The second book in the action-packed Peacekeeper series, a continuation of Tanya Huff's military sci-fi Confederation series following Torin Kerr
Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr had been the very model of a Confederation Marine. No one who’d ever served with her could imagine any circumstance that would see her walking away from the Corps.
But that was before Torin learned the truth about the war the Confederation was fighting…before she’d been declared dead and had spent time in a prison that shouldn’t exist…before she’d learned about the “plastic” beings who were really behind the war between the Confederation and the Others. That was when Torin left the military for good.
Yet she couldn’t walk away from preserving and protecting everything the Confederation represented. Instead, ex-Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr drew together an elite corps of friends and allies—some ex-Marines, some civilians with unique skills—and together they prepared to take on covert missions that the Justice Department and the Corps could not—or would not—officially touch. But after their first major mission, it became obvious that covert operations were not going to be enough.
Although the war is over, the fight goes on and the Justice Department finds its regular Wardens unable to deal with violence and the people trained to use it. Ex-Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr has a solution: Strike Teams made up of ex-military personnel, small enough to maneuver quickly, able to work together if necessary. Justice has no choice but to implement her idea and Torin puts her team of independent contractors back into uniform. It isn’t war, it is policing, but it often looks much the same.
When the scientists doing a preliminary archaeological dig on a Class Two planet are taken hostage, Torin’s team is sent to free them. The problem of innocents in the line of fire is further complicated by the fact that the mercenaries holding them are a mix of Confederation and Primacy forces, and are looking for a weapon able to destroy the plastic aliens who’d started and maintained the war.
If Torin weren’t already torn by wanting that weapon in play, she also has to contend with the politics of peace that have added members of the Primacy—former enemies—to her team. Before they confront the mercenaries, Torin will have to sift through shifting loyalties as she discovers that the line between“us” and “them” is anything but straight.
About the author
Tanya Huff may have left Nova Scotia at three, and has lived most of her life since in Ontario, but she still considers herself a Maritimer. On the way to the idyllic rural existence she shares with her partner Fiona Patton, six cats, and a chihuahua, she acquired a degree in Radio and Television Arts from Ryerson Polytechnic—an education she was happy to finally use while writing her recent Smoke novels. Of her previous twenty-three books, the five—Blood Price, Blood Trail, Blood Lines, Blood Pact, Blood Debt—featuring Henry Fitzroy, bastard son of Henry VIII, romance writer, and vampire are among the most popular.
Excerpt: A Peace Divided (by (author) Tanya Huff)
“GUNRUNNERS,” Werst snarled, sliding over the almost buried shell of the APC as rounds impacted against the metal. “Gunrunners, they told us, not users.”
“Logical progression.” Ressk fired a quick burst through one of the second-floor windows on the ruined anchor, interrupting the gunrunners’ fire long enough for Werst to get to cover. “Especially if they knew we were coming.”
“How could they know we were coming?” Werst demanded.
“The Justice Department has a leak.”
“A leak?” Werst leaned around the back end of a destroyed APC. “You think that’s possible, Gunny?”
“They were a little too prepared,” Torin admitted, helmet scanner registering heat signatures at the windows where they’d already identified shooters through the less technical method of being shot at. Unfortunately, if a scanner existed that could see through walls built to withstand both the rigors of space and an atmospheric entry, she hadn’t been issued one. The building at the center of every new colony, the anchor, was a cross between a Marine Corps Susumi packet and a large vacuum-to-atmosphere transport. Thirty meters by twenty meters by six meters, it held everything the colony needed to get started and once emptied became a community center, a hospital, and— if necessary— fortress. Designed to be nearly indestructible, it was part of the Confederation’s promise to the Younger Races that they’d be supported as they spread out through known space. Nearly indestructible hadn’t been enough for this particular anchor to entirely survive a Primacy landing force during the last year of the war.
Although, to be fair to the anchor’s designers and engineers, it also had to survive the Confederation Marine Corps retaking the colony and no one had yet come up with anything— buildings, transportation, tech— that was Marine proof. Marine resistant, yes. Proof, no.
Again, to be fair, the anchor was in better shape than the rest of the colony.
