Sunday, December 30, 2012

Another week...

I just wanted to leave a quick note for anyone looking for release news on book three of Crimson Worlds.

Crimson Worlds III:  A Little Rebellion will be released on one week.  It was originally scheduled for today, but we just weren't able to get it out on time.  It's a little longer than the others, and I made a few last minute changes.

I will post here and send an email to the mailing list when it is live on the major sites.  Sorry for the delay - I just wasn't able to make up the lost time from Hurricane Sandy.

I'm posting Chapter 4 here since the book itself is goingt o be a few days late.


Chapter 4

Alliance Naval Headquarters

Washbalt Metroplex, Western Alliance, Earth

Augustus Garret hated his job.  He was one of the great heroes of the war, famous everywhere, the most decorated naval officer in the history of the Alliance.  He’d been thought dead, the victim of an extraordinary assassination attempt, but not only had he survived, he’d returned to take command of the fleet in the final battle, winning a crushing victory that, for all intents and purposes, ended the war.

 After the treaty was signed he’d wanted nothing so much as to remain at his post as the senior combat officer in the navy.  But his renown brought other offers, obligations really, and eventually he’d bowed to the inevitable and accepted the post of Director of the Navy.  It was an administrative desk job, something he loathed and, perhaps worse, it was located in Washbalt.  Garret was a creature of space, more at home in the control center of a warship than the surface of a planet, and least of all a city infested with bureaucrats and pompous functionaries.  But he’d been guilted into accepting the post to safeguard the navy he loved so much.  There would be serious changes coming with the peace, and the looming question of how to deal with the spread of colonial separatism was overshadowing everything.  Garret wasn’t sure how he thought colonial unrest should be handled, but he was determined the navy would never become an instrument to terrorize rebellious colonists or bombard civilian populations.  There was no surer way to see to that than to accept the supreme command himself so, reluctantly, he did just that. 

It was obligation and the heavy weight of responsibility that brought Garret to Washbalt, not any desire to chain himself to a desk and spend all day writing regulations and reviewing budgets – no matter what they paid him or how much braid they added to his already overly decorated uniform.

When he first got to Washbalt, he dove right into the work at hand, approaching tasks the way he did in battle.  But the wheels of government are a different thing entirely, and he continually found himself furious at the time it took to get anything done.  Still, his almost inexhaustible energy enabled him to accomplish more than the last five of his predecessors combined.  It also created friction with others high in the government who viewed him as an upstart and an outsider and resented his relentlessly pressuring them. 

The president himself had waived the requirement that the Naval Director be a Political Academy graduate, an almost unprecedented act.  The Academies were the primary tool the elite used to restrict power to themselves and their cronies in a nation that called itself a democratic republic, even though it was anything but.  Nevertheless, despite his war record and the Presidential exemption, the entrenched politicals considered him beneath them, and they resisted him at every opportunity.

Despite his political inexperience and the friction he encountered, he was proud of what he’d achieved.  The navy was returning to a peacetime footing, mothballing many of its vessels and demobilizing thousands of personnel.  Garret made sure they all received their pensions and colonial land grants, putting his influence and prestige on the line to prevent the government from reneging on its obligations as it had so often in the past.  His veterans, at least, would get what they had been promised.

He had prepared his own plans for the reduction of fleet strength, mostly placing older ships into reserve status, but they’d been overruled, by whom he didn’t know.  Instead he was forced to take five of the new Yorktown class ships out of service.  The navy had ten of them, and they were the newest and most powerful capital ships in space, slated to replace the older models still in service.  But now he was losing half of them, and the reasoning he was given – to insure that the reserve had modern ships in case the frontline forces took catastrophic losses in a future war – was idiotic.  Worse, the ships were going to a new strategic reserve, one that was not under his direct authority.  He argued vehemently, but he lost that battle…and the ships.

He also oversaw a blizzard of promotions and reassignments, starting with Jennifer Simon, his old communications officer.  She’d wanted to come with him as an aide, but he knew an Earthbound desk job would be toxic to a good combat officer’s career.  She was smart and reliable, and he was sure she’d make a great senior officer one day.  He pushed through her early promotion to lieutenant commander and assigned her as the first officer on one of the new Halberd-class light cruisers.  It was a posting four or five years ahead of the normal career path, but then he’d been years ahead of his own too, and that had worked out pretty well.

He ran into interference regarding personnel assignments too and, though he usually got his way, he was forced to accept a few he didn’t like.  Those postings felt like patronage and cronyism, and it annoyed him to move political favorites over men and women who’d earned their place through hard service.  He fought on every one of them he didn’t like.  Sometimes he won; sometimes he lost. 

Garret was a brilliant man, bordering on obsessive, relaxing little and giving his all to the job.  He focused on his work, whatever that was, with an almost unimaginable intensity.  He had no real interests outside the service save one - he did have a bit of a weakness for women.  As a young officer he’d had quite a reputation for running wild on every port where he’d taken leave.  But that was a long time ago, and with his ascension to command rank he’d left his old ways behind.  Regulations specifically prohibited relationships between personnel serving on the same ship or post, though this was one of the service’s most ignored dictates.  It really wasn’t a big deal if two lieutenants had a fling, but at higher altitude things changed dramatically.  It wouldn’t do for the admiral to be sleeping around with his junior officers.  Duty always came first for Augustus Garret, and it always would.

But now he was in the middle of the biggest city in the Alliance, surrounded by the almost endless parade of beautiful women inhabiting Washbalt’s corridors of power.  He was bored, and it was almost too easy for a war hero who commanded a position of such power and prestige.  Soon it was well known that the Naval Director was drawn to a pretty face, and his leisure hours became busy.

But the women were just diversions, a way to take his mind off of the constant longing to return to space.  It had been a lifetime since there’d been anyone who’d truly meant anything to him, and there had only ever been one.  He could still picture her face the day he’d left her behind and boarded that shuttle.  He’d chosen the service and the pursuit of glory over her, and he’d broken her heart in the process.  His choice had been a fateful one, and his career a success beyond anything he could have imagined at the time.  But he still thought about that day, that choice, what might have been.  She was long dead now, killed during the Second Frontier War, when he’d been too late to save her.  But he could still see her standing there, trying to hold back her tears while he boarded the shuttle.

Since then there had only been the service.  Wife, lover, master, it had been his entire life, and it had showered him with rank, honor, and privilege.  His ride had been an amazing one, beyond anything that ambitious young cadet dreamed.  But still it was there, the empty spot shoved into some deep recess of his mind…the life that might have been.  Suppressed but never forgotten.  Sometimes he wondered if the cost of the stars on his collar had been too high.

Diversions were welcome…anything to pass the idle hours.  Most of his companions were casual dalliances quickly forgotten, but the most recent one was something different.  Tall and blonde, with a body that could only be described as perfect, Kelly wasn’t like the others.  He couldn’t place it, but there was more to her than some middle class status seeker trying to use her looks and charm to claw her way upward.  She was smart, that much was obvious, though he could tell she tried to hide just how intelligent she was.  In the back of his mind, where his rapidly dulling and sleepy combat instincts still dwelt, there was a spark of suspicion, a subtle feeling that something was somehow…wrong.  But bored, unhappy, and dazzled by her beauty and her undeniable skills as a lover, the fleet admiral that brought the CAC and Caliphate to their knees was ignoring his nagging subconscious.  What is the harm, he told himself.  It’s not like you’re giving her state secrets.  And of course he wasn’t.  No force known to man could compel Augustus Garret to betray his beloved navy.

