Man of War (Rebellion Book 1), page 1part #1 of Rebellion Series
Published by Quirky Algorithms
This novel is a work of fiction and a product of the author's imagination.
Any resemblance to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by M.R. Forbes
All rights reserved.
Cover illustration by Tom Edwards
About Man of War
In the year 2280, an alien fleet attacked the Earth.
Their weapons were unstoppable, their defenses unbreakable.
Our technology was inferior, our militaries overwhelmed.
Only one starship escaped before civilization fell.
Earth was lost.
It was never forgotten.
Fifty-two years have passed.
A message from home has been received.
The time to fight for what is ours has come.
Welcome to the rebellion.
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"Slipstream return path is set and locked. Reactor online. Realspace engines online. QPG primed and ready."
Captain Gabriel St. Martin leaned back in the seat of his starfighter, closing his eyes and putting his hand around the crucifix his father had given him when he was three years old. He remembered his mother at that moment, the same way he did every time he prepared for a recon mission to Earth.
A mission that would take him sideways into the jaws of the enemy, with the odds of making it through somewhere around fifty-fifty.
Gabriel had never met his biological mother. She had been dead for nearly fifty years. She was dead twenty years before he had even been born. A casualty of the invasion of Earth, when the aliens they called the Dread had arrived in their terrible black ships, overpowering all of humankind's defenses, slaughtering billions, and swiftly seizing absolute control.
He remembered her now in pictures and videos, a limited history of a woman both young and beautiful, happy and carefree with the love of her life, then Captain Theodore St. Martin, a pilot in the United States Space Force. Things had been so simple then. So easy. The United States was only one of the countries reaching for the stars with the help of new technological breakthroughs and shared initiatives.
At the time, it had seemed unfortunate that the only way to get funding for that reach was to funnel it through the military. To build machines of war in a limitless expanse where there was enough territory for anyone who wanted it. According to his father, there had been numerous arguments across the House and Congress about how and where to fund the new space race; the race that would determine the future of every nation involved.
Nobody had known how all of those arguments would be wasted.
Nobody had expected there was something else out there.
Nobody had guessed they wouldn't be friendly.
Once, it had been fun to create stories about hostile aliens. They were exciting and adventurous, and made for heroes that children could look up to. Besides, most philosophers, scientists, and think-tankers had tended to believe that any race that managed to reach the level of technological achievement needed to make a starship and access the slipstream would have evolved beyond such uncivilized, wanton destruction.
Gabriel wished the smartest men in the room had been right. If they had, he wouldn't be about to take a ride through Hell.
"Everything checks out," he said through the ship's comm. "Wish me luck, 'Randa." He lifted the crucifix to his lips, kissed it, and then dropped it back under his flight suit.
Senior Spaceman Miranda Locke laughed, the soft tone of it crackling in his ears. She was nowhere near as pretty as her voice suggested. It didn't matter. She was a good person and an even better friend. "Like you've ever needed luck. Firing launcher in five, four, three..."
Gabriel reached out and took hold of the main control stick of the small starfighter. The station's rail launcher would accelerate him out into space at over 5,000 meters per second, hurling the ship into the calculated inception point of the slipstream without any manual intervention.
There was usually no need for a starfighter pilot to get themselves into slipspace.
The pilot was for after the vehicle came out.
"Two, one... Go!"
Gabriel was pressed back in his seat, the station's artificial gravity extending its reach into the launch tube. His teeth clenched as the inertial dampeners fought against the sudden and intense g-forces. He could feel the crucifix pressing into his chest, reminding him of his mother and her lost dreams even as he hurtled toward space. He could see the metal walls and lights passing him as an increasing blur, along with the rapidly approaching darkness of the universe beyond.
He always asked for luck when he made a run. As the most successful recon pilot in the New Earth Alliance Space Force, he always wondered if the next time out would be his last.
He had seen so many pilots come and go. More than a few had never returned from their first mission. This would be number sixty-seven for him. He had earned the right to retire and spend the rest of his days on Alpha Settlement seventeen missions ago. He could meet someone, start a family, and be given all of the comforts the closest thing humankind had to a war hero could want.
The thought had never crossed his mind. Retirement wasn't in his family's lexicon. Neither was the concept of quitting. Like his father, General Theodore St. Martin, the Old Gator, was fond of saying: "Your mother gave her last breath to save the lives of thousands, including you and me. We ain't never going to let that be for nothing. We'll find a way to beat those couillons off our planet. They think we ain't good for nothing? Heh. I'll tell you what, son, I ain't never gonna die until they're gone, and you can't either."
