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Title: Message for the Dead
Series: Galaxy’s Edge #8
Author: Jason Anspach & Nick Cole
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF/Space Opera
Orbiting Porcha, Keel and Exo say farewell as Exo and Bombassa leave the Indelible VI, planning to return to their squad in the Dark Legion. Keel does his best to remind Exo that before he was Dark legion, he was Victory Company. Exo still has doubts about whether to trust the House of Reason or not, but does not trust Legion Commander Keller. Keel wagers his seamball card collection against Exo’s rifle scope to see who turns out to be right about which side to back. Exo agrees but before they part, a corvette with MCR markings drops out of hyperspace and launches Republic Lancer Starfighters. Bombassa convinces Keel to escort the imperial shuttle until it can jump out-system. Ravi reports that the fighters and shuttle are flying in formation and neither Exo nor Bombassa is able to raise their crew on S-comm. Ravi taps into the comm net to discover that Exo and Bombassa have orders to take control of the Indelible VI. If they don’t, the corvette has orders to destroy the ship. The corvette launches concussion warheads and the Indelible jumps to hyperspace.
The ship emerges near RX-17732 an abandoned mining station that Keel has visited before to take stock of the situation. The dark legionnaires admit they have no idea what’s going on and Keel admits that events they aren’t aware of seem to be in motion. That said, he is still heading to the Doomsday Fleet to get his crew back and he has Maydoon’s DNA while the Black Fleet does not. Re-assessing the situation, Exo decides to join Wraith.
Ravi scans the news feeds and mentions that Article 19 is in place and the Legion is being condemned for essentially invading Ankalor while the House of Reason has officially reconciled with the MCR, and both will seek alliance with Goth Sullus’s Empire. An image of Goth Sullus appearing wearing Tyrus Rechs’ armor convinces Bombassa to work with Keel as well. Ravi shows them the chaos erupting all over the galaxy and Keel orders him to locate Victory squad just in case events worsen. Ravi points out the asteroid where they find themselves is not RX-17732 after all but a private stash that Tyrus Rechs willed to Keel in his final affairs. Informing Keel of this (Ravi continues) is the reason that he stayed with Keel when the rest of his people (the Ancients) moved on beyond the galaxy, fleeing the chaotic forces encroaching at the edge of galactic space. Sullus’s tricks are the product of Ancient technology and tools. Ravi’s job was to find someone who could resist the approaching force and that seems to be Keel.
Entering the dead base, they find that the space inside populated by dead dog-like creatures which were apparently killed by Rechs’ legendary shooting skill (there are no missed shots in evidence). Keel discovers an inscription to an office-like room (“I didn’t leave nothing”) which he enters and examines. Inside, he finds one of Rechs’s old slug-thrower pistols and a box of depleted uranium rounds for it while Ravi checks the logs and Exo and Bombassa look at the armory. Keel activates an AI persona of Rechs, which displays a recording he apparently made for himself…and reviews his history from General Reeves, Savage War fighter to General Rex, legionnaire, to Tyrus Rechs, bounty hunter. Rechs has had many lives, many identities, and a life measured in centuries. Casper is named as someone who is attempting to harness Ancient power at the edge of the galaxy in order to enslave it. Keel surmises that Casper is actually the man they know as Goth Sullus. Unfortunately looting the armory frees more of the dog-like creatures who have been nesting in the base. The creatures attack and the crew escapes the base aboard the Indelible VI.
Keel takes the ship to the Ungmar system, last known location of the hidden Doomsday Fleet, the Cybar mother ship authorized by the House of Reason as a last ditch defense and sought by Goth Sullus as a bargaining chip in his war against the Republic. They pass the remains of Exo and Bombassa’s shuttle as they approach, destroyed for not having the correct DNA key aboard. The ship permits the Indelible VI to land but Ravi reports that the controlling AI will try to capture them once down. Bombassa for his part insists on carrying out Goth Sullus’s orders to capture the mother ship.
