Humanity is losing the war. The once-mighty space navies have been crippled, officers and crew have been stretched to the limit and Earth herself has come under heavy attack. The end cannot be long delayed. For Admiral Smith and the crew of HMS Ark Royal, the stakes have never been so high.
The one hope is to make contact with alien factions that might oppose the war. But, as Ark Royal sets off on a desperate diplomatic mission, it rapidly becomes clear that there are both human and alien factions that wish to fight the war to the bitter end - and that her previous missions have sown the seeds of success ... or total failure.
[Like my other self-published Kindle books, The Trafalgar Gambit is DRM-free. You may reformat it as you choose. There is a large sample of the text – and my other books – on my site: chrishanger.net. Try before you buy.]
(Heinlein Colony; Two Years Before Vera Cruz.)
“Well,” Ira said. “Aren’t you glad you came all this way?”
Jill Pearlman hesitated, then glanced out over the water. The sun had set hours ago, but the moonlight illuminated a warm lagoon, with water lapping gently against the sandy shore. It was completely isolated from the colony five miles to the south, largely unseen by human eyes. Ira had boasted he was the first person to set eyes on the lagoon.
“Yes,” she said, shaking her head. “But did we have to come all this way?”
Ira grinned at her, his teeth gleaming white against his dark skin. “Yup,” he said. He turned, then moved towards the beach. “Come on!”
Jill watched him run, shedding clothes as he moved, then blinked in surprise as she realised he’d stripped himself completely bare. His ass winked at her as he paused on the very edge of the shore, then splashed into the water. She hesitated, unsure if she wanted to skinny-dip, then ran after him, almost tripping over his trousers and the gun he’d left on the beach.
“It’s warm,” he called. “Come on in!”
“Coming,” Jill said.
She removed her shirt and trousers, then hesitated before adding her bra and panties to the pile of clothing. Ira was fun, and she knew her parents approved of him, but she wasn't sure she wanted to allow their relationship to get so intense so quickly. And yet ... she pushed her doubts to one side and splashed into the water. It was warmer than she’d expected, now that the sun had gone down. But it was definitely lovely.
“I told you so,” Ira said, as she swam out to meet him. His eyes flickered to her breasts, then looked back at her face and remained fixed there. “It’s lovely out here.”
Jill let out a sigh as she flipped over and stared up at the rising moon. She'd pitched all sorts of fits when her parents had announced that the Heinlein Society was setting up its own colony world – and that they would be among the first colonists. They’d wanted to leave overpopulated and overregulated Earth, but all Jill had been able to think about was leaving her friends behind. And Earth’s facilities. She’d fought, for nothing.
And I’m glad I lost, she admitted, in the privacy of her own mind. This isn't Earth.
The colony was only three years old, but the settlers had already created a number of farming settlements, including the homestead Jill and her family worked. Life was slower than it was on Earth, without entertainment movies or VR downloads, yet there was something about it that made her feel content, something she’d never truly felt on humanity’s homeworld. And her relationship with Ira felt better, more wholesome, than anything she’d had on Earth. She didn't feel any pressure to move faster or to have loveless sex with him ...
She turned and smiled at Ira, then dived under the water and swam away from him, daring the young man to follow. Heinlein had few higher forms of life; the settlers had introduced various breeds of fish as well as cows, sheep and pigs, monitoring their progress as they swarmed and multiplied in the endless oceans. Jill had been told that, one day, they would be able to fish as much as they liked, but for the moment they were restricted in what they could take from the waters. Not that she really cared, she had to admit. She preferred lamb or beef to fish.
Ira caught up with her as she stopped and rested her feet on the sandy seabed. Jill turned to reach for him ... and froze as the moonlight revealed something in the water. For a moment, she was convinced she was seeing things. Heinlein had no sharks or dolphins, nothing that might be dangerous to human swimmers. And yet ... the water ripped where the shape had been, just under the surface. Something was definitely there.
“What?” Ira asked. He was more sensitive than any of the boys she’d known on Earth, more able to read her moods. “Jill ...”
“Look,” Jill stammered. The shape seemed to be growing larger. “What is that?”
Ira turned, just in time to see the shape burst through the surface and out into the open air. It looked humanoid, but it clearly wasn't human. Jill screamed in shock as it faced them, one long leathery hand reaching out towards the humans. Water dripped from its skin as it stared at then, as shocked to see the humans as the humans were to see them. Jill shivered, feeling suddenly cold, then started to back off towards the shore. Heinlein had no higher life forms, she knew. And yet she was staring at evidence of ... what?
“Get back to shore,” Ira said, through clenched teeth. “Hurry!”
They’d been stupid, Jill realised, as she splashed through the water. It suddenly seemed very difficult to move. They were so far from the colony homesteads that they couldn't hope to attract attention, no matter how loudly they shouted. Behind her, she heard Ira calling out to the creature, trying to speak to it. Jill reached the shore and turned, just in time to see the creature advancing towards Ira. Panic overcame her and she ran for his clothes, then scooped up the gun in one hand. Her parents had drilled her again and again until she was an excellent shot, cautioning her that she might need to be able to defend herself one day. But they’d never envisaged this ...
Ira started to back off ... and the creature followed him, its leathery hands waving frantically, as if it were trying to say something. But Jill couldn't hear a sound, apart from a very faint rasp that echoed unpleasantly on the air. She couldn't understand what she was seeing. Was the creature actually intelligent? Or was it a previously undiscovered form of life? The planet was big, after all. There might be anything outside the colony’s walls.
“Get back to the farm,” Ira ordered. “Tell them about ...”
He stumbled and fell backwards into the water. The creature kept advancing towards him, its hands reaching out as if it intended to pick him up and carry him into the deep waters. Jill shouted, but the creature showed no reaction. Desperately, she lifted the gun, snapped off the safety and fired, just once. The creature stumbled as her bullet struck its head ...
... And collapsed back into the water.
The devastation stretched as far as the eye could see.
Admiral Sir Theodore Smith stared down as the shuttle made its way towards London, struggling to keep his face and emotions under control. Like all of the officers and crew in the Royal Navy, he had sworn an oath to put himself and his body between his country and war’s desolation. But the scene below the shuttle was proof that he and his fellows had failed to keep Britain safe. The country had been devastated.
He sucked in his breath as he looked down at what had once been towns and cities, fertile countryside and harbours. The aliens hadn’t targeted British soil directly, but it had hardly mattered. They’d landed a massive warhead in the Atlantic Ocean, which had triggered tidal waves that had washed over Britain and Ireland, Spain and Portugal. No one had anticipated an attack on such a scale, not even after Vera Cruz. Uncounted millions were dead, millions more were unaccounted for. The country hadn't suffered devastation on such a scale in all of living memory, if ever. Not even World War II had come close to slaughtering so many British citizens.
A feeling of horror, mixed with despondency, grew in his breast as he tracked the passage of the tidal waves eastward. Penzance and Cardiff, Bristol and Bournemouth, had been drowned beneath the massive tidal waves. The Brecon Beacon National Park, where the British Army had put its recruits through hell for hundreds of years, had been washed away into nothingness. Only the presence of Ireland, he knew, had kept more of the western coastline from being drowned under the waves. And yet the devastation had still not come to an end. So much water had been vaporised and thrust into the upper atmosphere that it had yet to stop raining over parts of the country. Floods were an ever-present threat.