Magnitude a space opera.., p.1

Magnitude: A Space Opera Adventure (Blackstar Command Book 2), page 1

 

Magnitude: A Space Opera Adventure (Blackstar Command Book 2)
 



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Magnitude: A Space Opera Adventure (Blackstar Command Book 2)


  MAGNITUDE

  Blackstar Command Book 2

  A.C. HADFIELD

  Binary Books Ltd

  First Published in 2017 by Binary Books Ltd

  Copyright A.C. Hadfield 2017

  All Rights Reserved.

  The moral right of the author has been asserted. All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  No part of this publication may be produced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

  Version 1.0

  Created with Vellum

  Contents

  Acknowledgments

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  About the Author

  Acknowledgments

  I would like to thank the following wonderful people for all their help and input. Their combined efforts helped make this book a reality. Thank you!

  A.Sikes, P.Szabo, P.Nolet, D.Crosley, and C.Barnes

  Chapter 1

  AFTER KAI HAD OPENED up a wormhole and sent the fighting Coalition and Host ships through it, he was eager to follow them in the Navigator ship, the Blackstar, and find where they had gone.

  He had his mother to find—and if true, his father was also somewhere beyond the Veil: the section of space previously unavailable to those in the quadrant.

  Marella, Senaya, and Bandar were now the crew of the Blackstar and were hurtling through space to a coordinate where Kai suspected he would find the other ships.

  Kai learned something else early on into their trip through the wormhole about the maxim of silence being golden: it could also be uncomfortable. Once the initial scrambling of senses from entering the wormhole wore off, no one really spoke.

  Senaya tinkered with the Blackstar’s controls, muttering occasionally about the need for a user manual.

  Marella wandered around the bridge. Her fingers grazed the walls, and she bent lower to get a close look at the bottom of the holocube: a centrally placed cube about a meter wide on all sides showing a holographic representation of video streams or whatever the crew desired.

  Bandar simply leaned back in the semicircular crash couch on the bridge, stretched out, crossed his legs in front of him, and puffed on his pungent jola leaf cigar, its smoke encircling his head like a halo.

  As for Kai, he spent the first few minutes of the journey watching the space inside the wormhole on the holocube. It was a swirling blackness, the deepest dark he had ever seen. There was a liquid quality to the way it churned and rolled over on itself.

  He had to glance away after a while because staring at it caused his stomach to roll. He knew he should talk to Bandar, his half-brother, but all the questions he wanted to ask were jumbled up in his mind. He didn’t trust himself to voice them yet.

  The revelation of their family relationship was still too new; he hadn’t processed what it meant.

  Instead, he removed the tetrahedron from his pocket and rolled it around in his fingers. A twinge of excitement rushed through him when he made the symbols glow, but that feeling quickly turned to ash when he remembered that, while a neat trick, it brought him no closer to unlocking all the new knowledge in his head. And since that one time when it seemed to happen automatically, he hadn’t been able to replicate it.

  “So,” Bandar said, finally breaking the awkward silence.

  Kai tore his eyes away from the tetrahedron and met Bandar’s gaze. “So…”

  “Well, now that we have the formalities out of the way,” Bandar said through a cloud of smoke, “don’t you think it would be a good time for us to talk? We have about four and a half hours left to get to the other side of the Veil.”

  The Veil.

  One more thing to add to the increasing weight on Kai’s mind.

  Not so long ago he just wanted to race ships. But now? He had his own ship—a Navigator ship, no less—and was on a journey with an old friend, a new friend, and a thug, to the other side of the Veil to find his parents.

  Kai sighed and placed the Navigator artifact back into his pocket.

  “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Kai said.

  “Um, should we leave you two alone?” Marella said from where she stood at the front of the bridge.

  “No way,” Senaya interjected, her eyes aglow. “I’ve got to hear this.”

  “Maybe they would like some privacy, Senaya,” Marella said.

  “No, it’s fine,” Kai said. He ran a hand through his hair, giving his crew a half-smile. “We’re all in this together. I don’t want any secrets between us.” He glanced at Bandar. “Unless that’s a problem for you?”

  “Right as rain, kid,” Bandar said, chomping on the butt of his cigar. “I’m too tired for more secrets.”

  “Okay,” Kai said. “First off—”

  “First off, how are you still alive?” Senaya interrupted.

  All eyes turned to look at her; she felt a bit of a blush begin to creep up her neck. She shrugged. “What? We all want to know.” She looked at Bandar and pressed on. “The last time we saw you, you slammed a gyrocraft into that Host ship. The thing exploded.“

  “Very true,” Bandar said with a half-smile.

  “Well? How the hell did you not die?”

