Good tidings, reader.
In case you’ve been wondering, I’ve been at work on Eminence for nearly a month now, producing a good-looking batch of 21.5k words toward the project; this means I’m neaaaarly halfway there!
I don’t want to leave you empty-handed for trekking all the way to this little corner of the internet. So I’m going to give you one of the very first chapter in rough-draft form.
But first, reflection:
This is the second book in the series and feels more difficult to write. I don’t think it’s any more or less complicated than the first in the series (though it is markedly more complex than my non-sci-fi books) so that can’t be it, and yet I’m lagging behind. If I recall I was roughly 30k at this same time with Valiance, so I wonder what’s been holding me back. For the longest time I’ve only written what I expressly enjoy, so perhaps writing to the grindstone/schedule like this can slowly burn a person out – that must be it: burnout.
Be warned, writers: if you’ve not yet felt the power of weakness, and the speed of slowness, steel your heart, for even now I feel tugged away to go do something other than writing- Like cook, or go for a run, or play video games. So much to enjoy in this wonderful life of ours!
Regardless, expect to see Eminence either 100% on time in late September, or sometime early to mid October.
I wish you all the best and genuinely hope you’ll enjoy the segment below.
Chapter Two: A Cool New Amigo and Frightened Adults
At first it was a flash, a painful light as Cole realizes he’s not dead, and was in fact just struck senseless. He was always told atmosphere suits were good at taking big drops, but he never expected they’d hold up with a drop like that. He mentally flicks through his Glass’ GUI to the medical tab: the system’s telling him his bones are crushed and that he shouldn’t be physically capable of walking, and yet…
Cole pulls himself to his feet in the deep greys of the block, his suit burnt over with a brief flame and scarred deep with debris. He stumbles for his rifle, but can’t see anything in the flowing storm of dust. He flicks on his thermal to make sense of it all, he spots someone coming forward just meters away- an Ardian.
“Hey,” Cole says. The Ardian, obviously shocked, starts up and lifts his rifle.
“Freeze, identif-…” after a second, he lowers his rifle. “Shit, sir, my apologies,” he says, amidst a chorus of chuckles over the comm line, filled with Lascardians who can stay stupid even in the midst of an aggravated fight like this one.
“For shame, Sergeant” The Captain says, over the line.
“Sorry, sir,” the male Ardian says to Cole.
Cole clicks to a private line. “No harm to it,” he says with a lax wave. “You got a sidearm?”
The sergeant flips up his pistol and Cole takes it from the handle. “Of course, sir. Sergeant Jeran, second platoon, pathfinder. I wouldn’t thought a drop at that speed would kill a life form, but I guess humans are full of surprises.”
The Lieutenant scoffs as the sergeant takes up Cole’s left. “That we are, Sergeant,” Cole says with a professional nod. “Now what’s the situation?”
Jeran hums. “You don’t know, sir?”
“Well I did sort of drop in first. Takes a little time to regain the bearings, you know.”
“Right, I get you.” Jeran looks out to the street, practically indistinguishable from the other directions due to the intensity of the wreckage. “Apparently one of the mech squads spotted out our drop and brought in some kind of artillery. Flew up and shot through the street- separated us. We’ve lost six thus far, sir. Current order is to disseminate into the city and take up buildings for cover as we wait it out.” Jeran starts pushing into a door to one of the identical towers that litter the city in neat, uniform rows- this is a residential district.
“He’s right, Lieutenant,” The Captain says in Cole’s head, closed link be damned. “They’re signatures are very faint, and they’re definitely using jammers somewhere. Myself and a few others are tracking them down to clear up the space, so for now you just need to survive with Sergeant Jeran.”
Cole passes through the dark and debris into a tenement building, the air cleaning up instantly. “Rodger. I’ll wait your call.”
The quiet of the building contracts sharply against the blows and shots of the outside. Cole swaps back to the immediate-zone comm. “Weird place,” Cole mutters as he looks over the rows and rows of produce, stacked neatly into bins across the floor.
“What?” Jeran asks as they both duck. “You’ve never seen a supermarket, sir?”
Cole scoffs, leading to a minute long silence as the two listen for any movement inside. “Well, of course I have, it’s just they’re usually way smaller,” he says after a silent while as they get to the other side of the floor, weapons at the ready.
“Do humans not have much food variety?”
“Well, no… Gah, why are we talking about this?”
Jeran, concealed in his atmosphere suit just like Cole, glances over his way cluelessly. “I don’t know, sir. Just sort of interesting to meet a human, is all.”
Cole thinks on it as they silently fold around a corner before talking again, not so much that they’re worried someone might hear them through their suits, as they might get distracted and be slow to react. “Well we have something call endless supermarkets. Basically it’s just a… well a machine that creates anything of any flavor and texture you want, and it’s all super nutritious.”
“Whoa, that’s sort of… huh,” Jeran mutters.
“What?” Cole asks as they pile up at a door into the main center section of the building.
