New Release – Star Thief By T. Jackson King

Today I have a New Release for you, Star Thief by my friend T. Jackson King.  It will be available on Amazon on Friday September 7th.  Tom has also given us the First Chapter.

TOM StarThiefCover (2).jpg

 

Description1

Jake Vitades takes rich aliens on trips to dead ruins. He gives them adventure and a chance at finding valuable tech. But looting ancient ruins is dangerous. And finding tech is rare. However rich aliens don’t mind bad odds. They like adventure on dead worlds. Whether they live or die in their adventures Jake does not care. He insists on advance payment. As an archaeologist specializing in dead cultures he prefers present day funds versus theoretical tech loot. It’s also safer. He and his crew like being safe and rich in a galaxy overrun by empires that don’t give a damn for new arrivals like humanity. But the world they are aiming to loot has surprises waiting for them. Still, Jake does what he is paid to do. Which is to help aliens loot dead worlds. No matter what happens.

chapter

 

Being wanted by two women is the primo fantasy for most guys. But it gets complicated when both are alien females with nicely feminine shapes. And messy when one alien is my Employer and the other alien is one of my crew. At this moment I wanted neither of them. A fact I guessed neither Laserta nor Sharp Claw wished to hear. So I focused on work. Which for me is scavenging alien ruins. I’m an archaeologist. Others call me a thief. I don’t care what anyone calls me so long as I’m paid. But looting a dead world can be dangerous. A fact I had shared with Laserta, my employer. She didn’t care. Being a super-rich member of the fox-like Mogel species made her arrogant. Manipulative. And demanding.

“When do we get to the Harl world?” she barked from her accel seat on my right.

I ignored the fox-like female with curves all too similar to a human woman and kept my eyes fixed on my ship’s front vidscreen. It showed a white-yellow star, tons of black space and the silver sparkle of the contractor spaceship hired by the Galactic Council to keep everyone away from the Harl ruins. Four hundred thousand E-years ago the Harl built the wormhole Gate we had just exited. They’d built tens of thousands of Gates throughout the Milky Way. Alien records said several species served them. Including the Tessene, who built my starship. Its AI had bonded with me, during my indentured work for Academician Lik Sotomor of Century Prime university on Primus 3 in the Noble system. My Greek parents had sold me to him on a seven-year indentureship. Which meant he paid them an annual fee for my work, I got room and board and worked in ruins found by the prof. I also got an education in galactic archaeology.

Five years into my indentureship I’d been exploring a wing of a Harl ruin when I came across the Tessene ship. Entering it led me to bond with its AI. Which fact prompted me to fly away from the ruins, breaking my indenture contract. I became a criminal with EarthGov certain to arrest me if I ever returned to Earth. But those were old facts. Now was the start of what I had been paid to do. Which was to get Laserta to the fourth world of this system and down to the ancient ruins of the Harl city. Leaning forward in my accel seat at the center of my ship’s Control Chamber, I fixed on our Astrogator, Meander the arthropod.

“Meander, distance to the fourth world?”

Up front the four-legged giant insect who resembled a praying mantis touched her control pedestal with one of her thorax hands.

“In Human terms it lies 41 AU distant,” she chittered softly. “A journey of six days. Closer, much closer, is the contractor vessel ahead of us. It lies 910,000 kilometers ahead of us.” Meander paused, her two head antennae laying down as her head twisted to look back at me. Her two compound eyes glittered under the chamber’s white-yellow lighting. “Will you protect our Nest?”

Laserta growled low, a sound I knew indicated impatience. Her short red fur stiffened. Shoulder muscles bunched under the leather straps she wore to support her personal gear.

“I will protect our Nest. This ship has powerful weapons. Sharp Claw is our Weapons manipulator. She will use them if I order it.”

Sharp Claw is a reptilian biped with the hour-glass curves of a human female. Now she turned to look back at me. Her two yellow eyes had slit pupils like cats and reptiles on Earth. Those pupils narrowed. The silvery scales that covered her from clawed toes to aquiline head glittered as the muscles underneath grew tense. Sharp Claw’s species had evolved on a jungle world where dinosaur-like creatures sought to eat anything that moved. For her, fighting equals survival.

“Shall I destroy the vessel ahead?” she hissed low.

“No!” I said quickly, reading the rapidly decreasing distance between my ship and the contractor vessel. We had exited the Gate at one-tenth lightspeed and would soon be close to the contractor. While our carbon-dioxide, gamma ray and x-ray lasers could destroy most alien vessels, attacking the contractor ship would bring the attention of the Council to this system. In the four years since I’d bonded with my ship I had learned that stealth and covert behavior was the best way to avoid being attacked by the warships of the fourteen alien empires that roamed the human side of the galaxy. And corporate warships were just as deadly, especially alien corporate warships that belonged to businesses which were old when humans invented agriculture. I looked up at the chamber’s ceiling.

“Akantha,” I called to the ship’s AI. “What is your analysis of the contractor vessel ahead of us?”

You could have just thought your question, she said in my mind, using the implant I’d gotten as part of the bonding with her at the Harl ruin.

True. But acoustic responses from you are reassuring to my crew. And expected by my employer.

A sense of amusement came to my mind. Then she spoke.

“The contractor vessel is a Wokan-built vessel with a hull covered in adaptive optic lenses that give basic protection from light spectrum lasers,” she said in a sing-song voice. “Domes on its spine, nose and ventral sides indicate CO2 lasers are its primary weapon. Four ejection tubes at the rear of the vessel indicate it can launch Fire and Forget missiles. Likely they carry thermonuclear or antimatter warheads. Its size is similar to my vessel.”

Which meant the contractor ship was at least 150 meters long. My ship might be alien-built but it had plenty of room for my five crew beings, valuables storage, a shuttle launch hangar, food and water storage, a Green Chamber now filled with alien grasses and trees, a Galley and my captain’s cabin just behind the Control Chamber. Exactly where Akantha resided I did not know, nor care. She was the ship. The ship was her. And the two of us had made a living by serving the greed of aliens.

“Neutrino com signal incoming,” called Lotan the Influencer in a flood of sharp-scented pheromones and clicks from his control pedestal next to Sharp Claw. The white and brown-furred mammal who resembled a standing meerkat twisted his body in the way that told me he was preparing to influence whatever alien was calling us from the contractor ship. While he talked with pheromones it was his entire body that had evolved to influence any living creature. Including aliens from other planets.

“Accept the signal. Display on the right side of the vidscreen,” I said, thankful my ship was outfitted with the Translator device that was one of the few universal elements of the alien-run galactic culture that mostly ignored humans.

A peach smell hit my nose. “Going up on the vidscreen.”

The vidscreen filled with the image of a triangular room covered in vidscreens, touch panels, tubing and benches. Seated on one bench was an alien who resembled a cross between an ant-eater with a long snout and a black and white-striped badger. It appeared to be a mammal, which along with reptile and avian were the standard bioforms on most inhabited planets in the galaxy. There were other lifeforms with no resemblance to Earth animals. Some of them had employed me. All of them were weird aliens. The only universal among them was the need to breath an oxy-nitro atmosphere, a preference for gravity, the use of the universal Translator and greed. Greed was innate among all species who left their home planet. It was an expression of the need to expand one’s home range, according to Professor Lik Sotomor. I didn’t care why any being was greedy or what type of animal they might be. I only cared for the number of Galactic Credits they paid me. The Credits and the Translator were the only cultural universals in the Milky Way. Everyone else did what they could get away with. Including me.

The proboscis lifted. Two black eyes focused on the image of me, Laserta and my five crew beings up front. A black tongue shot out from the snout, then sibilant hissing sounded.

“Visitor, this system is embargoed by the Galactic Council due to Harl ruins. Return whence you came through the Gate.”

Lotan the meerkat moved to the center of the Control Chamber, drawing the alien’s attention. His furry skin shimmered and flowed in a way I always found relaxing. His two arms with four-fingered hands wove a pattern of ellipses and curves. He clicked in a flow of soft, sharp and musical sounds.

“Contractor, I am Lotan, Influencer for the research vessel Akantha.” Lotan gestured back to me. “Researcher Jake Vitades from Century Prime university on Primus 3 of the Noble system is here to conduct approved research in the ruins.” Lotan leaned forward. “What is that yellow stain on your proboscis? Have you been sipping Nagen? Well we all have our entertainments. We will not mention this to your captain. May we pass and begin our research?”

Smooth conviction combined with the eliciting of personal elements was one of Lotan’s special abilities. Now it was time for me to do my thing.

Akantha, project the holo of Professor Lik Sotomor. Commence the programmed dialogue.

Projecting.

To my left the entry portal to the chamber spiraled open. Through it came the eight foot high form of Sotomor. A cross between an insect and a reptile who stood on two scaled legs, the professor moved his mandibles.

“Why do you question this research expedition? I am High Teacher Sotomor of Century Prime university. Perhaps you have heard of me?”

The long-snouted badger alien leaned forward and placed its furred arms over its chest in a criss-cross manner.

“Of course I know of you, great teacher of ancient wonders,” it hissed. “I am Podan, current watch being for the contract vessel Megundat. We represent the Megun corporation.” Its black eyes blinked, looked aside at Lotan, then back to the holo. “We have no record of your research visit. However . . .” Lotan’s fur shimmered and flared as his head moved in an imploring way. “However, I am aware of your research into Harl ruins at the star Loganilla. The pictographs of the Harl beings were an amazing sight. You . . . you may pass. I . . . I will send notice of your research visit to the Galactic Council.”

Akantha, have Sotomor speak response 43A.

Speaking as directed, young Vitades.

The holo of my former boss and life dominator tapped pencil-like fingers against the hard shell of his thorax. “That will not be necessary. Before we exited this local Gate I myself sent notice to the council. Do you claim I am lying to you?”

“No!” loudly hissed Podan, his clawed feet scraping his ship’s deck as he stood and bent forward, arms still over his chest. “Your assurance is accepted! I will provide a record of our discussion to my captain when she awakens. You may proceed to the fourth planet.”

Use response 21C.

Amusement filled my mind. That response is obvious, young mammal.

The professor holo gestured with a thorax arm. “Your permission is accepted. Your lonely duty here is valued by me and all researchers. We will share our research with you upon our departure.”

The image of the snouted badger disappeared. The detailed image of the contractor ship that showed in one corner of the vidscreen displayed the vessel moving to one side in a brief flare of fusion gases. The Sotomor holo vanished. I looked up front to the six-legged form of Draken.

