At the cost of many lives, the Democracy has managed to clone and train General Michkag, one of the Traanskei's master strategists. Colonel Pretorius and a hand-picked team must kidnap the real Michkag if they can, assassinate him if they can't, but no matter which, put the clone in his place, where he will misdirect the enemy's forces and funnel vital information to the Democracy.
Against the odds, Pretorius, along with Cyborg Felix Ortega, computer expert Toni Levi, convict and contortionist Sally "Snake" Kowalski, the near-human empath Marlowe, the alien Gzychurlyx, and Madam Methuselah - the Dead Enders - must infiltrate the Fortress in Orion, accomplish their mission, and escape with their lives.
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The Fortress in Orion
By MIKE RESNICK
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2014 Mike Resnick
All rights reserved.
Pretorius was sitting in his room, staring out the window at the gardens just beyond, when the door opened and a tall orderly, not quite human but clearly humanoid, entered the room.
"Excuse me, sir," said the orderly in a harsh, rasping voice. "You have a visitor."
"I'll excuse you if it's anyone but that Cooper."
"That's General Cooper, sir," said the orderly.
Pretorius grimaced. "How did I know?"
"May I show him in, sir?"
"Absolutely not," said Pretorius. "He's the last man I want to see."
"This is a military rehab center," said a familiar voice from beyond the room. "You let me in and make yourself scarce or I'll have you court-martialed."
"He's lying," said Pretorius. "He does that a lot."
"Sir," said the orderly, "may I present General Cooper."
Cooper strode into the room and turned to the alien orderly. "Scram, son," he said.
"Good-natured as ever," noted Pretorius.
"Nathan, my boy!" said Cooper expansively. "How are you?"
"I was fine until thirty seconds ago, and I haven't been a boy in twenty years."
"Do I detect some veiled hostility here?" said Cooper with an amused smile.
"Absolutely, except for the veil," replied Pretorius. "Leave me alone."
"The medics tell me you're being released tomorrow," continued Cooper. "It's time to talk business."
"It's time to talk recuperation," said Pretorius. "Leave me alone."
"Can't do that, Nathan my boy! There's still a war on."
"I'm not your boy, and there'll still be a war on whether I listen to you or not." He glared at Cooper. "I'd prefer not."
"That's exactly what you said the last two times," noted Cooper cheerfully.
"You mean the last two times I was almost killed carrying out your hair-brained schemes?"
"Need I remind you they were your schemes?"
"They were your fucking impossible targets."
"Nonsense," said Cooper. "You accomplished your missions, didn't you?"
Pretorius glared at him. "Go away."
"Do we have to go through this every time?" said Cooper with a heavy sigh.
"No," answered Pretorius. "You could just leave me the hell alone instead."
Cooper frowned. "What's gotten into you, Nathan?" he asked with mock concern.
"You want a list of every alien piece of crap they dug out of my body?"
Cooper laughed heartily. "You always had a fine sense of humor, my boy!"
"I'm thrilled that you appreciate it," said Pretorius. "Now go away. Visiting time's over."
"Oh, I'm going," responded Cooper. "Just as soon as you get your clothes on. I'd wait outside, but first, we're old friends, and second, you'd lock and barricade the door the second I walked through it."
"I'm not going anywhere."
"Yes, you are. We've come up with something really unique, a plan that'll excite even you." He paused. "Especially you."
"The only thing that excites me right now is the thought of solitude."
"I'm not kidding, Nathan. This is something we've been working on for three years. When you see it, it'll just blow you away."
"I've been blown away," said Pretorius. "It hasn't got a lot to recommend it."
Cooper leaned forward, unable to keep the excitement from his face. "This is the Big One, Nathan—the one that could change the entire course of the war."
"It seems to me I've heard that before."
"Those missions you've gone on were major, there's no question about it." Cooper paused. "But this one's a game changer, Nathan. It's the game changer."
Pretorius sighed deeply. "All right, tell me about it."
Cooper shook his head. "I'm going to show you. Start getting dressed."
"Whatever happened to 'Just listen'?" asked Pretorius.
