Ghost Star Snippet Four

Here’s the fourth snippet for Ghost Star.  You can find the first three snippets (one, two, three).  Ghost Star comes out at the end of the week (September 1st).

June 10th, 2410

124R36 System

Unclaimed Space

 

Aromata Atagi grinned as the four destroyers emerged from shadow space dead in the middle of his ambush. Engage, he sent and as one, the five frigates of his squadron opened fire.

Each of the frigates were substantially smaller than the three destroyers they faced, but at close range and with the element of surprise, that didn’t matter much. Thirty mass driver rounds smashed into the lead pair of destroyers, an overwhelming barrage against foes who had no idea that they were even under attack.

The frigates had angling shots above and below the belly-bands of the destroyers’ defense screens. Armor shattered and engine pods detonated under the salvo of tungsten-tipped depleted uranium rounds. Yet both ships went to battle stations, radar lashing out, weapons systems coming online and flailing blindly in an attempt to suppress the incoming fire.

Second salvo, Aromata commanded. These enemy ships were immaterial, but they needed to be removed so that he could hit his true target. His lieutenants replied, even as they volleyed another thirty mass drivers into the two lead ships.

One of the two destroyers broke in half, its midships shattered, all systems offline. The other was a powerless hulk, venting its hydrogen fuel and atmosphere from massive rents in its hull.

But in the time it took those two destroyers to die, they bought the next pair of ships time to get their systems online, time to search for the killers of their brethren… and Aromata’s smile faded a bit as he sensed that the fight had shifted.

Flank them, he commanded, and his five frigates surged forward, single firing pass. He didn’t need to give them more detail than that. His commanders knew how to move in coordination, they’d conducted raids similar to this one dozens, even hundreds, of times together. They had the initiative to move and maneuver, they knew their orders… and they knew why this one mission was different and why it was very important that they follow his direction perfectly… even if it meant that some of them might not survive.

Aromata’s frigate went high, while the other four split into pairs that swung low, firing their mass drivers from knife range, all four focusing fire on the third destroyer. Aromata, however, had a different target.

He took over weapons, reaching out with his psychic senses as he did so, feeling for the exact position of the Defiance-class destroyer… and it’s very important passenger. There you are, he thought, even as he aimed his frigate’s mass drivers, taking the time to line up the shot perfectly.

The frigate’s single turret fired, three mass driver rounds lanced out, too close to dodge, and smashed through the side armor of the fourth destroyer. The ship shuddered, but power stayed online and both its engine pods remained intact. That ship was Reese’s flag ship, and Aromata Atagi’s shot had just destroyed the vessel’s shadow space drive.

Reese Leone’s destroyer continued to spit mass driver rounds in reply and Aromata’s frigate shuddered under multiple impacts, glancing blows, but still enough that alarms wailed through the bridge. He saw that the third destroyer was crippled, the vessel yawing over, still returning fire, but spinning like a dying beast.

Mission accomplished, Aromata sent, withdraw.

All five of his frigates had sustained damage, two of them severely, but they retained their shadow space drives. They’d already plotted their escape routes and they jumped to shadow, leaving the wounded and crippled destroyers behind.

It would look like they’d been driven off, like a pirate ambush that had expected merchant ships rather than a military force. That is what Reese and his master need to believe, Aromata told himself. The five frigates he’d used had been taken from pirates, their systems cobbled together, wholly unworthy of the name of warships.

Every bit of evidence would suggest that Reese Leone had run into a pirate ambush by sheer bad luck. The damage to his surviving vessels would require him to make a stop at Formosa Station to either repair or transfer to another ship. Someone would recognize him, someone would talk.

And from there, it would merely be a matter of making certain that the other game pieces were set in motion. Five pirate frigates had just set in motion the downfall of all of Reese’s efforts. Aromata’s smile grew broad as he considered that. His master would be very pleased and Aromata knew that would translate to better rewards… and a better chance at overall victory. After all, while some Shadow Lords favored overwhelming force, Aromata’s master appreciated a more subtle hand.

Shadow Lord Invictus manipulated from behind the scenes, his focus always upon greater victory.

