Convicted of a minor traffic violation, Rev Pelletier is conscripted into the Perseus Union Marine Corps . . . for up to a thirty-year term of service.
Anxious to get back to his civilian life and job, Rev opts for a shorter term as a Marine Raider taking the fight to the enemy.
But with extremely high mortality rates, can he and his friends survive until their term of service is over?
Download Sentenced to War now to follow Rev through perilous battles as he fights to hold back the alien invasion. If you're a fan of Old Man's War, Starship Troopers, or Armor, you'll love this military scifi thrill ride.
Release date: February 28, 2021
Publisher: Variant Publications
Print pages: 436
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Sentenced to War
Life was good.
The timgsten-rock blared across the park, the bass making Rev’s very bones shake as he sat on top of the picnic table, tapping his feet on the bench. He drained his beer, then reached down to prod Mia with his toe for another. She slapped at it with feigned annoyance but reached into the bag and tossed him one up and over her shoulder. He had to half-rise to snag it.
“Nice grab,” Witter said, barely audible over the music. “Can’t be having alcohol abuse, now.”
“Never,” Rev said as he held up the drinkpack like a trophy and sat back down. He popped the cooltab, then waited as the pack frosted over before taking a long pull.
In another six weeks, he’d be done with school, and two after that, he’d start his guild apprenticeship, thanks to his stepfather. The old man had come through for him, that was for sure.
Rev reached over and gently tousled Mia’s hair as she leaned in to her best friend Laney’s ear to tell her something. She ignored the familiarity, but at least she didn’t object. He’d known Mia for years, ever since primary, but it wasn’t until word got out—leaked by him—that he’d scored the Benevolent Order of Crystal Technicians that she’d promoted him from one of the guys to her one guy.
Rev wasn’t uni material. He’d barely been secondary school material, so getting into a guild was pretty impressive. He wasn’t under any false impression that he’d made it on his own, but too often, it wasn’t what you knew but rather who you knew. And he knew Max Throndson, the man who’d married his mother nine years ago, and pertinent to Rev getting the position, a full member of the BOCT.
It would take Rev three years to make journeyman, but once achieved, he’d be home free. He’d never be megarich, but he’d make a good, secure salary, with lifelong benefits, especially with the war going on. The military would always need crystals.
It really wasn’t surprising that Mia had immediately gravitated to him once she found out about his apprenticeship. School was almost over, and all the kings and queens of campus were starting to look to their futures. Rev wasn’t sure he wanted anything long term with her, but he was more than willing to enjoy her company for a while, and being with her raised him more than a few notches with everyone else.
Witter leaned in close to Rev’s ear. “Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you. Do you think your dad can put in a good word for me with the BOCT?”
Witter was Laney’s boyfriend, and someone he’d just met today. There was no way he was going to ask his stepdad anything of the sort, but he didn’t want to alienate the guy.
“I can’t hear you,” Rev shouted, pointing to his ear and then to the music pod.
Which was somewhat true. Even if he wanted to hold a conversation, the music was blaring, and he wasn’t about to spend the evening trying to lipread. Hopefully, Witter would forget to ask him later. He turned away and took another swallow of beer.
Across the small park and under the pavilion, about twenty men and women were gaming, jacks plugged into the base of their necks, their eyes closed. Rev rolled his eyes.
His stepdad made some of the crystals that made immersive gaming possible. In a way, gamers provided for his family’s livelihood. Despite this, his mother thought very little of those who left reality for days on end to live in a fantasy world. Rev adopted his mother’s attitude, and he thought immersive gamers were losers.
He didn’t care much about the casual gamers who only wasted some of their free time. But for the hardcore jackheads, those who withdrew and lived on the government dole, it was a different story. They contributed nothing to society. At least that’s what his mother said, and Rev thought there was truth in that. If they didn’t work, they weren’t paying taxes, relying on the rest of society for their support.
Rev didn’t know which type those across the small park were, and he didn’t care. He wanted to live in the real world. Looking at Mia sitting on the row below him, her long brown hair shining in the park lights, that seemed a much better option.
It wasn’t as if Rev didn’t play games. He gamed like everyone else, but not through jacks, which took the gamer out of the real universe and into a fake one. And it wasn’t just because he couldn’t get a jack while still a minor. Raised with his parent’s work ethic, he just saw the immersive games as an escape by losers who couldn’t hack reality.
A couple of the jackheads kept glancing at them, sour looks on their faces. The four were blaring the music pretty loud, he had to admit, especially if it was bleeding into their games.
With a sigh, he stepped down to where Mia and Laney were chatting and reached to the pod to lower the volume.
