Every disaster brings an opportunity.
Goth Sullus and his empire have fallen.
With the Legion and the rest of the galaxy watching from the still-smoldering galactic core, Carter, a former legionnaire turned private contractor, and Jack Bowie, a Navy spy with nowhere left to turn, sign up to work for an enterprising private contractor looking to make a statement on the planet Kublar.
Plans are in motion dating back to the Savage Wars, and as the galaxy rushes to fill in the vacuum created by the fall of the Imperial Republic, the bodies are hitting the floor.
But every plan has a reckoning...
Takeover is the thrilling aftermath of the final, desperate execution of Article Nineteen and the looming rebirth of the Legion and the galaxy itself as the road to Galaxy's Edge: Season Two begins!
Available now in Audio book format performed by Ray Porter!
Release date: May 18, 2020
Publisher: Galaxy's Edge Press
Print pages: 500
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I’m up to my ankles in dead koobs. And they stink.
Back in the day, when I was still active duty in the Legion, I wouldn’t have noticed. My bucket—that’s what we legionnaires call our helmets—would have filtered this fishy stench right out. But now when I do my shootin’, I get a nice, deep base tan while I’m at it.
So it’s not all bad.
“Yo, man!” calls out Aguilar, a former hullbuster who served with the 1st Republic Marine Division right up until that maniac Goth Sullus declared himself emperor. He’s pulling up his flak jacket over his nose to cover up the smell. “This ain’t what I signed on for, man. I’m here to kill koobs, not work body detail. Big Nee gotta be able to afford bots to do this work.”
“You signed on to do what I tell you to do,” I shout back as I poke a koob airsac that’s swollen to the size of a beach ball with the toe of my boot. It quickly ruptures and spills out a near-congealed ooze of the alien’s phosphorescent yellow blood.
Koobs are a nasty species. Tribal warriors, willing to die for just about anything. Mean. Sneaky. Violent.
They got famous a bunch of years back when a destroyer blew up and then a company of legionnaires were nearly wiped out on planet. Nearly. But since they were leejes, they survived, kicked ass, and got off Kublar just as a civil war erupted. Things have stabilized since then. The Republic came in as soon as it was clear which rival koob tribe was going to win the genocidal war engulfing the planet. Then they started building up the coastal cities.
Kublar was on the fast track to becoming an assimilated Republic world. The hell that happened to Victory Company just an afterthought. A little bump in the road.
Well, now the Republic has fallen and the galaxy is trying to figure out what comes next. But the people in power on Kublar are staying the course. Continuing the vision of Utopion’s executed House of Reason way out here at galaxy’s edge.
But Big Nee, our boss, he has plans of changing all of that. And we’re the paid guns to make sure it happens.
“Yeah, that’s what I signed up for,” Aguilar replies, a half-smile on his face. “So I’m thinkin’ you can just tell us to head back to the truck and wait for some bots, Carter.”
I shake my head and can feel the sweaty ringlets of my hair brushing across the back of my neck. I pull off my ball cap and wipe the sweat from my brow with the back of my forearm, soaking my Legion tattoo in the process.
“Can’t do that, Easy,” I say. “Because I signed up to do what I was told. And I was told this is on us. No bots.”
We call Aguilar Easy mainly because his first name, Elias, starts with an E. Easy-E. It’s catchy. But I guess in this instance, it’s fitting, too.
By now the other men on my team have stopped hoisting up dead koobs and tossing them into the back of the repulsor-powered troop transport truck we rode in on. This little diversion seems to have marked the start of a kaff break. Not that we have any with us.
“Get some water in you,” I tell the guys.
Other than Easy, there are four men on my team.
Lana Romnova, who isn’t a man, but work with me on this. She’s one of the guys. A former basic who’s as good as any medical bot I’ve ever seen and much better with a blaster rifle.
Then we’ve got our other hullbuster, Abers. Team sniper. He was in the middle of carrying the bottom half of a dead koob to the truck while Winters—he never bothered joining the military, long story—holds the corpse underneath the arms.
The two men drop the body unceremoniously onto the Kublaren hardpan and go for their canteens.
“Bots would be nice,” says Abers.
Winters shakes his head. He’s a young kid. Twenty-five at the oldest. The rest of us are closer to forty than twenty. “No. Can’t do bots for something like this.”
“Why not?” asks Easy.
“Can’t do bots,” Winters maintains, as if repeating it will make everyone understand.
I take a drink from my canteen. The Kublaren heat has managed to outperform the thing’s ‘evercool’ technology. But, for a knockoff of the real thing bought at the Soob for a few credits, that’s not so bad. Usually these things run north of one-fifty. For a stinking canteen.
I mean, we get paid really well on this contract. It’s why we’re all here. I got a family to keep fed. But even if I can afford it, I’m not about to drop those kind of credits on a cooler. That’s how people stay broke.
“Dude,” Abers says, talking to Easy across the rows of dead indigs—the indigenous species of this planet, “the kid don’t know. He’s just talkin’ to talk.”
“Yeah, I do,” insists Winters. “Bots won’t work.”