“Engineer, activate our fusion pulse thrusters. Turn on the magfield maneuvering units.”

The alien who resembled a walking worm twisted his low-lying body to focus on his floor-mounted control panel. An arm reached out from below his buzzsaw mouth and tapped several times.

“Thrusters and magfield units are activated,” Draken honked. He twisted round to face me with a head that held two red eyes, a gaping mouth filled with circles of dagger-like teeth and two holes on either side of his head segment for hearing. The circular mouth widened a bit. A pink tongue moved quickly. “May I move to the Power Chamber? To monitor their performance?”

I almost smiled. Draken came from a desert-like world with a white sun that put out intense UV and other radiation. His white armor-plated skin had evolved to allow easy entry of stellar radiation. He particularly liked the taste of neutrinos, which were emitted by all fusion sources. My ship’s fusion pulse thrusters emitted neutrinos in abundance. As did our fusion reactor. As a result Draken loved to sleep partly wrapped around the hulks of the two thruster units that combined helium three and deuterium isotopes in a powerful magfield chamber. The thrusters were powerful enough to move us at one-tenth of lightspeed. Which was our inertial speed on exiting the Gate. Activating the thrusters made it possible for my fifth crew being to do her job. I looked to the purple-feathered form of Flow.

“Pilot, take us inward to planet four.”

Up front the sole avian in my crew reached out a short purple-feathered wing and tapped her control pedestal. The small hand at the leading edge of her right wing moved quickly. Then her two wings folded back and hugged her eagle-like body. Twisting around on two clawed feet, she focused blue eyes on me. Her red beak opened.

“We are moving inward,” she chirped. Her head glittered with silvery fibers she relies on to sense external radiation, images and fields. “The space out here feels cold. I will fly us close to the intervening five worlds to gain gravitational acceleration and for the . . . the beauty of skimming above the gas worlds.”

Now I did smile. Briefly. Flow loves to fly through space like birds fly through the air. She senses magnetic fields and the flows of interstellar winds and particles. While Astrogator is my expert at traversing the Gates, Pilot is the one who moves us through real space and even down to stormy winds on planets. I looked aside to Laserta. This being whose face resembled that of a fox while her body held two breasts, curving hips and slender four-fingered hands, she met my gaze. I noticed her shoulders were no longer bunched.

“Laserta of the Mogel, we are embarked on our voyage to the Harl ruins.” Her two green eyes scanned me.

Her slim arms rested on the sides of her accel seat. Then she touched the silver release buckle that locked the accel straps across her red-furred body. She stood up with a jangle of sensors and devices that hung from a leather belt at her waist. Below the belt she wore green shorts and open-toed shoes. Above it her two fur-covered breasts swayed enticingly. She moved away from me toward the entry portal.

“So we are,” she barked bluntly. “I will reside in my cabin until my evening meal arrives. Bring it to me. Your physical presence is required.”

I wished Laserta would give up on demanding sex with me. She had made clear her breasts were similar to human female breasts in their ability to give milk to an infant Mogel. And Mogels mated the same way humans did. A fact she had made clear by dropping her shorts and showing her entry slit. But there was no romance in her approach. And I had not been with a human woman since my general lyceum girlfriend Akantha. She’d been a thorn in my side the same way the mythical Akantha had been to the god Apollo. Among the cold alien stars I did not need a thorn. Or romance. Romance was an illusion. Only survival mattered. So I told myself. I worked hard to believe it.

Sharp Claw scanned the laser controls that spotted her control pedestal. Next to them were spots that would launch Fire and Forget missiles from the Akantha’s six rear launch tubes. On the other side of the pedestal was the electromag repeller control that served to deflect stellar radiation of lesser power than neutrinos. She watched closely the local space energy vidscreen, noting the moving neutrino source that was the contractor vessel Megundat. It had not moved from its position a million kilometers inward from the Gate. Disappointment filled her. To live was to fight and survive. She yearned to fight something. Perhaps when they took up orbit above the fourth world some Harl device would attack them. It had happened on other Harl worlds. She expected such from this world. In truth she yearned for it. With a sigh she scanned the rest of the system. There were no moving neutrino sources that betokened other vessels. It would be a long six days.

She looked back to where Captain Vitades sat alone, still strapped into his accel seat. The female Laserta had left. Which left only her, Meander, Lotan, Flow and the captain. He was the only alpha male aboard the Akantha. His embrace and his mating with her was needed to quicken the eggs within her inner womb. But mating with the captain would cause her Mating Fangs to latch onto his neck, killing him. While such was normal among her people, she had grown to like the alpha male in the years she had worked for him. Perhaps she would find another bipedal alpha male to mate with in another system. She hoped so. Her body burned with her need to mate. On her home world of Rogain it was the duty of every female to mate and then birth eggs to replace the male lost in the mating ritual. While technology kept the giant predators confined in jungle reserves, her Notem people still needed to sink fangs into an enemy. And a mate. Perhaps at this Harl world she would face a bioform worthy of her ferocity.

Meander relaxed as Flow guided her Nest through the cold empty spaces of the Harl system. While she enjoyed Flow’s genetic ability to weave a pathway through stellar magnetic and plasma wind flows, she yearned to again travel through the Gates. She had yet to find her birth star and home world of Dominion. Both had been lost to her when she’d been taken captive while repairing a graviton sensor platform at the edge of her system. She’d learned what slavery meant when she’d been sold to an amphibian of flexible limbs, sharp claws and an unforgiving mind. But her owner did not know her Dosune people possessed a defense against capture. Her breathing spiracles could emit a cloud of deadly gas that was a neurotoxin to anything that breathed. She’d been rendered senseless during her capture and while aboard the captor ship, only to awaken inside a stone amphitheater filled with aliens who bought beings brought to the sandy floor of the stone enclosure.

She had waited until her owner took her to its seaside residence. She had done the water misting chores it demanded and and had cleaned its habitation of the body refuse it ejected. When she learned the method by which it controlled a floater transport she waited for her owner to fall asleep in a tide pool enclosed within its residence. As an amphibian her owner needed to breath regularly. Every tenth of a light arc her owner extended its air tube and inhaled. That night it inhaled her gases. It died at the bottom of the tide pool. She had escaped in the transport, sold it at the local star port and escaped to a world where she worked and learned the science of Gates. She became an Astrogator of Gates.

For the last four years Meander had worked for the Soft Skin biped who called himself Jake Vitades. He was a fair and generous Soft Skin. So she was loyal to him. The vessel Akantha was her new Nest. It was a place she would protect with all of her abilities. It was also the sole means she had of exploring the Gate system in the hope of finding her home star. No one knew the location of all Gates, though some suspected the council had a detailed inventory. But the empires that controlled parts of the galaxy always compiled a regional list of Gates and the stars they served. Hopefully in time she would find her yellow-orange home star. Until then she would navigate her Nest through the Gates, earn Galactic Credits and feel accepted by the other Soft Skins who served their captain. She had the time. Her people lived long. But she was lonely. Perhaps a future employer would be like her, composed of chitin skin plates, a thorax, an abdomen, with four legs and two griparms. She hoped so. Until then she would be loyal to Vitades.

Lotan felt satisfaction. His empathic reading of the contractor being Podan had been accurate. The alien’s natural suspicion had been allayed by Lotan’s movements while his comment on the being’s use of the addictive liquid Nagen had put it on the defensive. Captain Vitades’ use of the hologram of his former teacher had been useful and made the process of securing compliance go faster. Lotan felt he could have obtained entry permission solely by himself, but the captain’s relationship with the vessel’s artificial mind was a valuable tool. While such minds existed on many empire vessels, Lotan had never met one with the independent personality of Akantha. And this Tessene vessel was a wonder he had spent the last four annual cycles observing. Lotan felt certain he could ‘bond’ with the artificial mind if his captain ever terminated. He looked back as the entry portal closed on the employer Laserta.

The infrared glow of the captain’s body showed elevated temperature and hormonal arousal. It was an obvious reaction to a female who closely resembled Human females. While he had never met another Human, the captain was like most bipedal omnivores. Sexual responses came first while survival came second. All such bipeds would deny this fact. But it was true. And while Lotan currently identified as a male of his Torsen species, he was self-fertilizing. Which meant he would change into a female Torsen format when he wished to birth an offspring. Such dual sexuality was normal to all Torsens. Not so for most bioforms from other stars. Though he had the impression Draken the Engineer might also be dual-sexed.

“Captain, should I visit with employer Laserta before you see her this evening?” he said in a mix of clicks and pheromones. “I might convince her to be . . . less physically familiar.”

His captain’s short black hair atop his cranium shone in the white-yellow light of the chamber. The Human’s black-haired forearms tensed. His amber eyes squinted. Clearly he was exhibiting captain mode versus sexual pursuit.

“No. No thank you, Lotan,” the Human said in a mix of acoustic verbiage. “While your work with the contractor being was well done, leave my personal issues to me. I can handle this employer. As I have handled other employers in the past.”

“As you wish.” Lotan turned back and observed the yellow star of the Harl system.

The alpha male being who called himself Jake Vitades could indeed manage this employer. Lotan had observed him do similar handling—a strange Human term—with prior employers. He could accept the captain’s decision. There were plenty of other bioforms who were subject to his Torsen ability to convince them to do whatever a Torsen requested. That memory brought to his mind the image of the prairie that surrounded his clan’s homestead on their world of Calitot. The large predators still roamed the grasslands, forests and mountains of Calitot. But none of them ever attacked a Torsen. The body shimmers, hand and leg gestures and seductive pheromones had evolved to protect every Torsen from such attack. Contact with other thinking beings had given his people welcome employment among alien stars and corporations. They were jobs meant to serve a purpose. The duty of every Torsen was to act in a way that protected Calitot. Which was why he had studied the Tessene vessel and its artificial mind. While he enjoyed working with the Human Vitades, he was prepared to claim the vessel and take it to his home world if Vitades ever passed into the afterlife. But he would be loyal to Vitades until some other bioform or natural disaster claimed the captain. Loyalty was the inbuilt nature of all Torsen. And he enjoyed the surprises that ancient ruins often displayed.

