I’m doing a push to get more support on my Patreon, specifically to get to 60 supporters, and to that end, I’m running a sample from each of the six support tiers I have.
The highest tier is $20 per month, and the reason it’s so much is that it gives you something very rare and exclusive: a look at the first draft. It’s a peek into the writer’s process, seeing things as they first come spewing forth from what passes for my creative brain.
If you pledge at this level, you not only get these first looks, you also get monthly movie reviews (sample here), regular cat pictures (samples here), one to six TV reviews a month (sample here), smaller excerpts from my works in progress (samples here), and a monthly vignette featuring my original characters (sample here).
The frequency of this tier is the only one that’s not really set, as it depends on several factors: how fast I write, when things are due, and also there are certain cases (like when I’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement about a project) where I’m not comfortable posting any of it on the world wide web, even if it’s in a restricted post. (As an example, I did not provide chapters of my Alien novel Isolation.)
Anyhow, here’s one of those first looks: Chapter 21 of my collaboration with David Sherman, To Hell and Regroup, due out soon from eSpec Books…
first look: To Hell and Regroup Chapter 21
Admiral’s Bridge, Battleship NAUS Durango
The notion of orbital bombardment with simple projectiles dated back to the twentieth century. The theory was that, from a high enough orbit, simply letting go of an object and letting it fall, the kinetic energy building up as it plummets planetward so that by the time it hits its target, it’s with the force of a bomb.
The best part was that you didn’t need any kind of special equipment. You could just use rocks, and it would work just as well. No need for explosives or dangerous materials needed to manufacture such.
The most efficient projectile was quickly determined back in the day to be a twenty-foot metal rod that was about a foot in diameter. That much length was there to provide a wide surface area to absorb the kinetic energy that would then be discharged on impact. The small diameter was to minimize friction and maximize speed.
NAU Navy capital ships were all equipped with a complement of so-called “Rods from God” that could be used for bombardment. (Several military and civilian ship designers had tried to find a way to equip smaller fighter craft with them. Unfortunately, while most bombs could be dropped from a horizontal position, the Rods from God really needed to be fired vertically to be at their most effective. The only way to equip fighters properly would be either to give them a twenty-foot rod mounted vertically on the side of the craft, which was spectacularly awkward and complicated maneuvering, or to have the pilots only be able to fire the weapon while diving toward or climbing away from the target, neither of which was optimal.)
Avery watched the big board as Durango moved into geo-sync orbit over the forest where the Dusters were hunkered down.
“Verify position of Marines,” Avery said.
Captain Huse immediately opened a comm channel. “Bridge, CAC, verify position of Marines.”
A moment later, Chief Verney’s voice came over comms. “Marines in position three miles from forest perimeter.”
Huse sighed. “The Dusters aren’t at the perimeter, Chief.”
“Radar can’t penetrate the forest, Sir, perimeter’s the best we can do.”
Avery snarled. “Davis, call the Marines—they must’ve sent Force Recon in to get the Dusters’ position. Find it.”
Minutes later, Davis reported back with specific coordinates.
Huse sighed. “Send that to CAC. Chief Verney, based on coordinates Lieutenant Commander Davis is sending you, position of Marines relative to the Dusters, please?”
“Stand by, Bridge.” Verney muttered something Avery couldn’t make out, then: “Estimate Marines at four-point-seven miles from Duster position.”
“Chief Finkenbiner,” Avery said, “give us a firing solution for the Rod of God that will give us a blast radius of three miles or less, and send it to navigation.”
“Aye-aye, Sir.” Finkenbiner turned to consult with the weapons techs.
While waiting for the weapons techs to do the math on what orbital position Durango would need to take up in order to drop a rod that would provide a blast radius big enough to wipe out the Dusters in the forest but small enough so it wouldn’t take the Marines with them, Avery stared at the big board.
The space around them was clear. There’d been no activity at the wormhole.
He was sure that he and his people were right, that the Dusters’ last “fleet” was a last bit of desperation. There was no way anyone else was coming through.
But every time there was a pause in the action, he stared at the readings of the wormhole.
Sure, he was ninety-nine percent sure that no more Duster ships were coming through. So were his tactical people, so was General Bauer, so was General Purvis.
Still, there was that other one percent. What if we’re wrong?
“Firing solution received,” said the navigator, Lieutenant Henry Brutsche.
“Plot a course, Lieutenant,” Huse said.
Avery nodded in approval.
“Aye-aye, Sir,” Brutsche said. Seconds later: “Course plotted and laid in, Sir.”
The helm officer, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) John Mihalowski stifled a yawn. He was usually on the second shift, but he had traded shifts at Captain Huse’s recommendation once it became clear the Rod of God was being used.
Mihalowski, according to Huse, was the best pilot he’d ever seen. “The lieutenant could land Durango on the head of a pin,” the captain had claimed, never mind that Durango wasn’t designed to land on a planet’s surface. But it also had the spatiodynamics of a brick—it wasn’t meant for precision flying, but if you wanted the Rod of God to hit a precise target, as opposed to just a general pounding of the surface, you needed your ship to be in a specific spot in geo-sync orbit. That took a pilot with icewater for blood, and Huse believe Mihalowski was that pilot.
“Helm,” Huse said, “put us into position.”
“Aye-aye, Captain,” Mihalowski said through another yawn.
“We keeping you awake, Lieutenant?” Huse asked.
Mihalowski grinned. “Just barely, Sir.”
The helm officer manipulated the thrusters in tandem in order to get Durango into the position dictated by Brutsche’s course.
“Too much, Mihalowski, you’re gonna overshoot,” Brutsche muttered at one point, and Mihalowski heard him.
