Here's an extract from C. A. Higgins' Lightless, courtesy of the folks at Del Rey. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
With deeply moving human drama, nail-biting suspense—and bold speculation informed by a degree in physics—C. A. Higgins spins a riveting science fiction debut guaranteed to catapult readers beyond their expectations. Serving aboard the Ananke, an experimental military spacecraft launched by the ruthless organization that rules Earth and its solar system, computer scientist Althea has established an intense emotional bond—not with any of her crewmates, but with the ship’s electronic systems, which speak more deeply to her analytical mind than human feelings do. But when a pair of fugitive terrorists gain access to the Ananke, Althea must draw upon her heart and soul for the strength to defend her beloved ship. While one of the saboteurs remains at large somewhere on board, his captured partner—the enigmatic Ivan—may prove to be more dangerous. The perversely fascinating criminal whose silver tongue is his most effective weapon has long evaded the authorities’ most relentless surveillance—and kept the truth about his methods and motives well hidden. As the ship’s systems begin to malfunction and the claustrophobic atmosphere is increasingly poisoned by distrust and suspicion, it falls to Althea to penetrate the prisoner’s layers of intrigue and deception before all is lost. But when the true nature of Ivan’s mission is exposed, it will change Althea forever—if it doesn’t kill her first.
The room was vast and empty and white, and Ida sat on a cold steel chair behind a cold steel table in precisely its center, facing the door over the empty chair across from her. On the table beside her a System regulation polygraph and interrogation camera had been placed, not yet recording and, like Ida, waiting.
The steel door across the room swung open, and framed in its tiny square beneath the wide featureless stretch of white wall above, Ida Stays saw him, her subject, Leontios Ivanov, dressed all in black with his blond hair cropped short. His gaze darted around the room before settling on her, the only creature inside. His wrists were chained behind his back.
Ida let the smile she’d been holding locked away unfurl on her lips, and Ivanov watched her, the full subject of his gaze.
When Domitian gave Ivanov a shove to move him forward, he started to walk straight toward her, and there was consciousness of her attention in every step he took. When he reached the other side of the table, the empty chair with its back to the door, Domitian grabbed him by the back of his neck and pushed him harshly down, pushing him to bend forward over the table until his chin was just above the surface of the table so that Domitian could unchain his wrists. A line was digging into Ivanov’s forehead between his brows as Domitian handled him roughly, but as Ida continued to watch, he looked up at her, his face smoothing over, and smirked at her.
The problem with Leontios Ivanov, she thought as Domitian pulled him back upright against the hard back of the chair and started to chain his wrists to the armrests, was that Ivanov was handsome, and knew it, and intelligent, and knew it. He could not help overplaying both hands. Ida was smarter than he, and Ida had him precisely where she wanted him to be.
Domitian tightened the last chain and took a step back, waiting behind Ivanov’s chair, looking to Ida and wordlessly waiting for instructions, just as he was supposed to. The camera and the polygraph sat to the side on the table between Ivan and Ida, out of the immediate way, but their very presence was a threat.
Ida let the silence of the interrogation room linger a moment longer.
“It’s good to meet you at last, Ivan,” she said, and watched his face for a reaction. “Ivan” was what Gale called him, and Constance Harper; presumably Abigail Hunter did, too. “Ivan” was what he called himself to his friends, to his equals.
Ivan hardly reacted. He tilted his chin very slightly to the side and said, after a breath too long to represent anything but careful consideration, “May I call you Ida, or should I stick to Miss Stays?”
He had recognized her. Ida swallowed her thrill.
“Ida, of course,” she said, and leaned forward slightly, pleasant and charming, and he smiled back in the same way, taking his cues from her. He wore his black turtleneck like armor. “I see you recognized me.”
“Of course.” Ivan’s accent was Terran in full force, as crisp and sharp as only one raised on Earth could achieve, and for an irrational moment Ida wondered if he could hear the hidden traces of Venus in her own imperfect Terran affectation.
“I wanted to know the name of the beautiful woman who has been asking after me for months,” Ivan continued. “So I looked you up.”
Her inquiries had not been clumsy, but they had not been terribly discreet, either. Still, it indicated a greater degree of awareness on Ivan’s part than Ida’s superiors, for certain, would have expected. The glow of gratification had started to fill her chest.
“And is that all you found out?” she asked, as if charmed. “My name and my face?”
Ivan leaned forward, too, as far as the chains would allow. Their faces were still separated by the wide expanse of the table, but the movement imagined intimacy, and he said confidingly, with a curl of amusement in his voice, “I heard that you’re the woman who’s always right. All of your interrogations have resulted in convictions, and all of your suspects have—so far—been found guilty. There are people who think that one day you’ll be head of System Intelligence, or the System itself, if you can keep up your reputation.”
“And does my reputation frighten you?” If his words had pleased her, it was only because they were all true, not because someone had spoken them about her.
Ivan smiled. This smile was different from the others—dangerous, bitter, almost wolfish—and Ida memorized it, cataloged it, filed it for later consideration.
“Not yet,” he said.
Ida would see him afraid before this interrogation was done.
“Have you ever been interrogated before, Ivan?” she asked, and leaned back from the table, leaving him bent forward toward her almost
as if partway through a bow. He had been interrogated before, of course, and on the record, but information was not the purpose of the question.
“Not like this,” Ivan said, leaning back into his chair as well. He looked quite at ease, but his eyes were fixed on her in a way that she thought might indicate wariness.
“Then here’s how it’s going to go,” said Ida, as if she wanted this to be as easy as possible for him. “I’m going to ask you questions, and you’re going to answer them all honestly, with as much detail as I am pleased to hear. You will not lie to me or refuse to answer, because if you do, I am authorized to resort to less pleasant methods to obtain the truth. Do you understand me?”
“I understand you,” Ivan said. “But I don’t know what you’re hoping to get from me. I already told your mastiff”—he jerked his chin to the side and beside him in the general direction of Domitian, who was still standing in stony silence—“ what he wanted to know about why I was on board. What else do you want from me?”
The perfect opening, handed, wrapped, into her hands.
“Remember, Ivan,” she said, “I am the woman who is always right, and I know all about you.”
He was wary. She imagined she could smell it.
“I know that you know the name of the Mallt-y-Nos,” said Ida Stays, “and I know that you’re going to tell it to me.”
There was nothing more to be gained from the computer terminal at the base of the ship, of course. When Althea came back up and sat down in her appointed position across from Ivanov’s empty cell, she glared at it as if it, empty, were still in some way a part of the person it usually held. He had gotten into her head somehow, yes, but he wouldn’t again.
With no small amount of relief for the guaranteed peace now allotted to her, Althea focused again on her baby, falling deep into that blissful zone of total absorption in her work. Because of this, she probably did not notice the sounds as soon as she should have. When they finally filtered into her consciousness, Althea pulled herself slowly out of her trance, as if waking from a dream.
You can still download Peter Clines' Ex-Heroes for only 2.99$ here. This is the opening volume of a series that's been a very pleasant surprise thus far!
Here's the blurb:
Stealth. Gorgon. Regenerator. Cerberus. Zzzap. The Mighty Dragon. They were heroes, using their superhuman abilities to make Los Angeles a better place. Then the plague of living death spread around the globe. Billions died, civilization fell, and the city of angels was left a desolate zombie wasteland. Now, a year later, the Mighty Dragon and his companions protect a last few thousand survivors in their film-studio-turned-fortress, the Mount. Scarred and traumatized by the horrors they’ve endured, the heroes fight the armies of ravenous ex-humans at their citadel’s gates, lead teams out to scavenge for supplies—and struggle to be the symbols of strength and hope the survivors so desperately need. But the hungry ex-humans aren’t the only threats the heroes face. Former allies, their powers and psyches hideously twisted, lurk in the city’s ruins. And just a few miles away, another group is slowly amassing power . . . led by an enemy with the most terrifying ability of all.
