Still not sure of the actual release date, but Exodus: Empires at War: Book 5: Ranger. will definitely be out before New Years Day. Most probably by a day or two after Christmas. Can’t narrow it down more than that, as sometimes things come up, or problems come to my attention at the last moment. I already have the next three books in the series in mind, and hope to release them through the 2014 year. To my mind this will be a long series, at least 20 books, and as new subplots develop that might turn out to be a conservative estimate.
Ranger is a book about Cornelius Walborski, the farmer introduced as a minor viewpoint character in books 1 and 2, His role grew in ways I never expected, and I thought he needed a book of his own. While trying to keep the series in some kind of chronological order, I knew the book had to come out early in the series. The story follows Cornelius as he trains to become a regular in the Imperial Army, culminating in his augmentation and induction into the ranks of the elite Specops warriors of that Army, the Rangers. It also tells the tale of the invasion and slaughter of the civilian population of a developing world in Sector IV, the main theater of combat in the Human/Ca’cadasan War. It follows the efforts of a young girl forced to survive in the wilderness of one of the deadliest planets in the Empire. The two main characters eventually come together, each aiding the other in their plans.
I received some complaints that my last book, Exodus: Book 4: The Long Fall, did not have enough space action, despite having almost a half dozen major space fights in it. Some said that good Space Opera mostly concerned itself with spaceships and space battles. Well, when I first put out the series I tagged it as Military Science Fiction, which does cover land warfare as well. It was tagged Space Opera by readers on Amazon. This book will be almost all ground action, the exception being some point of view scenes of the battle for the orbitals as seen from the surface of the planet. That said, the next two books in the main storyline will concern themselves almost entirely with space action. I realize that by the time the books are set in arrives, the Army will definitely be the secondary service after the Fleet, though there will still be a place for ground warfare.
Speaking of past books, the series to date has sold over 43,000 books across the four, mostly ebooks, but some paperbacks. Book 3 made it to number two in Space Opera (all books) on Amazon.US, while book 4 topped out at number 1 on Space Opera, Space Fleet and Military Science Fiction on Amazon.UK, and number 2 Military Science Fiction and number 8 Space Opera on Amazon.US. In order of sales, Amazon.US and Amazon.UK are the big two, followed distantly by Amazon.DE and Amazon.CA. I hope that this book will do as well.
An now to the excerpt:
That’s it, thought Rebecca, looking at the rock formations on the side of the mountain and checking her position. She had only seen the refuge from the air before, or on the ground right outside of it. Nothing else she had seen on the mountainsides on the way here had looked familiar, not like this.
She lay there for almost an hour, using the field glasses she had packed to scan the area. It looked unoccupied, which was how it should be, even if there were someone there. A refuge that looked like it was occupied, especially from the air, was not much of a hideout. She found a dark area on the mountainside, just behind the flat region that would have been the landing pad for her family. It looked like a cave entrance. They had planned to provide cover for that opening when they had started their habitation. That it hadn’t been done was a sign that the cave hadn’t been inhabited. Or had it?
Something moved, and she focused the glasses on that area, seeing a hunched over figure at the entrance to the cavern. At this distance she couldn’t tell if it was human or Caca. Caca meant the refuge was closed to her. Human? Maybe, maybe not. She continued to study the figure, which stayed hunched down in a stance that didn’t allow her to see the number of its limbs. She was also having problems with the scale. Was it a less than two meter tall being, or one over three?
A second figure joined the first, and they squatted there, looking out over the area in front of the cave and beyond. They were obviously talking, and one waved a hand at the open area, then looked up at the sky.
Come on, thought the child, the sweat rolling down her face as she continued to watch. Move out where I can see what you are.
Almost as if in obedience to her thoughts the second figure stood up and walked out into the clear area, heading for the spring that was near the south end of the small plateau. Rebecca almost whooped for joy as she saw the easily recognizable motion of a human walking. She focused in the glasses and saw that the being only had two upper limbs, swinging with the walk, one holding an empty water container.
So, do I take the chance that they might let me in, or do I just go away? she thought. Looking over her shoulder at the jungle behind her she shuddered. She was surviving in that jungle, barely. That could change any day now. There had been some near misses in the last couple of days, and it would only take one hit by a native life form to kill her. She glanced up at the sun that was beating down on her. Clouds were gathering on the horizon, a sign that the afternoon deluge was gathering. She thought it would be nice to be dry again. The survival suit kept the rain off of most of her body, but the humidity went everywhere.
I’ll just be careful, she thought, getting up and moving back into the jungle to start working her way to the refuge. It took several hours of hard going to work her way within earshot of the cave. She was still a dozen meters down the mountainside, out of sight from the cave, conversely not able to see what was going on up there.
She climbed those last dozen meters, her muscles aching under the pull of gravity that wanted to deposit her at the bottom. She could hear voices now, a couple of people talking. She thought they were male voices. The chances were greater that women would let her in. Not that men wouldn’t, but as a, as of this day, thirteen year old with a developing body, there were other risks with men in a situation where societal norms had broken down.
