Many have writing a book on their “bucket list.” I’m happy to say I can scratch that off. Is it perfect? No. Are there errors in it? Sure. I have no doubt there are some formatting and grammatical errors. That is just the way it is in the self-publishing business. You just do the best that you can. Just like the protagonists in the book.
Readers of the early drafts and revisions said they like it. I hope you all do too!
A better cover image will follow. An even better cover image is being commissioned from a very talented artist. This is the place holder until that one is done.
I promised excerpt so see below. I’ll also attach a link to the Amazon page once it’s up. Prior to Chapter 1 there’s a lengthy timeline/prologue. I like those but not everyone does so it’s part of the table of contents in the e-book and can easily be skipped over to Chapter 1.
BOOK DESCRIPTION coming soon to Amazon.com
Captain Tilman Wray didn’t like working for a military controlled by lying, hypocritical, self-serving, and downright corrupt politicians. Maintaining his oath of service for the Sol system was a tough pill to swallow more and more each day. All the Sol colonies and Earth itself were only concerned with one thing: themselves.
When given the chance to purchase a starship, from one of the three major corporations advancing humanity into the stars, and freely run his own operation, in a blur he signed the contract. The corporations call corruption something else entirely. They call it business. At least they’re honest about it.
Now, Wray plies the transit lanes in the depths of space, a free man, breathing recycled air, light-years from Sol, ferrying cargoes, hunting the rich shipping of rival corporations, and participating in industrial sabotage. Partaking in the latter being a key stipulation in his contract. It pays the bills. The best payout often comes from captured raw technologies once belonging to the vanished Minervan race. A race that disappeared 50,000-years ago. They left behind technological wonders believed to be key to advancing humanity hundreds-of-years. They’re the only intelligent race, other than man, yet proven to have existed. So far.
Wray’s profit margin is often as thin as the line between privateering and outright piracy that he and his crew flirt with on nearly every hop. Only strict adherence to a code keeps Captain Wray closer to the lesser of two evils. But not everyone of his crew want to follow this code mostly because it can get in the way of the bottom line…but also because some think killing is no big deal.
Outside the Sol system it is akin to the wild west, and it is here where private corporations duke it out in efforts to ever increase their power and profitability. On the return from a routine hop, believing a good profit imminent, the hunter has become the hunted in a region far more remote, vast, and deadly than the wild west ever once.
The Bellerophon: Ambush (Book 1: The Captive Galaxy Series)
by J. W. Kurtz
May 17, 2286
Approximately 30-Light Years From Sol
Time: 13:33 (Zulu)
Black against black, the hull of the privateer Bellerophon hovered motionless in the vast nothingness that is the space between distant stars. Near absolute zero was a constant companion in this stretch of the void, with only the cosmic background radiation keeping this lonesome patch of nothing barely above 0 degrees Kelvin. A brilliant flash of perfect white, brighter than the brightest sun, abruptly turned the perpetual night momentarily into day. The radiant display of light and energy faded just as quickly as it have been born, the blackness of space casting the light from its memory with haste. At the epicenter of the sudden and explosive luminosity a craft, far smaller than the Bellerophon, hovered where once there was nothing but cold and dark. Massive engines, patiently idling in the airless silence, awoke fully to thrust the 700-meter long, 80,000-ton privateer forward on hot jets of electromagnetically induced plasma to greet her newly arrived guest.
Captain Tilman Wray glanced over the shoulder of the crewman manning the targeting and information station on the bridge. Wray wore a blank mask betraying none of the disappointment he felt upon learning the identification of the small vessel that had been pulled from her passage between the stars via the Siren Device deployed by his ship. Such time and effort and such a small catch. Just a Standard Class Courier Shuttle It was like fishing for marlin and reeling in a minnow. A few, very few, subtly muttered comments of disappointment were heard echoing across the large and mostly vacant bridge before the crew returned their focus to the matter at hand. Wray was pleased to see his crew so quickly return their composure and concentrations on their own, not requiring his intervention. He had handpicked every one of the hired hands from a very large pool of qualified and experienced candidates. He had yet to be disappointed by any of his selected crew hires.
