That’s right! The third book in the Jakken Trilogy, The Libel of Blood, is complete! Let the kingdom rejoice! I am now just waiting on cover art before I submit it for publication.
In celebration of this momentous occasion, here is a (rather lengthy) excerpt of a scene from near the end of the novel! Most of the spoilers are edited out, so it might be a little choppy and confusing, but here’s a teaser of what’s coming!
The fighter shuttle moved very quickly. Without the spirits – or whatever they were – of the Xiallanen Passage, I would have had no hope of surviving my mad flight. As I sped forward, the woman’s voice over the intercom had been replaced by a man’s deep one; presumably “Lieutenant Charmandrius.” I ignored him completely, zooming away in the direction opposite the rest of the strikecraft, away from Banditry’s fleet and towards Horrere’s. You will not have died for nothing, Derekk. I rounded the curvature of the Earth very quickly, in fifteen or so minutes, and the main bulk of Horrere’s fleet came into view. There looked to be about thirty larger enemy vessels of various designs, surrounded by countless smaller fighter craft. Opposing them I counted twenty or so human battleships, all with the same thick, long, dull silver chassis, but with differing weapon placements, their cannons and guns constantly discharging energy weapon bursts forward at the attackers.
Very few of the bursts hit home. Most were stopped by some kind of invisible shield in front of the main Horrere vessels, and those that weren’t seemed to have little effect. Horrere’s ships were hideous to look at, as their outsides pulsed sickeningly, as if their entire body was a single, massive heart. They were fleshy, ship-shaped masses often fronted by clusters of tentacles – that usually had eyes dotting their sides. Their pale flesh both breathed and pulsed a foul cadence, and even despite my resolve, I felt a primal horror and revulsion at the sight of them.
Their weapons were varied. Some form of green liquid – acid, I presumed – was sprayed from external organs in the direction of our fleet, and as it dispersed over space, managed to spread into a very wide net, hitting many of the Earth vessels, slowly eating away at their hulls. As I sped towards the Horrere fleet, never slowing down, an Earth vessel near me finally had its hull breached by the green matter, and I watched in dismay as a hole appeared in its hull and grew exponentially wider, as people and objects were sucked out into the cold darkness of space. I gripped the wheel of my own vessel harder and tried to get it to move faster.
My hands jerked suddenly and I found myself turning the ship very hard to the left. I glanced back at where I had been a moment later, and saw that a concentrated burst of that acid had hit the spot I had been a moment before. A short distance from it was a squid-like thing, with eyes all around its conical body and an acid-spitting organ at the tip of said cone. It was aiming its weapon at me, and my body moved the ship to turn around and face it. My fingers moved up on the wheel, and I found them resting on triggers. I depressed the triggers, and two short bursts of energy beams came out from two points at the front of the vessel, meeting at the center of the Horrere squid’s body. A red mist began to spew out of the thing, and I noticed that a crosshair had appeared on the windshield before me. I fired again, aiming the crosshair lower down this time, guided gently by the pilots who were with me. Four short bursts of fire later the squid-ship had been cut in two. A moment after that, it ceased writhing and was still.
Nice shooting, said a voice in my head. I jumped.
I wouldn’t have thought of putting it there. There was a definite note of approval in the voice. As my body turned the ship around and sped off towards the larger Horrere vessels, I felt a second distinct presence in my mind, though remained silent.
I glanced at the Human fleet, and saw a group of the squid-like fighter vessels spewing a black liquid from their weapon-organs that coated the windshields of the Human vessels before doing the same to the rest of the hull. Human strikecraft similar to my own began to fire at the squids, and were met with return fire.
The voice began to speak again. Now, back to you. Fighter vessels are tricky craft – haven’t flown one since shortly after my Academy days in Cairo. The larger ships are less temperamental.
“Okay then. So what am I supposed to do?”
Beats me. I just need to help you.
Something solid sped by my ship, and I executed a perfect barrel roll to avoid it. “What was that?”
Bone projectile, responded a female voice in the back of my head. Horrere’s ships frequently have the ability to produce excess bone and then shoot it out of specially designed external organs.
I rocketed up and to the right as I saw a small squadron of Horrere squid-vessels approaching. Eight of them, it looked like, as well as a small kuvuthus being prodded by what looked to be two vessels made entirely of bone, in the shape of a canine skull. From their closed mouths protruded flexible tentacles that jabbed the kuvuthus at specific points, causing it to squirm and thrash about angrily as its wounds sparked briefly.
