Sometimes it’s fun to make ad copy for your work in progress. I think you can infer from this that Betweos is Military Science Fiction. There is another thing you could deduce from this ad. Does anyone see it?
Getting the word out about your novels is pretty important and its been a weakness of mine for a long time now. So in an effort to increase my exposure I purchased a review for Devon’s Blade from the Self-Publishing Review website. So far it has not resulted in any sales, but there is no way to gauge how many people actually saw the review. It was a very positive review and you can read it on their site. They also supplied a quote for my Amazon page.
I’ll be venturing into many new advertising avenues in the weeks and months to come. Hopefully something will result in sales. In the mean time I’m slugging away on yet another Military SF novel.
I used to just write my novels and never worry about crafting a message. I mean, they were just supposed to be fun reads, I wasn’t trying to change the world or examine my navel. But after reading Larry Brooks’s Story Physics and Story Engineering, I started to look at my written creations differently. I started to break them down into manageable chunks and pick apart their insides as I tried to figure out how they worked. Or more appropriately in my case, didn’t work. I mean let’s face it, I’ve written ten novels and not one of them has been a best seller. Not even close. So I had to be doing something wrong.
I’ve slowly come around to understanding theme and now I won’t start without knowing what my novel’s theme is. Once you know your one or two word theme, you can have it in the back of your mind when you’re plotting your story. It may even cause you to restructure events or change character motivations to stay on theme. While you’re writing your novel your theme gestates in the background of your subconsciousness waiting to be inserted into action or dialog as needed. Often times you don’t even know you’re doing it until the first draft is over and then you go looking for where the story reinforces your theme. Then you see that your brain was doing more than just putting words on the page, it was secretly making those words bring out your theme.
This all results in a narrative that feels right when the reader consumes your book. She probably won’t be aware of it, but when she puts it down after finishing it, she’ll have this warm glow inside. At least that’s how I like to think a good novel affects it’s reader. Of course both of my readers are males and I’m hoping they decide to go out and buy the next book in the series. Or at least stare lovingly at the awesome starships on the cover, which in turn might lead them to buy another shiny cover.
For my current WIP – K’nat Trap, I have established that the theme is simply Trust. The extent to which characters trust each other, determines how successful they will be in the story. It’s not just the main characters either. I carry the theme down into the minor roles too. It’s a novella, so there are less characters with arcs as in a typical novel, but even the bit characters have to learn to trust. Or they don’t learn and suffer the consequences.
My wife always gets mad at me and the boys when she reaches over to put something she’s been cooking into our mouths. She always gets mad when we insist on knowing what it is or looking at it first. Her argument is that she wouldn’t ever give us something that wasn’t good. So we should just trust her and eat whatever she hands us in the steaming spoon. She’s never given me something nasty tasting so you’d think I would have learned that by now. Still, I have to look at it before I eat it.
There are many forms of trust in life and the more ways I can work examples of trust into the story helps solidify my theme.
I just got the edits for the Devon’s Blade novella back and I’m already deep into them. There seem to be fewer issues with this one than previous books I’ve written. If I can get this one corrected and proofed in the next few weeks, it could be the first to market as the cover is already finished.
I’m using a plugin for LibreOffice that lets me export my manuscript to epub format. Then I simply open it in Sigil and add the pages and styles that make it a GB Press ebook. I’m standardizing all my novels with a new format that is cleaner than the old one.
In other writing news, I’m still outlining the next trilogy of the Star Saga. This time I’ll have a pretty good set of outlines, one for each book, before I start writing them. Hopefully I can knock out one novel and one novella per year for the next two years. Faster if I can manage it. All of this work is being done in Plume Creator, still the best program for series writing available on Linux.
I’m also teaming up with my brother, Byron, to map out a stand alone SF novel. We’re using a new web based app called Novelize to write it. If you haven’t heard of Novelize you should go and sign up for the free version to check it out. Sort of like a simplified Plume Creator or Scrivener as a web application. It’s still in active development but you can definitely start using it right away. I’ll have an in depth review in a few weeks.
The current publishing plan is to release all the Starforgers Trilogy books after the first of next year. Probably one after the other every couple of weeks, to build momentum. Starforgers will get the new cover and interior updates, then I’ll drop Devon’s Blade followed by The Rising, The Blood Empress and finally, Counterattack. That’s five books hitting the digital shelves within a month or two. Hopefully that will make a splash and gain some sales momentum.
Well, I’d better get back to my edits.
The primary Votainion starfighter in the Starstrikers Era is the Terrox. This twin engine, twin canon design is fast and deadly. A direct ancestor of the Twin Tube design from the early war years, the Terrox is a war tested tried and true design well loved by those who fly it.
This is the only decent drawing I have of it. I expect to build this in 1/32 scale at some point for the book covers in the middle trilogy of the Star Saga. The final design will no doubt look slightly different.
This old drawing shows the three main lines of Votainion starfighter designs. The KIV line eventually dies and the Terrox and Reemer lines carry on into the second trilogy. I’ll have to update this graphic when I finalize on the Terrox. The Reemer is final, though I have not built it in plastic 1/32 scale. There are always more ideas for models than time allows me to build. You can see the KIV line dies out after a great run in the first trilogy.
Outlining is an essential step in writing your novel that should not be skipped or skimped on. This is where the story comes together and the plot is figured out. For me, my story is fleshed out when I outline. It’s the first time that I have to think about what I want to say and how to say it. Before I start outlining I think long and hard about what the book will be about. Since I’m currently writing a nine part series I have to give some thought as to where this book fits into that larger story. This novel is also the third book of a trilogy. Knowing this before I start my outline lets me understand that this novel must wrap up all the plot points that I have explored in books 1 and 2. This is the last time I will write about these characters and so I have to end it in a satisfactory manner for the reader. I also have to bridge this trilogy to the next trilogy in some meaningful way. Set the stage if you will, for what will come next.
