Recruit_cover_final

I am a retired Marine colonel now a full-time writer living and working in Nevada. I was born in Oakland, CA, but have lived throughout the US and the world, and have traveled to over 100 countries. My undergraduate degree was earned at the U. S. Naval Academy (Class of 1979), and I have attended graduate school at U. S. International University and the University of California, San Diego, earning a masters and doctorate. I am a lifetime member of the Disabled American Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the US. Naval Academy Alumni Association, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

I have rather eclectic tastes. I have won awards in photography, cooking, and several sports, earning national championships in rugby and equestrian events. I love reading, writing, exercise, cooking, travel, and photography. I published my first work back in 1978, a so-so short story titled "Secession." Since then, I have been published in newspapers, magazines, and in book format in fiction, political science, business, military, sports, race relations, and personal relations fields. I write because I love it. I only hope that others might read my work and get a bit of enjoyment or useful information out of my efforts. If you would like to join my email list and find out about new books or promotions, please sign up at http://eepurl.com/bnFSHH.

The United Federation Marine Corps Book 1: Recruit by Jonathan P. Brazee

Desperate to escape a life of poverty on his desolate home planet, Ryck Lysander enlists in the United Federation Marine Corps, hoping to make a better future for himself. However, Ryck soon discovers that the Corps is more than a means of escaping his former life as he is pushed beyond the very limits of his strength and willpower.

From bootcamp brawls to skirmishes with galactic pirates, Ryck's new life presents him with unimaginable adventures and forces him to prove his mettle as he forges his new identity and fights to earn his place as one of the Brotherhood of Marines.

 

REVIEWS

  • "Hey Colonel, I read your Recruit. It's not a half-bad book!"

    – Jerry Pournelle
  • "An Excellent book that creates a universe and character ripe for expansion. The combat scenes are good the build-up, explanations the military lifestyle are all written by someone who has been there and will instantly be recognised as such by those who have been in the field of arms. I whole heartedly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good modern combat scifi novel."

    – Arte et Marte.
  • "This is a really great series. The combat scenes are fast paced, exciting, and realistic. As you follow the characters through their careers, they struggle like real people. You'll find yourself really connected to the characters and engrossed in the story."

    – Amazon Review
  • "I cannot recommend this high enough. I was really glad I picked this up and enjoyed the following books even more."

    – Amazon Review
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

"Team B, pass through C, but keep it tight," the lieutenant's voice came over the platoon circuit.

"Team B" was the assault element, the bulk of it made up from First and Second Platoons. Third Platoon was the security element, Weapons and the attachments the support element. The support element's job was to make the initial crossing to the Robin and secure the breaching chamber. The security element's mission was to breach the ship, then secure the breach. The assault element would immediately follow, pass through Third, and rush to take out any pirates and secure the captives. Speed was of an essence.

"Assault, assault, assault," the Marines of the assault element muttered as they shuffled through the line of security element Marines. The movement was complicated even further by the Stork and the Aidelaide's two shuttles filling the hanger deck. The Marines shuffled to the far bulkhead and stopped, still facing outwards.

"This has got to be quicker," the first sergeant broke in on the company circuit. "Much quicker. If we are too slow, those fuckers will smoke check each and every captive."

"You heard him," Capt Light Chaser's unique voice cut in. "Element leaders, get them back and go through this again. Time's getting short, and we could get the go ahead any minute now."

The company had given out the op order in record time, and the Marines had gotten suited up and were ready to go within an hour. Staged in the hanger bay, the company commander had started rehearsals. Walking around in the bay was a far cry from actually flying through space and breaching a hostile ship, but Ryck had to admit that it still helped.

Because of the imminent threat to the captives, a decision had been made to conduct the assault in bubble space. This was highly unusual and extremely risky. Normally, a vessel would be tracked through bubble space, then taken when both ships emerged back into real space. However, once they were in real space, at distances close enough to board, the Adelaide's presence would be extremely difficult to mask, and with any warning, the SOG could massacre their prisoners. So it had to be surprise. The SOG would not be expecting it, and their first indication that something was up would be when the breach was made. The fact that a ship takedown could even be accomplished in bubble space was something kept under wraps. Some rumors had leaked out, of course, over the years, but the Naval Civil Information Service had counter-propaganda employed to make those rumors seem ridiculous.

