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Terrorism or Terraforming? His future is her next target.Astrobiologist Ewan Stewarts won the chance of a lifetime from his corporate overlords. He's living the dream, terraforming paradise from a cold lifeless planet. Ewan is alone on Tapagoani XII, with Six his robotic sidekick, waiting for his support crew and supplies to arrive. Snarky badass heroine, Jody Wall, the payload specialist who isn't who she appears to be, crashes into his plans with supplies in tow... scattered across the icy surface. If Jody's secret mission is to succeed it will save millions of lives but destroy one: his. But all that is second to survival. Marooned together, they'll have to face their fears, make hard choices, and let love and a wise-beyond-their-circuits AI named Six guide them. Solar Flame Romance is … Strong heroines. Smart men. Impossible odds.
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Specific scifi romance
A Solar Flame novella
Solar Flame is … Bodice Ripping Ninjas in Space!
Firefly meets Buck Rogers and a bit of boudoir. Jody Benson isn’t what she appears. Follow the Solar Flame series on convoluted romps through space with smart, super sexy females and their companions.
Terraforming or terrorism? His future is her next target. Astrobiologist Ewan Stewarts won the chance of a lifetime: terraforming paradise from a cold lifeless planet. Sexy ninja freedom fighter Captain Jodeen “Jody” Benson’s mission is on a collision course with his dream. If she succeeds, she'll save millions of lives but destroy one: his.
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2016, 2017 by Jayne Fury. All rights reserved.
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at [email protected] Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.
Cover graphics licensed through fotolia.com. Cover design by graphics monkey, Jayne Fury. Editing by Liana Brooks at Inkprint Press.
The white planet floated, a translucent bubble in the blackness of space. Three tiny moons bobbed in orbit around the white planet.
An impossible mission started in an hour. Her impossible mission.
Commander Jody Benson—alias Payload Specialist Jodeen Wall—and the crew of the drayage class transport Ebudae continued their approach to Tapaogani XII, the ice planet where they were meeting up with the on-site scientist, an astrobiologist named Ewan Stewarts.
On this remote, uninhabited planet, she, for the sake of millions of freed slaves, would destroy all traces of the Freedom Road way station.
Jody focused on the planet’s bright halo, concentrating on relaxing her muscles and her mind. In moments like this, she sought the quiet of the cargo bay. This was her domain, the place she spent most of the trip through jumpspace. It was also the place she retreated to, to be invisible to the crew. The less they knew of her, the better.
Closing her eyes, she repeated a calming mantra. Jody had more than one secret from the crew. Her body armor, a black catsuit, was a remnant of her days in the Frobisher elite specialists corps when she and her comrades-in-arms were known as Fro’s Ninjas.
But then, Jody was more than an ordinary mission specialist or fighter jock, or anything she was sent to be at any given moment.
Reverie’s memory broke in, lulling her into a quiet calm. She closed her eyes and let it take her on a journey back. At first a pleasant remembrance. It twisted rapidly from buoyant laughter and camaraderie into the frenzied dogfight of battle. Her gut squeezed from centrifugal force. Muscle memory. The more it squeezed the more she realized her body was setting off an alarm—the force was real.
In panic, Jody’s eyes flew open to a devastating sight outside the porthole. Gone was the earlier sleepy view. A wall of white was zooming closer by the second.
EVA suit alarms blinked a frenetic warning that oxygen and air pressure in the drayage was dropping. G-force kept her plastered to the spot.
By sheer force of will and a lot of jet fighter free fall experience, she pushed herself away from the stacked containers still securely strapped to the cargo bay bulkheads. The vessel rocked. Hard right, hard left, and back again. Jody flailed for a cargo strap that dangled just out of reach. With a violent shake, she ship rattled her teeth and sent her flying, breaking away from the wall of containers. A cargo strap swung and as she flailed, her fingertips just barely curled about the lifeline between the stacks. She swung and slammed into another wall of metal containers.
“Müterfragga.” This time her body stayed put, plastered like a bug on flypaper to the smooth sides of the oblong boxes. The stack shifted, jerking the top rack like a see-saw, tipping aft then back to the bow. It teetered perilously.
The thudding of Jody’s heart pounded in her ears, shooting adrenaline like electric up her spine. “Now I know how a flyswatter looks to a fly…”
With all her might, she swung her free arm up and slapped at her EVA suit control. The helmet’s seals clicked into place, she swiped the mag controls and fell to the deck with a reverberating stomp as feet met metal plating. On instinct, her body crouched and made ready to spring. Still battling the downward force but in better control with the suit fully enabled, she hopped sideways and tested the boots half-grav integrity. There was some impediment in her movement, it felt hard and stilted but it would do.
