THE UNIVERSE IS A DANGEROUS PLACE.
When you're out in the black wilds of space you might encounter warring pirate factions, rogue planets, or even find yourself on the wrong side of the Royal Union, the ruling government of the Triumph galaxy. Unfortunately for Halstaan Cross, it's all three.
Halstaan is the chief engineer of a long-range rescue/salvage ship that patrols the dangerous frontier. He is relied upon to keep the ship running and ensure that salvage and cargo is rendered safe and stowed without incident. The crew counts on him with their lives and their livelihood. But he is also hiding a dark secret that may threaten the whole crew.
Ro Javlin is a young man from a remote planet setting off into the universe for the first time. Bound by duty and pressured by his community, he reluctantly accepts a commission to attend the Royal Military Academy.
When Ro's path unexpectedly intersects with Halstaan, the two are thrust into the midst of a discovery that will affect the entire galaxy and change the course of their lives forever.
"This was a great read! Character development was even paced, and the depth of the background and settings woven into the story made me think I was watching a movie. Can't wait for the next book"– MilRok on Amazon
"This book is surprisingly excellent, and considering it's the author's first one, it is extra impressive. Just read the first chapter, and you'll see what I mean. It's got immediate action and paints a tremendous world-building background. No spoilers here, but suffice to say A Wonderful first book. I eagerly await the next edition of the series. What a thrill!"– phaledax on Amazon
"The author drops us into the beginning of a space adventure that keeps growing with amazing detail while also revealing further mysteries to uncover. Awesome read!! Star Wars meets Lost in Space meets Game of Thrones meets Top Gun"– my8174 on Amazon
A centimeter to his left and he would have been dead. Halstaan Cross heard his heart pounding in his ears, vibrating inside the deathly silence of his helmet. Adrenaline pulsed through his veins and time slowed. His vision narrowed. All he could see from his vantage point on the hull of the derelict ship was the business end of the blaster pointing at him.
Should've sent the new guy, Halstaan thought.
Someone once told a much younger Halstaan that space travel was a grand adventure filled with wonder and boundless wealth. They failed to mention it was also tedious and silent, briefly punctuated by moments of sheer terror and deadly consequence. Today alone, he had almost been killed twice. Before his shift began, the gravity paneling in his berthing failed and he nearly drowned while floating weightless in his shower. Now some cabbagehead had just sent a magnetically accelerated bolt of metal within a couple centimeters of his face.
After frantically waving his arms in front of him, Halstaan slowly placed his hands flat over his chest—the old kingdom sign for "I'm unarmed" or "peace." Ten meters toward the bow of the transport, a figure stood holding the blaster, visor on the helmet betraying nothing. Halstaan remained perfectly still. Without warning, a flood light activated, splashing across the ship's hull, illuminating the dark figure briefly. Halstaan got a better look at his assailant. The person was wearing a poorly maintained emergency vac suit. Whoever was inside it was clearly disturbed by the light, glancing up quickly before looking back at Halstaan and squeezing the trigger. A stream of bright blue flashes erupted from the end of the blaster and hit the hull just short of Halstaan. Sparks went tumbling on the hull across his feet.
"Whoa, whoa! Hold it!" Halstaan screamed over the comms, hoping desperately that the shooter could hear him.
Two hours ago, Odin's Lance found a small echo on sensors and came to investigate. This was a typical mission for the Lance. The Commerce Guild owned herand she was tasked with performing long-range rescue salvage along the galactic frontier. The frontier spanned from one end of Triumph to the other, dividing the inhabited third of the galaxy from the remainder. Travel along the frontier was dangerous and ships rarely attempted it, but when they did and inevitably got into trouble, the Odin's Lance was there to pick up the pieces. It had been four months since their last mission and the captain was happy to stick his nose into something that might turn a profit. Anything to serve the bottom line.
Halstaan stared at the person who just tried to kill him and repeated the "peace" gesture frantically. The figure took a step forward but did not fire again. Halstaan was exposed out on the hull; standing on the belly of a transport ship in the middle of wild space without a single thing that he could use to defend himself or hide behind. He needed to find something to put between him and his attacker. Slowly raising his hands, he chanced a glance behind him. No floating debris, no antennae, not even landing struts. Nothing but the vacuum of space.
Turning his head back, Halstaan keyed his comms and hoped that the emergency suit had an open-frequency communicator.
"Listen, buddy, I'm not here to hurt you. We are a rescue team." Halstaan pointed at the red symbol on the right arm of his suit. "Rescue," he repeated slowly. Maybe this guy didn't speak Common, and this was all just gibberish to him, if he was hearing anything at all.