I found myself then turning back towards them, entirely against me will. “What are you two doing?” I demanded. “I need to find the Genesis Engine!”
First we free the poor little thing, the female voice said, her sympathy for the space kraken throwing me off. It was kind of cute, I supposed; it was hardly twice the size of my tiny fighter. It’s only a baby! The fightercraft will be easy to remove – just fire a burst down their weapon-system gullets and they’ll go down in a moment. The bonecraft may be harder, but they’re unarmed except for their lightning.
Well, I tried to get you away, the male said apologetically.
I sighed. “Well, I suppose I can’t really die yet.” The weavers were not going to be happy with me.
I dove towards the small squadron, and they noticed me quickly. Four of the squidships turned to aim at me, but under the female’s guidance I fired bursts down the weapon-holes of three of them. They each exploded in a burst of purple-blue mist. The fourth squidship fired a burst of black liquid at me, and it struck my windshield, blocking out about a third of it from my view.
I turned the ship so that my blindspot no longer blocked any of the views of the ships, and moved the crosshair to fire a burst down the weapon of the offending ship. It exploded like the others.
The remaining squidships slowly began to turn towards me, but I took out two of them before they could take aim, slicing them in half. The next exploded before it could fire after a shot went down its weapon, and the last got a weaponful of laserfire as it spewed acid at me. The male jerked my ship up and I managed to avoid the spray as the squid exploded.
The kuvuthus and its handlers had made good use of my distraction and had moved on. I turned and zoomed towards them, firing at the nearest boneship. My weapons had little visible effect.
The eyes, the female said. I found myself suddenly moving in a circle around the trio, until I was in front of them. My hands moved and I shot a burst of energy beams that hit one of the ships between the eyes. Oops. Bad shot.
I took over myself then, and hit it in its right eye. When nothing happened, I fired again, and the boneship’s hull began to crack before shattering open, revealing a fleshy interior mass that began to dissolve and boil away before my eyes.
Then the kuvuthus moved. Its tentacle lashed out at me, and I moved to dodge. Unfortunately, the kuvuthus was quick, and its attack still glanced us, sending me spinning out of control. The male pilot’s soul quickly regained control of the ship, and then used me to send a short burst of laser fire at the second ship’s eye. It shattered and dissolved like the previous one. The kuvuthus turned slowly to look at me and then shrieked, in that ear-shattering and mind-numbing manner characteristic of its species, before zooming off towards the Horrere fleet. Once the screaming roar left my head, I turned to watch it. I laughed out loud when I saw the kuvuthus head towards a fellow captive spce kraken, and then destroy the boneships guiding it, freeing its companion. The two then moved on.
They’ll fight for you now, the female pilot’s soul said. Kuvuthus are rather vengeful creatures.
“Right,” I said. I took a deep breath. “Genesis Engine. We need to find it. It should be behind the bulk of the main fleet.”
And so into the heart of the enemy we go, the male said. This will be a fun ride.
“Are you ready?” I asked my mental companions.
Ready, the male replied.
Let’s go, the female said.
I moved the accelerator stick to maximum, turned to face the center of the Horrere fleet, and then depressed the foot pedal.
This is for you, Derekk.
It took only five minutes for Horrere to notice me. My little excursion now over, I was able to turn my full attention to the battle before me. A quick glance confirmed my fears; it was really not going well.
The battle against Horrere covered about a third of the planet’s circumference, and presumably Banditry’s attack took the opposite third, with the last third being noncontested space between the two. On this side of the Earth, with the sun shining in our eyes from behind Horrere’s fleet, the larger battlevessels numbered now about fifteen. The wreckage of five or so defeated Human ships were falling into Earth’s orbit, one of the wrecks passing out of sight behind the planet’s curve, destined to eventually disintegrate in the atmosphere and then rain fiery pieces down upon the Earth. I hope everyone’s staying inside.
Behind the line of Earth vessels – which were spread in a roughly circular shape, from three ships near the South Pole to five or six about the Equator to two more at the North Pole – were civilian and military satellites. Many of these looked badly damaged, and several were sparking. One exploded in a shower of green fireballs as I watched, forcing a team of small Earth fighters nearby to scramble and flee.
