Cohort_of_the_damned_cover_final

J. Andrew Keith and William H. Keith, Jr., are prolific game designers and authors of adventure science fiction novels. The two brothers worked together for FASA on the Traveller game and then expanded to other gaming universes. As novelists, they wrote for Wing Commander, BattleTech, as well as the Fifth Foreign Legion series. Andrew Keith passed away in 1999.

William H. Keith, Jr. produced an enormous number of novels under his own name and various pseudonyms, working with collaborators Stephen Coonts, and Peter Jurasik and Bruce Boxleitner (both from the TV show Babylon 5). Three of his novels have been New York Times bestsellers and his gaming work has won several prominent industry awards.

Cohort of the Damned by Andrew Keith and William H. Keith, Jr.

Can a man escape from his past in a fighting battalion on alien battlefield?

Wolfgang Hauser was an aristocrat—right, privileged, pampered … until the day alien invaders overwhelmed his world and stripped him of everything he held dear. Now he was an outcast, without a family or a home, his honor tainted by accusations of cowardice and murder. He was a man on the run, and sooner or later his enemies would find him and destroy what was left of his shattered life.

There was only one safe haven in the far-flung Terran Commonwealth. He joined the Fifth Foreign Legion.

But Wolfgang Hauser soon discovered that the Legion demanded a high price from the misfits who flocked to his banner, seeking new life and new hope. The man who had lost everything found that he would have to surrender his name, his beliefs, and his very identity to become a Legionnaire.

It was a price he wasn't sure he could pay.

 

REVIEWS

  • "As Sci-Fi lover it's great to always have another good book under your arm in times of need, a good choice."

    – Amazon Review
  • "Reminds me of 19th century europe. But gives you a futuristic view of things."

    – Amazon Review
  • "This is the third and apparently the last installment of V Foreign Legion series. Tells the story of the a captain from some colony manages to get himself in trouble and ends up having to join the Foreign Legion. I think it's probably the best of the three I read. Nothing in it is realistic and it's not really very much science fiction but it's still entertaining and that's what I really care about. This book focuses on a single character as the other two did, but in this case at least one character from the second book showed up. Incidentally he dies at the end. This book follows the the training regimen of the legion, and the first combat, which happens while they're in training."

    – Amazon Review
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

We are the wounded from every war, the world's damned ones.

—from "Adieu vielle Europe," Marching Song,
French Foreign Legion

A laser bolt struck the wall bare centimeters from Leutnant Wolfgang Alaric Hauser von Semenanjung Burat, burning into the tough duraplast. The scorching heat of the pulse, the acrid tang of burning plastic, the hoarse shouts of his men sent adrenaline surging through his veins, and his grip on his CAR-22 laser pistol tightened as Hauser shot desperate glances left and right, seeking a way out.

He had never imagined combat would be so terrifying, never, in fact, envisioned that he might find himself in a battle at all. A commission in Laut Besar's Sky Guards was the accepted career for a young Uro aristocrat, but no one thought that they might actually face combat. It was unthinkable.…

But now the unthinkable had become all too real.

"This way, Tuan!" Sersan Peloten Radiah Suartana shouted. The Indomay NCO held an enemy rocket launcher in his hands, the Ubrenfar weapon large and awkward even for Suartana's massive frame. He braced himself against the wall and raised the cumbersome weapon, unleashing an explosive-tipped projectile in the direction of the advancing Ubrenfar assault troops, completely at ease in the low gravity despite the launcher's powerful recoil. "Over here!"

Another laser bolt sizzled past his head. Hauser rolled sideways, squeezing the trigger of his laser pistol for a blind shot. Then he pushed off in a powerful leap toward the sersan's position near a bend in the corridor. Telok, the inner moon of Laut Besar, was little more than an oversized planetoid, its low gravity almost unnoticeable.

