Earth, A.D. 2519. The clone soldiers of the Enlisted Man’s Empire, formerly members of the Unified Authority’s powerful military, believe they have finally secured their freedom. They may not live to learn how wrong they are…
After launching an unsuccessful invasion of Washington, D.C., the Unified Authority is on the verge of defeat. Then the clones intercept a message detailing the U.A.’s last ditch plan for survival: a super weapon, a virus designed to attack the clones’ internal architecture. Only one clone was created without the fatal flaw—Wayson Harris, an outlaw model with independent thoughts and an addiction to violence.
As his empire collapses and his comrades die around him, Harris begins a one-man war against the government that created, betrayed and ultimately destroyed his brothers. Fighting the war becomes more difficult, however, as the rush from the constant combat has reached its peak—and is driving Harris slowly insane…
About the Author
Steven L. Kent has worked as a telemarketer, an adjunct college professor, a journalist, a professional video game player, a missionary, and a public relations manager. He is the author of nine previous novels, including The Clone Assassin, The Clone Sedition, and The Clone Redemption.
Read an Excerpt
SPIRAL ARMS OF THE MILKY WAY GALAXY
Map by Steven J. Kent, adapted from a public domain NASA diagram
NINE EVENTS THAT SHAPED HISTORY
2010 TO 2018
Following the examples of Chevrolet, Oracle, IBM, and ConAgra Foods, Microsoft moves its headquarters from the United States to Shanghai. Referring to their company as a “global corporation,” Microsoft executives claim they are still committed to U.S. prosperity, but with its burgeoning economy, China has become the company’s most important market.
Even with Toyota and Hyundai increasing their manufacturing activities in the United States—spurred on by the favorable cheap labor conditions—the U.S. economy becomes dependent on the shipping of raw materials and farm goods.
Bottoming out as the world’s thirteenth largest economy behind China, United Korea, India, Cuba, the European Economic Community, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Japan, South Africa, Israel, and Unincorporated France, the United States government focuses on maintaining its position as the world’s last military superpower.
JANUARY 3, 2026
Armadillo Aerospace announces the discovery of broadcast physics, a new technology capable of translating matter into data waves that can be transmitted to any location instantaneously. This opens the way for pangalactic exploration without time dilation or the dangers of light-speed travel.
The United States creates the first-ever fleet of self-broadcasting ships, a scientific fleet designed to locate suitable planets for future colonization. When initial scouting reports suggest that the rest of the galaxy is uninhabited, politicians fire up public sentiment with talk about a new “manifest destiny” and spreading humanity across space.
The discovery of broadcast physics leads to the creation of the Broadcast Network—a galactic superhighway consisting of satellites that send and receive ships across the galaxy. The Broadcast Network ushers in the age of galactic expansion.
JULY 4, 2110
With the growth of its space-based economy, the United States reclaims its spot as the wealthiest nation on Earth. Russia and Korea become the first nations to sign the IGTA (Intergalactic Trade Accord), a treaty opening the way for other nations to become self-governing American territories and enjoy full partnership in the space-based economy.
In an effort to create a competing alliance, France unveils its Cousteau Oceanic Exploration program and announces plans to create undersea colonies. Only Tahiti signs on.
After the other nations of the European Economic Union, Japan, and all of Africa become members of the IGTA, France discontinues its undersea colonization and joins the IGTA. Several nations, most notably China and Afghanistan, refuse to sign, leading to a minor world war in which the final holdouts are coerced into signing the treaty.
More than 80 percent of the world’s population is eventually sent to establish colonies throughout the galaxy.
JULY 4, 2250
With most of its citizens living off Earth, the IGTA is renamed “The Unified Authority” and restructured to serve as a government rather than an economic union.
The government of the Unified Authority merges principles from the U.S. Constitution with concepts from Plato’s Republic. In accordance with Plato’s ideals, society is broken into three strata—citizenry, defense, and governance.
With forty self-sustaining colonies across the galaxy, Earth becomes the political center of a new republic. The eastern seaboard of the former United States becomes an ever-growing capital city populated by the political class—families appointed to run the government in perpetuity.
Earth also becomes the home to the military class. After some experimentation, the Unified Authority adopts an all-clone conscription model to fulfill its growing need for soldiers. Clone farms euphemistically known as “orphanages” are established around Earth. These orphanages produce more than a million cloned recruits per year.
The military does not commission clone officers. The officer corps is drafted from the ruling class. When the children of politicians are drummed out of school or deemed unsuitable for politics, they are sent to officer-candidate school in Australia.
2452 TO 2512
On October 29, 2452, a date later known as the new “Black Tuesday,” a fleet of scientific exploration ships vanishes in the “galactic eye” region of the Norma Arm.
Fearing an alien attack, the U.A. Senate calls for the creation of the Galactic Central Fleet, an armada of self-broadcasting warships. Work on the Galactic Central Fleet is completed in 2455. The newly christened fleet travels to the Inner Curve, where it vanishes as well.
Having authorized the development of a top secret line of cloned soldiers called “Liberators,” the Linear Committee—the executive branch of the U.A. government—approves sending an invasion force into the Galactic Eye to attack all hostile threats. The Liberators discover a human colony led by Morgan Atkins, a powerful senator who disappeared with the Galactic Central Fleet. The Liberators overthrow the colony, but Atkins and many of his followers escape in G.C. Fleet ships.
Over the next fifty years, a religious cult known as the Morgan Atkins Fanatics—“Mogats”—spreads across the 180 colonized planets, preaching independence from the Unified Authority government.
Spurred on by the growing Morgan Atkins movement, four of the six galactic arms declare independence from Unified Authority governance in 2510. Two years later, the combined forces of the Confederate Arms Treaty Organization and the Morgan Atkins Fanatics defeat the Earth Fleet and destroy the Broadcast Network, effectively cutting the Earth government off from its loyal colonies and Navy.
Having crippled the Unified Authority, the Mogats turn on their Confederate Arms allies. The Confederates escape with fifty self-broadcasting ships and join forces with the Unified Authority, leaving the Mogats with a fleet of over four hundred self-broadcasting ships, the most powerful attack force in the galaxy.
In 2512, the Unified Authority and the Confederate Arms end the war by attacking the Mogat home world, leaving no survivors.
2514 TO 2515
In 2514, an alien force enters the outer region of the Scutum-Crux Arm, conquering U.A. colonies. As they attack planets, the aliens wrap an energy barrier around the atmosphere. Called an “ion curtain,” the barrier prevents contact and communications.
In a matter of two years, the aliens spread throughout the galaxy, occupying planets deemed habitable by U.A. scientists. The Unified Authority loses 178 of its 180 populated planets before making a final stand on New Copenhagen.
