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8 Military Sci-Fi Must-Reads

Ready, set, action! We’re obsessed with military sci-fi. If you’re ready to go on an adventure filled with aliens, terrifying technology, dangerous weapons, and even pirates, these books are for you. Here are some of our favorites, ranging from classic military sci-fi everyone should read to new and upcoming novels destined to become classics in their own right one day.

Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber

Placeholder of  -86 The Gbaba aliens destroyed nearly all of humanity. The few survivors have fled to Earth-like planet Safehold. However, because the Gbaba can detect any industrial emissions, the people on Safehold must regress to an earlier medieval time. Using mind control technology, the government on Safehold imposes a religion that every citizen believes in — a religion that keeps them safe. 800 years pass, and an android awakens to spur a technological revolution… and likely war. Off Armageddon Reef is just one of David Weber’s many impressive science fiction works.

Valiant Dust by Richard Baker

Place holder  of - 7 When David Weber praises a sci-fi novel, it moves to the top of our reading list, and he calls Valiant Dust “new and extraordinary.” Baker drew on his background as a U.S. Navy officer to create an exciting tale of war and action set in space. The novel takes place aboard a starship led by gunnery officer Sikander Singh North, who, when faced with a planetary uprising, must prove to himself and his crewmates that he is the right man for the job.

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

Poster Placeholder of - 84 In this adventure-packed military sci-fi classic, lead character Juan “Johnnie” Rico leaves his privileged life to join the military in its fight against an alien species known as the “Bugs.” As philosophical as it is fantasy, Starship Troopers was written in response to the politics of the Cold War and 1950s America. If you’re looking for a novel that strongly has plenty of action but also deals in real-world moral issues, then this book is a great option.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Image Placeholder of - 3 In The Old Man’s War series, interstellar space travel has led to territory wars with alien species. These wars are fought by elderly volunteers of retirement age, whose consciousness, along with their knowledge and skills, are transferred to younger bodies.. John Perry, the protagonist, has chosen to enlist on his 75th birthday, in the hopes that he will receive a homestead stake in one of the colony planets if he survives his two-year tour. This Hugo-award nominee is an enjoyable and thought-provoking series that provides a fresh interpretation of humanity’s future.

Unbreakable by W. C. Bauers

Image Place holder  of - 21 Promise Paen reluctantly returns to her birth planet of Montana to lead the Republic of Aligned Worlds’ Marines infantry, sent to Montana to stabilize the region from pirate raids. Haunted by her past and none too pleased to be back on her home planet, Promise has her work cut out for her. When the marines appear depleted, RAW’s rival, the Lusitanian Empire, is all too eager to take advantage. This suspense-filled, action-packed novel is W. C. Bauers’ wonderful debut.

Dauntless by Jack Campbell

Captain John “Black Jack” Geary has been in survival hibernation in enemy territory for over a century. While in hibernation, the captain is heroized in the Alliance for facing the Syndics in his “last stand.” Now, Geary wakes up to end the war once and for all. He aids a depleted Alliance fleet that is stranded on the Syndics’ territory, and sets forth on a mission to bring back the stolen hypernet key: the Alliance’s last chance at winning the war. If you enjoy Dauntless, check out the rest of the Lost Fleet series, which are equally as exciting.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

The award winning Ender’s Game series is one of the most well-known science fiction novels for a reason — Orson Scott Card creates a military sci-fi masterpiece using beautifully simple prose. Set in a time when Earth is at war with an alien species, Ender’s Game is about a young genius, nicknamed Ender, who is grouped with other skilled children to go through rigorous military training to prepare for a third alien invasion. Ender and his friends think they are playing video game simulations… but these “games” have much more dire consequences.

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

A science fiction classic and winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus awards, The Forever War is about physics student William Mandella who is drafted into the army to fight in a thousand-year war on a faraway planet. When Mandella finally returns home, he finds that what felt like two years in space was nearly 30 years on Earth — and nothing seems to be the same. The Forever War is a captivating story about war, time dilation, death, and survival.

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New Releases: 4/11/17

Here’s what went on sale today!

Place holder  of - 48 Avengers of the Moon by Alan Steele

Curt Newton has spent most of his life hidden from the rest of humankind, being raised by a robot, an android, and the disembodied brain of a renowned scientist. This unlikely trio of guardians has kept his existence a closely guarded secret after the murder of Curt’s parents.Curt’s innate curiosity and nose for trouble inadvertently lead him into a plot to destabilize the Solar Coalition and assassinate the president. There’s only one way to uncover the evil mastermind—Curt must become Captain Future.

Dangerous To Know by Renee Patrick

Lillian attended the Manhattan dinner party at which well-heeled guests insulted Adolf Hitler within earshot of a maid with Nazi sympathies. Now, secrets the maid vengefully spilled have all New York society running for cover – and two Paramount stars, Jack Benny and George Burns, facing smuggling charges.