He only wished he could afford to hire more.
Orders were quickly passed to key departments throughout the ship and to the operational parties prepped for action. The boarding team needed to enter and secure the small ship, now just a kilometers distance from the bow of the Bellerophon, before the soon-to-be captured crew could be brought out of stasis-sleep and mount a resistance or attempt escape. The target shuttles primary shipboard computer also needed to be hacked and overridden in case there was any type of self-destruct sequence, programmed and set to be initiated upon the ship being taken in a scenario very much like this.
The belly of the beast opened and disgorged two small dangerous, sharp edged, looking assault skiffs dispatched for the boarding operation. Even though each skiff was diminutive, when compared to the far larger Bellerophon, they were individually still more than half the mass of their target. Sending two assault skiffs, bristling with weaponry, for the mission was very much overkill, but being prepared is never a sin, and two guns are always better than one.
The expertly skilled and experienced pilots guided their craft to the target. The first skiff took up a position a scant 50-meters from the thick view portals of the cockpit of the shuttle. White puffs periodically jetted from stabilizer thrusters as they fired to make minute adjustments to keep the skiff on a perfect station hover. With the skiff in overwatch position the chin turret, twin plasma needler cannons, locked onto the cockpit and prepared to fire given the slightest provocation. Risk taking was minimal out here in the void of nothingness. The first priority was to protect the Bellerophon at all costs. Even the slightest damage out here, far from support, could be catastrophic. A death sentence to the ship and her crew. If the vessel that was about to be boarded made any move toward the Bellerophon that was not initiated by a prize crew she would be blasted into oblivion and losses would be cut on this transaction. Nothing in a mission like this, a mission minded on business, was worth the ultimate cost.
In the utter silence of the airless vacuum the second skiff carefully and steadily closed to dock with the target. A flexible pleated construct, a boarding gantry, extended from the hatch of the assault skiff to the beckoning exterior airlock of the shuttle. A set of lights within the now secured boarding bridge changed from red to green as a pressurized seal was confirmed. Successfully mated with the airlock, entry was negotiated via a swift override of the weakly encrypted exterior lock of the shuttle and a team of four battlesuited boarders rushed aboard. The boarders, loaded for bear, quickly found their weapons were not needed as they cleared the small craft in pairs. This well practiced and rehearsed dance from hard dock to secured prize took under 45-seconds.
The computer specialist of the team, the same who had worked the weak lock to grant access to the shuttle, ran a diagnostic scan of the shuttles central core on the main interface located at the astrogation station in the small cockpit and confirmed that the ships engines were in a scrammed state and no overload had been initiated yet, nor was there a command in the autopilot queue to have one initiated. There was no self-destruct sequence to be had here. News which was always welcomed from the boarding teams perspective. A command was inserted into the ships computer to stop the revival of any crew in stasis-sleep. The small ship was quickly and expertly secured. The small hold and living space was more closely inspected and a fast yet thorough inventory collected. With no threats on hand, Kyler Bachman, leader of the assault team and now acting “Captain” of the prize crew signaled the Bellerophon.
“Bellerophon, Bellerophon. This is Assault One actual, over,” Bachman called on the tactical net communicator of his helmet to the assault skiff docked alongside the shuttle. From there his message was relayed to the Bellerophon via tight beam laser.
The response was prompt and clearly heard in his headset. “Assault One this is Bellerophon Actual. Report mission status, over.”
Bachman immediately responded to the expected order, “to Bellerophon Actual, mission is complete and the shuttle has been taken. No resistance. No threats. Computer has been put on standby and the crew revival has been placed on hold. The ship is ours. Prize Captain Bachman declaring readiness state three of The Corporation registered Standard Class Shuttle Osprey, over.”
The blank mask worn by Captain Wray on the bridge of the Bellerophon broke slightly. If one had been watching closely they may have noticed the brief makings of a smile but, almost as quickly as it formed, the crack in his visage disappeared.
“Assault One this is Bellerophon Actual. Speak free and clear. We’ll maintain on tactical party comms throughout. Acknowledged, no threats present or on the board at large.” And with that the formality, a formality of military training, practice, and experience was over. Now they were co-workers speaking freely as if they were on a personal communicator call at the office.