During the battle of New Copenhagen, scientists unravel the secrets of the aliens’ tachyon-based technology, enabling the U.A. military to win the war. In the aftermath of the invasion, the Unified Authority sends the four self-broadcasting ships of the Japanese Fleet along with twelve thousand Navy SEAL clones to locate and destroy the Avatari home world.
The Unified Authority Congress holds hearings investigating the military’s performance during the Avatari invasion. When two generals blame their losses on lack of discipline among their cloned enlisted men, synthetic conscription is abolished and all remaining clones are transferred to frontier fleets—fleets stranded in deep space since the destruction of the Broadcast Network. The Navy plans to use these fleets in live-ordnance military exercises designed to test its new, more powerful Nike-class ships; but the clones thwart this plan by declaring independence.
After creating their own broadcast network, the clones establish the Enlisted Man’s Empire, a nation consisting of twenty-three planets and thirteen naval fleets. As hostilities continue between the Enlisted Man’s Empire and the Unified Authority, the Avatari return, attacking planets using a devastating weapon that raises atmospheric temperatures to nine thousand degrees for eighty-three seconds.
The Avatari attack three planets in December, 2517—New Copenhagen, a Unified Authority colony, Olympus Kri, an Enlisted Man’s colony, and Terraneau, a neutral nation. Working together, the Enlisted Man’s Navy and the Earth Fleet successfully evacuate Olympus Kri prior to the attack. Following the attack on Olympus Kri, the Avatari accelerate their attacks, incinerating a new populated planet every three days as they work their way toward Earth.
Despite the mutual threat, the Unified Authority renews its assault on the Enlisted Man’s Empire.
The Japanese Fleet locates the Avatari home world in Bode’s Galaxy. While the inhabitants of the planet have become extinct, its automated mining and military systems continue their destructive expansion.
After depositing all nonessential personnel on New Copenhagen to establish a new colony, the Sakura, the last ship in the fleet, launches a successful suicide attack on the Avatari planet.
Unaware of the Japanese attack on the Avatari home world, the Enlisted Man’s Empire divides its military into two groups. One group establishes a colony on the burned-out remains of Terraneau, while the other defeats the Unified Authority, establishing a clone-controlled government.
The clones’ hold on Earth proves tentative as remnants of the Unified Authority military attack EME bases on Earth and Mars. After an entire division of EME Marines defects, the clones learn that former members of the Unified Authority intelligence community have discovered how to change the neural programming in clones.
Location: Hamsho-Kwok Deep Space Tracking Facility Date: August 16, 2519
Technical Sergeant Timothy Simpson of the Enlisted Man’s Air Force looked at his monitor and saw an unidentified spaceship. “Lieutenant, I have a reading on a ship within our solar system,” he told his commanding officer.
“Nothing on record, sir.”
“Have you tried to contact her?”
“She’s not responding.”
“Four hundred sixty million miles from Earth.”
“Is she hiding behind Jupiter?”
“She’s out in the open, sir.” The tracking-systems technician pointed to a screen, and said, “That’s her, right there.”
The screen showed a nondescript dot representing the ship, located in an area two hundred million miles from the nearest planet, which happened to be Mars.
“Is she moving?” asked the lieutenant.
“Drifting, sir. No sign of acceleration.”
“Odd place to park a ship. Are you certain she’s not a wreck from the war?”
The solar system had been littered with the carcasses of warships after two recent battles and a number of smaller skirmishes.
“No, sir. She’s new.”
The lieutenant laughed, and asked, “What are you telling me, T.S., that she just broadcasted in?”
“I don’t have any record of a broadcast, sir, but she’s just appeared on my radar.”
“That would make her . . . If that’s an Explorer, we’d better send somebody to have a look.”
* * *
Lieutenant Walter J. Aspen, the officer on duty at the Hamsho-Kwok Deep Space Tracking Facility would die in five days. Technical Sergeant Timothy Simpson, the tracking-systems technician who discovered Magellan, UAES-539, outlived him by three hours.
* * *
Like the staff of Hamsho-Kwok, the crew of EMN Millard Fillmore was made up of clones. Every last man stood five feet, ten inches tall. Every sailor on the ship had brown hair and brown eyes. Not a one of them knew he was a clone. They all knew all of the other sailors aboard the ship were clones, but their neural programming didn’t allow them to consider that they might be clones as well.
That programming included protocols that caused them to see themselves as having blond hair and blue eyes when they saw their reflections. The clones believed their own eyes even though they knew clones’ eyes lied to them.
Fillmore was a Perseus-class destroyer, a wedge-shaped warship that was wider than she was long. She’d been circling Mars—not orbiting, circling outside the planet’s gravitational influence. It took her eight hours to fly to the location of the mystery ship.
As his ship drifted closer to the target, Captain J. T. Matthews, commanding officer of Fillmore, examined the ship on a three-dimensional, holographic display. His ship had portholes and observation decks, but visual inspection wouldn’t detect details like radiation, heat, toxins, and traps. Matthews searched the ship for signs of violence and structural damage, then he searched the area for enemy ships.
When he called in his first report to Naval Command, he said, “She’s an Explorer. So far we haven’t found any signs of damage.” Designed for pangalactic cartography, Explorers were century-old self-broadcasting relics from the Unified Authority’s early “Manifest Destiny” period.
He didn’t wait for Naval Command to reply. Communications with Earth were slow from four hundred million miles out. In another half hour, he’d receive a message from Earth instructing him how to proceed. In the meantime, he flew within one hundred thousand miles of the wreck. From that distance, he could scan the ship’s engines for energy usage and access her working computers.
Once he got the go-ahead, he would dispatch a transport to fly closer to the ship. Technicians aboard the transport would run another series of tests. If those final tests came back clean, the transport would release a team of engineers to board the Explorer.
Grave robbing; the Enlisted Man’s Empire had robbed a lot of graves over the last few years, most in deep space. Only the Explorer Magellan was no war monument. Her hull was intact. A remote scan revealed that her navigation systems were working as was her communications equipment. Despite the fact that everyone inside the Explorer had died, the gravity generator still ran, and life support continued to fill the cabin with warm, breathable oxygen.
Still waiting for permission to proceed, Matthews sent a drone to have a closer look.
Monitoring the drone’s transmission, Matthews spotted the deceased crewmen. He didn’t even need to X-ray the ship; Magellan had portholes and observation spots on every wall. Directing his drone to peer in the windows, he mapped out the entire ship, locating all ten bodies.
Matthews relayed that information in a message, then began the long wait for further instruction. During that time, his engineers scanned Magellan for biological weapons. They scanned for carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and internal radiation leaks. They checked the internal temperature of the ship. They scanned for broadcast malfunctions.
After each test, Matthews sent the results back to Navy Command, then ordered his men to begin looking for some other hazard. Answers from Earth began trickling in. By the time Navy Command ordered Matthews to open the Explorer’s hatch, his medical team had already attempted to diagnose the pilot’s cause of death by parking a drone outside the windshield and photographing the dead man’s face and limbs.
