Thursday, February 13, 2014

Crimson Worlds 8

The response to The Shadow Legions has been awesome (you guys are always awesome), so I thought I'd post a little something here for those of you who've read it already (and if you haven't, go get it and read it before you scroll down!).

I know Shadow Legions ended on more of a cliffhanger than my books usually do.  So, I thought I should give you a sneak peak at the next book.  I made you all wait longer for SL, because I published Gehenna Dawn in between (and because I struggled with how to transition between books 7 and 8), but Book 8 will be out more quickly.

So, here is a preliminary (very lightly edited) first chapter to wet your appetites for CW: Even Legends Die.  This might change with editing, but it's an early look.
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spoiler alert if you haven't read The Shadow Legions yet
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Chapter 1
 
MCS John Carter
Earth Orbit
Sol System


It is beautiful, he thought, staring at the blue and white disk portrayed on the main screen…so much prettier than his adopted homeworld’s dusty-red image.  Duncan Campbell had been born on Earth, though his childhood memories of the slums of Edinburgh stirred a different set of emotions than the celestial vision he now enjoyed.  Despite his ugly memories of violent streets and ancient, crumbling structures, he had to acknowledge that even centuries of war and pollution hadn’t completely destroyed the beauty of mankind’s birthplace…at least not when viewed from a distance. 
Mars, on the other hand, was dusty and generally inhospitable, a hostile place where a man still needed machines to survive a walk on its surface.  A century’s aggressive terraforming had created a far friendlier environment than the one men had first found on the red planet, but there was far still to go.  Seas and lakes and walks outside without a respirator and heated pressure suit would be his grandchildren’s joy, not his.
Those grandchildren, and the children that would precede them, would have to wait.  Campbell’s life now was one of duty, and anything remotely resembling a personal life had taken a backseat to his military career.  Campbell was enormously grateful to be a Martian citizen, a committed patriot to his adopted home.  He knew how fortunate he was to be on John Carter’s bridge and not prowling through the squalor of Edinburgh’s notorious Cog neighborhoods.  He considered it a privilege to serve the Confederation.
 “We’re getting multiple inquiries on all channels, Captain.”  Lieutenant Christensen’s voice pulled him from his daydreaming.  “All of the Powers have requested confirmation of our intentions.”
Of course, he thought…they would be concerned, wouldn’t they?  Earth had been a demilitarized zone for over a century, ever since the Treaty of Paris had imposed peace between the Superpowers on Earth.  War hadn’t been abandoned by mankind, nothing of the sort.  It just moved out into space, where the constant conflicts didn’t threaten the survival of the species quite so severely.
“Yes, I imagine they are a bit anxious right about now.”  Why wouldn’t they be worried, he thought, with the Confederation’s newest super-battleship knocking on their door without warning or introduction?  Mars wasn’t a signatory to the Treaty of Paris, so a warship entering orbit without warning wasn’t a violation of any covenant.  But that was a diplomatic fine point, one that didn’t make the situation any less worrisome to the Superpowers.  The Earthly nations were all parties to the treaty, which meant they were virtually defenseless from space.  And John Carter was one of the most powerful warships ever built by man, larger even than the Alliance’s vaunted Yorktown-class battlewagons and bristling with weaponry.
