Here is an excerpt from my new book Space Pulp! on sale in the kindle store now!
When you’re a rocket ship captain, you learn to expect the unexpected.
A routine charting mission can turn into the discovery of a sentient wormhole. A Hedgmonian diplomat may possess your first officer and then try to assassinate you. The Queen of Ridgimon IX may take you as her concubine and impregnate you with her seed.
But still … when you’re suddenly ordered to the fleet admiral’s office twenty-four hours before you’re due to punch, it’s enough to give even the most seasoned captain pause. The Federacy doesn’t make hasty decisions, but they do give orders with little to no warning. Orders that can turn your life upside down, back to front, or—literally—inside out.
“It makes one wonder, doesn’t it?”
I turn my head, look up at the Admiral. I never even noticed him walk into the lobby. “Sir?”
“The painting, Starson.” He gestures at the oil canvas hanging on the wall in front of me. “It really makes you think, doesn’t it?”
“Honestly sir, I really wasn’t looking at it.” I take in the painting. It’s The Odyssey, the original rocket ship that first explored Earth’s new home five hundred years ago. Earth hangs underneath it, distant but vibrant. “Most paintings of The Odyssey show it going deeper into the Twelve—exploring. I’ve never seen one of it leaving Earth.”
“Oh, most don’t. It’s not … sexy enough.” Admiral Bentura clasps his hands behind his back and straightens. “But I’ve always been drawn to this one. Helps remind me what it must have been like.”
“Going to the frontier?”
“Leaving the … familiar. Leaving everything—everyone—you ever loved. In hopes of understanding why your planet had been yanked—torn away—from its solar system.”
“Sir, without The Odyssey’s discoveries—their experiments—we wouldn’t have been able to travel space like we do now. It was for the greater good.”
He sighs. “The greater good … I wonder if that’s how they saw it once they returned, decades older?”
“I suppose sometimes that’s just part of the job.”
Bentura grins. It’s a haunted grin that shows his sixty-plus years. “And I suppose that sometimes the job requires too much.”
I stand from the couch. “What can I do for you, Admiral?”
Bentura turns, walking between the leather seats in the lobby and stops at the viewport, his hands still clasped behind him. Earth lights up his face with blue and green. “I apologize for this being so short notice. I realize the Athens is due to ship out tomorrow. But we really need your help with something.”
I step beside him at the viewport. “I’m listening.”
Bentura turns away and gestures to his office door. It hisses open. “A group of Preydean are willing to pay top dollar for a TMD. We can’t let that happen.”
I stop in the doorway. “Where—who would be stupid enough to sell the Preydean a temporal warhead?”
Bentura walks behind his black desk and looks up at me with a devilish grin. “We are.”
“… You’re gonna draw them out. With a dummy warhead. Then capture and interrogate them.”
“Before somebody else sells them the real thing.” From a desk drawer, Bentura produces two small glasses and a bottle of Kreegari fire brandy. He places the glasses on the desk with a soft clink and pulls the cork from the bottle. “We’ve taken a casing and replaced the guts with a warp furnace from an old DC 10 hauler. You familiar with them?”
I nod. “They play hell on ship sensors.”
“Just like a real temporal warhead would. It should be enough to convince them it’s the real thing, draw them out of whatever hole they’re hiding in.” He pours two fingers of the blue liquid into each glass and squeaks the cork back into the bottle. Within moments, the fire brandy turns red.
“You want me to make the sale … ”
He hands me a glass. “We want you to setup and make the sell. Frankly, there’s no one better.”
I let the glass stay in his hand for a long moment before taking it. “Admiral, I … I’ve been exploring for a long time. Espionage isn’t something I’ve even thought about for—”
He raises a hand. “We don’t need just a rocket ship captain. Or just a spy. We need someone that can be a little bit of both. It’s a short list and you’re at the top of it.”
“I … this isn’t me. Not anymore.”
“Think about it, Starson.” Bentura slides his glass off the desk and walks to his office’s viewport. He points at Earth, peacefully turning in its orbit below. “The Preydean are animals. If they get their claws on a Temporal Warhead? Aim it right at Earth? You know what the repercussions could be.”
