I'm making 2016 a very light year for conventions to focus on writing the Fringe Series. Right now, I'm planning on:
Aug 17-21, WorldCon, Kansas City Marriott, Kansas City MO
Read on for a short teaser from Fringe Campaign...
“Four thousand clicks until we reach the barricade. Should we enter stealth?” Sylvian announced from her seat on the bridge of the Arcadia. “Not yet, but bring shields up to thirty percent,” captain Gabriela Heid ordered. She felt the crew’s nervous glances directed at her as they looked from the screen filled with dots—each one representing a CUF drone—growing bigger every second. When the distance hit three thousand, Heid said, “Jettison the flak and enter stealth mode.” “Aye, aye, Captain,” the tech replied. A red border encircled the screen signaling that the ship was now in stealth mode. Moments later, lights flickered against the blackness of space as chunks of garbage—each chunk repurposed with small power generators—were ejected from the warship. Having served in the CUF—the Collective Unified Forces—since she was a teenager, Heid knew how the armada operated and had studied their strengths and weaknesses. On this mission, she was exploiting their dependency on drones. Powerful defense systems with one critical weakness—no AI, therefore, no reasoning capability. Drones responded to threats exactly how they were programmed to do so. Heid knew their programming as well, such as the drone sensors wouldn’t pick up any traffic beyond a twenty-eight-hundred click radius. The Arcadia was now effectively invisible to the drones as they’d never been designed to search for signs of a ship in stealth mode since only CUF ships had the capability. Heid disliked using stealth. It burned juice at an exponential rate, and juice was at the top of their limited resources list. But even she needed to acknowledge that stealth had its value, especially when she was planning to run a massive CUF blockade. Her entire plan hinged on the assumption that drone programming hadn’t been changed in over a year—even though one of the armada’s newest warships as well as one of their supply vessels now sat under torrent control. Like clockwork, when the flak reached twenty-eight-hundred clicks, the drones stationed at equal intervals across the entry to the Space Coast whirred to life and flashed red and white warning lights. Heid continued to watch the distance close between them. At two thousand clicks, the drones fired at the flak. When no shots came at the Arcadia, Heid let out a breath. “Take us in, Will,” she commanded. “Taking us in,” Will, the ship’s pilot, said. Nolin, the ship’s navigator, leaned closer to Will. “Remember, there’s no autopilot support out here so I can’t help.” “I know,” Will said under his breath. Anything larger than a Myrad cargo hauler had never entered the Coast before… until now. The Arcadia, a massive warship was easily ten times the size of the Collective’s largest haulers. A rock hit the hull, sending a ripple through the ship. “We’re too big,” Will said. “You can do this, Will,” Heid countered. The Space Coast was an asteroid belt that sat outside the Collective’s control. Up until a year ago, the CUF ignored the Coast. Citizens avoided the Coast. Only the most adventurous colonists braved the asteroid belt to journey to an unauthorized colony situated in the middle of the Space Coast. Nova Colony sat inside a hollow asteroid that had been colonized by outlaws and smugglers as a sanctuary for those who needed to avoid the CUF. It had become the center of all less-than-legal business activities and one of the few places that offered colonists the opportunity to become earn a decent living—or die trying. A small asteroid hurtled at them. Will banked but too late, and the rock the size of a house ricocheted off the bow. Two other asteroids followed. Each hit made Heid cringe. As a rock scraped alongside the entire length of the hull, her hands gripped her armrest. “Will, don’t break my ship,” she cautioned. “I’m trying,” he said. A massive asteroid filled the view screen. Gasps and murmurs filled the bridge. “I can’t do this!” Will exclaimed. Heid reached out to her panel. “I’m taking the controls.” “Oh, sweet sabra,” Will replied and leaned back from his panel. No sooner did she take the controls, she leveled the ship, raised the bow slightly, then shoved the bow downward, arcing the massive warship under and around the asteroid in a half-loop. The Arcadia passed by the rock so closely that Heid was surprised it didn’t slice a hole across the hull. She twisted the ship around asteroids, banking and corkscrewing