M. C. Planck The Kassa Gambit

ISBN 13: 9780765330932

The Kassa Gambit

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9780765330932: The Kassa Gambit
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Centuries after the ecological collapse of Earth, humanity has spread among the stars. Under the governance of the League, our endless need for resources has driven us to colonize hundreds of planets, all of them devoid of other sentient life. Humanity is apparently alone in the universe.

Then comes the sudden, brutal decimation of Kassa, a small farming planet, by a mysterious attacker. The few survivors send out a desperate plea for aid, which is answered by two unlikely rescuers. Prudence Falling is the young captain of a tramp freighter. She and her ragtag crew have been on the run for years. Lt. Kyle Daspar is a police officer from the wealthy planet of Altair Prime. He's been undercover so long he can't be trusted by anyone―even himself.

While flying rescue missions to extract survivors from the surface of devastated Kassa, they discover what could be the most important artifact in the history of man: an alien spaceship, crashed and abandoned during the attack.

But in The Kassa Gambit by M.C. Planck, there is more to the story. Together, they discover the cruel truth about the destruction of Kassa, and that an imminent alien invasion is the least of humanity's concerns.

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About the Author:

After a nearly-transient childhood, he hitchhiked across the country and ran out of money in Arizona. So he stayed there for thirty years, raising dogs, getting a degree in philosophy, and founding a scientific instrument company. Having read virtually everything by the old masters of SF&F, he decided he was ready to write. A decade later, with a little help from the Critters online critique group, he was actually ready. He was relieved to find that writing novels is easier than writing software, as a single punctuation error won't cause your audience to explode and die. When he ran out of dogs, he moved to Australia to raise his daughter with kangaroos.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


