Five years after physicist Mark Holder discovered the Slipstream Drive in 2058, humanity reached for the stars and began to colonize the galaxy. For centuries, humans continued to populate system after system without encountering intelligent alien life.
Some twelve hundred years later, after many generations of relative peace, in the year 3278, human space is invaded by a powerful and mysterious enemy. To these invaders the very concept of free will is heresy. Their crusade—to eradicate humanity.
The war begins, and the fight for the survival of the human race is on.
Book 1 of Sovereign Stars, Avenger, is the first novel in a gripping, action-filled military space opera in which Avenger, under the command of Knight Captain Richard Morian, is sent to one of the outer star systems on a rescue mission. What he discovers there suggests the entire Orso Carrier Group is destined for annihilation.
Release date: June 7, 2022
Publisher: Blair Howard Books
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From the Author:
The World of The Sovereign Stars!
In the year 2052, physicist Mark Holder discovered the Slipstream drive—a traversable wormhole drive—and mankind reached for the stars and began to colonize the galaxy. For centuries, mankind continued to colonize system after system without coming into contact with intelligent alien life. But man is a natural predator, warlike and greedy. After many generations of minor warfare, humanity faced a near-extinction-level event remembered now only as The Purge.
The vast majority of humanity did not survive The Purge. Those that did owe their survival to a few hundred Heroes—starship captains and generals—who brought an end to The Purge and began to restore order in the galaxy.
These Heroes are thought to have had a range of powers, including telepathy (commonly called Psy), telekinesis (commonly called TK), and even a form of second sight that allowed them to see events in the future and thus predict probable enemy movements (these are the Seers).
Over the centuries that followed the end of The Purge, these Heroes of old passed their powers down to their children. And so, the Heroic Families were formed, bloodlines that can be traced to the present day.
After The Purge, humanity embraced a form of monarchy. Each star system with a habitable planet (which serves as the Capital for the system) became a Kingdom in its own right. In almost all cases, the royal families can prove their bloodlines come from Heroic blood. Although, over time, the bloodlines became clouded, despite efforts to keep them pure.
Present Day, Year 3278
Mankind, now in a kind of golden age, has achieved a level of stability not seen since long before The Purge. People live for an average of 175 years. Kingdoms are actively colonizing once again, exploring out through the network of Slipstreams. Outposts and settlements become colonies, and colonies eventually become kingdoms in their own right.
Science rules the day, and even those of heroic bloodline do not have TK or Psy abilities. Most of humanity believes the stories of the Heroes are only legends and fairy tales.
The military is now partially unified and partially fragmented. No substantial war has been fought between kingdoms for more than two hundred years, so there is now a single United Sovereign Fleet (USF), but the Carrier Groups within this fleet pledge loyalty to a specific king and kingdom. Individual kingdoms also have a royal militia, a kind of security force.
Overseeing all of these kingdoms, the United Sovereign Fleet acts as royal peacekeepers and protectors. But what do you suppose would be the outcome if they had to face a threat from a superior alien race?
Hello, my name is Krista. I’m the Avenger’s artificial intelligence, her AI, and I’m going to tell you the story, the whole story.
Prologue Falling Stars
Persei Star System
Kyne Minnah had a headache. Several lines of code just wouldn’t resolve themselves. He’d spent hours working through a dozen different options and nothing seemed to work. The glitch stared back at him, stubborn and embarrassing.
Elio and Tobin are going to wonder what I’ve been doing all week, he thought. This bug is going to set the whole project back a week or more.
Then, just when Kyne felt as if he was at the end of his rope, a network error hovered above his holographic display.
“What the vac?” Kyne muttered, keying in a query to the network center. The answer that came back was puzzling.
Kyne leaned back. No connection? The Slipstream network was offline? What the vac’s going on?
The signal cleared the network center downtown, and the X-ray transmitters all seemed to check out, but the Slipstream network station wasn’t responding. Well, he thought, there’s nothing I can do about that. I wonder… He tapped the data pad on his arm and tried to contact the network center, but there was no answer. He stared at the lines of code, shook his head, leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. Damn it!
He decided to go for a walk. The network going down was annoying, but at least it bought him some time to stretch his legs. What time is it, anyway? he wondered. He glanced again at his data pad. It was past midnight. Stars, no wonder I’m seeing double, he thought.
“Hey, Telsa,” Kyne said as he rose from his seat. The AI chimed to let him know it was listening. “Put my gear to sleep. And unlock the front door.”
Another chime and the holo faded as his computers powered down.
