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TOWER LORD by Anthony Ryan

TOWER LORD Anthony Ryan

Following on from 2013′s bestselling epic fantasy debut is the second novel in the Raven’s Shadow series – a powerful epic fantasy from an exciting new British talent.
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VALORJohn Gwynne

War has erupted in the Banished Lands as the race for power intensifies. Sides are chosen and oaths will be fulfilled or broken in a land where hell has broken loose.
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A sample from SEEDS OF EARTH

The first intelligent species to encounter mankind attacked without warning. Merciless. Relentless. Unstoppable. With little hope of halting the invasion, Earth’s last roll of the dice was to dispatch three colony ships, seeds of Earth, to different parts of the galaxy. The human race would live on … somewhere.

150 years later, the planet Darien hosts a thriving human settlement, which enjoys a peaceful relationship with an indigenous race, the scholarly Uvovo. But there are secrets buried on Darien’s forest moon. Secrets that go back to an apocalyptic battle fought between ancient races at the dawn of galactic civilization. Unknown to its colonists, Darien is about to become the focus of an intergalactic power struggle where the true stakes are beyond their comprehension. And what choices will the Uvovo make when their true nature is revealed and the skies grow dark with the enemy?

PROLOGUE

DARIEN INSTITUTE: HYPERION DATA
RECOVERY PROJECT
Cluster Location – Subsidiary Hardmem Substrate (Deck 9 quarters)
Tranche – 298
Decryption Status – 9th pass, 26 video files recovered
File 15 – The Battle of Mars (Swarm War)
Veracity – Virtual Re-enactment
Original Time Log – 16:09:24, 23 November 2126
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FADE IN:
CAPTION:
MARS
THE CRAT

ER PLAIN: OLYMPUS MONS

19 MARCH 2126
The Sergeant was on the carrier’s command deck, checking and rechecking the engineering console’s modifications, when voices began clamouring over his helmet comm.

‘Marine force stragglers incoming with enemy units in pursuit . . .’

‘. . . eight, nine Swarmers, maybe ten . . .’

The Sergeant cursed, grabbed his heavy carbine and left the command deck as quickly as his combat armour would allow. The clatter of his boots echoed down the vessel’s spinal corridor while he issued a string of terse orders. By the time he reached the wrecked and gaping doors of the rear deployment hold, the stragglers had arrived. Five wounded and unconscious, all from the Indonesia regiment, going by their helmet flashes. As the last was being carried up the ramp, the leading Swarmers came into view over the brow of a rocky ridge about 80 metres away.

A first glimpse revealed a nightmare jumble of claws, spikes and gleaming black eye-clusters. Swarm biology had many reptilian similarities yet their appearance was unavoidably insectoid. With six, eight, ten or more limbs, they could be as small as a pony or as big as a whale, depending on their specialisation. These were bull-sized skirmishers, eleven black-and-green monsters that were unlimbering tine-snouted weapons as they rushed down towards the crippled carrier.

‘Hold your fire,’ the Sergeant said, glancing at the six marines crouched behind the improvised barricade of ammo cases and deck plating. These were all that were left to him after the Colonel and the rest had left in the hovermags a few hours ago, heading for the caldera and the Swarm’s main hive. One of them hunched his shoulders a little, head tilting to aim down his carbine’s sights . . .

‘I said wait,’ said the Sergeant, gauging the diminishing distance.

‘Ready aft turrets . . . acquire targets . . . fire!’

Streams of heavy-calibre shells converged on the leading Swarmers, knocking them off their spidery legs. Then the Sergeant cursed when he saw them right themselves, protected by the bioarmour which had confounded Earth’s military ever since the beginning of the invasion two years ago.

‘Pulse rounds,’ the Sergeant shouted. ‘Now!’

Bright bolts began to pound the Swarmers, dense knots of energised matter designed to simultaneously heat and corrode their armour. The enemy returned fire, their weapons delivering repeating arcs of long, thin black rounds, but as the turret jockeys focused their targeting the Swarmers broke off and scattered. The Sergeant then ordered his men to open up, joining in with his own carbine, and the withering crossfire tore into the weakened, confused enemies. In less than a minute, nothing was left alive or in one piece out on the rocky slope.

