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Authors: Steve White,Charles E. Gannon

Tags: #Science Fiction, #Military, #Fiction, #General, #Space Opera

Extremis

BOOK: Extremis
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Extremis-ARC
A Starfire Novel

Steve White &
Charles E. Gannon

 

 

 

Advance Reader Copy

Unproofed

Baen

ALSO IN THE STARFIRE SERIES

by David Weber & Steve White

Crusade

In Death Ground

The Stars At War

Insurrection

The Shiva Option

The Stars at War II

by Steve White & Shirley Meier

Exodus

BAEN BOOKS by STEVE WHITE

Blood of the Heroes

The Prometheus Project

Demon's Gate

Forge of the Titans

Eagle Against the Stars

Prince of Sunset

The Disinherited

Legacy

Debt of Ages

Extremis

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2011 by Steve White & Charles E. Gannon

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Books Original

Baen Publishing Enterprises

P.O. Box 1403

Riverdale, NY 10471

www.baen.com

ISBN: 978-1-4391-3433-7

Cover art by Dave Seeley

First printing, May 2011

Distributed by Simon & Schuster

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

tk

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Printed in the United States of America

PROLOGUE

Sandro McGee dove sideways into the dirty alley just as the rooftop defense blister spun and fired a flechette round in his direction. The corner of the alley was immediately and ferociously flayed by a swarm of zipping and spatting high-velocity micro-darts.

“Damn, those alien gizmos are fast,” commented Harry “Light Horse” Li.

McGee rolled up into a crouch, readied his assault rifle, prepared to lunge toward the corner for a peek-around. “They’re not faster than
me
.” He ducked his head around the now-ragged masonry—and flinched away from the blast of automatic gunfire that greeted him.

“Yes, they’re faster than you.” McGee could hear Harry Li’s satisfied smirk.

“No, they’re
not
.” McGee tugged off his helmet. He rose to his feet, he toed it around the corner. That elicited a slightly different greeting: individually fired slugs. McGee smiled at the uneven intervals between impacts.
Ah, now
that’s
being fired by meatware.

McGee swung around the corner—just weapon and eyes—and let the Serrington Arms sight do its work. The “Serrie sight” was the one relatively modern device on McGee’s obsolete battle rifle. Its combined audio-optical “threat-trackback” system instantly assessed the directionality and intensity of sound waves from enemy fire, did a quick laserscan of all objects moving in its front 120 degrees, and threw a targeting solution into the scope. Which McGee followed, elevating the barrel until the crosshairs lay on a partially seen Baldy, hunched low in the cupola of the town hall. The Baldy looked almost human as he profiled himself for a moment—but then McGee registered the absence of ears and nose: he squeezed the trigger. The venerable 8.5 mm battle rifle began hammering against his shoulder—just as the Baldy’s smaller, higher-velocity slugs started gouging at the concrete next to McGee’s left cheek. For one surreal moment it was more like a personal duel than a firefight: the big human’s denser, slower stream of metal punched at the Baldy’s armored rooftop cupola; the Baldy’s intermittent counterfire stabbed down at the human, fast and vicious. Neither would cede the advantage.

McGee counted through another second, knew his clip was about to burn dry—and then the incoming fire ceased. Shifting down to a clear view over his iron sights, McGee saw a hint of faltering movement. He popped his eye back up to the scope—just in time to see his adversary duck unsteadily down beneath the lip of the cupola.

“Move! Move!” McGee shouted to his rear as he started sprinting toward the front steps of the town hall. “Get tight against the building—under their field of fire!”

Li was right behind McGee, but Varazian, the guy from the Resistance cell out in Lemnos, wasn’t. Probably delayed by another snafu with his civvy com-set: the store-bought system occasionally skipped a beat while syncing with the milspec rigs. Whatever the reason, Varazian was the last on his feet and trailed Li by four meters as they charged across the square.

McGee reached the heavy concrete balustrade of the front stairs, looked back to check his team’s progress—and saw an antipersonnel rocket rush down and catch Varazian square in the chest. The forty-one-year-old reservist corporal was blown clean off his feet and backward, out of sight.

McGee suppressed a sigh as he put his hand up to his com-rig. He was surprised to feel the wrist flare of his Kevleuron gauntlet graze his ear roughly.
Oh, yeah—I left my helmet behind.
“Varazian, report. Varazian—?”

“Biorelay indicates Varazian is KIA.” Captain Falco’s voice boomed into the link; there was no mistaking a milspec command set. “Cestus 3, proceed to objective.”

“Olympus, Cestus 3 is down to two combat effectives, I repeat, two combat effectives. Request—”

“You’re on your own, Cestus 3. Everyone’s up to their asses punching through Baldy weapon blisters. No help to send your way. Advise when you have taken objective Alpha to receive new orders. Olympus out.”

“Well, ain’t that special,” McGee grunted as he swapped magazines: only two left.
Damn
. “What’s with this shitty load-out, Harry?”

“Old guns and spare ammo is all we’ve got for local raids.” Light Horse Li shifted his AK-74 so that, when he started running again, it would rise directly into an easy assault carry. “Think you’ve got it bad? Look at this antique.”

“You ain’t joking. Where’d you get that? Museum?”

Harry shook his head, gathered his legs under him to lead the rush up the stairs. “Nope. From a reenactment group. Here we go.”

And Light Horse was off, bounding up the stairs two at a time. McGee’s treelike legs launched his 1.8-meter frame after the smaller man, whose shorter limbs cycled faster and had the advantage over short distances. While Li bounded toward the entry, McGee followed him upward at a fast, crabbed crouch, keeping his Alliant-Rimstar battle rifle sweeping across the upper-story windows. He’d just finished sweeping right when he caught a hint of movement to the far left.
Typical: wait for the sucker to be facing the other way
.
But I’m no sucker.