Kyne grabbed his hat. A notification chimed on his data pad as he stepped out of his front door. He ignored it.
The night sky was beautiful, a deep black ablaze with twinkling white stars.
The streets of New Hope were quiet and the air was cool.
When Kyne had first heard of the open invitation to move to the Persei System, one of the most distant star systems in Known Space, he’d ignored it. He wasn’t the pioneer type. Why join a primitive, colonial settlement halfway across the galaxy? Then again, he did enjoy the quiet life. And his home planet, Odin, was a busy, overcrowded boisterous world. So Kyne went ahead and signed up.
Now, he traded a few hours a week of IT work for a small house at the outskirts of New Hope where he could dedicate most of his time to his real passion: developing games and apps with his buddies.
Of course, if the network was down he wouldn’t be able to do much coding. Sure, Elio would be angry, but what was he to do? It was out of his control.
His data pad chimed again. Kyne pulled up the display and the face of Mole Barrion appeared, a recorded message. The older man didn’t look happy; he sounded angry.
“Minnah, you promised you’d have the gravcars programmed before morning,” Barrion grumbled. “I see that this still is not done. Please do not disappoint me, Minnah. I want the celebration tomorrow to be spectacular. I need those gravcars. Do not… let me down.” The image faded, the message complete.
Kyne sucked in cool air. Damn it, he thought. I’d completely forgotten.
Well, he decided, no time like the present. With the Slipstream network down, there’s no point in going back to the house, anyway.
He changed direction, made a right at the next block. The garage where the gravcars were stored was no more than a twenty-minute walk.
The celebration, the first annual Founders Day for New Hope, was supposed to be a big deal. At least that’s what Barrion was hoping. And Kyne had promised to take care of programming the gravcar parade to trace a route through New Hope’s streets, firing pyrotechnics into the air and displaying holographic dancers. It would be quite a show, but Kyne still had to program the cars to follow the route the city committee had mapped out. The project was an easy thirty-minute job. He’d just been putting it off.
He was beginning to feel sleepy, so he picked up the pace. He decided he’d finish up programming the route for the gravcars and then walk home and go to bed. Then, while everyone else was enjoying the show and drinking enough synthol to fry their brains, maybe he’d be able to figure out why the Slipstream network was down. Was it system-wide or just on planet Typhon itself? His mind started to race as he considered the possibilities. There was nothing like a new puzzle to work through to get the blood pumping.
People were starting to wander from their homes, he noticed. Late-night holodrama watchers, probably, he thought. Upset over the network outage, too.
Kyne waved at several of his neighbors as they stumbled around their front yards in the dark. A few blocks farther on, a gravcar hummed by, flying half a meter above the street.
He didn’t take any notice at first, but, at some point along the way, he saw people were standing in their front yards staring up at the night sky. He smiled to himself. What do they think they’ll actually see, the network satellites with their bare eyes?
But, the closer he got to the town center, the more people there were on the street, all looking upward, some calling out to each other and pointing. Kyne reflexively glanced up at the sky himself. And that’s when he saw them.
At least they looked like stars… at first.
But, unlike most stars in the night sky, these were not white, and they didn’t twinkle. These stars burned bright blue.
More and more blue lights appeared in the sky above New Hope. They grew brighter and brighter until they were by far the brightest stars in the sky.
“What the vac?” Kyne said as he stopped walking and stared like everyone else.
Suddenly, sirens began to sound downtown. An emergency alert? What’s happening? Could it be pirates? They never attack anything on the surface.
Then it began. A needle-like beam of blue light from one of the bright blue stars struck a building just a few blocks from where Kyne was standing.
There was an almighty thunderclap, and the building exploded into a million pieces.
Screams followed the destruction. The emergency alarm was joined by another, and then another until the air itself vibrated from the noise.
The blue stars were descending on New Hope, their blue beams raining death and destruction on the city.
Kyne ran, his heart racing. But there was nowhere to go.
Chapter 1 Prince of Orso
The Orso Royal Palace
Elio Lorne, Prince of Orso, stepped into his bedroom suite, his hair still wet from the steam shower. A robot servant stood at attention in the corner, its eyes glowing the dim blue of sleep mode. He finished drying his shoulder-length blond hair and threw the towel on his bed and slipped into a robe before plopping down on the cushioned chair in the middle of the suite.
He glanced sideways at the small stand beside the chair where he’d left his halo, a circlet of corinium and circuitry. He grabbed it and slid it onto his head. The halo had been adjusted to fit snugly just above his ears.