Mia grabbed his wrist. “What’re you doing? I like it like this.”
She pulled his hand away and not only put the volume back, but she increased it until he could feel the bass in his heart. She gave him a dismissive stare before turning back to her friend.
Rev wanted to remind her that there were others in the park, but this was Mia Szeth. An A-lister. Someone out of his social circle until he scored his apprenticeship. Her look quashed anything he’d been about to say.
Witter had watched the little exchange. He gave Rev a we’re-in-this-together look, took a swallow of his beer, and leaned back, using the next row as a seatback.
The increased volume caught more attention from the jackheads. Two stood up, then a third. They started talking together, all the time glancing back at the four of them. They must have come to a decision, because one of them, a twenties-something guy, unjacked, then casually walked across the grass to them.
Shit. I knew I should have just lowered the volume more.
Mia stood as soon as the man started coming over. She gave Rev a quick glance, then signaled him to stand next to her.
Rev assumed that most gamers were doughy, out-of-shape rejects, but this guy was cut. He had a gamer’s wimby—the back of his head shaved and the front long and puffed out. Standing about 1.9 meters, he was broad across the chest with major guns, maxing out at around a hundred, maybe a hundred-and-ten kilos.
Rev was about the same height and fifteen kilos lighter, and he instinctively puffed up his chest as the smiling man came to a stop in front of Mia and him, Witter and Laney belatedly taking positions on either side of the two.
“Hey, friend,” the guy started, almost yelling to be heard over the music and holding out his hand. Rev didn’t take it.
“Uh, well, we’re wondering if you could lower the volume on your pod just a bit. It’s encroaching on our game.”
“Oh, you’re gameplayers?” Mia asked. “What’re you playing?”
The guy’s smile got bigger, and he said, “Descent into Hades.”
Rev didn’t play immersive games, but he knew about this one. Sometimes hundreds of people played against each other, and the game could go on for days, if not weeks.
“Piece of shit game, for pieces of shit jackheads,” Mia said, watching the guy’s face.
Shit, Mia! Calm down.
The man frowned, then said, “I guess you just don’t understand much then, missy, if you think D-I-H isn’t anything but the best freaking game in the galaxy.”
Mia wasn’t used to people confronting her, Rev could tell. Her mouth gaped, and she turned to Rev and asked, “Are you gonna let him talk to me like that?”
You asked for it, Rev wanted to say. But he knew that if he wanted to enjoy Mia’s company for any longer, that would be the kiss of death.
With a mental sigh, Rev took half a step forward and slightly in front of Mia. “You’d better watch your mouth, buddy. There’s a cost for being an asshole to a lady.”
Rev didn’t know where that came from. This wasn’t really like him, and if his stepdad would have been there, he’d have lifted a brow and given Rev the look. But his stepdad was back at home.
Maybe it was the beer speaking, but to Rev’s surprise, he was suddenly feeling pretty big at the moment. Mia grabbing his upper arm probably had a lot to do with his, he knew. But it was more than that. This was new territory for him, and he found it somehow exciting. The man was not a kid. Full into his prime, the guy reeked of danger, but that only heightened Rev’s excitement.
The man’s smile disappeared at Rev’s words, to be replaced with a frown. “No offense. But there’re rules here. You can’t bother others in the park.”
“The pod is on public settings,” Mia said from around Rev’s side. “We don’t have to lower the volume.”
“Public settings until someone complains. Look it up,” the man said, slightly widening his feet as if finding his balance. Behind him, two other jackheads started forward, but he turned and held out a hand to stop them.
“Well, I suggest you go back to Hades where you won’t hear us,” Mia said to Laney’s snickers.
The man rolled his eyes, then started to go around them, reaching for the pod.
Mia darted out a hand and slapped his arm. The man froze, arm outstretched for a moment, and then he reached out for Mia’s shoulder as if to push her out of the way.
Mia gave a tiny yip, and Rev blocked his hand. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
The man stopped and very deliberately looked Rev up and down, his smile getting bigger.
“And who’s going to stop me? You?” he said with a half-laugh, clearly dismissing Rev as a threat.
And that incensed Rev. He was often underestimated, and it drove him crazy.
But he didn’t react. Even with the thrill of danger, Rev was not stupid enough to get into a physical fight in public, not with conscription ramping up higher.
But the man reached, and before Rev could do anything, Mia let go of Rev’s arm to give the guy a smack on the chest. The man reacted, pulling back . . . and somehow, Mia went down. Rev wasn’t sure if she was pushed or if she slipped, but he snapped.
He had to protect her.