Debarking, the Indelible’s crew are met by CAT37 the Cybar admin bot who offers to take them to the confirmation terminal. Keel dispatches the bot with his blaster. Ravi links to the computer and shows them the route to the detention block and guides them to Prisma and Leenah’s cells. While they wonder what to do with the guard bot, Garret speaks from the intercom and reveals that he’s been hiding out aboard the ship along with Skrizz, Hutch, one of Andien Broxin’s Nether Ops legionnaires, and parts of Crash. Worse, if anyone but an interrogator (bot or replicant) releases the cell doors, a swarm of titan warbots will retaliate. Garret directs them to their hiding place but they find a butchered Moktaar on the way. They “capture” Hutch and Garret, who update them on the situation. Hutch and Keel figure out who is actually working for whom and Hutch describes the robotic components of the Cybar ship: the titans warbots, the spiders, and crawlers. There are also pilot bots, AI drones and battle bots. There are also stealthy bots that pick out high profile targets for execution. Worst of all, CRONUS, the AI that runs the ship, is fully independent and the equal of any super-destroyer. Hutch and Garret believe that it is fully capable of taking over the galaxy. Thanks to their description, Bombassa is willing to work with Keel on retrieving his crew and escaping from the ship.
Garret is sent back to the Indelible IV to wait with Ravi and remote control what gadgets needs tweaking for an escape. They release Leenah then head to Prisma’s cell, where they discover a replicant of Leenah asking Prisma about her ability to make objects move. Keel kills the replicant and Leenah take charge of Prisma who has learned that CRONUS is keeping her alive because deep down it fears her potential to destroy the Cybar machines.
Titans appear to block their escape and destroying even one of them takes all of Keel, Exo and Bombassa’s battlefield skill. Prisma discovers that her commands carry real weight, and she accidentally stuns Hutch and Leenah. Keel promises that if Prisma can get Leenah and the others to the Indelible VI he will stay behind to retrieve Skrizz and destroy the Cybar ship.
Spider-bots appear and attack the group, with Exo and Bombassa clearing a path for the others, dragging a badly wounded Hutch, only to be met by more Titans at the landing bay. They clamber aboard and man the Indelible’s burst turrets instructed by Ravi, who heads back to help Keel.
Skrizz saves Keel from a Titan patrol and they catch each other up on the situation. Keel urges Skrizz to head back to the ship while Keel sabotages the mother ship. Skrizz leads Keel to the main generator, but on the way they discover the hull of the republic corvette Deluvia, a deep space survey vessel. Skrizz points out the reactor is inside the dead ship, then vanishes from sight while Keel enters the hulk. He tells Garret to leave as soon as Skrizz arrives and picks his brain for information about the Deluvia while Ravi arrives and tries to talk Keel out of the suicide mission he’s undertaken. As the ship’s defenses activate Keel abandons his intention and he and Ravi fight past swarms of robots in their effort to escape to the Indelible VI while garret closes blast doors to help out. Leenah and Keel pull a clear the deck maneuver to wipe out the bots with the ship’s drives while Leenah swings the ship around to pick him, Ravi and Skrizz up.
Starfighters approach as the Indelible VI leaves the mother ship. Keel shows Bombassa how to manage the fake transponder collection in order to jump to hyperspace, on the way to En Shakar.
Meanwhile, at Bantaar Reef, the Republic Seventh Fleet is at rest. Admiral Landoo, who lost the only naval engagement between the Black Fleet and the Republic Navy, meets with X and his assistant. X reasons that even if Landoo succeeds vs. the Black Fleet she’ll still have to fight the Legion, since Article 19 is in effect and wants to know her plans. Landoo sees the Legion as criminals. X tries to convince her that the House of Reason is at odds with her navy oath. Landoo receives news that the Black Fleet has jumped into the Reef and the discussion is rendered moot as the fleet is ordered to battle stations. X introduces his assistant, Major Ellek Owens, who has an offer. Finally, X manages to convince Landoo not to throw her fleet into ruin against the Black Fleet battleships and instead jump her fleet to Utopion to link up with the Legion.
Aboard the newly renamed Audacity, a former Black Fleet corvette, Capt Desaix takes stock of his crew of rescued POWs and is alarmed about the impending battle. All three of Goth Sullus’s battleships arrive and position themselves to cut off all escape from the naval depot. Admiral Landoo contacts Desaix with a mission: transport Owens anywhere he wants to go and follow his orders.