***

 

June 12, 2410

Formosa Station, 124R36 System

Unclaimed Space

 

Ricky One-Eye scratched at his bald head. The rash that had made all his hair fall out hadn’t gone away, despite the various drugs he’d stolen from the pharmacy. Nor had he been able to regain much of the weight he’d lost while living on garbage and rats in Yaitsik Station’s waste system. At least he didn’t match any of the wanted posters that had popped up for his capture across civilized space.

“Look,” he said in as ingratiating a tone as he could manage, “all I’m trying to do is get back home to see my ailing mother.” He gave a friendly smile, even as he scanned the bar for any potential bounty hunters or law enforcement.

“You look disease ridden,” the freighter’s owner growled. The captain had the only ship going out towards the periphery and he’d been pretty hard to talk around into letting Ricky aboard. Then again, since Ricky planned to murder the man and seize his ship if given the chance, that was probably wise of him.

Ricky’s smile wavered, “Well, you look…”

He trailed off as he recognized the man over the freighter captain’s shoulder, just walking out of the bar. “I understand, entirely, thanks for your time,” Ricky said absently as he rose from the table. He had to have been mistaken, there was no way that he’d seen right. He rubbed at his one good eye and then blinked disbelievingly at the retreating figure.

Ricky stepped out into the station’s corridors, he found his target and followed the man. There was no mistaking the blonde hair or the set of his shoulders. As Reese Leone paused in outside a docking port and looked over his shoulder, Ricky had to rub his one good eye in disbelief. Yet there was no mistaking him. The man sported an impressive set of scars across his face and head, but the shape of his jaw, the blue eyes, and the rest of him was unmistakable.   But… by all reports, Reese Leone was dead. Everyone was talking about that, and Ricky had consoled himself in the fact that the same navy boys that had ruined him had killed Reese not long afterward.

That son of a bitch, Ricky thought to himself. His hand fell to where his pistol should have rested, but then the pirate remembered that he’d had to leave his stolen weapons behind when he boarded the last transport. Ricky knew a guy on the station who could have got him a weapon, but that would have risked the criminal turning him in. After all, last time he’d been here at Formosa Station, Ricky had shorted the fence.

Ricky didn’t want to risk fighting Reese hand to hand. Besides, there was no profit in revenge.

But there might be profit in reporting the man’s survival. Ricky gave a wicked grin as he thought about that. If this was Reese and if his many enemies still wanted him dead, then finding out more about his presence here at Formosa Station could be very, very valuable.

Ricky ducked his head and moved past the man, but he stopped a short distance away and pretended to consult a station map. Soon enough, another man joined Reese at the docking collar. “You’ve made the arrangements?” Reese asked.

“Yes, sir,” the subordinate replied, “we’ve uploaded the coordinates to the rendezvous and we’ve completed our repairs. The Lord Admiral says that our replacement escort will meet us and provide us with the final coordinates to Golgotha.” Ricky nearly choked at those words. Golgotha, he thought to himself, that’s impossible, the place is just a myth…

He’d become so distracted that he missed whatever Reese said in reply. Reese’s underling went on, “Yes, sir, we’ll get them aboard immediately. The rest of the cargo has been loaded, would you like for me to lead you to your suite?”

“No, thank you,” Reese said. “I know the way. Please see to our other guests.” The man turned and scanned the crowd and Ricky felt sweat bead his brow as Reese’s blue eyes settled on him.

Ricky pawed at the map, as if he were tracing a route. He kept his gaze locked forward, even as he watched the renegade military officer out of the corner of his eyes. After a moment, Reese turned back and walked past the guards and onto the ship.

Ricky swallowed nervously. The news of Reese’s survival would be invaluable… but he didn’t have any proof. No one would believe him, especially not with a bogus destination like Golgotha. The place was a myth, a rumored system filled with alien ruins and a “ghost” star that was too dim to see with the unaided eye. It was legendary, a place of fabulous treasures… and a place where so many treasure hunters had reputedly died that Amalgamated Worlds had erased the location from the star charts.

There had to be some way to turn this information to his use, Ricky decided. Even if most people wouldn’t believe his story, there was bound to be someone desperate enough to do so. Ricky would find that person and he’d milk the information for everything it was worth.

***

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The Shattered Empire Rerelease

The Shattered Empire Book II of the Shadow Space Chronicles

Something I’ve been working on lately is revisions to The Shattered Empire, to make it flow a bit smoother and be less confusing to the average reader.  I’m excited to announce that the rereleased version is now live on Amazon.

