Jonathan is a retired Marine infantry colonel and now a full-time writer living in Colorado Springs with his wife Kiwi and twin baby girls, Danika Dawn and Darika Marie. He is a two-time Nebula Award Finalist, a two-time Dragon Award Finalist, and a USA Today Bestselling writer.

He published his first work back in 1978, a so-so short story titled "Secession." Since then, he has been published in newspapers, magazines, and in book format in fiction, political science, business, military, sports, race relations, and personal relations fields. He returned to writing fiction in 2009, and he currently has over 110 titles published, 70 being novels. His novelette, "Weaponized Math," was a finalist for the 2017 Nebula Award, "Fire Ant" was a finalist for the 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novella, and "Integration" was a finalist for the 2018 Dragon Award for Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel, and "Sentenced to War" was 2022 Dragon Award finalist in the same category.

Fire Ant by Jonathan P. Brazee

Floribeth Salinas O'Shea Dalisay is an Off-Planet Worker, employed as an exploration pilot by the giant corporation, Hamdani Brothers. Sent on a routine mission to analyze one of the millions of systems in the galaxy, she stumbles across something that could threaten humanity's very existence. She barely escapes with her life, but in the process, has to shut down her scout's AI.

As with all OPWs, she has few rights, and instead of being lauded as a hero, the corporation thinks she is lying. Her managers believe she found something valuable and shut down her AI in an attempt to hide that fact, hoping she can sell that information to the highest bidder. Grounded, and with a huge debt now over her head, Beth has to convince the powers that be that a very real danger to humanity is lying in wait out there in deep space.


Jonathan is a stalwart member of the indie author community. His military scifi adventures have sold millions of copies and earned him several prestigious award nominations. He's the model of the successful indie author. - John Wilker



  • "This is a heart warming story to those of us that know rank and flight operations. I will read every book about our Fire Ant, and want for more."

    – Reader review
  • "Thoroughly enjoyed this. The heroine is believable, not perfect, trying hard to get where she wants. My only disappointment was that the book ended. Got to get the next one."

    – Reader review
  • "Navy aviators in the far future. I love it. Take all the stuff from today's world, wrap it around a hotshot female pilot, and put it in space in the far future. Could be the next JAG series. The only good Fire Ant flies a WASP."

    – Reader review



Over the next 26 hours, as the Lily passed the outermost planet's orbit and entered the system proper, Beth was focused on her displays. Even this far out, she could tell that the mineral potential in the asteroid belt was significant, more than bonus-worthy. Her dry streak was over, and she'd have a tidy sum to send home. She wanted more, though, and she hoped the beautiful planet four out from the primary would provide that. She already knew it was in the Goldilocks zone, she already knew it had an atmosphere that contained at least some O2. She already knew that the gravity was 1.12 Earth Standard. Those were all well and good, but she had to get the Lily in orbit for a more detailed analysis. There were too many possibilities that could render the planet a bust.

Still, Beth spent much of the time daydreaming how she would spend her bonus. She considered, then rejected half-a-dozen ventures. If she was smart about this, she could not only live comfortably for the rest of her life, but live well.

She catnapped a few times, drifting off to sleep, but the excitement was too much of a stimulant. There was nothing she could do to affect the outcome, but she was afraid of falling asleep, then waking up to find out she'd been dreaming. She had to speed things up, or she was going to go crazy.

On her current trajectory, the Lily would reach SG-4021-4 and slip into orbit in another 32 hours, 13 minutes. The ship was a fairly simple craft, all things considering. Beth had to bleed off her speed, or she'd simply shoot right past the planet, hence the somewhat circuitous route into the system. There was another way, though, that could be taken when the conditions were right. Beth could use the gravity of one of the system's gas giants to slow the ship down—if they were in the correct position relative to each other. As luck would have it, that might be the case.

Beth queried her AI, and the numbers looked good. She could nudge the Lily in front of SG-4021-8, gaining a little velocity, but bleeding off more by turning the ship away, letting the planet's gravity act as a drag. This would take some tricky maneuvering—she didn't want to use the planet for the more common gravity assist trajectory, the slingshot which would increase her speed. She'd have to rely on "icing" the Lily, swinging its aft end around at full power to push the ship into the right trajectory. She ran the preliminary calculations, and she had a 23-minute window remaining to initiate the change of course.

"How much time will the maneuver save me?"

