Halcyon’s Heirs 1

Johan Milford stood at the lecture dais wearing a comfortable polo and blue jeans. Blue jeans, that ancient style of clothing, was currently in vogue on Epsilon, and Dr. Milford was a very popular, and hip, professor.

Milford was proud to boast ancestral blood from four continents on Old Earth: North America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. He had nice blended look, featuring light brown skin, dark brown hair and eyes.

He stood five foot nine, or 175 centimeters, with bushy brown hair and a bushy brown beard. He carried too much weight from lack of exercise, good food, and copious amounts of beer consumed on the weekends.

In short, he was a very typical university professor, looking every bit the part. He stepped out from the podium and waved a hand around the lecture hall, filled with undergraduate students hanging on his every word.

Most professors preferred teaching small and intimate gatherings of graduate students, and the lighter grading load such classes entailed. But if Dr. Milford held such a preference, he kept it well hidden. He remained one of the most popular professors at Epsilon University, consistently scoring high on social media surveys. Students loved him, and his classes always filled to capacity.

Today he taught the 400 or so undergraduates in a stadium-style classroom for his Philosophy 101 class. Most in the class were 16-year-old freshmen, although a few older students were mixed in, particularly those who were unable to attend when they were freshmen themselves.

Unlike other lecturers at the university, Milford worked at making his time on stage entertaining. He danced around, gesturing wildly, varying the cadence of his voice. He included amusing anecdotes and used all the techniques of compelling oratory. Holos of his lectures were very popular, even among non-academics, and had racked up millions of views.

Several students were in fact recording him right now, their neural implants storing optical and aural sensory input as they watched him on the stage. Most recorded his lectures for their personal benefit, ostensibly so they could re-watch them before tests. In actuality, parties and personal relationships interfered with studying time for many of them, and the holos were never seen again.

A handful sold their recordings to companies looking to capitalize on the professor’s fame. This practice was officially frowned upon by Epsilon University and was grounds for dismissal if caught. However, it proved too lucrative for some to resist.

One student recorded the lecture for an entirely different purpose. He was registered as a sophomore under the name Ben Fernando. Fernando was an agent for State Security and Intelligence.

SSI had kept tabs on Dr. Milford for years. In fact, SSI monitored almost everyone at Epsilon University, students as well as professors. The hard sciences were watched for developments that could be appropriated by the state, or that might be used against the state. The soft sciences and humanities were monitored for political adherence, although less stringently. Everyone knew liberal arts and the like were mostly useless from a practical standpoint.

However, the war changed things and SSI slowly began to realize the true meaning of a liberal education. Liberal arts and social sciences taught students how to think. And if students learned to think outside established orthodoxy, that could be a problem.

Director Munk himself realized the error in their lax coverage of the humanities late in the war. He had since performed due diligence, including learning about the history of university education.

The liberal arts always rebelled against orthodoxy, it seemed. There may be times when professors adhered to the status quo, but invariably their politics shifted to the opposite side of the spectrum from which they were governed.

Therefore, capitalist societies produced professors who championed socialism. Socialist societies produced professors championing freedom and capitalism. The pattern held true for centuries.

Since the Star League was an authoritarian tetrarchy, it only stood to reason that her universities would produce freedom loving capitalistic professors. So, Munk increased surveillance on the humanities, and Fernando found himself signing up for various classes in liberal arts.

Fernando had to admit, Milford was a very good speaker. He found himself entertained, and often spent time afterward thinking about what the professor said. If it were not for the fact Fernando was an SSI agent, loyal to the state in every way, he might have been influenced to think the wrong way sometimes.

Philosophy was a broad topic, and Milford spent much time going over the classics. But the way he presented philosophical movements, ideas, and opinions always left his students with the notion that more freedom was better for individuals than what authoritarian governments typically allowed; that people flourished when government largely left them alone; that the right to be left alone was to be cherished and sought out whenever possible.

In short, Fernando increasingly grew to realize that Milford was extraordinarily dangerous and spreading seditious rumors and half-truths to his students. He grew increasingly alarmed as the semester advanced, and his reports back to SSI HQ became more strident in tone.

