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Excerpt from Gabriel’s Revenge – Shuttle Launch to Mars

March 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Gabriel had just cinched his straps when the Marcinko’s engines ignited, pressing each of them back into their seats in the shuttle. He heard Olszewski mutter a curse from next to him. He looked over at the private with a raised eyebrow.

“Sorry, sir. I’m a ground pounder. I hate this shit. Necessary evil to get me where I need to go I guess, but doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

Gabriel turned back to the front of the shuttle. He stared past the pilot’s helmet and out the viewport, where he could see a sliver of starry space. The ventral bay doors had begun to open.

He closed his eyes and linked his neuretics in to the Marcinko’s battlecomp feed. He saw with some satisfaction the other five in his team all did the same. He knew some did it for the thrill of watching the battle unfold, some for the situational awareness. Whatever their reasons, he didn’t blame them. It wasn’t just a learning experience for him either. He wanted to see the enemy. And see them destroyed.

The specialist that had loaded them and their gear, Allen, was also their pilot. His hand flew over the switches mounted in front of him as he prepared the shuttle for launch.

“Sirs and ma’am, hold on,” Allen called out. “The captain’s got some rapid maneuvers planned, and we’re getting spit out in the middle of them. Hope no one ate lunch yet.”

“Keven?” It was Sowers’s voice.

“Zip it,” said Brevik. “Watch.”

Gabriel kept his eyes closed and let his Mindseye show him the situation.

The Marcinko went to full power and arced down towards Mars. Gabriel felt his chest squeezed by the G-forces and tried to control his breathing as he saw multicolored stars behind his eyelids. After a few seconds the heavy acceleration eased and the stars cleared, leaving him more able to focus on the Mindseye feed.

The battlecomp tagged the blockade fighter with a red icon. The projected path of the Marcinko was just outside of its orbit, but Gabriel saw the flight path of the shuttle, once launched, went almost directly through the red icon. He remembered McTiernan’s order to the tac officer to ‘remove it from the equation’, so he was not surprised when he heard the clank of the internal missile launcher falling into place in front of their shuttle.

The rotating launcher spat two Jayhawk missiles, then immediately swung back up to the ceiling of the docking bay. Another clank sounded throughout the cabin as the launch arm grabbed the shuttle and set it into position above the open ventral doors. The Marcinko began its release maneuver and Gabriel was pressed into his seat. With a loud hiss of hydraulics that could be heard even within the pressurized cabin, the shuttle fell from the docking bay, and he went weightless.

Gabriel’s Mindseye painted a vivid image of the scene around them: the Marcinko peeling away from their position, the two Jayhawks going hypersonic in front of them, and the dusty orange globe below them. The serene image lasted only a split second before Allen fired the shuttle engines and initiated the descent.

The picket fighter never stood a chance. It was only using station-keeping thrusters and apparently not expecting an attack, especially one that came from a hole in space. The Jayhawks were on it before it even had an opportunity to light its engine.

“Hold on!” yelled Allen. Gabriel opened his eyes to look out past the pilot. The explosion of the fighter loomed ahead and grew quickly in size as the shuttle accelerated towards Mars. A sound like nails on metal decking rattled through the cabin as the debris from the explosion peppered the hull of the shuttle.

“We’re clear!” The pilot turned to look over his shoulder. “Everyone A-OK?”

Gabriel saw Olszewski raise a thumb next to him, then heard a retching from Takahashi behind him. He ignored it — at this point he was used to it — and stared out of the pilot’s viewport.

Ahead of them lay Mars. And Renay.

Excerpt from Gabriel’s Revenge, Book 3: Spy Ship Brings Data…and Questions

February 28, 2012 1 comment

“NAFN Richard Marcinko, this is Corporal Lewis Grienke aboard the MDF packetship Shadow. Coded message for Commander Gabriel. Please respond.”

Gabriel turned to McTiernan with his eyebrows raised. “There’s a man in that thing?”