"Four hours, five minutes, and thirty-two seconds, depending on time of initiation," her AI passed into the implant behind her ear.

That's all? That's not much.

She knew she'd probably be better off taking the standard trajectory in. Deviating from the tried-and-true always introduced a degree of risk. On the other hand, four hours was four hours, and the risk was tiny.

Screw it.

"Initiate new approach," she said.

Immediately, the view on her display shifted as the Lily turned to its new course. She zoomed in to SG-4021-8, a large, yellow orb, grimacing for a moment as the image of her little Lily getting caught up in the planet's gravity well took over her mind. The chances of that happening were miniscule—something would have to seriously go wrong, but Beth had a tendency of worrying about a worst-case scenario. She adjusted her display, zooming in on SG-4021-4 again. It wasn't the lovely blue of Earth, Society, or any of the water worlds. From this distance, it was a dusky tan, but that was not necessarily a bad sign.

Floribeth, she named the planet, soaking in the sight.

Not that she had naming rights. Some of the early explorers had planets named for them, but in today's universe, the corporations that discovered most of the usable planets decided on the name.

Her route was on her display, and the numbers calculated out. The Lily was functioning at peak performance—she might bitch about HB, but they kept the Hummingbirds in top condition. The bottom line was that everything was progressing as planned, and for the first time since her initial readings, Beth began to relax.

The gods of the universe were a fickle bunch, however, and just as Beth's eyes began to flutter closed, her alarm jerked her back to full-alert. She immediately checked life support. A Hummingbird was not very robust, and it was possible that a tiny bit of space flotsam had pierced her repeller field, all the protection her scout ship had. To her relief, the life-support system showed green.

"What's going on?" she queried her AI, checking the output of the engines.

They were operating smoothly. With life support and engines green, pretty much anything else could be handled.

"Foreign object alert."

Beth's heart, which was still racing, slowed down slightly. The AI had the authority to take emergency evasive action to protect the Lily, so the mere fact that it hadn't meant whatever it was that had triggered the alert was not an immediate problem. It was probably a swarm of debris in her path. Space was big, and her ship was small, but with enough space rubble along her route, the AI had most likely calculated that the risk of colliding with something her fields couldn't handle had risen from highly unlikely to just unlikely.

She punched up the alert message, figuring that the worse-case scenario would be that she'd have to change course, even reverting back to her original approach. Disappointing, but not really a big deal.

Only, the alert was not for something along her current path. To her surprise, the foreign object alert was for something in the vicinity of SG-4021-4. She scrunched her brows as she considered that.

Planets often had objects around them, from moons to rubble that had been captured over the eons. They tended to be in stable orbits and easy to avoid. Beth wasn't sure why the AI had triggered the alert and was about to query it when she realized that the object's track was not a regular orbit. Whatever was out there was leaving the planet on a separate course.

"What is it?"


The Lily's scanners were designed to analyze planets, but over broad spectrums. They were not designed to analyze small objects, particularly at this distance.

There was only one thing it could be, she knew: a claimjumper.

HB had the license for the system, she was certain. Their legal team would never make the mistake of letting something like that slip through the cracks. Some tramp explorers poked around the galaxy, trying to find a lode, but they didn't get in the way of the big boys once they'd registered a claim.

"Ping that ship," she told her AI. "And get ready to send back a report."

Beth felt a surge of anger. If Floribeth was, in fact, a Class A planet, she was bound and determined to protect the claim. A simple warning and capture of the claimjumper's engine signature, and whoever was out there would run like a barrio cockroach when the lights came on.

She waited for the response, which she expected would be an apology, then a break for a gate. That confused her for a moment, though. The Lily should have picked up the presence of another gate the moment she entered the system.

Were they waiting to drop the return gate?

That was stupid. Regulations were sometimes there for a good reason, and even the foolhardiest tramp explorer would drop a gate the moment he or she arrived.

Come to think of it, how did they get here? Through what gate?

For the last 40+ years, all gate coordinates were registered. Sure, a little bribery could open a gate belonging to a planetary government or a smaller corp, and anyone could use a gate—after paying the appropriate fee—once it had been registered, but there was no way HB would let someone through one of their gates before the destination was examined for potential value.

The investigators are going to have a field day with this.

"Ping them again."

"There is no response."

"If they think that staying quiet is going to do them any good . . ." she muttered to herself.

"What kind of ship is it?"