I have three copies of Bradley P. Beaulieu's Twelve Kings in Sharakhai up for grabs, compliments of the folks at Daw Books. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings — cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite ompany of Blade Maidens and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule. Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.
The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "TWELVE." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.
Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.
Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.
You can now download Stephen R. Lawhead's The Bright Empires Collection, an omnibus edition comprised of The Skin Map, The Bone House, The Spirit Well, The Shadow Lamp, and The Fatal Tree, for only 1.99$ here. That's five volumes and about 2000 pages for less than 2$!!!
Here's the blurb for The Skin Map:
It is the ultimate quest for the ultimate treasure. Chasing a map tattooed on human skin. Across an omniverse of intersecting realities. To unravel the future of the future. Kit Livingstone’s great-grandfather appears to him in a deserted alley during a tumultuous storm. He reveals an unbelievable story: that the ley lines throughout Britain are not merely the stuff of legend or the weekend hobby of deluded cranks, but pathways to other worlds. To those who know how to use them, they grant the ability to travel the multi-layered universe of which we ordinarily inhabit only a tiny part. One explorer knew more than most. Braving every danger, he toured both time and space on voyages of heroic discovery. Ever on his guard and fearful of becoming lost in the cosmos, he developed an intricate code—a roadmap of symbols—that he tattooed onto his own body. This Skin Map has since been lost in time. Now the race is on to recover all the pieces and discover its secrets. But the Skin Map itself is not the ultimate goal. It is merely the beginning of a vast and marvelous quest for a prize beyond imagining. The Bright Empires series—from acclaimed author Stephen R. Lawhead—is a unique blend of epic treasure hunt, ancient history, alternate realities, cutting-edge physics, philosophy, and mystery. The result is a page-turning, adventure like no other.
I’m delighted to announce that my collection of short stories is (nearly) complete and will be published by Gollancz in the UK and Orbit in the US in April 2016. It shall be called Sharp Ends: Stories from the World of the First Law, and will contain 13 stories, all set in the Circle of the World over a period that starts some ten years before the beginning of The Blade Itself and ends a few years after Red Country closes, featuring a rogue’s gallery of familiar and unfamiliar characters. Most of these have been (or will have been) published somewhere else before – in anthologies with other authors or special editions of the First Law books, but in general they haven’t been available that widely. Several are entirely new, including one that teeters on the edge of being defined a novella.
Follow this link to check out the table of contents!
I have three print copies of Jeff Somers' upcoming short story, "The Pale," for you to win! The Avery Cates e-stories are only available online at the moment, so these print copies are super rare! Even better, the author will sign and personalize them for the winners!
Here's the blurb:
Continuing from The Shattered Gears and The Walled City, Avery tries to put distance between himself and The Angels and meets an old man with an unusual companion named The Pale. When they accompany Avery thinking he'll provide them protection on the road, they come to regret it. Because someone's hunting Avery.
You can now download Glen Cook's The Dragon Never Sleeps for only 1.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
For four thousand years, the Guardships have ruled Canon Space—immortal ships with an immortal crew, dealing swiftly and harshly with any mercantile houses or alien races that threaten the status quo. But now the House Tregesser has an edge: a force from outside Canon Space offers them the resources to throw off Guardship rule. This precipitates an avalanche of unexpected outcomes, including the emergence of Kez Maefele, one of the few remaining generals of the Ku Warrior race-the only race to ever seriously threaten Guardship hegemony. Kez Maefele and a motley group of aliens, biological constructs, an scheming aristocrats find themselves at the center of the conflict. Maefele must chose which side he will support: the Guardships, who defeated and destroyed his race, or the unknown forces outside Canon Space that promise more death and destruction.
Due to the disappointment associated with the last few novels I read this summer, I wanted to read something outside of the genre. I needed something different for my trip to Chicago, something that would grab hold of my imagination and keep me turning those pages. But not something too dense or sprawling. When I feel the need to step outside of speculative fiction, I usually go for thrillers. Yet I wanted to try something else this time around.
I love history and Philip Kerr's Bernhard Gunter novels have been on my radar for a number of years. When I found a few of them available on the cheap at a used bookstore, I realized that these historical murder mysteries were just what I needed for this trip. And I sure am glad to have given them a shot!
Here's the blurb:
Bernhard Gunther is a hard-boiled Berlin detective who specializes in tracking down missing persons--mostly Jews. He is summoned by a wealthy industrialist to find the murderer of his daughter and son-in-law, killed during the robbery of a priceless diamond necklace. Gunther quickly is catapulted into a major political scandal involving Hitler's two main henchmen, Goering and Himmler. The search for clues takes Gunther to morgues overflowing with Nazi victims; raucous nightclubs; the Olympic games where Jesse Owens tramples the theory of Aryan racial superiority; the boudoir of a famous actress; and finally to the Dachau concentration camp. Fights with Gestapo agents, shoot-outs with adulterers, run-ins with a variety of criminals, and dead bodies in unexpected places keep readers guessing to the very end.
Philip Kerr's March Violets is a classic noir tale set in a decidedly unusual setting, that of Nazi Germany in 1936. It's that historical backdrop that gives this novel its flavor. Although he occasionally must rely on info-dumps to convey a panoply of elements, the author did a fantastic job recreating that particular period. It sets the mood and captures the political and social tension perfectly.
As a matter of course, Bernhard Gunther is a tough, wise-cracking, and cynical PI. In the tradition of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, Bernie could be nothing else. Though there are now plenty of installments featuring this detective, March Violets was Kerr's first novel focusing on this protagonist and at times it felt as though the author is struggling a bit to find his voice. This is no longer the case in the second volume, The Pale Criminal, but in this one it sometimes felt like Bernhard Gunther is not as well-defined as he should be. Speaking of Chandler, too often the narrative gets bogged down in Chandleresque similes that bring nothing to the story and are just distracting. I understand that, to a certain extent, these books are supposed to be some sort of homage to the classic hardboiled noir detective novels. But sometimes Philip Kerr pushes this a little too far.
Although it's not without its flaws, both in terms of plotlines and characterization, the setting captivated me from the very beginning. A man of his time, made even harder by the demands of his profession and the fact that he was cast out of the police force because he doesn't support Hitler's regime, Bernhard Gunther is not always the most likeable of fellows. And yet, he remains the perfect protagonist to solve the cases on which he investigates. Appearances by historical Nazi figures such as Goering and Heydrich were also a nice touch.
The complex plot focusing on murders and theft will take the private investigator through every level of German society, from rich industrials to high-ranking and influential Nazi officials to gangsters and street scum. Understandably, the more Bernie digs, the more he uncovers dangerous political ramifications that could get him killed. The pace remains crisp throughout and in true noir detective novel tradition, March Violets is a page-turner.
Even though Philip Kerr is at times struggling to establish the voice of his main character, March Violets remains a satisfying blend of historical fiction and hardboiled murder mystery. I can already vouch for the fact that the second installment is better and more ambitious. Nevertheless, Kerr's March Violets introduces readers to a flawed but endearing protagonist and tells a compelling and convoluted tale of murder.
Looking forward to what comes next!
The final verdict: 7.5/10
For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe. You can also get this one as part of the Berlin Noir omnibus, which contains Kerr's first three Bernhard Gunther novels: Canada, USA, Europe.
I have a copy of Chuck Wendig's Zer0es up for grabs, courtesy of the fine folks at HarperCollins. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
Five hackers—an Anonymous-style rabble-rouser, an Arab Spring hacktivist, a black-hat hacker, an old-school cipherpunk, and an online troll—are detained by the U.S. government, forced to work as white-hat hackers for Uncle Sam in order to avoid federal prison. At a secret complex known only as "the Lodge," where they will spend the next year working as an elite cyber-espionage team, these misfits dub themselves "the Zeroes." But once the Zeroes begin to work, they uncover secrets that would make even the most dedicated conspiracy theorist's head spin. And soon they're not just trying to serve their time, they're also trying to perform the ultimate hack: burrowing deep into the U.S. government from the inside, and hoping they'll get out alive. Packed with electric wit and breakneck plot twists, Zer0es is an unforgettable thrill ride through the seedy underbelly of "progress."
