Just Released: Swim Among the People
Book Five in the Fall of the Censor series.
Swim Among the People is now out on Amazon.
Fiera’s victories angered the Censor into deploying the force needed to retake his lost worlds. Marcus Landry is now trapped on an occupied world, trying to fight back against the Censorate. Can he win without hurting the innocent civilians trapped in the crossfire, including his wife and child?
Read the opening of the book below:
“Missiles launched!” said the sensor tech.
“Count?” demanded Marcus Landry.
“Working . . . about eight hundred.”
He frowned. That was about twice as many as the fighters under his command. They should be able to intercept them . . . but these were the least experienced crews in the militia. “Pass the word. Open fire at ten klicks.”
“Aye-aye.” Bethan handled comm as well as the sensors.
“Want to move forward so we can get some shots in?” asked Jac. The gunner didn’t like the command fighter hanging back from the rest of the formation.
Marcus shook his head. “No. They have to learn.”
The approaching missiles were visible. They glittered in the light of Corwynt’s sun. Their gravitic thrusters blurred the starfield behind them, hiding the ships which launched them.
Not that the ships were easy to see. They were corvettes, smaller than any warship used by the Fierans who’d liberated Corwynt from the Censor. Each one still outmassed a dozen militia fighters, and had nearly as much firepower as eight of them.
The tactical display on his console showed the approaching missiles. Marcus looked up at his fighters, spread out in formation in front of him. Flickers of light told of nervous gunners opening fire early.
“Flight leaders are repeating their hold fire orders,” reported Bethan.
Marcus nodded. He wasn’t going to interfere. The lowest level leaders should handle discipline.
A blaze of light sprang up. The whole formation had opened up at once. Their twin blasters were making short work of the missiles.
Most of the missiles. Some came on. Green gunners missed their shots. Or the leaders hadn’t coordinated them properly and too many had fired at the same missiles while ignoring others.
A hundred missiles reached two klicks from the formation.
The fire was continuous, wasting battery power. More sparks marked exploding missiles.
None reached one klick.
Marcus said to Bethan, “Put me on the all militia channel.”
When she gave him the nod, he declared, “All fighters, well done. You’ve shown how we can block an enemy attack. Now it’s our turn to let them have it. Wing leaders, begin attack plan bravo.”
Then he sat back in relief. Doing a training exercise with live missiles always had him on edge. The practice missiles were programmed to veer away from the fighters rather than hitting them if one made it all the way through—but accidents happened.
It was necessary, though. The Censorate would come back. They considered any independent world an insult. They’d come back to erase all art, all books, everything over a lifetime old. And they’d destroy whole worlds to get their way. The militia needed to be ready to fight them. If that meant losing some crews in training accidents . . . well.
Marcus watched the three wings of fighters maneuver. He’d ordered them to attempt a flanking maneuver.
They were in position, moving to the left of where the Planetary Navy corvettes were formed up. But their formations had come apart while making the turn to start the attack run.
Enough were in the right place you could see where everyone should be. But dozens of fighters were out of position, maneuvering back to where they should be after blowing the timing of their turns, or breaking formation to evade another fighter who was out of place.
At least nobody had collided. They didn’t need more training casualties.
Marcus listened to his subordinate wing and group leaders trying to get all their problem children back in formation. He didn’t intervene. The leaders had to learn their jobs just as the new pilots did. They wouldn’t learn if he did it for them.
The corvettes had rotated their disk formation to deal with the threat. Their hexagonal array was now facing the militia again. It hadn’t been a precision maneuver, but they looked to be in the proper formation.
Marcus studied the corvettes. If there were any holes in their grid, he was going to abort the live fire. There was too much risk if missiles shot through a gap. They might destroy a reserve ship, or worse, continue on, endangering ships and stations orbiting Corwynt. Marcus had argued for performing the exercise deep in empty space, but Admiral Nanney wanted “the citizens to see what they’re paying for.”
Marcus’ other argument for going to deep space was to keep citizens—or spies—from seeing anything classified. But the admiral wasn’t worried about that either.
The time and distance readouts both said it was the moment. Marcus transmitted, “All wings, launch missiles.”
In a real battle, Marcus would hear the snap-snap-snap-snap of his own fighter’s missiles launching. But he was here to command and observe. Instead his gunner sat with his arms crossed, watching the cloud of missiles spring out from the wings. One and a half thousand missiles raced toward the corvettes.