The Lily's relatively weak scanners would be more than capable of identifying the ship. All ship engines had a transmitted signature that could be traced. It would be a simple matter of matching the signature with the Directorate database.

"It is not a ship," the AI told her.

"What? Of course, it is. Look at the track."

"I repeat, there is no signature, and scans do not match anything in the database."

"That's impossible. It has to . . ." she started to say before a thought crossed her mind.

Not all century ships, the vast behemoths that first took mankind to the stars, had been accounted for. They'd all been tracked, of course. Anything moving through space collided with tiny particles that then emitted tiny pulses of power, faint, but still there. But the galaxy was huge, and some of the traces of the big ships, which travelled much slower than modern vessels and didn't have the luxury of gates, had simply gotten lost in the noise.

"Could this be a lost colony?" she asked aloud, but more to herself.

If it were, then her bonus would have to be huge. No "lost" colony had been found for a couple of centuries.

"Negative. No century ship could have traveled this far from Earth by this time."

Beth's excitement faded. She really had no idea as to where she was in the galaxy. The Lily could flash from one side to the other if the math was correct, but the century ships, without gates, had to traverse the black in the old-fashioned way. Even today, with gate technology, most of the inhabited worlds were in Earth's neighborhood.

So, what the heck is that? she wondered as she watched the track of the object. It was as if it had been flung out of the planet and was now forging its own path.

"Is there volcanic activity on the planet?" she asked.


It had been a long shot, but Beth was wracking her brain for possible answers.

Oh, well, I guess I'll find out soon enough. It looks like our paths are converging.

As soon as the thought had formed, Beth felt a cold chill sweep over her. Space was too big, even within a system, for coincidences like that. If their paths were converging, then there was a reason for that.

That was not a ship . . . at least a ship known to man. It was not a natural phenomenon. As the ancient saying went, "Eliminate the impossible, and what ever remains, no matter how improbable has to be the truth."

"But that's impossible, too," she said aloud.

Unconsciously, her hand reached forward to the mission abort. Push it, and the Lily would head back to the gate and the nexus. Her mission would be over. If that really was a Class A world, she'd be giving up her bonus, to be awarded to whoever followed her.

She brought her hand back down. She didn't know what that thing was, so she didn't know if she was in danger. She didn't know if she was safe, either, but the planet was just sitting there, waiting for her, and she wanted it.

"I want full scans on that object," she ordered the AI. "Maintain present course."

She tore her attention away from the object for a moment to check her track. She was already speeding up as the eighth planet pulled at the oblique on her little scout. She'd be icing soon, and the full force of the gas giant's gravity would begin to slow her down. Something about that nagged at her, tickling the back of her mind, but she couldn't grasp it, and in frustration, cleared her mind, dropping an old episode of "The Syntax Gambit" on the display, blocking out the readings, tracks, and everything else. Her AI would let her know if anything changed, and she could lose herself in the opera. She'd seen it ten times if she'd seen it once, and the hopeless love of Jeremy always tugged at her heart.

She tried to lose herself in the story, but for once, she wasn't as deeply invested as she normally was. Her mind kept drifting to Floribeth and the unknown object. She stopped the opera once to go over her SOP, but there weren't any instructions. It was obvious that she should shoot back a message to Ana at HQ, but she didn't know what to tell them that wouldn't make her sound crazy, get recalled, and then lose the bonus to someone else.

She turned back to the show, and just when Meng died, leaving the distraught Jeremy considering suicide, it hit her.

The Lily and the object were on a meeting course, but she hadn't performed the icing turn yet. Whatever—whoever—was out there, understood what she was doing, understood that she was coming in and from what direction.

It was impossible, but it was the only explanation. Whatever was out there was coming for her. In her heart, she was sure whoever it was was not meeting her for a civil hello.

If that was a human ship, then by not having an engine signature, by not answering, those in the ship wanted to eliminate her. Beth hoped that was the case. Because if that was not a human ship . . .

It was beyond comprehension. Everyone knew they were alone in the galaxy, at least in so far as a space-going race. It was possible that there was sentient life hidden among the millions of planets, but humans would have detected the signs of movement at speeds, like the swish of bioluminescence that marked the passing of a shark in the oceans of Mother Earth.

If that thing out there was a primitive craft of some sort, native to the planet, then there would be a plethora of signs of the civilization that created it. No, that ship—and Beth knew in her heart that it was a ship—came from outside of the system. It wasn't human.