Matthews called sick bay, and asked, “What did you find?”
“He isn’t moving,” said a medical corpsman, a lieutenant.
“Corpses don’t move much; that’s my experience,” said Matthews.
“We don’t know that,” said the corpsman.
“The hell we don’t!” said Matthews. “I have seen all kinds of dead people over the last few years, and I can tell you with absolute certainty, they don’t move.”
“Yes, sir,” said the corpsman, “but we don’t know if these men are dead.”
“They aren’t moving,” said Matthews.
“He doesn’t appear to be breathing,” the corpsman agreed. “He could be alive, hibernating or in stasis.”
“The temperature in that ship is seventy-eight degrees.”
“Warm for hibernation,” the corpsman conceded.
“Don’t people normally hibernate in a chamber?” asked Matthews.
“Why would he need to hibernate in a self-broadcasting ship? He could have broadcasted himself anywhere.” Space travelers never hibernated, they never needed to. Hibernation was a way of keeping them alive and sane during prolonged spaceflights. Since self-broadcasting ships could bathe themselves in energy, then transfer themselves to any location instantaneously, staying sane during prolonged spaceflights never became a problem.
The medical corpsman considered this, and said, “Ah damn; they’re probably dead, sir.”
Matthews asked, “Do you think it’s safe to send a boarding team?”
“That ship out there is one hundred years old. For all we know, she’s no longer capable of sustaining life,” said the corpsman.
Matthews said, “I’ll make sure the team wears space suits.”
“In that case, there’s nothing to worry about,” said the corpsman.
* * *
Matthews and his medical corpsman both died five days later, on August 22.
* * *
An away team with six engineers and two medical technicians rode the sled from Fillmore to Magellan. An open platform designed for traveling short distances in space, the sled had tiny booster rockets all along its edges and underside. It did not have walls, rails, or seats, just a floor large enough to accommodate eight men in space gear.
Lieutenant Devin LaFleur steered the rig and led the team. An experienced technician, LaFleur had done everything from rebuilding reactors to plumbing barracks. Though he’d never boarded an Explorer before, LaFleur had studied Magellan’s layout; he knew enough to park his sled on the roof of the ship, near the rear hatch.
He stepped off the sled and stared into space. Over five hundred million miles away, the sun nearly blended in with more distant stars. Sol was a shining dot, the other stars pinpricks.
Having been built for scientific exploration during a time of expansion, the Explorer didn’t have locks or security systems. LaFleur opened the outer hatch with the press of a button, and he and his engineers crowded into the air lock. The outer door closed behind them, then the air pressure equalized, and the door leading into the ship slid open.
While his engineers ran diagnostics verifying the remote readings, LaFleur contacted Captain Matthews.
“Report,” Matthews ordered.
“Oxygen, good. Temperature, good. Radiation level, normal. No toxins in the air.” That didn’t mean LaFleur would remove his helmet. He knew better; so did his men.
LaFleur noticed something that the remote tests had missed. The air inside Magellan was humid, almost steamy. He ran a test on the mist in the air and found no chemicals other than hydrogen and oxygen.
He spoke to one of his engineers, tasking him with finding the source of the moisture. Moments later, the man radioed back from Magellan’s tiny galley. It had taken him less than a minute to locate the source of the moisture. In the galley, four mugs sat empty beside a spigot designed for dispensing boiling water. A thin but steady stream of vapor leaked out of the improperly sealed valve.
LaFleur thanked the engineer and sent him to examine the cockpit.
The medical corpsmen examined each of the bodies one by one. Like the Fillmore crew and the staff at Hamsho-Kwok, the men manning Magellan were all clones, all five feet ten inches tall, all brown-haired and brown-eyed.
Six bodies lay side by side in the cargo hold. They lay on their backs, their heads facing up.
Corpsman Rich Jackson turned the first body on its side, saw dried blood on the man’s left earlobe, and knew what had killed him. He found dried blood in the hair around the man’s ear as well.
Leaning over the body for a better look, Jackson said, “Brandt, look at this.”
Corpsman Timothy Brandt came for a closer look.
The corpsmen wore the “soft-shelled armor” of engineers, rubberized suits that covered them head to toe and provided air and heat. The suits were airtight and protected them from chemicals and radiation.
Having seen the blood around the ear, Brandt searched the next corpse. He said, “Same.” He surveyed each of the corpses. “They all died the same way.”
“They didn’t die here; there’s not enough blood,” said Jackson. The cause of death was obvious, but there should have been a small puddle of blood under each of the dead men’s heads.
Jackson reported the information to LaFleur, who relayed it to Matthews on Fillmore. He said, “Captain, we know what killed them. You’re not going to like it.”
“I don’t like it already,” Matthews snapped. “Let’s have it.”
“These men had a mass death reflex,” said LaFleur.
“A mass death reflex,” Matthews repeated. “That can’t be good.”
Location: Coral Hills, Maryland Date: August 16, 2519
Howard Tasman sat in his wheelchair near the window, staring through the break between the curtains, looking down at the street. Most of the people had deserted this part of Coral Hills; those who remained mostly stayed indoors during daylight hours. That was why the man caught Tasman’s attention; he was walking alone on the street.
The man was tall and gangly-looking, with long arms and long legs. As he came closer, Tasman recognized the man’s soulful, sympathetic eyes. Tasman said, “Hey, I know that guy . . .”
Travis Watson, who also lived in the apartment, went to the window to have a look. “Who is he?”
Tasman said, “His name is Rhodes. He works for one of the intelligence agencies.”
Emily Hughes, Watson’s girlfriend, joined Tasman and Watson at the window. Like them, she hid behind the curtain. She said, “He doesn’t look like a spy.”
“He’s not a spy; he’s an administrator,” said Tasman, a man who had spent his life working with both spies and administrators. Now an old man in his nineties, Tasman had lived to see his family die, leaving him bitter and alone.
Watson asked, “Can we trust him?”
“I wouldn’t trust him to wipe my ass.”
Emily sneered at the awful old man, and muttered, “That would be cruel and unusual punishment.” She didn’t like Tasman. She didn’t like him in small doses, and now she’d been stuck in the same apartment as him for weeks.
“What’s wrong with him?” asked Watson.
“He works for EME Intelligence,” said Tasman.
“That mean he’s on our side,” said Emily.
“He worked for U.A. Intelligence before the clones took over,” said Tasman. “I don’t trust anybody who works both sides of a war.”
“You worked both sides,” Emily pointed out.
Tasman only smiled, an unpleasant sight. His teeth had grayed to the color of wet cement. His gums were whiter than his teeth.
