From the Amazon best-selling author - CassaStar was just the beginning… The Vindicarn War is a distant memory and Byron’s days of piloting Cosbolt fighters are over. He has kept the promise he made to his fallen mentor and friend - to probe space on an exploration vessel. Shuttle work is dull, but it’s a free and solitary existence. The senior officer is content with his life aboard the Rennather. The detection of alien ruins sends the exploration ship to the distant planet of Tgren. If their scientists can decipher the language, they can unlock the secrets of this device. Is it a key to the Tgren’s civilization or a weapon of unimaginable power? Tensions mount as their new allies are suspicious of the Cassan’s technology and strange mental abilities. To complicate matters, the Tgrens are showing signs of mental powers themselves; the strongest of which belongs to a pilot named Athee, a woman whose skills rival Byron’s unique abilities. Forced to train her mind and further develop her flying aptitude, he finds his patience strained. Add a reluctant friendship with a young scientist, and he feels invaded on every level. All Byron wanted was his privacy…
|Publisher:||Dancing Lemur Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.55(d)|
Read an Excerpt
By Alex J. Cavanaugh
Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C.Copyright © 2012 Alex J. Cavanaugh
All rights reserved.
Damned sloppy work!
Byron scowled at the cargo. Twenty years ago, I helped end the Vindicarn War, received the fleet's highest honors, and was given the freedom to pursue any position worthy of a pilot of my caliber, he thought, grinding his teeth. Today, I'm supervising the loading of luggage. Damn, this is wrong!
Pulling on the straps, Byron tightened the latch one more time. The men who'd loaded his shuttle knew nothing about proper cargo storage. They had not even checked the restraints. It wouldn't do to have the bins break free during flight. He was responsible for the cargo's safe arrival on board the Rennather.
Satisfied the crates were secure, he returned to the shuttle's central compartment. His boots echoed off the metal floor. One section squeaked in protest, but it was a comforting sound to Byron's ears. He'd piloted this particular shuttle for over twelve years and knew every rattle and groan. Only his knowledge of the Darten rivaled that intimacy, as twenty years in service together had bred a certain amount of familiarity with the tiny fighter.
Pausing at the open hatch, Byron scanned the encampment. The temporary structures, awash in pale blues, stood out against the green of the forest. With the cargo in place, all he lacked were three passengers. Last time Byron had seen the men, they were gathering personal equipment. Considering the urgency of their orders, he wished they'd speed up the process. Commander Korden wanted to reach their next destination in two days.
Noting three men ambling toward the shuttle, he continued forward and entered the cockpit. Judging from their pace, he had time to perform a systems check.
His fingers raced across the control panel, their movement automatic. Byron possessed more than enough experience and skill to fly an exploration shuttle. For twelve years now, the Rennather's commander had reminded Byron of his qualifications and eligibility to transfer to any ship he cared to pilot. Claiming contentment with his current assignment, Byron saw no need to seek other opportunities. Byron's outstanding skills were a luxury in his position. Despite moments of monotony, he found ways to challenge himself and avoid complacency in his position. Besides, he'd made a promise to a friend many years ago. Byron could not justify breaking that pact just because he was bored. Besides, Cassans lived long lives. He still had time for another career change and was in no hurry.
There were moments of excitement on the Rennather, though. Byron had seen more regions of space than even piloting a Cosbolt fighter would've provided. Exploration ships traveled beyond the allegiance borders, meeting new races and strengthening relationships with potential allies. Politics didn't interest Byron but flying on the edge of known space held a certain mystique.
A door sensor alerted him that his passengers were boarding. Pressing one final button, he turned from the controls. Byron stood and placed himself between the cockpit and main cabin. Crossing his arms, he leaned against the wall and focused on the three scientists strolling up the ramp. The third man crowded the first two, pushing them forward.
At least someone understands the importance of our next mission, Byron thought.
"Officer Byron," the first man stated, pausing to stand at attention. His voice was as thick as his midsection.
Byron nodded an acknowledgement, fighting to conceal the smirk that tugged at his lips. He recalled Vorsan's presence on previous flights. The science officer didn't handle space flight well.
"I hope your meal was light," said Byron.
Vorsan's eyes narrowed, but he offered no answer. Byron wondered if he dared taunt the man today with a demonstration of his flying ability. The science officer was a dour sort. Byron might as well have some fun.
The second man hailed a greeting. His shrill voice matched his tall, lanky frame. He joined the first, stowing his gear in the empty compartment. Byron followed their every movement. Although science officers were precise by nature, they tended to forget those habits when traveling. More often than not, stowed gear required adjustments.
Aware that the third man had paused, Byron's attention shifted to his final passenger. Wide eyes greeted the pilot, and the dark orbs appeared ready to pop out of their sockets. The lad's expression mirrored the stunned recognition that arose in his thoughts. Byron frowned. Remote exploration assignments were assigned to those with experience. This boy was far too young.