Beth grabbed the manual controls and whipped the Lily around, pointing her past the other side of the gas giant looming large in her display. She pushed the power to the max as alarms blared.

"Give me a gravity assist course at max speed to the gate!" she shouted.

Within seconds, a path appeared on her display. She gave the ship a minor correction, and she was hugging the inside of the route. She knew she should turn over the ship to the AI, but she just couldn't release control.

"What's the other ship doing?"

"The unidentified object is adjusting course."

"To where, damn it!"

"Towards SG-4021-8."

Beth felt a surge of hope. The alien ship was still half a system away, and while the Lily was only slowly picking up speed, that was a lot of space to make up. With the gas giant's help, her ship was going to make use of a significant burst of speed. She hoped that would keep her far enough in front of the ship to make it to the gate.

She pulled up the alien ship's track. It was accelerating as well, and at a slightly faster rate than the Lily.

Beth had a love-hate relationship with her Hummingbird. It was small, barely a floating coffin, and she hated being cooped up in it. But it was also reliable and had returned her from 48 missions so far.

"Make it one more, baby."

The problem with a Hummingbird—or any corporate exploration scout—was that it was made with economy in mind. The costs for a quicker, more maneuverable craft like a Directorate Wasp, were exponentially higher. The corporations didn't care if their OPW pilots spent several days accelerating and then decelerating through gates. And when kilograms mattered, there was nothing to waste in the way of defenses. Corporate scouts were rarely pirated, and it was far cheaper to replace a lost scout and give a nominal payout to the pilot's family than build more robust ships.

Her ship had never let her down, but she'd never been in a race before, and this was one she knew she couldn't afford to lose.

With the first surge of panic subsiding, she turned the Lily over to the AI, trusting it to take the quickest, safest pass. Scouts were not made to withstand the pull of something like a gas giant, but the AI would know how close it could take the ship without risk.

For the next 22 minutes, Beth stared at the blip on the screen, only looking away to check her speed. She'd already bled off the bulk of her velocity by the time she'd punched it. A Hummingbird's little engines weren't the most reactive, but the gas giant's gravity had already accelerated the scout far beyond what its engines could do. In a little more than 53 minutes, the Lily would start whipping around the planet, gaining even more speed.

The alien ship was gaining, but not fast enough, she thought. Along with the slingshot, and with the Lily's engines screaming, she thought she could reach the gate within 19 hours. She'd know for sure once she broke free from the gas giant's grip.

As she watched the blip on her display, something happened. The blip split in two, one speeding up—quickly.

"What's that?" she asked, her voice breaking.

"Two objects have detached from the primary object. They are accelerating at a high rate of speed."

"Uh . . . how high a rate?" she asked, not really wanting to know the answer.

"Unable to determine using fold scanning."

"Fold" scanners were an important piece of any interstellar craft, from scout to battleship. The Lily had an array of inexpensive, but accurate scanners that relied on the visual spectrum. For Floribeth, that meant the scanners were "seeing" the planet almost 50 minutes after the fact due to the speed of light and the distance. The fold scanner, which worked through physics that Beth didn't even try to understand, could "see" things in what was close enough to real time that the lag didn't really matter. Fold scanners didn't show much detail, but the little scout's scanner had been enough to pick up the alien ship—and whatever had detached from the ship and were heading towards her.

"What is their current velocity?"

"Inadequate data input."

"Guess, damn it!"

"Approaching .58C."

That shocked Beth. It normally took the Lily three days to reach the .54C necessary to pass through a gate, and even at those slow speeds, they would be enough to smush Beth into a red paste without the g-compensators. Whatever was coming her way had to be accelerating at tremendous levels. Nothing alive could survive that.

Could it?

"When will they reach us?"

"Inadequate data input."

Beth started to yell out, but she stopped, took five slow, deliberate breaths, then said, "Make the best possible estimate."

"Fifty-one minutes, thirty seconds, with approximately a one-minute margin of error."

"And when will we pass behind the SG-4021-8?"

"Fifty-five minutes, twenty-two seconds."

Beth's vision started to close in. Whatever was coming her way was going to catch her before she could get the planet between them. She had to goose more speed out of the Lily.

She checked her readouts, but the little engine was at maximum output. There was no magic gyvering that could suddenly turn the scout into a fighter.

What about you, big boy? she wondered.

