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Horizons
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-160-0
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Suspense/Thriller
eBook Length: 229 Pages
Published: July 2004
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Total Readers: 3

From inside the flap

For twenty years Earth has been exploring the stars using faster-than-light stardrives whereby a manmade black hole pulls the ship through space. Dangerous to themselves and everything in the vicinity, the twenty-four starships, led by the flagship Horizon, have opened up new worlds to colonize.

Now mankind stands on the brink of a momentous breakthrough: Hyperidor drives; faster-than-light travel that is inexpensive, risk free, and available to all. All that stands in the way of vast exploration and colonization is a corporate behemoth that wants to see the hyperidor drive fail; no matter what the cost.

It is left to the Horizon's Captain Pamela Carlson and Third Engineer Mahlon Stewart to decipher the means, motives and murders that threaten not only mankind's future in space but the Horizon and its crew as well.


Reviews and Awards

HORIZONS is spot-on. It is written with a style and grace I would expect with someone of 20 years of writing under their belt, effortlessly blending scenes and dialog to weave a complete tapestry. The characterization is flawless, the imagination untethered... great!" Evo Terra The Dragon Page KFYI 550 AM - Phoenix, AZ http://dragonpage.com

Horizons (Excerpt)


Chapter One (Excerpt)

Terran Date: February, 2259

"Pretty, huh?" The private lifted his hand out toward the sun. Their open air observation tower was twenty meters above the surrounding buildings and gave them an unobstructed view of the Gulf of Mexico and the sunset. As it had for the past two months, the sun painted the canvas of dark blue sky with pinks, reds, and yellows. Mendez, his fellow guard, glanced at the vast panorama and shrugged her shoulders. The action caused her diamond cross necklace to glitter briefly in the fading light.

"Yeah, if you get off on that kind of stuff."

"Hey," Hansen countered, "it sure beats the other insertion point." They both laughed.

"I won't argue that," she conceded. "I've been on six of these in the last twelve years, and I don't ever want to see the Himalayas again." She glanced at the vanishing sun, now dropping below the horizon, pulling its celestial artwork with it. "You're right, Hansen. It is a pretty sunset."

They watched it quietly for a few minutes, then Hansen shook himself out of his reverie and lifted a hand to his ear. Mendez saw a small light flickering behind his lobe, meaning he'd been contacted by Sergeant Karumoto, undoubtedly to notify them of the arriving workers. Mendez turned her attention to the viewer at her right display, and sure enough, there were three hovs approaching from the northeast.

"Command gives fourth level clearance for transponder units 43-H784J, 43-H711R, and 44-D292R," Hansen said in a monotone, clearly relaying the message word for word.

"Acknowledged," Mendez responded. "Three bogies just passing the Hammer Point tower, 65 kilometers distant, approaching at 120 kph. Transponder identities.." she paused while the decoder received the multitone signal, then flashed white, "are verified. All three hovs are registered to Harting Enterprises."

"We have them, Sergeant," Hansen spoke aloud to his invisible superior. "Arrival in just over twenty minutes."

"Make that ten," Mendez interrupted. "They just accelerated to 250."

"Make that ten, Sergeant." He listened a moment longer, nodding absently, then signed off. He took his hand away and turned toward Mendez.

"Time to move to the launch point. Karumoto wants us down there in five."

"Got it." With skilled hands, Mendez shut down the display while Hansen armed the autosentry. They descended eighty meters by eledisc, then, since there was just enough light to see the ground, they slid the final twenty meters down the ladder railing, using their gloved hands for braking. Hansen hit first, then leaped back as Mendez plummeted toward him, nearly landing on top of him. She laughed at him as he stumbled out of the way. He brushed himself off.

"Geez, Mendez! Can't wait an extra five seconds?"

"Sure I can," she laughed again. "I just don't want to."

Hansen shook his head in disgust and annoyance. He'd worked with Connie for six years now, and she was always pushing. Pushing the rules, pushing the risks, pushing him. It irked him because he usually got into the same hot water she did. On the other hand, her risks often paid off, and he reaped the benefits as well. And she was one of the best looking partners he'd ever had.

He punched in the ladder lock down codes, then ran after Mendez, who was already walking toward Boot Key Harbor, where the hovs were due to dock. Marathon was one of the larger towns on one of the larger pieces of islands that made up Cuba's Florida Keys. Several kilometers long, the island was still than 200 meters wide from west shore to east shore. They were on the upper arm of the key, heading south. On their left, to the southeast, was Vaca Key Bight, but because of the huge factories and narrow, twisting alleys, it was impossible to see from ground level.