Of course, that had been before the accident. Before his father had lost the use of his legs. Before he had become addicted to medicine that sucked away both his pain and his mind.
General St. Martin's days as a productive member of society were done, and the Dread continued to hold the Earth. His old man was still alive, though. Still as good as his word.
It was up to Gabriel to do his part, and that meant making run after run until his luck ran out.
Gabriel's starfighter shuddered as the onboard computer triggered the quantum phase generator. Gabriel looked to the left when it did, watching as the pock-marked, triangular wings of his craft began to blur.
The QFG was the most advanced piece of tech on the ship. It was also something he barely understood. Even after ten years as a recon pilot, it still seemed more like black magic than actual science.
From what he understood, the QPG worked by creating a shift in the quantum properties of the spacecraft's specially engineered and painted surface, a process called phasing. This process enabled the vehicle access to the strange and barely understood currents of time and space that ran both above and below what was now called realspace. These currents, known as slipstreams, weren't controllable, but they were measurable. The measurements allowed calculations, which in turn allowed humankind
In other words, the slipstream was a free ride from one part of the universe to another, at speeds that averaged out to between forty and sixty thousand times the speed of light. For Gabriel, it meant that the trip from the New Earth Alliance orbital station in the Calawan system back to Earth would take somewhere in the range of five to ten hours.
That was one of the biggest downsides to slipstreams. The currents were just that, rippling waves of time and space distortions whose relative strength or weakness had a very real effect on travel. At the distance between Calawan and Earth, this variance wasn't a problem. It was; however, a remaining limit on humankind's ability to explore more of the universe. There was always talk within the Alliance of abandoning the planet and finding a new, more suitable home further out amidst the stars. In fact, it was what the colony ship they had escaped on had been designed to do. One problem with that idea was that trying to ride a slipstream in distances greater than a few hundred light years made logistics a challenge.
The other problem was the simple fact that not everyone on Earth was dead, and not everyone who had escaped was of a mind to leave them behind. Theodore St. Martin had been one of the most vocal supporters of remaining in Calawan, and his position as the man who had piloted the only ship to escape during the evacuation gave everyone cause to listen to him.
A tone from the cockpit dashboard signaled to Gabriel that the phase was complete, and the slipstream had been successfully joined. Not that he needed the computer to tell him that. The entire universe changed once a craft entered slipspace, the myriad stars fading away and leaving the view as a gigantic, blank, black canvas just waiting for God to come along and start painting again.
Gabriel tapped a few commands out on the touchscreen beneath his right hand. Then he reached up and lowered the secondary visor on his flight helmet, covering his view with an already running virtual reality simulation, lest he risk succumbing to what doctors had termed 'the slips,' caused by staring out into the void for an extended period of time. It was one of his favorite sims. A lifestream recording he had made seven years ago of himself and his fiancee, Jessica, having dinner. She had been a pilot, too. Everyone had told him not to get involved with another soldier like him. Everyone had warned him about the dangers of getting attached.
He had been young and stubborn. He had already survived twelve missions by then, and at the time he had believed that only the fools died young.
He knew better now. Jessica was anything but a fool, and it hadn't saved her in the end. She had gone on a run the day after the recording was made.
She had never come back.
He didn't watch the lifestream to depress himself, or to ruminate, or to fill himself with regret. He watched it when he was feeling weak. When he was losing hope. When he had the sinking notion that he wasn't coming back this time. He watched it to remember the sacrifices that had been made and to reinforce his belief in the value of what he was doing.
After all, if he went on the mission and survived, it meant that someone else wasn't taking his place. It meant that someone else wasn't dying.
Of course, the part where they danced against the backdrop of an Ursae Majoris solar flare always brought him to tears. She had been so beautiful, so talented, so filled with joy and life and hope for the future. They had been a perfect match. Maybe too perfect in a time as dangerous as theirs.
Hope for the future. That was what being a recon pilot was all about. It was the reason Gabriel risked his life to go back there again and again, making daring runs across the atmosphere for the smallest possibility of picking up any little bit of intel the planet-side resistance could provide, even when most of the time they didn't transmit at all.
And how could he ever give up that hope when there were still people alive on Earth doing their damnedest to fight back?
"Move it, move it. Let's go people. We don't want to be the last squad on Earth to be gunned down by those alien bastards."