The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "ZEROES." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.
Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.
Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.
For a limited time, you can download Laird Barron's third collection of short fiction, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, for only 1.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
Over the course of two award-winning collections and a critically acclaimed novel, The Croning, Laird Barron has arisen as one of the strongest and most original literary voices in modern horror and the dark fantastic. Melding supernatural horror with hardboiled noir, espionage, and a scientific backbone, Barron’s stories have garnered critical acclaim and have been reprinted in numerous year’s best anthologies and nominated for multiple awards, including the Crawford, International Horror Guild, Shirley Jackson, Theodore Sturgeon, and World Fantasy awards. Barron returns with his third collection, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All. Collecting interlinking tales of sublime cosmic horror, including “Blackwood’s Baby,” “The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven,” and “The Men from Porlock,” The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All delivers enough spine-chilling horror to satisfy even the most jaded reader.
You can now download Kim Stanley Robinson's Galileo's Dream for only 1.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
At the heart of a provocative narrative that stretches from Renaissance Italy to the moons of Jupiter is the father of modern science: Galileo Galilei. To the inhabitants of the Jovian moons, Galileo is a revered figure whose actions will influence the subsequent history of the human race. From the summit of their distant future, a charismatic renegade named Ganymede travels to the past to bring Galileo forward in an attempt to alter history and ensure the ascendancy of science over religion. And if that means Galileo must be burned at the stake, so be it. From Galileo’s heresy trial to the politics of far-future Jupiter, Kim Stanley Robinson illuminates the parallels between a distant past and an even more remote future—in the process celebrating the human spirit and calling into question the convenient truths of our own moment in time.
You can get your hands on the digital edition of Michael Crichton's State of Fear for only 0.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
New York Times bestselling author Michael Crichton delivers another action-packed techo-thriller in State of Fear. When a group of eco-terrorists engage in a global conspiracy to generate weather-related natural disasters, its up to environmental lawyer Peter Evans and his team to uncover the subterfuge. From Tokyo to Los Angeles, from Antarctica to the Solomon Islands, Michael Crichton mixes cutting edge science and action-packed adventure, leading readers on an edge-of-your-seat ride while offering up a thought-provoking commentary on the issue of global warming. A deftly-crafted novel, in true Crichton style, State of Fear is an exciting, stunning tale that not only entertains and educates, but will make you think.
Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Del Rey, these winners will get their hands on a copy of the mass market paperback edition of Robin Hobb's Fool's Assassin! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Yes! Two reviews for Kitty Norville books in as many weeks! Being behind on this series, as soon as I finished Carrie Vaughn's Kitty's Big Trouble I immediately jumped into Kitty Steals the Show! I'm always saying how I love the fact that the author takes her characters and storylines along unexpected paths, which keeps this series fresh and entertaining. And this latest installment is no exception!
Here's the blurb:
Kitty has been tapped as the keynote speaker for the First International Conference on Paranatural Studies, taking place in London. The conference brings together scientists, activists, protestors, and supernatural beings from all over the world--and Kitty, Ben, and Cormac are right in the middle of it. Master vampires from dozens of cities have also gathered in London for a conference of their own. With the help of the Master of London, Kitty gets more of a glimpse into the Long Game--a power struggle among vampires that has been going on for centuries--than she ever has before. In her search for answers, Kitty has the help of some old allies, and meets some new ones, such as Caleb, the alpha werewolf of the British Isles. The conference has also attracted some old enemies, who've set their sights on her and her friends.
All the world's a stage, and Kitty's just stepped into the spotlight.
The premise for this one was quite promising. The conference would allow Kitty to come in contact with a lot of supernatural creatures, some of them centuries old. We are introduced to more players in the Long Game, and once again one gets the feeling that the endgame is approaching. It was kind of funny to have Kitty, usually so strong-willed and in control of herself, acting like a wide-eyed and gawking backpacker who's never been outside of the USA. Though it was at times stereotypical, Vaughn portrayed Kitty the way most North Americans act and feel when they set foot in England for the first time. An unexpected side-story further fleshed out the Cormac/Amelia storyline, which was an added bonus.
Once more, the novel is told in the first-person narrative of the inimitable werewolf talk radio host. With her paranormal knack for attracting trouble and the fact that she's not always be the sharpest tool in the shed, there is never a dull moment in a Kitty Norville book! A few familiar faces like Emma, Tyler, Dr. Shumacher, and Luis make appearances, and it was nice to see them again and how they've changed. Having a number of European Master vampires present in London added depth to the story arc. The supporting cast is larger in Kitty Steals the Show than in most of the other volumes, and they play a key role in most events taking place. Ned, the Master vampire of London, and Caleb, the Alpha of the British Isles, are particularly important.
As I mentioned in my review for its predecessor, Kitty Steals the Show is another transition book. One that links past plotlines and weaves them into the tapestry of threads that will lead us to the finale over the course of the next few installments. More revelations are made about Roman and his Long Game. New players are introduced and Kitty makes yet more enemies and a few more friends. As is habitually her wont, Kitty stirs up a lot of troubles during her stay in the British capital, something that a number of ancient vampires are not pleased with. Some have named her Regina Lopurum, the queen of werewolves, and would like to see her removed from the game board. So as you can see, Kitty managed to make quite an impression on the other side of the pond.
This one may not be a fast-paced affair, for Vaughn needed to lay a lot of groundwork for what's coming. And yet, Kitty Steals the Show remains a real page-turner. In my last review, I claimed that Kitty's Big Trouble marked the beginning of Kitty's involvement in a more complex and ambitious story arc, one of which we had only been granted a few glimpses thus far. Well, this 11th installment builds on that, bringing the series to another, even more multilayered, level.
If you haven't given Carrie Vaughn's signature series yet, you should do so ASAP!
For a limited time, Brandon Sanderson's novella Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell is available for only 0.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
Originally appearing in the Dangerous Women anthology and now available as a solo ebook, Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell is a chilling novella of the Cosmere, the universe shared by Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series and the #1 New York Times bestselling Stormlight Archive. When the familiar and seemingly safe turns lethal, therein danger lies. Amid a forest where the shades of the dead linger all around, every homesteader knows to follow the Simple Rules: "Don't kindle flame, don't shed the blood of another, don't run at night. These things draw shades." Silence Montane has broken all three rules on more than one occasion. And to protect her family from a murderous gang with high bounties on their heads, Silence will break every rule again, at the risk of becoming a shade herself.
The Witchwood Crown, first volume of the highly-anticipated sequel to Tad Williams’ “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” has been delayed, and unfortunately does not appear in DAW Books’ Spring 2016 catalog. Deborah Beale, wife and business partner of Tad Williams, has released this statement: “Book one of Tad Williams’ ‘The Last King of Osten Ard’ isn’t in in the DAW spring schedule owing to pressures arising from the integration of Penguin/Random House. We will know more about that after Tad’s September meeting with his publishers. “Beyond this, we have been focussed on a number of projects related to ’The Last King’. The road to volume one, ‘The Witchwood Crown’, will be dotted with many Easter eggs, some of which will be announced after that September meeting. This is a trilogy that is expanding from the front end of things!”
Bummer. . . I'm really looking forward to this one!
The castle of Anderras Darion has stood abandoned and majestic for as long as anyone can remember. Then, from out of the mountains, comes the healer, Hawklan - a man with no memory of the past - to take possession of the keep with his sole companion, Gavor. Across the country, the great fortress of Narsindalvak is a constant reminder of the victory won by the hero Ethriss in alliance with the three realms of Orthlund, Riddin and Fyorlund against the Dark Lord, Sumeral, hundreds of years before. But Rgoric, the ailing king of Fyorlund and protector of the peace, has fallen under the malign influence of the Lord Dan-Tor, and from the bleakness of Narsindal come ugly rumours. It is whispered that Mandrocs are abroad again and that the Dark Lord himself is stirring. And in the remote fastness of Anderras Darion, Hawklan feels deep within himself the echoes of an ancient power and the unknown, yet strangely familiar, call to arms... "The Call of the Sword" is Book One of The Chronicles of Hawklan.
