Captain Keyes is loved by the public but hated by Command. He captains the UHS Providence, an aging supercarrier and the last human ship not dependent on dark tech - technology humanity has used to rule over the galaxy since barely defeating the Ixa in the First Galactic War.
Dominance has come at a cost. Over the decades, old allies have grown resentful, and when dark tech itself fails, Captain Keyes's predictions start coming true: those old allies are now enemies.
But Keyes is not the only one proven right. As the galaxy plunges into war, the Ixan Prophecies are being fulfilled, one by one. Humanity's oldest enemy is on the rise, with weaponry never seen before.
The fate of the galaxy now depends on Captain Keyes, his tired ship, and his oddball crew. It doesn't pay to be right.
"Take a wild ride through this military science fiction series. “Supercarrier” has it all and will keep you on the edge of your seat to the very end." - Amazon Reviewer
Release date: May 23, 2021
Publisher: Mirth Publishing
Print pages: 456
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Supercarrier: A Space Opera Epic
“Providence, this is Gadfly. Requesting permission for landing. I have Captain Vin Husher aboard.”
“It’s First Lieutenant, now,” Husher said, but the freighter captain had already taken his thumb away from the transponder. The man reddened at his mistake, but to correct it would prove even more embarrassing, for everyone.
“Gadfly, this is Providence. You are cleared for landing on Flight Deck E.”
They watched as the supercarrier grew bigger on the viewscreen—even larger and more beat-up than it looked in the news vids. Still, the sight made his skin tingle. No one could deny the ship’s majesty, or its quiet dignity, with massive primary flight decks spread out like wings. Or its menace. The Providence bristled with artillery.
Command kept the old juggernaut out of sight as much as possible, but the public demanded to be kept updated on Captain Keyes’s doings. Just knowing he was out there, completing missions without reliance on dark tech, made people feel safer.
Having recovered somewhat from his cringeworthy flub, the freighter captain attempted to make amends. “It’s been an honor having you aboard, First Lieutenant Husher.”
Husher suppressed a bitter chuckle. The freighter captain had barely spoken during the journey into the Bastion Sector, and only once since they’d entered the Larkspur System, to tell his passenger they’d arrived. But silence was better than other types of treatment Husher’s name had earned him in the past.
“It’s been a pleasure traveling aboard the Gadfly,” he said. “I’m sorry you were commandeered for the purpose of transporting me. I hope the Fleet’s compensating you for your time.”
“They compensated me,” the freighter captain said. “Some.”
Not nearly enough to make up for lost profits, I’m sure, Husher thought to himself.
Flight Deck E sat empty, and no one came out to direct their landing, apparently confident that it would be pretty hard to screw up. A strip of dim lights offered a half-hearted suggestion of where to touch down, and the freighter captain took it, executing a much gentler landing than Husher would have expected.
By that time, Husher had already donned a pressurized suit and was waiting near the airlock, where he’d clipped himself to the bulkhead in case the freighter’s landing had been closer to his expectations. The captain reappeared just as Husher finished entering the temporary security code he’d been given to open the airlock.
“I wanted you to know…I was a boy when your father took the fight to the Ixa. He was my hero, back then. I-I don’t believe what they say about him. I don’t think he was a traitor.”
“I do,” Husher said, punching the button to open the airlock. He stepped inside and turned to lock eyes with the captain as the bulkhead came back together. The hiss of departing atmosphere began.
A row of inactive Condor fighters caught his eye as he walked through the void of Flight Deck E. The Ocharium nanites in his suit and his cells attracted the captured Majorana fermions in the deck, keeping him firmly anchored and simulating one G. For a moment, he wondered whether floating away might not be a better fate than getting consigned to this ship. According to research he’d conducted aboard the Gadfly, only two of the Providence’s eight flight decks saw very much action. I’ve been consigned to a museum, not a battleship, Husher thought.
He stepped out of the flight deck’s airlock to find a woman dressed in full fatigues waiting for him on the other side. He chuckled. “Expecting a battle, Sergeant?”
“Actually, yes.” She was having trouble hiding her disdain for him, and her eyes narrowed as they lingered on his facial hair. “In the Bastion Sector, there’s always a battle on the horizon. You’ll learn that soon enough. In the meantime, I’m here to take you to the captain.”
“Lead on, then, Sergeant Caine,” he said, reading from her nametag.
For all the ship’s size, the corridors that networked the Providence were incredibly cramped. Atmosphere was expensive, after all, mainly due to the cost of hauling it up from a livable planet’s gravity well. Dark tech had enabled many things, but it hadn’t been much of a boon to life support systems. So the parts of the ship where the crew lived and worked were kept as small as possible.
“First Lieutenant Husher reporting for duty,” he said once he was inside the Captain’s office. The room was sparsely decorated—a photo here, a certificate there. Husher snapped off a salute.
