Order of the Centurion
A PRICE PAID IN BLOOD
2019 Dragon Award Finalist for Best Military Science Fiction of Fantasy Novel
“The Order of the Centurion is the highest award that can be bestowed upon an individual serving in, or with, the Legion. When such an individual displays exceptional valor in action against an enemy force, and uncommon loyalty and devotion to the Legion and its legionnaires, refusing to abandon post, mission, or brothers, even unto death, the Legion dutifully recognizes such courage with this award.”
Tired of sitting out the war on Psydon in a mobile office hab, Legion Lieutenant Washam agrees to undertake a covert and unsanctioned mission with a band of Republic Recon Marines. Inserted deep behind enemy lines, the strike force uncovers a surprise key to ending a bitter war. Now they must navigate a hostile jungle teeming with murderous alien rebels, pushing themselves to the limits of their abilities, to get this vital intel to Legion Command--if they can survive that long.
THE ORDER OF THE CENTURION is an all-new series of stand-alone military science fiction thrillers set in the GALAXY'S EDGE universe, ranging from the Savage Wars to the arrival of the Black Fleet. Each book features the legendary heroes of the Legion who forgot nothing in their earning of the Legion's highest honor.
Release date: September 21, 2018
Publisher: Galaxy's Edge Press
Print pages: 314
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Order of the Centurion
The planet Psydon
27 years prior to the Battle of Kublar
Lieutenant Washam sat in a sweltering mobile hab several kilometers behind the front lines of the Battle of Psydon. Out of the action, out of the fight… his career over before it had the chance to begin. There was a war on, and Wash was one of the few legionnaires who would be denied the chance to see it up close.
Sweat stuck to his green uniform, making the collar cling to his neck. No matter how many times he peeled the fabric away to fan at his overheated flesh, the humid, swampy feeling never dissipated. Mobile office habs, like the one where Wash endlessly toiled through an unending supply of admin work, were supposed to have climate controls. That tech was hardly a miracle. Just about every house and speeder inward of galaxy’s edge had them standard. Certainly every capital ship, starfighter, and freighter had the ability to control temperature. But not a Republic Army mobile office unit in the middle of a war-torn hellhole on a far-flung jungle planet.
It wouldn’t be so bad if Wash could at least kit up in the climate-conditioned legionnaire armor. He could imagine the cooling relief that would come with putting on a Legion helmet and feeling the micro fans blow chilling air in his face.
But even though he was Legion, that gear wasn’t meant for him. The House of Reason, in appointing him to the rank of first lieutenant, might have named him every bit a legionnaire as the next… but the House of Reason wasn’t on Psydon. And General Umstead, who led the Legion’s operation on Psydon, was having no part of this new appointee program. So Wash, as a newly pinned point, was stuck. Hot, bothered, and out of the fight. Regardless of whether he had any guts, there would be no glory.
“Point” was a pejorative shorthand for a legionnaire appointed to service by either the House of Reason or the Senate. The decision to directly commission officers from the Republic’s galaxy-spanning government into the Legion—as had been done in the Army, Marines, and Navy for years—had not been a popular one. Not with the galaxy itself, and especially not with the Legion.
The Savage Wars were still fresh in the minds of the galactic collective, and it was the legionnaires, led by General Rex, who’d fought the hard fights, died the brutal deaths, and left behind the graves necessary to save the galaxy from domination and destruction at the hands of the Savage marines. Hard men trained to do hard things had ended the war scant years before, and their predecessors had been fighting for the same for centuries.
The galaxy was grateful for the Legion. And so anything viewed as detrimental to that famed warrior branch was, necessarily, unpopular.
But the House of Reason, encouraged by the relative stability of the galaxy—massive wars like the rebellion of Psydon excluded—felt it necessary to have a greater influence over the Legion. Mutual growth for a beneficial relationship… that was how they packaged it during the debates. But the Legion, and much of the galaxy, saw it for what it was.
A power grab.
The politicians in the House of Reason and the Senate resented, envied, and even feared the position that the Legion had staked out in the minds of the citizens of the Republic. It was, after all, only thanks to the Legion that the Galactic Republic—and thus its governing bodies—existed at all.
During the darkest times of the Savage Wars, when the collection of systems, planets, and colonies in the squabbling Unified Federation failed to muster a capable resistance against the relentless Savages—who had spread like a cancerous wildfire throughout the galaxy—it was the independent military force known as the Legion who fought back. It was the Legion’s strength—not just its military prowess, but its strength of will—that made it possible to forge a government with the purpose of protecting life and liberty throughout the galaxy, for all species.
