Read an Excerpt
By Kevin J. Anderson
Warner Aspect Copyright © 2005 WordFire, Inc.
All right reserved.
Though Admiral Stromo was the ranking officer aboard the prowling Manta cruiser, he let acting commander Elly Ramirez make the day-to-day decisions. It generally worked out better that way. Stromo didn't feel the need to throw his weight around, and he liked to keep someone handy to take the fall if anything went wrong.
For decades in the Earth Defense Forces, he had made a career out of delegating responsibility. He rarely participated in active field operations-he hadn't joined the EDF just to put his own butt on the line!-but sometimes it was useful to do so. Maybe the unqualified success of crushing the main Roamer complex of Rendezvous would be enough to rehabilitate his image as an obsolete desk commander.
Even so, right now Stromo longed to be back at his desk in a comfortable military base on Earth, or at the very least Mars. He'd never counted on a devastating war with powerful aliens who lived in the cores of gas-giant planets; for that matter, he hadn't imagined a conflict with a ragtag bunch of space gypsies, either.
As the Roamer hunt continued for its second week, Stromo watched the newer EDF officers cut their teeth on real line duty. The sooner this fresh crop of battle commanders proved themselves out in the field, the sooner Stromo could get back to his much-preferred Grid 0 liaison duties. With his too-obvious potbelly and his occasional digestive problems, he wasn't cut out for this.
"Do we have any valid tactical data on our next target, Commander Ramirez?" he asked, though he had asked the question before. "What's the place called again?"
"Sounds like a horse sneezing."
"The name comes from old Ildiran starcharts, sir. The EDF has no up-to-date recon, though."
A frown tugged down his jowly cheeks. "A failure in our intelligence and surveillance, you think?"
"Never any need before, Admiral. It's a crappy star system, without many resources." Ramirez called up long-range images and dotted-line diagrams showing their best guess of where the secret base might lie. "Unconfirmed evidence of a cluster of settlement domes in the asteroids. Roamers seem to enjoy living in rubble, sir."
"If they like rubble so much, then let's give them more of it." He smiled. "Just like we did at Rendezvous."
Ever since the disorderly clans had willfully cut off all trade with the Terran Hanseatic League, Chairman Basil Wenceslas had attempted several legitimate-and thus far ineffective-responses. Though Roamers had been hit as hard as anyone by hydrogue attacks, they refused to cooperate against a shared enemy, refused to provide vital stardrive fuel, refused to follow perfectly reasonable instructions. The Hansa couldn't tolerate that.
Thus, to demonstrate how serious the matter was, the EDF had destroyed a Roamer fuel-transfer station. Just as an example, a bit of bluster, but enough to make the clans see they didn't have a chance against the powerful Earth military. Instead of cowing the Roamers, this action had only served to renew their ridiculous defiance. The space gypsies became even more intractable, which forced the Chairman to take the unprecedented step of declaring outright war against them, for the good of humanity.
If the Roamers had been reasonable people, the war should have lasted no longer than an hour. Alas, it hadn't turned out that way.
A week ago, Stromo had led the punitive attack that destroyed Rendezvous, and the clans had scampered away, making it necessary for all grid admirals to waste more time and effort chasing them down. It was maddening! Stromo and his counterparts had orders to seek out Roamer infestations, confiscate any of their goods that might be useful for the war effort, and somehow bring those people in line. Sooner or later, they would have to sue for peace.
Ramirez looked up at him from her command chair, her full lips showing no smile, her face cool, her regulation-short dark hair perfectly in place. "Would you like to assume operational oversight as we approach, Admiral? Or should I continue?"
"You're doing just fine, Commander Ramirez." Although he suspected she didn't like him very much, she was an excellent pilot and navigator, who had been promoted rapidly, just like many young officers during the devastating hydrogue war. "Can we get better magnification on the screen? I want to have a look at our target."
"The first wave of Remora scouts have set up relay stations, and imagery is coming through now."