He was grateful for hours of practice in the port's low-G gymnasium. It was almost second nature to turn in the air and land beside the sersan, absorbing the inertia of his jump with no more effort than if he'd been playing a game of air hockey with his friends from the BOQ block. They used a handrail to pull themselves around the corner and through a pair of massive armored doors, clear of the Ubrenfar field of fire.

Hauser scanned the inside of the chamber. It was one of the warehouses servicing Docking Bay Five, long and wide with a high ceiling hung with handling machinery and a catwalk running around the entire room three meters off the floor. In the port's weak gravity, terms like "ceiling" and "floor" had little meaning, but the warehouse floor could be magnetized to hold cargo modules in place and allow workers with steelloy boots to operate without the distracting effects of low-G. The power was off at the moment, but restraining nets held the scattered cargomods in place. They would provide cover, at least, if his men had to fight the Ubrenfars here.

The warehouse was also a junction for a number of different corridors, including one that led to the airlock doors of the docking bay. Inside, the frigate Surapat was still taking on refugees from the rest of the Telok port complex. She was the last ship in port, the last hope of escape. The other docking bays had already been overrun by the Ubrenfar assault troops who had infiltrated Telok aboard an unarmed freighter, boiling out of the hold and overwhelming every group of defenders they had encountered.

Sensors had picked up the main Ubrenfar battle fleet soon after the fighting began. Within four hours that fleet would arrive, cutting off all hope of escape for anyone who managed to survive the initial onslaught.

Hauser's wristpiece buzzed insistently. He touched a stud and watched as the small terminal screen glowed, swirled with color, and then resolved into the grim features of Major Erich Neubeck von Lembah Terang.

"Leutnant," the major said crisply. "Your status?"

"We have been forced back to Warehouse 5-C, Herr Major," he said. "Contact with the enemy temporarily broken. I have twenty men, from miscellaneous units. Mostly light weapons, one captured rocket launcher. Not enough to make a stand."

Neubeck frowned. "You're going to have to try, Leutnant," he said. "I need you to hold that position for at least fifteen minutes more, longer if possible. It's critical."

"Herr Major.…" Hauser stopped, swallowed, looked around the warehouse again. "The men here aren't a coherent unit … some of them aren't even soldiers! We have no combat armor. Ammo is running low, and morale is poor at best. I don't know how long these men can hold against a determined attack. Can you send some reinforcements?"

The major pursed his lips. "I'll see what I can do, Hauser. But that position has to be held. Do your best."

"Yes, sir," Hauser responded. "But without some steady troops here I don't know how good our best will be."

The screen had already gone dead.

Hauser glanced across at Suartana. The sersan seemed to read his thoughts. "We can hold the scalies for a while, Tuan," he said. "But not forever."

"You heard the man, Sersan. We defend the warehouse."

He jumped back to the center of the chamber in a single low-G bound as Suartana shouted orders. He hoped Neubeck would be as good as his word. These Indomay defenders wouldn't be able to stand up to a major attack for long, not discouraged and disorganized as they were now. If this position was as critical as Major von Lembah Terang maintained, it would have to be secured by better men than these.…

* * *

"We'll be ready to lift in twelve minutes, Herr Major. I'll hold the count as long as possible, but I've got nearly three hundred men to think of."

Major Erich Neubeck von Lembah Terang let out a ragged sigh and nodded. "I understand, Herr Kapitan. The refugees have to come first." He glanced around Telok's Master Fire Direction Center, with its banks of control consoles and computer terminals. It was crowded with Sky Guards working feverishly to complete the job Neubeck had set them. They might be able to finish in time.…

On the monitor screen dominating one wall of the FDC, the image of the captain of the frigate Surapat looked relieved. He was a Uro aristocrat, of course—officers of all the military services on Laut Besar were Uros—but he came from a minor family from one of the poorest districts on the western side of the continent of Malaya Besar. The prospect of arguing with a member of the powerful, well-connected Neubeck family would have been daunting at best. "I will keep you appraised, Herr Major," he said.

