Authors: William C. Dietz
Tags: #Science Fiction
Table of Contents
Ace Books by William C. Dietz
LEGION OF THE DAMNED
THE FINAL BATTLE
WHERE THE SHIPS DIE
BY BLOOD ALONE
BY FORCE OF ARMS
FOR MORE THAN GLORY
FOR THOSE WHO FELL
WHEN ALL SEEMS LOST
WHEN DUTY CALLS
AT EMPIRE’S EDGE
BONES OF EMPIRE
A FIGHTING CHANCE
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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This is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2011 by William C. Dietz. Text design by Kristin del Rosario.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Dietz, William C.
ISBN : 978-1-101-54537-9
1. Space warfare—Fiction. I. Title.
Dearest Marjorie . . .
Thank you for the journey,
the things we experienced along the way,
and the voyage ahead.
Some of the most important battles are the most obscure.
—Hoda Ibin Ragnatha
Turr truth sayer
Standard year 2206
PLANET O-CHI 4, THE CONFEDERACY OF SENTIENT BEINGS
A pair of destroyer escorts popped out of hyperspace off O-Chi 4 where they were joined moments later by the combat supply ship
. The vessel was nearly two miles long and carried a crew of more than a thousand. When fully loaded, the vessel could transport up to three million tons of cargo, including as many as eight disk-shaped TACBASEs. One such fortress was filled to capacity with the men, women, and cyborgs of Alpha Company, 2
REC. It was about to drop into O-Chi 4’s atmosphere, and all of them were strapped in.
Major Antonio Santana was seated in the op center on the top deck of TACBASE-011767, where he could see the video that was being fed to them from the
’s bridge. He could see a large part of O-Chi 4, and the general impression was of a heavily forested planet, much of which was shrouded by clouds. Santana’s orders were to land, join forces with the local militia, and destroy a Ramanthian installation. That was how it was supposed to work. But such operations rarely went according to plan.
Santana’s thoughts were interrupted as the image of O-Chi 4 was replaced with a head shot of the
’s commanding officer. She had short gray hair, steely blue eyes, and high cheekbones. A retread most likely. One of thousands who had been brought out of retirement to battle the Ramanthians. She looked tired. “It’s been nice having you and your troops aboard, Major. I have no idea what you hope to accomplish down there but good luck. As you know, the bugs control about sixty percent of the surface and have for the last six months or so. A flight of CF-184 Daggers will keep the enemy fighters off your back. But once you drop through thirty thousand feet, they’ll break off and return to the ship. You’ll be on your own after that. Any questions?”
“No, ma’am,” Santana answered stoically. “Thanks for the lift.”
The navy officer smiled. “Anytime. Make sure your people are strapped in. It’ll be a rough ride.” And with that, the video monitors snapped to black, leaving the tech data to scroll.
Santana turned to his Executive Officer. Captain Eor Rona-Sa was a 250-pound Hudathan who had been allowed to join the Legion despite the fact that his race had attempted to annihilate the Confederacy in the past. But the Hudathans had been defeated. And having failed to take what they needed, the big aliens were forced to join the same alliance they had previously sought to destroy.
The decision to accept Hudathans into the Confederacy’s armed forces had been partly political but was a practical matter as well. The war with the Ramanthians wasn’t going well, and the Confederacy was in desperate need of soldiers. Especially good ones.
Rona-Sa had a large head, a wide froglike mouth, and the vestige of a dorsal fin that ran front to back along the top of his skull. And when Santana looked into Rona-Sa’s eyes, he could tell that his XO was way ahead of him. “Are the troops strapped in?”
“Yes, sir,” Rona-Sa rumbled. “I checked them personally.”
“And the cyborgs?”
“Good. Thank you. Now all we need is a nap.”
Sergeant Major Dice Dietrich was seated to Santana’s left. The comment might have been sufficient to elicit a chuckle from the hollow-cheeked noncom except that he was already asleep and snoring gently. An apparent lapse that would have earned him a tongue-lashing from another commanding officer. But Dietrich had served under Santana for many years and had certain privileges.
Behind them, and strapped to D-rings set into the deck, was a recon ball. Her name was Lieutenant Sally Ponco. Thanks to her special abilities, the cyborg could tap into the TACBASE’s circuitry and the
’s so long as the vessels were connected. “The bugs are coming up to play,” she said laconically. “And the Dags are engaging them. Hang on . . . We are twenty from launch and counting.”
The onboard computer began a countdown that could be heard in every compartment. And for reasons known only to the combat habitat’s manufacturer, the machine had a female voice. “Attention all personnel. TACBASE-11767 will launch in ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two . . .”
The last was followed by a violent jerk as the self-contained fortress fell free of the
and the influence of the supply ship’s argrav generators. Santana felt his stomach flip-flop as the artificial gravity disappeared and his body rose. The six-point harness held him in place.
Then came a sudden jolt as the computer fired a combination of steering jets, and video blossomed on the monitors. The planet framed in the center monitor began to swell as the flying fortress entered the exosphere. After ten minutes of acceleration, the disembodied voice flooded the PA system again. “TACBASE-011767 is about to enter a planetary atmosphere. All personnel will remain in their seats with harnesses fastened until further notice.”
“Here it comes,” Ponco predicted. And she was correct. Shortly thereafter, the hull began to vibrate, then rattle. Finally, it shook like a thing possessed as the flying fortress slip-slid down through heavy cloud cover. The battering continued for what seemed like an eternity but was actually less than half an hour.
As Santana began to wonder if the trip would ever end, the disk-shaped hull steadied. Wisps of cloud blew away, and hundreds of square miles of verdant forest appeared on the monitors. The land was divided into asymmetric shapes by ribbons of blue that connected lakes with the sea. He could see that much. But the TACBASE was traveling too fast for him to discern very many details.