It was supposed to be the beginning of a new life—not a replay of her old one . . .
“Anything else?” the Commandant asked.
“Yes, sir.” The Commandant seemed to detect a change in Sergeant Major Yu’s professionally bland visage as he replied; a gleam in the dark eyes that he could not readily identify. Pride? “If something matters enough to her, she’ll go through Hell for it—and Hell will never be the same.”
For years, Kris was the ‘captain’s bitch’ on the contract slaver Harlot’s Ruse. But that captain is dead and now she’s a brand-new cadet at the Nereidian League’s military academy on Mars. All she brings to this new life is a unique set of skills, a profound ignorance of civilized society, and large chip on her shoulder.
Nor does the Academy know quite what to make of her. The medical staff thinks she’s homicidal, her fellow cadets think she’s crazy, and her instructors don’t know what to think.
So when she’s approached about participating in a mission to capture a terrorist warlord, she’s more than happy to leave the halls of academia behind for awhile. Kris knows she’s not signing up for any pleasure cruise. What she doesn’t know is that the key to the mission’s success is reliving her very worst nightmare…
Please enjoy this free excerpt from The Morning Which Breaks, the second Loralynn Kennakris novel, now available on Amazon for Kindle or Print!
Court: Brother John Bates, is not that the morning which breaks yonder?
Bates: I think it be: but we have no great cause to desire the approach of day.
Williams: We see yonder the beginning of the day, but I think we shall never see the end of it…
Shakespeare: Henry V: Act 4, Scene 1
Lacaille, Praesepe Cluster
“Bravo, this is Six. Where are those goddamned grenades?” 1st Lieutenant Sebastian Gomez, commander Alpha team, Nedaeman SOFOR 1, hunched in the darkness under an overhang of striated rock as he waited for 2nd Lieutenant Mike Ananian, Bravo section leader, to respond.
“No joy here, Six,” Ananian came back. “The fuckers are late.” Lieutenant Gomez was well aware they were late—over twenty minutes late—and the unnecessary comment was a sign of the strain the delay was putting on Bravo leader’s temper. Gomez’s temper wasn’t any better: his Op window was closing. Lacaille was in a binary system and it would be half-light in another thirty minutes, when Lacaille’s secondary broke the horizon. While it was just a very bright star compared to the primary, the secondary would increase the ambient light by almost twenty-five percent and Gomez begrudged every extra photon.
But much more important—critically important, in fact—were his team’s extraction windows. The stealth corvette in orbit overhead could not just magically appear and drop its shuttles at any time. It was a slave to the laws of orbital mechanics and unless that goddamned convoy with the grenades showed up in the next ten minutes, he had little chance of making the first window. He could theoretically afford to miss it but that increased the risk enormously, and he certainly could not miss the next. It would be full dawn by the time there would be a third window and if his team wasn’t gone before that, they weren’t going at all.
Everything had gone flawlessly up to now, to the point of making Gomez a trifle nervous so he was not surprised when they finally ran into a hitch, but the convoy being delayed this much was not a hitch he’d foreseen. The plan had allowed a half-hour’s slack for the convoy to reach the point where Bravo could track them. That was a generous window, given that the trucks only had to travel five-hundred twenty klicks from the rendezvous where the cases of grenades had been transshipped. At the truck’s nominal airspeed, the trip should have only taken two and half hours. The corvette had verified that the transfer had indeed gone as planned and on schedule—there was just no good reason that convoy should be this late on so short a trip.
If there was no good reason, that left only bad reasons. Bad reasons meant going with the contingency plan and that meant adjusting his deployments, so he checked them again. His people showed as light green triangles on the topomap projected on his helmet’s faceplate. His own section—call sign Angel to avoid confusion—was lying along this ridge overlooking the compound. Delta section, with the three-man air-sliders they’d use to reach the extraction point, was eight klicks to the north but just a minute away, concealed in some dead ground where the terrain broke up into a series of ravines. Bravo was over the horizon to the southeast and he couldn’t see them on the plot unless he pushed the power past where he was comfortable.
A klick behind him on a rise to the east was Aries, Sergeant Esteban Howarth, with his 15.4-mm recoil-damped sniper rifle. The big weapon fired terminally guided armor-piercing multimode ammo in three-shot bursts from a hundred-round magazine and had an effective range of five thousand meters. Aries was his lifeline if—make that when—all hell broke loose.
He checked the time—eight more minutes—and eased his own rifle across his lap. It was a standard assault model, firing 9-mm light armor-piercing rounds in selectable bursts or full auto, with a 25-mm grenade launcher slung under the barrel, a configuration that had served for centuries.