The Confederation hadn’t been a major factor in the balance of power a century before when the treaty was signed, and the shattered Earth powers were too weak in space to compel the nascent Confederation anyway.  The successive Martian administrations had maintained a relatively neutral stance ever since, though they had steadfastly refused all entreaties to belatedly agree to the terms of the Paris accords.  Still, the fear of a Confederation attack on Earth, while occasionally debated in one Power or another, had rarely been a serious concern.  The Martians were the least expansionistic of the Powers, committed more to building wealth than fighting wars.  They controlled most of the mineral resources of the solar system, and they could deliver their ores to Earth at vastly lower cost than the other Powers’ own interstellar colonies.  They preferred markets and trading partners to enemies, and they conducted their foreign policy accordingly.
Now, however, all that was about to change.  For the first time in history, a Martian ship had come to Earth not to trade or parlay, but to attack.  Campbell’s mission was highly specific, and he had a single target.  John Carter was here to unleash thermonuclear fury on man’s homeworld.
“Maintain communications silence, Lieutenant.”  You’ll all know why we’re here soon enough, he thought.  Then all hell will break loose…but it will be someone else’s problem, not mine.  “And I want scanners on full power.  We’re not expecting any of the Superpowers to have ships near Earth, but that’s no excuse for carelessness.”  Campbell had been awarded the newest and largest ship in the Confederation’s navy because of his spotless record, and he intended to live up to it in every particular.  He was an odds on favorite for promotion to the admiralty after this tour, and he owed most of his success to his meticulous caution.
“Yes sir.”  Christensen’s hands worked over her board, and the image of Earth moved to the left half of the screen, the right now displaying a scanning plot of local space.  “No warships within scanner range, Captain.”
“Very well.”  He leaned back, thinking quietly for a few seconds.  “Bring the ship to battlestations, Lieutenant.”  Campbell pushed away the extraneous thoughts that had been clouding his mind.  Now it was time to do what he’d come to do.  “And get me weapons control.”
There was a brief pause, no more than a second or two, and the bridge was bathed in a reddish light from the battlestations lamps.  Another 3 or 4 seconds then:  “Commander Linken here, sir.”
“Are the weapons ready to go, Commander?”  Campbell skipped the pleasantries.  He and Linken had served together for two years, and they worked together like a finely tuned machine.
“Yes, sir.”  Linken’s response was crisp and immediate.  “The missiles are fully fueled and ready for launch, and the warheads are cleared and ready.”  Campbell could see an updated weapon status display appear on his personal screen.  “Awaiting your final order to arm them, Captain.”
Campbell took one more look at the gauzy blue image of Earth floating on the display, smaller than it had been a moment before when it occupied the entire screen, but just as beautiful.  “You may arm your weapons, Commander.”  Campbell closed his eyes for an instant, pondering the gravity of what he was about to do.  The 125 megaton Penetrator warheads were nothing special in terms of ship combat.  In the vacuum of space, without atmosphere to carry heat and shockwaves, vessels targeted enormously powerful missiles at each other, with warheads yielding 500 megatons or more commonplace.  But against a ground target, 125 megatons was an enormous weapon, even an inefficient one.  Unless you were trying to dig out and destroy a heavily fortified subterranean target, in which case five or six of the big warheads were likely to do the job.  Campbell was about to launch 60 of them…and, in doing so, become the first commander to bombard an Earth target since the end of the Unification Wars.  He sighed, thinking of the significance of the act, the crushing responsibility of what he was about to do.  His actions could lead to war; they could provoke reprisals against the Confederation.  But he had his orders, and duty was first to Campbell, another factor he suspected had played a role in his appointment as mission commander.
“You may arm your weapons, Commander.”  Campbell’s voice was eerily calm.  “And prepare to launch.”
 