They wove their way quickly toward a massive, dark building and approached the only lit doorway. Outside stood a guard, dressed in the trappings of a Harting Enterprises shock goon. Hansen didn't particularly like working with Harting goons - they tended to be rude and unprofessional - but this was who the Colonel had contracted out to, so he followed orders and got his paycreds. It was a large enough sum to hold his tongue. Mendez felt no such inhibition.

"Check it out, Hansen," she pointed at the goon. "They look almost like people when they're dressed." The guard flushed and stood, towering over them. Mendez laughed at the bravado. "He can stand, too!" she exclaimed with mock surprise.

"Lousy rental creeps." He shoved a tabinal at them. "Sign in and go in. I can't stand the smell any longer."

Hansen said nothing but took off his glove and pressed his thumb against the tabinal's silver face. It flashed green. Mendez did the same and they both entered, Mendez giving a parting insult.

Inside was a fully operational freighter facility. Massive hovships, capable of carrying thousands of metric tons, were lying in dry dock, waiting for repairs. Others were in the midst of construction. There were even a few upper atmosphere jobs, able to dock with the orbital stations.

Making their way to the southern end of the building, the two arrived as the first of the three hovs entered the large indoor bay. Mendez led Hansen to the front of the small crowd, their red-splashed gray uniforms alone in a sea of Harting dark purple. Mendez tolerated several crude remarks - Harting employed only men in their private army - then abruptly drew her pistol. Everyone pulled back, surprised. A faint smile on her lips, Mendez held the pistol straight up in a ready position, as was her and Hansen's duty while the hovs unloaded personnel. Hansen was unable to contain a smirk as he drew his slug gun as well. Although outnumbered and despised as contract warriors, the Colonel's army had the grudging respect of nearly everyone who employed them. Even in jobs like this one, where the only three were he, Mendez and Sergeant Karumoto, there was an element of fear. Fear of their individual abilities and fear because it was a well known fact that the Colonel was a very loyal and very vengeful man. The price of harming one of his people was far beyond what any sane person was willing to pay.

The last of the hovs pulled up onto the platform and opened its rear hatch. From each of the three hovs came nine people; a single Harting officer in purple followed by eight people dressed in plain gray, loose uniforms. All were in a festive and buoyant mood. Flanking the loose column of twenty-four, Mendez and Hansen escorted them to the insertion launch point, guarding against the impossible event that any of them might try to escape. Apart from the friction he had to put up with from the Harting muscle, this was the easiest of all details.

"Are we going to be starting soon?" A bearded man walking near him asked. Hansen glanced at him and nodded with a smile, marveling at the enthusiasm.

"Yeah. I think the insertion is in about an hour. I don't know exactly."

The man nodded in return. "I understand. I hear it's very difficult to calculate the exact moment to initiate the temporal field."

"Really?" Hansen was a little surprised at both the man's calm and his seeming knowledge.

"Yes. As I gather, they can only perform the final computations within a six minute window. The relay station on Mercury is able to send the Sun's gravitational variance data to us using a faster than light subspace carrier signal, but since it takes only eight minutes for variances from the Sun to affect Earth, that's the maximum time. The other two minutes are lost in both compiling and sending the data, and from the time used for the variances to reach Mercury."

A woman walking beside the man joined in the conversation.

"That's what I heard, too. I wish they could increase that time, though. I'd hate to look forward to spending a wonderful life trapped in a cavern digging stone and designing machinery and circuits, then get a one-way trip into solid rock." She made a face.

"But you're willing to take the risk?" Hansen asked, surprised at their placid demeanor.

"Of course," the man answered, giving Hansen an odd look. "This is a once in a lifetime chance to get buried under two hundred kilometers of rock and work myself to death digging out the cavern. Who wouldn't jump at an opportunity like that?"

"Are you coming along?" the woman asked.

"Me?" Hansen shook his head. Being used to hearing the question, he was able to make his voice sound gloomy. "Not this time. I have to stay up here and make sure you all get off okay." At their disappointed look, he added, "Maybe next time."

That seemed to satisfy them, for their attention drifted off to others in the group. Hansen looked at them in amazement. These people were soon going to be buried forever deep inside a cavern that had no entrance and no exit. They would spend the rest of their lives scrabbling the hard bedrock with inefficient tools, working, slaving and building something they would never see completed. After several years of being worked to exhaustion daily, they would be summarily executed and replaced by new workers.

And they couldn't wait to get there.

Chapter Two (Excerpt)

Terran Date: May 9, 2259

"Pretty, huh?" The private lifted his hand out toward the engine room portal. Huge streamers of ignited plasma were shooting out from the number five spike as the Horizon slowly burned off her black hole mass in preparation for system entry.

