The galaxy is mired in a cold war between two superpowers, the Illyrican Empire and the Commonwealth. Thrust between this struggle are Simon Kovalic, the Commonwealth's preeminent spy, and Kyle Rankin, a lowly soldier happily scrubbing toilets on Sabea, a remote and isolated planet. However, nothing is as it seems.
Kyle Rankin is a lie. His real name is Eli Brody, and he fled his home world of Caledonia years ago. Simon Kovalic knows Caledonia is a lit fuse hurtling towards detonation. The past Brody so desperately tried to abandon can grant him access to people and places that are off limits even to a professional spy like Kovalic.
Kovalic needs Eli Brody to come home and face his past. With Brody suddenly cast in a play he never auditioned for, he and Kovalic will quickly realize it's everything they don't know that will tip the scales of galactic peace. Sounds like a desperate plan, sure, but what gambit isn't?
The Caledonian Gambit is a throwback to the classic sci-fi adventures of spies and off-world politics, but filled to the brim with modern sensibilities.
Author Dan Moren has joined the Our Heroes StoryBundle with his exhilarating Sci-Fi spy thriller, The Caledonian Gambit, published with Skyhorse Publishing. This is my first time working with Dan. It was the Caledonian Gambit's stunning cover that first captured my attention. The author brings his savvy grasp of technology to bear, crafting a tale of interstellar intrigue. – Melissa Snark
"Hypercool. It's like the Golden Age of sci-fi got an upgrade, with all the big honking space cannons and some desert planet dry humor thrown in for the bargain."– John Birmingham, author of the Axis of Time trilogy
"This is a great spy story, with tidbits of science explaining the intergalactic travel and even a hint of romance to come."– Booklist
"Immersive, intergalactic spy-fi. Moren gives us a Cold War thriller with wormholes and anti-grav fields."– John August, screenwriter of Titan A.E. and Big Fish
"Dan Moren is best known as a podcaster and tech blogger, but that could soon change. This debut novel is a brisk and fun adventure with spies, family drama, and space battles, carried off with a light touch and an old-school style that's entirely welcome in the frequently grimdark world of modern genre fiction, and a main character you won't soon forget."– Ross Johnson, B&N.com Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog
Elijah Brody was being attacked by butterflies.
To be fair, they were only targeting his stomach, but they were angry and fluttering around in a malevolent way that he wouldn't previously have associated with butterflies.
His digestion gurgled, and he patted at his midsection through the thick synthetic fibers of his flight suit. Pre-mission jitters. Perfectly normal.How would you know?he chided himself.You've never been on a real one before.
"Ventureis in system." The calm, collected tones of the ISCVenture's flight controller filtered through his headset. "Green Squadron, you are clear to launch." There was a slight pause and when the woman continued, Eli could tell she was smiling. "Good hunting."
Eli triggered the explosive bolts connecting his fighter to theVenture. A sound like muted firecrackers reverberated through the hull, and the fighter began to drift slowly out of the bay.
Eight … nine … ten.Safely clear of theVenture, Eli punched the ignition.
The whole ship shook as the engine roared to life. He grinned, and the breath that escaped his lungs felt like it had been stored up for hours—days, even. The engagement seemed a foregone conclusion: in his mind, he was already back aboard theVenture, the mission accomplished and Green Squadron toasting each other with their ration of the victory champagne.
All around him, Eli saw the flares from his squadronmates' engines. Green dots representing their fighters sprinkled across his heads-up display. He found the blip marked as Green Six and increased throttle to form up on Larabie's wing, then toggled to his wingman channel.
"All right, Chris?"
"Yeah. You want to see something incredible, Brody? Take a look at your six."
Eli raised an eyebrow. Flipping his main display to the rear camera feed, he saw the immense bulk of theVenturestretch away behind him. But as it drifted slightly to port, the gate came into view and he gave a low whistle.
"Damn," said Larabie quietly. "I never get tired of that view."
Hanging in space like a giant baleful eye, the hexagonal metal structure stretched a mile across. In its gaping maw spun a blue whirlpool, almost hypnotic in its undulations: the wormhole from which theVenturehad recently emerged.