“No I won’t, Hank,” Mihalowski said, “it’ll be fine.”
“It better be,” Avery said.
Mihalowski swallowed. “Yes, Sir, Admiral!”
Brutsche shook his head. “It’ll only be okay if you go the way I told you go to—and don’t call me ‘Hank.'”
“Soon’s you pronounce Mihalowski right,” the pilot said with another grin. Avery noted that the helm officer said, “me-uh-LOV-skee,” as opposed to Brutsche, who pronounced it, “me-ha-LAU-skee.”
Another thruster blast and then Mihalowski said, “In position.”
Finkenbiner said, “Confirmed, Durango at optimal position for orbital bombardment.”
“Ready projectile,” Huse said.
With a nod, Finkenbiner said, “Readying projectile.”
Avery glanced at a corner of his big board, which showed the external camera by the bay door that was now opening. The Rod of God levered out until it was pointing straight downward at the atmosphere of Troy below them.
“You’re drifting, me-ha-LAU-skee,” Brutsche said.
“I see it, I see it,” Mihalowski muttered, firing another thruster.
This type of drift was common for so large a vessel as Durango, and also normally wasn’t any kind of cause for concern, except during a docking maneuver—or when trying to fire the Rod of God to a precise target. Half a degree off course, and the projectile would hit the Marines four miles away—or the clearing four miles east—or the farms four miles west.
So Mihalowski had to keep this large, ungainly ship that was subject to minute course changes from micrometeors heading toward Troy or from the gravitational pull of the planet itself from drifting, at least until the Rod of God was fired.
Finkenbiner said, “Firing solution not optimal.”
“Hang on, Chief, just got hit by a micrometeor,” Mihalowski said. “Compensating.”
“That did it,” Finkenbiner said. “Firing solution optimal.”
Avery turned to nod at Huse, who nodded back. “Fire projectile.”
“Projectile away,” Finkenbiner said.
On the screen, the Rod of God disengaged from its mooring and started to lazily fall toward the planet.
Checking his console, Finkenbiner said, “Projectile is on course for target.”
“What’s the time to impact, Chief?” Huse asked.
“Three hours, forty-eight minutes, Sir.”
“Projectile on main screen,” Avery said. They all should see this.
“Putting projectile on main screen, aye,” Davis said.
The cameras on Durango‘s outer hull were able to follow the Rod from God as it fell toward the stratosphere.
“Good work, people,” Avery said.
Huse added, “Lieutenant Brutsche, plot us an orbital course that will bring us back over target three-and-three-quarter hours from now.”
Brutsche smiled. “Already done, Sir, and sent to me-uh-LOV-skee.”
Mihalowski turned and stared at the navigator in shock. “We been serving together six months, you finally get it right?”
“You finally earned it.”
That made Brutsche’s smile fall. “Excuse me, but as everyone on this Bridge is a witness, you said you’d stop calling me Hank when I pronounced your name right.”
Mihalowski shrugged. “I lied.”
Chuckles went around the Bridge.
Normally, Avery and Huse would shut down such side talk, but they’d just performed an intense maneuver successfully, but the results of which wouldn’t be known for almost four hours.
More to the point, it was a planetside engagement, one that helped all the Marines and soldiers dirtside. It had, Avery knew, been a source of frustration to many of the sailors under his command—and, when the admiral was willing to admit it, to Avery himself—that the losses his own forces had taken had combined with the need to be vigilant against more spacebound attacks from the Dusters to make the Navy a non-factor in the terrestrial parts of this engagement. The loss of Task Force 7 meant that naval resources were stretched thin.
But this last engagement with the dregs of the Duster fleet indicated that that had changed.
The ground-pounders may think they can do it all themselves, but it goes a lot better when you’ve got your guardian angels in orbit, and we’ve got your backs now, Avery thought toward the surface.
Brutsche and Mihalowski were still going at it. “Damn pilots. No respect at all for the people who tell you where you’re supposed to go.”
“I’m glad after six months you finally figured that out.” The cheeky grin Mihalowski said that with fell as he added, “Sir, orbital position now eighteen hundred miles and holding steady. ETA back at this spot is three hours, forty-one minutes.”
Huse nodded. “Excellent work, both of you, which is why I’m going to forgive you squabbling like teenagers on the Bridge of a Navy boat.”
Both lieutenants swallowed audibly.
“Yes, Sir,” Brutsche said quietly.
“Thank you, Captain,” Mihalowski said in a more subdued voice than Avery had ever heard him use.
Avery gave Huse an approving nod and then said, “Captain Huse, come with me to my office, please.”
Getting up from the center chair, Huse nodded to the watch commander, Lieutenant Commander Rufus Z. Johnston, who replaced him in the chair.
Upon entering the admiral’s office, Avery went straight for the drinks cabinet and pulled out a bottle of single-barrel Jack Daniel’s.
“Sir?” Huse prompted.
“It’s almost four hours before we know what’ll happen dirtside, Captain, and after all that, I need a damn drink.”
“I see, Sir.”
Avery then smiled as he pulled out two thick-bottomed glasses. “Drinking alone is a sign of depravity. So you’re drinking with me.”
“Understood, Sir.” Huse wasn’t about to turn down Avery’s quality booze.
The admiral poured the amber liquid into each of the glasses and then handed one to Huse.
“To the Rod from God.”
“To the Rod from God,” Huse repeated and waited for Avery to sip his drink before he did likewise.
The alcohol burned pleasantly in both men’s throats.
“Hope to hell it works,” Avery muttered.
Huse let out a sigh. “Amen.”
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