But it was also the Legion, knowing the conflicted hearts of men and the black hearts of career politicians, who insisted on including Article Nineteen in the Republic’s Constitution. This hard-reset clause gave the Legion the legal authority, if needed, to wipe the slate clean and start the government over again.
If things ever got too bad.
Just in case.
And Article Nineteen was a Sword of Damocles that the House of Reason and Senate desperately wanted taken down. That was the end game of the Appointment Program, and everyone knew it. The long con everyone saw and couldn’t get out of.
Once known as the House of Liberty, the newly rechristened House of Reason had grown stronger than it was ever intended to be. Its influence had never been greater, and its agenda was shifting from protection and preservation to the shadowy, elusive, and ever-liquid concept of improvement.
Part of that improvement dealt with tempering the original concept of liberty.
Liberty is a thing that simply is. It’s wild, natural, and frightening to stare in the face. It promises no comfort, no promises of safety, no easy answers. But it does provide unfettered opportunity. It’s up to each individual to decide just how much liberty they can stomach.
The House of Reason was more than willing to explain why freedom and liberty were best tempered by their guiding hand. How freedom was suitable in small doses, but fatally unfair in its pure form. And so, in spite of promises that the House and Senate would never seek to impose their will on the Legion, their most radical members, the ones that the rest of the House could write off as extremists raving for their small base, called for change. The extremists became a movement, which became a platform, which demanded that the House of Reason must have some influence over the Legion. That it must be free to appoint officers in order to leaven the ranks to see things in a more balanced and fair way.
And so, yeah—the legionnaires hated guys like Wash. Not for who they were… so much as what they represented.
Wash was part of the first graduating class of points. He wanted nothing to do with the House of Reason’s agenda. Because the Legion was made up of heroes. Men of such unyielding talent and resolve that they were able to stand against the very gates of hell and emerge victorious. He knew they would never accept him as one of their own, and he didn’t hold that against them.
Wash swung his chair around and saw the face of Major D’lay Berlin, a fellow appointed officer in the Legion. And Wash’s closest friend.
“How’s the major today?” Wash asked. “Another day in paradise?”
“Don’t knock it, Wash. We’re piling up time served in a combat zone when we could be stuck on cruisers.”
Wash smiled. The two men didn’t see eye to eye when it came to the appointment program. They had grown up on the same planet, in much the same circles, and were both appointed by the same House of Reason delegate, Mageen Stu’t-grant. But they had wildly different views about what their purpose was in the Legion. Berlin was a dashing, gallant-looking man, who felt that he and Washam had been chosen to serve as poster boys for the Republic. Handpicked officers meant to make the unpopular program not look so bad after all.
Wash, on the other hand, wanted to KTF.
Berlin leaned against the open doorway, a waiting repulsor sled still humming outside, its Republic Army driver looking miserable in his seat. As an appointed major, Berlin was allowed to wear the Legion armor. They still didn’t give him a bucket, though.
Wash frowned. “You know you’re not making it any cooler in here by keeping the door open.”
Berlin seemed to consider whether he wanted to stay right where he was, then jauntily stepped inside. “Somehow I doubt it makes a difference. You’re working in a sweatbox, Wash.”
The closing door shut out the noise of the jungle, but the sweltering heat had already made its way inside. Wash could tell; he was an expert on the discomfort. “It makes a difference. I’ve got an overstuffed docket of supply requisitions to review, and now all that extra hot is going to make me just sit here and be miserable instead.”
“You’d find a way to be miserable anywhere, buddy.” Berlin leaned against Wash’s desk, looking down at his friend. He seemed to be hiding something behind his back. “But me? I found a way to keep cool.”
“I doubt that.” Keeping cool was something that virtually no one on Psydon was able to do, unless they were stationed on an overhead cruiser or in one of the permanent buildings within the Psydonian cities. Wash had seen enough raging requests from the brass in all branches to know that the extreme Psydon humidity—it felt like breathing through a wet sock—had done a number on all the conditioning units. Parts and replacements were always the top request. There weren’t enough spares, and they never lasted long.
“Doubt me no longer.” Berlin tossed a legionnaire’s bucket into his friend’s lap.
Wash turned the helmet over in his hands. “How did you get this? Appointees are only allowed the open face marine variant.”
Berlin’s only reply was a rakish smile.
Wash shook his head. “You didn’t even undergo the full familiarity training at the Academy. You skipped that part, remember?”
“You should have, too. Not like they were giving us buckets.”
