I am excited. It’s almost June and my book comes out on the 15th. Been busy, getting
ready for the launch and lining everything up on the store, etc. It has been loads of
work but fun work. So all’s good.
I have an excerpt of the book up on Instafreebie – https://instafreebie.com/free/aXVuL If you’re itching for a sneak peek, you can download it from there. But if you don’t want to share your email (Instafreebie downloads demand that you do), then feel free to read the excerpt here.
If you like it, you can preorder the book – http://amzn.to/2qkMV6B – at a launch special price of only $0.99. That costs less than a cup of coffee.
Without further ado, here’s the excerpt:
The Endeavor was not supposed to be in Sector 22 that day. It was a warp of fate that instead of its planned run to Komilah to drop off a crate of Pterostrich eggs, the battlecruiser-turned-freighter was spit out in the middle of nowhere.
Ross Pornell, second-in-command of the Endeavor, sat frozen in the captain’s chair, staring blankly at the scene outside. Even though Ross had never been in the Armed Services of the Confederacy, he was not one to be shaken easily. Not too long ago he had fought against pirates in Sector 79 and hardly broken a sweat. Yet, the current situation was so unexpected that Ross had to admit, albeit unwillingly —he hadn’t a clue about what to do next. The god-awful klaxon’s earsplitting ruckus did nothing to help.
A second or two after Endeavor’s abrupt arrival in Sector 22 that had set the ship-wide-alarm blaring, Ross got some bearing back. He pressed the communications module embedded on the side of his brushed-steel chair.
“Flux, why the alarm?” he said to the Endeavor’s engineer who was not present in the room but his hasty “Running systems check, Ross,” drifted in instantly from the engineering bay via the communicator.
“All my scans are clear,” Flux said a moment later. Another second or two passed before the alarm died and Ross breathed a sigh of relief. He looked around the Endeavor’s semicircular COM or Core Operations Module. Even though designed in a rather eclectic fashion and different from most battlecruisers Ross had seen, the room was tight, and right now, even with just three people in it, it felt claustrophobic.
“What the hell just happened, Fenny?” Ross demanded of the navigation officer whose fingers were dancing deftly over the controls while she frowned worriedly at the large view screen in front of her. Fenny, petite and frail at first glance, was nothing but. Ross had seen her in action over the last month, and she was hands down the best navigator he had ever met. That she took more than a second to answer him clearly indicated that something far from the ordinary had happened.
“The iffin SLH threw us out, Ross,” she informed. Running her fingers through her bushy mane, Fenny swiveled around to look at Ross. “The inductive barriers collapsed and we dropped out of it like a boulder. We’re in Sector 22, fourth planet in the Kyo-Sedra star system. It’s iffin middle of nowhere.”
That’s nothing short of bizarre, Ross thought. Discovered two centuries ago, the Super Luminal Highways were wormhole networks built for spacecrafts traveling across galaxies using the faster than light Nongbut drives. The existence of the Confederacy was made possible largely due to the SLH and their maintenance was the Confederacy’s top priority. Ross had never heard of such sudden collapse of inductive barriers that made sure traffic stayed within the corridor and seeing how high Fenny’s eyebrows had shot up, Ross deduced she hadn’t heard of anything like it either.
“How far are we from the next AP?” he asked.
An AP or Access Point was the only place to get back on the SLH. But there was a problem, while outside the highway the Endeavor couldn’t use its SL mode. In ordinary mode, even if the Endeavor was retrofitted with a state-of-the-art depleted delmidium ore engine and extra thrusters, it’d take considerable time to reach the AP.
Fenny’s reply came in a heartbeat this time. “It’s near the second planet. Thirty pulses, fifty-one hours.”
“Damn!” Ross got off his chair and stared a while at Fenny’s screen. It was ablaze with a bright orange planet, the twin stars of the system peeked from beyond it. “Take us there as fast as you can, Wiz,” he said.
Wiz, the Endeavor’s stocky pilot with long, well-groomed sideburns, responded with a flamboyant salute.
“Damn!” Ross cursed again. This was more complicated than he had thought. It meant significant impact on their plans. And that in turn meant he had to inform the captain right away. That was protocol.
But the man had finished his shift at the COM barely an hour ago. And anyone who knew Captain Terenze Milos knew he didn’t like to be awakened untimely from his sleep.
