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SNEAK PEEK - TRACKING TANTOR!


I thought I'd do something special for you!

I prevailed on Adam to give me the keys to what he's writing about the Pike. It's the first couple chapters, and it's rough, but hey, it's here!


And I got a DATE from him!


Not THAT kind of date, you pervs! No, a date for the release of the book:

July 20, 2023


Got it?

Good!


Enjoy the sample!


TFS Pike

Stardate 12408.31


“Commander’s mission log, Stardate 12408.31.” She stopped and sighed. “Hermes, cancel.”

“Recording stopped and erased.”

Colonel Chloe Resler, mission commander of the Terran Federation Starship Christopher J. Pike, took a frustrated sip of her coffee. Her Chief of Staff, Commander Caedyn Martinez, looked blandly across their own cup and waited.

They didn’t have to wait long.

“Hermes.”

“Yes, Colonel?”

“Forget it.”

“Yes, Colonel.” The voice of Hermes, the command AI for the Pike, was brimming with exaggerated patience. He wasn’t a simple machine, but a sentient citizen of the Terran Federation. And, as Chloe knew, capable of exquisite sarcasm when provoked.

“Having an issue, Chloe?”

Chloe glared across the desk. “I’m just stuck on how to start this report. It’s been almost a week since we left Tantor’s star, and it’s been the same every day. I don’t know another way to say, “Same shit, different day.””

“And there’s going to be another six weeks of it.”

Chloe groaned. “Don’t remind me. And to top it all off, if this turns out to be a wild goose chase, we’re going to be nearly fifteen thousand light-years in the wrong direction.”

Half a day after departing the rogue planet, the Pike arrived at Tantor’s origin point. They’d lost a day finding the star and charting the remaining planetary system, a collection of relatively boring gas giants and captured asteroid moons. They dropped a warp buoy, transmitting their findings back to Terra, before departing.

Perhaps “lost” was the wrong word. After all, “Team Tantor,” as they’d dubbed themselves, had used the data gleaned from their survey to establish their subsequent trajectory.

Since then?

Off into the Black.

Day after day of high-warp travel, with no prospect for relief in sight.

It was the scope of the endeavor which was sinking in. “Follow the track of the ancient Tantorians.” Simple enough.

But the execution was more complicated.

Team Tantor knew where the Tantorians had gone. This was the major upshot of the diversion to the star system. The variables in the stellar cartography data recovered from Tantor had been computed, and now they could follow.

Eleven thousand, four hundred light-years.

Even at their maximum cruise speed, Warp 9.5, this was going to take them fifty-four days.

Almost eight weeks.

And only a week had elapsed.

“You know what they say, Chloe,” Caedyn was saying. “” Start at the beginning.” Pretty good advice.”

“Great. I get platitudes. Fine. Hermes.”

“Colonel?” She definitely sensed that Hermes’ patience was nearing an end.

She cleared her throat. “Record.”

“Recording.”

“” Commander’s Log. Insert the Stardate and our current position and speed. En route to coordinates recovered from the Tantorian database. Systems functioning within design parameters. Personnel reaction to the change in mission has been positive.” End recording.”

“Recording stopped. Anything else, Colonel?”

“No, Hermes.” Chloe noticed Caedyn’s frown. “What?”

“Personnel. Yes, they’re handling the change well. So far. If we were keeping to schedule, we’d be on a down day tomorrow. I believe you’re planning to skip it?”

Now Chloe wore a matching frown.

“Yes,” she cautiously answered. “I thought having a fifty-three-day mission would be a large enough chunk of time without adding another week.”

“People are creatures of habit, Chloe. While we’ve only been in space a little more than a month, the weekly “maintenance day” has become one of those habits. Taking it away would prove disruptive. At worst, well, there are already grumbles. Give the grumblers something to focus on, and that could turn to action.”

“Are you really talking about a mutiny?”

Caedyn, to their credit, didn’t flinch.

“Possibly.”

Chloe dropped her head into her hands. “Fuck. I do not need this.”

“It’s a reality. Or a potential reality.”