McTiernan nodded. “Yes, we were as surprised as you. Damned thing is less than five feet across. Must have been like flying in a coffin.”

An image of the drop capsules screaming through the atmosphere of Poliahu flashed across Gabriel’s mind. “Been there, done that.” He squinted at the image on the screen. “Have you responded?”

“Yes, Ensign Giroux confirmed the receipt of the tight-beam with our own. The corporal is asking for you personally and will not release the message without your code.”

Gabriel shook his head. “I have no idea what code he’s speaking of, but I guess you’d better get me on the line with him.”

McTiernan waved his hand to Giroux and the communications officer opened a channel. “The packetship is still half a million miles or so away, so there’s a three second lag each way.”

The overhead speaker beeped with the opening of the comm link.

“Corporal Grienke, this is Commander Evan Gabriel. I received your transmission, but I do not have a code.”

After a few seconds, the overhead speaker crackled. “Thank you sir, voice code received and accepted.”

Gabriel glanced at McTiernan, who merely shrugged his shoulders. “Didn’t think it would be that simple,” Gabriel said in a low tone.

“He found us, Commander,” McTiernan replied. “He probably isn’t too worried about imposters at this point.”

Gabriel nodded. “Go ahead with your transmission, Corporal.”

Before the voice returned, Giroux called out. “Captain, I’m receiving a data stream overlaid on the transmission. It’s clean. Shall I put it up?”

“Go ahead, Ensign, same screen.”

The image of the ship and its statistics disappeared, replaced by a schematic of the solar system. The Ryokou wormhole was a green square, surrounded by several red threat dots, with Mars a flashing yellow circle. Numbers scrolled down one side of the screen showing distances, estimated armament, positioning, open corridors, and other tactical data.

“Commander, I have a message from Major Andon,” Grienke’s voice continued. “He sends his regards and his congratulations for a mission well done on Eden, but has a significant warning to pass along. And yes sir, he used the word significant. You should be seeing the data I collected on my flight out. It was… tight… getting through undetected, as the wormhole approach is littered with Chinese fighters. I’m sure they didn’t see this packetship, but they probably picked up my wormhole transit. I fully expect them to know you’re on the way. Major Andon’s warning is that these fighters have orders to shoot the Marcinko on sight, no questions asked.”

Several seconds passed in silence. Gabriel squeezed the railing hard enough to make his knuckles go white. “Just like Eden,” he said under his breath.

Grienke went on. “I’ve sent you the data on the wormhole area. I’m also sending you data on the Mars blockade ships as best as we can detect. The bulk of the Chinese ships are at Ryokou, only a handful around Mars. They seem to be putting quite an effort into blocking your entry into the system. Major Andon has also enclosed data on the situation on the ground, which is a second packet I’m sending you.”

Giroux raised his hand. “Received, Captain.”

“Corporal, stand by to be picked up,” said McTiernan.

A few seconds ticked by as the light speed transmission went out and was answered.

“Ah, sir, I’m supposed to continue on to Calypso to be attached to the MDF training force. This mission sort of dovetailed with my schedule, blockade or not. Lucky me, right?” A small laugh came through the speaker. “And while it’s a bit tighter quarters than I expected, I’d rather keep going than join you in a firefight. No offense, Captain.”

“None taken, Corporal,” McTiernan replied. “Safe travels, and thank you for the information.”

“Thank you, sir, and good luck. Shadow out.”

McTiernan shifted in his command chair to face Gabriel. “What is it with the Chinese connection?”

Gabriel shook his head, still staring at the solar system schematic. “Wish I knew, Captain. But I get the feeling we’ll find out soon enough.”

***

GABRIEL’S REVENGE is the finale of the top-rated science fiction/adventure Gabriel trilogy. Enjoy the scene, like the genre? All three are available for all major ebook platforms, and now paperback: http://steveumstead.com/my-books/

On 50th anniversary of first American to orbit Earth, Glenn pushes for manned Mars mission…and so do I

February 20, 2012 2 comments

From Space.com:

1975 Viking photo of Mars

Former NASA astronaut John Glenn is pushing for manned exploration of Mars and other farflung destinations.