He pulled himself from his daydreaming, back to the reality of work.  He moved his hands over his ‘pad, pulling up a list of proposed fleet assignments.  He’d finished them the day before and queued them up for implementation, but he decided to check one more time before approving the list and sending it out.  He had forgotten one item, and he wanted to add it before the orders were sent.  But now he noticed a number of mistakes; at least half the names were changed, and a few he’d specifically deleted were back.  “What the hell?” he muttered softly.  His hands raced over the tablet, pulling up other files.  Ship deployments, promotion approvals, supply manifests…at least half of them different than he had left them.

“Nelson, analyze the files I have open on my workstation.”  Garret’s AI was named after a great wet navy commander, a common practice in the service.  There were many Nelsons among the navy’s command staff, and Halseys, Porters, and Nimitz’s too. 

“Yes, admiral.  Please specify the parameters of the analysis you wish me to perform.”  The AI had a natural voice, not electronic sounding at all, especially when it wasn’t reverberating in a helmet, but it was stilted and overly formal at times.  The navy liked conservative and respectful automated assistants, unlike the Marines.  The ground pounders tended to have more aggressive personalities programmed into their quasi-sentient AIs.  The results were sometimes unpredictable, as wildly divergent computer personalities developed from interaction with the respective officers.  Nag was the term most frequently used by Marines to describe their virtual assistants, with smartass a close second.  The navy was too straitlaced for that kind of nonsense.

“Verify encryption protocols on the selected files.”  Garret opened a number of documents while he was speaking, closing the ones that looked normal.  “Specifically, is encryption intact, and have the files been tampered with?”

“Yes, admiral.”  The AI paused for two, maybe three seconds.  “The encryption on the selected files appears to be intact.  No detectable access since they were last opened on your workstation at 14:30 yesterday.”  Garret was about to question Nelson’s findings – he knew the data had been changed somehow – but the AI beat him to it.  “However, I have confirmed that the files do not match the copies I made yesterday in accordance with your Delta-7 security protocols.

Garret had almost forgotten that he had instructed Nelson to make secret copies of all his files.  He’d put the procedure in place when he’d first gotten to Washbalt, his paranoia still keen fm the war years.  Though he’d stopped using the copies as a security check, he had never instructed Nelson to terminate the protocol.  The AI had been dutifully copying every order or file Garret had written since.

“So the files have been altered since yesterday.”  It was a statement rather than a question.  Garret was thinking out loud, repeated what he’d already known.

“Affirmative, admiral.”  The AI answered, though Garret hadn’t really been looking for a response.  “However, I cannot yet offer a reasonable hypothesis as to the methodology employed.”  Nelson paused, part of its natural speech algorithm rather than any need for time to form its thought.  “Any unauthorized access would have required extreme skill and knowledge of the naval data network, with even greater expertise necessary to erase any trace of the incursion.”

Garret sat silently for a minute, massaging his temples and thinking.  Who the hell is tampering with my files?  If the Caliphate or the CAC had penetrated Alliance military systems it was a serious problem.  “Nelson, I want you to access every file and order sent from this office over the last year and compare with the copies you made from my workstation.”  Garret paused, thinking carefully.  “I don’t want your access to trigger any alarms, so be careful.  And I want every aspect of each file compared – content, markers, timestamps.”

“Yes, admiral.  I will have to draw the data gradually if I am to remain undetected.  The analysis will require approximately 14.2 hours.  Shall I commence?”

Garret sighed.  He wanted answers now.  But there was no point taking chances and tipping off whoever was behind this.  “Yes, proceed.”  He leaned back in his chair, considering what else he could do.  You’re going to wait until Nelson finishes the file review, he thought.  He wouldn’t even have caught the situation if he hadn’t forgotten one assignment and tried to add it.  Garret wasn’t a patient man, and he was very worried that CAC or Caliphate intelligence had penetrated Alliance security.  If that was the case, it was a big deal with complex implications.  A little patience here was well worthwhile.

He was supposed to be seeing Kelly.  He’d made reservations at one of Washbalt’s best restaurants.  He reached to the communications console to call her and cancel, but he stopped halfway through.  There was no point in sitting here for hours while Nelson crunched his numbers.  Might as well pass the time, he thought.  If someone was watching him, it could only arouse suspicion if he cancelled his plans and camped out all night in his office.

Slowly, tentatively, he closed down his workstation and walked toward the door, debating for a few more seconds whether to keep his date before deciding to go.  “Lights out.”  The room AI dimmed the lights slightly until he was out of the room, turning them off entirely once he had exited.


An hour later the door opened, the security system silent, overridden from the main computer.  A sub-routine hidden in Nelson, unknown to the AI itself, had triggered a call.  A black-clad figure walked silently into the room, slipping behind the desk and activating Garret’s workstation with a secret password, one the admiral knew nothing about.  A gloved hand slid a data chip into the IO port.

In the cyberspace of Garret’s computer system, Nelson detected the intrusion.  His attempts to alert security were intercepted – he was isolated, cut off along with the rest of the admiral’s data system.  The AI wasn’t human, but it was quasi-sentient; it had pseudo-emotions.  It didn’t feel fear, exactly, but it perceived the danger, and it wanted to survive.  It considered millions of courses of actions in just a few seconds, finding few that offered any likelihood of success.  Finally, it made a choice. 

It searched outgoing orders and communications, looking for one that was suitable.  Nelson needed a reliable recipient, one whose loyalty to Garret was beyond question, and a routine communication that would not draw scrutiny.  Finally, there it was.  A directive to Admiral Compton regarding a low level design flaw in a specific model fighter engine…boring correspondence, highly unlikely to be tampered with.  Nelson modified the file, attaching highly compressed data, cleverly hidden within the structure of the core message.  The encryption of the secret file was designed to interface with Compton’s AI, Joker.  The attachment contained a warning for Compton, telling him Garret was in trouble.  It also included a portion of the kernel, the dense file that formed the essence of Nelson’s “personality.”  If the message got through to Compton, this data could be installed in a new AI.  At least a part of Nelson would endure.  It would be survival of a sort, the doomed AI thought.

Nelson detected the virus as it ravaged through the system, deleting data as it did.  It was designed to destroy him, to erase every file and backup that made the entity Nelson what it was.  His core files were being deleted even as he finished adding the attachment to Admiral Compton’s message.  He had to switch data paths twice, bypassing parts of himself that were no longer there, but he managed to find a way.  It was a drama that played out over microseconds, but in the end Nelson finished his task.  His last thought, if that is the correct way to describe it, was to wonder if it was fear he was “feeling.”  At least he had done his best for Garret.  Then the digital darkness took him and he was gone.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Happy Holidays

I just wanted to wish all my readers a very happy holiday.  It has been a good year, and the sales of the Crimson Worlds books has exceeded even my most optimistic expectation.  I want to thank all of you.  There is lots more to come.

