Authors: Jay Allan
Successors Book I
By Jay Allan
Copyright 2015 Jay Allan Books Inc.
All Rights Reserved
Also By Jay Allan
Marines (Crimson Worlds I)
The Cost of Victory (Crimson Worlds II)
A Little Rebellion (Crimson Worlds III)
The First Imperium (Crimson Worlds IV)
The Line Must Hold (Crimson Worlds V)
To Hell’s Heart (Crimson Worlds VI)
The Shadow Legions (Crimson Worlds VII)
Even Legends Die (Crimson Worlds VIII)
The Fall (Crimson Worlds IX)
Tombstone (A Crimson Worlds Prequel)
Bitter Glory (A Crimson Worlds Prequel)
The Gates of Hell (A Crimson Worlds Prequel)
Gehenna Dawn (Portal Worlds I)
The Ten Thousand (Portal Wars II)
The Dragon's Banner (Pendragon Chronicles I)
The Prisoner of Eldaron
(Successors Book II)
Into the Darkness
(Crimson Worlds: Refugees I)
(June 23, 2015)
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The sky was deep red, the last rays of late afternoon sun casting an eerie glow over the nightmare below. Pillars of black, acrid smoke rose from the clusters of dying buildings, like great shadowy towers reaching into the darkening sky. Many of the structures had been flattened in the fighting, others were still enduring their death agonies from the raging fires. The city was in flames, the fortunes of war turned harshly against her. The battle was all but over, lost by those who had lived there. But still, the dying continued.
Darius Cain stared across the narrow plain into the raging hell of Petersburg. He stood, motionless, his impassive face hidden behind the sealed helm of his battle armor. His life support system pumped fresh, clean air into his suit, but he imagined the stench outside, the smells of death and destruction that had followed man throughout his bloodsoaked history. Cain knew he was the ultimate incarnation of that violent history, the very manifestation of Mars, the god of war, standing on a small hill outside his command post, watching his soldiers win yet another crushing victory.
He stared at the columns in the distance, maneuvering around the outskirts of the city in perfect formations, positioning themselves to cut off any enemy units retreating from the capital. The operation was running smoothly, almost as if they were on a parade ground and not a battlefield. He felt pride—in his soldiers, in his officers—in the job he had done turning a sea of outcasts into the best military outfit in Occupied Space.
Cain saw the ruin before him too, and he understood the almost incalculable human suffering he was watching. He knew his soldiers had done this, brought devastation and despair to this world, yet he felt nothing but cold satisfaction at a job well done. That is all he allowed himself to feel. Anything else would be weakness. And Darius Cain despised weakness.
There was no hatred in him for the people now fleeing for their lives, leaving all they had behind to the fires, seeking only to escape alive from the apocalypse that had come to claim them. Indeed, his soldiers would ignore the refugees as much as possible, targeting only their surviving military forces—and anyone who got in the way.
Yet there was no pity either, except perhaps a passing thought that would have no effect on his actions. The people now running before his relentless attack would blame his soldiers, curse the Black Eagles for their bitter fate, but Cain knew this day was one they had brought upon themselves. He had neither provoked nor escalated the conflict culminating in this battle. He had not continued it through constant rounds of petty escalation and provocation. This world’s leaders had done that. They had placed their pride above the safety of their people, cast aside their duties in a reckless pursuit of power. No, Cain and his people had no responsibility for what had led to war. They were merely the instrument of its resolution.
Cain’s profession was war, and he viewed it as such. He didn’t lust for power, nor to see pliant populations bend their knees to him. But it was hard to excel at something if you allowed pointless guilt and lingering doubt to affect your judgment. And Darius Cain excelled at war. He was widely regarded as its greatest living practitioner, and he and his veterans had never tasted defeat.
Yesterday had begun normally for the people of Petersburg, he knew, filled with work and play, the mostly mundane joys and sorrows of a typical day. But the new dawn had brought horror unimagined upon them, as his ships brushed past Karelia’s minimal orbital defenses, and his soldiers landed all around the capital city. His Black Eagles, hardened veterans all, equipped with the very best weapons and armor, sliced through the defenders almost immediately, capturing all their major objectives in a few hours. After that, it had just been a question of mopping up.