"Halstaan, you need some help out there?" said a voice over his helmet speaker. It was Philip Getu, Halstaan's apprentice engineer calling from Odin's Lance. "I'm about fifty meters above you."
"This guy has his blaster trained right on me. You might as well be a light-year away," he responded, chuckling despite his circumstances. "I'm going to retreat nice and slow, then try to maneuver back to the ship without getting plugged full of holes."
"You got it, boss. Holding here."
Halstaan started moving back, his magnetized boots clicking as they locked and unlocked with each step. Provided he made it, this event would be added to the long list of stories he would never share with his wife. In fact, this one would probably go with him to the grave. If this guy didn't kill him today, his wife surely would if she ever heard this story.
Nice and easy, he thought hopefully, and this will all be over soon.
Halstaan continued backing away, only occasionally looking down to check his footing. His retreat took him over a porthole positioned below him that gave him his first look into the ship. Warning lights flashed inside the compartment on the other side of the window. The ship had probably been running on emergency power for a long time—the warning lights were dangerously dim. That was bad news.
A hand appeared on the other side of the porthole. A small hand. And a small face just behind it. It belonged to a young boy, no older than ten, face dirty and gaunt, with sunken eyes and chapped lips. Halstaan keyed the comms.
"Odin's Lance, Cross. There are more people inside the ship. Children. I'm going to need some help once this guy stops pointing his blaster at me. Victoria, can you try communicating our intentions over all common frequencies and prep a medical team?"
"Affirmative," a deep feminine voice chimed.
Victoria was the flight duty officer and an excellent one at that. Halstaan breathed a little easier knowing she would get things done. He activated the light on the left arm of his suit and shined it into the porthole. The boy was floating inside the small room within. No functioning artificial gravity. Another figure could be seen in the beam of his flashlight; a girl, much younger, and equally malnourished.
"Ah drek, Odin's Lance …"
Someone jumped in on the comms before he could finish.
"Halstaan, Lanish." It was the captain of the Odin's Lance, Jonathan Lanish. "That ship is registered as Salisian. Do those children look Salisian?"
Salisians all had ceremonial tattooing on their foreheads and neck. These children did not. "Negative, sir. But they are pretty bad off. We should float a rescue cache down here and once it's mag-locked to the hull we can back off. Let them know we aren't looking for a fight." He kept an eye on the figure with the blaster, which was still menacingly trained on him.
"Hello?" a small voice squeaked in Halstaan's ear. "Can you hear me?"
"Yes. I can hear you," Halstaan looked down and saw the dirty face looking back at him. "My name is Halstaan. My ship is here too. We are a rescue ship. We're here to help."
"No!" a more mature voice yelled.
Another shower of bright blue bolts flew past Halstaan, skipping off the hull of the transport behind him. He froze. The figure moved towards Halstaan's position, quickly crossing the distance between them. Looking past the blaster, now held within centimeters of his visor, Halstaan could finally make out the face of his attacker. It was a boy, probably sixteen or seventeen.
"This is our ship. We claimed it, " the teenager said.
"Listen kid, we aren't trying to claim anything. But you are in bad shape and if you would just let me take a look maybe we could get you up and running. We'll happily leave you alone after that. Promise." Halstaan noticed a tattoo on this kid's cheek. A small black circle and four red arrows extending out of it forming an "X". He was a pirate.
Piracy in Triumph was rampant along the frontier. The pirates preyed on poorly protected ships too far away from inhabited systems to be able to call for help. They had been known to use their children to con their way onto ships. They would then kill the crew or disable the ship and then hope mom and dad made it back in time before they ran out of food or air.
"I'm not a kid!" the pirate said.
"Of course, you're not. You raided this ship. Probably just ran into an issue restarting the fusion core, right? Most transports like this have fail-safes to make it hard to salvage when they are attacked by pirates—"
"I'm not a pirate either. We are Freeholders. Just taking back what was always rightfully ours."
"Exactly." Halstaan nodded and smiled. "But sometimes you need an engineer to fix what's yours. That's why I'm here. Let me fix your drive and then we'll be on our way."
The blaster lowered. Halstaan looked deep into the eyes of this boy trying to be a man. In a place as harsh as Triumph, it was no wonder this kid had pulled a blaster on him. Halstaan couldn't help but see bits of himself in the boy. Defiance in the face of overwhelming odds. Determination to prove himself to a galaxy that was always working against you. In his youth, Halstaan had been just like this.