A military officer must choose between her sworn duty or her rebellious blood ties.
Remy Belieux, a woman born into a life of servitude on a repressive factory planet, is desperate for a different life. When she's accepted into the Space Service Academy, run by the organization that enslaves her planet, she discovers the truth behind generations of rebellion. Now, she must decide what to believe, where her ultimate duty lies, and fight for more than her life against impossible odds.
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One day, Remy spotted a small ship where it had no good reason to be. “Sir, we have a blip heading toward the planet. Its course isn’t on the prescribed jump route within this planetary system.”
Captain Micah glanced at Remy, then spoke to the communications officer. “Hail the ship.” The radioman worked for a few seconds. “I can’t locate their frequency, sir.”
The Captain stared through the view screen at the rapidly receding ship. “Try a broad-range hail. Tell them to stand down.” He glanced toward the communications station. “Any luck?”
“No, sir. I don’t think they have their ears on, at least in the usual frequencies.”
The ship shot away from the Excalibur and Remy tracked its course. “It’s heading for that planet. It’s not classified as habitable.”
Captain Micah opened ship-wide communications. “Captain Micah here. Crew, go to battle stations. This is not a drill.” He looked at the pilot who punched in coordinates for a wide turn toward the fleeing ship.
Remy’s stomach tightened as the klaxon alarms alerted the entire ship to ready for attack. Disappointment replaced tension as she watched the ship reach the small planet and circle behind the lifeless orb. We’ve lost it!
“Coward should stay and fight,” grumbled an ensign near Remy. She glanced his way and hushed him, tilting her head toward the captain. “Pay attention.” The ensign’s cheeks flared in embarrassment.
“Ahead slow,” the captain ordered. “This could be a trap. Put us into high orbit and extend all scanners to maximum range and power.” Excalibur edged its way slowly around the airless planet thousands of kilometers below.
“I’ve got him, sir!” a crewman reported. “A single blip on the short-range scanner.”
Remy added the short-range display to a corner of her own screen and saw the flickering dot representing the fleeing ship. She grinned. “Gotcha!” But nothing else appeared in range. She hoped they might get some action now, even if only the capture of a small ship.
“All right. Take us in slow,” the captain replied. The pilot cut back power and brought the ship around to the planet’s far side. The small ship came into view, hovering in a stationary orbit.
“Hail them.” Again, the ship didn’t respond, and the captain gestured to the pilot to move in. Remy turned her scanners toward the planet surface, searching for any activity. Seeing nothing, she switched to thermal scan. Out of nowhere a red-hot dot appeared on the screen, then another. “Captain, I’m getting heat signatures moving near the surface.”
Captain Micah glanced her way, not expecting to hear from the long-range scanning console. “What do you have, Lieutenant?”
“Ten, no, twelve, maybe more heat signatures. Nothing bigger than a cutter, and they’re all in motion. It looks like they’re coming out of a fissure. I don’t detect any structures.”
Remy feared her warning came too late to do any good. Excalibur was fast, once it got moving but, like most ships its size, not very maneuverable this close to a planet.
The smaller ships exploded from the surface. Too fast for normal takeoff velocity, the tiny vessels clearly had a lot of extra power. It was a dangerous move since it’d be easy to lose control traveling way over the limits for the small ships. But it worked.
Some attackers split to flank the cruiser on both sides. Two of them took station above and two below the ship, while two more moved to the stern, effectively surrounding the cruiser. The engineers had designed Excalibur, like most ships in its class, as a pursuit ship, with most of its weapons aimed forward. They could only fire on the ships facing them until the gunners brought the smaller, less effective peripheral weaponry to bear.
Captain Micah glanced at his display. “Weapons, recalibrate for port and starboard, max angle. Fire at will.”
The bridge crew cheered when a burst of laser fire destroyed one of the ships. Metallic fragments drifted outward from the single brief flash of the exploding drive.
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