“You think Porter would do anything?” Ken Porter was officially the Captain of the Pike. For the first weeks, he’d been passively resistant to Chloe’s command, resentful of her position. Matters had come to a head during the search for the missing landing party, and Chloe had temporarily relieved him of his command. The situation was resolved during the ten days they’d spent in orbit of Tantor by an evening’s discussion between the two, or at least so Chloe believed.

Now she wasn’t so sure.

“Possibly.”

Almost involuntarily, Chloe’s hands slammed onto her desk.

“Can’t you say anything else?”

“Sorry. Diplomatic training, remember? We were big on covering your ass. State nothing categorically.” Caedyn closed their eyes in thought for a moment. “I doubt it. Not now. I think your pulling him from his command for a week convinced him you were serious. Then you restored his command without making him feel obligated. No, I don’t think you have to worry about Porter starting anything.”

Chloe’s laugh was bitter. “One down, four thousand to go.”

“Exactly my point, Chloe. I do my best, but I can’t keep my finger on the pulse of the entire crew. And you know how it is with malcontents. No matter how you try to keep them separate, they always find a way to each other.”

Chloe nodded. “I had that issue on the Defiant. Too right they find each other.”

“I maintain the simplest method of avoiding issues would be to stick to the schedule. Ask Tori and Lexie. I wager they’d both appreciate keeping to their usual training schedules.” Captain Tori Monaco commanded the Marine company aboard. Captain Lexie Marsh commanded the various small craft assigned to the Pike. Both commanders used the weekly halts to get their personnel off-ship for live-fire exercises and flight practice out of simulators.

“I don’t need to ask,” Chloe said. “I know enough to pour piss out of my boot. Hermes, get me Captain Marsh.”

The wait wasn’t significant, though Lexie’s voice sounded stressed. “Marsh.”

“Lexie? Did I catch you at a bad time?”

“No, Colonel.”

Chloe thought she could hear something which gave the lie to Lexie’s words, but if she’d talk now, then talk Chloe would.

“I’m going to confirm the weekly maintenance day for tomorrow. I’ll need your Coyotes scouting a likely system.”

“Aye, Ma’am.” She didn’t say, “Anything else?” but it was certainly implied.

“Thank you. Out.” Chloe turned back to Caedyn. “Got to have somewhere for our problem children to play. Did Lexie sound distracted, or was it just me?”

#

Lexie released a moan, which was answered by Lauren’s giggle. This elicited another moan.

“Told you I wasn’t going to stop,” Lauren said with a pleased grin.

With a final shudder, Lexie sank back into the pillows. She released her grip on Lauren and tried to catch her breath.

“Dammit, Laur!” she huffed.

Lexie’s partner rolled away, laughing and reaching for a glass of water.

“Oh, spare me your false outrage! Tell me you weren’t enjoying what I was doing. Go ahead, I dare you.”

Lexie flushed a deeper shade of red.

“Ha! I knew you couldn’t.” Lauren returned to the bed and started kissing her way across Lexie’s body.

Lexie tore her attention away from what Lauren was doing and pitched her voice low. “Laur.”

“Hmm?” It was surprising how innocent she could act, considering what she was doing. Lexie idly wondered if it was the freckles.

“You are…in such…trouble.”

“You’ve got to catch me first.” They both ignored the body-length skin-to-skin contact.

“Brat,” muttered Lexie. She shot a quick set of orders to James Hamilton, the Coyote wing commander, then returned her attention to Lauren.

Priorities.



Coyote Rasmussen; TFS Pike

Stardate 12408.31


“Joel, I’ve got a maybe on scanners.”

“Where, Tommy?”

“Shooting you the coordinates.” Ensign Tom Fullgrabe’s fingers flew over his console.

The Rasmussen was scouting for a system which, according to the brains on the Pike, was eight or nine light-years in this direction. It made more sense to use a scoutship for, well, scouting than diverting the massive Pike. And if Joel Higginbotham, Senior Lieutenant and commander of the Coyote, was being honest? It was nice to get out of the big tin can for a while, even if it was into a much smaller tin can.

“Charlie.”

The scoutship’s Beta-class AI awoke. “What’s up, Joel?” His chosen voice was an older male, raspy but confident.