“What the hell is that?”  The shaggy old ranch hand pointed toward the sky.
His companions almost ignored him, all but one.  The old man was a little crazy, and no one took him very seriously.  No one except Gus Hart, who’d been friends with grizzled Chuck Trexler since he’d been an unpopular kid befriended by the bizarre old cow hand.  Trexler had been ancient even then, at least to Hart’s recollection, but the two had developed a strong friendship, one that endured to the present day.
 “What the fuck?”  Hart was staring now too, his mouth open in shock.  The rest of the group looked up immediately.  Hart was the informal leader of the ranch’s Cog workers, and everyone paid attention to whatever he did.
“Are those aircraft of some kind?”  Gyp Tompkins was the first to look, after Hart and Trexler.  His voice was a little shaky, nervous.  You didn’t see things like this every day in the ranchlands of Dakota.
“They’re missiles.”  Hart’s voice was deadpan, his eyes locked on the long white trails in the sky.  Most of the workers on the ranch had never traveled more than a few klicks from the pastures, but Hart had served a five year stint in the terrestrial military.  Mustered out in one of the periodic downsizing efforts, he returned home with corporal’s stripes and a reasonable knowledge of military hardware.  “Probably nuclear.”  And if they airburst, he thought but didn’t say, we’re screwed.  “C’mon…we have to get back to the village.”  He looked at the others then back to the sky for a few more seconds.  “Now.”
He turned and started back, walking a few steps then breaking into a run.  He glanced back over his shoulder.  The rest of the group was standing still, transfixed on the rapidly descending smoke trails.  “I said now!” he screamed, waving his arm wildly.  “We need to move now!”
The group followed this time, running hard on his heels.  What the hell is this, he thought…what is going on?  What’s out here worth attacking?  He was in a near panic, but his military training was there too, rising from the back of his mind, telling him their only chance was to keep moving.  They were running across the flat plains, Hart looking around desperately for some kind of cover.  He glanced back over his shoulder, shaking his head violently when he saw how far the missiles had traveled in just a few seconds.  There was no way they were going to make it far enough, he thought…those birds could detonate any second now.
He looked around as he ran, nearly tripping over a rock as he did.  There, he thought, scrambling to regain his balance.  To the south was a small depression.  He knew the spot…the ground dropped off sharply to the banks of a small river.  The slope would give some protection from any detonations.  “Let’s go!”  He waved his arm, pointing south.  “Get down that hillside there, and hit the dirt when I say so.”
His companions were screaming and panicking, but they followed him.  The ground on the hillside became steadily more rugged, and Trexler tripped.  Hart swore bitterly, but he dropped back, pulling the old man to his feet and shoving him forward.  He looked back again.  Most of the smoke trails extended behind the hillside, past his field of vision.  He wanted to get a little farther, but he knew he was already pushing his luck.  “Get down,” he shouted, as loud as he could.  He dove into the ground, holding his hands ahead to absorb the impact and slow his momentum.
He felt a sharp pain in his arm as he landed, but he tried to ignore it.  A broken wrist was the least of his problems now.  “Stay down and close your eyes,” he screamed.
A few seconds later his eyelids glowed orange.  He squeezed them tight, but the blinding light still penetrated enough to hurt his eyes.  He clutched the ground, his hands digging into the soft wet grass.  He felt the waves of heat, burning his back.  The hillside was blocking most of it, but it still hurt like fire.  Then he heard the blasts, one after another, a deafening rumble.  His hands went to his ears, instinctively trying to cover them, to block out the shattering roar, but it was futile.  The deafening blasts kept going…ten, twenty…then he lost count.
The ground shook too, throwing his body up and back down with a jarring thud.  He felt himself tumbling, rolling down the hillside as the terrible earthquake continued, fed by detonation after detonation.  His burned back scraped painfully along the ground as he slid toward the river edge.  My God, he thought, as his broken body finally came to a rest 20 meters from the stream…this is the end.  This is the end.


