Rich space opera in a mind-boggling universe.
In the 24th century, human civilization has made a great leap forward, colonizing over a thousand planets and exploring thousands more.
They also survived a bloody civil war.
Now, humanity must struggle with revolutionary changes. In the Xan-4 System, both scientists and Federation soldiers, including Sergeant Henryan Darski, temporarily on parole, secretly observe two alien races from an orbital station. The sergeant must identify a group of people who—against procedures—are trying to save one of the races. At stake is not only the survival of the Warriors of the Bone, but also Henryan's life.
Meanwhile, in the distant New Rouen System, the Nomad, a ship from the Recycling Corps, finds a mysterious, millennia-old shipwreck while clearing the fields of long-forgotten space battles. The derelict's advanced technology is impressive...
...but the being found onboard could shake the very foundation of human civilization…
Book one in The Fields of Long-Forgotten Battles series.
•Finding new treasures from around the world is one of the greatest joys of reading. This book from Polish writer Robert J. Szmidt certainly qualifies as such a treasure, a real discovery for fans of space opera and diverse voices from beyond American shores. If you're looking for breakneck action, mind-bending plot twists, and complex characters, you will find all that and more in Easy To Be A God. Not only will you experience a far future of deep space exploration, but you will marvel at the wondrous relics of an ancient alien battleground, not all of which are mechanical or technological by nature. We're so lucky to have Robert's work in this bundle, and even luckier that this is only the first epic tale from this gifted writer in the Fields of Long-Forgotten Battles series. – Robert Jeschonek
"An exciting beginning to an epic saga of space exploration. Morrisey and his crew of daring, corrupt rogues will hold you breathless as they loot the wrecks of spaceships—until they find the one that could change everything in the galaxy."– Nancy Kress, author of Beggars in Spain
"A fast-paced tale of a piratical salvage crew who find more than they expected when they discover an ancient Alien artifact. An engaging story."– Jack Campbell, author of The Lost Fleet series
The Solar System, Alpha Sector
"Time to get up, my lord …" whispered Monicatherine, still sleepy, and stretched herself sensually between the rustling sheets.
"Not just yet, the sun's barely rising," said Nike very quietly, making himself heard, but not disturbing her blissful idleness.
He sat, or in fact reclined, in a shallow armchair draped with a tiger fur, eyes fixed on the narrow bay window. Sipping tangy wine from a crystal goblet, he watched the treetops being tossed by the strong wind and the gray-blue mountain range looming in the distance. Although the first rays of dawn had just lit up the horizon, it was bright enough to make out every detail of the landscape. Wispy clouds drifted lazily across the sky like wreaths of smoke from a dying campfire. Among them frolicked slender, winged silhouettes racing the wind. Too distinctive to be confused with birds. Too swift and lithe. Too glistening. An entire wing of fiery red dragons had left their nests to greet the day in the air.
"Why didn't you awake me, master?"
The question came from behind his armchair so unexpectedly that he started involuntarily, dropping the goblet. Either Monicatherine had crept up so quietly, or he had been so wrapped in thought. The crystal vessel—fortunately already empty—fell directly onto the furs carpeting the stone floor. It didn't smash, and only a few drops of scarlet liquid splashed on the long, snow-white hairs, however …
That's not a good sign, Nike grimaced.
"What's bothering you, darling?" The girl was crouching alongside now. She rested her head in the crook of his shoulder, letting him slide his fingertips over her long golden hair.
"You know very well what." He leaned over to kiss her, but she stood up right at that moment.
She passed by him naked, still sleep-warm and dreamy, stood in front of the window obscuring the whole view, and then bent forward sensually, resting her elbows on the narrow windowsill.
"Dragons … look how many there are today, darling," she said, knowing that his attention was not focused on the winged giants.
"I like dragons," Nike responded, trying to sound unruffled. "They're so dignified, but at the same time so carefree."
