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The Sequels We’ve All Been Waiting For….

They’re almost here…the books we’ve all been waiting for. After so many incredible series starters, we’re excited to finally dive into the next books of some of our most popular SFF series. Check out which books are hitting shelves near you in 2021 here.


book-9780765331458Into the Light by David Weber and Chris Kennedy (Out of the Dark series, coming 1/12/21)

The Shongairi conquered Earth. In mere minutes, half the human race died, and our cities lay in shattered ruins. But the Shongairi didn’t expect the survivors’ tenacity. And, crucially, they didn’t know that Earth harbored two species of intelligent, tool-using bipeds. One of them was us. The other, long-lived and lethal, was hiding in the mountains of eastern Europe, the subject of fantasy and legend. When they emerged and made alliance with humankind, the invading aliens didn’t stand a chance.

book-9781250302137Vengewar by Kevin J. Anderson (Wake the Dragon series, coming 1/19/21)

The Three Kingdoms are shattering under pressure from an inexperienced new King who is being led by an ambitious regent to ignore the threat of the Wreths, in favor of a Vengewar with Ishara. His brother and uncle can see only the danger of the Older Race. In Ishara, the queen lies in a coma, while an ambitious priest seizes power. But he has neither the training nor the talent to rule a nation— or even a city. Ishara is in deadly peril, and the Wreths have not even appeared on their continent.

book-9781250165299Dealbreaker by L. X. Beckett (The Bounceback series, coming 1/26/21)

Rubi Whiting has done the impossible. She has proved that humanity deserves a seat at the galactic table. Well, at least a shot at a seat. Having convinced the galactic governing body that mankind deserves a chance at fixing their own problems, Rubi has done her part to launch the planet into a new golden age of scientific discovery and technological revolution. However, there are still those in the galactic community that think that humanity is too poisonous, too greedy, to be allowed in, and they will stop at nothing to sabotage a species determined to pull itself up.

book-9781250215505Engines of Oblivion by Karen Osborne (The Memory War series, coming 2/9/21)

Natalie Chan gained her corporate citizenship, but barely survived the battle for Tribulation. Now corporate has big plans for Natalie. Horrible plans. Locked away in Natalie’s missing memory is salvation for the last of an alien civilization and the humans they tried to exterminate. The corporation wants total control of both—or their deletion.

book-9780765387752Silence of the Soleri by Michael Johnston (The Amber Throne series, coming 2/16/21)

Solus celebrates the Opening of the Mundus, a two-day holiday for the dead, but the city of the Soleri is hardly in need of diversion. A legion of traitors, led by a former captain of the Soleri military, rallies at the capital’s ancient walls. And inside those fortifications, trapped by circumstance, a second army fights for its very existence.

book-9781250186461A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine (Teixcalaan series, coming 3/2/21)

An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options. In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity. Their failure will guarantee millions of deaths in an endless war. Their success might prevent Teixcalaan’s destruction—and allow the empire to continue its rapacious expansion. Or it might create something far stranger . . .

book-97812502226191The Justice in Revenge by Ryan Van Loan (The Fall of the Gods series, coming 7/13/21)

Ryan Van Loan’s The Justice in Revenge, book two of The Fall of the Gods, turns from pirates to politics as Buc learns to navigate society and finds that having power doesn’t mean it’s easy to use it…

Buc and Eld are the first private detectives in the Servenzan Empire. Teenage Buc is a former streetrat, a smartass, sarcastic super-genius. Eld, her patient partner in crime-solving, is a calming influence…who is nonetheless capable of deadly violence. For the right price, these heroes for hire solve mysteries, fight crime, and battle monsters.

book-97812502938242The Exiled Fleet by J. S. Dewes (The Divide Series, coming 8/17/21)

The Sentinels narrowly escaped the collapsing edge of the Divide. They have mustered a few other surviving Sentinels, but with no engines they have no way to leave the edge of the universe before they starve. Adequin Rake has gathered a team to find the materials they’ll need to get everyone out. To do that they’re going to need new allies and evade a ruthless enemy.

