifles. They’d been lucky – or unlucky, depending – to escape military conscription in the years following the war, instead being detailed to work on civil recovery projects. John felt a moment of envy for their simple lives, even though he knew they had little true freedom. But then, everyone in Britain was required to play a role in rebuilding the country. The reserves of manpower represented by the civilian population could not be allowed to go untapped.

He smiled to himself as the workers were followed by a handful of young women, old enough to be out on the streets on their own, but young enough to escape their own conscription into the CRC. Half of them already looked pregnant, having worked out that pregnancy was the one sure way to avoid being subsumed into serving their country. They hadn’t realised, the cynical side of his mind noted, that they were also serving Great Britain by providing children – or, for that matter, that raising a child would take far more than two years of compulsory service in the CRC. But it might not matter. If they were reluctant to raise the children, after giving birth, the children could be passed to foster parents for adoption.

“Hey, spacer,” one of the girls called. “You want to go for a drink?”

John shook his head. Colin and he had often hit the bars of Soho, chatting up young men and trying to take one or more of them home for the night, back when they’d been young and foolish and the very concept of alien life nothing more than a figment of human imagination. And now Colin was dead and there were days when John found it hard to raise his head from the pillow and do his duty.

The thought made him scowl, bitterly. He wasn’t the only one to be badly affected by the war. Two weeks ago, he’d heard that one of his old classmates – it bothered him profusely that he didn’t know the man’s name – had put a gun in his mouth and killed himself, blowing his brains over the compartment. He wasn’t the only ex-military officer to kill himself in the wake of the war, either through survivor’s guilt or the simple realisation that nothing would ever be the same again.

He sighed as he turned the corner and walked up to the line of armed soldiers on duty. The sight of soldiers in the capital, wearing battledress uniforms rather than ceremonial garb, had once been an unpleasant surprise. Now, with Britain practically under martial law, it was depressingly common. The Royal Horse Guards had been a firm and highly-visible presence on the streets since the Battle of Earth. There were days when John wondered if anything would be the same again.

Of course it won’t, he told himself, sharply. We’re no longer alone.

Five years ago, the human race had known it was alone in the universe. A hundred Earth-like planets had been discovered, with none of them possessing any life forms larger or more interesting than a dog. Earth had seemed unique in giving birth to an intelligent race …

… And then humanity had encountered the Tadpoles. And, if a single elderly carrier had been scrapped, the Tadpoles would have won the war. Instead, they’d been held, barely. And then, when the peace talks had finally concluded, the human race had looked out on a universe that was fundamentally different. They were no longer alone in the universe and, perhaps, it was only a matter of time until they encountered a third intelligent race.

And who knows, he asked himself, what will happen then?

The guard stepped forward as John reached the security fence. He didn’t quite point his rifle at John’s chest, but the threat was clearly there. London had learned hard lessons about security in the days following the attack on Earth. The food riots and outright panic had made the task of recovery far harder.

“Papers, please,” the guard said.

John reached into his uniform jacket and produced his ID card, then the printed letter inviting him to the Ministry of Defence. The letter had been short and to the point, but he had been unable to avoid a thrill of excitement after two weeks on Earth. Paper letters were rarely sent unless he was being summoned for promotion, a new command – or disciplinary action. And he knew he’d done nothing to warrant being hauled up in front of the First Space Lord for a bollocking. That would be the task of his immediate superior.

“You’ll be met inside the building by a guide,” the guard said, after scrutinising the papers and checking with the building’s datanet. “Remember not to stray from the path.”

“I know,” John said. Being arrested by the military police and spending the night in the guardhouse wouldn’t be fun. “Are there any problems I should know about?”

“Couple of reports of bandits in the Restricted Zones, but nothing too serious,” the guard said. He stepped backwards and waved John into the building. “Good luck, sir.”

John smiled, then stepped though the gate into the Ministry of Defence. It was the largest military building in London, apart from the barracks serving the army regiments based in the capital, now that command and control facilities had been moved to secret locations or Nelson Base, hanging in high orbit over the city. Inside, it was decorated with giant paintings showing scenes from British military history, culminating in a painting entitled The last Flight of Ark Royal. It was surprisingly good, compared to some of the others.