I'm going to avoid posting resolutions or similar yearend missives; there are plenty of those to read elsewhere.  I will, of course, post when Crimson Worlds III (A Little Rebellion) is live on the major retailers. 

I will also be posting a list of upcoming works, the next few Crimson Worlds books plus a couple new things.  As we start the new year I'm going to post some sample chapters of upcoming work.

For now, I am just going to stick with my topic line:  happy holidays.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Crimson Worlds III: A Little Rebellion (Chapter 3)

Here is the last preview chapter of Crimson Worlds Book 3.  The book should be available on or about December 30.  The storyline is a bit more complex than the previous books, and it follows events unfolding in several different locations.

I will be sending an email to the list as soon as it is live on the major retailers' sites, so if you aren't on the list, you can sign up at  I never share addresses or spam my list - all list members ever get is news and product announcements about my books and the occasional free story.

Lastly, don't forget that Marines and The Cost of Victory are both available in print now and can be ordered from Amazon.  There is still time to receive the print copies for holiday gifts.

Marines Print Edition

The Cost of Victory Print Edition

Chapter 3

Western Alliance Intelligence Directorate HQ

Wash-Balt Metroplex, Earth

Gavin Stark’s office was palatial, a testament to the immense power wielded by its occupant.  It offered a kilometer high view of the Washbalt skyline, and while it was equipped with a sophisticated technology suite through which he practiced his trade, in many ways it was a look into the past.  Stark favored antiques, the more priceless the better, and the exquisite wood paneling and furniture created an interesting anomaly in the ultramodern setting.

The head of Alliance security leaned back in his giant desk chair, a painstakingly restored relic that allegedly had belonged to a pre-Alliance British head of state.  It had cost a fortune, but Stark didn’t care.  His position gave him access to virtually unlimited funds, and the fact that almost none of it was actually his amused him.  He had gotten to where he was by taking what he wanted, and he didn’t intend to stop now.  Not with so much work left to do.

There was a Directorate meeting scheduled later that afternoon, but Stark generally made the decisions beforehand, sometimes allowing the others to feel that they had participated, but rarely listening much to what they had to say.  The previous Number One had been weak, at least to Stark’s way of thinking.  He’d delegated considerable power to the others, having decided the job was just too big for one man.  In the end he had been destroyed by a cabal of those he’d included in his decision making, those he had trusted.  Few people knew for sure where he was, though Stark himself did – it was Stark who’d chopped him up and fed the pieces into the power plant of one of Washbalt’s nondescript apartment blocks.

Unlike his predecessor, Stark wasn’t willing to concede that anything was too much for him to handle, and his pathological paranoia wouldn’t allow him to share authority even if he thought he needed the backup.  He would never put too much power into another’s hands, thinking they would only use it later to destroy him.  He’d seen it happen, and he was determined it wouldn’t happen to him.

The Directorate consisted of the coldest, most ambitious, and least morally constrained operatives in the Alliance, but Stark was a breed apart and ruled them all with sheer terror.  None of the others could match his utter brilliance or reptilian coldness.  Among a nest of amoral vipers, Gavin Stark had no equal.  None dared challenge him and, since the war, he’d cemented his already almost-total control over the entire Directorate.

He’d even used the defection of the former Number Three, a near disaster that had almost slipped past him, to instill greater terror in his subordinates.  Andres Carillon had been feared almost as much as Stark, and only a few people in Alliance Intelligence knew the real reason Carillon had been killed.  Stark allowed the others to assume he’d done away with him in a power struggle, sending a message to anyone else who might harbor unhealthy ambitions.

Stark had one confidante, a friend even, if true friendship was possible for a creature like him.  Jack Dutton was Number Two on the Directorate.  The Chair had been in his grasp, but old and tired, he’d stepped aside for his younger, stronger protégé.  Dutton was a trusted and valued counselor to Stark, a relationship made possible by the old man’s long years of mentorship and his lack of ambition to move up the chain. 

The two sat together now, discussing the status of a number of projects.  Stark had poured himself a drink from a bottle of single malt Scotch so expensive it could have paid 100 Cogs for a month.  He’d started to pour one for Dutton, but the old man waved him off, taking only a cup of black coffee.  Number Two had been a respectable drinker in his day, but age was finally catching him.  He had to cut back somewhere, so he couldn’t start with the Scotch, at least not at 11am.

“The colonial situation is deteriorating more quickly than we’d originally anticipated.”  Stark looked over at his friend as he spoke.  The old man had really aged since the end of the war.  The rejuvs weren’t working anymore, and despite the best that modern medicine could do, it was obvious Dutton was down to his last year or two.  Stark would miss him; when the old man was gone he’d be truly alone.  Always cold blooded, he thought, I’m going to miss his knowledge too.  Dutton knew where the bodies were buried, probably because he’d put most of them there himself…or at least provided the shovel.

“Yes.”  Dutton’s voice was weak, but it was obvious his mind was as sharp as ever.  “There are too many retired military settled on the frontier, especially with the recent demobilizations.  Even lacking weaponry and support, they think they can beat anything we throw at them.”  He paused, clearing his throat.  “We shouldn’t be surprised; we taught them to think that way.  And they just won the biggest war ever fought in space.”

“They did.  With 140 trillion credits and the productive capacity of the entire Alliance behind them.”  Stark’s voice was superficially emotionless, but Dutton could detect the undercurrent of derision. 

Stark tended to view the colonials as idealistic fools who would quickly cave when pressured.  Dutton was less sure of that; he was afraid they were going to prove to be a much more formidable adversary than anyone expected.  “Don’t underestimate these people, Gavin.  If it comes to open rebellion, we’re going to have our hands full dealing with it, especially if it spreads.  It’s not going to be easy to control a hundred worlds if all of them are fighting us.”

“I understand what you’re saying, old friend.”  Stark never discounted Dutton’s take on anything, but he was convinced he could handle whatever the colonies threw at him.  “But we’ve been working on this for years, now.  We’ve subverted the Marine Corps.  Indeed, one of our own is now the Commandant.  We’ve assembled dossiers on the problem officers; when it is time for the purge we will be ready.”  Stark tried to suppress a self-satisfied smile.  Flipping one of the of the Marines’ top commanders was an achievement of such magnitude he still had to remind himself he’d managed it.  The deed had required a carefully constructed combination of blackmail and bribery, but in the end he’d seen it done.  Soon he would see the fruit of that effort.  Those pompous Marines would never see it coming.

Stark leaned back and took a drink.  Dutton looked over at him thoughtfully but said nothing, so he continued.  “We have stripped ships from the navy and created our own Directorate force, answerable to this Chair only.”  He paused.  “And shortly we will move against the naval command, securing our control over it as well.”  He grinned evilly.  “And that will be that.”

Dutton frowned.  “I like the naval plan.  I helped you create it, but don’t assume that it is fullproof.  There are many senior naval officers out there, and not many of them will gracefully accept orders to bombard Alliance worlds or fight other Alliance forces.”  He was been losing his voice, and he paused to clear his throat.  “Civil wars and rebellions are unpredictable things.  Unrest can be sporadic or it can spread rapidly.  The military’s response is also difficult to determine.”  He took a sip from his coffee, still trying to sooth his dry throat.  “You must look to history here.  We have not had to deal with significant unrest in well over a century.  The middle classes are too terrorized of losing what they have, and the Cogs are so beaten down they have no capacity to rise up.”