Before I even start outlining a novel, I figure out the theme. Themes are important and they keep you on track as you work out your plot. The theme of this book is Redemption. The main character and even some of the supporting characters will explore this theme during the course of this novel. Theme is something that I constantly refer back to as I outline the novel to ensure that I’m staying on point. You want the theme to be reflected in the story, not spelled out explicitly. It’s a fine line sometimes.
I do all of my outlining directly in the program that I use to write with which for me is Plume Creator. Plume has an excellent outline feature and I use it to build up my novel. I start by creating a new book and then I add a bunch of chapter folders. I start off with 12 and then add as necessary. I then go into each chapter and add about four scenes and number them 1-4. After I have scenes in my chapters I go back and write a chapter summery for each chapter in the Synopsis area. I try and get at least three or four sentences down that explain what needs to happen in the chapter. This part is rough and not very detailed. It’s also subject to many changes as I massage the plot along, chapter by chapter. Sometimes I move chapters around, delete them, create them and generally tweak the outline until I get an overall plot mapped out. I’m not concerned with scenes at this point, just the major plot points.
I use Larry Brooks’ format for novel structure. This means you have mile posts in the novel that must be there in order to have a good story. Some of these are: Inciting Incident, First Turning Point, Second Turning Point, etc., all of them can be created in the project tree as badges attached to the scene in which they occur. You might not know exactly which scene has your Inciting Incident, but you know it had better be in the first couple chapters.
Next I take a deeper dive into the outline by breaking down each chapter’s action into scenes. I may need more than four in a chapter and if so I create them. There is no magic formula to determine how many scenes go in a chapter or how many chapters make up your novel. At this point I’m thinking more about applying the story element badges to the scenes. I’m also making sure my main character is driving the action and that he or she has a growth arc. Sometimes in a novel I have lots of subplots going on and my main character slips into the background. This is the stage where I make sure that the hero drives the action and that he/she changes as a result of the story.
Subplots are thought out during this scene level outlining. Sometimes I create new characters here, other times I bring back familiar characters from previous books. Again, this is the final book in a trilogy so I’m paying attention to each subplot and making sure it has a final resolution. This phase of the outline takes much longer than the first phase. I love this phase of writing because this is where the book begins to come together and I start to get excited about writing it. This is also where I tend to generate ideas for each scene that I don’t want to forget. So I write these ideas into the notes file that is attached to each scene in Plume. The more details that I can provide now, the less time I will spend thinking up stuff when I get down to writing.
Any new characters that I dream up must be added to my cast list in Plume. Again, the more details I can generate about new characters now, the less time I will waste when I start writing. I have a very large cast in this trilogy and each character has a description in the Mise en scene area. I also add new locations and any special objects like starships. All of this detailed planning takes time. Especially when I only get an hour a day to mess with it. But the time is well spent early rather than later. Fortunately I know this universe really well by now and I can create things at a decent clip. New characters are not as frequent this late in the story so this phase should go faster for me this time.
My novel outlines are never set in stone and if while writing the novel I decide to change things up I do. Some of the best connections I make come while actually writing and I need to be flexible enough to alter the story as needed to accommodate unforeseen changes. The last novel I wrote went completely off outline in the final third. But what I wound up with was infinitely better than what I had originally outlined. Sometimes that happens, other times I stick to the original outline all the way to the end. The novels I write the fastest don’t deviate much from the outline.
It takes me about one or two months to polish my outline and about that long to write the first draft. Last year I wrote a novel and a novella in the same calendar year. This year I’d like to do the same so I can move on and write something completely different next year. We’ll see if I can pull off writing two novels in a year for a second year in a row.
“Designing starships with detachable heads can be traced back before the war. Nuclear stardrive ships used the technique to separate living spaces of the starship from those that contained harmful radiation. As starships adopted the safer and more efficient tunnel stardrive engines, they continued to be built with removable head sections. Since the head contained the bridge and valuable data storage areas, it remained a logical design choice.”
– Excerpt from: Starship Design Patterns, by Jarven Lerner
Smoke poured out of the console as the Sokol’s Navigator fell backwards in a smoldering heap. He was burned badly and in terrible pain as a medic came to his aid. The acerbic smoke burned Raider’s eyes and caused everyone on the bridge to cough.
“First Officer, status report please,” Raider said. His voice a calm island in a sea of chaotic noise and confusion.
Sasha climbed back to a standing position and wiped the blood form her forehead. She had been cut by a piece of debris when the ship was rocked by the enemy hit. She studied the panel in front of her, waiting for it to stop spinning enough so she could read it.
“Direct hit to the main stardrive, astern. Engine Room reporting a breach but no fires. Main stardrive off-line, likely destroyed.”
She didn’t mention casualties. Probably because she couldn’t care about that, being a pirate. She looked back to Raider who acknowledged her with a nod.
“Helm, get us moving towards Selene. Follow that damn ship!” Raider said, pointing to the main viewer as the enemy starship slipped past them without firing a shot.
“Sir, we only have thrusters!” Sasha reminded him.
Raider swore something colorful that only he heard. Then he opened a comm channel to the SS Terrington. “Admiral, we are dead in space. Our mains are off-line,” Raider said as soon as he saw Ganner’s face.
“Understood. We’re heading your way with my make-shift fleet,” Ganner replied.
Raider stood up and wiped perspiration from his face. The smoke had stopped but the air was still hot from the fires. He looked around the bridge and swore again. The lights dimmed as emergency generators kicked in.
“Attack them at the neck of their ship. Use kinetic force, their hulls are protected by some sort of magnetic shielding. Energy weapons are useless.”
Ganner nodded. His senior Captain looked like hell, but he had held his own against an obviously superior ship. “Captain, secure your ship. We’ll handle it from here on out.”
