Starshine: Aurora Rising Book One
Now two individuals from opposite ends of settled space are on a collision course with the darkest of those secrets, even as the world threatens to explode around them.
The year is 2322. Humanity has expanded into the stars, inhabiting over 100 worlds across a third of the galaxy. Though thriving as never before, they have discovered neither alien life nor the key to utopia. Earth struggles to retain authority over far-flung planets and free-wheeling corporations while an uneasy armistice with a breakaway federation hangs by a thread as the former rebels rise in wealth and power.
Alexis Solovy is Earth Alliance royalty, her father a fallen war hero and her mother an influential military leader. But she seeks only the freedom of space and has made a fortune by reading the patterns in the chaos to discover the hidden wonders of the stars.
Nothing about her latest objective suggests the secret it conceals will turn her life— not to mention the entire galaxy—upside down. But a chance encounter with a mysterious spy leads to a discovery which will thrust Alex into the middle of a galactic power struggle and a sinister conspiracy, whether she likes it or not.
Release date: March 23, 2014
Publisher: Hypernova Publishing
Print pages: 517
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Starshine: Aurora Rising Book One
G. S. Jennsen
"Alex, I’m ready when you are.”
“One more second…okay, Charlie, go ahead.” The muffled response came from within the hull.
The young mechanic wove the crystalline fiber of a conduit into the power control grid. It took only seconds. He squinted into the magnification overlay to confirm the contact points. “All set.”
“Here goes nothing.”
Colonel Richard Navick watched from the entry of the hangar bay as a shimmer passed over the smooth, midnight black exterior of the ship.
Even marred by the docking clamps, the Siyane was sleek and graceful, with sweeping curves that converged on acute edges. Technical instruments and sensors were tucked discreetly under the wing-like midsection while the sLume drive was an elusive shadow beneath the tapered tail. The elegant lines disguised its size. Fully forty-two meters from bow to stern, it was enormous—at least for a personal scout ship.
He cleared his throat to announce his presence and stepped into the bay. “Alex, are you in there somewhere?”
A head dropped out of the belly of the ship. It was upside down and encircled by the orbiting screens of a holographic interface. “Richard, is that you?”
“Guilty as charged.”
A pair of long legs appeared next as she swung out of the exposed engineering well and dropped a meter to land nimbly on the floor of the bay. The interface winked out of existence.
He was struck—as he always was after he hadn’t seen her for some time—by how much she looked like her father. Tall and slender, with high, distinctive cheekbones and bright silver-gray eyes, she cut almost as dramatic a figure as David Solovy once had. In fact, the sole feature of note she had inherited from her mother was the thick, dark mane of hair. Whereas David’s had been dusky blond, hers was the color of fine aged Bordeaux.
It was also currently twisted up in a messy knot, flyaway strands escaping to soften her features. She wiped streaks of a viscous gel off her hands and onto snug black workpants as she jogged over.
When she reached him she embraced him in a quick hug born of years of familiarity. “It’s been too long, Richard.”
“If you would stay in this sector for longer than a week at a time, I might actually get to see you once in a while.”
Her eyes rolled a little as she settled onto her back leg. “Ah, no can do, I’m afraid. All the fun’s out there.” A corner of her mouth quirked up in a tease of a grin. He believed her.
“So I hear. All the money too, apparently.” He canted his head toward the gleaming hull.
Her face instantly lit up; it often did when she was talking about her ship. “I just painted on a new f-graphene alloy lattice. It will reduce drag by another twelve percent, which will mean faster travel using less fuel.”
“Nice….” The reduction from pico- to femto-scale alloys had only become commercially available nine months earlier; he shuddered to think of the credits she must have forked over for the new lattice. “We should have the budget to roll those out to the fleet in a decade or so.”
She shrugged as if to say ‘your loss’ and met his gaze. For most people it would have been an uncomfortable experience. “So is this a social call? As glad as I am to see you—and I really am—I’m kind of in the middle of installing a stealth system upgrade. We could maybe have dinner this evening if you’d like?”
He mentally braced himself for the reaction he knew would be coming. “You caught me. It’s not entirely a social call. Your mother wants you to come by the office if you have any free time this afternoon.”