“Because why?” asks Lana.
I see the kid hesitate. Almost like he doesn’t know… but something tells me that’s not it. It’s more like he does, only he doesn’t want people to wonder how.
Soon they’re all talking past each other.
The only one still working is Lashley. He’s as big as I am. A little taller. Yeah, and more jacked. If I had to describe him in one word it would relentless. Or muscly. If that’s even a word. The guy actually reminds me of a bot. I couldn’t tell you where he served. He doesn’t talk about it. At least not to me and the squad Big Nee’s execs put me with. But if I had to guess, I’d say Legion.
Lashley is carrying a dead koob over his shoulder like he’s loading a sack of grain onto a freighter. Like it’s part of his workout routine. The corpse’s blood mixes with the blood of all the others the big man has humped over to the truck and stained his tank top yellow as a result.
That’s one thing you might notice out here. The dress code. It’s pretty much whatever you want it to be, which is nice after spending so many years confined to a box. I mean, when it’s time to fight, we’ve got our kits. Armored vests, a few aftermarket suits and helmets—things like that. But now? When we’re at least fifty clicks from the closest koob village cleaning up a battlefield?
Yeah. We can dress however we want.
Abers looks like a Marine stationed on Psydon—old-school unbuttoned olive flak jacket and black boots… pretty sure that’s by design. He’s a bit of a student of history. Lashley looks like he’s ready for deadlift day at the gym. Lana is wearing athletic stretch pants and an old army tee. Winters is decked out in an expensive set of merc armor (without the helmet), and I’m wearing my company Legion tee, cargo fatigues, and ballcap. Oh. And my Bander-Ryn shades.
I know. Expensive. Especially after I went on about how burning up credits on things like that keeps people broke. They’re my one luxury.
Other than my kit back on the truck. But that’s not really a luxury. On Kublar, that’s a necessity. Except all the way out here, fifty clicks from the nearest koob village. We’re supposed to have overwatch somewhere off in the distant mountain range or overhead via stealth drone to warn us of any surprises.
Lashley tosses his koob into the back of the transport truck and then turns, sweat pouring down from his bald dome, which glistens under the sun. He approaches another dead indig and widens his stance like a powerlifter getting ready to tackle the next superset.
“Hey, Lashley!” Easy calls out.
“What?” Lashley grunts out as he hoists the koob over his shoulder, a stream of fluid seeping out of the alien and onto the ground, which greedily drinks it up.
“Kid says that there’s a reason why bots just can’t be doin’ this and we all say he’s talking out of his after-market rear end.”
Lashley adds to the pile in the back of the truck. “So?”
“So we at three-to-one,” Abers fills in. “Carter won’t comment. Gotta be the neutral leader. Give us that clean sweep, baby.”
Something akin to a growl escapes from Lashley as he stoops to pick up another body. But he stops, bent over at the waist, and looks up at the rest of us from one eye, hands on his knees. “Can’t use bots.”
“C’mon, man!” Abers says, waving both hands as though he were disgusted to hear it. “I ain’t tryin’ to hear that.”
“Why not?” Lana asks.
Through it all, she seems to be the only one actually interested in finding out why Winters is so doggedly sticking to his assertion that bots can’t be used on this job. And I’ll admit, the thought’s crossed my mind, too. We get enough PT that we don’t need to come out to the koob desert for more. Bots would have been nice. We’d already be done.
“Bots remember,” Lashley says, and then scoops up another dead koob.
I’m feeling bad that he’s the only one working, so I stow my canteen and cradle my own bundle of stink. The others don’t seem too inspired by this. They’re still talking.
“Bots remember’?” Easy repeats, shaking his head. “So you wipe ’em.”
“No, he’s right,” Winters says, screwing the lid of his canteen back in place. “It’s almost impossible to totally erase a bot’s memory. It takes some serious skill. A good enough slicer can get it out if they have a mind to.”
“Blow ’em up, then!” shouts Abers, as though winning this argument will magically make the bots we don’t have appear to finish the job we’re stuck doing.
Winters shrugs apologetically. “Even then… you just gotta piece together a few fragments of the data crystal.”
Easy snaps his fingers. “Orbital bombardment.”
“Oba’s nose,” I say, using my special leej voice for when I want something done. A mix of disappointed father and half-raging drill instructor. “There’s no fleet up there waiting to send down an orbital strike on some imaginary bots! No bots! You’ve got no bots. But you’re going to have my boot up your ass if you don’t get the rest of these muckas into the truck.”
They get to work picking up bodies again. All except for Lana, who seems to be just sitting there. Thinking.
“Hey, Lana,” Easy calls as he passes by with a dead koob, its arms swinging like some macabre orchestral conductor. “I don’t see you helpin’. Pick up a leg if you can’t lift an entire koob.”
Lana gives a smug, teasing smile. “I’m a medical professional, Aguilar. I’m only here to make sure the Kublarens are dead.”
That’s not technically true. She’s here in case something happens to one of us. And she has been helping. I let it all slide though, because it’s funny.
Abers looks up to the clear blue Kublaren skies, shaking his head at her reply. “Maaaan… ain’t that some sket.”