So what are these revisions?  Nothing major.  These edits were aimed at making the story flow in an easier fashion to read and follow.  The sequence of events, the story, and the characters haven’t changed, just the placement of the scenes in the actual book, along with some minor grammatical editing.

If you’ve read it before and enjoyed it, don’t worry about it.  If you’ve tried to read it and it didn’t feel as fun as The Fallen Race, then hopefully this will bring you back and you’ll give The Shattered Empire another chance.

Thanks for your time!

Ghost Star Snippet Three

Here is snippet three for Ghost Star.  If you missed Snippet one or two, you can find them here and here.  Ghost Star will be available on September 1st.

June 5, 2410

Saariskella Colony, Ottokar System

Colonial Republic

 

Colonel Price propped his feet up and enjoyed the warm fire as he sipped at his whisky. He stared at the old-fashioned paper book in his lap without really seeing it. Officially, Commander Bowder had requested leave after the Battle of Kapteyn’s Star. Unofficially, he’d mentioned he was thinking about retiring, too sick of death and war to take it much longer.

He’d slipped any potential observers and left a trail that would indicate that Commander Bowder might have taken his own life… should he fail to return.

Colonel Price had shaken off the false identity, donned a different one, and boarded a transport here. Saariskella was a cold, damp world, renowned for its skiing and for its secluded hunting lodges. The colonists eked out a living by catering to tourists and hunters. Since most people wore heavy coats with goggles and hoods, it was also a good world for doing business anonymously.

He looked up at a knock on the door. His hand settled to the Sako TR-7 in his lap, underneath his book, “Come in.” It wasn’t the only bit of protection he had. There was an entire security team, men he’d trained himself, along the perimeter, ready to take down any potential attackers.

The door opened and a man stomped inside, shaking snow off and throwing back his hood. “Colonel Price,” Admiral Collae said, his stony face harsh in the light from the fire. “I see you’re interested in my offer after all?”

“Well, I’m willing to listen to what you have to say,” Colonel Price replied. “After all, things happened mostly as you predicted back at Kapteyn’s Star. Though I will admit the bit with Princess Giovanni being killed was something of a surprise.”

Admiral Collae gave a narrow smile, “Yes. Some things are best as surprises. I have an associate coming soon who’ll put your mind at ease about some of our other plans, but in the meantime, I wanted to know if your facility, the antimatter production one… is it secure?”

“Very secure,” Colonel Price said. “It’s located in deep space, only the people there and myself know the coordinates.” He gave a wolfish grin, “The crews of supply ships I charter tend to be unhappy when they realize how I keep it that way.”

Admiral Collae nodded, “Excellent. My organization is in need of a secure base of operations with a massive power output. I think your organization could help us out.”

“I’ll assume you aren’t talking about the CRAN?” Colonel Price asked. Admiral Collae probably hadn’t lured him all the way out here just to murder him and try to take his resources… but that didn’t mean Colonel Price was going to drop his guard.

“No,” Admiral Collae snorted, “I’m not.”

There was a knock at the door, but Colonel Price didn’t jump. His security team had already alerted him to the second guest. “Come on in,” he said.

The second guest came in and then put back his hood and pulled off his goggles, “Cold out there,” he said with an easy, boyish smile. The horribly disfiguring scars marred that smile, somewhat, but Colonel Price wasn’t bothered by scars. “Couldn’t we meet somewhere nice, like a beach?”

Colonel Price recognized Reese Leone. He felt a real spurt of surprise as he saw him, though. “You’re supposed to be dead.”

“So are you, Colonel Price,” Reese smiled broadly. “And like you, I’ve found death to be remarkably… liberating.” He gestured at a chair, “May I sit?”

Colonel Price nodded slowly. He contemplated Reese’s presence, combined with Admiral Collae’s presence. Admiral Collae’s people didn’t just seize his transports, Colonel Price mused, he evacuated Reese, all of us none the wiser. That meant that the attempt to board the Enforcer Platform had been another ruse. He felt oddly relieved that the end goal hadn’t been the alien station.

“So,” Reese said, taking a seat in the chair and then leaning forward, elbows on his knees, his blue eyes flickering with odd reflections of the fire. “Colonel Price, tell me about this station of yours. I need to know exactly how much power you can produce.”

