Dogs of War
Our colonies are burning
The alien invasion of the galaxy is in full swing.
Nothing that came before could have prepared us for this.
Maybe if we’d heeded Captain Husher’s warning…but it’s too late for that.
As for Husher, he spent his entire military career preparing for this.
And no matter how grim things look, he won’t sit back while the enemy burns through the galaxy like fire through a parched forest.
He intends to fight. To lay his life on the line.
All for the chance that a part of humanity might be saved.
Download Dogs of War today and dive into this fast-paced military science fiction series.
Release date: May 25, 2018
Publisher: Mirth Publishing
Print pages: 260
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Dogs of War
21 Years Ago
“Riesling,” Captain Vin Husher said, “I want constant active scans of the area around the Firedrake as we approach the far side of the system.”
“Yes, sir,” the sensor operator said, still sounding a little shaken from the recent battle.
Wicks was in sick bay, expected to make a full recovery. Chief Hernandez had been bumped from second watch up to first. Lieutenant Myers would never be returning to the CIC again, and Ensign Volkov had taken her place.
The Firedrake was deep down Pirate’s Path. They’d been sent here by Admiral Carrow, to find out what had the Winger pirates so worked up. At last, after the most recent attack, he had his answer: stealth tech. They’d used it to latch onto his corvette’s hull undetected. Then they’d cut through her, coming out into a bunkroom full of sleeping marines.
Those marines had all died. Husher had paid the Wingers back in kind, though the ship’s pilot had escaped with the stealth ship.
They’re hiding something in this system. They had to be—else, why would they resort to such a desperate attack?
The Wingers had also struck just before the Firedrake had entered this system. Husher shuddered as he remembered how it had felt to use wormholes in battle for the first time. Enabled by dark tech, the wormholes could be engineered to allow only the Firedrake’s ordnance through. They’d fired on the pirate ships without fear of retaliation. They’d slaughtered them.
As they combed the section of the asteroid belt where they expected to find a pirate base, Husher compiled a full report on the recent incursion into his ship. When he was finished, he transmitted it to Admiral Carrow via the micronet—another dark tech-enabled innovation that allowed instantaneous communication.
It didn’t take long for a reply to come, in the form of a single line of text: “Contact me the moment you find something.”
And so, Husher and his crew kept searching. They found nothing on the first day, nor on the second. On the third, Husher began to doubt, even though all the evidence pointed toward something being concealed in this part of the system.
At last, they found it: a hollowed-out asteroid, with barely anything to indicate it was different from any other, except for the light that bounced off a partially concealed airlock. If they hadn’t approached the asteroid from just the right angle, they could easily have missed it.
Husher sent a shuttle of marines aboard to inspect the installation, and they found it empty, with all the relevant data taken or destroyed. But it was already clear what the structure was: a shipbuilding facility, large enough to produce two vessels at a time, of a size with the one that had latched onto Firedrake’s hull.
Who knows how many of these they might have hidden in random locations along Pirate’s Path. The Path was long, and largely uninhabited, other than the Kaithe. There were plenty of hiding places, where an installation like this might go unnoticed for years.
Husher got in touch with Admiral Carrow as soon as the marines returned with their findings. He patched the connection through to the CIC, so that the admiral’s gaunt face appeared on the main viewscreen.
“Destroy it,” Carrow said once he heard what they’d found.
Husher turned to Volkov and nodded. “Four Banshees should do it.”
With the admiral occupying the main screen, Husher opened a visual on his console, as well as a tactical display, which he used to track the missiles’ progress.
The asteroid blossomed with flame, flinging pieces of rock and metal in every direction.
“It’s done, Admiral,” Husher said.
“Very good. Unfortunately, you’re not done, Captain. You’ve uncovered quite an infestation, and I want it burned out. Entirely. I want you to continue—”
Husher noticed Riesling tense up at his console. “Sir,” the sensor operator said, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but we just detected an engine burn consistent with a vessel the size of the one that attacked us.”
Husher frowned. “Do you think it could be the same one?”
“I doubt it. Its trajectory suggests it came from the facility we just destroyed.”
“It’s a stealth ship, then? How did we detect it?”
“It’s hard for me to say, without knowing how stealth tech functions. It’s possible they were waiting until an asteroid drifted into place so that they could conceal their engine burn, but they made a miscalculation. We only saw a glimmer, so they nearly had it right, but I can confirm without a doubt that it was indeed an engine firing.”
“Can you project their position based on the burn?”
“I can tell you their trajectory, and I can also estimate their position within a fairly tight range of possibilities. But one thing’s certain: they’re within firing range, and if we shoot along their exact trajectory, we’ll hit them. They would have to perform another engine burn to evade our ordnance, which would reveal their exact position to us.”
“I want that ship destroyed, Husher,” Carrow said.
Some of the CIC officers glanced at their captain, and others kept their gazes fixed on their consoles. Husher noticed Riesling’s head jerk a little, and Tucker’s shoulders rose and fell with deepening breaths.