  “Oh, I died,” Bandar said, a pained expression on his face. “But just for a minute. I bailed out right before impact, did a nifty little free fall, and then landed on the roof of a building opposite your position.”

  “But we didn’t see that,” Kai said. “We would have come back for you.”

  “And that would have been amazingly stupid, even for you,” Bandar said, noticing his cigar had gone out. He relit it, puffed to get it going again, and blew out a huge stream of smoke. “And of course you missed my dive. You were all paying attention to the collision. Anyway, I got banged up during my fall. I crawled to cover and sent a message to an old friend of mine, a former doctor, and waited. Next thing I know, I’m waking up with the old drunk smacking my face. I almost throttled him. Long story short, I died for about a minute, and the doc brought me back. He patched me up; I convalesced for a couple of days, then heard about your little mission. So I stole a ship, and here I am.”

  Kai and the others stared at him in wonder.

  He made the whole thing sound so normal, so average, so routine. Perhaps, Kai thought, coming back from the dead was normal, average, day-in-the-life kind of stuff for his half-brother. He shook his head in disbelief.

  “If anyone else told that story, I’d think they were lying,” Kai said. “But you?”

  “Just another day, kid,” Bandar said, b
ut a quick look in his eyes—there for a split second and then gone—belied his casual tone.

  “Okay. About us being brothers,” Kai said.

  “Half-brothers,” Bandar corrected.

  “Right. How do I have no memory of you from childhood?”

  “When you turned three, I was fifteen and went off to a military academy. After that, I joined up full-time. So you would never have seen me.” He paused and tapped ash into a pocket. “Well, that’s not entirely right. You saw me plenty; you were just too young to remember it.”

  “That makes sense, I guess,” Kai said. “But my parents—”

  “Went off to fight the Host war and left you behind with relatives.”

  “But why?” Kai was trying to understand but couldn’t. Perhaps it was due to exhaustion or perhaps because his mind was a fragmented mess since the Navigator artifact on Oberus had shoved all this information in his head. “Why did they leave me on a remote, backward planet like Zarunda?”

  “Well, kid…” Bandar must have recognized the pained, confused expression on Kai’s face. He sighed. “Look, Kai, I don’t have all the answers. What I do know is this: Kendal didn’t want you on a core world because of the Navigator blood running through your veins. If the Coalition had found out, you would have become a lab animal, constantly poked and prodded, in hopes they could use you to unlock secrets to Navigator tech.”

  “It’s true, Kai,” Marella said. “You would have been under constant scrutiny from their scientists. That’s how the Coalition works.”

  “But if it would have helped…” Kai trailed off.

  “The main reason you were left on that hell-pit of a planet,” Bandar said, “is that our dad wanted you to be able to live a normal life, to live your life as you saw fit. Ain’t no better way to learn than to fail, kid.” He smiled a roguish smile. “And from what I saw, you failed a great deal.”

  “No truer words,” Senaya said, her large eyes dancing.

  “Yeah, thanks, Sen,” Kai said, then turning his attention back to Bandar, asked, “So how did you end up on Zarunda?”

  “After my injuries, I left the military, and our folks asked me if I would be willing to go back, to keep an eye on you,” Bandar said. “So I became Bandar Trace, rogue, thug, and parts dealer.”

  “Thug is right,” Senaya said. “Your reputation was terrifying.”

  “Is. To be in that life, I had to live that life,” Bandar said with a shrug. “But that reputation of mine was partly fiction. A tale to scare kids and keep my cover secure.”

  “Kids, hell,” Senaya said. “It scared everyone.”

  “Then I guess it did its job.”

  Kai relaxed into his chair, somewhat satisfied with Bandar’s explanation. He’d still prefer to hear it from his parents, but a part of him could understand why they’d left him behind.

  Bandar prodded Kai with his elbow. “You all right?”

  “Yeah,” Kai said, rolling the tetrahedron around in his pocket. “Well, mostly, anyway.”

  “I wish I could tell you more, but that’s pretty much the extent of my knowledge on the subject,” Bandar said. “For the rest of the story, you’re going to have to ask your dad.”

  “And our mom,” Kai said. “That’s the weirdest part of this whole thing, you know. That a decorated GTU agent is the mother of the most feared man on Zarunda.”

  “You’ll get used to it, kid,” Bandar said, then reached out and rustled Kai’s hair.

  “Do that again,” Kai said, “and I will shoot you.”

  “You used to love it,” Bandar said.

  “I used to love sprouts, too, but you don’t see me eating them now, do you?” Kai said.

  Bandar laughed. “Point taken.”

  THE REST of the journey through the wormhole was spent in equal amounts getting to know each other and trying to learn more about the Blackstar.