Before the captain could cut the connection, Neubeck interrupted. "A moment, Kapitan. Have you been identifying your passengers?"

"The list isn't complete," the captain told him. "But we're doing our best with it."

"Is Walther Neubeck von Lembah Terang aboard? An oberleutnant in the Fourth Sky Guards?"

There was a pause. "Yes … yes, he's on the list, Herr Major."

Neubeck tried not to betray his relief at the captain's words. "Very good. Neubeck clear." He shut off the commlink and leaned back in his chair.

At least his brother would win clear of this hell. That was some consolation.

Oberleutnant Wilhelm Stoph appeared beside him. "Third Squad just reported in, sir," he said. "Corridor twelve is sealed off now. Do you want the squad to join the demo work?"

Neubeck frowned at his subordinate, weighing his options. He had promised to find more men for Leutnant Hauser. The warehouse the leutnant's ad hoc force had fallen back to controlled the only remaining route into the Fire Direction Center … and the only line of retreat Neubeck's men could use to reach the Surapat. Hauser had sounded unsure of himself, uncertain if his men could keep that route secure.

On the other hand, the most urgent task at this point was to make sure that the Fire Direction Center couldn't be used to turn Telok's two linnax railguns against the owners. Refugee ships were lifting clear of Laut Besar as quickly as they could load up. If the railguns fell into Ubrenfar hands those ships would never escape … and there was the further danger that the guns might be turned against targets on the planetary surface. With defeat looming near, Neubeck had to take those railguns off line at all costs, and the more men he set on the demolition job the quicker they would finish.

Hauser would have to make do with what he had. Neubeck nodded curtly to Stoph. "Do it," he said. He undid the safety harness that held him close to the control chair and stood up carefully in the low gravity, then dropped the faceplate on his vacuum armor and checked the seals. "Let's get this over with and get the hell out of here."

* * *

Sersan Radiah Suartana pushed back his uniform cap to wipe the sweat from his forehead, then stared down at his hand. The gesture was an uncomfortable reminder of how ill-equipped the Sky Guards were. The soldiers were still clad in their Class One uniforms, designed for smart, parade-ground looks rather than combat use, while the three civilians who had attached themselves to the unit were wearing technicians' coveralls. At the very least Suartana wished they had been wearing duraweave battle-dress, with combat helmets and plates of chest and back armor. Or, better yet, fully armored vacuum gear …

But the fighting on Telok had erupted without warning, and none of the soldiers on duty in the military spaceport complex had been ready for it. They'd lost a lot of men already today to wounds even ordinary combat fatigues would have prevented. Now the men of Leutnant Hauser's ad hoc unit were sure to lose more. Against Ubrenfar commandos in full armor the humans were seriously overmatched.

The sersan darted a glance at Hauser. The Uro officer was gripping a cargo net with one hand, while the other clung tight to his laser pistol. He had a grim, determined look on his face and seemed completely oblivious to the rest of the men, Indomays all, crouching behind the improvised cargomod barricades or perched high on the catwalk watching the entry, waiting for the Ubrenfars to come.

Suartana frowned. Hauser had paid little attention to the defensive preparations. He seemed totally withdrawn into himself, a man already defeated. The men could sense his mood, too. They knew he had no faith in them, and now they had precious little faith left in themselves either.

He had known Hauser since the young aristocrat was a baby. The family was one of the best known on Java Baru, Laut Besar's smaller continent, and it had been his honor to serve three generations of the clan. Hauser's grandfather had been a member of the Chamber of Delegates; his father and uncle had both staked out promising political careers. Now young Wolfgang Hauser had struck out on his own, the first of his prominent line to join the military. The Leutnant's sharp, fox-faced features reminded Suartana of Karl Hauser, Wolfgang's father. He would have been proud of his son. Too bad that hunting accident had carried him away.

