Baen books released the eARC* (electronic advance reader copy) for Tom Kratman’s Carreraverse anthology, Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation, yesterday.
This anthology includes stories by Kacey Ezell, Mike Massa, Rob Hampson. Chris Smith (Christopher L. Smith), Peter Grant, Chris Nutall, Justin Watson
Monalisa Foster, Alex Macris, Lawrence Railey, and Tom Kratman.
Here’s the opening to my story, “Bellona’s Gift,” about Mitzi Carrera, the rebel Belisario Carrera’s daughter. Readers of the series will remember the crucial moment when Mitzi delivers much-needed arms and ammunition to her father. This is the story behind that crucial moment.
It was an honor and a privilege to write in this universe. Thank you, Tom.
Mitzi stood on the lookout’s cliff, right up against the ledge, sandaled feet solidly set atop the rock. Her boonie hat, with its broad, drooping brim and dark green, military mottling eased the late afternoon glare as she kept watch.
Hundreds of meters below, the crash of the waves wasn’t quite right. Even after more than a decade, she could hear the difference of rhythm, like a song played on a piano with a missing key. Terra Nova’s three moons rivaled Earth’s only when they were properly aligned. Even then, the tides weren’t as strong, and for some reason, it was the wrongness of those crashing waves that still stood out. Not the color. Not the smell. Her memories of those things had faded enough that these colors, these scents now had the familiarity of home.
Insidious progressivines had crept right up to the ledge. Like giant snakes or the tentacles of some vile monster, they would eventually choke out everything around them. An odd species, more parasite and man-trap than weed, the result was always the same: a slow blight of destruction in need of constant pruning. She stomped a vine into the soil. Within moments, her feet and ankles were stained with an oozing, oily green-black. Taking a deep, cleansing breath she cast her gaze back out over the Shimmering Sea.
The breeze shifted with the clouds darkening the horizon. The line separating water and sky blurred. It hardly seemed worth making the climb, but there was something about all that unbroken water, that ever-changing sky, that beckoning vastness that made her volunteer to make the climb twice a day. She blinked the wind- sourced moisture from her lashes. Out there, a white speck separated the seam of water and sky.
She raised the binoculars to her eyes and adjusted one eyepiece and then the other. The speck was still a speck, albeit several times bigger. Shaped like a megalodon’s fin, it rose peacefully from beneath the horizon rather than slicing through the water.
A mast and the hint of a sail. Definitely not a meg. Nevertheless, her stomach hardened, and the hairs on the back of her neck rose.
Calm down. They swoop in from the sky.
“They” being the enemy. The UN cowards. The thieves, murderers and rapists that had uprooted her family and sentenced them to “transportation.”
Such an innocent word. Much better than exile or deportation or being forever torn from everything and everyone you’ve ever known, profound loss the only certainty in your life. Much better than being shoved into a coffin and frozen, not knowing if you’d ever wake up, your life now in the hands of the same people that took your lands, your home, and your innocence. Much better than being a troublesome piece of meat.
Even after all these years, memories of waking up on the Amerigo Vespucci colonization ship made an arctic chill seep into her soul. Despite the tropical heat, goosebumps rose on her body.
It had been years since anything good had come to Cochea. Uprooted once again, her people had fled the tiny settlement they’d come to call home: the women, children and elderly to the caves; the men to the jungle. Mitzi’s father, Belisario Carrera, and his men were now scattered across two hundred square kilometers on the other side of the isthmus, their numbers dwindling by the day, but not as fast as the ammo for their captured guns. For lack of ammunition to feed them, their best fighters had resorted to burying even their prized sniper rifles.
Her father had been known to say, “The war goes on until we are, all of us, free.”
The dead are free, aren’t they?
The binoculars quivered for a moment, then steadied. The main mast was joined by two others. At the bow, four-stacked sails swelled and billowed with the wind.
There was no flag, at least not that she could see.
She shoved the binoculars into her knapsack, and carefully looked down. Nine-year-old Diego had climbed down onto a sliver of an outcropping about ten meters down the cliff-face. The boy was like a mountain goat, spry, sure-footed, and fearless, whereas it took all her will to just stand there. She called down, describing what she’d seen and told him to warn the others. He nodded and jumped to another ledge.
Mitzi took a step back, no longer able to bear the vertigo. She drank the last of her water from the battered canteen at her waist, and resumed her watch. It was nearly sundown when she left the cliff and headed down the trail. A cooling westerly breeze tugged the boonie hat off her head, sending her hair down in a tumble. She gathered and twisted it back into a sweat-soaked bun, reseated the hat and tightened the chin strap.
The muddy, well-worn footpath snaked into the perpetual twilight of the jungle’s triple canopy. The vegetation intertwined so closely that by the time light reached the jungled floor, it lost to darkness.
Sandals sloshing, she raced past pools of fading light. She turned at a fork marked by the rusting, crumpled remains of an enemy vehicle. The cowards had abandoned it to the jungle.
Covered in slime and moss, it was slowly blending into its surroundings. The not-so-native trixies had claimed it as their own. One of the red-and-gold flying reptiles, its bony tail swishing back and forth, preened atop the barrel of the vehicle’s roof-mounted mini-gun. The trixie screeched, revealing razor-sharp teeth.
“I know, I know.”
Mitzi wasn’t exactly small, or old, or weak, but she was alone, and the venom-less, septic-mouthed moonbats that came out at night could still take a bite out of her. Unarmed, she couldn’t fight them off, and even one bite would debilitate her enough to allow the vile creatures to feed on her at their leisure.
