Jeff Yi thinks life at the Naval Academy is bad. He's harassed and despised by classmates who resent him for his family connections. He knows things will be different after he graduates. He doesn't know it's about to get a whole lot worse.
TARGETED FOR ASSASSINATION
A weekend of shore leave turns into a fight for survival when Jeff is attacked by strangely persistent muggers. His family's history makes him a symbol to the anti-fascist movement – which means the fascists see him as a threat.
THROWN TO THE WOLVES
The admiralty knows there's only one way to keep him safe. He must have his own command. They assign him to the Petrel, a tiny, worn-out stealth ship. He's not qualified for command, and he knows it. His crew knows it too, and they are not impressed.
A LOOMING WAR
Now, a young officer who only ever wanted to fit in will have to rise to the challenge of command. He'll have to overcome his own doubts and win over a hostile crew, and he'll have to do it quickly, because the galaxy is about to erupt in interstellar war.
"This entertaining novel is a fast-paced military adventure... full of political intrigue and drama."– Publishers' Weekly
"Fast paced and exciting, definite page turner. Prose is sharp and clear. Can't wait for more titles by this author."– Amazon reviewer
"Stars Like Cold Fire is a very solid space opera with a military bent, and well worth your time."– Amazon reviewer
We were seven days out from Amethyst Station when it all went to hell.
I was sound asleep when an impact rippled through my pod. I came awake, my heart pounding, staring at the dark lid of the pod above me, wondering if the night-time harassment was starting up again. My implant was chiming urgently, though, and I felt three more impacts, jolts powerful enough to make the entire pod vibrate. This was no passing thump from a disgruntled sailor.
This was disaster.
I popped the pod open, swung my legs out, and almost kicked Ganguly in the head. He dodged my feet without pausing, heading aft at a dead run.
My ears popped, never a good sign on a spaceship. I dropped to the deck, the deck plates cold against my bare feet, and pressed myself backward as Craigie went past, heading forward.
A wall of text flashed into place across my retina and I scanned it, getting the basics. Emergency. Hull breach. Explosion. Containment.
I blanked the screen and ran for the bridge.
Higgins was there ahead of me. He looked pale and frightened, but his voice was steady as he said, "I've brought us out of N-Space. I'm braking now."
I dropped into my seat, shaking my head, trying to wake up. I glanced at the chronometer on my screen. We were in the third hour of the watch. We had settled into a pattern in the seven days since we'd left Amethyst. We spent an hour or so changing position, then two hours quietly scanning. Then another hour-long hop.
This hop had been interrupted.
A blue circle flashed in the corner of my retina, projected by my implants. The ship wanted to know my status. I chose "Uninjured" from the short menu, then checked the roster. Green checkmarks popped up, one after another. Everyone was alive and healthy.
"I don't know what we hit," Higgins said. "We hit three of them, so I thought we'd better slow down."
"Good thinking." At least he was thinking. I felt lost in a fog of sleepy confusion. It was falling away rapidly, though, cleared by a combination of adrenalin and training. We'd been roused from our bunks more than a few times at the Academy, presented with a simulated crisis and a figurative ticking clock.
"We're stationary, more or less," Higgins announced. Stationary was a slippery concept in deep space, of course. We weren't moving much in relation to the stars. "What happened?" He looked at me, his eyes a bit too wide. "I thought we hit debris. A rock, maybe. But it exploded. All three of them exploded. Is someone shooting at us?"
"It's mines," I told him. "Since we're still alive, I'm guessing detection mines."
He gave me a blank look.
"They're not really designed to destroy. They make a big, visible explosion. Someone will be coming to investigate. We have to get the ship repaired, and we have to get out of here." I brought up a damage report. "The good news is, we took three hits but we only have one hull breach." I glanced aft, and whistled.
An opaque silver wall shimmered just aft of the second sleeping pod. I stared for a moment, baffled, then saw a swirl of motion. I was looking at a force field with smoke on the other side. We had a fire, then.
"We're losing air at a trickle." I spoke as much to clarify things for myself as to inform Higgins. "I think we can ignore it for a while." I took a closer look at the damage report. "The leak and the smoke are contained to Section Three."
Higgins nodded. "What now?"
"Now we get out of here." There was no way to tell how long we had. Either the mines had sent a radio message in the instant before they detonated, or there was a telescope fixed on the minefield. Either way, news of our mishap was spreading at the speed of light. The closest Ryland outpost was three light-years away, which gave us little to worry about. There would be ships much closer, though. We might have weeks or days.
"The Rasmussen engine is down," Higgins announced.
I checked my display. There was maddeningly little information. 'Engine not available' was the entire message.
I pinged Craigie on my implants and spoke into the air. "I need engines, Craigie. What's going on back there?"
"I'm busy," he snapped, and cut the connection.
"Asshole," I muttered, then glanced at Higgins. He pretended not to have heard, peering at the status reports on his screen.
"I don't need a helmsman until we can fly," I told him. "Why don't you see if you can help with repairs?"
He gave the wall of smoke a dubious glance.
"On second thought, belay that." He could wear an oxygen mask as he passed through, but I had no idea how big the fire was, and he would be blundering through blind. Our fire-fighting equipment was all in Section Five, on the other side of the fire.
"There's no damage on our side." I scanned the damage report. "Do a thorough radar sweep. See if you can spot any more mines. Maybe we can get out of the worst of it with maneuvering thrusters." I stood. "I'm going to go put on pants."
By the time I got back there was an update on the engines. All the ceramic control rods were broken. Craigie and the crew were working on replacing them, but it was a tricky job. Extracting the rods for resurfacing was straightforward enough, but there was no easy way to pull the broken ends of rods out of the depths of the engine.
I told Craigie to forget about the fire and the air leak and focus on getting us moving. He ignored me.