Drawing from strength he didn’t realize he possessed, he put every gram of his existence into the punch, connecting flush with the man’s chin and dropping him like a sack of flour.
His fist exploded in pain, but he stood over the inert man for a moment, shocked, his heart thudding in his chest. He didn’t know whether to shout out in victory or an apology.
“Run!” Witter yelled.
Rev didn’t want to run. He needed to fix this with the guy who was slumped over, his legs crumbled beneath him. He was barely aware that the jackheads had unjacked and were now yelling and running toward them.
Mia’s arm yanking on his broke his reverie, and suddenly reality came crashing down on him. He turned and ran after Witter and Laney, Mia at his side. The other two ran to the steps into the parking lot, but with a shout, Rev jumped the fence and vaulted down onto the lot.
“Power up!” he yelled, and his stepdad’s Gazelle hummed to life.
Rev dove into the driver’s seat, then stuck his head out the window to yell at the others to hurry. Laney and Witter piled in, followed by Mia, who hadn’t been willing to vault the fence.
“Go, go, go!” Witter yelled as Rev took the controls and spun out of the parking lot, overriding the Gazelle’s safe driving warnings.
“Are they coming?” he asked as he clipped a trash can at the lot’s entrance.
“Don’t see them,” Laney said.
“They won’t come,” Mia said. “Not unless they want to get drafted. They’re just as guilty as we are.”
“Guilty hell. That bastard started it,” Witter said. “But holy shit, Rev! You decked that guy!” He leaned forward and clapped Rev on the shoulder. “Pow. Just like that.”
Mia reached over to give his bicep a squeeze as the adrenaline started to dissipate, leaving him feeling hollow. What he’d done began to sink in.
Off the ballfield, Rev had never hit someone in anger, and amidst the guilt was the thrill of knocking the guy out, but the ramifications of what he’d done . . . he started to tremble.
Fighting was a sure way to get conscripted. It wouldn’t matter if the other guy started it—if he even did start it. A judge would order the secdrones to release the visuals, and Rev didn’t know what they would show.
Did Mia slip? Did the guy shove her?
Rev slowed down the Gazelle and took ten deep breaths while Witter went on and on about how he’d taken down the guy. Witter was reveling in it all.
“You sure they won’t press charges?” Rev quietly asked Mia.
“Not unless they want to go down with you,” she said confidently.
Maybe she’s right.
He stayed below the speed limit as they made their way through the Gray Creek neighborhood. It wasn’t midnight yet, so their transponder wouldn’t call in a cop to find out why they were there, but there was no reason to attract any attention to themselves.
Rev finally began to relax. He’d been stupid, yes. Drinking underage, then fighting. But nothing was going to come of it—that is, nothing bad. Rev knew he was in the wrong here, but part of him felt a renewed sense of confidence. He’d taken down someone bigger than him, fitter than him, and older than him, and he’d always remember the feeling of victory, even mixed with the shame he felt as he stood over the guy.
I’ll sure remember him as long as my fist hurts, he mused, flexing his aching hand. A small laugh escaped him, unplanned and giddy.
“What’s so funny?” Mia asked.
“Nothing. Just glad we got away.”
As if on cue, the blue lights of a cop appeared behind him, and Rev’s heart almost jumped into his throat.
Witter stopped his retelling of how Rev had won what had somehow grown into a huge battle to simply say, “Oh, shit.”
“You said they weren’t going to report us,” Rev whined to Mia.
“They wouldn’t,” she said, suddenly sounding unsure of herself. “They couldn’t have already. It’s only been, what, two minutes? Three minutes? There hasn’t been enough time.”
“What do I do?” Rev asked.
“Stop. Maybe they got you for clipping that trash can. Yeah, that’s probably it.”
Asking what he should do was stupid. If he didn’t stop, the cop would shut the car down. Whether the jackheads reported the fight or not, Rev had no choice. He pulled over to the side of the street. Three blocks ahead, he could see the Taylor Expressway. If he could have made it that far, he would have been only eight minutes from Beakerville and home.
“Woulda, coulda,” he muttered as he rolled down the window.
“Don’t say anything,” Mia told the three others as the cop rolled up.
“Good evening, sir. I am secbot four-three-four-seven-six, Thirteenth Precinct.”
The cop’s voice was calm and pleasant, as if that could take away from the fact that it looked like a toilet plunger riding a unicycle.
“Are you Maximillan Throndson, sir?”
“No,” Rev answered. “I’m his step . . . I’m his son. Reverent Pelletier.”
“Reverent?” Witter said from the back seat. “Are you kidding me?”
A glare that could kill shut him up.
