Paginations

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An excerpt from Gabriel’s Return – some jungle combat to brighten your day

A snippet from a scene out of Gabriel’s Return, book 2 in the scifi adventure series. Though I’d love for you to take a look at this story (which I think has the best action out of all three, but that’s just me), you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not actually starting with book 1, Gabriel’s Redemption. Or why not jump in with both feet for the complete trilogy? Or (never let it be said I didn’t give all the options), try out the series prequel for freeGabriel: Zero Point. All are available on my Books page. Yes, I’m shamelessly plugging my books.

So settle back and enjoy some jungle carnage…

Gabriel's Return full res[In position,] came Olszewski’s burst.

Gabriel double checked the icons in his heads-up and verified everyone was set. He took a deep breath and reached over his shoulder to his concealed pulse rifle. His gloved hand closed around the stock, and he sent the confirmation.

[Proceed when you have a shot.]

Olszewski sighted down the scope and saw a minutely-detailed image of the hide. The steelroot was thick, but he saw some breaks in it, and the faintest hint of movement. Lining up the Dobranoc, he felt the tingle in his hand as he gripped the trigger pad. His neuretics removed the single-shot safety code, and he squeezed the pad.

Six depleted uranium rounds spat from the end of the long sniper rifle barrel at over nine thousand feet per second, only a few milliseconds between each round, and only a barely audible clack sounding at each one. The forty-eight caliber slugs tore into the steelroot, blowing huge chunks of wood in all directions. Olszewski watched the destruction through the scope the entire time, as the recoil on the Dobranoc had been reduced to near zero by the finest Polish weapons techs the Olszewski family could afford.

Out of the carnage, a bloody body holding a long rifle dropped onto a flat part of the yellowbole branch the hide was built on, bounced, and tumbled to the jungle floor below. Olszewski quickly safed his rifle and tucked it over his shoulder into its back pouch, then scrambled down the tree trunk, on the side facing away from the hide.

On the ground, two terrorists, obviously shocked at the sudden turn of events forty feet over their heads, jumped from their concealed hideouts and started firing automatic kinetic rifles wildly in the direction of the tree Olszewski had fired from. Gabriel pulled his pulse rifle from its pouch and brought it to bear, but waited as the scene played out. He was a bit too far back from the two positions to make a difference at this point; Negassi and Sowers were nearly on top of them.

Sowers jumped up from his position, only fifteen feet from where the terrorist had popped up, and raised his assault rifle. The terrorist must have caught the movement, and he shifted his firing towards his new target. Gabriel saw Sowers get clipped by several rounds, the impacts staggering him back, but he managed to fire off a few rounds, and the terrorist went down in a spray of arterial blood.

Negassi’s opponent was far closer, the icons in Gabriel’s heads-up nearly blending into one. He was shocked she had been able to get in that close undetected, but not nearly as shocked as the gunman was as two takobas flashed in the green-filtered light. His right arm was severed at the elbow and the rifle immediately stopped firing. He screamed in agony and surprise as the second blade arced his way. The scream ended in a gurgle as the takoba slashed across his upper chest and throat. Gabriel didn’t watch the end result, knowing it would be an image he wouldn’t want to relive later on.

He stood up and grabbed Sennett by the upper arm. The corporal hopped up from his position, and the two men double-timed it to the scene of the carnage.

As Gabriel approached the fallen terrorist Sowers had taken out, he noticed Sowers had taken his helmet off and was breathing heavy. “You okay?” he asked.

Sowers nodded, trying to catch his breath. “Caught me off guard, sir, that’s all. I’m fine.” He looked down at the body, which had taken several rounds to the chest and face. “They’re using steelroot as armor?”

Gabriel took his own helmet off, and looked down where Sowers was staring. He saw pieces of gray wood scattered around the body. “No, not as armor, but it looks like they’ve figured out it blocks our neuretics to a point. It appears he was lying underneath a pile of it.”

“Same here,” Negassi said. She was wiping her takobas clean, a blurry outline with two floating swords and a bloody towel making for a surreal image in Gabriel’s visor.

“Sowers, tend to the hostage,” Gabriel said, pointing towards where the unconscious man was tied to a tree. “If he’s completely out cold, hide him somewhere.” He paused and sent a shielded burst back to Eden City about the hostage, the third one he’d notified them of. One more, he thought.

A screech from above sounded, and Gabriel looked up to see a flutter of wings, followed by several dozen more as a large flock of spiderbats took flight from a nearby tree. He wondered what had set them off now after all the weapons fire, when suddenly a fat raindrop landed in his eye.

Shit, he thought. This will make the last few miles a pain in the ass.

The skies opened up.

Speedpaint__Jungle_River_by_I_NetGraFX

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Excerpt from Gabriel: Zero Point – The process of augmenting Lt. Gabriel begins

Excerpt from Gabriel: Zero Point, the prequel novella to the Gabriel Trilogy. GZP is FREE (as in beer) for Kindle US, Kindle UK, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords. Free, so what’s the harm in trying it on for size?

gabrielzeropoint2-6x9The plastic was unnaturally cold against his skin as he stretched out in the capsule. It felt more metal than plastic. The glass lid perched above his head, still hinged open, blurring the designs on the ceiling panels, probably leftover from the original luxury suites. He wriggled to find a comfortable position.

“All set, Lieutenant?”

Knowles’s face appeared above him, looking down into the capsule.

“The underwear itches,” he replied. “Other than that, yeah, I suppose so.”