Surprisingly, Earth’s own defensive satellites were small in number; no one had ever anticipated that there would ever be an attack on the planet itself. After all, who was there to attack it? Half a dozen orbital weapon arrays were still visible and active in my field of vision; large platforms with three or four large cannons each, each gun normally capable of taking out an enemy vessel in a couple of well-aimed shots, surrounded by missile and torpedo launchers for long-ranged heavy strikes. Most of the projectile weapons had been depleted, it seemed, and the energy cannons were ineffectual. Two or three heavily damaged platforms were falling into lower orbits behind their more active cousins.
Behind the battle line, there was a nearly constant stream of smaller vessels coming up from Earth, and another one of ships going back down to it. A larger battlecruiser became visible as I sped towards my destination, joining the other Earth defenders with a hail of gunfire. Most of the smaller vessels looked to be shuttles, probably evacuating civilian stations in space and perhaps bringing up military personnel.
The larger battlevessels remained relatively stationary, using their large cannons to constantly bombard the slowly advancing Horrere fleet and acting as command hubs for fleets of strikecraft. Surrounding the larger ships was what looked to be a swarm of flies; both Earth and Horrere fighting craft circled and zoomed about the larger vessels, trying to take them out.
The real battle is not between the larger craft, the male’s voice said in my head. The true heroes are the fighter pilots; they both protect their own larger craft from bombers and other fighters, but also are the ones who take out enemy defenses and allow the large guns to finally get through.
Aye. The large ships are mostly ineffective; the only thing that really matters about them is their carrying capacity and communications equipment, the female added.
From my vantage point in the sky, I could see that the color of the planet had changed; in addition to the green, blue, and white one normally saw, I was also greeted with a purple and yellow tinge above it all. The planet seeder apparently really had begun its work.
I sent my eyes over to the the nightmare fleet of Horrere, and behind the frontal spread of thirty or so ships – all made of hideously pulsating flesh, tentacles, bone, eyes, claws, and other organs – I saw what could have been nothing else but the surviving planet seeder. It resembled an enormous mola mola, the extinct sunfish of Earth, with an enormous hemispherical central body, four flippers spaced evenly about its rear portion (though the ancient mola mola had only two), and a gently oscillating fin in the very back. Where its mouth should have been was a long tube, easily half the length of the thing’s body – which itself was the size of a dozen or so large battlevessels – that pulsed and quivered ominously. Feline eyes were scattered about the whole thing’s pale flesh, and it was surrounded by purple-blue mist – presumably blood – with several open wounds emitting more of that mist into the space surrounding it.
The enemy fleet itself was spread out in a way that mirrored the Earth fleet’s own defensive spread, but with about one and a half times the number of ships at each position. They moved forward very slowly, firing bone projectiles and various bodily fluids at the Human ships. Their weapons seemed to be doing more damage than their Human counterparts’.
Between the two fleets was an area completely devoid of any vessels whatsoever, and filled instead with lasers, energy bursts, missiles, projectiles, and acid streams.
Dead man’s land, the male said quietly, noticing my attention. It’s too dangerous for larger vessels to use their truly fast engines – like the Ethyrdrive – near a planet’s surface because of their size and lack of control. Smaller vessels, like this one, require less power to move faster, and so don’t need Ethyrdrives to move at speeds to make the enormous distances involved in space battles less extreme.
Of course, fighter pilots need to have astonishing reflexes, and are usually enhanced by drugs and sometimes genetic interference and selection, not to mention computer assistance, in order to survive even a few moments operating at those speeds… but not even they could survive in the area between two fighting fleets. I saw setups like this on New Dominica and Eden during the height of their rebellions; two fleets of large vessels slowly advancing towards each other, and constantly peppering the other with weaponfire that inevitably bounces off of their opponent’s energy shields. They keep up the constant fire, and wait until their allied fighter craft get to the enemy fleet and begin their work, taking out key structures to weaken the shields and other defenses. The large ships just keep up their fire, waiting for the moment when the enemy’s shields are broken by their fleets – and then use even bigger guns, taking out the enemy’s now-defenseless larger ships, destroying the command hub and rearming and fuelling stations of the fighter craft.
