Conviction Blasts Off

Released November 2014 and still in Amazon’s top 25 free Science Fiction Space Marines and Space Fleet categories!

Conviction: A Spectras Arise Novella

Prequel to the Spectras Arise Trilogy

Trusting others is your first mistake.

After barely escaping the insurrection of a fellow Corpsmember that caused the destruction of their fleet gunship, Sergeants Aly and David Erikson along with one other crewmember are stranded on a backwater planet where the locals are more hostile than the rebellion they’d just escaped. On the run, under attack from the scavengers who plague the system, and out of options, the three face conflict from every direction. If they can’t find a way to fight together, their chances for survival are less than zero. And for one of them, the best solution may come down to one simple act: betrayal. In this prequel to the popular Spectras Arise Trilogy, readers get an intimate look into the events that led Aly and David Erikson on their path from decorated and dedicated soldiers to black-market arms smugglers, and ultimately, to rebels against the Political and Capital Administration of the Advanced Worlds.

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Fancy a look inside? Read on:

Chapter 1: ALL BETS ARE OFF

We humans may be technologically savvy and capable of living in steel cans that fly through space at speeds no one believed were possible seven hundred years ago, but something in us will never forget that we came from dirt. And we don’t feel like ourselves unless we’re crawling in it.

That’s what I’m telling myself as I prepare for my match inside the earthen-floored fighting cage, up next. Prep started at midday and revolved around the attempt to drown the monsters in my brain with another cup of forbidden—or should I say fermented?—fruit. It was a natural progression to once again find myself here, competing in the Terra Feara Cage Fights. My soon-to-be opponent is already covered in grime, her preceding matches having ended with her taking only a couple of spills and quick victories. They’d dragged her first two victims out by the heels. Now I sit in my corner, swilling the last of my ill-gotten liquor and waiting for the bettors and debtors to place their final marks and the referee to give her and me the go signal.

Booze is prohibited by the Political and Capital Administration of the Advanced Worlds, the Admin, and I’ll end up with something heavier than a wrist slap by my Corps platoon leader for being shitfaced today if he finds out, but fuck it. I’m on leave, I’m on Obal 8, technically my home world, and I need something with a hell of a lot more punch than Betty the Fighting Bear over there can give me to forget about our last mission, the one that had made Central decide my unit could do with some R&R. As if R&R could erase the memory of those slaughtered non-citizens on Ohm Lumi, or replace it.

It hadn’t been that hard to find the contraband I’m swallowing. Obal 8 might be an Admin-governed planet, but I am an enterprising soldier. Ha! Just call me Aly “Enterprising” Erikson. The thought strikes my funny bone harder than it should, and when I tilt my head back to laugh, the late-evening radiance of the system’s three suns combines and swirls nauseatingly, making me grip ahold of my stool hard in order to keep from tipping off it. Closing my eyes, I stay where I am for the moment, leaning back against the sun-warmed composite wall of the cage. So I’m a lightweight with the booze, so what? I earned this.

Earned it? Or bought it with someone else’s blood? My eyes part in a careful squint, still looking into the sky, and the miners’ faces, the non-cits on Ohm Lumi, emerge from the prickly gleam like angry spirits. They’d had children with them; we’d had a squad of fifteen weapon-toting soldiers with only the vaguest idea of what they’d done to deserve the barrage of destiny we were about to unleash on them. A Corps gun depot looted, a few soldiers injured, the non-cits disabling weapon DNA triggers so they could launch some kind of go-nowhere armed insurrection. My unit’s job was to neutralize them, any way our leadership saw fit.

Follow orders. Just follow orders.

“Ready your weapon, Erikson.”

“No, sir, I’m not shooting at kids.”

“Those aren’t kids, those are hostiles with guns aimed in our direction. You will return fire.”

“No.”

“Erikson!”

“Erikson!”

The squat, bald man refereeing the fight shouts my name again, and this time I realize I’m in the cage, not back there, not back in that dark mine with walls painted with blood.