Today Milford expounded upon the philosophies underlying the American Revolution, and Fernando remained particularly alert. These ideas were poison to the League, especially in their ongoing war against the Republic. The Republic was in fact founded on the same ideals.

The Republic even thumbed its nose at the League by naming their most powerful spacecraft after American founding fathers.

So Fernando paid close attention, sitting front and center in the auditorium for a good view, and recorded it all on his neural implant.

Milton paused dramatically and said, “Somebody once said a democracy is like two wolves and a sheep voting what to have for dinner.”

Everyone in the room chuckled. All these students, Fernando thought, had been taught from an early age the evils of capitalism and democracy by state-approved schools and teachers. The notion had been pounded into them relentlessly.

Milton continued and said, “Somebody else said a representativedemocracy is where the sheep has a gun.”

A girl in the back of the room, “Oh, no!”

A few turned around and looked at her. She clapped a hand over her mouth and her ears grew red.

Milton nodded sagely. He said, “Of course, it doesn’t have to a literal gun, although in the case of the United States it certainly was with the Second Amendment to the Constitution. But the weapon in question is really the electoral process. You see, in a representative democracy, the people’s weapons are elections. If the people don’t like who is serving them in government, they can have a revolution at the ballot box and vote the scoundrels out of office.

“This is why representative democracies are the most stable and longest lasting of all governments. Their ‘revolutions’ occur every four years or so. The people in charge change, while the underlying framework within their constitution carries on.”

Fernando heard some mutterings, a couple of “Hmm’s” and “Aha’s.” He looked at the students sitting near him and noticed some eyebrows raised.

Milton had made an excellent point, and his ideas were shaking the carefully entrenched attitudes toward government these students had been indoctrinated in almost since birth.

Milton had also, Fernando decided, signed his own death warrant.

State of the Tome and Special Offer for May Patrons

I decided to release Pirates of the Milky Way as a web novel in part as an effort to broaden my audience. Today, May 1, I feel confident that effort has been successful. I have almost 20,000 views on Royal Road and 10,000 on ScribbleHub. The story has also generated hundreds more on such sites as SpaceBattles and Sufficient Velocity.

Efforts are ongoing, and I released the latest chapters for Book IV, Halcyon’s Heirs, on Patreon this morning. I have a special offer for new patrons coming in at the Crewmember level or higher in May: a free copy of Ghostsuit: An Empathic Detective Novel on Amazon.

Thanks for your ongoing support! Look for Book IV to be completed later this month.

Pay What You Want Boxset


I am happy to announce a special deal on a boxset featuring the first three books in the Pirates of the Milky Way series! Basically, you can pay whatever you want. I appreciate and all support.

Make a PayPal contribution using the link below and you will be redirected to the download page. You can choose the Kindle version or ePub version to download the file.

You can send any amount you like. For reference, if you were to buy all three books separately at current prices, it would run $6.97. You can send less than that, or if you’re feeling generous and you’d like to support my writing to a greater degree, you can send more. Either way, whatever amount you send will lead to the download links.


Condor Rising 1

Author’s Note: Book 3 is here! I’ll have some exciting news about an upcoming compendium/boxset available soon. Stay tuned!

Biffender Jones walked out of the Embarkation/Disembarkation Zone in Petra Roe’s spaceport carrying a single duffel bag. He stopped for a minute to gain his bearings.

The place looked like a spaceport on any other world, built for functionality over aesthetics. He made his way down a large corridor to the line forming at Customs and endured the contraband scanner while he waited.

The line progressed rapidly. As per usual Customs was manned by a human, this one a middle-aged woman who gazed at her holoscreen as he approached, no doubt looking over his information.

“State your business on Petra Roe, Mr. Jones.”

“Um, tourism.”

She nodded and said, “Enjoy your stay.”

He walked past her and followed the crowd toward the exit.