Some of them will not survive.

book-97812502093823The Devil You Know by Kit Rocha (Mercenary Librarians series, coming 8/31/21)

Maya has had a price on her head from the day she escaped the TechCorps. Genetically engineered for genius and trained for revolution, there’s only one thing she can’t do—forget. Gray has finally broken free of the Protectorate, but he can’t escape the time bomb in his head. His body is rejecting his modifications, and his months are numbered. When Maya’s team uncovers an operation trading in genetically enhanced children, she’ll do anything to stop them. Even risk falling back into the hands of the TechCorps. And Gray has found a purpose for his final days: keeping Maya safe.

book-97812502938244Wanderers of a Mortal Kind by Kel Kade (The Shroud of Prophecy series, coming 11/9/21) 

No more heroes. The wealthy and powerful. The kings and queens. They all abandoned the world to fate when the chosen one died. All except a small group of broken people. Through dogged determination and maybe a bit of stupid bravery, Aaslo and his friends fought on. They continued the fight even when far greater heroes had given up. Now, Aaslo must turn the tides. In a world swifly falling to chaos, Aaslo is determined to win this war…at any cost. He’s made a deal with fickle fae, setting him and his friends on a collosion course with the gods themselves.

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Every Tor Book Coming This Winter

We’re closing in on the end of 2020 (BIG SIGHS OF RELIEF), and with that comes some brand new books to curl up with this season. Check out which ones are hitting shelves near you this winter here:

December 1

Image Placeholder of - 86Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke

Poison was only the beginning…. The deadly siege of Silasta woke the ancient spirits, and now the city-state must find its place in this new world of magic. But people and politics are always treacherous, and it will take all of Jovan and Kalina’s skills as proofer and spy to save their country when witches and assassins turn their sights to domination. Hollow Empire is Book 2 in The Poison Wars series. Check out City of Lies, on sale now!

January 5

Place holder  of - 64Deuces Down by George R. R. Martin

Deuces Down is the next Wild Cards anthology collection about George R. R. Martin’s alternate superhero history. In this revised collection of classic Wild Cards stories, the spotlight is on the most unusual Wild Cards of them all—the Deuces, or people with minor superpowers. But their impact on the world should not be underestimated, as we see how they’ve affected the course of Wild Cards’ alternate history. Check out the remainder of the Wild Cards series, on sale now!

January 12

Placeholder of  -69Into the Light by David Weber and Chris Kennedy

The Shongairi conquered Earth. In mere minutes, half the human race died, and our cities lay in shattered ruins. But the Shongairi didn’t expect the survivors’ tenacity. And, crucially, they didn’t know that Earth harbored two species of intelligent, tool-using bipeds. One of them was us. The other, long-lived and lethal, was hiding in the mountains of eastern Europe, the subject of fantasy and legend. When they emerged and made alliance with humankind, the invading aliens didn’t stand a chance. Check out Book 1 in the Out of the Dark series, Out of the Dark, on sale now!

January 19

Image Place holder  of - 22Vengewar by Kevin J. Anderson

Two continents at war, the Three Kingdoms and Ishara, have been in conflict for a thousand years. But when an outside threat arises—the reawakening of a powerful ancient race that wants to remake the world—the two warring nations must somehow set aside generations of hatred to form an alliance against a far more deadly enemy. Check out Book 1 of the Wake the Dragon series, Spine of the Dragon, on sale now!

Poster Placeholder of - 36The Wood Wife by Terri Windling
Leaving behind her fashionable West Coast life, Maggie Black comes to the Southwestern desert to pursue her passion and he dreams. Her mentor, the acclaimed poet Davis Cooper, has mysteriously died in the canyons east of Tucson, bequeathing her his estate and the mystery of his life–and death. As she reads Cooper’s letters and learns the secrets of his life, Maggie comes face-to-face with the wild, ancient spirits of the desert–and discovers the hidden power at its heart, a power that will take her on a journey like no other.

January 26

Dealbreaker by L. X. Beckett

Rubi Whiting has done the impossible. She has proved that humanity deserves a seat at the galactic table. Well, at least a shot at a seat. Having convinced the galactic governing body that mankind deserves a chance at fixing their own problems, Rubi has done her part to launch the planet into a new golden age of scientific discovery and technological revolution. However, there are still those in the galactic community that think that humanity is too poisonous, too greedy, to be allowed in, and they will stop at nothing to sabotage a species determined to pull itself up. Check out Book 1 of The Bounceback series, Gamechanger, on sale now!

