After a successful initial tour as a Marine rifleman, Lance Corporal Gracie Medicine Crow volunteers to become a scout-sniper, one of the deadliest—and most dangerous—military specialties in the United Federation Marine Corps.
Gracie comes from the Apsáalooke Nation, a people with a long history of military tradition. Small in stature and considered stunningly beautiful, she is often underestimated, but that merely drives her to be the best sniper in the Corps. Somewhat wary of her fellow snipers' attention and interaction with her, she maintains what she considers a professional front, but one that is not as well received by others—and one that earns her the nickname of "Ice Princess." A technically skilled sniper, Gracie feels her shooting should speak for itself. But being a scout-sniper is far more than simple marksmanship. If she wants a career in the Corps, she must learn not only teamwork, but how to be a leader of Marines.
This is the second book in the series, but each book is stand-alone and does not have to be read in conjunction with the others. The series follows two Marines and a Navy corpsman as they follow their individual career paths.
I was introduced to Jonathan at WorldCon last year, and he was hoping to have WordFire publish his new novel, which we found very acceptable. The problem was, Jonathan is such an extremely successful indie author that when we compared notes, there didn't really seem to be anything we could do for him that he wasn't already doing himself. But, seeing how gung-ho he is, I immediately asked him to join this bundle. – Kevin J. Anderson
"I only gave the book 5 stars, I would have given more if possible. I have only recently discovered this author and I am hooked. I am a retired Marine, and I know that he writes from experience. He vividly describes the events, you almost feel as if you were there.
This book is probably one of the best books I have read, my only regret is that it ended. I don't give spoilers, so if you want to know what the book is about you will have to read it, but trust me, if you like military fiction you will enjoy this book!"– Amazon Review
"A great read, one of Jonathan's best. Apologies to my family who did the evening chores without me as I HAD to finish the book. If you liked all the other UFM books, you'll love this one too."– Amazon Review
"I guess you can color me biased, I love reading military sci-fi books. When I purchased this one I said to myself, self do you really want to start another series of books. After reading this one I ended up buying the other two in the trilogy. I would highly recommend these books, they are good fun reads, Its always good to read that in this case the heroine has some self-doubts. After all their supposed to be human. These books have good pace and great interaction among the characters."– Amazon Review
Lance Corporal Gracie Medicine Crow pulled herself forward a few centimeters, then slowly reached under her body with her right hand and grasped the barrel of her Windmoeller, pulling it forward as well. Centimeter by centimeter, she crept through the low scrub. Gracie had been in her stalk for over six hours, and she'd barely advanced 200 meters. She was running out of time, she knew, but she refused to panic and rush. Just another five or six meters, and she should have eyes on her target—if she'd read the map app correctly.
Gracie was in her stalk naked—not literally naked, but without a tarnkappe, fractured array, or any other hi-tech method for remaining unseen. A tarnkappe was a passive piece of gear, but it could hook on a plant as she advanced, making it move unnaturally, and she thought the fractured array could subconsciously grate on an observer. He might not be able to see her, but something would tell him that someone was out there.
No, Gracie had chosen to go natural, using the local vegetation, her ghillie, and very controlled and thought-out movement to escape detection. Others thought she was a throwback, an anachronism, but it was her ass on the line, and so it was her choice to make.
She resisted uncovering the scout-sniper wrist PA she was wearing. She knew time was running out, but she was most vulnerable at the end of a stalk, and she could fail her mission with an untimely mistake, such as taking the camo covering off the PA (even if only for a moment).
With her eye on the slight rise in front of her, she edged forward, first her body, then sliding her weapon up underneath her. It would be easier and a heck of a lot more comfortable pulling her Windmoeller alongside instead of under her, but even when camouflaged, even if it was designed with calculated angles to throw off observation, the weapon still had an unnatural shape, so she lay on top of it as she moved.
"Comfortable" was all relative, however. She was acutely aware of her sore knees and elbows and of the rash of bites from every insect that inhabited the last 200 meters. One particular welt along her belly ached to be scratched, but she would not allow herself any movement except to advance her stalk.
Come-on, Crow. Focus!
She'd planned her route carefully, but the ground truth was never the exact same as in a map app. For the last 50 meters, she'd been creeping up a small, almost unnoticeable swale. Right in front of her, a meter away now, was the crest of the shallow slope. Clearing that, the top of her head should be in line-of-sight to her target. With the stress of the stalk, she had a sudden urge to pop up and spot her target, to engage as quickly as possible and just get it over with.
Calm, calm, she repeated to herself. Don't blow it now.
Slower than she thought possible, she raised her head until her eyes cleared the edge of the higher ground. For a moment, she thought she'd calculated incorrectly, that she'd failed. It would be too late, she knew, to move to her alternate FFP. But as she rose just a centimeter or two higher, she saw the enemy party some 800 meters ahead, under a huge umbrella thorn.
