Immolation, the final chapter in the Valley trilogy, is now officially launched. The launch has been a success, and many of you have grabbed a copy. Thanks much, all! Special thanks also goes out to John Birmingham and the crew at cheeseburgergothic.com, who have helped to spread the word far and wide.
If you haven’t signed up for my list it’s not too late to do so- you’ll be the first to know about all things JL. There are future projects in the works. Paul Thompson’s tale has concluded, but the writing will continue.
Below is an excerpt from Immolation. Enjoy!
On top of the mountain opposing the 405th Regiment
Pleasant-Puff-of-Air waited with her sisters. They would attack the Tslek, or bugs, below. Weeks before, she and her sisters had been pulled by their elders from their crèche and sent to the mountains in terror before the killer clouds of ash descended on them.
Many had been too late to flee the cities, and Puff knew that the majority of the Whoueen on her world were dead. She had been raised as an agricultural aide to tend a crig farm on the plains, as had countless numbers of her forebears. She wasn’t a soldier; she never intended to be one.
But for the past couple of weeks, as the ashfall subsided and the Whoueen could fly once more, she had been pressed into service and hastily trained in that role. True soldiers were few, but they had taken over the leadership of the Whoueen, and they had made it clear that there was no choice but to fight or die.
The bugs’ actions reinforced the point. They had dumped their kinetic strikes on her world, Fwerd—which translated as “delicious”—and they had landed in their horrifying, crawling machines shortly thereafter. With her own eyes, Puff had seen what remained of her peaceful city. She had been filled with towering rage when she gazed on the heap of corpses and ruination that the indescribable bugs had left behind on their slow march toward the refuge of the Whoueen.
Now, she held a rail gun in her claws. She would attack the creatures today. Although she was a farmer at heart, she was also of the Whoueen, and her heart was filled with a terrible longing to close with the foe.
Many revolutions before, the military counsel on Fwerd had been directed to cache large amounts of weaponry in the mountains for precisely this worst-case scenario. The worst had come to pass. The weapons had been passed out. Puff, an aspiring farmer, had received her very own.
Puff’s wing leader was the Whoueen equivalent of a private, but she had been pressed into command of one hundred of Puff’s peers. The young and old civilians-no-more now waited on the signal to attack.
The signal would come soon.
Paul had moved his troops around into the stellate formation; it was the best one for anticipated attack from above. His Headquarters Company was in the center, and his five line companies were arrayed in a circular fashion around him. His battalion was the regiment’s closest to the mountain; Paul anticipated that they would take the brunt of the attack. Of course, one never knew with Harpies, he thought.
His people were in place, so now there was nothing to do but wait. Paul checked his engineers’ obstacle overlay and saw that his position was saturated with the little Phalanx flying mines. He looked at the placement of his six AD bots; they were good as well. He scanned the prepositioned ammo stocks and looked at food and rest plans.
Third Battalion was as ready as could be. Paul knew he was fidgeting, and he knew that the last thing he should do was to start calling people and joggling their elbows. With a mighty effort, he restrained himself. He heard nothing but silence on the net. The sunset was approaching, and the rain started coming in sheets.
A river of ash mud was at his feet. Every trooper he saw was caked with the stuff. It was a truly miserable day that promised a miserable end.
Paul’s halo pinged. “Dragon Six, this is Spear Six,” Colonel Dunlevy said.
What did she want? “Send it, Spear Six.”
“Dragon Six, I don’t like how your battalion sticks out. Reposition five hundred meters to the south.”
Paul sighed. “Ma’am, my battalion is in a textbook interlocking-fires position with the regiment. If I move toward the center, our arcs will have a suboptimum density.”
“Just fucking do it, Thompson.”
Paul shook his head. “We are anticipating attack at any moment, ma’am. If I start to move and they hit us, it’s going to be a mess, and you know it. What is your decision, ma’am?”
“Move, Colonel Thompson. You’re wasting time. Spear Six, out.”
Shit, he thought. He had no choice. He prepared a new battle map and then placed a call to his operations section and his company leaders.
“All Dragon elements, this is Dragon Six. We have received orders from higher to reposition five hundred meters south. Included in this message is the updated overlay. In five minutes, we move. Follow your green arrows, and get it done quickly. Respond in sequence.”
“Bravo, can do.”
“Charlie, this is stupid.”
Paul interrupted. “Ours is not to reason why, Charlie. Get it done.”
“Echo, moving mines now.”
Paul watched the seconds tick down toward the move, and he prayed that nothing would happen for ten minutes, the length of time it would take to move shop.
His timer hit zero, and a green arrow appeared on his visual. He placed an all-call. “It’s time, Dragons. Bust ass, motherfuckers.” He started to bound and saw troopers to his left and right moving as well.
He called Colonel Dunlevy. “Spear Six, this is Dragon Six, moving. Estimate in new position five minutes, ready to repel possible attack in ten.”
“Roger, Dragon Six.”
Paul skedaddled as he watched his battalion move in a mostly coherent, AI-guided formation. Please, God, he thought. Let the Harpies hold off for another five minutes.
On the mountain above Third Battalion, 405th Infantry
Puff was as tense as a crig farmer in a drought, her sisters were also restless. She knew that she might die today. She knew for certain that she would face combat. Her commander, the private, was skittering along the crowded passage on her rear claws. She chittered encouragement to her “troops” and passed along what courage she could give with red-flared mental impulses.
Puff went over the plan she had been mentally given. Her wing was to drive at the bugs’ center; their leader, a female called Dunlevy, was located there. She had to die. Puff checked the ammunition in her rail gun and vacated her bowels one last time. She shuddered and stretched her wings as best she could in the crowded flight tunnel.
A sending arrived from the aerie’s ad hoc battle master, a lieutenant equivalent. “People of Fwerd! Today, we fly into battle against the invaders of our world, the destroyers of our nests. I know that the soldiers’ path was not what you wanted to follow, but it is your duty now to fight for the matriarch. Let none of you bring shame to your mothers. May we be victorious in the coming struggle. Leave none alive below. Crush their machines in your claws. The signal starts now. Fly to battle!”
Upon that last thought, Puff felt a jolt of fear and rage course through her system. She screeched in fury with her wing mates, and the flight tunnel roared with the sound. She heard the sizzling zing of the autoguns hidden in the redoubt and then followed the press of bodies toward the entrance. From ahead, she watched the Whoueen take flight, and the line grew shorter. Finally, she reached the flight hole. No one was ahead of her. Below in the valley, she heard the ripping roar of the bugs’ weapons and saw the mass of Whoueen fly arrow-straight toward their machines.
With a physical and mental scream, she took flight.