Lieutenant Commander Kyle West is one of Earth Fleet’s greatest fighter pilots. Every day, he leads his squadron into battle over Earth’s cities in a seemingly endless war against a vicious alien race, defending his home and his loved ones.
Millions of miles away, the Fleet’s Elite Squadron attacks from another angle, engaging the enemy on its home turf. Casualties are high, and the Squadron needs more of the Fleet’s very best. But joining the Elite is a death sentence—a surety Kyle isn’t willing to face. Until a devastating attack wipes out the family he refused to leave.
Commander Andrei Dezhnyov, an Elite Squadron gunner, isn’t sure what to make of the cocky new American pilot. Kyle is equally uncertain about the snarly Russian, but as they warm up to each other, their tentative alliance becomes a deep bond—one that endangers them both when a daring and disobedient rescue reveals secrets that call into question everything they’ve ever believed about their enemy. Secrets that their superiors would kill to protect.
The Tide of War is available July 22nd from Riptide Publishing.
Though coming to Epsilon had been on the bitter end of bittersweet, Kyle still got a charge out of launching off the flight deck for the first time.
The station’s flight deck was a long tunnel extending through the core of Epsilon, open on both ends. Its runway surface had been designed to look a lot like the old-time aircraft carriers from back in the days when wars happened on oceans instead of in the stratosphere. Catapults that had once thrust fighter jets into the air now flung the modern-day fighters toward the Menarian atmosphere, thus preserving fuel for combat maneuvers and the return to Epsilon at the end of the mission.
The catapult shot them out into space, sending them straight toward Menar.
After a full month—not to mention the three weeks in stasis—away from a real cockpit, he’d been dying to feel this again, and it brought a grin to his face as he white-knuckled the control stick.
“You love that, don’t you?” Emily teased.
“Like sex after a dry spell.”
“Honey, if sex feels like this to you, I think you’re doing it wrong.”
“If it doesn’t feel like this to you, I think you’re doing it wrong.”
She just laughed.
Kyle stared straight ahead at the planet coming toward them. Something so huge didn’t appear to move much, if at all—just as the ground didn’t seem to move very fast beneath a high-flying fighter back on Earth—but the thrill remained. The exhilaration, the fear, the sheer knowledge he was minutes away from being inside the shell of roiling black clouds that shrouded the entire planet. The planet he was hell-bent on destroying, one structure and one scaly bastard at a time if he had to.
They dropped into the thick black clouds, and their visibility was nil. Thank God for the simulators; if there was one thing Kyle didn’t like, it was flying blind, even when he had his radar to point out incoming bogeys or crash hazards. Thanks to the simulations, though, he’d had a chance to get used to flying through this seemingly impenetrable haze.
“Seven Alpha to Squadron Seven,” Teterev said over the radio. “Clearing cloud cover in two minutes.”
Sure enough, two minutes after diving into the cloud cover, Emily and Kyle broke through, and they got their first in-person view of the surface of Menar.
It was daytime on Menar, he knew that much, but aside from a few pillars of sunlight piercing the black canopy, it was dark. Wisps of God knew what kind of gases and pollution danced in those rare sunbeams, vaguely illuminating the landscape. The whole planet just had a rotting, sinister look about it. Like something out of a bootlegged horror movie he might’ve watched as a kid.
As they descended to lower altitudes and the landscape became clearer, it was even more horrific. Massive, gaping black craters. Vegetation that was dead or close to it. Charred, skeletal remains of small clusters of whatever Menarians considered to be civilization.
Just like in the simulators but still somehow jarring.
“I can definitely see why they want a piece of Earth,” Emily said.
“Yeah. Me too.” Kyle flashed her a grin. “Ready to give them a piece of Earth?”
She grinned back. “Absolutely.”
“Hey, Seven Foxtrot.” Dezhnyov’s voice was tinny over the radio. “You two ready to meet the Menarians in their own backyard?”
“Ready, Seven Alpha.” Kyle loosened and tightened his grasp on the control stick. “Been waiting my whole life for this.”
“Good,” Teterev said. “Estimated contact in sixty seconds.”
“First wave has confirmed the city’s defenses are neutralized,” Dezhnyov said. “Roll in fast. We need to get to that launch pad before the cargo ship gets too high.”
“Keep an eye out for bogeys,” Teterev said. “They’ll be sending reinforcements if they haven’t already.”
