One ship. One Stowaway. Too many terrorists. No turning back.
Since the death of her father, Captain Dana Pinet has always wanted to follow in his footsteps and go on missions to deep space. The opportunity arrives when she's chosen to lead an elite crew to explore uncharted space to find a new planet for her people. The world government is hiding the whole truth. A planet-killing asteroid is already on its way. The secret designed to keep their people from panicking has birthed a terrorist group bent on exposing the truth whatever the cost.
When rebels manage to escape the planet onboard the Starship Hope, Dana will be forced to make a choice between duty to her crew or following orders. Her choice right or wrong could be the thing that destroys the last remnant of humans in the galaxy.
If you like complicated female heroines committed to duty, heart, and home you'll love the beginning of a new science fiction adventure featuring Captain Dana Pinet. Begin Exodus, the exciting first book in the action-packed space opera series Starship Hope by T.S. Valmond, today.
"This story keeps you interested with its diverse characters and end of the planet storyline. A good read."– Amazon Review
"This was a very good transition from the previous story. Engaging. Great character build up. I felt the joys they felt and the pain, even cried with the characters. I can't wait to see how the adventure progresses."– Amazon Review
"The shades of greens dazzle and draw the eye. Pine on top of moss behind emeralds and shamrock. There's even a green that sparkles like nothing we've ever seen on Earth. Before the crew run away with calling this place 'Green Earth', we've come up with an official name for our new home: Zelenia."
- Captain Robert Lethbridge
Log Entry: 4121.12.3
Dana Pinet watched world events unravel like a kitten's worn-out ball of string. She processed the scattered bits of news, piecing them together to gain a better picture of where the world government was on the Hope project. The rise of taxes, the price of fuel, and the development of new technologies all got equal attention as she imagined the government stockpiling for the mission.
She followed former crew members' movements and reassignments for clues on who would be part of Hope's crew. Dana didn't like the idea of having her crew picked for her, but this was a unique situation. Top-ranking government officials would screen and come to a consensus on every potential crewman, evaluating their deep-space compatibility, as well as analyzing their comprehensive abilities.
In her dreams, Dana envisioned living with myriads of people from her past, exploring the galaxy beyond Zelenia's backyard.
One face always appeared in every dream, no matter how hard she'd tried to forget him.
Wade Chance had saved her life. Dana was grateful to him for that, but after her father's death, she'd ended things with him. Looking back, she knew she could have handled the whole 'break-up' situation better, but, at the time, he had been too painful a reminder of what she'd lost.
Dana's tablet signaled her next briefing would be starting soon, and she used the device to listen to the news broadcasts while she put on her running shoes. Occasional reports regarding asteroid sightings showed up in her feed. The news was filled with speculation and theories related to the world's military organization and what they had planned to do about them, considering everything from a manned spacecraft to take them out, to a government conspiracy that the world was ending.
Dana picked up her keys. As soon as she did, Viktor, her golden retriever, came running. He pulled his leash down from the hook and, with it between his teeth, sat expectantly at her heels.
"Sorry, boy, not this time. I promise I'm not going out for a run without you. When I get back, I'll take you, I promise."
She patted Viktor on the head and slipped out the door to her personalized transport, waiting in the drive. Most of her neighbors were heading out to work. Mrs. O'Malley, the grandmother of two who lived in the small sage house across the street, caught her eye. The older woman put down her laser hedge-cutter and waved. Dana waved back, then slid into the front seat of the small vehicle. The tablet connected with the audio system, broadcasting the latest world news as she settled into her seat, her eyes on the screen.
The transport was the color of liquid silver, and traveled on the ground with four rubber wheels, like the antique cars from the Blue Earth's documented history. The main difference between the two was the lack of glass windows beside each seat. The interior temperature was controlled by the COMP system, and the dash displayed her location and the positions of the other vehicles on the road, eliminating the need for glass windows to see out through Most of the time Dana used the self-driving option so she could focus on the news or her reports on her way to mission briefings.
On the tablet's screen, a man with an impeccable grey suit to match his salt and pepper hair broke down the latest information.
"Reports say that the asteroid conspiracy group has yet to choose a name for themselves, though they insist that the threat to the planet is real. They are not identifying themselves, they say, due to the threat to their lives."
After a twenty-minute commute to the center of the city from her home, Dana parked her transport off to one side of the designated road, slipping her tablet into a hidden compartment under her seat. She climbed out holding her access card and ran down the beach, heading due east. A thin crowd of people dotted the sand, taking up residence on brightly colored blankets and portable chairs with large umbrellas to block out the morning sun's intensity.
Dana slowed down, scanning the spattering of faces until she spotted the man with the dark glasses over his eyes and the bald head. He wore a trench coat the color of wet dirt and sat on a wooden bench with his face tilted toward his shoes. A white cane with red paint halfway up its length rested at his side. She greeted him as instructed.
"Be careful, the sun is high today," she said as she jogged by.