The defending marines exchanged laughs and grins, and knocked gauntleted knuckles together. The Sergeant barely had time to draw breath and reload his carbine when the consoleman’s urgent voice came over the comm:

‘Sergeant! – airborne contact, three klicks and closing!’

Immediately, he swung round and made for the starboard companionway, shouldering his carbine as he climbed. ‘What’s their profile, soldier?’

‘Hard to tell – half the sensor suite is junk . . .’

‘Get me something and quick!’

He then ordered all four turrets to target the approaching craft and was clambering out of the carrier’s topside hatch when the consoleman came back to him.

‘IFF confirms it’s a friendly, Sergeant – it’s a vortiwing, and the pilot is asking for you.’

‘Patch him through.’

One of his helmet’s miniscreens blinked suddenly and showed the vortiwing pilot. He was possibly German, going by the instructions on the bulkhead behind him.

‘Sergeant, I’ve not much time,’ the pilot said in accented English. ‘I’m to evacuate you and your men up to orbit . . .’

‘Sorry, Lieutenant, but . . . my commanding officer is down in that caldera, engaging in combat! Look, the brink of the caldera is less than half a klick away – you could airlift me and my men over there before returning to—’

‘Request denied. My orders are specific. Besides, every unit that made it down there has been overwhelmed and destroyed, whole regiments and brigades, Sergeant. I’m sorry . . .’ The pilot reached up to adjust controls. ‘ETD in less than five minutes, Sergeant. Please have your men ready.’

The miniscreen went dead. The Sergeant leaned on the topside rail and stared bitterly at the kilometre-long furrow which the carrier had gouged in the sloping flank of Olympus Mons. Then he gave the order to abandon ship.

In the shroud-like Martian sky overhead, the vortiwing transport grew from a speck to a broad-built craft descending on four gimbal-mounted spinjets. Landing struts found purchase on the carrier’s upper hull, and amid the howling blast of the engines the walking wounded and the stretcher cases were lifted into the transport’s belly hold. The turret jockeys, the consoleman and his half-dozen marines were following suit when the German pilot’s voice spoke suddenly.

‘Large number of flying Swarmers heading our way, Sergeant. Suggest you get aboard fast.’

As the last of his men climbed up into the vortiwing, the Sergeant turned to face the caldera of Olympus Mons. Through a haze of windblown dust and the thin black fumes of battle, he saw a dense cloud of dark motes rising just a few klicks away. It took only a moment to realise how quickly they would be here, and for him to decide what to do.

‘Best you button up and get going, Lieutenant,’ he said as he leaped back into the carrier and sealed the hatch behind him. ‘I can keep them busy with our turrets, give you time to make orbit.’

Nein! Sergeant, I order you—’

‘Apologies, sir, but you’d never get away otherwise, so my task is clear.’

He cut the link as he rushed back along to the command deck, closing hatches as he went. True, the Colonel’s science officer had slaved all four of the turrets to the engineering console, but that wasn’t the only modification he had carried out . . .

The roar of the vortiwing’s spinjets grew to a shriek, landing struts loosened their grip and the transport lurched free. Moments later, the fourfold angled thrust was driving it upwards on a steep trajectory. Some of the Swarm outriders were already leading the flying host on an intercept course, until the carrier’s turrets opened fire upon them. Yet they would still have kept on after the ascending prey, had not the carrier itself now shifted like a great wounded beast and risen slowly from the long gouge it had made in the ground. Curtains of dust and grit fell from its underside, along with shattered fragments of hull plating and exterior sensors, and when the carrier turned its battered prow towards the centre of the caldera the Swarm host altered its course.

On the command deck, the Sergeant sweated and swore as he struggled to coax every last erg from protesting engines. Damage sustained during the atmospheric descent had left the carrier unable to make a safe landing on the caldera floor, hence the Colonel’s decision to continue in the hovermags. However, a safe landing was not what the Sergeant had in mind.

