A mysterious distress call draws the crew of courier ship Hermes to what appears to be an empty, drifting troop vessel--empty except for the blood and gore spattered corridors and a lone survivor locked in a holding cell. Drawn to the handsome, traumatized man, the crew’s comm officer, Isaac Ozawa, makes Turk his personal responsibility, offering him the kindness and warmth he needs after the horror he experienced.
Isaac knows firsthand what it’s like to be different and an outcast, and this cements their bond. Once a promising pilot, Isaac was left with a damaged body when his brain didn't meld with the high-tech implant needed to fly fighter ships. Turk’s brain is no better. The result of a military experiment gone wrong, his natural abilities have been augmented to a dangerous degree.
When an amoral, power-hungry admiral kidnaps Isaac and uses him to convince Turk to become the cataclysmic weapon he’s hungered for, it will take Turk’s strength, the ingenuity of the Hermes crew, the help of the enigmatic Drak’tar, and Isaac’s own stubborn will to save them.
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“HAIL THEM again, Mr. Ozawa.” Captain Drummond’s voice held a sharp edge, betraying the tension beneath the stone-faced calm.
Isaac’s fingers flew over his console as he repeated his hail on all the customary frequencies. “This is the C-courier Hermes to any personnel aboard the Marduk. Distress beacon intercepted. Please advise the nature of your emergency. This is the Hermes hailing the Judiciary Transport Marduk. Please respond.”
“Anything? Static? Ticks?”
“Nothing, ma’am. Just the autobeacon replaying the request for assist.”
“Mr. Wilde, readings would be appreciated any time now.” The Captain turned to her left where Rand Wilde matched Isaac’s frenetic movements at his boards.
“In range now, ma’am. Scanning. Just a sec,” Rand murmured. His forehead creased. “I’m not sure this is right….”READ MORE
“You’re not here to edit, Mr. Wilde. Raw data will do. Life signs. Ship systems.”
Rand cleared his throat. “That’s just it, ma’am. No life signs. None. She’s drifting. Radiation leakage aft. Probable engine damage. Life support still shows online.”
“You think they ditched, Captain?” Isaac powered his chair around, one hand still hovering over the boards in case he picked up something on channels.
Captain Drummond stared at the vidscreen where the hulk of the Marduk occupied two-thirds of the view. Her silver eyebrows pulled together as she drummed her fingers on her chair arm. “Why leave the lights on when you’ve left the house?” She turned again. “Lifepods, Ms. Casalvez?”
Sylvia shook her head. “None sending anyway, ma’am. Too early to tell if any launched.”
“What the hell happened here?”
The Captain echoed Isaac’s thoughts. Judiciary ships ran heavily armed. Not too many things out there could take her down. To Isaac, the engine damage appeared minimal. She could have still been underway, limped into port at Kerron Station, at least. Not to mention that the crew would have to be in dire straits to leave the ship without proper shutdown procedures and a recovery buoy sending coordinates. Isaac shivered, superstitious thoughts creeping in where he needed objective, rational ones.
“Ma’am.” A sudden thought hit him. “It’s a transport.”
“The point, Mr. Ozawa?”
“There’ll be a holding deck amidships. Heavy shielding. Our scans wouldn’t get through.”
“True.” Captain Drummond drew in a long breath. “Survivors could be holed up.”
The bridge officers watched her, expectation drifting like heavy incense.
The use of his first name made him cringe. Something unpleasant would come next. “Captain?”
“Feel up to remote work?”
Isaac hesitated. The captain had asked rather than ordered and relied on him to say no if he had to. He lifted a hand to press the tiny nub behind his left ear that activated his implant. A couple of quick diagnostics only produced a minor twitch in his left eye.
“Should be able to do a run,” he said, hoping his voice sounded more confident outside his head. The implant picked the worst times to act up, but when it did, he would be in a world of hurt. “EV-bot?”
“If you’re up to it, Isaac.” Still the soft voice from the captain. The sympathy in her eyes made him cringe.
I’m not going to break, dammit. Yes, the tiny interstitial bot would be less of a strain, but the visuals would be too limited. They needed to know what waited inside that floating… coffin. He couldn’t shake the image.
He switched on, configured for the human-sized bot, and, through his implant, unhooked the grapples that kept it moored to the side of the Hermes. Visuals from the bot superimposed over his view of the bridge. An ache started behind his eyes from the split vision. In short bursts, he fired the bot’s aft thrusters to orient it for the Marduk’s airlock iris. He’d have to cut his way in, but any ship worth its polyceramics had redundant airlock closures. The damage would be minimal.
“Trav? Can you get us closer, maybe?” Isaac murmured. “So it’s not so long a retrieval flight?”
“Already working on it, Oz,” Travis answered, his gravel-in-a-polishing-drum voice drifting aft from the pilot’s chair. “Got your back.”
Got your back. The familiar phrase was both a comfort and a sad reminder. Like Isaac, like Travis Humboldt, many of the officers and crew were ex-military. Most were retired, though, on their second careers. Isaac was the only one forcibly discharged.
The implant behaved during the bot’s flight over and Isaac dared to hope. Maybe it’ll be all right this time. But as he concentrated on the fine work of guiding the laser saw, the twitch behind his left eye became a tic. By the time he had cut through and secured the airlock with the temporary emergency shield recessed over the iris, the tic had evolved into pulsing, intermittent pain.
Never mind, just get it done, quick and efficient. Isaac activated the bot’s audio and sensors as he eased it out into the ship’s corridor. Only the soft hiss of the ventilation system disturbed the silence.
“Quiet as a tomb,” Rand muttered on Isaac’s right.
“God, Rand, shut up,” Sylvia hissed.COLLAPSE