Today, we are celebrating the release of The Tribesmen of Juno by Robert I. Katz! It is the latest installment of his sci-fi series The Survivors. Read on for more details and a peek at the first chapter!
The Tribesmen of Juno: The Survivors #3
Publication Date: May 25th, 2021
Genre: Sci-Fi/ Fantasy
Publisher: Rukia Publishing US
From USA Today bestselling author, Robert I. Katz, comes The Tribesmen of Juno, Book Three of The Survivors.
Thirty years ago, Terence Allen left his father’s home in the city of the Viceroy, and under the assumed name of Blake Pierce, gained both fame and fortune, first as a wandering ronin, then as a mercenary commander. Now, Blake Pierce is the Duke of Taverno, and he controls half the nation of Venecia.
Blake Pierce is a power in the world, but the cities that owe Taverno loyalty are being bribed to switch allegiance to his principal opponent, Benedetto Corsi, the Duke of Siena.
In far away Fomaut, the Primate has been assassinated. Wolford is beset by unknown forces.
All over the continent, unrest is stirring.
Men are digging into the ruins of the dead cities, seeking riches and the weapons of the nearly forgotten Empire. The industrial revolution encouraged by Blake is slowly grinding to a halt.
For three thousand years, the Viceroy has ruled over all the nations, rarely exerting his authority but tolerating no opposition to his reign. Only the Viceroy retains any remnant of the Ancient’s lost technology. Many men have tried to challenge the Viceroy. All have been crushed.
But the seven nations are stronger and richer than they were, and the Viceroy has expended much of his hoarded arsenal. Has the time come to finally throw off the Viceroy’s rule? Or will Taverno turn into just another dead, radioactive city?
Blake would prefer not to find out, but unseen forces are moving against him, and in the end, he may have no choice but to fight back or lose everything he has gained, including his life.
And so it came to pass in the thirtieth year of the reign of the Viceroy Gaius Tiberius VII that a rebellion arose from a minor princeling in the city of Poitiers. This princeling was tall and handsome, a writer of poetry and a singer of songs, unrivalled with a blade, strong with phrygium, quick with praise for the accomplishments of others. His people loved him and he had been told since he was a small child that he was destined for great things.
His rebellion was small, at first. He questioned the primacy of Inquisitoria over the spiritual needs of his people, arguing that a relationship with the creator could be forged by every individual through devout prayer and without the intercession of God’s anointed.
The Inquisitoria declared this to be heresy, but heresy, though frowned upon, is not forbidden. Only words that encourage active disobedience to Imperial edicts are forbidden. All other enquiry is allowed. The Prince’s thoughts, at first spoken, then written, and then disseminated throughout all the nations, were much discussed.
The Viceroy took no position on this issue.
But then, the Prince decreed that the mandate of heaven had fallen from the Viceroy, since the Empire from which the Viceroy’s authority derived had turned its face from this world. This was rebellion. This was not allowed. The Viceroy, ever merciful, gave the Prince a chance to repent. He refused.
The Viceroy then led an army to the gates of Poitiers and called upon the Prince to emerge, to recant his words and pay homage to his rightful overlord. Again, the Prince refused. The Viceroy, much saddened, returned with his army to the City of Varanisi.
The Prince, joyful in his defiance, decreed a celebration, and declared that the Viceroy’s rule was at an end.
One day later, an Earthquake shattered the city of Poitiers. A day after that, a ball of fire descended from the heavens upon whatever remained. The Prince and those few of his people who had not already abandoned him vanished in the conflagration.
The city of Poitiers no longer exists. Where it once stood, a blue, placid lake now fills a gigantic crater. Fish swim in the lake, but those who eat these fish grow ill. Their hair falls out. Their blood grows thin and pale and then oozes from their mouth and their eyes, and then they die, screaming in agony.
Three hundred years passed before the Viceroy’s rule was again challenged.