As Husher stared down at the tactical display on his console—at the region of space he imagined the stealth ship would be—he remembered the rumors that Darkstream, the company built on dark tech, had Admiral Carrow in their pocket. Darkstream wanted war, people said, no matter the reason. No matter the cost. It was the company’s business model.
“Sir, if we can hit them with a missile, then we can definitely reach them with a transmission request,” Husher said at last.
“What’s your point?” Carrow asked, narrowing his eyes.
“Maybe we can secure their surrender.”
“Why in Sol would we want to do that?”
Husher lifted his gaze to meet the Admiral’s. “Because they haven’t fired on us. They should be given the chance to surrender peacefully. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do, under the ROIs?”
“You’re out in the middle of nowhere, Captain,” Carrow growled. “And that ship just came directly from a pirate base. We’re not going to have any trouble firing on that ship. Are we?”
But Husher pressed on: “If we apprehend them, we could reverse engineer their stealth tech. We could build stealth ships of our own. At the very least, we could find out exactly what we’re dealing with.”
But either there were factors at play that Carrow wasn’t sharing, or he just didn’t like having his orders questioned. Whatever the case, Husher could see the resolve in his eyes, even before he opened his mouth to double down: “We are going to send a message to these pirate scumbags today, Captain, but it’s not going to be a transmission request. We’re going to show them that even stealth tech won’t save them from the might of the Human Commonwealth. We say what goes and what doesn’t in this galaxy. We are the moral high ground. Now, Captain, I hope I won’t have to say this again: take that ship out.”
“I’m sorry, Admiral. I can’t.”
“I can’t continue shooting beings in the back from an unassailable position. I could fire on that ship, and if it performed an engine burn to evade, I could open a wormhole behind it and blast it from space. But this isn’t even warfare anymore. It’s butchery. I won’t fire on that ship—not without at least offering them the chance to surrender.”
Carrow’s eyes were wide, and his face achieved a darker shade of red than Husher had ever seen from him. “What if I told you that if you don’t follow my order, then I plan to personally ensure you’re stripped of command?”
Husher met the admiral’s stare for several long seconds. He could feel the gaze of his CIC crew on him.
The right choice shone before him, like a beacon. It’s your career or your principles. He didn’t have a family to support, so he didn’t have that pressure to preserve his military career by compromising his morals. But being a starship captain had always been his dream, and he was one of the youngest officers to serve as one since humans first took to the stars. Am I really going to throw that away?
The Commonwealth called the pirates terrorists. Maybe they were right. Maybe the Wingers didn’t deserve the chance to surrender, or a fair trial.
Husher lowered his eyes, very aware of his CIC crew all around him. “Tactical, fire on the stealth ship with a round of kinetic impactors.”
Chief Tucker turned toward him, eyes wide with shock and disappointment.
“Do it,” Husher said, his voice hardening.
On the main viewscreen, Carrow nodded, the scarlet slowly draining from his face. “You can have a bright career with the UHF, Husher. I’ve rarely seen a young officer with your potential, so I’m willing to overlook today’s transgression. But if you ever hint at defying my orders again, I will arrange that court martial. Is that clear?”
Not a Request
Fesky stared at the CIC’s main display, unable to process what she was seeing. The display showed her best friend’s face—Captain Vin Husher’s face. But it wasn’t really her friend. It couldn’t be. This Husher had a scar running from temple to chin, and he was glaring at her with murder in his eyes.
“Unknown vessel, identify yourself at once or prepare to be attacked,” he said.
Fesky tried to speak, but couldn’t at first. Then, finally, she managed it: “Husher?”
He narrowed his eyes, though otherwise he didn’t react. Fesky sensed the coldness that exuded from him—as though he was ready to kill her without a glimmer of remorse. For her, that was the most jarring thing of all.
“How do you know my name?” he said.
When Fesky had agreed to captain the Spire, the IGF’s first interdimensional vessel, she’d assumed she was in for some bizarre experiences. But nothing could have prepared her for this.
“I asked you a question,” Husher said. “Two questions, technically. Who are you? And how do you know my name?”
She glanced at the tactical display on her console and estimated that the other ship would enter firing range within ten minutes. We should transition out of this universe. But Husher—the Husher she’d known for decades; the one who didn’t act like he wanted to kill her—had sent her to the Progenitors’ home dimension to gather intel for the IGF. Intel they could use to end the war.
There was plenty about this place she didn’t understand. Why did the Progenitors occupy a system whose layout matched Sol? And why was there a gigantic forcefield surrounding the entire system, suspended just beyond what could only be the Kuiper Belt?
Why is my best friend captaining a Progenitor ship?
Fesky’s own ship, the Spire, sat just inside that Kuiper Belt. She needed to use the ten minutes before the opposing ship entered firing range to find out anything she could. And right now, this warped version of Husher was her primary source of intel.