On Feb. 20, 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit Earthwhen his Friendship 7 capsule zipped around our planet three times, then splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean. Glenn’s flight put the United States back on even footing with the Soviet Union, which had launched the first manned orbital flight in April 1961.

The U.S.-Soviet space race in the 1960s got much of the American public excited about space science and exploration. That enthusiasm has since flagged, but sending astronauts to the Red Planet could help rekindle it, Glenn said.

“We haven’t done everything we should be doing in low-Earth orbit, as far as I’m concerned,” Glenn said. “I think your best way to Mars is assembling the vehicle in low-Earth orbit, and then eventually going out of low-Earth orbit from that.”

 

I’m a huge fan of manned spaceflight; one of my high school memories was running home as fast as I could to see the television coverage of the Challenger explosion after hearing rumors in school. And who hasn’t envisioned men (and women) on Mars? Mars has been such a driving force in my imagination, I couldn’t help but make it a central part of many scenes in my works. And with that, an obligatory snippet, this one from Gabriel’s Revenge (book 3):

Gabriel could hear the thin Mars atmosphere whipping past his combat helmet’s visor. Visibility from a thousand yards altitude was excellent, enhanced by his helmet’s optics, but no matter how hard he stared, there was simply nothing to see. Even the approaching dust storm barely visible in the distance held no interest for him.

Ordinarily, a typical first-time visitor to Mars would gawk at the wide open plain and the terraced steppes of the northern rim of Valles Marineris, or marvel at the flashes of dirty gray water ice in the shade of some of the peaks, or point excitedly at the ancient dust-covered Russian and Japanese landers…

I’d very much like to see a manned landing on Mars before I shuffle off this mortal coil…hurry up, guys.

 

Gabriel’s Revenge Excerpt – The Shadowy Benefactor

January 31, 2012 1 comment

Final Cover - Click to Enlarge

A loud bang startled the man sitting on the couch. He looked up from his reading to see that a large painting on the far wall had fallen onto the floor, and was now leaning against the wall. The glow from Earth in the skylight illuminated the painting like it sat on display in a museum.

He set his flexscreen down and picked up the half-empty wine glass from the table in front of him, then stood up. He walked over to the painting and stared down at it, slowly sipping his wine. He didn’t question why the painting had fallen. It wasn’t the first time. Nor would it probably be the last, he thought.

It was an oil on canvas work depicting his hometown, a riverside village on the outskirts of Buenos Aires called Ramallo. It was a poor slum, commonly referred to as a villa miseria, with tents and shanties scattered amongst cheaply made prefab housing units and textile sweatshops. Ramallo was where he and his three brothers and one sister had grown up, trying to scratch out a life without falling prey to the gangs and the stims and the gunrunning and the thievery. He, as the oldest, had taken over his mother’s role after she disappeared following a civil war, and had raised the others as best he could. Yet he still saw his sister and one brother die at the hands of rival gangs. He had blamed himself for being weak and passive, and swore then he would never allow such weakness to interfere with his life. Or his plans.

The villa miseria was long gone, having been swept away by the massive asteroid-induced tidal surges that began the Dark Days. Many towns nearby had pulled through because their structures were newer and stronger than Ramallo’s. That was in no small part due to Ramallo not giving in to the corruption and gangs, and therefore not having the means or funds to improve their small village. And it had perished because of that. He had seen what power and influence could do, and what the lack thereof could lead to. And it had guided his life ever since.

He had the painting commissioned a few years before the Shanghai asteroid, and the artist had done a superb job of showing Ramallo in its finer days. The various colors of the rooftops were shown in beautiful contrast to the stark prefab units, with the sun gleaming over Rio Paraná in the background, and there were no signs of the ragged tents and corrugated metal shacks. The artist had signed the lower right corner without any flourish, just a simple “Ekaterina 2138.”

