2018/05/23

XSeed Preview

MW-01

You guys are awesome, so here's a little treat: a sneak preview of my upcoming mecha/Mil-SF novel Combat Frame XSeed.


Prologue

The future is over.

Cascading social and economic crises led to the Collapse of civilization on earth. Wealthy oligarchs partnered with the last governments to found a new order in manmade space colonies at earth’s Lagrange points.

In time, life in outer space stabilized. A group of powerful colonies formed the Systems Overterrestrial Coalition to improve the standard of living on earth. The returning colonists were seen as meddlers seeking to impose an alien culture on earth’s new nations. Rising tensions erupted into violence. In response, the Coalition sent combat frames—armored bipedal weapons platforms—to protect their terrestrial interests.

Prime Minister Josef Friedlander has fought to maintain the L3 colonies’ independence from the Coalition. His wife and daughter have been seized by SOC Security Director Sanzen Kaimora. Amid the tense political standoff, Friedlander’s son Sieg has launched an unauthorized rescue mission to Sanzen’s compound in L1’s Byzantium colony.


1

The giant’s approach shook the pines atop the low ridge where Sieg lay hidden. A flock of starlings took flight from the trembling boughs but found no sky. They rose over the treetops, through a patchy layer of cloud, and toward the sunlight reflected through the thirty kilometer window arcing overhead.

Sieg didn’t linger on the flock spiraling into a pointillist corkscrew in the twisted gravity of the colony’s longitudinal axis. He trained his field glasses on the stocky, olive drab combat frame tromping through the woods below. Boughs halfway up the trees’ thirty-five meter tall trunks scraped its domed head. The CF held its oversized machine gun at the ready.

ZoDiaC’s intel didn’t mention Soc patrols this far from the compound. But the demilitarized colonies’ report had already proved less trustworthy than Sieg’s own eyes. The giant approaching his team’s position was a Grenzmark C, a last-generation Systems Overterrestrial Coalition combat frame rushed into production as a stopgap measure. Its presence meant the Socs had tightened security on short notice.

It’s almost on us. Sieg slid back downslope across the fragrant needles blanketing the ridge. When the rocky crest stood between him and the Grenzmark’s sensors, he sprang to his feet and ran downhill. His life—and the lives of his mother, his sister, and his friends—depended on him taking down the giant before it reached Elliot and Werner. He leapt the last four meters to the ground and landed in a crouch at his work frame’s feet.

“How bad are we screwed?” Elliot hissed from the cab of his work frame, which stood to the right of Sieg’s.

“Grenzmark C inbound,” Sig told him and Werner, who manned the third work frame at Elliot’s right. Werner’s dark eyes and pale face brooded in contrast to Elliot’s ruddy-cheeked anxiety.

“The three of us can take a Grenzie,” said Werner, “but not the reinforcements who’ll answer the pilot's distress call.”

Sieg climbed into his cab. The construction machines, plus forged work orders, had gotten him and his friends inside Byzantium colony. But the compact, utilitarian work frames were no match for their larger, better armed combat frame descendants. Not in a straight fight.

“Where are you going?” Elliott asked over the radio when Sieg shut his work frame’s hatch. The window reflected sky blue eyes glinting in his determined face under a crown of neatly trimmed blond hair. He started the machine and strode toward the cleft in the ridge.

Sieg answered by extending his work frame’s three-fingered hand toward his friends. He knew they’d take the hint and stay back. Sieg had been swarmed with suck ups and hangers-on since his father’s election as L3’s prime minister. But Elliot, Werner, and Chase—who they were counting on to have the shuttle prepped for a fast exit—were among the tight circle of friends whom Sieg had known since childhood, and the only ones he trusted with such a vital mission.

The Grenzmark’s approaching footfalls rattled Sieg’s cab. The Soc’s coming right through here. It stood to reason. The artificial hills ran to the massive windows that flanked Sanzen’s personal land strip. The thick panes were covered with water to create artificial lakes. Neither the Grenzie nor the work frames were rated for aquatic use, so the cleft was the only way through the ridge for over a kilometer in each direction.

Sieg fought the urge to rush his target and stayed behind the cover of an outcrop to the Grenzmark’s left. The secondhand work frame had no active sensors, which was a blessing in disguise since using radar would have triggered the combat frame’s sensitive instruments.

Three more steps. Sieg drew a carbon-reinforced utility knife from his work frame’s hip-mounted toolbox.

Two.

One.