They had been putting on their EVA suits when the word was passed that the Robin's spoor had been acquired, and a cheer had echoed throughout the armory. EVA suits were custom made for each Marine, and one of CWO2 Slyth's primary missions in life was to make sure the suits were continually adjusted to keep the fit right. Ryck had just gone through his standard 30-day check two days before they had pulled into Vegas, so his was pretty much right on. But the chief warrant officer, his gunny, and his two sergeants had been pinging back and forth in the crowded armory, taking readings and making last-minute adjustments. Ryck had gotten out of there as soon as he got his OK and made his way to the hanger deck.

Normally, the bay was pressurized, with the Stork and the shuttles passing through a magelectro field. However, with speed as a priority, the only way to get so many Marines and sailors out into flight was through the hanger bay doors. The ship's two airlocks just couldn't cycle the assault force quick enough. And with the shielding of the EVA suits not sturdy enough to fend off the field, it had to be turned off. So the hanger bay was open to bubble space. The Navy deck crew, the assault force, and the Navy prize crew were all suited up, ready to step out the door.

Ryck couldn't help glancing out the huge doors. No stars were visible, of course. There was only a murky, greenish glow. Like every single sailor and Marine there, he knew that no matter what happened, he had to stay within the glow. Drift out, and he would be lost in the emptiness of space, probably lost for good. He didn't have the luck of Derek Housa, a Legionnaire who had gotten thrown out of bubble space, only to be picked up by an ore miner who happened to read his distress beacon, something that had to be a million-to-one shot. Ryck had seen the flick about that when it had come out a few years ago, and the scenes of the Legionnaire floating around all alone in the vastness of space still gave him the heebies.

The Robin was not in view yet, either. As soon as it was, the assault would be launched. The Navy bridge crew would be maneuvering the ship closer to the Robin, then if they were successful at that, the external projector pods would be extended, effectively spreading the bubble. The pods would move towards the Robin, eventually enveloping it, where like two bubbles in a bath, they would merge.

This was the most difficult part of the mission from a technological standpoint. Ryck had heard the process likened to balancing a maglev car on a string of straws, one straw jammed in another until the car was a kilometer in the air. The cybos might weird Ryck out when he saw them out and about the ship, but he wished them well as they tweaked and shifted the pods, more by feel than any hard and set calculations.

Ryck shuffled with the other Marines back to the far side of the bay for another rehearsal. The ship had stopped its rotation in preparation for the assault. Having centripetal force as they exited the hanger was not a good idea. The ship had rotated so the hanger faced the expected direction of where the Robin would be, then stopped. With no gravity in the hanger, which unlike the bridge and many of the other spaces had no artificial gravity, the Marines and sailors shuffled their feet to keep in contact. It was considered poor form to have to turn on the EVA's jets to get back into place.

Ryck had just gotten back to his starting point when a voice came over the circuit, "Look, there she is."

Ryck looked out the bay doors, and off in the distance, the Robin was appearing as if through a mist. She was nothing out of the ordinary. Like all bubble ships, she was round. A ship did not have to be round to project a bubble, but the shape was far more efficient, and it took far less power to keep the bubble formed around a sphere than any other form. Inside the greenish light of the bubble, she took on a somewhat eerie tone. This appearance was why some people referred to a ship travelling through bubble space as "ghosting."

As expected, the ship was not under rotation. Pirates usually kept captured ships in null G as it kept more passengers uncertain and unwilling to resist.

"Element leaders, get your men in place. Stand by for the go," Capt Light Chaser passed."

"All hands, this is Major Paulen. Do us proud. It's time to earn your big paychecks."

Ryck knew the major had to be chomping at his bit. He would be coming over with the Navy prize team, the sailors necessary to run the Robin and affect any required repairs. This would be Captain Light Chaser's assault, and the major had stepped back to allow it, but he had to have been tempted to take the assault himself.

