Sample after the cut, info first.
Starbleached will be released Monday 9/3 via Smashwords (I know, total change of plans. I be sorry). It will appear at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks and elsewhere sometime in the next couple of weeks (dependent upon Smashwords doing its thing).
Saturday 9/8 we will have a coupon set up to get Starbleached for free. And just to make it fair, we're going to extend the coupon through Sunday, 9/9.
And you know what, guys? I am so excited about this. Above and beyond any ambitions, failed or otherwise, I really like this story. A lot. And I wouldn't have written it the way I did if I weren't flying on my own recognizance. 'Cause ain't nobody gonna publish a 30k book.
Alright, enough of my ramblings. What you came for is after the cut. SAMPLE:
Starlight without atmosphere was cold. It stole more life than it lended. Beams from New Houston’s sun lanced through the USS Marel Sanders’s front ports and tinted the interior graveyard gray. The fire bled out of Adrienne Parker’s auburn hair. Her trembling hands now resembled a corpse’s.
“Brace!” a voice screamed from the cockpit. Adrienne grabbed the arms of her crash couch. The Marel was a claustrophobic shoebox for supplies and personnel, and all fifty meters of it shook as enemy weapons fire grazed their rear. Electric bolts blasted through cockpit and tiny hold, playing over stacks of yellow medical boxes. The lights flickered. Adry’s heart sank. Only Overseer weapons burned out electrical systems while they made holes in things. It took all her willpower not to leap up and check her cargo, those precious yellow boxes stacked six deep around her.
Beneath the lids sat four thousand glass vials in black foam nests. The enzyme inside degraded too quickly in plastic, and like most medicines it wasn’t DMS friendly. She’d packed the vials herself, twenty vials to each foam flat and ten flats to a box. Totes of standard antibiotics and vaccinations were netted to the bulkhead on the opposite wall, along with two rad-field generators for emergency bandage sterilizations. Sixty boxes of foodstuffs. Two hundred personal water filtration systems. Everything Digital Matter Storage couldn’t handle. All fine targets for smugglers aching for a buck, but not something that would attract an Overseer.
No. It was after the vials. This ship carried the first widespread distribution of the Landry Enzyme. The game changer, world saver they’d all hoped it would be. If it worked as advertized, it could end the Overseers as a species. The aliens had to stop its spread.
Bad luck for her and the USMC. Their job, after all, was to stop them.
The invention of Jump Drive had allowed humanity to settle distant worlds. Over the last two hundred years the so-called Rim Worlds had grown from tiny colonies on distant stars to bustling centers of commerce. Most of them had broken free of their parent nations over a hundred years ago, though a few were still nominal members of their parent nations. The United States had fathered no less than four worlds. These were the reason the Space Force and Adry were here to begin with.
The Overseers arrived just over fifty years ago; they hit the corporate colonies first and spread like some kind of disease. Planets with national backing survived a little longer. They had more resources, support from a stronger military. But it wasn’t enough. Of the US settled planets, Foster and New Greenland were cinders populated only by slaves. New Houston and Planet Gaga were hit every few weeks. Millions on millions were dead.
And unless they were incredibly lucky, Marel Sanders, Adrienne, Captain Bob Harris and PFC Morgan were all about to join them.
Teeth gritted, she rode out the next impact. Let them shoot. In the long run, it wouldn’t matter for the Overseers. They were doomed. The Enzyme was Bryan’s idea, his life’s work and epitaph. Finishing it was her revenge for their destroying him. If she died here, now, the SF would only spread the enzyme through the galaxy in her memory.
But she still didn’t want to die in the next ten seconds.
“How long has the Overseer been following us?” She faced the control chair. Captain Bob was tall and blond. Distant starlight glared through his buzz cut. Pale ghost sweat poured down his brow.
“No way to know.” Fingers moved cat quick over transport controls. The console design was bulk in olive drab. Nothing like the chrome-and-cream civility Adry was used to. But shoebox or not, Marel Sanders was designed for war. Bob couldn’t have gotten his answers half as fast in a Honda Sailor or Vacuro Sandman.
He flicked through the radar screen controls until their follower was dead center. Bigger than the Marel, the alien vessel was streamlined for atmo combat, an arrowhead shape with a rounded aft. “It must have been coasting on atmospherics until we got here. Fang class, no shielding, no backup…Give me a shot, Morgan.”
