Get ready for another action-packed trip into a world of alien terror and bloody battles with War Thug 2.
The greatest soldiers in the galaxy are on the run.
Betrayed by the War Council they served with victory and honor, War Thug and his platoon of Enhanced Space Navy SEALs have been branded as traitors. There is a price on their heads and no one they can trust … except one another.
But a shipboard accident separates them on Altair IV, a “resort planet” run by scum and villainy of every kind. Until they can find their fellow soldiers, every one of them must maneuver through the planet’s underworld, where no one helps without a price.
If they are to escape capture and execution by the all-powerful Council, every member of the platoon will have to rely on their wits, their muscle, and the luck that has abandoned them so far.
Terra. That’s what we in the Space Navy were trained to call Earth from the very beginning of the War on Alien Aggression, to loosen our ties to a mother planet we were unlikely ever to see again even as we fought to protect her. At the time of my birth twenty-eight years ago, when I still called the planet “Earth,” 2.5 billion humans lived on its surface. Thirty years before that, over 10 billion people were alive and well. They were totally unaware that death was about to rain from the skies in an alien invasion so shocking, so devastating, that 75 percent of the world’s population would die in less than three months.
Humans had been to other solar systems by the time I was born. We were searching for what are still called “rare Earth materials” (even though they are just used up, not rare—humans having mined every ounce of them from Terra, making them now “rare off-Earth materials”). Things like the lanthanides and yttrium used for technology that had kept civilization on Earth running for 150 years, ores and compounds for which we had no substitutes. Thus, to keep our civilization running smoothly, trillions were spent to go in search of these necessities and to discover new sources of mineral riches for our planet.
That’s when we discovered extraterrestrial life. Space travelers had run across alien races several times just at Terra’s point on a long arm of the Milky Way, epochal events for humankind. Some were intelligent and as advanced or more advanced than humans (these we called “sentients”), and some were just animal-type creatures we called “bugs,” because they always seemed to infest any planet they were on, just like insects, with no technology to speak of. (Also, many of them had exoskeletons or chitinous shells and looked exactly like giant bugs.) We were ordered to eliminate them to prevent any chance of them evolving into war-hungry sentients.
Our intentions, then, as I was taught in military school—actually, for decades it’s just been called “school”—were purely scientific and peaceful. Humans engaged in limited commerce, and shared scientific knowledge once we and the aliens developed a pidgin language.
To those who could comprehend it, our travelers explained how we could zip through the vast emptiness of the universe through the use of “subspace.” Theorized long before a mechanism was found to exploit this loophole in the structure of space, subspace was how the curves of relativistic spacetime could be shot through in straight lines from point to point in our galaxy, like a bullet shot through rolling ocean waves takes a shorter path than climbing the waves and going back down each one. Electromagnetic transmissions could also be sent through subspace, meaning communications with Earth even from distant systems suffered no more time lag than if the crews were transmitting from Mars. Civilian survey crews, scientific expeditions, and mining operations were, just before the attack, the most common missions. But coming in at a close second were privateers, doing what pirates have always done—plundering, kidnapping, anything they could get away with.
A watershed day in human history was when a crew of scientists explained to the leaders of a technologically advanced, spacefaring race of Xenos how subspace worked and could be accessed, and they were astounded. They had hundreds, maybe thousands, of spaceships in their Armada, and we knew they frequently used the armed vessels in skirmishes with other civilizations in their system and one three light-years away. Their scientists were overjoyed that (I’m using Earth-time measurements here) this fifteen-year voyage could now be made in less than one. We explained how we had arrived at their system in just over a month, even though most of a human lifetime would have been required to go that far traveling through normal Minkowski spacetime.
Then we showed them exactly what star in the sky we had come from.
This was a mistake.
Less than a year after this scientific crew’s departure from the exoplanet, the Armada of the Xenos—their actual species’s name and planet’s system has been erased from history books and forbidden ever to be spoken—arrived in Earth orbit and began an attack on population centers before most humans were even aware we had visitors. Particle-beam weapons, proton bombs, repeated blasts on the moon calculated to rain state-sized meteors onto the Earth, and more still—it was a constant, apocalyptic barrage on humanity, killing almost everyone on our whole planet.
A War Council was formed. In fact, this was the genesis of the War Council, which now represented every citizen of Earth whether such representation was wanted or not, and it managed to squeeze three medium-sized ships through the alien Armada and its attacks. Those three craft—the Pinta, the Niña, and the Bloody Maria—were packed full, inside and out, with every advanced weapon and prototype of advanced weapon the Council could seize or develop quickly through its complete control over the government and the military.
