Welcome to a spotlight on LIVE ECHOES by Henry V. O’Neil!
We’re excited to share with you an excerpt!
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Sim War, book five
Author: Henry V. O’Neil
Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Blurb for LIVE ECHOES
THE THRILLING CONCLUSION TO THE SIM WAR SERIES
There’s new hope for resolution of the decades-long war against the Sims: the discovery of Omega, a mysterious planet far from the fighting. Reena Mortas, the embattled leader of the human alliance, is betting everything that Omega could unlock the mystery of what’s creating the Sims.
Meanwhile, her husband and predecessor, the missing-and-believed-dead Olech Mortas, has made contact with the aliens who gave mankind the faster-than-light mode of travel known as the Step. Existing in a different realm, Olech is re-living the most important decisions of his life—while trying to explain human contradiction to a being that looks just like him, known only as Mirror.
Olech’s children, Jander and Ayliss, are still embroiled in the war. Jander has rejoined the Orphan Brigade on the mineral-rich planet Celestia, where he comes to believe what many of the Orphans feel: they’re supporting the wrong side. Ayliss, fighting in the all-female Banshees, is soon thrown into the losing war against the Sims, not knowing that every Banshee in the Human Defense Force is slated for an all-out assault on Omega that could win the war—or get them all killed.
Live Echoes is the gripping end to the Sim War series, and finally answers its central question: Where did the Sims come from, and why are they bent on humanity’s destruction?
Excerpt from LIVE ECHOES
Sealed inside a Banshee fighting suit, Ayliss Mortas was having the time of her life. The feed from dozens of micro-cameras made her helmet almost vanish around her head, and she half-expected the falling snowflakes to land on her face. Coursing down through the pale atmosphere, driven by a wind she could hear but not feel, the ice crystals either slid past at the last second or stopped inches from her eyes before melting against the faceshield.
Her arms and legs moved easily inside the now-familiar vehicle, but the freedom of actually traveling on a planet’s surface was astounding. All of her previous suit experiences had been aboard ship, in stationary simulators or large compartments, and there had been no room to simply run.
Now she was doing that, uphill, through an open forest covered in white. The briefing had told her the temperature on this part of Secured Planet 3157 was lethally cold, and her suit’s readouts confirmed that, which made it all the more marvelous. Heat exchangers kept her environment at a constant, comfortable temperature regardless of how much she exerted herself. A foot higher from the ground than normal, encased in an armored body loaded with high technology and powerful weapons, Ayliss thrilled to see the terrain passing much faster than she could run.
“Slow down, Mortas!” Cusabrina snarled in her ear.
Still bouncing forward, Ayliss turned her head to the right. Her helmet was fused to the shoulders of the suit, so a forehead-and-neck assembly rotated with her and changed the camera views. Reaching the limit of her head’s mobility, Ayliss laughed as the view continued to shift until she was essentially looking backward. Twenty yards behind and twenty yards away,
Cusabrina’s suit blended in with the snowy landscape. Bulging mechanical legs spread into an armored torso before sloping up into the bell-shaped helmet. Cusabrina carried her rifle in one swollen hand, reminding Ayliss that the veteran had insisted she leave her own weapon clipped against her back. The weapon was called a Fasces because of its multiple barrels, and could fire everything from large caliber rounds to grenades.
“How many times do I have to tell you, Corporal? My name’s Rig!” She called brightly, bringing the view back to her front before reluctantly slowing down.
“And how many times am I going to have to tell you I’m not an NCO?”
“Sergeant Tin said it would be easier to just call you Corporal. She said you go back and forth, promoted one day and busted the next.”
“This one’s permanent. Not that I care.” The older woman coursed into her peripheral vision, weaving between the trees. Ayliss admired her ability to move while bent forward, reducing her overall silhouette. She and the other new Banshees had been assured they would eventually pick it up, but her earlier attempts had always ended with a tumble. “See that boulder to the west? Get down behind it.”