He brought it with him wherever he had gone, including the isolated and cold moon. But as he stared at it on the floor, he remembered the last few times it had fallen. Each time, it had preceded some disastrous downturn in his life, almost like the old wives’ tale of if you straighten a picture on a wall, someone close to you would die. He had always thought of that tale as absurdly negative, but this painting almost seemed to sense what was coming — whether it was the mining incident on Ganymede, the death of his wife Marianna in a car accident, the Poliahu mission Tevez had fouled up resulting in their self-imposed banishment to Luna, and others — so he had learned to listen to it.

He snorted as he stooped down to pick up the frame. Listen to a painting, he thought. I’m turning into an old woman.

***

Enjoy the genre, like the scene? Gabriel’s Revenge is now available for all e-book platforms. Get into the trilogy with book 1, Gabriel’s Redemption, and book 2, Gabriel’s Return. Thanks for stopping by!

Excerpt from Gabriel’s Revenge – Chasing the Station

January 27, 2012 Leave a comment

The Trilogy Concludes

“Closing, sir,” said Stirling. “Slowly but surely.”

McTiernan clenched at the armrests of his command chair, staring at the main wallscreen that showed the computer generated image of their course. The icon for the Marcinko was inexorably drawing closer to the icon representing the out of control skyhook station. The computer superimposed their courses, showing intersection in less than five minutes.

At this distance, they still were not able to visually see the cable itself. Being only sixteen inches in diameter, and matte black, they’d have to be right on top of it before even the long range visual sensors would catch a sniff of it. But the asteroid on the far end was in sight. And still moving.

“Lieutenant Commander, time to flipover,” he called out.

Vaillancourt answered without taking her eyes from her screen. “Ninety seconds, Captain.”

“Mister Giroux?”

The ensign held up a hand. “Captain, I’ve got…” He tapped at a few icons on his screen. “Four tugs. Three are projected to be where we need them to be, the fourth is going to be a bit behind. I’m having the computer redirect that one further up the trajectory. I’ve got calls into two more, but I don’t think they’ll make it in time.”

McTiernan looked at the main screen, where the computer had added the mining ship icons. He grimaced as he saw the tight window of opportunity. He felt the Marcinko straining at the max accel run, her engines’ thrum more of a roar. A distant corner of his mind played out the situation on two different paths. One where they caught the station, and one…

“Ensign, any word from the station itself?” he asked.

Giroux turned around, and McTiernan saw the sadness in the young man’s eyes. He knew the answer before Giroux even opened his mouth.

“Nothing, sir. No answer to comm, all channels. I don’t even know if it’s worth…”

“We have to try, Mister Giroux,” McTiernan said. “Even if the possibility is remote.”

“Aye sir,” Giroux replied and turned back to his screen.

“Five seconds to flipover. Engine cut off,” called Vaillancourt. The sound of the engines faded, and the bridge was left in silence as the Marcinko performed her end over end turn to begin the deceleration. McTiernan took a deep breath as the pressure in his chest ceased and the bridge went back into weightlessness.

“Captain!”

McTiernan looked away from the main screen towards LaFuente, who was excitedly signaling from his Sensor station. He waved for him to continue.

“Sir, I picked up one of the skyhook cars. It appears intact!”

He squeezed his armrest hard enough to feel the plastic underneath buckle. Maybe…

“Put it up on the screen, max resolution.”

The wallscreen changed from the course trajectory plot to a grainy video image. Mars’s shadowy outline appeared on the left third of the screen, just a sliver of red showing as the sun set across the planet. The computer outlined the skyhook car location in blue. The car wasn’t visible.

“Mister LaFuente, can’t you get it any closer?”

“Trying, sir,” the young man said, tapping furiously at his screen.

McTiernan squinted, trying in vain to make the image clear up. Suddenly the screen flickered and the skyhook car came into view.

