Tangent Online has given Devil Dancers a nice, in-depth review, which you can read here.
As the book release is coming up November 1, we figured this was a good time to post an excerpt.
Victorio Nantan, Captain Victory, Squadron Leader of the Devil Dancers, looked over the smoke-filled room. Somewhere within its cavernous swill of booze, laughter, music, and celebration, were his men. They were the Devil Dancers. Aces every one; the finest fighter squadron in the fleet. They deserved their seventy-two hours of R&R. Their record kills at the Battle of Pallid Musings had earned them their playtime. But the war continued, and Captain “Victory” had just received secret intelligence about enemy fleet movements near Castor V. It was out of his squadron’s designated deployment zone, but an opportunity that could not be ignored. The finest pilots in the Federated Union had to keep pushing themselves, and at such a critical moment in the war, time was imperative. The enemy was on the verge of collapse.
That enemy was the Gulo, a wolverine-like race that had nearly cut the Union in two. Feral, savage fighters, their technology was on par with that of the humans. They were a formidable foe. Deep in his heart, Victorio could not help but admire their prowess in battle. But the war had waged for over thirty standard years, and even personal admiration grows pale over time. He and his men were working hard to defeat the Gulo. A turning point was at hand. Victorio could feel it. He had seen it in his dreams. One more push, one more decisive rout, and the scales could be tipped.
The Devil Dancers were not going to be left out.
He crossed the room, pushing through the partiers, responding in kind to the salutes of junior officers from the 3rd Sol Fighter Wing. He even recognized some crew members of the Star Chariot, an old carrier that had been refitted to accommodate a full battalion of troopers and their drop pods. Among these men, he and the Devil Dancers were legend, and whenever they were present, they received much respect. Victorio passed through them politely but kept his eyes set on one of his pilots who sat on a plush red sofa near the bar, surrounded by adoring women and sycophants.
Naiche looked up from his drink and recognized his brother. “Ah, Captain Victory!” He stumbled to his feet, the beautiful ladies surrounding him shifting their bare legs to let him pass. “You’ve decided to crawl out of your wickiup and join us.”
Victorio grabbed his brother before the younger man embarrassed himself by hitting the floor. Naiche’s face was flushed red, his breath rancid with drink, his eyes dilated and distant. “You’re drunk.”
“You’re goddamned right I’m drunk!” Naiche said, receiving cheers and laughter from his friends. “And I intend on staying that way for another forty-eight hours.”
“We need to talk, brother,” Victorio said, pushing Naiche away. “Now.”
“Nonsense,” Naiche said. “We need to drink. Pull up a chair and join us.” Before Victorio had a chance to respond, Naiche said, “Ladies, let me introduce you to our na-tio-tish, our war leader, Captain Victorio “Tomorrow’s Wind” Nantan, the second finest pilot in the galaxy.” He tapped his brother’s chest with a blunt, lazy finger. “This man single-handedly wiped out an entire Gulo squadron at the Battle of Two Dwarves. He’s received six commendations for bravery, and a score of Silver Wings. And ladies,” he put his hand to his mouth and lowered his voice, “he’s got the cutest little tattoo on his—”
“Enough!” Victorio grabbed Naiche’s shoulders and shook. The drink in his brother’s hand toppled to the floor, spreading red liquid across the plush white carpet. The internal lattice-mesh of the floor began sucking the fibers dry. “We will talk, now.” He turned and looked at the women, whose expressions had become quite still. “Will you excuse us, please?”
Naiche wrestled himself free and stumbled to the sofa, apologizing profusely to his fans. He gave each lady a small kiss and promised to call on them. They shuffled past Victorio without a word and disappeared into the throng of dancers.
“You waste yourself away with all this,” Victorio said, finding a seat near his brother. “Father would not be pleased.”
Naiche rubbed his forehead and chuckled. “Father is just as boring as you, big brother. You are the worst kill-joy I’ve ever met. If you had played your cards right, one of those ladies would have given you a—”
“Everything comes so easy for you, Naiche. Not so for me. I’ve had to bust my ass for everything. While you were off carousing with your friends at Boot, I had to double down, pull second shifts, commit overtime. And you’d waltz right in the next morning and ace your—”
“And yet here you are,” Naiche interrupted, “Captain of the Devil Dancers.”
Victorio had gotten the promotion in the field during an engagement in the Kuiper Belt eight standard years ago. His calm, serious demeanor had impressed Star Marshall Kinski Shu, who said, ‘You’re not like others of your kind, are you, boy?’ Images of his father’s hostilities toward the White Eyes came to mind, but Victorio kept his mouth shut like a good soldier. He always kept his mouth shut. ‘No, I guess not, sir.” And so it was that he took command, and the rest was in the common record.
“There are reports of heavy Gulo activity near Castor V.”
Naiche perked an ear. “And?”
“And I’ve asked Star Marshall Shu to give us a temporary transfer to Peregrine Task Force.”
Naiche sat straight in his seat, the effects of the alcohol washed from his face. “Are you nuts? That racist is going to get us killed!”