"Thank you, I will," replied the man, and slipped a brown cap over his head.
He'd be signaling the door now. In her head, Dana counted the steps as she ran from the signal light post. It was green, so as soon as her foot hit the pavement, she began the count. She made it to forty-three before she reached the back door of the restaurant. Stretching out her legs, she pressed her hand to the panel on the wall and let the plate scan her palm print. The door opened, and a uniformed officer sitting on a metal chair stood up to salute her as she entered.
"Good morning, Captain. They've got your things in the changing room on the left."
"Thanks, Charlie," she said. "I saw the Cyclones lost again this week. How are you doing?"
From their first meeting, Charlie Kipke's warm smile and round face welcomed her as if he'd always known her. She'd never gotten around to asking him if he'd worked with her father.
"I'm fine. They'll get'em next time, Captain."
"Dana," she corrected.
"Whatever you say." His staunch refusal to call her by her first name was an ongoing joke.
"Okay, Charlie, see you next time."
"No problem, Captain." He held her gaze, making it clear he had no intention of ever calling her anything else.
She shook her head and jogged down the corridor, where she reached the changing room on the left. The outside of the door was biocoded and marked: RESTRICTED ACCESS, to keep out the restaurant staff and droids. Her palm-print granted her access. The artificial lighting was dim compared to the bright sun outside and the room always carried the scent of floor cleaner. She spotted the enclave of lockers and sat down on the bench to remove her running shoes. Her last name with first initial was tagged on a locker in the second row third from the end. It popped open when she pressed her thumb to the biocoded lock.
They'd given her a uniform identical to the one she wore on assignment. By the time she'd dressed, her escort had arrived—a female guard with a no-nonsense gaze that didn't waver as she turned to lead her to the room where Major Thompson waited with several others, including General Hughes, his eyes droopier than usual.
The room, hidden behind the restaurant's bar, was as unimpressive as it had been the first time she'd entered. Dana wondered why the world government continued to use the establishment for their monthly meetings on the new project. By now, they should at least be on the base where the starship's being built, she thought.
Plain, undecorated walls surrounded them on all sides, and a large oval table dominated the center of the room. The seven officials, introduced to her at previous meetings, sat waiting as she took her seat beside Major Thompson and across from General Hughes, who led the meetings. His droopy eyes were tired but sharp as he spoke.
"It's time to inform the public about project Hope."
"Now?" The question came from Major Thompson.
"Yes. The ship is nearing completion," General Hughes continued turning his attention back to Dana. "You'll be leading our finest, carrying citizens chosen to be the foundation stones of our society in the unknown world. The date of your departure will need to remain classified until the last moment. We'll release some details of your voyage to the press in the months to come."
Dana listened with interest. Until now, she'd had to keep her excitement at bay, unsure she'd get to keep her commission. She knew how these things went. At any moment, the project could get another mission, a better captain, a change of administration, and she'd be out. But now they were ready to go public with her name as the captain, finally making the whole thing real.
General Hughes looked her way. "Do you understand what's next?"
"As I understand it, General, you plan to begin evacuations as soon as we have the coordinates of the new planet," she said, reciting what she'd been told in previous meetings.
"That's correct, Captain. We have every confidence in your ability to find us a new home. Your name will be in the headlines as Hope's new captain. As the face of this project, they'll naturally be curious about you. Several reporting agencies will want to do some interviews with you."
Dana didn't like the idea of sitting down with nosey reporters and spilling her guts. However, she knew how these things worked. If she declined it would look bad for the fleet and cause more trouble than it was worth. Better she stick to whatever official statements they had for her.
"What would you like me to say, officially?"
"Officially, nothing. You are free to talk about how you'll be a part of something top secret, etcetera. Other than your personal feelings and reflections, you cannot say anything. As far as you know, there's no production schedule or flight trajectory. There will be experts to speak for the agency to the press, and we've got a digital file of talking points we're sending to your tablet. In general, stick to things you know, like your own business, and perhaps even your father. Reminding the public of what your father did for us will install confidence in the project and help the public perception of our activities."
"Understood, sir." She didn't like the idea of using her father's memory in that way, though she understood the need for the public to be on their side.
General Hughes must have misinterpreted her facial expression for uncertainty. "Without specific details, you won't have to lie. This will make all of your appearances and interviews more genuine. There's nothing worse than military personnel trying to make a lie look believable." Hughes glanced around the table and then with a nod stood. "That's all we have for you today, Captain."
"Thank you, sir." Dana stood.
Major Thompson rose from his chair and waved her over to join him. "A moment, Captain." He lowered his voice as he walked her to the door, letting the others file out ahead of him. "Your mother will know there's more to it. Do your best to keep it from her."
A twinge of pain struck her heart. She shook her head. "She won't ask questions."
Major Thompson waited for a beat, as if wondering if she would say more. She didn't.
"Oh. Well… if she does, and you find yourself in a tough spot, I'll be happy to talk to her for you."