From: The Reign of the Viceroys of Gault, Third Edition, New Imperial Library, 4753
Blake Pierce looked up. Colin McGregor insisted on following the rules of protocol and decorum, in public at least, and he did so with an unruffled air of gravity and calm. Colin had been with him for many years, first hired as the purser for Pierce’s Marauders, Blake’s former mercenary company, now serving as seneschal and principal advisor to the Duke of Taverno, Blake’s current and most illustrious title.
“Sit down, Colin.” Blake tapped a piece of parchment sitting on the table in front of him. “What do you make of this?”
Gingerly, Colin picked up the parchment, quickly scanned it, frowned, and then read it again. “Unfortunate,” Colin said.
Yes, the sudden death of Blake’s principal factor in the city of Mitre was “unfortunate.” Natural causes, supposedly. An elderly fellow, he went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up. Elderly, and fat, but he had been vigorous and had displayed no prior symptoms before suddenly dropping dead.
Mitre was a small city but strategically placed, at the confluence of two rivers providing excellent access to the sea and both isolated and partially defended by a range of encircling mountains. Three large passes cut through the mountains, all surrounded by steep cliffs. Easy enough to rain arrows, boulders or boiling oil down onto an invader. It would take a large and determined force to break through. Unfortunately for Mitre, a small but rich city with a tiny military of its own, at least three such armies were currently considering an invasion.
In years past, Mitre’s small military, combined with the difficulty of reaching the city, had been sufficient to keep them independent, but that was in the days when the King of Venecia aided in keeping the peace. The King was long dead and times had changed.
At least four different poisons could have killed silently in the night. Probably more. Blake was not an expert on poisons but as a sometime agent of the Viceroy, he knew the basics.
“Suggestions?” Blake asked.
Colin puffed up his cheeks and tapped a finger on the arm of his chair while his eyes wandered to the harbor outside the Castle windows. “This changes nothing. We’re offering Mitre protection and an alliance. Prudence would dictate their acceptance.”
“And yet it appears that a message has been delivered, one that the Elders of Mitre cannot fail to understand. They deal with us at their peril.”
Colin shrugged. “If they refuse to deal with us, they will suffer the fate of a thousand other conquered cities. That message, too, will be clearly understood.”
Blake sighed. “We shall see. It is up to them to decide.”
“And,” Colin added, “it is entirely possible that he did die from natural causes.”
Blake reluctantly grinned. “Make certain that an autopsy is performed, and that the results are made public. I expect that his heart has been weak for several years. His courage in performing his duties, suffering as he must have been, is an inspiration to us all.”
“Indeed,” Colin said.
“And give him a nice funeral.”
Abel Barker knew a thousand ways to kill, but only a few of these left no distinguishing marks upon the body. Of these, poison was the least obvious but was often the most difficult to administer. Poison, to be effective, must be delivered to the body of one’s victim, which means that the assassin must have access to that victim, or must suborn someone in the victim’s circle.
Poison itself might leave no trace, but the method of delivery all too often left a trail.
Almost always better to mix violence with misdirection. Strangle a man, for instance, and then throw him off a tall building, or have him stumble at the edge of a cliff or leave him in the desert for the sand lizards to devour. Anything to destroy the evidence.
And if you don’t mind leaving questions behind, the body can simply disappear.
Poison, though, did have its uses. Sometimes, nothing else would do.
Abel Barker, for most of his life, had served the Viceroy. He had been recruited as a boy, having been discovered in his parent’s small village by a Finder team searching for children with the ability to weave soul-stuff. He had been brought to the Viceroy’s city, Varanisi, educated in the Viceroy’s scholium and been sworn to the Viceroy’s service. In this, he had not been given a choice. Abel Barker would, if necessary, die for the Viceroy. All of his classmates would.
In theory, change could be good, for the individual and for the society in which the individual lived, but more often than not, change brought instability, and the Viceroy prized stability. The Viceroy suffered no challenge to his own rule. After more than two thousand years, the Viceroy had managed to arrange things pretty much the way he wanted them.
