My loyal readers have been waiting patiently for news about my next Combat Frame XSeed book, and patience should be rewarded.
Without further ado, here is a sample chapter from Book 1 in a brand-new XSeed series–Combat Frame XSeed: S.
Cassone Extrasolar Colony, Common Year 98
Second Lieutenant Dex Trapper kept his hazel eyes locked on the shiny vacuum chamber inside the MCF-122’s open port plasma cannon. He held the new part in place with his left hand, stretched his gray-sleeved right arm beyond the forward-swept wing’s edge, and curled his fingers in a beckoning gesture.
“Thatch!” he said when his hand remained empty after several seconds.
Dex sucked his teeth in annoyance when his call received no response. He pulled the reflective tube from the cannon and ducked under the wing-mounted gun to confront his idle teammate.
“Thatch, get your head out of the clouds!”
Those clouds hung sparsely over a world six hundred light-years from Dex’s home in Western Australia. Senior Airman Thatcher Drummond stood three meters away on the sunlit tarmac, staring at the purple-blue sky. A humid, musky breeze stirred his wavy brown hair.
Dex approached his younger subordinate and waved a hand in front of his face. “Cassone Air Base to Drummond. Do you copy?”
Thatch’s green eyes blinked behind his octagon-frame glasses. A start shook his skinny frame. “Dex! Sorry. I must’ve spaced out.”
“Come back down and hand me the 8mm torque wrench.”
Thatch jerked toward the tech cart standing to his left and fumbled with the tools on its graphene-padded top. The wrench Dex needed clanged to the pavement, along with several others.
“Sorry,” Thatch said again as he got down on all fours to look for the dropped tools. Dex crouched down and helped him gather them up.
“You seem distracted,” Dex said to his awkward but usually capable friend. “Is something bugging you?”
Thatch smiled. “We’re trillions of miles from Earth. Light duty. Good weather. No Ynzu siege. What could bug me out here?”
Dex stood, set the tools on the cart, and threw his long platinum ponytail back over his shoulder. “Let’s close her up and break for lunch.” He swept his arm over the fifteen other gray and blue fighters parked nearby. “Like you said, these Emancipators aren’t flying regular combat missions.”
“Thanks,” said Thatch. Kneeling on the tarmac, he looked like a Japanese kid making a formal apology.
Dex and Thatch took a long lunch at a civilian diner off base. Not that they escaped the shadow of the bronze-domed colony ship embedded in the alien ground. The same enormous vessels that brought human settlers to the extrasolar colonies also served as massive worst-case scenario bunkers. Dex had spent all of his eighteen years under the threat of imminent annihilation.
He was almost used to it.
“You gonna eat that?” Thatch asked, pointing at the remaining half of Dex’s turkey club.
Dex slid his plastic plate across the mint green fiberboard table. “I’m more interested in what’s eating you.”
Thatch took a greedy bite of the sandwich Dex had found rather dry and leaned close to be heard over the Barak Red tune pulsing from the sound system. “You know those guys from Records who traded me a vintage CCF-017K kit for helping them run inventory?”
Dex rolled his eyes. His friend’s obsession with old combat frames would land him in trouble someday. “Let me guess. You found some more scale CF models down in storage.”
“Even better.” Thatch glanced over the customers milling around them to make sure no one was eavesdropping. “The UCAF’s Emancipators aren’t the only XSeeds on Cassone.”
Unlike most of Thatch’s CF geekery, the possibility of secret XSeeds piqued Dex’s interest. “What kind are we talking?” A thrilling prospect entered Dex’s head. “I heard ISBC’s field testing the new Two Series. Did they send us a prototype?”
Thatch shook his head. “Think older. Way older.”
Dex’s brow furrowed. “The Army dumped some decommissioned MCF-RE100’s?”
“Older,” Thatch said around another mouthful of sandwich. He swallowed. “We’re talking pre-One Series.”
“Weren’t all of those custom units or prototypes?” Dex took a sip of cranberry juice. It tasted like sugar water compared to the deliciously tart product of his family’s farm. I’ve gotta do something about the beverage selection.