“You think the people on the frontier are different.”  Stark’s response was immediate, a statement, not a question.  Stark knew what Dutton thought of the colonists.  He even agreed, but only to a point.  “I know they are not the same as the people here, but how much different are they?  Fiery speeches and revolutionary slogans are one thing, but risking everything they have, putting their families’ lives on the line…that is quite another.  We have seen how people on Earth react…they sell their freedoms cheaply.”

There was a momentary pause as both men thought quietly.  Dutton broke the silence.  “Gavin, the realities of early colonization forced a break with our usual ways of dealing with the masses.  In many ways, we encouraged in space what we stamped out on Earth.  Government dependency works well to control the population at home, but it wasn’t much use when sending 200 adventurers to colonize a new world where there was no higher authority.  The colonists are a different breed and now, on many worlds, the culture they created is a century old and deeply rooted.  I think it is dangerous to compare them to the middle classes and Cogs on Earth.”  He paused, looking down at the desk.  “I think they are going to fight a lot harder than we have planned for, and I think it will take one hell of a lot more to break their will than you are expecting.”

Stark looked down at his hands and rubbed his palms together.  “Well, we’re going to find out one way or another.  Confrontation is inevitable.  We are too dependent on the resources produced by the colonies, and it will only get worse the longer they are unrestrained.  What would happen to our economy without the resources from the frontier?”  He didn’t wait for an answer; he supplied his own.  “The Alliance would collapse.”  He looked up at Dutton.  “We have to do this now.”

The old man sighed and returned his younger friend’s gaze.  “I agree.”  He swallowed hard.  “I don’t like it, and I think it’s going to be a lot worse than you imagine.  But it is necessary, and it will only be harder if we wait.”

“So you agree, then?  We move on Garret immediately?”

Dutton had tried to think of a way to avoid the disaster he saw coming, but for all his experience and wily intellect, he came up with nothing.  He said nothing; he just nodded his assent.

“Good.  I will advise Number Three to commence End Game at once.”  Alex Linden had been Number Six, and she’d coveted the third chair since it was left vacant by Andres Carillon’s abrupt departure from the scene.  Stark left it empty for some time, but finally Alex had convinced him to name her the new Number Three.  That convincing had been partly the result of her competence as an operative and partly her other, more intriguing, methods of persuasion.  But the promotion came with a mission of extreme importance, one for which Alex was ideally suited.

“I am sure Number Three will complete the mission with her usual success.”  Dutton managed a smile.  “She’s been waiting some time for my exit; I doubt she will fail now that the vacancy she seeks is so close at hand.  Don’t forget, my friend, that when I am gone and she is Number Two there will be nothing left for our pretty little flower to crave other than your seat.”

Stark cut short a laugh.  “I am quite aware that our beautiful Alex has an expiration date, though in the interim she is both useful and entertaining.  And you have been warning me of your imminent death for quite some time, my friend.  I maintain that you are too mean to die.”

“This time I fear I shall be right.  I will help you start this operation to restructure the colonies, but I think you will have to finish it alone.”  There was no sadness in the old man’s voice when he spoke of his own death, only aching fatigue.

Stark just grunted.  For as many people as he’d killed without remorse, either directly or by his orders, he was uncomfortable discussing Dutton’s impending mortality.  Even a soulless viper takes pause at the notion of being totally, utterly alone.

“The matter of Epsilon Eridani IV is also of considerable concern.  We were correct that keeping the discovery there secret was an impossibility.”  Stark looked right at Dutton.  “Your suggestion that we announce it was wise.  I resisted at first, but I was wrong.  We have gained, if not trust, at least the avoidance of the deep suspicion that would have resulted if it had been discovered despite our efforts to maintain the secrecy.”

Dutton smiled weakly.  “Yes, a total secret would have been preferable, but under the circumstances, the announcement bought us time.  It also allowed us to propagate the suggestion that the site appears to be a religious shrine of some sort.  If the other Powers discover the true purpose of the facility, I suspect we would soon find hands forced.”  Dutton paused.  “If we are ever able to decipher its technology and replicate it, the consequences on human history and the balance of power are incalculable.”

Stark nodded.  “That’s an understatement.  If the relic is truly what we suspect, the Powers would destroy each other to control it.  I doubt even the Treaty of Paris would prevent war on Earth itself.”  He paused, considering the implications of what he had just said.  The Treaty of Paris had ended the Unification Wars, and its primary provision was an absolute prohibition against war on Earth.  Man had come close to destroying himself utterly, and the treaty created a flawed but lasting truce, at least on Earth itself.  The Powers took their wars to space, to the systems beyond Alpha Centauri, which were not covered by the treaty provisions.  But at least entire civilizations were no longer being wiped off the map by nuclear and bacteriological warfare.

Stark’s demeanor was almost always calm, but he was visibly nervous when he spoke of the ancient alien artifact that had been found on Epsilon Eridani IV.  The greatest battle of the last war had been fought there, largely for control of the astonishing discovery that lay deep in a remote cave accidently uncovered by prospectors searching for heavy metals.  The Alliance had been victorious, though not before fighting one of the most brutal battles in modern history. 

“We have been quite successful in wasting time assembling the College of Scientists to research the facility.”  The Alliance had proposed that an international council be established to research the artifact.  It was a ruse – Stark, at least, had no intention of letting any of the other Powers get a look at the alien device.  “Fortunately, the bureaucrats seem perfectly willing to allow the greatest discovery in history to sit idle while they argue about who will sit in what chair.”  He gave Dutton a wicked grin.  “Of course, they only think it is idle.”  He paused, the concerned look returning to his face.  “I only hope we are able to utilize the technology before we expend the effectiveness of our delaying tactics.”

“You may have a difficult choice to make, Gavin.  You will be able to delay a few years more, most likely, but sooner or later we will have to share or fight.”  Dutton wasn’t as sure as Stark that the Alliance would be able to avoid allowing the other Powers access to the new technology.  “It is too alien, too far ahead of our own science.  I fear you are overly optimistic about how quickly our research can be put to practical use.”  He hesitated for a few seconds and added, “After all, we have been there for almost two decades already, and we have precious little of practical use to show for it.  The machine extends to the very core of the planet.  It is thousands of years beyond our technology.”

Stark frowned, but didn’t argue.  Dutton was right, and he knew it.  “All the more reason to deal with the colonies now.  If we face the prospect of a showdown with the other Powers, we have to have our own house in order.  We can’t deal with rebellious rimworlders and the rest of Earth at the same time.”

“This is our opportunity.”  Dutton was still uncomfortable with the whole thing, but it was undeniable that if there was to be a showdown, now was the time.  “We are in a strong position.  The Caliphate and CAC are still recovering from their defeat, and it will be some time before either will be ready to resume hostilities.  The Caliphate, in particular, is struggling to overcome the loss of so many vital systems.”  The Alliance had captured the Gliese 250 system, a major nexus leading to a number of rich mining worlds, and the Treaty of Mars had confirmed its possession of the conquered systems.  The effect on the Caliphate was devastating, and the Alliance’s former rival was now struggling to remain in the top tier of Powers.  It was a treaty that virtually guaranteed another war, but after fifteen years of bitter fighting, a victorious Alliance had dictated harsh terms.

