Yes, I just started the next IN HER NAME novel. No, I don’t know when it’ll be done. But I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a kick-ass story…and here’s the first (unedited) draft of the introduction!
FYI, the story takes place in timeline of CONFEDERATION between the time that Reza Gard and Eustus Camden leave the Marine Academy and when the story picks up six years later on Erlang…
Second Lieutenant Rachel Ortiz sat alone in her quarters aboard the Confederation corvette CSS Leander. While the compartment, which measured two meters long by one point five meters wide, was listed as a stateroom on the small warship’s deck plan, it was smaller than a solitary confinement cell in a Confederation prison. In a way, she reflected bitterly, a prison cell is exactly what it was.
Three months had passed since her assignment as the commander of Leander’s Marine detachment after her graduation from the Officer Basic Course on Quantico. She had been fourth in her class and had expected a good assignment. She had deserved a good assignment. Such was her surprise when she opened her orders to discover that she’d been assigned to the Marine Corps’ 12th Guards Regiment, also infamously known as the Red Legion. She wore the regiment’s patch on the left shoulder of her uniform. Turning to look at herself in the small wall mirror, she could see red lion, rampant on a black background. When she had first put it on, she’d felt as if it had burned her skin like a brand. The Red Legion was the dumping ground for the worst of the worst in the Corps. Half of the Legion’s personnel were prisoners, from non-violent drug users to soulless killers, who had been given the promise of a pardon in exchange for surviving twelve months of combat duty. The other half were malcontents, slackers, general ne’er-do-wells…and a few decent Marines, primarily officers, who were given the impossible task of molding them into a fighting force against the warriors of the Kreelan Empire. Some deserted, preferring to take their chances against the Internal Security Service and summary execution. Others did the minimum they could get by with, hoping to live long enough to transfer to another unit. And more than a small few reveled in the brutality and cruelty that were the rule, rather than the exception, in the Legion’s twelve battalions. Six of those battalions fought as complete units, usually used to augment Marine divisions in major engagements. Those were the cushy assignments, and generally received better personnel (such as they were) and, even though they typically fought in large battles, had a higher survival rate.
The other battalions, including her own parent unit, the 1st Battalion, were parceled out to the smaller Navy warships as on-board detachments commanded by junior officers such as herself. She snorted in disgust. Commander was a grossly optimistic term for what she really was. Prisoner, or perhaps hostage, would be more appropriate.
In frustration and anger, she delivered a savage kick to the metal bulkhead below the fold-out desk where she was doing her best to focus on the Marine detachment’s paperwork. The paint a hands breadth above the floor had long since been chipped away by the thick sole of the toe of her combat boots, revealing silvery steel that was rusting in the ship’s overly humid atmosphere.
Forcing herself to calm down, she returned her attention to the screen in front of her. The administrative tasks for which she was responsible was her only real respite, for the mind-numbing paperwork allowed her to depart from reality for a short while. She stopped as she called up the next record she needed to update, the flame of pure hatred, something she’d never known before coming aboard Leander, flaring in her core.
The name on the screen was Staff Sergeant Besarion Khutashvili, the detachment’s senior NCO, who was known by the less than affectionate name of Stalin. A convicted murderer who had been given the chance of a pardon if he fought the Kreelans as a member of the Red Legion, Khutashvili had instantly volunteered. He was big, easily twice the size of Ortiz, and the most brutal human being she had ever known. Everyone was terrified of him, and he fed on their fear, lived for it. The damnable thing was that he also boasted a chest full of decorations earned in combat against the Kreelans. Everyone might have been afraid of and despised him as a person, but he had survived more battles than anyone else in the platoon, and had even saved a few of his fellow Marines in the process.
As for Ortiz, “Stalin” treated her like he might a stray cat. The Corps insisted that an officer command the detachment, and even Stalin knew that he would never be promoted beyond his current rank. So he intimidated and cajoled the junior officers placed over him. She knew quite well from reviewing the unit records that those who went along with him lived quite a bit longer than those who didn’t. Most of the latter suffered mysterious deaths, in combat or otherwise.
To Ortiz’s everlasting shame, she had given in to his intimidation, which was tempered by the promise of protection from the less savory of the detachment’s personnel. She was willing to sacrifice her life for the Confederation against the Kreelans, but didn’t want to die at the hands of this maniac. While she would die before admitting it, she was also grateful for his protection: the detachment boasted six convicted rapists who shamelessly tore her uniform off with their eyes every time she stood in front of them. Surprisingly, Stalin didn’t care much about sex one way or the other. He just enjoyed killing. As long as she didn’t get in his way, he’d told her, she’d be just fine.