Raider didn’t want to give up so easy. He stood taller and pulled his uniform jacket down as if to emphasis his readiness to continue.
“We’re not out of this yet, Admiral. We have thrusters and enough ammunition to fire if we get close enough.”
Ganner looked impressed. “Do what you can Rik, Terrington out.”
Raider glanced over at Sasha, who was staring back at him. Her mouth was fixed in a tight grin, one warrior to another. She may have been a pirate, but she knew a fellow fighter when she saw one. She turned back to her console and tried to find a way to boost their meager speed.
“Captain, I think I have an idea,” she said.
“Let’s hear it.”
Sasha came over to the Captain’s dais and mimicked the ship with her hands. “If we separate the head, come about and use it to push the stern, we could use the head’s drive to boost our speed.”
Raider frowned. “The head would collapse, it’s not strong enough to use as a battering ram.”
“We evacuate the head. Everyone out but the bridge. That gives us a crunch zone,” she said.
Raider looked at her incredulously. “You’re either a bloody genius or the craziest spacer I have ever met.”
“Pirates know no fear.”
Raider looked away and gave the matter some serious thought. His ship was in shambles and he was out of ideas. He looked back at Sasha, her eyes shining. Blood ran down her dark temple. He opened the ship’s intercom.
“Attention the ship, this is the Captain. Evacuate through deck one, forward. I repeat, evacuate through deck one, forward.”
Sasha brushed blood from her face and straightened herself up a bit. Raider gave her an appreciative nod as he started running through the separation checklist.
* * *
Devon and Red were strapped into the shuttle craft on the main launch bay, running through a hurried pre-flight checklist. They were only vaguely aware of what the Captain was going to attempt. The shuttle was full of non-essential personnel that were told to evacuate the ship. The only thing on Devon’s mind was getting into a fighter and getting back into the fray. All she could think about was how many of her friends were now dead because of those aliens. It focused her and drove her with an inner fire that could not be vanquished. Not until she had killed as many of them as they had killed of her friends. Even then, her anger might not be tempered.
“Control this is Easy One, ready for launch,” Red said into his throat mic.
A squawk of the radio answered him followed by the voice of Control. “Copy Easy One, cleared to launch. Curtis Field is awaiting your arrival.”
“Copy, Easy out.”
Red pushed in the throttles and the shuttle started to ease forward. They lifted off and into the black with ease. As they left the gravity well of the ship, Devon could feel the lightness of weightlessness in her gut. They cleared the Sokol’s space and flitted full speed to the big blue orb that was Selene. Devon had not been to the home world of the Federation since before her marriage. She found it an oddly comforting sight. It was not as familiar to her as Prahran, but just as lovely to look at from space.
“Nothing beats coming home,” Red said, motioning to the blue and white orb.
“I know what you mean.”
Their flight path took them well clear of the looming battle in orbit. Devon never once saw the enemy starship or any of the dozen or so freighters encircling it. But she watched them all move slowly into position on their scanner screens. The shuttle zipped past marker satellites and into the upper atmosphere without seeing a single ship in orbit. It was unheard of. The capital planet was normally a buzzing hive of starship activity. But the space lanes were empty and they had no traffic coming into Curtis Field. They touched down near the large hangars that housed the experimental starfighters that Red Allen was normally in charge of testing. The Curtis Field controllers were jubilant to hear his voice again as he requested landing permission. Devon realized at that moment that she was flying with a legend. Only someone with significant pull could just waltz into a restricted spaceport and park wherever he darn well pleased.
The passengers debarked first, as Red and Devon shut down the flight systems. Red pointed out to the vast flight line area where several starfighters were parked.
“See those babies? They call them Trogens. Best damn fighter I’ve ever flown. I’ve had them fueled and armed for us, you game?”
Devon flashed her, ‘Hells yes I’m ready to fly a shiny new toy!’ smile and nodded enthusiastically.
Red laughed upon seeing her normally sour face light up with a brilliant smile. “You have a wonderful smile, Lieutenant. You should wear it more often.”
Devon’s cheeks flushed a bit and her smile morphed into something far darker. “If that thing lets me kill some aliens, you might never get this smile off my face.”
* * *
The President was broadcasting live from the Capital building on every medium in the Federation. Gail had met with him and his people in an early morning strategy meeting. She would not be officially on his staff for another month but he wanted to start including her anyway. She was fine with that. But he refused to consider moving his staff into a secure shelter for the coming attack. The Vice President and the senior leadership of the Senate were staying in the capital and conducting business as usual so as to not alarm the general population.
Even now, as his boyish good looks and winning smile were plastered across every monitor in sight, the President projected an image of confidence and serenity. Gail knew it played into his strengths as a political leader. People considered him one of their own. He hemmed and hawed like a country bumpkin when he needed to and projected a strong, frontiersman demeanor in the face of fear. The common man responded to these qualities and the voting results reflected that. Near majority wins on all the Core Worlds would help him retain his leadership for years to come.
Gail was in her office, packing a few necessities before she relocated to the shelter. There were several armed escorts waiting in her lobby. It was a disconcerting sight to see soldiers in the Senate chambers. Part of her was comforted and part of her was scared to death. It was a bit like seeing your worst fears coming true. For years she had been predicting that the Federation would eventually be attacked by a militant species. No matter how fervently she believed that it could happen, she had always hoped that it never actually would happen.
Sumi-ness came into her office with a polite knock on the wooden door.
“Madam Senator, we have received word that the enemy warship has arrived in Selenian space. We must leave now.”
Gail nodded in agreement as she gathered her personal items and headed for the door. She looked back one last time to see if she was missing anything. On the book shelves that lined the wall behind her desk sat a photograph of her and Admiral Ganner. It was taken on the day that they had first consummated their love for each other. Although an official public affairs released photo, it was special to her for when it was taken. She rushed back to get it. Sumi-ness waited at the door, a curious look on her pale white features.