***

Ghost Star Snippet Two

If you haven’t read snippet one, you can find it here.  Ghost Star goes live on September 1st.  Here’s snippet two of Ghost Star:

“I can’t believe you stole a ship!” Rory shook his head, looking between Lieutenant Medica and Forrest Perkins. “There should be a law against that, right?”

“Several,” Feliks nodded, “especially for interrupting our work.”

“Explain to me again, why exactly you’re aboard?” Forrest asked rubbing his face tiredly.

“I already told your jack-booted accomplices!” Rory protested. “We’re calibrating some sensitive equipment…”

What equipment?!” Forrest demanded.

“Uh,” Rory looked at Feliks, “I don’t think we’re authorized to tell you.” Yet the expression of the short, overweight man was one of worry. He looked as if he were afraid that they might find something out.

“Your schedule didn’t show you here,” Forrest mused aloud. “You were aboard the ship at two in the morning, standard time. You had no assistants, nothing was scheduled…” His eyes went narrow, “You were doing something you weren’t supposed to be doing, weren’t you?”

“How does he know that?” Rory waved at Feliks, “He’s not supposed to be smart enough to know that!”

“I don’t have to tell you anything,” Feliks muttered.

“Right!” Rory nodded and raised a fist, “We don’t have to tell you anything! You’re the criminals, here! We won’t be bullied!”

“Setting aside some issues with that,” Forrest said. “If you assume that we are criminals…. what is to stop us from venting you out an airlock if you don’t tell us what we want to know?”

“You wouldn’t,” Rory’s eyes went big. He looked over at Lieutenant Medica for support, but the engineering officer folded his arms and scowled. From what Forrest had heard, the Lieutenant had plenty of pent up irritation with the two men.

“Corporal Wicklund,” Forrest pressed a button on the arm of the command chair, “Please ready your ship’s suit and come up to the bridge. There’s a little detail I have for you to take care of.”

“Okay, okay!” Rory sputtered. “It’s not really that big of a secret. It’s just that, well, Feliks and I got a message from one of our friends, working for General Shaden.”

“She’s not really a friend,” Feliks commented. “Rory thinks she’s cute.”

“She is cute,” Rory snapped. “And she was bragging about how they’ve made adjustments to their ship’s drives that lets psychics screen the vessel’s signatures, sort of a psionic screen that makes it harder for the Balor to target them…”

“And?” Forrest asked.

“Well, it got Feliks and I to wondering if this ship’s active stealth system might do something similar, if those mystery aliens we’ve encountered might have telepathic abilities, which was why they weren’t able to see this ship at all.”

“Yes,” Feliks nodded, and blinked, his eyes big behind his thick glasses. “After you fired on the enemy ship, it should have been able to track your weapons fire back and engage you, but it didn’t.”

“I know that,” Forrest said, “I assumed their active sensors just weren’t good enough to pick us up, even at that range.”

“No, see that doesn’t make any sense, not after what we’ve seen of their other capabilities!” Rory protested. “Look, their weapons fire is extremely accurate, their systems, despite being made with human components, are at least a generation ahead of anything we can make. We’ve gone under the assumption that their radar systems, based off the emissions we’ve seen, are just very sophisticated, which aids their accuracy. But what if that’s not the case at all? What if their radar emissions are just a spoof, so that we don’t realize they’re psionic?”

Forrest frowned, “Why would they do that?”

Feliks and Rory looked at one another, “Seriously, he’s this dense? No wonder he got captured…” Forrest felt a spike of rage as they made light of the ambush that had killed his last command and over a hundred of his crew.

“Explain,” Forrest snapped, “now.”

Fine,” Rory rolled his eyes. “Look, we’ve assumed until now that any kind of ansible interception must be done through some technological means. But that’s impossible.”

“Highly improbable,” Feliks interrupted.

“Yes, well, it would be like intercepting a single photon in a star system and determining its energy state without preventing it from reaching its destination, only far, far harder,” Rory said. “These are transmissions beamed through shadow space. To intercept them, either you’d need machinery that senses things through shadow space and can detect, intercept, and re-transmit communications faster than real-time or…”

“Or you would need someone capable of sensing things in shadow space without altering the state of whatever they’re sensing,” Feliks finished. “Which would imply a psychic ability, as yet never-before-seen. Which these aliens might be capable of… and if they can do that, then they could also possess other psionic abilities, such as senses powerful enough to use to target enemy ships.”