“Just like a human to value practicality, I guess. That’s why you guys are so cool.”
Cole inhales sharply, praying that this guy isn’t going to be another Eqarne. “Eh, thanks?”
At Cole’s ready, the two open the door, only to meet a duo of armed Ardians.
“Shoot!” The blue-red Ardian scream over the brown-black one.
Cole and Jeran snap to cover in a flash, dodging the red-blue’s pistol shot.
“Friendly, dammit, friendly!” Jeran shouts through his speaker.
“Yeah fucking right, traitor!” the large red-blue Ardian shouts, her pistol trembling in her group.
“What are you talking about?!”
“You have a human with you! You’re gonna fucking kill us!” She shouts, holding a committed, if wavering aim on the doorway.
“I’m Lieutenant Cole Outstar of the R.L.S.N., I don’t mean you any ha-”
“Bullshit! As if we’d fall for that!”
“I think…” the brown one clips her mandibles in consideration, “They both had AB patches.”
“They…” The red-blue Ardian seethes as she gestures further down the hall to some unknown recipient.
“Miss,” Cole says, totally unsure how to address an Ardian female in the civilian dynamic. “We’re 55th, Star Knife. We were dropped here to fight the terrorists.”
The red-blue Ardian scoffs with a beat of the wings. “But you’re human! You eat souls!”
Cole takes a deep breath, “That’s… that may be true, but I’m not after yours. I’m loyal to Eiza.”
“Yeah,” the brown-black one says, “It was on my new app. This is the galaxy’s only human, and he saved us from the Serronites.”
The red-blue one looks aside as if needing confirmation, though her pistol’s still pointed downrange. “Those rocky immigrant bastards?” She looses an awkward hum, and then refocuses her sights. “Sure, you can come out.”
The Lieutenant rounds the corner slowly, but suddenly Jeran shoves him from the other side back in cover as the red-blue takes a shot, scarcely missing Cole’s chest.
“Aidak! What the fuck?!” The brown-black one shouts over to her cover mate.
“You actually believe them? Even if they were us, we can trust them. They’re both male. No military can be run with male operators. Hey, human!” She shouts across. “How does it feel being let in as a side-effect of our empire’s weakness? Everything’s going to hell in a handbasket and it’s your fault!”
Jeran holds fast as a shocked Cole regains his bearings. He thinks of the most “Captainly” comeback to a social accusation like that. As if by reading his thoughts, The Captain feeds him a response. “Ardian, you will respect me like any black blooded female officer. I am not the cause of your problems in this advanced age, I but a result of that advancement. New times bring new problems, and new blessings, and I am your blessing, Ardian. Humans are unkillable in a fight. We dodge bullets to humor our physically-inferior comrades.”
The red-blue rams her elbow against her cover element. “You fucking think you could take me?”
Without even a tug from The Captain, Cole tosses his weapon out in the middle, and the red-blue crashes hers down as well. “To assume otherwise would be an insult to my race,” Cole says with a certain calculation. They meet in the middle, and instantly throw punches. Obviously a biological human would be crushed instantly by an exoskeletal creature of a comparable weight class, but Cole has his accelerator kit… and something else- he’s not sure what. He spryly dodges the first punch, and throws his fist forward like and order, undeniable and backed with the authority of the queen. The red-blue takes the hit stupidly, and spins out into the wall.
Smacking an Ardian feels weird, Cole muses, like a cheap plastic container filled with meat- the blood looks cool, though.
As both Jeran and the brown black aim down the altercation, Cole gently kicks into his downed opponent’s shin. “And let that be a lesson to you.”
“D-…bastard,” she says, groveling to her feet as Cole regains his weapon, and not a second too soon.
A dense crash crackles through the hall to the left, the very same the two Ardians were guarding. Both spring into action as Cole and Jeran move up to check the corner, and what they find does not please them: a mech, one of the battle suits from earlier, but with “23” mark. Its profile is wide to accommodate its several weapons systems, and its movement kit is obviously of a high grade, producing next to no sounds from its skeletal movement. Aside from the large black skull painted over the hull, one thing catches Cole’s eye that really worries him, the faded text line “U.P.M.F.” is under the front plating rim.
Huddled up to the side is a group of about twenty civilians. Most are children, identifiable as they’re just a notch shorter than Cole and the females all have their abdomens still fully intact. Their cover is really just a set of civilian counters, quite capable of protecting against small arms fire, but the suit has a Federation low-velocity grape-shot rifle, a weapon infamous for its ability to ricochet and fill an entire room with lead in a single, lazily-aimed shot.
The second remaining as the suit takes aim for the shot that’ll paint the hall fifty meters down with Ardian blood, Cole snaps off Jeran’s grenade, tosses it and fires directly into it, detonating it over the crowd. Just as the suit squeezes the trigger, it falls flat along with Jeran and Cole, who lost their systems. The two soldiers tear off their helmets as the flood of children run from the downed mech. The second they’re clear, the two covering Ardians open fire on the mech, shots clanging in the air.