Marcus tensed as the missiles covered the distance. A corvette was small enough that a single missile could destroy it.
Then the stars behind a corvette went fuzzy. The blur spread until all the corvettes were surrounded by it.
Marcus scanned the formation looking for clear patches. None.
Balls of flame hid the corvettes. Every missile exploded in unison as they struck the gravitic fields projected by the corvettes’ generators.
Not a single shield generator had failed to activate. Nor had any collapsed under the weight of the missiles, four times more powerful than any previous live fire exercise. The shield corvettes worked.
“Man, I love those corvettes,” said Jac. The gunner had laughed out loud as the missiles impacted on the shields.
Marcus shook his head. “They’re great, but I’d like them more if they were hyper-capable.”
The exercise script said the corvettes would fire an energy weapon salvo now. At 0.5% power a blaster would dazzle the crew of a fighter instead of blowing it to bits. Blasters, unlike solid matter, could go through a shield, but corvettes didn’t have enough power to use both at once.
The wings were scattering in real evasive maneuvers.
The new pilots had no trouble breaking their formations.
“If you don’t like the corvettes, you should complain to your Proxy,” said Jeuan.
“Eh, I haven’t voted for a Proxy,” answered Marcus. The members of Corwynt’s Parliament only represented those who’d signed a petition for their election.
“What? Why not?” asked Bethan. The communications tech had pitched several candidates to them.
A third of the fighters were now “dead,” leaving the exercise area for the observation zone. The wing commanders ordered their units to reform. Their next move was to close on the corvettes and blast them at close range.
Marcus said, “Signing a Proxy’s petition is a public vote. I don’t want to endorse someone and make militia members feel pressured to support him.”
“But Admiral Nanney’s endorsed a bunch of Proxies,” said Jac.
“I know.” Marcus thought Nanney was dangerously political by the standards of a Fieran military. But Corwynt’s government was less than a year old. It hadn’t developed standards yet. The Fierans who’d liberated them from the Censorate had offered their rules, but Corwyntis wanted to live by their own.
Marcus steered his fighter to follow the wings as they closed on the corvettes. The fighters opened up with their blasters, firing at 1% power to test their marksmanship without damaging the corvettes. As they came closer the shields flashed on again, keeping the fighters from penetrating between the corvettes and forcing them to pivot and go around the edges of the formation.
More fighters were declared dead as the corvettes fired on them. When the wing leaders were lost, the formations broke up and scattered into four-ship flights or even individual fighters, trying to get an angle where they could shoot at a corvette without crashing into a shield.
Admiral Nanney’s voice came over the all ships channel. “Cease fire and break off. All units, cease fire and break off. Well done, everyone, well done. This concludes today’s exercise. All ships and fighters return to base.”
Marcus, for once, approved of the admiral’s decision. This had been good training until now but the surviving fighters weren’t enough to practice useful maneuvers. He directed the wing leaders to take charge of their units and finish up the weekend’s training.
He started the fighter back to their home city of Bundoran. He had to write up his report on the exercise.
Bethan started the discussion up again. “You should vote for a Proxy, boss. If you don’t, you can’t vote for the President.”
“True. But there’s nobody running I want to vote for.”
“Oh! You should see Emrys Danna’s video.”
“The actor? He was just playing the president in the ‘How Democracy Works’ show.”
“Yes, but now he’s running for real. Here, I’ll show you.” Bethan started a video playing on each of their consoles.
Marcus hadn’t wanted to see it, but it would be rude to turn it off.
It began with the familiar actor in formal clothing. “Hi, I’m Emrys Danna.” The man pulled himself into a stiff, dignified pose. “You might remember me as the butler.”
He slipped off the jacket and yanked on an eye patch and battered detective’s fedora. “Or you might like Rag Duffy, death creditor.” Emrys leaned forward, one hand braced on a chair, opposite elbow sticking out, taking up space in an intimidating manner.
The hero pose slid into a relaxed and friendly stance as Emrys stepped forward. A swipe across his face removed the eye patch and hat. “Most recently, I played the President in the voting education videos.”
The camera followed Emrys as he took a seat behind a solid wooden desk—an impressive item on tree-poor Corwynt.