She smiled. “Itchy underwear will be the least of your annoyances. I forgot to tell you. The oxy fluid is ice cold. And the scout nanites will be injected prior to sedation, so you may feel some… discomfort the first few minutes.”

“Scout?”

“They pave the way for the rest of the machines. Scouting pathways, blood vessels, arteries, and the like. Just making it easier for the others. But some patients have complained of some initial pain. No worries, Lieutenant. You’ll be under sedation in a matter of moments after the process begins.”

“This gets better and better,” he growled.

Knowles’s face disappeared for a few seconds, then returned. “Tank is online. Relax, take a few deep breaths. Like I said, the fluid is ice cold and will startle your body when it enters your lungs. Go with it. In the womb, we all breathed like this. It’s natural.” She smiled. “Sort of.”

Her face disappeared and reappeared again. “The process has started,” she said as the glass lid began to slowly descend. “I’ll see you on the other side, Lieutenant Gabriel.” Just before she pulled her head back, he saw the same flicker of emotion on her face he had seen a few minutes ago. Sadness? Worry? Before he could say anything, her face was gone.

He closed his eyes as the lid connected with the capsule with a thunk. He heard air hissing, then from under him came the freezing cold fluid. His body tensed and he clenched his teeth, trying desperately to push the thought of drowning aside. The liquid poured in and cascaded over the tops of his legs, then stomach and chest. His skin puckered at the cold and he took short, sharp breaths. His fingers curled, nails pressing into his palms.

The liquid reached his mouth and he squeezed it shut, involuntarily holding his breath. He knew the process; it was the same as long-range high-acceleration ships used for inertial dampening for crewmembers in stasis. But to a human body, it was completely unnatural, regardless of what Knowles said about the womb.

abando51He was now completely submerged and shivering uncontrollably. His lungs burned for air. He opened his eyes, and the freezing liquid stabbed at his eyeballs. It was as if looking through pale blue gelatin.

His lungs could take no more, and he gasped for breath. Spasms racked his body as the fluid poured down his throat and into his airway. He spasmed several more times, and the image of being pushed under by an ocean wave flashed across his mind. He willed his body to relax, and finally the fluid filled his lungs and his body settled. One last gasp and spasm, and Gabriel was breathing liquid.

Through the rushing waterfall sound of the liquid in his ears, he heard a mechanical whirring. He felt a pinprick on his right thigh, then a matching one on his left. Six more pinpricks: one in each arm, one each on either side of his rib cage, one in the bottom of each foot. The scout injections, he thought. He imagined them like cartoon robots, running down red corridors to their jobs, leaving bread crumbs behind for others to follow. He started to smile, when he felt a burning sensation in both feet. The image of the fire ants came back to him as the same burning crept over his legs, then sides, then arms. Suddenly the burning was coursing throughout his body, and he began to panic. This wasn’t the discomfort Knowles alluded to.

The burning intensified, like miniature plasma torches being placed against his skin in a thousand places. He struggled to move, but the paralytic chemicals in the fluid had taken effect. He was immobilized, the nanites started their work on him, and he was still awake.

He grunted as the burning continued. He couldn’t even grit his teeth, and his eyes were still open, staring at blue-tinged ceiling panels. Then the sedation kicked in. His vision began to gray, but the burning increased to an unbearable level.

Gabriel screamed in silence.

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Here is where I shamelessly stump again –  Gabriel: Zero Point is FREE for Kindle USKindle UKNookiBooksKobo, and Smashwords.

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Excerpt from Gabriel’s Redemption: Drop Capsules

“Drop in five, four, three, two, one…DROP, DROP, DROP!”

Gabriel's Redemption full resGabriel’s head was slammed back against the padded wall of the drop capsule, known to drop-troopers as coffins, as the Marcinko spat the team from the drop bay like bullets. Nine capsules shot towards the surface of Poliahu at over seven G’s.

After the initial shock, Gabriel relaxed his breathing and had his neuretics bring up the drop data in Mindseye. Nine green dots, falling towards the surface at over 18,000 miles per hour, all secure telemetry in order. He checked for an update of the LZ, and confirmed the team was on target and all probes showed the same quiet colony. All but one probe, he thought. I only hope that was a glitch.

He noticed one dot slightly off target, double checked that it was Sabra, and reconfirmed her flight path was taking her to the predetermined LZ at the base of the ridge. One more green dot was wavering. He sent a quick burst to Jimenez to adjust course, and his dot came back in line within a few seconds.

Gabriel adjusted his course slightly, tiny hydrazine jets on the outside of the coffin giving a few quick puffs. He wanted to land just outside the circle of his team to not only get a closer look at the colony upon landing, but also to be able to see Sabra better as she landed. He still wasn’t sold on her loyalty; something with her and Lamber still simmered below the surface, and he planned to make a point of keeping a very close eye on them planetside.

They began entering Poliahu’s atmosphere, Gabriel’s coffin buffeted by the ionized air molecules screaming past his falling capsule. The heat inside rose by several degrees as friction took hold, and he ordered the battlesuit he wore to lower its temperature a bit to compensate. His nose itched something fierce, but in his standing position with arms locked at his side, he couldn’t do anything about it. Not to mention the combat helmet would prevent it anyway. Standing upright, paralyzed, in a coffin. Great way to start the day.

The buffeting increased to a shudder and Gabriel’s teeth rattled. A quick check of the drop data showed them just a few seconds from retroburn, so he clamped his jaw and gritted his way through the shaking, hoping his recent filling stayed in place.