Flow loved the feel of the star’s magnetic field. This far out it was a soft caress. Further inward it would strengthen into a gale. At least the plasma wind and charged particles it brought were weak this far out. Sensing ahead to detect the cluster of plasma that came with a coronal mass ejection was a talent she had developed over the years of piloting in her home star system of Evangellia and its life world of Windy Air. Working with Captain Vitades over the last four years had sharpened her abilities. Her ability to sense gravitational sinks and use them to gain both speed and shelter from the stellar winds was something she enjoyed. Almost as much as the vision of the colorful striped worlds that were gas giants. It was sad that the other crew of Akantha had never experienced the joy of flying through the winds of their home world. They only knew of flying by non-sentient birds who were part of the biome of most every oxy-nitro world that hosted life more complex than single cells.

The sound of the entry portal closing on the red-furred female who was their employer allowed her inner self to relax fully. She did not like the bipedal female. She carried the scent of a hunter. And her efforts to control the captain disturbed Flow and the other crew beings, based on what she could tell of their body language. While not an expert at body language like Lotan, her people had evolved the ability to read the intentions of groundside beings. In particular the clawed hunters. The vegetation eaters did not worry her or any member of the Lunteen. They had been a steady source of meat protein over the millennia as the Lunteen learned how to grow seed crops, build cities atop high aeries and eventually to ply the cold dark winds of space. The ground predators were few now, confined to lands empty of Lunteen. But such was ancient history, brought forth by the feel of the stellar winds and magnetic fields.

What mattered most to her were finding lifeforms who might become allies to her people. There were very few avians flying the black depths of the galaxy. The Lunteen were the only ones in this portion of the galaxy. Based on her observations of the captain she felt his Human people might become the allies her people needed. While the Humans were new to galactic society, like the Lunteen, they were energetic and willing to take risks. The captain had taken many risks in prior visits to planetary ruins. He did so now as they flew toward the Harl ruins on the fourth world. She would do her best to make this visit less risky and very rewarding. With the galactic credits she was paid she could hire researchers to gather wind songs about how Humans now behaved in the areas overseen by the Galactic Council. While she had learned much from talking to the captain, she needed more knowledge for her people. Their world Nest was at risk from an empire expanding in their part of space. She must discover if Humans could make and deploy vessels able to fight in the cold depths of space.

Draken joyed in the feel of neutrino particles passing into his body. Lying next to the fusion reactor and fusion thrusters of his vessel’s Power Chamber was a constant reward for his efforts to track and analyze the neutrino flows and gamma ray leakages from the ancient devices of this Tesseene craft. He again felt surprise at the consistent flows coming from this ancient vessel. It was older than any vessel now plying the dark depths of the galaxy. Yet it was regular in its function, reliable in its provision of hard-wired and broadcast power to all parts of the vessel, and the chamber’s ability to feed energy to the weapons mounts of the vessel was unsurpassed in his memory of service on other vessels. He was always ready to alert the Human Vitades if any malfunction occurred within the two power sources. But in the four annual cycles he had served on Akantha there had been no malfunction. Not even a momentary burp in the consistent transitions of neutrinos among their three basic forms. That consistency was a pleasure to feel.

This vessel’s power sources were less than the blasting curtain of radiation and particles which bathed his home world of Kaken. The white-blue star that provided light, warm and radiation to the lifeforms of Kaken was a stable source, despite frequent flares. Those flares had taught his Woomba people the necessity of hiding in the lava tubes that lay just below the surface of Kaken. Being in the tubes had led to the discovery of malleable metals. Melting and refining of those metals had led to congregations of Woomba and the knowledge of science and technology. Their first flight to another star, by way of the Gate at the outer edge of their system had taught them the ways of co-existing with beings used to much lesser gravity. It was a lesson Draken observed on the Akantha as Captain Vitades set the ship’s Control Chamber gravity to the level he called ‘seven-tenths gee’. That was half the gravity he and every Woomba was used to. But it was higher than the ‘one-half gee’ gravity that ruled on the world of the avian Flow. While she could fly through the air of some worlds, she treated him as he were a Lunteen like herself.

Draken valued such acceptance. It would be vital when he changed into a female and had eggs within that needed exposure to unfiltered stellar radiation. Then he would need the help of Flow, his fellow crew beings and especially the captain to find a world close to a suitable star on which he could deposit those eggs. They would eventually become white-skinned sextupeds who would have their first meal of stellar radiation. While dense metals were the normal Woomba food, unfiltered radiation could sustain Draken and any Woomba for a long time. And his inner self told him the Change was coming closer.

 

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New Release – Star Fight by T.Jackson King

Today I have a new release for you, Star Fight, book three in the Empire series by my friend  T. Jackson King.

StarFightKindle

 

Description1

Failure to protect Earth is facing Nathan Stewart and his friends aboard the battlecruiser STAR GLORY. His captain’s effort to divert the deadly fleet led by Smooth Fur of the Empire of Eternity is not working. Despite the destruction of an Empire shipyard, Fur returns to Kepler 37 and begins a steady advance up Orion Arm, on the lookout for radio, maser and neutrino signals from Earth’s colonies and Earth itself. Since Earth lies just 215 light years uparm from Kepler 37, Nate knows Earth will soon be found. And Fur has two extra fleets for a total of 65 Empire starbiters. When Fur finds Earth, humanity’s newly built battlecruisers will not be enough to stop Fur from killing all life on Earth. Nathan’s fiance Evelyn comes up with a plan. His captain supports it. But will it be enough to divert Smooth Fur from her sworn duty to find and extinguish all life on any resistor planet? Nathan sets out to make sure the plan will be deadly enough to convince Smooth Fur to never, ever again mess with humans!

 

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Halloween Promotion – Short Story Strands Halloween 2012 Edition

Today’s promotion is for Short Story Strands Halloween 2012 Edition, a great group of scary stories by some awesome story tellers.  This book is FREE so download and enjoy.

 

short-story-strands

 

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Come celebrate Halloween in ways both spooky and fun in this collection of sixteen short stories spun by talented new voices in science fiction and fantasy.

Insecurity Complex, by Jade Kerrion
Empty Glass, by P.L. Blair
The Red Card, by Sheenah Freitas
Chanceus, by L’Poni Baldwin
My Soul To Take, by L.M. Boelz
The Nest, by Linell Jeppsen
The Medusa Touch, by Sam Kates
Skinshade, by T. Jackson King
Little Girls Squealing in the Yard, by Lalo LaFleur
Tender Moments, by Massimo Marino
Blood Relation, by Patrick Ottuso
Grandma to the Rescue, by Sharon L Reddy
The Power of Spirit, by Ch’Kara SilverWolf
Dominique, by Edwin Stark
In Space No One Can Hear You Scream, by Lisa Williamson
Spoils of Earth, by Michael Youngblood

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New Release – Battlecry by T. Jackson King

Today I have a New Release for you from my friend T. Jackson KingBattlecry is book three in the StarFight series.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-spaceship-des

 

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Jacob Renselaer arrives in the Kepler 22 system, carrying a wasp ambassador as a sign of humanity’s hope for an end to its first interstellar war. But that hope crumbles as Jacob, his girlfriend Daisy, ambassador Hunter One and Marine chief O’Connor watch unknown aliens drop thermos-nukes on the wasp colony world, killing wasp larvae and adults. These new aliens pursue Jacob’s ships and a fleeing wasp ship. To Jacob’s horror, the new aliens attack with mobile balls of antimatter! Facing sure death, Jacob retreats to the Kepler 63 wasp colony world where Hunter One demands that he and his fleet defend a colony with 23 million wasps. Where does his duty lie? Must he fight and risk lives and ships to protect their former enemies? Or will help arrive from his father the admiral, or from other wasps? When the shark-seal aliens arrive at Kepler 63, battles happen that threaten the lives of all three peoples—human, wasp and amphibian. Can Jacob and his friends win a fight where they are badly outnumbered? Or will a fight to defend wasp civilians end in the destruction of the Battlestar Lepanto and all of Jacob’s hopes for a future with Daisy? All that is certain is that the amphibian aliens are relentless, their mobile antimatter balls are something no ship can escape and communication is impossible with creatures who talk with skin color patterns!

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New Release – Superguy by T.Jackson King

I recently ran a chapter for you from the upcoming novel Superguy,  book one in the Superpowers series, by my friend T. Jackson King.   I am pleased to announced it has now been released.  It is a side step from Tom’s usual Sci-fi and I am looking forward to reading it.  Hope you buy it and enjoy.

Superguy (Superpowers Series Book 1) by [King, T. Jackson]

 

Description1

Jeff Webster is a reluctant superhero. Ever since he was four years old he’s been able to teleport himself to distant places, read minds and move stuff around with mind power. But growing up in Los Alamos, home of the atomic bomb and lots of scientists, taught him the dangers of standing out. With both parents dead, he holds down a simple job but wonders what he should do with his life. Help people in danger? Block terrorist schemes? Become famous for his unique abilities? Watching him is FBI Special Agent Janet Van Groot, newly assigned to monitor adult children of people who work at the national labs, in hopes of catching a hidden foreign spy. What happens after Jeff’s first rescue effort leads him, Janet and the entire nation into a future no one could have expected.

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Coming Soon – Superguy by T. Jackson King

My friend T. Jackson King is to release his latest work soon.  It is a new title called Superguy.  Tom has also given us the First Chapter for a taste of what is to come.  I will post the links when it goes live.

SuperguyMasterBase (X).jpg

 

Description1

“Jeff Webster is a reluctant superhero. Ever since he was four years old he’s been able to teleport himself to distant places, read minds and move stuff around with mind power. But growing up in Los Alamos, home of the atomic bomb and lots of research scientists, taught him the dangers of standing out. With both parents dead, he holds down a simple job but wonders what he should do with his life. Help people in danger? Block terrorist schemes? Become famous for his unique abilities? Watching him is FBI Special Agent Janet Van Groot, newly assigned to monitor adult children of people who work at the national labs, in hopes of catching a hidden foreign spy. What happens after Jeff’s first rescue effort leads him, Janet and the entire nation into a future no one could have expected.”

chapter

Superpowers are overrated. I’m not invulnerable. Bullets and lasers can hurt me. I can’t fly like a jet. I can’t bend a steel rod, unless it’s soft pig iron. But I can ‘jump’ or teleport to anyplace I want to be. However, it has to be a place I’ve visited. And I can move stuff from one place to another like a leaf moving on the wind. The books call that levitation. Big deal. Mind reading is a pain, something I’ve done my best to block. It hurts actually. My eyes are normal, not heat ray powered. Though I can see real good in the dark thanks to the heat from living bodies. My hearing is mostly normal, but I can hear a bird chirping from a mile away. Maybe that’s special. I like breathing, so I can’t live in outer space. And I have no friends, family or anyone but me.

