When editor John Joseph Adams invited me to contribute a story to his ARMORED anthology focused on power armor, I naturally thought of Ethan Skarstedt, a friend in my writing group who specializes in military science fiction and has the combat experience to back it up–he’s served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, among others. So we collaborated on a short story that appears in the anthology, which is out now. An excerpt is below.
You can buy the print version from the usual places; the ebook is available directly from the publisher, Baen.
Heuristic Algorithm and Reasoning Response Engine
by Ethan Skarstedt and Brandon Sanderson
A lone dropship passed across the face of Milacria’s gibbous bulk, a pinhead orbiting a beachball. From its launch portals streamed a hundred black motes–each one a mechanized infantry unit clinging tightly to the underside of its air support craft, whose broad armored back served as a heatshield. They torched down through the hazy cloud-speckled atmosphere in precise formation, trailing thick ropes of smoke and steam, a forest of uncertain fingers pointing back up to the ship, the MarsFree.
Within his mech’s cockpit on the western edge of the formation, Karith Marvudi hunkered in a loose cocoon of straps. He caught himself watching the grip indicators. If those failed, his mech come unhooked from the underside of Nicolette’s airship. He’d burn in from too high and Nicolette’s agile but flimsy airship–deprived of the thickly armored protection of his five meter tall mech–would tear apart and burn up in the atmosphere.
He stretched, spread-eagled, suspended by the feedback straps. His fingers and toes just brushed the edges of his movement space within the torso cavity. Perfect. The faint scent of his own body, mingled with that of plastic, electronics, and faux leather, swirled in the canned air.
He was surprised at the trepidation he felt. He felt a certain amount of fear every time he dropped, but this time was different. This was like . . . No, not as bad as his first drop. Maybe his fifth or sixth. He hadn’t felt this jittery in more than two hundred planetfalls.
He wondered if Nicolette felt the same way.
He pushed at the fear, shoving it down where it could be ignored. It pushed back. Maragette’s face flashed into his mind, smiling next to the squinting white bundle they’d named Karri, after her grandmother.
“You about ready to shunt some of that heat up to me, Karith?” Nicolette’s voice was as buttery as ever, not a hint of tension.
“Maybe if you ask me politely.” Karith overrode the mic on the common circuit. “Harry, we about full?”
The baritone voice of his mech’s AI filled the cabin. “Ninety-three point seven percent, sir. Shall I route fifty percent of the sink product to Captain Shepard’s power banks?”
“Make it seventy-five; Nic needs it. Show me what it looks like out there: focus on the D-Z.”
Nic’s voice came again from the cockpit speakers. “Politely? Oh, it’s manners you want now, is it? We’ll see how you like it when all my lasers can deal out is a bit of a sunburn. I–Ah, there we are.” She had seen the power surging into her ship. Her voice changed to a purr. “Karith, you shouldn’t have.”
Karith let out a loud patient sigh over the mic. She giggled.
HARRE said on the private circuit, “Is Captain Shepard displeased, sir?”
“Nope. That’s sarcasm, Harry.”
“Noted. I must point out, sir, doctrine states that the mechanized infantry unit in an entry pair has priority on power collection.”
“It does say that, doesn’t it.” Karith frowned at the 3D representation of the area around his drop zone that HARRE was feeding into his HUD.
Nicolette’s voice slipped into the cockpit again. “I can’t believe I let you and Maragette talk me into transferring out of RGK with you. I’m about ready to fall asleep up here with no anti-air fire.”
HARRE spoke, his deep voice mechanically precise. “Captain Shepard, had the Self-Replicating Machine Infestation evolved to a stage with anti-aircraft weaponry on this planet, your former comrades in the Recon Group-Kinetique would have been inserted, not a line infantry unit with you for advisors.”
Silence filled the circuits for a moment, until Karith chuckled. “That’s right, HARRE, Captain Shepard has obviously forgotten . . .”
“Well, well, don’t we have a fine grasp of the obvious,” Nicolette interrupted, voice dripping honeyed acid. “I don’t remember him talking this much, Karith. You screw up his settings?”
“No. He lost a lot in the reset.”
“Hmmph. I suppose I owe him some slack since he was wounded.”
“Especially since we were saving your ass, Nick.”
“That was a hairy mess, wasn’t it?”
That’s just the beginning, and the anthology features stories from over twenty other prominent authors as well. Check it out.
This is only the first of my short fiction releases this year. Here’s what you can expect at various times throughout the year:
- LEGION, a novella coming this summer/fall from Subterranean Press (available for preorder now)
- “Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell,” a novella appearing in the anthology DANGEROUS WOMEN, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois (release date not set)
- THE EMPEROR’S SOUL, a Cosmere novella coming out from Tachyon Publications, currently scheduled for December (preorder not yet available)
- And two novelettes that I’m still deciding what to do with.
Since A MEMORY OF LIGHT is set for January 8, 2013, it looks like I don’t have any novels coming out this year, but it’s a bumper year for short fiction.