With his critically acclaimed military science fiction debut series, Dave Bara launched readers on a star-spanning journey of discovery, diplomacy, and danger.
The Lightship H.M.S. Impulse is gone, sacrificed in a battle against First Empire ships. And though the fragile galactic alliance has survived the unexpected invasion, the Union forces might not prove victorious against a full onslaught by this legendary enemy.
For Peter Cochrane, serving as an officer aboard his world’s flagship, H.M.S. Starbound is a dream come true. Tasked with investigating a mysterious space station in a rediscovered star system, Peter and Starbound face a surprise attack by unknown forces and suffer terrible losses.
But there is no time to grieve or even regroup as Peter is thrust into a new crisis, a potential civil war on the Union world of Carinthia. Caught between his rank in the navy and his status as a royal heir, Peter is put on trial for the loss of Impulse, used as a political pawn as Carinthia stands on the brink of a devastating conflict. Peter escapes but faces the prospect of interstellar war when he learns of a possible alliance between the First Empire and Carinthia, a coalition which could tear the Union apart!
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Dave Bara was born at the dawn of the space age and grew up watching the Gemini and Apollo space programs on television, dreaming of becoming an astronaut one day. This soon led him to an interest in science fiction on TV, in films, and in books. Dave’s writing is influenced by the many classic SF novels he has read over the years from SF authors such as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Frank Herbert, among many others.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
THE LIGHTSHIP CHRONICLES
Also by Dave Bara
At High Station Candle in the Quantar System
I circled my opponent, foil raised and held at the ready. She circled me in return, but with her foil casually at her side, each of us making our way around the perimeter of the pen. I had faced her before, and felt the sting of her treachery more than once. But not this time, I thought. This was one-on-one combat, no mercy given inside the pen, none asked for.
A large crowd had gathered, as was typical for our daily fencing matches. Both Quantar and Carinthian sailors alike had proven to be great fans of our once-private sporting spectacle. They came to watch, hoping that I could finally break through, hoping I could finally best my superior officer, Commander Dobrina Kierkopf of the Royal Carinthian Navy, a former military fencing champion of her world.
I had never beaten her, it was that simple, but I had my military and my world’s pride at stake. For Quantar, I thought. This time I’ll beat her for Quantar.
We had been at this almost three months. I had taken it up after concluding physical rehabilitation from my numerous injuries after the Battle of Altos, where we had traversed the artificial jump gate at Levant with our Lightship H.M.S. Starbound and fought an ancient Imperial dreadnought to the death. Their death, it had turned out, but also likely the death of many of our friends and comrades aboard Dobrina’s former command, the Lightship H.M.S. Impulse of Carinthia. I tried not to think about that too often—a reckoning would come soon enough—but right now I had only one goal, to defeat the Commander in the fencing pen for the first time. I watched her dip her right shoulder subtly, just a dip, and then—
She charged across the mat at me, whipping her foil back and forth in a flurry of motion that it had taken me weeks to even learn to track. I parried, I hoped successfully, then quickly fled to open space to regain my bearings. I was doing better today than most. We were tied 2-2 in the match, but the next score would seal it for one of us.
I continued circling away from her, retreating as she pursued, fending off her occasional testing of my defenses with her foil.
“Growing bored again, Cochrane,” she said.
“Is that what you call it?” The truth was I had to bore her with my defensive strategies. My only scores against her invariably came when I was defending. Attacking such a skilled swordsman was pure insanity. She never seemed to make the same move twice, and it was difficult learning her style, because she didn’t really have one. She would use any manner of strategy to win, both inside and outside the rules. As she had told me once before, this wasn’t really fencing, it was sword fighting.
She attacked again, probing my defenses high and low, our foils clattering as they clashed. She moved inexorably closer with each step. I was barely able to hold her off and was completely unable to gain any positive ground under her relentless assault. It was only a matter of time now before I made a mistake.
I took a wild chance and lunged at her, getting inside her foil range and holding her off by grasping at her wrist, using my superior physical strength to my advantage. To my surprise she dropped her foil instantly and then pulled me close to her before spinning me around in a circle, using my own momentum against me. I tripped over her extended leg and fell on my back, sprawling on the mat. By the time I got my bearings back she had her foil in her hand, poised over the scoring zone at my chest.
“And now you’ve fallen for the dropped-foil technique,” she said.
“It seems I have,” I replied. She pressed her foil tip to my defenseless center.
The scoring bell sounded.
