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Starfist: Force Recon: Recoil

Starfist: Force Recon: Recoil
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Swift, silent, and deadly–they strike where no one else dares.

Fear is the fastest-growing crop on Haulover, a newly colonized planet where someone–or something–is destroying isolated farmhouses. The unseen enemy strikes without warning, then disappears, leaving no stone standing, no trace of families or farm animals. When the Confederation receives a desperate plea for help, it’s time to send in the Marines.

Impossible missions are a matter of course for Fourth Force Recon’s second platoon squads, and the situation at Haulover–with no witnesses and few clues–is no exception. But this assignment turns out to be even tougher and bloodier than usual because the devastation is a ploy–to lure the nine Marines into a trap, and to force them to bust the Confederation’s terrible secret wide open.

And as for the Skinks lying in ambush on Haulover, they have no idea what trouble is . . . until they go up against a few good Marines.


From the Paperback edition.
Random House Publishing Group; November 2008
365 pages; ISBN 9780345509536
Download in secure PDF format
Excerpt
Montgomery Homestead, Haulover

Chad Montgomery stepped onto the porch of his house just as the sun rose over the eastern horizon. His face contorted and his jaw twisted side to side in a great yawn; his back arched and he flung his arms out to the sides to force more air into his lungs. The last dregs of sleep gone, breathing easily, he turned to face the red orb and watched its wavering disk, only its upper half yet visible. In moments the sun rose completely above the horizon, and the disk wavered less, became brighter, too bright to continue looking at. He rested his eyes on the green and red
fields that spread halfway to the horizon to his east and south, to where they butted up against the native trees, and smiled. The grapelopes, beetpeas, and spinmaize were native to Haulover, but their proteins and amino acids were fully digestible by the human system and provided nutrition as good as any of the vegetables imported from older worlds in Human Space; imported seeds were so expensive to grow locally that the native foodstuffs quickly became standard fare. And they were mighty good tasting. Those fields were the Montgomerys’ third crop, and Chad was certain the harvest would bring in enough to allow him to pay off the loan he’d taken out to start the farm.

He smiled again, hearing the homey sounds and tinkling
voices of his wife, Connie, and elder daughter, Margery, as they
fixed a hearty farm breakfast. A moment later the light voice of
his younger son, Mitchell, joined with the voices of the women,
and it was obvious from the “shoo”s and “careful there”s that
the youngster was trying to help but was getting in the way
more than helping.

Chad sucked in another deep breath then blew it out. He turned
his head at a footfall next to him and smiled at his firstborn,
Clement.

“Claire’s still abed?” Chad asked.

“Sure is,” Clement said with a shake of his head. “That girl’ll
never make a proper farmwife.”

Chad chuckled. “We’ll fix that. Your mother has another one
in the oven. We’ll give its care to Claire. Then she won’t be
able to be a slug-a-bed.”

“Gonna be a ‘C’ name?”

“Of course. Clif for a boy, Corine for a girl.”

Clement eyed his father. “You don’t know yet?”

Chad shook his head. “We decided we’d like to be surprised
this time.”

“So how long do I have to wait before I know whether my
youngest sibling is a brother or a sister? Mama’s not showing
yet.”

“Seven months.”

Clement looked out over the fields and nodded. “Smart timing,
there. The crop’ll be in, and Mama will have time to recover
before the next sowing.”

“Right. We might want to be surprised by the new one’s sex,
but that didn’t mean we wanted an accident.”

Clement nodded again. He remembered his father telling him
the deciding reason for the family’s emigrating was that their
home world had adopted strict population-control measures,
capping family sizes at three children. But Chad and Connie
wanted a large family. Connie had been pregnant with Mitchell
when they left to make a new home here. The first three had
come at three-year intervals, but Mitchell was five years behind
Claire. Thanks to the demands of settling in a new world
and starting the farm, child five, whether Clif or Corine, would
be four years behind Mitchell.