She climbed the last meter, looking over the rocks while exposing as little of her face as possible. There were now three people at the entrance, all male. A fourth male was returning from the spring, a full water container in his hand. She studied the men, still not sure what to make of them. That they were using the refuge her family put together went without question. That would not be a problem, since her family had not come, but she still needed it.
She saw another man come out of the cave, this one in partial light battle armor, the type the planetary militia wore. That gave her a bit more hope. If they were militia they would surely have an officer, or at least an NCO, in charge. With that thought she scrambled up the last bit of slope and rose into sight.
The men at the cave all jumped and pointed, and some weapons made their appearance. They calmed a bit as they saw that she was just a child. She didn’t like some of the looks that came across the faces of the group. They made her distinctly uncomfortable.
“Where the hell did you come from, girl?” asked the oldest looking of the men, one wearing the torso covering of light battle armor and a partial helmet.
“From the jungle,” she said, her eyes looking for a way out, just in case this had been as bad a decision as it was now looking. She looked back at the man. “This place was my family’s. We set it up when the aliens came.”
“And where is this family of yours?”
“They didn’t make it. Are you militia? My father is a reserve officer. Is there any way you can contact him?”
“We were militia,” said the man with a sneer. “Until those sons of bitches wanted to throw us away trying to slow them down, for no damned reason. Now we’re on our own.”
Deserters, she thought with a shudder. What the hell did I get myself into?
“How old are you, girl?” asked another of the men, moving toward her.
“Ten,” she said, lying, hoping that they would decide she was too young for whatever game they wanted to play.
“You look a lot older than that, girl,” said the older man who seemed to be in charge. “We don’t have any women here. And you sure could fill the bill.”
Thoughts of gang rape started to go through her head, and she started to back toward the place where she had climbed onto the small plateau.
“You stop right there, girl,” said the man, pulling a pistol from the holster at his side. “We won’t hurt you, not really. You play with us, we’ll make sure you’re protected and fed.”
Rebecca knew about sex. She had learned about it in biology courses. And she knew she was too young, and didn’t want to have anything to do with it at her age. She would become a sex slave to these men, all of them using her whenever they wanted. Her internal nanites would keep her from getting pregnant, and protect her from disease. Still, the idea of being used by these deserters was not her first choice, or her last.
“Stop,” said the man, pointing the pistol at her. “If you take another step I will shoot you.”
And he doesn’t know I’m wearing a military class survival suit, she thought, looking at the pistol, then at the nearby rocks. They also don’t know what kind of weapon I have.
With that last thought she dove for the ground. Something smacked into her suit, which went rigid from the impact. Rolling over she came to a stop behind the rocks and pulled her particle beam pistol from its holster. A flick of her finger and the weapon’s accelerator started humming and whining.
“Come out of there and you won’t be hurt,” yelled the leader. “Make us come for you and it will go hard for you.”
I can imagine, she thought, checking the pistol and seeing that the proton charge was up to full acceleration.
One man came around the rocks and caught the particle beam in the chest. The nearly relativistic particles ripped into his body and vaporized kilograms of tissue, dropping him into a smoking heap on the ground.
Rebecca stared at the man for a moment. She had never killed a human. She had of course killed a Ca’cadasan, and many animals, but never another human being. She thought that she should have felt shock. Instead it was rage that was the dominant emotion. Rage that these people had made her a killer of her own kind.
“Fuck you,” she yelled out, looking around the rock and leveling her weapon at the cave mouth. A quartet of shocked looking men stood there, some pointing weapons her way. A couple fired, the worst thing they could have done.
The girl pulled the trigger on the pistol and held it down, swinging the beam across the mouth of the cave. Three men went down with catastrophic wounds while the other ran into the cave. The beam tore into the rock, shattering large pieces that fell into the mouth.
“This is mine,” she yelled, still holding the trigger down even when the weapon stopped firing. “I will be back, and I want you gone.”
She wasn’t sure that was the truth, but in her anger she wanted to panic them. She looked down at the pistol, afraid that she had broken something, and was relieved to see that the blinking light indicated that the proton pack was empty. She only had one left, and she cursed herself for a fool for letting her anger rule her.
Rebecca slipped back over the lip of the plateau and started down the slope. Her shoulder blades cringed at the thought that the men might come out of the cave and shoot at her from above. Her suit might protect her from a few shots, but with enough there was sure to be a hit to her head, or a penetration of the suit.
She reached bottom without incident, saying a prayer of thanks before she realized what she was doing. Stopping for a moment, she looked back up at the mountain, wondering what she was going to do now that the refuge was closed to her. I could wait and see if they leave, she thought, rejecting that idea as soon as she had it. They might never leave, and she wasn’t sure she could force herself into another firefight. Having to fire back was one thing. Starting a battle in which she intended to kill other humans was quite another.
Rebecca shook her head, knowing that waiting here was not the answer. But where to from here? She checked the map and saw that there were several villages and a minor town within five days walk. There was no guarantee that they were intact, or that she would be able to shelter there if they were. Seeing no other option, she took a compass reading, set her location on the inertial navigation device, and started on her way.