The cop stood there for a moment, then said, “Very well. Mr. Pelletier, you are being cited for Civil Code Fourteen-dot-six.”
A surge of panic swept over Rev before confusion set in. He wasn’t up on the civil codes, but a fourteen? A fight couldn’t be a fourteen.
“Uh . . . sir? What is a fourteen-dot-six?”
“Driving a vehicle under manual control in an autonomous zone.”
“What?” Rev and Mia asked in unison.
“This district is limited to autonomous driving between the hours of twenty-hundred and zero-six hundred. There are children and families here.”
Rev tried to gain control over his jumbled thoughts. He’d driven to the park in manual mode, but what time was that? Seven? Eight?
He looked down at the screen, where the red warning light was still flashing. He touched the screen, and several warnings popped up for excessive speed, irregular steering . . . and that he was in manual mode in an autonomous zone. When he’d taken off, he’d overridden the warnings.
“Shit,” he said in a hushed voice.
“If you will step out of your vehicle, sir, I have summoned transportation to take you to processing.”
“Processing? What? I’m getting arrested?”
“You are being cited. But as a minor, you cannot be released unless into the custody of a parent or guardian.”
“I’ll be eighteen in three weeks,” Rev said without conviction.
“As I stated, you are a minor. Will you please exit the vehicle?”
Rev slowly got out of the Gazelle. He was in big trouble. Maybe not with the law, but Max was going to kill him if his mother didn’t do it first.
“Mia, can you drive the Gazelle to my house? Tell my . . . uh, better ask my stepdad to come get me. Not my mom.”
“That will not be allowed,” the cop said.
“But you said I need a guardian. My stepdad is my legal guardian.”
The cop went on as if it hadn’t heard him. “Your vehicle is being impounded. It will be towed and then stored until disposition of your case.”
There were cries of protest from the other three, but Rev wasn’t listening by this point. There was a hum, and a small strip of plastic emerged from a slot on the cop.
“Please attach this to your wrist.”
Rev had seen enough holovids to know that while the cop might look like a plunger, there were arms hidden within it. If he resisted, the cop would have no problem subduing him.
With a sigh, Rev slapped the plastic on his wrist, where it formed into a bracelet, before he sat on the curb, head in his hands, as he waited for transport.
“Remember, no arguing. I don’t care what the judge gives you. Just shut up.”
“You don’t think the judge will give me jail time?” Rev asked his stepdad.
“Serve you right if he does.”
“Really?” Rev asked, a touch of panic in his voice. “But what about the guild? I can’t miss my swearing-in.”
“Relax. It’s a traffic violation. A fine—which you’re going to pay me back—and a loss of your license. You’ve never been arrested, and you’ve got your volunteer work with the Youth Corps. That should make a difference. Come here,” his stepdad said, straightening out the cravat around his neck. “Try and look civilized.” It was a small gesture, but important. Max didn’t have to be a father to Rev, but he’d taken on the job without complaint. Sometimes, in little ways, his caring shone through. Like now.
Rev scowled, but he left the bright blue cravat in place. He hadn’t worn one since his primary school graduation, but it made sense to put out a good impression.
“Let’s go in, son.”
Max had been surprisingly understanding—unlike Rev’s mom, who had railed against Rev’s “untamed ways.” With the Gazelle impounded, he’d driven a rentsled to take custody of Rev that night, and he hadn’t said a word on the ride home. It wasn’t until the next day that he asked what happened.
He’d shaken his head and called Rev stupid, but he immediately got on the quantphone. Probably to one of the guild lawyers. The lawyer called back a few minutes later, and Max sighed in relief.
“All they have you for is the driving on manual after hours. You dodged a big one there, Rev. Nothing about fighting.”
Rev had somehow forgotten about that.
“You see the judge on Monday, and we’ll get this taken care of.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Rev said as he started to leave the room.
“Oh, and you’re grounded until graduation.”
Rev immediately started to protest, but he bit it back. He deserved it, and more importantly, he couldn’t let anything get in the way of his guild swearing-in. Once that was done, he was golden.
And now, Monday morning, he and Max were climbing the steps into the county courthouse. Rev was just anxious to get it over with. He hoped the fine wouldn’t put Max back too much, but he was resigned to losing a couple months of an apprentice’s meager salary to pay him back.
He still had the bracelet attached to his wrist. That wouldn’t come off until his judgment. It beeped to life as he passed the scanner, giving him his room assignment. There had to be a hundred people in the big hallway, going this way and that, but Max got the two of them oriented, and like salmon going upstream, they made their way.
