The Galaxy is a Dumpster Fire.
A hot, stinking, dumpster fire. And most days I don't know if the legionnaires are putting out the flames, or fanning them into an inferno.
A hostile force ambushes Victory Company during a reconnaissance-in-force deep inside enemy territory. Stranded behind enemy lines, a sergeant must lead a band of survivors against merciless insurgents on a deadly alien world somewhere along the galaxy's edge. With no room for error, the Republic's elite fighting force must struggle to survive under siege while waiting on a rescue that might never come.
Join Victory Company as they fight for their lives. When you think you've surrounded the Legion... you've just made your last mistake.
Available in audiobook format performed by R.C. Bray as Galaxy's Edge Part I: https://www.amazon.com/Galaxys-Edge-audiobook/dp/B079LPHNDZ/
Release date: June 12, 2017
Publisher: Galaxy's Edge Press
Print pages: 308
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The galaxy is a dumpster fire.
That’s not the way the Senate and House of Reason want you to hear it. They want me—or one of my brothers—to remove my helmet and stand in front of a holocam, all smiles. They want you to see me without my N-4 rifle (I’m never without my N-4) holding a unit of water while a bunch of raggedy kids from Morobii or Grevulo, you can pick whatever ass backward planet garners the most sympathy this week, dance around me smiling right back. They want me to give a thumbs-up and say, “At the edge of the galaxy, the Republic is making a difference!”
But the galaxy is a dumpster fire. A hot, stinking dumpster fire. And most days I don’t know if the legionnaires are putting out the flames, or fanning them into an inferno.
I won’t clint you. I stopped caring about anything but the men by my side, the men of Victory Company, a long time ago.
And if you don’t know how liberating it feels to no longer give a damn, I highly recommend you find out.
Four years ago, when my Legion crest was so new the ink hadn’t dried all the way, I would have cared. I would have sat in this combat sled and chewed the inside of my mouth until it bled. I see LS-95, so new he hasn’t proven himself worth a nickname, doing it right now. He’s sitting on the jump seat across from me, perspiration glistening under the red light, as the sled speeds toward some village on the dark side of who cares.
I lean across the divide that separates us and punch his slate-gray armor square on the shoulder. “Hey. KTF.”
He nods hesitantly. It’s obvious the kid’s embarrassed that his nerves are showing. He puts on his helmet. The bucket hides his emotions from his comrades.
“KTF. Why do you leejes always say that?” The question comes from the sled’s turret gunner. Regular Republic Army, black and tan fatigues and a one-size-fits-all woven synth-steel helmet, polarized goggles pulled up on the top. We call these types “basics.” We made his Repub-Army butt take seat six the moment we entered the sled.
Twenties, LS-81 to Leej Command, took over on the twins. Combat sleds are quick and agile, and that doesn’t allow for heavy firepower. Their only defense is a twin medium heavy blaster turret manned just aft of the cockpit, capable of a 360-degree field of fire. If a gunner is skinny enough, the twins can be pulled back to shoot straight into the air, too.
All we see of Twenties are his legs slowly rotating as he moves the turret in deliberate, sweeping patterns. He’s looking to open up on any native even thinking of springing an ambush.
This may surprise you, but we rolled out of Camp Forge without the heavy armor of our MBTs. Legionnaires aren’t supposed to need that kind of support on a Joint-Force (JF), low-contact, diplomatic mission. Legionnaires are too good at what they do. Save the MBTs for the brass at CF.
Truth is, there is no safe op. A well-executed ambush always has a chance to cause some damage, even if we spot ’em early. Unless we KTF.
Unlike the Repub-Army gunner, Twenties won’t lock up. Won’t miss.
Maybe that’s not fair to the basic sitting in seat six. He looks like he just transported from academy yesterday, but maybe he’s a dead shot. He ain’t a legionnaire, though. And for us, that’s three strikes in itself. He’s looking at me with those wide and innocent eyes. Eyes that haven’t seen war except through a holoscreen or an FPS arcade sim. He’s sincere in his question, so I answer him.
“You survive our trip to market, Basic, I’ll let you know.”
The sled fills with laughter, some of it clean and organic, guys with their buckets off. Just like a regular night at the barracks. Other laughs are filtered through the micro-comm speaker of the legionnaires already wearing their buckets. Those guys sound like a bunch of bots laughing at a joke about fluid changes.
Exo, LS-67, acts like he’s got the chills, rubbing his arms. Helmetless, he makes his teeth chatter and pulls up his synthprene undersuit as high as it will go on his neck. “That’s ice cold, Sarge. Straight Parminthian.”