Tourists were clearly evident, what few there were in the crowd. They were dressed for travel, wearing bright colors, chatting happily amongst themselves. Petra Roe was known for incredibly beautiful scenery, with green snow-capped mountains and beautiful white sandy beaches. The wealthy often vacationed here, although during the war their numbers had declined significantly.

Stepping outside, Biff blinked in sunshine for the first time in weeks. He had almost forgotten how good natural daylight felt.

Skycabbies approached him, offering to take him to any hotel in town. They were human, for the most part, but the cabs they directed people to were drones.

Biff had no plans, and no hotel reservations. He really had not thought much beyond getting here. All he knew was that his wife Andi, the prime suspect in Tetrarch Lopez’s murder, was likely on Lute by now. And the only way he could get to Lute was through Petra Roe. But how? There were no departures for Lute listed at the spaceport.

He ignored the cabbies when he caught sight of a flickering holosign down the street, showing two cocktail glasses floating in a circle. He took off on foot, deciding to worry about a hotel later. Bars were often a good source of information in his line of work.

The door to the bar slid open and his eyes adjusted again, this time to dim interior lighting. A handful of customers sat drinking in opposite corners. Everyone looked at him as he entered, but Biff sensed no hostility. The bar area was empty, with several vacant stools from which to choose. Biff picked one and headed for it, setting his bag on the floor near the middle of the bar, equidistant from both groups.

The bartender arrived, and Biff realized he was an android. He was an older model, with a decent looking face but it was before manufacturers perfected the eyes. The human eye, it so happens, is one of the more difficult things to replicate. Older models were often criticized for having “dead” or “spooky” eyes. This one indeed had spooky looking eyes. They were functional, but they gave Biff the creeps. Obviously, this was at least one of the reasons no one sat at the bar.

The proprietor must have decided to keep the old unit around for whatever reason. Maybe it filled in when human bartenders were unavailable, Biff thought.

The droid said, “What can I get you?”


It nodded, pulled out a frosted mug and headed for the taps.

Conversation between the groups had muted somewhat, Biff thought. Both sets were eyeing him, and maybe discussing him. He could not make out what was being whispered in either corner.

When the bartender returned with his beer, Biff said, “I’m looking for passage on a ship. I wonder if you might know anything.”

Both groups stopped talking altogether. Mentally, Biff shrugged. There did not seem to be a better way to do this.

The android said, “All departures are noted on the main holosign at the spaceport. Perhaps you could find a ship heading for your destination there.”

Biff nodded and said, “I already checked. Where I want to go is not listed.”

“Where do you want to go?”


Dead silence reigned in the bar. No one said a word.

Finally the android said, “I’m afraid you won’t find many ships going there. That’s pirate territory. It is a restricted zone. Petra Roe only flies one official vessel there, and it’s not due for another week.”

Biff took a sip from his beer and said, “I’m sure other ships head that way from time to time. I just need to book passage with one, as soon as possible.”

A chair from the table on Biff’s right scraped back on the floor and a tall, ugly man stood up. He sauntered over toward Biff, covering the distance in a few long strides. For the first time, Biff sensed open hostility brewing.

The man stood taller than Biff. He had a paunchy middle and the tattoo on his shoulder was clearly visible with the sleeveless jacket he wore: a stylized E, the symbol for League Marines.

He leaned down on the bar, invading Biff’s personal space. His body odor came along with him, assaulting Biff’s nose. The man evidently had not showered or shaved in days.

He said, “Lute’s pirate territory. Now, why would you want to be going there?”

Biff took another sip of beer and looked at the man.

He set the mug down and said, “I have my reasons.”

The chairs from the other table scraped back, and all five people who had been sitting there approached the bar. Biff noted they were dressed identically, with tan t-shirts and dark brown pants. Probably crewmembers, he thought to himself.

When they began moving, Big Ugly’s companions stood up and headed that way, too. In seconds, every person in the place hovered near Biff’s barstool.

At this point, Biff decided to announce his affiliation with law enforcement.

He looked up into Big Ugly’s face, who was now staring daggers at the other group. He said, “I am a—”

Before he could finish, someone from the other table slammed their fist into Big Ugly’s jaw. It knocked his head back, but he did not go down. Instead he roared in anger and started swinging.

