Excerpt from Verdant Skies

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cover of Verdant SkiesIn case anyone forgot that I have other books available, one of which has been critically acclaimed, voted 2010 Top Four Reads at dailycheapreads.com and Best of the Best semi-finalist at EditorJennifer.com… I present to you an excerpt from Verdant Skies.


“They’re issuing a mayday!” Reya snapped, her hand pressing an earpiece in place, her other hand flying over the com board to isolate the signals.  Julian and the rest of CnC watched on workstation screens, or on the main station’s column, tuned into a telescope that was trained on Tranquil.

“Engines must be venting freely!” a technician cried out.  “Looks like their entire regulation system is blown away!  It won’t stop as long as they’ve got fuel in there—”

“Track!” Julian ordered.

At another workstation, a young girl worked over her board.  “Spiral course, motion on all axes,” she reported, biting her lip as she tried to make sense of her readings.  “I’d say an… eighty, ninety percent chance of collision with Tranquil!”

At that moment, the GLIS began speaking: “Freighter collision with Tranquil imminent.  Freighter collision with Tranquil imminent…”

Julian grabbed a com mike from the main station and keyed an override signal that would broadcast on all circuits.  “Intercept that freighter!  Do not let it impact Tranquil!  Repeat, intercept that freighter, by any means—”

His voice broke off when they saw the flash.  For a split-second, it was possible to make out the freighter, twisting in a new and violent direction as it impacted the north face of Tranquil.  Then there was a second flash and a spherical blast-wave that popped around them.  Metal and other debris spewed in every direction from Tranquil’s hub, and not all of it appeared to be from the freighter.  As they watched, bouts of flame erupted from the surface of Tranquil from multiple points, and more debris was thrown into space.

“Tranquil has had a collision,” the GLIS reported.  “Northern hub region.  Routine com traffic between Verdant and Tranquil has been cut off…”

“Oh, God,” someone said.  Julian did not take his eyes off the screen to see who it was… it really wasn’t important now.  What was important was that a freighter had just suffered a major collision with Tranquil’s northern hub.  And from the looks of it, it may have compromised a major facility in the northern hub.

Tranquil’s CnC.

Julian lifted a mike to his face, and spoke deliberately.  “Tranquil CnC, this is Verdant.  We see your collision.  What is your status?  Please respond.”  He watched the screen, as clouds of vapor continued to erupt from Tranquil’s northern hub.  All that could be heard over the speakers was static.  “Tranquil CnC, this is Verdant CnC.  Please respond.”

After a moment, he looked at Reya, who still had her earpiece in, and a hand on her board, but was now unmoving.  She looked at Julian, her face ashen.  He glanced around CnC, and noticed Kris Fawkes, against the far wall near the door to his office.  She was obviously trying to stay out of the way, and at that moment, she stared at the proceedings wide-eyed, her arms in front of her, one hand covering her mouth.

“Tranquil has had a collision.  Northern hub region.  Routine com traffic between Verdant and Tranquil has been cut off…”

Unbidden, Julian imagined the state of Tranquil’s CnC at that moment.

“Tranquil CnC, this is Verdant CnC.  Please respond.  Tranquil, please respond.”

“Uh-oh.”  Reya examined the images in the main column closely.  “Ground craft are moving in on Tranquil.  Towards the northern hub.  Com traffic says they are coming in to assist, but…”

The “but” was obvious to anyone who was looking at the main column.  Tranquil’s Wasps were moving to block the ground fighters and troop carriers.  Traffic was getting very dense, and the Wasps were moving about agitatedly.

“Wasps are warning them off,” Reya said, listening through her earpiece.  “A lot of shouting back and forth…”

“Tranquil CnC, this is Verdant CnC,” Julian tried again.  “Please respond—”

“Shots fired!” a technician cried.  “Shots fired over Tranquil!”

~

“God-dammit!”  Goldie watched angrily as the fighters swarming around Tranquil’s nose began firing on each other and assuming attack positions.  They were all too close to the still-venting northern hub as it was… one of them was likely to slam into its already-damaged surface soon enough.

“They’re insane,” Hunter commented, “fighting in such close-quarters right off Tranquil’s nose.”

“They’re insane to be fighting at all!” Goldie snapped, finally swinging her telescope off of the action at Tranquil, and back down towards the fighters that maintained orbit below them.  “Keep an eye on those guys over there… I’ll be watching the guys down here.”

~

Calvin and Valeria had just gained the next floor of the sciences sections, and had resumed searching the various labs for signs of Dr. Silver, when they both began to notice an agitated mood among the staff they came across.  It took a moment to get close enough to hear anyone’s comments:

“—Blake lost contact to CnC, too.  They got a security message—”

“Before or after the attack?  Are they all right?”

“I don’t know, no one can—”

“What attack?” Calvin rushed over and demanded.  “Is CnC under attack?  Are we being boarded?—”

The scientist he’d interrupted turned to him impatiently.  “Not here… on Tranquil!  Tranquil’s been attacked!”