"Hell of a thing," said Larabie, a tinge of awe still in his voice. "You know they're self-sustaining, right? We did a case study on them back when I was in engineering school."
"Huh. I didn't think theyhadinter-system spaceflight that long ago."
"Hilarious. Just let me know whenyoucome up with an idea half as brilliant as using the wormhole's own gravimetric energy as a power source."
"That actually works?" Eli wished he could rub his temples through his helmet. "Sounds like a goddamn Moebius strip."
Larabie snorted. "Don't overtax your poor brain, Brody. Good news is it works in our favor—there's so much juice in those suckers that once they switch them on, they're pretty much impossible to turn off again."
"Good," said Eli, "because I slammed a door on my finger once and it's not an experience I'd like to have reproduced on a galactic scale."
"Green Squadron, this isVenturecontrol." The transmission crackled with static. "Be advised we have inbound bogeys. LRS read two squadrons coming in fast—profile suggests heavy bombers and interceptors." Red blips appeared on Eli's HUD as theVenture's long-range sensors fed in locations for the enemy ships.
"That was fast," muttered someone over the squadron-wide comm channel.
"Two full squadrons sure doesn't seem like the usual welcoming committee." Maggie O'Hara was Green Three and the squadron's intel expert. "And they shouldn't have been able to ID us until we were in system."
"They've got their own intel sources," Larabie pointed out.
"Let's just hope they aren't better than ours," quipped Green Five, Jun Kwok.
"Green Squadron, shape it up," said Captain Lila Randall, the squadron leader. "Tag your targets and prepare to engage. We need to secure the gate area before the rest of the fleet comes through the wormhole. Six, Seven, you're on point."
"Roger that," said Larabie. "Setting an intercept course."
"Copy," said Eli, turning the ship's nose toward the foremost red blips on his display. The whine of the engines pitched up, inertia pushing him back against his seat. He toggled back to his wingman channel.
"These guys do seem awfully prepared."
"Yeah," said Larabie, "but all the preparation in the world isn't going to give these poor bastards enough of a leg up when the rest of the fleet comes through the gate." He paused, and Eli could picture his wingman shaking his shaggy head. "They're outnumbered and outgunned, and if theyhaveID'd us, then they know it. I'm not sure why they haven't just surrendered."
Because nobody likes to just roll over and die.
"The entire Fifth Fleet for one relatively isolated world." Eli increased the magnification of his HUD until he could see the globe of mottled blue, green, and white. "Seems like overkill to me."
"The Imperium's making a point, kid. Sabaea was in talks to join the Commonwealth, and the Illyrican Empire's not about to let that slide."
No, they're sure as hell not.Eli shifted uncomfortably, feeling the seat squeak underneath him. His homeworld, Caledonia, had been a free planet before the Imperium had invaded. "Is that really the only option?"
"They don't exactly need our approv—"
A warning tone blared, and the ship's computer overrode Eli's magnification to show that one of the inbound enemy fighters, now highlighted in a red box, was trying to acquire a missile lock.
"Intercept!" he yelled. He wrestled with the flight stick, trying to slip the lock while lining up his own shot.
The reticle on his display flickered green and Eli squeezed the trigger, sending magnetically-propelled slugs peppering out of the fighter's nose-mounted tubes. The tracer rounds phosphoresced yellow-green against the black of space, but his own inertia sent them arcing to port. He twitched the stick back to starboard, finger still on the trigger.
The enemy fighter was close enough now that it was visible with the naked eye, juking left and right in an attempt to avoid fire and keep its lock. Two of Eli's rounds clipped its engines; fuel leaked into space, floating in droplets. A second burst hit the engines, and Eli saw one of the tracer rounds pierce the fuel tank.
That was all it took. The ship fireballed, the explosion spectacularly silent against the dark backdrop.
"Lead, this is Six," said Larabie. "Chalk up a kill for Seven."
"Virgin no more," whooped Kwok. "That means the beer's on you, right?"
Eli winced, the afterimage of the explosion still dazzling his vision. First kill. He should be proud, not feel like he'd just done a belly-flop from thirty thousand feet.This is what you trained for, Brody.
"Simmer down," said Captain Randall. "Good work, Seven, but there's plenty more to go around. Green Squadron, you are free to engage."