Once, when I was four, I saw the clouds in the sky. Something inside me wanted to touch a cloud. Before I knew it, there I was up close to the bottom of a puffy white cloud. I touched it, then realized I was falling. It was a long ways down. Somehow I ended up back in our basement playroom. The place with books and toys where I usually felt safe from everyone else. Even my parents. After that, I learned to be very careful about feeling impulses. I could have died when I was just four.

At five I caused a fire in my Mom’s kitchen. I’d seen the stove’s gas burners and thought it would be fun to make fire happen in the sink. I was alone then, while my Mom was out hanging clothes on a clothesline in the backyard. The blue flame scared me. Before I knew it the water knob had turned on and water fell from the faucet onto the globe of flame, putting it out. Years later I learned that was called pyrokinesis, or causing fire at a distance. Turning on the water knob without touching it was called psychokinesis or telekinesis. I admit to having fun mind-tossing rocks at the squirrels in a nearby tree.

First grade was when I learned other kids could not do what I could. Reading the answers to a simple math question by reading the numbers in my teacher’s mind was easy. Then I learned adults were suspicious of what they could not explain. She thought I’d memorized the math book. She insisted I use pencil and paper to show her how to do a simple multiple addition. I couldn’t. That gave me my first experience of being punished for being different.

Being different was bad. That’s what first grade taught me. But when I first heard the story of Jesus walking on water during a reading of Mark’s gospel at the local Unitarian church attended by my parents and me, it made me wonder if Jesus had been like me. Born with strange abilities.

Running faster than other kids, jumping farther and being the first to catch a soccer ball made me unpopular with the other kids at Aspen Elementary. I didn’t know I was ‘jumping’ myself through the air in order to win the race or catch the ball. Other kids and the grownups said I ran like a blur. Later on in junior high I learned how the human mind creates an ‘explanation’ for things people see that they do not understand. Made me glad there were no cameras or smartphones in the play yard. But being unpopular taught me the simplest lesson of my life so far—only behave the way I see other people behaving. That included making good grades and being smart, which the Los Alamos school system focused on a lot, due to so many parents being scientists who worked at the nearby national lab. Being smart and getting good grades were easy for me. What was hard was making friends. I always felt like an outsider, due to the abilities I had that I kept secret. It didn’t feel good hiding away a part of myself that I thought was pretty nifty.

My sophomore year on the JV track and field team of Los Alamos High School was normal, not unusual. I made the four hundred yard relay team. We did good in regional meets. But I made sure not to look too different. Even though I’d learned by then how to run faster than a car by levitating myself ahead in short ‘jumps’. But I couldn’t do that in public. Too many smartphones at every field practice. Nor could I do teleportation, like jumping instantly to my favorite camping spot close to Jemez Falls on the East Fork of the Jemez River, northwest of Los Alamos. It’s not good to suddenly disappear in front of people. Though I do admit to walking on the water of the nearby river when I first visited the small meadow spot that was my earliest place to escape to when life got too crazy.

My only girlfriend in high school left me when I shocked her while making love in her parents’ home. We were both naked on her bed, having a good time. When I came hard inside her, the pleasure peak overcame all thought. Before I knew it we were both in the dark basement of my parents’ home, with Sally underneath me, her bare back on the cold concrete floor. She yelled. I instantly teleported us back to her bedroom, which was brightly lighted. My effort to explain the sudden darkness and coldness as her orgasm peak just made her look weirdly at me. She shoved me out of her house and I never saw a friendly look from her again.

My Mom knew I was different by the end of first grade. She’d caught me levitating dirty dishes from the dinner table into the kitchen. She sat me down, asked about how I did stuff and mostly I told her what I could do that other kids could not. She frowned, then gave me a happy smile as she said the words “You’re just super special, Jeffrey! But don’t tell anyone else what you’ve told me, or let other people see you do stuff. They won’t understand.” During elementary school she guided me in how to appear ‘normal’ to other people. But every night she gave me a hug in my bed, kissed me goodnight, and then left to be with my Dad. I loved her a lot.

I lost my Mom late in my senior year at LAHS. That left me with my physicist Dad, who pushed me to attend the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. I went four years there, living in a campus dorm, doing nothing unusual and earned a degree in information technology. He attended my graduation and gave me one of his rare smiles. It was the last time I saw him smile. Or be alive. On the drive home up Interstate 25, a drunk driver crossed over and hit our car head on. I ended up at the roadside, watching both cars burn in a flaming pile of wreckage, feeling guilty I had not teleported my Dad out with me. But I’d learned by then that I could only teleport other people by touching them or holding them.

The crash happened so fast that my instinct moved me out of the car faster than I could think to grab my Dad. He died there. The state police said I must have been thrown free, through the open window to the right of my Dad. They didn’t know I’d been seated in the back seat, reading a novel on my kindle. I didn’t tell them otherwise.

The wreck left me totally alone. I had no aunts or uncles, and my grandparents were all long dead. So I moved to Santa Fe and got a job working at the REI outdoors supplies store in the Railyard section of town, next to the railroad track. It fit with my camping out times and my love of the outdoors.

Now, I work five days a week, pretend an interest in baseball scores and football teams, drink a few beers with my coworkers Friday night, and laugh at their stories of weird customers. I fit in.

But I feel so alone. Why am I the way I am? What kind of life can I ever have? And will any woman ever love me for who I really am?

I don’t know. I just know that having superpowers does not mean I will suddenly teleport to Paris, use mind powers to make terrorists lose their guns, then apport them into the Seine River. Maybe I could do that. But then people would see me, cameras would record me and suddenly some dark federal agency would grab me and take me some place to be studied like a lab rat.

So I work at REI, guiding customers to the camping and hiking gear they need to roam the nearby mountains, pretending to be happy at their visit, and then guiding them to the checkout counter at one side of the store. Only fun I ever had there was one weekend when a fifty percent off sale was set and advertised. Suddenly, just minutes after the front glass doors were opened, the store lost all power. Minutes later we learned that all the stores in the Railyard had lost power. So the store shut down, customers outside made faces and I bicycled home, smiling because corporate policy required that I be given a full day’s pay for showing up.

Sometimes, at night just before I go to sleep, I fantasize. I think about teleporting into the vault of my local Wells Fargo bank, opening the locked trays with a crowbar, grabbing cash and jewelry and putting it all in my backpack, then teleporting back to my apartment. Or maybe out to my campsite in the Jemez Falls area until the local newspaper stops running stories about the secret robber of a local bank. Other times I imagine I’m in my Dad’s car and not reading. I see the drunk driver’s car running over the median and heading for us. I reach up, grab my Dad’s shoulder and teleport us both out of the car and to the grassy hillside where I ended up in real life.

Life. I live, Dad doesn’t, nor does my Mom. Why? Why am I the way I am? Am I a mutant, a genetic shuffle of the deck that became me? Or did my Mom and Dad’s exposure to radioactive waste while hiking a nearby Los Alamos canyon affect them and cause them to have a son like me? Don’t know that either. Just know that my Mom, years later, told me about those hikes they took when they first worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory. She said they had been caught by lab security while hiking in what was called Area G. They got washed down, decontaminated, their clothing taken from them and written reprimands were entered into their lab files. But they never got sick and pretty soon no one at the lab brought up their escapade.

Time to stop writing. My depression counselor told me to begin writing a journal about my life and my experiences with my parents. I’m doing that. But writing doesn’t change anything. Why should I live when my parents don’t? What use am I to anyone else when I’m afraid to be my real self? Or is there a chance I can put my superpowers to good use? To help people the way my Mom hoped would happen.

  ♦   ♦   ♦

Special Agent Janet Van Groot sat back from her computer screen, lifted her arms high and stretched. No one looked her way or said a thing. Her work station cubbyhole on the fourth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover building in downtown D.C. was not a desirable location, unlike the deputy director level offices with private outside porches. Two months earlier, fresh from training at Quantico, she had been assigned to the intelligence unit, Counterintelligence Division of the National Security Branch of the FBI, and given the dumb job of monitoring the adult children of geeks who worked at the national laboratories. Places like Lawrence Livermore, Oak Ridge, Argonne, Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratory. At the time, she’d asked her boss, a Mormon elder who hailed from Provo, what was the point? It was the adults now or recently working at the labs who posed a risk of selling nuke or cyber secrets to the Chinese, Russians or Iran.

The six foot six man, who always wore a black Brooks Brothers suit, blue tie and antique spectacles rather than contacts, had peered at her across their table in the eighth floor cafeteria and given her a patient look.

“Miz Van Groot, you are new here. Perhaps some day you will advance to work in our sister section, the Intelligence Branch.” His patronizing tone had made her clench her fists on her lap, below the table rim. The bald-headed bastard had no reason to act so superior. “You are assigned the social media, public behavior and private behavior monitoring of the adult children of current or former lab workers exactly because they may have observed some parental behavior that involved contact with a foreign agent. People your age are used to chatting loosely on social media places like Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and the like.” His frown betrayed his opinion of those normal chit-chat venues. “Yes, there are thousands of such adult offspring. Yes, the work is tedious. But so is the collection of fingerprints from bomb blast sites. Our analysts review many prints in order to find the vital print or prints. Just as our video analysts review mediocre images from building security cameras.” He gave her a smile that barely moved his clean-shaven face. “Your assignment is the kind of background detective work that might reveal an intelligence mole before the branch’s executive assistant director gets a call from the bureau’s associate deputy director, demanding to know why we didn’t prevent the latest bombing or theft of a weapons design. Understand?”

“Yes sir, I understand,” she had replied, holding back on her opinion of the man. It was clear this fossil did not like women in special agent positions, let alone a woman who had completed a thesis on industrial espionage. “May I seek assistance from other members of our branch, the bureau’s other branches, maybe even the National Counterintelligence and Security Center?”

The man had grimaced. “Judgment, young lady! Learn some judgment. A new special agent does not go roaming into the inner workings of other national security agencies without explicit proof of a national security violation.” Joshua Lederberg picked up his glass of lemonade, took a sip and looked sharply at her. “Of course you may request assistance from anyone within our branch. Contact with parties outside the branch, but within the agency, happens only with my permission. Contact with outside agencies like the NSA, DIA or NCSC is only done with the approval of Executive Assistant Director Michael Wambach of the NSB.”