From inside, they heard Connie tell Mitchell to run upstairs
and drag his sister out of bed before she missed breakfast.

Mitchell laughed delightedly at the prospect and tromped away
to do his mother’s bidding.

“Life is good,” Chad murmured.

“It is,” Clement agreed.

“Let’s—”

Whatever Chad was going to say was cut off by Mitchell’s
scream.

Strictly speaking, Spilk Mullilee had no business being there.

The constabulary was treating it as a crime scene, and the police
believed that the planetary administrator would only get in
the way. Haulover’s attorney general was also concerned that,
if there was a political aspect to the alleged crime, the presence
of the planetary administrator might jeopardize the findings of
the crime scene investigation. And Haulover’s minister of war
chimed in with a protest that if the incidents were the work of
an unknown enemy force, the planetary administrator could be
putting himself in unnecessary danger.

Spilk Mullilee ignored them all. It was the thirteenth such
incident in less than four months and, as planetary administrator,
he believed it was his duty to see the site for himself.

He couldn’t continue to wait idly for Robier Altman, a Confederation
of Human Worlds under minister of state who also
happened to be an old friend, to reply to the message he’d
sent almost a month ago.

So even though, strictly speaking, Spilk Mullilee had no business
being there, he had to be present at the investigation. After
all, the planetary administrator was responsible to the Confederation
for everything that happened on his world.

Looking to the east and south, Mullilee saw fields of native
vegetables, stretching halfway to the horizon, rich fields that
would provide nourishment for thousands once they were harvested.
If they were harvested. Looking north and west, where
the farmhouse and outbuildings with the machinery needed to
work the farm should have been, all Mullilee saw was devastation.
He’d already looked at images of the farm when the
buildings had been there. Now the view was biblical—not one
stone left standing on another.

Literally.

Everything burnable had been turned to ash. The bricks and
stone pulverized to sand and dust. Even the plasteel and the
metals in the farm equipment had melted to slag.

Despite the concerns of the constabulary, Mullilee was
careful to keep out of the way of the technicians who sifted
through the wreckage. Mullilee flashed on a trid he’d once
seen of twenty-first-century archaeologists excavating a Neolithic
site, how they’d sifted dirt through a large sieve, winnowing
out small bits that might be something other than dirt.

Some of the techs on the site of the Montgomery homestead
looked just like what he’d seen in that trid. Others, bearing objects
that pinged or bonged or flashed colored lights, stepped
carefully about the site, keeping off ground that hadn’t yet
been sifted. Whatever they were doing was, to Mullilee, indistinguishable
from magic; he knew neither the tools they manipulated
nor what they did.

What did Mullilee expect to see here, anything that the techs
couldn’t find more easily and quickly than he could? Nothing,
which was why he kept off ground they hadn’t covered, and
otherwise stayed out of their way, carefully not doing anything
to interfere.

He hoped the techs would find something that would tell
them—and him—more than they’d gotten from the first three
homesteads, and from the more recent ones that had been destroyed
the way this one was. Something like what happened to
the people. Eight people were missing here: the Montgomerys,
their four children, and two hired hands. That brought the total
missing in the thirteen incidents to sixty-seven people, people
who seemed to have simply vanished, except for a few tiny bits
of white stuff that may or may not have been human bone.

A new world such as Haulover expected to lose people in the
beginning. But not to have them simply vanish. With their
homesteads so thoroughly destroyed.

Office of the Planetary Administrator, Haulover
We need help, I need help, Mullilee wrote in another message
to Robier Altman. The Haulover Constabulary and the Ministry
of War have concluded that the homestead destructions
and missing people are the work of enemy military operations.

But they have no idea who, or why. Do you have contacts who
can get us help, or can you direct me to the appropriate office
in the Heptagon?

I’m desperate.



From the Paperback edition.
More Fiction
ISBNs
0345509536
9780345460608
9780345509536