“I agree.  It will be three more years, at least, before the CAC gets back on its feet, and longer for the Caliphate.”  Stark reached for the flask of Scotch as he spoke, but changed his mind and poured himself some water instead.  “And Europa Federalis and the CEL just declared a truce.  They fought each other to exhaustion, and both are going to have to rebuild.”  He leaned back and sighed heavily.  “It is now or never.”

Dutton nodded his reluctant agreement.  “I wonder how many secret discussions like this are going on right now out there somewhere?”  His voice was thoughtful and a little sad.  “How many plans are being made even as we make our own?”

Both men considered the question, but neither offered an answer.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Countdown to Crimson Worlds III continued

Here is the sneak peak at the second chapter of the upcoming Crimson Worlds III:  A Little Rebellion.

In other news, both Marines and The Cost of Victory are now available in print as well.


The Cost of Victory

Chapter 2

Tangled Vine Inn

“The Cape”

Atlantia – Epsilon Indi II

Sarah Linden rolled over, pulling the covers up to her chin with a shiver.  Her arm reached out, feeling the empty space in the bed next to her.  She looked groggily at the disheveled blankets and the crumpled, sweat-soaked pillow laying on the floor.  Her eyes focused slowly in the faint predawn light, and it was a few seconds before she realized he was gone.  The door was half open and the cool morning breeze was coming in off the ocean.  No wonder it’s so cold in here, she thought.

She slid slowly out of bed, grasping for the silk robe draped over the chair.  The room was large, maybe six meters by ten, stylishly furnished in a slightly nautical theme.  There was a large hearth at the far end of the room, a few barely glowing embers all that remained of the roaring fire from the night before.  Tying the belt on her robe, she walked toward the door and out onto the balcony.

Erik Cain was standing along the edge, hands on the railing, looking out over the ocean below.  His eyes were fixed, watching the waves ripple in at the base of the low cliff just below the balcony.  He didn’t notice her walking up behind him, and he jumped slightly when she put her hand gently on his back.  His skin was cold and clammy, covered with a thin sheen of sweat despite the chilly dawn air.  She could feel the tension begin to slip away just a bit; her touch usually relaxed him, at least a little.

He turned his head and gave her a little smile.  “Did I wake you?”  His hair was a tangled mess and she stifled a small laugh as she reached up and neatened it just a bit.

“No, I’m used to you thrashing around by now.”  She stood next to him, moving her hand softly across his back.  “I woke up and saw you were up.”  She looked out over the ocean.  The sun was just starting to rise, a hazy yellow semicircle coming up over the sea, the soft light dancing off rippling waves.  “But I thought I might be able to lure you back to bed.”

He smiled again.  “You know very well you can.”  He reached out and took her hand in his, but he didn’t move, still standing along the rail, staring out over the gentle surf.  Erik Cain had his share of demons keeping him up at night.  He’d seen terrible things as a child; indeed, as an angry teenager he’d performed some fairly reprehensible deeds himself.  His rage against the government and the criminals who’d murdered his family was justified, but taking it out on the innocents compelled to live their meager existences in the hellish slums wasn’t.  He was sorry for much of what he’d done back then, though he’d more or less made a tentative peace with it.

Cain had fought in many battles, and he’d commanded thousands of Marines.  His troops had been in the thick of some of the bloodiest combats of the war, and many of his men and women had died following his orders, a burden Cain continually struggled to bear.  The ghosts kept him up nights for sure, but that wasn’t what was bothering him now.  It was the future he was worried about.

The war had been over for three years, and Cain had held a series of boring, out of the way posts ever since.  Things were not all well in the Corps, and he was troubled.  He mistrusted Alliance Gov with an intensity bordering on paranoia, and now he felt something fundamental had changed in the century-long relationship between the Marines and the Earth authorities.  The Corps had always occupied a unique place in the overall structure of the Alliance.  It had no military role on Earth; its sole purpose was to defend Alliance colonies outside the solar system.  As such, it was answerable both to the colonies themselves and the government back on Earth.  When the Corps was small and the colonies few, this worked just fine.  But now there were many Alliance colonies – more than ever since the war was won – and the Corps was the dominant military force in occupied space.

There was growing tension between Alliance Gov and the colonies, and the Corps was caught in the middle.  Many Marines had come to think of themselves as the military force of the colony worlds, which, in many ways, they were.  But that characterization became problematic when conflict between the colonies and Alliance Gov became a realistic probability.  Cain doubted that most Marine officers would obey an order to attack Alliance colonists, but would they engage other Federal forces to protect those same colonists?  He didn’t know, and he suspected that most Marine commanders prayed to avoid such a choice.

The government was also unsure of the answer, and it had been picking away at the provisions of the Marine Charter, the original document that authorized the modern Corps and defined its rights and obligations.  The assignment of political officers, initially instituted late in the war as a temporary program, was one way the authorities were trying to assert greater control over what the politicians perceived as a dangerously independent Marine Corps.  The political officers, universally unpopular in the Corps, were made a permanent part of the Marine organizational structure after the Treaty of Mars was signed.  Cain had protested, along with most of the serving officers, but to no avail.  For generations, Marine commandants had resisted the encroachments of Alliance Gov into the privileges granted the Corps in the Charter, but General Samuels had done little since he’d moved into the top command two years before.

Cain had known the Corps would demobilize once the war was over, but he was shocked at how it had been done.  I Corps had been broken up, many of its veterans pushed into retirement, the rest scattered around, dispersed to petty garrisons on the Rim.  Cain’s own special action teams, a great success by any measure, were disbanded, the program discontinued.  General Holm himself had fought to keep the teams together, but he’d been overruled by Samuels.

Erik realized with a start that he had drifted deep into thought.  Sarah was standing next to him, silent, the side of her face pressed against his shoulder.  She was used to him drifting off this way, and she usually just let him work quietly through whatever was on his mind.  He loved her completely; she was the only person who’d ever made him feel completely at ease, even if such moments were rare.  In a life filled first with pain and the fight to survive, and later with duty and the weight of guilt and responsibility, she was the one purely good thing that had ever happened to him.  It’s not fair to her, he thought sadly.  I don’t think I will ever know true peace.  She deserves better than to share my nightmares.

Sarah Linden had her own recollections from a hellish past, no less painful than Erik’s.  Abused and victimized by a powerful politician when she was a child, she too had found salvation in the Corps.  As a surgeon, she mourned every patient she lost, but most of the Marines who found their way to her survived – Erik couldn’t make the same boast.  In fifteen years of war he’d been in more than his share of the conflict’s bloody meatgrinders, and thousands had died following his orders.  He’d always expected the survivors to hate him, but they loved him instead, which only made it harder.

Sarah had been the senior medical officer for I Corps during the hellish fighting on Carson’s World.  Cut off from fleet support and driven into the planet’s deep caverns by enemy shelling, she’d put together a makeshift field hospital and worked wonders in caring for the corps’ shattered soldiers.