I dump my koob corpse into the truck and double-time it back to the pile, trying to keep pace with Lashley.
“Hey, Easy,” I say. “Command’s been pretty quiet?”
“Say again, Carter?”
My stomach drops. I know Easy heard me right. “You’ve got your comm in, right?”
Easy straightens up, his blood-stained gloves tentatively reaching for his ear for a comm that isn’t there. “Was that… did you ask… me? Because I thought you said—”
“Kelhorned space rat,” I mumble as I hustle off to the truck. I’m more mad at myself than at him. I should have followed up a while ago. If Command has been trying to reach us and we’ve been silent… not good.
Hopping into the passenger seat of the big truck, I grab my datapad from the windshield to pull it out of the sun. The thing is blazing and all this heat probably drained the battery. I put it in the shade of the glove compartment alongside a neat stack of paper maps, hoping it’s cooled enough to begin its recharge cycle. I was planning on calling the wife and kiddos today.
I push my comm set into my ear and call in to Command.
“Stroke, this is Carter,” I say, still thinking that call signs would be better. But this mercenary army I’m a part of—they seem to like the personal touch. “Reporting in.”
I wait for a reply, hoping it’s not going to be an exec ready to chew my butt for something. The truck door is open and I’m swinging my leg outside. As hot as it is out under the Kublar sun, it’s nothing compared to the inside of this rig when it’s shut off. The cab is an oven. I can feel the sweat drying.
“Carter!” the response finally comes in—it’s not an exec. It’s Brisco. “What the hell, man?”
I stifle a sigh and grit my teeth. Call signs aren’t the only thing missing from this outfit feeling like a Leej-level fighting force. Big Nee has a… unique brand of organizing talent. He’s got former Legion and Marines, Army… navy featherheads, everyone you’d expect in the fighting force. But for other elements, he has no problem plugging in civilians. Like Brisco on the other end of the comm. The closest this guy ever got to serving was playing an FPS sim. But he’s apparently a genius when it comes to comm tech. So he runs the board.
“Yeah. Go for Carter,” I say, trying to get things to the point.
“We’ve been trying to get you on comms for the last twenty minutes.”
“Acknowledged. Go for Carter.”
“Carter, man, what’s going on?”
This time, I can’t hold back my frustration. “Nothing. Just a little comm trouble.”
“Like something technical I need to look at?”
“Like my boots need me to stomp a mudhole in someone and then walk it dry.” I look out the window at Easy. He’s at least busting his butt getting the last of the koobs cleaned up. “We’re just about done. Sorry about not checking in. All is good.”
“Yeah, that’s the thing, man,” Brisco says. “Not for long, Carter. There’s a koob convoy that rolled out of the mountains and our tracking algos say they’re definitely heading your way.”
Great. Just what we needed.
I take a stab at what’s coming. Koobs are predictable. “Bunch of koobs on technicals rolling through the dirt. So… dust ’em. The drone’s got a missile, right?”
“We aren’t sure which tribe this is. Can’t risk upsetting the balance. You know.”
I shake my head. This is another spot where things don’t exactly feel Legion in the private contractor business. Big Nee is running a complex game. Everything is a factor. KTF is applied in limited quantities. And only when boss man is sure that’s what is needed.
“Fine. So we’ll do what we can to finish loading up and get out of sight.”
“Not happening, Carter. I’m surprised you can’t already see the dust cloud. They’re like five minutes away.”
I jump out of the truck. Sure enough, there’s a hazy cloud coming our way from the southwest.
“Get your kits!” I shout to my squad.
It takes them seconds to notice the cloud and rush to the truck, throwing on armor and priming weapons. In less than a minute we’re a fully capable combat team, ready to seriously jack those koobs up.
Assuming that’s what it takes. And that this isn’t just another Battle of Kublar where we get to play the role of Victory Company. Only in miniature. Time will tell.
I really should have called back home earlier.
“We shootin’?” Abers asks.
He’s already got some unlucky koob lined up in his sights. The discipline of snipers has always impressed me. The way Abers can lie perfectly still on the super-heated roof of the truck…
That’s not for me. I like to get in close. Remember how I said I’m willing to drop credits on my kit? Well, most of that goes to Mel S. She’s my shotgun, a special piece of mayhem I picked up at a Night Market toward the end of my time in the Legion. Well, until I re-upped to help Legion Commander Chhun drop Utopion. But that was more of a volunteer thing.
Mel S.—as opposed to Mel R., my rifle—is a combination ion blaster and slug thrower. It hurls big ol’ .70 cal turbined sabot slugs that bust through just about anything organic or machine. Great for killing biologics and even better for killing bots.
Plus, the thing has that sexy intimidation factor that makes people think twice about going a round with you. That’s what I’m hoping happens when these koobs come to town.
“Negative, Abers,” I call out, hoisting Mel S. onto my shoulder. “Control wants us to stand by in case these koobs are the ones we’re trying to make friends with.”
“Trying to make friends with any koobs is a bad idea,” Easy mumbles, holding his N-6 at the ready.
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