February 2

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

A famously disappointing minor royal and the Emperor’s least favorite grandchild, Prince Kiem is summoned before the Emperor and commanded to renew the empire’s bonds with its newest vassal planet. The prince must marry Count Jainan, the recent widower of another royal prince of the empire. But Jainan suspects his late husband’s death was no accident. And Prince Kiem discovers Jainan is a suspect himself. But broken bonds between the Empire and its vassal planets leaves the entire empire vulnerable, so together they must prove that their union is strong while uncovering a possible conspiracy. Their successful marriage will align conflicting worlds. Their failure will be the end of the empire.

A Summoning of Demons by Cate Glass

Catagna has been shaken to its core. The philosophists insist that a disastrous earthquake has been caused by an ancient monster imprisoned below the earth, who can only be freed with magic. In every street and market, the people of Catagna are railing against magic-users with a greater ferocity than ever before, and magic hunters are everywhere. As Romy and the others attempt to carry out their mission, they find themselves plunged into a mystery of corruption and murder, myth and magic, and a terrifying truth: the philosophists may have been right all along. Check out the first two books of the Chimera series, on sale now!

The Best of R.A. Lafferty by R.A. Lafferty

Acclaimed as one of the most original voices in modern literature, a winner of the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement, Raphael Aloysius Lafferty (1914-2002) was an American original, a teller of acute, indescribably loopy tall tales whose work has been compared to that of Avram Davidson, Flannery O’Connor, Flann O’Brien, and Gene Wolfe. The Best of R. A. Lafferty presents 22 of his best flights of offbeat imagination, ranging from classics like “Nine-Hundred Grandmothers” (basis for the later novel) and “The Primary Education of the Cameroi,” to his Hugo Award-winning “Eurema’s Dam.”

February 9

Engines of Oblivion by Karen Osborne

Natalie Chan gained her corporate citizenship, but barely survived the battle for Tribulation. Now corporate has big plans for Natalie. Horrible plans. Locked away in Natalie’s missing memory is salvation for the last of an alien civilization and the humans they tried to exterminate. The corporation wants total control of both—or their deletion. Check out Book 1 in the Memory of War series, Architects of Memory, on sale now!

February 16

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

Evelyn Caldwell’s husband Nathan has been having an affair — with Evelyn Caldwell. Or, to be exact, with Martine, a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn’s own award-winning research. But that wasn’t even the worst part. When they said all happy families are alike, I don’t think this is what they meant…

Silence of the Soleri by Michael Johnston

Solus celebrates the Opening of the Mundus, a two-day holiday for the dead, but the city of the Soleri is hardly in need of diversion. A legion of traitors, led by a former captain of the Soleri military, rallies at the capital’s ancient walls. And inside those fortifications, trapped by circumstance, a second army fights for its very existence. In a world inspired by ancient Egyptian history and King Lear, this follow-up to Michael Johnston’s Soleri, finds Solus besieged from within as well as without and the Hark-Wadi family is stuck at the heart of the conflict. Check out Book 1 of The Amber Throne series, Soleri, on sale now!

Fairhaven Rising by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

Sixteen years have passed since the mage Beltur helped to found the town of Fairhaven, and Taelya, Beltur’s adopted niece, is now a white mage undercaptain in the Road Guards of Fairhaven. Fairhaven’s success under the Council has become an impediment to the ambition of several rulers, and the mages protecting the town are seen as a threat. Taelya, a young and untried mage, will find herself at the heart of a conspiracy to destroy her home and the people she loves, and she may not be powerful enough to stop it in time. Check out the remainder of the Saga of Recluse series on sale now here!

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Excerpt: Into the Light by David Weber and Chris Kennedy

amazons bns booksamillions ibooks2 32 indiebounds

Placeholder of  -80In New York Times-bestselling science fiction epic Out of the Dark, Earth beat back an alien invasion. Now we’ve got to make sure they don’t come back, in Into the Light.

The Shongairi conquered Earth. In mere minutes, half the human race died, and our cities lay in shattered ruins.

But the Shongairi didn’t expect the survivors’ tenacity. And, crucially, they didn’t know that Earth harbored two species of intelligent, tool-using bipeds. One of them was us. The other, long-lived and lethal, was hiding in the mountains of eastern Europe, the subject of fantasy and legend. When they emerged and made alliance with humankind, the invading aliens didn’t stand a chance.

Now Earth is once again ours. Aided by the advanced tech the aliens left behind, we’re rebuilding as fast as we can.