Cain knew there were thousands of enemy soldiers dead—and a good number of civilians too. It was unfortunate, but this was war, and it had its costs. He wasn’t a bloodthirsty or sadistic man, but neither was he empathetic or merciful. He was cold, rational, driven. A professional in every way. He didn’t crave battle, but when he saw it done, he saw it done well. And he didn’t work for just anyone. Darius Cain wasn’t an indiscriminate butcher, willing to simply kill for money. He took contracts only from employers who had legitimate grievances against their enemies. He didn’t act as judge or jury, trying to discern good from evil. He merely demanded a reasonable dispute, one that would have led to war even in the absence of his irresistible legions. Analyzing deeper than that would be a waste of time. Cain didn’t believe much in good, at least not in matters involving large groups of people. In most human interactions, he saw only varying degrees of evil. His view of mankind and the universe had made him what he was, and he’d never seen anything to dissuade him from his beliefs.
He knew the dirty truth of human history—that virtually all disputes were ultimately resolved through organized violence, whether warfare between nations or states turning their weapons loose on their own citizens. It was a reality historians refused to confront, but one proven by the facts nevertheless. He and his people actually saved lives, ending conflicts far more quickly than local conscript armies could hope to match. A surgical strike by the Eagles was brutal and violent, but it was almost always quick and decisive as well. In the end, years-long wars, bogged down in endless trench warfare and accompanied by famine and pestilence, were far worse than one of his lightning assaults.
It was a logic few people could understand, the inevitability of conflict, but he believed in it completely. Diplomacy had a poor record for creating permanent peace, and appeasement usually led to greater bloodshed when war finally came. Once he and the Eagles took a job, they didn’t question the motives or rationale further. They simply ended the dispute, decisively and finally, shedding only as much blood as was necessary.
Once an operation began, he was indifferent to the destruction around him, to the untold suffering of the terrified masses running through the streets, fleeing the doom that had come upon them. Cain didn’t subscribe to man-made standards of ethics and morality; he viewed them as constructs created to control people, the tools of those who would make themselves masters over men. Politicians, monarchs, religious leaders—throughout history they had been slavemasters and tyrants far more frequently than shepherds, and Darius Cain had never met the man he would call master.
Cain’s religion was cold hard realism. This was the way things were, the way they had always been, and it served no point to whimper about the harshness of the universe. Idly wishing that things were different, that men were less wretched creatures, that they truly cherished peace and freedom as they so loudly proclaimed to, was a game for children—and the weak minded who knelt down before their overlords.
No man ruled over Darius Cain, nor would one ever. He would never be conquered, he had sworn that to himself long ago. He might be defeated one day, but he would die in defiance, weapons in hand, defending his free will with his last strength. Darius William Cain would never draw a single breath as a slave. Not ever.
When he was younger, Cain had often tried to understand people, to comprehend what caused most of them to behave as sheep, to yield up their good sense and cast aside self-preservation, to follow leaders blindly. But he’d long stopped such fruitless efforts. This was all mankind was capable of, and history offered ample proof to support that assertion.
The destruction on Karelia was the work of his soldiers, but it wasn’t they who had condemned this city. Indeed, the Eagles were not the root cause of this devastation, nor even could they have prevented it. If Cain had refused the contract, one of the other companies would have taken it—and then these people would have experienced the true horror that war could become. The Eagles were professionals, an elite and highly disciplined army, trained to a razor’s edge by their iron-willed leader.
Most of the other mercenary forces were barely disguised packs of pirates—savages and brigands who too often enjoyed inflicting horrors on the defeated. They were barbarians, who lived for the pleasures of sacking a defeated city. The Eagles were like surgeons. They did the job they were paid to do, and nothing more. Cain’s men would not run wild in an orgy of rapine and looting. They would simply destroy the enemy’s will to resist and turn control of the planet over to their employer’s forces. How much destruction that required largely depended on how long the enemy resisted before surrendering.