Her pupils constricted, the tiny flash of an ocular implant a hint she was checking her comms. They quickly focused back on him, bearing more than a little less warmth. “I don’t have a message from her.”
“I know. She thought the likelihood of you responding would increase considerably if I came in person.”
An eyebrow arched. “She have you running her errands for her now? Isn’t that a bit below your pay grade?”
“No. I volunteered, because I wanted to see you.”
She smiled with what he recognized as kindness, but it was transitory to her glance over her shoulder at the ship that dominated the hanger. “Well, sorry, but I can’t. I have to run diagnostics on the new dampener field and recalibrate the power system ratios. Assuming everything tests out okay, then I have to secure the fiber line to the hull and shield it.”
His gaze flitted pointedly to the young man swinging in a harness near the stern of the ship. “Can’t your mechanic do some of those things for you?”
At her deepening frown his brow creased in beseechment. “Please? For me? It’ll only take an hour or two, and it…” he knew saying it would make her mother happy would be counterproductive “…will make my life rather easier.”
Her eyes narrowed; her arms stiffened against her chest to complete the impression of staunch resoluteness. But this was not the first time he had faced down her defiant glare. He relaxed his posture, softened his expression and met her scowl with a pleasant smile.
After several seconds she exhaled to striking effect, all the tension leaving her body with the exaggerated breath. For just a moment she reminded him of the impish little girl she had once been.
“Fine. For you. I’m going to regret it, though.”
Alex stared out the window of the skycar while they cruised above Puget Sound before veering northwest over the Strait toward Vancouver Island. The unbroken line of skyscrapers to the right shone in the late morning sun from horizon to horizon, all polished silvers and whites flecked by deep green where the scrupulously maintained trees and numerous parks peeked through.
It was and had always been a beautiful view…but she was being a poor companion. She gave up steeling herself for what was sure to be the latest in a long line of unpleasant visits with her mother and shifted from the window to look at Richard.
Her parents’ oldest and closest friend, she had known him for as long as she could recall, which was to say about thirty-five years. He was one of the very few people who had consistently accepted her for who and what she was—didn’t want more from her, didn’t helpfully suggest what her life should be like, didn’t tsk disapprovingly at even her most unorthodox activities.
“So what’s new with you? Work okay? How’s Will doing?”
He relaxed in his seat and let the car auto-navigate the crowded airlanes. “Will is good, but busy. He’s been on Shi Shen for the last month overseeing the construction of the new Suiren headquarters and finally got home day before yesterday. I’ll tell him you said hello.”
The muscles in his jaw clenched briefly, which was generally the extent of his outward signals of displeasure. “Work is rather tense, what with the Trade Summit coming up.”
She gave him a blank look. “What is a Trade Summit and why is it coming up? Help me out here….”
“Right, you don’t spend much time obsessing about the oh-so-fascinating machinations of galactic politics. The Trade Minister and his entourage will be attending a conference with the Senecan Trade Director—at a carefully selected neutral location naturally, on Atlantis.” He sighed, his gaze drifting upward to grimace at the heavens. “It’s ostensibly an olive branch intended to thaw relations with the Federation a bit, but I’m afraid in reality it’s going to be little more than a media circus.”
“And your people will be spying on the Senecan delegation, hacking their data streams every chance they get while fending off the same from their agents.” Her teasing smirk served to emphasize the point.
His mouth worked to suppress a grin but mostly failed. “I can neither confirm nor deny any such suppositions on the grounds it would violate Earth Alliance security.”
“Of course….” The car dropped through a thin layer of mist which hadn’t yet burned off and skimmed above the choppy waves as the sprawling Earth Alliance Strategic Command complex came into view.
Stretching for three square kilometers across the southernmost tip of the Island, a network of midrise buildings, plazas and hangars fanned out from the towering structure that constituted the headquarters for what were, as a group, the most powerful men and women in the settled Milky Way. For better or worse, this included the EASC Director of Operations.
She could feel her expression tightening with every meter of their descent onto the open platform jutting out a third of the way up the headquarters building. “So how is the Admiral these days? As cheery as ever?”