Too bad in more ways than one. Since Karl Hauser's death his older brother, the Graff von Semenanjung Burat, had tightened his grasp on the family holdings. A firm proponent of Laut Besar's Aristo-Conservative Party, Rupert Hauser had resisted every move toward political reform the government had undertaken. Despite his faction's resistance, the Indomays were starting to make progress toward equality, but it was slow going. Suartana had watched the Graff's nephew grow up believing in the superiority of Uros over Indomays. That was something the boy's father wouldn't have been proud of, he thought. The young officer's stubborn arrogance seemed stronger than ever now that he had earned his Sky Guards commission. And with that exalted feeling of Uro superiority came an equal tendency to denigrate the Indomay class.

And when Hauser, a Uro, was almost paralyzed with fear, he couldn't believe his inferiors capable of anything.…

* * *

"I hear them," one of the koprals—Suartana thought his name was Lubis—said in Terranglic. "They're coming. Get ready, men." He looked nervous, but determined.

The man had every right to be nervous. "Selamat, saudara." Suartana said in Indomay. "Good fortune, brother." The Uros used mostly German when speaking among themselves, while the lower classes preferred the traditional tongue from the early days of the colony. Everyone spoke Terranglic, though, and it was largely replacing Indomay as the primary language of Laut Besar. Sometimes Suartana regretted that, but most of the books and technical chips that the Indomays needed to better themselves were in Terranglic.

The kopral's grip on his weapon tightened. "Kembali," he said. "I return it."

He looked at Hauser. "The men are ready, Titan," he said. As ready as they'll ever be, he added to himself.

Then the doors erupted in a storm of fire and smoke.

* * *

Half-seen figures loomed through the swirling smoke around the doors, hulking dinosaur shapes encased in full vacuum armor. Hauser fired his pistol, and an instant later the rest of the defenders joined in with a ragged volley of fire from their ill-assorted collection of weapons. Laser beams and the needle-thin rounds from FE-FEK/24 combat rifles chopped through the billowing cloud, but only one of the massive, two-meter tall Ubrenfars fell. Their armor protected them from most of the damage the human defenders could mete out.

The Ubrenfars fanned out, moving fast in the low gravity despite their bulk and their clumsy, forward-leaning postures. They were highly trained assault troops, specialists in space combat situations. More than a match for the Indomay defenders, most of whom had never heard a shot fired in anger before today.

He forced the thought from his mind. The men in his command weren't the best, but they were still men. They should be more than a match for mere ales, no matter how well trained or well equipped. He'd grown up believing in the natural order of things, the inherent superiority of Uro over Indomay, human over alien. All he had to do was rally his men to put up a solid defense. The Ubrenfars would surely give way.…

"Pour it on!" he shouted. "Fire!"

The defenders kept up a steady stream of fire, and another of the Ubrenfars went down with the faceplate of its vacc helmet smashed, the face beyond a bloody pulp. Someone gave a hoarse cheer in Indomay. "Ure!"

Then one of the Ubrenfars raised a rocket launcher, a twin to the massive weapon Suartana had scavenged earlier. A rocket streaked from the tube, trailing flame, tearing into a stack of cargomods near the center of the warehouse. The warhead tore through the improvised barricade, and a gout of fire and whirling debris erupted from the other side. The three men using the cargomods for cover spun away, hurled bodily across the chamber by the force of the explosion in the weak gravity field. Hauser saw the body of the senior kopral hit the far wall and bounce. The man's face had been burned away. One of the other soldiers was dead, too. The third was gaping at the stump of his forearm, eyes wide with shock. Then a laser shot bored straight through his chest, and the eyes glazed over. The man hadn't screamed, had hardly seemed to understand what was happening to him.

Swallowing sour bile, Hauser tried hard to stay in control.

"Got one!" a rifleman on the catwalk above Hauser's position shouted. He was waving his FEK in triumph. "Got one of the scaly bastards!"