They’d take their time too, the nasty things. They preferred the taste of still-living prey, and barring rescue by a flock of ravenous trixies—the moonbats’ natural predators—well, it’d be a long, unpleasant death. She quickened her pace.
As much as she liked running, it hurt to keep up any sort of momentum for very long, even if she crossed her arms. And how well can anyone be expected to run with her arms across her chest?
Back on Earth there might have been a chance to do something about the stupid things that had sprouted from her chest, but here . . . Not that it was all bad here, or at least hadn’t been until Kotek Annan and his thugs had decided that young Balboan women and boys made desirable slaves.
Maybe one day she’d look back and laugh at the irony of it all. Had one Robert Nyere, UN bureaucrat and maricón, not suggested that “something can be worked out” to her father—that something being Mitzi herself in lieu of taking their ancestral land for redistribution— they might have never been “transported” to Terra Nova in the first place. She wasn’t supposed to know that it was Nyere’s death—it wasn’t murder to defend the life or freedom or safety or chastity of one’s child—that had landed them here. Even at thirteen, men had found her sexy. Well, the assets on her chest at least. And those assets had only grown in the years since. Not that there’d been anyone to appreciate them. That was the downside to being el jefe’s daughter.
By the time Mitzi made it to the beach, Hecate, the largest of Terra Nova’s three moons, bathed the cove in silver light, giving everything a ghostly cast.
Even the jungle canopy—so green it had hurt her eyes when they’d first landed here—looked gray.
The ship—a caravel, she was sure now—had anchored in the cove, its sails stowed. A dinghy sat on the beach, rocking slowly with the paltry tide, almost in time with the sway of the black palms.
Two unarmed gringos—those light of skin, eyes, and, frequently, hair—knelt on the sand, their fingers laced behind their heads. Sweat stained the fine, if wrinkled, fabric of their shirts. Beads of moisture pooled to run down their faces, and tensing muscles strained with the rigid postures. They sported short hair darkened by perspiration.
Even in Hecate’s light, one was still identifiable as blond. The other had dark hair like her own.
These weren’t the big, strong men with red cloths around their heads that had come to Cochea with their curved knives, their tanks, and the reek of never-washed bodies. These men were little more than boys, clean-shaven and soft under their unusual clothes. She’d seen such well-made clothing before, in the big cities. The kind of stuff rich and leisurely UN personnel—or transportees who’d sold their souls—wore to be comfortable in the unforgiving heat and humidity of the Balboa Colony.
Mitzi’s mother, Helen, had mounted her escopeta, and had it squarely aimed at the leader’s head. Rather, it was aimed squarely at the young man who was at the front. Whether or not he was the leader appeared to be in question. They didn’t seem to notice Mitzi as she trudged across the beach, kicking sand in her wake. Two cholo boys—Felix, aged ten, and Rafael, who had just turned eleven—both still too young to join the fighting men in the jungle, stood off to her right, bows drawn and arrows nocked. Their loincloth-clad grandfathers covered the kneeling men from the other side.
Would the gringos be so scared if they’d known that the muzzle loaders the old men had on them were probably loaded with too-wet powder? Or that her mother’s shotgun likely held her last two shells? At least the boys were good with their arrows, as a number of wild turkeys and other tasty birds could attest.
“We’re here to help,” Golden Boy said.
“Sure you are,” her mother said, leading with the escopeta. “We’ve heard that before.”
Golden Boy stared into the double barrels. Whatever he was about to say caught in his throat.
“Mostly from those who say they come to do good,” her mother continued, her voice full of menace. “Somehow they’re the only ones who come out doing well, and it’s by helping themselves.”
For an overlong moment, only the sound of pounding surf, stirring wind, and the occasional hoot of a distant monkey could be heard.
“Ma’am,” the tall, dark-haired gringo said. “We’re from Desperation Bay. The Lansing Colony. Let me show you.” His hand drifted from behind his head.
Her mother took a step back, placing herself out of Golden Boy’s reach, and swung the escopeta toward Tall and Dark. His hand shot right back, lacing itself tight.
Without taking her gaze off him, her mother said, “Mitzi. Check the boat.”
Mitzi circled wide, keeping her distance. She caught her mother’s gaze as she crossed into the surf. And I thought Mom was scary when she was pissed at me.
Froth and a frond of Terra Novan seaweed tugged at Mitzi’s feet as she pushed an oar aside and cautiously leaned over to get a better look. A single wooden crate rested within.
“The crate’s not locked,” Tall and Dark said. “I can—”
“Shut up, Juan,” Golden Boy said.
Mitzi grabbed the hull and vaulted into the boat, landing with a thud that barely rocked it. Two metal latches held the crate’s lid in place. She popped them both and lifted.
The scent of gun oil billowed upward, overpowering the saltiness of the sea, the stench of fear, the earthiness of the jungle. Six bolt action rifles—honest-to-God-as-far-as-she-could-tell modern arms—rested on carved wooden supports. With trembling hands she touched one. Small boxes lined the crate. She pulled one up and fumbled it open.
Ammunition. Thousands of rounds by the look of it.
A treasure trove. Life. Freedom. Liberty.
“We have more,” Juan said. “Dozens of crates. A thousand rounds for each rifle.” Eager blue eyes and the hint of a smile sent a wave of heat right into her face. She said a quick prayer, thanking God not just for the crate and its contents, but for masking her blush with Hecate’s silver light.
“Mitzi, what is it?”
“Umm, Mom, you’re going to want to see this for yourself.”
Excerpt, “Bellona’s Gift” by Monalisa Foster, Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation ed. by Tom Kratman, Baen Books, Available 8/6/19
*eARC are advanced copies, issued before the final round of copyediting. They are not full versions of the final product.