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Authors: Mike Shepherd

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Redoubtable

BOOK: Redoubtable
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Praise for
Kris Longknife UNDAUNTED

“An exciting, action-packed adventure . . . Mr. Shepherd has injected the same humor into this book as he did in the rest of the series . . . I really love these books and
Undaunted
is a great addition to the series.”

—Fresh Fiction

Praise for
Kris Longknife INTREPID

“[Kris Longknife] will remind readers of David Weber’s Honor Harrington with her strength and intelligence. Mike Shepherd provides an exciting military science fiction thriller.”

—Genre Go Round Reviews

“A good read for fans of the series and of military science fiction.”

—Romantic Times

Praise for
Kris Longknife AUDACIOUS

“ ‘I’m a woman of very few words, but lots of action.’ So said Mae West, but it might just as well have been Lieutenant Kris Longknife, princess of the one hundred worlds of Wardhaven. Kris can kick, shoot, and punch her way out of any dangerous situation, and she can do it while wearing stilettos and a tight cocktail dress. She’s all business, with a Hells Angel handshake and a ‘get out of my face’ attitude. But her hair always looks good.
Audacious
maintains a crisp pace and lively banter . . . Kris Longknife is funny and she entertains us.”

—Sci Fi Weekly

“The [fifth] book in this fast-paced, exciting military SF series continues the saga of a strong heroine who knows how to kick serious ass and make an impression on friends and enemies alike. Mike Shepherd has a great ear for dialogue and talent for injecting dry humor into things at just the right moment . . . The characters are engaging, and the plot is full of twists and peppered liberally with sharply described action. I always look forward to installments in the Kris Longknife series because I know I’m guaranteed a good time with plenty of adventure.
Audacious
doesn’t disappoint in this regard. Military SF fans are bound to get a kick out of the series as a whole, and fans will be glad to see Kris hasn’t lost any of her edge.”

—SF Site

“Mike Shepherd is a fantastic storyteller who excels at writing military science fiction. His protagonist is a strong-willed, independent thinker who does what she thinks is best for humanity . . . There is plenty of action and tension . . . This is a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience for science fiction fans.”

—Midwest Book Review

. . . and for the Kris Longknife novels

“Shepherd’s grasp of timing and intrigue remains solid, and Kris’s latest challenge makes for an engaging space opera, seasoned with political machination and the thrills of mysterious ancient technology, that promises to reveal some interesting things about the future Kris inhabits.”

—Booklist

“Enthralling . . . fast paced . . . a well-crafted space opera with an engaging hero . . . I’d like to read more.”

—SFRevu

“Everyone who has read Kris Longknife will hope for further adventures starring this brave, independent, and intrepid heroine. Mike Shepherd has written an action-packed, exciting space opera that starts at light speed and just keeps getting better. This is outer-space military science fiction at its adventurous best.”

—Midwest Book Review

“I’m looking forward to her next adventure.”


The Weekly Press
(Philadelphia)

“Kris is a strong female character . . . The book focuses on action, with some interesting sci-fi twists thrown in . . . It excels as a page-turner.”

—Fantasy Book Spot

“Fans of the Honor Harrington escapades will welcome the adventures of another strong female in outer space starring in a thrill-a-page military space opera. The heroine’s dry wit, [and] ability to know what she is good at [as well as] her faults, [all] while keeping her regal DNA in perspective, especially during a crisis, endear her to readers. The audience will root for the determined, courageous, and endearing heroine as she displays intelligence and leadership during lethal confrontations.”

—Alternative Worlds

“[Shepherd] has a good sense of pace . . . very neatly handled, and served with a twist of wry. A surprisingly talented read from a very underrated author.”

—Bewildering Stories

“Shepherd does a really good job with this book. If you’re looking for an entertaining space opera with some colorful characters, this is your book. Shepherd grew up Navy, and he does an excellent job of showing the complex demands and duties of an officer. I look forward to the next in the series.”

—Books ’n’ Bytes

“You don’t have to be a military sci-fi enthusiast to appreciate the thrill-a-minute plot and engaging characterization.”

—Romantic Times

Ace titles by Mike Shepherd

KRIS LONGKNIFE: MUTINEER
KRIS LONGKNIFE: DESERTER
KRIS LONGKNIFE: DEFIANT
KRIS LONGKNIFE: RESOLUTE
KRIS LONGKNIFE: AUDACIOUS
KRIS LONGKNIFE: INTREPID
KRIS LONGKNIFE: UNDAUNTED
KRIS LONGKNIFE: REDOUBTABLE

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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 Group 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, North Shore 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

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.