The hanger crew moved into position. They had their own EVA suits, unlike the prize team who were in standard suits. The two officers had their suits shifted to yellow, the enlisted to green. Ryck had thought the colors a bit odd at first, but with all the men in the hanger, it really did help to sort things out.

The support element got to the front of the open doors. Two Marines had their hands on each of the four breaching chambers, ready to fly them across to the Robin. The other Marines in the team flanked them. Directly behind them, the security element was lined up. They would actually enter the breach and hold it for the assault element to exploit. Ryck took his place behind them, about two meters from the edge of the door. Two meters from open bubble space.

Between the Marines in front of him, Ryck could see the Robin looming larger. It was difficult to tell in space, but it couldn't be more than a couple of hundred meters away. That thought alone was mind-boggling. Both ships were hurtling through bubble space, covering light years in real space, yet they were just meters apart. Real space speed meant nothing.

Ryck felt his excitement rise. This would be his first EVA since the near-disaster during recruit training. He popped his M99 free, checked it, and popped it back into the holster.

Suddenly, the yellow-suited deck officer wheeled and pointed out the doors. For some inexplicable reason, he could not talk on the Marine circuits. The Navy working and Marine tactical circuits were incompatible. The Marines knew the signal, of course, and the first rank stepped off and started flying.

Thousand one, thousand two, thousand three, thousand four Ryck counted in his mind. On "four," the next rank stepped off.

Now was the wait. If all went well, the breaching teams could set up and breach the ship within 30 seconds after reaching it. The breaching chambers were adjusted to their shortest length as they were not going to be acting as airlocks. They would be opening the ship up to space.

The security element was given another 30 seconds to secure the breached rooms. The breaching points had been selected compromising between where the air loss would be minimal and where the assaulting Marines could quickly reach where captives were probably be being kept.

At 60 seconds, the assault element would be arriving at each of the four points, ready to dive through the breaches. As the assault element arrived, the breaches would be closed off, extended, then converted to air locks for the follow-on forces.

It was a long, long minute until the deck officer wound up and sent them on their way. Ryck stepped off into space. Ryck was on the left flank of the assault element's line, with only T-Rex outside of him. They would be flying to breach "Tennison." Inside bubble space, it was almost impossible to tell exactly where the bubble "skin" was. It sort of swirled and shimmered, defying comprehension. From what they'd been taught, a person wouldn't know that he had reached the bubble until he was out of it and injected back into real space. Ryck kept glancing towards his left. He figured, though, that if they were drifting too close, Hu would disappear first.

Up ahead of him, the breaching teams had already reached the ship and attached the chambers. With that, the pirates would realize that something was up. This was real, now. Ryck flew on, keeping in formation with the others. What the captain didn't want was to have everyone bunching up at the ship. The four breaches were the bottleneck, and he didn't want confusion to take over.

Ryck was getting closer when the security team around Tennison started to dive into the chamber. They would be reporting back what they found, but that was not on the general assault element circuit. If there was something Ryck needed to know, he would be told.

Ryck glanced over at the other two breaches that were within his view, the fourth being behind the curve of the ship and out of sight. Marines were already inside at "Jakarta," but at "Capetown," there seemed to be a problem, with the security team still outside while the assault element was arriving.

"Team Tennison, get ready to enter. Security has cleared the immediate entry. Stick to the plan and move forward into the passageway. There are two enemy KIA and one rescued hostage," Sgt Piccalo-Tensing passed over the team circuit.

Ryck was running pretty true, and it took only a few minor jets to correct his aim and slow down in order to get into his position in line for entry. He looked down at the telltale on his left gauntlet. Unlike the team leaders who had the positions projected onto their faceshields, just as with the PICS, the riflemen had only repeaters on the flexible patch screen that most wore on their forward shooting arm. It wasn't as detailed as those for the leaders, but it did indicate friendlies. Ryck could see the security team icons as they moved into position within the ship.