The rifle also had the latest tunable UWB scope with a freq-hopping maser and automatic target acquisition, which incorporated some technology invented since he was born, and which Gomez had turned off. He trusted his own eyes more than any automated acquisition system and he liked his gun set on manual for the same reason. Besides, all that fancy crap bled energy and you could never be too sure exactly how good the other guy’s sensor suite was.
Another minute ticked by and Gomez activated his command link. “All units, this is Alpha Six. If package not in sight in five minutes, we are Buster. Repeat: if package not in sight in five minutes, we are Buster.” Buster was the codename for the contingency plan and they all knew it was pretty desperate undertaking.
He really—really—wanted those grenades.
The grenades were not for them—they were bait. Bait intended for a terrorist warlord named Nestor Mankho, asleep in the walled compound three klicks down the slope and across the open flat below. Mankho had been behind an attempt to bomb a series of high-profile Grand Senate hearings in Nemeton last year and Nedaema had literally come within a centimeter of having its government almost wiped out. It was the first operation Mankho had mounted since the Black Army, an anarchist group he’d once led, had been practically annihilated after they attacked the Nedaeman colony of Knydos in the first years after the last war.
Mankho survived the destruction of the Black Army and had spent the intervening years smuggling weapons, dealing in slaves, investing in a few legit businesses (including the popular social-networking service Zeta, that it was believed he used to ID targets for his slaving operations), and eluding capture. Up until just before the attempted bombing, the conventional wisdom had him knocking about in the Outworlds, but then the League’s Office of Naval Intelligence had located him here on Lacaille, a Bannerman client in the Hydra.
Current intelligence estimates held that Mankho didn’t have the resources to mount such an involved operation on his own—a conclusion supported by forensics—and the consensus among those who knew was that Mankho had been working for someone else. The Dominion of Halith seemed the most likely someone, but this ‘suspicion’ (as the Archon of Nedaema insisted it be referred to) could easily tip the strained relations with Halith into another war, so it could not be entertained in any official sense without absolute proof.
The absolute proof was Mankho himself, alive if at all possible, so the information could be more readily extracted. If taking him alive was not an option, it was necessary to acquire his well-preserved brain. Simply killing Mankho no longer served a useful purpose, so this Op had been planned with meticulous care: NDIA had gone to extraordinary lengths to check and recheck their intelligence; the trap had been painstakingly laid using perfectly reliable, perfectly unwitting contacts and set with an irresistible bait: a shipment of second-gen adaptive grenades.
The shipment was perfectly genuine. It could be—and had been—checked and rechecked throughout its route from its planet of origin to Lacaille. Gomez knew it had cleared customs at Kapustin Yar, Lacaille’s main spaceport, right on schedule, concealed in drums of high-density superconductive oil that was used in the Carnot pumps of low-power reactors. He knew it had been loaded into a big air-lorry on schedule; that it had met the convoy arranged between the seller’s Lacaille agent and Mankho’s factor at the appointed rendezvous on schedule, and that the grenades had been swiftly extracted from the oil drums and shifted into the convoy’s trucks.
What Lieutenant Gomez really cared about, however, were the other grenades that had been handed over at the rendezvous. When the delivery of Mankho’s grenades was being negotiated, the seller’s Lacaille agent had suggested to Mankho’s factor that they do a little side business. This was perfectly usual: agents and factors always had their own business interests and they took advantage of the logistical arrangements of larger transactions to conduct their own. It was not graft in any true sense and the principles almost never objected provided things were kept within certain well-understood limits.
In this case, the seller’s Lacaille agent mentioned he had a few extra cases of grenades, a generation older than those in Mankho’s shipment but still quite sophisticated, and he was having trouble moving them. They’d been dumped on him, he explained, a result of another deal that went south—he didn’t deal in weapons much—grenades were a difficult cargo—Mankho’s factor had the connections to move them easily—he’d be more than happy to let them go for a very reasonable price—in fact, they made him kinda nervous…
The sales patter was just part of the culture and the deal that was struck—the grenades for a consignment of black Tajima-ushi cattle embryos that the factor knew were unlikely to be viable due to spoilage—was immaterial. All that mattered was getting those grenades on the convoy, because the seller’s Lacaille agent was also a Nedaeman agent and in each of those cases that were dutifully handed over for the cryocanister of embryos, was a special grenade: a class-C EMP device. Getting them into Mankho’s compound was the whole reason for the elaborate set-up.