As one, the nine capsules reached their IP, ejected their heat shields with a bang, and activated the retroengines. Light blue tongues of plasma fired from the three conical jets on the bottom of each capsule as their heat shields fluttered away above them. Gabriel felt a massive squeeze in his chest and his blood began pooling in his legs, vision graying, as the g-forces of the burn took hold. Slowly the pressure decreased and he took a few deep breaths, checking data once again.

The capsules were all on target, Sabra just north of the others, as they all slowed their descents to a more manageable landing velocity. Twenty seconds to touchdown, he noted, so he began activating the armor’s servos and sensors, bringing the Otero battlesuit fully online. Heads-up displays illuminated his visor, the first bit of light he had seen since entering the capsule over an hour ago. The suit ran through diagnostics, everything in order he saw with satisfaction, and he tensed his leg muscles in anticipation of touchdown.

Gabriel’s retroengine rose in pitch, then abruptly shut off, and his capsule banged into the surface of the icy planet. The shell of the capsule split vertically and spread the doors wide, allowing the weak pre-dawn glow to enter. Gabriel quickly hopped from the capsule, taking several steps away, knowing full well how many men and women had been injured when the eight foot tall capsule had tipped over on them as they emerged.

He turned back to the capsule to see it still standing upright, steam billowing from its underside as the engines ticked and cooled. He stepped back to the capsule, sent a command, and its doors swung shut again. He pushed it over backwards and it toppled into the snow, exposing the blackened engine nacelles and a puddle of water that was quickly refreezing.

He turned back towards the ridge to catch a glimpse of Sabra’s capsule touching down near the base in a cloud of snow. He checked the data and his heads-up displayed her capsule landing safely and opening. Good, he thought. Hers was an important position, and he didn’t want to waste time trying to compensate for a bad drop. Although it did appear she may have landed a bit too close to the valley entrance.

Walking around to the top of his capsule, he reached down, and with the enhanced servos in his battlesuit, grabbed the tow handle built into the top of it and began dragging it to their rally point, leaving a furrow in the snow behind him that began immediately filling back in with falling snow.

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Chapter One from Gabriel: Zero Point, the prequel to the Gabriel scifi trilogy

November, 2166
North American Federation Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island

“Which one is he?”

Vice Admiral Eriq Cafferty looked up from his flexscreen at the sound of his attaché’s voice behind him and rubbed his eyes with one hand. The unforgiving steel bleachers he sat on played havoc with his lower back, and the squeaking of sneakers on the polished hardwood floor from the far side of the gym was starting to give him a headache. He twisted one hip, trying to get a bit of relief while at the same time politely facing his questioner.

His attaché, Lieutenant Commander Alejandra Basilio, was looking across the wide gymnasium at the sweat-drenched recruits crashing and banging into each other. Behind her sat a bald man in civilian clothes. His eyes were shut, most likely going over neuretics information. The two of them along with Cafferty had entered the gym a few minutes earlier and took a seat as far away from the action as they could to observe unseen.

It was ostensibly a pickup basketball game, but as they observed, fewer and fewer baskets were scored, while more and more grunts and curses were heard.

It was obvious to Cafferty that the young officer candidates were blowing off steam. Today marked the nine-week milestone in Officer Candidate School, and these six, five men and one woman, passed their Victory Runs the previous day. As of today, they were regarded as Candidate Officers, a position of some esteem and authority within the twelve-week long OCS class. According to Cafferty’s flexscreen, all distinguished themselves in one way or another, and passed each and every one of the NAFN’s toughest tests along the way. But only one had unanimously blown away the instructors with his mettle, determination, and intelligence. Not to mention scoring off the charts in raw skills, Cafferty thought. As best as they could be measured.

“The blond,” he said to Basilio.

Basilio squinted. “Ah, sir, two of them are blond. At least I think so. They’re all dripping with sweat,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

Cafferty smiled. “The big one.”

“Oh, the banger, not one of the bangees,” she replied.

Cafferty slid his flexscreen closed and pointed with it. “Yes, banger.” He waved the tube. “He’s been giving the instructors a hell of a time keeping him challenged on the courses. I’m sure you’ve seen the results of…damn.”

The flexscreen tube slipped from his grasp and clattered onto the metal bench in front of them, then bounced down through the bleachers, striking several more benches on the way down to the floor. The sound echoed off the walls, and the sneaker squeaking ceased.

Cafferty heard a low, “Oh shit,” from the game, then a much louder, “Admiral on deck!”

The six on the court snapped to attention facing the bleachers as the basketball bounced lazily away, coming to rest near the far door. Cafferty let the silence linger for a few moments, thankful for the rest it gave his ears, then waved a hand.

“At ease, Candidate Officers,” he called out. As one, the six went to sharp parade rest. He heard their low breathing sounds as each of them attempted to maintain a perfectly still composure while trying to catch up on oxygen. Tops in their class, he thought as he stared across the gym. These are the young men and women who will be leading us into the next decade, taking over for me and my generation’s bad backs. He twisted his other hip and felt a small, satisfying crack.

He waited a few more moments, then said, “Candidate Officer Gabriel, report on the double.”

A tall man snapped to attention, then jogged towards the two officers on the bleachers. Upon reaching them, he came to rigid attention again, staring at the wall above their heads.

“Officer Candidate, er, Candidate Officer Evan Gabriel, reporting, sir!” the young man said.

Cafferty chuckled. “Took me a while to get used to all the different names I was assigned during OCS as well.” He looked back at the other five, who were still at parade rest, and saw several curious glances in his direction. He waved his hand again. “Back to the game, candidates.”

The five looked at each other uneasily. Finally the lone woman in the group walked over to the basketball, picked it up, and threw it two-handed into the chest of one of the others. The game, or grunt-laced brawl, picked up where it had left off.