Quicker than expected, Ryck approached the ship. He fired two quick jets to slow his approach and took care not to jostle anyone else, sending them tumbling, but he had to keep on the ass of Wan as they dove through the chamber. He crashed into the lance corporal inside the ship as they hit the deck, but Wan was up and moving within seconds. Ryck grabbed his M99 and got his feet under him, pushing forward to the far hatch, just where he'd been briefed it would be. He took in the two dead men, both in various degrees of undress. With their skin exposed to the cold touch of space, it was easy to see where they both had been stitched by the security team's M99s. A naked woman was inside a zip-lock, the clear, flexible emergency pouch that could keep someone alive in the vacuum of space for up to 20 minutes. She was hyperventilating, and a Marine, or probably Doc Stanton, the corpsman with the security element, was with her, trying to calm her down.

Ryck took all that in during the few seconds it took him to cross the compartment, go through the next hatch, down one deck, and turn left to his assigned position. He crouched there, weapon at the ready, waiting for the order to move. The ship's emergency reaction AI had closed off the passages as soon as the breach was made, so no air was rushing out. Gravity was gone, but nothing was trying to push the Marines back out into space. No move would be made to breach the closed hatch 10 meters down the passage until the breaching chamber closed off the initial entry and became a working airlock. Ryck silently counted down the time. The plan was that all the security and assault elements would board the Robin within 90 seconds.

Ryck knew his count would be off, given that he'd been diving through and moving during part of it, but the order came to move out when he hit 82 seconds. They were all in the ship and could advance.

Cpl Pallas was up and moving almost before the order was completed. Wan, T-Rex, and Ryck were hot on his tail and they rushed to the hatch in front of them. They were to breach it, then make for a berthing space on the other side while Smitty's team moved on to the ship's passenger galley another 10 meters down. Their sense of urgency was heightened. The necessity for speed had been shoved down their throats while they waited.

T-Rex placed a toad on the edge of the hatch where the locking mechanism hid. The toad was a small, soft, greenish lump that could stick on just about anything. EVA gauntlets or special employment gloves for planetary use were treated to be able to handle them, but as soon as they touched almost anything else, they stuck to it. There was a three-second fuse in each toad, the only solid component to the little explosive, that gave the user a very short time to move back. Toads, or the "E-559 Self-contained Slow Breaching Device," burned more than they actually exploded and could be used in a vacuum or in breathable air. They carried their own supply of oxygen with them, suspended in the combustible material, and could burn through almost any material.

"Fire in the hole!" T-Rex shouted, pushing back.

The toad hissed, then started its burn, the EVA suit visors instantly compensating for the flare. The hatch broke free, and T-Rex gave it a kick, sending it open. Immediately, a burst of fire came back at them, one round, at least, pinging off Ryck's shoulder. As it was not an explosive, the toad only opened and did not clear what was on the other side.

EVA suits could take some punishment, but they were not PICS, nor even bones, although they did give 100% coverage. A high powered weapon would go right through it, and even a lucky shot from small arms could find an opening. All four Marines returned fire en masse, not even fully aware of the target, trusting the very nature of a ship's passageway to focus their rounds.

"Cease fire," Sparta ordered after a good 100 or more rounds were sent down the passage.

Ryck peered ahead. On the other side, a figure writhed suspended above the deck. He had an old M-8 alongside him, but he wasn't paying it any attention. Unlike a typical pirate, he was wearing body armor, or at least a hodgepodge of armor plating, and from the looks of it, the old Proskov carapace he had on had protected him from the Marines' M99s. The only problem was that he had only the torso carapace and a helmet that Ryck didn't even recognize. He had nothing on his arms or legs, and they were torn up pretty bad. One arm was almost gone, and he kept trying to sort of push it back into place with the other.

The four Marines rushed up to him with Wan kicking away his M-8. Ryck automatically started to reach for some ties to secure the man when T-Rex reached forward and pulled up on the man's helmet. He looked like a flick pirate with his unshaven, ratty face. Central casting could not have done better. He looked up at T-Rex and raised his good, or at least not as bad arm, in surrender.

T-Rex calmly put the M99 against the man's forehead and pulled the trigger.

Ryck had almost forgotten. With SOG, there were no prisoners. This went against everything they had been taught since T3 back at recruit training. Ryck didn't like it. They were supposed to be the good guys, the ones upholding law and order. But he understood the orders and would comply if put in that situation. He just hoped he wouldn't have to.