She looked around the shitty little one-room apartment with its worn furniture and bare wood floor. The sinks dripped all day, and the only oven was an old-fashioned microwave. In her mind, living in that apartment was punishment enough; sharing it with Tasman was like entering an inner circle of Hell.
The building had stairs instead of an elevator. Emily knew the only way Tasman could leave the building was riding on Watson’s back. She said, “You know what, Howie? We could have left here a month ago if it weren’t for you.”
Tasman said, “Your boyfriend is the president of the Enlisted Man’s Empire. Why don’t you step out on the street and see who salutes him?”
Watson wasn’t really the president of the EME, but he’d spent a few weeks in charge on an interim basis. Now he was in hiding.
They were on the southeastern outskirts of Washington, D.C., the wrong part of town. The neighborhood had become infested with Unified Authority soldiers, and that wasn’t the only problem. Most of the local citizens preferred a government of natural-borns to clone rule. In their eyes, Watson, a natural-born who had risen up the civilian ranks under the clones, was a traitor.
“Rhodes might be able to get us out of here,” said Watson.
Emily asked Tasman, “You said he worked for an intelligence agency?”
“Yeah, one of them.”
“Does he work for the Marines?” she asked.
“Do you associate Marines with intelligence?” asked Tasman. “I said ‘intelligence’; that means he doesn’t work for the Marines.”
In his right hand, Rhodes carried a small case marked with the emblem of the EME Marines—an eagle perched on a globe with an anchor in the background.
Emily said, “Do you see the emblem on his case?”
“That doesn’t make him a Marine,” said Tasman.
Watson started to take Emily’s side, then he realized the old bastard had a point. They were in Unified Authority territory. Only a suicidal fool would carry a case like that on these streets. Either a fool, or someone with powerful friends.
Emily asked, “So what’s he doing with that case?”
“Maybe we should go ask him,” quipped Tasman.
Sounding even more sarcastic, Watson said, “Now there’s an idea.”
Emily said, “Trav, maybe we should stop him.”
Travis Watson stood six-foot-six, but he was a law-school graduate, not a fighter, and he had no tolerance for pain. On the other hand, he had spent the last month of his life on the lam. Though he didn’t realize it, desperation had toughened him.
Emily added, “He might have an encrypted phone. We’d be able to call Wayson or Freeman for help.”
Tasman said, “Watson, if there’s a problem, you can take him. You’re bigger than he is.”
“You said he was a spy,” said Watson. “He might be dangerous.”
“I said he was an administrator.”
It was the middle of the day in an underclass Washington suburb in August. The day was oppressively bright and humid. The buildings across the street seemed to radiate in the heat.
Watson paused, thought of the possible outcomes, and said, “Tasman, you’re coming with me.”
“What about me?” asked Emily.
“You’re staying here,” said Watson.
Emily said, “Get specked, Watson. What if he kicks your teeth in? You might need me.”
Watson loved Emily. He said, “You’ll be safer up here.”
She laughed, and said, “Listen, Galahad, I’ve seen what happens when you lose a fight. You’re going to need me.”
Embarrassed by his girlfriend’s lack of confidence, Watson asked, “You don’t trust me?”
“In a fight?” asked Emily. “Travis, dear, I bet I can take you.”
Tasman laughed, showing his white gums and gray teeth.
Watson loaded Tasman on his back and trotted down the stairs, Emily at his heels. They reached the street a moment after Rhodes had passed by the building.
Watson ducked back in the building and ran through a hallway, still carrying Tasman on his back. The hall led to a narrow alley with a Dumpster and crates and drunks. Rhodes strolled past as they moved down the alley.
Watson lowered Tasman to the ground and hid behind the Dumpster while the old crippled scientist shouted, “Rhodes! Hey, Rhodes, is that you?”
Rhodes stopped and paused as if he recognized Tasman’s raspy voice. He turned to look in the alley and saw the old scientist sitting against the wall like a vagrant. Tasman wore an old suit that might have been nice one month earlier but had now been worn into oblivion.
Sounding confused, Rhodes said, “I know you.”
“Damn straight you do, genius,” said Tasman.
“You’re Howard Tasman,” said Rhodes.
Tasman said, “Can you give me a ride back to Washington?”
Smiling like a teen in a brothel, Rhodes stepped into the alley, and said, “Howard Tasman . . . Oh, I’ll get you to Washington.”
Watson had choreographed the fight in his head. With a few small variations, it went as he had expected.
Rhodes started to pull his gun from his holster as he stepped past the Dumpster. From where he hid, Watson couldn’t see the gun, only the briefcase. Thinking that the luggage was Rhodes’s most dangerous weapon, Watson sprang from his hiding place and grabbed the case. He caught Rhodes unaware, wrestled the case free, then swung Rhodes face-first into the side of the Dumpster. Seizing on his momentum, Watson slammed a fist into Rhodes’s jaw, nearly knocking him out. As he fell, Watson slammed a knee into his groin, flattening his left testicle.
Kevin Rhodes dropped to one knee, then fell to the concrete.
Emily looked at Rhodes, then at Watson, and said, “Baby, I’m impressed.”
Hoping he hadn’t just mugged an innocent man, Watson carried Rhodes into the building. Emily dragged Tasman in behind him.
* * *
If Magellan had surfaced a few days earlier, or if Watson had bagged Rhodes the week before, the Enlisted Man’s Empire might have won the war.
Location: Washington, D.C.
I was the seniormost officer in the EME military, technically I had four stars on my collar though I preferred not to wear them—General Wayson Harris, commander in chief and president extraordinaire. I may have qualified for the title of “emperor” as well. As I understood it, emperors ran empires, not presidents or generals. It really didn’t matter. Our hold on humanity was temporary at best.
We were a nation of clones. The end of our rule was built into our DNA. Well, sterility was built into our DNA, and since we didn’t have factories for building the next generation of clones, we were a nonrenewable empire.
One title I didn’t mind too much carrying was “commandant of the Marines.” I had agreed to accept that title. I had never agreed to be the president of the Enlisted Man’s Empire. In fact, I had never actually been coronated . . . I suppose the term is “inaugurated.” I had been missing in action when the admiral who was in charge was murdered. I may have been next in line, but I was missing, so the brass selected Travis Watson to run the empire until I was found or declared dead.
Now that I was back, I didn’t want the job.
“I don’t see that Watson matters one way or the other, Harris,” said General John Strait, commander of the Enlisted Man’s Air Force.
I said, “He’s the president of the empire.”
Thomas Hauser, commander of the EME Navy, corrected me. He said, “Watson was a temporary president.”
We were having a summit. I was one of four people invited to participate. I represented the Marines. Our fourth was General Pernell MacAvoy, commanding officer of the EME Army and the only one in the bunch whom I considered a friend.