Forrest sat back in his command chair. “That’s… that’s an interesting assumption.”

“Yes. It would suggest that the active emissions we’ve picked up from their vessels are a further byproduct of their low-shielded reactors rather than being active sensors. So we were studying the ship’s stealth systems and comparing it to the stealth systems aboard one of the modified combat shuttles the Dreyfus Mutineers possessed, to see if we could detect the modification and what frequencies it might operate upon.”

That explains the combat shuttle docked in our internal launch bay. There hadn’t been any such craft aboard when Forrest had stolen the vessel from Marius Giovanni. “Well?” Forrest asked.

Rory looked at Feliks. Neither spoke for a long moment, “Well, our results are as yet inconclusive, however, we estimate a thirty percent–”

“Ten percent at most,” Feliks muttered.

“Really, that low?” Rory asked. He pursed his lips, “Well, a twenty percent possibility that the modifications performed on this vessel by the people you hijacked it from the first time, were designed to screen it from psionic senses… and that they were done by the people who captured you… the people who planned to use the ship against these unknown aliens before you stole it.”

“What’s the other eighty percent chance?” Lieutenant Medica asked.

“Oh, uh,” Rory looked at Feliks, who shrugged, “That’s the likelihood that they didn’t understand the systems well enough and that their modifications didn’t work as intended. Either way, it has the same result. We think this ship would be completely invisible to any psychic senses. It would be like it didn’t exist!”

“It isn’t perfect,” Feliks interjected. “There will be ways that a psychic could locate it if they knew it was present, but it is still an unprecedented achievement.”

“Okay,” Forrest mused, “so they modified this ship and now those mystery aliens can’t see it and it is still very hard to detect to almost everyone else…” He looked at Lieutenant Medica. This didn’t really change much, if anything.   “Can we dump them at Formosa Station?”

The engineering officer scowled at the two scientists. “I’m not sure they’d survive.”

Rory’s back went straight, “I’ll have you know that I can take care of myself–”

“Formosa Station,” Forrest interrupted, “is an independent station sometimes frequented by pirates and slavers. I’m assuming you have no hard currency on you?”

As Rory and Feliks shook their heads, Forrest sighed, “We have some, but probably not enough to buy you passage back to the United Colonies. Certainly not enough to pay for passage on a trustworthy vessel. An untrustworthy captain might sell you into slavery… or just steal everything you own and dump you out an airlock.”

“Uh, maybe we should stay aboard the ship,” Rory looked over at Feliks.

“That seems to be the better option,” Feliks nodded.

“We don’t have enough people aboard to babysit you,” Lieutenant Medica growled. Forrest winced at the reminder. They had ten people to operate the destroyer. Normally that would have made the task impossible. However, the Widowmaker was heavily automated, so the skeleton crew could manage, if only barely. At least, until serious maintenance issues came due, anyway. Lieutenant Medica went on after a moment, “We can’t afford to have you getting in the way at the last minute and getting us all killed.”

“We can be helpful!” Rory protested. “We’ve been studying the ship’s systems, we know far more about the stealth systems and how they interact with the rest of the vessel’s systems than you could have learned in your time aboard.”

Forrest pursed his lips, “Fine, it isn’t as if we have many options. You stay aboard… but if you get in the way, or if Lieutenant Medica says you’re a nuisance or risk, we’ll drop you at the first port.” In reality, he knew the two men were too valuable to risk them, but he didn’t have many options. Hopefully they’d stay out of the way and be somewhat useful. Forrest almost wanted to turn around and drop them off in United Colonies territory, but there was too much risk that word would have gone out about the theft of the ship.

“Of course,” Rory nodded, “We’ll be very helpful, not a worry at all… uh, by the way, why are we going to this pirate station?”

“There’s a rumor that some of Marius Giovanni’s people might resupply at the station,” Forrest said. “And we’re trying to track them down.”

“Wait,” Rory looked at Feliks, “isn’t that the guy…”

“Yes,” Feliks nodded, “he’s related to the new Nova Roman Emperor, correct?”

“He’s Emperor Lucius Giovanni’s father… or a clone of his father, anyway,” Forrest shrugged. “More importantly to our business, he’s the father of Alannis Giovanni, and for that reason I’m hoping that she’s still alive.”

