Authors: Brett Patton
“Patton brings the transformer games to life to create superweapons using the brains of cadets to manage them. He provides plenty of actionÂ .Â .Â . and enough planetary destruction to satisfy most game players.”
“Brett Patton has written a thrill-a-minute military science fiction starring a fascinating hero.”
Midwest Book Review
Â .Â .Â . part
. I love it. Well-written mecha action.”
“Filled with twists and secrets. Fans will enjoyÂ .Â .Â . combat with the
Novels of the Armor Wars
A NOVEL OF THE ARMOR WARS
Published by New American Library, a division of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)
Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, December 2012
Copyright Â© Penguin Group (USA), Inc., 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
REGISTERED TRADEMARKâMARCA REGISTRADA
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 Web sites or their content.
To Rina, for making it through.
Thank you to the following individuals. Without their support, this book would never have been written:
Pete Harris, who was my mentor throughout.
Jessica Wade, for her input and insight.
Lisa, and her unending patience and understanding.
“Mankind are governed more by their feelings than by reason.”
Founding Father of the United States
“The Universal Union is humankind's grand hope for a rational, long-term expansion into the last great frontier.”
âPatrica M. Powell
First Union Prime
Founding Member of the Universal Union
Excerpted from Keller Corsair Occupation Documents
Version 0.95.1, 06.04.2322
CORSAIR FACTION INTELLIGENCE
UNIDENTIFIED: the Corsair Confederacy faction currently holding Keller has been tagged an Aggressive Corsair Cell (ACC). The faction's LEADERSHIP, GOALS, and ARMAMENT are undefined. The faction has not stated its goals.
KELLER is a Class 3 Universal Union colony world.
Keller's strategic importance is in easily accessible deposits of rare Earth metals, as well as extensive lithium and beryllium resources. In addition, its location near the margin of the Universal Union and Corsair Confederacy space make it an important potential buffer between the Core and Emerging worlds of the Universal Union.
OFFWORLD: Keller is protected by Union Army automated emplacements. It is believed these were compromised in the Corsair occupation.
ONWORLD: Keller's environment is arid in its equatorial areas, with daytime temperatures that exceed fifty degrees Celsius. A thin oxygen-argon atmosphere is breathable by most persons in good physical condition.
On 06.02.2322, Union Army Automated Emplacements recorded the arrival of an UNREGIS-TERED DISPLACEMENT DRIVE ship. Approximately 140 minutes after arrival of the Displacement Drive ship, ORBITAL EMPLACEMENTS were taken offline. Associated VIDEO shows Corsair freighters landing at Placerville Mine, Keller's largest population center (c.80K). Communications have ceased from Keller's FTLcomm. No demands have been made to date.
Determine Corsair stronghold or strongholds, effective armament, and presence or absence of the Corsair Displacement Drive carrier ship.
Destroy Displacement Drive ship, assuming its presence.
Remove Corsairs from Keller and assumed additional landing points.
If possible, capture Corsair leadership for interrogation.
UNIVERSAL UNION COLONEL John Ivers, UUS Helios Strategic Command
MECHA CORPS MAJOR Guiliano Soto, Mecha Corps Lead
MECHA CORPS CAPTAIN Matt Lowell, Mecha Corps Tactical Specialist
MECHA CORPS CAPTAIN Michelle Kind, Mecha Corps Tactical Specialist
MECHA CORPS AUXILIARY SERGEANT Peal Khoury, Mecha Corps Technical Specialist
The Corsair Confederacy faction currently holding Keller has been tagged an Aggressive Corsair Cell (ACC).
Matt Lowell read the words on the mission brief one more time, shaking his head in disbelief. The Corsairs were an interstellar confederacy of terrorists and pirates that had long been a thorn in the side of the Universal Union, but attacking one of the Union's colony worlds went beyond aggression. And trying to hold Keller against the might of the Union's Mecha Corps was suicidal.
What were they thinking? Were the Corsairs just throwing their lives away, now that their leader Rayder was dead?
And there were no demands, no identity, no threats. It made no sense
His giant Demon Mecha mimicked his shaking head perfectly.