Ross shifted uneasily on his feet. Had it been anyone else, Ross wouldn’t have hesitated as much. But this was Terenze Milos, the legend. In the long war of Locusta-Vanga that solidified the position of the Galactic Confederacy, Captain Milos was a hero. Post war, Milos didn’t rest on his laurels; he practically walked away from them. Why? No one knew. Even though Ross had never found Captain Milos any less than affable—one could say he was unexpectedly lax for a man with his experience and background—yet in the presence of Captain Milos, nervous jitters always engulfed Ross’s gut. That Ross was the newest addition to Endeavor’s five-member crew and proving his worth to the captain was on the top of his agenda, didn’t help much either.
But, this had to be done anyhow.
Ross drew a breath to compose himself before he buzzed the captain.
“About time, Commander,” the gruff voice of Captain Milos greeted Ross in the next second. The captain had been expecting him, Ross realized. He had likely been awakened by the alarm. Yet he didn’t try to find out what was going on. Ross suppressed a sigh. This was another peculiar thing about the captain—he’d push the crew into handling iffy situations with little oversight. To an extent that someone would think he didn’t care. But Ross knew far too well that wasn’t true. He chalked it up to the captain’s way of assessing his crew’s strength or perhaps a tactic to toughen them up.
“Why are we outside the SLH?” the captain demanded.
Ross explained as quickly as he could. In return, Captain Milos made a guttural sound that Ross thought could be roughly translated into an “Ugh!”
“I don’t like this,” Captain Milos said momentarily and Ross thought he knew why—this addition of fifty-one hours would make them late at Komilah. The Komilahn traders who had paid for those Pterostrich eggs wouldn’t be happy.
“I’m sure the Komilahns would understand, Captain,” Ross said. “It’s not like we’re late every time.” In fact, the Endeavor was never late. Milos had gone from a celebrated captain of the Confederated Space Fleet to owner of a freight ship, but he ran his freight operations just like he had run his military command. “If you aren’t an hour early, you’re late,” he always said and his customers never had any reason to be unhappy.
Milos grunted at his comment and Ross wondered what it could mean. Probably, the Komilahns were not what worried Milos. He was probably talking about being thrown out of the SLH. Or could it be something else altogether?
A sharp beep jolted Ross out of his thoughts. The comm on the captain’s seat was the source of the noise. Ross walked over and pressed the largest button, and immediately a woman’s voice that was soft, graceful, yet exuding command, streamed in. “Terenze? I need to see you right away. I’ve something to show you.”
“Sosa, the captain’s off shift. But I’ll tell him.”
“Yes, please do that,” Sosa replied.
Sosa, Endeavor’s enigmatic medic was the only person Ross knew of who could call the captain by his first name. She was also the only one on board who didn’t engage in the captain’s make-believe chain of command on the Endeavor.
“This is a freight ship, Terenze, not a military battleship,” Ross had heard Sosa tell the captain many times. “No one’s a lieutenant here, or an ensign, we’re just regular people. Try calling them by their names.”
Perhaps it was hard for the captain to let go of his years of habit, or perhaps he saw a benefit to making his crew pretend they were part of a military command. Whatever the reason, Captain Terenze Milos wasn’t about to completely change his ways. And Ross was happy that he didn’t. Too young to enlist during the Locusta-Vanga wars, Ross had attempted joining the Confederacy Space Fleet after, but he was rejected all three times he tried. The fleet’s physical training was simply too rigorous to withstand. So when Ross chanced a spot on the Endeavor as the captain’s chief, it was the next best way of realizing his lifelong dream of serving in a military command. Perhaps, Ross thought, with Captain Milos on the Endeavor, it was even better than being in the Space Fleet.
While Ross eagerly welcomed the captain’s designation of him as Commander on the Endeavor, Sosa never stopped debating the system. She was not one to give up, on anything.
Turning off the central comm, Ross turned to his personal wrist-mounted one. “Captain, that was Sosa. She needs to see you. Right away,” Ross relayed the medic’s message dutifully.
“Yes, I heard,” replied the captain. “I’ll join you at the COM shortly. Just steer us toward the AP.”
“Yes, Captain,” Ross replied, even though he badly wished Captain Milos could be at the COM that very second. But that did not seem likely. The captain heeded most of Sosa’s dictums with utmost earnestness. Like now. Ross wondered what Sosa needed to show the captain so urgently. Regardless the reason, Ross had to handle COM and this weird turn of events on his own.
“Thank you, Commander,” the captain said before a sharp click cut off the channel.
