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.

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