Sieg’s work frame pivoted into the cleft. The Grenzie’s head swiveled to glare at its smaller foe. The squat metal dome was really a protective covering for a circular array of high intensity LED panels interspersed with mini cameras. Three columns of five horizontal slits made the CF’s face resemble a gladiator’s visor.

Sieg jammed the control stick forward. His work frame charged the Grenzmark with two jarring bounds. The CF’s pilot swung his 110mm machine gun forward but failed to adjust for his unusually short opponent before Sieg plunged his utility knife through the cockpit hatch in the Grenzie’s chest.

The suddenly unmanned combat frame started to list, and Sieg propped it up against a tree. He relieved the Grenzmark of its machine gun. The weapon—essentially a handheld automatic tank gun—was awkward but useable in the work frame’s three-clawed hands. He grabbed an extra magazine from the CF’s skirt armor and rejoined his friends.

“I knew you’d pull it off,” Werner said.

“Is the Coalition pilot…dead?” asked Elliot.

The weight of what Sieg had done pressed down on his chest. Mom, Liz, forgive me. I had to.
Werner knew how to interpret his friend’s silence. “Let’s move out,” he said. “It won’t be long until more Socs come looking.”

By silent accord, the three childhood friends turned comrades-in-arms filed past the motionless Grenzmark. Their work frames navigated the woods more stealthily than the combat frame had managed, and they soon reached the forest’s edge. A verdant field stretched from the tree line to a stark concrete wall that, according to Sieg’s informant, encompassed Sanzen’s house of horrors.

“A hundred meters of open ground looks a lot bigger in real life than on paper,” Elliot said. “How do we cross it unnoticed?”

Sieg’s hand sought his red and black flight suit’s left breast pocket. His thumb and forefinger closed around a smooth strip of fabric, which he gently drew out. He stared at the pink silk ribbon—one of two that his young sister was fond of wearing in her hair. That Sanzen sent my father as a warning.

“I passed the point of no return when I killed that Soc,” Sieg told his friends with cold subdued wrath. “You two have done more than I had any right to ask. Withdraw to the maintenance hatch, call Chase, and wait for me. I’ll go after Mother and Elizabeth.”

Elliot’s work frame stepped forward to stand beside Sieg’s. “I promised to help rescue your family from Sanzen,” said Elliot. “No use trying to change the terms now.”

Werner lined up next to Elliot. Sieg didn’t have to hear his explanation. His quiet friend’s crush on the lively and beautiful Elizabeth Friedlander was an open secret.

“There are no combat frames visible on the ground,” said Sig. “We rush the wall at full speed, go over the top, and head straight for the research wing. If we meet any resistance,” Sieg readied the oversized machine gun in his work frame’s hands, “keep going and leave them to me.”

The only reply was a whispered, “For Elisabeth,” on Werner’s channel. It spurred the three friends like the report of a starter pistol, and together their work frames charged from the safety of the trees toward the imposing wall.

Screaming fire rained down. Werner’s scream was cut off as his work frame vanished in a burning cloud. Sieg reflexively jerked his control stick hard to the left. The missile that had been meant for him detonated in the trees. Splinters drummed against his work frame’s back like flaming hail.

The smoke cleared. A debris-lined crater yawned at Werner’s last known position. Elliot’s work frame lay slumped against a blackened tree, its right arm and leg blown away.

Sieg fixed his camera on the colossal window above. Applying a dazzle filter showed him the stocky outlines of six combat frames silhouetted against the sun’s reflection in the colony’s angled mirror.
Grenzmark IIs. The current-model combat frames had been waiting in the air over the compound, hidden by the sun. They knew we were coming.

Sieg’s cold anger burst into white-hot rage. He punched his work frame’s jump jet switch and fired a series of controlled bursts from his machine gun as he rocketed toward the enemy squad. Three of the six CFs went down trailing smoke from their ruptured cockpits.

The remaining Grentos opened up with their own automatic rifles. Huge bullets flew past the small, fast-moving target until one volley shredded the work frame’s legs. Missing its thrusters, the critically damaged machine crashed to the ground. Emergency airbags deployed, sparing Sieg the full force of the impact that knocked the air from his lungs.

Sieg mashed the door release and tumbled from the work frame’s cab. He landed on soft mowed grass, lurched to his feet, and bolted for the trees. The whine of the Grentos’ thrusters harried him like onrushing thunder.