Sh’quo Company, Torin’s old unit, hadn’t been part of the attack that had driven the Primacy out of Three Points, but she could read the story of the battle on the ruins and debris and she knew the weight of the senior NCO’s vest, heavy with the number of bodies they’d carried out. Bodies reduced to their basic components for ease of transport and stored in small metal cylinders. No Marine left behind.
Her hands were steady on her KC-7, the familiar weight of the Corps primary weapon canceling the twitch toward the places on her own vest where her dead had rested. The combat vest was a recent addition to the Warden’s uniform, as was the KC. Change came slowly to the Wardens, to the entire Confederation, but change came whether the Elder Races welcomed it or not.
Not that Torin expected anyone to welcome the need for armed response teams.
“Gunny, I’ve got hostiles on the roof. Two, no three . . . moving a large rectangular crate up through the trap.”
Boots on the ground, the angle kept Torin from picking up any of the action two stories up. In place on one of the remaining rock formations that had given Three Points its name, Binti Mashona had a clear line of sight. “Do you have a shot?”
“No. They’ve got a good idea of where I have to be, and they’re using the crate to . . . Fuk me sideways, it’s a mortar.”
Specs flashed along the lower edge of Torin’s visor as the mortar came on line.
“Well, that answers a question we didn’t give a shit about,” Werst muttered. “One of the dirtbags was artillery.”
“Not likely,” Ressk argued as Torin squeezed off two quick shots— one to herd, one to hit. A di’Taykan screamed. “We’re almost in the building with them and their structural integrity was breached before we got here.”
“The glass was broken,” Werst interjected.
“That’s what I said. If one of this lot was artillery, they’d have known to open with the mortar.”
Torin’s team had almost reached the building, using the cover of darkness and the surrounding ruins, when the gunrunners had opened fire. They hadn’t tripped a perimeter alert, and there’d been no sentries set to give the alarm. They might have been spotted through a second-floor window, but Torin doubted it. The response had been too fast, too accurate. For variable definitions of the word accurate given they had zero casualties to two gunrunners bleeding. Selling illegal weapons had taken precedence over practicing with them.
“I have a clear shot on the mortar, Gunny, targeting and ignition.”
“Can you take it out?”
“Please, this close I could hit it with a rock.”
“Take the shot.”
Profanity followed close behind the impact of high speed metal on metal.
Ressk fired at the flicker of a shadow in one of the windows. “I was hoping for an explosion.”
“Weren’t we all.”
Mashona fired again. “Careless. One down. The other two hauled her back inside.”
Three gunrunners bleeding.
“All right, enough. Quick and quiet is a bust. Craig.”
“Land it. Alamber, distraction on contact.”
“You got it, Boss.”
“Ressk, Werst, heat imaging off and get ready to move. Plan B.” Her own scanner back to neutral, her eyes readjusting to the night, Torin adjusted both her weight and her grip on her weapon, ready to run. Shifting in place, she leaned away from the spray of dirt thrown up by a missed shot. It had missed by a smaller margin than previous shots— odds were good any ex-Marines in the anchor had begun to remember their training. On the one hand, it was about time; up until now, their aim had been embarrassing. On the other hand, as she was one of the targets they were aiming at . . .
She felt the shuttle’s approach as much as heard it, a deep hum in her bones that announced Craig was fighting gravity with everything the VTA had. The Navy surplus vacuum-to-atmosphere shuttle provided by the Justice Department had been straight up and down, sturdy enough to save their lives when it crashed, but with the flight capability of a brick. The Taykan-designed VTA they’d acquired next was faster, significantly less sturdy, and had been built with the added feature of horizontal travel at the bottom of a gravity well. It wasn’t an attractive feature, she noted, as the VTA came into sight, but it got the job done.
“Blocking team implants in three, two, now,” Alamber announced as the VTA descended toward the roof, his voice in her PCU barely audible over the roar. “Distraction in three, two . . .”
The raised metal edge crumpled under the weight, but the roof held as Craig set her down.
“. . . boned the bad guy, Boss.”
Sergeants and above came out of the military with jaw implants, full comm units set into the bone. The Justice Department had provided implants for their Strike Teams, but the expense of installation and upkeep prevented most civilians from using the tech. Including those civilians who used to be enlisted Marines. Odds were high that the pulse Alamber had sent over the most common military frequencies had knocked the fight out of the people making the decisions inside the anchor.
