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Ignite the Stars: An Anthology (Aeon 14: Tales of the Orion War Book 2), page 1


Ignite the Stars: An Anthology (Aeon 14: Tales of the Orion War Book 2)

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Ignite the Stars: An Anthology (Aeon 14: Tales of the Orion War Book 2)






  Just in Time (JIT) & Beta Reads

  Belxjander Draconis Serechai

  Marti Panikkar

  Lisa L. Richman

  Mannie Killian

  Mikkel Anderson

  Belxjander Serechai

  James Dean

  Copyright © 2018 M. D. Cooper

  Cover Art by M. D. Cooper

  Editing by Jen McDonnell

  Aeon 14 & M. D. Cooper are registered

  trademarks of Michael Cooper.

  All rights reserved.




















  Thanks for picking up this anthology of tales from the Orion War.

  These stories follow events overlapping with the last third of Orion Rising, after the Defense of Carthage was complete. It is intended to be read after Orion Rising, and ideally before The Scipio Alliance—though one can certainly come back to it after reading later books.

  Many readers have asked for the story of Faleena’s birth, which sets it in place as the first story. Following that, we learn of how Flaherty got off Airtha to eventually meet Sera and Tanis at Khardine.

  Then we jump forward to the day when the I2 left New Canaan and get insight into Captain Espensen’s background, and how she very nearly ruined her future—or thought she did, at least.

  Lastly, we spend some time with Sera and Finaeus as they have a much-needed chat between uncle and niece.

  I hope you enjoy reading these stories. I especially like writing these small views into what makes the characters tick, and am glad to be able to share them with you.

  M. D. Cooper

  Danvers, 2018




  STELLAR DATE: 04.23.8948 (Adjusted Years)


  REGION: In Orbit of Carthage, New Canaan System

  One day after the celebration at Tanis’s Cabin for the Defense of Carthage…

  Tanis peered over the rim of her coffee cup at Joe as he moved about the kitchen, preparing a light breakfast before their meeting with Earnest.

  “You’re way too alert for this early in the morning,” Tanis said after her cup was half-empty.

  Joe glanced over his shoulder at Tanis and laughed before turning back to his skillet of eggs and peppers. “It’s 0600. You’re gone by now, most days.”

  “Gone, yes,” Tanis replied after taking another sip of her coffee. “Alert? No. At least not after a late night like we had yesterday. I was starting to think the guests would never leave. I had trouble sleeping, too…my mind kept racing.”

  Angela offered.

  “Do you sing her to sleep?” Joe asked as he pulled the skillet off the heating surface and dished out two plates’ worth of food.

  Angela laughed in their minds.

  Joe leaned across the table and set Tanis’s plate in front of her and followed with his own across from her. “I thought we were never to speak of that, Ang.”


  Joe laughed and sat down. “You might have, but you had me snoring in minutes, so I don’t rightly recall.”

  “In hindsight, I should have taken a song or two,” Tanis replied as Joe began to tuck into his eggs. “You know how it is. You think that if you just mull things over a bit longer, you’ll come to some meaningful conclusions.”

  “Never works,” Joe said around a mouthful of food. “You’re closing in on three hundred. I would have thought you’d know that by now.”

  Tanis picked up a piece of egg and flicked it at Joe. “I am nowhere near three hundred.”

  The egg-bit’s trajectory was true and it would have struck Joe on the forehead if he hadn’t jerked to the side and caught it in his mouth.

  “Showoff,” Tanis grumbled.

  Joe tapped his head. “Half this skull-space up here is hardware dedicated to handling relativistic math on the fly. You think I can’t track the trajectory of a piece of egg moving at 1.1 meters per second?”

  Tanis stared at Joe for a second and then burst out laughing. “You’re still just as much a cocksure pilot as when I first met you, you know that?”

  Joe shoveled another forkful of eggs into his mouth and grinned insolently. “Of course I am. You’re a hard woman to please. Gotta make sure I live up to the promise.”

  “I am not a ha—” Tanis stopped mid-word as Joe cocked an eyebrow.


  “Let’s just get breakfast done and get to Earnest’s lab.”

  * * * * *

  Every time Tanis walked into Earnest’s lab aboard the I2, it looked different than the visit prior. This time it was still recognizable as the same space, but only because Earnest had spent most of the last decade working on different projects across New Canaan.

  Tanis and Joe wove through the jumbled mess of half-completed projects, most of which had purposes Tanis couldn’t even fathom.

  “What do you suppose that’s for?” Joe asked, pointing at a device that looked like a long, narrow, ship-mounted laser cannon.

  “Not sure…looks too small to be effective at long-range,” Tanis replied.

