Indomitable: the second in W. C. Bauers’s Chronicles of Promise Paen, character-driven military science fiction featuring a female space marine.
Promise Paen, captain of Victor Company’s mechanized armored infantry, is back for another adventure protecting the Republic of Aligned Worlds.
Lieutenant Paen barely survived her last encounter with the Lusitanian Empire. She’s returned home to heal. But the nightmares won’t stop. And she’s got a newly reconstituted unit of green marines to whip into shape before they deploy. If the enemies of the RAW don’t kill them first, she just might do the job herself.
Light-years away, on the edge of the Verge, a massive vein of rare ore is discovered on the mining planet of Sheol, which ignites an arms race and a proxy war between the Republic and the Lusitanians. Paen and Victor Company are ordered to Sheol, to reinforce the planet and hold it at all costs.
On the eve of their deployment, a friendly fire incident occurs, putting Paen’s career in jeopardy and stripping her of her command. When the Lusitanians send mercenaries to raid Sheol and destabilize its mining operations, matters reach crisis levels. Disgraced and angry, Promise is offered one shot to get back into her mechsuit. But she’ll have to jump across the galaxy and possibly storm the gates of hell itself.
Indomitable will be available July 26th. Please enjoy this excerpt.
APRIL 14TH, 92 A.E., STANDARD CALENDAR, 0545 HOURS
REPUBLIC OF ALIGNED WORLDS PLANETARY CAPITAL—HOLD
MARINE CORPS CENTRAL MOBILIZATION COMMAND
A round the size of Promise’s trigger finger hit her like a maglev. It tore through her mechsuit and mushroomed in her chest, just above her heart. Miraculously, it didn’t go off. Promise stumbled backward and off the cliff’s face, into a thousand meters of darkness. Neuroinhibitors flooded her system almost as fast as the pain. This is it flashed across her mind as her body flatlined. Tomorrow I’m hero-dead.
Her vision grayed out and she lost all feeling in her hands and feet.
Promise rag-dolled in her mechsuit … fell and fell and fell, perilously close to the cliff’s face. Her heel caught an outcropping several hundred meters below. Her AI, Mr. Bond, sealed the hole in her chest, and patched and packed it with cauterizing goo. Then Bond isolated the round kissing her heart in a null field, in case it decided to go off on its own timetable. Removing it was out of the question, and beyond the mechsuit’s capabilities. A Marine Corps cutter would have to brave that. And there were more pressing matters to attend to. Her heart had stopped beating.
The mechsuit intubated her and zapped her pumper. One, two, three … six times before her heart’s arteries and connective tissues remembered how to work in concert. A single stroke came followed by another, and then a stable thrum thrum thrum. Promise gasped, and came to. Her heads-up display blared with error messages she couldn’t process. Her ears weren’t discriminating sounds. Her body felt disemboweled, as if someone had ripped her soul clean out and now someone else was trying to stuff it back in but the fit was wrong. Insert leg there. No, not there, there. The tube down her throat was the worst violation. Mercifully, Bond pulled it out.
“SITREP,” Promise said, the words a faint, hoarse whisper.
“You’re in an uncontrolled descent. There’s an armor-piercing explosive round in your chest.”
“Is the APER hot?”
Thank the Maker for that. Promise blinked hard but still couldn’t make sense of her HUD.
“Today is a bad day to die.” Her voice was stronger now, the sky a starless void. “Why aren’t my lamps on?”
“Stand by,” said Bond at the same time that her proximity alarm howled.
Promise’s forward lamps lit several milliseconds later. She gasped, and threw her hands out in front of her, which sent her tumbling backward end over end. Meters away, the rock face somersaulted in and out of view.
“Could … have … warned … me,” she said through clenched teeth. Down became up became down until she couldn’t tell the difference between them anymore.
“I tried, Lieutenant.” Bond sounded mildly put out. “Tuck your arms to your sides. I’ll right you.”
Her mechsuit’s ailerons bit into the wind, stopped the tumble, and reoriented her: head down, feet up, knifing toward the watery deck. The distance opened between her and the wind-carved face at her six o’clock.
“Twenty-five hundred meters.”
“There’s an island up ahead, ten degrees to starboard, three klicks out. Because of the headwind, you’ll cover one-point-three klicks before splashing down.”
That means a long swim … if I survive impact. “Comm the gunny.”
“Your comm is out. The APER pulsed when it hit you, and the pulse knocked out most of your systems, including your heart. My secondary shielding held. You’ve lost weapons, scanners, countermeasures, braking thrusters, and the gravchute. You’re going to hit hard.”
“… Of my armor? You’ve got to be kidding.”
“You tweaked my personality chip to make that impossible, ma’am.” Bond sounded a bit too sure of itself for Promise to be sure her tweaking had fully taken hold.
“Mr. Bond, I don’t believe my tweaking worked.”
Her AI made a tsking sound, three times. “Let’s debate that later, ma’am, during my next inspection. Your beegees were recently upgraded. Use your microgravchute embedded in the fabric between your shoulder blades.” Her beegees, or standard-issue mechsuit underarmor, were good for a lot of things. Prevented chafing. Absorbed energy fire. Made using the head while suited tolerable. Barely. The microgravchute was going to come in handy. But first she had to bail … out of her armor … which was the only thing keeping her alive at the moment.
“It’s double-shielded and should still work. Theoretically. I lost my link to it so I can’t tell if it’s operational. You’ll have to manually activate it.”
“And if it doesn’t work?”
Not one tsk now. “Passing one thousand meters.”