Monicatherine smiled. A moment later, she knelt by the window and together they watched the distant, whirling glimmers. The pale red dawn continued to swell on the horizon.
"I'll miss them," Nike added. At the same time a sudden flash made him snap his eyelids shut. He kept his eyes closed tightly, but it did not help much; he still felt as if the naked sun had blazed straight into his pupils.
"It's seven already," he heard Monicatherine's words. "Your last parade … You're gonna be late."
The blinding flash made him realize she had turned off the illusioner. The image of the stone wall with the narrow bay window vanished, and with it—the trees, mountains, sky, and the dragons dancing in the wind. The panoramic screen occupying half the cabin now showed the boundless blackness of space and the home world suspended in it. Precisely synchronized with the illusion, the Sun had emerged from behind the edge of the blue and white globe. The photochromic crystallite darkened instantly, yet Nike was dazzled anyway—all it took was the blink of an eye.
"I'll make it." He groaned, partly with pain and partly because it was their last shared illusion.
"It sounds as if you don't want to go to the parade." She walked over to him rolling her hips, but stopped beyond his reach. "Are you sure everything's all right?"
"You've seen my grade book," he answered evasively, still rubbing his eyes. "I've got the fourth best score in my year."
"And I told you it's enough, didn't I? Trust me."
"I do, darling." He reached out to grab her waist, but only caught thin air and that unique—though somehow elusive—scent of warm skin.
Monicatherine stepped back nimbly and continued to look intently at him, as though to imprint his image in her memory; his elongated face, straight, proportional nose, high cheekbones lending him the alpha male look, deep-set brown eyes, and jet-black short hair only growing at the back of his head.
"You seem so downcast today," she began as he was getting up from the armchair.
"C'mon. It's not every day you graduate from the Academy."
"Being inducted isn't a sentence," she retorted. "Nothing's really going to change. With your grades you're sure to stay within the Solar System. You might even get a post here in orbit."
"Yes, nothing's gonna change between us," he assured her, knowing that his words were at least as false as the illusion they had been watching a short time before.
"Get going," she said, throwing him a jumpsuit—the dress uniform for last-year cadets—the same one he had so meticulously folded the evening before. "There's only fifteen minutes left till the first whistle, and I'd like to—"
She didn't have to finish. He knew what she wanted. He also knew he would miss that the most.
"Attention!" Three equilateral formations of uniformed figures straightened up in a split second.
In this place everything appealed to the imagination: the semidarkness of the immense hangar, the streamlined contours of the fighters looming in the distance, the massive bulk of assault ships, and more than anything—the omnipresent cold, which reminded the participants in the ceremony that they were only separated from endless space by a layer of porous helon a few yards thick.
"And finally, Admiral-Rector Damiandreas Dreade-Ravenore," the duty officer announced, then saluted the lecturers occupying seats in the honorary grandstand and left the rostrum, giving his place over to a well-built man.
Dredd, even though bald as a coot, wasn't at all old. He may have notched up a hundred sixty years, of which a hundred and thirty-three years he had spent in active service, but he still looked like a young god thanks to almost eight decades of forced hibernation. He was as tall as a basketball player, had a square jaw, broad shoulders, the muscles of a bodybuilder, and limber but dignified movements. All the cadets envied the Admiral his fitness, but none of them would have confessed—even under torture—that during the six long years of training they had felt even a trace of affection toward him. Damiandreas Dreade-Ravenore was a supercilious, sadistic clone-of-a-bitch and liked nothing better than to give speeches. He loved to torment the cadets physically but also verbally. They had experienced both kinds of harassment many times—firsthand and first ear, so to speak—and long before had sworn that none of them would utter the slightest sound during his farewell speech.
"At ease, cadets!" he began customarily, holding up a thick sheaf of papers, which contained notes for his speech.
He then fell pointedly silent, counting on the murmur of despair he so relished. This time, though, the cadets stayed true to their word and disappointed Dredd. Those in the middle of the front row could see the Admiral's eyelid twitching.