“According to the colony ship’s manifest,” said Thatch, “it’s an XCD-001.”
Dex coughed on juice gone down the wrong pipe. “Weren’t all three lost a century ago?”
“The first three were destroyed in the war,” said Thatch, “but ISBC made two more back in 56 to test XSeed mass production feasibility.”
“Why would they ship one all the way out here?”
Thatch shrugged. “It came over with the first colonists. I couldn’t find a reason why. But it’s been gathering dust for twenty-eight years.”
“It might as well,” said Dex. “An antique like that isn’t much use.”
The rest of the day passed like most others on Cassone. Dex and Thatch reassembled the plasma cannon and called it a day. Dex had a go at some combat sims—probably the most action he’d see during his tour, hit the showers, and retired to his spartan quarters. Thatch’s XSeed mystery briefly kept him from sleep, but he squelched his wild speculation and drifted off.
Shrill sirens jolted Dex awake. At first he thought them remnants of a fading dream in which he fled from prison down a wet grassy hill. The alarms’ continued wailing alerted him that something really was wrong. A green flash preceding an orange blast that rattled his windows put a name to his dread.
The Ynzu! They’re here!
Dex sprang out of bed. He threw on his flight suit, grabbed his sidearm and helmet, and rushed into the tiled hallway. Other junior officers dashed about in various states of dress, shouting conflicting instructions or simply running for the exits. Dex ran, too—toward the airfield.
Chaos gripped the base. A blunt green transport driving in the opposite direction passed Dex on his way. Several men crowded into the vehicle’s open back urged him to hop on. He ignored them and doubled his pace.
Green lightning and orange-white fireballs lit up the airfield. A headless giant with flared pauldrons, a bulbous torso, and spindly arms ending in wicked pincers stood silhouetted against the inferno. The Ynzu Claviceps strode uncontested down the runway, fragging Emancipators with emerald bolts from the guns between its curved claws.
Dex veered left and ran for one of the few intact XSeeds. He ran alone. Everybody else is heading for the bunker. Riding out the attack underground was probably the smart play, but Dex wasn’t the deepest thinker. He didn’t know exactly what he could do against the Ynzu on his own. He just knew he couldn’t do nothing.
The gray, blue-edged fighter waited a fifty-meter sprint away under a curtain of smoke. The Claviceps rampaged into the distance behind him. I’m gonna make it!
A crane-sized pincer parted the choking black veil. A blood-red point glowed from the headless chest of a second Claviceps. The ground shook under its taloned feet as it advanced.
The Ynzu CF glistened like a jade idol overseeing a sacrificial fire. Its left claw pointed down at the Emancipator. At that range, the graviton-shaped plasma bolt would burn through the XSeed and immolate Dex. The UCAF pilot forced himself to look down the barrel that would unleash his death.
“No!” cried a familiar trebly voice.
Awful wonder compelled Dex to turn his back on the enemy. Thatch stood five meters behind him, his open hands stretched toward the Ynzu. Firelight flickered in his lenses, hiding his eyes.
“What the hell are you doing!?” Dex lunged for Thatch, grabbed the scrawny tech’s olive jacket-clad arm, and ran for the bunker. Seconds later, a burst of green light, a deafening thunderclap, and a hot wind against his back told Dex that the Clav had fired. Thatch screamed. He was lucky he’d survived to scream.
Luck favored them again when another personnel transport turned into their path. Dex helped the mostly civilian passengers pull Thatch aboard before jumping on himself. Only then did he feel the burning in his lungs and the throbbing in his arms. He still clutched his helmet.
The two airmen sat facing each other across the truck’s crowded cabin. The reek of burning oil and fear soured the air. Dex suppressed the insane questions that besieged his mind as the world came apart.