“Hilltop Defiance,” Berlin said with a shrug. “Leejes were virtually wiped out there overnight. They took it back at sunrise, but you should’ve seen the place. Dead legionnaires everywhere. Spare buckets and gear all over the place.”
“You stole a dead legionnaire’s helmet?”
Berlin shrugged again. “He was done with it. I slipped the armorer twenty credits to get it refitted to fit my head. Did you know these aren’t one-size-fits-all?”
Of course Wash knew. It was covered in the equipment familiarity courses that Berlin—along with every other point save Washam—had skipped. “Yeah. Amazingly enough, not every grunt has the exact same facial structure. Who’d-a thunk it?”
“Well, anyway, now I’ve got all the benefits of Republic tech to keep me cooled down.”
Wash fought the urge to grind his teeth. Berlin meant well, but this wasn’t something he’d earned—and therefore it wasn’t something he should have. But it would be futile to argue that point with his friend. Or any other appointed officer, for that matter. Wash was the odd man out among his peers. And truth be told, he was probably just making everything harder on himself. Harder than it needed to be, because he was buying into the Legion’s propaganda. “KTF” and “Forget Nothing” and all those other little phrases whose purpose, according to his appointed peers, was to make sure that young men went off and got themselves killed when asked.
But maybe, deep down, he felt that grinding frustration so strongly because his friend, who didn’t even care about the Legion, now had something he, Wash, so desperately wanted.
Wash tossed the bucket back to its owner. “So tell me how you even managed to get close to Hilltop Defiance? I thought that was still hot?”
“Oh, believe me, it is.” Berlin slapped his bucket as though playing a drum. “And the Legion wasn’t going to let me near it. The last thing they want is for an appointed officer to do something worth noting. That would fly in the face of all their crying about how this program is a mistake.”
Wash gave a well-that’s-one-perspective raising of his eyebrows. The reality was that the Legion didn’t want the heartburn that would come with a point getting dusted. That, and they were committed to total victory. They sought to win on every play. And the presence of a point reduced their odds.
“So, what? You crept in from the jungle?”
“Nah. The Legion might shut me down, but the rest of the branches, they see a major when they look at my armor. So when I tell a couple of privates to drive me someplace, they do it.”
Wash shook his head and stood. He stretched his hands overhead. The air at the top of his hab, mingling with his fingertips, felt several degrees warmer. “I’m hot enough to tell a couple of privates to drive me someplace just to feel the wind against my skin. And I’m not too proud to strip down to my skivvies first.”
“Wouldn’t help,” said Berlin, putting the helmet over his head. Its external speaker made his voice sound slightly mechanical. “It’s like driving through a steam bath. But I’ll see about getting you one of these.” He rapped the side of the bucket with his knuckles. “The fighting has moved on from the hill, and there are still plenty of buckets around, just there for the taking. Though some Legion recon teams already gathered up all the weapons. So if you want something more than your pistol and that marine-issue blaster rifle, we’ll have to sneak into the armory sometime.”
Wash laughed at the thought. He wanted nothing more than to serve in the Legion, though he looked all wrong for the part. Berlin, on the other hand… he looked ready to KTF. “No. I’m good with whatever the Legion sees fit. But just… watch out, Berlin. I just don’t want you to get into any trouble over this.”
“I’m not going to.” Berlin modeled his fully jocked-up self. “Looks pretty slick though, right? I’m telling you, just say the word and I’ll get you up to speed.”
Berlin opened his mouth to speak, but Washam supplied his friend’s words before he had the chance to utter them. “I knew you’d say that.”
The two men laughed.
“I did know you’d say that!” Berlin sounded like he was smiling from behind his helmet.
“And I knew you knew it. We’ve spent practically our whole lives together. I don’t know why we even bother talking anymore. We can just have the same conversations in our minds.”
The comm light on Wash’s datapad flashed, and he glanced down. He’d received several new messages in the few minutes he’d been talking to his friend, and an icon signaled fifty-two reports ready for processing. That number had been down to five before he’d gotten sidetracked by Berlin.
Wash let out a sigh despite his commitment to the Legion. It wasn’t glamorous work, but it was the job the Legion had given him. The first Legion sergeant they’d ever been exposed to as cadets had told them, “Do everything as though your life depends on it.” Then he’d made the corps of cadets pick up trash all along the training field. None of the other points had understood, nor cared about, the exercise in wisdom. But Wash had made it his own personal mantra. So much so that he didn’t even think about it. It was just always there in his hard drive. Pushing him to do his best, regardless of how meaningless the task felt.
“Keepin’ you busy, huh, pal?” Berlin said sympathetically.