A buzz emits from the onboard comm speakers. Each sled has two drivers, with room for a field commander in the front section. The tail end fits six men and the turret gunner. Right now all eyes are fixed on the relay screen built into the wall separating us from the drivers. The red cabin lights dim to near non-existence as a gray-haired legionnaire flickers on screen from the cockpit. He’s cradling his helmet in one arm, gently rubbing an old scar on his neck as though he’d just stepped out of a tightened noose.
LS-13, rank major. The CO of Victory Company. To us, he’s Pappy. His holo transmission is going to the back of each combat sled in real time.
“Victory Company, this is Pappy. Listen up.”
The major’s voice is always strained and hoarse. Not from yelling. He brushes a hand across the scar, still pink and angry from a CQ scrap in some dusty shack two decades ago. Word is it still hurts, too. Enough that he cuts away the regular synthprene suit so it doesn’t touch his neck. The major probably should have died back then, but Pappy don’t die.
“We’re still speeding through the plains and are about three clicks to the hills. Moona Village is what passes for a major town on Kublar. According to Republic intelligence, the village elders are supportive of Kublar’s newly appointed Republican senator.”
That’s where we are. I’d almost forgotten. The past eight months have been nothing but a series of rotations between a planet in galaxy’s edge and Chiasm, the capital-class destroyer we’re jumping all across the edge in. Jump in system, drop shuttles to clean up whatever mess the locals have made for themselves and the Republic, jump out, repeat.
Pappy’s hoarse briefing continues.
“Republican intel says that the Mid-Core Rebels are working hard to establish relations with the Kublarens. Trying to find an ally. No signs of MCR supplying the koobs with arms, but expect at a minimum small-arms fire and maybe some old-tech heavy battery emplacements.
“But I do mean old-tech. Savage Wars era. Central Command decided that speed and overwhelming blaster power would carry the day if the koobs get stupid, and Pappy agrees. Rep-Int says to expect an open-arms greeting, but we know better, don’t we, boys? Be ready, and if things go south, KTF. Pappy out.”
The display goes dark. I move to the control console and key in the forward holocam. The combat sleds are in convoy formation, carefully spaced to avoid catastrophe should a tac-bomb detonate beneath us. I rotate the cams. Moona Village is another thirty-minute drive, but we’re already passing a few of the small dwellings in its orbit, scattered among the foothills of the mountain. Kublaren herders wearing tattered black and brown robes watch the convoy pass, their frog-like neck sacks expanding with each breath and flashing a sudden deep purple that contrasts with their dust-colored skin. Three-fingered hands clutch herding staffs, and every other koob has a decrepit hard matter projectile rifle strapped to his shoulder.
That won’t do much against legionnaire armor, but I don’t expect it’ll keep them from trying if they’ve got a mind for a fight.
Koobs love fighting. It’s in their DNA. They allied themselves with the Republic in the Savage Wars, centuries ago, and were used to great effect throughout the conflict thanks to the tactical genius of men like General Rex.
Some koob kids are doing their peculiar run/hop alongside the combat sleds. I hear a request to “dust ’em” come from a leej up on the twins. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who preferred a legionnaire take the place of the basic assigned to the twins.
“Negative. Do not engage.”
The voice belongs to LS-33, a newly appointed captain, his commission straight from the House of Reason. These guys are the worst. They’re not soldiers, just politicians seeking to climb the ladder. But they love giving orders. Wouldn’t you know that Captain Devers is the OIC for Magnum and Doomsday (that’s us) squads. At least he’s riding in Magnum’s CS today.
“Copy,” the legionnaire answers.
Unwilling to pass on an opportunity to elaborate, Captain Devers adds, “Kublar is a type-VII planet identified as a potential R-1. This world will bring substantial revenue and stability into the Republic once they’ve fully embraced Republican ideals. Do not aggravate. It would be better if—”
Pappy breaks in. “Maintain L-comm discipline.”
There’s a pause, and all anyone can hear is the static hum over the L-comm.
The hurting ego in Devers’s voice is palpable. I’ll bet my last ration pack he records a whiny holo for Colonel LaDonna to be sent the moment long-range comms clear up.
“Pappy shut that point down!” Exo shouts, his voice jovial.
My legionnaires, none of them government appointees, all share the sentiment. It’s a beautiful thing when a real leej officer shuts down a point, short for appointee. I should maintain respect for rank, but screw those guys. Surest way to die in the legionnaire corps is to be placed under the command of a point. It’s no secret.
