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L. E. MODESITT, JR. is the bestselling author of more than seventy novels encompassing two science fiction series and three fantasy series, including the Saga of Recluce. He lives in Cedar City, Utah.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
1 Trystin Desoll shifted in the control seat of East Red Three and tried to ignore the acrid smell of plastic decaying under the corrosive assault of Mara’s atmosphere and the faint hint of ammonia that lurked in the corners of the perimeter station. Both odors mingled with the false citrus of too many glasses of Sustain mixed in the small galley behind the duty screens, and with the staleness of air recycled and reprocessed too many times.
At 13:02.51, his implant-enhanced senses seared alert-red, and Trystin stiffened, fingers reaching, implant clicking in. As his direct-feed commands flared through the station net, he could sense the shields dropping into place even before the faint vibrations through the station confirmed the electroneural signals.
“Revs at zero nine two—”
Before Ryla’s words had reached his ears, Trystin triggered the direct-feed for the eastern sector, splitting his mental screen into the four all-too-familiar images. In the upper right were the forward reclamation towers, still well behind the eastern perimeter; in the upper left the line of brown-suited attackers; in the lower right the computer enhancement showing the various hidden defense emplacements, the attackers, and the probability figures for each system, the numbers changing as the revs moved toward the towers. The lower left simply showed the entire sector as if from a satellite plot, with a colored dot showing the location of the downed—and since destroyed—paraglider, a reconstruction of the probable revvie tracks, East Red Three itself, and the hazy spot where another storm was forming over the badlands to the northeast.
Trystin scanned the revvie communications band, ran the comps, realizing that the revs had almost reached the perimeter before the sensors had discovered them. He triggered the line of antisuit bomblets, checking the display that seemed to scroll before his eyes against each clickback, finally nodding as the mental images indicated that all the bomblets had vaporized. Immediately, the lower left display showed the slowing of the revs’ advance.
Nearly simultaneously, he fired off a standard attack report to Perimeter Control, to keep them informed, not that they could help him now, but PerCon would be all over him if he reported the attack after the fact. That was one reason for the implant and standard format—it took less than an instant.
To take out the revs, Trystin could have gone with the gattlings, or with the laser, but the input from the scanners indicated new reflectives on the revvie suits. Besides, he preferred giving some of the revs a chance to survive, a preference that some of the other perimeter officers, especially Quentar, who was one of the duty officers in East Red Two immediately to the north, suggested might be Trystin’s undoing.
According to the net’s computations, there was a ninety-percent probability that the revvie assault had originated from the downed paraglider that had hit the badlands less than a day earlier. The radar-transparent paraglider had come from the revvie troid ship that had gotten through the SysCon DefNet before being neutralized by the backups. How many assault wings had gotten free before the neutralization was another question. So was how much equipment the revs had pulled out of the glider before the patrol wing had lobbed in rockets and scorched it out of existence.
Trystin needed to find out. So some of the revs would survive, not that they’d necessarily enjoy the experience.
“Ryla. Get the wagon ready for revvie pickup.” Voice was slower than direct-feed, but the noncoms weren’t equipped to handle direct-feed.
“Yes, ser. We need info, ser?”
“That’s affirmative. Looks like a follow-up from that troid ship. The sensors didn’t register. Run a sampling on the suit fabric of a deader. If it’s new, let HQ know.”
“There’s at least one deader...the bomblets impacted a rev. The others are in shock, mostly milling around.”
“We can use the organics. I won’t be taking the wagon until they’re almost stiffed.”
“That’s fine, so long as you get a couple. Use Block B. No double-celling, and if there are more than ten alive, use the end cells in A.”
Trystin refocused on the close-up of a dozen figures—probably men, given the revvie ratios—in outside combat suits, the solid brown with the white lightnings of the Prophet running up the sleeves. The respirator hoods and low backpacks gave them a hulking appearance, even as the synthfab coveralls began to shred.
“Pretty new suits, ser,” added Ryla.
“Only twenty years old,” snorted Trystin.
“Still don’t feel sorry for ’em, ser.”
“No. You don’t have to. Out.” Trystin went back to the overhead view, clicking in the enhancers and trying to see if another squad of revs had surfaced anywhere in the red-brown hills beyond the perimeter.
With the ambient heat and the gusting winds, only motion analysis had much chance of picking up revs at any distance. The satellite feed didn’t have tight enough discrimination for something as small as a trooper, not one in camouflage brown, and the high-intensity scanners on the perimeter towers lost discrimination beyond five kays—or the nearest hilltop.