KRIS LONGKNIFE: REDOUBTABLE

An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author

PRINTING HISTORY
Ace mass-market edition / November 2010

 

Copyright © 2010 by Mike Moscoe.

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.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

eISBN: 9781101454213

ACE

Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

http://us.penguingroup.com

1

Lieutenant
Commander Kris Longknife paused just outside the bridge hatch. She steadied herself, one hand on the bulkhead, the other heavy on her cane, waiting for the wave of dizziness to pass. The docs said these episodes should be getting fewer and fewer.

So far, the docs were bloody optimists.

Kris measured her breathing and fixed her eye on a hatch farther down the passageway of the Wardhaven Scout Ship
Wasp
, and thought, TIME, NELLY?

YOU’RE STILL TWENTY-ONE MINUTES EARLY TO RELIEVE THE WATCH, KRIS. ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?

I’M FINE, Kris lied to her personal computer, acquired at a cost greater than several ships of the
Wasp
’s value.

YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE, PULSE, AND RESPIRATION DON’T LOOK FINE, Nelly pointed out.

AND TO THINK, THIS TIME THE BOMB WASN’T EVEN AIMED AT ME, Kris thought.

IT WAS, Nelly countered. IT WAS JUST THAT THEY WERE AFTER THE GUY WITH YOU FIRST, AND YOU SECOND.

ENOUGH OF THIS, Kris thought, let go of the bulkhead, steadied herself without the help of the cane . . . without
much
help from the cane . . . and marched onto the bridge of the
Wasp
.

A glance showed her that tonight’s watch was double the norm for a scout ship . . . and huge for the merchant ship
Mary Ellen Carter
that the
Wasp
claimed to be.

Sulwan Kann, the
Wasp
’s navigator, was Officer of the Deck. In her usual cutoffs and tank top, she, like most of the
Wasp
’s original contract crew, refused to let the added Marines and sailors now aboard make her drop her easygoing ways. Kris got a two-finger waggle toward Sulwan’s brow for a salute. Kris returned a regal nod . . . as befitting the princess she was.

Still, the relief process went straight Navy. “I stand ready to relieve you,” Kris said. “What is the
Wasp
’s condition?”

“Situation normal, decelerating at .85 gees toward Kaskatos.”

“And the unknown?”

“The bogey is steady on her course. She will make orbit around Kaskatos at the same time and in the same space we do. What a coincidence.” The OOD and ship’s navigator tapped her command board, and the forward screen showed the star system, then zoomed in to show the two ships, the
Wasp
approaching Kaskatos from the system’s Jump Point Alpha, the unknown from the nearest gas giant.

“It could be just a local entrepreneur, harvesting reaction mass to sell to any ship that comes by,” Kris said.

“That would explain why it’s aiming to make orbit right at our elbow,” Sulwan said, raising an eyebrow.

Kris shrugged; out here beyond the Rim of human space, the logical answer rarely was the right one.

“And if that ship is just a nice, hardworking merchant, why isn’t he on the horn, hawking his wares?” Sulwan added.

That was a definite strike against the business hypothesis. “It’s not like he’s got to worry about us buying from anyone else,” Kris said. Kaskatos
was
also silent as a tomb.

Sulwan snorted. “They promote you, Princess, and suddenly you go all soft on us? I thought you Longknifes were supposed to get more bloodthirsty as you went up the promotion ladder.”

Kris laughed. “I’m kind of enjoying nobody trying to kill me.”

“Then how come you got us out here fishing for pirates,” Chief Beni snapped from where he sat at Sensors. His uniform actually looked good on him. He’d lost weight and was wearing fresh khakis every day. Having an actual leading chief aboard the
Wasp
was definitely crimping his style. But even that couldn’t change his perpetual devotion to avoiding harm’s way.

“Cause those are our orders,” Kris said. “Signed by King Ray himself.”

“Couldn’t you have told your grandpapa you preferred a nice quiet corner of the universe?” the chief asked.

“You’ve been with her longer than I have, Chief,” Sulwan said. “It seems her granddad wants her far away from him first, last, and foremost . . . and usually in hot water up to her pretty ears.” The navigator sank into deep thought for a moment, her finger tapping pursed lips. “Or is it she wants far away from him?”