Elio loved moments like this—his first time accessing his halo with his new forearm data screen. He held up his forearm, the form-fitted polydyethylene data screen flexing with the movement of his skin. He’d had the latest version installed earlier that day. The vitals sensors of this new model no longer required the old-style wrist plugs. It had nano probes that inserted themselves through the skin into the nervous system. The Xion V15 would not available to the general public for another three days, but through his royal connections, Elio had received his a few days early. He smiled at the thought of the citizens lined up for blocks, waiting for the new version.
He tapped the touch screen on his forearm to take him to the main menu and selected “gaming.” His data screen synced with the halo. He touched the sensor to activate the halo and felt the familiar tingling sensation of the nerve-jack. Then, less than a second later, he was no longer sitting in his chair in his suite. Instead, his avatar, a Middle Eastern boy, stood in a bare white room, holographic displays hovering in front of him, welcoming him.
With a thought, he accessed the control panel for Old Earth Assassin. He and his friends had been developing the game for months. Elio was in charge of the coding, Tobin handled research, and Kyne Minnah took care of graphics. They had advanced far enough to be able to play the beta version for the first two levels.
As the game loaded, Elio opened a second window and went over the code for the holographic connections. There had been some bugs in it last time they’d played, but those should have been corrected with the latest update.
The game began, and Elio was surrounded by the holographic realism of the game’s universe. He was standing in a town square, surrounded by stone buildings with thatched roofs. The streets were crowded with people. Merchants in the marketplace hocked fruits, vegetables and other wares.
The setting was Old Earth, before the systems settlements, before the Slipstream, before The Purge and before humans developed the gifts of TK and Psy, if they even existed at all, he thought. The Earth of this historical time period was primitive: stone streets, horses and carriages, no computers or combustion engines. It was an ideal time to be alive on the first human planet.
Elio enjoyed the quiet, slow pace of this world. Since there were not many records of life before The Purge, he didn’t know if the details were correct. But from Tobin’s research, it was as close as they could get it, at least for now. They’d continue the historical research later.
He walked his avatar down the street. When he’d jacked into the game, it should have triggered notifications to Tobin and Kyne that he was there.
Where are they? he wondered. They should be here. He sent them a message. It didn’t go through. Bad connection? That’s odd. The inter-system network hasn’t experienced an outage for decades.
Elio had heard about them, but the new servers on the Slipstream Control Stations had multiple levels of backup.
He continued down the street and was about to approach the spice seller when, suddenly, a loud beeping interrupted the game and everything froze.
“What the vac?” he said to himself.
“Your father wishes to speak to you, sir,” a pleasant AI voice sounded in his halo.
“Not now, Dinka,” Elio said. “I’m busy.”
“The summons is urgent, my prince. The king wishes to speak to you. You must comply,” Dinka insisted.
Elio swore under his breath, then said, “Fine. Exit to home and enter virtual briefing.”
The world of the game faded away, and Elio felt his bones and muscles tingle as his avatar shifted from the small Middle Eastern boy to his normal, thirty-year-old, six-feet-six-inch self.
He was back in the stark white room for only a moment before his surroundings shifted again to a hologram of his father’s Royal office.
Elio’s father, Orson Lorne, King of the Orso System, was seated at a large, ornate desk.
The king was in his sixties and a little on the heavy side. He, too, was tall, as were all the decedents of the Heroic line and, like Elio, he had a mane of thick blond hair. Unlike Elio, he wore a constant scowl that contorted his bearded face.
The large room, the massive desk, the ornate, militaristic decor were all designed to strike fear in the hearts of visitors, but they had no effect on Elio.
“Father?” he yelled. “I was in the middle of something.”
The king arched an eyebrow. “Another child’s game, was it?” he asked.
“It’s what I do,” Elio replied. “I’m a gamer. It’s important to me.”
“It’s a waste of time,” the king said angrily, “and it isn’t fitting for the crown prince of a Sovereign System to waste so much valuable time in a world of virtual nonsense.”
Elio looked around, waving his hands at the virtual replica of his father’s office, then said, “Really? You’re saying that while you’re jacked into… this?”
His father’s face turned a deep red. “I’m contacting you this way because I don’t have time to waste waiting for you to cross the palace,” he said. “This is a busy day. We have network outages throughout the Galactic Arm, and I have back-to-back meetings all afternoon.”
“Right,” Elio said and rolled his eyes. Network outages? he thought. That must be why he couldn’t link up with his friends. One of them, Kyne Minnah, was way out in Persei System.
“Son,” the king said, “we’ve gone over this before. You’re a Royal. You need to act like one.”
“By doing what?” Elio asked.