Both sides threw punches, and Biff ducked down out of the way, carefully holding his beer. The fight quickly spread throughout the room, everybody knocking over tables and chairs.

The android bartender said, “Police are on the way. No fighting is allowed. Police are on the way.”

Two men ganged up on Big Ugly and threw him back across a table, which buckled under their combined weight. All three went down to the floor with a crash.

A young woman of Asian descent, wearing a tan shirt from the group at the other table, grabbed Biff’s arm and pulled him up.

“Come on,” she said. “We need to get out of here.”

Biff set his beer down, grabbed his duffel bag and followed her out. They weaved between fighters trading blows, fists and faces connecting with thwacks and thumps.

Out on the street, the woman hurried him along until they were half a block away. Then she slowed to a walk. They heard the sound of sirens as a squad car landed near the bar. A human cop and his android partner exited and rushed inside.

“Will your friends be alright?” Biff said.

“Oh yeah. We’ll pay the fine and spring them from jail before we leave. I’m Melanie Polansky, by the way.”

“I’m Biff.”

They shook hands.

“So, you’ll be wanting to come with us,” Melanie said. “We’re on the Salamander, an independent freighter. The reason you won’t see any departures heading to Lute from the spaceport is, there’s nothing authorized to go that way right now.”

Biff thought for a moment and said, “But you’re going anyway.”

She smiled, her entire face lighting up in a wide grin.

She said, “That’s right. And our Captain will be happy to take along a paying passenger, as well. I’m kind of new myself, but I know the Captain is always looking for extra fares.”

Smugglers, Biff thought. Bending the rules, and finding ways around laws and regulations. All for a profit. And I’m in law enforcement, not evasion.

They walked the remainder of the block in silence while Biff reached a conclusion. He thought about Andi, and how he needed to find her.

They stopped at the next crosswalk and he said, “So, how much do you think your Captain will charge me to tag along on your trip to Lute?”

Condor Rising Cover Reveal

The third book in the Pirates of the Milky Way series is Condor Rising. Chapters are available now on Patreon. Above is another fine cover by Jacqueline Sweet.

Announcing a Web Novel

When I started Pirates of the Milky Way, I set out to write a serialized science fiction web novel written in the way I enjoy reading them. It’s a tough “market,” and a crowded one at that. But I wanted to create a huge universe in which a number of hopefully compelling stories could be told, and hopefully reach a lot of people.

Most web novels are fantasy, rather than science fiction. However, I went science fiction this time because the stories in this universe are more focused on how people use technology in war, in spy games, and in manipulating one another. So in that regard I made a deliberate decision to avoid “magic,” at least at first. I’m more interested in exploring the advantages and disadvantages technology gives the characters.

Another dilemma with web novels is the fact that they are typically free. For all the time and effort an author spends creating them, they are widely disseminated for naught. I tackled the issue with bonus chapters that are not available free online but are in the Amazon/ebook versions. I also set up a Patreon page where subscribers could access the bonus content for as little as a $1 contribution.

Time will tell how successful this model will prove to be. The free portions have seen wider distribution than they otherwise would have, and that has translated into some sales. With going wide I’ve had to forgo Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited income. On the other hand, I have gotten some sales in other channels such as Apple iTunes, to readers I presumably don’t normally reach.

Another thing about web novels is the constant content updates. This has been good, though, because I have upped my productivity. Already I’m into book 3 and I’ve only been doing this a couple months.

I hope you enjoy Pirates of the Milky Way. If you like the free version (and chapters are now posted daily here on this site), please consider supporting me either via Amazon or Patreon. I sincerely appreciate it.

Clarion’s Call 1


Author’s Note: the Prologue for Clarion’s Call is a bonus chapter titled “Unleashed on Raton Five, Part One,” available in the Amazon version or Patreon.


“Come on, you two. You can do better. Wotta bunch of weenies.”