“Roger that, Captain. Do you have a clean feed from my camera?” Bachman asked. “If so I’ll walk you through what we have here in detail.”
“Go ahead Kyler, we have a crystal picture on the bridge. Give us a tour of that minnow,” Captain Wray replied.
From his chair on the bridge of the Bellerophon, Wray sipped real Earth coffee, an extravagance he allowed himself from time to time, from an aged and chipped navy grey mug with the name “FC-37 RIDLEY“ stenciled in bold black block letters. He sat back and watched the tour narrated by Bachman showing live on the center of the three large screens located on the bulkhead at the front of the bridge.
“I’ll start in the hold, Boss,” Bachman began as he panned his helmet mounted camera to take in the small very space, “these Standard Courier Shuttles used by The Corporation are not much for cargo. We know their primary mission is hauling data cores, secured information, and VIP’s quickly back from A to B. Again, according to registry, and the big letters painted on the side of this bird, this particular shuttle is named the ‘Osprey’ so I’ll call her that from now on.” The camera zoomed in on a few miscellaneous items as Bachman moved his inspection closer for the viewing pleasure of his audience, all the while narrating what he found. “Ten by ten by ten. No data core present. But…but I think we have a Minervan relic. Small box here. Looks to be 30cm by 30cm by 30cm. A cubic foot or so. Of course, if it’s Minervan it’s damn old, but like all their relics, they look brand-fucking-new just like this one. There appears to be two slight sunken pressure switches or button on either side and…” The picture zoomed in as Bachman moved closer for further examination. As he got closer the image went to static and comms were temporarily lost. After a moment the image returned and comms were restored but with some waning static in the audio and pixilation and distortion waves in the image. Both improved as Bachman backed away from the box. “Wow! You back online, Boss? My suit, scanner, everything went offline for a second. My suit CPU is rebooting…shit everything is rebooting. You reading me, Captain?” the nervous voice of Bachman asked. His cool and jocular tone now absent.
“We read you, Kyler. Image clarity is returning to five-by-five status. Some distortion to both picture and audio when you get closer to that box and then you cut out completely. Recommend you keep your distance. Whatever’s in that box doesn’t like electronics much. Don’t touch it.”
Bachman paused before responding as he was running a scan with the multipurpose datapad from his kit. “Roger that, Captain. I’m getting some radiation readings here. Nothing extreme, thank God. The scanner goes all wonky the closer it gets to the relic. Yeah…keeping my distance. You don’t need to tell me twice. Low level x-ray and some fluctuating and resonating spikes. Scanner says magnetic resonance of some kind. ‘Cannot identify’ it says. No heavy gamma or anything dangerous or high enough anyway for the scanner to tell me I’m dead.”
“Well…we’ll let the I2 folks figure out what it is. If the scanner can’t ID it from the database then the good news is that it’s probably valuable. Something new,” Wray took a sip from his cooling mug of coffee. “What else? Doesn’t look like much else in there.”
The image again panned the room. “Nothing of value, no. There’s some hiking and emergency gear piled here. Some foodstuffs and rations. A couple items from one of the bags here,” Bachman continued as he opened a backpack and pulled out a couple long shinny items with points, “these appear to be bullets. Like from an old-time propellant gun slug-thrower. We found a couple of those antiques, loaded mind you, in the common space and stasis-sleep cabin. I haven’t seen these in a long time except in the entertainment vids. Interesting antique but hardly what we were looking for in regards to loot. That box seems to be it.”
“So no data core?” Wray asked. It was standard practice that a data core with backups was carried on hops from Minerva to the home offices in the Sol system.
The camera panned around once more to take in the small space and the few items within, “this is what it is, not much room in here to hide anything, and as you can see, it was all hastily dumped in here with not much care to order. Those primary and backup cores are the size of a person. It would stand out. This is what it is in the ‘hold,’ if that’s what you want to call it. If there’s nothing more you want to see here, nothing that catches your eye, I’ll move on to the main common cabin, cockpit, and then the stasis-sleep cabin,” Bachman stated. With the speakers in his helmet quiet, no reply forthcoming, Bachman took the tacit approval to move on.
The view back on the Bellerophon showed a rhythmically swaying image as Bachman navigated through the main corridor, really the only corridor, of the small craft. Quickly the image came to the common space just behind the cockpit of the ship. The image panned left to right and then back to the left where the narration by Bachman continued.
“Again, there is not much here. It looks like they shared a meal before going to beddy-bye and they didn’t feel like policing up their mess. But from the looks of their gear, lack of a transported data core, and other notes of interest I will get to in a moment, I would guess that this ship isn’t on an approved mission. In fact it may well be that we’ve taken a ship that was herself taken. Wouldn’t that be interesting?” Bachman asked rhetorically.
Wray took in the view silently while looking for anything that stood out or didn’t belong. Anything out of the ordinary. If he was going to park the shuttle in the hangar he wanted to be 100 percent sure it harbored no threat.
“Continue the tour if you please.”
“Copy, Boss. Touring,” Bachman said as he again returned to narration mode as the tour guide. “A couple items of note in the common area. A couple weapons. A Dyna-55 with a low charge and…I don’t even know what it is. My weapons history only goes back maybe a hundred-years. A weapon of some type that looks like it takes those old bullets I showed you in the hold back there. I can tell you it’s loaded because Chavez over there” and the camera shifted up to show a tall battlesuited figure across the room shrug his shoulders, “felt the need to fiddle with it. I guess he saw an old vid that had something similar so he thinks he rates as an expert. Anyway, he discovered if you pull this knob up and then back you can access the magazine. A small magazine but a loaded magazine nonetheless. We’re happy here that he didn’t accidently discharge the thing…no telling what it would’a done. We’re in our suits so a depressurization would have been survivable but there’s no telling if this thing could’ve done some serious damage to the boat. The scope atop this fella is non-digital. I think it’s metal and glass. Old. Just old stuff.” Bachman replaced the old rifle he was showing to the camera back atop the table where it was found.
“Okay…huh. Wasn’t expecting to find an Earth museum piece on that boat. Minervan, yes. Human, not so much. Well…doesn’t look like anything else of interest. Keep Chavez away from stuff that can go ‘boom’ please. Proceed to the cockpit if you don’t mind,” Wray directed. He soon found he was leaning forward in his chair on the Bellerophon bridge in an attempt to take in every detail and perhaps catch something that the team over on the shuttle, on the Osprey, had missed. The weapons, both modern and historical, intrigued him. The fact that the modern plasma pistol was low in charge spoke volumes in that it said the weapon had most likely been fired. Pieces of a puzzle.
Wray continued his careful viewing as the small cockpit quickly came into view. Only three seats in a cramped space. Pilot. Co-pilot. Astrogator. There was no captains chair like on the bridge of the Belle’. The pilot of a shuttle was the captain unless of course one of the VIP’s, a higher-up on the corporate ladder, felt necessary to “assume command” and give orders over the shoulder of the pilot. Wray wondered, if on those probably not so rare occasions when a pencil necked pointy head took charge, to throw their weight around no less, just how much “turbulence” the shuttle encountered to keep the VIP back in their seat in the common area. He grinned to himself at the thought.
The view of the cockpit got up close and personal with the astrogator station as Bachman sat down in the seat and accessed the Osprey’s primary computer. The resolution of the camera was such that a clear image of the data Bachman was viewing on the astrogator computer was able to be read on the display back on the Bellerophon with relative ease. Since there was still the possibility and threat of a backdoor virus, as a kind of latent defense, the standard procedure was forego linking a captured ships computer system to the Bellerophon until it was absolutely certain there would be no damage to the systems on the Belle’.
“While Chavez, Ayad, and I were inspecting the rest of the ship, Marie was going over the systems in the cockpit and as you can see,” Bachman began as he cycled through course readouts and plots for the benefit of the captain and observing bridge crew, “she found something very odd.” The display paused on one particular readout, “what we are looking at here is the destination. See anything wrong with it?”
Captain Wray saw it immediately. Wray considered himself a privateer, however those on the other side of his vocation referred to him and his crew as “pirates.” It was all about perspective as in the notion that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s guerrilla. Today, the Belle’ wasn’t a “scourge of the stars.” No, today the Belle’ and her crew were saviors. “I see it Kyler. If that shuttle had continued on her plotted course she’d have come out of transit space well inside the soup of Neptune, correct?”
“It looks that way, sir. Marie can confirm. Sloppy. Very sloppy plotting indeed. The shuttle, she’d of come out right at the grav limit of the system and into the soup of Neptune. It would of pulled her into the well and crushed her. It looks like, when the ship put out from the Minervan system, on the way to Sol, they didn’t refresh the ships chronometer and synch with Earth local prior to entering transit space. They were still on Minervan local time for some reason and not Zulu standard. That’s Astrogation 101 stuff, right? Even I know that. Also, I’ve never seen a deliberate plot this deep into a system outside of military strike missions. It’s just too dangerous with craft trying to find undistorted gravity lanes in between heavy masses like planets. Whoever plotted their course killed this ship and everyone onboard the moment they set it in,” Bachman answered, “they just didn’t know it. Lucky for them we came along, eh?”
Bachman got up from the astrogation station and examined the cockpit for a minute while waiting to hear for further word to inspect anything more in the compartment. After not hearing anything from the Captain, he retraced his steps out the cockpit and back to the common area. From there he followed a short, dimly lit passageway, to the stasis-sleep compartment of the Osprey. He found two of his team, Marie Weston and Ayad Ibn Sula, examining some of the equipment discovered in the footlockers at the base of each of the six stasis-sleep couches. The Standard Class shuttles, favored by The Corporation and most other well financed private space faring corporations of humanity, were built solely for range and speed in mind. Because of those two characteristics the Standards are little more than flying fuel tanks with little room for cargo, passengers, or provisions. If the trip is to take longer than a week or two, the acceleration couches, which also double as stasis-sleep pods, are used so that the life-support systems are not over taxed. With the passengers and crew in stasis the already very limited space for provisions is instead freed up, to be taken by more valuable cargo. The trip from Minerva to Sol takes just over a month and thus the stasis-sleep couches were occupied. Well, at least four of them were Bachman observed.
Back on the Belle’, Wray could clearly see the four green bands of lights above four of the six couches indicating that they were both occupied and functional and yellow above the two that were vacant. If red lights had been displayed it would have meant there was a malfunction, and that the couch was not safe to use, OR it was in use and the unlucky occupant was deceased. Wray had seen too many red bands above stasis-sleep pods in his lifetime but it was one of the hazards of interstellar travel.
“What have we found here lady and gentlemen?” Wray asked across the kilometer of space separating them.
“As you can see there are four occupied couches,” Bachman responded. “They’re all in deep sleep. The ship wasn’t too far along in the revival cycle before we paused and then reversed it. I’m betting they never left REM longer than a moment or two.”
The view panned to the deck to show a collection of clothes, weapons, and other miscellaneous gear spread out by Bachman’s assault team for ease of inspection, cataloging, and for the capturing of images for the camera feed back to the Belle’.
Bachman again began with his review, “so, we have another couple of weapons it seems. Another Dyna-55, with what looks like a half charge or so. I definitely think this bunch was in a firefight or something prior to departure. Another antique looking gun but different from the one back in the commons cabin. Don’t know if it’s loaded because Chavez, with his expertise in such things gained by watching those old entrainment vids of his on his datapad, hasn’t screwed around with it yet. And won’t…until told to do so, right Chavo!?” A distant chuckle could be heard from a source off camera. “Best that we keep Chavez out of here for awhile. He likes to screw with stuff and push buttons. I may have to reconsider having him as part of this team…in fact, Marie, go keep an eye on him. He was lingering around the hatch to the cockpit when I walked out. Lots of buttons in there. Too many in fact with most of them brightly colored. Far too tempting. You hear me over the tac-net there, Chavez? Don’t touch anything,” Bachman ordered.
“Roger that. Not screwing with anything but if you are sending Marie to check on my screwing of things…,” Chavez answered with a mischievous snigger.
“In your dreams jackass,” Marie asserted as she departed with purpose through the hatch in search of Chavez in hopes of impeding him from blowing them all to shit.
“Sorry about that, Boss. Just taking care of the prize,” Bachman called to the Belle’. “Back to the mission at hand.” The camera again zoomed back in to items on the deck. “We have more gear like that found in the hold. Well used gear I might add. Nothing of note except…this.” The camera jumbled around for a moment as Bachman bent down to retrieve an item. “Nothing except this datapad which is strange for a couple of reasons.” A pause as the datapad was manipulated so the camera had a better view. “First, this is a construction I have never seen before in such a device. These things are common enough everywhere that they are almost disposable. This one is…it’s seamless, clean, and appears as though it just came off the assembly line, but in looking at the rest of the gear, which is well worn and abused, it’s hard to imagine that this thing remains pristine. It also lacks any make or model marks, proofs, or logos. Strange. I’m betting when we get it back to the Belle’, and really give it a thorough inspection, we’ll find it’s made out of an exotic blend of alloys and that nanotech was extensively used. Very pricey. Very pricey indeed. And as for the second anomaly concerning this device…well I’ll let Ayad explain . Ayad?”
A heavily accented voice began on the line, “Captain, the datapad is locked. Locked hard. Some of the deepest encryption I’ve ever seen. Multiple levels that look like they require bio scans. I’m afraid to even attempt to crack 90 percent of the files for fear that they’ll delete as a countermeasure to my efforts,” Ayad reported.
A kilometer away Wray thought for a moment. The orders and missions he followed now were very different than when he served in the Colonial Defense Fleet governed by the Centralized Earth Governments and blocs. He learned early in his 12-year contract with Interstellar Industries, also known as “I2,” that the most important line, that the only line, is the bottom line. A failure costs credits, not to the corporation he was contracted with, but to the owner of the privateering operation, which in this case, was of course Wray. Captains of starships and commanders of men had pretty strict mission parameters and very little leeway under the CDF. Working for the private sector, especially a private sector that was highly unregulated beyond the Sol system, allowed for far greater flexibility and risk taking as long as the end resulted in black on the ledger and not red. The cost for this mission was already substantial in expendables, such as fuel to transit to this location with an expensive Siren device in tow, and then sitting for two-weeks waiting to draw a fly into the web. The Siren, expensive enough just to move around, was a rather expensive piece of equipment to simply even operate in that it required tremendous amounts of energy when functioning. Creating an artificial gravity equivalent to a gas giant the size of Jupiter did not come cheap in regards to required energy. And in the end to only seize a courier shuttle with questionable cargo of value risked putting them, him, very much in the red.
“You said 90 percent of the files are hard-locked,” Wray stated, “but what of the remaining 10 percent of the files? Can you guarantee no data loss if you hack those?”
For a moment the speaker was silent and then the accented voice of Ayad answered, “I can get those files, those 10 percent, unlocked no problem, Boss. I’d hazard my share on it.”
“Good. Because if you kill those files you will lose your share and then some. We aren’t running a charity here. Hopefully some light can be shed on just what this shuttles mission was about and if that Minervan relic is of any value. Anything further to report, Ayad? Bachman?”
Bachman’s voice returned to the channel, “just one last anomaly, Captain. We ran a standard RFID scan on all bands. Corp, I2, Maddox & Tokev. We even ran through the local bands used by the gen 4’s of Earth military. Nothing. This is a Corporation ship so these must be Corp employees, right? Those guys are sticklers about their own regulations. They wouldn’t let someone or someones scoot around in one of their couriers without an RFID implant. If you’re in their employ they have you tagged. Whoever is in those couches aren’t tagged. Do you want that we wake them up and ask them what is what?”
“No,” Wray said for he had long made his decision, and this new bit of information, curious as it was, did not weigh enough to change his mind. “No, take control of the prize Bachman, and bring her home. A Standard will just fit through the main hangar airlock.”
“Roger that, sir. We’ll be under way in five. Bachman, out.”
A brief blast of static played over the open comm line on the bridge of the Bellerophon for a moment and then went silent as the tactical net was disconnected from the bridge speaker system.