Blake Pierce, or Terence Sergei Allen as he had once been known, had started a revolution. The Viceroy had reluctantly allowed that revolution to proceed. Blake Pierce had not been the first to mix the uses of phrygium with the ancient remnants of technology but in theory the innovations he had introduced would advance the Viceroy’s own goals upon this world.
Now, ten years later, the wasteland was filled with searchers, looking for they knew not what, hoping to strike it rich and ignoring the first lesson they had been taught as children, which was to avoid the dead cities.
Abel Barker crept among the trees. It was a dark, quiet night, warm with a light breeze. Somewhere, not far away, an owl hooted.
Seven men slept in the clearing. An eighth stood watch, sitting on a fallen log facing the woods. The sentry yawned, straightened his back and re-filled a ceramic mug with coffee from a pot simmering over a small fire.
Abel Barker’s night vision goggles gave him a clear view of the clearing. His hazmat suit protected him from residual radiation.
The ruins began less than a hundred meters from the clearing. A small city had once stood here. The city had not been physically destroyed. Neutron bombs, followed by radioactive dust, had killed off the population. Centuries later, most of the buildings had crumbled into rubble, but the rubble, and the dirt beneath the rubble, was still filled with both treasures and lingering poisons.
These men were digging for treasure. Unknown to themselves, they were finding poison. Idiots.
In the past ten years, hundreds of small teams, almost all of them poorly equipped and ignorant of the real risks, had decided to try their luck. The majority returned with little of value or did not return at all.
These men had already ingested sufficient ambient radiation to kill them, but it would kill them slowly, over months, perhaps even years. Slowly was not good enough for the Viceroy’s purpose.
Whistling under his breath, Abel Barker opened a small box, pressed a button and quickly retreated. Silently, odorless and invisible, a volatilized gas sprayed upward and then, blown by the breeze, drifted toward the campsite. The gas inhibited the action of acetylcholinesterase on neuromuscular junctions, preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine, the body’s principal neurotransmitter. The gas was readily absorbed, either through the lungs or the skin. The first symptoms of exposure included a runny nose, nausea, then, a few minutes later, difficulty breathing. Convulsions and death by asphyxiation would soon follow.
Not a pleasant way to die, but necessary. If any of their comrades came looking for them, the decomposing bodies of these men would serve to reinforce the lessons that they had been taught as children and foolishly chosen to ignore.
An hour later, it was done. Three of the seven had awakened after exposure. They had stumbled out of their tents, vomiting, hoarsely gasping for breath that would not come. They had tried to run but had fallen, twitched a few times, groaned, cried out, struggled and then died.
Abel Barker, a compassionate man (when allowed to be), regretted the actions that circumstances had forced him to take, but knew that good men are often compelled to unpleasant and otherwise regrettable deeds, for the greater good of us all.
Sad, Able Barker thought, but necessary.
An adversary is someone who wants the same things that you want. Nothing personal. It’s competition. You win some and you lose some. An enemy, on the other hand, wants you dead…because he hates you.
Benedetto Corsi was an adversary, not an enemy. Blake was happy about that. Corsi and Blake Pierce had struggled against one another for many years, and to some extent, each had enjoyed the rivalry. Blake had, at least, and he was fairly certain that Corsi had as well.
The same could not be said for Johannes Stryker, and even more so for Saverio Narcena.
Stryker was Corsi’s spymaster, a man whose emotions ran cold, at best, but Stryker, from what little Blake knew of him, took pride in his own intellect, in his objective evaluation of the world around him. Blake, by besting Corsi all those years ago with tactics that neither Corsi nor Stryker had foreseen, and thereby establishing himself as Corsi’s principal rival, had offended Stryker.