As if sensing disapproval, the young man altered his expression and straightened his shoulders. "Officer Byron?" he gasped. The pitch of his voice confirmed his youth. The boy's thoughts continued to project amazement and were filled with adoration.
While telepathic courtesies might be beyond the lad, Byron did not want his own mind exposed. Locking his mental shields into place, he nodded and gestured for the young man to join the others. He'd long grown weary of the recognition. The Vindicarn War was many years past now, and Byron wanted to curtail any further comments regarding his war hero status. He'd lost his closest friend during one of those battles. He didn't want, or need, to be reminded of the tragedy that had changed the course of his life and career.
Byron sealed the hatch and returned to the controls. Engaging the engines, he listened with pleasure to the deep resonating roar. Connecting to the ship's teleportation device with his mind, he confirmed the unit's full strength. The teleporter's force echoed in his chest and he smiled. Even if the device's power were to fail, he could still jump the ship. Very few Cassans possessed that ability.
"A smooth flight this time, Officer Byron," Vorsan called from the main compartment.
"Last one a bit bumpy for you?" Byron asked, lifting the ship from the ground.
"I nearly lost my meal, damn it!"
Guiding the shuttle over the encampment, a sense of mischief crept over Byron. Yanking hard on the throttle, he pushed the engines to full capacity. Within seconds, the shuttle's position changed from horizontal to vertical. It ascended skyward at a rapid pace. The engines screamed as they fought the planet's gravitation. The sudden acceleration pressed Byron into his seat. He delighted in the sensation, despite the cries of dismay radiating from the main cabin and echoing through his mind.
Ignoring the protests, he continued their steep climb. The ship shuddered in protest of such rough treatment, further rattling its contents. The thundering noise, coupled with the engine's roar, drowned out all other sounds. Eyes focused skyward, Byron's heart beat with exhilaration. He felt as one with the ship.
Sensing his passengers' discomfort, he leveled the craft. Relieved moans resonated from the main compartment. Before any of the men could chastise such rough treatment, Byron selected a location within proximity of the Rennather and teleported the shuttle.
For a split second, a silent darkness enveloped the ship. As the shuttle reentered space, the sight of the exploration vessel filled the view outside the cockpit. Without slowing his pace, Byron communicated his intentions to land and steered the ship toward the open bay. The landing bay loomed closer, threatening to engulf the shuttle. Slowing his speed at last, he glided into the opening and brought the runners down without so much as a single jolt. Byron eased the ship into position with a steady hand. He then powered down the vessel as it was towed into the central hangar.
When the shuttle ceased its movements, Byron turned off the remaining systems and arose to open the hatch. His passengers were fumbling with their harnesses. He sensed a great haste to exit his ship. Byron grinned at the ashen complexions, noting drool on Vorsan's chin.
"I hope you enjoyed your flight," Byron said, releasing the hatch.
"Damn it, Byron," the man exclaimed, wiping his face. "The ship's commander will hear about this."
Byron straightened his back and met the man's gaze. "I'm sure he will," he offered, "and that's Senior Officer Byron to you, Officer Vorsan."
The man hesitated as he reached for his pack. Pressing his lips together in resignation, Vorsan nodded. Yanking his bag free, he stormed out of the craft. The other two men gathered their items and followed at a slower pace. However, the youngest man paused before disembarking.
"Is that how you used to fly your Cosbolt, sir?" he asked.
Sensing admiration rather than malice, Byron allowed a grin to tug at the corner of his mouth. "No, if this were a Cosbolt, Vorsan would've thrown up."
The boy's broad face broke into a smile. "I'd like to hear about your adventures sometime, sir."
Byron's chest tightened. "Perhaps."
The young man trotted down the ramp, his step light and hopeful. Hangar personnel appeared to retrieve the crates. Byron supervised the process while the crew emptied the shuttle. Relieved of all cargo, he made one final sweep of the ship before exiting his craft. The Rennather would remain in orbit, conducting system checks, until the middle of the night. He intended to take full advantage of their stationary position.
Approaching the hangar chief, he requested permission to take out the Darten. The man gestured toward the tiny fighter and announced he would inform control of Byron's flight.
Byron conducted a visual inspection of his ship, running his hand down the sleek, metal surface as he circled the vessel. Slender by design for mobility, the Darten was the smallest fighter in the fleet. Completing his task, he mounted the short steps to the cockpit. Wiggling his body into position, Byron found his tall frame enveloped by the small compartment. Some men found it claustrophobic. Over the years, he'd grown accustomed to the cramped quarters. It paled in comparison to the spacious Cosbolt he'd once flown, but that fighter was no longer a viable option.
He ran through the pre-flight checklist before donning his helmet and lowering the canopy. Flashing an "all ready" thought to the hangar crew, Byron waited as the Darten was towed into place.
Launching from the Rennather's bay did not hold the same thrill as speeding down a narrow launch tube, but he still experienced a surge of exhilaration as the fighter raced toward space. Once clear of the opening, he banked left and circled around the ship. As instructed by the commander, a visual inspection of the Rennather was required whenever he took the Darten out for a run. Byron circled twice, his eyes scanning for minor damage or debris caught in one of the vents. Satisfied everything appeared to be in order, he steered away from the Rennather and out into space.