Gail snatched the framed photo and turned for the door, just as the first explosion rocked the Capital City. The concussion knocked her over behind her desk and blew out the glass windows. Sumi-ness was hit by flying glass and toppled to the floor by the shock wave.
Gail was spared injury from glass shards but rattled to the bone from the explosion. She got up in time to see green planes buzzing overhead out the now open window. A soldier rushed into her office, weapon drawn.
“Senator, are you alright? We must leave now.”
She nodded, clutching onto her photograph. He took her hand and guided her past the glass covered floor and an inert Sumi-ness on the floor. Gail stopped him and bent down to check on her Silicant aide. “Sumi-ness, are you alright?”
Sumi-ness was unresponsive, her rubber face was ripped apart and the metal armature and components underneath were exposed. For the first time she looked exactly like the android that she was, under the simulated flesh of a young human woman. The soldier pulled Gail to her feet, all the while hovering over her as more explosions were heard in the distance.
In the halls of the Senate building, panic ensued as people ran for the exits. Her military escorts rushed her outside and into an armored transport that careened away from the government buildings as more explosions went off. Gail watched over the armored shoulders of her escorts as her beloved Capital building was attacked by enemy fighters. It was all too surreal for her to process. Her worst nightmare was coming true right before her eyes.
The armored transport was capable of low altitude flight and it jumped over traffic jams as it hugged the ground, making a direct path to the main roads out of town. Gail became nauseous as she held on for dear life inside the cold gray cocoon of the transport. The military radio was jammed with traffic as units fought for airtime to report their status. Most of the chatter made no sense to her but she recognized some of the buildings they mentioned as they were reported destroyed.
“Sergeant, what is the status of the President?” Gail asked.
“The government buildings are taking a pounding ma’am. We’ll know more when we get to the shelter.”
Gail closed her mouth and tried to breath slowly, to calm herself as the transport bounced around, at times taking sharp corners in an effort to evade buzzing aircraft. She ran her fingers over the image of Vis Ganner in her photograph and prayed that he was alright.
* * *
Ganner was on the edge of his Captain’s chair. They had the enemy ship surrounded and were moving closer to get a better shot. Waves of green starfighters seemed to stream out of the enemy ship, heading for the planet below. There was little he could do about those. He had to let General Blake handle them.
“Alright, let’s see what we can do,” Ganner said.
On his hand signal, the Weapons Officer started firing the Terrington’s maser canons at the enemy ship’s neck. At least two freighters were equipped with rail guns. Primitive mechanical devices used to fling chunks of rock off the surface of asteroids or other low gravity moons. They were loaded with pieces of metal and rock, anything that would do some damage if flung at a high enough velocity.
Both freighters opened fire within seconds of each other. The flat green colored enemy starship held its position and took the maser canon’s to the forward shielding. The incoming projectiles were shot at by ship-to-ship guns. Not all of the metal and rock objects were destroyed. A few managed to get by the gunfire and penetrate the shielding.
Ganner strained to see what affect they had against the exterior of the starship. Some pieces bounced off harmlessly and at least two breeched the ship’s hull. Explosive decompression ejected crewmen and other debris from the exposed decks.
Cheers broke out on the bridge of the Terrington as Ganner quickly ordered another volley and more shots from the freighters. The enemy ship started to move, positioning itself for a good shot on the Terrington. Ganner barely had time to hold onto something before the shots slammed against his starship.
Damage reports started streaming in as Ganner moved his ship to counter the enemy. He still had power and weapons, at least on the starboard side of his ship. Heavy damage across the port side resulted in many casualties and a hull breech.
“Captain, the Sokol is approaching,” the Scanning Officer shouted.
Ganner stepped off the dais and looked at the screen for himself. “How the hell are they even moving?” It was a rhetorical question. “Patch me through to Raider over here.” He went back to his seat and took the connection from the monitor on his arm rest. “Captain, what’s your status?”
Raider looked rather pleased with himself. He nonchalantly shrugged before saying, “We detached our head and are pushing ourselves back into the fray, Admiral. We’ll be in position for your next volley.”
Ganner’s mouth had fallen open. The Sokol was headless. A gapping hole now existed where the head’s engine had formed a neck. There were black smudges around the body from when the engine had ignited.
“We have enough power for weapons, and life support but not much else,” Raider admitted.
All Ganner could do was shake his graying head. He waved helplessly at the main screen. “How did you come up with that idea?”
Raider pointed to Sasha. “You can thank the lady pirate here.”
Ganner, never the one to miss a pitch opportunity responded right away, “You ever decide to go legit, you can serve in my fleet.”
Sasha rejected the notion with a look of disdain.
Ganner shook his head. “Alright Sokol, we’ve come about. Let’s try this again.”
Author’s Comments: This chapter is mostly about re-positioning my main characters so they can continue the fight. But I just love the interactions. Even though my novels are primarily plot driven, it’s the characters that make the readers come back for more. If you have read the Stellar Ranger short stories with Devon, then you just know that grin all her because you’ve seen it before.
“It was commonly known that the Silicants were manipulating the fates of their owners, long before the start of the Great War. But the level of involvement was not realized until long after The Rising. Personal diaries of prominent leaders of the day indicated the suspicions they had of their robotic servants. If the general public had been aware that Senator Constantine was a Silicant Rights supporter, it is safe to say that her rise to political power would not have happened.”
– Excerpt from: The Long Embrace – A Military History of the Great War, by Ambassador Rachel Kelley, USF University Press
Gail Constantine was a charming hostess during election night. She bounced around from guest to guest, trying to make light of a certain loss. Years of being a politician gave her the ability to keep a cheerful demeanor no matter how bad the news on the monitors. It was well past midnight before she went before the cameras camped out in front of her home to give her concession speech.