  Finally, a warning flashed on the holocube, and Senaya checked her board.

  “Okay, buckle up, boys and girls,” she said. “We’re about to exit the wormhole.”

  The crew took their places on the couch, buckled in, and waited for the exit procedure.

  Moments later, all went dark on the bridge.

  Kai felt as though his insides were being pulled out forever, and then it was over. “At least I didn’t pass out that time,” Kai muttered, shaking his head to clear his vision. “Everyone all right?”

  The crew acknowledged in the affirmative, though Marella looked like she wanted to throw up.

  “Oh my, look at that…” Senaya said in breathless tones.

  Her eyes were bigger than normal. Kai followed her gaze to the holocube.

  “Wow,” he said in a small voice, slowly getting to his feet.

  “Amazing,” Marella said.

  True to what looked like a bad habit, Bandar lit a fresh cigar.

  The holocube showed a new part of the galaxy. Well, new to them, at any rate. The patterns of stars in the inky void were like nothing they’d ever seen before. None of the constellations they’d all known for their entire lives were evident.

  A massive nebula of gold, green, and orange dominated the middle distance and drew their eyes like magnets to a metal file.

  “Yes, children, it’s all pretty and whatnot, but you’re missing the important stuff,” Bandar said.

  “What?” Kai said, tearing his gaze away from the awesome sight, raising an eyebrow.

  “Look again.”

  Kai did so, and the look of awe vanished from his features. He collapsed back onto the couch.

  Scattered in the foreground was the huge wreckage of dozens of ships, both Host and CDF. And so many bodies, floating in space like frozen fragments of garbage.

  Kai’s stomach clenched. He wondered if the wormhole had caused this destruction. If so, then he was responsible for all of these deaths.

  “This ain’t your fault,” Bandar said, as though reading his thoughts. “Look closely. You’ll see evidence of carbon scoring on the hulls. Or what’s left of them, anyway.”

  Kai ordered the screen to magnify and saw that Bandar was correct: the destruction had resulted from a battle.

  The holocube flashed red and let out a chirp.

  “What the hell is that?” Kai asked, but Senaya was already checking the clear board at her station.

  “It’s a distress beacon,” she said. “Coalition.”

  “Track it and get us there,” Kai said.

  Senaya nodded and, after a brief moment, navigated the Blackstar through the debris until they found the source: a lone Coalition escape pod.

  Kai immediately opened a hailing frequency.

  “Coalition pod, this is Kai Locke of the Blackstar. We’ve received your distress signal and are preparing to bring you on board.” He paused and looked at Senaya. “Right?”

  “Working on it, Kai,” she said, waving her hands over her control panel.

  “Blackstar? Yes, right, whatever you say,” a quavering voice replied. “You’re not even real, are you? No, no, not real at all. Just my imagination. All my imagination.”

  “We’re real,” Kai said, casting a questioning glance at Bandar, who just shrugged and puffed on his cigar.

  “Oh, yes. Of course, you are,” the voice replied and then broke into a racking cough.

  “What’s your name?” Kai asked.

  “I know my name; why would my imagination want to know my name?”

  “Senaya, how’s it coming?” Kai said.

  “Still working,” she answered, flailing her arms in frustration. “Can we turn the AI back on?”

  “Not yet. I don’t trust it.” Kai returned to the open channel. “Coalition pod, what is your name?”

  “My name? Fine, fine. My name is Dalmar Osbyrne, XO of the CDF Trident.” He laughed. “Or is that former XO since the Trident no longer exists?”

  “Okay, Osbyrne, how extensive are your injuries?” Kai asked.

  “What does it matter? We’re all going to die! Or we
re already dead, and you’re speaking to a ghost. Or I am.”

  “His life signs are erratic,” Marella said, looking at her own panel.

  “Osbyrne, listen,” Kai said. “We’re going to come get you, okay? Stick with us for a few moments, we’re having a bit of a technical glitch over here.”

  “Aren’t we all?” Osbyrne replied and launched into a spasm of wet-sounding coughing.

  “Senaya, today,” Kai snapped.

  “Ok, got it,” she said. “You’re taking this captain lark a little seriously, don’t you think?” She gave him a side-eye glare. Kai shook his head but tempered himself; she had a point. There was no need for him to snap at her.

  “Okay, Osbyrne, we’re on our way,” Kai said. “Are there any Host vessels still alive out here?”

  “Host?” Osbyrne spat, his voice cracking. “There’s no Host here. Only those goddamned machines. They attacked us. Nothing we could do to stop them. They wiped us out.”

  His voice vanished into another fit of coughing. The sound of gasping and pounding filled the Blackstar’s bridge.

 
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