release day

“Copy Cat” Release Day!

Today is the release day for “Copy Cat”, the eleventh of my tales of Herc Tom, Champion of the Empire.  The eBook is currently available for a reduced promotional price during the release weekend at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:


Barnes & Noble:


Honest ratings and reviews are, as always, appreciated. Hope you enjoy it!

(And remember – if you haven’t read the first ten, you can get the first two for FREE – instructions are on my Current Book Promotions Page here and below the excerpt.)

Here’s the Blurb

The filthy Canines have taken the Quartz Sector and overthrown Ramses’ nemesis on Baast. The Emperor has vowed that the feline systems will NOT go to the dogs, so it’s up to Herc Tom to once again to save the Empire AND the Baastards.
But unbeknownst to our hero, that sadistic Doctor Inga Quin left a surprise the last time she was in Herc’s head, and he may not be quite himself, but someone else might be.
“Copy Cat” is a speculative fiction novelette, and is the eleventh of the “Herc Tom, Champion of the Empire” stories, following “Purr Mission”, “Nipped in the Butt”, “Cat and Mouse”, “Baastards’ Revenge”, “Imperial Purrogative”, “Cats Out of the Bag”, “Reining Cats and Dogs”, “Imperial Imperilment”, “A Tail of Two Species”, and The Cat’s Paw.”

And Here’s a “Copy Cat” Excerpt

As soon as we were released, I called Shadow to the capital and piloted her out to near the Ramses-Quartz station, fully cloaked. There was no sign of slobberer saucers in system, but there was also no word coming through from Quartz. The transit connection also seemed to have been severed, so even if we had wanted to launch High Duke General Katz’s offensive, we couldn’t get there through the transit point. If we had sent the only three warships in the fleet that were equipped with Reggie’s jumper, it would have been suicide.

Octavio may have intended that the Lynx and I cross over to Quartz together, but Ambrose and Cubbie hadn’t arrived yet. We didn’t know how long we could afford to be in the dark about what the slobberers were up to. So you see, I had very good reasons to go on ahead that had nothing to do with my desire to one-up the Lynx. That was just a happy coincidence.

“Drop us in near Lamia – it will give us some cover,” I said.CopyCatCover

“We should coordinate our approach with Cubby and Ambrose before we go in,” Shadow said.

“I don’t need a babysitter. I can handle this just fine on my own,” I grumbled.

“Don’t get your back up. You know that everyone still loves you, right?” Shadow said.

Of course they did – everyone loves Herc Tom, Champion of the Empire. But it wouldn’t hurt to give them something to remind them how good I am.

“Punch it, Shadow,” I said.

“Sure thing, Tiger,” she said.

She spooled up Reggie’s jumper – that unflattering donut around her middle that she would have been complaining about if I wasn’t already in my own mood – and we squeezed on through to the Quartz sector. I experienced the usual stretching and juicing of my brain into a useless puddle of unrelated cells. It was good that I had Shadow there to keep an eye on things while I struggled to regain coherence. I could see shadows floating by through the blur, as though we were in an asteroid field.

“Where – are – we?” I asked.

“In orbit over Lamia. We’re in a good spot for now – they seem to have gathered their saucers near both transit stations,” Shadow reported. “There are about thirty by each.”

 “What’s that orbiting with us?” I asked.

“Some pieces of Salmon Stalker. They do not appear to have done so well,” she said.

We had only had a small contingent in Quartz, a handful of ships in system, more as an early warning system against Canine – or Baastian – aggression. There was also a minor base on Lamia itself, and the crews and fighter wings on the two transit stations, but they wouldn’t have held out against that many saucers.

My eyes had cleared enough to give my addled brain some images to process. There was so little left of Salmon Stalker that I didn’t know how Shadow had been able to identify the ship, but there were also some saucer fragments mixed in. The cruiser had been equipped with Reggie’s special shielding against the slobberers’ blue lightning; the saucers most likely hit Salmon Stalker with it first, expecting it to disable the cruiser, so the crew had gotten off a surprise shot on that one saucer before Stalker was taken out by their beam weapon.

“What about the base below us?” I asked.

“It looks like our Pincers were all destroyed on the ground, but the base is fairly untouched. I’m reading life signs from what looks like the garrison’s full complement,” Shadow said.

“I don’t suppose troops trapped on the ground pose a threat to Phylo. What about the stations?” I asked.