He shook his head wryly, killed the engine and climbed out of the car. “She’s the same as usual, busily supervising the entire organization while breaking in yet another new secretary.”
“Lovely.” She matched his stride to the glass-floored lift, not bothering to grasp the rail as it whisked them up a quarter kilometer to the command staff offices which comprised the top ten floors. After they had cleared the security scanners and were inside, she turned to him.
Though her mood was already darkening beneath the shadow of the looming encounter, she forced herself to smile with genuine warmth. “You better get on out of here before I start blaming you for ruining my day, especially when it was good to see you.”
He laughed and patted her on the shoulder then headed toward his office down the opposite hall. “Try not to be too much of a stranger, okay?”
She waved him off as she crossed the overly bright atrium and stepped through the wide doorway into the EASC Operations suite.
The man behind the desk glanced up as she approached. After a blink his eyes widened precipitously. “You’re her, aren’t you? Ms—I mean Captain—Solovy. Ma’am.”
She draped an arm on the high counter. “It’s not a military title. ‘Ms.’ is fine. Would you please let my mother know I have answered her summons and eagerly await being granted the favor of an audience?”
The man—a 2nd Lieutenant according to the bars on his uniform—stared at her in horror, brow furrowing and unfurrowing in mounting panic. “Um, do you want me to say that, specifically, ma’am? I’m not certain the Admiral will—”
“Just tell her that her daughter is here.”
“Absolutely. Right away.”
She wandered over to inspect the newest addition to the artwork decorating the lobby. This secretary was unlikely to last any longer than the last one had. Even the most hardened soldier wilted in the face of her mother’s disapproving glare.
She was pondering how many credits the military must have wasted on the spectacularly bad hack Picasso rip-off when the secretary informed her she could go in now. She walked in the large but spartan office to observe without surprise that nothing about it had changed in the near year since she had last visited.
Admiral Miriam Solovy didn’t immediately turn her attention from the display panel in her hand. Her hair was drawn back in a severe bun; her uniform was crisp, its buttons spit-polished. When her gaze did rise to acknowledge Alex’s presence, a tight, thin facsimile of a smile passed across her face for the minimum time required. “You look a wreck.”
Ah, as kind and doting as always. She shrugged. “I was working.”
“I see. Would you like some tea?”
“Water’s fine,” which she proceeded to go to the cabinet and get herself.
“How are you, dear?”
Alex took a long sip from the marbled glass tumbler and leaned in deliberate casualness beside the teak bookcase filled with antique texts on military and political history. “Fine. Busy. You?”
The tiny vein in her mother’s left temple pulsed. She traded the screen for a teacup. “As well as can be expected. The Fionava Province has been a nuisance of late. I would share the details with you, but of course the parking attendant has a higher security clearance than you do.”
The tenor with which the statement was delivered seemed to imply it was somehow a failing on her part. “Alas.”
Miriam took a slow, measured sip of her tea then stared pensively into the dainty cup, as though it would magically supply her a suitable topic for small talk. “I ran into Malcolm at the Cascades Memorial Charity Auction last week. And met his new wife.”
She needed a wiser teacup. Alex raised a studiously unimpressed eyebrow. “I’m sure she was lovely.”
“Not so lovely as you, I must say, but attractive enough. He asked about you.”
Her eyes flickered over to the window…shit. She bit back a cringe at the display of weakness, not wanting to compound the error. “And what did you tell him?”
“The truth—that you’re still gallivanting around the galaxy, raking in millions and pouring it all back into that damnable ship of yours.” She paused, undoubtedly for dramatic effect. “I do believe he looked a little morose at the notion.”
Alex groaned and plopped down in the hard, purposefully uncomfortable chair opposite the desk. She pulled one knee up to hug against her chest. “I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you didn’t ask me here in order to throw failed love affairs in my face. It’s a long list and I haven’t the time. What do you want?”
Miriam placed the teacup on the hutch behind her and sat as well, rigid-straight spine not touching the back of the comparably luxurious chair. “I can’t simply want to spend time with my only child?”
“You can—but you don’t.”