Just as slowly as she had risen, she lowered herself back down. Cautiously, ever so cautiously, she pulled up her Windmoeller, running a finger over the muzzle to make sure the frac-tape hadn't come off during the stalk before pushing forward once more. Even moving less than a meter, it took almost ten minutes for Gracie to be in position, her rifle trained on the group below.
She scanned the seven men, trying to pick out her targets. Her secondary target was easy. The big man was facing her, talking to another man. But she couldn't spot her primary target. She had a grainy image of him displayed on the left side of her scope, but no one in the group seemed to match it. A sinking feeling threatened to take over her. If she couldn't find her primary, she'd take out the secondary, but her mission would be a failure. She raised herself a few more centimeters to get a better view
There! Could that be him? she wondered, spotting a prone body at the base of the tree.
Her scope AI tried to use facial recognition to confirm the target, but the man had a hat over his face as he snoozed. It couldn't even come up with a probability that the man was him.
Gracie was stymied. She'd known she could be spotted. That came with the territory. But she never considered completing the stalk but being unable to identify her target. Her ROE required a positive ID to take the shot. She wondered if she should just take out her secondary target and hope for the best.
She knew the range to the tree should be 816 meters from her location. She could laze it, of course, but even with her Miller Scope's cloaked rangefinder, there was always a chance that the enemy would have detection equipment that could pick it up. She was confident that she was where she thought she was, so she entered the range into her scope AI. She'd already entered the Coriolis numbers for Kulisha, and her Windmoeller had automatically uploaded her round type into the AI so it could plug in gyroscopic drift into the firing solution. Gracie had never heard of the wrong round type being uploaded, but still, she toggled the data screen to confirm the info as it was projected onto her scope display. As expected, her PGI .308, 172-grain, tef-sleeved round was confirmed. With her Windmoeller's 1:10 twist rate entered, her scope AI had all the internal numbers needed for the firing solution.
Externals were always more problematic. Her Miller was far more advanced than the Roeniger Scopes that had been the Marine Corps standard for decades until being phased out five years earlier, and it did a better job at analyzing the temperature, air density, and humidity for various terrain points along the bullet's flight and then uploading that data into the firing solution. The results would be pretty accurate, but as derived from active methods, they created a huge risk of detection, so Gracie chose to use her passive systems.
Wind was light-to-moderate, about eight or nine KPH coming from her two o'clock, but she could see swirls in the grass that indicated it was not steady. This was where the firing AI was weakest and where sniping became more art than science. Gracie had to look at the patterns and try to figure out what the wind would be doing over the entire 800 meters during the flight of the round.
Most laymen seemed to think that with modern firing AI's, anyone could be a sniper. To them, it was basically just point and shoot, something far from the truth. A poor position, poor trigger control, poor breath control, and unlucky externals such as a gust of wind were just a few of the problems that could ruin a shot. Gracie was damned determined that she would not fall into any of those traps. She would make the kill.
It was time. She took five deep breaths, then exhaled half-way out, settling herself. She centered the crosshairs of her scope mid-chest of her secondary target, just below the base of his neck. A gust of breeze tilted the grass halfway to the target, and that made Gracie hesitate. Some snipers clicked in windage, but Gracie preferred a quicker solution. She held five centimeters off her target's left and started to squeeze the trigger. . .
. . .and stopped dead. Something was trying to break free from her subconscious, and she couldn't get a hold of it. She shifted her scope back to the prone man. He hadn't moved. He was still on his back, hat covering his face, hands interlocked over his chest.
What is it? she wondered, refusing to rush despite the ticking clock.
In a flash, it came to her. The ring!
The prone man had a largish ring with what looked to be a green stone of some sort. She'd seen it before, she was sure. She toggled her AI, and the lone image she had of her primary appeared on the left side of the display. It was somewhat grainy, and his face was not terribly clear, but on his left hand was a coal black ring with a large green oval stone setting. It looked exactly like the ring on the prone figure.
She slowly reached forward to her scope screen, framed the ring, and hit the interrogatory. Within five seconds, the results flashed on the screen: there was an 86% probability that the rings were one and the same.
She only needed a 75% to take the shot. But that was on the target himself, not a ring. What if her primary had simply given the ring to someone else? But in her heart, she knew that was him. The prone man had the same general build as her primary, and if it wasn't him, then where was he?
Screw it, I'm taking the shot.
She shifted her point of aim, and before she could second guess herself, she squeezed the trigger. The Windmoeller bucked against her shoulder, and without pausing, she cycled in a new round and shifted her aim to her secondary. The enemy were not amateurs. Before she could acquire her target, the men were diving for the ground. All the better, Gracie thought. As with her primary, when prone, windage becomes less in play. Her AI's weakness was in lateral targeting, not vertical, and she trusted it to get her on target.