Cafferty folded his hands on his lap and turned his attention back to the young man in front of him. “Tell me, son. How does an additional title of Regimental Commander sound?”

One eyebrow rose almost imperceptibly on Gabriel, but his gaze never left the wall. “Quite an honor, sir!”

“An honor I understand you deserve based on what I’ve been told by your instructors. You’ll be nominally in charge of several other candidates for the final three weeks of school. Is command something that interests you?”

“Absolutely, Admiral,” he replied with a tiny nod. “It’s why I applied to OCS.”

Cafferty returned the nod. “And your friends out there,” he said, glancing at the basketball game. “Can you command friends? Send them into battle? Send them to die?”

He saw Gabriel’s jaw clench. Good, emotion, thought Cafferty. Can’t have robots in the Navy.

“Sir, I don’t have any friends,” he replied, and Cafferty caught a minute change in the tenor of his voice.

Gabriel’s file, the one Cafferty had pored over that morning on the flight in from Toronto, read like a Greek tragedy. Lost his mother to a rare form of untreatable cancer when he was only nine. Lost his father in an accident in the immediate aftermath of the Shanghai asteroid event when he was twelve. Lost his older brother when he had unexpectedly left Earth several months ago to pursue business on New Tokyo. He had no other immediate family, and he enlisted in the Navy, with the backing and help of his only other surviving relative, an uncle, a Navy man himself. He bounced around from one location to another, never staying in one place long enough to create any connections.

When Gabriel was a noncom serving in South Africa, he applied for Officer Candidate School. His commanding officer put in a glowing recommendation, part of which said that Gabriel would most likely be his commanding officer within a few years if he was granted entry.

What the file didn’t technically say, but Cafferty easily understood, was that Gabriel was alone and had been most of his life. He put his heart and soul into the military, and his achievements and grades during the first three quarters of OCS showed it. Looking at the square-jawed young man standing in front of him, hazel eyes boring into the wall, Cafferty knew Gabriel had been meant for something greater than grunt work. He suspected the man was destined for an important future.

“You have three more weeks of OCS,” said Cafferty. “After which time you will graduate to O-1, an Ensign, and be assigned to a North American Federation Navy regiment either on Earth or off-world. Do you have any preference as to where you’ll be sent?”

“No, sir,” Gabriel said immediately. “Happy to serve wherever I’m sent, sir.”

“While we both know everyone has some type of preference, I appreciate your flexibility,” said Cafferty with a small smile. “And that is the correct answer, of course.”

“Admiral, if I may?” said Basilio, and Cafferty nodded.

“Mister Gabriel, what are your goals?” she asked.

Gabriel shoulders shifted. He blinked twice, but regained his composure. “Ma’am?”

“Your goals,” Basilio repeated. “Why are you here?”

Gabriel opened his mouth to reply, then closed it. After a few moments, he answered, “I’m sorry, ma’am, I’m not sure what you mean.” His eyes never left the wall behind the bleachers, but Cafferty saw a flicker of uncertainty in them.

Basilio leaned forward. “Why did you enlist in the Navy, Mister Gabriel?”

Gabriel cleared his throat. “I’m not entirely sure, ma’am. I… I had nothing else. And it’s something…” He paused.

“Go on,” said Cafferty.

Gabriel’s lips twitched and he blinked deeply. “It’s something I thought I’d be good at. And I feel I am good at it, ma’am. Sir.”

Cafferty nodded slightly. “That you are, son. Seems as though you may have found your calling.”

He turned to Basilio. “Anything else, Lieutenant Commander?”

She shook her head. “No, sir. That’s all I wanted to hear.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Cafferty caught Gabriel’s gaze shift slightly to the man who sat two rows behind Basilio. Cafferty saw that the man had focused his eyes on Gabriel like targeting lasers.

“Never mind him,” said Cafferty. “He’s just an observer. From another department.”

“Sorry, sir, I…” Gabriel began, only to be cut off by Cafferty’s raised hand.

“No worries. Please,” he said with a wave, “rejoin the game. If I recall from my OCS days many years ago, you’ve only got a few hours open today, then it’s back to the grind.” He stared into Gabriel’s eyes. “But I’ll be watching you, son. Following your progress. I think you have a great deal of potential, Mister Gabriel. Don’t waste it.”

Gabriel’s posture tightened. “Aye aye, sir. Thank you, sir!” he snapped, then spun on one heel and jogged back to the court.

Cafferty watched him go, then grimaced as the pain in his back shot through his system once again. “What do you think, Alex?”

“I think it’s an excellent class, Admiral,” she replied. “And I think that Gabriel is obviously the standout. I also think…”

“I want him.”

Cafferty turned at the sound of the voice behind him. The man in civilian clothes stood up and stepped down the rows of metal benches, his clanging footsteps competing with the sneaker squeaking from the far side of the gym.

“You can’t have him, Pete. You know that,” said Cafferty as the man reached the bottom of the bleachers. “At least not yet. He needs to get his feet wet first.”

“Then get them wet, Eriq,” replied the man. “Authorize an accelerated pay grade jump. Bump him to O-2 right away. I know you can do that.”

Cafferty shook his head. “And he needs trial by fire. Isn’t that what you’re always asking for when you cherry-pick my finest?”

“Put him under fire,” said the man as he glanced over his shoulder at the basketball game. “You know there’s a shitstorm brewing in the Canary Islands. And you know you’ll be sending people, regardless of the election results next week.”

