Harry Elliott is a British author with a passion for the fictional and the fantastic. Born in England and raised in Cyprus, it was there that Harry got his first taste of military life serving in the National Guard. A generally unpleasant experience that he would happily repeat, it informed a great deal of the work in his debut novel, Warrior Errant. He makes his home wherever there's a flat enough surface to write on. His hobbies include reading and impressing upon people the importance of reading, especially his own work.
Humanity has moved to the stars; Earth is an old legend. Now the moons of Mitera are home: stormy Landbreak, bleak Avernus, verdant Ishra. These different worlds have shaped distinct societies. A deadly insurgency has broken out on Ishra, and the military forces of these contrasting cultures combine to help fight it. They must overcome their differences and mutual suspicions or risk being destroyed by a hostile environment and a canny enemy. Private James Dalton of Landbreak has questions. Why are they fighting? How can he work with the enigmatic Avernii Transhumans? What secrets lie in the depths of Ishra’s vast jungle? Follow Private Dalton and his squad as they experience the horrors of war, face their prejudices, and discover their own place in this conflict. As the Avernii say, “A warrior must know his fight.” But James Dalton may not survive the answers he so desperately seeks.
That's what the jungle is.
It's the deep fever heat. It's the shimmer-haze of hot air, the rainbow band of colour that swells on the broad and waxy leaves. It's all sweat. It beads and rolls and shivers and drips, from the needle-edged fronds of thick-set trees, from the gnarled and ridged and wrinkled bark. It seeps and oozes from the moss-clad boulders, it pools in the nooks of sprawling root mazes, it catches and clings in the webs and the nests of the things that live where it's shadowed and cool.
The jungle is fatigue. It saps the breath from the lungs. It draws strength from the limbs. It leadens the shoulders, burns the calves.
The jungle is blinding. The jungle is deafening. The eye skips from tree to tree, layered one behind the other until depth becomes imperceptible. There are no horizons in the jungle, no sense of what comes next, no sense of the beyond.
And the jungle is loud. Above, the canopy rustles and snaps, it clicks and it ululates. It echoes with the high-pitched vibrations made deep in the throats of strange creatures. Below, the foliage, crisp beneath the boots of the soldiers that wade along the unmarked pathways between trees.
Sweat. It coats them where their skin is bare, it soaks into their thick uniforms, uniforms made for a colder climate than this. It makes their skin itch beneath the synthetic fibre plates of their combat armour. They sag with the weight of it; the weapons and the gear, the humid-dense air, the sweat.
Heaviest of all though is that which has no mass. Heaviest of all is the shock and the awe. The wonder. The fear. Of these six soldiers, five have never seen the jungle. Not just this jungle, but any jungle. Their minds reel against the unknown. It softens their focus, loosens their tongues.
One of the soldiers pulls ahead, struggling to keep pace with their sure-footed pathfinder. Conversation is not easy between men from different worlds. They walk in silence, until the silence is too much.
'There are no jungles where I come from.'
'Are you sure?'
'Of course I'm sure.'
'I think there are jungles everywhere.'
'Well, not on Landbreak there aren't.'
'Everywhere,' says the pathfinder, lifting a finger to his eye with a knowing nod. Without another word he forges on through the foliage.
'And that's supposed to mean?' mutters Private Riggs.
'It means I'm a foreign bastard who's more full of shit than this entire jungle,' says Private Burke, raising his own finger in mockery of the pathfinder's gesture.
Private Carter kicks through a twisted cluster of yellow-thorned weeds to join them. 'Who's foreign?'
'Three guesses,' says Burke, and jabs the barrel of his rifle in the pathfinder's direction.
'Keep that rifle pointed at the sky, soldier!'
'Yes, corporal, sorry corporal,' says Burke, rolling his eyes and hoisting his weapon.
'He's not really foreign though, is he?' says Carter, hopping along as he pulls a tendril of creeper from his boot.
'How do you figure that? We're Islanders, he's Ishradi. Foreign.'
'We're the ones on someone else's moon though,' says Carter, 'so that actually makes us the foreigners, if you think about it.'
'Ah, well, there's your problem right there,' says Riggs, 'Burke and thinking. Bad mix.'
Corporal Hughes comes up behind them. His face is under-lit by the soft glow of his data tablet, his L7 assault rifle strapped across his back. The fifth member of their fire-team, Private Boyd, is bringing up the rear. The trooper's face is flushed red and shiny with perspiration.
'Why are we stopped?' asks the corporal, his brow creased as he looks up from the tablet.
Riggs shrugs and nods ahead, to where their Ishradi pathfinder has paused, frozen mid-motion like a feline on alert. It's not the first time this has happened, so the Islanders ask no questions.
'I don't think he's right, you know, in the head,' says Riggs quietly. 'He said there were jungles everywhere.'
'Not on Landbreak there aren't,' says Hughes, going back to the thin screen of his data tablet.
'That's what I said!'
Hughes shakes his head, ignoring the chatter. 'The locator's crapped itself.'
'I think something's in my boot,' yelps Boyd, shaking his leg so vigorously he almost loses his balance. Burke barks with laughter, but Hughes isn't paying attention. The corporal gives his tablet a frustrated shake. When it refuses to respond he looks up, into the jungle that stretches away in every direction.
'I've got no idea where the rest of the platoon is,' he mutters.
'Something shifts,' hisses the pathfinder, 'there, amidst the trees.'
'Which fucking trees?' growls Burke, snapping his rifle back to the ready.
'Something?' asks Boyd. 'What? Where? I don't see it. I don't see it!'
Private Carter is fumbling to free his rifle from its strap, cursing and grunting.
'I can't raise the rest of the platoon,' says Corporal Hughes, something like panic rising in his voice as he thumbs the switch on his handheld radio. 'There's no signal.'
'Corporal. Corporal,' says Riggs, but Hughes doesn't seem to want to hear him. The corporal's eyes are twitching between the data tablet and the handheld. A bead of sweat drips from the tip of his nose. 'Corporal, we've got a situation.'
'What the fuck is it?' snaps Burke, jerking his rifle left and right. 'What's out there?'
'You don't hear it?' asks the pathfinder calmly. 'It's coming closer.'
'I... I think we're lost,' says Hughes, looking up at Riggs. There's a glint in the corporal's eyes, something like panic, something like fear.
'Corporal,' urges Riggs, 'there's something out there. We need orders.'
Hughes' mouth opens and closes, but no sound comes out.
'Let's go,' says Boyd, twisting back and forth. 'Let's just go.'
'Corporal?' asks Riggs.
'Where, man? Where is it?' shouts Burke.
The pathfinder doesn't look away, doesn't take his eyes from the trees ahead.
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