One weapon, the “Super-Nuke,” had never been tested or even built before, because to set it off on or even near Earth would be (or so the theory said) to burn off every mountain, hill, building, and living thing on the planet, leaving nothing but a sterilized, smoking husk. The theorists who had conceived of the project had never released their findings because they believed it was too dangerous. It was only after the Xenos had killed nearly half of the people on Earth that the right scientists were able to get the plans to the right people within the War Council. The effort to build this weapon made the Manhattan Project look like a group of Amish farmers raising a barn.
And that was only one of the weapons packed into and onto the ships of the hatefully (yet hopefully) named “Columbian Extirpation.” The trio launched amidst a collection of traditional missiles to obscure their track from the alien ships, then slipped into subspace even before they cleared the moon, an unprecedentedly risky move but the only one that could let them escape unnoticed.
Even in subspace, a craft can travel at faster or slower speeds. Unlike what would be needed to travel through a “wormhole” or even keep it open for longer than a nanosecond, travel through subspace requires no extra power once the initial MacGuffin Pulse is fired. Thus, fuel can be used for faster travel or conserved for later contingencies.
The Columbian Extirpation ships carried a lot of fuel. They accelerated until there was just a wisp of vapor left in their tanks, just enough so that once they came out of subspace the Pinta and the Niña could aim at the alien planet and fly right into it, guns and everything else blazing.
It was a suicide mission, eight patriotic men and women giving up their lives to save the fraction of humankind left alive. Immediately upon slipping back into normal spacetime, everything was shot from the ships that could be shot, with the Super-Nukes kept on board detonating on contact with the alien planet’s atmosphere.
They worked. It all worked. Every living thing—no, every single thing—on that planet was reduced to cinders. The explosions rocked the planet’s inhabited moons out of orbit, their populations doomed to either crash into the planet or be lost forever in the cold wastes of space.
However, there was more to do, and the Bloody Maria stayed behind, in orbit around the dead world, armed now only with its Super-Nuke. The War Council made an educated guess, and it was exactly right.
That guess was that, as soon as subspace transmissions from their home world were cut off, suddenly and completely, the Xenos would know we had struck back. It took just days for the entire Armada to leave off its attack. The bastards must not have believed it at first, but reality set in very quickly; they called their ground troops back to the ships and vanished into subspace en masse to put down this counterattack.
However long it took them to retrace their steps back through subspace to their home planet, however much fuel they burned in order to shrink the travel time down from a month to a week, maybe a day—they arrived to find the utter transfiguration of their once-blue planet into a brown deathworld, its surface obscured by the dust and smoke that now constituted its atmosphere.
There was still one Earth spaceship orbiting the dead planet, however, and the crew of the Bloody Maria waited patiently until they were sure the entire Xeno Armada had returned. Then, using the fumes of fuel in the ship’s engine, they yanked themselves out of orbit and flew straight into the center of the aliens’ mass of black dreadnaughts.
And ignited their Super-Nuke.
Thus began the War on Alien Aggression, with the War Council taking complete control of Earth’s global (or what was left of it) military-industrial complex. As it looked out unilaterally for the best interests of the remainder of humankind, the Council focused most of the planet’s industrial capacity and scientific genius on building spacecraft meant to travel long, long distances through subspace. Spacefaring arms of the military were created, Space Navy and Space Army, both of which subsumed elements of the Marines and the Air Force into their missions.
The War Council back on Earth held political and military supremacy since before any of us on the Blue Celeste were even born. In the general populace, to disagree with the Council’s policies or plans or anything else made one an enemy of the state. If summary execution or transportation as fresh meat to a mining colony or as a “comfort patriot” sex slave on a resort planet could be avoided, the best such an enemy could hope for would be forty-eight unpaid “community service” hours per week digging ditches or, a generation after the attack, collecting the rubble of entire cities to be vaporized. This was in addition to the mandatory paid forty-eight hours of work each week doing whatever it was that the Council deemed worth doing.
That was for the general populace. For anyone in any part of the War Council military, disagreement or protest was considered traitorous, and many an entire ship’s contingent had been publicly executed for the speech or actions of a single crew member. This is a time of war, the Council reminded citizens daily, if not hourly, and we are winning the fight.