“Captain Naiser,” a female voice said. “I’m Commander Juliet Underwood. If you will come with me …?”

John nodded, then allowed the young woman to lead him through a network of corridors. Outside the entry lobby, it was surprisingly bare, as if the walls had been stripped of paintings and all other forms of decoration. It was political, he guessed, as Commander Underwood paused in front of a large pair of doors. The Ministry of Defence couldn’t afford to be living it up when a fifth of the British population was still living in shoddy prefabricated accommodation scattered around the countryside.

“The First Space Lord,” Commander Underwood said.

“Sir,” John said, stepping into the office. It was as barren as the rest of the building, save for a large holographic display floating over the Admiral’s desk. “Reporting as ordered.”

“Take a seat, Captain,” Admiral Percy Finnegan said. He returned John’s salute with one of his own. “It’s been a while.”

John sat, resting his hands in his lap. Finnegan had commanded HMS Victorious during the war, where he’d had the dubious pleasure of saving John’s life when his carrier had responded to the report of an attack on Bluebell. John had met him twice, once for a debriefing and once for a transfer from starfighter piloting to mainline command track. Both meetings had been short, formal and largely unemotional.

“I was reading through your file,” Finnegan said, as he sat down and placed his elbows on his desk. The show of informality didn’t help John to relax. “It’s quite an interesting read.”

“Thank you, sir,” John said.

“Born twenty-three years ago, in London,” Finnegan continued. “Parents largely absentee; you were practically brought up in boarding school. Joined the Cadet Corps at fourteen, then switched to the Space Cadets at fifteen. Your instructor spoke highly of you and cleared the way for you to enter the Starfighter Training Centre at eighteen. You were involved in an … incident the week before graduation and were accordingly assigned to HMS Canopus, rather than a posting on a fleet carrier.”

John stiffened. The … incident … had seemed a good idea at the time.

“You served on Canopus for five months before the Battle of Bluebell, where you were the sole survivor. Your heroics during the battle won you the Victoria Cross. You were asked to return to the Training Centre to share your experience, but instead you requested a switch to command track. May I ask why?”

There was no point, John knew, in pretending to be mystified by the question.

“Colin and I were … close,” he said. “We were wingmates, sir. When he died, I decided not to fly starfighters anymore.”

“Indeed,” Finnegan said. He took a long breath. “You were appointed First Lieutenant on HMS Rosemount, as she required a CAG at short notice. I might add that you weren’t expected to keep that position indefinitely. Captain Preston, however, chose you to succeed Commander Beasley when he was promoted to take command of HMS Jackson. You served as his XO until you were transferred to HMS Spartan. Again, you were quite young for the post.”

“Yes, sir,” John said.

“But you would be far from the only officer to be promoted rapidly,” Finnegan concluded, shortly. He met John’s eyes. “Your failure to follow a conventional career path would, under other circumstances, limit your chances of advancement. As it happens, however, we have a posting for you.”

John kept his face expressionless with an effort. The Royal Navy needed all the trained manpower it could get, after so many officers and men had been killed in the war. In truth, he’d expected to be assigned to the Luna Academy or the Starfighter Training Centre years ago. He would have hated it, but it might be the best place for him to go. The recruits needed someone with genuine experience to ensure they knew what they needed to know.

“This isn’t an easy time for the Navy,” Finnegan continued. “We no longer have enough hulls to meet our commitments, even without having to refit a number of pre-war designs with alien-derived technology. Worse, several second-rank human powers are now in a position to challenge us, because they didn’t take such a beating in the war – and then there[‘s the threat of renewed conflict with the Tadpoles. Accordingly, we’re having to rush a stopgap design of starship into service.”

John felt a sudden burst of hope as the First Space Lord tapped his console and a holographic image of a starship appeared in front of him. She was larger than a frigate, he noted, although she would still be dwarfed by a fleet carrier. Oddly, she looked smoother and sleeker than the more mundane craft the Royal Navy deployed. He couldn’t help being reminded of some of the alien ships he’d seen during the war.