The man turned towards the rear door. “Give him a wartime command. Get him to O-3. Then give him to me.” He walked out of the gymnasium without another word.

Cafferty watched the twin steel doors swing shut behind the man, then looked back towards the court. The six recruits were banging into each other, harder than before, as their time off wound down. He saw Gabriel posting up a heavier but shorter man, backing him down into the paint while dribbling. Just as he was about to turn and shoot, the young woman darted in and picked his pocket. She fired the ball back to the top of the circle where her teammate waited. His uncontested jump shot snapped the netting as it sailed through the basket. Gabriel’s expression at the minor failure was pure disgust.

“Admiral, may I ask who that man was?”

Cafferty answered without turning from the game. “An old friend from Naval Special Warfare doing his own recruiting.” He stood and stretched his back. “Every now and then he stops by to see a class. I suppose Gabriel caught his department’s attention as well as ours.”

“And you’re okay with that?” Basilio asked as she stood up.

He smiled. “As long as it’s only every now and then. Sometimes a young man or woman comes along that doesn’t belong in the regular Navy. Someone meant for something bigger.” He watched as the recruits played on, sweat soaking through their workout clothes, turning the gray fabric black. “And this time, it seems to be young Mister Gabriel.”

The two officers stepped down the bleachers. Cafferty stooped to pick up his dropped flexscreen tube and grunted as his back pain flared up. Basilio quickly bent and retrieved it for him.

“Thanks, Alex,” he said. “I’m not as young as I used to be.”

“None of us are, sir.”

Basilio walked towards the doors as Cafferty took one last look at the court. The bodies were crashing together once again. He heard a voice yell, “C’mon, big E, is that all you got?” He smiled and turned towards the door to follow Basilio out.

Good luck, Mister Gabriel.

*****

GABRIEL: ZERO POINT is available for Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, and other devices.

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Excerpt from Gabriel’s Revenge, Finale of Scifi Trilogy – Ambush on Mars

Gabriel could hear the thin Mars atmosphere whipping past his combat helmet’s visor. Visibility from a thousand yards altitude was excellent, enhanced by his helmet’s optics, but no matter how hard he stared, there was simply nothing to see. Even the approaching dust storm barely visible in the distance held no interest for him.

Ordinarily, a typical first-time visitor to Mars would gawk at the wide open plain and the terraced steppes of the northern rim of Valles Marineris, or marvel at the flashes of dirty gray water ice in the shade of some of the peaks, or point excitedly at the ancient dust-covered Russian and Japanese landers. But today, like yesterday, his mind was elsewhere.

The last time he had set foot on Mars was over a week ago, kissing Renay goodbye in the skyhook terminal. There was a young boy who had been hesitant to approach him, and he had won him over with a tiny gift of a patch. The image of Renay’s smile at that small action flashed across his mind, and he closed his eyes to the outside world.

The ache in his chest returned, a similar type of ache he had felt many years ago when he learned of his father’s death during the Dark Days. But there was something else there, something different from that feeling of despair he had borne for years. He knew Renay wasn’t dead. And he was going to find her.

The secure call he had just received from Major Andon had surprised him, but not completely. Now that he had specific information in hand, information he hoped he would have prior to arriving at Eos Chasma, he was feeling more confident in the plan he was formulating.

He gritted his teeth as for the first time, he regretted bringing his team. He opened his eyes and looked around at the battlesuited soldiers arranged around the perimeter of the hopper’s platform. They stared back, though he knew they weren’t seeing him, that it was just an illusion brought on by his regret. He was sure they were looking at their HUDs, or going through their individual battle preps, or in the case of Brevik, maybe napping. They put their full trust in him, as they had for months now, and they followed him unquestioningly. Even now, with an unspoken plan of attack many outsiders would consider seat-of-the-pants, they were here.

He pushed down the regret. He brought up the schematic Andon had sent him, and he felt his lips tighten into a grim smile. Now we have a target.

The engines’ scream changed pitch as Ky delicately balanced the hopper on four tongues of flame and began their descent. Gabriel closed his eyes again, thinking back to some of Tomas Katoa’s final words on Eden. “Joining my friends in the SAR,” he had said. “They’ve got larger plans.” He clenched his armored fist hard enough that it crumpled the hopper’s safety railing he leaned against. They were behind all of this, he thought.

“Commander I’ve got… I don’t really know what I’ve got.”

Takahashi’s voice over the team net snapped Gabriel’s eyes open. He immediately linked into Takahashi’s sensors and put the image on his helmet’s HUD. The marker showing the research outpost was circled in blue, and a tiny red icon had just popped up adjacent to it. His neuretics instantly tagged it as a threat and his linked Otero systems spun up to full readiness.

“Hang on, we’ve got…” His voice was cut off in a roar of high explosive.

***

GABRIEL’S REVENGE is Book 3 of the top-rated science fiction/adventure Gabriel trilogy. Enjoy the scene, like the genre? All three are available for all major ebook platforms, and now paperback: http://steveumstead.com/my-books/

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Excerpt from Gabriel’s Revenge, Book 3: Spy Ship Brings Data…and Questions

“NAFN Richard Marcinko, this is Corporal Lewis Grienke aboard the MDF packetship Shadow. Coded message for Commander Gabriel. Please respond.”

Gabriel turned to McTiernan with his eyebrows raised. “There’s a man in that thing?”

McTiernan nodded. “Yes, we were as surprised as you. Damned thing is less than five feet across. Must have been like flying in a coffin.”

An image of the drop capsules screaming through the atmosphere of Poliahu flashed across Gabriel’s mind. “Been there, done that.” He squinted at the image on the screen. “Have you responded?”