“Not the way I’d like, but… yeah. Busy.”
Berlin leaned in and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. “Hey. I’m out of your hair in a few, but I’m working on an angle that I know you’ll be interested in.”
Wash slumped back into his chair feeling sweaty and miserable. “Somehow I doubt that.”
“No, no. I’m serious. What would you say to going out on an armed recon patrol?”
Wash had no way of reading Berlin from behind his bucket, but he thought the major had to be joking. There was no way Legion command was going to let a couple of appointed officers go into the jungle probing for the dog-like doros. No matter how much Wash might want it to be so.
“Berlin, now you’re wasting my time.”
“That’s only true if I’m lying.” Berlin inclined his head. “And I’m not lying.”
Wash knew he should just end the conversation and try to get caught up on his work before the end of his shift—not that anyone else was assigned to help with the flow of work that would come in overnight. This suck-fest was all Washam’s. But the thought of actually getting out there and using the training he’d received at the Academy, of showing the legionnaires that he should rightly be called a brother and a fellow leej—the chance was too enticing to ignore.
“For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re not lying,” he said.
“Fine. How can you pull something like that off? And don’t tell me the Legion is on board.”
Berlin sat on Wash’s desk, removing his helmet to reveal a Cheshire grin. “Like I said earlier, the other branches, they don’t see an appointee. They only see a Legion major.”
Wash nodded. He’d experienced the same among the Republic’s soldiers.
Berlin continued. “I was talking to some marine pilots—the ones flying the SLICs. The guys are pretty much just flying legionnaires all over the place, dead and alive. Other than some gun runs, that’s their life—taxi service to the Legion. And the thing of it is, they have no idea. A lot of ’em are on standby because everything in this fight is so fluid. A Legion officer tells them where to go, they go.”
Wash could see where his friend was headed with this. “And so your plan is to order a couple of pilots to take you out on a nice hike into the jungle, rifles on our shoulders. No thanks.”
“First, you’re way off base.”
“So that’s not it?”
“Well… it is. But we’ll have a marine recon team with us, too.”
Wash rubbed his eyes and shook his head. “Berlin, this is stupid. And trust me, I get it. We go out, make the checkpoints, and the leejes give us some recognition, acknowledge we’re willing to put in our share.”
“No, that’s what you want,” Berlin said, the smile not fading from his face. “I want something a lot bigger. You know the score in this program: we serve, and then we use our time in the Legion to secure a seat on the planetary council. Maybe a governorship or a Senate seat. But I’ve got my eyes on a prize grander than local legislation. I’m going straight from Psydon to the House of Reason.”
Wash clucked his tongue. The last place he wanted to be was the House of Reason, though he understood the drive. Becoming a delegate in the House of Reason was the be-all-end-all for those with political aspirations. A life achievement. But no one as young as him and Berlin—neither of them thirty standard years—had ever made it in. Even those few “young bucks” who had made it at not-quite forty had only done so by way of a hereditary hand-me-down. A delegate gets old, decides to retire, endorses a great-grandson or niece, and the adoring populace of their galactic sector votes in the chosen one out of gratitude. Just like they’re told to. But what Berlin was talking about… that would require an honest-to-goodness power play. Going hard against an entrenched incumbent who was willing to do whatever it took to keep power.
“I know it sounds far-fetched. But think about this with me for a minute. What do we know about the delegates from our sector?”
“They’re exceedingly rich and powerful, they’re friends of both of our families, and they get whatever they want?”
Berlin smirked. “Okay. What else?”
Wash shrugged and raised his hands.
“They’re positioning themselves more and more as anti-war. And I know it’s all part of a broader plan of theirs—I do listen at those boring cocktail parties—but they’re miscalculating, badly. The pain of the Savage Wars is still fresh in people’s minds; the average citizen is not ready to turn up their noses at the military. So with me running as a former officer in the Legion who, unlike my opponent, actually fought, I know I can swing the delegate seat.”
“Okay,” Wash said, somewhat reluctantly. “That’s actually a surprisingly good strategy.”
“But I don’t think a quiet recon patrol is going to hold much water in the war hero department. And the Legion will never let you do anything bigger than that. It’s not like you can order a company of legionnaires to get on the SLIC with you.”
Berlin’s smile faded, replaced by a gravity that, though not menacing, sent a chill up Wash’s spine. “I know all that. And so here’s the workaround: one, we’re the only legionnaires on the mission. Everyone else is a marine. And two… it’s not just a patrol. I looked at some theoretical Dark Ops intel, and we’re going to take a stab at finding and destroying the doros’ mobile artillery.”
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