Aboard the battleship Terror, Lt. Cmdr Kat Haladis watches the Black Fleet’s assault on Bantaar Reef, advises Capt. Vampa on how to cut that retreat off.
X and Owens board the Audacity and are ordered to Tarrago by X and engage fighters from the Terror as she battleship moves to cut her off. Atumna Fal pilots the ship as she would a fighter to avoid serious damage, and jumps to Tarrago.
At Tarrago, X delivers a diplomatic message for Goth Sullus. In it, Orrin Kaar suggests an alliance between the Republic and the fledgling Empire. The Audacity is permitted to land aboard the Imperial Dreadnought Overlord to discuss terms. That done, the crew is imprisoned while X and Owens are taken to meet Armiral Ordo, from Imperial Intelligence, who confirms their identities and after warning them allows them to meet Goth Sullus. Sullus uses his mind-mojo on X who spills everything he knows while Owen’s implants record the whole meeting.
Owens steals a shock trooper’s blaster and flees, relying on his escape and evasion skills to lead his pursuers further into the ship while backtracking to Desaix and informing him of X’s ploy (or treason depending on your POV). Escape requires that the ship’s docking tractor be disabled, which Owens will do while Desaix follows Casso back to Audacity with a message Owens recorded for Legion General Keller on Utopion.
Desaix leads his crew back to the Audacity with Jory taking a blaster hit and passing out, while Owens runs interference, heading for the tractor array control section. As the troopers close in, Owens overloads the tractor beam and dies as the crew of the Audacity escapes in their ship.
Landoo and Keller agree on a plan to defend Utopion: Landoo will command the Seventh fleet, Ubesk commands the Combined Fleets Task Force, and Capt. Durad will be a liaison aboard the carrier Freedom. The hope is that the Back Fleet jumps to Utopion, where it will see a Legion and Seventh Fleet ostensibly at war with other. As the Black Fleet attacks the Legion, the Seventh Fleet will attack the Black Fleet’s flank, knocking their battleships out, launch SSMs, and run for deep space, leaving the Legion to board the Black Fleet ships.
Goth Sullus boards the Imperator, as the Black Fleet rearms and jumps for Utopion, without the Overlord, months ahead of schedule. When the Black Fleet arrives, they are engaged by elements of the Republic defense. The Imperator destroys three corvettes with her ion cannon; two shots hit the destroyer Marathon which loses power, but Landoo denies the CO permission to abandon ship. The Republic corvette Simpkin is destroyed when it collides with a wrecked frigate. 15 SSMS survive the black fleet’s point defense cannon fire and strike the Imperator, crippling the battleship. The Republic destroyer Hidalgo takes critical volleys from the Terror and Revenge; the ship’s engineer scuttles her.
On the Imperator, Admiral Rommal takes a message from Capt. Vampa aboard the Terror and tells him the legion assault fleet is heading straight for their battle group. He denies her permission to launch interceptors to cover a retreat, and believes the battle is still manageable. On the Freedom, Landoo’s adjutant gives her a fleet status report: they’ve lost 8 hammerhead corvettes, 14 escort frigates and two destroyers. The Masstaar reports heavy casualties and a reactor leak. Landoo is ordered by Ubesk to concentrate fire on the Terror, and orders a launch of all fighters to cover the legion assault transports, which face fighter groups from the black fleet ships as they launch boarding actions against the Revenge. The legionnaires succeed in damaging the ship while taking heavy losses, leaving Terror as the only battleship able to fire its main guns. The fighting between boarding parties and defenders intensifies until a new contact appears in Utopion space: the Cybar mother ship. Goth Sullus orders his fleets to continue the fighting. He will deal with the newcomers personally.
Aboard the Cybar ship, CRONUS is anticipating the perfect opportunity to destroy both Republic and Black fleets and wipe out Utopion, and launches fighters against both fleets. Sullus prepares to head out to the mother ship but is delayed by heavy damage to the Imperator’s hangar deck and his shuttle’s destruction. Kat Haladis volunteers to fly a shuttle from the Terror to Imperator to pick Sullus up and transport him to the mother ship.
Aboard the Mercutio, Keller and Ubesk sort through plans to deal with the Cybar and ask Landoo her opinion. She decides to shift the fleet’s attack to the Cybar ship.