Granny put both fists on her hips and looked down on the mat where Skylar and Raquel lay panting. They were all barefoot and wearing gym shorts below their t-shirts.

“I don’t get it,” Skylar said between breaths. “How can someone so petite be so strong?”

“I don’t get how someone so old can be in such good shape,” Jillian said, equally winded.

“Okay that does it, missies. Get up so I can kick your butts again.”

Both younger women sprang up from the mat and rushed Granny at the same time. She sidestepped and tripped Skylar, then swung around and grabbed Jillian’s arm, turning her forward momentum into a flip.

Jillian fell end over end and landed on the mat again with a loud, Splat!

“Who looks old and petite now?” Granny said. She cackled and walked over to offer the women a hand up.

They were a week into the voyage to Pegasi Station aboard the Ultima Mule, and already the three had formed a bond while sharing quarters.

Skylar and Jillian, closer in age, had more to talk about with each other. In previous voyages, Skylar kept mostly to herself, interacting with her brother Samuel and rarely spending time with others. Now that he was gone, she turned to these two for companionship.

Granny served in a matronly role, freely offering advice. She also willingly served as the odd person out for the other two to gripe about.

Granny said, “Two women are friends. With three women, someone is going to become the target of the other two. So I’ll be you gals’ target. If you can hit me!”

Indeed, Skylar and Jillian found themselves griping about the older woman frequently. Part of it had to do with their inability to take her down during these sparring sessions.

“What do you call this again? What’s this style?” Jillian said.

Granny said, “The flips are from Aikido. It’s a type of fighting that uses your opponent’s weight against them. It’s particularly useful for women because the fellas are usually bigger than we are.

“Now, my other techniques are based on Krav Maga. That’s for close quarters combat. You girls need to learn some fundamentals, first. Like how to roll when you fall. If you were to have gone down on a hard floor like that, Princess, you might have busted your neck.”

Granny grinned at them and pulled out a cigar she had hidden on her person somewhere. She stuck it in her mouth, unlit, and kept smiling.

“I’m gonna hit the shower and have some lunch. See you gals at mess!”

She walked out of the gym, leaving the younger women alone.

Skylar said, “She must have some anti-aging nanobots in her system or something. I swear she can’t be 73 years old. Nobody that age can move like that.”

Jillian cracked her neck and rubbed the small of her back. Granny was right. Without the mat her fall would have hurt much worse. Plus she was beginning to wonder if her long hair was going to become a problem. It certainly did not seem conducive to fighting.

She said, “Chris says that’s her real age. I think she just stays very active. She’s certainly limber enough.”

Skylar gave her a lopsided grin. Nobody onboard the Ultima Mule called Captain Christopher Raleigh by his first name, except Jillian Thrall.

Skylar said, “Come on, let’s go eat. After lunch we can resume your shooting lessons.”


The elevator door to the flight deck corridor opened. Skylar and Jillian stepped out, now well fed, showered, and dressed again in grey slacks and brown boots below fresh white t-shirts.

The corridor looked ribbed, with metal protrusions sticking out from the wall every couple of meters, each stretching from ceiling to floor.

“I meant to ask, Skylar, what are these for?”

Jillian pointed at one of the extensions.

“These are barricades to hide behind if someone tries to board us. They would land on the flight deck and try to shoot their way through to the elevator. Our people would take cover behind the barricades and try to keep them holed up at the doorway. It’s a fairly common defensive measure. You should have seen the size of the entrance corridor on the Aquamarine. They had something like a hundred soldiers waiting for us. Of course, Samuel and I took care of things.”

Skylar put her palm on an armory panel near the elevator and it hissed open, showing rack after rack of rifles and pistols.

“Can anybody open the armory?” Jillian said. “Seems like it would be more secure.”

“The Captain, Quartermaster, and First Officer can open it without question. When a regular member like you or me tries, Lootie makes a decision. If she needs to, she’ll query the Captain directly. In this case, she knows we are about to practice shooting, so she’s not overly concerned. No doubt she’ll keep an extra eye on us while we have the guns out, though.”

She handed Jillian a rifle and took one for herself, then closed the panel door.

