Tomorrow is the official release date for the special edition of e-book version of Vengeance from Ashes. (The print version is already available.) I’m extremely proud of this book, in both its versions. This new version contains new material that has never before been available, approximately 20k words of it.
Here’s a quick snippet from early into the book:
Without a word, he deactivated the security field and stepped inside. The first indication Shaw gave that she was even aware of his presence was a startled glance in his direction when he didn’t reactivate the field. Then the mask was back in place and she went back to her sit-ups.
He waited until she finished her set before speaking.
“All right, Ash, you’ve put up a good front, just as I taught you. But you can drop it now. Believe me when I say the guards are looking at a video loop of you exercising and me standing outside the cell watching.” He waited, wondering how much time would pass before she responded.
Ashlyn Shaw slowly stood and then dropped onto the edge of her bunk. Her eyes were wary, her mouth tight. Santiago felt his own mouth harden as he saw the scar marring her left cheek and another bisecting her right eyebrow. She looked pale, as if she had not been in the sun for a very long time. Worse, she was thin, too thin, even if she had managed to maintain muscle tone through her exercise regimen. It was no wonder Tremayne had called him.
“What do you want, Major?” Shaw’s voice seemed harsher than he remembered, almost as if she’d been screaming for a long while and had strained it.
“I just had an interesting call from Miranda Tremayne.” Before she could say anything, he shook his head. “No, she didn’t tell me what you talked about and I didn’t ask. But she did ask me to look into what has been happening on Tarsus for the last two years. Since I was already doing so, I told her I thought it was time she and I shared information. But now I want – no, I need – to ask you some questions.”
“Sorry, Major. I’ll tell you exactly what I told her. Until I know my people are safely away from Tarsus and have received full pardons, I’m not talking. If you can’t accept that, then you might as well just send me back so I can finish out my sentence.”
Santiago drew a breath, held it for a long moment and then blew it out. Her response didn’t surprise him but it did frustrate him. There were too many possible reasons for her reluctance to talk and none of them were good. So he had to find a way break her silence, at least enough to give him a clue about where to start looking for answers.
“Kid, I know something’s going on. Anyone taking a look at you would. But I need to know what it is so I can put an end to it.” He’d always been honest with her and he wasn’t going to stop now. “I need you to listen to me, Ash. I’ve known you for a long time. I helped train you, make you into the Marine you are–”
Her lips peeled back in an almost feral snarl and her eyes flashed dangerously. For one moment, she looked as if she might say something. Before she could, Santiago held up a hand to prevent her from interrupting. He understood at least a little of what she must feel. The court-martial had stripped her of her rank and had ended her career. He doubted she’d allowed herself to even consider the possibility she might one day be able to rejoin her beloved Corps.
“You are a Marine now and forever, kid. Don’t forget that. Don’t you ever forget that. It’s in your blood. But that’s not what I want to talk about.
“I’ve reviewed your reports from before your court-martial. I’ve seen your correspondence with Admiral Tremayne, Rear Admiral Sorkowski and Major O’Brien. I’ve also seen the original copy of your orders. I know you did your best to keep your people from being caught in the backlash caused by those orders. I have also discovered evidence proving Sorkowski had those orders altered after the fact. Further, I can prove O’Brien knew and didn’t say anything. I know they did it to cover their own sorry asses. I know and can prove they were responsible for the loss of most of your unit as well as the civilian deaths that were the result of your orders as well as enemy reprisals. I can also prove you not only warned Sorkowski and O’Brien about what could happen but that you also officially objected to your orders as being unlawful – not to mention stupid – and how you forwarded copies of your objections to Admiral Tremayne and others. Finally, I can show how those messages were delayed or miscoded so they wouldn’t be admissible at your trial. In other words, Captain, I can prove you were set up.”
Shaw’s head snapped up, anger flashing in her eyes. Santiago nodded slightly. He understood. She’d sworn over and over again that the copy of the orders that had been introduced at her court-martial hadn’t been the orders she’d received. Now there was proof of that and more.
“Then why in hell haven’t my people been brought back here and cleared?” Her hands gripped the edge of her bunk so tightly her knuckles shone white.
“I just found the information last night, Ash, and I have to make sure I can prove its validity.” God, didn’t she know how badly he wanted to do exactly what she asked? He wanted to clear all of them. Their convictions were a black eye to the Corps and to the military as a whole. He’d like nothing better than to be able to correct the miscarriage of justice. “That’s why I need you to talk to me.”
He hoped thought she might actually relax enough to answer his questions. Instead, she shook her head, her expression closing again.
“Damn it, Ash, I’ve been looking into what happened since before your court-martial. But Sorkowski isn’t stupid. He covered their tracks well. It’s taken time to break through and find evidence corroborating your claims.” Frustrated, he waited, watching for any sign she believed him. What was it going to take to get through to her?
“Major, whether you want to admit it or not, you already have what you need. If you need more, check my personal files. If the admiral – sorry, senator – doesn’t have them, my parents will. But that’s all I will say, at least until my people are freed.”
“I’m doing my best, but it would be a hell of a lot easier if you’d help me.” He took a step forward, stopping when she shook her head. “Ash, please.”
For a moment it looked like she might change her mind. Then she pushed off her bunk and moved as far away from him as she could. When she turned and looked at him, the anger reflected on her expression rocked him.
“You want to know what’s happening at Tarsus, Major?” Her words were clipped, her voice harsh. “Take a look at the prison records. Compare the stats for the current leadership there to earlier administrations. How many people are sentenced there and how many actually manage to survive their sentences? Of those who do, how many are still sane?
“If that’s not enough to answer your questions, then look at me. Take a good look, damn it!” She waved a hand at her scarred face. Before he could say anything, she grabbed the left sleeve of her jumpsuit and pulled. The sound of the shoulder seam ripping filled the cell. She dragged the material off her arm and tossed it onto the floor.
“Look at this, Major. Look at what they did and know it is only a small example of what they’ve done to all of us.”
Santiago’s stomach churned and bile rose in his throat. The skin of her bicep had been torn away from the underlying muscle and it looked as if it had been left to heal without proper medical treatment. Rough, discolored scar tissue hid the definition of the underlying muscle. Worse, he knew what had been on her arm where now there was only ugly scarring. His own right hand reached up to touch his left arm and the Devil Dog tattoo he proudly bore. Every member of the Devil Dogs, past and present, had one. Shaw had as well – at least until someone had so cruelly removed it.
“Do you want to see more?” she demanded, tears pooling in her eyes. All he could do was shake his head. “Now think about this. Every day I’m here is another day those bastards are figuring out new ways to torment my people. I was warned before I left Tarsus not to say anything. If you’ve lied to me, if there is someone listening in on what I’ve said, my people are dead. If that happens, I promise you’ll die a very slow and painful death.”
The original version of the book will be removed from sale on Amazon later today. For those of you who have already purchased it, don’t worry. It will remain in your library. I did check with Amazon about that and they assured me that would be the case.
And now, it’s time to get to work. Until later!