Read an EXCERPT from Dogtribe…now available in The Crimson Pact Anthology, Volume 4!

 By a bullet or a blade, the Pact will have justice.

A gunslinger rides down a dark road in an alternate history Old West…
A lone woman tries to save a distant planet from a diabolical invasion…
A rogue demon seeks vengeance on his former queen…

Read the supernatural Western, “Darkness of the Sun,” a novella by Patrick M. Tracy, and sixteen other action packed and terrifying stories that run the gamut of urban fantasy, horror, science fiction and fantasy, with stories by Michaele Jordan, Usman T. Malik Brett Peterson, Sarah Hans, Daniel Myers, Kelly Swails, Sarah Kanning, Valerie Dircks, John Perkins, Elizabeth Shack, Leigh Dragoon, Donald Darling, Steven Diamond, and Suzzanne Myers.

Make your mark in blood and join the Crimson Pact!

Only $4.99 as an eBook, print coming soon.  Click here to get your copy today!

 

To give you a taste of what you’ll find in this volume, here’s an excerpt from the latest story in the Zira saga…

Dogtribe

by Suzzanne Myers

 

Another planet was gone. No longer on the star charts, not on frequencies, not found by satellites. It had vanished, just like the others.

That made six, Dantin thought grimly.

Dantin Ramsi was a Wave Analyst. One of the original analysts on the Plato, in fact, which meant he’d spent the majority of his life stashed away like a fat squirrel in a gray-walled room with a desk, a chair and a large amount of vid equipment. He was now sixty-three, past the point of natural retirement but allowed to continue his work under special dispensation on account of his project status—they had classified him as “Project Essential.” He wondered sometimes if his bones would go on being project essential in his chair after he died.

His job duties, as far as his superiors were concerned, were to review the soldiers’ feeds when they came in, analyze the execution of their objective and validate the overall success of the mission. The wave feeds were captured via neural transmitters upon a soldier’s death, uploaded to collection centers, and then relayed back to headquarters. Once the feed made it back the real work began; there was a lot of wave data to scrub, filter, re-feed, format, translate, compress and finally, actually watch. Occasionally there was corruption in the data. Sometimes the sound didn’t translate properly and he’d have to interpret all the individual data points separately. Forty-three years as an analyst had made him pretty good at fixing things like that.

But with Kroi Sarrek’s feed, he couldn’t fix the problem.

His superiors weren’t really interested in problems, unfortunately. They wanted results. Cold, hard facts. Was the mission achieved? Check. Was the enemy destroyed? Check. Were there any deviations from the mission plan? (There always were.) Analyze why deviation occurred, recommend corrective action.

Recommend corrective action…

The cursor blinked on his communications screen and he hesitated. What was he supposed to say? Feed corrupted beyond repair, data unobtainable? Can’t report results?

A sixth entire planet was missing, and Sarrek’s feed was the only link they had to why. Unobtainable was not an option.

He frowned and looked at the screen with the feed paused on it. This was all he really had from Kroi Sarrek, these spotty clips of a young girl, dark-haired and pretty in a wild sort of way. Everything else that pertained to the success of the mission was lost, had too much noise in it or was corrupted beyond repair. It was as if Sarrek had simply begun and ended on Cirantur and only the girl had witnessed it. It went beyond comprehension, destroying an entire planet. It went beyond reason, but there had been a reason, Dantin was certain. He just needed to find it. He needed Sarrek to tell him.

He tried to see the hope that was supposed to be in the girl’s eyes, tried to find the determination Sarrek had believed was there. Had the soldier been wrong? Or had Dantin been stuck in his gray-walled office so long he’d forgotten what hope looked like?

Static crackled across a speaker on his right. “They aren’t coming back, Lieutenant, and we have work to do.”

He sighed, hung his head and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He glanced sideways at the vid screen where his ranking boss stared back at him. He should hate her. Should blame her for the misery of a life spent behind a desk on a sterile starship, breathing recycled air and working long hours under artificial sunlight. He should blame her for the fact that he would never have a pleasant retirement on a sandy beach with real water lapping at his old, fat toes. But he did not hate her, not truly. It wasn’t her fault that they were both still here forty-some years later. She had gone into wave analysis for the career; Dantin had gone into it because he believed in the work. But where she had dreamed of more bars on her sleeve, Dantin had watched the last moments of people’s lives and dreamed of finding something else.

“Why do you think they do it, Umare?” He didn’t bother with honorifics anymore. Those were for the young, for the go-getters who believed a Sir indicated obedience and a Commander necessitated respect. He’d settled on just being Dantin Ramsi, and he’d accepted that the starship was his assigned personal hell, and Umare was nothing more than his damnable old boss. It made it a lot easier that way.

“They’re dead, Dantin.”

His chair creaked as he leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. “Don’t you think someone should ask why?”