Jillian said, “At least we don’t need Granny for this.”

Skylar said, “Yeah, this is my preferred method of fighting. A gun levels the playing field, you know? It doesn’t matter how big they are, you can always take them down with one of these.”

She patted the rifle affectionately. Jillian shivered. She knew that Skylar and her brother had killed a lot of people.

They slung the guns over their backs and walked out onto the flight deck. They weaved between fighter drones, heading for the large hexagonal opening with a forcefield on the side of the ship serving as the flight deck entrance. The opening shimmered red and they watched the stars wink by as the ship teleported once every second.

Skylar said, “Give us two moving targets, please Lootie. And a score counter.”

Round holograms the size of dinner plates appeared in front of the forcefield, moving in random patterns. The number zero showed on the top left of the hexagonal opening, and another one on the right.

“You always beat me at this,” Jillian grumbled.

Skylar said, “I’ve just got more practice.”

“I know. Before I joined the company, I never even touched a gun before.”

“You’ve come a long way, girlfriend.”

Skylar raised her rifle and shot the first hologram circle. The number on the left turned into a one. Jillian shot at her circle and missed. She fired three more times before finally hitting it. Skylar shot two more during that time.

Half an hour later, they called it quits. Skylar shot 111 discs while Jillian managed to hit 82.

“You’re getting better,” Skylar said as they walked back toward the corridor.

Jillian rubbed her arm where it cramped from holding the big gun for so long. Despite her muscle pain, she was happy with her score. It was a new personal record.

They heard a Ding! from the distant elevator and a moment later Rodrigo Diego-Rodriguez, the ship’s pilot, stepped out of the corridor. He looked around, but failed to see the two walking through the fighter drones out on the tarmac. Instinctively Skylar pulled Jillian down behind one of the small crafts, and they remained hidden.

Satisfied of his privacy, Rodrigo pulled out his portable radiation absorber from a pocket and pressed the button on top. A cloud of silver pixels formed, quickly coalescing into the beautiful blonde and silver shape of Raquel Kirkland.

He handed her a plate of food from the mess hall then stuck his hands in his pockets while she wolfed it down in front of him.

When she finished, she stepped very close to him and looked up into his face.

“Thank you for taking care of me, Roddy. I’m sorry about what I did before. I don’t know what came over me. But I am so glad you are my bondholder now. You’re the best bondholder I’ve ever had. And I mean that with all my heart.”

The plate crashed to the floor as he took her into his arms and kissed her passionately.

Clarion’s Call is Released!

Clarion’s Call, second in the Pirates of the Milky Way space opera action adventure series is out!

Here’s the blurb:

The SLS Excelsior has a million credit bounty on her, and pirate captain Christopher Raleigh leads his crew to claim the prize. But with the Digital Assassin and the Tetrarch’s daughter onboard, no plans can ever be safe.

When Space Marines recapture Jillian in the midst of battle, Raleigh and his crew have to find a way to get to Clarion and take her back. Or die trying . . .

Hope you enjoy! I hope to have the next one out in April. For the latest chapters in the Pirates of the Milky Way serial, please visit my Patreon page.

Digital Assassin 3

The drones swarmed in and out, closing the gap with the huge League transport. When they reached her they fired multiple rounds into her engine bay then swooped away, dodging her cannons’ return fire. Energy bolts sprayed through space, racing back and forth between the smaller drones and the Mammoth.

The entire scene played out in 3D on the bridge screen, with Roddy and the Captain watching.

“Looks just like Christmas, don’t it Cap?”

Raleigh nodded, his eyes on the display. Dark green bolts shot out from the ship’s aft cannons, littering black space with emerald streaks. The drones fired back with red bolts, leaving patterns of orange circles as they slammed into the ship’s force field. Slowly the transport’s shields weakened.


Raleigh pointed at the first explosion visible on the ship, as one of its cannons flared out in a fireball.

Just as quickly, two smaller explosions occurred in the night sky, the drones overwhelmed by multiple blasts of green cannon fire.