Edith also seeks Lillian’s help on a related matter. The émigré pianist in Marlene Dietrich’s budding nightclub act has vanished. Lillian reluctantly agrees to look for him. When Lillian finds him dead, Dietrich blames agents of the Reich. As Lillian and Edith unravel intrigue extending from Paramount’s Bronson Gate to FDR’s Oval Office, only one thing is certain: they’ll do it in style.

NEW IN PAPERBACK

Placeholder of  -86 All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during middle school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.

But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s every-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together—to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

Poster Placeholder of - 82 Indomitable by W.C. Bauers

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.

Image Placeholder of - 57 Quicksand by Carolyn Baugh

Officer Nora Khalil is used to navigating different terrains. As part of a joint task force set up by the Philadelphia Police Department, the FBI, and the local sheriff’s offices, she works to keep Philly’s mean streets safe from gang violence, while trying to honor the expectations of her traditional Egyptian-American family. She can hold her own against hardened murderers and rapists, and her years as a competitive runner ensure that no suspect ever escapes on foot.

Nora tries to keep her professional and personal lives separate, but when a mutilated body is discovered in a tough section of town, Nora must rely on both her police training and her cultural background to find out whether this is another gang-related killing or the grisly evidence of something even darker and more disturbing.

NEW FROM TOR.COM

Image Place holder  of - 15 Proof of Concept by Gwyneth Jones

On a desperately overcrowded future Earth, crippled by climate change, the most unlikely hope is better than none. Governments turn to Big Science to provide them with the dreams that will keep the masses compliant. The Needle is one such dream, an installation where the most abstruse theoretical science is being tested: science that might make human travel to a habitable exoplanet distantly feasible.

When the Needle’s director offers her underground compound as a training base, Kir is thrilled to be invited to join the team, even though she knows it’s only because her brain is host to a quantum artificial intelligence called Altair.

But Altair knows something he can’t tell.

NEW IN MANGA: 

Not Lives Vol. 5 Story and art by Wataru Karasuma

Pandora in the Crimson Shell: Ghost Urn Vol. 7 Story by Masamune Shirow; Art by Rikudou Koushi

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New Releases: 7/26/16

Here’s what went on sale today!

Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone

Four Roads Cross by Max GladstoneFour Roads Cross, the great city of Alt Coulumb is in crisis. The moon goddess Seril, long thought dead, is back–and the people of Alt Coulumb aren’t happy. Protests rock the city, and Kos Everburning’s creditors attempt a hostile takeover of the fire god’s church. Tara Abernathy, the god’s in-house Craftswoman, must defend the church against the world’s fiercest necromantic firm–and against her old classmate, a rising star in the Craftwork world. As if that weren’t enough, Cat and Raz, supporting characters from Three Parts Dead, are back too, fighting monster pirates; skeleton kings drink frozen cocktails, defying several principles of anatomy; jails, hospitals, and temples are broken into and out of; choirs of flame sing over Alt Coulumb; demons pose significant problems; a farmers’ market proves more important to world affairs than seems likely; doctors of theology strike back; Monk-Technician Abelard performs several miracles; The Rats! play Walsh’s Place; and dragons give almost-helpful counsel.

Indomitable by W. C. Bauers

Indomitable by W. C. BauersLieutenant Paen barely survived her last encounter with the Lusitanian Empire. And she’s got a newly reconstituted unit of green marines to whip into shape before they deploy. 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.

Night Talk by George Noory

Night Talk by George NooryA late-night talk-show host fascinated by the paranormal becomes entangled in a deadly conspiracy in Night Talk, from #1 all-night radio host George Noory. Greg Nowell is a voice in the darkness–a late-night talk-show host who tackles controversial subjects, from angels to aliens and government agencies so deep in shadow that the puppet strings they use to exercise control are invisible. Greg’s world explodes when government agents accuse him of having received ultra-secret files from Ethan Shaw, a hacker intent on exposing a secret cabal with tentacles throughout the government. When Shaw is killed and the evidence points to Greg, the radio personality goes on the run, stalked by a demented assassin. As he tries to unravel the deadly secrets the hacker uncovered, Greg is helped by Alyssa Neal, a mysterious woman who says Shaw also dragged her into the boiling cauldron of intrigue. He seeks help from callers to his show who don’t trust the government, have gone “under the radar,” or are angry and paranoid about the vast gathering of information and invasions of privacy by government agencies.