“The canines have stormed both and appear to be in control. Quartz-Ramses is shut down, but Quartz-Baast is still active.”

“Hack into the saucers’ communications and let’s see what we can find out,” I said.

“Already ahead of you, Tiger,” Shadow said. “They’ve sent saucers through to Baast from here to join up with their main invasion fleet. The saucers in Quartz are just here to keep Ramses from sending aid to the Baastian resistance.”

“So – they know that we haven’t shared our counter-weapons with the Baastards yet, and decided to take them out first while they were easy pickings,” I said.

We had tried to enter into a mutual defense pact with Baast – it would have been awkward, aligning with the untrustworthy Baastards, but it was their stubbornness that kept us from agreement. Supreme Leader Pang liked me well enough – he might have given in if I had been the one to broach the subject. Well, no use mewling over spilled cream.

“Reasonably good analysis, Tiger – for a mere feline,” Shadow said.

“That’s right – I’m more than just a pretty face,” I said. “I wonder how long we have before they turn their attention on Ramses.”

“Unknowable,” Shadow said. “Phylo led his fleet through with Minister Tong onboard, and they were broadcasting a message of solidarity.”

“They’re hoping to put Tong back in control by inspiring a counter-revolution,” I said. “If they succeed, it won’t be long before they’re at our door. We need to report. Take us back home.”

As much as I hated going through transit dysphoria again, an attempt to send a message through to Ramses from where we were would have been detected by any slobberers in the Quartz system. So we jumped.

Shadow sent her data packets to Command, while I recovered my equilibrium and the rest of my senses. The effects from taking two jumps so close together lasted much longer, but once I finally had my brain back with the rest of me, I filed my report. We learned that the Lynx had gone through to Quartz before we returned, but he hadn’t reported back yet, so that was a win for Yours Truly.

It was time for next steps, but it wasn’t necessary to tell Shadow this. It’s nice to have someone on your team who can read your mind. Sometimes.

“I’ve calculated a direct route to Baast,” Shadow said.

I hadn’t been sure how I would deal with two additional jumps after what I’d already been through – one more would be debilitating enough.

“Of course you have,” I said gratefully. “We need to see how things stand there.”

“We need to see about Jock,” Shadow said.

Shadow may have been AI, but she was family, too.

“Yes, I suppose we need to see about him as well,” I said.

Sure, our first duty was to suss out the situation on Baast, but Kat’s and my firstborn was attaché to our ambassador there. Things would not go well for anyone who opposed the slobberers, and even though our embassy might be able to claim some sort of immunity under normal circumstances, this war with the slobberers did not fall under normal circumstances. Both Lord Phylo and Minister Tong bore me particular animus, and if either of them caught wind that my cub was within their reach, well… I had best not return to Kat without being able to say I’d done everything in my power to prevent them from sinking their claws into him.

“Punch it, Shadow,” I said.

Instantly, my skull was turned inside out, and my mind puddled about in the zero-g of Shadow’s cockpit. This time was more intense than the last two, and the contents of my stomach might have mixed with that puddle if I’d been a lesser cat – or if I’d had anything to eat. Between my abduction, Octavio’s trial, and the suddenness of the invasion, I hadn’t really had an opportunity, but now wasn’t a good time to start.

“So – where – are we?” I asked as my puddle oozed back into place.

“Above Baast’s exosphere, and keeping clear of the Canine web,” she said.

As my brain and eyes cleared I examined the situation. As they had done when they had first dominated Ramses, they had set up a cordon of saucers – the web Shadow had referenced – around the planet’s perimeter, close enough together to spot any ships that might try to break their blockade.

Any uncloaked ships, that is.

“Any signs of resistance?” I asked.

“Nothing up here. It appears that all the ships in orbit are either allied with Canix, or have been herded to station. The Claw of Friendship has been boarded,” she said.

The Claw was our embassy’s official ship. Well, with the normal Baast-Quartz-Ramses route under slobberer control, and without Reggie’s jump-drive, the Claw would not serve my purposes on this mission.

“What’s the situation on the ground?” I asked.

“Less than half of The People’s Army is still loyal to Supreme Leader Pang, but they are on defense. I am not certain how long they will hold out,” she said.

“Take us down to the embassy – make sure you keep our distance from the saucers,” I said.

The slobberers shouldn’t have been able to detect us cloaked, but why tempt fate.

“You know that I’m no first-lifer?” she said.

