Excerpts

Here is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Defenders of the Rim: Badlands. Enjoy!

#

Somewhere on an obscure planet within the newly annexed Borjon District of the Galactic Empire, a group of aliens the humans called Borjon gathered in a large meeting space. Best described in human terms as monks, the group lived alone on the planet’s single continent. Not a religious order in the strictest sense, but the group served what they called the Prophecy, a set of prophetic words discovered many centuries before. Left behind by the alien race the Borjon simply called the Forerunners, the words of that prophecy aided the Borjon in their conflicts with the alien Aerstone, an AI-based society that had decided it was their mission to eliminate all biological life from the galaxy.

Although they didn’t really hate technology, the Borjon monks lived simply. It didn’t hurt that the climate where they lived was ideal for their species. But they did use technology when needed. For example, they maintained trade with Borjon and traveled there on rare occasions. Apparently, this was going to be one of those occasions. The group was completely shocked when the head monk explained to them why he had called them together.

Speaking in a special dialect that only the monks knew, a dialect that originated from the words of the Forerunners, Master Hadassah, who was quite old for even their race, stood in their small amphitheater and spoke to the group quietly. Still the design of the space carried his voice to the furthest monk.

“Our scholars have determined that a very important moment approaches in our interpretation of the prophecies. The One, the human with the bright yellow hair, will be in grave danger. She must find a way to do the very difficult and she must depend on the ones with her, as we’ve always known. But I foresee a moment in time where all will be lost unless she can look deeply enough within to find the one path to safety, a path that, although difficult, will give us small hope. Otherwise, all will be lost.

“I go to the Borjon home world to speak with the Nest Father to the One. It is my plan to give him enough information to plant the seed that will give the vision to find that path. It is our only hope.

“I also find that it is time to choose one who will go with me and that one will remain on the home world. He will be the one who must join forces with the One; providing her with our words to assist. For this purpose, I choose master monk candidate Kaeden. He will become the Helper as proscribed in the Prophecies.

Sitting close to the back of the group of master monk candidates, and the youngest of them all, a mere fifty turns of age, Kaeden was caught entirely by surprise, for the moment unable to move. But he managed to get control of his faculties, arising and bowing to the Master, the bow of accepting monk.

“Although I am unworthy, I will do as you say, Master.”

Everyone other than the members of the monks governing council had been caught by surprise. A murmuring spread across the arena but no one dared speak up. It was well they didn’t as the order had rather strict rules regarding speech during the meetings. Still the Master noted those who seemed most disturbed by the announcement; they would find themselves facing his discipline if necessary.

Kaeden could not know that his choosing had been preordained by the Prophecies; only the Council members knew. His past was a mystery to most of the monks, carefully hidden for his protection. As a child, Kaeden had been the sole survivor of an outpost attacked by the Aerstone in a move that had told the Borjon the next round of attacks were about to begin.

The Master had one final word that rocked the attendees. “We leave at dawn; it is imperative we reach our destination as fast as possible, so we will travel by Fast Ship.”

A gasp went across the group. Fast Ship was a means to travel much faster than the Borjon ships normally used. It used the theta band of hyperspace, the band that Borjon found most uncomfortable and a band only the monks still possessed. As far as the Borjon Council knew, that technology was lost; the monks had been keeping it secret for centuries. Many of their number had not believed it really existed. It was foretold in the prophecies that it must be kept secret until the time set forth to be revealed.

“Yes, I see all understand. The ability to fast travel can once more be revealed. We believe our allies will discover it on their own and there will be no more reason to hide it from our enemies.”

Every monk there knew very well the meaning of the use of the Fast Ship. Many now understood just how critical the time they faced would be. But not even Master Hadassah knew it all.

#

Lieutenant Jarra Carsean looked out over the docking bay of the super-dreadnought Dauntless, the Imperial Galactic flagship. The bay bustled with activity as her new ship Katarina prepped for launch for her first venture out into the galaxy beyond. Jarra really wasn’t seeing what she was looking at, her thoughts quite preoccupied. A lot had happened over the last few weeks leading up to this.