Mahlon Stewart politely looked out the portal, but soon returned to his work. As the ship's third class stellar drive engineer, it was his duty to maintain consistent mass conversion to all six spikes, and the task required most of his attention. Besides, he had been stationed on the bridge when he was Chief, and had seen five spikes radiating. Still, for a recruit on his first deep space chase, this would be very impressive.

"Yeah, it sure is, Keane. Grab that tabinal and punch in the latest readouts, okay?" The private tore himself away from the awesome sight and called up the diagnostics routine on the tabinal. He aligned the core memory with the ship's and nodded. Mal nodded in approval.

"That was a real quick alignment, kid. You're getting pretty good."

"I've had a good teacher, Mal."

"Yeah? Well, buy me a beer when we pull into Vermilion, and we'll call it even." His eyes glanced over the multiple readouts and he made a slight adjustment to the containment field bulging around spike two. "Okay. Calibration in five… four… three… two… one..." The tabinal and display toned as one and quickly numbers began shooting through. There were no discrepancies and they toned off less than forty seconds after starting. Mal nodded again. Stewart was a taciturn man, and Keane understood the engineer's nod as being the equivalent of someone else's jumping around and shouting wildly.

"All right. Everything's on the beam. The ball's at 34% mass with maximum extension and bleed through will be complete at just over one hundred au from Pluto's orbit. After that, we glide in." Keane frowned.

"A hundred au from the system? Maybe we should bring the ball in closer. That's a pretty long glide, Mal, just for system reentry."

"Sure is. We might even need to fire up all engines, instead of just number one. Better that, though, than ripping up Pluto. Look at your charts, Bobby. Pluto's almost in our way, less than 75 million kilometers from our system reentry point. Even a ball at fifteen percent mass would tear up the planet's crust pretty bad."

"But we'll be at zero mass long before then," Keane corrected, "if nothing goes wrong."

"We plan to be at zero mass. Kid, something always goes wrong. If your engineer ever believes different, it's time to get a new engineer. So we collapse the ball further out and stroll on in from there."

There was a soft tone as the Captain called down.

"Mal?"

"Yes, ma'am?"

"How's the bleed coming? The Chief seems to think we should be sloughing mass at point nine oh eight." Mal casually glanced at his numbers and gave Keane a questioning look. Keane, startled at being given a chance to handle the responsibility, nervously looked over the display. He silently pointed at the mass to energy sloughing ratio and gave the universal okay sign. Mal in turn pointed to the ship's velocity, distance from system, and the regional space debris indicators. Keane continued to stare at the numbers, his lips moving slightly as he rechecked his decision.

"Mal?"

"Sorry, ma'am. Giving my recruit a chance to answer."

"Captain?" Keane tried to keep his voice calm, but he sounded more like Mal had him by the throat.

"Yes? Private Keane, isn't it?"

"Yes, ma'am. We're currently sloughing at point eight eight one. We think that.."

"I don't want what 'we' think, Private. I want what you think."

"Yes, ma'am." Had he a gun, Mal would have shot the young man out of pity. The Captain's voice was pleasant, but her selection of words always showed the steel and high expectations underneath, and it could be unnerving for those unprepared for it. "I recommend we maintain eight eight one. We're at FTL-18.4 and it's 412 au to the Hoboken Junkyard. Going to nine oh eight would slow us down too quickly and we'd risk going sub-light while still in the Junkyard."

"I see. The Chief says we're at 34% on the ball and even at nine oh eight we should be well clear of the Junkyard before ball collapse. Please adjust the slough to nine oh eight. Bridge out."

"But, Captain!" Keane protested, but the comlink had already gone dead. Mal groaned.

"You, Bobby my lad, just got lucky." Mal motioned Keane to the opposite console where the two could begin adjusting the slough conversion rate. "You never argue with the Captain over a comlink. She'll take it face to face, but you were about to pop off to her in front of the bridge crew."

Keane swallowed hard, realizing his mistake. He pressed on nonetheless.

"But Mal, eight eight one is the optimum slough! We'll enter the Junkyard at FTL-15.4 and exit at 12.5." He ran his fingers over the version panel. "Nine oh eight sloughing gets us out of the Junkyard at eleven point three. If we drop below eleven point two times the speed of light in the Junkyard, the ball collapses and the ship gets the pounding of its life. That's too close."

"Aye, it is, kid. But nine oh eight probably won't kill us. The Junkyard thins out the last sixty aus, so we shouldn't have a problem even if the ball does collapse. But it's the Captain who decides."