Shadow found the closest thing there was to a hole in the slobberers’ net, and we slipped unnoticed into Baast’s atmosphere. There were signs of battle on the ground, but it looked like Tong still had enough adherents from his days as the real power behind the heavily medicated Supreme Leader that Phylo’s forces were able to avoid direct involvement in what was a nearly wrapped up invasion disguised as a civil war.

We flew over to our embassy at Kingsmane, a walled estate outside the People’s City, the place where Baast’s last king – Paleo VIII – had drawn his last breaths some sixty years ago, before The People’s Glorious Revolution executed him in the garden. Current Baast politics were still not very friendly to anything that smacked of nobility.

Thankfully, there were no signs of conflict around Kingsmane. There were also no signs of the Baastian military unit that was normally assigned to protect the embassy – they had obviously been pulled away to more essential duties. At the rate Tong’s forces were solidifying their hold, it wouldn’t be long before someone returned to take their place. And my whiskers told me it wouldn’t be good for our people to be there when they did. You get a sixth sense about these things when you’ve been around like I have.

Shadow floated over the perimeter wall and landed in the garden, still cloaked. There were no visible signs of life, and I thought that the estate had been abandoned, but Shadow’s scan revealed there were still a couple of cats in the main house. I activated my stealth suit before I exited the cockpit and stalked across the grounds. I entered, climbed the main staircase, and made a beeline for the location she had marked.

“Burn all of these as well,” I heard Pompuis say as I entered his office.

The puffed-up ambassador was standing, rifling through his desk drawers, as his daughter Vivien fed a handful of papers into the fireplace. I liked Vivien – she was a spunky young cat who, like my cub Jock, was also acting as attaché to her father. Jock thought the world of her, and the two probably would have become mates already if not for the Diplomatic Corps’ prohibition against internal fraternization.

“Colonel,” Shadow said over my com, “there are some military vehicles heading our way from the capital. ETA fifteen minutes.”

No surprise to me; I knew our people would need to leave this place quickly.

“The Baastards will be arriving shortly; you need to evacuate immediately,” I said as I deactivated my stealth suit.

Pompuis nearly jumped out of his fur. Why are diplomats always so soft?

“Oh! It’s our Champion!” Pompuis exclaimed, holding a paw to his chest as he collected himself. “Of course the Emperor would send someone of your stature to rescue us.”

Octavio had not said one word about the embassy, but let the self-aggrandizing fluff-ball think what he liked. I had my own reasons for being there.

“Where is Jock?” I asked.

Pompuis looked nervously about the room as his skilled diplomatic mind tried to fashion a response.

“He’s in the capital,” Vivien said before Pompuis finally had his answer formulated.

“Jock requested an audience with Supreme Leader Pang. He believed that he could convince Pang of the wisdom of Baast and Ramses sharing counter-canine technology. I had already tried, but the Supreme Leader would not listen to me. I told Jock it was useless, but he insisted,” Pompuis sulked.

“Well, I think Jock was right. He can be very persuasive, and that’s even without being Hercules Tom’s cub,” Vivien said.

Yes – my having rescued Pang from Minister Tong’s silent coup and restored him as head of Baast’s revolutionary government had given me cache with their Supreme Leader, one that my first-born would have been able to exploit. I was proud of him for trying.

“Then Jock is still in the capital?” I asked.

“He was to meet with Pang at The Hall of the People two hours ago. I know he would have returned here victorious by now if the cursed canines hadn’t invaded,” Vivien said proudly.

“Okay then, let’s get the two of you out of here,” I said.

“But I want to stay and help you find him,” she said, her tail lashing in irritation.

Jock had chosen well. Vivien had the heart of a lioness, and would make a fine addition to our pride. But I couldn’t let her stay.

“Shadow can only carry two. If you stay until I find Jock, it will take her two trips to remove the three of us from Baast. I need you to go now.”

“Very well,” she said, obviously disappointed, but with enough brains to see the sense in what I was saying. As I said – a fine addition.

Ambassador Pompuis collected the elements of the ambassadorial digital pouch in a satchel, and then I hustled them out to the garden and on board Shadow. She was not built for one of his girth, and his fur filled the front of the cockpit, as though a giant furball had exploded there. It was laughable, but I wasn’t about to say anything that would make Shadow think any more of how she herself looked with that donut around her middle, So I quickly issued her instructions.

“Take them to Emperor Octavio so the Ambassador can report what is happening here. Then return and find me.”

“And you will find Jock,” Shadow said.