“Question, Captain Lowell?” Major Guiliano Soto's voice boomed in Matt's ears as his comms icon flared to life.
Matt jumped. Deep in thought, he'd forgotten for a moment he was suspended in magnetorheological gel within a giant biomechanical Mecha, seeing the outside world only through his viewmask.
Matt turned to look at Major Soto. Like Matt, Soto wore a Demon-class Mecha. Thirty meters tall and dull red, the Demon lived up to its namesake. Huge trifurcated legs bulging with biometallic muscle supported an angular, mirror-smooth torso. Hundreds of carbon-ringed, orange-glowing apertures along its side hinted at the fusion power hidden within. Serrated ridges ran down the Demon's arms and flowed over its shoulders. Its head was tiny, little more than an upturned slit for the sensor array and two spiked protrusions, like horns, at its very top. The latest in Union-funded biomechanical technology, the Demon packed scaled weaponry versatile enough to take out a single sniper in a crowded Union city, or to destroy an entire asteroid-derived Displacement Drive ship.
And Soto's Mecha wasn't the only one in the UUS
's Mecha Dock. Beyond Major Soto, floating tags in Matt's viewmask identified Captain Michelle Kind in her own Demon, as well as Sergeant Peal Khoury at the front of a platoon of Hellions, a much smaller biomechanical Mecha.
Three Demons and a full platoon. Another clue the Union had no idea what to expect, and they weren't taking any chances.
“No questions, Major,” Matt said, keeping his voice even.
But doubt burned in his mind. Could the Corsairs possibly hope to hold Keller? They should never have made it past the automated heavy-matter guns. Did that mean they had some new weapon?
Or was the Union withholding information? They protected their secrets well. Matt had been told point-blank:
“You shall not state or imply you were part of the team that killed Rayder.”
Even though Rayder's death was the crowning achievement of Matt's life. Revenge, at long last, for Rayder killing his crippled father, after the monster had what he wanted.
Even if the Mecha Corps worked for the Union, and did whatever they asked, Matt had to admit that his last year's worth of missions were on the up and up. He'd been able to helpâreally helpâUnion citizens at the edge of the frontier. He'd personally destroyed a Corsair Displacement Drive ship that was preying on the refugees in the Independent Displacement Alliance.
“The Union has a good reason for everything they do,”
Captain Michelle Kind had told him.
Matt stole a glance at Michelle's Demon. They'd orbited each other like worlds gravitationally locked on the opposite sides of a sun.
Michelle's Demon turned to regard Matt. In its visor's fun-house-mirror reflection, his Demon looked grotesque and deformed. What was she thinking? he wondered.
“Damn,” Matt said under his breath.
“Damn what?” Major Soto asked.
Matt silently cursed the sensitive throatmike. But he had to roll with it. “Damn, let's get to it,” he said, nodding at the giant steel air lock at the front of the Mecha Dock. “I thought this ship was fast. Sir.”
“It is fast, Cadet,” Colonel John Ivers broke in from the bridge, his comms icon flaring brightly in Matt's POV.
“Captain,” Matt said.
Colonel Ivers chuckled. “Right. Captain. You've moved up fast in the Corps. Thirty seconds between Displacements is amazing good. Forty light-years a minute, at maximum Displacement. You should've lived when the barges took an hour to charge.”
“Yes, sir,” Matt said.
But Colonel Ivers's comms icon was still on. It flickered a moment, as if he was thinking about clicking off. He continued. “This isn't just about pace. This is about precision. We're inserting direct into low orbit, below the range of the Union Army automated emplacements.”
“How low, sir?” Major Soto asked.
“Eighty kilometers, Major.”
“That's not orbit, sir!” Sergeant Peal Khoury told them. “We'll have significant atmospheric heating! Even with the
's armor, we may take damageâ”
Colonel Ivers cut him off. “We won't be there long enough.”