The crowd let out a groan of disappointment. She walked casually back to her bench, as she always did after defeating me. I took off my safety mask, went toward my own bench, and sat down. To my surprise, I saw a Carinthian sailor trading Union crowns to a Quantar sailor while his friend chided him.
“He has to win sometime,” I heard the losing Carinthian mutter.
“No, he doesn’t,” said his friend. Then they all walked off together, laughing.
Commander Kierkopf came across the mat. She looked down at me, her hair pulled harshly back in a knot, sweat pouring from her brow.
“Good match today, Peter,” she said.
“It’s always good when you win,” I said back to her.
“Yes, well, you’ve come a long way from our first match,” she said. It was a compliment, and I took it as such, but I really wasn’t sure if I was getting any better.
“Thank you Commander,” I said. She nodded.
“Don’t be late for staff. Captain Maclintock’s notes said he should have news on our redeployment today,” she said.
“I can’t wait,” I replied, wiping my own sweat-soaked face with a towel. Then she was off without another word. The deployment was welcome news. After the battle at Altos, the Historians of Earth had decided Starbound needed not just repairs but upgrades, and she had been under repair or refit for most of the last six months. I was itching to get out into deep space again.
I looked down at my watch. 0713. I had forty-five minutes or so. I lingered in the pen for a few more minutes, then made my way back through the men’s locker room and out into Starbound’s broad main hallway, the galleria, there to take the walk of shame back to my cabin as I’d done almost every day for the last three months.
I was out of my fencing gear and into the shower by 0725. It was a Saturday aboard ship, so Maclintock’s staff meeting had been moved from its traditional 0530 to 0800 as a gesture of kindness to the senior officers. Sunday was the only day we didn’t have a full staff meeting, relying on informal contact, coms and messages, to stay up on current issues with the ship.
I let the water run over my hair and started shampooing, and inevitably got some in my eyes. I reached for my towel but found only empty space, followed by a burst of cold air for my trouble. I was sure my towel had fallen from the shower door, and now I would have to scramble to find it on the floor, half blind with my eyes burning. Suddenly a warm towel covered my face and a pair of firm hands cleaned the shampoo from my eyes for me.
I felt a warm body slide into the shower behind me. She handed me the towel and I hung it back on the door rack.
“I should have suspected,” I said.
“Christ, I thought you’d never get back here,” said Dobrina. “You’re cutting it pretty tight.”
“I’m not the one invading someone else’s shower.” She laughed and started rubbing my back with soap, lathering me up. Then she rubbed herself against me, too. “I’m not sure we have time for this,” I said in mock protest. I was pretty damn sure that I’d make time for whatever she had in mind, but I didn’t want her to think I was too easy.
“You should have thought of that before you gave me your door security combination,” she said. Then her lathering started getting very direct.
“Are you sure we have time for this?” I repeated. She responded by sliding her body around mine until she faced me in the tight confines of the shower. Then she put her arms around my neck and kissed me passionately.
“Oh, I’m sure we have time,” she said between kisses, “for what I have in mind.” Then she slinked her way down my body, and the staff meeting became the furthest thing from my mind.
There were six of us on call for the Saturday staff, and I was there two minutes early to load my plate with a croissant and my morning coffee. I took my place to the left of the captain’s chair in the Command Briefing Room and nodded good morning to Colonel Lena Babayan, Starbound’s marine commander, George Layton, our chief helmsman, and Jenny Hogan, our astrogator and the lone survivor besides Dobrina of the doomed ship Impulse. Maclintock came in and took coffee before sitting in his customary place at the head of the table. Dobrina was last in, and took no refreshment at all. I fancied I’d just given her all the refreshment she’d need for the day.
I smiled and nodded slightly to her as she sat down, her face giving away none of the deviousness of her true character.
“Let’s begin,” said Captain Maclintock. “There’s news about our new deployment,” he started. “We leave Monday morning at 0700 for the Jenarus system.”
“First Contact mission?” I asked, excited at the prospect. Maclintock nodded.
“Jenarus has been surveyed by Valiant, but there has been no contact with the government as of yet. From what we can tell from eavesdropping on their communications network the government there is in a rather regressive state of crony socialism. A lot of government-controlled media and an oppressive police state,” said Maclintock.
“Not ideal for inclusion in the Union,” I stated.
“Not ideal no, but still, they meet the standard for First Contact, a seven on the Technological Development scale if only a six on the cultural scale. Not as high as Levant, but they rated out very closely to Pendax, so they’re in the ballpark,” he continued.
“What’s the status of the survey teams left by Valiant?” asked Dobrina.