“Pretending to be President made me think about the real problems we have here. Finding a way to help the clans cooperate. Balancing the cities with the islands, shoalers, and Jaaphisii. Building relationships with our Fieran liberators and spacers from other worlds. Most important, building the strength to keep the Censorate from attacking us again.”
Emrys locked his eyes intently on the camera. “I’ve listened to the other candidates for President. I’ve read their plans. I don’t think they’re good enough. So I’ve decided to run for President myself. I’ve posted my plans to the Net. There are some issues I don’t have answers for, but I will do my best to bring together experts who can solve them.”
A smile twisted the rugged face. “Making movies may not be as hard as running a planet, but it’s taught me how to get a bunch of big egos to work together. I will bring that experience to being your President. I hope you’ll support me.”
The camera closed in, showing just the man’s head and his index finger pointing at the viewer. “I pretended to be a President. You can make me a real one.”
Marcus shook his head. “I should’ve expected him to have a good pitch.”
“Going to vote for him?” asked Jac.
“I’ll look at his plans.”
Wynny Landry followed the sound of footsteps through the corridors of Llangrannog’s deepest underlevel. The meat vats were humming, but their sound was too high-pitched to interfere with the thuds of her suspect’s boots. She was barely avoiding bumping into the walls in the dim light. The suspect’s flashlight was reflecting more light off the walls than she was receiving from the monitor lights on the vats.
She didn’t want to risk a light of her own. That might warn the suspect. After all this work, she wanted to catch him with the goods. That’s why she was wearing slippers despite walking on bedrock.
The footsteps stopped. Metal scraped. Time to move fast.
She went around a corner and spotted him. Kneeling down at a vat labeled ‘PORK 87,’ prying open a maintenance hatch on the side of its base. The flashlight was resting on a nutrient pump, shining on his work. Perfect.
Her left hand drew out a camera. She pressed the button to record him opening the hatch, placing a data crystal inside with a pile of others, and closing it.
When he reached for the flashlight, she said, “Hello, Colton.”
The spy whirled and came to his feet. He drew a knife and stepped toward her. She could tell when he spotted her hat by his hesitation. It was dark and narrow brimmed, battered from abuse in previous cases. It marked her as a death creditor.
“Don’t.” Wynny’s right hand held a pistol, which she drew from her pocket and aimed at the spy’s belly.
The knife drooped. “Is that—a gun?”
“Yes. A present from my father-in-law. So please don’t do anything stupid. Unless your clan would rather have you dead than on trial?”
“No, no, please don’t hurt me.”
She lowered the weapon enough to aim at his feet. He was big enough to do some damage if he could get his hands on her. She didn’t dare put it away. But he’d talk more if it was just the two of them. She didn’t want to call in her backup unless she had to.
“Why’d you do it, Colton?” That’s the question that worked best on spies. Open ended, an invitation to justify themselves.
“Why else? Censorate Security promised they wouldn’t bomb my city if I gave them the data they wanted.” The spy sat down on a waste pipe. His shoulders slumped.
“Some money. The clan needed it, and the elders didn’t ask questions.”
“Are they still giving you money?”
A headshake. “Not since the blockade started.”
“So why are you still spying? That’s a lot of data there.”
That made him lift his head. “To keep my clan alive! When the Censor comes back, he’s going to be erasing cities. You know he’s coming. There’s no way to stop him.”
“We’re building a fleet to stop him. And whether he comes back or not, you won’t see it. Treason’s a crime now. You’re going to stand trial for it.”
“I’ll drown first!” Colton lunged for Wynny, lifting the knife high.
It was a fast move. But not fast enough to take down someone holding a pistol at the ready.
Wynny’s first shot staggered him. Two more put him down.
She stepped back to stay clear of the spreading pool of blood.
A quick look around spotted her camera, dropped when she wanted both hands for the gun. Three of the six sides were covered with blood now. Well, it would’ve kept recording until she fired, and that would be enough to content the judge.
Rapid footsteps announced the arrival of the Llangrannog police. “Death creditor! Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, detective. He decided he didn’t want to stand trial. Please collect the evidence.”
Llangrannog’s police had picked up some Fieran innovations such as “chain of evidence custody” and “documentation” that hadn’t been necessary in police work under Censorate rule. They started with the knife, still in the late Colton’s hand. Wynny reminded them to check the hatch and data crystals for fingerprints, in case there was an accomplice.