Narcena had other reasons to hate Blake. His reasons, in Blake’s estimation, were childish. Years ago, Blake had defeated him in battle, making him look foolish. Corsi had relieved him of command and placed him under Stryker’s tutelage—to learn wisdom. Narcena, in Blake’s estimation, should be thanking Blake for having shown him the error of his ways and setting him upon a path more in keeping with his talents. Narcena, or so Blake’s spies told him, saw things differently.
Blake stood on the highest balcony of Castle Taverno, looking up at the stars from which his ancestors had come, thousands of years ago, and brooded. Mitre was not the first small setback he had suffered. A message had indeed been delivered to the city fathers of Mitre. A similar message had been delivered to Blake. Those messages had been coming more often, their unmistakable sub-text growing louder and louder.
Blake sighed. For many years, Blake had served as an agent of that stability the Viceroy so prized. He knew how things worked. He had never grown so complacent, however, as to think that he himself, and the others like him, represented the limits of the Viceroy’s reach.
Blake well remembered the meeting he had with the Viceroy, when blood feud had first been declared against him by Thierry Jorge Garcia. The Viceroy had gently and sadly explained to him that in the world outside Varanisi, his commands meant little. The Kings and Queens and leaders of the various nations paid lip service to the Viceroy’s primacy but had no hesitation in ignoring him when they felt like doing so.
The Viceroy had seemed so regretful at his inability to help, so sincere. Blake, being young and naïve, had believed him.
Each year, the Viceroy sent the finders abroad, looking for children with the talent to weave phrygium, soul-stuff as it was often called. The parents of such children were handsomely rewarded, the children taken to be educated and raised in the Viceroy’s palace, and once in the Viceroy’s palace, a worm was planted in their brains, a worm which grew and bored deep, doing no harm, but enforcing the Viceroy’s will. A neural web it used to be called, in the far-off and long vanished Empire of Mankind, a tool to control the victim’s behavior.
Tindall and Eliza, whose services the Viceroy had loaned him, were once such children. They had helped Blake achieve hegemony over half of Venecia but Blake had never taken their services or their loyalty for granted. Tindall and Eliza were loyal to the Viceroy. They had to be. They had been given no choice.
There were rumors of agents deeply planted in the bureaucracy of all seven nations, of secret assassination squads. Blake did not know for certain, but he suspected those rumors to be true.
Ambition had come slowly to Blake Pierce, once a satisfied, indolent young man named Terence Sergei Allen, but it had come. Seven men and women before him had discovered that phrygium could be used to power the technology of the ancients, something that the Viceroy in theory approved of and encouraged, but then, succumbing to pride and ambition, all seven had then set themselves against the Viceroy. That, at least, was the story. All seven were now dead and long since forgotten.
When you play a game that you cannot win, Blake thought, stop playing…or change the rules. Thousands of years ago, the commander of what was then the greatest military force ever assembled had said, “If you have a problem that you cannot solve, then make it a bigger problem.”
Blake had done his best to make the problem bigger. It remained to be seen what the Viceroy would do about it.
From USA Today bestselling author, Robert I. Katz, comes The Towering Flame, the first book in a brand new series, The Survivors.
Once, long ago, the Empire of Mankind spread among the stars, but the Empire fell into civil war and anarchy, leaving every human inhabited world across the galaxy to go its own way.
Today, after two thousand years of isolation, the Viceroy rules over seven nations on one long-abandoned planet. He alone possesses any vestige of the technology left behind by the vanished Empire and he uses it to rule with an iron fist in a velvet glove.
But below the surface, ambitious men are struggling for power and rebellion is simmering.
Terence Allen is the third son of a wealthy father. Terence is satisfied with his life. He has few responsibilities, fewer challenges and little desire to change.
Terence Allen is an unlikely catalyst for rebellion, but Terence’s destiny changes the moment he sees Thierry Jorge Garcia striding toward him one night at the Summer Fair in Varanisi, the Viceroy’s city. Thierry, the heir to a long-standing military tradition, will let nothing keep him from pursuing Irina Archer, the woman he had known and loved as a young man in far-off Cathay, the woman who is now Terence Allen’s fiancée.