Mankho’s compound was not a particularly impressive edifice: only about sixty meters long and forty wide, with a three-story residence in the southwest corner. But it did have a six-meter curtain wall and barracks space for about sixty men, plus five light-armored vehicles and half a dozen plain trucks. It also had a security enclosure, a perimeter sensor suite and, of course, secure comms. All of these—especially the security enclosure—had to be disabled if they were to have any chance of taking Mankho alive.
Security enclosures were proof against EMP, most explosives, and they acted as a high-efficiency phase-conjugate mirror against lasers and plasma weapons. They weren’t much good against solid projectiles, unless they were military grade—which this one wasn’t—and they didn’t block most varieties of snooping, although they did keep dragonflies and other remote sensors at a respectful distance.
They were also damned unpleasant to encounter—sometimes even fatal, unless you were wearing full battle harness. Since Mankho would not be, it was critical to take the enclosure out and, of course, they also had to ensure he couldn’t call in help from Kapustin Yar. Even though the government of Lacaille had always vehemently denied Mankho’s presence, there was no reason to believe they would disavow him to the point of tolerating an attack on their own soil.
The EMP devices would do all that was needed, but only if they were detonated inside the compound—or if the security enclosure was open. That depended on how good Mankho’s security people were. If they were lax, they’d accept the preliminary checks done at the rendezvous and wave both sets of crates into the compound. But if they were doing their jobs, they’d scan the crates.
In fact, the plan bet on them scanning the cases, but doing it with the enclosure open. There were good reasons for this. For one thing, opening, closing, and reopening the enclosure took time, was wasteful, and a bit of a nuisance. For another, if the grenades came too close to the sealed enclosure, they would explode. How close was too close depended on how sensitive the grenades were, so it was safest to leave the enclosure open until they got them stowed securely inside. Unless Mankho’s people had reason to be suspicious—or were extremely paranoid—it was unlikely they’d stop the convoy far enough away to run their checks with the enclosure sealed. If they were that suspicious, the crates should not have been accepted in the first place.
As for being extremely paranoid, Gomez would just have to see. He did have the option of blowing the whole load and attacking in the confusion—Buster had envisioned that—with a decent chance that the explosion would give him burn-through so he could take out the compound’s electronics with his own EMP strike. That was not ideal, however: a decent chance was not to be compared with detonating the EMP devices with the enclosure open.
So it was up to Gomez to pick the moment to detonate the EMP devices that would take the enclosure down and render the compound deaf, blind, and dumb. If anything happened to him, Bravo’s section leader would set them off. Combined with the explosion and the attack Bravo would make, that would give Angel section the minutes needed to snatch Mankho and then Delta section’s air-sliders would whisk them all to the extraction point.
That was the plan, but he couldn’t execute it without knowing where the convoy was. To get to Mankho before his people could react, his section had to be positioned no more than a hundred meters from the wall, and they couldn’t stay that close for long without being detected—the safe estimate was less than eight minutes. Alpha Team’s combat armor incorporated the best active camouflage Nedaema could produce, which made it very good indeed, and it covered all bands from DC to daylight (if the definition of daylight was extended to include soft X-rays).
It would take equipment a good deal more sophisticated than anyone would expect to find on a former colony like Lacaille to defeat the camouflage, even at the outside of the intelligence estimates. Lacaille, while nominally independent, was still a Bannerman dependency and the Bannermans had no sensors good enough to detect him or his people under current conditions.
But with Mankho being suspected of working for the Dominion of Halith—and no one took the Archon’s weasel words seriously, not even the Archon—it was quite possible he’d managed to cadge better sensor technology out of them. That would change the situation considerably, so the plan assumed the worst-case assessment that they faced a Halith sensor suite.
The drawback to this assessment was that it made their operational timelines very tight and denied him much flexibility—flexibility he could really use right now. Critically, his people had to start moving when the convoy was thirty klicks out, which would give them up to thirteen minutes to get into position. That was plenty, but then the convoy had to arrive at the compound and Mankho’s people had to open the security enclosure and start their checks within the next seven minutes and Gomez was becoming seriously concerned that would prove to be unrealistic.
But if he couldn’t expect his team to remain undetected that close to the walls in the growing light for much longer than that—if indeed Mankho had Halith sensors—he also could not wait to start them and still hit the opening. Worse, he realized his callout that they were Buster—only five minutes from now—had been premature.
Buster was based on either the enclosure not being kept open or the EMP grenades not making it onto the convoy at all. Now he was looking at neither case and if he executed Buster, he ran the risk of the convoy arriving in the middle of his operation, between the compound and his team’s extraction point, armed with a lot of sophisticated grenades.