Elliot sat beside his ruined work frame, his left leg bent at an unnatural angle. The color had drained from his normally flushed face. “I’m done,” he panted as Sieg ran to him. “Werner’s gone. He was right next to me, then…”

“Don’t talk,” said Sieg. He bent down and slung his arm around his friend’s back. With Sieg’s help, Elliot rose to stand on one shaking foot. Together they hobbled into the forest.

“I’m sorry,” Elliot said as they limped through the woods. Three searchlight beams swept the shadows of the canopy close behind them. “I tried my best. Just wasn’t enough.”

“It’s not your fault. Someone set us up.”

“We’re trapped,” said Elliot. “I don’t know what to do.”

Sieg knew exactly what to do. From the moment he and Elliot entered the woods, he’d been heading back toward the cleft in the ridge. They might still have a chance if they could reach it before the Socs caught up—which would be any second with Elliot slowing Sieg down. He gathered his injured friend in his arms and made a run for the ridge.

Time seemed to dilate as Sieg ran. But the trees parted, and his heart leapt when he saw the small pass between the hills. Summoning a final burst of speed, he sprinted through the cleft and set Elliot down at the Grenzmark C’s foot.

Sieg’s lungs and limbs burned, but the low roar of thrusters just behind the ridge drove him up the steel rungs set into the combat frame’s armor. He reached the cloven cockpit door, pried it open, and fought his gag reflex as he dumped most of the dead pilot to the ground below. Elliot’s cry sent panic stabbing up Sieg’s spine until he saw that his friend was only reacting to the bloody mess that had landed a few meters to his right. They hadn’t been discovered yet.

Good thing my suit’s mostly red. Sieg took a deep breath and hoisted himself into the Grenzie’s cockpit. His knife thrust had destroyed the main monitor and split the pilot seat’s back, but the controls mounted on the armrests remained functional. He lowered the combat frame into a crouch and set its left hand on the ground. When Elliot crawled into the giant metal palm, Sieg raised the CF to its full height and set off with the punctured door open.

“Chase,” he called on the shuttle’s frequency. “This is Sieg. Do you read me?”

After an agonizing moment, the line crackled. “Chase here,” the shuttle pilot said. “Reading you five, Sieg. Didn’t expect you so soon.”

“I need an evac, stat.”

“For five, I hope.”

“Negative. It’s just me and Elliot.”

Chase’s voice fell. “And Werner?”

“He didn’t make it. I’m in a stolen Grenzmark C with at least three flight-capable Grenzmark IIs in pursuit. What’s your ETA to the maintenance hatch?”

“Give me ten minutes,” said Chase. “And Sieg? Stay alive, or I’ll fly this bird to hell and beat your dead ass. Over and out.”

Sieg set the Grenzie’s feet toward the access hatch partway up the curve of the colony’s end cap. Negotiating the colossal bowl was like climbing the inside of a hollow mountain. The climb proved more difficult than his and his friend’s initial descent from the same hatch what seemed like a lifetime ago, especially with Elliot cradled in one of the CF’s hands.

Equally relieved and wary that he hadn’t been spotted yet, Sieg tuned in the Coalition Security Corps’ dedicated frequency. From the three surviving CSC pilots’ chatter, he soon learned that his combat frame theft had gone unnoticed. The Grentos were still searching the forest near Sanzen’s compound for intruders fleeing on foot.

Sieg piloted the Grenzie into the warren of enormous passages that riddled the space between the colony’s inner and outer hull. Navigating by memory, he reached the CF-sized airlock that led to outer space and freedom.

“Seal your suit,” he called down to Elliot, who pulled his helmet over his head. Sieg did likewise. His helmet magnified his heavy breaths of metallic-tasting air.

“Come in, Chase. This is Sieg. Elliot and I are in position. Do you copy?”

“Copy, Sieg,” said Chase. “I’m parked just out of sight. It’s a straight shot from the hatch to the shuttle. Come on out, and I’ll have you two home for supper, over.”

Sieg’s anger blazed like red coals in the pit of his stomach as he opened the airlock. “I’ll come back for you,” he promised his mother, his sister, and the unavenged ghost of his friend before activating the Grenzie’s jump thrusters and rocketing into the black.

What looked like a white dot soon resolved into the blunted bullet shape of the shuttle’s hull, which grew to dominate Sieg’s vision. Within moments, he and Elliot would be safely aboard and bound for L3, where the wayward son would face his father’s disappointment. I’d rather fight the Socs again.

