With the recent conclusion of David Sherman’s 18th Race trilogy going to press, we thought it would be nice to share excerpts from the series. This week’s excerpt is from book one, Issue In Doubt.
ISSUE IN DOUBT – PROLOG – FIRST CONTACT
McKinzie Elevator Base, Outside Millerton,
Semi-Autonomous World Troy
Samuel Rogers jerked when he heard the beeping of the proximity alert. He spun in his chair to look at the approach displays and his jaw dropped. With one hand he toggled the space-comm to hail the incoming ship, with the other he reached for the local comm to call Frederick Franklin, his boss.
Franklin sounded groggy when he answered. “This better be good, Rogers. I just got to sleep.”
“Sorry, Chief, but are we expecting any starships? One just popped up half an AU north. Uh oh.”
“No, we aren’t expecting anyone. And what do you mean, ‘uh oh’?”
“Chief—” Rodgers’ voice broke and he had to start again. “Chief, data coming in says the incoming starship is three klicks wide.”
“Bullshit,” Franklin snapped. “There aren’t any starships that big!”
“I know. It’s got to be an asteroid. And it’s on an intercept vector.”
“There aren’t any asteroids north.” Franklin’s voice dropped to a barely intelligible mumble. “North, that would explain how it ‘just popped up.’” Indistinct noises sounded to Rogers like his boss was getting dressed. “Have you tried to hail her?”
“The same time I called you. But half an AU. . .”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Stand by, I’m on my way.”
“Standing by.” Rogers sounded relieved.
Franklin burst into the spaceport’s operations room and headed straight for the approach displays. In seconds he absorbed the data, and let out a grunt.
“Any reply yet?” he asked.
Rogers shook his head. “Too soon, Chief.”
Franklin grimaced; he should have realized that and not have asked such a dumb question. The starship—asteroid, whatever—was half an Astronomical Unit out, half the distance from old Earth to Sol. It would take about four minutes for the hail to reach the incoming object, and another four minutes for a reply to come back. Plus however much time it would take for whoever it was to decide to answer the hail. The two men watched the data display as time ticked by.
After watching for another fifteen minutes, with no reply, and nothing but confirmation as to its velocity, vector, and probable impact time, Franklin decided to kick the problem upstairs.
“Office of the President.” James Merton’s voice was thick when he answered the president’s comm; the night duty officer must have been dozing.
“Jim, Fred here. We’ve got a situation that requires some attention from the boss.”
“Can it wait until morning? Bill’s had a long day, and he’s dead to the world.”
“Come morning, it might be too late to do anything.”
“Come on, Fred,” Merton said. “No offense intended, but you’re an elevator operator. What kind of earth-shattering problem can you possibly have?”
“Exactly that: a literally earth-shattering problem. There’s a large object on an intercept course. That’s large, as in planet-buster. It’ll be here in less than a standard day.”
There was a momentary silence before Merton asked, “You aren’t kidding, are you?”
“I wish. Stand by for the data.” Franklin nodded to Rogers, who transmitted a data set to the president’s office. A minute later, Franklin and Rogers heard Merton swear under his breath.
“You called it, something that big really is a planet buster, isn’t it?” the duty officer asked.
“Unfortunately,” Franklin answered.
“Now, according to the data you sent me, the object is metallic, and it seems to have the density of a starship rather than the density of an asteroid. Am I reading those figures right?”
“You’re reading right,” Franklin said. “But nobody makes starships that big.”
“At least nobody we know of,” Rogers murmured. “Have you tried to contact it, I mean, in case it is a starship?”
“Yes, we did.” Franklin looked at Rogers, who held up four fingers. “Four times. No response.”
“And you’re sure it’s on a collision course?”
Franklin shivered. “Absolutely.”
“Keep trying to make contact. I’ll wake the president.”
An hour and a half later, a three-man Navy rescue team under the command of Lieutenant (j.g.) Cyrus Hayden, rode the elevator up to Base 1, in geosynchronous orbit, where they boarded the tender John Andrews to take a closer look at the rapidly approaching object. If it was a starship their orders were to again attempt radio contact. If she did not reply, to attempt to board her. If the object was an unusual asteroid, Hayden and his men were to plant a nuclear device on its side, then back off to a safe distance before detonating the bomb. It was hoped that the explosion would deflect the object’s course enough to avoid the collision that was looking more certain with each passing minute.
The North American Union Navy tender John Andrews was still 100,000 kilometers from the object when laser beams lanced out from it and shredded the tender.
Twenty shocked minutes later, the orbital lasers of Troy’s defensive batteries shot beams of coherent light. The only effect the lasers seemed to have on the object, which was now obviously a warship from some unknown people, was to provide the enemy with the location of the defensive weapons. Within minutes, all of Troy’s orbital laser batteries were knocked out by counter-battery fire from the enemy starship. It had committed an act of war when it vaporized the John Andrews, hadn’t it? Didn’t that make it the enemy?
When the enemy starship was a quarter million kilometers out, it fired braking rockets, which slowed its speed and altered its vector enough to reach high orbit rather than colliding with the planet. Small objects began flicking off it and heading toward the surface.
Ground-based laser and missile batteries began firing at the small vessels. The mother-ship killed those batteries as easily as she had killed the orbital batteries.
Shortly after that the first landers made planetfall, and reports of wholesale slaughter began coming in, William F. Lukes, President of Troy, ordered all the data they had on the invasion uploaded onto drones and the drones launched: Destination Earth.
The unidentified enemy killed the first several drones, but stopped shooting them when it became obvious that they were running away rather than attacking.
Two days later, four of the drones reached the Sol System via wormhole. It took ten more days for a North American Union Navy frigate to pick one of them up and carry it to Garroway Base on Mars, from where its coded message was transmitted to the NAU’s Supreme Military Headquarters on Earth.
David Sherman is the author or co-author of some three dozen books, most of which are about Marines in combat.
He has written about US Marines in Vietnam (the Night Fighters series and three other novels), and the DemonTech series about Marines in a fantasy world. The 18th Race trilogy is military science fiction.
Other than military, he wrote a non-conventional vampire novel, The Hunt, and a mystery, Dead Man’s Chest. He has also released a collection of short fiction and non-fiction from early in his writing career, Sherman’s Shorts; the Beginnings.
With Dan Cragg he wrote the popular Starfist series and its spin off series, Starfist: Force Recon—all about Marines in the Twenty-fifth Century.; and a Star Wars novel, Jedi Trial.
His books have been translated into Czech, Polish, German, and Japanese.
After going to war as a U.S. Marine infantryman, and spending decades writing about young men at war, he’s burnt out on the subject and has finally come home. Today he’s writing short fiction, mostly steampunk and farcical fantastic Westerns.
He lives in sunny South Florida, where he doesn’t have to worry about hypothermia or snow-shoveling-induced heart attacks. He invites readers to visit his website, novelier.com.