The concern Shadow had for my cub almost made it sound like an order. If Kat had been there, she wouldn’t have said it any differently.

“Of course. And you can pass that on to Kat before you come back for me,” I said.

“Find him,” Vivien echoed as the cockpit closed and Shadow cloaked.

Females certainly do have a way of letting you know what they want – if you know how to listen like Yours Truly.

Shadow’s ascent kicked up a cloud of dust in the garden. I activated my stealth suit and made for the embassy gates. There was the sputtering growl engines outside, and then two of the People’s Army’s trucks drove into the courtyard. A couple of squads of army regulars in standard Baastian grey disembarked and fanned out across the grounds at the direction of their captain. I noticed they each had a strip of blue cloth tied around their upper arm – I supposed this was how the two sides in the conflict distinguished themselves from each other. I received confirmation of which side these Baastards were on when a half-dozen armed slobberers sparkled into position in the center of the yard. Their commander barked orders and his squad went about searching the compound, while the Baastards hurried to do likewise. It appeared I had gotten the Ambassador and Vivien out none too soon. Add another scratch to the post for Yours Truly. Now, as long as they hadn’t gotten their claws into Jock…

The Baastard captain and his slobberer counterpart had remained in the courtyard by one of the trucks. They were having a lively discussion, so I took advantage of my stealth suit’s capabilities to get within hearing distance. I knew they would not see me, and if we had been somewhere else I would have worried about the slobberer’s nose catching my scent. But although you could say that the felines of Ramses and Baast are the same species, the Baastards hygiene leaves something to be desired. It is almost as though they view cleanliness as another affectation of a bourgeois noble class, and so deliberately shun it as a society. Not their higher society, mind you – merely the masses were discouraged from putting on more pleasant airs.

“Captain Char, I do not know why your command cares about finding the Ramses ambassador. Our planners will deal with their empire soon enough. You should be looking for this ‘Supreme Leader’ of yours,” the slobberer commander said between sniffs.

As supersensitive as slobberer noses were, he was probably having more trouble with Baastard grooming habits than I. He pulled a vial from a vest pocket and sniffed from it, then nodded his head in satisfaction.

“Barklay, I can neither confirm nor deny that we have Pang secured with the rest of his command in the People’s Hall,” Captain Char said.

“That is Commander Barklay to you,” Barklay sniffed. “We heard that a member of this embassy’s staff – a Jock Tom – was meeting with Pang. Do you have him as well?”

“That could be. Of what interest is he to you?” Char asked, with the air of someone who wanted to conceal a secret, and still brag at the same time. He made it sound like they did indeed have my cub.

“Our leadership is very interested in any leverage that we might gain on the empire,” Barklay said.

I knew he meant that Lord Phylo was interested in gaining leverage over me.

Char glared at him and went on.

“My orders are to secure any other Imperialist Ramses scum that might still be about for questioning by our leadership, along with any documents that my betters may find of use,” Captain Char said.

Commander Barklay sniffed at that as well. I would have felt sorry for him if I didn’t find their own sloppy, slobbering habits so repulsive.

The troops finished their sweep, and reported back to their commanders that they hadn’t found any imperialist felines, but the Baastards had found some papers, which they were gathering to take back to headquarters. It appeared that Pompuis had not dealt with the destruction of evidence very effectively.

Barklay sniffed again, nodded in satisfaction, and took a flask from his vest.

“I suppose that you will be taking those documents to your People’s Hall?” he asked, and then took a swig.

“Of course,” Captain Char said.

“Good,” the commander began, but then he suddenly turned away from Char and spewed the contents of his mouth at me – right at me! Gobs of disgusting slobbber, mixed with whatever he had been drinking flew through the air. Captain Char recoiled from the storm – apparently this was too much for even Baastard sensitivities. But he needn’t have bothered – it was all directed at me.

I watched in revulsion as the shotgun blast of fluids came at me in a spread. I knew that as good as my stealth suit was, it couldn’t compensate for both my movement and the impinging liquids. If I moved an inch I would be exposed, and so I did one of the many brave things I have done in my illustrious service and took one for the Empire. The suit held, and neither of them realized that the droplets they saw passing through my position were mere projections of what it had absorbed, with the slobber’s calculated pathway included in its camouflaged illusion.

I wondered if I would ever be clean again.

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Reaching Out

William Mangieri’s writing has been published on Daily Science Fiction and The Arcanist. His ninety or so short stories and related collections can be found at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:

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