“The feelings are mutual,” Kris grumbled. “Now, if I relieve you, will you show me some respect?”

“Never, but I would like to be relieved.”

“Have there been any communications in the last four hours from either the unknown or Kaskatos?”

“Not a peep,” Sulwan reported. “Per captain’s orders, we hailed both of them every hour on the hour. Not even a nasty word in reply.”

“Any signs of life, Chief?” Kris asked.

“Kaskatos shows power lines in use. It has thermal plumes around cities and large structures, just like you’d expect. There is some but not a lot of activity on the roads and rivers. There are people there. They just ain’t talking to us or to each other.”

Kris would have cursed the inventor of the fiber-optic cable if she knew his or her name. Many start-up colonies were skipping radio and jumping direct to cable. That left little radio communications to eavesdrop on. That people were willing to put cable on their basic survival list said something about conditions out here beyond the Rim of human space.

Or what had been the Rim of human space.

Kris almost laughed out loud at the stale joke. The Society of Humanity had broken up for many reasons. Still, at the top of most lists was the difference between the staid . . . some might say decadent older planets, Earth and the like . . . and the more vibrant . . . some might say malcontents . . . out on the Rim. Earth said we’d found enough planets; colonies were a drain on money better spent closer to home. The younger worlds saw new colonies as places to make fortunes and get elbow room. The politicians haggled for years, couldn’t solve the problem, and finally settled on splitting the sheets.

Six hundred planets went different ways . . . without a shot fired. Thanks be to any god involved . . . and a little bit of mutiny by one Ensign Kris Longknife.

But when Kris took the
Wasp
out to find and map vacant planets in unexplored space, she got a big surprise. The Sooners. These folks hadn’t waited for any politician’s permission but struck out on their own. They picked up family, bag and baggage, and headed out to wherever they found a good place to “set” a while.

Just human nature doing what comes naturally. Simple solution . . . or so it seemed.

Unfortunately, the same human nature that cuts the Gordian knot also cuts throats. Where farmers and small business went, lawless people like pirates and slavers weren’t far behind. Those who go beyond the reach of law better either be a law unto themselves or prepared to fight for what they hold dear. If they didn’t or couldn’t, there was usually someone only too ready to show them the error of their ways.

That was where Kris and the
Wasp
and the two hundred Marines aboard her came in. And why she was covered with shipping containers and squawking the false transponder of the good ship
Mary Ellen Carter
, a week out from Brighton.

At exactly midnight, ship time, Kris announced “I relieve you,” and Sulwan replied, “I stand relieved,” and the formal transfer of godlike power took place. The
Wasp
was Kris’s to command through the quiet hours from midnight to 0400.

At least the
Wasp
was hers to command unless the one true god of the
Wasp
showed up. Captain Drago was lord of all he surveyed on the
Wasp
. Of that there could be no question.

He had the signed contract to prove it.

Exactly how the
Wasp
went from Kris’s bought-and-paid-for ship to a sovereign scout ship in the Wardhaven Navy was something Kris could track. How it happened that the crew continued to be private contractors paid out of black funds by Wardhaven’s Intelligence Chief was a bit harder to follow.

Probably, Kris’s great-grandfather, King Raymond I to most, had his little pinky finger somewhere in the mix.

So, Lieutenant Commander Kris Longknife commanded Patrol Squadron 10 and its half dozen corvettes. She could order Jack Campbell of the
Dauntless
and Phil Taussig of the
Hornet
to convoy duty, escorting honest merchant ships around the routes between the Sooner planets. She tasked the
Fearless
and the
Intrepid
to faking it as independent—and stupid—solo merchants like the
Wasp
, hunting for unregistered start-up planets like Kaskatos.

Still, aboard the
Wasp
herself, Kris was only a watch stander.

Or maybe the problem was that she was
still
a watch stander.

Like so much of Kris’s life as a Navy officer and a princess, there was no precedent. She could worry about it, do it, or not do it.

For the moment, Kris stood her watch.

“Chief, aren’t you due for relief?”

“I asked to put in my eight during the quiet of the night.”

“And the chief of the boat just let you do that?” If Kris knew anything of the
Wasp
’s new command master chief, Chief Beni was telling a boldface lie.

“He did, now that you mention it, have a problem with the idea. At first,” the chief admitted with a cough.

“At first,” Kris said.

“Then I explained to him that the unknown ought to be getting in range for us to find out some interesting things during your watch, and he decided to let me do things my way.”