“Weapons control reports 43 missiles successfully penetrated Alliance air defenses and impacted on or near the target.”  Christensen’s voice was a little shaky, but still remarkably calm, Campbell thought, considering she is reporting the results of a nuclear attack on Earth.
“On or near” wasn’t the kind of precision terminology Campbell typically demanded from his crew, though he knew she was just giving him a preliminary assessment.  More details would follow as soon as she had them.  He waited a few more seconds and then pushed her.  “Damage assessment, Lieutenant?”
Her hands were flying across her screen.  “Working on that now, Captain.”
He knew how demanding he was with his people.  Christensen was a good officer, and he knew she’d have the data to him as soon as humanly possible.  He was just anxious…and he knew the only way to keep a blade sharp was to hone it constantly.  He had good people, but he made damned sure they stayed that way by constantly pressing them to do better.  And this mission was no place to let those standards fall.  Roderick Vance had been brutally clear…Campbell was to launch one attack…and one attack only.  Then he was to break orbit and return to Mars immediately.  And he was to make sure that, no matter what – those had been Vance’s exact words…no matter what – he was to make sure that one attack completely destroyed the target.
Still, he thought, don’t take your tension out on Christensen.  Let her do her job.  Duncan Campbell was driven…a creature of duty who took his commitments, especially those of the service, very seriously.  But he also trusted his crew and, even as he pushed them, he also knew he had to have faith in their own dedication.
His commitment came from a powerful source.  He knew just how lucky he was to be a naturalized citizen of the Confederation…and how many Cogs living in squalor and deprivation in the slums of the Superpowers would kill for the life he had.
Campbell’s mother had been his father’s maid…and later his lover.  A widowed Martian executive, Arthur Campbell was on Earth overseeing his business interests in a manufacturing complex in the Scottish countryside.  The Martian magnate took both his lover and their child with him when he returned home, but tragedy would soon destroy their happiness.  Duncan’s mother had been infected with the X2 virus as a child, and her acclimation to the Martian environment triggered the dreaded disease out of remission.  She died a few months later, despite the best medical care the wealthy – and guilt-stricken - Arthur Campbell could buy.  A remnant of the biological weaponry used during the Unification Wars, mutated forms of X2 remained incurable, even to the cutting edge medical technology of the Confederation.
Broken-hearted, Arthur Campbell doted on his son, though resistance from his adult children compelled him to purchase an alternate estate to house the young, illegitimate, Duncan.  His father had insisted he would find a place for his youngest son in the family business, but Duncan didn’t want his relationship with his half-siblings to become any more difficult than it already was, and he chose a military career instead.
He had excelled at the Naval Academy, graduating second in his class, and he’d followed that up with a distinguished career that took him from one end of human space to another…and finally out beyond the Rim with Augustus Garret’s Grand Fleet.  He’d returned to a decoration and command of the newest battlewagon in the fleet.  And, five weeks later, the mission to launch a nuclear attack on Earth.  How, he thought…how did it come to this?
“Captain, I have the scanning report.”  Christensen’s voice pulled him from his introspection.
He turned to face the tactical officer.  “Yes, Lieutenant.”  He hesitated a few seconds, clearing the residual thoughts away.  “Please, continue.”
“The attack appears to be a complete success, sir.  Based on the parameters provided to us, the AI estimates the total destruction of 99% of the targeted land area to a depth of 3 kilometers.”
Campbell was silent for a few seconds, his mind imagining the nuclear fury his missiles had unleashed.  How many had he just killed…not just in the base, but in the surrounding areas?  It wasn’t a heavily populated region, but his bunker busters had burrowed into the ground before they detonated.  The resulting explosions were vastly dirtier than airbursts, and the massively toxic fallout would spread for hundreds of miles.  Thousands of civilians would die from radiation poisoning, townspeople and farmhands and normal workers who had nothing to do with the plots and schemes of the politicians and soldiers.
He’d fought in space before, and he’d killed enemies in those battles, but this was somehow different.  His enemies were combatants, just like he and his crew.  This was…different.  He felt odd, queasy…guilty.  He’d been a warrior before.  Was he a mass murderer now?
He exhaled slowly and looked across the bridge.  He didn’t have time now for indulgent self-reflection.  The Alliance – and the other Powers – were in shock right now, but they’d all be recalling any ships within range.  Campbell was glad he didn’t have to sort out the international uproar.  Was the Alliance at war with the Confederation now?  Would Admiral Garret be recalled from the frontier to lead his fleet against Mars itself?  Campbell didn’t know, but he was glad it was Vance’s problem and not his.
“OK, Lieutenant, we have our orders.”  He sighed softly, taking one last look at the perfect blue image of Earth on the main display.  “Prepare to leave orbit.”