“I’m confused,” Rory said. “We saw the footage, the shuttle she was aboard was destroyed at Kapteyn’s Star. I don’t see how it would be possible for her to have survived.”

“There’s a chance,” Lieutenant Medica said, “that she’s still alive. The Skipper thinks it wasn’t really her aboard the shuttle.”

“Why on Earth…” Rory shook his head, “What logical reason would you have to think that? I mean, Reese Leone wanted to take control of the Enforcer Platform. We have transmissions from him as he tried to dock with the station. We searched the planet below. All his people said he was aboard the shuttle along with Princess Giovanni. What evidence do you have to prove otherwise?”

“Little things,” Forrest snapped. It felt good to speak about it to someone who wasn’t inclined to believe him. The intelligence branch people he’d briefed had looked at him like he was crazy. The nine members of his former crew who he’d talked into helping him were already loyal to him, they trusted his judgment. Rory and Feliks were about as impartial as he could expect anyone to be. “She didn’t address me by my first name, she and Reese didn’t bring up my relationship with her, just… little things.”

“Wait, you were in a relationship with the princess?” Rory demanded. He shook his head, “Great… this is about a girl. He stole a unique, irreplaceable, and priceless, warship because of a girl.”

“Women,” Feliks nodded somberly.   “Women ruin everything.”

***

Kal’s August 2017 Forecast

Hi everyone, it’s August.  Things are about to get really busy around here.  I’ve got a novel coming out just about every month from the 1st of September onwards and believe me, I’m writing as fast and much as I can right now.

Up first, Ghost Star, Book 6 of the Shadow Space Chronicles.  That will be available September 1st.  Shortly after that, I’ll have Valor’s Calling, Book 2 of the Children of Valor series, which my goal is to have out by the 30th of September.

For Renegades fans, I hope to have the next Renegades book, Renegades: Royal Pains, out in October.  That’s still a ways out, but it looks good so far.

I’m also starting a Kindle Scout campaign for Prisoner of the Mind (Please check it out and nominate it, if you would.  All it requires is an Amazon account).  Prisoner of the Mind is set around a century before the events of The Fallen Race and for those of you curious about the universe, this story fills out a lot of the details that you might have questions about.

As far as writing, I’m working on finishing Valor’s Child, outlining and writing the next Renegades, and then finishing Heir to the Fallen Duchy.

That’s all for now, thanks for reading!

Prisoner of the Mind on Kindle Scout

I’m happy to announce that my novel, Prisoner of the Mind, will appear on Kindle Scout.

How do you know right from wrong if every memory, every thought in your head was put there by your enemies?

In a near-future, when humanity has begun to spread throughout the stars.  In the process, they’ve awakened abilities hidden within their own DNA.  Psychics have begun to appear at ever-increasing rates with abilities that range from mental manipulation to mass destruction and beyond.  Empowered by public hysteria and fear of psychics, Amalgamated Worlds has taken over.  Their powerful combination of military and security forces, control of media and communications, and manipulation of internal threats has created a police state that spans all of human space.

Shaden Kirroy is a product of that police state.  Designed to be a weapon for use against his fellow psychics as well as any civilians who step out of line, he is an artificially enhanced psychic.  He is a blank slate, his past erased and replaced with engineered loyalty to Amalgamated Worlds.
 
Yet Shaden realizes that something is terribly wrong.  As his world begins to unravel, as he realizes the horrors of what was done to him, Shaden must find a way to free himself, to unlock the prison of his own mind.
Prisoner of the Mind is a novel set in the greater Shadow Space Chronicles universe.  It is set before the fall of Amalgamated Worlds.  So for those of you who want to see how it is that humanity got where it was, this is a book where you’ll learn a great deal.  Thanks for reading!