Sieg had come alongside the shuttle and was reaching his Grenzmark’s free hand toward the bay door when a nasal male voice came over the CSC channel. “Gamma One to Control: Unauthorized shuttle confirmed twenty klicks to spinward off the end cap. Transmitting live feed from my Grenzmark’s optical array.”

“Acknowledged, Gamma One,” a brusque voice replied. “Target lock acquired.”

“Chase,” Shouted Sig. “They spotted you. Get out of here!”

A point of light streaked from the colony and connected with the shuttle amidships. The resulting blast reduced the spacecraft to a hot vapor. Sieg barely managed to turn his Grenzie aside before the shockwave hammered the combat frame, sending it hurtling away from the colony at an acute angle.

Sieg feared the damaged chair to which he was strapped would break loose and eject him into space. It held, but he almost wished it hadn’t when the tremors rocking his CF threatened to batter him into paste. The shaking subsided, leaving him bruised and in shock with cockpit alarms blaring.
A frantic thought shattered Sieg’s respite. Elliot!

Sieg’s throbbing hand gripped the control stick and commanded the Grenzie to raise its left arm. Nothing happened. He repeated the process twice before a dread realization penetrated his numbed mind. Against his muscles’ protests, he released his harness, leaned forward, and craned his neck outside the cockpit.

All of the Grenzie’s limbs had been blown off.

Despair drove Sieg back into his seat. He sat motionless for what could have been seconds or hours, until a familiar voice intruded on his daze.

“Gamma One to Control: Missile strike confirmed. The target has been vaporized. Request authorization to search for CF spotted near target before impact, over.”

“Negative,” said an icy female voice Sieg couldn’t quite place in his near-delirium. “Break off pursuit and return to base. This mission was a total success.”


Mother, thought Sieg as he tumbled through space. Liz. I failed you.


Earth's battle against the Socs will continue in the self-titled first installment of Combat Frame XSeed, my upcoming mecha/Mif-SF novel series. Keep your eyes on this blog and my social media feeds for more details as they emerge.

In the meantime, get your space adventure fix with my award-winning Soul Cycle series, now on sale for less than the big publishers charge for a single eBook.

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier

20 comments:

  1. Looks neat. The changes in tense are jarring, though. Ah. The first few paragraphs are setup, both doing simple past, and then telling the immediate backdrop to the story. And the story is consistent.

    Ok, I understand now. Still a bit jarring.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It'll make more sense in the finished book. The first four paragraphs will be on their own page. I'll also try making the whole prologue present tense and see how it reads.

      Delete
    2. Yeah. It's the transition from those four paragraphs to the rest that tripped me up. Having them physically separated by page (possibly by font as well) satisfies me.

      Delete
    3. Sweet. I still like the idea of experimenting with all present tense, too.

      Delete
    4. I could see it for first person, but I dislike it for third person.

      The big exception is the movie script version of The Stars Came Back.

      Delete
  2. Based on your comment, I went back and restored the chapter headings from my manuscript. That should give readers a better idea of the book's structure.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No longer jarring!

      And in my mind's eye, I see the Prologue scrolling in yellow text towards an infinite background of stars. Good job!

      Delete
    2. Thanks. And good catch. I used the prologue from Alan Dean Foster's novelization of A New Hope as a model.

      Delete
    3. They were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Naturally, they became heroes.

      Delete
    4. That's a theme you'll see throughout my new series.

      Delete
  3. Whoa, nice job! Looking forward to it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. I'm looking forward to telling you the whole story.

      Delete
  4. It is really a fun snippet! I'm looking forward to this now... I was a bit leery when you were just dropping hints, but you have really caught my attention now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good to know. Thanks. I'm glad you had fun.

      Delete
  5. Brian

    This is fun it's pulpy with a dash of thriller.
    I really liked reading this

    xavier

    ReplyDelete
  6. Cool snippet. Really does feel like something out of Gundam.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'll be completely honest, after you announced you'll be doing a gundam-like series, I was pretty disappointed. I was never into gundam. I wanted more stuff like Soul Cycle. But after reading the summary (not the excerpt, cause I never read previews of books), it sounds very interesting. Will definitely be keeping this on my radar.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. I treasure my readers' honest feedback.

      I know some are skeptical about my foray into mecha/Mil-SF. I encourage them, if they enjoyed the Soul Cycle, to give me the benefit of the doubt and to give XSeed a fair hearing.

      As an incentive, keep in mind the general consensus that my writing continues to improve with each new book I release.

      Delete