Escape Velocity: A Dire Earth Novel by Jason M. HoughEscape Velocity: A Dire Earth Novel by Jason M. Hough

Escape Velocity: A Dire Earth Novel

byJason M. Hough

Paperback | June 27, 2017

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Part two of a thrilling action-adventure sci-fi duology featuring indomitable characters, incredible worlds, and plenty of rip-roaring action and thrills!

Search, destroy, survive!

Captains Skyler Luiken and Gloria Tsandi (and their respective crews) have smashed through the deadly Swarm Blockade but now find themselves scattered around the planet Carthage and the space stations she holds in her orbit. Their mission is now twofold: destroy the military compounds of a race of nefarious alien overlords and find a way back home to Earth.

Standing in their way are a race of horrifying, technologically advanced aliens armed with incredible weapons. Low on supplies and with their ability to communicate compromised, the surviving humans must rely on all their cunning, strength, and plain old good luck to turn the tables and overcome their foes.

The Dire Earth Duology begins with Injection Burn
Jason M. Hough is the New York Times bestselling author of Zero World and The Dire Earth Cycle: The Darwin Elevator, The Exodus Towers, and The Plague Forge, as well as the novella The Dire Earth. Hough was born in Illinois but grew up on the mean streets of suburban San Diego, California. In 1978, when he was six, his parents took him...
Title:Escape Velocity: A Dire Earth NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:432 pages, 7.5 × 4.2 × 1 inPublished:June 27, 2017Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0553391348