“Yes, Ensign Giroux confirmed the receipt of the tight-beam with our own. The corporal is asking for you personally and will not release the message without your code.”

Gabriel shook his head. “I have no idea what code he’s speaking of, but I guess you’d better get me on the line with him.”

McTiernan waved his hand to Giroux and the communications officer opened a channel. “The packetship is still half a million miles or so away, so there’s a three second lag each way.”

The overhead speaker beeped with the opening of the comm link.

“Corporal Grienke, this is Commander Evan Gabriel. I received your transmission, but I do not have a code.”

After a few seconds, the overhead speaker crackled. “Thank you sir, voice code received and accepted.”

Gabriel glanced at McTiernan, who merely shrugged his shoulders. “Didn’t think it would be that simple,” Gabriel said in a low tone.

“He found us, Commander,” McTiernan replied. “He probably isn’t too worried about imposters at this point.”

Gabriel nodded. “Go ahead with your transmission, Corporal.”

Before the voice returned, Giroux called out. “Captain, I’m receiving a data stream overlaid on the transmission. It’s clean. Shall I put it up?”

“Go ahead, Ensign, same screen.”

The image of the ship and its statistics disappeared, replaced by a schematic of the solar system. The Ryokou wormhole was a green square, surrounded by several red threat dots, with Mars a flashing yellow circle. Numbers scrolled down one side of the screen showing distances, estimated armament, positioning, open corridors, and other tactical data.

“Commander, I have a message from Major Andon,” Grienke’s voice continued. “He sends his regards and his congratulations for a mission well done on Eden, but has a significant warning to pass along. And yes sir, he used the word significant. You should be seeing the data I collected on my flight out. It was… tight… getting through undetected, as the wormhole approach is littered with Chinese fighters. I’m sure they didn’t see this packetship, but they probably picked up my wormhole transit. I fully expect them to know you’re on the way. Major Andon’s warning is that these fighters have orders to shoot the Marcinko on sight, no questions asked.”

Several seconds passed in silence. Gabriel squeezed the railing hard enough to make his knuckles go white. “Just like Eden,” he said under his breath.

Grienke went on. “I’ve sent you the data on the wormhole area. I’m also sending you data on the Mars blockade ships as best as we can detect. The bulk of the Chinese ships are at Ryokou, only a handful around Mars. They seem to be putting quite an effort into blocking your entry into the system. Major Andon has also enclosed data on the situation on the ground, which is a second packet I’m sending you.”

Giroux raised his hand. “Received, Captain.”

“Corporal, stand by to be picked up,” said McTiernan.

A few seconds ticked by as the light speed transmission went out and was answered.

“Ah, sir, I’m supposed to continue on to Calypso to be attached to the MDF training force. This mission sort of dovetailed with my schedule, blockade or not. Lucky me, right?” A small laugh came through the speaker. “And while it’s a bit tighter quarters than I expected, I’d rather keep going than join you in a firefight. No offense, Captain.”

“None taken, Corporal,” McTiernan replied. “Safe travels, and thank you for the information.”

“Thank you, sir, and good luck. Shadow out.”

McTiernan shifted in his command chair to face Gabriel. “What is it with the Chinese connection?”

Gabriel shook his head, still staring at the solar system schematic. “Wish I knew, Captain. But I get the feeling we’ll find out soon enough.”

***

GABRIEL’S REVENGE is the finale of the top-rated science fiction/adventure Gabriel trilogy. Enjoy the scene, like the genre? All three are available for all major ebook platforms, and now paperback: http://steveumstead.com/my-books/

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Excerpt from Gabriel’s Return, Book 2: Heavy Weapons in Action

When Escobio Armory Ltd., a small company based in rural Mexico City, started producing weapons for the North American Federation military forces, they at first specialized in handguns, small caliber long range rifles, and man-portable light machine guns. They did not begin to manufacture pulse weapons until 2172, not long after the disastrous raid on Eden.

The NAF brass had asked Escobio’s management to help create a larger, more powerful heavy assault weapon that a soldier could carry long distances, across and through difficult terrain, and that required little to no maintenance. They had deduced from the Eden mission that a small military force, far from home, with a limited supply train, still required heavy weapons to back them up, and ones that didn’t need an ammo carrier to slow the soldier down, or vehicles to mount them on.

From this request came the Oso, or bear in Spanish. The newest incarnation of Escobio’s creation, the Oso-11, was set atop a small hill on a bipod, and behind it squatted the blurry outline of Lieutenant Harris Brevik, NAFN.

Coherent light spat from Brevik’s Oso-11, bright orange pulses of energy accelerated by shaped magnetic fields along the weapon’s three-foot long, five-inch diameter carbotanium barrel. Brevik held the trigger pad down, feeling the heat wash over his visor as the energy pulses blasted from the end of the weapon, forty times per second.

The guard barracks, built from a standard extruded plastic housing unit reinforced with steelroot studs and neopine planking walls, stood no chance. The pulses tore the building to shreds, flashes of orange light mixing with flaming wood and melting plastic expanding in all directions. Brevik walked the pulses from side to side along the top of the building, and within seconds the entire top half of the structure was shattered beyond recognition.

Several terrorists ran from the burning building, the ones that survived the initial barrage, and began firing their rifles in the general direction of Brevik’s pulses. The Oso immediately cut down two in flashes of energy, the bodies crumpling to the ground. One ran out with his hands in the air, then dropped to the ground prone. Brevik made sure the pulses skipped him.