Meanwhile, a select few of our blood-drinking immortals are on their way to the Shongairi homeworld, having commandeered one of the alien starships…the planet-busting kind.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of Into the Light, on sale 01/12/2021


1

AURORA, MINNESOTA

UNITED STATES

The wet, soft sound of an ending world burned in Lewis Freymark’s ears as he crouched to drop more wood into the fire. Spits of sleet hissed as they filtered into the flames, and the tarp he’d rigged to break the worst of the wind flapped in the drenched, blowing darkness.

It was almost enough—almost—to drown out the sound of his daughter’s cough.

He hunched his shoulders, bending over, using the end of a limb to rearrange the burning branches. They didn’t really need it. But it gave him a few more minutes before he had to look up, face Janice and the kids again, and he couldn’t do that. Not yet. His heart cried out to take them all in his arms, shelter them against the cold, promise them that he was there and that somehow they’d get through this as they’d gotten through everything else. But he couldn’t do that, either. He couldn’t because this time he couldn’t be their strength. Because this time his own despair would only have broken whatever scraps of hope might still sustain them.

There’d been no weather reports in months—not since the “Shongairi” had brought nightmare and destruction to Earth—but there was snow somewhere beyond the sleet. Freymark could smell it. He could feel it in the icy little teeth biting into the back of his neck as he crouched, using his body to give Janice and Stevie and Francesca and Jackie—oh, especially Jackie!—any extra fragment of windbreak he could.

And in his heart, he knew it didn’t matter. He’d grown up in Duluth, fifty-odd miles from this unquiet, hopeless refugee camp. He knew northern winters. He knew how cruel they could be, even without murderous aliens from beyond the stars. And because he did, he knew exactly what would happen.

For a while, he’d thought they’d make it. The farmhouse outside the town of Babbitt had belonged to his cousin, but Jake and Suzanne had been in St. Paul when the initial Shongair kinetic strike turned the entire Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area into fire, ash, smoke, and death.

Freymark and Janice were supposed to have joined them for the river cruise . . . until Francesca’s impacted wisdom teeth required immediate surgery, instead. They’d just gotten home from the oral surgeon’s when the initial strikes went in.

Minneapolis-St. Paul hadn’t died alone. Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Spokane, London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Ottawa . . . the dirge of murdered cities had rolled like the fanfare of Apocalypse. And the unending list had only grown and grown in the months since. There’d been fresh reports almost daily, at least until the Internet, the communications satellites— even the emergency band radios—had gone down. Duluth had been destroyed two months after Minneapolis-St. Paul in one of the Shongairi’s “reprisal” strikes. Freymark didn’t have a clue what the “reprisal” had been for, but it didn’t matter. Not really. Not beside the death toll which had swept across his country and his world like some black, bottomless tide.

Yet he and Janice and the kids had been safe. They’d loaded up the SUV, headed north for sleepy little Babbitt, where there was nothing for the invaders to waste their “kinetic bombardments” upon. Where they’d known Jake and Suzanne’s farmhouse would stand empty. Indeed, his greatest fear had been that they’d find someone else already squatting on the family farm, but civilization hadn’t gone into the crapper that quickly. Not then.

Jacqueline coughed wetly behind him again, and he clenched his jaw tighter, feeling the cold closing in, staring into the flames as they crackled against the hateful dark.

Jake and Suzanne’s family garden had helped a lot over the summer, and he and Janice had preserved what they could. Neither of them had known a thing about canning, but they’d dragged out Suzanne’s canning supplies, chased down instructions on the Internet, and printed them out while they still had electricity (and before the Puppies took out the Net), and they’d managed to put up a lot of food. Or it had seemed like a lot, just looking at it in the pantry. Until he’d thought about feeding a family of seven through a Minnesota winter.

Yet they could’ve made it. He knew they could have. Babbitt was still a functional town, its mayor and city council had managed—somehow—to hold their community together, and if they hadn’t been delighted to see strangers, neither had they tried to turn them away. Besides, he hadn’t been a stranger. Not really. And Douglas and Carla Jackson had spoken for them—Carla had been Suzanne’s sister, and Freymark had known her since he was nine, visiting his aunt and uncle in Babbitt—and helped the Freymarks settle in at the farm. And there were still deer to eke out their food supplies, and there were always fish in Birch Lake. And so he’d been able to tell himself that whatever happened to the rest of the world, his family would make it.

Until three weeks ago, anyway.