Red Right Hand by Levi Black

Red Right Hand by Levi BlackCharlie Tristan Moore isn’t a hero. She’s a survivor. Already wrestling with the demons of her past, she finds herself tested as never before when she arrives home one night to find herself under attack by three monstrous skinhounds straight out of a nightmare. Just as hope seems lost, she is saved by a sinister Man in Black, dressed in a long, dark coat that seems to possess a life of its own and wielding a black-bladed sword in his grisly red right hand. The Man in Black, a diabolical Elder God, demands she become his Acolyte and embrace a dark magick she never knew she possessed. Now she must join The Man in Black in his crusade to track down and destroy his fellow Elder Gods, supposedly to save humanity from being devoured for all eternity. But is The Man in Black truly the lesser of two evils–or a menace far more treacherous than the eldritch horrors she’s battling in his name?

NEW FROM TOR.COM:

City of Wolves by Willow Palecek

City of Wolves by Willow PalecekAlexander Drake, Investigator for Hire, doesn’t like working for the Nobility, and doesn’t prefer to take jobs from strange men who accost him in alleyways. A combination of hired muscle and ready silver have a way of changing a man’s mind. A lord has been killed, his body found covered in bite marks. Even worse, the late lord’s will is missing, and not everyone wants Drake to find it. Solving the case might plunge Drake into deeper danger.

NOW IN PAPERBACK:

Only Wounded by Patrick Taylor

Only Wounded by Patrick TaylorIreland, home of legendary poets and storytellers, has been wracked by bloody sectarian violence over the last quarter century. Bombs and guns were, and once again are, the primary negotiation tools used by Catholic and Protestant extremists in the conflict surrounding the sovereignty of Northern Ireland-the six counties known as Ulster. Only Wounded centers on the hopes and despairs of everyday life during these new Troubles. New York Times bestselling author Patrick Taylor traces an intricate narrative path through Ulster, detailing sensitive, unbiased portraits of the ordinary-and not so ordinary-people caught in the partisan brutality of Northern Ireland.

Pacific Fire by Greg van Eekhout

Pacific Fire by Greg van EekhoutI’m Sam. I’m just this guy. Okay, yeah, I’m a golem created from the substance of his own magic by the late Hierarch of Southern California. With a lot of work, I might be able to wield magic myself. I kind of doubt it, though. Not like Daniel Blackland can. Daniel’s the reason the Hierarch’s gone and I’m still alive. He’s also the reason I’ve lived my entire life on the run. Daniel’s determined to protect me. To teach me. Now it’s worse. Because things are happening back in LA. Very bad people are building a Pacific firedrake, a kind of ultimate weapon of mass magical destruction. Daniel seemed to think only he could stop them. Now Daniel’s been hurt. I managed to get us to the place run by the Emmas. They seem to be healing him, but he isn’t going anyplace soon. Do I even have a reason for existing, if it isn’t to prevent this firedrake from happening? I’m good at escaping from things. Now I’ve escaped from Daniel and the Emmas, and I’m on my way to LA.

This may be the worst idea I ever had.

NEW IN MANGA:

Golden Time Vol. 4 by Yuyuko Takemiya

Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto Vol. 4 by Nami Sano

See upcoming releases.

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In Which We Greet Death with a Kiss While Wearing Break-bad Mechsuits

Indomitable by W.C. Bauers

Written by W.C. Bauers

From Indomitable:

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? At best that was a hollowed-out truth. What failed to kill you still exacted its own pound of flesh, and not even sleep offered an escape. The nightmares were definitely getting worse.

Surely there was a gaping hole in her heart that must have turned black by now. Perhaps all that remained of it was a deathly hollow, carved out by the worst kind of flesh eater. Survivor’s guilt.

Death and Mechsuited Marines. Nothing wreaks havoc like them. Indomitable is as much about the one as it is the other. My protagonist, a young Marine named Promise, has a habit of storming into trouble. With the help of a plucky AI assist, she cuts a wide swath. Death’s her second shadow. But the fallout haunts her. And the pain slowly fades.   

Charles Dickens christened death “Our Mutual Friend.” It has certainly been for me. I’ve buried a sister and a daughter, all the grands, and a cousin of mine named Jack. Death reaped each of them at inconvenient times. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Absence has sure made a poor bedfellow.

Promise is no stranger to loss either. Her full name suggests as much and, for good or bad, it’s a bit on the nose. Promise. Paen. I’ve caught flak for her name. Flak flak (like the shells thrown by the German Flugabwehrkanone, or anti-aircraft cannon). When I named her I was playing with words, sure. But I also meant to convey something deeper…that life is dualistic…both tragic and hope-filled, like yin and yang. We will all be wounded by something and probably by many somethings in this life. Many someones too. Loss is unavoidable. Death has a habit of being on the nose too. But life is always ahead. Hope is out front, out there. It has to be.  