I don’t know many topics that engage authors and readers as much as do book covers. Blood on the tracks, sometimes. The debates can be fierce, and the authorial cries of pain resound from bars and cafes across all the lands. Covers do get discussed with intensity, they are analyzed in cultural and political terms (the headless women meme!), there are conversations about the obvious – ‘That doesn’t look at all the way I picture Lord Protector Crum!’ – and strategy sessions about the less obvious – ‘Why don’t we flip the image: have her looking out towards where the book opens, not in towards the spine?’ (I’ve had that done, twice. Er, to my cover, not to me.) Etc. This spring I was working with my American and Canadian editors, and an art director, and a gifted artist to devise and shape the cover those territories are sharing for Children of Earth and Sky. Contractually, all that the publishers are allowed to use, all they purchase, is the finished version but the artist, Larry Rostant, (http://rostant.com) has generously allowed me to show early versions as they emerged and were changed to show what I want to discuss here – which is about process in the evolution of a cover.
Follow this link to see the evolution of the cover art for Children of Earth and Sky.
SFF author Joel Shepherd recently released an ebook titled Renegade. When asked, he was kind enough to provide this exclusive excerpt from the novel. You can download this ebook for only 3.99$ here.
Here's the burb:
One thousand years after Earth was destroyed in an unprovoked attack, humanity has emerged victorious from a series of terrible wars to assure its place in the galaxy. But during celebrations on humanity’s new Homeworld, the legendary Captain Pantillo of the battle carrier Phoenix is court-martialed then killed, and his deputy, Lieutenant Commander Erik Debogande, the heir to humanity’s most powerful industrial family, is framed with his murder. Assisted by Phoenix’s marine commander Trace Thakur, Erik and Phoenix are forced to go on the run, as they seek to unravel the conspiracy behind their Captain’s demise, pursued to the death by their own Fleet. What they discover, about the truth behind the wars and the nature of humanity’s ancient alien allies, will shake the sentient galaxy to its core.
Hello Readers! I did not want to share an excerpt from any of the many action scenes, for the same reason I don’t like movie trailers that give away all the exciting bits. So here’s a portion of RENEGADE that happens during the buildup to all hell breaking loose.
The thing with being very wealthy that a lot of less wealthy people didn’t understand was that you didn’t have to own everything yourself. As a Debogande, you could just make things happen with a call… like when Lisbeth thought Erik would like to go sailing, for the ultimate experience of wide expanses and freedom after so long in a cramped spaceship. She called Aunt Michelle, who was a member at the yacht club, and soon enough a friend had offered them a catamaran for the day.
It was a forty footer, an automated monster that still left enough ropes and winches free to make you feel like a participant. Lisbeth loved to sail having been taught by her dad, who came along with Cora and Diego. Everyone else was busy, but five was about the perfect number, Lisbeth captaining at her father’s insistence while the men and Cora ran about the huge elastic expanse between hulls and got soaked by the chop exploding off the surface.
The wind was only moderate a few kilometres off shore, but the cat’s huge wingsail converted every breath into motion and they skated across the heaving ocean at a good eighteen knots. Erik loved it, the fresh wind and the salty ocean on his skin, batwing flying fish leaping away from the cat’s approach in flashing silver schools. Every now and then something fast and military would go flying over with a roar — Shiwon was still a hive of military activity, but out here with his family, Erik could almost forget that just a few weeks ago, he hadn’t known if he was going to live another day.
They stayed out for hours, before grumbling stomachs told them it was time for lunch, and they turned the cat for shore. The yacht club was twenty kilometres up the coast from Shiwon Harbour, the hills rising green and lush beyond the shore, and tall houses behind the beach. They edged carefully between flotillas of expensive sailboats and motorised launches, the wingsail trimmed and keel brakes deployed to keep the speed down, and Erik was quite impressed at how certain Lisbeth was in charge, issuing commands at just the right moments, and never so forceful that she’d grate on the nerves.
“So how’s Mum with the whole engineering thing?” he asked Lisbeth as they waited at the wheel for the others to tie the cat to the pier.
“Oh you know,” Lisbeth sighed. Her hair was more African-frizzy than Erik’s or Cora’s. She took advantage by pinning it up and playing, and now it shone with water droplets. “It’s not a thing for girls, she says. But Dad’s fine, so she leaves it alone now. She doesn’t like arguing with him.”
“Still like to join Fleet?”
“Oh I’d love to! But Mum would really hit the ceiling, and I don’t think even Dad would be too happy.” She looked a little forlorn.
“Cheer up Lis.” Erik put an arm around her shoulders. “You might not be able to serve on warships, but with your degree you’ll end up working with Katerina in charge of making the damn things.”
“Yeah but how much better a naval engineer would I make if I’d actually served on them, and know what they were like to operate from the inside? Besides, it’s a dumb family rule. Only boys can serve, I mean it’s not fair is it? It’s not fair on me because I can’t choose my career, and it’s not fair on you because you’ve had to risk your neck while all us girls have been sitting at home.”
In truth, Erik wasn’t so sure. Fleet had been an eye-opener, not only to be around ‘ordinary’ people, but to discover that most of them didn’t share Alice’s notion of gender decorum. Alice had no problem with women being strong, but she did believe very strongly in the importance of traditional social roles. Women should organise and administer, she believed, and thus running a business was just a natural extension of what women had always done — organise families and households. But actually breaking a sweat in anything more strenuous than a game of tennis was man’s work. From Academy onward, Erik had had his butt handed to him in physical pursuits by so many competent women that he’d concluded that his mother’s opinions were slightly daft. But he couldn’t deny that he still felt protective of some of his female comrades in a way that he didn’t of the men… and the thought of his sister sitting post on some warship on an assault run through a hostile system made his blood run cold.
“I’m pretty glad you weren’t out there with me Lis,” he said quietly. “I mean really.”
“Was it that bad?” Lisbeth asked earnestly.
“Not all of it, no. But the worst bits were… just awful. I wouldn’t want you to go through that.”
“But we all have, haven’t we? As a species, we’ve all been through that. Or that’s what the stories all say, how we’ve struggled as human beings together. Only we haven’t really, have we? Some of us have suffered, while others of us have sat and watched. And applauded when the real heroes come home. It’s enough to make me feel like a fraud for ever having listened to those stories at all.”
Erik smiled at her. “I forgot you’re the college debating champ. That was good.”
“Hah,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “That’s just from arguing with Mother, I only joined the debating club because I thought I should put those skills to use.”
“And it doesn’t convince me that everyone should be in the fight. It’s not for everyone, Lis. And it’s for those of us who know we’re good at it to do it well so all those others don’t have to.”
“You don’t think I’d be good?” With a hurt expression. Erik blinked at her, wondering how to try again… and realised she was playing with him. “Scamp,” he said, giving her a shove as she laughed.
They left the cat as tidy as they’d been given it, and walked up the narrow wooden pier between neighbouring yachts. As they approached the shore, Erik saw two black marine uniforms waiting, one tall and one not. Major Thakur and Lieutenant Dale, he recognised with surprise. He waved cheerfully, and was surprised further that they did not wave back. In fact, they both looked grim.
“Marines,” Erik addressed them as he took the lead in his party. A little self-conscious in his wet civvies, while they were immaculate in their dress uniforms. He wondered what they’d been up to since he saw them last. It didn’t look like they’d been having any fun. “What brings you here?”
“You need to come with us,” said Thakur. Her voice was cold and hard, and her words did not sound polite. Off-ship she did technically outrank him, but still…
Erik drew himself up. “What’s going on?” he retorted, mindful of the audience behind him.
“What’d you tell him?” Dale snarled from Thakur’s shoulder. “Fucking Admiral Anjo, what did you tell him?”