The small fighter saw little action these days, but Byron wanted to keep his skills sharp. He ran through several drills, executing each maneuver with precision. The Darten handled tight turns with ease, even better than the Cosbolt. Byron preferred the strength of the larger fighter, though. The Darten made up for its lack of engine and firepower with incredible maneuverability and speed. However, at the moment, its limitations meant nothing. Byron simply enjoyed the responsive controls and rapid flight.
Arcing to the left, Byron dove, sending the Darten racing toward the Rennather. His breath grew shallow and he pressed the throttle forward, increasing the vessel's speed. Byron's mind reached out for the ship's teleportation device, located behind his seat and secure within the hull of his vessel. The unit's hum was inaudible to the ear, but the sonic vibrations reverberated in his head, sending a rhythmic pounding down his spine. Locking his thoughts on the surging energy, his mental powers increased to match the power level of the teleporter. If the device's energy failed, Byron was prepared to replace it with his own charge.
The hull of the Rennather loomed closer, filling the view. The Darten's speed ensured no evasive action would prevent impact. Not even a pilot with Byron's skill could avoid collision now ...
The blackness of space enveloped his senses. Byron spun the ship around, whipping the Darten with such force that he was jostled in his seat. His forward progress halted, he gazed in triumph at the view outside his cockpit. The Rennather's massive engines filled his vision. He'd timed his jump perfectly.
A smile crossed Byron's lips. His stunt had probably unnerved the newer crewmembers on the bridge, but the commander never voiced concern. Byron only performed maneuvers he'd mastered this close to the ship. This jump pushed his limits, but that's when Byron felt most alive.
He returned to the Rennather, tired and ready for a decent meal. Voices reached his ears even before Byron entered the dining hall. He scanned its occupants before retrieving a tray of food. Most of the short tables were occupied. Byron spied an empty seat beside Garnce, the ship's other small craft pilot. The man's gruff nature matched his grizzled appearance, and his apathetic attitude surfaced at every opportunity. Byron had grown used to the abrasive words that often tumbled from his lips. It was the man's lack of ambition that really annoyed Byron, but he could do worse this evening than Garnce's company.
The pilot noticed his approach, offering a curt nod. Byron glanced at the other occupants as he circled the table. He realized the young man from the shuttle occupied the spot across from his empty seat. The lad met his gaze before Byron could look away. Straightening his back, the boy sat at attention. Unable to retreat without raising suspicion or implying offense, Byron set his tray on the table.
"You take the Darten out for a spin?" Garnce asked, still gnawing on a fruit core.
"Thought I'd take advantage of the down time," said Byron, sliding into his chair.
Their exchange caught the attention of the scientist. "You fly a Darten too, sir?" he said, almost dropping the food on his fork.
Byron reached for his drink. "I have for twenty years."
"But before that you flew Cosbolts, correct?"
"Just one," he answered, hoping his casual reply would squash further questions. Byron just wanted some food in his empty stomach.
Fortunately, Garnce intervened. "Mevine here was telling us about the new discovery on Tgren," he said, gesturing to the young man.
The boy's face grew radiant. He grinned with obvious enthusiasm, which echoed from his unshielded thoughts. Byron took advantage of the distraction. He shoved a forkful of food into his mouth and gestured for the science officer to elaborate.
"A recent excavation revealed an ancient underground facility," Mevine explained, his voice quivering with excitement. "Four days ago, a team gained access to the interior and found what they believe is the control room. The technology is so advanced, it's beyond anything we've previously discovered. Why, the possibilities of its application are endless!"
The young man's voice had risen as he spoke, accompanied by frantic hand gestures. The opportunity to dissect alien technology seemed to excite Mevine, but experience had taught Byron caution and a healthy respect for the unknown. He glanced at Garnce, who shrugged with indifference.
"Sounds dangerous to me," the pilot replied, crossing his arms across his broad chest.
"Not necessarily," protested Mevine.
"What do they know about it?" asked Byron. Despite Garnce's apathy, he was curious. A little danger sounded appealing, especially after months of routine assignments.
Mevine pulled his dark brows together, his shoulders sagging. "Very little at the moment. They've been unable to translate the language. Of course, no one stationed on Tgren specializes in alien script. I'm hoping to receive an upload from the team before we break orbit, so I can get a head start."
Byron regarded Mevine with surprise. "You're a linguist expert?"
"Yes sir, I'm trained in alien dialect, print, and code."
Garnce offered a skeptical guffaw. "You're rather young for deep space exploration," he observed, frowning as he reached for his glass.
"I'm twenty-three," Mevine announced, straightening his back and dropping his hands to his lap. "And I completed training at the top of my class." Indignation flashed through his thoughts before the lad abruptly shielded his mind.
Excerpted from CassaFire by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Copyright © 2012 Alex J. Cavanaugh. Excerpted by permission of Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C..
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