As the ship headed into the caldera, steadily gaining height, the groan of overloaded substructures came up through the deck. Even as he glanced at the glowing panels, red telltales started to flicker, warnings that some of the port suspensors were close to operational tolerance. But most of his attention was focused on the host of Swarmers now converging on the Earth vessel.

Suddenly the carrier was enfolded in a swirling cloud of the creatures, some of which landed on the hull, scrabbling for hold points, seeking entrance. Almost at the same time, two suspensors failed and the ship listed to port. The Sergeant boosted power to the port burners, ignoring the beeping alarms and the crashing, hammering sounds coming from somewhere amidships. The carrier straightened up as it reached the zenith of its trajectory, a huge missile that the Sergeant was aiming directly at the Swarm
Hive.

Ten seconds into the dive the clangorous hammering came nearer, perhaps a hatch or two away from the command deck.

Twenty seconds into the dive, with the pitted, grey-brown spires of the Hive looming in the louvred viewport, the starboard aft burner blew. The Sergeant cut power to the port aft engine and boosted the starboard for’ard into the red.

Thirty seconds into the dive, amid the deafening cacophony of metallic hammering and the roar of the engines, the hatch to the command deck finally burst open. A grotesque creature that was half-wasp, half alligator, struggled to squeeze through the gap. It froze for a second when it saw the structures of the Hive rushing up to meet the carrier head-on, then frantically reversed direction and was gone. The Sergeant tossed a thermite grenade after it and turned to face the viewport, arms spread wide, laughing . . .

CUT TO:

VIEW OF OLYMPUS MONS FROM ORBIT

Visible within its attendant cloud of Swarmers, the brigade carrier leaves a trail of leaking gases and fluids in its wake as it plummets towards the Hive complex. The perspective suddenly zooms out, showing much of the wreckage-strewn, battle-scarred caldera as the carrier impacts. For a moment there is only an outburst of debris from the collision, then three bright explosions in quick succession obscure the outlines of the hive . . .

VOICE OVER:

In the first phase of the Battle of Mars, a number of purpose-built heavy boosters were used to send a flotilla of asteroids against the Swarm Armada, thus drawing key vessels away from Mars orbit. The main battle, and ground offensive, cost Earth over 400,000 dead and the loss of seventy-nine major warships as well as scores of support craft. This act of sacrifice did not destroy all the Overminds of the Swarm or deter them from their purpose. Yet vast stores of bioweapons, like the missiles that devastated cities in China, Europe and America, were destroyed along with several hatching chambers, thus halting the production of fresh Swarm warriors and delaying the expected assault on Earth.

That battle brought grief and sorrow to all of Humanity, yet it also bought us a breathing space, five crucial months during which the construction of three interstellar colony ships was completed, three out of the original fifteen. The last of them, the Tenebrosa, was launched from the high-orbit Poseidon Docks just four days ago, following its sister ships, the Hyperion and the Forrestal, on a trajectory away from the enemy’s main forces. All three vessels are fitted with a revolutionary new translight drive, allowing them to cross vast distances via the strange subreality of hyperspace. First to make the translight jump was the Hyperion, then two days later the Forrestal, and the Tenebrosa will be the last. Their journeys will be determined by custodian AIs programmed to evade pursuit with random course changes, and thereafter to search for Earthlike worlds suitable for colonisation.

And so they depart, three arks bearing Humanity’s hope for survival, three seeds of Earth flying out into the vast and starry night. Now we must turn our attention and all our strength to the onslaught that will soon be upon us. In twelve days, spearhead formations of the Swarm will land on the Moon and at once attack our civilian and military outposts there. We know what to expect. The Swarm’s strategy of slaughter and obliterate has never wavered, so we know that there will be no pity, no mercy and no quarter when, at last, they enter the skies above Earth. Yet for all that the Swarm soldiers are regimented drones, their leaders, the Overminds, must themselves be sentient and able to learn, otherwise they would not have developed space travel. So if the Overminds can learn, let us be their teachers – let us teach them what it means to attack the cradle of Humanity . . .

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END OF FILE . . .

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