She nodded quickly. “Certainly sir! I do understand our chain of command.” The man put down his lemonade, looking thoughtful. “Will there be a chance for a field visit to any of the labs I am monitoring? At the academy I trained under the special agent who led the team that arrested Liew and Maegerle. He taught me the value of being in the field so that—”

“You are here solely because of that training by Special Agent McPherson,” Lederberg interrupted. “And also thanks to your thesis on industrial espionage and ways to detect it. Field assignments are given out on the basis of the agency’s needs. As you know, there are two operations units within our division. If one of them requests your assistance, I might consider loaning you out. Depending on the progress you make in reviewing the lab offspring files.” He looked at his iWatch. “Lunch is over. Should you not head back to work on those files?”

“Of course, sir,” Janet had said, standing up. “Thank you for your counsel. I will apply myself diligently to reviewing the databases on laboratory adult children.”

“See that you do.” The man stood up, turned away and then headed for another bald-headed man whom he hailed with a casual “Joe!”

That had been two months ago. Now, sitting in front of her large screen computer, where the Classified PDF file of all laboratory offspring held page after page of names, ages, locations and photos, she told herself the job she was doing was indeed important. In 1995 or earlier, China had stolen the design for the W-88 thermonuclear warhead, a design created in Los Alamos. The prime suspect in the theft was Wen Ho Lee, a computer scientist working on nuclear weapons designs. His Chinese wife had been invited to a high level computer conference in China, which he attended with her. He was later indicted by the Justice Department and pled guilty to mishandling classified data. The man then sued Justice and received a $1.9 million settlement for the leaking of his name. But Janet knew there was more to Chinese spying at Los Alamos. The Lee case and the later bureau arrests and prosecutions of Chi Mak and Greg Chung were the reason she was now reviewing the social media history of Gloria Chén. She was the grown daughter of Hui and Jiang Chén, two current Los Alamos National Lab employees. Gloria was the 297th name on Janet’s list, in alphabetical order.

“Screw this,” she whispered to herself. “Let’s see what’s at the bottom of the list.”

Janet reached up and finger-flipped the PDF to its last page. There were several youths with W names. No X, Y or Z names, thank the Goddess. Last in line was a Jeffrey Montgomery Webster, age 23, six feet three inches, 160 pounds, single, now living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The file photo of the young man showed him to be lanky with curly black hair, blue eyes and wide shoulders. Kind of attractive in a way. The image was a year old, taken at his college graduation from UNM. He wore a nice blue suit in the picture. The LANL initials next to his name ID’d him as someone whose parents had worked at the lab. She reached up and touched the blue Bio line below his name. A new window opened to the left of the PDF listing.

“Only son of John and Elaine Webster,” she murmured to herself, taking care to mask her voice from hearing by the other work stations of the intelligence unit.

Interesting. While the pic showed Webster as black-haired, earlier images of him showed him with red hair. Unusual since the images of both parents showed them to be black-haired people. Was he ashamed of being a redhead? She frowned as she looked below the parental images, each marked Deceased. The father had worked in the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Facility building of the Plutonium Science and Manufacturing section of the Weapons Programs division. He held a Q clearance with TS//RD and SCI annotations. He’d been assigned to the X Division of the lab. Webster senior had passed his most recent SSBI review. The mother had been employed doing database management at the Chief Information Officer’s building. Her DOE clearance was L level with S//FRD annotation. She’d passed her last Periodic Reinvestigation. The father held a Ph.D. in nuclear physics while the mother had earned a master’s in information technology. More interesting, both parents had traveled overseas several times, taking young Jeffrey with them on later trips. She tapped on the blue Details line for the parents. Another window opened to the right.

Those trips had included visits to London, Paris, Tokyo, Rome, Florence, Geneva, Berlin before the collapse of the German Democratic Republic, and a visit to Prague of the old Czechoslovakia, back when that nation was part of the Warsaw Pact. While the trips were listed as international nuclear physics conferences, where the father often gave approved papers, still, either parent could have been approached in Prague or Berlin. Or even Geneva, in view of that city’s nature as the host of the European headquarters of the United Nations. There were plenty of spy-type people attached to embassies in Geneva.

A radiation icon beside the names of both parents caused her to tap it.

“Damn!” she muttered, then looked up to see if any co-worker had noticed her blurting of an expletive. Her cubbyhole occupied one triangular corner of the inner work space of the fourth floor. To her left and right ran open walkways that separated the outer rim of offices and the inner cluster of work stations occupied by analysts like herself. Across from her were three work stations with open entries. The work space of her friend Helen Watanabe was dark. Helen was off today. To the right sat heavyset Richard Daunton, a young Mormon who clearly aimed to please their boss Joshua. To the left was trim, athletic Joshua Donohue, a former high school quarterback whose high grades at Purdue had earned him the attention of bureau recruiters. Joshua was leaning forward, his attention focused on his own large flatscreen, fingers tapping on his keyboard. Neither Joshua nor Richard looked her way. Taking a deep breath she looked back to her own screen and focused on what had surprised her.

The rad icon had taken her to a Medical Records window that covered both parents of Jeffrey Webster. It indicated that the two adults had gone hiking in a nearby canyon and had wandered into a part of the lab’s Area G, one of the zones where transuranic wastes had been dumped from WWII and Cold War weapons research. This Area G held dispersed plutonium residues and other heavy elements that came from plutonium pit production work at the lab’s building PF-4. Both parents had breathed in contaminated air and had residue on their clothing, according to a note from the 80s. They’d gone through decontamination and reprimands had been entered into their lab personnel files. Strangely enough, neither parent had signed up for medical assistance like that offered to Downwinders who’d been rad exposed during nuke bomb tests in Nevada, or to rad emissions at the Hanford, Washinton nuke production facilities. Why not? She tapped the Details line and scanned their medical records. The mother Elaine had died from cervical cancer during Jeffrey’s senior year at high school, while the father had been killed by a drunk driver just after the youth’s graduation from UNM college in Albuquerque. She tapped closed the parental med window, then the parental work history window and went to the image of Jeffrey Webster. She tapped open his Medical Records page.

A healthy young man with no serious illnesses or injuries was reported. He’d gotten measles at a young age and had fractured his left forearm at age six. No indication of opiate use after the casting of the arm. And the guy still had his appendix. She winced at her own memory of the pain of having it removed. Sitting up too quickly after her operation had pulled on the stitches. Still, she was back home within a day after that operation. This Webster youth had never been operated on or admitted to a hospital. She tapped shut the youth’s Med page and tapped open his Social and Education icons.

Strange. Jeffrey Webster had never opened his own Facebook page, unlike scores of his fellow supersmart students at Los Alamos High School. Nor had he ever been on Snapchat or any of the other online socializing pages like 4chan, 8chan and Redditt. He did have a Twitter account that had little info on it. But . . . she tapped a Tracking icon on her screen . . . he had maintained his parents’ Facebook page. There were no new entries on that page since his father’s death. But her Tracking worm said young Jeffrey visited his parents’ Facebook page a few times each week, using a four year old Vaio laptop. She tapped the computer icon and sent her worm to it. Jeffrey’s computer history showed regular visits to BBC Online, other news sites, local forest and state park info sites, some online shopping on Amazon for tools, outdoor gear and a watch, but no personal emails to friends or fellow graduates of the high school. Nor were there any chat links to UNM, where he’d earned a B.Sc. in information technology. So he knew the basics of computers. Another icon tap told her the guy did not own a normal Android or iPhone, but possessed only the simplest Kyocera cell phone. Its location signal was operational, she saw. Cell phone towers in Santa Fe showed the phone location as downtown, near his work place at the REI retailer.

What were his social activities from high school onward?

Almost nothing. He’d taken a Mercedes Johnson to his high school prom, then a month later they had broken up, according to an entry from the analyst who had compiled the PDF listing of lab adult children. No girlfriend since then. No online accessing of porn sites. No computer roaming of dating sites like Match, eHarmony, Tinder, OkCupid or Zoosk. Hmmm. What did he do for a sex life? She knew from her own college years that young men of Jeffrey’s age were hormonally driven sex seekers. Yet he had no girlfriend, let alone a wife. Was he penniless? She tapped the Tracker icon.

No. His only credit card was from Wells Fargo in Santa Fe, the bank into which his REI paycheck was electronically deposited. Plus a debit card. There were no other Visa, American Express or Mastercard accounts for him. His Social Security survivors benefits from his mother’s death had ended at age 19. Had his parents accumulated a secret pile of money that he had inherited? She tapped the Income icon within the Social page. Then she ordered her tracking worm to open the youth’s checking and savings accounts at the bank.

A total of $1,473 showed in his savings account, while his checking account showed a recent payroll deposit. That moved his checking account to a total of $1,193. Enough to pay his $800 monthly rent at a rundown condo apartment complex. And enough for food and utilities if he ate simply.

Too basic to be believed.

She sat back from her screen, thinking over what she had learned about Jeffrey Montgomery Webster.

He was a loner, with no aunts or uncles listed. His parents had no other children. He’d earned top grades in elementary and junior high school, then in high school his grades had dropped to Bs and a few As. His intelligence report from seventh grade showed him with an IQ of 148. Highly gifted, she recalled from her college psych class report on the Stanford-Binet Fifth Edition testing scheme. He’d visited nine foreign countries with his parents, plus trips in the US to the Grand Canyon, Empire State Building, St. Louis, Yellowstone National Park and other parks and national forests. He’d never been to Moscow or Beijing or Tehran. The sale of his parents’ home had gone to pay off debts of his father, after the man’s highway death. Both parents had been the high IQ types common in Los Alamos, and their son had done well at local schools. Except for the slight drop in grades in high school. Why had that happened? He had the brains to make the National Honor Society. But he’d never joined any of the debate or AP classes at his school. Curious. She tapped on the Social icon.