The Audacity jumps into Utopion space and dock with Mercutio. The Cybar interceptors carry out surgical strikes with advanced micro-missiles and effectively neutralize both the Revenge and the Freedom as the Cybar mother ship approaches the Seventh fleet and vaporizes it with its Mauler main gun.
After listening to Owens’s report, Keller instructs Desaix and his crew to transmit the message to Wraith, and records a message of his own to be transmitted as well. Desaix heads out with his new orders.
More legionnaires land on the Imperator to bolster the boarding parties’ attack as Goth Sullus lands aboard the Cybar ship. They meet resistance from Cybar titans but Sullus uses the power of the Crux to sweep them as side even as his guard takes casualties. As they penetrate further Sullus and Capt. Sturm realize the Cybar are testing them, learning their strengths.
Cybar Titans begin to land on the Imperator to hose down legionnaires and shock troopers alike. Goth Sullus loses most of his guard as they reach the center of the Cybar ship, and telepathically contacts Adm. Rommal, showing his exactly what part of the mother ship to attack with the Imperator’s main ion guns. Rommal obeys and Sullus uses the Crux to push his armor’s force bubble far enough to shield himself and his guard from the ion cannon damage. He confronts the intelligence at the center of the ship and learns that the aliens are utterly ancient, and willing to serve him. He slips on the ring of power just as the Imperator explodes, Rommal’s last act being to activate the self-destruct.
Ubesk orders the Republic fleet to retreat and the legion fleet is essentially destroyed, juts as an MCR fleet leaves hyperspace.
The Legion is no more.
Owens and Chhun have a heart to heart aboard the Intrepid. Owens notes that Kill Team Victory has been taking consistent and heavy losses, and has decided to de-activate the team. He then offers Chhun the chance to take his place as Dark Ops commander for the teams stationed aboard Intrepid. An eventual promotion to Major goes with the assignment. Chhun accepts as long as he gets to re-assign Bear and Masters personally. He assigns Bear as TL of KT Outlaw, and gets to work.
While going over kill team after-action reports, Chhun is asked to consult on a transmission from Legion Commander Washam, who uses a security clearance (“Libre Shine 1611”) to inform Chhun as Dark Ops commander that a new clandestine prison for political prisoners has been set up on the planet Gallobren to replace the one lost on Herbeer. He recommends that a kill team be sent to disrupt the facility by facilitating an inmate uprising. Washam will do everything he can to stall the site’s re-supply for two weeks, and notes only planetary militia defend the facility while Delegate Nimh Arushi who oversees the site is on hand as well.
Chhun and Admiral Deynolds discuss the likelihood that the message from Washam is real. Deynolds promises her full support.
Chhun throws himself into the new role of Dark Ops Sector Commander, trying to verify the truth of Washam’s report. Washam himself is a veteran of the Psydon campaign, the first major battle to see points in action. One combat memoir speaks highly of Washam despite his appointed status, and speaks to the loyalty of the troops under Washam’s command. Convinced of Washam’s honest intent, Chhun creates an op for his kill teams. Some will recover Delegate Nimh Arushi and the rest will liberate the prisoners located on the clandestine prison on Gallobren. First Battalion from the 25th legion will be dropped by Intrepid for support.
Chhun and Task Force Granite drop to the surface of Gallobren and swim to Arushi’s yacht, then plant charges on the hull to prevent its escape. They track Arushi to her hotel while the rest of the task force prepares to assault the prison. Arushi is apprehended and led away. While Task Force Granite frees the prisoners, explosions are heard, but it’s not the Intrepid. Another ship has arrived and is bombarding the facility. Comm officer Lambert aboard the Intrepid informs Chhun that fighter-supported drop pods are on the way for exfiltration and support forces are on the way down. But a lot more pods are dropping than Intrepid can account for. Chhun commandeers a TT15 observation bot and determines that the opposing force is made entirely of warbots…the same Titans from the Cybar mother ship.