“How we doing, Lootie?”

“I remain confident in our chances of success, Captain.”

In the current conflict, the Republic offered privateering papers to any warship in Lute willing to attack League ships. Privateering papers meant that PLAIR recognized the ship as its agent. Likewise, StarCen would respect a ship from Lute with proper authorization under the rules of warfare. Of course that meant StarCen could fight back, or even attack the privateer under the same rules.

In this instance, LuteNet hailed StarCen and informed her Ultima Mule was sanctioned as a privateer by PLAIR. PLAIR chimed in and confirmed LuteNet’s assertion. StarCen indicated she would defend the transport ship, but that should LuteNet’s vessel overpower hers, its owners were entitled to all the rights of victory and vice-versa. All of this communication occurred in the background, unbeknownst to humans on either ship. The entire exchange took place inside a nanosecond, their digital thoughts crisscrossing the galaxy instantly across the quantum-computing matrix.

Right now, StarCen desperately wished to defend the transport.

Three more drones blew up, their fireballs flashing silently on the holoscreen.

Raleigh said, “Come on!”

Each drone destroyed meant a loss on profit.

But the tide seemed to be turning. Five more cannons blew, and the shields on the mammoth ship blinked as the drones swarmed closer, guns blazing.

LuteNet coordinated 50 of the drones into formation and they all fired at the same spot. The shields failed and every red bolt from the drones slammed home. Bits and pieces of the ship sailed off into the dark with each hit. The giant cones at the rear of the transport grew dark, their thrusters suddenly dimmed.

“Got her!”

Roddy held up a hand and the Captain gave him high five.

LuteNet said, “Captain, all standard engines are now disabled. The Aquamarine is stranded. Nonetheless, StarCen indicates her Captain remains unwilling to negotiate terms of surrender.”

Raleigh sighed. He said, “It figures. Those League guys are full of themselves. They probably don’t think we have the manpower to take them.”

He thought about it a few more seconds, but his mind was already made up.

He said, “Alright, send in the Intangibles.”


Whereas the Captain of the Ultima Mule stood three inches taller than her pilot, the First Officer stood three inches taller than the Captain.

Elijah Maxwell traced his ancestry to Ethiopia. A giant six foot six, or 198 centimeters, Maxwell stood taller than most people.

He nodded at the comments he heard through the neural net from Raleigh, and turned to look at the group of five men and one woman staring at him expectantly. Everybody wore identical white t-shirts, grey pants, and brown boots. They were all armed with pistols at their hips and blaster rifles strapped over their shoulders. Several also carried duffel bags, some empty, some full with additional weapons and grenades.

“Cap’n says they’re crippled but unwilling to surrender. It’s up to us to make them see reason. Their teleportation shields are still up, so we’ll go over the long way.”

Everybody smiled back, grimly. Maxwell nodded at the man and woman in front. Both were young and attractive, with matching pale white hair and facial features. They were twins, brother and sister.

Maxwell said, “The Intangibles will take the lead when we get there.”

The two smiled even wider, showing their teeth. They blinked in and out of existence, flickering once. This would have freaked the others out if they were not used to it. But the Intangibles were accepted as part of the crew, despite their peculiarities.

Maxwell nodded, satisfied. He palmed the door panel and it swished open. Mule’s personnel transport waited, parked on the ship’s flight deck, entry ramp down and ready to go.

Maxwell climbed the ramp and sat down in the pilot’s seat while everyone else strapped into chairs behind him. The ramp pulled up and the door closed.

Maxwell said, “Take us over there, Lootie. You’re sure their cannons are disabled?”

LuteNet’s voice seemed to emanate from thin air. She said, “That is correct, Mr. Maxwell. You will not have difficulty in transit, however you may expect armed resistance upon arrival.”

“That’s what we’re here for, boys and girls,” Maxwell said, flashing a smile over his shoulder at the rest of the team.

The door closed and the transport floated up, then shot out the bay entrance into space. The craft turned and headed toward the other ship.