Her mother’s shoulders squared with military precision, an indication she wouldn’t argue the point. “Very well. I asked you here to share a wonderful opportunity for you. The Minister for Extra-Solar Development contacted me yesterday. He finds himself with a vacancy in his department. Apparently the Director of Deep Space Exploration is resigning to ‘pursue other endeavors,’ and the Minister would like to offer the post to you.”
A flashing pinpoint of light in the corner of Alex’s eVi signaled the delivery of the diagnostics she had set to run before departing the hangar. Her right pupil constricted to start the results scrolling on her whisper. “Prestigious position.”
If her mother noticed the somewhat unfocused nature of her gaze, she hid it well. “It’s not nepotism. While you lack oversight experience, you’re otherwise more than qualified.”
“More qualified than the parking attendant at least.” The whisper blurred out of focus and auto-paused as she directed a sharpened gaze toward the woman on the other side of the desk. Her mother couldn’t seem to decide whether to scowl or laugh; the result was an uncommonly animated expression. “But what exactly of everything you know about me says ‘government desk job’?”
“It’s not a desk job. You’ll need to travel to evaluate new discoveries several times a year, I’m quite sure.”
“Several times a ye—” her nose scrunched up in disdain “—you know what, never mind.”
“So you’ll consider it then.”
The whisper snapped back into focus…she frowned at the percentages displayed. A blink and a small aural materialized, and the diagnostics data began flowing in greater precision and detail twelve centimeters beyond her right eye. “No.”
Her mother’s jaw clacked shut at the response. Or because of the aural. Possibly both. “I didn’t say accept it unconditionally, merely consider it.”
Damn, there must be a power leak somewhere along the fiber. She pulsed Charlie to send the bot in to inspect the line. The dampener had to be a minimum of twenty-eight percent more effective or it wasn’t worth the diamond picocrystals which generated it. Her last find had almost been snaked out from under her because Terrence Macolly, too much of a lazy ass to do his own work, had tracked her emission signature and followed her into the asteroid ring orbiting Delta Lacertae. She didn’t intend to risk a repeat intrusion. “No.”
Her mouth twitched, though her focus didn’t shift from the data this time. “You know I hate it when you call me that.”
“I have every right to call you by your birth name. I am the one who gave it to you after all.”
Alex spared a brief, withering glance. Her mother’s eyes were averted downward, ostensibly studying the patterns of foam in her tea, perchance for more lousy ideas. When she spoke again, her tone was softer and no longer quite the voice of The Admiral.
“Your father was the first one to call you ‘Alex.’”
She shut off the aural in frustration. “Don’t you think I know that?”
“Yes, well.” Miriam’s chin notched upward. “I think you should reconsider the Minister’s offer. It is a position of some prominence and will provide a measure of stability you could benefit from.”
She snorted. “I realize you’re used to dictating people’s lives to them around here, but you don’t get to make my decisions for me. You haven’t for a long, long time.”
Miriam nodded with measured grace, appearing to acknowledge for the moment, Alex had the upper hand. “Perhaps it was…inconsiderate of me to insist you come here.”
“To order Richard to deliver your summons and drag me before you, you mean?”
She raised a hand in mild protest. “Richard wanted the chance to see you. I hope you don’t blame him for any unpleasantness.”
“Oh, I don’t. I blame you.”
To her credit, her mother was nearly impossible to provoke. If anything, her expression softened in response to the barb. “I’m not trying to tell you how to live your life. But I worry about you, out there all alone in deep space. That ship of yours is too powerful for one person to handle.”
Yet even in her attempt at kindness or at least civility, she managed to choose the exact wrong thing to say.
Deep down, Alex knew it probably wasn’t intentional. But there was too much—too many hateful words and spiteful reactions to them, too much water under a broken bridge—and she had no desire to grasp at a tenuous thread only to have it fray and dissolve like all the others.
“The past eight years would beg to differ with you. With all due respect, you have no idea just how much I can handle.” She stood abruptly. “Is there anything else?”
“No. Not when you won’t listen to reason.”
She didn’t rise to the bait. She simply wanted to be gone. “If you’d like, I will send a graciously worded response to the Minister thanking him for the honor of considering me but regretfully declining due to other obligations.”