“You seeing what Tommy’s seeing?”

“I am, Joel. It matches the parameters provided by Commander Yager.”

“Good enough for me. Tim, lay in a course.” Ensign Tim Thacker was Rasmussen’s usual helmsman, and he’d been following the conversation. It wasn’t terribly challenging, with the main cabin eight meters long by four wide. The close quarters also led inevitably to a much more informal take on the usual command structure.

So far, it all worked.

“Speed?”

“Let me ask. Double D!”

Richard Dikeman, saddled with the nickname “Double D,” was the engineer and first officer. Although Charlie could manage the compact starship’s routine operations, a human engineer was part of the personnel requirement imposed by Starfleet Exploration.

“How are we looking?”

“Drive’s in good shape. We can hold warp seven for as long as you need.” Standard cruising speed was warp six, but Dikeman constantly tinkered with his baby and could coax extra endurance from it at will. And the difference between six and seven was a fifth-order function: warp six would allow them to cover the eight light-years in nine hours. Warp seven covered the same ground in four.

Pike could manage it in twenty-six minutes without working hard.

“Four hours?”

“What part of “as long as you need” was unclear?”

“You heard him, Tim. Tommy, catch a quick nap and some food if you need it. You’ve got two hours, then you’re back on duty.”

“Aye, Joel. What’s the drill?”

“Pull every scrap of data from the sensors you can until we know if we’ve hit pay dirt or a dead end.”

Tommy was already on his feet. “See you in two.”

#

The bridge was humming with activity. The Pike rested at the rough center of a sphere twenty light-years across. A half-dozen Coyotes had been dispatched to potentially useful systems to investigate, and the reports were coming in.

“Commander?” Lt. Tony Lizzi called for Kassidy’s attention.

“What do you have, Tony?”

“Maybe the best of the lot. From the Rasmussen.”

“Hit me.”

Lizzi sent a command, and a hologram appeared above his station.

“Standard K-type star, coolish, estimated at between ten and twelve billion years old. Cometary cloud, at about two light-years, Kuiper belt at one light-year, multiple planetary signatures.”

“Sounds promising. Ticks all the boxes, even for us science geeks. Anything else come close?”

“The Decker is approaching a G-type star, but it’s a young one. A few million years, maybe. Planetary disk, no planets.”

“And flying into a junkyard is probably contraindicated,” Kassidy agreed. Planetary disks were the birthplace of planets but were packed with navigational hazards. “Keep Decker on station, and get them in as close as they can manage, but I think we’ll skip a visit. Anything else?”

Kirk has a white dwarf, nothing but cinders in the system, and Zarlo’s reporting a red giant.”

“We’ve stumbled on the entire spectrum,” Kassidy observed. “It might be worthwhile staying an extra day to do some exploration into how they’ve all evolved.”

“If the Colonel will allow it,” Lizzi agreed.

“Good point. Okay, Tony. I think our best bet’s the K. Let Rasmussen know I want every detail they can squeeze from their sensors. Fold, spindle, and mutilate the data. Everyone else stays with their targets until they hear from us.”

“Aye, Ma’am.” Lizzi turned to send the messages, and Kassidy headed for Captain Porter’s command station. He had a seat next to Colonel Resler, on a podium in the center of the bridge, where they could oversee the activity below. There were five chairs plus a pair of workstations, but Porter sat by himself.

“Captain,” Kassidy said when she’d reached the top of the platform. Porter was unusual in the Pike’s officers for his adherence to the forms and formalities of command. He was uncommon in Starfleet, but that rose from his background in the former Solarian Union’s navy.

“Commander. Progress?”

“Yes, sir.” She described the Rasmussen’s find, and he nodded in appreciation.

“Sounds like an excellent opportunity for Captains Marsh and Monaco’s people.”

“And my Division. I’d like to use some Wolves to bring teams down to any surfaces they can reach and do more hands-on exploration. Practice makes perfect.”

“Quite so. Coordinate with Captain Marsh.” He raised a hand to his head in what could be construed as a salute, dismissing her.

“Sir.” Kassidy was already sending instructions.



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