“Two teams of six were dropped surreptitiously on the planet sixty days ago, and we’re coming in to pick them up. If all goes well we can begin the First Contact protocol. But here’s where it gets interesting,” said Maclintock. “There’s apparently a First Empire station orbiting the fourth planet, which is basically an airless rock. They were mining something there, but we don’t know what. Valiant didn’t have time to explore the station in detail, but they listed it as both ‘abandoned’ and ‘operational.’ Best guess is that it’s been running on automatic protocols since the war ended.”
“Active but not occupied?” I said. “That’s curious.” Maclintock nodded. He looked down the table at Lena Babayan.
“So this looks like an opportunity for your marines to stretch their legs, Colonel,” he said.
“We welcome it, sir,” she replied.
“Good,” he said, then continued. “The Jenarus government seems to have little interest in space exploration at this time, even though they have the technology for it. They seem much more inclined to spend their capital on orbiting satellites to monitor their populace and doling out meager social programs than in exploring their own star system any further. We’ll go in undercover, which shouldn’t be too much trouble since they spend almost all of their time with their cameras turned on their own people, explore the station, determine its function, and then disable it before we make contact. Admiral Wesley wants no repeats of what happened to Impulse at Levant.”
I looked at Dobrina across the table. She remained impassive but there was no doubt her feelings for her lost command still weighed heavily on her, as they did on me.
“And as for Impulse,” continued Maclintock, “there is more news I’m afraid, for both Commander Kierkopf and Lieutenant Commander Cochrane. Admiral Wesley wants you both back on Quantar inside two weeks. There’s going to be an inquest over Impulse called by the Carinthian Royal Navy next month, so you’ll both have to be briefed before you go. I’m sure we’ll find a way to get you there well ahead of schedule.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Dobrina, again showing no signs of the internal turmoil she must be feeling. I sympathized with her. At least I would be there for support.
“Now, back to Jenarus. Lieutenant Hogan, what’s our ETA to the system?” asked Maclintock.
“Well,” said Hogan, clearing her throat before starting in. “It’s a much further jump than the local hops we’ve been making to Levant and Pendax, sir. Probably at least two days of traverse in a hyperdimensional bubble before we emerge at the other end of the line. Jenarus is forty-seven point six light-years from Quantar, a G-IV-type star, binary, six rocky planets and ten gas giants. The Jenarus system has an unusual landscape in that there appears to be a jump space tunnel within the system, which we’d like to avoid. So given all that, I’d make it a two-point-four-day traverse in the hyper-bubble, and if we emerge into normal space at the same jump point that Valiant did, another day to the First Empire station around Jenarus 4, sir.”
Maclintock turned to Layton. “Can we avoid that jump space tunnel, Mr. Layton?” he asked. Layton leaned forward.
“I think so, sir. It could be tricky on the jump-out, though. As long as Mr. Cochrane can provide me with accurate longscope data, we should emerge near the exit of jump space and be able to leave the tunnel without incident, sir, but it could be tricky. If our HD drive is engaged at all, even one ten-thousandth of a point, we could find ourselves sliding back into the tunnel and emerging at the other end of the line,” said Layton.
“And where is the other end, Mr. Layton?” asked Maclintock.
“Almost in the corona of the Jenarus star, sir.”
Maclintock looked at me.
“So we’ll have to completely disengage our HD drive, cool it down to zero, disengage our Hoagland Field and fire the chemical impellers to get us out of the jump space tunnel to avoid ending up in the furnace of Jenarus Prime, all within how long, Mr. Cochrane?” asked the captain.
“I’d say we have about five seconds,” I replied. He looked at me incredulously. “With Serosian’s help, that’s practically an eternity, Captain,” I reassured him. “And besides, Valiant did it.”
He took a long draw of his coffee.
“Let’s make sure we do it, Commander. I’m holding you responsible.”
“Aye, sir,” I said, confident but not cocky. I was anxious to get back into space and spread my wings some, and this seemed like an excellent opportunity.
“Well then,” Maclintock said, “let’s do it. The twenty-four-hour launch clock starts at 0700 tomorrow. Recall the crew and button her up by 2300 tonight. No screw-ups, and no delays, gentlemen.”
“Yes, sir!” came the enthusiastic chorus all around the table. Maclintock stood and departed, and we were all left to our duties, ready to tackle the day.
Starbound’s Earth Historian, Serosian, was back aboard the ship by 2100. I joined him in his library, which was also part of a separate vessel, the Historian’s Yacht, to go over the last-minute upgrades to our newly trimmed-out and fitted-up Lightship.
“And what ...
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