Silence fell over the comms. For a long time, all Matt heard was the hiss of his respirator and the fast thud of his heartbeat. Too fast. Inside his biomechanical Demon, Matt was deep in Mesh high. It was the best feeling in the world, but it colored everything he thought. Everything he felt. It was why he was going from excitement to doubt in an instant.
“Why, Colonel?” Matt asked.
“Why what, Captain?” Colonel Ivers emphasized the “Captain.”
“Why are we going in so heavy, sir?”
More silence from Captain Ivers's side, but again, his comms icon stayed on. Matt could almost imagine him on the big hemispherical bridge, floating in zero g, his brow furrowed as he thought of what to tell them.
Finally Ivers continued. “This is the biggest Corsair action since Rayder's attacks on Geos. The Union wants a decisive victory here, Captain.”
Matt shook his head. The plan still didn't make sense. A decisive victory here at Keller wouldn't require three Demons and a full platoon.
Soto saw Matt's Demon mimic his head shake and laughed. “And we don't know what's down there waiting for us.”
Another pause. Finally, in a gravelly voice, Ivers grated, “Expect surprises.”
Ivers's comms icon snapped off, as if to close the matter. When he came back, he was all business.
“Mecha Corps, ready!” Ivers barked. “Beginning countdown to final Displacement. Twenty-seven seconds, mark.”
Matt glanced at the brief one more time, then pushed it aside. He'd sort it out when they arrived.
“This was Ash's world,” Michelle said.
“Cease unnecessary comms, Captain,” Major Soto said. But his tone was understanding.
Ash Moore. She'd been part of Matt's and Michelle's Mecha Training Camp group under Major Soto. She'd walked away from her husband and her kids for her one chance at the Mecha Corps, knowing only a few ever completed their training. And more than a handful died.
Ash had never gotten a chance to complete her training.
“Twenty seconds,” Colonel Ivers said.
Matt's emotions surged in the rush of Mesh, as his Perfect Record, his photographic memory, brought back every instant of Ash's death. She'd died in Mecha Merge, sharing her deepest feelings with everyone who'd been joined with her. Matt. Michelle. Soto. They'd had to watch while each moment of her life was abraded away, like brilliant sparks coming off a grinding wheel.
“Let's do this for Ash,” Matt said.
“Yes,” Michelle replied.
“Agreed,” Soto added.
“Ten seconds,” Ivers said, over the comms. “Mecha, prepare to deploy.”
's Mecha Dock, sleek forms of destruction tensed against their steel scaffolding and the raw rock of the asteroid. Three red Demons and twenty Hellions stood bow-taut, ready to leap.
“Five seconds,” Ivers said.
Matt remembered Ash's children, staring happily into the pale yellow sky of Keller.
He remembered her husband, filthy from the lithium mines, grinning as if he hadn't a care in the world.
He remembered her words about Michelle.
“She's a skittish one.”
Oh how right she'd been.
And he remembered that thing, that dusty-static thing, that clawed at him when he was this deep in Mesh. It had been there when Ash died, as if feeding on her pain.
Matt closed his eyes, cursing his memory. His Perfect Record. His father's gift. Such a burden. He could never forget anything he experienced. Ever.
rocked and shuddered as the air-lock doors slammed open. Superheated orange plasma and dust billowed into the Mecha Dock, peppering the Demons and Hellions with shards of rock and droplets of molten steel. Through the hellish haze, the arid wastes of Keller's equator were seemingly close enough to touch. The UUS
was deep in Keller's atmosphere, and it was taking a beating.
“Deploy!” Colonel Ivers said.
Matt released his grip on the scaffold and dove into the fire.
*Â *Â *
Matt fell free into the thin atmosphere of Keller. Faintly, he felt the chill of space and the rush of wind on the biometallic skin of his Demon.
In that weightless moment, everything was perfect. Deep in the rush of Mesh, there was no place he'd rather be. He was born to be a Demonrider, meant to fall from low orbit onto desert worlds held by anti-Union terrorists. Matt closed his eyes, imagining the coming inferno. He was the ultimate force that would bring the universe back into balance.