  Angela replied, refreshing Tanis’s memory.

  “Yeah…I vaguely recall that. I remember the ones we put in service, just not that.”

  Angela sounded almost remorseful.

  “Why?” Joe asked. “They have antimatter to power electron and proton beams. Not to mention gamma rays. Why do they care about lasers? Photons are far less effective weapons.”


  “OK, got me there. Sometimes I have tunnel vision.”

  Tanis squeezed Joe’s hand. “You and me both.”

  They rounded a corner and arrived at an open space with an a-grav pad in the middle. Earnest stood at the edge and nodded in greeting.

  “On time, even. Excellent.”

  “What do you mean?” Tanis asked. “I’m always punctual.”

  The chief engineer gave her a quizzical look. “I meant me.”

  Joe barked a laugh, while Tanis replied with a soundless ‘Oh’.

  “So, what do you think?” Earnest asked, gesturing at the a-grav pad.

  “Why do we need that?” Joe asked
as he approached it. “Aren’t we going to do the standard sim where we pick traits from a pseudo DNA strand, Angela does some randomizing and then adds the traits to a clone of her neural net, and voila?”

  “I really don’t know,” Earnest said. “Angela just told me what she needed. We’re doing it in my lab for privacy—best not to let the masses know too much about your brain, Tanis, Angela.”

  “OK, Ang, what gives?” Tanis asked.

  Angela drew the word out slowly.

  “That sounds novel.” Tanis had never heard of this method before, but it sounded interesting.


  “The base net, a clone of Angela’s, is here.” Earnest patted a small cylinder mounted atop an imaging system. “What you experience will feed into it, and we’ll bake ourselves a baby.”

  “Faleena,” Joe said. “In just a short while, we’ll get to meet Faleena.”

  Angela added.

  “Not a patch on what Jessica did,” Tanis replied. “Sixteen kids is a lot to catch up to.”

  Joe’s warm laugh escaped his lips. “That’s for sure. I don’t think I’m ready for that.”

  “We also don’t have the Dream to raise our kids in a flash.”

  “You know…” Earnest began, touching his index finger to his lips. “I wonder if I could figure that out.”

  Bob’s voice filled the air around them—an impressive feat, since he spoke into their minds.

  “Your reservations notwithstanding, they did do it, old friend,” Earnest replied. “Though it’s not necessary to use the Dream in this case. Faleena will mature fast enough.”

  Angela replied.

  Tanis knew that was true, but she could still feel Angela’s sadness—which mirrored her own. They would only have a short time with this daughter. Something like the Dream from Star City could have given them a lifetime before they had to leave.

  Not going to get lost in that worry. Tanis forced the thoughts out of her mind. She didn’t want fear for the future to be present when she helped create her daughter.


  STELLAR DATE: 04.23.8948 (Adjusted Years)


  REGION: In Orbit of Carthage, New Canaan System

  Tanis’s breath caught as she suddenly found herself on the shores of the Melas Chasma, the great rift-valley sea on Mars.

  Tall grass blew in a gentle wind, and small waves lapped gently at the water’s edge, a dozen meters from her feet. She looked up to see the blue sky punctuated by Mars’s artificial rings. First was the wide expanse of Mars 1, with its own lakes, rivers, mountains, and forests visible above her. Beyond that was the MCEE ring, with its spiderweb of stations and platforms hanging from long tethers.

  What she saw was a memory, something from a time long ago. Mars was no longer a lush, green planet. The Mars 1 ring no longer hung above. The images Tanis had seen of its destruction flashed in her mind. All this—her childhood home—was gone.

  The seashore where she now stood lay under a billion tons of wreckage, the remains of the ring that once hung above.

  Mars 1. Humanity’s first megastructure. Destroyed by the Jovian Combine, which now styled itself as the Hegemony of Worlds, spreading their cruel regime across the stars.

  A hand rested on her shoulder. “Relax, Tanis. We’re here to remember what was, not what is.”

  Tanis turned to see Angela and Joe standing beside her. It was Joe’s hand on her shoulder, but Angela had spoken.

  She reached around Joe and pinched Angela.


  Tanis smiled. “Just curious how real this sim is.”

  “I like it here,” Joe said as he walked to the water’s edge. “It’s been a while since we used a sim to visit.”

  “It’s not the same…knowing what happened.” Tanis gestured at the Mars 1 ring overhead.

  Joe nodded. “Yeah, it’s what we get for outliving civilizations. Nothing lasts forever.”

  Tanis wished it would have. To stand on these shores would have been the only reason she’d ever consider going back to Sol. Though she feared a return may be necessary someday, regardless.