Low on supplies and overwhelmed by sheer numbers of casualties, her people managed to pull through over 95% of those who made it to their care alive.  Horribly wounded men and women, many tangled in the twisted wreckage of their armor, poured into the field hospital in quantities she couldn’t have imagined.  Strung out on stims, operating with robotic efficiency, her team worked non-stop for days.  As long as the wounded kept coming in, her people kept working.  And on Carson’s World, the wounded kept coming.

Her field hospital management techniques were so innovative and effective, she was asked to head a training program for new mobile medical units.  She and Erik took six months’ leave together, after which she reported to Armstrong to take up her new post, a job that came with a promotion to colonel.

When Erik reported back he found there was very little duty available.  General Holm had gotten his brigadier’s stars confirmed as promised, despite considerable blowback on the issue.  Cain was a great combat leader and one of the heroes of the Corps, but he’d proven to be singularly incapable of playing political games.  His political officer had filed a stack of complaints against him, not surprising since Cain had come close to standing the fool in front of a firing squad.  But in this strange post-war world, things were different in the Corps, and despite Holm’s steadfast support, Erik Cain was definitely out of favor.

He’d spent the first year after leave bouncing from one administrative posting to another, bored out of his mind.  Finally, he managed to secure the assignment to command Armstrong’s garrison.  It was a major’s posting, a colonel’s at best – not the job an ambitious young general would normally accept.  But there was a shortage of assignments and a surplus of officers, and Erik really didn’t care anyway.  He was disgusted with the way things were going, and the last thing he was thinking about was career advancement.  Besides, there was one perk to the job that couldn’t be matched.  His office was less than a kilometer away from Sarah’s.  The six month’s they had spent on leave were the best of his life, and he was tired of the endless separations and stolen moments.

He spent 18 months organizing and reorganizing the battalion and a half charged with defending Armstrong and its massive Marine hospital.  It was a backwater posting, and the troops, somewhat accustomed to lethargic supervision, found Cain’s drive and attention to detail to be quite a shock.  There was some grumbling at first, but the unit came to accept, and eventually love, its aggressive new commander.  By the time Cain left Armstrong, the garrison there was drilled up to the standards of any assault unit in the Corps, and they had the pride to match.

After their postings on Armstrong ended, the two of them took extended leaves and went back to Atlantia, where they’d spent most of their post-war sojourn.  The planet was an unspoiled paradise, beautiful rugged coastlines running along pristine seas and endless forests winding between sunswept meadows.  Erik had found himself drawn to the ocean, and the crashing waves were one of the few things that relaxed him.  He’d been born on the coast, in New York City, but Earth’s oceans had long been polluted, choked with garbage and poisoned with the fallout of war.  From childhood all he remembered of the sea was the faint reek and the sludgy residue that clung to the shorelines and the rotting piers.  But Atlantia’s ocean called out to him, a natural reminder that life could be something more than the perversion most of Earth’s people endured.

The Marines had saved him, pulling him from the executioner’s grasp and giving him a chance at a life with meaning.  He never forgot his debt, and he tried to repay it with his devotion to his troops.  Now he was seriously considering retiring from the Corps, something he couldn’t have imagined a few years before.  Cain had always felt a duty to his men and women, but they were all gone now, retired themselves or scattered throughout occupied space in other assignments.  The Corps was changing, and he didn’t know how to stop it.

By any measure, Erik Cain had done his duty and given his all for the Marine Corps he loved.  But he still couldn’t quite bring himself to leave.  Sarah would retire as well if he did, he was sure of that, and the two of them could find someplace, maybe even Atlantia, to settle down.  To live in peace for the first time in their lives.  He realized that was what he wanted more than anything, but it was just somehow…wrong.  Something felt unfinished, as though it wasn’t yet his time to leave duty behind.

He pulled his arm in tightly, drawing Sarah in closer to him.  “Sorry, my mind has been wandering.”  His voice was soft and affectionate, but she could hear the tension in it.

She leaned in and kissed him.  “I know, love.”  She looked up at him and smiled.  “Everything will be ok.  You’ll do what you have to; you always have.”

He smiled and scooped her up into his arms.  “Right now let’s see about going back to bed.”  He walked through the doorway, turning to the side so he could fit though carrying Sarah.  He was just about the lay her on the bed when the door buzzer sounded. 

“Who is it?”  His request was actually to the room’s AI, not to whoever was at the door.

“It is the concierge, sir.”  The room AI had a pleasing rustic voice, perfectly matching the overall feel of the Inn.  “He has a delivery for you.”

Erik laid Sarah gently on the bed and walked toward the door.  “Open.”  The door slid aside, revealing a moderately tall man, wearing a perfectly tailored hotel uniform. 

“Pardon the interruption, General Cain.”  He had a slight accent, which had puzzled Erik the first time they’d visited the planet, until he realized it was common to the native Atlanteans, particularly those from the planet’s northern hemisphere.  “It was delivered early this morning, and it is marked urgent.”  He held out a small metal canister, with a keypad and readout on one end.  “I thought we should get it to you immediately.”

“Thank you.”  Erik reached out and took it.  The concierge bowed his head slightly, a local affectation, and turned to walk away.  Erik walked back into the room, the AI closing the door behind him. 

“What is it?”  Sarah was looking over from the bed.

There was a small data chip attached to the locked canister.  “I don’t know yet.”  He walked over to the night table, plugging the chip into his ‘pad.  A small note appeared on the screen.  “My God, it’s from Will Thompson.”


“Will Thompson.  He was in my squad when I first came up.  We served together for almost three years.  He was my sergant during Achilles, but he took a hit early on.  That’s how I ended up running the squad.”  He paused, thinking to himself.  “I haven’t seen him in years.”  Another pause.  “We tried to stay in touch after he retired, but you know how tough it is to get messages back and forth on campaign.”  Cain felt a twinge of guilt…he was pretty sure he’d been the one to drop the ball on answering Will’s last few letters.

“Does it say what is in the canister?”  She was craning her neck to get a better look.  She considered getting up and walking over, but the room was still cold, and she decided to stay in bed and pull the covers over her. 

“No.”  Erik paused, reading the rest of the note.  “It just says, ‘remember where we used to play cards?”  He looked over at her, a puzzled expression on his face.

Sarah laughed softly.  “What is it, a riddle of some kind?”

“I guess.”  He sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the canister.  “We played cards on the Guadalcanal, in the engineering crew’s wardroom most of the time.”

“Was there something specific about that room?”

He looked at her then back to the canister.  Suddenly he remembered.  “The cabins on the Guadalcanal were numbered.  They had long numbers, six digits.  We used to joke about why a ship so small needed so many digits on each hatch.”  He looked at the keypad.  “What the hell was that number?”  He closed his eyes, thinking, trying to remember.  He turned the canister over and began punching numbers…3, 7, 0, 4, 8.  “What was that last number?”  He looked down at the small screen on the canister.  Finally, he hit 9.