“Got it, sir! I messed with the algorithms, and…”

The seaman’s voice trailed off as he looked up to the screen. McTiernan’s heart caught in his throat as he stared at the image.

The skyhook car, a boxy structure slightly larger than a standard ship-to-surface shuttle, was tumbling, and to the bridge crew’s horror, was entering Mars’s thin upper atmosphere. Pieces of the car were breaking off and bursting into pinpoints of light. Now that the image had cleared up, it showed the car itself starting to glow around its edges as it rolled slowly.

“Sir, can we…” Giroux began.

“No,” McTiernan said. He surprised himself with the sadness and resignation in his voice. “It’s too late. God rest the souls of anyone in that car.”

Several moments of silence passed as the crew watched the skyhook car tumble and break apart. With one last burst of light, the car disappeared from the image.

Vaillancourt cleared her throat. “Sir,” she said in a low voice.

McTiernan gritted his teeth. He knew those cars could hold a hundred people or more. People with families, children, people heading off planet on vacation. A hundred people…

He pulled his eyes away from the screen. “Yes, Karlyn.”

“Sir, ten seconds to decel.”

He nodded. “Very well. Mister Stirling, have the battlecomp shut down all active jammers and stealth systems. No need to sneak up at this point.”

Stirling acknowledged the order, and Vaillancourt began her countdown. The main screen switched back to the trajectory plot and McTiernan unconsciously cinched his belt tighter. He fought to push the image of the tumbling skyhook car from his mind. It was replaced by thoughts of what it must be like on the station as it headed away from Mars.

He squeezed his eyes shut as the Marcinko lit her main engines for the decel, and the pressure returned.

***

Enjoy the genre, like the scene? Gabriel’s Revenge is now available for all e-book platforms. Get into the trilogy with book 1, Gabriel’s Redemption, and book 2, Gabriel’s Return. Thanks for stopping by!

Excerpt from Gabriel’s Revenge – Renay in Trouble

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

The Trilogy Concludes

The cot creaked again as Renay shifted her weight. Her arm was now throbbing almost as much as her head. After the tube ride, the next thing she remembered was this room, now, and she wracked her brain to try to figure out the timeline and which tube they took her through. Arsia Mons had four, each leading to other domes with their own branches, so any guesswork was just that: guesswork.

She reached out to the table and gave it a tug. It was firmly fastened to the wall. However, of the four support legs beneath it, one wobbled a bit as she pulled. With a glance up at the now-invisible A/V bug, she got up off the cot and positioned herself between the bug and the table, and sat down on the floor. She made a show of stretching her good arm up and over her shoulder, grabbing onto the edge of the table that was behind her head. She grunted with the effort, hoping the person or persons watching would assume she was working out kinks. She raised one leg at a time, alternating, as if to stretch her hamstrings.

She turned her body slightly, and reached behind her lower back with her wounded arm. The pain shot through her like a laser, and she felt the bandages stretch. Wetness ran down her arm as she pulled at the loose table leg, all the while shielding her actions from the bug. After a few pulls back and forth, the leg came free, and she gasped with the effort. She slid the thin piece of metal down the back of her pants, down her left leg, leaving just an inch above her waistband.

She released the table with her other hand and stood up carefully, not wanting to injure herself further by slicing open her femoral artery with a jagged table leg. The end of the leg ran down to just above the back of her knee, so she could still walk normally, but sitting down on the cot could be challenging.

She walked over to the corner of the dark room where the A/V bug was stashed. Pressing her hand against the soaked bandages, she looked up into the corner.

Oye, banditos,” she called in her best accent. “Ayuda me. Mi brazo está sangrando.” She hoped that meant her arm was bleeding. With her neuretics offline, she now realized how much she relied on them. There was only so much she was able to pull from high school Spanish.

A few seconds passed with no response. She tried a different approach.

“Please,” she said in a weak voice. “My arm is bleeding badly. I need some help.” She started to cry, sniffling loud enough for the bug to pick up, she hoped.