He’d expected dozens of people in a grand courtroom, but Room 1304 was barely a cubical. He sat before an inert screen, and Max took one of the two small chairs behind him.
“What now?” he asked Max.
“Now we wait.”
And wait they did. For the next forty minutes, Rev sat there, cracking his knuckles while getting more and more nervous. He just wanted to get it over with. Finally, with a flicker, the screen came to life.
A bored-looking woman in an old-fashioned judicial robe was studying something before her. Rev turned to look at Max in confusion, but his stepdad motioned for him to turn back to the judge.
It didn’t take long. Maybe twenty seconds after she appeared on the screen, she looked up and asked, “Are you Reverent R. Pelletier, Bravo-Echo-Six-six-three-two-nine-six-six-three-one-oh.”
The courtroom wouldn’t have opened for him if he wasn’t who he was, but mindful of what Max had told him, he just leaned forward and said, “Yes.”
“Please look to your left.”
He turned to the optical scanner, which was stupid, he thought. The damned police bracelet identified him when he came in. And if they needed an eye scan, then why the hell did she bother asking?
The scan flashed green, and Rev looked back at the judge.
“You are charged with violation of Civil Code Fourteen-dot-six, driving a passenger vehicle in manual mode in an autonomous area. How do you plead, young man?”
Rev cast another quick glance at Max, but they’d already discussed this. They had Rev dead to rights. Rev could plead not guilty, as was his right, but a trial might not be slated until after his swearing in to the guild, and while a Class Fourteen violation probably wouldn’t keep him out, the guild might push back his entry until after the case was adjudicated.
“Guilty, ma’am. I mean, your honor,” he said.
“Good. Smart young man.” She took a moment to look down again, then said, “I see nothing in the report that should raise any issues. It’s pretty cut-and-dry.”
Please, don’t make the fine too big, Rev prayed.
“Reverent Pelletier, I sentence you to a single term of service in the Pegasus Union Marine Corps.”
“Military service? The Marines?” Rev shouted, standing up, his hands on the small ledge in front of the screen.
“Ma’am,” Max said, one hand on Rev’s shoulder, pushing him hard back into his seat. “Our lawyer confirmed that a Class Fourteen offense is not subject to conscription.”
The judge gave a wry laugh and said, “Then you better get a new lawyer. Class Thirteen and Fourteen offenses joined the list as of”—she made a show as if looking up a date—"three days ago.”
That petty, sarcastic act incensed Rev, and he fought off Max’s hand on his shoulder and stood again. “For a fucking traffic ticket? That’s just unbelievable. I didn’t murder anybody!” he screamed, leaning into the screen until his face was only centimeters away.
The judge’s eyes hardened. “I think I’d watch my temper if I were you, young man.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Max said, pulling Rev back down and hissing at him. “Can it, Rev! You’re only making it worse.”
Rev fought him for a moment before flopping back down in his seat. This was all going too fast for him, and his life was crashing in flames. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t considered the military before he got accepted into the guild. As a possible back up, he’d even planned on going down to the recruiting office to at least find out more about enlisting after he turned eighteen . . .
Rev smiled and leaned forward, his face centimeters from the pick-up. “You can’t conscript me,” he said.
“I most certainly can, young man, and the sooner you accept that, the better.”
“No, you can’t. I’m still seventeen.”
Rev leaned back, hands clasped behind his neck, a smug look on his face.
Her expression changed, and she looked down again, studying the case. “You’re right,” she said, nodding her head. “I’m not sure why that wasn’t noted on the case data. And if I’d submitted this as is, well, I think even your lawyer might have been able to invalidate the sentence.”
She reached down and made a couple of entries. “Luckily, you stopped me from that, so thank you,” she said, a fake smile on her face. “I’ve corrected it so that you are now to report to military processing on June 21st.”
The day after his eighteenth birthday.
She looked back up, and her fake smile shifted to a real one as she stared Rev down.
Rev exploded and started to shout, when Max shoved him back down with a hand clamped over his mouth.
“Ma’am, please excuse his outburst. But he’s been accepted into the Benevolent Order of Crystal Technicians, and his swearing-in is July 1st. That’s a war-priority industry. Doesn’t that change anything? Can’t you . . .?”
The judge gave Rev a long, hard look as he struggled in his stepdad’s iron grip.
“I do have that discretion, and if he was already sworn in to the guild, I might not have that choice at all. But as of this moment, he isn’t protected. And to be honest, I think the Marines might do him some good. And with his obvious fighting spirit, he might do humanity some good,” she said, this time in a slightly more reflective voice. “My sentence stands.”
The screen went dark, and a copy of the sentence popped out of the printer.
It was done.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...