“The Warspite class is a hodgepodge of human and alien technology,” Finnegan informed him. “They’re armed with a mixture of weaponry, carry alien-grade jump drives and are generally faster and more manoeuvrable than any previous design. On the other hand, the mixture of technology has already lead to teething troubles and kinks in the design, which we don’t have time to work out before pressing the ships into deployment. We’re that short of hulls. Unfortunately, they also require non-standard commanders.”

That made sense, John was sure. The starship’s combination of human and alien technology might daunt a commander with more experience of human starships. He’d have less to unlearn than someone who followed the standard command track to high rank. And besides, if the data at the bottom of the display was accurate, the starship would handle more like a starfighter than any pre-war starship. He was sure, now, that he would assume command of one of the new ships. The thought of the challenge made him smile.

Finnegan shrugged. “They have considerably more range than a frigate,” he explained, as the holographic display twisted to show the starship’s interior. “Thanks to some of the alien technology, she can even draw fuel from a gas giant if necessary, although she lacks the machine shops and other onboard replenishment systems of a carrier. In short, she should be ideal for both escort missions, showing the flag and coping with limited problems without needing a major fleet deployment.

“You will assume command of HMS Warspite,” he concluded. “We already have a task for her, Captain. You will not have a proper period to settle in to your new command.”

John nodded, unsurprised. The meeting wouldn’t have been organised so rapidly if the Royal Navy hadn’t needed to get Warspite into operational service as quickly as possible. It was likely to be a major headache if the ship was as untested as the First Space Lord was suggesting, if only because of the risk of failing components. There had to be a reason for the haste.

But he would assume command! It didn’t matter what Finnegan wanted him to do. All that mattered was that he would be commander of a starship, master under God. It would be the peak of his post-war career.

“We’ve been probing through the new tramlines,” the First Space Lord said, unaware of John’s inner thoughts. “We’ve had some successes in locating newer ways to travel through human space which will, I suspect, cause a major economic boom once the technology is commonly available. Two months ago, however, a survey ship located a star system on the edge of explored space that possesses no less than seven tramlines, three of them alien-grade. One of them is directly linked to the Cromwell Colony.”

“Founded just before the war, if I remember correctly,” John said, slowly. There had been a political argument over the British claim to the world, with several second-rank powers asserting that it should be theirs, damn it! Britain already had one major star system and several minor ones. “They were untouched by the fighting, I take it.”

“They weren’t touched directly,” the First Space Lord said, “but there were delays in getting supplies and new colonists out to them. They’re not our concern, though. You will take your ship and a small flotilla of starships to Pegasus, the newly-discovered system, and lay claim to it in the name of the British Crown. Someone else might try to get there first.”

“Possession being nine-tenths of the law,” John commented. There were endless arguments over who should claim systems with life-bearing worlds, but systems with several tramlines could be equally important. Control over shipping lanes would give the system’s owner a fair source of revenue in its own right – assuming, of course, they could make their will felt. “I assume the system hasn’t been formally claimed?”

“It won’t be, until we have an established presence there,” the First Space Lord warned. “I would prefer to avoid a challenge from one of the other powers over ownership.”

He stood up. “Your formal orders are here,” he said, holding out a datachip. “You will travel to Warspite and assume command at once. I expect you and the flotilla to be ready to leave within the week, barring accidents. You will not find it an easy task.”

“I will not let you down,” John assured him, as he took the datachip. There would be more than just his formal orders on the chip, he was sure. He could expect details of everything from his new command to her crew roster. “Thank you, sir.”

“Thank me when you come back,” Finnegan said. His voice hardened as he rose to his feet and held out his hand. “Not before.”

The Thin Blue Line–Pre-Order Now!

20 Aug

Hi, everyone

The Thin Blue Line is now available for pre-order from Amazon (links below.) The book itself will be available from 23rd August (Saturday, US time).

This probably requires a little explanation. <grin>. Amazon has recently started offering pre-orders for Kindle books. I wasn’t convinced this was actually useful at first – big publishers have slack built into their schedules that self-publishers can’t match. To add to this, you need a final version of the book before you can pre-order, so I can’t offer Hard Lessons without actually having something to sell.

And then it occurred to me that I could use the system.