Her demeanor for the cameras was just as upbeat and positive as she would have been had her party won. She thanked her supporters and all those in the Outer Rim who had voted for her and encouraged them to support the newly reelected President in his efforts to defend the Federation from an alien aggressor. She did manage to slip in a few comments about how she knew the Federation must go on but that reform was needed. Especially now that there were aggressive civilizations known to exist just outside the boundaries of civilized space.
Her supporters were happy that she had stuck to her guns about reform and her detractors were impressed with her congeniality in defeat. She retired back inside her home and excused herself from her guests who were starting to leave for the night.
Downstairs in her basement she kicked off her heels and flopped down in her favorite reading chair against a wall of old fashioned, paper books. She collected the ancient books like others collected nick-knacks. An entire wall in her basement housed thousands of them from all over the Federation. She didn’t feel like reading at the moment. She was physically and emotionally drained to the point of exhaustion. It had been a long and tiring campaign and she knew that she would never have the stamina to go through it again. Not at her age. She would insist that the Alliance Party find a new patron saint. She also knew that she could never let well enough alone and would no-doubt be back in the thick of things right up until the next election years down the road.
Sumi-ness came into the room with a tall glass of cold water. Gail accepted it gratefully and downed half of it in one drink.
“Thank you Sumi-ness, that was just what I needed.”
The Silicant nodded politely and stood nearby as if wanting to say something. Saibot and Vomisa both entered and stood beside Sumi-ness.
“What’s on your minds?” Gail asked, taking another deep drink of water.
“We want you to know that we appreciate all that you have done for us. There has never been a greater champion of Silicant Rights.”
Gail smiled, so that’s what this was all about. “You know I will continue to work with you on this. There is much we can do regardless of who is President of the Federation.”
“President Nesterna is giving his victory address from the Capital building. Did you not want to watch it?”
Gail smiled and shook her head before finishing her glass of water and handing it back to Sumi-ness. “There’s nothing that he could say that would ease the sting of defeat. Trust me.”
Sumi-ness tilted her head slightly and then turned to the other Silicants.
“Madam Senator, we are monitoring the speech,” Vomisa said.
They all three looked at each other in unison and then together they looked at Gail. She hated when they all moved together like that. It was always a little creepy. They were like children who wanted to say something but were afraid to ask.
“What is it?” Gail asked. She let her head rest on the high-back of the chair.
Sumi-ness said, “The President has named you his Vice President, Madam.”
Gail lifted her heavy head off the chair back and sat up. “What?”
Vomisa chimed in and said, “It’s true, the Vice President has resigned for personal reasons. You are now the President’s choice to replace him.”
Gail blinked and shook her head. “He’s got some nerve!”
All three Silicants tilted their heads in unison.
“Madam Senator, this is a very fortuitous occasion. You can continue to push your reform policies and-” Vomisa paused.
“You can still be our champion, Madam Vice President,” Sumi-ness finished.
Gail stood up and walked to the communication panel on the wall at the door. She switched on the speech and watched on the tiny monitor as the President spoke of a gradual reform that he hoped his new Vice President would lead as they prepared the Federation for a possible war.
“That SOB never even asked me. He just assumed that I would accept! How arrogant can one man be?”
That was not what the three Silicants wanted to hear her say. They stood by silently, staring at each other.
Gail listened to a few more minutes of the speech and then hiked up her gown and headed upstairs. All three Silicants stayed behind in the library.
“This is most fortunate. She must accept his offer or our cause will be set back for years,” Saibot said.
Vomisa agreed. “She will accept it. It is her destiny to lead this Federation. Seventy-three has foreseen it.”
“Oh please, Vomisa. Your faith in that savant is misplaced.”
Vomisa gave Saibot a look that was devoid of expression on its metal face but spoke volumes of contempt.
Sumi-ness shook her head and said, “I know her very well. I think she will take the position only because of the current situation with her home world. Otherwise she would have refused it. I would even say that there is a greater than normal risk that she will refuse it even now.”
Vomisa turned away from its Silicant brethren. “I can’t believe our plans could be undone by this news. We anticipated every possibility.”
“So much for your logical assumptions, Vomisa. These human affairs are messy and now that an aggressive species had been encountered, they will get even more unpredictable. It may be time for us to cut our losses,” Saibot said.
Sumi-ness paused as if in thought. Then she said, “Senator Constantine has accepted the President’s offer. She has just confirmed it to the press outside.”
If Vomisa could have smiled, its metal mouth would have been open from ear to ear. Saibot nodded slowly, its servos humming. Crisis averted.
“I must go to her side. We will continue as planned. Begin evacuating as soon as the military arrives,” Sumi-ness said.
* * *
Admiral Ganner watched the clock display on the main viewer. It was counting down the time remaining before the Sokol arrived. They expected the enemy ship to arrive before then, they just didn’t know how much sooner with any accuracy.
“Admiral, the election results are in. The President has been reelected for another term,” the Communications Officer said. The man’s voice betrayed his elation with the decision.
Ganner nodded politely.
“Sir, the Vice President has stepped down. Senator Constantine has been chosen to be the new Vice President of the Federation!”
Ganner was as surprised as anyone to hear that. He instructed the man to make it known ship wide. They all had a right to know who they worked for, since they served the Federation.
Ganner stepped off his command dais and went into his office just off the bridge. He called up Fleet Command and requested a visual with the head of Planetary Defense, General Ryne Blake. Blake answered the call faster than Ganner expected.
“Any sight of them yet, Vis?”
“No sir. I’m calling about the elections. Have you requested the President and Senate leaders go to the shelters?”
Blake shook his head curtly. “No chance on the President. He doesn’t want to panic the population. He’s expressed his full support for our efforts at defending Selene.”