There was a limit to that, though. She could only see the top few centimeters of her target as he lay prone, trying to spot her. He turkey-peeked a few times, only popping up for an instant, not staying exposed long enough for her to fire. Several of the other men jumped up and moved to get better cover, but they weren't her target.
Finally, she could see her secondary's butt bunch up. She knew he was going to make a dash.
Lead or ambush?
If he was going to run, she couldn't hold her crosshairs on him. At over 800 meters, he would run past the round's trajectory by the time it reached him. She had to fire where he would be, not where he was at the moment. If she led him and squeezed the trigger, the muzzle of her Windmoeller would be tracking him, and that movement could be picked up. By ambushing him, the muzzle would not be moving, but she wouldn't be able to squeeze the trigger slowly—she had to send the round downrange on command.
Gracie was pretty confident that she had better-than-average trigger control, though. So ambush it was. She picked a spot a few meters to her secondary's front and waited.
But not for long. Within five seconds, her secondary rose up, and while crouching, started to run to Gracie's left. With a minute adjustment to take into account his crouching position, Gracie pulled the trigger. Again the Windmoeller bucked against her shoulder. She froze in place, not moving a muscle. The recoil knocked her off her sight picture, but she could still see through part of her scope. She thought she caught a glimpse of her secondary disappearing behind the cut bank of the creek behind their position, but she couldn't be sure.
"Cease fire, cease fire," came over her ear buds. A few moments later, "Two kills confirmed."
Gracie tried not to let out a sigh of relief. She'd been sure of her shots, but it wasn't until the powerful exercise AI calculated all factors that a kill could be confirmed.
Her test wasn't over yet. In the raised platform to the right of her targets, five instructors were sitting, glassing the area. She'd gotten the kills, but if she'd been spotted, she'd have failed. She'd have one more chance, and if she failed that one, the last nine months of school would have been a colossal waste of time. Gracie didn't want to have to try her final stalk again with all of that added extra pressure.
During her sniper history classes back in Phase 1, she'd learned that in centuries past, the instructors would hold up a number that she'd have to identify to prove she had eyes on her target. With modern AI's determining her shot had been good, there was no need for that, to Gracie's relief. She didn't want to move her weapon even a millimeter to pick out some stupid number.
With her naked eye, she saw a walker, one of three instructors who were wandering the range, start towards her.
Shit! she thought, trying to will the man to stop.
It must have worked because he turned into a large acacia bush 20 meters away.
"Here?" she heard him pass on his comms, then, "That's a negative. No student-sniper within 10."
I wasn't born yesterday, she thought despite telling herself not to be too cocky.
The acacia offered perhaps the best FFP in this section of the range—which was why she hadn't chosen it. She was pretty sure the spotters hadn't seen anything and were trying to pull her location out of their collective asses. She hadn't been a favorite of any of them, and she knew they wanted to drop her. She just couldn't give them the excuse to do so.
Gracie had never been anyone's favorite. When people first saw her, most men and more than a few women's eyes lit up as they approached to chat her up. Her cold exterior was her shield to keep them at bay, and that usually translated into antipathy towards her at best, downright hostility at worst. She knew most other Marines called her the Ice Princess, but that didn't bother her. It wasn't as bad as what she'd been called at St. Labre back in Ashland.
"Exercise is terminated. Go ahead and get up, Lance Corporal Crow," Master Guns Masterson, the chief instructor passed on the comms.
Gracie felt a thrill run through her. She'd done it!
She stood up and was thrilled to see Sergeant Kilkelly startle from where he was standing only 20 meters away. She realized that even while walking the course, he hadn't spotted her.
"Cutting it close, there, Crow. You fired with less than two minutes left."
"Two minutes or two hours doesn't make much difference, right Sergeant?" she said, unable to help herself. "I passed."
His eyes seemed to cloud over for a moment, and Gracie mentally kicked herself. She knew she could be prickly, but did she have to make it worse? Sergeant Kilkelly wasn't a bad guy.
"Yeah, Crow, you passed. So congrats."
He safety-checked her weapon (which Gracie thought was a joke as they'd never been issued live ammo) and said, "Now get back to the bleachers for the debrief."
"Yes, Sergeant. And thank you," she said, trying to sooth him.
"Thanks? For what?"
"You know, Sergeant. For training me."
"Shit, Crow, you passed. No need to suck up to me. Graduation's on Friday, and you'll be out of here."
Gracie could almost hear the "and good riddance" in his voice. She didn't let it bother her, though. She was just proud of what's she'd accomplished. She slung her Windmoeller over her shoulder and started to march across the training range to the bleachers.
"Double time, Lance Corporal Crow! I'd like to get home to my wife sometime tonight."
She broke into a jog, willing to do whatever was necessary. Sergeant Kilkelly had been right. As of Friday, she'd be an official Marine Corps scout-sniper and on her way to her new unit!