The pirate's body floated back, blood making a string of small globes that were surprisingly beautiful. The little red planets kept going for another two meters before suddenly falling and splattering on the deck to pool there.

With a clear view on where the artificial gravity was working again, the four Marines twisted around so they could land on their feet as they hit that section. Ryck took a moment to glance at his telltale. Smitty's team and already branched off, and Cpl Julio's team was in trace, ready to exploit that mission, which was the point of main effort for this section of the ship as the most logical place for captives to be held. Ryck knew that Sparta would be in pretty constant comms with Sgt PT, SSgt England, and the lieutenant, but too many on the net confused things, so Wan, T-Rex, and he were off the circuit. The comms AI would kick in if Sparta's comms went down for any reason, or if the AIs or the command decided they needed to be brought in. On one hand, Ryck was glad of that. He could focus on his mission, and focus on the other three Marines in his team. On the other hand, he wished he knew what else was going on in the assault. Were the pirates killing the captives? Were they fighting back? Not like the lone pirate T-Rex had blown away, but with any semblance of tactics?

With gravity again, the four Marines rushed forward and were at the berthing hatch within moments. T-Rex reached forward and gently pushed on the entry switch. To all of their surprise, the door rose with a rush. It took all of them a split second to realize that they would not have to breach into the space. Sparta and Wan rushed in first, followed by T-Rex and Ryck. Sparta and Wan split to each side, getting down low while Ryck and T-Rex went in high.

The space was chaos. The bunks were all deployed. This was Berthing 4-19, one of the two male third-class berthing spaces. The bunks folded up and were retracted into the overhead during waking hours. This left space for the passengers to relax, watch flicks, read, or whatever. During sleep hours, all or some of the berths would be lowered, three bunks to a column. With the bunks deployed, there was only a narrow passage between the bunks, a small common area, and a hatch to the heads.

From the main hatch, the passage was twice as wide as those between the bunks, and it lead right to the common area. The first thing Ryck saw was the body of a man, hands tied behind him and a blindfold over his head, lying on his side. The blood pooling under his head did not bode well for his condition.

Ryck jumped when someone, or something, slammed into his legs. He swung his weapon around, ready to blast, barely holding back when the hands tied behind the man's back and the blindfold that had fallen to around his neck registered. The man looked up in resigned despair, a look which slowly shifted as he took Ryck in.

"Help me!" the man shouted, wiggling out from between the bunks and scooting in back of Ryck.

Wan was just in front of Ryck, and when the man appeared, he turned back. He and Ryck caught each other's eyes, then hunkered down in unison, looking for the reason the man was asking for help. In front of them, cursing as he struggled to get through the bunks, was an armed, armored man. He fell between the bunks with a thud, only one bunk's width away from the two Marines. He started forward again, only then seeing that it wasn't his target in front of him, but two Federation Marines. With a curse, he struggled to bring up his Freelancer, the muzzle catching on the bunk in front of him.

With him prone like that, not much of what was facing the two Marines was unprotected. Except for his neck. If he'd been standing upright, his neck would have been protected by his armor. However, on his belly, under his visor, there was a gap. Ryck and Wan opened up on that gap. At a meter or so, there was no way they could miss.

The man's armor was pretty good quality, from the look of it. It wasn't Federation-made, but then, pirates didn't recognize borders. Being well made, it could stop a dart. From the outside, as designed, but also from the inside. The two Marines each put several darts into the man's neck where they ricocheted back and forth inside the armor, slicing him to ribbons. He simply collapsed like a deflating balloon.

"To your right!" shouted Sparta, the circuit compensators bringing his volume down a few decibels before the two Marines heard it over their helmet speakers.