“At ease. And close the hatch.”
Husher did so, turning to stand with his feet spread apart and his hands folded behind him. He was not invited to sit. Instead, Keyes took a moment to study him.
“A beard,” the captain said.
“Yes, sir. I grew it during my voyage on the Gadfly. Do you like it?”
“It looks fine. It’s also against Fleet regulations. I want it shaved.”
“But you’re no stranger to skirting Fleet regs, sir. At least, if your reputation is any indication.”
Keyes fixed him with his famous impassive stare—the one he always wore in the news vids. It was bracketed by bushy eyebrows. “I’m also no stranger to having my orders carried out efficiently and without question. That goes for battle ops and it goes for how my crew present themselves—to each other, to their allies, and to the enemy. Shave the beard.”
“Your arrival comes as something of a surprise. Fleet Command chose to notify me a mere five hours ago, despite that you’ve been on your way to the Larkspur System for days. Reading between the lines, I take it your reassignment to the Providence is meant as an additional disciplinary measure, on top of your demotion. Is that how you see it too, Lieutenant? Speak freely, please. I would know your mind.”
No problem. “Well, considering the Providence is understaffed, underfunded, basically on its last legs—”
“My ship is not on its last legs.” Suddenly, Keyes’s stare was anything but impassive, and sweat gleamed on his dark skin. The captain’s broad shoulders rose and fell with deepening breaths.
“You asked me to speak freely.”
“And now I’m inviting you to stop. Given your sudden arrival, I have to quickly figure out where you’ll fit in. For now, I’m sending you planetside under the command of Sergeant Sera Caine, who you just met.”
“Planetside?” I just got here.
“Correct. Thessaly, to be specific.”
“But I’m a Condor pilot.” Not to mention a ship captain, before I was demoted.
“Your files say you have some skill in diplomacy.”
“Xenodiplomacy. I minored in xenodiplomacy. Thessaly is a human colony.”
“Nevertheless. Those skills may come in handy. And it can’t hurt to get some on-the-ground combat experience.”
“Do you plan to parrot what I say a lot, Lieutenant? Yes. Combat experience. Sergeant Caine is leading a strike against a band of radicals who have been attacking Ocharium mining operations in the Caspar region. You’re to accompany her. Are we clear?”
Except, Husher was only clear about one thing. Keyes is hiding something from me.
Whenever Husher went on a mission in the Bastion Sector, the same thought always ran through his mind: So much bloodshed over one mineral…
This time was no different, as he entered the shuttle and looked for an empty seat. To be fair, Ocharium wasn’t just any mineral. Basically everything contained it, or at least everything that went into space. There was exactly enough Ocharium in any given object so that it interacted with a Majorana-infused floor as though in a one-G environment.
After Husher strapped himself into a crash seat, he couldn’t help eyeing the coal-black reentry suits encased in plastic at the back of the shuttle. They were meant to enable the wearer to survive a fall from space in the event of a critical shuttle malfunction, but they’d only ever been used by one person, resulting in his death.
A marine strapped in across from him apparently felt the same way. “Admiring Fleet’s idea of a safety precaution?”
Husher nodded. These suits looked like the latest version, but he wasn’t convinced they were any better than their predecessors. “We had them in our shuttles too, back on the Firedrake.”
“Firedrake, huh? What was your position there?”
“It was…” My first command. My last command. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”
To Husher, the reentry suits symbolized everything wrong with Command. The way they rushed new technologies without properly considering the consequences.
The shuttle shuddered and bucked as it entered Thessaly’s atmosphere. “Engage active sensors,” he heard Caine say near the front of the shuttle. “I want to feed the AI as much intel as possible before it suggests a landing site. Limit its range to within five kilometers of the target. And tell our escort of Condor pilots to keep their eyes peeled, in case the radicals scramble fighters of their own.”
The shuttle’s AI would be a weak one; more a collection of advanced interdependent algorithms than a self-aware intelligence. Strong AI was outlawed, but it hadn’t always been that way. Humanity had been on its way to developing strong AI when they’d made first contact with an alien species.
The first Winger Roostship entered Earth orbit and sent down emissaries to tell humanity what had happened when Wingers had almost developed a strong AI—the near destruction of all life in the galaxy. Ever since, galactic law had prohibited their creation.
It turned out it was impossible to control a superintelligence, no matter how meticulous the programming. Go figure.
Humanity had come far, since then. In return for their cooperation in the matter of the AI, the Wingers had offered to help them ascend to the stars, to enter the galactic community. How mighty the Wingers had seemed to Husher’s ancestors.
How things have changed.
Before they departed the shuttle, Sergeant Caine directed Husher toward the small weapons locker near the exit. “Take your pick, and grab an ammo belt. The guns fire Darkstream-issue bullets, Ocharium-enriched, but Captain Keyes refuses to take their smart guns.”
