Apollyon’s Gambit is the fourth book in the Loralynn Kennakris series. Enjoy the sample chapter below! It is now available on Amazon for Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01M5GKTQ0.
“Go in harm’s way? Like Hell! I’m gonna put them in harm’s way!”
The war has flared up again, and Senior Lieutenant Loralynn Kennakris is thoroughly pissed off. On the walking-wounded list with a paralyzed arm and unable to fly, her superiors have decided to give her a meaningless promotion and send her off with a diplomatic mission to Iona. For years, tensions have been ramping up between the Nereidian League and its increasingly powerful former colony. It’s the diplomats’ job to defuse them before they explode. Kris’s job is to act as the mission’s ‘military advisor’—which really means looking decorative, fetching coffee, and keeping her mouth shut.
That is, until someone screwed up.
Caught on the wrong side of a military disaster that threatens the League’s whole war effort and forced into a role she never desired, Kris knows she didn’t start this fight. But she’s sure as hell gonna finish it . . . one way or another.
Part II, Chapter One:
Recon Flight Viper Fox, on patrol
Phase Plane Anvil, Kepler Junction
“How many bogies you got, Tanner?” Her voice was cool and smooth, but the med-monitors showed that her blood pressure was already ramping up.
“I got five—that’s five—at tango one forty, nine hundred kips closure.” His voice was thin and tinny over the burst link.
“You got that, Baz?”
“Roger that—got five, I say five. Bearing okay, closure okay.”
Her own T-Synth showed five too—five little red dots starting to spread out in attack formation in T-Synth’s holographic volume. It chewed on their energy profiles and declared them hostile, but she already knew that. “Baz, I make ‘em Halith heavy attack craft. You concur?”
“Oh, they’re Doms all right. Emissions signature looks like Talon-3s.”
“Okay, go to attack pattern delta. Suck it in Tanner, you’re too low.” Obediently, one of the three little blue triangles that indicated her and her wingmen snuggled closer to her port quarter. “Good. Now don’t break it up until I tell you.”
“You got it, Kris.”
The blood chemistry monitors started to light up yellow with stress compounds as her fighter eased down and left. The sphere of the T-Synth rotated as it began to carve maneuver envelopes and velocity vectors through the volume. “I have intercept in four hundred thirty seconds,” she said with a calmness that the med-monitors didn’t reflect.
“Roger that. Concur with intercept in four-thirty.”
“Okay, weapons free—clear and hot. Wait for it.”
As if on cue, her T-Synth lit up with a spatter colored lights and snow as Tanner’s voice burst over the link, “We got music here—I lost ‘em. Anybody got a read?” Rapidly she cycled through the TAC-displays as her own electronic warfare suite came on-line, but the red dots failed to reappear.
What the hell kind of ECM is this?
“I got ‘em!” Baz’s voice came on. “Got ‘em back with filter 7, convolve lima-3.”
“Link that over, Baz.”
“Roger. Linking now.” Her screen cleared, showing that the red dots had split, circling for an envelopment behind the cover of their jamming. Vectors hunted across her T-Synth as an adrenal rush echoed her smile.
You’re spread too wide, you jag bastards—your envelopment’s gonna turn up shit.
The thrum of her fighter’s drive plant increased as she punched the power up, swinging down towards the right-hand pair. “See that, Baz? Starboard group’s too wide. I make it an almost seventy-second engagement window before those three to port can close. What do you guys say?”
“I’m with you, boss.”
“You got it, ma’am!”
“Then heat it up!” Power reading soared as she took her drive to 110% and her blood chemistry danced as her adrenaline went with it. The blue icons swooped down and then her display snowed out again.
“Holy fuck!” Tanner blurted. “How’d they do that?”
“I’m going active,” she snapped. The med-monitors showed her heart rate edging towards 140. “Lock fire control to me.” Her deep radar came up sweeping; the little red dots reappeared, dancing in the haze. Their number fluctuated wildly.
“What the hell’s going on?” she murmured to herself, “This isn’t fighter jamming . . .” Something was covering for them—a new kind of ECM drone? There was a small volume between the diverging groups where the noise pattern didn’t look quite random enough. She magnified the spot, but her EW suite couldn’t find anything.
“Baz,” her voice was tight, “train over to tango one seven—you see anything there?”
“No—wait . . . can’t tell. You want me to swing out and take an aspect read, boss?”
“Negative! Stay put dammit—”
“Oh Shit!” Tanner cut her off. “I got launch transients here! Tango one seven and delta one five! Heavy metal coming this way!”
Two fans of bright orange lines radiated from what her sensors had just indicated was only empty space. Her heart rate spiked.
I’ve been suckered.
“Break! Break now!” Alarms squealed as her ship went maximum decel and her blood chem readings slammed into the red. The trio of blue triangles broke up and over in a classic missile avoidance maneuver while their EW suites howled. The orange fans began to disperse. Some of the missiles remaining ballistic as ECM confused their seeker arrays, decoys pulled off others and their chain guns engaged some more. The rest came through. View screens went mad with orange-white plasma flowers as the incoming warheads began to detonate. More alarms shrieked as shock waves rang her hull, then died abruptly as she cut them off.
“Hey!” Tanner yelped, “I think they’re shooting torps at us!”
“No shit, sweetie! Get the hell outta here!”
“But what about—”
“Three more!” Baz yelled, “I got three—no make that four—four more bandits coming in on delta one niner! Shit! Where’d those assholes come from?”