Ghost Star Snippet One

Here is the first snippet of Ghost Star, book six of the Shadow Space Chronicles:

Prologue

June 3, 2410
Sanctuary Station, Faraday System
United Colonies

Lieutenant Elvis Medica really hoped that the Marines guarding the hatch to the Widowmaker didn’t notice the stunwand he’d tucked in the back of his trousers. As he and Lieutenant Commander Forrest Perkins walked towards the hatch, he felt a nervous sweat break out on his forehead.
If Lieutenant Commander Perkins felt nervous, he certainly didn’t show it, his face split in a wide, goofy grin as he continued to tell his story, “So,” he said, “there we were, skunk drunk off moonshine, and they dragged us in front of the Baron…”
“Right,” Elvis said, not even really listening as he nervously ran a hand over the biometric scanner next to the hatch. Forrest didn’t, and as they started towards the hatch, Elvis let himself feel a spurt of hope.
“Gentlemen,” one of the Marines stepped in front of them, “Sorry, but you both need to scan in.” Her voice was polite and professional, but Elvis’s stomach sank all the same. Stealing a ship was ever so much harder when people did their jobs.
Elvis gave a nervous smile, “I’m authorized to access the vessel,” he gestured at the scanner, “surely I can authorize the Lieutenant Commander?”
“I’m afraid not, sir,” the Marine said. “We’ve been instructed that only authorized personnel can access this ship.”
“Sure,” Forrest gave the Marine a smile, “I’ll just do that right now.”
Shit, Elvis thought to himself as Forrest turned back towards the scanner. That was the signal. Elvis drew the stun wand from behind his back, even as Forrest turned back, as if to say something. Elvis hit the nearest Marine just under the chin and the stunwand discharged twenty thousand volts to incapacitate the Marine even as it administered a tranquilizer dose.
Elvis looked back and saw that Forrest had the second Marine down as well. Forrest spoke into his comm for a moment and then he nodded at Elvis, “Corporal Wandry and Corporal Wicklund are on their way.”
Elvis could only nod nervously. Forrest had brought in about a dozen of their crew from the escape. The two Marines had volunteered immediately, both of them eager to get some revenge on Marius Giovanni. Yet both of them were hotheads and Elvis just hoped they didn’t blow this whole operation.
He tried hard not to think about what the operation involved as he and his nominal superior dragged the two unconscious Marines down the corridor and stashed them in a storage locker. Thankfully, this was the research portion of the station and was mostly empty at these hours. Most of Sanctuary Station was empty, really. The station lay on the outer edges of the Faraday system and it still hadn’t expanded to its full capacity, other than the shipyards. Most of the berths for warships were empty, the United Colonies Fleet scattered across dozens of star systems.
In another five years, Elvis knew that the fleet buildup would reach its stride, tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of spacers and Marines would move through these corridors. But for now, it was mostly empty… which was good since Elvis and Lieutenant Commander Forrest Perkins had just committed multiple felonies when they assaulted these two Marines.
By the time they got back to the airlock, Petty Officer Chap Godbey and Staff Sergeant Dawn Witzke stood outside the hatch. Staff Sergeant Witzke gave them both respectful nods, her face cheerful. “Skipper, Lieutenant.”
“Any trouble?” Elvis asked.
“Negative, sir. Your code authorized access, we started moving people aboard in small groups, as the Skipper instructed.”
“Good,” Lieutenant Commander Perkins said. “Once the last of our group get aboard, secure the hatch.”
On impulse, Elvis passed his comm unit over to Petty Officer Godbey. The station employed smart jamming in the research section to prevent unauthorized transmissions. Since he’d been assigned to the station, his comm unit should be able to reach the vessel’s bridge and let Forrest know if there were any issues.
Elvis followed his superior aboard, “We sure about this Skipper?”
“I think we’re a little bit beyond the point of no return at this point,” Forrest grinned at him. They worked their way up to the bridge of the Widowmaker and Forrest’s smile grew broad as he stroked the arm of the command chair. “You know,” he said after a long moment, “I didn’t think they’d ever let me command again after what happened to the Bowie.”
“Uh,” Elvis rolled his eyes, “technically they haven’t.” Forrest had been exonerated of wrongdoing in the initial board of inquiry, but that was hardly a statement of approval. There’d been rumors, too, of politicians wanting to drag him and other officers close to Emperor Lucius Giovanni through the mud. If those rumors were true, Lieutenant Commander Forrest Perkins might well never command again.
“True enough. Get down to engineering,” Forrest said after a moment. “Fire up the reactor and let me know when we’re good to go.”