A few more seconds passed, then the light came on. She blinked away her fake tears.

“Move to bed!” the voice commanded.

She obeyed, walking backwards with her head down, keeping the table leg out of sight. As she reached the cot, the door hissed open and red light spilled in, framing a large man in the doorway.

“Hurt?” he said.

She nodded, biting her lower lip. “My arm is hurt bad, I need a doctor.” She pointed to the bloody bandage covering her upper arm.

The man hesitated, looking over his shoulder for a brief second, then back to Renay. He seemed to come to a reluctant decision.

“I fix,” he said, and stepped into the room.

Renay sprang towards him. She pulled the table leg from her pants and swung it over her head in one smooth motion. The metal rod caught the large man over his right eye and he grunted in pain. He went down on one knee, holding up his arm.

She pulled the table leg back and swung again, this time sideways. The rod smashed into the man’s temple, and he dropped to the floor soundlessly.

She didn’t waste any time, knowing the entire scene had just played out on a video monitor somewhere. She stepped over the man’s unconscious form and into the doorway.

A hallway extended in both directions with no other doors in sight. Ruby-lensed lightstrips illuminated the corridor in a bloody glow. She heard a voice from one end of the hallway, so she padded across the threshold of the doorway and started running in the other direction, still clutching the table leg.

After a few dozen feet the corridor floor started to curve upwards, like an underground tunnel, but before her amped-up brain could process the information, a bolt of electricity shot through her system. Her already-frazzled nervous system was overwhelmed with the charge and she dropped to the floor. The table leg clanged on the metal decking. The last thing she saw before fading were the guard’s worn brown shoes in front of her eyes.

***

Enjoy the genre, like the scene? Gabriel’s Revenge is now available for all e-book platforms. Get into the trilogy with book 1, Gabriel’s Redemption, and book 2, Gabriel’s Return. Thanks for stopping by!

Great experience with my wife this morning (a non-salacious blog post, seriously)

January 10, 2012 9 comments

I had a very cool experience with my wife this morning. NO, you dirty minds. Get that out of your head. I’m married…

Here’s the history: A year ago at this time, I was researching self-publishing after wrapping up final edits on a little story called Gabriel’s Redemption. Just testing the waters to see if it was worth doing. I said what the hey, can’t hurt, so on February 2nd, it went live on Amazon. It garnered some nice reviews, but after an initial burst of sales, kind of languished in mediocrity – making just enough to cover the wine bill every now and then.

Six months later, the sequel Gabriel’s Return was published. I did a blog tour with some great friends, tried to spread the word as best I could, and saw some success. But in October, sales really took off (don’t ask me why; I wish there was a simple answer, because I’d keep doing it) and I had my best month to date. As a matter of fact, my sales in October were more than the previous 8 months combined. By this time I was well into writing the trilogy finale, Gabriel’s Revenge, which would end up hitting the virtual shelves just a few days before Christmas.

Where am I going with this? No, not a self-congratulatory verbal hemorrhage. I am loathe to give out sales numbers. Something more personal, more satisfying.

Back to the beginning, my very cool experience this morning. Those of you who publish through Amazon KDP know that the royalty check arrives two months after the close of the calendar month. So a few days ago, a check arrived for my October book sales. And I did something I never thought I’d be able to do, in my wildest dreams.

I paid off all of our Christmas gifts.

Like many others, we buy on credit cards, pay off the following month (I’m also loathe to carry a balance). And like many others, we’re last-minute shoppers, so most of the purchases were in the billing cycle that is due this month. This morning, I handed my wife an envelope of cash that pays off all of our gift purchases.

Sounds strange, I know, but I can’t even describe how satisfying and rewarding that felt. Knowing that I’ve made a few bucks over and above the day job, doing something I really love, and was able to give the kids and family presents that were paid for by my writing.

And maybe the best part? I still love what I’m doing. Second best part? November and December were even better than October…