“Why?” She snapped. “Because we’re fighting a war, that’s why. Because for every single life lost to Hydra, thousands are preserved. That’s all that matters. That’s all you need to know.” She exhaled a breath long and slow. “Why are we even having this conversation? I need Sarrek’s data already.”

He fixed her with a steady look over the rim of his glasses. “Listen, I think something is really off here. Hydra doesn’t destroy planets. They’ve never destroyed planets before.”

She paused. He saw her head shaking with the palsy of her age. Wisps of fine white hair trembled against her lined cheeks. She looked so old and frail he almost gave up the argument, almost. But he was old too, and she had her own project essential status, and someone needed to hear this. “What are you suggesting?”

He leaned forward, eyebrows raised. “What if we’re not just fighting Hydra anymore? What if there’s someone else–or something else–out there?”

Umare rolled her eyes and huffed. The speaker crackled with static as she breathed heavily into her microphone. “Maybe it’s not as decisive as we’d hoped,” she said and waved a hand at him on her vid screen. “But there isn’t anyone else, Dantin. That’s ridiculous. There aren’t aliens wreaking havoc across the Free Systems.”

“If you analyze the data pure and simple,” he persisted, “Then you see that we’re not losing key planets. But we are losing key ground–we’re being pushed further toward the galaxy center. We’re being driven. What happens to us when there’s nowhere left to run? What happens to our people on those planets that are lost? Does anyone care about those questions?”

She scowled at him. “It’s a war. There are going to be casualties, but we’ll keep killing the enemy until he’s dead or gives up. Isn’t that sufficient?”

 “No,” he said, and sighed. He’d spent most of a lifetime looking at feeds, conjuring life from long dead ghosts. Searching the answers to the question of why. But all he had were his soldiers and all their myriad horrors, their dying dreams, their relief of accomplishment, and their fear of failure. Now there were planets disappearing and even the soldiers had no answer for him. There was something missing, something integral that he couldn’t put a name to, and it was not enough for him.

Umare stared at him for a long moment. Then she squeezed her pinched, old lips together and leaned in close to her screen so that she appeared very large on his. “Lieutenant,” she gritted out, “I need the Sarrek result ASAP. Quit diddling with what-ifs and get me my action. Understood?”

She didn’t wait for his acknowledgment. Dantin watched her slam her hand down on the disconnect and then his com screen went black.

He swiveled in his chair and stared at the feed still up on his screen. It was an old feed. They were never new anymore; even with modern technology they still took years to reach his processing ship. Safety, necessity, lack of options–as worlds had fallen to Hydra, the hub of civilization had moved in an ever tightening circle inward toward the center of the galaxy, and that meant the feeds had to travel farther and farther. This feed was fifty years old already.

And it was full of holes. There was no final picture of the decimation of the planet. Dantin had no way to verify how it had occurred, or why. How many other planets would they discover had fallen after this one? How close were they to the brink of true annihilation?

That was the most important question. Deep down, even Umare couldn’t argue that point.

He stared into the girl’s eyes again, studied the outline of her smallish face. This was how his soldier had seen her. Determined, full of fight. There was hope in her eyes, he was sure he saw it now. Kroi had admired her. Had fallen a little bit in love with her, maybe, though if it had gone anywhere it was lost like the other parts of the feed. Sarrek was always driven to the mission, but sometimes—sometimes Dantin saw him hesitate, saw him linger a little longer than he should have. Dantin wished, for at least the ten thousandth time, that he could call them both back from the dead, brew them a cup of ship’s coffee and sit down and ask them to tell him the truth. Well, maybe not ship’s coffee. If he was wishing, he’d at least wish for real coffee.

Recommend corrective action: blink, blink, blink.

Dantin thought, why. His eyes narrowed as his mind focused. There was one very limited possibility he hadn’t tried yet. He checked the log, remembering that the wave analytics had showed traces of a secondary feed. He’d seen it happen before. The neural chips recorded brain activity within a certain proximity zone, but most of the time this data was useless to his analysis, so he usually just filtered the extraneous stuff out to avoid complicating things. But now he wondered how much of the girl was in the feed, how much of her he might be able to conjure back to life. And maybe in so doing, he could piece together what he wanted to know.

Why? The question was going to burn a hole through his mind, and he was starting to believe he wasn’t going to like the answer.

*****

Female Civilian, assigned Wave ID: 5433.1–Sarrek, Kroi
Time: 5.9.24.10
Location: Cirantur, geographical region unknown, believed to be the Usur Mountains

The first thing I notice is the blood. The forest is quiet, hushed the way it always is after a heavy snow. The branches hang low and the sky is gray with more to come. I crouch down on the creek bank and stare at the half-frozen water, at the tracks leading into it, at the wash of blood swirling downstream. I should have gone back already, I think. I should not have been roaming so far from my cave in the first place. I should have been more careful.

Read the rest of the story in The Crimson Pact Volume 4!

3 comments to Read an EXCERPT from Dogtribe…now available in The Crimson Pact Anthology, Volume 4!

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