through the Coast. If they’d been within a planet’s atmosphere, the g-forces would’ve made most of the crew either sick or pass out. But, they’d been flying with minimal gravity, making the maneuvers feel more like a video game than a real life-and-death race. As they neared their destination at the center of the Coast, the asteroids grew fewer, and Heid felt herself relax. When Nova Colony emerged onto the view screen, Heid sighed. “Hello, beautiful,” she said softly to no one in particular as she maneuvered the Arcadia to lock on outside the asteroid colony. Then, she spoke louder, “Sylvian, prep all eight landers.” Heid overheard Sylvian talk to the various lander crews as though they were running a proper CUF scenario. Even though her crew hadn’t served the CUF in over a year and no longer wore the uniforms, she suspected it would take much longer for them—including her—to lose the routines that had been drilled into them for years on duty. She stood. “Will, the helm is yours.” “I have the helm.” He turned around. “Captain, about before…” Heid placed a hand on his shoulder “You did good out there. No ship this size is meant to fly through the Coast. Trust me. With some practice in a patrol ship, you can handle the Coast in no time.” He sat a little straighter. “Thanks.” Then he added, “I’ll practice.” She smiled. “I know.” She left the bridge and headed to landing bay One, where her lander sat. Her gunman, Luther, stood waiting for her. Luther was a new addition to her crew, after having been freed from the Citadel back on Terra. She’d gained nearly twenty additional crewmembers from that batch. Many were in poor health, but all carried heavy vendettas in their hearts. All questioned her orders, and she worried that she couldn’t count on them if—when—things went sour. Luther was the only one of her new members she somewhat trusted. Even then, she’d never want to put her life in his hands. “From the sounds of things out there, I was beginning to wonder if you were trying to hit every asteroid in the Coast.” “Not every asteroid,” she answered. “I wanted to save some for our flight out of here.” He smirked and then led the way onto the lander. She buckled into the pilot’s seat while Luther strapped in next to the door. Only two rode in each lander—the minimum required crew—so that they had as much cargo space as possible for transporting colonists to the Arcadia. Heid’s lander was the first to depart the Arcadia, and she led the others into the large asteroid’s jaw-like opening and through a natural cave dimly lit by a single string of lights, and to the colony’s docking station. The docking station’s doors stood open. Heid opened a comm channel. “Nova Colony, this is Specter flight of eight, requesting permission to dock.” No answer. She repeated her request, and tacked on, “Is there anyone home?” When there was still no response, a rock settled in her stomach. Were they too late? “Don’t worry,” Luther said. “Colonists are tougher that you think. They’re probably watching us right now, debating whether to kill us before or after they rob us.” “You think they’d shoot us when we dock?” Luther shook his head. “Nah. They’d never do anything to hurt the ships. They’re too valuable. These guys would wait until we all made it to the airlock and then suck out the air.” “That’s not exactly reassuring.” “We look like the CUF, and every colonists in that asteroid has a reason to hate the CUF.” “We’re not the CUF.” “No? You fly CUF ships and you still have the air of a citizen. Just because you dress like a colonist isn’t enough to make you fringe.” Heid’s jaw tightened but she didn’t say anything. Luther was right. She and her crew had been fighting two fronts ever since they joined the torrents. One front was against the Collective, which was led by citizens like Heid had been before she made a choice to become a traitor to her people. The second front was subtle—sideways glances and off-hand comments. To most of the fringe, all citizens were the same, and years of oppression had reinforced that belief. For them to change their views would take years, if not generations, and the single year the Arcadia’s crew had spent helping the fringe only scratched their looking glass. She maneuvered the lander into docking position and slowly backed the small ship into a bay. Luther stood extended the lander’s braces. Locks clicked around the lander, confining it firmly in place. “If they want the landers, they’ve got them now,” Luther said. Heid bit back a retort. Instead, she simply said, “Suit up, and let’s go.”
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