This is going to be fun. “Did I see lights overhead while we were flipping?”
“Someone went over the cliff’s face with us,” Bond said. “But I can’t tell friendly from foe, not without my scanners.”
“It won’t matter if we botch the landing,” Promise said. She stretched her limbs to slow her fall, and then made a slight correction with one hand, and rotated onto her back. “Open up on three and stay level. I’ll rise. You fall away.”
“Roger that,” Bond said. “Good luck, ma’am.”
“On my mark.” She counted down from three. “Mark!”
Her mechsuit’s chest, arms, and shanks unsealed. The air chilled her to the marrow. She felt the slightest movement upward before the suction ripped her out of her suit and into the open sky. For a moment she felt like a leaf blown about the air by an unrelenting gale. She wrestled the wind for control for a solid half mike. Far below her the lamps on her mechsuit grew dim.
Promise spread-eagled to kill as much speed as possible. She pressed her right thumb against her pinkie for a two-count. Her mechsuit’s lamps vanished. Bond just splashed down. She flexed the thumb again. Prayed the drive-by-wire backup transmitted the impulse from her thumb to her minigravchute. She was nearly panic-stricken when the chute deployed a second later and dislocated her left shoulder.
Her descent slowed to a survivable fall before reaching an all-stop. Her night vision intensified until the darkness around her lifted. The sun crested the horizon. Howling winds fell silent. Promise looked down, looked between her mechboots, looked at the endless indigo ocean for as far as the eye could see. Her arms flailed widely for something to grab hold of as the fear of falling warred with her other senses; contrary to the laws of physics, she was standing on air. No, she was floating. Flying, maybe? Somehow she was hundreds of meters above the watery deck but holding station. After a few moments of abject terror she willed herself to calm down.
I’m not falling. I’m safe. Relax, P, you can figure this out.
A far-off object entered her field of view. A door perhaps, maybe a person. It was moving toward her. The door became a human silhouette and then a heavily damaged mechsuit: armor crushed; helmet lost somewhere in the clouds. The driver’s eyes were open, lifeless. Now she could see the rank on the driver’s armor and her bloodshot eyes. Then another mechsuit floated into view. Promise turned her head and saw not one but three lifeless bodies, all suited, all closing in. None wore helmets. Their faces were cadaver blue. Their hair waved gently in the air though no breeze stirred it. With nothing to grab ahold of or push off from, somehow Promise was able to rotate in the air and look behind her. The sky was raining dead Marines. Above her. Below her. The nearest boot opened his mouth to speak.
“Lance Corporal Tal Covington, present.” The voice howled like a wind-shot cavern. Covington’s eyes rolled up into his head and began to bleed. Then his body blew apart.
Promise threw her hands up without thinking, slammed her eyes shut to blunt the bright flash of light that followed. A moment later it dawned upon her that she was still alive, not blown to quarks. When she dared to look, Covington was still floating in the sky, two meters away, but his body was rent asunder. The explosion had frozen in process milliseconds after happening. Covington’s armor was cracked a thousand ways, his organs and bones stitched together with little else but air.
To her right, Promise heard labored breathing, followed by an anguished cry that punched her squarely in the gut. A blast of heat swept over her, blistering the side of her face, her lips, and the inside of her mouth; the taste of death was on her tongue. Turning, she saw a mechsuit engulfed in fire. The wearer was desperately trying to put the flames out with what was left of his gauntlets. She couldn’t look away from the hands. Metal and flesh clung stubbornly to skeletal hands. Then, as unexpectedly as the blaze had appeared, it simply went out. The smoking remains of a scorched mechanized Marine came to attention, and a blackened skull opened its mouth. Bit of charred flesh dangled from its upper lip. “Corporal Vil Fitzholm, present.”
“Private First Class Molly Starns, present,” came from Promise’s opposite side. Starns started convulsing. She ripped her tongue from her throat and threw it at Promise. Starns’s head rolled to the side and off of her shoulders. Bits of connective tissue refused to let go.
“Staff Sergeant Moya Hhatan, present.” Hhatan was floating dead ahead of Promise. “All boots present and damned for eternity.” Hhatan’s lips curled upward, exposing shaved canines stained with blood.
No, this isn’t possible, Promise thought. Hhatan was trying to swim through the air toward her. I watched you die. I tried to save you but your wounds … and the enemy was so close. You sacrificed yourself for me. Told me to go and then … I ran away.
“I’m so sorry, Staff Sergeant,” Promise said. Hhatan was nearly on her. “I tried, really. I did my best but I couldn’t stop them all.” Promise raised her hands palms-up in front of her and kicked her legs to try and get away. “Please. Please … you have to believe me.”
Staff Sergeant Hhatan drew a Heavy Pistol from her holster and took aim. “You don’t deserve to live, Lieutenant.” Then something peculiar happened. The staff sergeant’s face grew young. Years of experience melted away, the eyes changed from blue to green. “You left me on Montana.” The voice morphed so quickly that Promise barely registered the change. Now complete, Hhatan’s appearance was for Promise a looking-glass mirror. “Your time is up. Good-bye, Lieutenant.”
Promise heard her own voice say, “I’ll see you in perdition.”
Hhatan’s gloved finger tensed around the trigger of the Heavy Pistol, took up the slack. The air cracked in two. Muzzle fire blossomed. When Promise opened her eyes the bullet had traveled half the distance from Hhatan to her. A second later it was a meter away, and then half a meter off. Promise screamed as the bullet pierced her temple, drilled through the crown of her skull, and tore her mind apart.
Copyright © 2016 by William C. Bauers
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