Promise first came to me at age seventeen. Orphaned. Jaded. Congenial like a rusty bayonet. She was mad at the universe. She enlisted to start over, to slake the pain, and to maybe dish out some cold-served retribution as a mechsuited Marine. But war had other plans. It kept taking the people she loved from her. The pain only grew worse and to continue she had to turn and face it. What Promise didn’t anticipate was that she’d learn, while pivoting toward mortality, to care again and to let the women and men she served with scale her walls. Turns out death’s sting is not something to be shouldered like a rucksack, on a solitary march through life’s tempest. Death is our mutual friend. We’re meant to greet the reaper together.   

Sometimes we write for our lives. For me that’s involved marring my love (truth be told my guilty pleasure) for military fiction and mil-speced battle scenes with a need to draw out the deep waters of my soul. I had to crank the well-wheel to find out what was down there. Up came a traumatized young woman who talked with her deceased mother on a regular basis, a centuries-old, semi-automatic GLOCK named Janie, a suit of interlocking armor that begs for a 3D printed cosplay, and a veritable band and of sisters and brothers as real as any family.

Up came the reaper too. He likes to howl and gnash his teeth. But I’ve seen the fear in his hollow point eyes. He has a spot at the table, over there, where he sulks while I share a meal with friends. The food is good. The company, better. Reap sulks because death doesn’t frighten me so much anymore.

Buy Indomitable from:

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Don’t forget to follow W.C. Bauers on Twitter!

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New Releases: 7/5/16

Here’s what went on sale today!

The Dinosaur Knights by Victor Milán

The Dinosaur Knights by Victor MilanParadise is a sprawling, diverse, often cruel world where humans reside but dinosaurs predominate: wildlife, monsters, beasts of burden, and of war. Armored knights ride dinosaurs to battle legions of war-trained Triceratops and their upstart peasant crews. Karyl Bogomirsky is one such knight who has chosen to rally those who seek a way from the path of war and madness. The fact that the Empire has announced a religious crusade against this peaceful kingdom, the people who just wish to live in peace anathema, and they all are to be converted or destroyed doesn’t help him one bit. Things really turn to mud when the dreaded Grey Angels, fabled ancient weapons of the Gods who created Paradise in the first place come on the scene after almost a millennia. Everyone thought that they were fables used to scare children. They are very much real.

And they have come to rid the world of sin…including all the humans who manifest those vices.

Panacea by F. Paul Wilson

Panacea by F. Paul WilsonMedical examiner Laura Hanning has two charred corpses and no answers. Both bear a mysterious tattoo but exhibit no known cause of death. Their only connection to one another is a string of puzzling miracle cures. Her preliminary investigation points to a cult in the possession of the fabled panacea–the substance that can cure all ills–but that’s impossible.

A reclusive, terminally ill billionaire hires Laura to research the possibility of the panacea. The billionaire’s own body guard, Rick Hayden, a mercenary who isn’t who he pretends to be, has to keep her alive as they race to find the legendary panacea before the agents of 536 can destroy it.

NOW IN PAPERBACK:

The Dragon Lantern by Alan Gratz

The Dragon Lantern by Alan GratzThe Dragon Lantern is the second book in the League of Seven series! Archie Dent is convinced that he and his friends Hachi and Fergus are the first three members of a new League of Seven: a group of heroes who come together to fight the Mangleborn whenever the monsters arise to destroy humanity. His belief is put to the test when they are forced to undertake separate missions. Archie and his faithful Tik-Tok servant Mr. Rivets pursue a shapeshifting girl who has stolen the Dragon Lantern, an ancient artifact with mysterious powers. And Hachi and Fergus travel to New Orleans to find Madame Blavatsky, the only person who knows the circumstances surrounding the death of Hachi’s father.

In the course of their adventures the three heroes meet potential candidates to join their League. At the same time, they learn deep-rooted secrets that could destroy the League forever. . . .

Unbreakable by W. C. Bauers

Unbreakable by W. C. BauersThe colonists of the planet Montana are accustomed to being ignored. Situated in the buffer zone between two rival human empires, their world is a backwater: remote, provincial, independently minded. Even as a provisional member of the Republic of Aligned Worlds, Montana merits little consideration—until it becomes the flashpoint in an impending interstellar war.

NEW IN MANGA:

Battle Rabbits Vol. 1 Story by Amemiya Yuki; Art by Ichihara Yukino

A Centaur’s Life Vol. 9 Story & Art by Kei Murayama

See upcoming releases.

 

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Sneak Peek: Indomitable by W. C. Bauers

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Indomitable by W.C. BauersIndomitable: 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.

One

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?”

“Negative.”

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.

“Altitude?”

“Twenty-five hundred meters.”

“LZs?”

“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.”

“Suggestions?”

“Bail out.”

“… 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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