The major had known her mother since Dana was a child. He'd served with her father, like many retired Space Fleet officers. Despite him and his wife spending time with her parents while Dana was young, he didn't know her mother anymore. The woman hated any reminder of the past, including her own child.
Dana wished she could confide in him—or anyone, for that matter—but it felt too much like a betrayal. Her mother was her problem, and Dana couldn't imagine her father wanting his old friends prying into the dysfunction that was her mother. She didn't want them digging into her repressed emotions, either. Dana admitted to herself, alone, that she didn't want any of them knowing what her father's death had cost her.
Instead, she gave him a small nod, a tight smile on her lips. "Thank you, Major."
* * *
As planned, the news outlets had released the information on Starship Hopeand Dana's mission by that evening. She'd already had three calls for interviews, and two others who wanted official pictures of her in and out of her home. They'd plastered Dana's name and her official military photo from her captain's ceremony all over the feeds.
To Dana's surprise, her mother was the first to call.
Dana busied her hands with cleaning the kitchen. It was all she could do not to keep herself from punching something at the sound of her mother's annoyed voice. She glanced outside the window above the empty sink and spotted the security detail in the unmarked van off to one side of the road.
"I saw the news feeds. When were you going to tell me about your new planet-finding assignment?"
"I wasn't. You've shown no interest in what I do these days, so I thought I'd spare you the trouble of having to pretend you were interested," Dana bit out. Then she flinched, preparing for her mother's whining retort. She wasn't disappointed.
"That's not fair. You aren't the only one with a life," her mother spat back.
Dana shook her head and tried to calm her breathing. Her mother had been through enough tragedy in her life. She couldn't expect her to be happy in her daughter's choice to follow so closely in her father's footsteps. Though she'd lost a father, that hadn't seemed to matter to her mother as much as her own misery.
"I don't want to argue with you," Dana said evenly, her voice sapped of all energy.
"Of course, you do. You're just like your father."
Dana ignored the intended slight. Being compared to her father was a bad thing in her mother's eyes. Instead, Dana redirected her mother's attention to the question she'd raised.
"I received my posting on the night you didn't show up for theStellarawards ceremony."
She heard her mother's put-upon sigh. "That was almost a year ago."
"If you had come, I might have thought to share it with you." There was more bite in her tone than she'd planned. "You chose not to be there. But don't worry. The next time I have something to share in my life, I'm sure you'll be the first to know."
It was a lie. She couldn't have told her mother, or anyone else, about Hope that night. Dana had concealed the truth to guilt her mother into action, as it seemed to be the only maneuver that worked these days. The long silence on the other end of the line was enough satisfaction for her.
"I told you, my engagement went long," her mother said at length her tone dismissive. "I had no idea it was such a special ceremony, or I would have dropped everything and come. Next time, I will."
Dana didn't respond as she went to rinse the cleanser off of her hands. There wouldn't be a next time. Her assignment would take her off-world indefinitely. The evacuation of their planet was of the utmost importance, and her mother wouldn't even know her scheduled departure until after they reported back from a suitable new planet—one which might take several years to find.The first group of humans to come from Blue Earth and settle on Zelenia had been in cryostasis for most of their trip. Their discovery of Zelenia had been an accident, according to the history books. Now she'd be a part of the ship and crew finding them a new home. Dana feared her mother would never understand the gravity of her mission––or worse, that she'd see the relief on her face. Her mother would be rid of the last reminder of her lost love. Then she'd finally be free to settle down again instead of bouncing from one indulgence to the next.
Her mother sighed. "I need to get back to my dinner, sweetheart. Have a good night, dear."
"You, too." Dana hung up, choking back the frustrated sob rising up her throat.She was drying her hands as the first tears fell. She wiped angrily at them, ashamed of what they represented. She was an adult. The years of striving to make up for the loss of her father hadn't died but festered. Whenever her mother disappointed her, the scabs reopened.
With the tears drying on her face, Dana raced up the carpeted stairs to her office. On the left of the room, she threw open the closet door, pushing the clothes to one side. She had to stand on her tiptoes to pull down a wooden box from the top shelf, the one she kept hidden behind the stuffed bear and the shoes that hurt her feet after only two hours but made her legs long and sexy.
The carved wood was unpainted. The floral designs burned onto its surface gave the box a uniqueness she'd never seen anywhere else. As soon as its familiar weight was in her hands, her heart calmed.
Dana sat down in her office chair and caressed the edges of the box. It had once carried the scent of fresh varnish, but after all the years spent in the back of her closet, it had lost its fragrance except in her memory. She left the box unopened on her lap. She didn't need to open it. She'd fondled the contents so many times their textures were etched into the memory of her fingertips.
She sat with the box for several minutes until she felt in control again. Instead of returning the box to its shelf, she placed it on the desk in front of her. It would be time to pack soon, and she wanted to make sure the wooden box made it into her bags.