Strait, who read scientific journals and seldom used military vernacular, was the brightest man at the table and the most useless. MacAvoy was the dumbest. If his IQ had a third digit, he did a fine job hiding it, but he was also the man who was winning the war.
Strait said, “Watson was only the only interim president.”
Hauser said, “Yeah, that’s what I just said.”
“You said he was a temporary president. The term is ‘interim,’” said Strait.
MacAvoy said, “I thought he was the acting president.”
Strait gave him an openly condescending pat on the arm, and said, “Harris is the acting president, Perry.”
MacAvoy smiled and nodded.
We generally held these meetings in formal conference rooms or fancy dining halls. MacAvoy was in charge this time, and he arranged for us to meet in an indoor shooting range.
At least he’d closed the range during our meeting; the place was empty and mostly dark, silent, too, no gunfire serenade. The rest of us didn’t complain or ask MacAvoy why he elected to hold a high-level summit in a shooting range; we simply accepted it as a MacAvoy-ism.
MacAvoy said, “I like Watson.”
Strait smirked, and said, “Liking him doesn’t matter, not in the grand scheme. He’s unimportant.”
MacAvoy said, “Yeah? Bullshit. Watson was a natural-born working for the Enlisted Man’s Empire. He was loyal to us; the natural-borns are going to notice if we turn our back on him.”
“Our backs,” said Strait.
“That’s what I said,” said MacAvoy.
“You said, ‘back.’ There are more than one of us. We have more than one back,” said Strait.
“Is that how it works?” asked MacAvoy. “There are four of us here, but I only see one asshole.”
I said, “Perry has a point. The natural-borns are going to notice how the Enlisted Man’s Empire takes care of its civilians.”
When your empire is made up of clones who die the moment they realize they are clones, it’s wise to use euphemisms like “enlisted man” when referring to your citizenry. As part of their physiology, the last model of clones had a death gland built into their brains that released a toxic poison when they realized they were clones. The Unified Authority scientists who created them wanted them convinced they were natural-born people and to keep them loyal and submissive.
The best-laid plans . . .
All of the officers in the summit were clones, including me, though I was a different make of clone. I was the last of the Liberator-class clones. Unlike MacAvoy and Strait, I knew I was synthetic. Instead of a death reflex that would kill me, my architecture included a gland that released an adrenaline and testosterone cocktail into my blood during combat.
“Do you really think anybody cares?” asked Hauser.
“No one on our side,” I admitted. “But the Unifieds will make a real show of it if we throw him to the wolves.”
I had personal reasons for wanting to save Watson; I considered him a friend. So did Hauser. MacAvoy only fraternized with other soldiers and women. And Strait . . . I didn’t know anything about him. He ran the Air Force, a branch of the military that Hauser and MacAvoy no longer considered relevant. With six Navy fighter carriers orbiting Earth, who needed an air force?
Strait said, “We don’t know if he’s alive.”
Lunch arrived. Strait or Hauser would have flown in their best chef. MacAvoy served us Army chow—boiled beef on potatoes smothered with gravy, canned green beans, and a baked pastry of unidentifiable origin. We ate at the conference table.
Hauser and Strait ate in silence, obviously seething at MacAvoy’s frontline hospitality. I didn’t mind it. Army chow and Marine chow are generally pretty similar, and I never cared for elegant food.
As we ate, MacAvoy said, “The reason we’re meeting in a range is because I want to show you something. I got a new weapon that’s gonna specking end this conflict.”
Strait and Hauser managed to look dubious yet politely surprised. We were fighting an “end war,” the final hostilities with an enemy that had officially surrendered a year ago.
“What do you have?” I asked.
“I’ve got the answer to shielded armor,” said MacAvoy.
Unified Authority armor was based on the same design as ours, but it included electrical shielding that stopped bullets, knives, and shrapnel.
“I have bullets that destroy their shields,” MacAvoy said.
Hauser and Strait seemed unimpressed. They fought wars from far away; battlefield tactics didn’t matter to them.
I said, “No shit? Are you going to show us?”
“That’s why we’re in a shooting range,” said MacAvoy. “I wanted to show you all together.”
MacAvoy placed his napkin on the table, and said, “Let’s go.”
Until that point, Admiral Hauser had only picked at his food, and Strait hadn’t touched his fork. They showed no interest in Army chow, but apparently MacAvoy’s bullets interested them even less. They started eating.
Our conference table was near the door of the range. MacAvoy had left the shooting lane dark. When he stood, he pulled a remote from his pocket and lit the lanes. He hit a second button, and a trio of mannequins dressed in U.A. armor began glowing at the far end of the range.
I hadn’t noticed it before, but an M27 sat on the counter at the front of one of the shooting lanes. MacAvoy picked up the gun, and said, “Harris, you gave me the idea for these bullets. You were the one who figured out how to burn out their batteries.”
His posture demonstrating just how relaxed he felt around firearms, MacAvoy pivoted to face the mannequins, aimed the M27, and fired a burst of three shots. Three-star general or not, Perry MacAvoy was no stockade soldier; all three shots hit the mannequin in the middle.
I had seen bullets and shrapnel disintegrate when they hit the shielding that protected that armor, having no more impact than a raindrop striking a bridge. MacAvoy’s bullets didn’t seem to do anything to the shields, either. His three fast shots hit the mannequin in the head, chest, and gut, and the shields glowed on.
I said, “Well, at least we know you’re a good shot.”
“What’s the rush, Harris?” MacAvoy asked. “Give it a moment.” He placed the M27 back on the counter, then stepped into the firing lanes. He said, “Let’s inspect the damage.” I followed. Hauser and Strait came as well.
As we approached, I saw something strange. The bullets might not have knocked the mannequin over, but they left spots on the ethereal electrical shields. Having never seen that happen before, I jogged over for a closer look.
The armor-clad mannequin stood at attention—arms at its sides, legs straight and shoulder width apart, its armor still glowing golden orange. Except for the stains, which seemed to have soaked into the electrical field, I saw no signs of damage.
“Are those holes?” asked General Strait. He and Hauser had come to inspect the mannequin.
Sounding as if he actually knew what he was talking about, MacAvoy answered, “General, that is a dynamic electrical field; you can’t shoot holes into energy fields.”
I said, “You can’t stain them, either.” But there they were, proving me wrong, three dark, splatter-shaped stains in the electrical energy. “What’s in those bullets?”
“They’re not bullets; they’re simmies,” said MacAvoy.
“Simmies,” short for “simunition,” were rounds used for faking assassination—gelatin cartridges filled with fake blood. Only, the simmies MacAvoy used hadn’t been filled with blood.
MacAvoy said, “I stole your idea, you know, draining the batteries. These simmies are packed with liquidized carbon and iridium filings. That carbon shit sticks to anything, and the iridium doesn’t melt.”