The scattered rubble around Hhrenni looked like a handful of oversized gravel that someone had tossed against the blackness of space. From a distance, the drifting rocks looked unremarkable, but the distribution of metals and the albedo profile of some geometrical objects were a dead giveaway: An uncharted human settlement was hidden there. Roamers.
"There they are, just as we thought." He rubbed his chin. "All right, let's head forward and have a look at this rats' nest. Power up fore and aft jazer banks and load primary projectile launchers. Tell our Remoras to intercept any ships that try to escape." He gestured toward the screen. "Onward, in the name of the King, and so on ..."
As the EDF ships swooped in, the audacity of the clans became more obvious. A secret base indeed! Transparent domes dotted the asteroids like pus-filled blisters. Hanging suspended above them at gravitationally stable points, thin arrays of solar mirrors directed sunlight through the shadows to illuminate and provide energy to the dome settlements. Artificial stations orbited at various distances like gnats. Inflatable storage chambers, perhaps?
"Look at all that! Those Roachers are certainly ambitious."
"They have a lot of energy and ingenuity," Ramirez said, not sounding overly eager. "Commander Tamblyn proved that often enough."
Stromo frowned. Not long ago this very Manta had been commanded by Tasia Tamblyn, who, because of her Roamer connections, was reassigned to less critical duties before the strike against Rendezvous. Was Ramirez demonstrating loyalty to her former commander? He'd have thought she'd be pleased with her own promotion.
"The clans should channel that creative enthusiasm to help all mankind, not just themselves." Surveying the asteroid complex, with its light-filled domes and expansive mirrors, he shook his head. "Why can't they just live on planets like everyone else?"
Though every operation had gone against them so far, the gypsies showed no signs of bowing to authority. They had scattered like wildly fired shotgun pellets, which the Hansa considered a victory, of course. Divide and conquer. With the Roamers leaderless and broken, it should have been easy to bring them back into the fold ... but they were as hard to catch and tame as angry, wet house cats. Since Stromo had spent his life in military service, such anarchy made his stomach queasy. "Hooligans."
When they were unified under Speaker Peroni, he supposed the clans had felt obligated to show some kind of stubborn backbone. Now, though, with their government center destroyed, who would speak for them? Who had the authority to negotiate on their behalf? Somebody had to sign a surrender order and call for the others to turn themselves in and get back to work. It would take a hell of a long time to root out all the squalid little settlements like this one.
"We've detected four ships, Admiral. Nothing large enough to threaten us. None of the facilities here look like they'll cause any problems."
"Didn't expect any." Stromo cracked his knuckles.
Detailed projections of asteroid paths and accurate representations of the domed settlements appeared on the screen. Ramirez stared at the tactical projections and tucked a strand of dark hair behind her right ear. Something was clearly bothering the young commander. "Admiral ... permission to speak freely?"
Stromo steeled himself. That was always a bad preface to a conversation. But since Ramirez had spoken her question aloud in front of the rest of the bridge crew, he had no choice but to respond. "Be quick about it, Commander. We have an operation to run."
"If I might ask, what do we really expect to get out of this? Earlier, when we hit Hurricane Depot and Rendezvous, our objective was to scare the Roamers into lifting their ekti embargo. But if we keep increasing their hatred toward us, they'll never cooperate. If we wreck them, how will they ever be in a position to be viable trading partners again?"
"That's not the point anymore. The Hansa will bypass the Roamers, and they'll be left out alone in cold space. We've already got one full-fledged cloud harvester producing ekti for us on Qronha 3, and you can bet there'll be others." When Ramirez still looked skeptical, he decided it was best to distract the bridge crew. "You'll see what I mean in a few moments, Commander."
He leaned back in his padded observation chair, eager for the engagement now that he saw it would be a cakewalk. "I'm ready for the show to begin. Let's make a lasting impression."
Excerpted from Scattered Suns by Kevin J. Anderson Copyright © 2005 by WordFire, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.