The command was not very exact, and he hadn't addressed it to anyone in particular, but both Wan and Ryck reacted, ignoring the still-tied captive as they rushed forward to a passage, then tried to force their EVA suits through it. The suits were not particularly bulky, but what they added made pushing through the bunks difficult. As they swung to the right, they flanked a pirate who was holding a man in front of him, an unrecognizable handgun of some sort to the man's head. Like the other two pirates, he also had on armor. This was out of the ordinary. From pirate culture, armor was considered coward's gear. In the flicks, pirates thought that armor was not manly. Fiction or not, flicks impacted opinion, and pirates tended to ape what was shown.

Unlike modern Federation personnel armor, which tended to be flexible plates that were attached to or inserted inside of clothing, all three pirates had outer shells. That didn't mean the armor was not effective. All that meant was that they probably acquired it outside of Federation space.

The pirate to their left had what looked to be newer armor, but either he didn't have a helmet or hadn't a chance to put it on before the four Marines burst the space. His clean-shaven face and perfectly-groomed blonde hair gave him a look far different from that of the first pirate, an indication that this group was multi-cultural.

As Ryck and Wan arrived, the man spun first towards them, then back towards Sparta and T-Rex, who had their weapons trained on him.

"Stop, or . . . " he began.

"Or" what, the Marines could guess, but never know for sure as Wan calmly put a couple of darts over the shoulder of the captive passenger and into the pirate's handsome blonde head. The tiny turn the pirate made back to Sparta and T-Rex gave the lance corporal all the opening he needed.

The captive stood still as the pirate fell back. He slowly turned around, hands still tied behind him, and stared at the dead man for a moment before taking a step forward and leveling a powerful kick at the corpse's head.

"There's three more," he said matter-of-factly to the four Marines.

"Wan, did you get anyone else?" Sparta asked.

"One down," Wan replied.

"Where are the others?" Sparta asked, his external speakers broadcasting his voice into the compartment so any captives could hear.

It was only then that Ryck really noticed the other four bodies on the deck, all with their hands tied, all executed. He hadn't been able to see them from the front hatch, and his attention had been on the pirate when they'd gotten up there.

"Over here!" a voice shouted out from within the deployed bunks to their left. "There's one of them here!"

A heavy report sounded out from that direction, followed by a cry of pain and sounds of somebody crashing around the bunks. At the same time, a finger of lightning reached out from between the bunks to their right, splashing across Sparta's EVA suit.

Someone had a plasma weapon over there, but this was a case where the EVA suits had an advantage over skins and bones. All the plasma had to do was to touch open skin, and it would essentially short-circuit the body's nervous system. It acted like it had a life of its own when it stuck, seeking out the ground through a living body. It could be devastating to Marines in just their standard combat armor. To an EVA suit, though, it had no effect.

The crewman they'd just saved dropped to the ground, whether kissed by the plasma or not, Ryck couldn't take the time to check as he and Wan instinctively spun towards the sounds on the other side of the space. They split on each side of a line of bunks, then sprinted forward, trusting the other two Marines to take out the plasma pirate.

The berthing space was not really that big. Any hanger was much larger. But with the bunks deployed and blocking the view, it seemed pretty vast. Ryck tried to keep abreast with Wan, glancing through the bunks to keep even with him. Blood covered the deck about eight or nine bunks down from the common area. Ryck took a quick glance at the bottom bunk where a man had dragged himself. A huge chunk of the man's side was simply gone. The man was struggling to breath, and Ryck knew he needed medical care ASAP.

"One friendly WIA, needs immediate care," he hit on the medical circuit, knowing the AI would add Ryck's position.

That was about all he could do for the man at the moment. A sudden boom sounded, and the rack between Wan and him simply exploded. The concussion hit Ryck, actually pushing him aside a few centimeters.

"What the hump was that?" Wan asked on Ryck's direct circuit as both Marines hit the deck.

Even though the EVA suits were not particularly bulky, they were not made for crawling around under gravity. The helmet's design made looking forward while prone difficult, and the power packs, thrusters, and oxi cells added bulk to the back. Ryck wished they had stopped to get out of the EVA suits and into skins and bones after the breach, but with the time crunch, EVA suits in the attack it was.

Another blast sounded over them, raining bits of bunks down like dirty snow. Whatever the pirate had for a weapon, it was pretty big.

"He's heading for the front hatch!" Wan said. "We've got to stop him before he gets there."

