Hello readers! Looking for something a little … exciting? Because I’ve got just the thing for you. A look at the first chapter of Starforge! Not a big preview, and you’ll notice some cuts right away, but a look nonetheless.
Mind, this is not the first thing you’ll see when skipping to page one of the book. That would be the prologue, which is already online here. This is a chunk of text from chapter one. It’s not the whole chapter, but it is a few select scenes from it. Just enough to wet your appetites for when the full conclusion to the UNSEC Space Trilogy drops this holiday.
So, are you ready for your teaser? Hit the jump, folks. And get ready.
This book is a ride.
The hab’s emergency evacuation hatch blew outward on explosive bolts, exposing a hellish landscape bathed in fire and smoke. The radiation alarms in his suit spiked, warning Jake that if he took off or punctured his suit, he’d be exposed to lethal levels in minutes.
A glance at the alerts was all he could spare as he almost spilled out onto the roof of the hab, barrel of his Rezzer up and hunting for targets. It was a work of moments, the All horde already reacting to the appearance of their prey atop the hab arms. He almost squeezed the trigger, but then hesitated. How many shots do I have left? Something was wrong with the readout on his hud, the numbers fuzzy and inconsistent. Better to save his shots then.
Instead he turned, checking that the rest of the expedition was making its way out behind him. Botha, Kombes, Morel. The names flashed through his mind as he watched them climb out.
Just get them to the end of the arm. Help is coming.
The ground shook again, the roof of the hab lurching violently as another aftershock rippled through the surface of Livingstone. Ground cracked and split around the hab, smoke and embers spewing into the air as the soil swallowed a number of All.
“Go!” He wasn’t sure who had shouted, but he obeyed, springing away from the center of the hab and out along one of the arms. The metal beneath his boots was scarred and pitted, burned by All acids and the barrage of claws it had barely repulsed. Around the hab the seething mass of alien flesh was responding to the team’s appearance, hoppers bounding over the ground in their direction in an endless tide of armored orangish-brown.
One hopper leaped, rising over the edge of the arm with its long, toothy maw exposed. He fired, flechettes cutting the creature in half. The sounds of SMG fire echoed from behind him as Anna brought her own weapons to bear, spraying the onrushing horde and eliciting puffs of orange ichor.
“Go!” Again a part of him wondered who was yelling, but there was no time to pause or do anything else but heed its cry. The jungle around the hab was a smoldering inferno, flattened and inflamed by the detonations around the planet’s equator. Another hopper leaped atop the arm, baring its talons at him, and his Rezzer kicked, shredding it. The fuzzy number in his hud flickered.
There were just so many more of the things.
Movement at the edge of what had once been the clearing around the hab caught his eye, and he spun just in time to see a trio of slingers open their strange, articulated jaws. Somehow he knew exactly who they were aiming at, and he turned, shouting a cry of warning.
It was already too late. Kombes and Botha were both down, venomed bonespikes jutting out of their environment suits and dripping blood. As he watched, a trio of spikes tore through Lankiss’s faceplate, the geologist’s eyes giving him a final, accusing stare as she slumped.
“Go!” Again the voice pushed him on, and he turned once more, ignoring the rain of spikes that filled the air around him, each a narrow miss. More hoppers began to clog the arm ahead, and he fired again and again.
Who’s left? Another scream echoed from behind him, and he knew who had died without even looking.
Trying to save Botha.
Something about that thought seemed off, but Jake couldn’t place it, and he pushed it away as more hoppers crowded the impossibly long arm. He kept firing, working his way forward step by bloody step.
The VTOL will be here soon. And we’ll make it out. As if summoned by his thoughts, a faint light began to glow in the sky, different in color and hue from the burning rocks descending around it. Someone behind him let out a cheer as they saw it as well.
Again the voice pushed him on, and he moved forward with precise, mechanical precision, firing again and again, completely unsure of how many spent shells or twitching, alien bodies he’d left behind him. He spotted a few serpentine diggers amidst the seething tide of alien bodies, coiling and twisting toward him with claws extended, and he cut them down as well.
Why are they on the roof? They tunnel.
But they’d jumped onto the roof from beneath the ground. He remembered that. But hadn’t that been before the All had launched its ships? To get past the fences?
There was no time to think on it. The VTOL was getting closer now, shifting from a faint speck of glowing light to a sleek, angular aircraft: A Pisces manufactured dropship, bristling with weapons. Jake fired again, clearing another cluster of hoppers and bringing his position closer to the nearing aircraft. A faint hiss sounded through the chaos as one of the expedition members triggered a flare, guiding the dropship in.
Jake fired again, removing the last few All from their path to the end of the hab arm. The dropship was close now, the hum of its engines audible. He lowered his Rezzer for a brief moment, looking up at the aircraft’s angular lines and clean exterior.
That’s not Grady’s dropship. Something was wrong. We never—
A black cloud erupted from the ground, twisting and cutting through the air as it rushed for the VTOL. There was just enough time to shout in warning before the swarm slammed into the side of the aircraft, thousands of tiny, metal-laced insect bodies engulfing it and clawing at the surface.
But it was the ones that sacrificed themselves to the engines that did the most damage, their bodies dying in the hundreds as they threw themselves into intakes and cut through shielding. One of the VTOL’s jets cut out, flame belching from the bottom and roasting more of the swarm.