It was all she needed to get to the bridge manual flight controls. What was the captain doing? Co-pilot? Engineering? Anybody?
“Anybody out there?” she said through the helmet com but received only static in return.
In the lumbering lurch of her mag boots, she half-jumped forward to the tiny corridor where the bridge crew’s cocoon-shaped stasis units were stored. The white units were stamped with the Cordoba Constellar Conglomerate’s logo, the interlocking “c”, proclaiming its property in crisp stenciled black outlines.Each of Ebudae’s stasis units contained thirty hours of life preserving capabilities. The units were in tact, still in their tubes and their indicator lights were silent. She slid past them.
First, land the ship. Then, consider sitting in stasis until help comes. Her thoughts stayed clear and focused on moving towards the cockpit.
If she didn’t get to the bridge’s manual control she’d be dead before she even had the option to get into a stasis unit, anyway.
Stumbling forward, she made it through the corridor and pressed her hand to the door lock. The door didn’t open.
“Crack me.” Her voice was static in her ears.“CRACK ME!”As if in response, the pull of gravity increased, the bow tipped dangerously down. While her feet stayed put, her body tilted forward.
“Well isn’t this just fancy?” Jody’s helmet headset echoed her cranky crackling voice. Only her voice. Emergency lighting flared, illuminating a fire ax to the right of the door. With a quick thrust of her elbow, she cracked the case’s shatterglass. Jody grabbed the ax and hefted the increased weight in her right hand, shifted her weight, and attacked the door.
“Emergency protocols initiated,” said the ship’s interface vibrated in her ears. Jody gulped.
“Here goes…” Jody tapped the only code she had to gain entry, the code of a lowly payload specialist, into the panel and breathed a prayer.
The lights blinked a staccato. The voice returned through her helmet uplink.
“Emergency over-ride established. Minimal power initiated. Life signs aboard—” The voice paused. “Zero. Destruction sequence in progress.”
“WHAT?!” Jody snapped her head up. “Fer the love of …Where is everyone? How the—? What —? Every man for himself? Why didn’t anyone—?” Her body ached from the slamming she’d taken. But her suit, the black hooded body armor she wore beneath the Cordoba Conglomerate issued EVA, was saving her internal organs from being crushed. “Computer, end self-destruct, open bridge doors.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”
“You don’t understand? Me neither! BELAY AUTO DESTRUCT! SCAN VESSEL! ONE LIFE SIGN IN PAYLOAD MODULE!” You cracksucker. She waited. Five seconds felt like an hour.
“Self-destruct paused,” the faceless voice intoned.
“OPEN THE BRIDGE DOORS!”
The doors beneath her opened. Jody fell. Again.
“Whoa! Low grab, bridge, now!”
Even her enhanced reflexes couldn’t slow the plunge. Jody plummeted towards the pilot seat. She grabbed it just as the ship’s artificial gravity ticked on, narrowly avoiding hitting the front shield. She landed with a thump, body sprawled across the controls. Facing aft, she had full view of the ship through the cockpit door archway, back into the payload module with the swinging straps and dancing walls of cargo.
Closer in, right in front of her, a body sat slumped over the pilot seat.
“Crack me. This is not good. And I do not have time to play detective.” She gingerly pushed the copilot’s head back, rolled off the control panel, and sat on the lap of the limp form of former Lieutenant Fred Zappo, all the while willing herself not to wig out, to keep her focus… to stay alive.
Jody looked at the rapidly approaching planet of Tapaogani XII.
“Fancy. Full velocity. Flight crew,” she looked to her left at the captain, “all dead. First, stay alive. Priorities. I can’t help the dead if I’m one of them.” The patter of her monologue calmed the beating of her heart, clarifying her purpose. Jody’s vision focused.
Tapping at the manual aviation controls, she breathed a sigh of relief.
“Computer, landing check protocols. Display current solar cell power.”
“Current levels at .12 of full.” Even though the display showed that solar cells were at the brink of empty, there was enough left for propulsion control. Enough to get them out of their current death dive.
“One, maybe two bursts, yeah, that can level the ship out, and I can try to land it in a slow glide. I’ll blow the entire remaining fuel, but it’s worth a shot.” Irony dripped from the cheerful chirp in her voice. “At least with no fuel there’ll be no fireball,” she said.