“Tranquil?” Calvin stared, as Valeria reached his side.  Then he turned back to the scientists.  “Have you two seen Dr. Silver?”

“No…”

Without bothering to question them further, Calvin took Valeria’s hand and led her off.  Valeria looked back at them before asking Calvin, “Cal, did they say we were attacked?”

“No, Tranquil’s been attacked,” Calvin told her.  Then he drew up short when his com buzzed in his pocket.  He snatched it out, checked the screen, and activated it.  “Erin!  Are you okay?”

“Sure, Dad, I’m fine,” his daughter’s voice replied.  “But everything else is going crazy!  They say there’s fighters over Tranquil, and an explosion!”

“Explosion?”  Calvin pinched his eyes shut, trying to think past the chaos he was imagining going on there… and maybe here, soon.  “Where are you?”

“I’m at home,” Erin said.  “Is Mom with you?”

“Whu—I told her to stay there and wait for you!”

“Well, should I—”

“Don’t go anywhere!” Calvin barked.  “Try to reach her on her com.”

“The coms are hardly getting through—”

“I know!  Just don’t leave the house!  Mom will probably be back soon.  Understand?  Stay there!”  He looked at Valeria, and her eyes reminded him of the task at hand.  “I’ve gotta go, honey.  Wait for your mother!”  He closed the connection… and it occurred to him a split-second later that he might have told her “I love you.”  He prayed it wouldn’t be the last opportunity he’d get.

He started to rush off with Valeria, when a door opened behind him.  Valeria saw it, and yanked back on Calvin’s arm, bringing him to a stop.  “Ow!  What?—”  When he saw Valeria’s eyes, he turned.  Dr. Silver and Lin Sen Chiu were standing there in the doorway, peering about the corridor with alarmed looks on their faces.  Then they locked eyes with Calvin and Valeria, and the two of them went through noticeably different reactions: Chiu’s eyes popped and his mouth fell open, as if he’d realized he’d been caught with his pants down.

Dr. Silver, conversely, looked at them determinedly and said, “Dr. Rios!  Dr. Epstein!  In here, now, please!”

Calvin immediately swung about and strode after Silver.  “Doctor, what the Hell are you—”

“We’ll discuss it inside!” Silver snapped, while Chiu looked at Silver, his mouth opening and closing comically.

“I’m sorry!” Chiu finally managed to say to Silver.  “I thought… if I’d known—”

“Never mind, Chiu,” Silver told him simply.  “It’s not important, now.  Everyone, inside.”

Silver turned on a heel and walked back into the room, closely followed by Chiu, then by Calvin and Valeria.  Chiu stayed by the door, and closed and locked it when they were all inside.

“Now, what—” Calvin started, when his eyes automatically roved about the room, and he was involuntarily drawn up short.  The room, by itself, would have been impressive enough; Calvin hadn’t realized, when he’d come through a normal-sized door, that he’d just entered the rear of one of the science section’s larger equipment rooms.  In fact, the room was the size of a small theatre, with what must have been a ten-meter-high ceiling that seemed to be one immense light panel.  The room was bathed in light, and all that light gleamed off much of the machinery in the room.

Calvin, not being an engineer, had no idea what much of the intricate equipment around him was for.  He did recognize powerful workstations, memory storage tanks as large as a small tram, and numerous high-voltage conduits.  What he largely did not recognize were the myriad of carbon- and carboceramic-sheathed modules and assemblies that literally filled the space from floor to ceiling, courtesy of a massive scaffolding that extended through the floors and walls of the room, as if it was anchored to the structural members of Verdant itself.  The components were all interconnected by cables, bound trunks of wires and optic channels, and quite a few rigid beam conduits, all criss-crossing in an impossible tangle of equipment.  In the middle of it all was a single massive object, sheathed in carbon-black, twice as long as it was wide, and twice as wide as it was tall.  One end of the object had a rigid conduit that terminated in a box made of the same carbon-black.

At the far end of the room, so large that they almost managed to hide the storage doors that filled most of the far wall, were nine monoliths of carboceramic that almost reached the ceiling, standing side by side, close together in a way that suggested the shelves of a compact library, if they had been scaled up to about three times natural size.  The monoliths were connected at the floor to a collection of complex assemblies, one to each monolith, that all interconnected to each other in series.  Thick conduits, all marked with high-voltage warning tags, ran to the black object in the middle of the scaffolding.

All about the room, within the scaffolding, at the workstations, monitoring various pieces of equipment, were other engineers and scientists, who all stopped what they were doing to look at Calvin and Valeria, staring back at them.

Calvin looked at Valeria, who returned his look of confusion.  So he swept his arms out and said, loud enough for someone on the far side of the room to hear, “What the Hell is all this?”

In response, Dr. Silver looked at Valeria and said, “I don’t suppose you’ve finished the calculations I gave you earlier?  We really could use them right now!”


Verdant Skies is on sale at my own site.

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