Erik was shocked. “Lieutenant, that’s no way to speak of a superior officer!” he snapped as command reflex reasserted itself. As Thakur held up a hand to stop Dale from speaking further. From Thakur to Dale, a hand was all it took. “Explain yourselves!”
“The Captain’s been arrested,” said Thakur. Erik stared at her, not quite believing he’d heard that. “Placed in detention prior to court-martial proceedings. What did you tell Admiral Anjo?”
Erik stared. “Court-martial? For what?”
“We don’t know, they won’t say. He’s in isolation, no one’s allowed to see him. Huang’s up at the ship, so you’re now senior Phoenix command on the ground. What did you tell Admiral Anjo?”
“I… I told him…” That he’d be happy to accept a big promotion for a senior job in Fleet Command. Anjo had to have known. Court-martialing any senior captain, let alone one with the record and reputation of Pantillo, was a huge move. Anjo would be in on it, no question. And he’d just paid Pantillo’s third-in-command a home visit that very morning, and not thought to mention it? Fishy didn’t begin to describe it.
And this offer of huge promotion and responsibility, to a relatively junior and untested officer… a coincidence? To get him onside? To drive a wedge between him and Pantillo? Between him and the crew of Phoenix? He looked at the marines’ eyes, and saw hard suspicion… in Dale’s eyes at least. Thakur was as always unreadable. Isolate the rich boy whose promotional advances to date everyone was already suspicious of? Make sure Family Debogande wasn’t in Pantillo’s corner?
What the hell was going on?
“We have to go and see the Captain,” he said. “Now.”
“They’re not letting anyone see him,” Thakur repeated coolly.
“Oh they’ll let me see him,” Erik muttered. “Or I’ll bring the fucking roof down on their heads.”
They went home first, to silence and concern from the family, while Erik put on the dress uniform, and the marines waited outside in the garden. No one ventured any of them any questions — Alice put a stop to those who tried. This was Erik’s business, Fleet business, and he need not be troubled at this point by family concerns. Erik was grateful for it, and took a family cruiser to the city with Thakur in the passenger seat, and Dale in the rear.
“What did Admiral Anjo say to you?” Thakur asked again. Erik realised he hadn’t answered her the other times.
“He offered me a job as a colonial administrator,” he said shortly. “Helping to industrialise the new territorial possessions.”
“That seems like an enormous promotion for someone with very little relevant experience,” Thakur said matter-of-factly.
“Yes it does, doesn’t it?” Erik muttered.
“What did you say?”
“I said yes.” Thakur seemed to shake her head slightly, and gaze out the windows at the approaching city towers. “What would you have said?”
“They don’t offer these things to normal people,” Thakur answered. “That’s the point.”
“And you’re a normal person, are you?”
Thakur’s lips twisted slightly. “Relative to you, I’m positively pedestrian.”
Erik felt his temper boil. Usually he was good at holding it, but today it was too much. “And so what?” he snapped. “Am I supposed to apologise for the conditions of my birth? I’m not in control of any of this, Major. I have no idea whether I receive favourable treatment or not, I certainly never asked for it. I can’t go around apologising for every damn thing that other people give to me.”
“No,” Thakur agreed with measured calm. “None of us are in control of anything. We just go along as it comes. Your family in particular.”
“You know, what the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that one day, Lieutenant Commander Debogande, you’ll have to either grab the wheel, or admit that you just don’t care, and go where ever your fortuitous life takes you.”
“Well fuck you,” Erik retorted. “I don’t care what row of tin you wear on your chest. If you’re going to accuse me of something, come out with it straight and stop insinuating like a coward.”
“You watch that tone with the Major, boy,” Dale warned from the rear seat.
Thakur held up her hand again, and Dale silenced. But she was smiling. “That’s much better,” she told Erik. “More like that, and we might just get through this.”
Fleet HQ was located on the edge of southern Shiwon against the Feicui Hills, and could be seen from orbit with the naked eye. Erik, Thakur and Dale marched from parking across the huge central courtyard, large enough to land a squadron of assault shuttles on. It was centred by an eternal flame that burned within an inspired artistic scaffold, many storeys high. In concentric circles around it, inscribed in the acres of paving, the names of worlds conquered and battles fought, across the last twelve hundred years. There were thousands of inscriptions, some of them dating back to Sol System, and the krim invasion. Touring the courtyard was a ritual of all Fleet officer training on Homeworld — by the end of three years all cadets were expected to be able to march from one important battle to another, blindfolded.
They headed for one of the surrounding ring of glass towers, and were admitted past armed guards and automated security with their Fleet IDs. The circular, central foyer was awash with uniforms, striding, talking, pursuing various business. Hats off, Erik and the marines waited for an elevator, then rode it up to the twenty-third floor.
Then more halls and offices, busy with staff. Erik knew the way well enough — he’d done six months here straight out of the Academy, learning how to salute while walking without bumping into things. And not much else, he thought sourly, entering the main reception for First Fleet Command. An Ensign glanced at him from behind her desk.
“Lieutenant Commander, can I help you?”
Erik walked briskly to front her. “Lieutenant Commander Erik Debogande, third-shift UFS Phoenix, reporting to Rear Admiral Bennet.”
The Ensign glanced at her screen. “Yes Lieutenant Commander, she’s currently in a meeting. Do you have an appointment?”
“Please tell her I’m here,” Erik told her. “I’ll wait.” He turned on his heel, strode to a seat by the wall, and sat. Thakur and Dale joined him, not a word spoken. The baffled Ensign spoke quietly into a com.
“She doesn’t know,” Thakur murmured. “They’re keeping it quiet.”
“This is all kinds of fucked up,” Dale muttered. “Court-martial for what?”
“The flanking jump to Dhuvo system,” said Erik. Both marines looked at him. “It was irregular.”
“It was brilliant,” said Thakur.
“Yes, and irregular. Typical Captain. But he left the scene of the battle to hit the reinforcements before they came in. If someone’s being a total ass hat, which seems increasingly likely, they might book him for leaving the battle without orders.”
“Thus saving everyone’s ass,” said Thakur. “Captains always improvise, with light-delay in battle it’s impossible to wait for orders in an unfolding fight.”
“You don’t need to tell me, Major,” Erik said through clenched teeth. “I’ve flown the damn ship.”
“And you’re sure Fleet Admiral Anjo said nothing about a court-martial when you talked to him?” Erik just glared at her. It had no effect on Thakur at all. She looked at the file-pushers at work behind their desks instead, broodingly thoughtful.
The Ensign Erik had spoken to got their attention. “Lieutenant Commander? The Rear Admiral will see you now. Just you,” as the marines made to follow him. Neither protested, and Erik continued down the hall.
Rear Admiral Bennet was in charge of personnel administration for all of First Fleet. Her office looked out over the huge courtyard and flame. From above, it looked like a solar system, with the flame at the centre where a sun should be, orbited by the many thousands of places where human Fleet had lost ships and lives. Erik walked in and stood to attention before her desk.
“Rear Admiral, Lieutenant Commander Erik Debogande reporting.”
Bennet let him stand at attention, leaning back in her chair with a frown. She was a tall woman, with blonde hair pulled back in a bun, accentuating sharp cheekbones. “I did not order you to report, Lieutenant Commander.”
“No Admiral. Fleet disciplinary proceedings manual, chapter five, section 23-D; in the event that a ship captain is court-martialled, junior command staff should report to the appropriate Fleet Command administrative officer. In this case, that would be you.”
A brief silence from Bennet, as though she were checking that reg on uplinks. “Yes,” she said, a little uncertainly. “Yes, that would be me.”
“Admiral, I request to know on what charge Captain Pantillo is being court-martialled.”
“I’m sorry Lieutenant Commander, that information is covered under wartime secrecy. I’m not at liberty to divulge it.”
Erik stared at her. “I can’t know what my own Captain is charged with?”
“That is correct. And neither can you discuss this case with anyone else, military or civilian, outside of this office. Should you fail to observe this restriction, you yourself could be up on charges. Do you understand?”