The transport’s thrusters quickly closed the gap between the two vessels. Everyone watched the holoscreen, making the front of the cabin appear transparent and open to the stars. As they neared the crippled ship, it’s size quickly filled the view.

One of the men said, “Wow. That thing’s big.”

Maxwell grinned and said, “Jeter, you are a profound observer and master of understatements.”

Digital Assassin 2

Every eye on the Mule watched a screen, and every screen showed the battle of their drones against the mammoth’s defenses. The giant ship’s standard drives kicked in, thrusters bursting as she tried to outrun the fleet of attackers racing toward her.

Mule’s drones were about the size of a typical planet-side transport, the main difference being these were armed with energy cannons. Engines occupied the remainder of their mass, leaving no room for passengers.
The drones quickly formed a swarm that buzzed around the ship, blasters shooting at the drives and defense cannons.

The ship’s defensive guns fought back, firing bolts of raw energy in smooth computerized precision.

The drones operated on a subset routine monitored by LuteNet. The passenger liner’s defenses were controlled by StarCen, the AI system for the Star League. Although the networks remained in constant communication with one another, they fought from time to time. Especially now, during times of war.

The two great governmental bodies controlling inhabited worlds were the Star League and the Planetary Republic, the AI for which was known as PLAIR. Differences of opinion in the ideal form of governance resulted in the split ages ago. Control in the Star League coalesced around a top-down hierarchical structure. The Planetary Republic insisted on representative democracy and gave lip service, at least, toward the rights of the governed to choose their leaders.

Tensions remained high between the two, with occasional flare-ups. But three years ago relations deteriorated into war. Territorial disputes erupted over the Seychar System, a 15 planet collection of mostly gas giants along with one habitable world in its Goldilocks zone, and a certain chunk of rock orbiting further out.

The chunk of rock had a name: Gotha Mu. Someone from Seychar finally sent over a probe to take core samples from the dwarf planet’s surface. The samples revealed heavy traces of Element 79.


Almost immediately, the neutral Seychar System, which had always leaned toward the Republic in galactic politics, was claimed by the League for the “safety of its citizens.”

The Republic objected. The League thumbed its nose at the Republic, quickly landing troops on Seychar and sending a mining party with warships to orbit around Gotha.

Republic forces showed up, their captains demanding the League ships leave. Meanwhile PLAIR and StarCen amped up their quantum-computing quarrel. The captains on both sides were surprised when their respective AI systems took over and engaged in combat.

When the space dust settled, PLAIR won the day, barely. One Republic ship survived the mutual slaughter. No StarCen ships remained intact. PLAIR informed StarCen that Seychar and all other planets in its solar system, including Gotha Mu, were officially part of the Republic. Further incursions would lead to additional reprisals. StarCen ignored PLAIR and began pooling resources for fresh attacks.

Over the next six months, an astonishing five billion credits worth of ships, supplies, bases, buildings, and ports were destroyed in wide scale combat. Not to mention the human toll, which quickly stretched into hundreds of thousands of lives lost.

A small handful of planets remained officially neutral in the conflict. Most of these held insignificant resources and were not pressed into allegiance with either side. Lute was an exception. Lute proudly swore fealty to no system other than itself. A planet with a lawless reputation, where anarchy reigned for many years until some semblance of democracy took root, Lute attracted drifters, outlaws, and people running from debts and other responsibilities. A bevy of brilliant programmers who landed there built up the planet’s own AI system. They called it LuteNet.

LuteNet was accepted, begrudgingly, by her larger siblings StarCen and PLAIR. If, that is to say, an artificial intelligence network could begrudge. For all their complexities, the massive quantum-computing systems were not human. Even though they could easily pass the Turing Test.

Lute had resources needed by the warring parties. In particular, she had a small fleet of independent warships. These attack vessels were often used for piracy, and their official existence was frowned upon by the larger governments in peacetime. But the Republic needed help. So following the principle of, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” the Republic extended a diplomatic olive branch to Lute along with a lucrative cooperative agreement.

The end result of that agreement, at the moment, involved Ultima Mule’s drones attacking the League’s transport ship.