He’d attended the Los Alamos Unitarian Church with his parents, another factor common among lab scientists. And at present he worked as a retail clerk for the REI business in Santa Fe, a larger city not far from Los Alamos. She’d noticed on his Social page that Jeffrey had attended the local Buddhist temple several times, then had attended talks by some local gurus and self-proclaimed shamans. But he’d never become a rabid follower of any social or religious group. All right. But why did she have a feeling in her gut that something was not right about one Jeffrey Webster? He was not just loafing around like so many of her generation, hoping to win the lottery or get assigned the dream job they never earned by hard effort. He worked. He paid his bills. He used his cell phone for local calls, nothing international. There were no calls to a secret girlfriend. He had never written a letter to the editor. His senior year UNM thesis had been focused on the International Genome Project and the computerization of the resulting genetic data. There was nothing illegal or suspicious in his recorded activities. That in itself made her wonder about him. Why hadn’t this supersmart young man moved into a real career?

She sighed to herself. Jeffrey was less controversial than Gloria Chén, who had graduated from LAHS the same year he had. Like many young people who’d grown up in Los Alamos, she was very smart and highly competitive in school activities. And she had earned a UNM degree in COBOL programming and gone on to work at Honeywell in Albuquerque, doing computer database tweaking. She had a future ahead of her. This Jeffrey did not. Why not?

Well, she really wanted to get out into the field. Was the puzzling history of this Webster youth a basis for asking her girlfriend Beverly in the Terrorist Screening Center for an outside assignment? Maybe she could travel to Los Alamos and investigate Webster for potential foreign agent knowledge. His parents’ overseas travels were more controversial than the travels of Chén’s parents. Then again, it was common for most national lab employees to travel overseas to scientific conferences. And a third of the adult employees had prior service in the Air Force, Army or Navy. Not so for Webster’s parents. They had both grown up in a small town in Iowa, gone to undergrad and then graduate school in that state, been a couple since starting college, then had waited until the mother was 30 to have their first and only child. Not so unusual in today’s world. But the parents had been children of the 60s and 70s, the era of Hippies and political rebels. Yet they were both listed as Independent voters. Which made them unusual for the early 80s, when they’d first gone to work at Los Alamos. What else was unusual about young Webster’s parents?

That was it. The parents. Their son was so bland socially that she could not justify a field trip to check him out. But his parents, now, with their visits to Prague, Berlin and Geneva, those visits she could highlight in her analytical report. Beverly owed her a favor, thanks to the tip she’d passed on to Beverly. There had been a Russian woman scientist who’d entered the US on a visitor’s visa, then had overstayed her visa. Janet had been roaming outside of her lab datafiles and had taken note of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement visa entry records. One cold day in March she’d noticed the lack of an exit record for the Russian woman. Her heads-up to Beverly had enabled the operations people in her girlfriend’s section to track the Russian, document her visits to Brookhaven and the Princeton Plasma Physics lab, and caught her in cell phone chats with American scientists asking for access to the lab computers, supposedly for research purposes. The Russian had been arrested, then deported after State lodged a complaint with the Russian embassy in DC. Beverly owed her.

Janet touched on the Word icon and began typing her Analysis report on the strange activities of Elaine and John Webster, former employees of Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the potential for foreign agent contacts with them. She smiled to herself. She would get around Lederberg one way or another!

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New Release – Battlestar by T. Jackson King

Today I have a New Release for you, Battlestar by  my friend T. Jackson King.  Tom has also given us the first chapter to read.

BattlestarKindleNew

Description1

 

Wasp-like aliens kill all the senior officers of the starship fleet led by the Battlestar Lepanto. That puts Ensign Jacob Renselaer on the spot. Can he find out why the aliens killed his ship’s officers? Can he take command of the Battlestar? Does he want to be the leader of ten heavily armed starships that never expected to encounter aliens? Deep in the Kepler 22 star system, mutual misunderstanding between two peoples who cannot speak to each other leads to multiple space battles. Somehow Jacob becomes the leader he never wanted to be. His close friend Daisy the pilot helps him, as do other friends on the Battlestar. On the alien side, Hunter One is determined to kill the invaders who threaten his new colony world. His people the Swarm have never been defeated. Now, he faces Soft Skins who do not flee at the loss of their leaders. In a distant star system, people human and alien die, scheme, and fight for survival. None of them have ever faced combat before. But now, both sides learn what it is like to have someone seek your death and the death of your friends!

chapter

Being in the Star Navy was not something Jacob Renselaer had ever wished for … or wanted … or needed. But as the son of Earth’s only five-star admiral, that was his destiny from birth. The orders fell on him like an avalanche. Read naval warfare histories. Learn NATO tactical brevity codes. Study the India-Pakistan nuke war. Attend Binghampton High School in New York. Then attend the Stellar Academy at Colorado Springs. He’d graduated, barely. And then, as a fresh ensign, his father had called in a favor. He’d gone into space as the personal ensign to Rear Admiral Cornelius Johanson, presently in command of the Battlestar Lepanto, BBG-5 and its battle group of sister starships. Which were now in orbit above the fourth planet of Kepler 22.

It was a status that the admiral had ordered after the fleet exited from Alcubierre space-time transit, some forty-three hours ago. They’d detected an alien satellite out at the edge of the system’s magnetosphere, which lay 45 AU distant from the system’s yellow sun. The sat’s broadcast signals had been a mystery. The ship’s AI failed to decipher them. Same for the Science Deck’s algorithm twisters. What wasn’t a mystery was the presence of a dozen alien ships in orbit above the system’s fourth planet. The admiral had been super excited. This was humanity’s first encounter with spacegoing aliens. They had headed in at one-tenth lightspeed. Upon arrival near planet four, the Lepanto’s AI had reported a visual signal from the aliens. The visual showed a simple graphic of people exiting the Earth ships to meet aliens leaving their ships, for a spot on the planet’s equator. The other ship captains, their XOs, the Lepanto’s admiral, captain and XO, and some ensigns had gone downplanet to meet with the aliens.

Jacob didn’t care. Dealing with aliens was not a task for ensigns like him. Instead, he was doing the job he’d been assigned as the admiral’s ensign. Which was to make the man’s personal quarters look clean and well-kept. He thought briefly of putting a pad from a nearby beaver-tail cactus under the sheet just where the admiral’s butt would rest, but he passed. He’d seen the Lepanto’s brig during the Stellar Academy’s boarding orientation. It was a dump and smelled of urine, shit, sweat and sour milk.

His small quarters at the far end of the Command Deck hallway were luxurious by comparison. Looking around at the private bedroom, which opened onto a conference room that was the only exit to the hallway, he wrinkled his nose at the hand-blown glass miniatures that lined one wall shelf. They were of Earth critters. Not one was a horse, like the one he’d ridden with his mother.

At least the wall wasn’t filled with antique paper books, like his father’s study in Binghampton. That was the place where the man spent most of his time, leastwise since the death of his Mom. The thought filled his heart with sorrow and his mind with her image.

She had been a middle-aged woman with curly brown hair, a narrow chin, perky nose and amber eyes that glowed every time she saw him. Her love had been the only thing that had kept him from OD’ing on crystal meth at Binghampton High School. But she’d died three years before he graduated, leaving Jacob and his father alone in the brick and stone colonial that occupied two acres on Binghampton’s west side.

To escape his father’s hectoring and put downs of his anthropology studies, he’d enrolled at the Stellar Academy. Where he’d learned ship systems, basic stellar astronomy, space battle tactics and formations, the reasons for the Weapons Deck and the details of Earth’s seven star colonies. Most of it bored him, but he’d learned what he had to learn in order to graduate.

Unlike other cadets, he’d never made friends with his two roommates or anyone else at the academy. While there had been plenty of young women in his graduating class, he’d avoided them. Jacob’s high school prom disaster had cured any thoughts of romance. His month on the Lepanto since leaving Earth had brought him a few friends, mostly guys except for Lori on the Science Deck and Daisy, the admiral’s personal pilot. He’d briefly thought of asking Daisy to join him for Dance Night, a weekly event on the Habitation Deck. But he’d held back. He’d come to know her since she always transported the admiral from the Lepanto to another ship, or downplanet, as pilot of her Landing Craft Assault. He admired her piloting skills, a field in which he’d gotten miserable grades. Her looks were also fine. Trim, pleasantly curvy and with blue-black hair that was full of tight curls, he’d been tempted to go beyond routine banter. The fact she was a mixed race woman, the offspring of an Anglo dad and a Black mother from Chicago, meant nothing to him. Or to their friends. Only the Marine boarding team had acted as if her racial mix was an issue. Which was silly beyond belief, considering that forty percent of the ship’s crew were female, they came from twenty nations and represented all the ethnicities of Earth, even though the ship was an official member of the American Star Navy.

Jacob left the bedroom behind, entered the conference room and turned left for the Food Alcove and the fridge that occupied one corner. It held twenty types of craft beer, six bottles of white wine, cheese, sausages, lunch meats, fresh greens and the drink he was looking for. Ice tea. He could drink that while on duty. He opened the fridge door, pulled out the ice tea dispenser, and poured the golden brown liquid into a tall crystal goblet. There was no plastic in the admiral’s chambers, a fact he’d discovered upon first arriving to perform upkeep in the chambers. He lifted the goblet and sipped slowly.

“Jacob? You in there?” called a female voice over the hallway announcer.

Daisy. Why was she back on ship, rather than downplanet waiting for the admiral and the top brass to finish their alien talk-talks? He put down the goblet, turned to face the gray metal door that opened onto the central hallway of Command Deck, checked his Navy dress blue uniform with a quick glance, then spoke.

“I’m here. Door, admit Ensign Daisy Stewart.”

A hiss sounded as the titanium metal door plate slid sideways into the room’s wall. The hallway’s yellow light shone softly on Daisy, who was dressed in NWU Type I blue and gray camos. She wore them even though she was an ensign with the rank of O-1, just like Jacob. She must have put them on for the downplanet landing. Putting aside his musings, he spoke.

“What’s up? And why are you up here, rather than downplanet with the admiral?”

She stepped inside, her arms swinging easily in the one gee artificial gravity produced by the ship’s gravity plates. Her brown eyes glanced around the room, then fixed on him. Her manner was one of impatience.

“He sent me back up an hour ago, right after we landed,” she said, her soft mezzo-soprano voice reminding him of the first time he’d met her, while they were still in low Earth orbit. She frowned. “Have you heard anything from him? My tablet is silent. And I can’t get any signal from him. Which worries me. Every tablet—”

“Sends a constant carrier pulse to every other tablet on ship or downplanet,” he finished. Then regretted interrupting her as he saw her expression move to irritation. Then back to worry. “No, I haven’t gotten any text or audio signal from him since he left.” Jacob pulled his palm-sized tablet from his jacket pocket, thumbed it on, then stared as a blinking red dot filled the app icon that automatically linked him to the admiral’s personal tablet. He looked up. “Mine can’t link up with him either. Could the meeting site be beyond our line of sight?”