The feud that results will have repercussions far beyond the borders of the city, as the seven nations seethe with conspiracies, rumors and strife. A war that has been brewing for over a century is coming, a war that will upend the foundations of both men’s world.
Twenty years ago, Terence Allen left his father’s home in the city of the Viceroy, and under the assumed name of Blake Pierce, has gained both fame and fortune, first as a wandering ronin, then as a mercenary commander.
Since the king’s death, ten long years before, the nation of Venecia has fallen into chaos, as the smaller city-states strive to maintain independence and the stronger states try to conquer all the rest.
Blake Pierce’s company, Pierce’s Marauders, has entered into a contract to provide security for the city-state of Taverno, which is beset by numerous enemies, the most serious of which is Benedetto Corsi, the Duke of Siena.
But Blake is facing other challenges, some that he knows about, others that he merely suspects.
In far away Fomaut, the Primate and the leader of his armies, Alejandro Garcia, are digging in the ruins of dead cities, seeking the lost technology of the Ancients and preparing for war against their neighbors, while Davida Montoya, the woman Blake loves above all others, is still living in her father’s castle, refusing to join him until his wars are over…which, the way his career is going, may be never.
For Corsi, and his shadowy spymaster, Johannes Stryker, the Kingship of Venecia represents the culmination of their ambitions. For Blake Pierce, rule of Venecia is only one step toward his own secret goal: to free the world of Gault from the heavy-handed tyranny of the Viceroy, who has ruled the world for over 2000 years.
About the Author
I grew up on Long Island, in a pleasant, suburban town about 30 miles from New York City. I loved to read from a very early age and graduated from Columbia in 1974 with a degree in English. Not encouraged by the job prospects for English majors at the time, I went on to medical school at Northwestern, where in addition to my medical degree, I acquired a life-long love of deep dish pizza. I did a residency in Anesthesiology at Columbia Presbyterian and spent most of my career at Stony Brook, where I ultimately attained the academic rank of Professor and Vice-Chairman for Administration, Department of Anesthesiology.
When I was a child, I generally read five or more books per week, and even then, I had a dim sense that I could do at least as well as many of the stories that I was reading. Finally, around 1985, with a job and a family and my first personal computer, I began writing. I quickly discovered that it was not as easy as I had imagined, and like most beginning writers, it took me many years to produce a publishable work of fiction. My first novel, Edward Maret: A Novel of the Future, came out in 2001. It won the ASA Literary Prize for 2001 and received excellent reviews from Science Fiction Chronicle, InfinityPlus, Scavenger’s Newsletter and many others.
My agent at the time urged me to write mysteries, as mysteries are supposed to have a larger readership and be easier to publish than science fiction. Since I have read almost as many mysteries as science fiction and fantasy, and since I enjoy them just as much, I had no objection to this plan. The Kurtz and Barent mystery series, Surgical Risk, The Anatomy Lesson and Seizure followed between 2002 and 2009. Reviewers have compared them favorably to Patricia Cornwell and Robin Cook and they’ve received positive reviews from The Midwest Book Review, Mystery Review Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Lady M’s Mystery International, Mystery Scene Magazine, Library Journal and many others.
In 2014, I published a science fiction short story, “To the Ends of the Earth in the Deep Blue Sea” on Kindle for Amazon. Since then, I have made all of my previously published novels available for purchase on Kindle and now, in June, 2017 I am about to embark on a new venture. I will be publishing new novels on Kindle, the first of which is entitled The Cannibal’s Feast. It’s a science fiction story of corporate warfare in space. The next, coming out in early 2018, will be another science fiction novel tentatively entitled The City of Dust, a tale set on an abandoned world after the collapse of the First Interstellar Empire of Mankind.
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