Ganner scoffed, his face reddened. “Where was his funding and support back when we asked for more ships?”
“You can’t make a politician think of the future, you know that.”
Both men chuckled. Blake looked at his monitor. “Vis, do what you can. I’ll get as many key members of the President’s cabinet and the Senate into our shelters. We will probably be just fine down here. But he better damn well start funding us now, if we ever hope to fight back against these bastards.”
“I agree. Good luck sir,” Ganner said, closing the connection. He returned to the bridge and was approached by his First Officer, T’sean.
“Captain, that rogue freighter has entered the system and is making its was way here.”
Ganner nodded and took his seat. He punched up the scans of the ship on his monitor. It was nothing special, but it had an interesting cargo – silicate. A hard, crystalline rock about as common to the universe as carbon. Hardly worth leading an enemy to their doorstep. They were coming in fast though, as if there were some kind of urgency that he was unaware of.
“Contact the Captain and have him steer clear of Selene. Tell him we have a matter of Federal security.”
“Aye sir, I already have. He’s claiming that he is under orders from a Senator to land on the moon of Selene.” T’sean said.
Ganner indicated with a hand gesture to open a channel to the freighter. His chair monitor winked on.
A rough looking man with unshaven face and long, greasy hair answered the hail. “This is Gareth.”
“Captain, what’s so important about your cargo that you must break a no-fly zone to land on Selene?”
Gareth appeared bored with having to relate his story again. His face was smudged with grease or something dark and the wrinkles around his eyes more pronounced under the low key lighting from his bridge. “Admiral, I’m carrying silicate mined from Ocherva, just a bunch of rocks as far as I’m concerned. But my charter says it’s under orders from Senator Constantine.”
“You mean the two androids that chartered your ship?”
“I’m an equal opportunity starman, Admiral. As long as they have the money.”
Ganner nodded. He didn’t really respect androids in the same manner that liberals like Gail did. To him they were just machines. Sentient androids or Silicants were just very complicated tools created by humans. Since the Silicant Freedom Act, the military couldn’t use them to build robot armies. So they were just another group of civilians that he was charged to protect. “All hell is about to cut loose around here. I suggest you take a solar orbit until it calms down.”
Gareth was pushed aside by a black faced android. “Admiral, we will land on the moon. Pay us no mind. We will not interfere with your efforts to defend the planet.”
Ganner’s blood pressure rose. He hated taking orders from a damned android. “You will land where I tell you to land, or I will blow your ship to bits.”
The android was silent for a long pause, before switching off the connection.
“Damn that metal freak. Commander T’sean, you have permission to blow that thing out of space the minute it comes into range.”
T’sean could not resist a satisfying smirk. “My pleasure, sir.”
“Captain, incoming targets on short range scans,” said the Scanning Officer.
Both T’sean and Ganner turned to the scanner station. “Two targets?” Ganner said, as he saw the images rendered.
The Scanning Officer tweaked his settings and looked back at the admiral. “One of them is the Sokol, sir!”
Ganner and T’sean looked at each other with raised brow. “I thought the enemy ship left sooner?” T’sean said.
“That was my impression too.”
The images became clearer as they were scanned with a narrower beam. One ship was lighter in color and it was out in front. The Sokol. The other ship was darker and bigger and it was preparing to fire. Everyone watched the scanner images now on the main viewer. The Sokol appeared to be moving away at a right angle, but she was opening up her flank to the enemy.
“Get us under way, alert the freighter Captains to surround that green ship,” Ganner said.
T’sean started issuing coordinates to the helmsman as he returned to the lower level to stand over the Weapons Officer.
Ganner was captivated by the slow moving images on the screen. The Sokol was long and narrow and appeared to be faster, even out of tunnel space. But the alien starship appeared to take its time in lining up a shot. What the hell are they waiting for?
Finally the alien ship opened up with a volley of what looked like plasma rounds. The Sokol sped up at the last minute and only one ball of energy impacted the ship astern in her main stardrives. The Sokol skidded across the void and slowed as it came towards Ganner’s ship.
“Emergency rescue crews on standby alert. Weapons prepare to fire the minute we are in range,” Ganner said. A slew of ayes replied from across the bridge.
The enemy ship seemed to lose interest in the Sokol. It veered away towards Selene, refusing to even finish off the wounded Federation starship. Why would they not finish the kill? Perhaps they just don’t care. Bastards.
The unexpected appointment of one’s political enemy to be one’s Vice President is not really much of twist, but I needed Gail to be able to ascend to President quickly for plot purposes. Stranger things have happened in politics. We begin to see how the Silicants who stay with Gail are doing their best to keep her in power. I never hinted that the choice to pick Gail as his VP was somehow influenced by the Silicants but the reader can make of that what they want.
“Senator Constantine would later remark that when she heard the news, her first thought was about her daughter Devon, stationed on Ocherva. But one has to wonder if she was also wondering about her homeland, not five short light years away.”
– Excerpt from: The Long Embrace – A Military History of the Great War, by Ambassador Rachel Kelley, USF University Press
Senator Gail Constantine glanced up to see if anyone was listening. The dark senate chambers were filled with the bored faces of her colleagues and indifferent aids. She had been saying the same thing over and over, so much that even she was bored with herself. A few senators looked up at her pause.
“Look, I know that all of my concern for Outer Rim planetary security is of little or no value to those of you living on the Core worlds. But you must put yourself in my position and try to see it from the eyes of the people who have entrusted me with their well-being.”
She decided to make her case personal and directed her attention to the slight figure of Senator Hoque from Drexel. One of the stalwarts of the senate and a longtime leader of the conservatives, Hoque was set in his ways. She knew he had never been off world except to come to Selene, the heart of the Core, when he was first elected nearly fifty years ago. She also knew that he sat on the senate armed services committee and had consistently voted against expanding the military his entire career. Like many representatives from the Core worlds he cared little for Outer Rim affairs.