  Although, with Sera’s plan to have the Scipian Empire take on the Hegemony of Worlds, maybe she wouldn’t have to. Let someone else clean up humanity’s homeworld. Tanis was done with it.

  Angela reached for her hand. “Tanis, you need to stop worrying about the past and future so much. It’s not what we’re here for.”

  Tanis turned and looked into Angela’s eyes. Her friend so rarely used a physical Avatar anymore. Largely because when the AI did it without thinking, she invariably made an avatar that looked like Tanis’s twin.

  Like she did right now—though her eyes were green, not blue, and her hair had a reddish tint.

  Joe walked to the water’s edge, then turned and stared at the two women. “Is it wrong that I love both of you?”

  His eyes were troubled, and Tanis wanted to remove this worry for him. “Joe, you let Angela sing you to sleep—and she does it. This isn’t news to either of us.”

  Both Tanis and Angela reached out for him, and the trio embraced on the shores where Tanis had once played as a young girl, dreaming of going to space and seeing what wonders the universe held.

  She closed her eyes, and when she opened them once more, they were standing in a garden filled with an abundance of plants laden with fruit and vegetables.

  “Oh ho!” Joe cried out as he looked around. “Boy did I spend a lot of time pulling weeds in here!”

  Tanis looked into the sky and saw a fusion sun above. By the spectrum, she pegged it as a GE model FS-12A. “The Evans’s household on Venus, I presume?”

  “One and the same,” Joe replied as he walked out into the rows and examined a tomato plant. “I loved coming out here—well, not at first. Mom always said that she didn’t need bots to manage her garden, she had a dozen kids. What else were they good for, if not pulling weeds?”

  “It’s nice to know that this might still be here,” Angela added as she walked through the garden toward one of the trees and plucked a pear.

  “Whoa now!” Joe laughed. “Mom didn’t like unauthorized fruit-picking. She had a plan for every part of the yield.”

  Angela grinned as she took a bite of the pear, slurping as the juices spilled down her chin. “Damn! That’s harder to do than I thought!”

  “Juices will be juicy.” Joe winked as he walked back to Tanis and took her hand. “Whatcha thinking, love?”

  Tanis let a rueful laugh slip out. “About how very different your home was than mine. My father would have abhorred a garden. I’m sure he would have said something like, ‘Growing plants like this is an inefficient use of resources!’”

  Angela snorted, dribbling more pear juice down her chin. “You do your father well.”

  “I forget that you met him a few times,” Tanis said to Angela.

  “Indeed, I did. He was bit of an ass. But I wonder what he’d think of what we’ve done.”

  “Stars,” Tanis sighed. “He would have dissected the shit out of every decision I ever made.”

  “I bet he would have been proud.” Joe held up his hands, apparently ready for the retort Tanis was readying. “Seriously, he would be. I know there’s a temptation as a father to pick apart your children’s efforts to he
lp them do better. Yes, your dad was a serious dick in a lot of ways, but he was always trying to help, in his misguided fashion.”

  “ ‘Misguided’ is putting it lightly,” Tanis said as she leaned against a column that supported a trellis. “That man never saw a compliment that he couldn’t turn backhanded.”

  “You know, Tanis,” Angela said. “We are supposed to be picking out good memories. Things we want to pass on to our daughter.”

  “We are,” Joe said. “Tanis has steel in her spine—metaphorically as well as physically. Where do you think that came from?”

  “Yay, my childhood was a crucible.” Tanis waved a hand in the air, signaling mock victory, then she straightened. “No, you’re right, Angela. Mopey dopey isn’t my thing. I think seeing the Melas Chasma got me messed up in the head. I’m ready.”

  The garden disappeared, and they were suddenly on the side of a mountain, standing on a narrow ledge, with a sharp, thousand-meter drop centimeters from their feet.

  “Now, this is more like it!” Tanis exclaimed.

  “Where the heck are we now?” Joe asked, yelling to be heard over the winds whipping around them.

  “Pavonis Mons!” Tanis shouted back. “This is where I had my first real climb.”

  Joe looked down at the drop below their feet. “I thought Pavonis Mons had gentle slopes!”

  “Yeah,” Tanis nodded. “It mostly does, but there’s an escarpment here on the southwestern flank. It’s where most kids I knew growing up did their initial climbs.”

  “You Marsians are nuts,” Joe said, shaking his head. “How old were you when you did this?”

  “Fourteen. Though I had a rebreather, and the cliffs were patrolled by drones. No one died up here, but you might get battered a bit if you fell.”

  An especially strong gust of wind whipped past, and Tanis felt it tug at her, pulling her away from the cliff face.

  “I’ll admit,” Angela called out. “This is exhilarating!”

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