"Cpl Pallas, can you cut this guy off? He's trying to get out the front," Wan passed on the team circuit.

"Negative, Wan. We've got our hands full here. You two take him," Sparta responded.

Wan glanced over at Ryck across the bottom rack that separated the two of them and said, "You heard the man. I don't know what the hump that bastard's got with him for sure, but I think it's like our bunker buster. Whatever it is, we can't let him get away. I want you to flank him. On three, you scoot through these racks, keeping your ass low. I'm gonna get up, hit the bulkhead up ahead, and rush the arsehole. Iffen you get a shot, take him out while he's glommed onto me."

"Oh, man! You sure? Maybe we both need to rush him, so he has to choose a target, you know, confuse him until we light him up," Ryck said.

"Nah, this is the way it's gonna be. Iffen what he has is a bunker buster, you know the range is limited, and it's about as accurate as throwing rotten apples. And you know the Wan man. I can move it. I'll be juking and jiving, so no way he hits me. You just be sure to nail him."

He slowly reached up and hit the helmet release. There was a hiss as the slight overpressure inside the suit puffed out into the ship. He lifted the helmet up and placed it on the deck, detaching the comms buds and sliding them into his ears. This was against policy. If the ship suffered a catastrophic breach, Wan would have only seconds to find a pressurized space.

He shrugged at Ryck's questioning look and whispered, "Gotta be loose and light, you know."

He held up his hand, then counted down three, two, one with his fingers. On one, he stood up and rushed forward to the compartment bulkhead, five more bunk-lengths ahead. At the same time, Ryck turned to dive over the bottom rack next to him. After clearing it, he gathered his feet to dive over the next one. He barely noticed another body as he passed it. At least the guy hadn't died like a sheep at the slaughter. He'd tried to get away.

Just as he cleared the third rack, a huge boom sounded, and flames shot down the passage along the bulkhead. That pinpointed the pirate for him. He was just on the other side of the next line of bunks. Ryck slid over the next bunk and looked up.

The pirate standing in front of him was not in some hodgepodge body armor. He was fully protected with black, interlaced, external plates that looked like ceramosteel. Ryck didn't recognize the actual make, but it was doubtful that is was Federated or Brotherhood-made.

There were two main trains of thought on body armor. The Federation went with flexible inserts that reacted within a split instant upon impact, hardening to stop a projectile before reverting back to its original state. The armor was far more comfortable than plate armor and was better at stopping solid projectiles. Plate armor, on the other hand, relied on sandwiched materials that were strong enough to withstand modern projectiles. The PICSs relied on plate armor, but they were big enough and powerful enough to carry pretty heavy plates. It was easier to make plate armor, and it didn't have to be custom made for each soldier. It was actually better for protection against some energy weapons. However, it was bulky and heavy, and even with exoskeletal assists, it limited mobility.

The armor was the first thing Ryck noticed. The second thing was the stubby tube-like weapon the pirate was holding. Wan was probably correct in that it was the pirate version of the Marine's M-77 Bunker Buster. The bunker buster was designed to break or penetrate hardened targets. It sent a focused energy "shell-less shell" that would shoot forward and either re-focus that energy into a shape charge or simply explode in a blast ring. Due to the physics of energy dissipation, it had a very limited range of about 5 meters with a huge drop off in effectiveness beyond that. Within 5 meters, not much could withstand its power. It could even take out a Davis from point-blank range. Due to its power, it was almost never used aboard a ship. It could easily rupture the ship's skin, opening it up to vacuum.

Evidently the pirate was not too concerned about that. They were only a deck away from the skin of the ship, but that was far enough, along with whatever was between the weapon and the ship's skin, to keep the pirate from creating the rupture.

Bunker busters were not made for man-to-man fighting. The weapon was not very accurate, and there was a considerable re-charge time. The Marine Corps M-77, for example, carried six charges in a load, and each one took approximately 12 seconds to cycle and recharge. That was fine when taking on a hardened target, but not so fine when the shooter's target was men who were attacking him.