Of course, this constant mutual bombardment creates an area in between the two fleets that no ship can survive in, as it is constantly filled with energy and missile weapon fire. Any vessel that flies in there is dead. So, instead fighter pilots go around on the flanks, avoiding most of this central fire. Indeed, I saw fighter vessels travelling above, below, and to the sides of this central “dead man’s land,” either heading to attack the enemy fleet or going back to their own to restock their supplies. My own vessel was currently zooming along the left side of the battle.
The same is true of Juxtani warfare – there’s quite a disconnect between the heroic stories of space battles and the reality. There was a moment of silence in my mind. So where are we going? the female asked.
“Behind the fleet,” I responded. “That’s where the Engine is.”
The Engine will be heavily guarded, she warned.
“I know. I’ll worry about that later. For now, we just need to get behind the fleet.”
So then why are we headed towards the center of Horrere’s fleet? the male asked mildly.
I considered for a moment. I had aimed the shuttle at the heart of the enemy fleet and then floored the accelerator. I was currently on the left side of dead man’s land, but my current path would cause me to cross a small portion of it.
I felt my arms move and begin to steer the ship away. We won’t survive going in there, the female said.
“But we will,” I said calmly, using all of my force of mind to wrench the controls back towards my original goal. “Trust me.”
I sensed great hesitance and releuctance from the pair of them. But there’s no way-
“Trust me!” I repeated. I closed my eyes and thought an apology to the weavers of fate, but I had to do this; to end the conflict as quickly as possible. I would survive. And I would prevail.
I plunged into the dead man’s land a few moments later, my companions going silent. “Help me,” I hissed at them. “I’m going to need your guidance to get through this. We can’t be hit.”
I felt the male take control of my arms and legs and I felt the female’s keen senses merge with mine. We three became one.
The next few minutes were a blur. My body was completely in tune with my surroundings, and my mind was calm, despite having been merged with two others. The area of dead man’s land that I had to cross was rather small, but that did not make the task any easier. The moment I entered the field of fire, acid, and bone, I acted entirely on instinct. An internal compass told me what general direction I needed to head in, and the rest of me was devoted to staying alive and getting me and my fighter to that destination in one piece.
Both an instant and an eternity passed as I soared through the dead man’s land, flipping, rolling, corkscrewing, strafing, diving, zooming, accelerating, decelerating, curving, spiraling, and every other maneouvering possible, evading everything that came at me. I curved around sprays of acid and zoomed about projectiles of bone and torpedoes, while energy beams couldn’t touch me.
We were invincible. I felt the thrill and exhilaration from my companions as well, and in all likelihood I broke into a mad laugh in the middle of it all – until I saw an Earth missile curving towards us, little red lights blinking on its tip.
As I curved down to avoid it, it followed me, and soon the three of us had not only to avoid coming to an early end at the hands of various long range weaponry, but also had to stay ahead of a killer missile bent on our destruction.
Then we slipped up. A stray energy beam – or perhaps an exceedingly well-aimed one – struck somewhere below me. The smell of smoke filled the cockpit, and I began to cough and lose control as my body convulsed. The ship spun wildly, spiraling along its current trajectory – and out of the dead man’s land.
As the shuttle’s self-repair systems fixed up the problem, I managed to regain control of myself – both mind and body. The three of us were again separate, and we were out of dead man’s land. I glanced at a rearview monitor and saw the missile still chasing us. Instinctively – or guided perhaps by my companions – I dove down and quickly darted beneath the hull of the nearest Horrere vessel, which resembled a sickening giant squid. The missile tried to follow, but could not turn sharply enough, instead hitting the Horrere ship itself – to little effect, unfortunately.
I found myself, then, at the front and center of the Horrere fleet – the only one of my kind. The fighting between strikecraft and the larger Horrere vessels was happening only on the edges of the Horrere fleet at the moment; the center was relatively peaceful, completely devoid of fighting.
Which made me the only target. From the fleshy hulls of the Lovecraftian vessels around me sprang Horrere strikecraft, emerging almost like pseudopods and then detaching from their host vessels – all heading straight towards me.
I set the acceleration to maximum and floored it out of there. Fortunately, my ship seemed to be faster than theirs. I soared over a very large imprisoned kuvuthus, between two vessels that looked like nothing more than a mass of smoke, tentacles, and toothy maws, and then narrowly avoided hitting what looked like a giant crab with the tail of a fish. One claw lazily reached out to snap at me, but I easily avoided it.