There were a lot of things Lewis Freymark would never know, and one of them was why the Puppies had decided to strike Babbitt. The town had never had more than fourteen or fifteen hundred citizens, although it had probably crept higher than that over the summer and early autumn as other refugees filtered in. How it could have posed any kind of threat to star-traveling aliens was more than he could imagine. Maybe it had been a reprisal for something someone had done, or maybe it had been no more than pure viciousness on the Shongairi’s part. He didn’t know, and it didn’t matter anyway.

What did matter was that Babbitt had disappeared into the same horrific fireball which had claimed a seventeen-year-old boy—a boy turning into a man any parent could have been proud of—named Dennis Freymark.

Dennis had taken the SUV to town to trade some of their precious canned food for medicine. The Babbitt Medical Center had continued to serve the town and its froth of refugees, but Mayor Oswald and the city council had collected the stock of Babbitt’s half-dozen pharmacies under lock and key—and armed guard. They probably would have let Dennis have at least some of what he needed, anyway, but it never hurt to contribute a little something to the town’s food stocks in exchange.

Only there’d never been an exchange. And the blast front and fire had swept outward from the devastated town, burning through the tinder-dry leaves of autumn with no one left to fight it. He’d had just enough warning to get Janice and the kids, grab Jake’s sportorized Lee-Enfield deer rifle, a couple of boxes of ammunition, and all the food they could carry, and get as far as the lake before the flames swept through, devouring everything in their path. He’d sheltered in the lake water—icy cold, even at the height of summer, much less in the fall— neck-deep, holding Jacqueline in his arms and feeling her shiver—as the fire roared and bellowed around them. And when the flames were done, the farm was gone.

So they’d come here. Almost twenty miles west of Babbitt, to what had been the almost equally small town of Aurora. All of Babbitt’s handful of survivors had ended up here, in the refugee camp that sprawled across the high school’s athletic field on the west side of the town, near the lake. There was another on the football and baseball fields between Forestry Road and Third Avenue, on the other side of town, but there were precious few amenities for either. The high school had long since filled every classroom with refugees; there was no space inside it for late arrivals, however desperate their need, and so they crouched in whatever shelter they could while the exhausted city government tried hopelessly to find better asylum for them.

He could smell the overstrained portable toilets—and the communal latrine pits—from here. Water had to be hauled in from the lake, using some of the town’s old water trucks, drawn by the priceless handful of horses who’d survived and been pressed into service as supplies of gasoline and diesel vanished. Food was already scarce and getting scarcer every day, despite mandatory rationing that restricted adults to no more than fourteen hundred calories a day, and medical supplies were nonexistent. The surviving doctors and nurses worked eighteen-hour shifts at the local hospital, a mile southeast from where he crouched feeding the fire, but they were swamped by far too many patients with far too little nourishment, shelter and warmth, and that was only going to get worse. Winter was coming on fast, there’d be no new shipments of fuel, there was no electricity, none of the refugees had anything remotely like the clothing needed to survive it, and housing was desperately short. There would have been far too few supplies, far too few roofs, under the best of circumstances, far less the ones they actually faced.

The authorities were trying hard to find someplace for the fresh influx to go, but the town was already packed—by Freymark’s lowest estimate, the city’s population had to have at least tripled—and most of them were at least as malnourished, and cold, and wet as his own family. And so he crouched here, burning scavenged branches, praying someone could find them a roof, wondering where the next armload of fuel was coming from, while Jackie coughed behind him in her mother’s arms, and there was nothing—nothing at all—he could do.

He looked up as someone dumped another scant pile of branches beside him.

“City police just dragged in a flatbed of downed trees,” Alex Jackson said, squatting on his heels and laying the axe he’d salvaged from the burned farm’s barn beside him. He looked at least a decade older than his fifteen years. “I was over there with the ax.” He twitched a parody of a smile. “Gave me first dibs for helping cut it.” He shrugged. “Supposed to be a wheelbarrow load headed this way in another half hour or so.”

“Good, Alex.” He reached out, squeezed the boy’s shoulder. “Good.”

He put all the approval left in him into those three words, and God knew Alex deserved it. His parents and his sister had caught a ride into Babbitt with Dennis on that terrible day. The Freymarks were all he had left, and Lewis Freymark put an arm around him and hugged hard, eyes burning as he thought about Dennis. Thought about his broad shoulders, his curly hair, his mother’s eyes. About the way his son—his son—had always had a smile for his mom, a joke for his kid brother, his sisters. And Freymark had been even prouder of his boy when he paused quietly outside the closed bedroom door one rainy autumn night and heard Dennis—Dennis, the perpetually smiling, the always optimistic—weeping with quiet desperation when he thought no one else could hear.

