A 2015 "Goldie" Finalist
In the 24th Century technology has evolved but greed and war are constant. A rookie starship captain but a veteran of the recent Gothoan War, Vanessa Swann searches the outer rim of the galaxy for any sign of rebel activity. Her favorite pastimes are kicking enemy butt and making time with the ladies. The last thing Van wants is to team up with the Andromeda System’s heir apparent and leader of the Coalition flagship, Princess/Admiral Cade Meryan.
Coal black hair, piercing gray eyes and skin the color of fresh cream threaten Vanessa’s professional boundaries, but focus she must when faced with repeated attempts on Cade’s life. The fate of millions and the threat of galactic war rest on Van’s shoulders. Whatever the outcome, their lives will never be the same.
Ebook copies are available through Flashpoint Publications
Paperback copies are available through Bella Books. As always
many thanks to the readers. Without you, writing would be pointless.
SHE AWAKENED WITH thoughts of breakfast on her mind. Eggs over medium beside strips of crisp bacon, along with a mountain of hash browns. The hash browns would be crisp, too and nestled alongside a slice of deliciously buttered toast. Best of all would be the large mug of hot, black coffee. Kona. She could almost smell the slightly bitter aroma and feel the punch of the caffeine that would kick start her day. For long moments, she explored the indulgent fantasy and her smile grew. Then reality set in. Breakfast in space was a bad idea, a real breakfast anyway. Unless of course you enjoyed synthetic protein and bread so tough you had to cut it with a plasma torch. Personally, Van didn’t.
The mechanically modulated tones of the computer-generated alarm clock sounded seconds later and she slapped it off just as the overhead com burst into life.
“Captain Swann to the bridge. We’re under attack.”
Her ship, Falcon, shuddered just as Commander Byra hailed, punctuating his statement by listing heavily to port. The sudden shift in angle threw her out of the rack and she cracked her elbow on the unyielding deck plating.
“Captain, are you all right?”
“Worry about the ship, Paul.”
The small scout vessel heeled dangerously in the opposite direction and Van’s teeth clenched down hard as she fought to maintain her balance. Kneeling on all fours, balancing should have been an easy task. By the time the stabilizers finally kicked in, she was already cramming her body into a uniform. What she lacked in stature, she made up for in determination.
“I’m on my way.”
Falcon was a Coalition Sector Patrol ship, its beat was the outer perimeter between the Triangulum and Andromeda Galaxies. The Earth Coalition allied with the Andromeda system inhabitants, but territories won during the Border Wars allowed them to patrol out so far. Captain Swann’s crew walked a fine line so near to enemy territory that they required vigilance to stay on the proper side.
Fast and light, the spacecraft possessed more firepower than was obvious at a glance. With shields of reinforced pulse-ionized particles, it was rare for an enemy shot to penetrate. A panel next to her exploded as she jogged down a corridor and Swann ducked as she realized that someone had indeed made it through. Debris littered the corridor. At least the uniforms were formfitting and didn’t catch on any of the detritus.
Ignoring her burning cheek and smell of singed hair, she strode onto the bridge and surveyed the scene through the large frontal viewport. Three smaller unmarked vessels dipped and darted among the backdrop of stars.
Vanessa Swann took a quick glance around the chaotic scene with her fists planted on her hips. She felt the eyes of her crew upon her and sensed that they drew comfort from her commanding presence.
“I assume you are shooting back.”
Paul Byra vacated the captain’s chair just as she dropped into it and Van quickly assessing the situation. “Yugi, attack pattern Omega.” Her voice was calm.
Be confident, she thought remembering command school. Let the crew think you have everything under control. Yeah, right.
The navigator sat directly forward of her and Van saw some of the tension leave the young officer’s shoulders, proof that maybe there was something to command theory. The pilot threw Falcon to port and then into a barrel roll as she followed her orders. In the wash of emergency lighting Yugi’s pale blue skin looked sickly gray and blended with the slate-colored Coalition uniforms.
Falcon ended up just where Swann wanted, directly beneath the vulnerable underbelly of one of the marauders.
“Fire everything we’ve got.”
Lieutenant Commander Ozal, a Human-Thuban hybrid manipulated her weapons panel like a conductor, hands flying as she fired pulse cannons and plasma bombs in a deadly concerto. Full-blooded Thuban’s sported four arms but Van wagered her Lieutenant was more talented with just the two.