“You ready to fight?” the ref says.

All fifty or so years of his hardened attitude toward the kind of person who uses her own body as an offering to the demons of pain and suffering give his voice a “fuck if I care” edge. I know how he feels. Instead of answering, I stand, reel for a second, catch myself with a hand to the cage wall, then move to the center. Big Betty—what had the fight list said her name is? Doesn’t matter, she’s Betty to me—meets me there. Despite the liquor-saturation level of my brain, I’m reminded that citizens and non-citizens both have other juices and drugs besides alcohol to give them whatever chemical boost they want. The one Betty’s hopped up on lends the expression fixed on her dirt-streaked face a rigid, fierce aggression that could scare a viper. It’s instantly clear to me that no matter what I do to her, she’s not going to feel it; the juice in her veins will block any damage or pain I could inflict. So I better knock her down first—and make sure she can’t get up.

The Bear has ten or fifteen kilos on me, and just under that number in centimeters of height. I’ve seen her a couple of times at the fights before, though never as my opponent. But she’s a citizen, soft, not a Capital Military Corps graduate with ten years of physical combat training and twenty-four years of anger to channel into the bout. A bad temper can discharge a hell of a thumping. And now I have this new thing, this guilt thing. It’s got nowhere to go but crazy. My liquor-addled brain sends up a flare of compassion for her. Poor girl.

She stares at me, smirking like she knows something I don’t, which elicits a second flare, one that warns weakly of danger. I quickly remember to put in my mouth guard. I grew up a citizen and have the good teeth, which I’d like to preserve, to show for it. No reason to wreck this face more than necessary. Betty watches me insert the guard, then smiles broadly, revealing a face full of metal that looks as solid as a gun butt. These matches aren’t fought with gloves. I’ll have to remember not to hit her in the jaw, which will make it harder to knock her out. Bummer.

As the ref tells us the rules—which we both know and which he knows we both know, but the crowd demands its show—Betty and I stare each other down. I have to force my eyes not to cross while I try to focus, but the adrenaline drip of the looming fight starts sobering me up, little by little. I’m good in the ring, and this is where I always come when leave brings us back to the Obals; lots of the gamblers who know me are going to make some currency tonight. In a society with proscriptions against harming self or others (unless you’re a soldier)—no drinking, no smoking, no guns allowed—you have to find your fun wherever else you can. Bien Gang is a citizen city, but being located near a Corps base makes it a soldier’s playground, and soldiers have turned it into the twenty-sixth century’s gladiatorial arena. Reminding me again that we are all animals, all from the same dirt.

The watching crowd, maybe fifty or sixty citizens and soldiers, wait in silence while the ref belts out the regs—no biting, no eye gouging, no kicking in the groin—and he pauses dramatically with a fist in the air before giving the signal to sound the bell. As soon as his arm drops, the crowd surges, first their bodies crowding against the transparent cage walls, then their voices, shouts, jeers, curses, cascading over Betty and me like a vicious waterfall. The newbies out there think Betty will win. Part of me can’t wait to rub their faces in their coming disappointment.

She’s quick, though, and lands the first punch. I feel it coming intuitively and sidestep and duck, but not fast enough. Her ragged knuckles graze my cheek and ear. Nothing I can’t handle. More fight-ready adrenaline surges, and I rush into her. She tries to swing again, but I dodge and throw my arms around her neck like I’m hugging an old friend, swing around and get a hip into her midsection, then throw her body over me and land with my full weight atop her. She grunts like a kicked dog, and I hold my advantage, getting an arm back around her neck and putting her in a side headlock, trying to squeeze her throat closed. The crowd is roaring, a hydra of excitement and rage. I barely hear it, my own heartbeat too loud in my ears.