One terrorist had made it to the cover of one of the nearby yellowboles, and was firing around the edge of it, only a glimpse of the rifle barrel visible. Brevik paused in his firing, surveying the area.

“Hey kid, can you see him?” he called.

The youth, who was squatting several yards away, rifle at the ready, nodded. “Yes, can you draw him out?”

Without a word, Brevik let loose several more pulses, blasting dirt and debris into the air on the opposite side of the yellowbole. The terrorist stepped away from the explosions, momentarily forgetting his cover. Three bullets stitched their way from his stomach to his neck, and he dropped.

“Nice shot, kid,” Brevik said. He looked back at the guard shack, and saw several more armed men running from another building towards it, firing from the hip. He pressed the trigger pad, and the Oso roared to life again.

***

GABRIEL’S RETURN is Book 2 of the top-rated science fiction/adventure Gabriel trilogy. Enjoy the scene, like the genre? All three are available for all major ebook platforms, and now paperback: http://steveumstead.com/my-books/

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Excerpt from Gabriel’s Redemption, Book 1: Back Office Troubles

When Santander arrived, Gurnett and two other security men had two plant workers seated in chairs in a back office. One of the security men was training an odd-looking handgun at them. As Santander approached, one of the plant workers stood up and pointed. “That’s him, that’s the guy who set me up for this!” he yelled.

The handgun butt smashed into the worker’s stomach, and he sat back down hard, gasping for breath.

Gurnett shook his head and looked back at Santander. “Never learn, do they?”

“No, I suppose not,” he replied, avoiding Gurnett’s face. “So what’s the situation?” he asked the non-gasping individual.

The second worker gulped nervously, looking alternately at the other worker, who was just now catching his breath, and his questioner. “You’re the security chief? You runs things here, right?” he asked.

“Correct,” said Santander, crossing his arms.

“Dural has been pocketing vials, skimming from the top of our production. I walked in on him today. I gave him a chance to explain, but he just threw your name back at me, saying you know all about it, and then accused me of stealing production equipment!”

“So you’re Rechichi?” he asked. “How long have you been here? What’s your position?”

“Four months, sir. I handle post-processing for most of the final compounds, prior to packaging. Same as Dural.” Apparently unsure of where this conversation was going, beads of sweat began to appear on his upper lip.

“And Dural?” Santander asked Gurnett.

“Two years. One of our best men,” he answered.

Rechichi was now sweating profusely, wiping his brow with the sleeve of his shirt. “I’m not lying!”

“No, I don’t think you are,” Santander replied evenly. “Wrong place at the wrong time, I suppose.”

He held his hand out to the security officer, who passed over the handgun. “Codes,” he said. The security officer flashed arming codes for the weapon to Santander’s neuretics, and the handgun powered up.

“Wait!” screamed Rechichi, holding his hands up, palms out, in protest. “You can’t do this!”

Santander raised the weapon, the tingle in the grip indicating it was armed and fully charged. “Of course I can. I run things here, remember?” And he fired.

The handgun wasn’t silenced, so a loud piercing clangggg filled the small office. The depleted uranium pellet shot from the barrel, accelerated by magnetic fields to over six thousand miles per hour, and smashed through the plant worker’s skull. The entry wound was tiny, matching the pellet’s 3 millimeter diameter, but the resulting exit wound wasn’t nearly as neat. The back of Rechichi’s head exploded onto the wall behind him, and his body flew backwards out of the chair, onto a large plastic sheet. A small hole was visible in the back wall, now dripping with brain matter and blood.

Damn, Thao, what the hell is this thing?” Santander asked the security man, looking in wonderment at the weapon.

The security man who had given Santander the gun smiled. “Miniature railgun, sir. Made by Strittmaier out of New Berlin. Newest tech on the market. Undetectable to electronic or neuretic scans too. Cost me a month’s pay to afford it.”

Santander nodded. “I like it. No recoil, that’s fantastic.” He turned it over in his hands a few times. “A little loud though. Gurnett, look into getting some of these. And reimburse Thao for having to buy his own.”

Thao beamed. “Thank you sir.”

Santander looked over at Dural, whose wheezing had completely stopped. Even his breathing had stopped as he stared behind him at the carnage that was his coworker.

“Dural,” Santander said.

Dural’s head snapped back. “Yes, uh, sorry. Thanks Mr. Santander. He just walked in on me, he shouldn’t even have been on shift. Won’t happen again, I know you need those vials, and I’ll keep them coming.”

“I do need those vials. What I don’t need are morons working for me.” He raised the pistol again, and fired twice into Dural’s chest. The body toppled over to rest near Rechichi, two holes blown clean through his chest, the chair back, and the wall. The dual clangs reverberated off the ceiling and walls.

“Hot damn, I love this thing!” he exclaimed, handing it back to Thao. “Gurnett, you gotta get me one. First on the list, hear me?”

Gurnett nodded. “Absolutely. Sorry again to bother you.”

“Not a problem, I needed a little release,” Santander answered. “Nice touch with the plastic sheeting, makes cleanup a lot easier.”

He strode from the room, whistling.

***

GABRIEL’S REDEMPTION is Book 1 of the top-rated science fiction/adventure Gabriel trilogy. Enjoy the scene, like the genre? All three are available for all major ebook platforms, and now paperback: http://steveumstead.com/my-books/

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On 50th anniversary of first American to orbit Earth, Glenn pushes for manned Mars mission…and so do I

From Space.com:

1975 Viking photo of Mars

Former NASA astronaut John Glenn is pushing for manned exploration of Mars and other farflung destinations.