“I’d hate to think there’s another traitor in our city,” said the detective.
She shrugged. “His clan knew he was getting money from somewhere. They may have known more.”
The cops were bagging up the body and throwing down a tarp. The one who’d collected the data from the hiding spot came up to Wynny. “Ma’am, do you need to check these?”
“No. It’s the production specifications for the new corvettes. That’s how we tracked him down. Left a vulnerability so he could get access to it.”
The cop cast a fearful glance at the bag of data crystals. “The Censies know about the corvettes?”
“I don’t think so. He may have been sending our secrets to the enemy from the beginning of liberation, but he hasn’t been able to send any to the Censorate since they imposed the blockade. The corvettes weren’t deployed then.”
“Oh, good. I’ll get these to the judge, ma’am.”
“Thank you.” Wynny stood back and let them work. Her job wasn’t completely done. She’d have to testify at the trial. But she’d done enough for tonight.
The pistol hadn’t been considered evidence. Corwynti police still had more deference for death creditors than their Fieran advisors liked. Wynny rested her hand on its butt. It reminded her of her husband Marcus’ parents, now deep in Censorate space. She hoped they’d be able to make it home through the blockade.
Marcus gave Admiral Song, commander of the Fieran Concord naval forces, a respectful nod as they passed in the hallway. As heads of their separate forces they were legally equals. But Song had been in uniform since before Marcus had been born. He respected that.
Song stopped. “Landry. Have a moment?”
The admiral opened a door. “Excuse me, I need to borrow this room. Take five.”
The occupants hastily filed out.
Marcus followed Song into the conference room, closing the door behind him. By the presentation paused on the wall, the interrupted meeting had been wrestling with ammunition resupply.
Song turned to face him. “You understand the Corwyntis. How can we get them to stop building those damn corvettes?”
Marcus’ eyebrows went up. “I thought you liked the missile shields.”
“I love the shields. They’re brilliant. They’ll let our fleet take on three or four times its numbers. Ten times, if you believe some of the wargames. But what’s the use of putting them on ships without hyperspace capability?”
Interstellar travel required shifting from normal space to hyperspace, where a klick of travel might correspond to a million or trillion klicks in normal space. To go there ships needed not just to be big enough to carry the ‘twister’ which switched them between normal and hyper, but also sturdy enough to resist the semi-fluid aether which filled hyperspace.
“They’re intended to defend Corwynt,” answered Marcus. He felt a little defensive himself. The militia fighters he commanded couldn’t enter hyperspace without a ship carrying them.
“Wars aren’t won on the defensive. Building some squadrons for local defense is fine, but we need a mobile force. All their planned construction is corvettes. What’s the matter with them?”
A direct question deserved a direct answer. “Bluntly, sir, they don’t trust us. The Censorate Navy outmaneuvered you last year and snuck a fleet past your main force. If it wasn’t for some damn good luck, Corwynt could have been bombed flat.”
The admiral’s face twisted. “Yes. They foxed us. But we’ve learned, dammit. I have patrols watching the entire void between Corwynt and Shian. They can’t do that again. But the patrols take so many ships it’s crippled our offensive power. If the Censorate comes in force again, we’ll have no choice but to fall back and fight in normal space over Corwynt. That makes them the front line.”
“They were the front line last year. I’ve received some pointed comments that if the carriers hadn’t been sabotaged, the militia wings would have gone off with the fleet and not been there to defend the planet.”
The admiral dropped into one of the swivel chairs and put his feet up on another.
“We’d have left some—but they’re right, it wouldn’t have been enough.” Song paused. “It’s not just that the corvettes can’t take the offensive. They’re too small to carry a balanced combat load. I had Fleet Engineering analyze the design. They said it was optimized to maximize the number of officers who could brag about being captains on shore leave.”
Marcus laughed. “That’s fair. The Proxies are politicians. They’re giving their constituents what they want.”
“Their constituents should want to win the war.”
Marcus propped his hip on the conference table. He could sit without an invitation, he had the rank for it, but it felt rude. “Have any Fieran nations built a battleship yet?”
That brought a sour smile from Song. “No, they’re bragging about the number of ships they’re building. Fine, our politicians are no better. But at least they’re paying for cruisers.”