“Sure thing, Skipper,” Elvis said. Despite his doubts about this whole thing, he trusted Forrest’s judgment. He had no idea whether Forrest was right about Princess Alannis Giovanni being alive or if this was the best way to go about rescuing her… but he had faith in Forrest’s experience and capabilities to determine the right course of action.
Elvis brought the antimatter reactor up with only a few minutes work. In fact, it was easier than he had expected, it wasn’t even in full standby mode, merely at idle. As the matter and antimatter matrix began feeding power to the ship’s systems, he messaged Lieutenant Commander Perkins, “We’re ready, Skipper.”
“Roger,” he replied. “I’ve disconnected us from the station. We’re getting calls from the station, but I’ve bluffed them so far, saying we’re doing some systems tests, but that won’t last long. I’m bringing up the drives.”
Elvis began to feed power to the ship’s drives, watching everything carefully. The automated systems controlled everything well, but it still required his direct attention, a glitch in the process would either ramp up the reactor’s power too quickly or could result in the grav-drives over drawing and locking out. The one would shut down the reactor and leave the ship without power and the other would knock out the drives long enough for them to reset. Either way, it wold mean they wouldn’t escape the system. Not before some kind of response team could take over the ship.
Under normal operation, Elvis would have engine techs who could monitor the process… but to say that Lieutenant Commander Perkins had assembled a skeleton crew would be something of an overstatement. Including Corporal Wandry and Corporal Wicklund, they had ten people to operate the destroyer. Despite the vessel’s extensive automation, the ship was still designed for a crew of thirty or more. That’s not even counting the bunk-space for fifty marines, he thought. The ship had been built in the Centauri Confederation as one of their hunter-killers, designed to insert teams of commandos on raids against rebel factions within the Centauri Confederation. Elvis wasn’t terribly impressed with the armament, but it’s stealth capabilities were damned impressive.
“Okay,” Forrest called out over the intercom,” we’re clear of the station.” Elvis let out a tense breath. That meant they were past the point of no return. Everyone aboard the ship was now guilty of piracy and mutiny. “I’ve just sent a formal message to Sanctuary Station’s commanding officer, informing him that I’ve instructed my crew that we’re on secret orders from Emperor Giovanni and that I bear all responsibility for our actions from this moment forward.”
Elvis swallowed as he realized what that meant. While it might not save their careers, it could be enough to avoid criminal charges for the rest of the crew.
Of course, even if they somehow accomplished the impossible, then Forrest would still be hung out to dry. He’d not only stolen the vessel, but he’d shouldered all the responsibility for it. Elvis’s lips pressed into a flat line. He stormed out of the engine room, headed for the bridge. He’d be damned if he let Forrest take all the blame for this.
He ran into a couple of men in civilian ship suits in the corridor.
“What is going on?” Rory demanded, running hand through his thinning hair. “We were in the middle of a delicate calibration process…” He blinked at Elvis, “Wait, what are you doing here?”
“This is most unusual,” Feliks gave a stork-like head bob, “you should know better than to run some kind of systems function while we conduct our work.”
“What the hell are you two doing here?” Elvis demanded. The two civilian engineers were supposed to be at work on several of the Balor vessel retrofits. That was why Elvis had let Forrest know that it was clear to steal the ship. No one was supposed to be aboard the ship. “Is there anyone else aboard?”
“Of course there isn’t anyone else aboard!” Rory sputtered. “That’s why we’re doing these calibrations tonight! You have no idea how annoying it is to have ‘help’ on hand getting in the way and messing things up!”
“Very counterproductive,” Feliks nodded. “Especially when one of them manages to injure themselves because they don’t follow safety procedures.” His dour expression and morose voice added extra weight to his statement, as if he saw such injuries on a regular basis.
With how these two are, it’s a wonder they haven’t killed anyone, Elvis thought.
“All the blood and screaming,” Rory nodded. “Very distracting. And I hate blood.”
“Look, we need to get you off the ship, now!” Elvis snapped. The last thing he wanted to add to his criminal record just now was kidnapping.
“That’s ridiculous!” Rory shouted. “I’m in the middle of a very delicate–”
“Jump is calculated,” Forrest said over the intercom, “jumping in ten seconds.”
“No!” Elvis shouted. Then he remembered that he’d passed his comm unit to Petty Officer Godbey. He turned and ran for the engineering console. The two engineers were bad enough to work with. He was not going to be stuck with them for weeks in shadow space, especially not after kidnapping them…
His hand slammed down on the intercom system, “Skipper, this is Lieutenant Medica, you can’t jump to shadow space we–”
The ship dropped into shadow space before he could finish.