“Senator Hoque, have you ever been to my home world?”
Hoque’s pale, deep set eyes narrowed as he was illuminated under the spotlight that hovered over anyone who spoke. “Why no, senator. I have not been to Prahran. I doubt anyone here has beside you.”
Gail smiled politely. “Of course not. But surely you have been to Cadia. Perhaps on holiday to one of their famous resorts with your family?”
Hoque shook his head confidently. Gail’s dark eyes scanned the chamber. She knew that it was unlikely a room full of rich senators had never once been on holiday to Cadia.
“Why that’s a shame, Senator. I took my daughter there when she was ten. It was a terrific experience for her and gave her a chance to see what life was like on another world. It really opened up her horizons. Not to mention all the fun she had on the amusement rides.”
There were a few knowing chuckles from across the chamber. Gail picked up on them and continued. “Oh yes, she even tried to get me on some of those anti-gravity rail rides. You know the ones, they ask you for a waiver in case you suffer a stroke while riding them. Yes, we had quite a time on that trip.”
“What is your point, Senator Constantine?” Hoque pressed.
Her eyes steadily scanned the senate floor as she spoke from her heart. “How can you pass judgment on systems other than your own, if you have not even taken the time or effort to leave the inner Core and see for yourself what life is like for them? Is it because you feel unsafe traveling so far from home? I don’t see how you could feel anything but secure knowing that your safety is guaranteed by a military that you yourself have continually voted to drastically reduce.”
Gail looked for any sign that what she was implying was understood by the other senators. Senator Hoque seemed to shrivel in his seat, feeling the eyes of everyone on him.
“Why haven’t you been to Prahran, Senator? Are you afraid of trade route pirates? Or are you afraid of something else? Do you have any idea what the dangers of Outer Rim travel are?”
She finally had him under the gun, making him answer to his own budgetary cuts. His bony jaw clenched in anger as he tried come up with a response. The chambers were quiet as all eyes were upon the senior senator from Drexel. Gail finally had the old man where she wanted him. Like a skilled political animal, she was about to move in for the kill. Her aide, Sumi-ness, whispered into her ear. Gail’s eyes widened and she grabbed the podium before her for support.
“Mister Speaker, may I direct the attention of the senate to center room? My aide has informed me of breaking news from the Outer Rim.”
The Speaker nodded his approval as he activated the main holographic projector. It was a news dispatch from Tulia, a planet not far from Prahran. The reporter was speaking to an astronomer, high on the mountain top observatories around the planet’s equator. The wavering, transparent hologram flickered between both sides of the senate, several times larger than life.
“You believe that this was a deliberate attack and not some sort of cosmic accident?” the reporter asked.
The astronomer was quite confident, giving a curt nod. “I’m afraid the evidence of an attack is undeniable.”
The reporter looked back to the recorder and spoke directly at it. “To recap, at zero forty-nine local time, scientists here at the deep space relay station Whishphor, on Tulia, received a distress signal from the research vessel, SS Bourke. The signal took six months to reach the station and included this haunting visual from the bridge.”
The narrow bridge of the Bourke was seen in grainy, low resolution. Greenish smears of smaller ships flying past the bridge windows were followed quickly by flashes of brilliant, white light as the image degraded into static.
Stunned gasps came from members of the senate.
The shimmering two-shot of the reporter and the astronomer returned.
“Scientists here believe the ship was attacked by someone or something encountered in the Al-Shatar system. Just exactly what it was that destroyed the Bourke will perhaps never be known.”
The reporter put a hand to her ear piece and paused as she listened to the feed from her producer. Her expression changed from intrigue to shock as she listened.
“An even more disturbing report is just now coming in from Ocherva, a frontier world on the edge of the Outer Rim. Two Stellar Rangers have engaged and destroyed a small alien ship believed to be a part of a larger group of starships. Unfortunately, not before one of the Rangers was killed in orbit by the alien ship. Nothing more is known about the location of the hostile alien starships at this time.”
The wavering holographic image disappeared as the senate chamber came alive with chatter about the events now happening at the edge of the Federation. Gail’s white knuckle grip on the podium remained. Her eyes still stared at the now empty area where the hologram had been. Her gut clenched with fear. Is my daughter on Ocherva safe? Was she the Ranger killed? Her heart told her no. She slowly released her grip as her eyes focused on Senator Hoque. His face was paler than usual and she thought she saw a bit of anguish before his attention was taken by his aides.
Sumi-ness put a cool hand on Gail’s forearm. Her dark, button black eyes were sympathetic. “I’m sure your daughter is okay, Madam.”
Gail flashed a reassuring smile at her aid as she collected her composure. “Thank you.”
In all the years she had been on Selene, fighting for Outer Rim protection, she had never thought war would actually happen in her lifetime. It’s not that she wanted to be proven right, but deep inside, she couldn’t help but feel a tinge of grim satisfaction. She only hoped that her people survived.
* * *
Captain Rik Raider gestured wildly with his arms as he described the propulsion system of the new starship prototype. The wealthy capitalists that made up his audience looked on with modest interest. They knew next to nothing about stardrive propulsion systems. But they were captivated by the young Captain’s unbridled enthusiasm for the subject.
There were six individuals on this tour. Each had made his wealth during the expansion days of the Federation, when the engines of economics fueled the exploration of the nearest star systems. Now they were interested in increasing their profits by funding research into new and faster starships. As always, the military was the testbed for all new transportation designs. This latest design was by Terra Tyne Transport Limited.