“They’re under pressure to take the offensive. People want revenge. The Corwyntis are scared. They want defense. To change their minds you’ll have to reassure them. Maybe . . . take some Proxies out to see the patrols? If they’re convinced a Censy attack can’t sneak through, they’ll be more likely to let some units go.”
That might even win funding for some new carriers, so Marcus’ fighters could go on the offensive.
“That’s a thought. Junkets like that are traditional for the national fleets. I’ll suggest it the next time I brief the War Committee. Thank you, Landry.”
Marcus called his wife Wynny to warn her he was bringing a fellow officer home for dinner.
“Not a problem,” she said. “It’ll be good to see Adym again. I have a pot of stew simmering, it’ll be ready whenever you come home.”
Marcus had formed a friendship with Adym Owyr based on their positions as outsiders among the urban clan members who made up almost all of the militia. Marcus was a Fieran, from the world which had forcibly liberated Corwynt from the Censorate. As leader of the planetary fighter militia, he spent almost all his time with Corwyntis these days. Especially his wife.
Adym was a Corwynti, but from the shoaler culture which raised crops on their ocean floor farms. Most shoalers never came closer to a city than to tie up their boats at the dock when they sold their crops. When Adym joined with three clans to buy a militia fighter, he’d become the first shoaler many of his fellow militia members had met. Despite being an outsider, he’d risen to Group Leader through hard work and tactical brilliance.
Like Marcus, he didn’t fit into the clan structure with its network of marriage ties and elaborate rules for balancing conflicts. They shared observations of the clanfolk with each other. Sometimes Adym could explain behaviors that Wynny, born into Clan Goch, had never noticed.
Marcus and Adym arrived as Wynny was cleaning Little Niko in his high chair. “Hi, Darling. Hello, Adym. Welcome, come in.”
After a few more wipes the toddler was freed to give hugs to his father and ‘Unca Adym.’ Then he wandered off to the corner strewn with his toys.
“He was too hungry to wait for dinner with you,” said Wynny. “But he was neater than usual.”
Marcus smiled. “It’s nice to not have to hose down the table.” He gave her a kiss, then turned to serving drinks. The local Stormbird beer was a favorite of all the adults.
Adym fetched bowls and spoons from the cupboard.
Wynny ladled out stew from a pot which could have served eight. A few minutes went by as they ate.
“Any new business today?” Marcus asked Wynny.
“No. I’m just as glad. After catching that spy I want some time to relax. Unless it’s something easy like being a judge for a Wedprice trial.”
“After the Tintern trial, they may be afraid to hire you,” said Adym. “From what I’ve heard, you were rough on both sides.”
She shrugged. “They were both being idiots. Stupidity should hurt. I was hired to provide justice, not mercy. How did things go with the Navy?”
Marcus chuckled. “They’re being stupid, but I’m not allowed to hurt them.”
That brought a laugh from Adym. The two men traded notes on their efforts to turn subsidies from the planetary government into weapons from the Fieran Concord Navy and spare parts from the manufacturing clans of Bundoran city. Neither had much success.
“Everyone’s too soaking busy,” complained Adym. “The government is spending all the taxes the Provisional Government saved up. They’re buying whole squadrons of corvettes. And every city is getting infrastructure fixes.”
Marcus nodded. “It’s affecting militia readiness. We have whole crews skipping drills because they have to work.”
Both men turned frustrated looks on their half-full stew bowls.
“That’s enough talking shop for now,” said Wynny. “Adym, what have you been doing outside the militia?”
He smiled. “Less than my share of farm chores. My father complains that he doesn’t mind the money to buy a quarter-fighter but he’d rather I was a gunner instead of a group leader. I spend too much time doing paperwork.”
“So does Marcus,” said Wynny. “That one weekend a month line sounds soaking silly when I see him doing militia work every day.”
Adym laughed. “My father said something very like that.”
“I’d like to meet him,” said Wynny. “You should bring him for dinner sometime.”
Adym hesitated. “I’d love to bring him. But he wouldn’t come without my mother.”
“Then we’ll invite them both,” put in Marcus.
“Thank you, but . . . she’s nervous on the surface. Doesn’t like being in boats. Only really comfortable diving deep or in a cave. I’ll ask her if she wants to try coming into the city.”