The batteries were the chink in the Unified Authority shielded armor . . . literally. Since Marines don’t march into battle wearing nuclear reactors on their backs and mobility matters as much as protection, the shielding on U.A. combat armor worked off tiny batteries with a limited amount of juice. The batteries could power the shields for an hour if they went unchallenged, but the power spiked whenever anything came in contact with the shields.
By staining the shields, MacAvoy was creating a permanent energy spike. Those batteries would burn out fast.
“You’re staining the armor with a compound that has a high flash point,” said Strait, admiration in his voice.
Even as we stood there, the batteries powering the armor died, leaving dull, old, dark green armor in its place.
“Hit them with this, and their shields last about a hundred seconds,” said MacAvoy.
“What if they just charged their batteries?” I asked.
“You saw it,” said MacAvoy. “We charged the battery in that suit this morning.”
“And your goop drained it in two minutes?” I asked.
“One minute and forty seconds,” said MacAvoy. “The results are always the same.”
“When can we start manufacturing these?” I asked.
“Already in motion,” said MacAvoy. “We’ll have five million of these babies by the end of the month.”
* * *
If we had received them by the end of July instead of August, things might have been different.
As I walked into my office, one of my aides, an overaged lieutenant, came to tell me that I had received a call on my private line. Now that my girlfriend, Sunny Ferris, had gone MIA, I hadn’t had much use for that line. That call could have come from her. I should have been excited, but I wasn’t. As far as I was concerned, she had stopped being my girlfriend before she went missing; I just hadn’t had the chance to inform her of her change in status. If she was back, we’d need to have an uncomfortable conversation.
“Got a name and a number?” I asked, dreading the scene Sunny would make.
The lieutenant said that the call came from Kevin Rhodes, the director of encryption at the EME Intelligence Agency.
My first thought was, Things are looking up. I didn’t know Rhodes, but the director of encryption didn’t sound like a person who would have an emotional meltdown. Then I realized the obvious. I don’t know him. Why is he calling me on my private line? How the hell had he even gotten the number?
The EME Intelligence Agency, a civilian organization, had nine directors. I had met all nine, but I seldom dealt with them. I asked, “Did he say why he was calling?”
“He refused to speak with me, sir.”
“Refused to speak with you,” I mused. “Maybe he called on my private line so he could have a private communication.”
“He sounded nervous,” said the lieutenant, who also sounded nervous.
“Do you have his number?” I asked.
“Yes, sir,” he said. “I left it on your desk.”
I’d stopped carrying my phone after we captured Washington. Carrying a phone was like wearing a target into battle. If the Unifieds managed to get their hands on my number, they could use my phone to track me. As president, I had access to secure communications that, in theory, could not be tracked. I also had enemies who put theories like that to the test.
I had the lieutenant leave the room and dialed Rhodes’s number.
“This is Rhodes,” said the voice.
Except that it wasn’t Rhodes’s voice. This voice I knew.
I asked, “Watson, is that you?”
Silence, then, “Harris, do you know if this is a secure line?” He sounded more than nervous; he sounded flat-out scared.
“It’s as secure as they get,” I said. “Where are you?”
He didn’t answer for several seconds. I knew why he was scared. Just one month earlier, he’d been sitting in an office in the Pentagon when the Unifieds started pumping gas through the air-conditioning system. The gas knocked out every clone in the building. By the time they woke up, they’d been reprogrammed, and killing Watson was the first item on their list of things to do.
We had a security feed of Watson and his bodyguards driving a stolen car through the security gate at the entrance to the Pentagon’s underground parking structure. After that, they disappeared. We’d found the bullet-ridden remains of his car in downtown Washington, D.C. One by one, his bodyguards had turned up dead.
After considering his options, Watson said, “I’m in Coral Hills.”
Coral Hills. I knew the name but needed a moment to locate it on my mental map. “What the speck are you doing there?” I asked.
Coral Hills, I could jog that far, I thought. Here we’d spent weeks searching for Watson, and he was just across the river. But I couldn’t really jog over and get him; Coral Hills was a U.A. stronghold. MacAvoy called it “the U.C.D.,” the Unified Central District.
“Look, Wayson, we need to get out of here. Can you get us out?” he asked.
“An extraction,” I muttered. “Who is we? How many of you are there?”
“Emily is with me.” He let a moment pass before adding, “We have Howard Tasman, too.”
Tasman, that was good news. He was the scientist who invented the neural programming used in clones. If the Unified Authority captured him we’d have all kinds of problems.
Watson said, “And we captured Rhodes.”
“Captured him?” I asked. “He’s on our side.”
“No he isn’t,” said Watson.
I wanted to ask what he meant, but that could wait. I said, “I’ll arrange an extraction.”
Watson seemed confused by my offer. He was a civilian. In his world you extracted teeth and rescued victims. He asked, “Can you get us out of here?”
A lot of people could handle a rifle. I had badges, pins, and ribbons for marksmanship, one of which I earned by putting three shots in a one-inch center circle from a mile away. Ray Freeman made me look like a piker when it came to the quiet art.
With his skills and scopes, Freeman had hit human targets from three miles away. He had a knack for assassination. His list of kills included gangsters, politicians, soldiers, and the founder of a fanatical religion. When guns weren’t the right tool, he used bombs. Sometimes he used both. He’d beaten men to death with his fists as well; Freeman had a gift.
The man stood seven feet tall and weighed over three hundred pounds. He’d lost weight of late.
He’d been injured just a month earlier. An untreated sprain had turned into an infection which nearly cost him his leg and his life. After weeks in a hospital, he looked frail, but not in the way of mortal men. He didn’t look any less dangerous, just more brittle.
He stood as we talked, his posture a bit less erect, his shoulders tighter than normal, his skin maybe just the slightest bit ashen. He said, “I bet you plan on going in yourself.”
I asked, “You got a better idea?”
Freeman said, “You could stay out of the way. How about we both stay out of the way?”
I felt the irritation welling in me as I said, “You know somebody better than me for this mission?”
He said, “Harris, you’re the president of the Enlisted Man’s Empire; maybe it’s time you started shuffling papers.”
“I’m also a Marine,” I said.
“You’re a general. Generals send people into battle.”
I said, “I was engineered for fighting battles.”
Freeman walked to a tall stool and sat. The man had not fully healed from his wounds. He had a slight limp.
Speaking in his soft, resonant voice, he said, “You’re getting too old to be fighting wars.”
I didn’t answer that, mostly because I agreed with him.
“We’re the wrong men for the job,” said Freeman. “I’m too old, and you’re the president. You’re also the only military clone over six feet tall. If they see you, they’ll recognize you. I’m a seven-foot black man; they’ll certainly recognize me.”
Freeman was the last survivor of a Neo-Baptist colony. His people had been the descendants of African-Americans occupying a tiny planet in an isolated corner of a galaxy in which the government wanted to integrate races. I was the last Liberator, he was the last African-American; we belonged in a museum.