There’s a rhythm to life at galaxy’s edge. Long bouts of inactivity.
And then, whether you want it or not, whether you’re ready or not, things go sideways. But sideways is where legionnaires earn their pay.
The comm spikes with a shout. “Those koob kids got something!”
A thundering boom sounds.
Strong enough to cause the sled’s repulsors to hop and send vibrations along the interior hull. The forward cam catches a ball of flame engulfing the command sled. Pappy’s sled. I see the vic jump into the air, spiraling like a football, right before a storm of dust and rocks obscures the cam and the feed cuts out.
“Buckets!” I scream.
Those of us without helmets on quickly pull them snugly over our heads, watching as our interior displays boot up in .08 seconds, plugging us into the legionnaire battle network. It’s a special net just for us. Rep-Mil has no access no matter how much the Fairness in Combat Committee begs and complains. It’s untraceable and an impenetrable fortress to any code slicer dumb enough to risk messing with it. The moment my helmet is online, I’m hearing chaos over the legionnaire and Repub-Army bat-net, with commands and counter commands coming fast and furious. Someone from the L-SOC attachment is issuing an override, requesting a command update. I’ll leave that to one of the captains.
“Doomsday squad,” I call through my helmet’s mic. “Switch to local channel Fear-Beta-Nine. We need to drown out this chatter and focus.”
Without hesitation, the four legionnaires sharing the back of the sled send hands to the sides of their buckets, keying their transponder frequencies. A legionnaire’s helmet is the most expensive part of our kit. Each is custom built and costs about the same as a luxury sled, though that’s mostly due to the requirement that they be produced by Repub contractors who have a forty percent profit margin built into their figures.
I’m in the wrong line of work.
Still, the filtration system, clear-vision visors with instant thermal or UV optic overlays, bone conduction headsets, exterior interface, tongue toggles, DSK AI, and voice enhancers aren’t cheap.
Twenties screams from the turret. “One of those koob kids put a charge on the CS! Sket! Incoming fire!” I can see his legs while the turret moves in spasmodic motions as the twin repeating blaster barrels search for targets.
The twins open up as Twenties finds hostile targets. He’s crouching and bouncing on his legs with every burst. “Get some! Get some! I see you, koob! I see you, too!”
The outside of the sled is alive with the spewing of pressurized, explosive rapid-fire bolts, red streaks of energy sizzling through the air.
A sound like heavy fists pounds across the sled’s hull like a drumbeat. A momentary cry comes over my helmet’s local channel and then Twenties goes limp, his body slowly snaking its way down from the turret like ice melting down a mountainside. My men, anxious to get in the fight and protect the wounded, pull him out. His chest and helmet have black scorch marks. So much for koobs only having slug throwers.
I open my mouth for LS-75, Doc Quiggly, to check Twenties’s vitals, but Quigs is already removing the helmet while two other legionnaires hold the wounded’s shoulders up. The leej is burnt up and gonna need some skinpacks, maybe some grafting, but the armor did its job.
“I’m going up top!” I call, climbing into the turret and making my way to the top. The Repub-Army kid in seat six is frozen in fear, his eyes fixed on the large blisters covering Twenties’s face.
The scene outside is unreal. I’ve been in combat multiple times, but I’ve never seen anything like this. The air is thick with blaster fire and my bucket’s ventilators are working overtime to keep the smoke and hot smell of ozone from overpowering me. Bodies from the command sled are strewn all over the place, and the sleds behind it, blocked in the road, are getting pelted with small arms fire while their twin guns blaze at koobs. The aliens are firing from behind stone and mortar huts, rock walls, berms, you name it. An old model tank, the type that still fires explosive projectiles, is laboriously rotating its main gun toward the convoy.
To prepare an ambush and not be zeroed in already is a sign of amateurism. Not that I’m complaining. Obvious mistakes aside, the place is still danger hot, and it’s going to take some hard fighting to regain control of the situation.
I’m not worried, though. The Chiasm is still in orbit—I can see its massive bulk in the sky, pale like a moon in daylight—and a wing of tri-bombers will be down in short order. The guerrilla positions will be vaporized, and we’ll check Pappy’s sled for survivors, clear the wreckage, and continue on to Moona Village.
I don’t know why, but I keep watching the Chiasm. There’s thick blaster fire everywhere, and my focus should be on the koob threats surrounding us. But I just… stare at the destroyer. Almost transfixed. Call it a premonition.