The squadron broke as it closed with the enemy ships, and suddenly the whole area was a mess of dots on Eli's display. In a blur, he found himself going head-to-head with a second fighter; he swung around, trying to get on its tail. But the other pilot was good: they cut their throttle to let Eli overshoot them, and his guns caught only empty space. Yanking on the stick, Eli flipped his ship over, putting the other ship effectively upside down—but still square in his sights.Gotcha.
"Lead, Six." Larabie's measured tones broke Eli's concentration. He swore as his shot went wide of the mark.
"This is Lead," said Captain Randall over the comms. "Go, Six."
"Something odd: Those capital ships in Sabaea's defensive screen aren't engaging."
"They're just holding them in reserve," Rafi Kantor, the squad's second in command, broke in. "No point exposing them to fire until there's something bigger than fighters for them to target."
"Maybe," said Larabie. "But there's something … I don't know. Not right."
"Getting paranoid, Six?" needled Kwok.
"Knock it off, Kwok," said O'Hara.
Randall's voice cut through the chatter. "Six, keep an eye on the cap ships, but they're not high priority. We'll worry about them after we take care of the fighters. Speaking of which."
The enemy squadron had regrouped and was coming around for a second pass. Eli brought his fighter up on Larabie's port wing and tagged his target on the shared display. One by one, the red blips turned gray as the rest of the squadron did the same.
"Here we go," said Randall. "Break on my mark."
Anticipating Randall's order, Eli's hand gripped the throttle.
"All ships, this isVenturecontrol." Panic colored the normally even-keeled tones of the flight controller. "Something's happening at the gate. Repeat, there appears to be activity at the gat—"
A bright white flash blinded Eli, and the transmission from theVenturedissolved into a screeching mess. The high-pitched noise dug into Eli's sinuses and he scrambled to dial down the volume on his headset. Bits of incoherent babble from the rest of the squadron punched through the interference.
"… god …"
"The gate …"
"… squadron … beam … channel …"
"… on your six …"
A giant hand suddenly picked up Eli's ship and shook it like a child's toy, sending it careening end-over-end. Alarms of three or four different flavors blared in his ears, and Eli had to squeeze his eyes tightly shut as the dizzying streaks of stars through his canopy threatened to evict the butterflies and everything else in his stomach.Don't throw up in your helmet, don't throw up in your helmet …His teeth rattled so hard he thought he might have swallowed a couple. Fighting against the pressure that wanted to keep him pinned against his seat, he reached out with a jittery hand and cut the throttle.
Then it was over and his ship began to drift, propelled only by its own momentum. He let one eye slide open, then the other.
The heads-up display flickered and wavered in front of him; he banged his hand against his helmet but only succeeded in making his head ache further. With a growl, he set the computer to reboot, which also took the cameras and thruster control offline. He craned his neck to try and peer out the canopy, but flightsuits weren't exactly built for mobility.We missed something. Did a bomber get through to theVenture?
The computer whirred back online. Eli stomped on the attitude thruster controls and yanked hard on the stick, pointing the ship's nose back toward theVenture.It left his back exposed to any oncoming fighters, but the flagship was a higher priority right now.Whatever hit it must have been big …
TheVenturewas still there, but the rear half of the ship was driftingawayfrom the front half, as though the same hand that had flung Eli's fighter had simply snapped the mile-long carrier in half like a dead branch. Plumes of gas vented into space and sparks of electricity played about jagged edges.
But that wasn't what took Eli's breath away.
The gate was gone.
"Seven, this is Six on tightbeam. You copy?" Larabie's voice, loud and clear, cut through the static.
Eli switched his comms over. "What the hell happened?"
"They blew the gate, Eli. They blew thefuckinggate." The usually unflappable Larabie sounded throaty with shock. "They must have rigged it to go after we came through. I—I—that'sinsane."
Eli swallowed, a lump rising in his own throat as he watched the faint sparkle of gate debris spiraling away like a miniature galaxy.
"The wormhole just collapsed," said Larabie, still in disbelief. "The gravity differential, it—I saw it tear theVentureinhalf. I've never seen anything …" His voice caught. "Oh, god. The fleet."