Besides the revs, the near scanners were now showing the storm buildup, and that bothered Trystin. The revs, if there were any more in his sector, could almost walk to the perimeter behind the storm front, if it drifted westward—except the revs already had arrived almost unnoticed, and they shouldn’t have been able to do that.
He flicked into the meteorological module. “Interrogative storm, badlands, outsector.”
“Not projected to intersect perimeter line at this time.” The words, and the supporting data, seemed to scroll across his mental screen before he clicked back into surveillance.
The screens showed no other revs, no sign of anything besides the badlands, the growing storm, and the normal backdrop. He took a deep swallow of Sustain from the cup in the holder, then swallowed before he clicked on-net, direct-feed priority to Ulteena, the sector watch to the south, and to Quentar, who was now on duty at East Red Two to the north.
“Trystin in East Red Three. Just had a revvie thrust from that paraglider. Single squad. Sensors didn’t pick up revs until late. Might be something new.”
“Thanks, Trystin. Nothing on the screens here. We’ll keep a watch.” Ulteena projected almost a cuddly feel through the net. Trystin snorted to himself. Her neutralization ratio was the highest on the eastern perimeter.
“Stet, buddy,” came back from Quentar. “Clear here. We’ll up-scan, though. Remember. The only safe rev’s a dead rev.”
“Just wanted you to know.”
Trystin wiped his forehead, damp despite the cooling system. He sniffed. The station still smelled of Sustain, ammonia, and a bit of the floral incense Gerfel had burned to mask the acridness of the station’s odors.
“Ser?” called Ryla. “They’re all down. I’m taking the wagon.”
“If it moves, nail it.”
Trystin wiped his forehead again. He didn’t need a non-com being wiped out by a deader play. Thanos knew when the station would get a permanent replacement if that happened, and he was already dead on his feet. The last thing he wanted to do was break in another tech.
He refocused on the split screens, but there was no discernible motion on any screen—either revs or local wildlife. Then, the last of the local hyenas had disappeared when the scumpers had. Trystin hadn’t ever seen a scumper, but the system files showed them as oblong rough rocks with big extrudable feet, just the sort of thing to fascinate Salya. His ecoscientist sister had voiced more than a few doubts about the ethics of planoforming a planet with advanced life-forms, and for her a scumper was advanced.
Trystin half frowned and shifted his weight in the command seat, then scanned the power screen. The shrouded turbine fans were swiveled into the wind and holding at thirty percent of load, the balance coming from the fuel-cell banks in the plastcrete bunker beneath the station. After checking the fuel status, he triggered a request for resupply. The organonutrient glop was low, and tankers didn’t run the perimeter lines when the revs were out.
The winds had been low lately, and that meant the station was drawing more from the fuel cells. He shook his head as he realized that he hadn’t deployed the fan shields. There was too damned much to think about and too little time when the revs appeared without any warning. At least, he’d had the power, but that wouldn’t have counted for much if one of the revs had punched holes through the blades or jammed the bearings with shrapnel. Neither Ryla nor PerCon would have been too happy.
Hhhstttt...craccckkkk!!! The storm that had begun to form above the badlands discharged into the dry wash five kays east of the tower.
He almost screamed with the intensity of the static before the overload breakers cut in. His hands trembled, and his eyes watered.
“Ser? You all right?”
“Friggin’ stormlash...that’s all.” Trystin shook his head, angry that he’d actually broadcast. His implant cutoffs should have dropped him off-line more quickly. Idiot, he thought.
“Times, ser, I’m real glad I’m just a noncom.”
Hhhstttt...craccckkkk!!! The second static flash wasn’t as bad as the first, but his system still twitched. He kept his mouth shut, idly wishing that the station could tap the storm’s power, as he watched Ryla guide the pickup wagon along the line beyond the perimeter, checking the area beyond the bomblet line. As the big-tired wagon passed, designed to keep from sinking into the too-fine soil, Ryla placed a replacement bomblet in each of the holders, and triggered their retraction into the artificial cacti. In one way, the revs were lucky. The antisuit bomblets were only installed around the stations. If they’d attacked the towers, it would have been gattlings or rockets, neither of which left much—except a crude form of fertilizer.
The wagon scooped the inert figures into the numbered bins.
“Pickup and replacement complete, ser. Looks like about five live, and seven for organics.”
Trystin continued to scan the perimeter at high intensity until the telltales showed the wagon inside the station and the five captives in their cells in Block B.
