A mercenary with a secret past
A pirate leader with a secret mission
A clash that will shake planets
Mercenary Captain Brad Madrid has spent years building the resources to go after the man who murdered his family. His new career has benefits—but also duties and responsibilities he cannot lightly brush aside.
A new mission brings him once again into conflict with the Terror, however, and as friends and lovers alike perish around him, he realizes that responsibility and vengeance align. Neither the man he was nor the man he is can suffer the Terror to live.
Aided by allies across the planets and a familiar shadowy spy, Brad will hunt his enemy across the Solar System, chasing down a final confrontation that will shake the foundations of humanity…and fulfil his Oath of Vengeance.
The pirates were good. Too good.
Brad Madrid, owner and commander of the Vikings platinum-rated mercenary company, watched the boarders’ progress through the concealed security cameras with concern.
The intruders had to believe the JoveCorp automated freighter was empty of people, just like the other seven they’d plundered in the last three months. His people had boarded it in space well away from prying eyes, using codes provided by the company’s security department.
Even though this ship was supposedly unoccupied, that didn’t necessarily mean it was unguarded, even without his mercenaries. This ship—like all the rest the pirates had hit—had computer-controlled weapons clusters at various key locations. Ones Brad had decided to leave active so he could see how the pirates managed them.
With aplomb, it turned out. The twenty men in the pirate boarding party maintained surprisingly good order as they advanced into the ship. Easily as good as Saburo Kawa’s people. That was going to annoy his combat team leader enormously.
The pirates watched each others’ backs, checked every hatch and compartment, swept corridors before entering them, and destroyed every automated weapon on the ship before it could fire on them.
Every single one.
That level of information suggested JoveCorp Security had a traitor in their midst.
The casual competency of the troops suggested something else to Brad. He’d presumed the people pillaging the automated freighters were Cadre. He’d thought no one else would’ve had the sheer nerve to pick off the damned things between the diver bases in the outer edges of Jupiter’s atmosphere and the refineries in high orbit.
Only, Cadre pirates weren’t this precise or capable. Most of the troops that paid allegiance to the Terror were just scum stiffened by a cadre of the Terror’s core thugs—hence the group’s name. Even those bastards, while more disciplined than normal pirates, were nothing like this.
“Commandos,” Brad’s companion in the cargo crate hissed. Trista Doary was the attractive redheaded second-in-command of Saburo’s combat team. “They have to be commandos.”
Brad considered that and nodded, trusting her helmet’s light-enhancing systems to show his gesture in the pitch black of the box. While the term itself might not be technically true, these men had the feel of Commonwealth Marines. Well-trained ones that had worked together before.
They might not be commandos—the cream of Commonwealth combat forces—but compared to the run-of-the-mill Cadre forces, they might as well be. What in Dark were they doing there?
Time to find out.
The pirates hadn’t been scanning the cargo. They’d been more concerned with destroying the automated weapons. That mistake was going to cost them.
If they had scanned the cargo, they’d have found five of the large crates didn’t contain Helium-3. They’d been loaded empty, unbeknownst to the diver crews and the loaders alike.
Each now contained two heavily armed and highly skilled mercenaries who were a match for Commonwealth Marines in training, discipline, and skill. And, while it was true his people were outnumbered two to one, they had the element of surprise.
Brad activated his com. “Go! Go! Go!”
Even as he spoke, Brad kicked open the side of his crate and lunged out. There were four commandos in his cargo hold. They confirmed his guess about their quality by instantly diving for cover, but it was already too late.
Brad put two flechettes through the pirate nearest to the door with his rifle and then dodged to the side as Doary opened up with her automatic shotgun. Another commando collapsed, his chest ripped apart.
A third came up with his mono-blade snapping to life. Brad danced out of the way of the first lunge easily, but the man brought his blade back quickly. He was trained in this and wasn’t too bad.
Brad dodged again and hurled his rifle at the man. He was far too close to bring it to bear, and it was slowing him down.
With a single slash of his glowing blue blade, the commando cut the expensive rifle in half, sending the pieces clattering across the deck.