Erik blinked. “I understand, but…”
“This is a matter of operational review,” Bennet continued. “No one can discuss Fleet tactics, past, present or future without clearance, least of all with civilians. The media can’t touch this, and would risk prison time if they did.”
Her eyes sought understanding from him. Erik felt incredulity battling cold disbelief. Bennet was worried about outside reaction… and so she should be, Pantillo was a hero. But she hadn’t expected to see Erik here, that much was obvious. It felt like a rush-job, Fleet was a big institution and wires were frequently crossed, one hand on the thousand-armed-beast not knowing what the other nine hundred were doing. Probably she’d thought someone else had already dealt with him. That would mean this whole thing was cooked up recently, with little planning. Court-martials never happened like that. Never. Or at least, they weren’t supposed to…
“Now I understand that Commander Huang is currently back on Phoenix?”
Erik nodded. “Yes Admiral.”
“Which with the Captain in detention makes you senior Phoenix command staff on the ground. You are responsible for all Phoenix crew still on Homeworld until Commander Huang is ordered to return.”
“Is there an ETA on that Admiral?”
“Not at this time. Now I’m half a mind to order Phoenix crew to barracks, but I’m advised that’s not practical at this time. Whether the situation remains like that depends on their ability to keep their mouths shut. Do you understand?”
“Yes Admiral.” Talk, and we’ll lock you on base with no coms, that meant. “Admiral, I request JAG representation at this point, as is my right under Section 31-B.”
Bennet frowned. “You haven’t been charged with anything, Lieutenant Commander.”
“My testimony in the upcoming court-martial will be integral to proceedings,” Erik replied, still stiff and straight before the Rear Admiral’s desk. “I am third-shift commander on Phoenix, I have commanded the ship before in combat, I know her capabilities and I know the Captain. I also happen to know that he didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Noted,” Bennet said coolly.
“And the regs say I’m allowed JAG assistance to help me prepare.”
“Lieutenant Commander… I’m not sure that’s necessary at this…”
“I’m not asking what you are and aren’t sure of, Admiral,” Erik said coldly, meeting her gaze directly. “I’m informing you what I’m sure of. And I’m sure that this is my procedural right. Denied that right, I will go higher.”
Bennet glared at him.
The Judge Advocate General officer was Captain Sudip — army, young and quite wide-eyed about this crazy thing Fleet had just dumped in his lap. They sat in a diner booth, one of dozens of restaurants about the base, but the booth provided at least some privacy. The windows looked away from Shiwon, onto the low campus buildings sprawling up the green hills behind — the Admiral Shuan Academy, and bringing back for Erik a three-year rush of memories.
“It’s been declared an S-1,” Sudip told Erik and the two marines in a low voice beneath the hubbub of diner conversation. Sudip was thin, bookish and well spoken, the kind of guy who wouldn’t have lasted a week on combat deployment. But Erik had learned not to disrespect those kinds. Not everything Fleet did involved blowing things up, and in those other things, officers like Sudip were often invaluable. “That’s the highest level of secrecy. I wasn’t aware they could even do that for a legal proceedings…”
“Who can authorise that?” Erik pressed.
Sudip swallowed hard. “Well no one below the very top level. I mean Bennet can’t do it… I mean Rear Admiral Bennet, sorry… she’s just a First Fleet administrator. S-1 is like… like what you declare before you invade a planet or something, those battleplans are S-1. There’s only three people at that level in the Fleet — Fleet Admirals Anjo and Ishmael, and Supreme Commander Chankow.”
Erik, Thakur and Dale looked at each other.
“Word of this is going to spread,” said Thakur. She ate a steak and salad with methodical precision. Erik thought the Kulina were supposed to have spiritual dietary requirements, but if so, that didn’t appear to exclude meat. “They can’t stop people from talking.”
“Major,” Sudip said earnestly. “I really wouldn’t test those secrecy provisions. There are people in prison today, who were put there ten years ago, for doing that sort of thing. People who used to hold a higher rank than you do now.”
“I didn’t say I would talk, Captain,” said Thakur. “I’m saying that people will. Pantillo is well known politically. His political friends will be wondering where he is, and asking Fleet for an explanation. They can’t put both Congresses in prison.”
“I’m sure they’d like to put the Worlder Congress in prison,” Dale muttered. Dale was originally a Worlder, Erik recalled, living his entire childhood downworld before enlisting. Like all Fleet, he was registered as a Spacer, and could vote for Spacer Congress representatives only… but that didn’t mean he forgot where he came from.
Humanity had two governments. Ninety percent of the population lived on planets. Each governed itself, with little interference from anyone. Those planetary governments in turn elected representatives to the Worlder Congress, which made collective decisions on the kinds of things that mattered to people who lived on planets.
Spacers, who made up the remaining ten percent, had their own governments, one per solar-system, or outlying settlements that were placed into system jurisdiction because they wouldn’t fit anywhere else. Those systems then elected representatives to Spacer Congress, which represented the interests of those who lived and worked in space.
Humanity’s great wars of the last twelve hundred years were almost entirely an affair of Spacers. After Earth had been destroyed, humanity had become for a time entirely a race of Spacers, without a single planetary body to its name. Survival had become about resource harvesting, mining, industry and Fleet operations. Spacer interests were all anyone knew, and were key if there were still to be a human race in years to come.
When humans had begun to claim worlds from the krim, it hadn’t taken long for those newly colonised worlds to do what worlds did best — populate rapidly, and think primarily about themselves. Even before the krim had vanished, many of those planetary populations had settled into comfortable centuries of relative peace, content in the illusion that all was safe and well. Isolated from the harsh realities of inter-species politics beyond, they’d quickly begun to vote for withdrawal from conflict, expansion of social services, and other self-interested things.
Spacers had responded by cementing the primacy of Spacer Congress as humanity’s singular, collective Federal Congress. Spacer Congress had the power to make foreign policy, which meant wars and trade treaties, that no Worlder body could legally stray from. All Worlder jurisdictions were also required to pay the Fleet Tax, just as Spacers were, which was adjusted by complex formula to account for individual circumstance, but averaged out at six percent of annual wealth. All of which led to the present situation, where the great affairs of humanity were conducted by those with ten percent of the total human vote, while ninety percent either applauded from the sidelines or were told to shut up and mind their business.
Most Worlders accepted this state of affairs — most did sympathise with Fleet, and most were not so naive as to think that pacifist isolation would ever work in a galaxy that contained assorted krim, sard and tavalai. But as the latest war had dragged on, against a race that most acknowledged were not krim-like in their goals and psychology, the disquiet had begun to grow.
“That has to be it,” Erik muttered, picking at his salad. They looked at him. “It has to be something to do with the Captain’s Worlder ties. He should be an admiral by now, we all know why he’s not.”
“Lieutenant Commander,” Sudip cautioned with a careful glance around. “That’s really some very heavy speculation. Accusing your seniors of corruption really isn’t helpful at this time, and could be very dangerous for you personally.”
“It’s not corruption, Captain, it’s politics. Fleet runs this war on its own, there is no civilian oversight from Spacer Congress, just a rubber stamp. Nearly half of Spacer Congress are retired Fleet. Those are just facts, they’re not accusations of anything.”
Sudip took a deep breath. “Look. As your attorney advisor in this, it’s my responsibility to advise you not to repeat those allegations too loudly. That’s all. Besides which, there’s no proof here of corruption that I can see — these kinds of crossed-wires allegations come out of post-combat reviews all the time. Another captain sees Captain Pantillo doing something that he doesn’t understand, and reports it as such, in isolation. Further review usually clears it up, presuming the Captain does have good reasons for having done what he did, which to judge from what you’ve told me, it seems he does.”
“Fleet Admiral Anjo paid the Lieutenant Commander a visit this morning,” said Thakur around a mouthful of steak. “At his home. Offered him a promotion to colonial administrator in the new order.”
Sudip blinked at her. Then at Erik. He opened his mouth to speak. Then shut it again, looking confounded. “Well that’s… that’s highly irregular.”