Chhun puts two and two together and begins giving orders to prepare for a counter-attack. But the Intrepid has its own problems fighting off the mother ship in orbit and plans for the legion’s exfiltration fall apart. The warbots encircle Task Force Granite and isolate it in the heart of the city, turning a city park into a battlefield. Intrepid sends down a squadron of fighter-bombers to support the legionnaires, but cannot aid them directly, nor would shuttles survive planetfall. Reaper Squadron leader Dax Danns rides herd on a command shuttle that attempts to make pickup for Chhun’s unit, but the shuttle is destroyed before landing. It dawns on Chhun that Intrepid is being forced to retreat and his unit is stranded. He sets up a looping distress call to Indelible VI, blows up his command post and swims for the shore.
Aboard the Indelible VI, Garret plays Chhun’s message for Keel. Exo, Bombassa, and Keel agree that they must help. Garret sends a text message that help is on the way. Travel time through hyperspace is three hours.
Chhun meets up with the surviving legionnaires of Granite who have decided to let Delegate Arushi go considering the circumstances. They are ambushed by a platoon of warbots who kill all but Bear, Masters, and Chuun. They head back to Granite’s original landing zone to wait for possible rescue, working their ways through the drain pipes to avoid being seen. The corpses of soldiers and civilians both impede their progress, while sanitation bots mindlessly work to clear the pipe. Up top, they see the city turned into a vast killing field, rampant destruction and death wrecking the pristine core world’s environment. As they scavenge for supplies, it occurs to them that a rogue AI bent on galactic destruction would be a horrific opponent. They hide and avoid capture by the warbots until Wraith can arrive, turning on their rescue transponder only when the ETA time is near.
When Wraith does arrive he has six Cybar fighters on his tail, which the legionnaires immediately attack with shoulder-fired AP rockets. Between the AP rounds and the ship’s guns they knock down the remaining fighters, but warbots appear around their position. Wraith hovers his ship as the leejes run for the ramp and Exo and Bombassa strafe the warbots with blasters. The three leejes jump aboard and Wraith climbs into the sky.
Wraith travels to Mother Ree’s Sanctuary on En Shakar to give his crew and passengers some rest and recovery time. Ree informs Chhun that the Cybar have been stopped but the “the galaxy has lost its last ember of freedom as a result.” The Indelible VI’s crew gathers at the ship to listen to the recording Owens made of X’s confession in front of Goth Sullus, and Keller’s final recorded orders to Ford are to do what he must with the information. Wraith confirms that the House of Reason is under Goth Sullus’s control. Wraith vows to kill X and Chhun acknowledges that Kill Team Victory is back at full strength. And, Chhun says, “We’re Victory Squad. And we’re gonna make ‘em pay.”
This was the most enjoyable Galaxy’s Edge book so far. I seriously thought about bumping it up to a 5star, but upon consideration, it’s just not “quite” there. At the same time, something about the story line grabbed me harder than the previous ones and just made me do the Manly Fist Pump and Macho Man Dance (said maneuvers are highly classified amongst the male part of the world’s population and should not be shown to just anyone). Goth Sullus having a larger part to play was definitely up there. I did have to laugh and laugh loud and uproariously, when the Ring of Power made it’s appearance. I bet Anspach and Cole (the authors) had a blast writing that Tolkien homage into their Star Wars’esque universe. One more nod to a fandom, a “we get you” kind of scene.
One thing that was hard was watching the Galactic Republic fall apart and Legionnaires be destroyed. Seeing how the damned politicians had been in league with Goth Sullus from the start and how Sullus was simply outmaneuvering almost everyone, that was hard. You want to think that the good guys have an ace in the hole, someone who can come out of no-where to save the day, like Luke Skywalker. The thing is, here? Luke Skywalker is a little girl with a temper and whose daddy was killed. Gotta admit, things aren’t looking too good. Plus, the destruction of the Legion as a galactic wide fighting force really cuts out the heart of those fighting against Sullus and his minions.
Of course, all this just means that things are going to get really awesome. With Sullus becoming an amalgam of Sith, Sauron and Cylon (oh, did I forget to mention that the One Ring was created by machine intelligence?), how can it not help but be awesome?
Anspach and Cole continue to impress me with their story telling acumen. It is exactly what I want and in turn makes me angry, has me chortling with glee, has me Macho Man dancing and then lying down wondering how everything is going to be ok. Just fantastic and I am loving this.
I have decided to give this series the “Favorite” tag. It has definitely earned it!