The War on Alien Aggression, now in its sixth decade, was being won by the human race by the wholesale genocide of off-worlds’ inhabitants. The Space Navy hunted Xeno bugs to extinction to teach them a lesson about potential evolution, but our real target was planets with sentient life, specifically any intelligent beings that were capable or could at ANY time in the future become capable of creating advanced weapons or that had mastered spaceflight or could possibly do so in the future. This flexibility made our charter as Space Navy SEALs (Space-Earth Aggression Leapers, so-called because we “leaped” onto enemy planets from a ship in orbit using an enormous cord known as a “space elevator”) to kill any and every kind of exobiological life and secure all technology discovered for future retrieval and reverse engineering by the Council’s science teams. We killed, we planted a beacon for those teams, and then we moved on to our next assignment, which could come in a day, a week, or even a month.
This was why “resort planets” were so important to the war effort—not only as punishment for enemies of the state as but vital recharging opportunities for soldiers and sailors. They also were hubs for all kinds of intersystem commerce, so if a soldier wanted to spend his hard-earned credits on something a little stranger than the usual, he could.
This was life under the War Council. And it worked! The war was being won—not a single alien attack had followed the original catastrophe—and the less populated this part of the galaxy was, so much the better for continued peace and security on Earth.
Killing was the path to absolute security.
This was all perfect for the Blue Celeste, as we Space Navy SEALs were the top of the heap when it came to going anywhere and killing anything at the instructions of the government. We were not brainless automatons—even our infantrymen were top graduates of War Council Academy—but we were sworn under sensory distress and randomized punishment/reward conditioning to do exactly as we were told, exactly when we were told. The objectives of a mission were known to none of us except our platoon commander, whom we called “Sarge” in person and “War Thug” when we were alone, and even he got only the pieces of the puzzle that we needed to do our jobs. Sarge had always carried out the Council’s orders using his own strategies and experience, and the crew of thirteen as we had been constituted for four years had never failed to execute orders and had never lost a trooper.
But then came Planet Bunghole, a mission which went sideways almost as soon as our boots touched the ground. As I relayed in an earlier mission log, we thought we were being sent to rescue three scientists under attack from Xenos … but really we were sent there as a unit to be experimented on and turned into super-soldiers who would be less human than some alien races we had encountered (and killed, obviously). We had done our jobs perfectly, but the War Council marked us for genetic alteration (again—the first time being when we received our Enhancements) and irradiation, and once we were “complete,” we would be set upon one another in fights to the death to see who survived, and then the whole show would start again with the arrival of a new ship of SEALs coming to “rescue” the scientists. Our misery and horror would become data points. Our service meant nothing to the powers of Terra beyond the idea that our excellence could mean even better mindless mutant fighters.
We were betrayed by the War Council.
Whoever is reading this log may not understand what a mind-twister this represented to a platoon of Space Navy SEALs. We soldiers of the War on Alien Aggression could by definition not be betrayed by the War Council, because our mission was to execute whatever orders we were given, including suicide missions or (in this case) even worse. To do otherwise was treason, rebellion, mutiny … and the Council would spend whatever resources it needed to make a very public example of our capture, our torture, and our executions.
So we were on the run.
We had been following orders and wiping out aliens—both sentients and bugs—for so long, for so many missions, that none of us at first could really comprehend the depth of the fecal slush we were wading though. Yes, we as a platoon had just wiped out not only the War Council’s pet bioweapon project; but more than that, Sarge set off a Super-Nuke that scoured everything from the face of Planet L-22233—which we grunts designated “Planet Bunghole”—like steel wool on a dirty pan. For only the second time in human history—that we grunts knew about, anyway–a Super-Nuke had been deployed. It had been installed inside Sarge’s artificial right forearm, and we as a team had to rip the huge man’s robotic prosthetic from the muscles and sinew that had grown into it in order to get Sarge off-world and up to the ship. But we got it, set it to go off, and got the hell out of there, double-time.
We killed Planet Bunghole instead of allowing ourselves to be made into monsters, as many platoons before us had been forced to do by the Council before the SEALs even realized what was going on. We directly and purposefully contradicted the orders of our superiors who were trying to vivisect us.
Thus, in the eyes of the all-seeing Council, we were now traitors. We found ourselves on the run without a supply line, anyone to trust outside our ship, or even a safe place to hide out for what was probably going to be the short remainder of our natural lives.
* * *
“This is still a military operation, assholes. Doesn’t matter if they ain’t here yet to take us all to Heavenworth Base,” Sarge barked at us when we remained in our bags attached to the bulkhead past what normally would have been reveille. “Get your asses out of bed. We got a lot to discuss before they come for us. Shit, shower, shave—then report in five.”