It was amazing to her that they had just gone through the process of breaking in yet another cutting edge ship. She had loved her old ship, but it had had its limitations, which they’d quickly discovered in their adventures and mis-adventures. Limitations that had put their small crew at risk more than once.

The Katarina was beyond cutting edge, really. Some of her tech was so new the specs hadn’t even been written yet. Her team would be the ones to do that, most likely. And they also had something no one else had. Alien tech obtained when the Empire had captured a moon with a fully intact base and the alien beam weapon, something Jarra could testify as to its effectiveness. They had barely survived the hits on their ship with that weapon.

If they could get it to work! The whole system was barely off the drawing board and they were still figuring out how it all was going to work. But the Emperor of the Galactic Empire had been determined to give the little ship all the edge he could give it. He had a strong vested interest in the survival of this particular ship.

Jarra was really the Crown Princess Jarraosa Christinee Von Hasson, the emperor’s beloved niece, but she was also a much too young lieutenant in the Rim Patrol. She’d tried to keep her real identity secret so she could do her job without all the complications of being a Princess. That hadn’t worked out quite as well as she had planned. Jarra had been forced to assume the mantle of Crown Princess more than once over the last few crazy weeks, but she was back in her more comfortable role now.

Jarra smiled as she thought of her team. They had really come together to become something special. Sub-Lieutenant Sasha had been the last to join them, but she was already an important part of the team. Sasha had an amazing ability to look over a huge stream of data and pick out the patterns of information within that data to produce accurate predictions that so far were spot-on. She also tended to come up with suggestions on how to implement things that no one else had thought of but were obvious after the fact.

I still haven’t pinned John down on what is going on between him and Sasha, Jarra thought. There is definitely something going on there. Jarra’s cousin, Crown Prince John Von Hasson, was more like a brother to her and she hoped it worked out for the two of them. Poor Sasha has no idea what she’s getting into, Jarra thought with a smirk.

A 3D VR message flashed up on Jarra’s console from Galen. “All systems are go.” Galen was the team’s system specialist and also one heck of a navigator. Jarra was still amazed at what he had been able to do navigating their previous ship in hyperspace. Absolutely astounding and somehow Jarra suspected she would be calling on his skill again in their new ship before long; it that should be able to go places where no one had gone before based on their new hyperspace generator.

Using her implants, Jarra sent Galen a response. “Remember, keep all our new systems in camouflage mode. We don’t want anyone to know what this ship can do.”

“Roger,” was the quick response. Jarra already knew he would have done that; it was only her nervousness that had prompted her message. She concentrated on her breathing to try to calm her nerves.

Gabo was the next to ping in. Not one for long conversation, Gabo’s message merely said, “Ready.”

As the team science specialist, Gabo was a whiz at the sensor boards and if it was out there, Gabo would spot it. Right now, though, he was busy working the bugs out of their new systems, especially the ones that were above cutting-edge technology. Jarra knew Gabo was having fun with all those new systems, some of them so experimental no one knew for sure if they would even work. Especially the systems that were based on their captured alien tech. Some of them, such as the power systems and shields, were particularly worrisome, but if anyone could handle them, Gabo could.

Last but not least, Sara pinged in. “Ready to face the Rim again?” Sara asked. She had obviously picked up on Jarra’s nervousness.

Sara had been busy integrating her new implants, which were better than that of anyone else’s out on the Rim other than those of Jarra and her cousin, the Crown Prince. Sara was their resident hacker and electronic warfare specialist. With her new implants, Sara would be able to take her already amazing ability up another notch. Jarra suspected they would need it before long.

“Stay out of my head,” Jarra sent back, not that she was worried about that. Sara would quite possibly have been able to do that with someone else, hacking into their implants, but not with Jarra’s high-end implants. It didn’t matter anyway; Sara had been one of the ones on the team that had voluntarily linked their implants in a desperate move to attempt to escape the rebel ships that were pursuing them at the time. Their gamble had worked, but it had been a close call.