Patience showed on her dark brown face. “Jacob, every ship in the battle group launched spysats and comsats the moment we moved into geosync orbit. The tablet signals are automatically routed through the comsats whenever the subject is beyond line of sight. Like on the far side of a planet.” She frowned. “And the equatorial meeting location is indeed on this planet’s far side.” Daisy pulled out her tablet, glanced at it, then looked up to him. “Ensign, something isn’t right here. Call Captain Miglotti and XO Anderson on your tablet. See if their signals link through.”

Jacob did that, ignoring the cool lavender scent of Daisy as she stepped closer, stopping just a meter from him. His quick thumbing produced two more red dots on comlink icons. “Nothing. Same failure to link.” He looked up. “Only time I recall that happening was during a solar flare, when our academy cohort was on the sun-facing side of the Moon. We got under cover quickly at the nearby Moon buggy hangar. We didn’t regain comlinks until fifteen minutes later.”

Daisy, nearly as tall as Jacob, pursed her dark brown lips. “I’ve been trying to reach the admiral for the last thirty minutes. While I was getting the LCA refueled and set for relaunch from the ship’s Hangar Four. While I would never interrupt the admiral in a big confab like this, I always recheck my tablet link with him whenever we are apart. Now, I can’t. I’m worried. What do we do?”

He felt shock. Then understood why she had come to him. The other Command Deck ensigns had gone down with Captain Miglotti and Admiral Johanson. While there were a lieutenant commander, a lieutenant and a lieutenant JG running other decks, he was the only Command Deck officer still on the Lepanto. Which theoretically put him in command of the Bridge, a place he’d visited just three times, even though it lay at the front end of Command Deck. Those visits had been in company with the admiral. Daisy, while an ensign like him, was not part of the Command Deck chain of command. He was. Crap.

“Let me call Osashi at Communications on the Bridge,” he said hurriedly. “Surely he’s heard from the admiral or the captain or the XO.” He tapped the ear-shaped app icon for the ship’s comlink station. “Osashi? Jacob here. Daisy and I can’t reach the admiral on our tablets. She’s concerned. So am I. Are you in contact with our ground party?” He thumbed on the speaker function and looked at Daisy.

“No,” grumbled the elderly Japanese-American chief warrant officer. “We’ve been out of touch for the last forty minutes. Cruiser Hampton Roads says her spysat sensors report an electrical storm above the meeting site. Or something with lots of electrical turbulence. We’re waiting for it to clear.”

Jacob’s heart began thumping fast. “We’re coming up. Daisy and I.”

“If you insist,” the man grumbled. The green dot of his icon went white on Jacob’s tablet.

He stored the tablet, stepped past Daisy and headed for the room’s exit. “Door, open,” he said, briefly glad that the voice-activated functions of the Lepanto still worked normally. Touching a sensor plate to open a hatch, a door or a chamber had gone obsolete in 2071, when voice recognition circuits had become the standard on all American Star Navy ships. That had been twenty years ago. Back then, no one had expected some geek at the CERN lab to discover the means to generate an Alcubierre space-time bubble. But that had happened. In 2073 Earth had gone from a fusion pulse-powered exploration of the Solar system to being able to reach other stars. Now, eighteen years later, humanity had seven star colonies and was exploring distant systems known to have planets. Like Kepler 22. He stepped into the hallway and turned right.

“Jacob,” Daisy murmured from close behind him. “Have you seen the holograms of the aliens at the meeting?”

“Nope.” “I did. Also in person. They’re weird critters.”

He had twenty more meters to go before they reached the Bridge entry hatch. “How so?”

“Well, from what I saw from the pilot bubble of my LCA, they look like giant wasps. Mostly yellow with black and red stripes on their bodies,” she said quickly. “They walk on four limbs, two at the rear and two in the middle, with the front limbs acting like arms. Their head and thorax segments are upright, kind of the way a horse’s front end is upright.”

His mind filled with images of yellow jackets and mud wasps. He’d seen both types building nests under the eaves of the old wooden barn that lay at the back of his parents’ property. Two horses had been stabled there, until his Mom died. His father had quickly sold the horses, removing one more memory of his mother. It had led him to spend hours alone in the barn during high school. It was a quiet place in which to use his school tablet for homework and for writing papers. And to research anthropology. He’d long wondered why other people acted the way they did. The discovery of cultural anthropology in his early teens had revealed some answers to the questions that had bugged him ever since second grade. That was when the bullies had discovered him to be an easy target. The bullying had only stopped in ninth grade, when he’d used his newly learned judo and karate lessons to drop three bullies. The broken arms they’d suffered had gotten him suspended for a week and caused his parents to pay their hospital bills. He hadn’t cared. After that, everyone left him alone. The way he’d been alone ever since understanding how different his family was, compared to corporate exec families or the political types in gated exurbs. Unlike the urban ghetto folks, he’d always had plenty to eat. And his own bed, versus the street. The invention of fusion reactors in 2043 had reduced worldwide poverty, thanks to mostly free power. But castes still existed. And class levels were official now. Often ruled over by the super rich, which his family was not. But military it was. A fact that always set him apart from fellow students.

“Interesting,” he finally responded to Daisy. “Kind of explains why we are meeting them on planet four rather than three.”

He stopped before the eight foot high hatch that gave access to the Bridge. She stopped close behind him.

“How so? I just assumed since this world is Earth-warm with oceans and oxy-nitro air, that the aliens chose—”

“Gravity,” he interrupted, recalling a high school biology lesson. “Large insects in Earth’s ancient past happened only when there was lots of humidity and the oxygen level in the air was way higher than now. Some fossil insects reached two feet in length. To get bigger, the gravity has to be lower. Like the half gee on planet four. Planet three is close to two gees. That’s because of their chitin-based limbs and exoskeletons,” he said. “Hatch, open.”

“Opening for Command Deck Ensign Jacob Renselaer,” the hatch’s response circuit replied. He put aside the reminder that only crew and officers registered as Command Deck personnel could enter their deck. It was standard on all Star Navy ships as a guard against invading boarding teams. Daisy had been added due to her piloting work for the admiral.

The hatch swung out toward him, then came to a stop in a whirring of gears. Bright yellow light shone from within the large circular room that lay at the front of the Lepanto, deep below its armored hull. He stepped through the open hatch and headed for the front half-circle of function posts. Automatically he inventoried those present. Women and men sat before the Power, Tactical, Weapons, Engines, Navigation, Communications, Gravity, Life Support and Science posts. Osashi was in the middle of the arc, facing the curving front wallscreen. Which was filled with the blue, green and purple colors of the planet below. One of the world’s four continents lay below their geosynchronous orbit. The green of jungles, the blue of lakes and the purple of three mountain ranges showed. Ignoring the curious looks he got from half the folks on duty, he headed for Osashi. To get there he had to pass by the central elevated pedestal that contained three heavily padded seats with armrests that sparkled with embedded control patches and studs. The two lower seats were where the captain and XO always sat. Behind them was the admiral’s seat, elevated slightly so anyone sitting there could look past the two in front. He stopped just behind the Communications chief. Who was staring at a holo that floated in front of his control pillar. The holo showed the far side of the planet as seen by the electro-optical scope on board the Hampton Roads’ spysat. A purple-black thunderstorm filled the middle of the holo.

“Osashi, what does the phased array millimeter radar say about the landscape under that storm,” he asked as he peered at the thunderstorm that covered the mountain meadow that was the alien-chosen meeting place.

“Oh!” the man said as he jumped, clearly startled by Jacob’s arrival. The fifty-year-old chief warrant officer swiveled his function seat around to look at him and Daisy. The man wore an NWU woodland camo uniform of shirt, pants and cap with visor. Ribbons filled the area above his left pocket, while his right pocket name tag read A. Osashi. Thin black eyebrows lifted.

“As I said . . . we’re waiting for the storm below to clear,” the man said, his tone exaggerated in its patience. “No need to radar ping them below. Might upset the aliens.”

Jacob’s peripheral vision told him all the people on the Bridge were now looking his way to see what the admiral’s clean-up boy did when faced with defiance by a warrant officer. Who held the pay rank of CWO5, the last level before ensign. Daisy looked surprised by the man’s attitude.

“Do as I just suggested. That’s an order,” Jacob said firmly, recalling his father’s way of giving him orders morning, noon and night. “Or ask Tactical to work the spysat if you don’t know how to change sensor settings.”

The man’s pale white lips opened in surprise, then muscles tightened in his face. “How dare you question—”

“This grants me the authority,” he said, reaching up to tap the single brown bar of an ensign that filled the point of his collar. “I am the only Command Deck officer now present on the Bridge. Perform your duty.”

Osashi was just five years short of full retirement. Perhaps the memory of that prompted the change in his manner. Which went from ‘irritated by a child’ to ‘obeying as ordered’. He swiveled his padded seat around to face his control pillar. The man reached out both hands and tapped in a sequence on the left side of the pillar.

“Spysat retasked to scan landscape below,” the CWO said succinctly, his tone now completely neutral.

Jacob looked at the holo in front of Osashi. The imagery changed from stormy mountain landscape to black and white pixels in the thousands. They beam painted the two nearby mountain peaks, a small lake lying two kilometers to the east of the meadow meeting spot, and the flat meadow area itself. Eleven oblong shapes showed in the millimeter wavelength radar return. Nine of them formed a half circle a few dozen meters out from the glass meeting dome he’d seen in a brief image of the meeting site just after they’d arrived in orbit. He had been with the admiral at the time. The dome location showed as a circular ring, which must be where its metal rim met the meadow soil. Glass was invisible to radar. The other two oblongs lay on the opposite side of the dome outline. Osashi looked back to him, expression very formal.

“There you are, Ensign Jacob Renselaer. All shuttles accounted for, including the alien craft.”

Jacob nodded slowly. There were ten ships in the battle group led by Lepanto. The eleventh oblong had to be the weirdly shaped alien shuttle that had departed from the largest alien ship in the cluster that geosync orbited above the meeting site.