"I have no doubt that more than once you've asked yourselves why we trained you in such tough conditions," he said in an angry tone, putting the script down on the rostrum. "Why you had to carry out the most complicated warning procedures with your eyes closed, when—"
Here he stopped and shifted his gaze over the regular formations, before picking up his speech with a repetition, a favorite rhetorical device of his that allowed him to lengthen his address.
"—why you had to carry out the most complicated warning procedures with your eyes closed, when for a hundred and eighteen years no vessel of the Federation Fleet has been involved in combat. We have no enemies today, I agree. The first and the last colonial war was an absolute and unequivocal success. But it was a Pyrrhic victory, there's no denying it. Every family lost loved ones in that conflict. However, that immense blood sacrifice ensured our civilization a century of peaceful existence and unprecedented development. Never has peace been so enduring in the history of Humankind.
"We reached the stars barely three centuries ago. The beginnings were humble. The colonization of the Moon lasted forty-five years, following the first flights to the Silver Globe picked up again in the initial decades of the twenty-first century. Things went more swiftly with Mars, but we still needed thirty years in order for the domes of cities and industrial installations to spring up among the rust-colored sands. The beginning of the twenty-second century finally brought a breakthrough, a huge breakthrough. The invention of FTL drive—for the first time in history, fully efficient—allowed the human race to reach the stars.
"Events gathered pace. Thousands of space probes hurtled toward distant systems, extending the borders of the known Universe. The final frontier had been overcome; the final obstacle keeping us on Earth, the cradle of Humankind, had been surmounted. People had left the home world and in less than a hundred fifty years had colonized one thousand and fourteen planets in eight hundred and seventy-two star systems within a one thousand nine hundred light-year radius of Earth. They had also investigated a further eighteen thousand dead star systems, unsuitable for colonization. That's a great deal, a really great deal for almost three centuries of expansion, and were it not for the period of civil war—" The Admiral made a short rhetorical pause again.
"That's a great deal, a really great deal for almost three centuries of expansion, and had it not been for the civil war we might have added to that list hundreds—if not thousands—of other worlds. But what is our Federation in the grand scheme of things, since even ten times as many colonized planets would be a mere drop in the ocean of the Galaxy? Tens of billions of new stars still await exploration in the center of the Milky Way, not to mention those in its remaining spiral arms. We haven't got the slightest idea how many habitable, Earthlike planets orbit them. Neither do we know how many civilizations as powerful as ours, or even mightier, may exist there.
"The fact that we have not yet discovered advanced forms of life in the one arm of the Milky Way we have so far explored, that we have not come across any signals or artifacts left by Aliens, doesn't mean in any way that they do not exist. That they aren't out there," he nodded toward the bulkhead, "just beyond the frontiers of knowledge. And that they haven't been observing us for a long time … That they won't threaten us in the more distant or quite near future … The Universe is immense; some even say it's infinite. We will not be safe, while even one system in the farthest corner of the Galaxy remains unexplored. And the end of the exploration will only be possible in thousands—and who knows if not tens of thousands—of years."
He stopped again, ran his hand over the naked skin above his left ear, as if he wanted to smooth down some nonexistent hair. His fingers touched the long red scar, which extended as far as the root of his nose, transforming his face into a warning of what might befall any one of those present in the hangar out there in space, when the true test comes.
"We've been unified for a hundred and eighteen years. For the first time in the history of Humankind there are no states, no nations; the concepts of races and borders have lost all significance. Our great-great-grandfathers shed their blood and laid down their lives to unite all people under a single banner. However, the Federation will still need at least another century to compensate for the losses incurred in that war. Many worlds are awaiting repopulation, many planets can no longer be our home—"
He fell silent. This time, he didn't glance at the cadets. Once again he had drifted off into memories of the times he had looked at the dying colonies as a soldier, an officer, and finally the commander of one of the fleets. Scores of planets had been turned into eternal cemeteries; hundreds of colonies were still licking their wounds. That was the cost of the ultimate union. All the cadets knew that look on the admiral's face, and were aware that his pondering over the past would soon be over.