The Landrys exchanged a look. Their home was in the top level of the city, four hundred feet above sea level. “We wouldn’t want her to feel obligated,” said Marcus. “But she’s always welcome if she wants to.”
“Thank you,” said Adym.
For him to host the Landrys was unthinkable. Shoalers were famously reclusive. Under Censorate rule, they erected flimsy ‘tax shacks’ on sandbars to pass off as their homes. The real homes were hidden on the ocean floor. Rumors abounded of nosy Censies murdered while diving near shoals.
Adym said, “I have some other news. I’d like to ask a favor of you both. Is your citizenship effective yet?”
Wynny nodded. “Yes, it was immediate when they passed the law. A much better reward than all those useless medals. I can’t wait to vote in the next mayoral election.”
By ‘outmarrying’ from her clan to a Fieran, Wynny had lost her citizenship for many legal purposes. The parliament had made her and Marcus full citizens as a reward for their efforts in Corwynt’s liberation.
“Have you supported a Proxy yet?”
The Landrys shook their heads. Rather than count their citizens and divide them into districts for electing representatives, Corwynt’s Parliament gave a seat to anyone who had 400,000 adults sign a petition supporting them. The legislators were acting as a proxy for their voters, hence the title.
“I didn’t want anyone in the militia feeling pressured to follow me in supporting someone,” explained Marcus.
“But they’ve mostly cast their votes for Proxies now if they were going to,” said Adym.
“True.” Marcus cocked his head at Adym, wondering where he was going with this.
Adym took a deep breath. “I intend to become a Proxy. And I’d like your support.”
“Wow,” said Marcus.
“What’s your platform?” asked Wynny.
“I want to make sure the clans don’t rinse away everyone else. The industrial islands will be fine, they’re organized, have a few Proxies already. It’s everybody else. Shoalers. Jaaphisii. Immigrants.” The last was illustrated with a wave at Marcus.
“It’s going to be tough collecting votes from them. Those people are scattered all over the planet,” observed Marcus.
“I’m making a start on that. I’ve collected pledges from several groups, enough to give me a respectable initial list.”
Wynny put down her spoon. “Are there enough shoalers to elect a Proxy? I’ve seen half a dozen families selling at the Bundoran docks. Maybe there’s ten people in each. And there’s shoalers around hundreds of cities. No, that’s not enough.”
“It’s worse than that,” said Adym. “We’ve spent generations hiding our names and numbers from the Censor. That’s a hard habit to break, especially if it’s only a temporary escape.”
“We’re working hard on keeping it permanent,” said Marcus.
“I know. But I can’t even convince my father.”
Wynny shook her head. “At least they’re literate, unlike the Jaaphisii.”
“Oh, that’s no problem. A video statement counts as a vote. I have pledges from two Jaaphisii flotillas.”
“How did you manage that?” she asked.
“Whiskey, promises, and having a knife I was willing to use.”
“I don’t see any scars,” said Marcus. “Did you really duel them?”
“No, I said as a shoaler I’d never been on a big ship before, so to be fair we’d have to duel in the water. Then they decided shoalers weren’t wimps after all.”
The Landrys laughed. Marcus said, “Sounds like you’re ready to collect votes.”
Adym shook his head. “They’re all conditional pledges. ‘I’ll sign when you have a hundred votes.’ Or a thousand. Or so many non-shoalers. It’s the stone soup problem. Once I have a start others will jump in, but nobody wants to be first.”
Wynny shoved her empty bowl away. “I can’t blame them. Lots of people found they’d wasted their votes on someone who couldn’t get past two or three hundred thousand. It’s embarrassing to publicly commit yourself to a failure.”
“Exactly. I need to have everything in place before I announce.” Adym poured another ladle of stew into his bowl, then another in the one Marcus held out. “There’s one vote hanging on you two specifically to commit.”
“Who?” asked Wynny.
“Really? I’d think he was still mad at us for the lifetime sentence,” she said.
“Married life agrees with him. Sian’s pregnant, by the way.”
Adym took a breath. “Would you two be willing to vote for me? And to be my first official voters?”
Wynny looked at her husband. “We could do worse. What do you think?”
“He’ll probably do. Besides, we need to sign on with some proxy or we can’t vote in the Presidential election.” Marcus turned to Adym. “You have our votes.”
If you enjoyed this sample, you can find the rest on Amazon.