ISBN - 13:9780553391343

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9780553391343|excerptHough / ESCAPE VELOCITYChapter 1Location UnknownHe lay at the bottom of a deep hole, in a puddle of filthy water that sizzled as bits of molten metal dripped down from the destruction above.Skyler Luiken remained motionless for a time, just staring up at the column his arrival had carved. He remembered nothing of the actual crash. Couldn’t even remember when exactly he’d lost consciousness, or why. Medically induced, probably. Another gift from Eve. Her last? He called out for her. “Eve?”No response came. But then she’d said he’d be on his own, didn’t she?He took a long, shuddering breath and allowed all the sources of his frayed nerves to worm through his mind. He was a thousand light-­years from Earth. Alone. His friends were scattered across the gigantic, planet-­spanning apparatus of the Scipios, their exact locations and conditions unknown. All of them had been thrown toward the massive collection of alien space stations in the final explosion of Eve, their host. Eve, the only ally they had, the only one who knew what the hell was really going on here. Now gone. Holy fuck, she’s really gone. The AI had sacrificed herself. Expelled him and the others on precisely calculated trajectories an instant before her destruction in a last-­ditch effort to give each of them a chance to accomplish the task at hand.He found little comfort in that.Skyler let his breath out, and with it banished the enormity of his task to the edges of his mind. Too much to grapple with, and he wasn’t about to lie here and wallow in overwhelmed shock. He’d deal with his immediate predicament now, and damn the rest of it. He had to survive, take stock, find safety. Find his friends.“Hello?” he called. “Can anyone read me?”A terrible silence stretched. He fiddled with the comm menu rendered on the inside of his visor. All channels were already on, but it showed no links to anyone else. He bumped the system to maximum broad­cast strength.“This is Skyler. I’m . . . I’ve no idea where I am. I’m alive. Obviously. I can’t hear any of you, but if you can read me . . .”What? What to tell them?“Just stay put,” he settled on, no better option coming to mind. “I’ll report my location once I know where the hell I am, and wait for you all to join me. Keep trying to communicate. We might just be out of range.”Now what? he wondered.The answer seemed obvious. He had to scavenge.Now that, that, Skyler could wrap his mind around. He glanced around the pool of fluid and debris at the basin of the pit his arrival had created. The pod had burrowed through some kind of multilevel structure. A space station, no doubt. How deep had he gone? Skyler glanced up. The air above, thick with steam and smoke and a fine particulate like snow or ash, obscured the entry wound, but he figured the hole must have been patched by some automated process or else all that crap in the air would have been sucked out into space. Still, what he could see was at least a hundred meters of the shredded remains of a multilevel structure, as if his little craft had dug its way down through a twenty-­story building. There were floors every five meters or so, each sprouting mangled pipes and conduits of unknown purpose, though given that most either leaked fluid or rained sparks, it didn’t take much imagination to guess. The cavities in between these, though, were truly unknown. In truth it didn’t look much different from a cross section of any Earth-­based structure.He shifted his focus to the remains of his escape pod. It lay around him like a cracked egg, with bits of the foamy orange cushion that had surrounded him during the brief flight now melting away into the soup of knee-­deep viscous fluids rapidly filling the space around him. He jumped off his toes, just enough to test the gravity without rocketing himself up into the haze above, and judged it to be about three-­quarters of Earth normal. What had Eve said about the gravity on Carthage? Pretty damn close to that, if his memory served. So he must be at a pretty low altitude.As the last of the cushioning melted away, Skyler saw some gray containers floating amid the wreckage. He picked one up and examined it, puzzled at first. It was Builder gear, definitely, but its purpose eluded him. He was about to toss it aside when he realized his suit was telling him the answer. In the bottom corner of his field of view, a display on his visor indicated that this was repair paste for his armored suit. He grinned despite himself and picked another. Ammunition, in the form of six pellets that could be inserted into the right or left shoulder of his suit, powering the beam weapons embedded just above his wrists. Skyler’s grin widened. Eve may have sacrificed herself, abandoning him and the others to take on an entire sieged planet by themselves, but at least she’d not left them completely naked and defenseless.Another case held “nutrients.” He almost gagged. This would be the rather nasty food Eve had manufactured for them and never quite gotten around to improving. Skyler decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth, as his stomach growled its desire to be filled with the gritty, overly sweet fare. Last, a self-­replenishing container for water, filled by pulling moisture out of the very air around him. This he attached immediately to the receptacle on his lower back and then willed the suit to extend the small tube toward his mouth. He heard the thin whir as the little straw extended, and he drank greedily, ignoring the slightly metallic taste. It was cool and wet and somehow grounded him, putting an almost whiskeylike glow of confidence in his gut. He repeated the process with the food, choking a few gulps down.Skyler tried the comm again. “Anyone out there? This is Skyler. I’m alive, but I’ve no idea where the hell I am or what to do. Reply if you can hear me.”No response came. The suit’s status indicators still showed no connection to anyone else, nor any Builder equivalent of a network at all. He ground his teeth at that, but decided not to spend any more time worrying about it for now. Maybe it was broken, or maybe the others were simply out of range. He left the comm switched on, and set a recurring timer to remind him every ten minutes to try it again.Finally, he checked himself for injuries. Bruised and battered, but otherwise he felt good. His suit still had integrity, too.Fed and hydrated, Skyler turned his focus toward his overall goal.The enormity of which still boggled his mind, but considered in the simplest terms—­that he was here to free the world of Carthage from the Scipios—­he figured his first task should be to gather intelligence. How did the Scipios hold this world? What were their society and security structure like? Was his crew truly alone here, or could he perhaps rouse some kind of rebellion from within the metaphorical prison walls? The mental image of a worldwide prison riot was almost enough to make him laugh.A burst of fire erupted into the cavity just a few meters above him, then quickly receded into a small gas-­fueled flame like a welder’s torch left on. The sound of it somehow woke Skyler’s sense of hearing, and he began to listen as much as see. The dripping water, the slosh of his legs in the now-­thigh-­deep pool, and something else, too. A new sound, rhythmic, that stuttered even as it rose and fell through sweeps of extreme pitch changes. The noise came from all around him. Instinctively, Skyler sloshed over to one side of the pit, pressing himself against a wall made of charred debris, as the volume grew.Multicolored light tore through the mists above. Beams of violet and yellow. Skyler knew next to nothing about life beyond Earth, but every fiber of his being came to the simple conclusion instantly: security response. He was an intruder here, an infection, and the cavalry had arrived to deal with him.He raised his weaponized arm and waited, forcing even breaths through his clenched teeth. The one thing he could not afford was a shoot-­out. Whatever the population of Scipios here was, it was bound to be far higher than he had ammunition