All of that was impressive but kept the pirate from focusing on the real threat.
Doary stepped to the side and unloaded a three-round burst into the commando. The result was an exceptionally gory death.
He was glad he wouldn’t be the poor bastard cleaning this up.
Brad drew his pistol and went looking for the last commando. He needn’t have worried. The man’s corpse was sprawled against the container he’d tried to hide behind. The first blast of flechettes Doary had fired had ripped his arm off and shredded half his chest.
That combat shotgun was a scary weapon, especially when you didn’t know it was coming.
He verified that all the pirates were dead, while Doary provided cover. As he did so, he activated his com. “All teams, Viking Actual. Four enemy down here. Report.”
“Three here,” Saburo replied.
“Two here.” “Four.” “Three.”
Brad added up the reports. “We’ve still got four on the loose. Saburo, take your team and Raffi’s to secure Engineering. Duncan, you and Lance take your teams to secure Comp Central. I’ll take Doary to block them from retreating to their ship.”
Assorted affirmatives came back and he killed his transmission. “Let’s go, Doary.”
The pirate ship had latched on near his cargo bay, so it only took them a few moments to reach the hole they’d cut. At the sight of it, Brad gestured Doary to halt and scanned it. It didn’t look booby-trapped or occupied. He gestured her forward again, covering her with his pistol.
Half a moment later, a scuffling noise behind them set him in motion. He dove forward, taking Doary down to the deck as a grenade bounced around the corner and detonated.
The explosion picked the two of them up and tossed them down the corridor past the breach. They hit the bulkhead hard.
Brad swore as he grabbed the pistol he’d dropped and rolled to cover the corridor behind them. Doary’s arm was twisted at an impossible angle. His helmet display showed she was unconscious but in relatively good health. How long that would last was anyone’s guess.
Two commandos came diving around the corner. One rolled to a stop and opened fire with a pistol while the other ran for their ship. Flechettes whistled down the hallway, and Brad returned fire, hugging the deck for the minimal cover it offered.
Flechettes ripped through the left arm of his combat suit and he hissed in pain, but his shots were better aimed. The commando racing toward him crumpled to the deck in a bloody heap.
Ignoring the pain as best as he could, Brad began firing at the other pirate just as two more commandos lunged around the corner and opened up with their own weapons.
Brad snarled and dropped one with a rapid series of shots across the torso. Before he could fire on the second, the man’s fire forced him to roll across the corridor.
He came to a stop against the bulkhead and got the bastard dead center in his view.
Before he could fire, the pirate ship blasted free of the hull. The living pirate that Brad had been forced to ignore had made it into the ship and taken off without his companion. That wasn’t very sporting.
Emergency blast doors slammed shut in front of Brad to protect the ship from pressure loss. The commando he’d been about to shoot died abruptly as it cut him in half. Yeah, he definitely didn’t want to see the cleaning bill.
Brad activated the channel to the freighter’s long-range com. “Heart, this is Madrid. Status?”
“We’ve got the pirate ship heading away from you fast,” Jason Finley, Heart’s tactical officer said crisply. “Orders?”
Two hours later, Brad sat in Heart of Vengeance’s wardroom with a bandaged arm, watching the recording of the short engagement between Heart and the pirate ship. It hadn’t been a fair fight and the pirate vessel had died before he could escape.
“The bugger was fast, sir,” Jason said quietly. “He was pulling twelve mps squared, easy. We only had him in range for a few minutes. If I hadn’t gotten lucky with the first salvo, he might have gotten away clean.”
“Is it just me or did that ship seem to be in better condition than most Cadre ships?” Brad asked slowly. “And more capable.”
John Marshal, their pilot nodded. “He sure was. Why send something that fast just to get He3 off a freighter? Sure, it’s valuable, but it’s not worth that much.”
“People like that don’t just do things for no reason,” Shelly Weldon, their communications officer, said. “From what I overheard on the combat channels, they were high-class fighters. Why even send them? Was the Cadre expecting a fight?”
“I have no idea,” Brad admitted. “But I intend to find out. We’re going back over to the freighter. Keep an eye out for trouble while we’re gone.