“Move!” Torin broke into a run, head down to protect her face from the airborne debris. Craig had brought the shuttle up on their one eighty using the anchor to block the exhaust, but it had still thrown an impressive amount of heated grit into the air. The grit would nullify the gunrunners’ heat imaging, had any of them managed to keep their attention on the job at hand while a few metric tons of VTA landed on the roof and their leaders writhed on the floor.
She was close enough now to hear the screaming.
Human, very probably male, and a Krai, no idea of gender. Eleven years on various battlefields had allowed her to add can identify species by sounds of pain to her skill set. Three years out of the Corps and it remained useful.
The air lock on the narrow end of the anchor had been blown apart either by the Primacy or the Confederation or a combination of both. The reality of war meant the winner often held real estate that had been destroyed in the taking or in the retaking. The first-floor common room had long, narrow windows, an obvious entry point given the lack of glass, but the gunrunners had reinstalled the exterior shutters that essentially made the wall a spaceship hull. Impenetrable to anything Torin’s team had with them.
Except . . .
During destruction of the air lock, the end wall had buckled enough to twist the nearest window a centimeter off square, the shutter not entirely secure, a triangle of light visible at the upper right and lower left corners.
Torin pulled the coil of wire from her vest as she ran, whipped it out to its two-meter length as she reached the anchor, dropped to one knee to slide it through the lower gap, and thumbed the release on the capacitor before shoving it through hard enough to clear the interior sill. Then she stood and braced her forearms against the wall.
“Distraction’s shut down, Boss.”
They’d spent part of the trip out here arguing the fine line between pain as distraction and pain for the sake of causing pain. None of them had much sympathy for the gunrunners; they spent too much time dealing with their customers.
Using fingers and prehensile toes, Werst reached the second-floor window as the wire ignited.
“Hope they weren’t stupid enough to store their ordnance in the unstable corner,” Ressk muttered as his foot gripped her shoulder.
Torin hoped so too. The Justice Department insisted that property damage be kept to a minimum, and Torin didn’t want to spend another afternoon justifying an accidental explosion. When Ressk pushed off, she caught the line Werst sent down and went up hand over hand until she could grab the windowsill and haul herself over.
“Almost Krai-like,” Ressk told her as her boots hit the floor.
“I can fake anything for two meters.” Torin resettled the weight of her vest on her shoulders, swung her KC back around, and waved the two Krai toward the door.
The room was still configured as a barracks, Three Points having barely moved beyond the entire colony living in the anchor when they were attacked. Given that space was large enough to keep any one system in the OutSector from having much of a strategic significance in an interstellar war, the Confederation had assumed the attack had been over real estate with a proportionate nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere, a gravity within specific tolerances, and readily available water. Turned out, the assumption had been incorrect. There’d been no logical reason for the attack as the war had been run as a social experiment by sentient, polynumerous molecular polyhydroxide alcoholydes— a discovery no one would have believed had Torin not got the shape-shifting, organic plastic hive mind to admit it on camera moments before they departed known space to analyze the accumulated data. She’d been cleaning up the mess they’d left behind ever since.
The second-floor hall was empty. Scanners showed two thermal signs behind the closed door of the anchor’s infirmary— one Human, one di’Taykan— and the blood that had drawn a dotted line between the stairs leading to the roof and the infirmary suggested they weren’t doing what a Human and the most enthusiastically indiscriminate species in known space were usually doing behind a closed door. Torin pointed at the lock. Ressk moved forward, touched his slate to it, and rewrote the code. The coiled spring latches rang out as they slammed into place, metal against metal— not a lot of what went into space could be called delicate, and that included most of the people.
At the clang Torin switched her attention to the main stairs, but it seemed no one on the lower level had heard the clang over the shouting. For the most part, they were shouting about the explosion as well as someone named Ferin’s inability to keep watch, summed up at high volume. “. . . lazy, blind, serley chrika! Get your head out of your own ass!”
Two locked in the infirmary, four downstairs standing, three on the ground. All nine gunrunners accounted for.
Except . . .