"I can explain it," replied Cooper, "but it'll make much more sense if you see it for yourself." A pause. "You're going to love it, Nathan!"
"If it's so great, why did you bother sending me out on the last couple of missions?"
"This one wasn't ready until now." Cooper's face brightened. "Wait 'til you see it, Nathan! It may change the course of the whole damned war."
"I've heard that before," said Pretorius.
"Not from me. Trust me on this, Nathan."
"It seems to me that I'm learning how to walk and breathe and eat again because I trusted you the last few times."
"This is war, goddamnit!" snapped Cooper, pounding the wall with a fist that made a metal clanging sound. "You think you're the only soldier who was ever injured?"
"All right," said Pretorius with a defeated sigh. "Tell me what this is all about."
Cooper shook his head. "I've got to show you. It'll make more of an impression."
"Are you trying to impress me or prepare me?"
"All right," said Pretorius, getting to his feet. "Where are we going?"
"Not far," said Cooper. "Climb into your clothes and follow me." A moment later Cooper was leading him out the door, down a corridor, and over to an airlift. They floated up to a docking station, emerged a few feet from Cooper's personal flier, and were aloft a few seconds later.
Before Pretorius could ask how far they were going, Cooper gave some coded orders to the autopilot and the flyer banked right, slowed down, hovered over the roof of a building Pretorius had never seen before, and descended slowly, landing with barely a tremor.
"This way," said Cooper, climbing out of the flyer and heading off for an airlift. When he got there he waited for Pretorius, who was still getting used to his new leg and still recovering from his organ transplants, to catch up with him.
"How're you holding up, son?" asked Cooper.
"I'm managing, and I'm not your son" was the reply.
"Follow me," said Cooper, entering the airlift.
"Is this thing working?" asked Pretorius as they passed the ground floor and kept descending.
"Perfectly," Cooper assured him.
They descended five more levels and finally came to a stop. When they emerged, Pretorius found himself flanked by heavily armed officers, who fell into step with him behind the general.
They walked down a corridor, entered a large room, crossed it, and came to a halt at a heavy door that reminded Pretorius of a bank's safe, complete with what seemed to be a pair of state-of-the-art locks.
Cooper uttered a coded command so softly that none of the men could hear him. The instant he did so a narrow beam shot out, examined the insignia on his uniform, matched it against his face and skeletal structure, and the door slid open.
"You men wait here," ordered Cooper. "Nathan, come with me."
The two of them walked into a large chamber, and the door snapped shut behind them.
"Alone at last," said Pretorius sardonically.
"Not quite alone, Nathan," replied Cooper. "Come this way."
He led Pretorius off to the left, where there was a single table, some ten feet long. On it rested a translucent container, almost eight feet long, three feet high, and four feet in width, topped by a shimmering energy field. As they approached it, Pretorius was able to make out the form of an alien. It was some six feet tall, with a prehensile nose, more like that of a proboscis monkey than an elephant's trunk. It had two very wide-set eyes, both of them shut; earholes but no ears; and a sharply pointed chin. Its arms were the length of a gorilla's and just as heavily muscled. Its feet were almost circular. Its head and body were devoid of hair, and its color, top to bottom, was a dull red. A number of small wires were attached to its head. And it was breathing.
"Okay," said Pretorius, "so you've got a Kabori. Get four hundred million more, and that's one less threat we'll have to face in this war."
"Is that all?"
"Other than the fact that he's breathing?"
Cooper grinned. "Take a closer look."
Pretorius frowned, stepped closer to the alien, studied it, and suddenly looked up.
"Jesus H. Christ!" he exclaimed. "You've actually captured Michkag!"
Cooper's grin grew wider. "Well, we've finally managed to impress you."
"You're damned right you have."
"A clever ruse," said Cooper.
"Are you trying to say that isn't Michkag?" demanded Pretorius.
"In a way."
"All right," said Pretorius, stepping back and staring at Cooper.
"What are you talking about?"
"Well," said Cooper, "that's Michkag genetically."
"Explain!" demanded Pretorius.