Dennis, who the Puppies had taken from him and from Janice. His death had torn his father’s heart in half and shattered his mother’s. Only one more death among billions, but the one death which had reached right up inside them and ripped out their souls. So yes, Freymark understood Alex. Understood his pain, the strength that somehow kept him going, and he hugged the son of his dead friends, the son who needed a father as he’d never needed one before, because he would never hug his own again.

And now they were losing Jacqueline. Jackie, the baby, the laughing sprite who’d turned into a solemn-eyed ghost as the grim reality ground its way through every shield her parents—and Dennis—had tried to erect against it for her sake. She was only seven, for God’s sake! Only seven. She would’ve been eight in another three months, but she didn’t have three months. Maybe none of them did, if the rumors of the Puppies’ bioweapon were true, but it didn’t matter for Jackie.

He wasn’t a doctor, but he didn’t need to be one. It was pneumonia. He could hear it in the wet cough, the labored breathing—feel it in the raging temperature, see it in the chills. In the way she was just . . . fading away. And without the medicine Dennis had died trying to get and Aurora simply didn’t have, there was nothing they could do about it. Nothing but keep her as warm as they could, try to get fluids into her somehow . . . and hug her. Hold her. Be there for her as that last, precious ember flickered its way forever into the dark. Manage somehow to smile for her when she roused and called out for “Mommy” or, most heart-wrenching of all, for “Poppa.” To tell her it would be all right and urge her to rest, torn between the terror that she might slip away without ever awakening again . . . and the prayer that she would, because the father who loved her more than life itself knew it was the only peace she would ever find again.

And there was nothing—nothing—he could do for her, or for Stevie, or Camila, or Francesca. Not in the end. He was their father. It was his job to save them, and he couldn’t do it, and dying himself would have been easy compared to that.

His daughter coughed again, and he looked over his shoulder.

Janice sat on an overturned plastic crate, hunched forward, trying to shelter the tiny, blanket-wrapped body in her arms. Janice—his strength and his rock, who was always there for him and the kids, whose face had grown thin and gaunt, and whose eyes could no longer share the hope she promised her children. Janice, whose cheek rested on the crown of that small head while she whispered lullaby words so softly he couldn’t hear them through the rattle of sleet, the sigh of the ice-fanged wind, and the weeping of his own heart.

He made himself stand, straighten his spine, square his shoulders, and somehow produce a smile. It was his turn to be Dennis, he thought, steeling himself before he bent to kiss his wife, take his own turn holding their daughter while she trickled away from them. It was—

He froze, his head jerking up as a sound he hadn’t heard since before The Day came thumping out of the windy, frigid dark.

Lewis!” Janice cried, struggling to her feet with Jackie in her arms while the other kids jerked upright in the pitiful nest of blankets where they’d huddled together, sharing body warmth.

“I hear it!” he said tautly, and picked up the rifle he’d clung to through fire and water and cold. He could remember Jake teasing him the summer when he’d loaded the magazine by hand, without stripper clips, and gotten the overlap on the rimmed .303 cartridges wrong and locked up the magazine. This time, he was sure he had them in the right sequence, even if it wasn’t going to matter in the end.

“Stay here,” he said flatly. “Alex, stay with Aunt Janice. Keep her and the babies safe. Frankie,” he took time to throw one arm around his fourteen-year-old daughter, hugging her hard. “Take care of Mom.”

Dad,” she whispered into his chest, “don’t go!” She looked up, eyes gleaming with upwelling tears in a face that was far too thin. “Stay with us!”

“I can’t, Punkin,” he told her gently and released her to reach down and ruffle Stevie’s hair as he and Camila clung weepingly to their mother.

He looked up, met Janice’s eyes, and saw the knowledge in them. The knowledge that she would never see him again. And that it probably wouldn’t matter in the end, but that he had to try anyway.

“If—when—the shooting starts, head farther into town. Find a place to hide with the babies,” he told her, cupping her cheek in his hand. “I’ll find you . . . after.”

“I know you will,” she lied, pressing her cheek harder against his palm. “We’ll be waiting for you. We love you.”

Her voice wavered on the last three words, and he closed his eyes for a moment. Then opened them again.