“It’s corrupt,” Dale muttered. “But that’s the system.” His stare shifted to Erik, accusingly. He’d said yes. Erik looked down at his salad.
“And he said nothing about the court-martial?” Sudip pressed Erik.
Erik shook his head. “No,” he murmured. “I think the conclusion’s pretty obvious. They offered me a big promotion to shut me up when they court-martialled the Captain.”
Sudip shook his head. “Well, if we are going to entertain this line of thinking…” He took a deep breath. He was a lawyer, after all, trained to argue cases from multiple angles. “Then there’s an even more obvious conclusion. They offered you a big promotion to shut your family up. You’re nothing special…” and he held up his hands, “… no offence Lieutenant Commander.”
“None taken,” Erik said drily.
“But Captain Pantillo isn’t the only one with known Worlder sympathies.” With a meaningful look at Erik. Erik grimaced.
“I’m sorry,” Thakur interjected. “I’m a little out of touch with this politics?”
“My mother has supported the idea of a constitutional convention before,” Erik explained. “To reshape human politics. Give Worlders a bigger say.”
“Are you guys even Spacer or Worlder?” Dale asked.
“Spacer,” said Erik. “Debogandes have life citizenship. It’s not subject to review based on current living conditions, like most Spacers. We can live anywhere and still be Spacer citizens. I grew up on Homeworld.”
“The war’s been winding down,” Dale observed. “If either side was gonna try something, now’d be the time to try it. Because when peace is declared, logically, everything changes.”
“And certain Spacer interests,” Thakur added slowly, “with a lot of power to lose, start getting nervous.”
The constitutional convention, Erik thought. Shit. Had his mother been pushing that, behind the scenes? Had her Worlder friends? Had Fleet noticed, and gotten worried? Had their Spacer Congress allies?
“Erik,” said Thakur, observing his disquiet. “What is it?”
“Something Fleet Admiral Anjo told me,” said Erik. “I asked him if I was receiving special treatment because of my name. He denied it. Because even people on Phoenix have wondered.”
Thakur and Dale said nothing. “But Anjo said that Captain Pantillo asked for me himself. That that’s why I got the Phoenix. That Fleet Command had nothing to do with it.”
“He could be lying,” Dale said helpfully. Thakur gave him a frown. ‘What?’ Dale said with his eyes, defiantly.
“Which would mean the Captain might have seen this coming.” And would also mean that he hadn’t been selected for this duty purely on merit. That scared him nearly as badly as the Captain’s court-martial. These last three years on Phoenix had been hard, but they’d come to mean more to him than anything else in his life. He thought he’d done a good job, and earned the respect of his peers. Surely he deserved to be here?
Across the table, Lieutenant Dale was all skepticism.
“I have to talk to the Captain,” said Erik.
“Well you can’t,” Sudip replied. “No one can.”
“Then that’s the first thing you have to work on. There’s got to be some legal angle on this. Get us some access to him, find a way.”
Sudip nodded nervously. Worried, but thinking hard. Professionally a case like this could see him crash and burn… or skyrocket into high orbit. If Sudip was the kind of person who thought about such things. In all his time in Fleet, Erik had only known two people who weren’t — one was currently in isolation awaiting court-martial, and the other was munching a steak at Erik’s side in the booth.
“I’ll get on it,” said Sudip. “No promises. But I’ll see what I can do.”
“Make a lot of calls,” Thakur suggested, with a sip of water. “You’re not breaking secrecy provisions, you’re a lawyer doing your job.” Sudip nodded warily. Spread it around, she meant. Get everyone talking, the only way they legally could.
“And I’ll talk to my mother,” said Erik. “She doesn’t like talking politics at home. This time I’ll insist.”
Lieutenant Commander Debogande called on uplink just after dinner. Trace Thakur sat in cross-legged meditation before her view of the beach, and listened. He said that his mother denied pushing any particular support for the constitutional convention, or that she supported the Worlders’ cause in general. Yes she had friends there, but Debogande Incorporated was huge, and a well-maintained network of political friends was essential for good business.
Beyond that, she sounded a little vague. Or he did. Trace didn’t know which. She’d served with Debogande for three years, but didn’t know him that well. It wasn’t his fault, or hers — as Phoenix’s marine commander, she timed her onboard shifts to Captain Pantillo’s, which meant that unless they were on combat alert, she was usually asleep when the Lieutenant Commander sat the command chair. He was the night shift, she the day, and despite the close proximity of Phoenix’s bowels, marines and spacers ran vastly different routines. Usually she saw him at command meetings, which happened on average every few days, but there Debogande would listen and say little, as befitted the junior command officer.
Fleet Admiral Anjo might have been lying when he’d said the Captain had picked Debogande personally for Phoenix command, or he might have been telling the truth — it did not particularly matter to Trace. She might not have known Debogande, but she knew the Captain, and the Captain would never have selected an officer for third-shift command if he wasn’t qualified. And properly qualified too, on all the indices that actually mattered, rather than just having shiny boots and pleasing instructors at the Academy. Debogande had very shiny boots. Among Phoenix’s marines, whose boots were rarely shiny, it had only increased skepticism of how Debogande got the post. Phoenix spacers were less skeptical, particularly the officers on bridge third-shift with him. Several times in the past three years, Phoenix had run into trouble so fast the Captain had not been able to assume the chair, leaving Debogande in charge in combat conditions. He’d done fine, though again the skeptics had muttered that any dozens of other young officers could have done as well, but they weren’t given the Phoenix. Trace had shut it down on several occasions — all soldiers liked to bitch about their commanders, and needed enough space so they could do that and let off steam, but it was her job to recognise when that bitching crossed the line from harmless to harmful.
She wasn’t about to tell Debogande that she did not actually doubt his ability, however. If she knew anything from her meditations and teachings, she knew that all people needed to find and draw their strength from within. Relying on the praise of others could become a habit, and those in the habit would seek that praise like an addict and his drug. Strength came through self-belief, and the belief of others without belief in yourself was useless. Chalk was still chalk, even surrounded by granite.
She sat in her loose pants and shirt long after Debogande’s call had ended, on the small footrest she used as a meditation stool. The sound of waves on the beach was soothing, nothing at all like the sounds of her homeworld, or the sounds of the Phoenix. She’d used to meditate in her small room in The Perch, the Kulina Academy, halfway up a mountain and listening to the howl of freezing wind across the sheer, rocky cliffs. That was a peacefulness too, of a sort. But she had to admit, the beach was nicer.
Some marine commanders stayed with their troops, on long downworld leave. Most found officers of similar rank to socialise with, to maintain a proper command distance, and to let their men get their kicks free from higher supervision. But both higher and lower ranked marines would then indulge in much the same thing — drinking, fucking, sometimes even fighting… as though they hadn’t had enough of that on deployment. Trace would join with them sometimes for interesting excursions, to see sights, climb mountains or dive reefs. But the rest of it disturbed and depressed her. She could not meditate in such surroundings, and deprived of her outlet for rage, pain and grief, she suffered.
And so on this momentous leave, she’d sought this place — a small hotel by the beach, well down the coast from Shiwon, to sit with a view and meditate to the sound of waves. And she struggled, as she always had of late, to find any particular peace of mind. But here at least, she found far more than she would have, in other surroundings.
There was a knock at the door. Trace unfolded herself and went, taking the pistol from the table on the way. An uplink view of the outside balcony showed her marine uniforms at the door, and a familiar face raised to the camera. Trace smiled and unlatched the door, tucking the pistol into her waistband so she could namaste the visitors, both palms together, pointed fingers at her chin. They replied in kind, all three of them.
“Friends,” she said. “Svagata mitraharula. Please enter.”
“Bahini,” said marine Colonel Timothy Khola with a smile. “Good to see you. These are Majors Naldo and Kriti, from the warships Glory and FarReach.”
He entered, presenting the two majors behind him. “Yes I have met Major Naldo,” said Trace with another namaste, “we served at Pacamayana together.”