If you pre-order the book, you won’t actually be charged until the book goes live. At that point, assuming I understand the system properly, you’ll get the book and I will (hopefully) have a large number of sales, all of which will take place at the same time. This should give my rankings, which are based on books sold, a hefty boost.

Cover Blurb

Earth has fallen … and humanity is holding its breath, waiting for the next blow to fall.

On Terra Nova, Earth’s oldest colony world, chaos and anarchy are threatening to break out, with total collapse only one disaster away. In a desperate attempt to save the rest of the Empire, the planet’s Governor has summoned the leaders of the Core Worlds to Terra Nova, in hopes of sharing power and preventing civil war. But dark forces are on the move, intent on ensuring that the conference fails.

As the first strands of a deadly plot are uncovered, Imperial Marshal Glen Cheal finds himself fighting to uncover the plot before it is too late. Meanwhile, on her own mission to save the last best hope for peace, Specialist Belinda Lawson of the Terran Marine Corps is plunged into a nightmare where she can no longer trust her own mind, while her decisions will save or damn the Empire …

Failure isn’t an option. But success may not be an option either …

[Like my other self-published Kindle books, The Thin Blue Line is DRM-free. You may reformat it as you choose. There is a large sample of the text – and my other books – on my site. Try before you buy.]

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MV8VMSS

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00MV8VMSS

Thank you for your time.

In other news, LONCON was great fun. I’m currently plotting to try to get to the next one in Spokane, USA.

Chris

Quick (Again) Updates

11 Aug

Hi, everyone

Good news first – I’ve only got three chapters to go for The Thin Blue Line (TEC 9). I hope to finish it tomorrow, then send it to be edited and get it up within a week or so. I also need a cover, which hopefully will be ready on time too. This is a stand-alone piece, of sorts – it might be a good idea to reread When the Bough Breaks beforehand, as Belinda reappears in this volume.

After that, I’m going to write a short story (5K-10K) for an anthology of MIL-SF writings. I’m planning to do one set in either the Ark Royal universe or The Empire’s Corps universe. Which one would you like?

-One story would be the origin story of the hero of Warspite – basically, a ‘what I did during the war’ story. He would be pitted against a remorseless alien foe, all alone in the night.

-The other would be centred around a small Marine detachment in the middle of a city, during a war. I’ve got several separate ideas for it, but none really gelling yet. The core one is basically ‘Christmas in wartime’ when the Marines try to celebrate despite being under heavy fire. Another one would be more sentimental, I think.

Paul suggested one featuring Roland, the former Crown Prince. I’ve given it some thought, but it would really be more of a character story as he makes his way through Boot Camp. How does that sound? But it would be less exciting than either of the other two stories, I feel.

That said, my life is seeing more changes. <grin>.

Hopefully, we will be going to the UK for a year or so, after long battles with the UKBA to get permission for me to live there with Aisha. There’s a complete lack of actually useful communication from them, so while we have the stamped passport I’m still left a little unsure of the exact procedures. They start by demanding a lot of documents, then they give us the stamped passport and … what? Do we still need the TB form? <bangs head off wall several times.>

So I’ll be going to LonCon on Saturday and Sunday coming, then heading back to Edinburgh (after having made a few bookshops in London a little bit richer.) Then …

My current plan is to write Barbarians at the Gates II next, then go on to either Hard Lessons (A Learning Experience II) or Warspite (Ark Royal V2) Let me know which one you’d like.

It’s been a busy month for my publishers, in other news. Both Study in Slaughter and Necropolis have been posted on Amazon. Paper copies of Schooled In Magic should be available within a week or two. If you liked them, please write a review.

I’m probably going to be working through the edits for Work Experience (Schooled in Magic IV) in the next couple of weeks, then hopefully have it up in a couple of months. The School of Hard Knocks (SIM V) has been accepted, but no publication date yet.

I also have the planned titles for the next three books in the series. 6 – Love’s Labour’s Won, 7 – Trial By Fire, 8 – The Parting of the Ways. Assuming everything goes according to plan, Trial By Fire will serve as the end of the first story arc. Then things really start moving.

Anyway, back to the writing for me.

Chris