The gas giant loomed large, but her trajectory already had her skirting the very edge of the safe zone. She checked the blips chasing her again—they had already closed the gap significantly.

For all she knew, the blips were a floral delivery service, sent to welcome her to the system. Beth doubted that, though. All she had were two sets of blips, and she thought the two objects that made up the lead blip had malevolent intent. If there was one thing she was sure of, it was that she didn't want to let whatever was represented by those blips catch her.

"Bring the course to here," she said, swiping her finger on the display to indicate a new course.

"Negative. That course is not within accepted safety parameters."

"Neither is getting an interstellar missile up our butts. Do it."

"Negative. I am not authorized to allow you to put Hamdani Brothers property in jeopardy."

Beth wanted to scream in frustration. The Lily's AI, like everything else on the ship, was a basic model, adequate to do the job, but not much else. It was nothing like higher capability AIs that had simulated personalities and could function more like humans.

Beth was not going to sit there and argue with a bunch of silicate cells when their very survival was at risk. She didn't even hesitate. Flipping up the cover near her right hand, she hit the switch.

Immediately, the ship's AI went dead. The ship still functioned as a basic numbers cruncher, and it would keep the ship operating, but it no longer had the independent capacity that made it an AI. That part of its silicate circuits had just been fried. Beth took control of the Lily and swung it on a closer line to the planet.

She almost expected to feel a surge as the gravity pull got stronger, but that was ridiculous. The Lily was going through heavy acceleration even without the change in course, and her g-compensators, well, compensated.

Beth didn't think the change in course would speed her up significantly, but what it did was shorten her distance to travel until she was behind the big planet. She hoped that would be enough.

The planet grew larger and larger, and twice, Beth had to zoom out on her display. All the time, the leading blip, which had now split into two separate blips, closed the distance. She kept running the calculations, and as the alien torpedoes, as she was now calling them, came closer, the calculations became more accurate. It soon became apparent that her change of course was not enough. She was going to get caught a minute too soon.

"They can probably follow me around the planet, anyway," she muttered.

She nudged the course over, closer to the planet, so that she would pass right alongside the exosphere. Alarms blared, but mercifully, the AI didn't say a word.

"This is it," she told herself as she reached the planet.

Outside, immense forces were pulling at the Lily, something it was not designed to take. It even shuddered, something Beth had never felt before. Beth almost panicked, knowing she'd hit the limits of the exosphere, and she was afraid she'd bounce off, exposing the ship to the torpedoes that were on her ass. With a firm hand, she steadied the scout, wishing now that she could turn it back over to the slagged AI.

The first torpedo materialized on the visuals. An egg-like spheroid, it didn't look like a torpedo. Beth was tempted to close her eyes, but if she was going to die, she wanted to see it coming.

But it didn't come. It started to slow down. The Lily shuddered more violently, and something broke free to lodge beneath her right foot, but on the display, the first torpedo began to yaw. Suddenly, it swerved and dove into the planet, as the Lily began to whip around the gas giant.

Where's the second one? Where is it?

The gas giant was big—huge, in fact. But the Lily was moving very fast. Within moments, the ship slingshotted around and broke free of the planet's grip, heading back out into space. Beth kept it on course to reach the gate, but she ran every scanner she had back toward the planet, looking for the second torpedo. It never appeared.

Somehow, by some miracle, she had shaken the alien craft, and the Lily was still intact. She pulled up her cross and kissed it.

Beth switched the fold scanner to the remaining blip, the one still far behind. It was still accelerating, but with the gas giant's assist, Beth had opened up the distance. It had shifted course as well, moving to an intercept that steered clear of SG-4021-8.

Beth ran several scenarios. She wished she could turn the AI back on, but disabling it was a safety option, in case an AI went rogue (which was an extremely rare occurrence). As such, it would take a tech to install a new AI. Still, even without the AI making the calculations, it became obvious that unless the ship chasing her had something else up its sleeve, the Lily should enter the gate with around 40 minutes to spare. She was still nervous about another set of torpedoes, but after an hour without any more being fired, she began to relax. She even fell asleep for two hours.

Eighteen hours, twelve minutes, and fifteen seconds after slingshotting around the gas giant, Pilot Two Floribeth Salinas O'Shea Dalisay, Hamdani Exploration Corps passed through the gate. As per regulations in existence since the formation of the Directorate, but never followed, as far as she knew, she triggered the self-destruct, and the gates to and from SG-4021 were reduced to their component atoms.