There was, and we did. I’m Boswell, the log keeper, because of my Enhancement of eidetic memory. That means I have a perfect recall of everything that anyone says or does within my ken, anything I read, everything. (That’s why my chronicle of our platoon can include what other people said and did in my absence; I remember every word, every gesture, from my later debriefing of them. Maybe an accurate accounting could save us from being sent to the military space prison Sarge mentioned. Maybe not. We’d probably be executed as traitors as soon as the Council found us. But I don’t know how not to record everything into the ship’s log anymore, not after serving so long in deep space with this platoon.) I counted off our platoon in my mind, as I always did, even though Sarge would know if anyone was missing immediately, having held us together and alive through more missions than I could count. (That’s technically not accurate: I could remember every one of our eighty-two assignments over the past four years.)
Sarge had given us our handles, in alphabetical order so that he could use the mnemonic to keep track of everyone. I noted each one of my cohorts in the chow hall, dazed but anxious as they floated in and Velcroed themselves into seats around the table or “stood” along the edges of the room. We kept ourselves in place in zero g’s by tucking a foot or leg under something bolted down as we shot drops of coffee into their mouths. A headcount:
A was for Ace, our pilot on the Blue Celeste and point man in orbit while the rest of us killed every bug on a planet targeted by the War Council, or killed sentients and reported on what potentially hostile technology the Xenos had. (The Council would then send a crew to collect the tech and save Terra from another potential attack.) Her Enhancement was a complete, 100-percent–solid spatial orientation. In other words, she could tell you north from south on a planet better than a compass could, because Ace didn’t rely on shifting magnetic poles. She just used her altered genes, specifically attuned for her role in battle. Right now, however, her sleep-heavy face looked like she wouldn’t be able to find her way back to the cockpit without a trail of floating breadcrumbs.
B was for Boswell. That’s me. I went everywhere with Sarge on every mission, a fighting soldier but one who was often shielded because I was the only reliable record we would have in case of a Council inquiry. If we were caught after the Planet Bunghole treason—and it was treason, no matter how morally justified we felt about it, and we would in all likelihood be caught—I would be tortured unto death to squeeze every bit of intel out of me. I did not foresee a pretty fate.
C was for Calico. She was an assassin, one of two in our crew. Assassin SEALs were vital to our mission of killing every living thing on a planet, or at least everything we could reach. Mostly they fought with railguns and grenades just like their mates, but they were also tasked with relieving protected Xenos from the burdens of their lives. These might have been military or even some kind of ruling class, but they were kept out of the main battle and needed to be picked off individually by assassins. Calico’s Enhancement was her ninja-like skills at concealment and stealth, much like a cat which sticks its claws into your neck without you even realizing it was there.
D was for Dahlia, one of our two dedicated infantrymen. She was the opposite of Calico, built like a reinforced adamantium shithouse, all muscles and bulk. Of course she was also a crack shot and a dedicated killer, but her Enhancement was unbreakability. She could receive an injury and have it healed in minutes, if not seconds. (You may wonder why all SEALs weren’t given this extremely valuable and useful Enhancement. The reason was that it “healed” any other Enhancements, seeing the manipulation of genetic material as an injury to the body. Most Enhancements didn’t play well with others because the War Council’s science arm matched soldiers with whatever Enhancement would work best with their existing genetics, but unbreakability trumped all others every time.)
E was for Ernie, our communications specialist. His Enhancement was the ability to receive and transmit any kind of electromagnetic signal, whether intentional messages or the random bleeps and bloops automated electronics gave off as they worked. (We always wondered if the Council could track Ernie by his Enhancement. I guess we would know if it could very soon.)
F was for Fugly, Sarge’s ironic nickname for the most beautiful woman—or man, depending on what someone looking upon her found most attractive—any of us had ever seen or ever could see. Her Enhancement was called a “glamour,” and it made her come across to any sentient being (or hell, to bugs as well) as that being’s ideal of beauty, regardless of species or gender (if applicable). She got us in where no normal grunt would even be able to approach, or she provided a major distraction to the aliens we were fighting, “throwing them off their game,” as they used to say. Her fighting ability, though, was what we respected, not her Enhancement of appearing inexpressibly beautiful. Also, Sarge had given her standing permission to remove by force the genitals of anyone, member of our platoon or not, giving her a “rape-y” vibe. None of us knew what she “really” looked like, since her glamour was a constant Enhancement, but when she put her helmet and other gear on, she looked just like the rest of us.
G was for Gunner, our weapons man and, naturally, our gunnery sergeant. He was Enhanced with the ability to ignite murderous fury or Zen-like calm in any living thing just by touching it. He used it most often on us, getting us in whichever “zone” we needed for a mission and even during a battle. He also loved to mow down every Xeno he could with weapons he would jack up for his own amusement. This was perhaps ironic, since he was also our unofficial clergy on board, well-versed in the practices of over a hundred different faiths on and off Terra.