“No can do, sir. It’s in the hole.”
Harris cursed. The defense/offense, or def/op, hole was created by bad weapons placement. Oh, the United States Marine Corp equipped their transports with the best. The best was just designed for ground ops. Terrestrial design bias didn’t work in space war. And out on the Rim of explored space, most worlds couldn’t afford support craft designed for a three-D battleground.
“We should have had cover when we left base,” Morgan said. “We’re flying with our drawers down.”
“With Overseers gathering near New Houston, we’re lucky we got transport at all,” Harris said. “I just wish the bastards hadn’t figured out about the hole. Incoming!” He braced against the console. Morgan grabbed his seat straps. Adry wasn’t as lucky. When the enemy fire hit, she bounced off the bulkhead wall. Bob swore. “Subspace drive is down; Jump drive is going on and off like it’s having a goddamn stroke. I need to route power out of the inertial compensators before—”
For one instant g-force wrapped around Adry’s insides, a giant hand squeezing her guts like a tube of standard-issue toothpaste. The old-fashioned kind with obnoxious mint. Then the compensators came back up and she could inhale again.
“Goddamn it, we’re losing her. Morgan!” Bob flipped a panel off the rear control bay. “Start breaking procedures now, and do whatever you can to get that sucker off our ass before it gets another shot.”
“Did we lose compensators?” She asked, breathlessly.
“No.” Bobby pulled several burned components out of the hole. “Fast as we’re moving, if they had gone we’d be smears on the backdrop. Please sit down, Dr. Parker.”
Morgan turned. “It’s got a lock, sir. I can’t shake it.”
“Hell. Switch with me.” Bob grabbed the side of the chair, and Morgan half ran, half fell to the open circuit board.
Adry dropped back into her crash seat. The boxes of Landry Enzyme stood around her like a yellow castle wall with netting motor. A shield. That had been Bryan’s goal. But it took losing Bryan and Holton Station for the Space Force to turn it from a chemical experiment to an actual thing. Now, if their mission worked, millions of lives would be saved.
So please, God, let it work. Let it survive her.
The ship rocked with another well placed blast. Sparks flew as the inertial compensators gave another hiccup, pressing bone against the crash chair’s cushioning factor. If you were moving when compensators were on the fritz, arms and legs could be ripped from sockets, fingers turned to powder, necks snapped, bones ground to dust. And even if you were sitting during a total loss, you might as well stand between your ship and an asteroid. G-force would turn you into tenderized mush.
It was a race between the breaks, the compensators, and the alien fighter on their tail. So when Morgan began screaming, Adry had her safety straps half off before her brain started working.
“What’s wrong?” she shouted.
“Thumb!” Morgan said. “Nothing!” Clipped tones belied that last “nothing”. Figured. You could set a load of CF-29 in a soldier’s gut, and if they survived the explosion they’d just ask for a stapler and their gun back. She reached for the first aid kit.
“Parker, get your ass in that chair and don’t leave it. That’s a direct order. Oh, goddamn it, sucker took out the Jump Drive.” Harris ran frantically through the Marel’s switches. Without compensators, they couldn’t use the subspace drive. G-force would be fatal. If they couldn’t Jump, they were dead in deep space.
“Can you fix it?” She said.
Morgan met her eyes, his own dark as caramelized honey and hopeless as a black hole. “I can try.” He looked a thousand years old.
You might as well have said no. Hell. I didn’t sign up for this, Adry thought. But that was a lie.
One Year Earlier:
Holton Station hovered in deep space, the most isolated human outpost in the Rim. But it was still famous even in New York, both for its engineering and the spectacle of its beauty. Adrienne couldn’t help but gape, and she was no small-town girl, or Rim-world colonist, to be stunned by a shiny building. She’d grown up in the mile-high towers of New York, worked Beijing’s trio of space elevators while attending college, and had summered twice in the sprawling space ports of Mars. And even to her, Holton was something else.
Artificial gravity supported a u-shape of skyscraper dragon teeth around a field of green. Of course, most of the city was façade. Behind the first row of apartments and lab spaces was a warren of tunnels, support structures and warship hanger bays. Holton was a military research station, after all. But people had to live there, sometimes for years. No space or procedure was wasted. If it could be done here, it was done beautifully. Case in point: the water purification system. Pools of carefully selected plants and algae removed toxins from the water, and glass-clear waterfalls oxygenated it. Windows of six-meter thick blast-glass displayed the stars beyond, and artificial sunlight fed the greenery sprouting in every possible corner.