On Feb. 20, 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit Earthwhen his Friendship 7 capsule zipped around our planet three times, then splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean. Glenn’s flight put the United States back on even footing with the Soviet Union, which had launched the first manned orbital flight in April 1961.

The U.S.-Soviet space race in the 1960s got much of the American public excited about space science and exploration. That enthusiasm has since flagged, but sending astronauts to the Red Planet could help rekindle it, Glenn said.

“We haven’t done everything we should be doing in low-Earth orbit, as far as I’m concerned,” Glenn said. “I think your best way to Mars is assembling the vehicle in low-Earth orbit, and then eventually going out of low-Earth orbit from that.”

 

I’m a huge fan of manned spaceflight; one of my high school memories was running home as fast as I could to see the television coverage of the Challenger explosion after hearing rumors in school. And who hasn’t envisioned men (and women) on Mars? Mars has been such a driving force in my imagination, I couldn’t help but make it a central part of many scenes in my works. And with that, an obligatory snippet, this one from Gabriel’s Revenge (book 3):

Gabriel could hear the thin Mars atmosphere whipping past his combat helmet’s visor. Visibility from a thousand yards altitude was excellent, enhanced by his helmet’s optics, but no matter how hard he stared, there was simply nothing to see. Even the approaching dust storm barely visible in the distance held no interest for him.

Ordinarily, a typical first-time visitor to Mars would gawk at the wide open plain and the terraced steppes of the northern rim of Valles Marineris, or marvel at the flashes of dirty gray water ice in the shade of some of the peaks, or point excitedly at the ancient dust-covered Russian and Japanese landers…

I’d very much like to see a manned landing on Mars before I shuffle off this mortal coil…hurry up, guys.

 

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An excerpt a day keeps the anticipation at bay… Gabriel’s Revenge

It’s official! Gabriel’s Revenge, the final installment in the bestselling scifi-adventure trilogy, is complete and will be uploaded to Amazon and BN in time for the holidays! Here’s a snippet:

 

Gabriel had just cinched his straps when the Marcinko’s engines ignited, pressing each of them back into their seats in the shuttle. He heard Olszewski mutter a curse from next to him. He looked over at the private with a raised eyebrow.

“Sorry, sir. I’m a ground pounder. I hate this shit. Necessary evil to get me where I need to go I guess, but doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

Gabriel turned back to the front of the shuttle. He stared past the pilot’s helmet and out the viewport, where he could see a sliver of starry space. The ventral bay doors had begun to open.

He closed his eyes and linked his neuretics in to the Marcinko’s battlecomp feed. He saw with some satisfaction the other five in his team all did the same. He knew some did it for the thrill of watching the battle unfold, some for the situational awareness. Whatever their reasons, he didn’t blame them. It wasn’t just a learning experience for him either. He wanted to see the enemy. And see them destroyed.

The specialist that had loaded them and their gear, Allen, was also their pilot. His hand flew over the switches mounted in front of him as he prepared the shuttle for launch.

“Sirs and ma’am, hold on,” Allen called out. “The captain’s got some rapid maneuvers planned, and we’re getting spit out in the middle of them. Hope no one ate lunch yet.”

“Keven?” It was Sowers’s voice.

“Zip it,” said Brevik. “Watch.”

Gabriel kept his eyes closed and let his Mindseye show him the situation.

The Marcinko went to full power and arced down towards Mars. Gabriel felt his chest squeezed by the G-forces and tried to control his breathing as he saw multicolored stars behind his eyelids. After a few seconds the heavy acceleration eased and the stars cleared, leaving him more able to focus on the Mindseye feed.

The battlecomp tagged the blockade fighter with a red icon. The projected path of the Marcinko was just outside of its orbit, but Gabriel saw the flight path of the shuttle, once launched, went almost directly through the red icon. He remembered McTiernan’s order to the tac officer to ‘remove it from the equation’, so he was not surprised when he heard the clank of the internal missile launcher falling into place in front of their shuttle.

The rotating launcher spat two Jayhawk missiles, then immediately swung back up to the ceiling of the docking bay. Another clank sounded throughout the cabin as the launch arm grabbed the shuttle and set it into position above the open ventral doors. The Marcinko began its release maneuver and Gabriel was pressed into his seat. With a loud hiss of hydraulics that could be heard even within the pressurized cabin, the shuttle fell from the docking bay, and he went weightless.

Gabriel’s Mindseye painted a vivid image of the scene around them: the Marcinko peeling away from their position, the two Jayhawks going hypersonic in front of them, and the dusty orange globe below them. The serene image lasted only a split second before Allen fired the shuttle engines and initiated the descent.

The picket fighter never stood a chance. It was only using station-keeping thrusters and apparently not expecting an attack, especially one that came from a hole in space. The Jayhawks were on it before it even had an opportunity to light its engine.

“Hold on!” yelled Allen. Gabriel opened his eyes to look out past the pilot. The explosion of the fighter loomed ahead and grew quickly in size as the shuttle accelerated towards Mars. A sound like nails on metal decking rattled through the cabin as the debris from the explosion peppered the hull of the shuttle.

“We’re clear!” The pilot turned to look over his shoulder. “Everyone A-OK?”

Gabriel saw Olszewski raise a thumb next to him, then heard a retching from Takahashi behind him. He ignored it — at this point he was used to it — and stared out of the pilot’s viewport.

Ahead of them lay Mars. And Renay.

***

Enjoy the genre, like the scene? Get into the trilogy with book 1, Gabriel’s Redemption, and book 2, Gabriel’s Return, available for all e-book platforms using the links on the right of this page. Thanks for stopping by!

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