The Traanskei Coalition’s greatest weapon is the Q bomb, and after years of failure, the Democracy has come up with a defense against it. The problem is that they killed most of the team that created it. The sole survivor, Edgar Nmumba, was kidnapped by the Coalition. Only Nmumba can duplicate the work fast enough to prevent the loss of another dozen populated planets. Nathan Pretorius and his team of Dead Enders will require all their skills and cunning to rescue him, sane and in one piece, from the Coalition’s best-hidden and best-guarded prison, somewhere in the Antares sector. But in a game of cross and double-cross, can they find him before it's too late?
About the Author
Mike Resnick has won an impressive five Hugos and has been nominated for thirty-one more. The author of the Starship series, the John Justin Mallory series, the Eli Paxton Mysteries, and four Weird West Tales, he has sold sixty-nine science fiction novels and more than two hundred fifty short stories and has edited forty anthologies. His Kirinyaga series, with sixty-seven major and minor awards and nominations to date, is the most honored series of stories in the history of science fiction.
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The Prison in Antares
Dead Enders Book Two
By MIKE RESNICK
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2015 Mike Resnick
All rights reserved.
Nathan Pretorius stared at General Wilbur Cooper, who was standing in the doorway of his hospital room.
"How's it going?" asked Cooper.
"How's what going?"
"Your recovery, my boy," replied Cooper. "Your recovery."
"I'd tell you, but knowing you, you've probably spoken with every doctor I've got and know far more about it than I do."
"That's my Nate!" said Cooper, forcing a chuckle. "This is your third prosthetic foot — or is it your fourth?"
"I've lost count," replied Pretorius sardonically. "You keep sending me out, and they keep blowing parts of me away." He paused. "I'm stuck here, but you undoubtedly have a galaxy to run, so why not run it and leave me the hell alone?"
"You do me an injustice, my boy," said Cooper, trying very hard to look hurt. "I'm here to give you another medal."
"Leave it on the cabinet there," said Pretorius, indicating the structure. "In case it's escaped your notice, I'm not wearing my uniform."
"Not a problem. I'll hang on to it for another week or so, until you're up and around, and then we'll have a proper ceremony."
"So you came all the way over here from headquarters to tell me you're not giving me a medal today," said Pretorius. "Why do I have some difficulty believing that?"
"I came over to tell you that you and your Dead Enders did a first-class job in the Michkag affair."
"Is that what we're calling them now?"
"I thought it was your term."
"No you didn't," said Pretorius. "I'm due for some medication in another five minutes, so maybe you'd better cut through the crap and tell me why you're really here."
Cooper nodded his head briskly. "We've got a hell of a situation on our hands." He paused. "It's tailor-made for you and your Dead Enders."
"They're not mine," replied Pretorius. "And let me remind you that they're not yours either."
"Oh, they're yours, Nate. Can't break up a winning team."
Pretorius stared at the general for a long moment. "Are you ever going to get to the point?"
Cooper made a face. "Got a real stinker for you, my boy. A real stinker!"
Pretorius made no reply, and simply waited for the general to continue.
"You know anything about the Q bomb?"
"I know it's the reason we're losing the war against the Transkei Coalition in the Albion Cluster," answered Pretorius. "Or are they coming closer with it?"
"Well, yes and no," answered Cooper.
"Yes or no what?"
"Yes, they're getting closer with it, and no, we're not losing the battle ... exactly."
Cooper paused again, and Pretorius stared at him. "Someday I hope they teach you to speak in paragraphs instead of sentences. We might save enough time to develop a defense against the Q bomb."
"How did you know?" said Cooper, surprised.
"How did I know what?" demanded Pretorius.
"That we've developed a defense against the Q bomb?"
"Good for us," said Pretorius. "Now that the war is won, I'm going back to sleep."
"We've lost it," said Cooper. "That's where you and your Dead Enders come in."
"They're not mine, and what the hell have you lost?"
"The defense, damn it!" snapped Cooper. "After a dozen years, we finally came up with a way to neutralize the Q bomb." He grimaced. "We used it against three attacks, and it worked. It actually worked!"
"So what's the problem?"
"The bastards managed to kill most of the team that created it, and they've kidnapped the one man who was the brains of the operation, Edgar Nmumba."
"But you still know how to neutralize the Q bomb?" said Pretorius.
"For the moment — they're pretty easy for our instruments to spot — but the real problem is that our solution is an incredibly complex and delicate mixture of hardware and timing, it doesn't allow substitutions, and there's every likelihood that even as we speak they're trying to pry his formulas out of him so they can change what goes into the Q bomb just enough to overcome our defenses."
"Can they do it?"
Cooper frowned. "Nobody knows. He volunteered to let our psychiatric team insert a number of incredibly strong, complex mental blocks, and theoretically they can't be broken by any means known or even conceived by us. But if there's a chance, and of course there is, we have to stop them before he gives them what they need." He paused, leaning against the rail of the hospital bed. "Nate, we haven't made the figures public, but they have delivered seventeen Q bombs, and we've lost an average of close to a billion people per bomb. We can't let them go back to using it."
"Why do I think I know what's coming next?"
"We think they're holding Nmumba in a prison buried deep beneath the ground on a planet in the Antares Sector, and we think he's still alive. What we know is that we've got to get him back before they can break him. That's where you and your team come in. I want you to rescue him and return him to us — and if you can't do that, then he's got to be killed before he can tell them what they need to know."
"I didn't enlist to kill fellow members of the Democracy," said Pretorius coldly.
"You didn't enlist at all," said Cooper. "You were drafted."
"The point is —"
"Goddammit it, Nate, the point is that if you have to kill one Man to save three or six or ten million others, let alone a billion, you'll do it and we both know it! You won't like it, and neither do we, but you'll do it."
Pretorius glared at him silently, because he knew that the general was right.
"The doctors tell me you'll be able to hobble around with your new prosthetic foot in another couple of days. You can practice with it while you and your Dead Enders are on your way to the Antares Sector."
"You don't want them," said Pretorius. "They have unique talents that worked last time, on that mission in Orion, but this is clearly a different — and in ways more difficult — situation."
"You brought 'em all back alive and intact, and we don't know what we're facing here, except that it's a secure facility in an enemy stronghold, just like last time, so you'll take the same team."
"They're probably on five different worlds by now," protested Pretorius. "They're not military, remember."
"They're military now," said Cooper with a satisfied smile. "You conscripted all five?" asked Pretorius, wondering why he didn't feel greater surprise or outrage.
"Last week. They're in the hotel across the street." He frowned. "All but one, anyway."
"Sally Kowalski," replied Cooper.
"Snake," confirmed Pretorius. A grim smile played around the edges of his mouth. "I know where she's likely to be."
Excerpted from The Prison in Antares by MIKE RESNICK. Copyright © 2015 Mike Resnick. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
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