She kicked the bulkhead again, furious with herself for being such a tool, and a useless one at that.
A sudden knock at the door almost made her yelp in surprise. “What is it?” She looked at the sturdy deadbolt she’d had one of the crewmen weld onto the door. It was locked.
“Lieutenant!” It was Lance Corporal Waylon Davis, who was crazy as the proverbial bedbug, but one of the few Marines in her detachment she actually trusted. “You’ve got to come see this!”
Habitually checking that her sidearm, which was strapped to her right thigh when she was awake and under her pillow when she slept, was loaded, she went to the door and unlocked it. “Did the replacements arrive?” She’d been expecting two new bodies to replace a pair of Marines who had been killed in a brief but savage engagement with a Kreelan destroyer that had punched a hole in Leander before the cruiser Leander had been escorting had blown the enemy vessel into stardust.
“Yeah, el-tee, but…I have no words. You’ve got to come see.”
Ortiz pursed her lips as she considered venturing from the safety of her cabin. Stalin would eventually bring them around to see her, anyway, but she was possessed with the sudden perverse desire to actually do what she wanted to do, not just what he told her to do. “Okay,” she said, throwing open the deadbolt.
Following Davis, who mumbled unintelligibly to her, the walls of the passageway, and to himself, not necessarily in that order, she made her way to the small galley that was reserved for the twenty Marines of the corvette’s detachment. As she drew nearer, she could hear her Marines (she tried to think of them as hers, even though she knew that they truly belonged to Stalin) hooting and cursing. They sounded like a pack of dogs after a cat had been thrown into their midst.
Forcing some steel into her spine while resting her hand on the grip of her sidearm, she stepped through the hatch into the galley. “What the hell’s going on in here?”
“Fresh meat!” Davis crowed from beside her, gleaming at the newcomers as he clapped his hands.
“I don’t believe it,” Ortiz said to herself.
“Believe it, lieutenant,” Stalin said, stepping forward to clap one of his big hands on one shoulder of the smaller of the two new recruits, who flinched in pain as Stalin squeezed. “This one, he is nothing, but this one…” He put his hand on the other new Marine’s shoulder, grinning as he contracted the muscles of a hand that could snap the bones of a man’s wrist. The other Marine showed no reaction at all. The young man continued staring straight ahead, his face relaxed, serene. Stalin’s grin faded, and he let go of the smaller man to focus all his energy on bringing the new one to heel. He was squeezing his hand so hard now that his entire arm was quivering, and Ortiz couldn’t believe that the bones hadn’t already snapped in the new recruit’s shoulder.
“That’s enough, Stalin,” Ortiz ordered quietly. The man glared at her for a moment, then smiled. But like with all his smiles, it never reached his dark, dead eyes.
“As you say, lieutenant.” He slapped both Marines on the back in a false show of camaraderie. “As you say.”
Stepping closer, Ortiz took a closer look at the two newcomers. The first one could have been any mother’s son, not much younger than herself, who had signed up to be a Marine.
The other one, however, was something else. His eyes were a brilliant green, like emeralds set into a face that wasn’t white, wasn’t black, but lay somewhere in between. He would have been handsome, gorgeous, even, had it not been for the scars that marred his skin, especially the one that ran vertically across the skin of his brow and cheek, above and below his left eye. Oddly, his skin was smooth, without the slightest trace of stubble or hair growth, as if all the follicles had vanished. But the same wasn’t true of his hair: it was raven black, and she felt a cold trickle of fear when she saw that it wasn’t cut in the mandated Marine style, but was formed into a single long braid that lay against his back in a style that precisely mimicked how Kreelan warriors wore theirs. His shoulders were wide, his waist narrow, and he stood with a quiet confidence that was totally out of character for a mere private right out of training.
The trickle of fear bloomed into a torrent when her eyes landed on the collar around his neck. Made of the same black metal as the Kreelans wore, it bore at his throat a strange oval sigil of a peculiarly beautiful blue, into which had been inscribed a Kreelan rune that glowed cyan as if lit from within. Then she noticed the short sword that he wore at his waist and the handle of a much longer sword, protruding over one shoulder, that he wore on his back. It was as if a Kreelan warrior, born of humankind, were stuffed into a Marine uniform and delivered to her doorstep.
“Who…what the hell are you?” she asked softly.
Those green eyes moved a fraction to stare directly at her, and she felt as if she’d been struck by a pair of emerald lasers.
Holding her gaze, the stranger said in a heavily accented voice, “Private Eustus Camden and Private Reza Gard, reporting for duty, lieutenant.”