The pirate was looking down the passage alongside the bulkhead. Even in with the pirate in his armor, Ryck could see that he was focused on something, yet he was not scrambling to either move or fire again. The only conclusion Ryck had was that Wan had been hit.

Ryck didn't know how much time he had before the pirate's weapon would be re-charged. Just because the Marine Corps weapon needed 12 seconds didn't mean that the pirate's was the same. Instinct took over. He knew time would be tight, so he got to his feet and started charging the pirate, M-99 on full auto. He could see the impacts of the darts on the pirate's armor as they ricocheted off without effect. Ryck needed something heavier, but as the assault element with speed of an essence, they had gone in light. T-Rex had an M-72 on his back, and that might be able to knock out the pirate, but T-Rex was otherwise engaged.

Ryck kept charging as the pirate swung ponderously around to see who was attacking him. Ryck couldn't see the man in back of the dark helmet visor, but he kept pumping out rounds in hopes that one would find a crease or weak spot in the man's armor.

The pirate brought up his weapon, aiming from the hip, the 20-centimeter barrel looking huge as it pointed at him. For a moment, Ryck thought he'd be able to reach him before he fired, physically tackling the man. Just a step away, the weapon went off, a flash of light blinding Ryck as something struck him hard along his right side. He wasn't even aware of being thrown back, of his right arm and two fingers of his left hand being turned to hamburger. He wasn't aware of when his EVA, acting on the breach, closed the torn sleeve and gauntlet, slicing away the mangled flesh that used to be his right arm and left fingertips. The EVA didn't care if it was in a vacuum or on a pressurized ship. If the suit was breached, it acted to seal the breach and keep integrity.

A sense of lassitude crept over him as drugs were injected into his body, drugs meant to calm him and slow down his respirations. In space, this made sense, lowering a Marine's oxygen intake until someone could rescue him.

He looked up to see the black armored creature approach him. The huge dragon stood over him, ready to breath fire again. He settled back to watch the show, but something wouldn't let him relax.

NO!

He fought the pull into the cottony dreamland. That was not a dragon. That was a pirate, a man just waiting until his weapon cycled before he would end Ryck's life. Ryck had to do something. He tried to push back, to get away, but he barely moved a few centimeters before the pirate stepped forward, foot on Ryck's leg, holding him in place.

The pirate held up his weapon, looking at something, probably a gauge that would indicate when the thing was charged. Ryck reached out to grab his M-99, but there was nothing with which to reach. It was only then that he realized his right arm was gone. Surprisingly, that didn't bother him. He knew it should, but he just brushed it off. Those had to be some pretty good drugs.

Ryck was at a loss. Would T-Rex come charging in, M-77 ablazing to save the day? Or would the fire from the pirate snuff out Ryck's life.

Fire. T-Rex. What was the connection?

Then it hit him. As the pirate stared at his weapon's display, waiting, Ryck reached with his left hand to his hip magazine. He flipped it open and reached inside. Something was off with his touch, how his hand was working, but he wasn't sure just what. When he felt something give, though, he knew he had it.

Pulling out his toad, he thumbed the fuse just as the pirate nodded and started to lower his weapon. Ryck casually flipped the toad up into the air. Even drugged, though, he realized he'd thrown it up behind the pirate, where it would fall in back of him, not to where it would hit him. He had lost. But the pirate was not going to shoot Ryck from point-blank range. He took a step back. Ryck was looking up as the toad started its descent. It passed just behind the pirate's head and out of sight. Ryck knew the entire sequence was only three seconds from when he had thumbed the toad, but with the drugs, time was extended. Everything was in slow motion.

The pirate finished his step back and raised his bunker buster. Ryck watched dispassionately for the fire to erupt from the weapon, and when he saw a flare of light, his muggy brain thought it was from the pirate's bunker buster, that Ryck had lost. But the light was from behind the pirate's back, up around the shoulder level. The pirate hesitated and tried to turn, one hand reaching up and in back of him. The next flash was when the toad ate through the armor plate. For an instant, Ryck thought he saw the pirate's face through the man's armor visor, lit from within as a small, intensely hot star burned through his body.

Then Ryck went to sleep.