"I can see mines all around us," Higgins said. "Why can't we detect them when we're moving?"
"We were in N-Space. We were moving faster than radar."
"Oh. Right." He tapped the air, and two models of the minefield appeared, a view from above the ship on his screen and a view from aft on my screen. "The mines are actually pretty far apart," he said. "Maybe ten meters at the densest part. We can avoid them easily, now that we can see them."
"Get started," I told him. "I want us clear of the mines when we get the engines back."
He glanced at me. "How close can I get? Are they magnetic or anything?"
"Half a meter is plenty of space. They're designed to be cheap and small. They don't have sensors or magnets or any ability to maneuver."
Higgins nodded and got to work. The minefield was a calamity, but I felt a perverse sense of relief. After two long weeks of feeling incompetent I was finally facing something I was adequately trained for. I knew an absurd amount about Ryland military technology and tactics. In a strange way I was more at ease in the middle of a disaster than I was eating breakfast with my crew.
A maneuvering thruster hummed, my chair pushed against me as we turned, and Craigie bellowed in my ear. "What the hell are you doing? I was about to send a man outside!"
He should have informed me first, but that wouldn't occur to a man like Craigie. "Coordinate with Mr. Higgins," I told him.
A moment later Higgins turned to me. "Mr. Craigie says I should stop the ship immediately."
"Get us out of this minefield," I said, then opened a connection to Craigie. "We're moving the ship. I don't know how long it will take. Work around that fact."
"It's not safe, you damned fool! You need to stop the ship."
"You have your orders." I cut the connection.
Higgins said, "Activating front port thruster at forty percent and front ventral thruster at fifteen percent. Cutting thrusters. Activating front starboard thruster and aft port thruster at ten percent. Cutting thrusters." He was talking to Craigie, I realized, giving him a running commentary to let him plan his repairs.
"Moving forward now," Higgins said. "I won't be maneuvering again for at least two minutes." He glanced at me. "Mr. Craigie says he's opening the airlock now."
I nodded. I didn't want to know what kind of extra comments Higgins was filtering out.
"They'll be using force waldoes on the engine from outside," Higgins said. His eyes were glued to the radar display. "It's the simplest way to get the broken rods out. Not that it's simple. But you can get closer from outside the ship."
I nodded, knowing he could see the movement in the corner of his eyes. Force waldoes used force field technology to manipulate matter remotely. It would take two men clinging to the outside of the engine with force field generators. By themselves the generators could push or pull. Two generators working in tandem could, in theory, select one point in the depths of the engine and exert a lateral force.
Isolating a ceramic rod surrounded by engine parts and moving it at right angles to the direction of the field was about like moving a train down the tracks by lobbing boulders at the sides of the locomotive. I didn't envy my technicians their job.
"Braking in thirty seconds," Higgins announced. "Then I'll be moving laterally. To starboard. Then braking, then forward again." He nodded in reply to something I couldn't hear, then tapped a finger.
With him using both bridge screens to watch mines there was little for me to do. I closed my eyes and used my implants to check the radar scans directly. There was nothing to see but the endless expanse of deep space.
The Petrel already had instructions to inform me instantly if it saw a ship approaching. Radar and visual scans wouldn't tell me if a ship was approaching through N-Space, of course. We had a tachyon scanner for faster-than-light observations. It would give us a little bit of warning if the approaching ship was big enough.
Reluctantly I had to admit there was nothing for me to do.
The structure of the minefield gradually revealed itself as we moved through it. We could only see mines at relatively close range, perhaps ten kilometers or a bit less. The mines were distributed in planes, laid out in grids with a mine every ten meters or so. Each plane was a rectangle measuring roughly two kilometers by three. Each plane had a different orientation. We had probably hit the first plane at a roughly perpendicular angle, detonating a single mine. We hit the second plane almost edge-on, so we'd hit two more mines.
The entire minefield filled a huge volume, but it was mostly empty space. A ship couldn't pass through in a straight line from any direction without hitting something, but there was plenty of room to maneuver inside the field.
An idea occurred to me. "Maybe we should go back to our original position. Then go back along the exact path we came in on. We know it's free of mines now."
Higgins glanced at me. "I could try it," he said reluctantly. "If I was lucky I'm sure I could get us within five or ten meters of our original path."
I grimaced. "Never mind." A difference of five or ten centimeters would be enough to court disaster.
On the screen in front of me I watched a model of the Petrel pass through a grid of mines and into an empty area. I held my breath until the tail of the ship was clear. "Okay," Higgins said, "we're in open space for the moment. I don't know if we're clear or not." He kept our velocity low and flew us forward in a straight line.
For all I knew we were flying deeper into the minefield. There was nothing else for it, though, but to keep going.
A chime sounded in my ear, and Higgins muttered a curse. The minefield simulation vanished from my screen, replaced by a blurry image of a warship that had just dropped into normal space.
"Craigie," I snapped. "Get your people inside now."
"We're working." He spoke with the strained patience of a frazzled adult explaining something to a stubborn child.
I opened a channel to the entire crew. "Enemy ship inbound. Get onboard or get left behind."
Higgins said, "What do I do, Captain?"
"Wait. Get ready to maneuver. We'll be dodging incoming fire soon." I looked at the ship. It was a corvette, at a range of just over eight thousand kilometers. It seemed to be looping around an arm of the minefield, coming toward us by a convoluted path. If we survived the coming battle I might be able to analyze that path and plot a safe route out of the mines.
The ship was too far away to pick out details, but a Ryland corvette would have a crew of thirty, two torpedo tubes, two laser cannons, and a rail gun along her belly. She had almost ten times our mass, and she could match our speed. Since she'd already spotted us, we'd lost our only advantage.
We were in desperate trouble.