Chief Beni had been following Kris around the hooligan Navy long enough to pick up some bad habits along with a now-disappearing beer gut.

Command Master Chief L. J. Mong had spent a day aboard the
Wasp
before taking Kris and Captain Drago aside.

“This is an interesting setup you have here. Civilian scientists, Marines, contractors, and some newly arrived sailors. I understand I am chief of the boat. I think many people assume that extends only to the uniform sailors on the
Wasp
.”

Neither Kris nor Captain Drago had affirmed or denied that observation.

The chief of the boat’s grin grew tight as the silence stretched. “My grandfather told me that a wise man, given a rock, may use water to form it to his will . . . or a diamond drill. I have both in my footlocker, sir.”

Captain Drago had studied the short, thin whip of a man for a moment longer. “I will enjoy watching a true artist.”

And they had broken for supper. Kris and Drago to the officers’ mess, L. J. to dinner with Gunnery Sergeant Brown.

SHALL I SEND A NANO TO RECORD THEIR CONVERSATION? Nelly had asked on the direct link into Kris’s skull. Nelly, Kris’s pet computer, was worth more than all the ships in Patrol Squadron 10, and smarter than all the computers aboard them, with the exception of the eight personal computers she called her kids. More often than not, Nelly was well ahead of Kris.

After a moment’s pause, Kris had shaken her head. NO, NELLY, LET’S PASS ON THAT. I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THOSE TWO SURPRISING ME.

NORMALLY, YOU DON’T LIKE SURPRISES, KRIS.

Nelly’s recent spate of surprises had caused some hard words and harder feelings between user and computer. Kris recognized where Nelly was coming from and chose her words carefully.

NELLY, AT OFFICER CANDIDATE SCHOOL, I FIRST HEARD THAT MASTER CHIEFS AND GUNNY SERGEANTS ARE THE PEOPLE WHO REALLY RUN THE NAVY AND THE CORPS. I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY MEANT AT OCS. I’VE COME TO UNDERSTAND IT BETTER NOW. I SUSPECT, IF WE LET THOSE TWO OLD GOATS HAVE THEIR HEAD, THEY WILL SHOW US EXACTLY WHY THE NAVY NEEDS MASTER CHIEFS TO RUN IT.

IF HE IS HALF AS GOOD AS GUNNY SERGEANT BROWN, HE IS VERY MUCH WORTH STUDYING, Nelly agreed.

For the moment, on the
Wasp
’s bridge, Kris had other things to study. And, to be honest, she was glad to have her electronic expert sharing the watch with her.

“Can you tell me anything more about our unknown, Chief?” Kris said, coming to study his board over his shoulder.

“It’s a system runabout, Commander. Its power source looks like a GE matter/antimatter annihilation reactor. Power plant is an Evinrude Z-20 or a good rip-off. A bit small for the job, but we are way out back.”

“Anything waving at you ‘Hi, I’m a bad guy’?”

“Nothing so easy,” the chief answered. “Unless . . .” he added slowly, tapping his board and frowning at it. “I’m starting to maybe see something strange with the balloot.”

“What kind of strange?” Kris said, holding tight to the blend of excitement at his words and frustration at their slowness.

“Balloots come in lots of different brands and sizes. We’ve got one loaded forward on the
Wasp
in case that crazy captain of yours decides he wants to go cloud dancing with this merchant ship. By the way, Princess, skimming gas giants for reaction mass is not recommended for ships loaded with containers and glued together with string and chewing gum like the
Wasp
is just now. You need a ship small, and tightly wound.”

“Chief, I need an answer to the question you raised about that balloot.”

“I know, I know, but I just thought you ought to know that the
Wasp
is rigged to do a gas-giant dive, but it’s not really meant to. Us having a nice quiet midwatch, I figured now would be a good time to mention it.”

“It’s mentioned! Now what’s strange about that balloot?”

“It’s veined, I think.”

“Veined?”

“Yeah, it’s got these lines running across it. I noticed them about an hour ago. They’re getting more and more pronounced.”

Kris stared at the visual image of the unidentified craft. Basically, it was a big bag with the bare hint of the runabout’s tail end sticking out from behind it. “I don’t see anything?”

The chief tapped his board. The image grew to take in the entire forward screen. Kris still didn’t see anything.

“I said it’s just a hint of something running up and down and across the balloot. They come and go.”

“Nelly, can you make anything out?” Kris asked.

BOOK: Redoubtable
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