for. No, a subtler approach was the only real option if he were to have any hope of reaching the surface, much less accomplishing what he’d come here to do.The flashing lights above were joined by others, and then a shadow appeared in the rising steam. The curling white murk spread and swirled around the edges of a teardrop-­shaped object maybe two meters tall, with four metallic and heavily segmented tentacles moving in a carefully controlled dance as it lowered itself deeper into the pit.The sight of it barely registered, for it was what Skyler saw beyond this alien that almost overwhelmed his mind. A brief glimpse through the thick haze, but that was enough.A night sky, half-­obscured by clouds.He didn’t need to get to the surface. He was already there. The realization left him reeling as his assumptions shattered like glass.Skyler did his best to keep still, tucked in shadow under a curled bit of torn fibrous metal his arrival had peeled from the floor just above. The creature above him bore an obvious resemblance to the Scipio Swarm that had destroyed the Chameleon, though it had fewer tentacles and a more streamlined body of much thin­ner profile. Made for atmospheric use, perhaps, its existence closer to a support apparatus, rather than the swarmers who lived out their lives in that lonely vigil at the edges of this solar system. Those had been dirty things, rugged and scarred. This was sleek in comparison, with a gleaming white skin or hull that looked almost like porcelain on its top half, covering the lower black and gray areas like a tortoise shell.With a slight bob the Scipio came to a stop. Its four limbs stretched straight outward to where they grasped whatever support they could find with four-­fingered mechanical hands. Much more elegant than the spike-­tipped monstrosities their space-­faring brethren favored, perhaps because to impale every surface they traversed here would be to damage their own home.For a time it simply hung there, suspended, crying its odd lilting alarm. Skyler remained motionless, too, ready to unleash hell if noticed, happy to remain hidden if possible.Another shadow appeared as a second Scipio lowered itself into the deep pit. It came to rest a few meters above the first. This one was slightly larger, and had markings along its side, like a bar code made of skewed and curved lines. Abruptly the shrill alarm stopped as the pair of robotic machines or vehicles—­Skyler couldn’t be quite sure which—­settled into position. He stared at those lines, the markings on the side of the recent arrival. They seemed to shimmer, then warp under his gaze. A trick of the light, perhaps, or just his rattled senses, but before he could puzzle it out the situation changed.A section of the larger one’s belly suddenly extended downward, revealing an array of tubes and connective gear. A turret, his brain warned, and he shifted his aim toward it. Before he could shoot, though, the swivel-­mounted cannon revealed its purpose. It swung with precision to one side and burped out a white cloud of foam. The material slapped wetly against one of the small fires licking out from a severed pipe on the wall of destruction. The blaze vanished under the thick goop, smothered instantly. Another quick swivel, another blast from the fire extinguisher. Skyler watched, mildly fascinated, as the machine or vehicle systematically doused each open flame. An alien firefighter, he thought. When those closest to Skyler, at the basin of his crash-­pit, were out, the thing began to climb smoothly back up toward the top. Every meter or so its cannon would cough out more white mucus. Another flame would vanish.He shifted focus back to the first Scipio to have arrived, the smaller one. It hadn’t moved since its big brother had shown up, and as of yet had not revealed its purpose here.Skyler cursed himself. With everything else going on he hadn’t bothered to check his air levels, and if the air here was breathable. He scanned the information splayed across the corners of his visor, the system tracking his eye movements and thought patterns as a means of navigating the interface. He fumbled his way through the menus until he found what he needed: atmospheric analysis. A quick review told him the only thing he really needed to know: breathable to a human. There were indicators for the various gases present and in what quantity, but that meant little to him. Oxygen was the only one listed in orange, the rest green. Nothing red, so he’d count his blessings and worry about the side effects later.Besides, the suit acted like a giant gill, from what Eve had said. It could pull the ingredients he would need. Already it had replenished his supply to nearly full—­enough to last him twenty hours or so, assuming he left the atmosphere and it couldn’t pull in anything more. Still, it gave him some small reassurance to know that even in the event his suit tore, he could still breathe. The air, at least, wouldn’t be trying to kill him. Probably.A brilliant light bored into his eyes, forcing his attention back to the visitors. Skyler raised one arm to shield against the sudden flare before his visor recognized the problem and tinted itself to compensate.The Scipio, the one that had remained near him, had extended a belly pod of its own. Unlike its larger companion, this one screamed “sensor array.” Flickering lasers that swept across the ruined crash site in all directions, along with pulsing spotlights that shifted from one area to another. Several converged on him due to the movement of his arm.“Shit,” he said, and fired without really thinking about it. His beam cannon annihilated the small vehicle in a shower of sparks and shrapnel, as if it had no armor at all. Definitely not built like the Swarm that had attacked the Chameleon, then.For a moment Skyler just stood there, surprised at how easily the enemy had been destroyed, and shocked at how quickly he’d fired on it. Some part of him had assessed, in that instant, that his presence had been noticed. And more important, decided that the little Scipio vehicle was likely transmitting everything its flickering scanners saw in real-­time back to some control room. He processed this himself only now, but his suit had reacted to the conclusion and his reflexive decision to fire well before he’d even consciously understood the choice himself. That, Skyler Luiken thought, is going to be a problem. The last thing he needed was this exotic alien armor going all trigger-­happy in a moment where his battle-­sense needed to be carefully dampened by more strategic needs.A problem to resolve later when he had a moment to breathe. Right now, he had to get the hell out of here, before this place absolutely crawled with more of these emergency responders or, worse, the Scipio equivalent of a police force.Back up the way he’d come? Skyler considered that. The air above had closed back in, unnervingly opaque after ten meters, utterly choked now by the smoky outpouring of the fire suppression efforts and the explosion he’d just caused.No, he thought. Not up. As much as he wanted to be outside, to survey his surroundings, he could too easily imagine a whole horde of Scipios up there. This hole he’d made was, at the very least, probably seen as some kind of freak natural disaster. A meteor strike or whatever. They’d be all over it, swarming in to plug the hole and repair the damage.Sideways, then. Flee the scene, get his bearings, find the others if he could.Skyler pushed off from the wall and climbed up to the first open cavity above him. The ragged pit his arrival had dug looked like a fist that had punched down through a skyscraper, revealing the interior structure— ­a very Earth-­like stack of floors. Their contents were hidden in darkness, unknowable, but that didn’t matter. It was a way to go, nothing more. So he jumped and flung himself into the first cavity, aware of several shadows descending into the pit from above and wanting nothing to do with them. Let the Scipios puzzle out the cause of the calamity if they didn’t already know.With any luck, he’d get a few precious minutes’ head start before they realized they had a rat on the loose.