“Also, give us a heads-up if any JoveCorp ships come our way. I really don’t want them looking over my shoulder while I try to solve this mystery.”
He took one of the shuttles back over to the automated freighter and met Saburo. Their combat team leader hadn’t been injured in the fighting, for which Brad felt certain he’d eventually get some smug comment.
“What have you found?” he asked as they started walking.
“About what one would expect from a boarding party of military types, which makes it unusual for pirates. Nineteen bodies, all in combat armor and heavily armed. Their gear isn’t branded. Home-built, but someone fed the Marines’ latest designs into their nano-forge. Definitely better than the usual crap the Cadre favors.”
“Do we have any ID on the dead?”
“No, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. We just don’t have access to the kind of databases these people would be in. They’re ex-military. Some of them, anyway. Others might be mercenaries.
“We stripped them down and looked for tattoos. Those can tell you a lot about someone’s history. Marines favor certain ones and often have unit blazons somewhere on them, particularly if they served in a prestigious unit.
“Like I guessed, these people are ex-Marines. Six of them had the same unit blazon. One I didn’t recognize. A total of eleven were marked. The others might not like tattoos. Or have had them removed.”
Brad scowled. “What in Darkness would ex-Marines be doing working for the Cadre? Any idea why they were stealing He3?”
“I’m not sure they were,” the troop officer said slowly. “I think they had a completely different reason for being on this ship. Take a look.”
The two of them entered one of the cargo holds. Saburo’s people had laid the bodies out for inspection. Their gear was arrayed off to one side. It was eerie and a bit grotesque.
“Look at these packs,” the Asian man said with a gesture.
There were six packs opened on the deck, with their contents arrayed beside them. The small, square blocks were familiar to Brad: Composition Fifteen, a high-energy explosive the Vikings occasionally used to destroy things they couldn’t leave behind.
To say acquisition of it was restricted was an understatement. The amount of carnage even one block could create was impressive. A quick count showed more than a hundred kilos.
“Holy crap,” Brad muttered. “That’s more than enough to wreck the freighter. Talk about overkill.”
“I don’t think that was their plan,” Saburo said with a shake of his head. “I think they wanted to blow up something else.
“Based on the weapons and armor, as well as the amount of ammunition they have, I think this group intended to board the JoveCorp refinery and wire it for destruction. They’d use their little ship for a fast getaway when they were done.”
Brad shook his head. “No way the people at the refinery could miss the condition of this ship. The telemetry would show compromised hull integrity and loss of defensive weapons clusters.”
“It would,” Saburo agreed, “if that data was being transmitted. They have gear for reprogramming the outgoing data stream. No one on the refinery would see a thing until it was far too late.
“The first people to get eyeballs on it would be flight control. If they’re in the Cadre’s back pocket, no one would know anything until it was far too late to defend the refinery.”
Saburo idly scratched under his torso armor. “With surprise on their side, these people could easily take out the defensive security teams. They all expect to have some warning of an incoming attack. Not this time.”
That scenario was horrifying. What did the Cadre have to gain? He knew that they had to be behind it. No one else was this bloody-minded.
“You might be right about the people in flight control,” Brad admitted. “We should see if our arrival brings someone out of the woodwork.
“The freighter is still on course for the refinery. Our little fight wasn’t in line of sight, so any traitors won’t know there was any trouble. We’ll move one of the assault shuttles to cover the breach. Can you reprogram the outgoing telemetry to show no damage?”
The other man nodded. “One of my people can. It might be a good idea to set up a defensive perimeter inside the freighter to apprehend the first people on board, just in case. What will you be doing?”
“Waiting to see if anyone starts running,” Brad said grimly. “I’ll contact MacDonald once you dock. I won’t give him any of the details over the com, though. He’ll just have to wait for me to get there.”
And Brad had no doubt the man would be seriously pissed. That was his default mode. This time might be worse.
He allowed himself a wry smile. If finding his freighter all torn up and filled with mercenaries twisted his tail, he’d really go ballistic when Brad told him that the Vikings wanted a bonus for saving his ass.