McGee spun down into a tight kneel: two Baldy rifle rounds spat over his head. He sent a matched pair of five-round bursts back at the offending window; the second blast of 8.5 mm discarding sabot rounds chewed through the facade, and a Baldy rifle tumbled down into the street.

“I’m clear!” yelled Harry. “Covering you!”

McGee lurched up and took the remaining steps three at a time. Light Horse had come out a bit from the building’s double-doored entry, sweeping the upper-story windows at an impossibly narrow arc but ready to hit them with suppressive fire even so. McGee bounded abreast of Li—who peeled off and joined him in a two-step rush-and-spin that ended with their backs smacking firmly against the wall.

“Well, that was fun,” Li observed.

“And I’m sure it gets better.”

“Probably so. You take point.”

“Me?”

“Of course, Sandro. Age before beauty.”

“You little shit—”

“The truth hurts doesn’t it, Tank?”

And “Tank” McGee had to admit that Light Horse’s semi-Sino features were smoother and finer than his own, and that the little corporal was three years his junior. But these trivial idiocies had only meant something back in the Real World—which they, and the rest of Bellerophon’s human populace, had left behind months ago.

“Laser sensors on,” snapped McGee.

“Baldies don’t use booby traps,” began Light Horse.

“They’re sure to start. Maybe today. So—laser sensors on, pip-squeak.”

“Yes, Your Immensity. Laser sensor is on.”

“Right. Follow me.”

And together they rolled around to shoulder open the double doors, going in low and working to either side. The wide, marble-floored hall was empty, apart from a few scattered papers and a forgotten umbrella lying in the center of the floor. Here all activity had stopped the day the Baldies had invaded.

“Looks clear,” commented Li.

“Looks can be deceiving—and on battlefields, they usually are.” McGee rose to a half crouch, started forward. “We go slow, give the laser sensors time to find any trip wires that the Baldies might have—” That was when his sensor went off.

“I guess I owe you a beer,” grumbled Light Horse, who used his sensor to accelerate their triangulation on the laser “trigger beam” that McGee’s own sensor had detected. Together they worked toward the signal—and discovered a laser trip wire across the broad, main staircase that was the central feature of the entry hall.

“Hah—Mr. Baldy’s locked his cellar door,” Li observed, misting the lasers and finding the pattern too tight to wriggle through or under.

“But he didn’t use too tricky a lock.” McGee pointed up into the stairwell: a pair of directional mines—human—angled downward.

Li came over to look. “So they’re using our old munitions against us now.”

“That was only a matter of time.”

“So, what’s the plan?”

“Any biosigns on this level?”

“My crap-grade civvy scanner reads a definite no. Which means probably not. Which really means maybe.” Li put away the bargain-store biosensor.

“Still, that agrees with intel and the prior thermal-imaging sweep. I say we pop the lock and head upstairs fast. Weapons in assault carry, shoot whatever moves.”

“Sounds like a plan. But Tank…”

“Yeah?”

“What if they’ve put in more mines?”

“We keep the laser sensors running, and our own five senses alert. And every second we talk about it gives them one more second to organize a reception. We move.”

They fell back, away from the staircase, McGee picking up the umbrella as he took cover behind a bank of chairs. “Ready?”

“Yah.”

McGee aimed, flung the umbrella at the base of the stairs, dove for the deck.

Even as he dropped prone, the downward blast from the directional mines gnashed shrapnel teeth against the first five risers and sent marble and metal bits sleeting out into the lobby.

Before the roar had died out, the two Marine reservists were on their feet, weapons ready. They sprinted through the smoke and the dust, then pounded up the stairs—which split into two narrower flights on either side of an atrium shaft that rose through the remaining two stories of the building. McGee went right; Light Horse left.

Li came to the top of his staircase a moment before McGee, who saw him check his laser sensor and then swing around the corner into the second floor’s hallway.

As Li went forward, McGee heard a thin, metallic, almost musical snapping sound—like an impossibly fine piano string breaking.
An old-style, hair-thin trip wire. Damn.

Because the events that followed were expected—were part of every soldier’s waking nightmare—they seemed to unfold with surreal slowness. Li looked down, realized what he’d done, looked back at McGee—maybe for help, maybe to say good-bye. From the hall behind Li, McGee saw a Bouncing Betty—a spring-ejected mine—pop up on a slanting trajectory that would put it waist high when it went off. And from the corner of his right eye, McGee saw its twin clearing the hallway corner he had yet to reach. McGee knew that, being a few meters farther away, he might be lucky enough only to be blinded, his face torn into a hideous shredded oval.

The Bouncing Betty next to Li went off. The blast did not just bisect him: Light Horse Harry was completely and utterly blown apart—

blown apart

blown apart

blown apart

And again and again and again and—

“Shit and damn this sim,” roared Falco, his voice sharp and furious in McGee’s headset. The big Marine opened his eyes, which he hadn’t realized he had shut. The Bouncing Betty on his side of the staircase was suspended in midair, three meters ahead, a bit fuzzy at the edges, as was often the case with VR sim images frozen by a program error.

“What now?” asked McGee.

“Sit tight, McGee,” snapped Falco. “We’re working on it.”

Harry Li had rolled over on his back, hands behind his head. “Hell, I don’t have to hold position—I’m dead.”

“Lucky you.”

“You have no idea. The last time they actually tried to resume a crashed sim, we all had to play ‘freeze in place’ for twenty minutes.”

“Long time to wait to continue a drill.”

“Huh. We didn’t get to continue. They crashed the program and had to reboot. Game over.”

Falco was back on the com-rig. “All right, stand down. The damned computers are well and truly fried for the day. Police your gear and expendables.”

BOOK: Extremis
3.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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