That their whole plan was far too dependent on a single worst-case assumption was nice useless insight, coming this late, but his only other option was to call Zulu, and scrub the entire thing. That meant not just the failure of a very elaborate operation, months in the making, but it would also compromise the valuable assets that had identified Mankho on Lacaille in the first place, and most especially the agent in Kapustin Yar who had arranged the whole thing.
Three more minutes—still no word from Bravo. Dammit. The only way forward was break out of the timeline and hope they either didn’t have state-of-the-art sensors down there or they weren’t play attention. He checked his dragonflies for any sign of new activity in the compound. The little airborne sensors—some almost the size of the Terran insect they were named for but most much smaller—orbiting about the compound reported no unexpected movement, no comms activity, no active sensors, no sudden power draws.
He slid out from under the overhang of rock, crawled through the waist-high native vegetation with its tough flexible ribbed stalks and long, fine, tubular that leaves grew thickly around the base of the outcropping to an opening where he could sweep the compound with his scope. That itself risked his being detected if a optics scan picked up a boresight flash off the scope but the geometry would have to so precise isn’t wasn’t much of a risk, especially compared to what he was contemplating.
The sweep showed him nothing new either: just the sentries he’d seen before, making their rounds when they weren’t stopping to smoke, chat, wander into the buildings to grab a bite or take a piss. Sloppy—certainly no sense of urgency there. He rolled back behind the cover of the rock. Maybe a bit too sloppy? His sight-line wasn’t the best: there was a good third of the compound he couldn’t see. Aries was at least fifty meters above him—that was maybe enough. He clicked on Aries icon to activate a secure circuit. “Aries, this is Six. You all up?”
“I’m up, Six.” Howarth’s voice with its distinctive accent was thin and distorted, but still recognizable over the ultrawideband burst link.
“Are you seeing anything new at all downtown?”
“Besides those two fat guys down there lookin’ through a third-floor window, nothing.”
“Any idea what they’re looking at?” The hi-def orbital scans indicated Mankho’s living quarters were on the third floor of the residence and there were big windows in the three external walls with two-centimeter armor-glass in them.
“No idea, but they sure seem to find it fascinatin’.”
Spying on the Boss in the middle of the night? Gomez resisted the urge to shake his head. “Aries, I’m going to ping Bravo. Get hot. We’re either Buster or Zulu if no joy on the package.”
“Roger, Six. Buster or Zulu if package is no-joy.”
“Roger. Six out.” Gomez cut the link but before he could reconfigure a dragonfly for OTH relay, his command circuit alerted: Bravo’s call-sign. He clicked it. “What the hell, Bravo?”
“This is Fife, Six. We got ‘em in sight.”
“You read the package?”
“Five by five. Package is still wrapped.”
Deep in his gut, a huge knot of tension unwound. “Affirm package okay. What range?”
“Got ‘em at fifty-two klicks. Making one-forty.”
“Roger, Bravo. Get hot—I’m calling in. Wait for clearance.”
“Roger, Six. Waiting for clearance. Bravo out.”
Gomez acknowledged, checked the corvette’s ephemeris, got code-lock and activated his uplink. “Erebus, this is Alpha Six.”
“Go ahead, Alpha Six.”
“Package in sight. Request clearance.”
Wait one? What the hell for? “Erebus, we’re at minus twenty-five. Half-light in twenty-five.”
“Acknowledge, Alpha Six. We’ve got unexplained activity down in Kap-Yar.”
Unexplained activity? Kapustin Yar was three-hundred-eighty klicks to the southwest—close enough to be a big problem if someone was on the way. “Erebus, clarify what you mean by activity.”
“We picked up some energy spikes. Trying to get a read now.”
Energy spikes? Was that all? “Erebus, do we have clear air?”
“We read nothing in the air, Alpha Six.”
Goddammit! Were they clear or not? He needed to move now—one way of another. “Erebus, I mean to execute now. Do you order Zulu?”
A pause on the line. Gomez waited, fuming, tapping his gloved fingers on the rifle’s stock.
“Negative on Zulu, Alpha Six. You are cleared hot.”
“Roger, Erebus—we are cleared hot. Executing now. Alpha Six out.”
The corvette acknowledged and he killed the uplink and pinged Bravo. “Bravo, this is Six. What is range to package?”
“Package at thirty-four—closing at nominal.”
“Roger, package at thirty-four, Bravo. Nominal closure.” Lieutenant Gomez opened the burst link to his team. “All Alpha units, this is Alpha Six. Package is in range. Execute prime. Repeat: execute prime. Angels, move in one. We’re going downtown.”
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