I see a flash erupt in the center of the Chiasm. Moments later, I hear a sharp crack. I watch, frozen in place, at the turret, as the Chiasm splits in half and slowly sinks into the atmosphere, its sharp prow glowing red as it burns in reentry.
We’re all going to die.
Knowing you’re a dead man living impacts everyone differently. Legionnaires are always the last to lose heart. We don’t stop fighting, ever. But I’ve worked on enough joint operations with Repub-Army basics and PNAs (planetary national armies) to see the varied reactions to lost causes.
Some men collapse into themselves like a rotten pumpkin. They see the reaper coming for the harvest and they’re overwhelmed with existential dread, thoughts of loved ones, regrets, you name it. I’ve seen these guys literally curled up into balls, pulling on their hair with their blasters tossed to the side.
Others develop a “take as many with you as possible” mentality. Obviously, that’s much better tactically than those made ineffectual in combat—fighting is preferable to whimpering on the ground. But these types are prone to risk. They’ll charge heavily fortified positions head on with only a rifle and a few grenades, or hole themselves up trying to kill as many targets as possible until the inevitable, final boom comes for them. While a spontaneous charge can sometimes take the enemy by surprise and even turn the tide of battle—not to mention look great in holofilms—tactically speaking, it usually results in substantial casualties and defeat.
I said at the start that legionnaires don’t lose heart and don’t stop fighting. We survive. We constantly refresh our tactics so the optimal battle plan is always in action. And we do it well. With every shot, every motion, we optimize our results for battlefield victory.
So when I say we’re all going to die, I don’t necessarily mean right now.
The Chiasm is the only Republic warship in this system, and Kublar is so remote that it’ll be a good month before another can arrive. That’s assuming the Republic even knows about or notices the Chiasm’s destruction; add whatever time it might take for missed status cycles to get flagged in our government’s bloated bureaucratic quagmire. Our convoy has eighty effective fighting men, including basics. Camp Forge has another two hundred, but they aren’t getting here before morning. The koobs… well, this is their planet. They’ve got more than enough time and manpower—koobpower—to wipe us out.
And yeah… we’re all dead.
But if the koobs don’t suffer a minimum thirty-to-one loss for each legionnaire they dust, I’ll die one pissed-off sergeant. Granted, we’re not outnumbered thirty to one right now. It’s maybe two to one. Maybe. But it’s a long trip back to Camp Forge. We’ve got time to run up the score.
Attention! LS-55, Sergeant C.Chhun.
My helmet’s AI has something to say.
The visor is alive with a HUD that indicates the location of my squad, green dots on a blue circular grid. Enemy combatants spotted by a legionnaire show up as red dots until they disappear as a confirmed kill. If we lose sight of a target long enough for the computer to no longer accurately predict its location, the dot turns yellow and stays fixed at its last confirmed location.
I’m seeing a corvette-load of red dots. Too many yellows for my taste, as well.
The message blinks in the upper left corner of my visor, superimposed over the optical scans of the ambush zone. Our buckets all run a software programmed by Republic scientists dedicated to keeping legionnaires the most fearsome warriors in the galaxy. It sounds great in theory, but it ends up being more of a distraction than a help. Still, the House of Reason loves it, and the contractors who make each bucket love the House of Reason. So we deal with it.
Primary Target: Model M6 Heavy Tank.
Manufacturer: Industrious Equipment.
Planet of Origin: Unknown.
Manufacturer’s Recommended Crew: 5 humans/near-humans.
Actual Crew: Unknown.
Display Technical Schematic? Y/N
That right there? That’s the problem. My visor is full of garbage text when “Tank!” would have done just fine. I flick my tongue across a sensor inside my helmet to turn off the message display. I wish that would do the trick permanently, but all it does is prevent any more updates for fifteen minutes. No time to be upset about it. This is how it is, and there is a tank out there.
I look at the convoy behind me. The sleds in the rear are backing down the narrow, high-walled alley that winds through a farmer’s village on the way to Moona. The koobs fighting nearest are all hiding behind walls or in buildings. They’ve learned that when a legionnaire sees a koob in the open, he doesn’t miss. A few of them are sticking a rifle over the top of a wall and shooting blindly. But then I see a leej gunner on his sled’s twins blow off a three-fingered hand, and that practice seems to stop as well.
The tank is on top of a ridge about a thousand yards away. That might be in range for the personal anti-armor missiles each squad carries, if it were a clean shot, but this tank is behind a wall of rock with thick branches from two spoonja trees further obscuring it. We’ll have to get closer to disable it. Time for a little mountain climbing.
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