And then I was clear of it. The strikecraft chasing us are newly spawned, the female said. They are still learning, but they will catch up if we don’t keep up our speed. We must hurry.
I glanced back at one of the rear monitors and saw the tail of the crab-ship I had just passed stiffen. The ships in front of it shifted to the side, and a moment later something long, blue, and glowing came from what must have been its mouth. I watched in horror as it shot across dead man’s land and impacted the central Human vessel opposite it. The blue – presumably laser – beam moved down the length of the ship, and cut itself off abruptly once it reached the end. The Earth ship split in two and began to fall down into orbit, impacting another ship on the way.
Stay focused, the male urged. I saw then that the Horrere strikecraft – the hideous mini-squid things – were still following me. Fortunately, my other minds had kept me going at maximum speed, but my enemies were gaining.
Right before I turned my attention back to what was before me, I noticed a small team of unhampered kuvuthus soaring along the edges of the Horrere fleet, taking out enemy strikecraft and assaulting the smaller vessels. Good for them, the female thought approvingly.
I then realized that I had a larger problem before me: the planet seeder. Wounded as it was, its massive bulk still blocked the path in front of me.
I immediately began to swerve around the giant space sunfish ship, and it turned its mouth to face me. Its skin began to quiver and tremble, and I saw smaller strikecraft emerging from it.
Hit it in the mouth with one of your ship destroyers, the female urged.
“I only have four!” I said back. “I don’t think one missile, no matter how powerful, will damage that giant!” The strikecraft from it began to move closer.
If you don’t take it out, its strikecraft will take us out, the female pilot responded. The spawning vessel acts as a hivemind; the strikecraft it spawns are controlled by a secondary – or actually, tertiary – brain inside the master vessel.
“Wait… so their ships actually are alive?”
And intelligent. Some of them sentient, too; they’re either beasts of war or esteemed generals who implanted their minds into a massive ship body. Members of the Horrere Warlord caste.
The thought sickened me. “Okay… living ship. And a shot to the mouth will do what?”
We don’t have time for this, came the male’s voice, and I found myself diving down towards the oncoming strikecraft and the planet seeder’s mouth very much against my will. It opened its mouth wide and belched out a mist of green gas; either acid or some other harmful chemical substance.
Now! the female shrieked in my mind, and after allowing myself to wince, I let the male guide my hand to the proper trigger – below those for the energy guns – and let loose one of the destroyers. On the windshield, the crosshairs – a larger one than before – turned red and flashed. The missile – a beautiful, sleek, white, shark-like thing – shot out of its cradle, zooming through the crowd of enemy strikecraft before they could destroy it. The planet seeder began to spawn more craft around its mouth, but it was too late. The missile soared inside the mouth, and it closed its mouth a moment later. It shuddered faintly once, and then its eyes closed.
The strikecraft kept coming.
“Was that it?” I yelled. The squids’ weaponholes were opening. “Now we’re dead!”
Wait for it, crooned the female.
Two seconds later, the planet seeder shuddered violently, and then its skin was on fire. The strikecraft all began to veer and wheel about wildly, tentacles flailing and eyes dilating as the massive mola mola vessel burned.
Fire in space is a funny thing. There’s no oxygen for it to feed on, so they last for much less time than a fire on a planetary surface would. Nonetheless, it was an impressive sight. The entire ship began to glow, and then simultaneously across its surface, an intense blue flame flared up, and then was gone again just as quickly, leaving behind a rapidly shrinking fire of red, orange, and yellow amid charred remnants of bone.
I steered us out of the now lifeless sea of strikecraft. “What happened?”
You fired a missile into its internal systems, the female said. We got inside its shield, and then managed to penetrate the thing itself. Only the outside is protected; the inside is remarkably vulnerable. It doesn’t need to be a weak point; I think it’s just a vanity. But inside there’s flesh and artificial atmosphere to burn, and in the thing’s chemical gas-producing tracts, the atmosphere burns fast. So, once the missile exploded, it burned from the inside out, and died, killing of its little dependents.
“Okay, so now that that’s taken care of – onto the Genesis Engine.” I looked behind me to see the enemy squidcraft from before still gaining rapidly. “And away from them.”