Major Donovan Peters waved his arm in a furious windmill, motivating the rest of the men and women behind him, twenty in all, to surge forward across a dangerous chasm of twisted steel, cracked concrete, and shattered glass.
It was a warm evening. Too warm, as far as Donovan was concerned. And too dry. The ash and dust were hanging heavy in the evening air, picked up and left there by heavy winds earlier in the morning.
It was lousy weather for a transmission mission, or t-vault, as it was more commonly known. Green cadets liked to have fun saying "transmission mission" as many times as they could as fast as they could before they tripped up.
They stopped right after going on their first one.
Donovan wasn't really sure why they even bothered anymore. There had been nothing new to transmit in months.
Major Donovan Peters. He had been promoted two months earlier, rising to Major not because he was especially suited to the position but because he had managed to survive. Rank these days didn't mean anything close to what it had when the countries that sprinkled the Earth maintained standing militaries. It was chain-of-command, sure, based on the United States structure since it originated with General Alan Parker, the man who had first organized the survivors into a unified resistance. Back then, they had tried to follow the military guidelines, and for a while they had even managed to make something they liked to call progress in their guerrilla war against the alien invaders.
Back then. This was now, and now the promotions came as people died. There was no other system left to it.
And people had died. Nearly half of their forces in the last year alone. Donovan had no idea why, but the Dread had come to the decision that they were finished playing games with the remaining free humans, and they were going to end the resistance once and for all. He had heard the reports from the other militias around the globe, and they were all the same. The Dread were intent on wiping them out and ending the war once and for all.
"Sweep left," Donovan said, keeping his voice low and tight and guiding the squad with his hands.
They ran together out amidst the shattered buildings of what had once been Mexico City, Mexico, turning left and heading through a break in the debris. They were clothed in simple uniforms, dark green and roughly woven by hand, damp after a quick dump of water. Their faces were coated with a light orange clay, as were the back of their hands and bare feet, whose hardened soles beat down on the broken remains without being pierced. Boots were hard to come by and hard to maintain, and runners needed to be nimble without the distraction of a shoelace coming untied, or an old sole coming loose.
Donovan scanned the field ahead of them, his eyes picking over the charred city. He was only twenty-three years old. He had been born to this life, as had his mother. His grandfather had been in Los Angeles when they had come, only a child himself at the time. He had told the story in more personal detail than any video could show.
Not that he hadn't seen the videos of the first attack as well. All of them had. It was an important part of their upbringing, a remembrance of why they lived the way they did, and why they fought.
As he searched for a break that would lead them north to the building he had picked out for the needle, he could picture the massive plasma flume pouring from the sky, superheating the air around it, vaporizing millions and turning Mexico City into this. He shuddered slightly before regaining himself and motioning the team ahead.
He was the oldest of the group of twenty charging through the wreckage. Other than worn rifles, they were carrying only the equipment that would enable the needle to make the transmission. He didn't know what the message they carried was. He never did. General Rodriguez never briefed the t-vault team on the contents.
Donovan waved the team to the right, around an old barricade of burned out cars that had probably been constructed thirty years earlier. He had once thought it strange that the surrounding jungle had never encroached on the abandoned urban center and that everything stayed so well preserved despite the passage of years. Their Chief Science Officer, Carlson, had told him it was because of the nature of the Dread's plasma weapons. They had rendered the earth infertile, unable to sustain plant life wherever the flumes had scorched.
They were getting closer to the old skyscraper, once fifty or sixty stories tall but reduced in the attacks to fifteen or so. They needed to get the needle up over the terrain to ensure it would transmit with a good spread, making it easier for the passing starfighter to capture the message.
His Lieutenant, Renata Diaz, suddenly raised a closed fist. Within a heartbeat, Donovan and the rest of the squad were down behind whatever cover they could find.
Donovan crouched behind the barricade, pressing his body close against it and forcing his breathing to slow. The ability to control fear and panic was one of the most important for a t-vaulter, as the alien's scanners were able to not only sense heat, but to pick up the rhythm of a rapid heartbeat. It took a lot of practice to become adept at staying calm in such dire circumstances.
His eyes stayed forward, focused on Diaz. She had been the first to put eyes on the enemy scout, so it was her job to track it. It was a dangerous role, as the scout would notice all but the smallest of motions. It was hard to watch something without moving. Her head turned slowly, deliberately, her eyes locked onto the craft.
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