The infirmary windows faced away from Mashona’s position.
“Craig, keep an eye on the north side of the building. We’ve got two hostiles locked in the infirmary and the odds are good the more mobile will make a run for it.”
“No honor among thieves?”
She could hear the smile in his voice and answered it with one of her own. “Not that I’ve ever noticed.”
“Only four dirtbags left to take out.” Werst drew his lips back off his teeth. “Hardly worth a team effort. Want us to wait up here, Gunny?”
In answer, she started down the stairs, and they fell into position behind her.
Their orders were to apprehend the gunrunners. Where apprehend meant bring them in alive or face the staggering amount of paperwork required to document every corpse. Their task made more difficult given that the people they were trying to apprehend shot to kill.
“Ferin, Yizaun, check the weapons are secure. Mack, get that shutter dogged in. Shiraz, you’re bleeding all over the fukking floor, do something about it.”
“Who put you in charge, Harr?”
Harr paused at the foot of the stairs, facing back into the community hall. “That’d be when those fuktards took the chief out.”
Torin could see a line of blood running from the corner of his mouth where he’d driven his teeth through his lower lip, but a Krai jawbone was one of the toughest organic substances in known space and the pulse Alamber had sent through his implant had done a lot less damage than it would have to a Human or di’Taykan. It had done enough damage, however, that Harr was on the bottom step before he noticed them pressed along the right wall.
His eyes widened, his nostril ridges began to close, and Torin grabbed him around the throat, yanking him forward into the butt of Werst’s KC. She’d stepped out into the community hall before he hit the floor.
Shiraz, slumped against the wall, awkwardly trying to wrap a blood-soaked cloth tighter around her shoulder, Torin ignored. Mack, his broad back toward her, muscle straining the seams of his shirt, was going to be more of a problem.
She couldn’t shoot a man in the back.
So she shot him in the back of the knee.
He screamed, hit the floor, rolled, and came up holding . . .
Torin had no idea what it was, but she’d looked down enough muzzles while in the Corps and after to recognize one now. It was small, dwarfed further by Mack’s hand, and it was definitely a weapon. An easy to conceal and therefore illegal weapon. His first shot hit the wall behind her and ricocheted, drawing an impressive string of profanity from Werst. Pain had Mack’s arm shaking like a recruit’s knees, and Torin figured if he hit her at all, he’d hit her by accident. As it happened, it was an accident she didn’t want to have.
“Rehab can rebuild your knee,” she snapped, “not your head.”
Might’ve been the threat, might’ve been the pain— the odds were about even as his arm dropped to the floor with an impressive thud.
Praise for the Peacekeeper trilogy:
“Huff weaves a fast-paced thriller bristling with treachery and intrigue. Fans of military science fiction will enjoy this tense adventure and its intricately constructed setting.” —Publishers Weekly
“Huff works in plenty of backstory for new readers…. Once the action hits the planet running, Huff kicks it into high gear.” —RT Reviews
"Tanya Huff knows how to tell a rip-roaring, military sci-fi mystery story like few others." —Barnes & Noble Sci-fi & Fantasy Blog
"[A Peace Divided is] a fun novel, pacey, full of banter, with plenty of space for more sequels. Torin Kerr the Justice Department Warden approaches her work and her life differently to Torin Kerr the Marine, but once a Gunnery Sergeant, always a Gunnery Sergeant. Explosions abound!" —Tor.com
“Torin and her team feel like The A-Team crossed with Mission Impossible.... as long as Tanya Huff decides to keep writing about Torin, I will be ecstatically reading her adventures.” —Fantasy Book Review
“The story is told incredibly well and the pace is frenetic once the mission gets underway.... I definitely recommend An Ancient Peace for fans of military sci-fi.” —SFRevu
“An Ancient Peace is certainly the adrenaline-fueled adventure that I have come to know, love and expect from this series.” —Reading Reality
“An Ancient Peace is all about robust dialogue, well defined characters and a rock solid plot that drives the story onward.... This is intelligent, well written, character driven science fiction falling into that sweet spot between hard sci-fi and pulp action.” —The Book Beard’s Blog
“Huff is very good with characters and dialogue…she can still turn a line that will make me laugh out loud.” —Clandestine Critic