“I know,” he said, and leaned close, kissed her forehead. Then he drew a deep breath and headed off into the wind and the cold through the suddenly panicked refugee camp as the running lights of not one helicopter, but at least three, came out of the lowering cloud and circled.

They were the first aircraft he’d seen since “Fleet Commander Thikair” had made what would happen to any human aircraft which dared take to the air perfectly clear. Freymark had seen the video Admiral Robinson had posted on the Internet, watched three dozen Shongair shuttles being torn apart by just four F-22s, so he’d understood exactly why Thikair had been so emphatic.

A part of him was surprised Puppy helicopters sounded exactly like human helicopters, but he shook that thought aside. Rotary wing aircraft were rotary wing aircraft, he supposed. No doubt they had to sound alike. But these were clearly headed for the parking apron between the high school and the sports fields. It was probably the only open area big enough for them to set down—the city cops kept it clear as the area where any available supplies could be distributed to the camp—and he made himself move faster, joined by other armed men and women in ones and twos and threes. There were at least two dozen of them by the time they reached the parking lot, armed with a motley assortment of weapons—everything from modern AR-15s to his own ancient Lee-Enfield and God knew what sort of handguns. But two things they all had in common: desperate determination . . . and no hope at all.

Freymark found a position on the edge of the parking area, kneeling behind a bare-leaved tree in a concrete planter box, and chambered a round. At least two or three helicopters continued to circle, but another one came in slowly, sliding down the darkness behind the blinding glare of its landing lights, and his heart hammered. He had no way of knowing what the Puppies intended, but every man and woman around that parking lot knew the Shongair policy. They knew what would happen to every human soul in Aurora if they opened fire. Yet their families—everything in the world they had left to love—were in the camp behind them, and if the rumors were true, if the Shongairi were seeking human test subjects for bioweapon research and they’d come to collect them, then every human soul in Aurora might as well die cleanly right here, right now, in the sizzling inferno of yet another kinetic strike, instead.

It would be the final, and the greatest, gift he could give his wife and children, and he knew it.

The single helicopter—it was even larger than he’d thought—was impossible to make out through the dazzling light pouring from it, and spicules of sleet glittered against the brilliance as the icy downblast from the rotors pounded over him. He felt himself hunching together in his thin, sodden jacket as it touched down at last and the thunder of its rotors eased. They didn’t stop turning completely, but they rotated much more slowly now, and he settled behind his rifle, waiting. He’d never seen a Shongair himself, but he’d seen plenty of them on video and heard them speaking through their mechanical translators before the Internet died, and now he waited for the inevitable loudspeaker to issue its demands.

But it didn’t. And then he froze as the first silhouetted shape appeared against the flood of light.

It wasn’t a Shongair. It was a human!

It stood there, by itself, motionless for a good thirty seconds, and then Lewis Freymark watched in disbelief as three more figures joined it. Then the landing lights switched off, although the running lights remained lit, and for the first time he could actually see them.

Three men and a woman stood there, waiting with obvious patience, and Freymark swallowed hard as he recognized the U.S. Army’s camouflage-pattern uniform. But the Army was dead. Everyone knew that! And how could humanoperated aircraft survive in Shongair-controlled airspace?! It was impossible. It couldn’t happen.

But then he realized he was on his own feet, moving forward, the rifle heavy in his hand, muzzle pointed at the ground, and the compact, dark-haired man— the one who’d disembarked first—looked up at him. Green eyes glittered with an odd intensity as they reflected the running lights, and he held out his hand.

Freymark took it.

“Torino,” the man said. “Daniel Torino, Major, U.S. Air Force.”

The words made perfect sense. They just couldn’t mean what it sounded like they meant.

“Lewis Freymark,” he heard himself say. “What—? I mean, how—?”

The question stammered into fragmented silence, and Torino smiled crookedly. He looked—they all looked—impossibly clean, impossibly neat and professional.

“That’s going to take some explaining,” he said. “Short version, the Puppies got their asses kicked.”

What?!

Freymark felt his eyes bulging in disbelief, and Torino shook his head with an odd compassion.

“I said it’s going to take explaining, and it is. Important thing right now? I’ve got five Chinooks loaded with around sixty tons of supplies and a complete medical team. I need someplace to unload and set up.”

His hand tightened on Freymark’s as desperation, disbelief, and despair turned into sudden, searing hope in the eyes of a father.

“Think you could help me out with that?”

Copyright © David Weber and Chris Kennedy 2021

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