“It won’t work, the armor’s too-” Cole stops himself, as the screams have turned into the monotonous, droning buzz of Ardian wings – his translator’s screwed with the rest of his suit, but only for a moment as his O.E.L.-make restarter begins whirring into motion. He grabs a grenade from Jeran, a frag, and dashes for the mech, which is already flinching back to life. As the careless gunfire from the red-blue Ardian zings past his ear Cole slides to the suit’s backside, thrusts his hand into the small latch handle, and taps in his own federation I.D. number. As expected, whoever designed the mech’s illegal firmware didn’t remove the code for officers to have preferred entry over the usual pilot.
The hatch begins the opening process, the back plate sliding up and around as the mech takes to its feet and the pilot re-aims the weapon. The moment he can, Cole tosses in the unpinned grenade, closes the hatch, and swings his body round, smashing his boot into the giant weapon’s safety. The mech clicks against the trigger, no bang, and then a bang from inside the suit. The combat suit stands eerily still, the pilot quite dead and the auto-pilot function also destroyed in the blast.
Cole leaps down from the mech the moment his accelerator kit comes back online, helping him stick the landing flawlessly in front of an intimidated crowd of frightened children. Don’t screw this one, man. As per the badass code, he walks forward with a lax pace as the fire inside the mech burns into the fuel supply, causing a sick explosion.
“I…” The red-blue Ardian botches a salute, “I’m sorry we doubted you, sir.”
The brown-black one shoves the apologetic one. “Who’s this we? Also no saluting indoors.”
“Nothing to it,” Cole says coolly amidst the cheer of the children. He puts on his helmet, the pressurization system hissing as it at once seals his system and makes him look even cooler. “All in a day’s work for the fifty fifth. Now find new cover. This place is compromised.” Cole turns away to the downed mech, now a cindering pile of Federation polycarbonate and complex metallics.
“Kon’s mandibles…” Jeran mutters in awe. “You’re inspiring to men everywhere, sir. You’re living proof that we can be just as strong as fema-”
Cole chuckles over Jeran’s words. “Keep your head in the battle, Sergeant. We’re almost through this.” He taps into the ops comm. “23 neutralized.”
“Copy, Lieutenant,” the surprisingly cheery voice of the opscomm coordinator says. “Four more unknown tags remaining in the area. Still really hard to make out, sir.”
Cole clears his throat as he switches to a private with the opscomm, “There’s… there’s the possibility I know the tag sequence.” There’s a silence as Cole surveys the street.
Opscomm clicks her mandibles audibly. “Wh-… and how’s that, sir?”
“Try…” Cole starts just as The Captain’s voice enters his head again.
“I’d advise against that, Lieutenant,” The Captain says.
Cole shakes his head. “Try the 22573 series,” he says, referring to a sequence of radio-proxies used to protect comm lines during fights. Usually commtags are open to anyone who wants to join in, but private conversations require series codes, each number of which requiring roughly a minute to peel through with modern equipment before figuring if it contains the signal or not. 22573 just happens to be the Federation’s most common tag – he knows it from experience. He guesses that if the firmware maker was too lazy to switch the door access codes, he must have also been too lazy to change the more-complicated proxy series.
There’s another pause, and suddenly four commtags ping blatantly onto the Glass systems of Cole and every single soldier in the company in Serne. Everything from their statuses to their positions are posted up. “H-How did you…”
“Later,” Cole snaps as he clicks over to a new line, at once adding all the 22573. “This is Cole Outstar of the L… uh, the L.R.S.N., we have your tags.”
Four voices, those of the four remaining pilots in the assault sigh, cuss, and gasp in disbelief. Picking out someone’s tags in the middle of a fight is incredibly rare, as the process for pinging it directly will, in the process, make one’s system a giant semi-transparent target for the enemy. Of course, Cole had to give them his tag in order to open the line, but he knows it’s worth it.
“Wh…” A gruff voice stops in the middle of his words. “We surrender.”
“Lyka, no! Black Skull doesn’t su-” Another shouts.
“Shut up,” a third says. “You’re too fucking green to know better, but if he wanted this guy could give away our positions right now if he wanted.”
“We surrender,” the first voice concedes again.
Cole hears a crash from the roof of the building next to them. He looks up to see a suit, having tossed aside its rifle. One of them had their building scoped in.
In the upcoming set of moments, Cole follows procedure, feeds the info to his superior, The Captain (who already knew, of course), and from there, complete the detainment of the terrorists. While everyone’s glad the situation was disarmed, casualties were low, and that loss of life was prevented, there’s a dark stench over the company on the way back to Arda —Nobody just knows an enemy’s Glass series five digits in; that’s information that would have to be told, not guessed or parsed through with scanners.
Through it all, Cole doesn’t bother thinking on it. What’s far more worrying is how he fell that distance and yet is in such good condition— No discomfort at all, as if he mysteriously regenerated during the fight.