But it’s cold, she thought. Like silk flowers on a receptionist’s desk. The first three hundred yards of the central thoroughfare were a perfectly manicured lawn. Adults sat in benches under the green trees, or on blankets spread over grass. There were no children. No birds. And because Holton floated between stars, the nearest several million light years away, there would never be real sunlight.
She continued down the space ramp, shaking her head at her own hypocrisy. She criticized this for being constructed and unnatural? Genetic surgeons like her rewrote biology. The nearest she got to “natural” in her work was old fashioned thoracic surgery. Meat cutting. And she was good at it. They’d given her the US Medal of Terrestrial Honor for her work during the New York Needle collapse. Not that it’d been her choice to take lead in emergency triage. Just her aching duty.
The papers had nicknamed her the Valkyrie. She had decided if a patient would live, or receive a heavy dose of morphine and a quiet corner in which to die. The memories haunted her. Row on row of bleeding bodies. Sterilizing cloth bandages until the irradiating field generator broke. Running out of medicines, her nurses collapsing after the first sixteen hours, her fingers gone numb but she didn’t dare stop. The smell of burned skin, the ever-present stink of blood. The first time she’d picked up a scalpel after the Needle collapse, she’d vomited at the thought of cutting in.
People who could handle severe triage these days were rare. They’d wanted her to keep going, and she’d gotten three offers she couldn’t refuse. One from the UN, one from Martian Cosmopolitan Government, and one from Holton Station. The decision had been easy. She’d spent too many nights dreaming of injecting a syringe of morphine into a child’s arm while some society barfly wailed about the shards of glass in her back. The universe wants Adrienne Parker to work triage? Fine. She’d do it at war.
“Dr. Parker?” This male voice was attached to a tall blend of Nordic sensibilities and East Indian grace. Tan skin, brown eyes, blond hair. His hand, when she shook it, was soft. He wore a Major’s uniform.
“Dr. Landry, I presume.” She frowned. “I thought you were a civilian contractor?”
He laughed. It fit somehow with the rest of Holton. Artificial. “Not hardly. Major Michel Landry. Mich when I’m off duty. I’m your escort to my brother’s ivory tower.” His eyes darted down, and his smile turned genuine. “Wow. I can’t remember the last time I saw a luggage bag. I mean, I know DMS can’t store medicines or foods, but…damn, lady. Even we use it for clothes.” He pointed at the chip on his lapel. It probably held six weeks’ worth of clothing and, knowing the Marines, a couple extra ammo clips. Not that Digital Matter Storage could hold live ammo; Marines just never stopped trying. “Could I buy that off you? There’s a real fad for retro around the station right now.”
She smiled. “No, you can’t buy it. And I don’t trust DMS with my valuables, Major. It works for replaceable basics, but if I want pretty clothes, I need a suitcase.”
“Good call.” A new voice, rolling and rich. The kind of voice that sinks into your bones. Mich scowled as if his breakfast had soured. Adry turned around.
He was obviously Michel Landry’s brother. His dual heritage had blended together in a strong chin, a nose like an eagle, thick black hair and eyes blue like day lit sky. Bright white teeth flashed in a glamorous smile. He walked forward, hands in his pockets. “Sorry, Mich. Didn’t I tell you I’d handle this one personally?” Mich glared, and the man waved a hand, forget about it. He kept going, kept teaching. “The myth is, you get things back from DMS. In reality, it destroys the object on a sub-atomic level and stores the resulting energy signature for remateralization. You can’t duplicate objects you store because it uses all the energy in the process, and you can’t store something organic like silk or canvas because you’ll get a loose soup of protean chains back. You’re getting an entirely new thing created by the tiny computer stuffed into that antique you’re pulling.” He pointed at Adrianne’s suitcase, an ancient battered wheelie in a red/green plaid. “You know, I hear they sell a new model. It comes with that flashy new LED fabric you can program. We just wrote up a new rule that you can’t program obscenities. Too many kids were showing up on base touting variations on a theme of ‘fuck you’.” He offered a hand. “Bryan Landry.”