Their ride through purgatory ended at a towering bronze-tinged gate. The colony ship’s entrance resembled a set of aircraft hangar doors, but as thick as the truck was long. Hundreds of colonists teemed around dozens of military and civilian vehicles within the cavern-like loading zone. Most processed deeper inside. Others called out for missing loved ones. Some ambled about, dazed. Recorded messages urged everyone to stay calm and follow the white lines.
The transport stopped when the crush of humanity grew too thick. Dex hopped down from the tailgate and moved to join the slow stampede, but a skinny hand grabbed his arm.
“Not that way,” Thatch said. “Those people are walking into a mass grave.”
Dex motioned for his friend to lower his voice. “The bunker’s built to UCP specs. We’ll dig in and wait out the attack.”
“Name one ExSol that survived an Ynzu attack,” Thatch said in a harsh whisper.
“You got a better plan?” asked Dex, his mouth suddenly dry.
“Not so much a plan as possibility. But it beats waiting to die. Come on.”
Dex followed Thatch out of the crowd and through a curving maze of corridors lit by intermittent emergency strips. The winding path ended at the carbyne-steel cage of an old cargo lift. Thatch pressed the lower of two black rubber buttons protruding from a yellow box mounted beside the door. The grilled gate rose with a clatter, and both men entered the cage.
“I thought you didn’t want to hide underground,” Dex said as the lift descended into the ship’s gloomy depths.
“We’re not hiding,” said Thatch. “The XCD-001 is down here—if the manifest is right.”
Dex raised a white eyebrow. “You don’t know for sure?”
“I had to catalogue a thousand other pieces of junk before I could go and see for myself,” said Thatch.
“Better late than never,” said Dex.
The car shuddered to a halt. Thatch rocked on his feet as the grilled gate rose. A single room big enough to hold a pre-Collapse aircraft carrier spread out from the lift shaft. Row upon row of shipping containers, crates, and shelves stacked high as office buildings radiated to the domed storehouse’s distant wall. The air smelled like a warehouse store.
Thatch exited the lift at a half-run. Dex strode briskly after him.
“We might starve before we find this thing,” the pilot said.
They walked straight for a hundred meters, took a left, and turned right. A blue and white humanoid form stood over them. Its armor still held a glossy sheen. Dex found his gaze drawn to its oddly humanlike amber eyes.
“It’s an XSeed.” Dex spoke in a near-whisper. Despite working with Prometheus’ mass-produced descendants every day, he felt unexpected awe in the prototype’s presence.
“It’s our way out,” Thatch said with similar reverence.
Tactical reality snapped Dex out of his veneration. “Can a museum piece like this really take on the Ynzu alone?”
“It doesn’t have to,” said Thatch. “According to the manifest, this unit has TC/D.”
Mention of the forbidden FTL drive aroused equal hope and fear in Dex. “Using TC/D without authorization from the General Staff is against the law. We’d end up in a penal colony.”
“Got a QuaSt comm on you?”
“It’s a moot point, anyway,” said Thatch. “The Ynzu always jam our QuaSt signals.”
Dex surprised himself by playing the voice of reason. “We should tell the brass about your antique find.”
“They already know,” said Thatch. “I wouldn’t have gotten my CCF-017K if I hadn’t submitted my report.”
“This is all about you getting to ride in a life-sized model kit.”
A tremor coursed up Dex’s feet. Boxes tumbled from high shelves and thudded to the steel deck.
“Guilty,” said Thatch. “But look, if base command was gonna use this XSeed, they’d have done it as soon as the Ynzu took out our Emancipators. Colonel Hutchinson will follow UCP doctrine like always—which means we’re the only hope this colony has.”
Dex looked into the ancient XSeed’s eyes once more. This time they inspired not awe, but resolution. “OK. We take this relic. We fight past the Ynzu, get into space, and use the TC/D to bring back help.”
“Sounds easy,” Thatch said with a note of sarcasm.
“Nothing easy is worth doing.” Dex put on his helmet and strode toward the XSeed.
The crowdfunding campaign for Combat Frame XSeed: S launches soon on Indiegogo!
Get ready for the next exciting series in this epic mech saga by reading the first now!