Ayliss punched her tongue into the suit’s tube control, calling up the basic patrolling menu. The helmet materialized somewhat as the electronic display showed her a compass, her heading, the distance to the next course change, and a small schematic of the rest of the squad. Sliding her tongue, she shifted the schematic over and enlarged it to see where the others were.
Her Banshee Basic squadmates had been assigned as a group to Sergeant Tin’s squad, and so each of the five newbies had been assigned a veteran minder and mentor. They moved all over the snowy mountain in pairs, sweeping the ground for an enemy that was not expected to be there. More seasoned Banshee squads were slowly converging on the summit of a much higher mountain to the east, where the suspicious electronic emanations were originating.
Reaching the rock Cusabrina had pointed out, Ayliss dropped to a knee and peered over. What she could see of the snow-covered boulder was at least ten feet wide, and scraggly bushes rose up beyond it. Between the bare stalks, Ayliss looked down the other side of the slope. More untouched whiteness and denuded trees. Cusabrina moved up, coming to a stop just short of the crest twenty yards to her right. They were scouting a broad ridgeline that split from the eastern side of the mountain like a finger, and the other teams were spread out across the escarpment to their left at half-mile intervals.
“This is Cusabrina. We’re at Checkpoint Four.” A red circle glowed in the corner of Ayliss’s display for a few seconds, before dropping onto the schematic where she was located. “No sign of Sam. Or anything else.”
“Hold in place.” Tin responded, paired off with the Banshee that the training cadre had nicknamed Plodder. Biggest of the five newbies and a former military police officer, Plodder’s quick temper called for extra supervision. “Tabor, what’s the holdup?”
Ayliss studied the schematic, seeing that the team farthest to the west had fallen behind just a bit. Tonguing a map onto the schematic, she imagined them struggling up the incline. Tabor was an easygoing veteran, and so she’d been paired off with the equally low-key Legacy.
“Just pickin’ a few flowers.” The drawling voice almost made her laugh. “Something to brighten things up when we go back aboard.”
Two short beeps sounded inside the helmet, and Ayliss immediately looked over at Cusabrina. She didn’t hear Tin’s answer, because her partner had hit the override.
“You awake over there, Rig?”
“Then why aren’t you seeing this?”
Embarrassed to have been paying too much attention to the electronic display, she quickly scanned the trees to their front. Heavy with snow, they quickly blocked the view as the ground fell away. Ayliss was about to switch to infrared when a distortion seemed to flash across the snow. That happened periodically, as if the micro-cameras had hiccupped, and it was common enough that it had been worked into the simulators. But that wasn’t it, because it happened a moment later and then again.
Zooming in on the undulating blanket of white, she finally saw it. Saw them. Sliding, slithering, pulling themselves along, a pod of pale, tentacled creatures crawled away a hundred yards down. Perfectly camouflaged, they zigzagged along with a fluid grace that was both beautiful and disgusting. Ayliss decided they looked like jellyfish back on Earth, except these ones weren’t anywhere near the sea.
“Got ‘em. What are they?”
“Some of the monitoring stations reported seeing these things from time to time. Harmless. They call them Snow Squids. You need to read the briefing materials better, newb.”
The pod slid out of sight, and even though they were obviously abandoning the area to the armored intruders, Ayliss shivered when she realized their patrol route went in the same direction. “That was revolting.”
“All teams, move out.” Tin came back up on the net. “Keep your eyes open.”
“Not if I have to look at those squirmy things.” Cusabrina muttered, and it took Ayliss a moment to check that her partner had only spoken to her. “Hey, Rig. Let’s stay put for a few. Give the octopus tribe plenty of time to clear out.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Henry V. O’Neil is the name under which award-winning mystery novelist Vincent H. O’Neil publishes his science fiction work. A graduate of West Point, he served in the US Army Infantry with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, and in the 1st Battalion (Airborne) of the 508th Infantry in Panama. He has worked as a risk manager, a marketing copywriter, and an apprentice librarian.