“That won’t be necessary. I’ll inform him.”
“Suit yourself.” She pivoted and headed for the door.
She paused mid-stride—an inborn response to a mother’s plea—but didn’t look back.
“At least be careful out there.”
A tight nod and she was gone.
It was well past twenty-three hundred when Alex got home. The bot had found two micro-imperfections in the fiber which had to be rewoven. Then the diagnostics had to be run again, the ware re-modded, and the power system ratios recalibrated again before she closed the ship up for the night. Securing the line to the hull and shielding it would have to wait until the morning.
She opened a bottle of Swiss cabernet and left it to breathe while she ran through the shower, then combed out her hair and slipped on a silk robe to wear back downstairs.
A glass of the cabernet in hand, she stepped out onto the balcony. The glittering night lights of the city spread out beneath her, the light reflecting off the full moon mirrored in the Sound beyond.
She didn’t pour all her profits into her ship. The loft eighty stories above downtown had cost more than a few credits; the custom tech installed in it nearly as much again. Though she was only here maybe three months out of a given year, she wasn’t above enjoying at least a few of the finer things her income now afforded her.
As the glass touched her lips her thoughts drifted to Malcolm. She hadn’t done so in some time, but after the mention of him today quite a few memories had crept to the forefront of her mind. Most of them were good…she had loved him, after all.
But according to him she loved her ship more, and that was something he couldn’t accept. And since he was mostly right, she hadn’t fought him when he left.
She had missed him for a while, missed his warm smile and tender yet expert touch. But she had also welcomed the absence of the invisible leash which had tugged her back to Earth more often than she liked, which had whispered of duties to another and required explanations and justifications for every excursion. And eventually even the good memories had faded into the background, replaced by the thrill of new endeavors.
Her thoughts continued to linger on the past as she walked inside and her gaze fell to the far wall of the open room that constituted the entirety of the loft, save for the kitchen and the elevated sleeping area overlooking the main floor.
It was decorated in visuals she had captured in her travels across the galaxy. They included a supernova in bright, perpetual explosion, a comet on a flyby of a crescent moon, the slow pulse of a ghostly blue and lavender nebula and the gamma flare of a neutron star.
Those and others framed the centerpiece of the wall: a panoramic side-on image of the Milky Way, taken far from the light pollution of any suns or haze of any nebulae. Trillions of stars shone and sparkled to converge on the brilliance of the galactic core.
Malcolm hadn’t been exactly right. Yes, she loved her ship more than she had loved him. But what she loved even more was what it gave her: freedom, and the key to the marvels of space. It gave her the stars, and she doubted she could ever love anything or anyone more than she loved the stars.
Speaking of…she refilled her glass and settled onto the couch. She sent a passcode to the control interface and the opposite wall dissolved into a three-dimensional holo of the nearest quadrant of the galaxy. A slight wave of her hand and it zoomed into the Metis Nebula and its environs.
Near to but definitively outside Federation-controlled territory and on the outer edge of explored space, it would take her five days to reach the periphery—far less time than most, but still a trek. It was an allegedly uninteresting, ordinary plerion wrapped in an ancient, gas-heavy supernova remnant which had stubbornly refused to dissipate into the interstellar medium.
But she had made a small fortune by seeing what others did not. The ‘experts’ had said the Lacertae asteroid ring was nothing but dead rocks until she had found the ultra-rare heavy metals in the cores of the largest ones. Now Astral Materials was using it to develop frames for space stations they claimed would be strong enough to withstand a Type Ia supernova shockwave.
The golden-blue glow of Metis had caught her attention several excursions ago and had danced and thrummed at the edge of her consciousness ever since. Now flush with the considerable proceeds of the Lacertae find and the resultant ship upgrades, she figured she could afford to indulge a hunch for a month or so.
Her eyes widened deliberately, pupils dilated and ocular implant flashing as she simultaneously reviewed the data she had pulled in her library query of the scientific archives—which was appallingly sparse—scrolling up her eVi, the rotating full-spectrum image of the Nebula, and her own data flowing alongside it.
“Well, you lovely, mysterious Metis…what secrets do you have to show me?”
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