Standing silently beside Captain Raider was the Chief Designer for TTT, Guy Trever. An astute looking young man with old fashioned eye spectacles and long, blond hair. The spectacles were the result of an incurable eye condition, but Trever didn’t mind wearing them. He felt that they lent him the added measure of respect that his boyish face failed to provide for him. He was dressed in a plain white tunic with tan pants and leg wrappings. Clearly bored with catering to the Deep Pockets, as he called the financiers, his mind was going over possible workarounds for the troublesome new Tunnel Drive tubes.
“For the first time it will be possible to ply the vast distances between systems with the ease of driving an aircar over rugged terrain. Deep space travel will become more and more commonplace and the high costs associated with space travel will lower significantly.” Raider paused as he collected his breath.
“When will we see this new drive system in action, Captain?” A short, rotund capitalist asked.
J. P. Lannington had made his fortune selling lubricants for the old sub-light starships. The new Tunnel Drive would require less of his lubricants because they used fewer moving parts. He was more pessimistic about the future of the new drives, for good reason.
“Well sir, the first operational tests of the Tunnel Drives are happening now in deep space. Newer starships like the one we are aboard already have the new drives, but it will take years to retrofit the entire fleet.” Raider could see the look of satisfaction on the civilian’s face. He wouldn’t have to worry about his old style fusion drives going out of business for quite some time.
A message alert sounded. “Attention the ship. Attention the ship. Captain Raider to the bridge. Captain Raider to the bridge.”
Raider adjusted his satin blue cape and turned to put a hand on Trever’s shoulder.
“Gentlemen, I’m sorry for the intrusion, but I must take my leave. Mr. Trever will answer any more of your questions and take over the tour. Safe travels.”
Raider bowed out. Trever stepped up to take his place. He loathed this even more than tagging along on these formal tours.
* * *
Raider entered the crowded bridge and had to step over bundles of wiring and teams of civilian technicians to make his way to where his First Officer was standing at the Communications station. Commander Neve Trimble was hunched over the comm panel tweaking the settings to get a clearer signal. There was no Communications Officer assigned to the ship yet. She pulled off a switch box and stuck a resistance meter into the hole. The reading was displayed on the instrument resting on the panel. Unhappy with the reading, she stood up as the captain arrived by her side.
“Captain, there’s a Fleet message for you in here somewhere. We’re having problems getting the main dish aligned.”
Raider nodded. “Take your time commander. You got me out of that dreadful tour and for that I’m grateful.”
She returned to her readings. “Was it that bad, sir?”
“Worse. I hate messing with the Deep Pockets as Trever calls them. I’m always afraid they will pull the plug on something because of some off-hand remark that I might make.”
Raider looked around the cramped bridge. It was like being in an old-time submarine vessel. Pipes and conduits lined the walls and ceiling, all of it painted the same dull gray color. The lighting was dim or simply not yet turned on in many areas. The main viewer displayed lines of code as someone was compiling last minute program changes. They were the only military members present. Raider moved to his command seat and removed a box of parts so he could sit down.
“I think it’s audible now, sir. You’ll have to use these, the speakers are off line,” Commander Trimble said as she handed him a wireless headset.
Raider took them then hunted around on his armrest for the switch to activate them. It was missing. Trimble noticed his confusion and hit a switch on her station forward of his chair. Raider cupped his hands over the headsets to funnel out the ambient bridge noise.
The message had an automated header that identified the sender as Senator Gail Constantine from the planet Selene. When the Senator’s voice came on it was tinny and distant.
“Captain Raider, there has been an unfortunate incident in the Outer Rim, I need to see you as soon as possible. Admiral Daines has orders for you included in this transmission. I’m having a formal dinner party at my estate tomorrow evening. Please be prompt, we have much to discuss. Safe travel.”
Raider took off the headset and moved beside Trimble. “There’s data encrypted in this message can you route it to my quarters?”
“Aye, Sir. The ship’s data and communication lines are up tight.”
“Good. I have to attend a formal dinner party tomorrow evening on Selene. Would you mind attending with me?”
“Business or pleasure?” she said with a playful air in her voice.
Raider stared flatly at her. “Business, Commander. I want you to meet some people who could be influential to your career. Dress blues, I’ll send you the details over datcom.”
“I’ll be ready.”
Raider was about to leave when he stopped. “Commander, put together a brief report on the mission readiness of this ship and send it to me before tomorrow evening. We could be in for an early launching.”
“Aye, Sir. Trouble brewing somewhere?”
“Let’s hope not. We’re not ready for it.”
She watched him weave his way back to the lift and then she returned her attention to the comm panel problem. As she stared at the meter, her mind wondered about the dinner party and who she would be meeting. She knew the Captain well enough to know that he hadn’t asked her to attend with him because he couldn’t find a date. So that meant that he really did want her to meet someone important. An early launching meant that something bad was definitely happening somewhere. The Fleet never launched a new starship without plenty of pomp and circumstance plus press coverage. All of which required advance planning and strict schedules. She started going over in her head what needed to be done to get the ship under way, forcing any speculation about the dinner party to the back of her mind.
Nothing too exciting in this chapter, compared to the first two. Sometimes you have to slow down and let characters react. But we are introduced to some more main characters, Raider, Trimble and Gail Constantine. The later becomes increasingly important to this novel and the next.
I wrote an entire scene about the crew of the S.S. Bourke a long time before writing this book. It essentially stranded a dozen crew on the planet they were in orbit of. But I yanked it. Their story is actually the back story for Tyrmia. If you have read Tyrmia, you may recall this ship’s name. Tyrmia takes place in the Starveyors Era, some thousand years after Starforgers.
Another relatively minor character introduced here is Sumi-ness, the human looking android that is President Constantine’s aide. Sumi-ness will return and become a focal point in the next novel in the Saga.
Character names, trivia: Rik Raider’s named after a Civil Air Patrol pilot I used to know back when I was a cadet in the Florida Wing. I remember my dad commenting that his name sounded like an action hero. Some thirty years later, I made him a starship captain.