“Dumb guns. Gotcha.” Husher lifted an assault rifle from its rack and checked the action.
“I assume you know how to use one of those?”
“I mean, I completed Basic.”
“Uh huh. I want you in the center squad. Just keep your ego in check and don’t do anything stupid, all right?”
“How do you divide up your platoon?”
“Listen and learn.” Caine started doling out orders, her small frame exuding confidence and authority. “Our mission is to reach the city center and take out the radicals’ base of operations. Davies, your squad’s on point, and I want more responsiveness than I got out of you last time. Trust your gut, and don’t hesitate to keep me informed of potential threats, even if they seem unlikely. I’d much rather get some bogus information with my intel than walk into danger I know nothing about.”
Caine’s dark brown ponytail whipped about as she picked out others in the crowd. “Ryerson, bring up our rear. Those Ardent-worshipers know this terrain way better than we do, and they’d like nothing more than to stick it to our ass. Wahlburg, I’m sending your squad roaming. Radio in about anything you stumble on that might interest me.”
Wahlburg was grinning. “So, if I find an Ardent-worshiper who’s your type…”
“Can it, Wahlburg. Watching you try to hit on Davies is more than enough comedy, for my taste.”
The marine platoon produced a chorus of Os, and then Caine raised her arm. “Move out!”
Four squads poured out of the shuttle and deployed according to Caine’s orders, fanning out through the blistering city. Husher stuck close to Caine, feeling far removed from any possibility of actual combat. So much for getting experience…
They huddled near the corner of a building while one of their squad peered up and down the street for signs of danger. Sweat had already begun to build up under Husher’s helmet and slide down his face.
“How am I supposed to curve my shots with this old-fashioned load-out?” Husher whispered to Caine.
“You don’t. The Ocharium repulses the axions in the air behind the bullet, speeds it up, but nothing else.”
“Wow. Feels almost like I’m back in the twenty-first century.”
“It’s a compromise between the old man and Command. He takes their bullets but not their smart guns.”
“Why not, though?”
“Because smart guns can be turned off.”
“Only by Command. Right?”
“Are you always this chatty on a mission? Come on.” Their scout had given the all-clear, and they jogged around the building, holding their weapons at the ready.
Gunfire sounded from up ahead, and Caine’s hand leapt to her helmet. “Davies! Sitrep!”
“They hit hard and quick, ma’am,” Davies answered over a platoon-wide channel. “We’re pinned down, here.”
“My squad’s outnumbered, two-to-one at least.”
“Sit tight. We’re moving up from the south-east to support. Wahlburg, set up a flank from the west. Maintain your rear guard, Ryerson.”
“Strange,” Caine said as her hand dropped once more to her weapon. “I expected them to engage us from their base. It’s like we flushed them out just by arriving.”
Husher considered for a moment. “I think it’s a fluke that they’re engaging us at all. I bet they got word of our arrival, but not which direction we’re coming from. They moved to flee the area and happened to run into us.”
“If you’re right, they’ll disengage as soon as they can. But it makes no sense for them to give up their base so quickly. It’s within easy reach of at least four Ocharium mining operations, and we know that’s their favorite type of target.” She shook her head. “Anyway, we don’t have time to debate it. Let’s move!”
Husher had some theories about why the radicals might be disengaging, but he favored breathing over talking as he ran. The squad double-timed through the dusty city, and it took everything he had to keep up with Caine and the others.
The streets themselves were empty, as though the locals had developed a sixth sense for danger and knew better than to remain outside. Living in the Bastion Sector, I’m not surprised, Husher thought.
Davies’s voice blared over the short-range radio. “Sergeant, the radicals have disengaged. There was a break in the firing, and it took me a minute to figure out what happened. Looks like they’re headed your way.”
“How soon?” Caine barked.
But Husher didn’t need Davies’s reply to know how soon. The glint of a muzzle from a nearby alley told him everything. He trained his rifle on the radical kneeling in the shadows, just as the man started to fire.
“Contact!” Husher shouted redundantly as gunshots echoed off the buildings and he squeezed the assault rifle’s trigger. He aimed for the chest, but the kickback sent his spray upward, terminating in the man’s face, which the Ocharium-enriched bullets obliterated.
Sergeant Caine had taken a round in the chest. Her body armor would have absorbed it, but Husher knew that still hurt like hell. Even so, she showed no sign of the pain. “Fall back!” she screamed. “Defensive positions!”
They trotted backward into an alley, and Husher chose a rust-covered dumpster for cover. Caine ducked into a doorway opposite him. She tried the knob, but it was locked.
“There’s a door over here, too,” he hissed, motioning behind him.
He did. It opened.
Caine nodded. “Take Leng and see if you can get a firing solution from an upper floor.”