“Bahini,” said Major Naldo, “good to see you again.”
“And Major Kriti, I have not had the honour.”
“Third class of Capricorn,” said Kriti behind pressed hands. “Fifteen years ahead of you, yet only the same rank.”
“It is as nothing,” Trace gave the usual reply, with a dismissive wave, welcoming them both inside. “Forgive my informality, I was meditating. Can I make you tea?”
“Tea would be perfect,” said Colonel Khola, removing his shoes and placing them in the hall, as the majors did likewise. “We shall join you. A pity we do not have time to meditate together, but from what you have told me, we have much to discuss.”
Trace made her three fellow Kulina tea, while they sat shoeless on chairs that did not make cross-legged sitting easy. The posture was in breach of all marine protocol in uniform, but for Kulina the marines had long ago learned to make allowances. Tea presented, Trace retook her low seat before the windows, and sipped.
“And how goes the meditation?” Colonel Khola asked her. Khola was pushing eighty, still young and fit. He’d seen more combat in the war than seemed reasonable even for a Kulina legend. These days he taught at Fleet Academy on Homeworld, and had declined further promotion as it would take him too far from his greatest love — the mentoring of marine officers, and Kulina in particular. Of only eight living marines to hold the Liberty Star, half were Kulina, and half of those Kulina, between Trace and the Colonel, were here in the room. Kulina made up barely one percent of total marine officer strength, but no one was surprised that they won nearly half the top combat awards. That too was tradition, nearly a thousand years old.
“Not so well,” Trace admitted. It was so good to talk with fellow Kulina officers. Here she could be honest, and be sure they would understand and not judge. “It is hard to fight a war without rage or fear. But we strive.”
Khola smiled. “Bahini, one cannot fight in a war such as this and not expect sleepless nights and peaceless meditations. If our paths were easy, we would not need to meditate at all.”
“I saw the combat reports of the Moana Junction action,” said Major Kriti. She was tall and lean, hair trimmed short like Trace… fifteen years older, she’d said. That would make her forty-seven. “That was some impressive fighting. Paralim Station is a monster, you took it with minimal damage or losses.”
“That station was defendable,” Trace said sombrely. “If the tavalai had been prepared to booby trap it properly, and lose parts of it to save the whole. They were not. It was an important facility for them, and they do not like to destroy what they have built.”
“I once saw an infantry squad of tavalai die to defend a temple,” Naldo agreed. “I suppose they did not mean to die, I think they thought they could defend it successfully. But they did not realise we were marines on the ground, not army. And they did not retreat once they realised their mistake.”
“It is easier fighting sard,” said Trace. “Against sard, one is certain. Against tavalai…” she took a deep breath. “Well. One regrets. Too much, I think.”
“Never forget that tavalai chose the sard for their allies,” Khola cautioned. “Cultivated them in fact, for many, many centuries, to do all their dirty work. The sard have earned their reputation well, and every time it was a tavalai hand holding their leash.”
Trace nodded reluctantly. “As you say.”
“Now tell us about your Captain’s predicament,” said Khola. “We will see what is to be done.”
Trace told them. That she’d been specifically ordered not to talk about it barely occurred to her. She was Kulina, and these were her people — the elite club within the elite club of marine officers. Theoretically she could have been court-martialled herself for this breach, but if Command were going to start disciplining Kulina for behaving like family, then Kulina everywhere would resent it. For Fleet, that was not a happy prospect. When Trace had finished, all three of her visitors looked concerned.
“And you are certain that Captain Pantillo did nothing wrong?” Major Kriti pressed in the lengthening silence. At Trace’s back, the sun was setting, turning the ocean sky orange and red.
Trace felt anger, and emotional certainty, and forced it down. To seek peace was to seek objectivity. She could not allow her attachments to rule her. “I’m a marine commander,” she said. “Space warfare is not my speciality. If the Captain’s accuser is another spacer captain, I would be unlikely to prove a good witness for the defence, as my expertise is infantry combat in space facilities.
“However, I didn’t see the Captain do anything wrong. On the contrary, I thought his action was exemplary, and contributed greatly to our victory.”
“Do you consider it possible that another captain may have misinterpreted?” asked Khola.
“Yes.” Trace nodded. “As I said, we left the battle. Tavalai reinforcements were massing at Dhuvo. If they’d been allowed to gather unmolested, we’d have been flanked, and taken heavy casualties. Captain Pantillo broke them up before they could hit us. It was unconventional, but that is his style. He’s done the same thing a hundred times before, and been commended for it. Now this.”
She could not keep the anger and frustration from her voice. It was an effort just to hold her pose on the footstand. Small muscles tensed and twinged, that should have been calm.
“This is troubling,” Khola admitted. “But misunderstandings do occur in battle. To presume that it is corruption seems a stretch, despite the Lieutenant Commander’s concerns.”
“Colonel,” said Trace, attempting patience. “Let me be blunt. Command’s actions regarding Captain Pantillo have been unjust. The offer of promotion to the Lieutenant Commander just that morning was highly improper, and beyond suspicious under the circumstances. Now it appears the Captain is even being denied due process, despite all his service to the human cause.”
“Major.” Colonel Khola held up his hands, calming. “The process has only just begun. Fleet makes mistakes, it’s a big organisation and often a flawed one, run by flawed human beings. Let us await an outcome before judging this or that.”
“We must assist the Captain in getting a fair hearing,” Trace insisted. “He’s certainly not getting one now.”
“I’m not sure that’s yet been established,” Major Kriti cautioned.
“They won’t even tell us what he’s charged with!” Trace retorted. “It’s unheard of, our JAG Captain Sudip says that in every preceding case with a court-martial of this rank and magnitude, they’ve always declared the charge so that the defence could prepare.”
“Major,” Khola said calmly. “Major you are upset.”
“Yes I am,” Trace said shortly. She swallowed hard. It would not do to lose her cool completely, and show her comrades just how far her control had slipped. The Captain had entrusted her with things that he had not entrusted to others. She could not let him down. “I owe that man. All humanity owes that man, whether we are aware of it or not.”
“Major the Kulina exist to serve,” said Khola. “Our founders made a decision, a thousand years ago, that humanity required selfless sacrifice to survive. We are the embodiment of that sacrifice. We do not fight for blood lust or revenge, we do not thrill in the kill, we do not seek glory and remembrance. Our lives have meaning only in that they are currency, to be spent in the service of all humanity.
“Now we all gave that oath, and we gave it to Fleet. We knew Fleet’s imperfections when we gave it. Fleet has done far worse than accuse an innocent man before, Fleet has made a mess of assaults, has let complacency and poor judgement lead to the deaths of… well, of millions, depending on the incident. Yet our oath stands, Major, because Fleet is all humanity has.”
“Will you assist me to get him a fair trial?” Trace asked, attempting calm. “The Kulina are influential.”
“Captain Pantillo is not Kulina. We use our influence with High Command sparingly.”
“And we would deny a warrior as worthy as Captain Pantillo our assistance, because he does not hold membership of our club?” Trace retorted. “Colonel Khola, this sounds like Kulina ego.”
“It is pragmatism,” Khola said calmly. “Ego is that we intervene at all. Pragmatism says we do so very sparingly.”
“We spend of ourselves as the need of humanity requires,” Trace insisted, her voice hardening. “That is what I was taught. That is true peace, to place aside personal need to do what is necessary for the whole.”
“Even Captain Pantillo is not the whole. He is just one man. Fleet is the whole.”
“And Fleet without Captain Pantillo would still be another five years at war. You know it, and I know it. He won us several battles just that important, single-handedly. He saved us that many years of war. How many lives must a man save before the Kulina will bend a single precious rule to help him? And what is this stubbornness if not pride?”
Colonel Khola took a deep breath, and glanced at the Majors. Their looks were guarded. “I will have a word with High Command,” he said finally. “I will express our concern, and our interest to see that the Captain is treated fairly. More than that, I cannot do.”