Ross drew a long breath. It wasn’t often that Milos addressed him as commander, in fact it was only the third time Milos had reminded Ross of his position as the next in command of the Endeavor. He had used the term once when Ross was hired a month ago and the second time when the Endeavor had been attacked by the Swarm, a nasty bunch of space pirates in Sector 79.
Something about this situation has spooked the Captain, Ross thought as he walked over to Fenny’s side, his eyes fixed on her screen which was still lit up by the mighty orange planet.
“Fenny,” Ross said, “can you get me a read of the system?”
“Right away, Ross,” Fenny replied. Her screen split into four almost immediately, showing feed from scopes from all around the Endeavor, not just the front one. The orange planet, whose basic Confederacy name was Kyo-Sedra-4, hogged the top-right screen, but the others showed the areas of the Kyo-Sedra system that stretched behind the Endeavor and to the sides.
“Behind us is Kyo-Sedra-6,” Fenny informed, pointing at a large blue striated planet behind them. “An ice-giant,” she added, but Ross’s eye was drawn to a large flash on another screen that showed an area left of the Endeavor.
“What the heck is that?”
“What in the—”
With a couple of taps, Fenny had the feed from Endeavor’s left scope fill the entire screen. It showed a planet, white and shiny, a distance away from the Endeavor. Its view through the scope quickly turned grainy as Fenny maximized the enlargement.
“That is . . .” Fenny looked up her star charts before replying, “Kyo-Sedra-5. But something’s wrong with that iffin planet. It’s not supposed to have space rocks floating around it.”
Yet there it was—a field of shiny specks all around the circumference of the planet.
“Holy God of the stars,” Fenny exclaimed loudly. “Do you see that, Ross?”
He saw it clearly. A large blob of black that swirled on the lower left half of Kyo-Sedra-5.
“Something crashed into KS-5? An asteroid? Perhaps part of it broke up above KS-5 and—”
“No, I don’t think so,” Ross said. Even though he could not believe what he was about to say, he went on. “That’s no asteroid remains. I think that’s a debris field. Someone just eviscerated a space fleet.”
“Sorry, Ross, but that couldn’t be,” Wiz chimed in. “Never heard of a space fleet in this sector. There’s no record of one in the charts either.”
“I know fleet debris when I see one,” Ross said, ignoring Fenny’s doubtful look. He was an energetic fifteen-year-old when the Locusta-Vanga war had broken out. Too young to be part of the fleet, Ross had applied for a position of a recon specialist. The Confederacy wanted to bring all its lost soldiers home and Ross and many other youngsters like him learned to pick up remnants of lost fleets from distant views just like this. Ross had found a way to be useful to the cause but learning firsthand the cost of a galactic battle took its eventual toll on him.
“So . . .” Fenny asked hesitantly. “What do we do about it?”
“Analyze the debris. Once you have confirmation, we need to report to the Confederacy. Also run a scan for life.”
Ross walked back into the captain’s seat and slid into it, wincing at its cold, unwelcoming surface under him. There would be no survivors, he knew that well. But that was not what sat like a mountain on his mind, the bigger question was—what could have caused this? His finger hovered on the button of his comm port, was it too soon to get the captain on board?
“Ross.” Fenny’s sharp voice cut through the tightness of the room. It could be nothing good, Ross knew.
“Yes,” he said to Fenny who stared, her large, dark eyes almost luminous.
“I read a beacon. Asking for help.”
That was impossible. No one could live through a catastrophe like this. Or was it a miracle, one that he had been hoping for all through the Locusta-Vanga wars but never found?
Wiz swiveled around to face Ross. “What now?”
There was no question, not in his mind anyway.
“Change course, Wiz. We’re going to KS-5 to check for survivors.”
Wiz didn’t turn around as quickly as he usually did on receiving an order. Instead, his eyes narrowed. That was expected, Ross admitted grudgingly to himself. They were late on the Komilahn run and Captain Milos had asked to set the course for the AP himself. Besides, this situation was weird and unnerving on the whole. Something didn’t quite fit.
Hell, nothing fit.
But whatever bad a situation he might be leading the Endeavor into, Ross couldn’t ignore a call for help. Not in a million years, not ever. And he also knew, Captain Milos would agree.
“That’s an order, Wiz,” he said, burying his doubts under a veneer of calm. “Take us to KS-5. I’ll brief the captain.”
Did you enjoy that? The book is up for preorder – http://amzn.to/2qkMV6B – at a launch special price of only $0.99. Don’t miss this special offer. Pick it up now.