Victorio shot glances around the room. Luckily, the music was too loud and the patrons too drunk to notice his brother’s insubordination. “Keep your opinions to yourself, pilot.”
Naiche lowered his voice and leaned in. “The men need rest, sir. We won at Pallid Musings, but it was a near-run thing, and you know it. Blue Bird just had her foot reattached. Shines Like the Sun has a new heart, and—”
“They can rest and recover en route. The Exodus does not depart until eighteen hundred hours.”
Naiche’s expression grew still, his eyes silent. “We’re leaving that soon?”
“Shouldn’t I have been consulted on this, sir? I am second-in-command.”
“Second being the operative word.”
Naiche shot out of his seat. They stood there, faces close. Victorio was taller and so he towered over his brother like a bitter tree. Naiche was shorter, indeed, but very fit and muscular, and if he wanted to, he could bring Victorio down and make short order of him. Around them, patrons began to take notice, pretending to party, but with a curious eye turned toward the disruption. Word of two Devil Dancers fighting would spread throughout the fleet; questions would be asked, demands would be made. It was an untenable situation. Hitting a superior officer, even if he was your brother, would be tantamount to suicide. Naiche blinked and stepped back. “And so that’s how it’s going to be, huh? Captain Victory has made his decision, and all shall bow to him.”
“Don’t be dramatic, brother. You have a taste for Gulo blood as strong as any pilot.”
“Yes, but why now? And why this particular action? Enemy fleet movements have been reported all over the Caustic Drift. What interests you so much about this particular report? You hate Captain Shriver of PTF. Why would you—”
“Gingu-sha has been spotted with that fleet.”
Naiche’s mouth dropped open.
The greatest Gulo fighter pilot was Gingu-sha. His kills alone matched those of the entire Devil Dancer squadron. His name drew fear even from the crews of capital ships. One story told of how Gingu-sha single-handedly dispatched a Union destroyer, crashing into its hull with a burrowing torpedo and then fighting his way to the bridge, where he massacred the crew and drove the ship into Starbase Calvin, only to escape unscathed on a shuttle. A destroyer did indeed strike the starbase, but whether or not Gingu-sha was responsible was unclear. Since everyone on the ship died on impact, there were no eye-witnesses to confirm the event, only hearsay from nearby ships. But that hardly mattered. The stories were out there, and his reputation and skills were undeniable.
Over the years, the Devil Dancers had had opportunities to take the Gulo ace down. The Battle of Two Dwarves, Cassini Station, the Emerald Rim, Ambush at Three Moons. Battle after battle, and yet the na-de-gah-ah had always slipped the net. On one particular occasion, Gingu-sha had turned his fighter upside down and aligned his cockpit with Victorio’s, after he had shot a hole through Victorio’s engine and left him for dead. They drifted there for a long while, and the beast could have, at any time, looped around and fired his guns. But he didn’t. They just drifted, both of them looking at each other through the cockpit glass, an arrogant smile spread across the creature’s black lips. Perfect black teeth with a darting pale tongue. His pure-white fur was as beautiful as the first snow of winter, his eyes blazing red hot like fire. And then he gunned his engines and was gone in a flash of blue energy.
From that moment on, Victorio vowed to find and kill Gingu-sha and put his pelt on the wall of the Devil Dancers’ headquarters on the light carrier Justice.
“Gingu-sha is your albatross, brother,” Naiche said, “not mine.”
Victorio ignored his brother’s insult. “And I’ve decided that you will be the Clown.”
Naiche’s expression turned from anger to surprise. “Me? But what about Music-Maker?”
“He’s down with fever. He’ll not be ready when we depart.”
“But you have never allowed me to play the Clown. Why now?”
“The opportunity is here, Naiche. Do you accept this honor or no?”
Naiche stood there rubbing his face. Victorio could see the passion behind his brother’s dark eyes.
Naiche nodded. “Yes, I will accept the honor. I will be the Clown.”
Victorio breathed a sigh of relief. “Good. Now gather the men. We leave immediately.”
Naiche stiffened and saluted. He was back to his old self. “Don’t worry your fat, arrogant head, brother. I’m the best goddamned pilot you have. I won’t let the Devil Dancers down.”
Yes, you are the best, brother, Victorio said to himself as he watched Naiche leave the room. But let’s see just how good you really are.
Robert E Waters is a technical writer by trade but has been a science fiction/fantasy fan all his life. He’s worked in the gaming industry since 1994 as designer, producer, and writer. In the late ’90s, he tried his hand at writing fiction and since 2003, has sold over 65 stories to various online and print magazines and anthologies, including the Grantville Gazette, Eric Flint’s online magazine dedicated to publishing stories set in the 1632/Ring of Fire series. His latest novels, The Cross of Saint Boniface and The Masks of Mirada, are currently available on Amazon.
He has also written in several tabletop gaming universes, including Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy series and in the Wild West Exodus weird tech/steampunk universe. He has also dabbled a bit in Warlord Games’ Beyond the Gates of Antares milieu, writing about assassins and rescue missions.
Robert currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland with his wife Beth, their son Jason, and their precocious little cat Buzz.
For more information about his work, visit his website at www.roberternestwaters.com.