Matt turned to look back at the UUS
. Ten billion metric tons of armor-plated asteroid, streaking through Keller's hazy sky like a comet. Its forward section glowed an angry yellow-orange from atmospheric friction, and red veins of hot metal wrapped halfway around its girth.
Directly above Matt, Major Soto's and Captain Kind's Demons fell from the conflagration. Their Mechas quickly transformed into delta-winged aerodynamic shapes, biometal flowing like mercury. Engines lit on the Mechas' backs, driving them toward the hot planet surface.
Behind Soto and Kind, polished black Hellions darted out of the UUS
's Mecha Dock. Their bulky flight packs were clumsy, almost antique. Matt remembered his overwhelming awe when he first saw a Hellion. It now seemed so long ago.
With an earsplitting clap, the UUS
disappeared. Superheated air condensed into swirling white clouds where the giant ship had just been. The UUS
had Displaced to safety.
“All eyes front!” Major Soto snapped. But his voice wasn't angry. It quavered with excitement. Soto was in his element too.
“Yes, sir!” Matt said, turning his gaze back to the planet. Below him, yellow and salmon-colored wastes stretched into the gray haze of atmosphere. Brown-black mountain ranges punctuated the desolate landscape, their razor-sharp peaks slicing the sky. There wasn't a single green growing thing in the entire vista, no blue lakes, no vast cloud-shrouded oceans. Keller seemed to be a near-dead world. All the value must be underground, in the mines.
Ash had raised her kids here. Matt remembered their grinning faces in her images from home.
On the horizon, tags popped into view in Matt's viewmask:
OBJECTIVE: PLACERVILLE (SUBSURFACE, POP: 80,000)
RELATED OBJECTIVE: PLACERVILLE SPACEPORT (SURFACE)
PRESERVE WITHIN REASONABLE COST: PLACERVILLE FARMS (SURFACE)
More tags floated, farther away, showing the location of Keller's other primary mines. Clusters of Hellions rocketed toward each of the tags. One was tagged
SERGEANT PEAL KHOURY
Good luck, Peal,
Matt thought. That kid and his brother had been through a lot. His brother would never be a Mecha pilot, but Peal had stuck with it, and he was one of the best Hellion pilots they had.
“No Corsair Displacement ship in orbit,” Colonel Ivers barked over the comms. “Automated emplacements intact but noncommmunicative and noncombative. Redirecting all Hellions to the surface. Looks like the fight's on the ground, Corps.”
“Good news, sir,” Major Soto said.
Ivers broke comms without commenting. Matt frowned. Were the Corsairs so cocky they thought they could hold a Union world with only ground troops?
Placerville swelled as they fell toward the dry surface of Keller. Sand fountained in the wake of their delta-winged Mecha. Cracked, heat-crazed ground flew by at a blur.
“Slow up!” Major Soto commanded as the tags for Placerville Farms exploded in size. Matt braked his Mecha, forward thrusters momentarily blinding him. They were passing over square kilometers of milky plastic-covered crops, vaguely green beneath their shroud. Mechanical harvesters did their mindless work, as if nothing was amiss.
Keller Spaceport came into view beyond a low rise, its vast expanses of sand and rock blasted into shiny green glass by ten thousand passing cargo shuttles. At one edge of the field, a low tower built of aluminum scaffolding glinted in the scorching daylight.
And directly under the tower were two Corsair freighters, wearing the familiar thousand-daggers insignia of the terrorists. They'd been converted from Taikong stock, hastily refitted with amplified cutting lasers.
But cutting lasers were really low-grade weapons. Not something a leading Corsair faction would use.
On the field, figures tagged as
were working with figures tagged
, unloading battered yellow storage crates from the ship. Not one figure held a gun.
A deep shard of anger ripped through Matt. Union and Corsairs, working together? How could that be?
“Fire Sidewinders,” Soto said. But even his voice sounded hollow, uncertain.
Fire, Matt thought. Sidewinder missiles exploded from Matt's chest apertures, tracing brilliant white lines toward the Corsair ships. The spaceport staff looked up and ran for cover as the Corsairs' amplified cutting lasers finally began jerking toward the incoming Mecha.