“Last chance,” he said. “Who—”
“I’m Commander Fesky of the Integrated Galactic Fleet,” she said. “I’ve known you for twenty years, and I served as your XO for seventeen of them. I’m also your best friend.”
“Liar. I’d never befriend a Winger.”
Fesky’s beak snapped shut. It felt like she’d been slapped. “Why not?” she said at last.
“Because you belong to an inferior species. Which is why you were wiped out.”
“But we weren’t wiped out. I’m right here.”
Husher frowned. “Prove it to me. Prove that you know me.”
“Okay,” Fesky said, and drew a shaky breath. “Your greatest hero was Leonard Keyes.”
Husher laughed loudly. “That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’m not sure how you knew Keyes, but I was no admirer of his.” He lifted a finger to his face, running it along the puckered line that crossed it. “Keyes was the one who gave me this.”
“We served together, you and I,” Fesky said, fighting through her shock at Husher’s words. “On the Providence.”
“Wrong again. Absurdly wrong. Are you delusional, Winger?”
“Your father is Warren Husher, a starship captain before you. Your mother is Cassandra. She raised you in a bungalow on Venus.”
That seemed to give Husher pause. “So you do know some personal details about me,” he said. Nodding as though to himself, he went on: “I’d like to discuss this further, face-to-face. I’m interested to hear how you came by your information, but I’m much more concerned about how you made it to this system in the first place.”
“I’m afraid that discussion isn’t going to happen,” Fesky said. The other ship was drawing too near, for her liking, and it was time for the Spire to leave. This other Husher hadn’t been very forthcoming, but her sensor operator had had plenty of time to collect data—on the thousands of ships in this system, as well as on its layout. We have to get back with what we have. She turned to her Nav officer.
“Oh, it wasn’t a request,” Husher broke in before she could give an order.
“Ma’am,” her sensor operator said, sounding panicked, “there’s a change with several asteroids along a wide arc off our stern. Parts of them are opening up, revealing mounted weapons. They’re firing on us.”
“Nav, get us out of this universe!” Fesky yelled.
Chief Devar bent over her console to enter the necessary command, but it was too late. Ordnance connected with the Spire’s hull, and an explosion rocked the ship, then another.
“Yvan, what was that?” she snapped.
“Our starboard and port main capacitor banks,” the sensor operator said. “They’re both blown.”
Devar turned to Fesky, and when she spoke, her voice was soft. “We no longer have the charge necessary to transition out of this universe, ma’am. We’re stuck.”
With creeping horror, Fesky returned her gaze to the tactical display, where the Progenitor ship was about to enter firing range.
She remembered the cold stare this version of Husher had directed at her, and part of her wanted to order an attack, in the hopes of forcing him to destroy the Spire. She had no desire to meet him in person, or to give him access to whatever information there was to be gleaned from her ship or her crew.
But she had a duty to that crew. She couldn’t just sacrifice their lives on a whim.
“Coms,” she said softly, “send the approaching ship a transmission request. Tell them we surrender.”
Husher adjusted the cuffs of his midnight Darkstream military uniform as he walked toward the shuttle that would take him and his prisoner to Ragnarok Station, in high Earth orbit.
He found her inside, strapped into a crash seat, arms and wings bound together.
“I’m told you didn’t resist capture,” he said. “You’re pliant. Just like a Winger.”
She cursed him, and he sat in the crash seat opposite her, fixing her with his gaze. A pair of marines filed into the shuttle, taking seats on either side of the Winger.
He’d taken several prisoners from the strange vessel that had appeared on the system’s outskirts, but he didn’t want them all crowded in the shuttle with him during the trip to the space station. They would all end up there before the day was out, but he didn’t want to have to look at them.
He didn’t particularly want to look at the Winger, either. But since she’d been in command, he expected her to be the most valuable source of information.
Information he intended to extract quickly.
“I’m taking you into the Cavern,” he told her. “The difference between you and everyone else I’ve ever taken there is that they knew where they were headed. You’re much calmer than they were.”
“I won’t tell you anything,” the Winger said.
“Of course you will. Wingers always put on a show at first, always so eager to demonstrate their loyalty and obedience to their masters. But I’m going to hurt you, Winger, in just the right ways. I’m going to dismantle your psyche, and then I’ll rebuild it to serve a new master. Me. You’ll be just as eager to obey.”
“I won’t tell you anything,” the Winger repeated.
The shuttle passed through an exterior airlock and into one of Ragnarok’s massive landing bays, setting down near a hatch leading into the station. Husher nodded to the two marines, and they seized the Winger, dragging her from her seat and through the shuttle’s airlock. That done, they fell in behind Husher as he led the way through the labyrinthine station.
At last, they arrived at the Cavern, situated in the center of the station. Husher punched in his access code, and the hatch slid open to admit them. “Put her in the chair,” he ordered the marines. They shoved the Winger through the hatch.
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