H was for Hog, a big ol’ farmboy from the nutrition fields of Terra. He wasn’t as sharp intellectually as any of the rest of us, but he impressed with his dedication to shielding his mates with his ginormous muscled body if we needed to fix something, put together an impromptu bomb, anything. His armor had taken on all kinds of alien weapons and come out ahead, even though he often suffered bruised ribs and broken bones. He could deal with the pain later, he always told us, and he did. His Enhancement—and to this day I have no idea how this worked—was that he could induce any frequency of vibration into any discrete object. He could shake apart any construct of sentient Xenos, get rid of boulders through one touch, and of course vibrate an alien until it turned to jelly.
I was for Inman, our ordnance and armor expert, not to mention a first-class wiseass. His hearing was Enhanced to the point where he could detect vibrations inside a nebula as sound and tell us what was going on with any alien warships in the cloud. On any planet or moon with even a tenuous atmosphere, he could hear a single footstep miles from his location. (His spacesuits were outfitted with special earholes to let sound in, but not let oxygen out.)
J was for Junebug, our other assassin. Her special assignments were the same as Calico’s, but while Calico skulked in the shadows, Junebug’s Enhancement—extreme physical density—made her more of a battering ram to get at any protected and important sentients. She just ran like a bat out of hell and let her momentum get her through any kind of door (or wall, actually), where she would usually dispatch the target with her sidearm or rifle. Occasionally she would just crush them to death by leaning on them if they were upright and lying on them if they were prone.
K was for Killshot, our sniper. His Enhancement was super-powered sight. Not only could he see enemies approaching long before any of the rest of us could, he could also take them out at the very edge of his rifle’s range.
Finally, L was for Leonard. (This was his actual name, but since it fell within Sarge’s mnemonic system, he just kept it.) He was our technician, able to repair everything from our hydronium-pellet railguns to broken suction valves in our ship’s heads. His Enhancement was bizarre, but it could freak out—not to mention kill—sentients and bugs alike. Leonard had the power to take any amount of electricity, from a tiny spark of static to that in the main cables from a spacecraft’s power plant, and magnify it while rerouting the energy however he needed. His entire right arm had been lost in battle, but the metallic automail replacement was as functional as any natural arm and helped conduct and redistribute electricity. He could do it for show, to scare our enemies into surrendering (and whom we then killed, of course), or he could shoot it right through Xenos, their weapons, and their technology if necessary. (The War Council frowned upon the destruction of tecnhology because it wanted to know what was out there that could be used against Terra, but if it constituted the only way to subdue and take out the aliens, the Council allowed it. Complete extinction of any potential threat was its main goal.)
And what about Sarge, War Thug? That is to say, our commander with dark tattoos of the word “War” on one arm and “Thug” on the other? Obviously he didn’t need to keep track of himself, and not one soul in that chow hall would forget him during a head count, partly because he was physically much bigger than the rest of us with inhumanly muscled arms and legs, but also because he was in our minds and we in his. He was the sun around whom the rest of us revolved. Without him, we would float off into space, our orbits erased.
“Okay, troops,” our sun said in his usual growl, “let’s hear what Ernie picked up on subspace chatter.”
Ernie had to know this question was coming, but as he unattached himself from the chair and stood, he looked as pale as powdered milk. “Sir, the transmissions have been almost nonstop from the quadrant Council base,” he said, and that base was so close that it could receive orders from Terra on the subspace band and execute them almost instantly. “The War Council back on Terra sent recon ships to see if the situation on L-22233 was as FUBAR as their own observations and reports indicated. Apparently, it’s even worse than they expected.”
“A Super-Nuke will tend to do that,” Killshot mumbled.
“Secure that,” Sarge said, then asked Ernie, “Any idea what they’re planning to do about it?”
Ernie swallowed before speaking further, and that gave us all a chill. “The Council didn’t send us to Bunghole because we were lacking at our jobs, sir. They sent us there because that’s where they sent their best platoons, to make them even better in eliminating the alien menace. After all, there will always be more SEAL platoons.”
“They said that on subspace?”
“No, on electronic pulse messaging, which I can pick up, no problem, and then transcribe like Morse Code. Must’ve been some private document, I guess? Maybe from one Council member to another? Anyway, the order has been sent to find us, take us alive if possible for interrogation and public execution, but if that isn’t feasible, destroy our ship—and all of us in it—with extreme prejudice.”