Dropping out of node-space, Prudence instinctively knew there was trouble. Seconds later the computer complained there were no navigation beacons, and after a moment, that there was no radio chatter at all. But she already knew.
She flipped the switch and shut off her own radio signature. Should have done it when the feeling struck, but she hadn’t wanted to believe. Hadn’t wanted it to be real.
“Pru, the link is down.” Jorgun took off his headphones. They always looked amusingly delicate on his huge frame. “I was trying to call Jelly but the link is down.”
He had made friends here. They all had, and Jorgun didn’t make friends easily. Not true ones who wouldn’t take advantage of his simpleness.
Prudence did not make friends easily, either. It would just hurt more when she had to leave. And she always had to leave.
She flicked on the intercom and broadcast throughout the ship. “Battle stations.” Jorgun’s eyes went wide at her clipped tone, but she had no comfort for him yet. The inexplicable silence of the planet below promised worse to come.
Jorgun drew in his trembling lip and began strapping himself down. Melvin stuck his head in the bridge hatchway.
“Did you say—”
“I did. Don’t power up until I tell you to.”
“Fucking uncool. Uncool.” Melvin was constitutionally unable to perform his job—or for that matter, his life—without a running commentary. It was just one of the many quirks Prudence had learned to live with. She couldn’t recruit her crew from Fleet academies.
At least he would do his job. She could hear him cussing all the way to the top deck. The Ulysses was a commercial trading vessel, of the smallest economical class, and thus unrated for combat of any kind. But Prudence was a woman of extreme caution and deep paranoia, and thus had made a few modifications. The “mining laser” bolted to the top of the ship was wired in a most unorthodox fashion. It was only good for thirty seconds of operation before something burned out, but two seconds from the amped beam would cut an unarmored ship in half. The left cargo pod carried a rack of missiles. And she had six chaffers bolted to the hull, disguised as auxiliary fuel pods. Hopefully, it would be enough.
She had to trust to hope, because she had no experience. Despite the hardware, constant drills, and obsessive planning, she had never been in combat. Such vigilance had made her the butt of many jokes and the object of her crew’s displeasure, but it had always kept her out of even the hint of a fire fight.
She didn’t intend to break that record now. Running quiet, the Ulysses presented almost no signature. Too small to impinge on any grav fields, at least until she turned her own gravitics on, and with only life support operational, there wouldn’t be enough emissions to pick her out of the void.
Aside from Jorgun broadcasting their presence the minute they’d dropped in, that is.
“What’s going on?”
The voice of Garcia, the super-cargo, rattled through the intercom with his peculiar and sometimes unintelligible drawl. He claimed it was an ancient heritage, like his fiery cooking, but Prudence was sure simple orneriness was an adequate explanation.
“There’s no radio signal from Kassa.”
As usual, he didn’t bother to figure out the meaning of the last answer before asking the next question.
“Some kind of malfunction?”
“Right, Garcia. A whole planet, fifty thousand people, with a full satellite crown and a C-class spaceport. And they’ve all gone on the blink.”
Perhaps this was not the best time for sarcasm. Still, it made Garcia stop and think.
“What the hell are we gonna do?”
“We’re going to run.” What she always did when things got bad. Perversely, it was also what she did when things got good. When she’d made enough margins long enough, and had a hold full of high-value trade goods, she would set her crew down in the biggest spaceport she could find and offer them a choice.
Get off, or go Out.
Sometimes they stayed. Sometimes they took their bonus pay and left. Sometimes she found other adventurers, stragglers, wanderers to replace them. And then she would run, hard and fast, hopping from node to node, until either they ran out of fuel or ran into a planet that had the local nodes locked down tight. Then they bartered, bribed, and begged their way into whatever passed for a commercial license in those parts, and started all over again.
The rumblings of Altair imperial politics had hinted it was time to run. The quiet of the planet below screamed it. Idly she wondered which of her crew would go and which would stay. Idly, because she couldn’t afford a long dry run yet. Idly, because she couldn’t face losing any of them. For all their faults, they were part of her life. Trapped on the tiny ship, constrained by the necessities of space travel, they had learned to get along despite their differences, to support one another and even enjoy each other’s company. Together, they were no more dysfunctional than the average family. Or so she assumed; her experience with family had been cut short.
Garcia interrupted her musing. “There might still be people down there. We gotta find out what happened.” Since when did he care about anything but a profit margin?
“That’s not our job. We’ll report the situation to Altair Fleet, and they can investigate. After they call it clean, we’ll come back for the delivery.” They had to. The colony below was an anomaly, growing its food outdoors instead of in hydrotanks. No other planet that she knew of would want a hundred mechanical threshers. She’d bought the machines as surplus from a factory that used to do something else with them, but had changed production methods. So she couldn’t even take them back for a refund.
Without this deal, the ship would be perilously close to bankrupt. That might explain Garcia’s solicitousness.
“And for a visit.” She flashed a smile for Jorgun’s benefit.
If there was anything left to come back to. What kind of disaster could silence an entire world? Prudence didn’t know, and she didn’t particularly want to find out.
“So what are we waiting for?” Melvin asked over the intercom, from his station in the laser pod.
“Grav.” She shouldn’t have had to explain it to an engineer, but then, he already knew the answer. He just couldn’t stand to be left out of a conversation.
A gravitics engine manipulated gravity; but that meant there had to be gravity to manipulate. Something the size of a planet was an ideal source of gravity. But right now Kassa was a million kilometers away. At that range, the influence it exerted on the Ulysses was minuscule.
The Ulysses had come out of the node exit with a high nominal velocity, expecting to cut the long trip to the planet down to a few hours. Now that energy hurtled them toward the distant planet, and it was still too far away to push against. Only when they were within a few hundred thousand kilometers would the Ulysses be able to change its course, undo all the velocity they had brought with them from the node. They would have to get closer to get away.
She started programming a course into the computer, a slingshot around the planet. One quick pass and they would be back out again. If they were silent, if they were lucky, they would be gone before anyone knew they had come.
A light on her console blinked, and Prudence lapsed into a rare swear word.
“What? What is it?” Garcia was audibly nervous. Prudence had threatened his life once without resorting to swearing.
She thought about hiding it from them. They didn’t need to know. It would be her decision, whatever happened; her responsibility, whatever they did. She had to balance the interests of her crew against the duties of basic humanity. That was why she was captain.
Jorgun made the decision for her, glancing with curiosity over at her console and puzzling out what the insistent, dire little light meant.
“A distress beacon,” he announced.
“Just one?” Garcia, practiced at the art of deception, was instantly suspicious.
Her console told her Melvin was panicking, trying to do a radar sweep despite her direct orders. But she’d already disabled his console, so he would get no further than another complaint.
Counting breaths, she waited for it.
“Pru, I’m gunning blind up here. Turn on the targeting system.”
“For what, Melvin? What are you going to target?”
“I don’t know.” He did exasperation very well. “If you turned on the system, I’d know what there is to target.”
“Not yet,” she said. “They might not—”
Another light.
Nobody thought to ask who “they” might be. Whoever did this. Whoever was still out there, and was now coming for them.
“Powering up, Melvin. We have company.” She routed her detector into his targeting display. Someone out there had turned on their gravitics. Something was moving. And they weren’t coming from the planet. Whoever or whatever it was had been lying in wait, in deep space.
She was still too far out to do anything meaningful. Right now the Ulysses was little more than a comet, falling inward.
“I don’t see anything on the targeter.” For once, she found Melvin’s commentary deeply interesting.
“Then it’s not a ship.”
“Maybe it’s Fleet. I heard they have a cut-out signal that disables standard targeting systems.” Garcia believed every trick and cheat he heard about.
“We don’t have a standard targeting system,” she rem...

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9780765330925: The Kassa Gambit

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ISBN 10:  076533092X ISBN 13:  9780765330925
Publisher: Tor Books, 2013

9781620512616: The Kassa Gambit

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