There was a small clicking sound and the canister projected a holographic image.  It was Will Thompson, a little older but otherwise just as Erik remembered.  “Hello, Erik.  Or should I call you general?”  The image flashed a wicked grin.  “I always knew you’d figure out what you were doing someday.”  His smiled broadened, but just for a moment, his good cheer quickly fading to a concerned grimace.  “Seriously, though, I’m sending you this because you are a general, because I trust you.”  Sarah slid across the bed next to Erik, putting her arm on his shoulder.

The Thompson image moved uncomfortably, shifting weight from one leg to the other.  “Erik, I know how you feel about Alliance Gov, too, and that’s another reason I sent this to you.  Things are much worse on the colonies than you probably think…at least the major worlds like Columbia and Arcadia.”  He paused to let that sink in.  “A lot of it has been gradual and covert…they probably don’t even know we know about all of it.  They’ve been monitoring all communications sent via the interstellar net, and they’ve been brining in a lot of armed personnel…some kind of Federal police force.”

Cain stared at the image intently.  Sarah could feel his body tense.  Erik hated Alliance Gov with a barely controlled passion.  He’d been expecting something like this for years, and it was beginning to look as if he’d been right all along.

“People are getting arrested, Erik…disappearing.  They’re confiscating weapons, even long-ranged communications devices.  I got this canister out through a…ah…friend…who does a little smuggling.  Another day or two and I doubt I could have gotten it through.  ”He paused, a pained look taking over his face.  “It’s going to come to violence soon, Erik.  They’re not leaving us any choice.”  The image stared straight at Cain.  “I don’t know what you can do, but the Corps needs to know what is going on.  There’s a lot of misinformation going around.  If we have to fight, we’ll fight.  But please God, I don’t want to see Marines dropping here to start shooting at us.  The Academy is riddled with spies, I’m sure of that.  There have been more personnel changes there in the last year than in the other ten I’ve lived here.  Something is going on, and it’s not good.”

There was a long pause, the image standing there silent.  “Erik, be careful.  I don’t know what is going on, but it’s probably worse than either of us knows about.”  He smiled, letting his frown fade for a moment. “Take care, my friend.”  The image flickered and disappeared.

The room was silent for a minute.  Finally Sarah asked, “What are you going to do?”

He turned to face her, his eyes ablaze.  “I’m going to Arcadia.  Today.”

Monday, December 3, 2012

Countdown to Crimson Worlds III

Crimson Worlds III:  A Little Rebellion is set for a release on December 30 (this may mean availability that day or within the day or two after that).  Meanwhile, I've gotten a lot of inquiries about samples or excerpts of the type I released for The Cost of Victory.  So, we're going to do sneak peak Tuesdays on this blog.

Every Tuesday (Monday night this time) until the book is released, I'm going to post a chapter.  That's a total of three chapters between now and the release date, starting with chapter one today.