She took it. “Adrienne Parker.” His hand was warm, and work-rough. Interesting. What did he do in his spare time? She patted the suitcase. “This was my grandmother’s. She was one of the founding colonists of Foster. The Overseers killed her in the first incursion, and my mother brought her ashes back to Earth in it. It’s only fitting that I bring it here when we drive them away.”
Landry laughed. “I like that attitude. With the New York Valkyrie on our side, how can we lose?” He hadn’t let her hand go, either. Instead, he raised it to his lips. His kiss sent shivers up her spine.
“Old-world charm, Dr. Landry?” Her pulse increased in a not-unpleasant way.
He let go. “Sunshine, you’re the girl with the retro suitcase.”
“We’re going to lose I/Cs in about fifty seconds, Captain. We have to shut her down!”
Adrienne’s gut plummeted as the ship slowed. With failing compensators, the Gs actually increased. Now it was a race: Loss of inertia verses compensator failure. The finish line was the smear they would become if failure came too soon. She tried not to think about it. Ruptured spleens and powdered bone weren’t the nicest last thoughts.
“Fire atmospherics, Morgan,” Bob said.
“If we splatter a few extra hours of atmo aren’t going to matter. Fire the goddamn atmospherics on my mark.”
Every ship had three standard propulsion systems: Jump drive, which traversed the massive distance between stars almost instantaneously; subspace drive, which bent the laws of physics and allowed for speedy inter-system travel; and atmospheric drives, focused jets of gas which were the last resort of a crippled ship…or the subtle trick of a fighter skirting the edge of capture.
But the transport wasn’t a warship. Atmospherics were tied to their backup air. If Bob used them, he didn’t think they’d need the extra supply.
“Where’s my bogey?” Bob muttered, more to himself than his sweating partner. “Come on, sucker. Walk where I can touch ya.”
“It's off the reads?” Adry asked.
“Yeah. It turned on subspace and attack systems long enough to hit us, then dropped back to atmospherics. It could be flying up our ass right now and I wouldn’t be able to see it until it forced our cargo bay.”
“You’re talking like it’s a possibility,” she said.
“Until it’s back on radar it’s a probability. It…there you are.” He dropped hand to the controls and hit a few buttons. “Radio transmission down and right. Shit, it’s ten feet off our tail.”
“Radio transmission? Is it hailing us?” The gees had died back to sane levels. She clawed out of her chair and caught the back of Bob’s. “What’s it saying?”
He hit two buttons. The voice on the com system was cold and emotionless. It was like hearing something made of silicone and paper imitate human speech. But that was par for the course. A naturally telepathic species, Overseers only spoke to slaves. Usually, right before they ate one.
“--Your ship is damaged and you are stranded. Cut your protective measures and power down your weapons. Your ship will be repaired and you will not be harmed. Message repeats. Vessel of the United States Marine Corps, you are overpowered. Your ship is damaged and you are stranded. Cut your protective measures and power down your weapons. Your ship—”
Bob cut the feed. “Yeah, right. Trussed up and saved for dinner, that’s the Overseer version of ‘not harmed’. Doc, tell me you got a suicide pill somewhere in that case of yours?”
They’d handed those out at the start of the mission. She’d flushed hers down the john. “No. What about the scuttle charge?”
“We’re a glorified shipping container. They’re not wasting ordinance on a humanitarian mission.
Don’t want us blowing on a few hundred civilians.” He hit a whole bank of switches, piling more gees on top of their load. “Doc, there is a gun next to your crash chair. Put the clip in it. That goddamn thing is going to force our rear in five minutes. Morgan, how’s your hand?”
Adry looked left and wished she hadn’t. Red was everywhere. On instrument panels, on his clothes, on the bandages around his thumb. Morgan was shaking from the blood loss.
“It’s good.” He picked up his own gun, cradled in his good hand.
“Jesus Christ, Morgan.” She started towards him.
Bob’s rough grip pulled her around. “Look. We don’t have the ordinance to stop the son of a bitch when it boards. The only thing we can do for humanity is convince it that attacking someone else this way is a bad idea.”
Metal scraped against metal. The alien ship was now suctioned against them, air bladders filling the void between ships, wires attaching to vital sensors. Soon it would force the rear door open, and the
Overseer would arrive.
“Save the last bullet for you.” Morgan said. “You’re going to want it.