“By not spending your time playing these games for one.” The king sighed. “This is not how our ancestors lived. It is not what they intended for us. They discovered these systems, colonized this planet and lived well. They had the Gifts. Our forefathers who founded this system had the strongest TK and Psy powers ever recorded.”
Elio crossed his arms and said, “Ever recorded? That’s the point, father; there are no records. None of us have those powers anymore. We don’t even know if they ever really existed.”
The king was taken aback. His cheeks shook as he jerked his head back in surprise. “How dare you?” he said. “You will not speak of such things in my presence.” He pointed a scolding finger at him. “Their powers still remain in our royal blood, even if we are unable to access them.”
“Really, father?” Elio asked. “Are you serious?”
“Of course, I am,” he replied.
“You’ve been listening to the old priests too much,” Elio said. “No such… gifts exist. Show me a recording of one of them using the magical telekinesis or telepathy, then I’ll believe it.”
The king stood and puffed out his chest. “It would surprise me, my son, if you showed any potential to have such powers.”
“Why? Do you have them?” Elio said and held up his hands sarcastically.
“The TK and Psy were a gift,” the king replied. “It allowed the royal class to break away, to be who they were supposed to be. And you would not be sitting there enjoying the fruits of their labors without those Gifts. You may not believe in them, and I cannot make you. However, I do ask and expect you to at least conduct yourself like an honorable man. And you will not mock the Gifts or our ancestors in my presence.”
“Well, when the day comes that I develop telepathy,” Elio said, “you will be the first to know. And then maybe you’ll treat me like an adult.”
The king gritted his teeth and was about to say something when another form materialized beside Elio. “Ha!” He scoffed when Duke Rodor Steren’s plump form appeared.
“Your Majesty,” Steren said, bowing deeply. He glanced in Elio’s direction and mumbled, “My prince.”
Of all his father’s dukes, Steren was the one Elio disliked most. The two-faced little man spent all his time at the palace kissing up to the king. Elio had no idea what the duke actually did to deserve his title.
“Good. Now that you’re both here,” the king said, “I’ll make this quick. I want both of you to travel to Tor in the Pricus System first thing tomorrow morning.”
Elio’s mouth dropped open, but it was Steren who protested first.
“Certainly, your majesty, but Prince Elio isn’t needed, sir. I’m sure I can handle things.”
The king raised a hand to hush the duke. “I know you can handle the diplomatic proceedings, Rod. But I want my son to get some experience, to learn from you.”
“Experience with what?” Elio blurted. “Eating with the correct fork? I don’t want to live my life shaking hands with stuffy colonists, Father!”
“I’m not asking what you want, Elio,” the king said. “I’m telling you. The Pricus System is requesting permission to set up mining outposts. The colony of Pricus City on Tor is under my jurisdiction. The governor has also requested our input as to how the operations are to be run.”
Mining operations? Elio thought. What a bore.
Elio noticed the duke was steaming. Elio grinned. “You’re not scared I’ll cramp your style, are you, Rod?” he asked.
Steren self-consciously patted his long black hair. “It’s Duke Steren to you, you little shit,” he muttered under his breath.
Elio grinned at him but didn’t reply.
“I have spoken,” the king said. “Everything has already been arranged. This is a simple mission. Shake a few hands. Kiss a few babies. Give the governor what he wants. That’s it. Rod, I want my boy to get some experience.”
The duke wasn’t happy, but he gave another unnecessary bow and said, “As you wish, Your Grace.”
“Well, I still don’t want to go,” Elio said, crossing his arms.
“You will go, even if I have to order a marshal and a dozen of my personal guards to drag you from your bed and throw you into the shuttle,” the king growled.
Elio let out a long breath. He knew his father had to be obeyed. He’d be going.
“Fine!” Elio snapped.
“Good, that will be all,” the king said.
Elio’s father waved his hand dismissively, bringing up his personal display and, with another wave, the room dissolved, and Elio was back in white space.
He hit the escape command and returned to the reality of his room, sitting in his chair. He lifted the halo from his head and threw it on the table.
“Dinka,” Elio said, pointing at the still, apparently sleeping robot.
“My prince,” the robot responded.
“Find me some clothes,” Elio said. “I have an errand to run. Oh, and I want some breakfast. The usual.”
“As you wish,” Dinka said.
Elio went to his bathroom to brush his hair. A few minutes later, another servant robot entered the suite bearing a tray of food.
He’d eat, get dressed and put on a smile, but, he thought, if I have to go on this stupid mission, I’ll do it my way.
And that meant he had a little light hacking to do.
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