This is almost too easy flits through my head. Then it isn’t. Somehow, she squirms low and flips onto her stomach, breaking my hold. I drop a couple of hammer blows on the back of her head, trying to make myself heavier on her back, but she bucks and I’m off. And then she’s wrapping her legs around my chest, trying to get a solid grip on my dirty, sweaty arm to get me in an arm bar. I get my elbow against her inner thigh before she can, sliding it down to wedge it against her kneecap. I press with all my might, folding myself around her leg using my abdominals to try for enough force to dislocate her knee. She has to roll away, releasing her tenuous grip on my arm, and we both lunge to our feet.

Circling, breathing heavy, not feeling the bruises already forming. This is what I call fun, or a distraction from reality, which is the same thing these days. Movement in the mass outside the cage walls catches my eye, a familiar face. I glance, but it isn’t a familiar face, or it shouldn’t be familiar. It’s a miner, one of the dead ones, the black dust from Ohm Lumi clumped obscenely in his bloody hair.

She strikes me in the gut with a kick that would drop a horse. Every light in the world coalesces and flashes dazzlingly inside my head as I go down, then my vision pinholes. She’s already beside me, kicking me in the back, the kidneys, the hamstrings. I feel the thuds, but I don’t, still trying to shake the vision of the dead non-cit. Survival instinct takes over, and I spin around with my feet to her, still lying on my back. Now she has to go through my legs to get to me. She gets too close, and I land a kick on her meaty thigh, just inside of the same knee I’d already strained. She wobbles, enough time for me to scramble backward and to my feet. I don’t let my eyes leave her again. Can’t afford another guilt-sopped hallucination.

My back screams at me, the muscles feeling like jelly that’s about to liquefy and drop me to the ground in a puddle. She’s breathing hard, I’m breathing harder, my solar plexus still trying to unclench after the kick she’d given it. But I’m not losing this fight. Too many of my friends have bets on me, for me. I’ll never be rich, but I want to at least be comfortable when I get out of the Corps.

Closing the gap between us fast, I feint low, then launch a haymaker. She’s not expecting it, and I connect with her ear. She stumbles, and I lose my balance—fucking booze—and stumble with her. Luck is with me as we go down in a heap, me on top again. This time I wrap and hold her with every muscle in my body, squeezing thighs, arms, and feet together to immobilize her. I have her in a complete lock from behind, her body practically in my lap. She’s grappling me, trying to get an arm free to pull my leg away, but I’m not giving up. She jerks forward, and I almost come loose, but a second later I’m sliding one arm farther under her armpit and across her body, gripping my wrist with my other hand, and locking everything tight once more across her neck and against her chest. I feel her arm flailing wildly, flapping uselessly toward my face. If I can just hold on, she’ll be oxygen deprived and unconscious in a few more seconds. My own breathing strains, all my muscles beginning to cramp from the exertion of keeping her trapped. Heaving myself flat on my back with her over me, in a final effort I get my thighs higher around her midsection and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze! Her flailing arm drops toward the dirt in what might be a tap out or might just be her going limp. Either way, the ref calls it and the bell sounds again.

Letting my body finally go slack is blissful relief. I push her off me and use the cage wall to help me stand. The ref grabs one of my arms and raises it, and sweat runs from my hairline into my eyes, stinging and making me squint. Another victory. I wonder fleetingly what it would feel like to be happy to have won.

The cage door is opened, and a couple of my opponent’s friends come to help her. She’s already awake, and I’m at least glad about the fact that I hadn’t really hurt her badly. Some of the locals chant my name, and I risk a look into the crowd to see smiles of victory—I knew money stood to be made, and a good crowd of spectators knew it too.

Then I catch something that pleases me considerably less. A squad of uniformed Corpsmembers pushing their way through the mass, directly toward me. Greg Tollhut, a friend, leads them.

“Erikson! Why haven’t you been answering your coms?” he asks when the squad reaches me.

“Why the hell are you in uniform?” I return, scooping up my shirt from the bench beside the cage and putting it on.

“Leave’s been canceled. You’re in deep shit for not reporting in.”

Fuck.

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