Then a whole barrage of laser fire from the assault troops probed the human positions. Four rapid pulses of raw energy sliced into the soldier on the catwalk, nearly cutting his torso in half. Unlike the other men, he had time to scream.

Wolfgang Hauser knew he'd hear those screams for the rest of his life.

Something whooshed from the doorway. The rocket struck the wall near Hauser's position and exploded in a fury of light and sound. Smoke billowed and fragments careened off the walls like bullets. Pain stabbed through Hauser's leg, and he looked down to see blood oozing from a gash in his thigh. Someone was moaning nearby.

He scrambled for fresh cover, with Sersan Suartana close behind him. As the smoke cleared, Hauser could see the shattered bodies of four more of his men sprawled nearby. The rest of the defenders were wavering, their fire slacking off as they hunkered down behind the cargomods.

Eight dead in seconds, out of a scant twenty. And they'd taken only three of the enemy with them.…

Hauser grabbed Suartana's massive shoulder. "We can't hold them! We've got to pull back! If we can seal the corridor behind us … get to the frigate…!"

"What about our orders, Tuan?" Suartana asked. "Major Neubeck said—"

"Damn what Neubeck said!" Hauser exploded. The major had promised him more men, then let him down.…

He fought down the waves of fear and anger, trying to regain at least a semblance of composure. Suartana was right. He couldn't just abandon this position without checking in with Neubeck first. But if the major didn't send help right away the defenders in the warehouse would be overwhelmed, and Hauser's first responsibility had to be to the men in his outnumbered unit.

Hunkering down behind the cover of stacked cargomods, Hauser activated the communications function of his wristpiece computer. As the screen began to glow he raised his arm to speak into the sound pickup.

A laser bolt sizzled through the air less than a meter to his left, and he flinched from the crackling, the stench of ozone in the air. With or without support from Neubeck, he wasn't sure how much longer he could face the Ubrenfar attack.

* * *

"Just hang on for a few more minutes, Hauser," Erich Neubeck said, frowning at the wall screen. "We're almost finished up here."

The young leutnant hesitated, and opened his mouth to speak. An explosion went off nearby, and the picture on Neubeck's screen jumped wildly as Hauser moved, the vision pickup following the motion of his arms. Against a backdrop of whining FEK fire and crackling flames, someone was screaming.

Hauser's voice cracked as he shouted orders. "Kopral! Have somebody see to that man!" There was a short pause. "Damn it, Suartana, too many of the scalies are leaking through! Can't you do something?"

The edge in that voice worried Neubeck more than anything else. The kid was cracking under the pressure.…

"Major, my men can't hold this position without immediate reinforcement," Hauser went on, speaking into his wristpiece again. "Where are the men you said you were sending me?"

"I need them here," Neubeck shot back. "For God's sake, man, we're all shorthanded! You've got to try to tough it out with the men you've got!"

More combat sounds filtered through the commlink. "What I've got is a handful of men who can't hold any longer," Hauser said tightly. "We can't do it! We just can't!"

"Hauser, I'm ordering you to—"

But the leutnant wasn't listening. "Pull back!" he shouted. "Pull back now, Suartana! Regroup at the corridor head!"

The channel went dead without warning.

If those men in the warehouse fell back now, Neubeck's troops in the Fire Direction Center would be cut off. They'd have to act fast if they wanted to retrieve the situation.

"Stoph!" he shouted. "Tell one section to open up a retreat route through the warehouse! If you can get there in time to keep that bastard Hauser from falling back we might still get out of this!"

The oberleutnant saluted and hurried off, shouting orders and checking the charge level on his laser pistol as he trotted toward the door. Other men joined him, trading demo packs for rifles.

When the airtight door slid open, Neubeck thought he could hear the distant echoes of combat drifting up the corridor from the warehouse.

Sending Stoph and his men would slow the demolitions work, and any delay now could be fatal. But they had to try to win through the Ubrenfar lines.

Deep down, though, Neubeck knew it was probably too late to try.…