I sigh. And take a long drink. The fire brandy burns all the way down my throat, but leaves a sweet aftertaste. “How long until the dummy warhead is ready?”
“Three weeks. Your crew can wait until—”
“No,” I place the glass back on the table.
Bentura raises his eyebrows.
“The crew of the Athens isn’t up for something like this.”
“No Federacy officer is—not really.”
I shake my head. “That’s why I don’t want Federacy officers.”
“…. What are you thinking?”
The Admiral leans on his desk. “Dear Lord. That Kreegari gives me—well, he unsettles me.”
“Bard’s … interest in ancient Earth culture—”
“Interest? The stuff he wears? The way he talks? More like an obsession …”
“He has his reasons. The point is that this ‘obsession’ gives him access to black markets all over The Twelve.” I point at the Bentura’s glass. “Including those with fire brandy.”
Bentura grins. “Touché.”
“If we need this deal to happen, he’ll have the contacts to make it happen fast.”
“I don’t have a problem with him. He’ll just attract a lot of attention.”
“Which is what we want.”
Bentura nods. “Alright, point taken. Anyone else?”
I raise the glass back to my lips and pause just before saying in a low voice, “Olivia Nova.”
“Nova!” The Admiral rounds on me, sloshing fire brandy out of his glass. He swipes a hand through the air. “No way—forget it!”
“I know you two have history,” I say in a calm voice.
“History—that’s one word for it. She knocked out three of my teeth you know.”
“She’s really good at what—”
“And this scar!” He rolls up the blue sleeve of his uniform, spilling the rest of his drink. “You see this scar? That was her too!”
“She’s really good at what she does. You’ll never find anybody better with an explosive. Or an engine. And she’s a hell of a pilot.”
“Oh, I’m aware,” He rubs the sleeve back down. “But it’s those same talents that has her going through clones like gym socks. What’s she on now? Sixty-three?” He turns up his glass, and curls his lip when he realizes it’s empty.
I pick up the bottle and pour him another shot. “Her people don’t like the word ‘clone.’ ” He doesn’t hold the glass closer to me, but he doesn’t pull it away either. “They prefer ‘shell.’ ”
“Like I give a damn what she prefers.” He takes another sip before the brandy has a chance to change colors. He puckers at the sour taste.
I ease the bottle back onto Bentura’s desk. “Livy’s experience gives her a lot of talents. She’s basically three officers rolled into one. And since we’re going to have limited space anyway …”
Bentura starts to raise the glass to his lips, then stops. “What do you mean—limited space? We’ll give you a Federacy rocket ship. Something older of course, but you’ll certainly have the room to—”
I shake my head. “That may have worked years ago, but now I’m too well known. If I’m going to sell this, I need to use my identity. People have to think I’ve turned. I have to use my personal ship.”
He turns back to the viewport, fingering the rim of his glass. “I didn’t even know you had a ship. How big is it?”
“Big enough to get the job done.”
“Phoenix? That’s barely Solar Class.”
“It’ll need some work.”
“You’d be better off in something bigger.”
“It’ll need some work.”
Bentura lets go of a heavy breath. “Phoenix Dx… those ships are—what—thirty years old?”
“It’d be strange if it didn’t need work. How much are we talking?”
I smile. “Oh, I think anybody that’s footing the bill for a fake temporal warhead can handle it.”
Bentura crosses the space to his desk, picks up the fire brandy and pours himself another drink. “Alright. Fine.”
“Bard and Livy will need to be paid.”
He gestures vaguely. “Fine to all of it.”
I place the empty glass back on his desk, then start for his door. “I’ll comm Bard and Livy first thing in the morning.”
I turn, face him as his office door slides open.
Bentura’s mouth moves a little, as if he’s trying to find the right words. “The Preydean are very unpredictable. And so is this crew you’re putting together. Be careful. There’s a lot riding on this.”
“Relax, Admiral. This will go off without a problem …”
Check out Space Pulp! on sale in the kindle store now!