“They’re in, ser. Five are breathing.”
“Stet. Mangrin will be pleased.”
“So will Yressa. She likes making those revvie boys work.”
Trystin pursed his lips, then steeled himself as his visuals picked up the lightning stroke.
After the shiver passed, he listened.
“She says they’ll make that island bloom yet,” Ryla continued.
“Maybe. She’ll have to convince them that it’s the will of the Prophet. You ready to go back on the board?”
“Yes, ser. Just a minute. Got to get the wagon in the stall.”
Trystin waited, still scanning the screens, but there were no signs of the other revvie squads, although he and Ryla knew the paragliders carried more than a single squad, usually a lot more. Where those squads might be in the twisted hills of the badlands was another question, although Trystin would have liked to have known. Then, so would PerCon.
“Stet. Going down to see our visitors. Let me know about the suit stuff after I get back.”
“Luck, ser. Don’t be too nice.”
As the storm rose, Trystin checked the fans—carrying half the load. Maybe that would slow down organonutrient use in the fuel cells. With a deep breath, he slipped out of the command seat and walked down the narrow steps to the lower level, to the right and through the permaplast door into Block B.
After ensuring the block door was closed behind him, he triggered the combat reflex biofeedback, unarmed module, and slipped through the sliding grate into the cell of the first rev—blond-haired and blue-eyed, like most of them, and probably in his early twenties, T-time.
The young military missionary launched himself right at Trystin, seemingly in slow motion, as Trystin stepped aside and his hands moved through two short arcs. The rev lay gasping on the stone floor for a minute, then lurched toward the Coalition officer. Trystin’s knee snapped across the revvie soldier’s shoulder, and threw the man against the stone wall.
“Are you finished?” Trystin asked conversationally.
“That’s not the question. I’d prefer not to hurt you.” Trystin watched, saw the tensing muscles and stepped inside the rush, using his elbow and stiffened fingers to drop the rev back onto the stone.
“We could keep this up all day, but sooner or later, I’m going to miscalculate and really hurt you. Not that it matters to you. You’re perfectly willing to die for the Prophet.” Trystin paused, watching the rev and his eyes. “Have you considered that, since you’re alive, He might have some use for you besides fertilizer?”
“Fert—” The soldier snapped his mouth shut.
“All the stories are true. We can’t afford to waste anything here. Who knows? If you keep this up until I have to kill you, you just might end up as fertilizer or as nutrients for the pork industry. We keep the pigs in tunnels,” Trystin lied.
“Golem! Infidel? Why should I believe anything you say?”
“Because I could have killed you and didn’t. Because what happens to you depends on me.” Trystin’s eyes fixed on the other, triggering the superacute hearing. “How I many squads came in on that glider?”
“Four” came through the subvocalization even as the rev snapped, “None but ours.”
“Four,” mused Trystin, direct-feeding the information to Ryla’s console.
“Four? Shit, Lieutenant,” responded Ryla through the link. “We got nothing on the screens.”
“Did you get all your equipment out of the glider?”
“Yes...” “I don’t know.”
“Did the other squads have back-strapped heavy weapons?”
“I don’t know.”
“How long are the others supposed to stay under cover?”
“Days...” came the subvocalization, followed by the spoken words, “I don’t know.”
“How many glider wings were there on the mother troid?”
“Twenty... ” subvocalized, followed by the spoken, “I don’t know.”
“How many gliders came off the mother troid?”
“I don’t know.” Subvocalization revealed nothing. A line soldier who wasn’t much more than the Prophet’s gattling feed wouldn’t know, but Trystin had hoped.
“Was your troid one of the new ones with twenty in-system scouts?”
“Thirty...golem... ” followed by, “I don’t know.”
Hsssttt! Despite the static burst from the storm and the headache, Trystin forced himself to remain calm.
“Was your Sword a Cherubim?”
“Seraphim.” “I don’t know.”
“A Seraphim? My goodness. And did your troid bring in an EMP-Slam?”
“...’course...” covered by the inevitable question, “What’s that?”
“Is it hot in those new suits?”
“Yes.” “I don’t know.”
“How many of the other squads were angels?”
“One.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about, golem.”
“Any of you have fun with the angels?”
The rev lurched at Trystin, who blurred aside and let him crash into the wall.
“It’s nice to know that you do have some remotely human drives,” Trystin found himself saying conversationally....
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Book Description Orbit, 1998. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1857235584