They didn’t care. Like the rest of the All, they were legion. Another engine began to fail, the VTOL slowly going into a spin, and Jake let out a shout of dismay.
There weren’t any swarms on Livingstone. Not up close.
The VTOL slammed into the ground, flattening more All as the last of its engines failed completely. Bonespikes flew through the air in increased numbers, and Jake dropped to the surface of the hab, lowering his profile atop the pitted metal. The All surged forward on all sides, emboldened by the destruction of the dropship.
This is it. We’re not making it out of here. He fired from his prone position, again and again as more All boiled out of the flattened forest, coming from all directions.
But we did?
Ikeda went down, screaming in agony as a panther bore her to the ground and ripped off her head. Jake fired, the flechettes biting through the creature’s armored hide but not enough to stop it. Another panther leapt atop the hab, this one landing on top of Silva and putting an end to the man’s screams with a burst of bonespikes from its jaws.
Then he and Anna were the only two members left, separated by a hundred feet or more of hab, both of them firing frantically. He stepped back, retreating before the advancing, numberless horde, only for his foot to find empty space. He tumbled backward, the wide jaws of a titan gaping beneath him—
And with a shout he bolted upright, the back of one hand smacking himself in the face before jerking away with a suddenness. He flailed for a moment, fighting a thin cloth that seemed to be wrapped around his legs and other arm, his body bouncing before his mind caught up. He stilled, lowering his limbs to the top of the bed and forcing himself to breathe.
Just a dream. Another nightmare.
He let out a long, smooth, steady breath. Just another nightmare.
And just when I was starting to get over having bad dreams about Pisces. Or maybe that was wishful thinking.
He let out a sigh and sat up, swinging his now unentangled legs over the edge of the bunk and cracking his heels against the baseboard. Brief flashes of pain flared up both limbs, and he let out a hiss.
Easy and slow, Jake, he reminded himself. You’re still not used to the augments yet. He sat in the darkness for a few seconds, the only light a faint, dim glow from a few nearby room controls, letting his heart rate slow. His cheek still stung where the back of his hand had smacked him. Maybe I should have taken Anna up on her joke about the sleeping straps.
At least, he was fairly certain she’d been joking. There was a very real chance she’d been serious. After all, they had me strapped when I woke up from the surgery.
And missed the whole galaxy going mad. He leaned slowly to his side, reaching out and tapping at the controls for the lights. Glowing particles swarmed into being at his approach, forming a dimmer panel. It was merely a projection rather than hard-light, and his finger slipped through the motes about a third of the way up. The cabin lights came on, illuminating his small living space with enough light for him to easily see by. Especially now that his eyes, like the rest of him, were modified. It wasn’t superhuman, but he had an easier time picking out shadows and dark objects in low light.
Across the cabin a splash of water caught his attention, and he jerked his gaze up—slow and steady, Jake—to see Mr. Happy wave a fin at him.
It was only a minute or two’s walk to his destination: An observation lounge on the edge of the level, a remnant of when the station had served as a temporary stop for colonists on their way down to Pisces’ surface. Didem had adapted it as the station expanded and grew, leaving it open to residents but with additional security should the need arise. Like armored shutters and security turrets to help prevent boarding.
Still, even during the station’s “night” with low lighting it was one of the more pleasant spaces aboard. Potted plants and a carpeted floor gave it a friendlier ambience, and the area was quite open—in part because a number of the seats and benches had been cannibalized for other projects. And the view through the glass …
Jake sat down on one of the couches, staring out the large window. One whole wall of the observation area was made up of massive slabs of glass easily twice his own height, offering a view of the stars matched only by those he’d seen aboard a UNSEC expedition ship. At the moment, much of what was visible was taken up by the dark side of Pisces, a thin blue band of light barely visible on the far side of the windows, the rest a massive black space lit by faint flashes of lightning from the many storms covering the planet’s surface.
Not a planet, he reminded himself. Space station. A space station so big, it is a planet. With fifty million people living on it.
Didem’s fleet. But getting ready for what? The most common guess spoken on the news reports from Pisces was that it was for an inevitable war with UNSEC and Earth. And that said even with the threat of the All out among the stars.
But the All are the bigger threat, aren’t they? UNSEC wants humanity under its heel. The All wants us extinct.
Which one has the means to make it happen first? And if they do, can they counteract the other?
And how does the Warforge play into all of this?
That was the hardest clue to fit into the puzzle. Mostly because it wasn’t shaped like the others, but also because—
“I recognize that look.” Anna’s words shook him from his thoughts, and he turned to see her giving him an amused look. “You’re thinking on it all right.” “It’s hard not to,” he admitted, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. “Everything was already chaotic enough with UNSEC and Pisces. Now there’s the All and the Sha’o or the drones or whatever you want to call them. We know what the All wants to do, and that’s kill everything that isn’t All. But we don’t know how. Sure,” he said, sitting back and waving a hand at the window. “We’ve seen some ‘how’ with Glavere, or Mirkshir, or Kelvin. But those were all light strikes. Didem confirmed after analyzing Lankiss’s records that thousands of All ships launched when Livingstone went active. We’ve seen six colony worlds hit so far, but each one was hit by just a couple of ships. Where’d the rest go?
I hope you enjoyed this preview of Starforge‘s first chapter! The finale of the UNSEC Space Trilogy arrives this holiday season to bring this six-year journey to its epic end! Be ready!