Goddammit! The word ricocheted around her skull as her blood chemistry went nuts. “Baz! Tanner! Clear out—disengage!”
“Boss, we can’t—”
“Go dammit! I’ll cover a zone five escape. Go go go!”
Two blue triangles snapped up in pure out-of-plane maneuver as the four new red icons burned in from port. Her T-Synth lit up with lock warnings. The display fuzzed as her fighter skidded hard right and snapped back clear as the compensators caught up. Two targets, unable to react, broke right in front of her. The T-Synth spun as she swung in behind them and her ship frame groaned as she slammed the drives into emergency boost. Baz and Tanner continued straight up as the other four bandits broke after them.
“Hey!” Tanner yelled over the net, “Can somebody get rid of this asshole for me?”
“I got ‘im—I got ‘im!” Baz called. “Cut left! Left!”
“Shit! I’m locked! Take the shot—Nail ‘im!”
Her targets loomed large on her forward view screen, their ECM fighting her T-Synth for a firing solution. The weapons indicator cycled as she switched to plasma cannon while the link chattered, “Lock—I got lock! Firing!” Baz’s missiles streaked across her T-Synth, two thin purple lines. “Come on, come on—“ The purple lines stabbed a red dot, there was a flare across her view screen and then nothing. “Yes! Yes! Talon down!”
Her targets split, one breaking hard left. Attitude sensors spun as she stayed with him. Two decoys purled off, her fire control lost lock and went into seek mode.
No, goddammit! I’ve been suckered once already today.
She thumbed off auto-track and fired a burst. He jinked as her shots bracketed him. He spun and accelerated hard, hoping she’d get into a scissors with him.
No dice, you lil’ fucker—this ain’t playtime.
She spun over into a J-slide, dropping below him. His maneuver was going to bring him right across her nose, belly up—a pure deflection shot. She have only a split-second to engage but he couldn’t turn at that speed. The range closed rapidly and she kept her finger on the firing stud . . .
Now! She pressed the stud. Her neutron cannons fired, streams iridescent purple in the tracking lasers, stabbing into his lightly armored belly. His shields flared and died in a burst of ultraviolet and then his ablatives began to boil off. A second later, he exploded in a convulsing orange flower. Four different compounds peaked in her bloodstream as elation flooded her.
“Got ‘im! Two down!”
A lock warning shrieked as a tracking laser found her.
“Kris! You’ve picked one up—break hard right!”
Her T-Synth swung crazily as she broke right. Something hammered savagely on her aft quarter. Damage control indicators glared red as she lost a drive node, port side. Baz curled behind her, his cannon lit up and the bandit disappeared in a smear of light. Moments later, Tanner’s cannon caught the fourth bandit in a crossing pattern. He veered away, trailing a comet’s tail of molten slag and ionized gas.
Her second target closed in behind Tanner. “Tanner, bring it up—help me engage.” He arced up in her T-Synth’s volume, his pursuer following. Her missile lock tone chimed beautifully in her ears.
“Got him locked! Two hot!” Two missiles streaked away. The bandit broke back, spewing a hail of counter fire. One missile died. The other bore in. “That’s four!”
The two remaining bandits, one still bleeding air, broke off.
“Ooeee!” whooped Baz, “They’re outta here! Goin’ ballistic!”
Below and behind them, more orange lines vomited from empty space.
“Incoming!” she barked, “Mail in your six! Flight pattern BOLO on my mark—now, now, Mark!” The blue triangles began a complex weave, knotting their drive wakes together. The trajectory of the torps started to bend as their seekers went active. They were too sluggish to match their quarries’ maneuvers, but the size of their warheads meant they didn’t have to. Her chain guns detonated one dead ahead, plasma shunts took some of the blast, armor took the rest. More damage control lights came on, blinking yellow. A warhead spiraled in on Tanner’s port side.
“Tanner, watch your left! Your left!”
“Ah shit, it’s picked me up—“ The torp exploded. “I got a problem here—”
“Bail Tanner! Eject! Eject!”
“Oh hell—” then a flood of static and a crack as her fist hit the console.
“Baz?” Her voice was unnaturally calm as they climbed free of the inferno. “I’m going back down there.”
“Kris, there’s at least four more of ‘em down there, not to mention whatever’s launching these torps.”
“Get clear, Baz.” She pulled the nose of her fighter up and started to slip it around. “I’m down to 70% of max boost. Someone’s gotta stay behind to distract these assholes. Damage control says I’m elected—go home.”
“Dammit Lieutenant, that’s an order!” Reluctantly the blue icon that was Baz veered off. “When you see Rafe, tell him I said goodbye. He still owes me dinner at Iscariot’s. Collect it for me, will ya?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Over the link, his voice was weak and full of static. There was a pop as she cut it off. Down below, four blood red dots awaited her, hanging back now to avoid being caught in their own salvos. Her weapons display cycled as she checked her remaining ordnance. Her breathing slowed and most of her med-readouts smoothed into the green. Below her, as if confused by this insane tactic, the red dots began to converge hesitantly.
That’s right, you motherfuckers—come to mama.
She switched her fire control to full-auto and began to tune her deep radar manually, focusing the snowy volume that was spawning the torp salvos. Slowly, an image built up on her T-Synth’s targeting window.
“Kris!” Baz’s voice suddenly hammered her ears over the tight beam link. “Break off, Kris! Those are tin cans down there! They’re stealth destroyers—”