"Today you complete your training in the most elite school," the Admiral spoke again. "Tomorrow you begin service in frontline vessels. You will be dispersed throughout the Universe, across dozens of sectors, and hundreds of systems. Some of you, however, will be granted the honor of serving here, on Earth. Yes, I have seven such assignments."
When the Admiral waved some cards he had taken out of his pocket, from the ranks standing in front of him came soft murmurs of satisfaction, acknowledged—of course—by Dredd's wry smile. No one had expected him to show so many gold cards.
"For the first time in five years such a large number of graduates will take up service in High Command on Earth. Seven assignments for the seven top students, for best of the best. Before I award them, however, I have something less felicitous to communicate."
A deathly silence fell. All cadets knew what would be said, but none of them wanted to hear it.
"I have received from High Command official orders—" The Admiral-Rector paused to emphasize the gravity of the words he was about to utter. "I have received from High Command official orders for fifty-three cadets to serve honorably and responsibly in the craft of Recycling Corps."
A dull groan swept through the hangar. Dredd did not react, but looked down triumphantly at the sour faces of the cadets standing in the rear row. They had the greatest chance of "honorable" service in the Recycling Corps, where the death toll was still heavy.
"A great adventure awaits you, gentlemen. You weren't committed to your war studies, so now you'll be able to see the wartime effects for yourselves. Here are your invitations to the fields of long-forgotten battles," concluded Damiandreas Dreade-Ravenore, not without satisfaction, activating the screen of his reader. "But first allow me to commence my speech …"
Nike toyed with the small, oblong piece of plastic inscribed with his future. Or actually the absence of a future. Following Dredd's speech—which lasted more than an hour—the ceremonial awarding of assignments took place and another academic year officially ended. Not many people remained in the hangar. A few lecturers saying goodbye to their favorite students and around a dozen cadets still waiting for the liaison officers of minor vessels, who apparently had been delayed. In fact one could have said "around a dozen condemned men." Service onboard the heavy wreckers of the Recycling Corps was far from safe. This year's fifty-three posts meant that at least as many crew members had departed this life since the last parade.
"Statcherskee!" The distorted sound of his surname brought Nike out of his reverie.
He looked up just as Dredd, who was talking to a short, fat man in filthy mechanic's overalls, pointed at him. He picked up his kitbag and threw it over one shoulder.
"You're Statcherskee, are you?" A red-haired officer with a puffy face walked over and held out a hand stinking of chemicals to take his card.
"My name's Stachursky. It's a Polish name, so you pronounce the 'CH'—"
"Shut it, boy."
Only when he drew closer did Nike notice a modest stripe with the rank of captain of the Fleet and the name "MORRISEY" sewn on beneath the faded gold lettering of "FSS NOMAD" on the worn-out, stained overalls.
His card was at once shoved into a reader, but Morrisey, rather than turning on his heel, whistled softly and glanced at the cadet. Nike didn't notice it, for he was gaping in horror at the metal fingers gripping the case of a small comlink.
"Are you taking the piss?" asked the astonished captain of the Nomad without looking up. "I see from the exam results here that you're one of this year's top graduates. Fourth best score. Your sort don't wind up with us."
"Sir, it's not a mistake, sir." Nike clicked his heels in accordance with regulations.
"Really? So how do you explain it then, boy?" Morrisey asked, nodding at the reader where, next to a hologram of his face and personal details, one could see the results of all his exams and the almost perfect final grade.
"Let's say he penetrated something he shouldn't have, and too deeply at that." Dredd approached them and answered for the nonplussed cadet.
"What?" Captain Morrisey looked surprised.
"I beg to report, sir, that I fucked the Admiral's youngest daughter!" Nike explained to his new superior slightly louder than the situation demanded.
The laughter of the lecturers standing nearby died out in an instant.