“Tell ’em to bring it on,” Emily said. “I’m ready for them.”
“Good,” Dezhnyov replied, “because there they are.”
As if on cue, half a dozen Menarian fighters appeared out of nowhere, flying in a tight wedge formation.
“Break formation,” Teterev ordered. “Pair up, and take ’em out.”
“Make it quick,” Dezhnyov said. “Cargo ship launch imminent.”
“Roger that.” Kyle banked hard and hurtled toward the formation. “This won’t take long.”
The Menarians scattered. Kyle chased two away from the group, and then let them get behind him. He led them toward the city, closing the distance between himself and the cargo ship even while he was taking out the two defenders.
Kyle immediately liked playing offense instead of defense. Whenever the Menarians attacked on Earth, there was always a bit of panic, a feeling of being caught off guard even when they had some warning. This time, there was none of that because it was the Menarians who were being caught off guard. They might have known the landscape better than he did, but he didn’t give a damn if a stray missile damaged that landscape or took out a structure.
Near the central part of the city, he used the tall buildings and gaps between them to his advantage, swooping through the narrow spaces and making tight circles around the structures to throw off his pursuers. He banked hard to the left, slipped between the two structures, and then made a hard right. One Menarian on their tail made it between the structures, but it didn’t make that hard right as cleanly as it needed to. A shower of sparks, a ball of fire, and that was one bogey down and one structure compromised.
The second, however, was tougher to elude.
Kyle zigged. So did the Menarian.
He zagged. So did the Menarian.
“Damn it, this guy’s good,” he muttered.
Such was the problem with a war that had gone on for so fucking long. Both sides adapted to each other until their fighting was similar in both strategy and ability. The boxer fighting the same opponent over and over learned to anticipate both attacks and defenses, memorized weaknesses and strengths. The alien fighter pilot accustomed to a human’s maneuvers learned to anticipate them, as well.
“Can you get on top of him?” Emily asked.
“Give me a second . . . Okay, ready?”
“When you are.”
They both braced, and Kyle dived hard. The fighter went straight down, then inverted and started coming back up. The g-forces were tremendous, but he gritted his teeth and kept the throttle and control stick forward until the bird leveled out again.
The other fighter either hadn’t predicted the move, or hadn’t been able to copy it, and as Kyle’s fighter completed its loop, they came straight down toward the Menarian’s canopy.
“I got him,” Emily said, and a split second later, the fighter jolted as a missile launched.
The Menarian tried to evade, but the shot slammed into it. The explosion lit up the dark sky and metal buildings, raining fiery debris onto the streets below.
“Nice!” Kyle said. “Your first hit on Menar.”
“First of many,” she said with a grin. “Now we— Shit, we’ve got two on our six.”
Out of nowhere, a missile collided with one of the Menarian fighters.
“Make that one on your six,” Dezhnyov’s sharply accented voice said over the radio. Another explosion, and the second was gone. “You’re welcome, Foxtrot.”
“Asshole,” Emily muttered. “Didn’t even give me a chance to shoot them.”
Kyle laughed. “He’s going to hear about that, isn’t he?”
“Oh, you’re damn right he is.”
“FYI, rookies,” Dezhnyov said, chuckling, “your radio’s still on.”
“That’s because my thumb was still on the button,” Emily said. “That was for your ears, Dezhnyov. We’ll finish this at home.”
“I like her,” Teterev broke in.
“Traitor,” Dezhnyov muttered.
Lori A. Witt is the fourth corner of the Gallagher-Witt quad, and prefers to play in the genres of science fiction and fantasy over all that romance nonsense. Okay, so romance does show up sometimes, but these are the books she writes when she needs a change of pace. Sword and sorcery, spaceships, and just general weird nerdy goodness—Lori writes it all. Like the other members of the quad (L.A. Witt, Lauren Gallagher, and Ann Gallagher), Lori is in the process of relocating from Omahabad, Nebraskastan to the southwestern coast of Spain. In her spare time, she tries to stay out of the middle of L.A.’s and Lauren’s ongoing rivalry, while never missing a chance to trip Ann when she’s not paying attention.
Connect with Lori:
Every comment on this blog tour enters you in a drawing for a choice of two eBooks off my backlist (including books written as L.A. Witt or Lauren Gallagher, excluding The Tide of War) and a $10 Riptide Publishing store credit. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on July 28th, and winners will be announced on July 29th. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries.