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The Wounded Frontier
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-398-9
Genre: Science Fiction/Dark Fantasy
eBook Length: 243 Pages
Published: February 2018

From inside the flap

When a star thirty-four light years away vanishes, leaving the infrared signature of a Dyson sphere, Supreme Commander Jack Commer readies the untested Typhoon V for Iota Persei, assigning talented Physician/Engineer Laurie Lachrer to the ship and asking a reluctant Will Connors, traumatized by old combat duties, to postpone his retirement for this mission. Draka Sortie, President of the United System Council, is transported to the Typhoon V en route to Iota Persei, where he begins to remember that hes a member of the Wounded, a race that kills suns to create spectacular quasar artworks fifteen billion light years away. A Laurie robot impersonating the real physician/engineer offers to assist. When her lover, an ancient robot, hijacks the older Typhoon III to rescue her, the ship is hurled against the sphere to claim its energy. The Wounded surround Sol with a Dyson sphere, and against her will the human Laurie becomes the Negation Master for Sol.

The Wounded Frontier (Excerpt)

Chapter One

Leaving Andertwin

Tuesday, July 9, 2075, 1040 hours

At the sound of footsteps Laurie peered from under the console to see the Supreme Commander of the United System Space Force striding into the Control Room.

"Oh! Sorry, sir!" she gasped, struggling to extricate herself.

"As you were, Colonel Lachrer," Jack Commer grinned. "I can see Joe must've broken the III again!"

"Well, uh, not really, sir," she said, noting that Jack was in his dark blue full dress uniform as were the other Typhoon IV crewmembers on board today, all looking snazzy in contrast to the III crew in their loose light blue flight suits. "There were a few problems with the console's connection to Enhanced Diagnostic I wanted to look at before we head back. I wouldn't chance an Enhanced at this point until we've worked out this glitch." She ducked back under the console and resumed scanning the circuitry as Jack took a seat in the second row of chairs behind the command console.

"Yeah, we came out in three regular Star Drives," Joe Commer spoke from the pilot seat. "I really did want to test the Enhanced, though. Looks like we need to take it back in three again."

Laurie brushed back her long red hair and stuck her head out again. "I'm sorry, sir," she spoke to her captain, also managing to nod in the direction of his brother behind him, "but if we want to launch at 1045 I don't think I have time to really chase this bug down. I'm really sorry, sir."

"That's fine, Laurie," Joe said. "I didn't think we'd have time to figure it all out, either. Andy, let's start the preflight." As copilot Donnelley began his checklist, Joe waved at Jack's wife Amav climbing up the ladder to the Control Room. Her glossy white flight suit jerked Donnelley's eyes away from his console.

Damn her and her pneumatic boobs! Laurie thought. Every man on this ship was drooling after them. Doctor Frankston-Commer! Had she really ever done anything with planetary engineering? Oh, they always sought her input, and she was on every committee--because she was absolutely perfect, of course. She might be in her sixties but she looked twenty, with that oval face, that long lustrous brown hair, those dark smoldering eyes and thin sensuous lips. Apparently Amav had inveigled a native Jujl seamstress into making that skintight plasti-leather flight suit after the wardrobe she'd brought to Andertwin was incinerated in the Typhoon IV crash. The suit was certainly calculated to accentuate every one of Amav's faultless curves.

Amav slithered into a seat next to Jack behind the pilot and copilot. The Control Room of the Typhoon III was blindingly white. It hurt Laurie's eyes, but Joe liked the maximum setting.

"I'm ready to get out of this dump," Amav whispered, face tight.

"Well, we're almost off." Jack turned to Laurie as she pulled herself from under the console. "Sorry you couldn't stay and sightsee Andertwin a while, Colonel. Joe and Andy have been here a couple times. It's really almost paradise. Amav and I were even thinking of retiring here someday."

Amav shook her head. "Not anymore. Three weeks is more than enough."

Jack shrugged. "And thanks for bringing Dar and K'sla over, Joe. Even they're talking about retiring here."

No one responded. Amav stole an impatient glance out the canopy. Laurie was taken aback at the fresh tension in the Control Room. She still couldn't make sense of all the craziness that happened here on Andertwin last month, but she knew everyone was stressed by the events that had led to the new Centaurian Grid.

But it sure wasn't fair to barely even let them use the bathroom in the guest house. She'd only be able to see Phil Sperry for a couple minutes. Draka on the other hand had been soaking up the legendary Typhoon II engineer's expertise for three weeks now.

Joe had told her that the crew of the Typhoon IV had requested three additional weeks on Andertwin to recuperate--but apparently this was not to the liking of the seemingly twenty-year-old goddess Amav Frankston-Commer. The Typhoon III had been scheduled to stay here a few days, but on the way over Joe had told her in confidence that Amav had been insisting on getting off Andertwin for over two weeks. At the end of their first Star Drive had come the call from Jack asking if the III couldn't be turned around in two hours and get them home today. Running the turnaround schedule immediately upon arrival hadn't been a problem for Laurie. She was used to that sort of pressure. But it didn't give her any time to work on that Enhanced glitch, or to ask Phil Sperry what he thought of it.

To smooth the awkward silence she made a show of closing up her diagnostic toolkit. "How's your leg, sir? Draka told me it healed fine."

Jack blinked. "I keep forgetting you're a doctor. Want to take a look?"

"Uh, I don't think--I mean, if we're going to launch in four minutes--"

Jack laughed. "Oh come on, Laurie, I was pulling your leg! Believe me, mine's better than ever. Hard to believe it ever happened, in a way. Blasted clean off--and Greeney puts it back together with Amplified Thought! You'd never know it'd happened. Draka's still amazed."

"Jack, please," Amav said, reducing the Control Room to a chilly seventeen degrees and resuming her stare out the canopy. "It was all--too horrible."

Laurie had spoken with Draka Sortie, her counterpart on the Typhoon IV, about whether Jack might need special medical attention on the trip back to Sol, but Greeney Gooney had maintained that all the necessary healing had taken place in the first fifteen seconds of his Amplified Thought repair. Unconcerned about any follow-up needs Jack might have, Greeney had already returned to Sol to take up his new duties as Martian Emperor.

Laurie had also consulted about the rest of the IV crew with Draka, who'd been checking them every day for any physical problems that might develop. They'd all been banged up pretty badly when they'd crashed the IV.

Meanwhile Amav continued to glare at the tall Andertwin trees in the late afternoon sun. Laurie had to remind herself that their own morning schedule had nothing to do with Andertwin time. But what on earth was up with the bitch lady today?

Donnelley turned to Jack. "Is everyone from the IV on board, Admiral?" The tall lean copilot had thinning gray hair and sunken cheeks. Laurie wondered why he hadn't retired years ago. He'd been a test pilot in the thirties, then had gone for command but never attained it. He'd been a copilot for decades now. Andy was certainly competent, but there was something lacking in him Laurie had never been able to pinpoint.

"Yeah, we're all here," Jack said.

"Anyone else you'd like up here? We've got plenty of seats behind us," Joe said, indicating four empty seats along the rear wall of the Control Room next to the auxiliary engineer's station. Laurie was still amazed at the amount of wasted space on the Typhoon III. There was room for a ping-pong table between Jack and Amav's guest seats and the four chairs and console at the rear.

"No, I think they've each claimed a stateroom by now. Between you and me, I think most of 'em are a little ashamed to be getting ferried back like this."

Joe shrugged. "Yeah, I can see why." He motioned to Laurie. "Colonel, will you take the auxiliary station behind us for the trip home? I want to make sure any adjustments we've made to the Enhanced Diagnostic don't have unintended consequences."

"Uh--yessir," Laurie said, moving behind Jack and Amav to her auxiliary console, her cheeks heating. Did Joe think she'd messed up her diagnostic in front of his brother and sister-in-law? Dammit, Laurie knew her stuff. If Blanton hadn't fooled with the InterRelay last week they wouldn't be having this problem.

All the same, she understood Joe's insistence on perfection. Even after forty-five years of Star Drive, flights longer than fifteen minutes, somewhat over four light years, could produce anomalous results. The war with the Centaurian Empire had blinded everyone to the raw fact that the existing Star Drive system wasn't much good for distances beyond the 4.3 light years to Alpha Centauri. They could make further jumps between the other AC stars by taking the distances in fifteen minute hops, but a sustained flight of more than about eight light years usually resulted in Star Drive malfunctions--some catastrophic.

Thus, for safety reasons, the flight to and from Andertwin's star, Procyon A, was broken into three separate Star Drives to cover the 11.5 light years, with system checks and navigational realignment mandated at the stops, which always spooked the crew as they took place literally in the middle of nowhere. You always wondered if a given stop might be the one time your Star Drive engine failed to restart.

Laurie had newfound sympathy for the Alpha Centaurians and how they'd struggled with bad Wrap Transfer systems for thousands of years. Even though Star Drive was inherently more stable than the Centaurian Warp Transfer, the Centaurian technique consistently achieved longer ranges than did Star Drive, and was able to keep shaky physical contact between far-flung Centaurian star systems. The need for stable, long-range Star Drive had become paramount.

So far only six Typhoon-class ships had the Star Drive Enhanced system, and it had only been tested a few times, in no direction further than two light years. But the Typhoon V, the prototype of the next class of ships, had fully integrated Star Drive Enhanced and would theoretically be capable of going anywhere in the galaxy.

Laurie turned to Jack. "I'm sorry we've had this Enhanced problem, Admiral. I certainly wish we could've demonstrated the full Enhanced system to you on the journey home."

"Well, how's it coming along otherwise? Aside from this one glitch, that is?"

"It's going great," Joe cut in. "Laurie worked with the fleet engineers to get ours installed. But when she ran the Advanced Diagnostic a couple weeks ago she found some bugs that could've wiped out the Dimensional InterRelay. So Fleet's revamping the InterRelay on all the Typhoon ships so far with Enhanced, and they're even going to port her upgrade to the V. Laurie's a damn genius!"

Laurie blinked. "Well, thank you, sir."