That was when they had all learned of Jarra’s secret identity and their acceptance of her had finished cementing the team together. Jarra was still amazed they’d all done that.

“Are we clear to undock?” Jarra queried the ship’s AI, speaking out loud so the team could all hear her.

Since Jarra had spoken, the AI replied audibly. “The last cargo robot has just exited the ship. Buttoning up now, we should be cleared momentarily.”

“As soon as you have clearance, get us out of here. Take us to the nearest hyperspace entry point.”

“Complying,” the AI replied. “ETA is five minutes.”

Jarra smiled. As much as she had loved their old ship Aeres, Jarra would never have trusted its AI to do even that small task. As they began moving, Jarra keyed the ship-wide com system. She wanted their Imperial Marine contingent to hear too. “Here we go. Off to face the unknown again, doing our part for the Empire. I know everyone will be up to whatever the challenges we must face.”

Little did she know just how true those words would be, nor did she have any idea of the ones that watched and waited.

#

Things hadn’t started out so upbeat for the new ship Katarina just the week before. The small team had taken the ship out for its break-in flight. With all her new systems, the team was still integrating them all together. That was after the week before that of hard work on the ship while sitting in the main landing bay on the Dauntless.

They definitely weren’t ready, but Jarra had found herself driven by a strong sense of urgency. The lack of readiness was evident from the beginning. The whole thing started out badly, with the ship’s main drive having issues with fluctuations and the new sensor suite giving so many false returns Sara had to spend most of her time trying to clean them up.

All of that was bad enough. But unbeknownst to their small crew, a chance encounter was going to change a boring day spent working on things to something much bigger. Prince John had loaned the Katarina a destroyer class ship, the Saber, to assist with their testing. The plan had been for their small ship to fly out to a section of hyperspace that would allow them to test their stealth systems and then let the destroyer come looking for them. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out quite as planned.

Katarina was anchored in an eddy of hyperspace with her stealth systems at full strength. That eddy coincided with a nebula that sat just outside the system where the Imperial squadron was currently staging exercises. For Katarina, the stealth systems were one of the few things that appeared to be working as designed, probably because the technology wasn’t so very new compared to most of the rest of their tech. That did mean that their ship was completely hidden to prying sensors.

“Sir, shall I raise our shields?” Lieutenant Commander James Madison, XO of the Saber, asked his captain.

Commander Matthew Simpson glanced over at his XO. They were about to enter an area of hyperspace that corresponded with a nebula in real space. It was the most likely hiding place in the area that had been designated for their search.

“I don’t see why we should. This whole area has been declared off limits for all Imperial shipping, and running with our shields will slow us down. I want to get this stupid exercise over. It’s a complete waste of time.”

Madison wanted to remind his captain that it was Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for a ship alone in a limited sensor area to run with its shields active, but he didn’t want to risk the ire of his commander who was already in a bad mood. Madison also knew exactly why the commander was unhappy, so he decided it wasn’t worth the risk.

Their squadron was running a series of exercises and the Saber was missing out on those exercises. There was an unofficial competition between the ships in the squadron and although technically their absence wouldn’t hurt their score, Commander Simpson had been disappointed in their performance to date and wanted to try to improve it. Since they weren’t involved in today’s official exercise, they wouldn’t be able to do that. Instead, they were out here in the middle of nowhere.

It’s not like I disagree with him, Madison mused. This whole search is a waste of time and there’s obviously no one out here but the ship we’re looking for. Not only that, but it’s only a matter of time before we find them, since we know exactly where to look. It’s a ridiculous exercise anyway.

They’d already been looking for them for over an hour. The plan was for the destroyer to establish a quick missile lock on the ship if they detected it, although they had no intention of actually firing missiles. The missile lock was like getting tagged in a game of tag and it was quite humiliating to the recipient of the tag.

Later the two commanders would remember the moment of that decision not to raise their shields. That was the turning point for the things that went horribly wrong. After all, there was usually a reason for the things that were part of the SOP.