As I started to say something, he asked, “How old are you, Harris? You hit thirty yet?”
I started to admit that I had just turned thirty, but he interrupted me again. He said, “I just spent my forty-seventh birthday lying in a hospital listening to a couple of doctors arguing whether or not they could save my life without amputating my leg.”
He shook his head, and said, “I’m nearly fifty years old, and I walk with a limp. One of my shoulders needs surgery, and the one that’s been repaired still doesn’t work right. I’m retired.”
I said, “Maybe I am the right man for the job. I might not be the right one to get Watson out, but I’d make one hell of a distraction.”
Freeman nodded, and said, “Yes, perhaps you should paint a target on your forehead and go for a stroll in downtown Coral Hills.”
I met with Perry MacAvoy in the early evening, about 18:00, to discuss the situation. Admiral Hauser attended as well, but only in spirit. The general and I sat in the same room; Hauser appeared through a confabulator, a device that made it look like virtual people were actually sitting in the room. Around Washington, D.C., the political types called these devices, “social mirages.”
Looking through the confabulator’s window, we saw Hauser as if he were sitting in the room.
I began the conversation with a question for MacAvoy. “You said you’d have five million of those shield-busting bullets by the end of the month. How many do you have now?”
He said, “We haven’t started manufacturing them yet.”
“Do you have any?” I asked.
MacAvoy shrugged his shoulders, and said, “Just handmade loads. We have a few hundred.”
“Not enough.” I sighed.
Hauser asked the question that MacAvoy was about to ask. “What do you need them for?”
I told them about Watson and Rhodes.
Hauser said, “I want to make sure I understand the situation. Watson incapacitated one of the directors of our Intelligence Agency and used his phone to call you?”
“Something like that,” I said.
Seen through the confabulator, Hauser looked as solid and three-dimensional as the wall behind him. The flicker of a smile entered his expression as he asked, “And he wants us to extract him from Unified-held territory?”
I said, “Affirmative.”
“Let me guess, Harris. I bet you want to go in yourself. Is that right?”
Feigning indignation, I said, “Admiral, I am the president of the Enlisted Man’s Empire. I hardly think that running covert extractions befits my pay grade.”
MacAvoy’s jaw dropped. Hauser whistled. An uncomfortable silence filled the room until MacAvoy finally said, “Admiral, maybe they’ve reprogrammed him.”
I said, “Get specked, MacAvoy.”
Still sounding surprised, Hauser said, “He sounds like Harris.”
Ignoring them, I brought up a virtual map of the eastern suburbs. A red dot appeared marking Watson’s location. I said, “General, I want to drop the extraction team here. They’re going to need Jackals, personnel carriers, and a team of shooters. Can you muster your men by 05:00?”
“No problem,” MacAvoy replied without a moment’s hesitation. He examined the map. “No problem delivering men and material to the zone, but they’re not going to last very long once they arrive. That’s the Unified Central District; we could drop a column of Schwarzkopfs there, and they wouldn’t make it out.”
Schwarzkopfs were our best tanks; they were fast, armed with big cannons, and covered with hardened plating, but the Unifieds had rockets that could destroy them, and anything that could destroy a Schwarzkopf would make short work of a Jackal or a personnel carrier.
I said, “They wouldn’t last long under normal circumstances, but I don’t think the Unifieds will notice your team.”
“Why is that?” asked MacAvoy.
I tapped the map and a yellow stripe appeared along the eastern side of the shore of the Anacostia. “They’re going to be busy fighting off a full-scale invasion.”
“You’re sending in the Marines?” asked MacAvoy.
“I bet you plan on leading the invasion,” said Hauser.
I said, “Last time I checked, I was the commandant of the EME Marines.”
* * *
I never knew the exact date of Tom Hauser’s death; he died somewhere in space. Perry MacAvoy died on August 24. He was executed by a firing squad.
Date: August 17, 2519
The sun wouldn’t rise for another hour.
We preferred to work in the darkness, something the Army couldn’t do. Marines wore combat armor, soldiers fought in fatigues. The armor made us more mobile; you could attach jetpacks to the back and magnetized rappelling cords to the front. Our armor didn’t protect us from bullets, and shrapnel cut it to shreds, but our visors provided us night-for-day vision, heat vision, radar, sonar, telescopic sight, and more. Our armor came with rebreathers that allowed us to operate underwater and in outer space. The bodysuits we wore under our armor protected us against extreme temperatures, both cold and hot. The bodysuits wouldn’t stop us from frying in a nuclear blast, but they keep us comfortable in the absolute zero degrees of deep space.
Few things gave away a night attack more quickly than the telltale glow of lights. Satellites detected columns of vehicles with blaring headlights. Enemy planes and helicopters spotted stadium lights from miles away. We didn’t worry about it. With every man in the outfit wearing armor, we assembled our troops in the dark interior of an indoor stadium, hidden from prying eyes and lenses.
My infantrymen climbed into personnel carriers and my artillery (fifteen Schwarzkopfs and forty Targs) and my cavalry (a fleet of jeeps and Jackals) formed into lines behind them. The men in jeeps wore armor with visors; the men in the tanks and Jackals used computer-enhanced vision in the windshields of their vehicles.
I looked up and down the lines. The Enlisted Man’s Empire controlled all of the satellites, but the Unifieds had been the ones who created the computers; they knew how to hack into our systems and peer through our eyes.
We communicated using the interLink, a military-grade communications network that let sergeants and captains communicate with their platoons, majors communicate with their companies, and lieutenant colonels communicate with their battalions.
As the officer in charge, I had the commandLink. I could listen in on every conversation, look through any Marine’s visor, speak to any man or unit. I vacillated on whether or not there was a God, but if he existed, he probably used something similar to a commandLink to listen in on all of his believers’ prayers.
I had two full-bird colonels working as my right-hand men, but I didn’t know their names. I had become aloof to underlings.
“General Harris, the men are ready, sir.” The man’s name appeared in my visor. Whenever anyone communicated with me over the interLink, their name, rank, and unit appeared in my visor. That didn’t mean I read it.
I wasn’t always like this, indifferent to the men around me. My last right-hand man had been an officer named Hunter Ritz alongside whom I’d fought in several battles. He’d risked his life and pulled my ass out of the fire. Ritz’s death changed me, hardening me to the men around me.
So what if I never learned this clone’s name? We were all cogs, interchangeable parts in a machine. That included me.
I didn’t worry about my Schwarzkopfs; those monsters couldn’t be killed, but the smaller, faster, weaker Targs gave me pause. I asked, “What’s going on with the Targs?”