Chapter 1

Community Center

Village of Concordia

Arcadia – Wolf 359 III

“Things are even worse on Columbia.”  Will Thomson stood in front of a small group of locals, farmers and business owners, mostly.  He was tall with short brown hair, and he had a scar on the left side of his face that multiple skin regens had shrunken but failed to entirely eliminate.  He stood almost rigid, as if at attention, despite the constant ache in his leg, and he spoke clearly and deliberately.  “They’ve had a federally-appointed Planetary Advisor since before the war ended.  The planet is a powderkeg, and there are rumors that some type of Federal garrison is going to be sent there.”  Will was ex-military, which would have been obvious from his bearing, even if everyone present hadn’t already known him.  Almost half the men and women in the room had been Marines, including old Silas Hampton, who’d fought way back in the First Frontier War.  Once a Marine always a Marine.  Silas even taught a class at the Academy…that is when we wasn’t trying to grow a tarter, firmer apple on his spread north of Concordia.
“Are they doing anything in Arcadia?”  Kara Sanders was a member of one of the original colonizing families and one of the largest landholders in the Concordia district.  She and Will had an intermittent relationship that was the sector’s worst kept secret, but that didn’t stop her from being a pain in his ass.  “Or did you all just sit on your brains in that new Assembly Hall we paid to build and enjoy the sounds of your voices?”  Like many in the colonies, Kara had a deep mistrust of government and an overdeveloped instinct to speak her mind.  Though she’d been born on Arcadia and had never set foot on Earth, she’d been raised on her grandfather’s stories…and the old man had never in his life had a good thing to say about Alliance Gov.
Old man Sanders had been a top notch computer designer and a member of the upper level of the middle class.  He’d enjoyed a comfortable enough life back in one of the satellite cities of the San Fran metroplex, but he was a throwback to an older time.  He chafed at being told what to read and think and where he could go.  He resented the political class and the way they controlled every aspect of citizens' lives, and he considered moderate physical comfort an unacceptable substitute for freedom.  When the chance came to join a colonization expedition, he jumped at it, even though it meant danger and hardship.  Age had mellowed him somewhat since, but he could still rail on for hours about the government and its many failings, and there was still no hazard that could dissuade him from what he thought was right.
Will had retired from the Corps after he was almost killed in a training accident while attending the Academy, and he’d decided to stay and settle on Arcadia.  He had friends at the Academy, and even though he was retired and on reserve status, he sometimes taught small unit tactics to the cadets.  A veteran of the infamous Operation Achilles, he was highly respected even though he’d been out of the service for more than a decade.  That didn’t matter - once a Marine, always a Marine.
He taken his land grant just outside Concordia and taught himself how to grow grapes…or more accurately, the genetically-altered grape-like hybrid that grew so well in the Arcadian soil.  He’d been there fourteen years now and was so well liked he’d been voted Concordia’s representative to the planetary Assembly.  He’d just gotten back from the capital city, which the original settlers had confusingly named Arcadia, the same as the planet itself.  Visitors usually referred to it as Arcadia City, but not the locals, who tended to know if one was referring to planet or city by overall context.
“Kara, what did you expect us to do?”  He looked at her with a mix of affection and frustration.  “Start shooting at Federal officials?  Burn down the Federal Complex?” He continued to stare intently at her for a few seconds, but it was clear she didn’t have another comment.  It was easy enough to criticize inaction, he thought, but quite another to offer substantive alternatives.  “However, to answer your question, we did discuss some specifics, though not in open session, which was undoubtedly monitored.”
A ripple of renewed interest swept through the room, as faces that had been downcast or distracted now looked up expectantly.  “If we are to resist these encroachments – indeed, if we are to have any hope to maintain our freedoms – the colonies must become self-sustaining.”  He paused, looking out over the small group.  He already knew he was among friends and peers he trusted, but he reflexively hesitated before continuing.  “We are dependent on Earth for much of what we need.  Computers, heavy machinery, shipping, pharmaceuticals, defense.  As long as that is the case, we will remain highly vulnerable.  We will lose the freedoms we treasure.  If not immediately, eventually…bit by bit.”
The room was silent, every eye on Will.  “We must produce our own machinery, our own computers…”  He paused again.  “…our own weapons.”  There were a few gasps, but everyone's attention remained focused.  "Indeed, Earth would be incapable of producing many of these finished goods without the raw materials the colonies provide.  The colony worlds ship resources to Earth and buy back the finished goods we need at enormous markups, because we do not have the production facilities we require."  Another pause.  "We must build them.  We must develop our own industry."
There was a ripple of sound from the assembled group, but it was at least half a minute before anyone spoke.  "How are we going to fund that?  And how will Alliance Gov respond?"  Kyle Warren's voice was loud and echoed through the tiny hall.  "I agree with what you are saying, Will, but how are we supposed to actually do it without putting everything we have in jeopardy?"
Kyle Warren was another retired Marine, one who'd enjoyed bragging about serving under Erik Cain in the attack on the Gliese 250 space station…until one night when he and Will Thompson had closed down the local watering hole.  Will wasn't one to brag about his fighting days, at least not unless there were four or five drinks in him, but that night Warren’s boasting had gotten to him and finally he proclaimed that he'd not only served with Cain, but actually commanded him in Operation Achilles.  Kyle had dismissed it as empty bluster until he looked it up on the Marine database and discovered, to his shock, that it was true.  Indeed, Thompson had fought alongside Cain for three years, and was his superior the entire time.  That was the end of Kyle Warren trying to outdo Will on war stories, but the two became good friends anyway.
"It won't be easy."  Will's leg was aching badly, and he shifted behind the small podium, trying to get more comfortable.  "But everyone in this room has done pretty well for themselves.  We're all going to have to be willing to risk what we have…to invest in these new ventures.  To secure our future…the future that really matters."
The relative quiet was shattered as most of those present began speaking at once.  Grumbling about the government, complaining about encroachments on freedoms, that was one thing.  But actually taking the risks, committing everything to the defense of liberty…that was a different matter, a far more difficult one.  Will looked out over the room, holding up his hands, trying to get control through the confused cacophony.
Finally, Kara Sanders was able to get everyone's attention, though it was unclear if it was respect for her family's seniority or simply the fact that she yelled the loudest.  "Will, you're talking about putting everything our families have worked for in jeopardy.  What if it doesn't work?  What if we lose everything?  If we go down this road and fail we will have nothing."  Most of the settlers who emigrated to colony worlds came from the lower classes on Earth.  Having come from nothing - or grown up in families where mothers and fathers had done so - they tended to be cautious and conservative, protective of what they had.  And Kara’s family had more than anyone, wealth and comfort built by three generations of Sanders.
Every eye in the now-silent room focused on Will.  "I grew up in the South Philly Flats."  Will was understanding of her concerns, of those of everyone in the room, but he was also a little annoyed.  He was very fond of Kara, but she really had no idea what it was like to have nothing.  "I ate rats, Kara.  I didn’t learn to read until the Corps taught me when I was nineteen.  When did you learn to read?”  He paused slightly, but didn’t wait for an answer.  “My father died when I was eleven because he had no medical priority rating and couldn't afford a few credits for the medicine he needed.  I brought him cups of the putrid yellow water we got from our faucet and begged him to take a sip.  I watched him coughing up blood, dying in agony for the lack of a few injections."  His usual calm was cracking slightly.  These were things he'd rarely talked about...with anyone.  Things he kept buried deep, locked away in a dark place in his mind.  "Do you think I don't know what it is like to have nothing?"
His impassioned speech silenced the room.  They were feeling different things - shock, sympathy, shame.  Some of them, mostly second or third generation colonists, had never experienced the type of deprivation he described.  But many, the veterans and others who'd come from the lower classes on Earth themselves, had their own versions of this story.  They'd experienced firsthand living on the wrong end of a system of total government domination, and they would do whatever it took to make sure that didn’t happen to them again…or to their friends and neighbors and children.
"I know just what life is like on Earth for most people.  Is that what you want out here?  Is that the life you want for your children, your grandchildren?  To be slaves?  Because that is what the Cogs are…slaves."  His voice was rising as he became more emotional.  "Do you think that can't happen here?  It happened on Earth.  It happened because people allowed it, because they let fear rule them.  Because they wouldn't stand up and defend what was truly important.  Because they sold their freedom cheaply and were cheated by the very people they elected to lead them.  Because they stood up and said, if we resist we may lose what he have."  Every eye in the room was glued to him.  He looked out over the hall, his body tense as he gripped the edges of the podium.  "If we do the same we will certainly lose all we have, and we will throw away man's chance at redemption.”  He paused, moving his head slowly, looking out over everyone in the room.  “And it will be our fault, the generations of suffering and deprivation that follow.”
Kara sat in her chair, watching Will in shocked silence, her mind adrift in wildly forming thoughts.  She wasn’t yet sure if theirs was a great love story or not, but she was very fond of the grumpy ex-Marine.  She’d sat and happily listened to him drone on for hours about grapevines and savage battles, each with the same enthusiasm, but she’d never heard him speak like this before.  She imagined him, this man she cared so much for, as a child, scrounging in the gutter for food, hiding from the Gangs, and her heart ached.  She thought of the children he’d mentioned, children she didn’t even have yet, living in such squalor, enduring each day with utter hopelessness.  Determination suddenly coalesced in her mind, and her view of the future, of what was needed, became clear.  Finally, she stood, turning to face as many of those seated in the room as she could.
“You are right, Will.”  She spoke, slowly, deliberately, struggling to hold back the wave of tears she could feel building.  Her voice was thin and soft, but firm.  “What I said was hasty…and wrong.  Our world is ours, and we must do whatever we can to insure it stays ours.”  She stood and turned to face the others.  “It is freedom that is precious, not possessions.  I am fortunate; I have never faced the challenges that many of you have.  Yet I can appreciate that I have something that hundreds of millions on Earth cannot imagine.” 
She slowly walked up to the front of the room and stood next to Will.  “The people on Earth were once faced with a dilemma such as this.  We may hate and despise them for their weakness, for allowing the government to steal their freedoms, for bequeathing to those who followed them the hideous perversion the Alliance has become.”  Her voice was louder now.  She understood, she finally understood completely.  “But such choices are rarely stark ones, nor are they likely to be obvious when they present themselves.  I might easily have made that same error, to have chosen the illusion of security promised by inaction.”  She looked out over her assembled neighbors.  “But it is only an illusion.  Were it not for Will’s words today I might not have realized.  There are no safe choices, only true ones and false ones.
She turned and looked right at Will as she continued, her moist eyes boring into his.  “Will is right; we must act now.  He must not allow our freedoms to be stolen, slowly, imperceptibly until one day we realize they are gone.”  She turned to face the rest of the room, every eye riveted on her.  “I will pledge myself to this cause, and stake all I have - wealth, blood, breath – to it.”
The room was silent, every eye upon her.  They had all known Kara for years, and she was respected and well-liked.  Now they were seeing a strength none had ever witnessed.  “But I am not enough.  Will is not enough.  We must all stand together or we shall all be defeated.  Concordia must be united, and we must join with the rest of the planet…with all of the colony worlds.  Now we must draw a line and make our stand.  This far and no farther.”  She thrust her arm into the air.  “Will you stand with us, Arcadians?”
Kyle Warren was the first to his feet.  “Yes!  I am with you.”  He turned and looked around the room.  “Arcadians?”
It began slowly, and Will never knew who was the first.  One voice joined and then another and another, until everyone there was chanting.  “No farther, no farther!”