The rest of the fleet had been waiting in the wormhole for theVenture's all-clear. Standard operating procedure.
Larabie was almost inaudible, though Eli couldn't tell whether it was the transmission or the man himself. "They're trapped in the wormhole. All of them."
All those people—friends, classmates, thousands Eli had never even met. Trapped. In the wormhole.
Eli swallowed again. "They can just go back, right? Back to the Badr sector, where they went in?"
"No, they can't. You can't keep just one end of a wormhole stable. It's like a rubber band: let go and it snaps."
"What if … what if we rebuild the gate?"
There was a short, bitter laugh from Larabie. "It'd take years. Best-case scenario, they've been spat out halfway across the galaxy. Worst …" He trailed off. "Either way, they're gone, Eli."
A sudden squawk came over the comm channels, and an unfamiliar voice rang in Eli's ears.
"Illyrican ships, this is Admiral Vogel of the Sabaean Planetary Defense Forces. You are outnumbered and outgunned. Kill your engines, power down your weapons, and we'll accept your surrender."
Outnumbered and outgunned. Eli choked back a hysterical laugh.That wasourline.
"Repeat, this is Admiral Vogel of the Sabaean Planetary—"
"Fuckyou," cut in Kwok's voice.
Eli watched in horror as the pilot matched actions to words, throttling to maximum and careening at the enemy fighters, guns blazing away. Her screams echoed down the comm channel.
"You motherfucking murde—"
A missile streaked out from under one of the enemy bombers, hitting Kwok's ship head on. Eli's heart leapt into his throat as the fighter became a ball of expanding, briefly burning fragments.
"No!" He wasn't sure who yelled—it could have been him, for all he knew—but it was the last thing he heard before the hiss of broad-spectrum jamming descended.
Green Squadron scattered, picking up the nearest enemy ships. Eli threw his own throttle wide open and rocketed toward a group of fighters.
He saw the same bomber launch another missile in his direction, but he spun toward the fragments of Kwok's ship, putting the cloud of remains between himself and the projectile. The missile veered off, detonating harmlessly in the debris field.
Coming around at the enemy squadron, he loosed two of his own missiles, sending them directly into the heart of the formation.
One shot through the gaps between the fighters; the other hit dead on, turning one ship into a hail of shrapnel that shredded through two of the others. Eli punched through what was left of the formation, guns clearing the way by eliminating yet another fighter. Before fully comprehending what he was doing, he found himself barreling toward the capital ships that still hung in the distance like an oncoming storm.
Let's see how you like it when the fight's brought to you, you smug bastards.
Eli glanced at the weapon status on his heads-up; the missile-ready indicator burned a steady green. From this far away, the big cruisers would have plenty of time to shoot down anything he fired; his only chance was to get as close as possible before launching. He pointed his nose at the nearest capital ship.
The bigger ships clearly hadn't expected to engage with fighters this soon—even just one of them. That surprise gave Eli the precious few seconds he needed to close the gap.
An electronic warning shriek ripped at his eardrums as the cruiser let loose a barrage in his direction, trying to get a bead on his ship. Smoothly rolling his fighter to starboard, Eli arced away from the fire, then wove back toward the cruiser. Just another few seconds and he'd be inside the perimeter of its defensive fire. His thumb hovered above the missile launch button.
Abruptly, the communications jamming disappeared.
"Illyrican fighter, this is the Sabaean cruiserDogs of War. Cut your enginesnowor we will fire for effect."
That first salvo hadn't been a near miss; it had been a warning shot. In Eli's stomach, the butterflies returned with reinforcements, but he batted them away as he once again saw Kwok's ship disintegrating. His jaw clenched.
Their mistake. They should have taken him out when they had the chance—now he was too close. His targeting reticle was still locked on the cruiser's bridge as the enormous ship filled his canopy; he fancied he even caught sight of one or two crewmembers at viewports, pointing at him, mouths agape.
His finger lingered above the missile trigger. He could do it—he could decapitate the cruiser.
Steeling himself, he toggled his comm and took a deep breath. For all he knew, these could be his last words. Better make them good ones.
"You can all go to hell, you sons of—"