We had three rows of them. They were as fast as jeeps and just as maneuverable, but not as easily damaged. Targs were exclusively Marine Corps property and the butt of Pernell MacAvoy’s twisted sense of humor. He constantly joked about Targs mating with Rumsfeld Tanks and giving birth to bicycles.
We had other tanks for heavy combat—LGs, Specters, and some ancient Rumsfelds, but those battle wagons didn’t fit with my strategy. I cared more about delivering blows than withstanding them once we crossed to the eastern side of the river. I wanted speed, not lumbering crushers.
Along with my commandLink, I had a communicator that connected me to Perry MacAvoy, who waited back at the base. I got on the horn, and asked, “You ready?”
He said, “I got my cock in one hand and my M27 in the other.”
“Small arms?” I asked. “Interesting strategy.”
MacAvoy, not the wittiest man I ever met, said, “Hooah!”
Marines say Hoorah. Soldiers say Hooah. Two damn syllables and they can’t even get it right.
I said, “My Marines are locked and loaded.”
MacAvoy said, “Good luck, Harris. Give a signal when you want us to make our move.”
And that was it. We exited the armory in a long column of vehicles, with the Targs and Schwarzkopfs at the front, followed by Jackals and armored personnel carriers—all driving with their lights off. All of our equipment was coated with black, heat-reflecting enamel.
Driving under streetlamps on Independence Avenue, my tanks and trucks were plain to see. I was at street level. They wouldn’t be as easily seen by satellites . . . I hoped.
We could have shut down the streetlights, but that would have given us away more surely than the streetlights.
* * *
Under the glow of the streetlights, our half-mile-long parade streamed past greenbelts, strip malls, and an outdoor stadium. The buildings were dark, the streets glowed white, orange, and gold. We drove down Independence to the banks of the Anacostia, but we didn’t cross the bridge. Anyone with a rocket or a demolition kit can destroy a bridge. Marines became targets when they crossed bridges. We turned right when we reached the river, then we took a short drive south, past the twin islands that sat in the middle of the river.
I watched our advance from inside a Jackal, standing in the swiveling turret mounted in the roof. I could see the cannons of my Schwarzkopfs poking over the turrets of my Targs. A herd of six-wheeled personnel carriers brought up the rear. We looked like a line of gigantic black ants. Our windshields were obsidian, our vehicles dark as onyx and as unshining as marble. Moonlight and street glow fell on my column, and my vehicles absorbed them.
The Anacostia was to my left. A galaxy of little lights sparked across that chasm, stars taking the shapes of streets and buildings. Did they know we were coming?
It was exactly 05:00. Though a small nest of officers had stayed up planning this sortie late into the night, the average Marine didn’t hear a word until we roused them from their racks and told them to suit up. Even now, they were just learning the details.
Think they know we’re coming? I asked myself.
At one time, the Unified Authority could reprogram my clones and send them in to spy on us. I hoped there weren’t any spies in the clutch of generals who had planned this invasion. But who knew? The column slowed as we approached a public park with an open shoreline. This was the moment at which we would give ourselves away; once we entered the river, we’d be visible from miles away. I didn’t trust bridges, and tanks don’t tread water. A fleet of amphibious transports, mobile warehouses designed to convey men and material, waited for us.
The amphibious transports would hover across the river on cushions of air instead of pounding through water. They were slow, but that didn’t matter, not crossing a river that was only five hundred feet wide.
My driver knew the score without my telling him what to do. He drove to a rise from which I could observe my troops and parked. Strings of black vehicles rolled to the shore and vanished into the mouths of transports.
The Anacostia was inconvenient for us but narrow. Had the Unifieds expected our movements, they could have bombarded us from the other shore. They could have battered us with heavy artillery from miles away, but the night remained silent. And no flashes or explosions broke the darkness on the eastern side of the river.
The tanks, Jackals, and personnel carriers loaded quickly. Marines don’t leave things to chance. We drilled and drilled again, until loading onto transports became one of our favorite pastimes.
“We’re about to cross the river,” I told MacAvoy.
“If you see Tobias Andropov, give him a five-toe enema, would you? Say it’s from me,” said MacAvoy.
Tobias Andropov was a Unified Authority politician, not a soldier. He was the one who came up with abandoning the all-clone conscription, transferring the clones to man outdated battleships that the new U.A. Navy would use for target practice. Amazing how ambitious men are brought down by their own avarice. Andropov would still be in charge if he hadn’t turned on us.
I said, “Five-toe enema with your name on it; got it.”
I signed off as my driver pulled up to the last of the amphibious transports. The entrance into the gigantic hovercraft looked like open jaws. We drove up the ramp, trading the sheer darkness behind us for the red-lit interior. All of the vehicles ahead of us were exactly identical, clones, like me and my men. Looking down the row was like looking down a row in a factory; every roof was the same height and size; all the wheels evenly spaced on identical chassis, turrets, hoods, and windshields on every carrier the same as the last. Inside those trucks, every driver was the same as the last. Every man wore identical armor. Remove their armor, and they had identical faces.
The red glow of the interior lights seemed to dissolve into the flat back enamel covering the personnel carriers. Our vehicles were beyond black; they were darkness itself.
I gave the order, and the invasion began.
Unified Authority infiltrators had moved into our shores, and we wanted them out, but we didn’t want to cause too much damage along the way. The buildings, the streets, and the infrastructure were ours. We couldn’t bombard the enemy to soften their defenses without damaging property we considered our own.
Stage one: a sortie of gunships flew overhead as our amphibious transports shuffled us across the river. Using my commandLink, I patched into the visor of my lead gunship pilot and watched the proceedings from his vantage point.
Gunships are flying tanks—slow, heavily armored, carrying enough cannons and machine guns to take out a fortress. They can withstand RPG fire, but missiles, rockets, and particle-beam cannons make short work of them, and the Unifieds had plenty of rockets.
So here’s the scene, the sun started rising on the horizon. Looking through my lead pilot’s visor, I saw a molten-lava sky with clouds ablaze in orange and red as the sun started rising. The city was all silhouettes, a jumble of gaps and boxes with hardly any movement.
The pilot looked to his left, then looked to his right. To his left was a cockpit window. Beyond that was a long row of gunships, a wing, flying slightly behind him. To his right sat his weapons officer. He sat staring into a screen.
The pilot said, “Looks like we caught them sleeping.”
The gunner said, “They’re still here. I got heat signatures.”
The pilot said, “Remember, General Harris said as little damage as possible,” to which the gunner replied, “It’s a war; we’re gonna break stuff.”
And then the fighting began. The first shots fired were five rockets that streamed out of a single-story storefront, maybe a clothing shop, the contrails behind the rockets spread like the fingers of a grasping hand.
Our gunships flew approximately one hundred feet off the ground, traveling at a speed that might have seemed slow to a bicyclist.
Excerpted from "The Clone Apocalypse"
Copyright © 2014 Steven L. Kent.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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