"The Democracy, at the cost of quite a few lives, has managed to steal a sample of General Michkag's DNA from his own medics, and we've managed to clone him. That's what you're looking at—the clone. He's in a state of stasis right now, with language and history being fed into his brain—but he's been awake most of the time since we created him two years ago." He paused and gave the unconscious clone a loving pat on the shoulder. "There is a Kabori psychologist named Djibmet who has ample reason to hate Michkag and the coalition he leads, and for the past two years, even since we created the clone, Djibmet has been teaching him everything else he needs to know—schooling him in Michkag's gestures, verbal inflections, everything he can teach him to help him pass as the real Michkag."
"Will he pass?" asked Pretorius.
"We think so," said Cooper. "Even as he lies there, he's being fed tapes. Still, there's only one way to find out." He flashed Pretorius another grin. "That's where you come in."
Pretorius stared at him but said nothing.
"Your job will be to lead a team that will kidnap the real Michkag if you can, secretly assassinate him if you can't, but in any event put our clone in his place, where he'll misdirect the enemy's forces and find some way to funnel vital information to the Democracy.
Pretorius shook his head. "This is crazy. We won't get within five light-years of Michkag's headquarters. He's better protected than our own leaders are."
"But he won't be in his headquarters two months from now," replied Cooper. "We've intercepted a coded message to the effect that he'll be meeting with members of a federation of human rebels, trying to convince them to join his side. The meeting will take place at a fortress in Orion in two months. You have that long to prepare your team. You can select it from any officers or enlisted men in my command."
"Not a chance," replied Pretorius. Cooper opened his mouth to object, but Pretorius held a hand up to silence hm. "I used your people the last three times, and there are parts of me scattered all the hell across the galaxy. If I go, I'll pick my own team—and they probably won't be members of the armed forces."
"That's absolutely out of the question!"
"Fine. Get yourself another boy. I'm going back to the rehab center." Pretorius began walking to the airlift.
"Damn it, Nathan, it's got to be a military operation!"
"Round up your own military team and good luck to you."
"I could court-martial you for refusing a direct order in wartime!"
"Go ahead. I'll be safer in jail than trying to kidnap or kill the most important general the enemy has."
Cooper stared at him for a long minute. "You really mean that, don't you?"
"I really do."
There was a long silence.
"All right," said Cooper at last.
"All right, I can choose my team, or all right, you're court-martialing me?" replied Pretorius.
"Choose your fucking team!" growled Cooper, walking past him and heading to the airlift. "Don't just stand there! You've only got two months to turn the tide of this goddamned war. Time to get to work!"
Excerpted from The Fortress in Orion by MIKE RESNICK. Copyright © 2014 Mike Resnick. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I always like a good military space romp. Having never heard of the author, I am always skeptical. However Christian Rummel as the narrator sold me on this title. I am expecting brutal battles with alien races, technological jargon, and an all over fun listen. This was a very fast paced, straight forward, good old space military adventure. Our hero, Colonel Nathan Pretorius, is the one the military will send when they they think it is an impossible mission, a dead end, knowing that if anyone can pull it off it will be him. Here he gets to choose his team from non-military associations, which helps him immensely in the end. He recruits his hand picked team of outlaws and they embark on an impossible mission to kidnap the leader of the “evil” alien warlords. Seems so simple, right? Well, even though they only had a 3% chance of a successful mission, it did seem very easy. Several games of cat and mouse, a few hit and runs and they are finally staring their prize in the face. Full of colorful characters and alien races, think of Star Wars + Rambo + Ocean’s Eleven = The Fortress in Orion. If you are a lover of interesting and humorous dialog, this will be in your wheelhouse. This was my first adventure by Resnick and I will be looking for more from him in the future as I need to have fun listening every now and again. Christian Rummel was on point for this one. An audio technician of characterizations, some how creating the perfect voice of each and every one. You wouldn’t think that a man with such a deep and resonating “normal” voice would be able to create believable voices for the female characters. Rummel manages this with no audible effort what so ever. I knew that I could count on Rummel for delivering a solid performance. He kept me engaged and waiting for whatever happens next. Audiobook provided for review by the publisher. Please find this complete review and many others at audiobookreviewer dot com [If this review helped, please press YES. Thanks!]