Inside, they found a store selling bolts of colorful fabric. A head poked out of a storage room behind the counter, disappearing when Husher spotted it.
“How do we get upstairs?” he shouted.
“Other door,” came the reply.
The two soldiers exchanged glances, and Leng shrugged. They took the door to the right of the counter and dashed up the stairs they found beyond it. As they neared the top, more gunfire reached their ears from outside.
A dwelling sat over the shop, presumably the shopkeep’s. Taking a second to reorient himself, Husher headed in the direction the radicals would attack from.
“Here,” he called back to Leng. “The kitchen. There’s only one window, though.”
“I’ll find another.”
“No way. Watch my six. We don’t know which side the shopkeep’s on, and the radicals will figure out we’re here pretty fast.”
Husher hit the button to raise the window and eased his muzzle past the frame. Something made him look up, and he spotted a radical with the same idea they had—positioned in a second-story window on the opposite side of the street.
The radical’s attention was on the ground below. Husher took careful aim. If he missed, he’d only get into a prolonged firefight, squandering the advantage they’d gained by coming up here.
He squeezed off a round, and the target went down. A wave of shock hit him as he realized that was the second life he’d ended this morning.
He’d killed three people before this, but those had been spread out over a prolonged campaign, and they’d been enemy pilots he’d taken out from a Condor. Today was the first time he’d ever watched someone die, and it made him realize he’d been treating his first kills like a video game. These were far more real.
“Hey,” Leng said behind him. “You all right?”
“Yeah.” Husher took a deep breath and refocused on the street. Another radical holding a grenade was creeping toward the alley where Caine and the others were hunkered down. The enemy approached at an angle that concealed her from the marines’ view. She kept glancing upward, no doubt conscious of the gunfire that had originated from Husher’s position.
“Another target approaching your position with a grenade,” Husher said over the short-range. “I can distract her with suppressive fire.”
“Execute,” came Caine’s reply. “Now.”
Husher fired, and the target reacted immediately, scrambling backward. She reached down to activate the grenade, but Caine popped out of the alleyway below, firing a burst that found the target’s neck. She hit the ground and stopped moving.
As quick as Caine had emerged, she ducked back into the alleyway. Wow. Husher admired her willingness to put herself in harm’s way to protect her squad.
“Look for further targets and report, Husher,” the Sergeant ordered.
Husher did. He saw nothing else that moved. “Clear,” he replied. “They’ve disengaged again, as far as I can tell.”
He and Leng made their way back to ground-level. “Good work, Lieutenant,” Caine said once they’d reunited. “I was starting to think you considered this a class field trip.”
He nodded in answer. Probably the closest thing I’ll get to a compliment today.
They made their way through the streets to the city center without further incident, only to find the radicals’ base looking deserted.
“Could be a trap,” Caine muttered. One of the members of her squad was a nanotechnician, and she had him deploy a nanodrone first, patching the feed into everyone’s helmets to get as many eyeballs on it as possible.
“Looks as empty as your bunk, Wahlburg,” Ryerson remarked.
“Emptier,” Wahlburg said, whose squad was still patrolling their perimeter. “I do use my bunk to sleep, you know.”
The nanodrone turned a corner, revealing something Husher didn’t like at all. “Wait a second,” he said. “This is a hospital.” The feed showed a bed with an IV machine sitting next to it, tubes dangling, looking forlorn. When the drone turned, they saw a torn map of the surrounding region, with the locations of Ocharium mining facilities marked by red tacks.
“The radicals were using a hospital for their base,” Caine said, her voice devoid of emotion.
“We can’t destroy that,” Husher said. “We should radio up to Keyes about this, so he can update our mission objective.”
“Yeah,” Caine said. “Okay.” She fingered the touchpad on the side of her helmet, executing a gesture that would connect her to the CIC of the Providence.
“We have our orders,” Keyes said once Caine expressed their concerns to him. He spoke on a wide channel, so they all could hear. “It does no good for me to verify them with Command, because they’ll answer as they always do in these situations. Like it or not, completing these missions is how the Providence avoids getting decommissioned, which is an outcome I will not allow to happen.”
“But this will turn the region against the Commonwealth even further,” Caine said.
Keyes sighed, his voice laden with emotion. “Trust me, executing orders like these disgusts me just as much as it does you. But the alternative is graver still. Keyes out.”
“This is exactly what the government wants,” Husher said. “Actions like these help the radicals’ cause, driving up their recruitment and resulting in ever-escalating terror. Greater terror justifies a greater Fleet response, which feeds more profits to the Darkstream war machine.”
“Sounds like we have a conspiracy theorist in our midst,” Ryerson said.
“Shut up,” Caine said, though her voice lacked its vigor from before. “All of you. You heard the Captain. Go inside and set the charges.”
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