If the residents of Petersburg had anyone to blame for their misfortune, it was themselves—and the inferior men and women they had chosen to lead them. Cain’s soldiers had attacked this dying city, not out of enmity for the terrified and suffering civilians, but because the actions of their leaders had provoked an enemy. Not just any adversary, but one wealthy enough to hire Darius Cain and the Black Eagles.
Petersburg’s citizens were now paying the price for electing corrupt and irresponsible leaders to rule over them. They had listened to empty promises, rallied behind elitist politicians who viewed them as little more than voting blocks, to be lied to and manipulated at will. And so it had gone on Karelia just as it had so many other places in Occupied Space, where a 30-year experiment in republican government had produced an elite class little better than that which had ruled the Earthly Superpowers.
Democracy, Cain thought, was something that worked in theory—but not so well in reality. The people tended to greedily claim the perquisites of their society while abandoning any responsibility to educate themselves or watch over and control those they put in power. They complained about the men and women in charge while repeatedly re-electing them. They sold their votes to any politician who offered to pay for it, usually with the wealth of those who voted for the opposition. They empowered a class to rule, formed from the most manipulative and rapacious among them. Now, on Karelia at least, they were paying the price for their foolishness.
This particular group of leaders, trying to create a crisis to further consolidate and increase their power, had picked a fight with the far wealthier Raschidans. They challenged their rivals for control of the Allagaran Asteroids and their vast mineral resources, and they captured and imprisoned Raschidan miners in a misguided show of strength. They whipped the population into a patriotic fervor and imposed a whole series of new laws and taxes, all in the name of planetary security. They branded those who resisted as traitors, as dangers to society and security, and they began to imprison them. The power of the ruling class increased sharply. Sitting minsters used the crisis to unilaterally extend their terms of office, cancelling elections and ramping up arrests of political opponents.
But the politicians, drunk on power and greed, had overplayed their hand, taken their brinksmanship too close to the edge—and the Raschidan Emir lost both his patience and his temper. He hired Cain and his people to teach his enemies a lesson. The citizens of Petersburg were now getting just that—a hard tutorial in civic responsibility.
The rank and file, the line troops of the Black Eagles who had won this fight, largely shared their commander’s attitude and demeanor. They did their duty with ruthless efficiency—and little consideration to the politics and arguments of the respective sides. They were cold-blooded and didn’t allow pity or sentiment to interfere with what had to be done. But they committed no atrocities either, killed no more than the completion of the operation required.
The Black Eagles were the most professional of the mercenary companies, indeed, the most effective combat force of any kind in human space. They fought for gain, for wealth—and once they took a contract, they completed it, no matter what it took. Most of them had come from the worst hellholes in human space, and they had spent their entire lives fighting one kind of struggle or another. For soldiers who had come from slums where men killed for a crust of bread, war held no shocking revelations. Death and danger had become routine for them, horrors they had faced since childhood. It was part of the job, nothing more.
Cain’s eyes moved to the north of the city. A large and unruly group of soldiers had caught his eye. They were moving forward, looking more like a mob than a military formation. He frowned. The Raschidans had sent a force to take possession of the conquered world from Cain’s people. They were supposed to remain in orbit until he had declared the planet secure, but their commander, jealous to lay claim to some credit for the victory, had jumped the gun.
The Raschidans had just deployed, and already they had made a mess of Cain’s meticulous operation. The Emir’s warriors lacked the standards and code of the Eagles, and it showed in their conduct. They ran wildly through the ravaged city and the half-wrecked suburbs surrounding it, worked into a lusty, uncontrolled fit of rape and pillage. They were already drunk, most of them, and Cain wore a scowl of disgust when he considered their shoddy performance.
He didn’t approve of the brutal sack of the city they initiated, nor of the unnecessary brutality, but what most offended him was these so-called soldiers allowing themselves to become so undisciplined and disorganized. War to him was a profession like any other, and as such, he expected it to be practiced with excellence and efficiency.
“It’s a good thing we’re here to destroy the rest of the Karelian forces for them.” He spoke softly into the command comlink. “One decent counter-attack could bag their whole useless army.” His voice was thick with disgust.
A few dozen of them will die even without an enemy attack—in the fires, too drunk to find their way out