The pirate vessel sheared neatly down the middle, all weapons striking her keel from stem to stern. Secondary explosions fired as both halves fell away exposing all decks to the vacuum of space. They were no longer a threat.
The panic in Yugi’s voice drew Swann’s eyes to another vessel on a direct collision course. Her fingers dug into the chair arms as Falcon lurched to a halt, shuddering against the sudden shift. As the pirate vessel loomed closer, she swore she could see the enemy commander’s eyes, as wide and shocked as her own.
“What are you doing? Evade.”
Yugi didn’t seem to hear the command, pinned in place by shock and inexperience. It was the last time Van took a greenling on board as a navigator.
Van had always heard that time was relative, but it was the first time she experienced the phenomena for herself. She saw the small ship grow in the forward viewer as the distance quickly dwindled between them. At the same time, Van was aware of the small drop of nervous sweat that tracked from her hairline and down her left temple. She felt the breaths burst from her lungs as she took control of the helm with scant seconds to spare.
Not designed for short bursts of speed, ram-jet fusion engines’ sole purpose was to hurtle a crew from the Triangulum Galaxy to the Andromeda Galaxy in a few weeks, a distance of about seven hundred and fifty thousand light years. Van would have preferred to run a simulation, however, there was no choice.
Swann pressed her thumb into the control so hard she split the nail. She felt the vessel gather in on itself, trembling with built up energy as the engines roared to life. Everything on the bridge shimmered like heat off a hot pavement in summer and then they jumped forward, hurtling through space. Van gave the engines a solid one-count and then she hit full stop. Falcon trembled hard and the groan of tortured metal shrieked in her ears. A few seconds later, the aft viewers kicked on and she saw what little remained of the enemy vessels drifting harmlessly in space.
The ion fusion explosion from the engines had reduced the pirates and their ships to nothing more than twisted bits of metallic alloy and vaporized particles. Acrid air made it difficult to draw breath. Sparks showered and main lighting failed, replaced seconds later by an unhealthy glow from the emergency generators. Someone coughed. Another spoke.
Swann realized she was standing, staring dumbly at the total devastation. The rebels hadn’t just been defeated. She'd annihilated them. Falcon was adrift, systems overloaded or destroyed by her impulsive decision.
She’d demolished a Coalition vessel on its maiden flight on her very first stint as a ship’s captain. If she were very lucky, Headquarters would assigned her to the reclamation units on the furthest outpost in space for the rest of her life.
“Captain, we have a proximity alert. A vessel is approaching.”
Van looked at her second with something akin to surprise. “You mean something’s working?”
Byra looked away and tried to suppress a grin as the forward view screen activated. A face she never wanted to see in a situation like this stared back at her. Black eyes glittered dangerously. Thick, dark hair, cut short and rakishly parted fell across the woman’s forehead to frame intelligent features. The high collar of the gray Coalition uniform, piped with deep purple, indicated the rank of a Vice Admiral.
“Identify yourself,” Admiral Cade Meryan of the Coalition Flagship Gauntlet ordered.
Her career was over. Not known to be the forgiving kind, Admiral Meryan held sway with the Council Government on Alara Prime as well as the ruling house of the High Queen.
Unbelievably, there was a hint of laughter in the dark eyes before it disappeared. “At least we agree on one thing. I’ll send a jump ship to collect you, Captain, while my crew assesses the derelicts for anything salvageable.”
“Collect me? I don’t understand.”
Meryan frowned. It was amazing how the woman could project so much into such a simple expression and Van felt her ears burn. Too bad she was a full-blooded Human. Any other species would have been able to hide the telltale sign of embarrassment.
“I’ll have to debrief you, of course.”
“Of course.” Swann coughed to clear her throat. “May I bring a second?”
A dark eyebrow went up. “Expecting me to execute you on the spot?”
“Never can be too sure.”
Her humor fell short and the admiral’s response was terse. “You may bring your exec. Be in the loading bay in fifteen minutes. Meryan out.”
Minutes later, Van stood in Falcon’s main cargo bay with Commander Byra. She sucked on her sore thumb where the nail had split down to the quick while he updated her on the ship’s status.
“We got lucky, Van. There were no major casualties, just some bumps and bruises. One of the engineers broke his wrist.”
“And the Falcon?”
Paul sighed and she realized she’d guessed right about the vessel’s condition. She might be a newly commissioned captain, but she knew what a healthy ship felt like. “She’ll need to be towed to space dock,” he told her unnecessarily.
“Great. That’s just what I need.”