“Looks like they are still meeting,” he murmured. “Any ideas on how to punch through that storm so we—”

“That’s wrong,” Daisy interrupted from the left of Jacob as she leaned forward a bit, a frown on her face. “My LCA is up here. There should only be ten shuttles down there. Our nine plus the single alien shuttle. When did number eleven arrive, Osashi?”

A chill ran down Jacob’s neck. He should have realized what Daisy pointed out, before she spoke. But he hadn’t, even though he’d been on the Bridge during their arrival in orbit, on the side of the world opposite from the twelve alien ships. He’d seen the spysat imaged meeting site, noted the clear glass meeting dome, seen an electro-optical image of the alien shuttle descending to the site, then had ignored the pending meeting as Johanson dismissed him from the Bridge. The last he’d known of the meeting events had been hearing Johanson order each fleet ship to send down a shuttle. Which was later joined by Daisy in her Landing Craft Assault. She and the LCA had been sent back to the Lepanto shortly after dropping off Johanson, Miglotti and Anderson. Which indeed meant there should only be ten shuttles showing in the radar return, not eleven. He looked away from the holo and met the black eyes of Osashi, who had looked their way with surprise.

“She’s right. When did number eleven shuttle arrive?”

A brief grimace of irritation showed in the man’s face, then he shrugged and turned back to face the black and white radar image. “Uh, about forty minutes ago. Just before the storm started up. It came from a smaller alien ship. Perhaps the aliens wanted language techs to help with setting up a common chat-chat lingo?”

Jacob took a deep breath and did his best to ignore the intense looks of the folks at the other function posts. He could not ignore Daisy, who stood just a few centimeters to his left. Her question had merit. The man who had decades of experience in communications had responded to her question. Still, Jacob felt uneasy. Why had the thunder and lightning storm begun just after the arrival of the eleventh shuttle? Was Osashi’s speculation the answer? Or was something else going on down there? He looked left to the middle-aged Anglo woman who sat at Tactical.

“Chief Petty Officer O’Hara, do we have a Cloud Skimmer available to take a look at that site?”

The woman looked surprised, then thoughtful. She pushed back her red ponytail as she leaned forward to scan her control pillar’s touchscreen surface. A milk white finger touched a spot on the pillar top. She looked his way, green eyes fixing on him.

“No, we do not. No battle group ship has launched one. We have six in inventory. Shall I launch one?”

“Do it,” Jacob said, telling himself the winged drone could make it to the meeting site in less than twenty minutes, thanks to the speed it already had due to their ship’s orbital velocity of 7.4 kilometers per second. As it dropped lower it would gain speed.

Osashi slowly shook his head, as if disbelieving Jacob’s sudden flurry of orders on the Bridge. He ignored the man and looked past Daisy to where the Tactical woman sat. She tapped her control pillar top, looked at the status holo floating in front of her pillar, then acted surprised.

“Armory Six refuses to launch the bird,” she said, frowning. “It cites the ship status as Alert Orbital. Which prevents any release from the armories or the weapons banks.” She looked his way. “The admiral ordered all ships of the group to assume Alert Orbital status once we entered orbit. I recall him saying something about not wanting to make the aliens nervous if their sensors picked up an accidental Weapons power-up.”

A new chill ran down Jacob’s back. The varied ship status conditions were intended to reduce human error or the action of a single crazed crewman. To change a ship status condition required the cooperation of the ship’s AI.

“AI Melody, respond to me.”

“Responding to Ensign Jacob Renselaer,” the AI spoke from its ceiling speaker as his voice matched the AI’s record of him in its voice recognition memory block.

“Change ship status condition to Alert Unknown Enemy,” he said, working to keep his voice calmer than he felt. “Provide ship status change code,” the feminine voice of the AI said.

Despair filled Jacob. The ship status change code was known only to the admiral, the captain and the XO. Which was also the case on the other ships in the fleet, except just the captain and XO were in the change code loop on the other ships. Of course, the code was also present in the digitally locked safe in every captain’s sleep room. But forcing open a safe to look at the piece of paper, or the thumb drive with the stored code, would take time. And . . . a sudden memory hit him. An image filled his mind. Two weeks ago, during Alcubierre transit, he’d been cleaning up the conference room while the admiral sat at his fold-down desk in the bedroom. The man had just opened his comp pad. But a call came over the room’s loudspeaker from the XO. Anderson had asked the admiral to join him and Captain Miglotti on the Weapons Deck for some issue related to the Smart Rocks railguns. The man had stood up, pulled on his dress blue jacket and left the room in a hurry. Jacob, in keeping with his clean-up duties, had gone into the bedroom to close up the comp pad computer and return the work desk to standby mode. On the comp pad’s screen he’d seen the twelve alphanumeric symbols that were the ship status change code. It had puzzled him until he recalled the admiral saying he wanted the ship crew to prepare for Alert System Entry status. The man had failed to shut down the comp pad before he’d left. Bringing the memory to the front of his mind, Jacob realized he was the only person on the Lepanto with knowledge of the vital code. He looked to Daisy.

“Uh, I happen to know the code. The admiral shared it with me. Do you think this silence really is—”

“Do it,” Daisy said, her tone firm. Sudden sympathy showed on her dark brown face. “If something has happened to them, the Lepanto could be in danger. And so could the other ships in the fleet. We have to know our senior officers are all right.”

Jacob knew that. He’d spoken only to delay the inevitable. He licked his lips. “I agree. We have to know, not guess or assume.” Turning away from Osashi, he fixed on the three padded seats where the admiral, XO and the captain always sat whenever they were aboard the ship. Of course they rotated shifts so it was rare to see all three in the seats. But now, they were gone, the other Command Deck ensigns were gone, and none of the higher-ranked officers on the other decks knew what he knew. While he could order the AI to admit any ship person to the Command Deck, it would obey only Command Deck officers and personnel. Like Osashi and O’Hara and the other function post folks. None of whom were O-rank officers. With a sigh he kept mostly silent, Jacob walked toward the central group of seats. He stepped up to the low pedestal that held the XO and captain seats, then stepped up to the rear half that held the admiral’s seat. He turned and sat in the wraparound seat. Looking ahead, he saw Daisy still standing beside Osashi. The two of them had joined the rest of the Bridge warrant and petty officers in staring with surprise at him.

“Bridge, I am assuming temporary command of the Battlestar Lepanto as Acting Captain, until relieved by the XO, the captain or the admiral.” He looked down at the touchscreen inset into the right armrest. A keypad lay just under it. He tapped in the ship status change code, then tapped Activate.

“Melody, have you received my ship status change code?”

“I have,” the AI said, its melodious tone the reason for the name given it by Captain Miglotti, a man who loved his Italian operas.

“Change ship status to Alert Unknown Enemy. Confirm status change.”

“Status change confirmed,” the AI said quickly.

Above him yellow alert lights began blinking on the ceiling and on the walls that surrounded the Bridge. A low hooting sound filled the room. The sound and the yellow lights were now being repeated on every deck of the kilometer-long starship that was the Lepanto.

“Allow the launch of a Cloud Skimmer from Armory Six.”

“Allowed. New ship status now permits full range of defensive movements, drone releases and Weapons Deck activation,” the AI said redundantly, telling Jacob something he’d learned in class at the academy, but had never expected to occur by his own action.

He looked to O’Hara. “Tactical, launch the Cloud Skimmer. Send it into ground contour following mode right after atmosphere entry.”

“Aye aye,” the woman said quickly as she tapped on her control panel. A torpedo shape suddenly appeared in the true space image in the holo before her.

Jacob looked up front. “Daisy, come and sit in the XO’s seat. I will need your support in whatever happens in the future.” A thought struck him. His other friends might be of help in this situation. They knew tech stuff he didn’t. “Melody, advise Ensign Carlos Mendoza, Ensign Lori Antonova and Spacer Quincy Blackbourne to report to the Bridge for consultation with me. Add them to the approved Command Deck personnel list.”

“Directives sent. Personnel added,” the AI said briefly.

Daisy stopped before the XO’s chair and looked up at him. “Jacob, are we doing the right thing?”

What a question to ask in front of the other Bridge crew persons! Then again, she likely spoke what many of them were thinking. “I am acting on behalf of Rear Admiral Cornelius Johanson, who is out of comlink with this ship, as are the captain and the XO. A potential emergency exists. It is our duty to determine whether this comlink severing is due to natural weather events, or due to enemy action.”

New sympathy filled her face. “Agreed.” She turned and sat in the XO’s seat, tapping the left armrest to bring up the holo of all ship decks and status reports for all ship systems. That was one of the duties of an XO. It was something she, like Jacob, had learned at the academy. Which reminded him there was another duty that went with Alert Unknown Enemy ship status.

“Melody, send an encrypted neutrino signal to the other nine ships in our fleet that advises them to change their ship status to Alert Unknown Enemy.” The other ships would wonder at the order from the fleet’s flagship, but someone on their Bridge would go to their captain’s quarters, force open the safe, read the code unique to their ship, and order their ship’s AI to change ship status.

“Ship status change signal sent to each ship,” the AI said quickly, her tone moving from routine to intense. Clearly there had been an algorithm change in the smart AI’s interaction module. “Confirmation of signal received from ships Chesapeake, Hampton Roads, Tsushima Strait, Salamis, Philippines Sea, St. Mihiel, Marianas, Britain and Ofira.”

Jacob swallowed hard. He had moved beyond taking command of his ship’s Bridge. He had sent new orders to the two cruisers, three destroyers and four frigates that made up the battle group. Briefly his mind rewound a lesson from the academy that described why some ships were named after famous naval battles and others were named after famous aerial fights. Shaking his head, he remembered a final academy lesson.

“All Bridge crew, put on your vacuum suits. Prepare for environment disruption. Melody, send my vacsuit order to all ship personnel and all decks.”

“Complying,” the AI said sharply.

A hiss from below his left armrest told Jacob a compartment had opened. It held his own vacsuit with flexible helmet. Its clear fabric would darken at any exposure to stellar radiation. He pulled it out, stood up and joined everyone on the Bridge in donning the precaution against sudden air pressure loss.

As he did so, he wondered what the leader of the wasp-like aliens was thinking. Surely the alien ships had detected the radar scan of the meeting site. Those ships had put out their own spysats before the fleet arrived. Those sats would soon report the Lepanto’s launch of a Cloud Skimmer. What would the alien captain or leader or whatever passed for someone in charge now do?

END

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