Her fingers worked over the controls calculating the bursts and trajectory needed to straighten the craft out.
“Computer, display suitable landing sites.”
“This vessel does not have the fuel capacity to land safely.”
“Shut up and do what I tell you.” The display blinked a planetary display with markers of their trajectory and flat landing surfaces highlighted in bright green.
“Equatorial archipelago… excellent.” She tapped the display. “Computer calculate course to landing site.”
Jody tipped the exhaust at the angle she’d mentally calculated on the fly and tapped in the repeat sequence for the second, insurance burst.
She waited a split second. “Initiate burst sequence.”
The ship lurched starboard then jerked port. The nose tipped up. Ebudae waggled like a drunkard’s head just before slamming into a table.
“Come on, come on!” Jody clutched the controls. Jaws aching from clenching her teeth, she hung onto the spiraling ship’s navigation lever, her body whipping to and fro sliding her across the limp lap of the dead co-pilot.
As the ship swung, Jody’s stomach lurched. G-force decreased and she clutched the console, straining to hold herself aright.
“Avionics controls non-responsive.” The computer advised.
“Aw no… no no no! Computer, switch to secondary descent routine.”
Ebudae circled, beginning a free fall.
“Tailspin… damnit damnit, how do I…” She wracked her brain to remember flight school training section on ‘don’t die’.
“Think, think, think!”
The ship spun slowly in a ballet, plummeting to the planet surface.
“Falling leaf… counteracting attitude adjustment… and …”
The computer added, “Geomagnetic storm at ten degrees. Advise new course.”
“You can shut up now. I’m working on it…” Jody spat. Tugging again in one last futile attempt, she smacked the joystick.
“Not gonna happen. Well, at least they’re already dead so it won’t hurt them…”
In the dimly lit cockpit, control lights blinked a holiday bazaar of nightmares. Ebudae’s hull rattled and whined at gravity’s relentless wrenching and twisting. There was a crash from the cockpit WC as the door flew open, flinging the contents of a first aid kit like buckshot. She ducked. A coffee cup, proudly stating “DO WHAT YOU LOVE” winged past her helmet, narrowly missing her, crashing into the half opened door behind her. Jody, arms wrapped protectively around her head, spun the chair looking for some place to survive. The short gangway’s running lights drew her eyes up towards the payload section.
Mentally she ticked off the cargo for the expedition and remembered the All-Terrain Vehicle. The ATV’s tiny hopper wingspans allowed it to navigate chasms—it was a chance Jody had to take.
“Impact with planet imminent.”
“You and I, little ship, are about to part company,” she said as she hurried towards the ATV. “Computer, calculate time to impact and begin countdown. Open payload doors for exit before impact and notify.”
“Complying…” the voice paused. “Twenty-two seconds to impact.”
Jody left the cockpit in a sprint.
The half-grav of her boots stuck on each step, keeping her from flying backwards while she scrambled into the payload. She swallowed back rising bile from Ebudae’s dizzying descent.
“Fourteen,” the computer warned her.
Undoing the cargo straps of the rear wheels, Jody slapped the door release and scrambled in, disengaging the grav boots.
“Computer, engage Ebudae’s wing flaps!” She shouted into her helmet just as she slammed the door behind her, with scant moments to spare.
The ATV back wheels bucked, slamming her forward. She grabbed the shoulder straps and buckled the torso restraints from between her legs to the chest clasp.
A thunderous roar signaled Ebudae’s final kilometers.
Four… Opening payload bay doors.” The faceless voice intoned.
On three, through the open payload doors, a four-wheeled, thick-tired, enclosed buggy shot upwards as Ebudae slashed towards the snow and ice of the tundra below. The torque rattled her teeth in her skull. She held onto the buggy’s steering wheel.
The ATV propelled itself upward, straining against the downward momentum of the ship. It spun, midair, flipped over and righted itself.The ATV’s avian’s wingspan spread with a snap and fluttered like a butterfly in a hurricane. Jody pushed it up higher, out of the backdraft and into a natural thermal. It wound down in an accelerating corkscrew, towards the tundra.
There was a loud “whump” as the ATV crashed in a pouf of white. Jody’s vision scrambled from the puffy white cloud to gray and finally to black.
Was it moments later?
Was it an hour?
Jody checked her suit clock, tapping the screen controls that flickered in the helmet’s shaded visor. “Is it a day already? Damn, I can’t—I feel like I’m thinking through a cloud bank. And… Oh, stars, I think I’m gonna be sick.”
Flipping her helmet visor up, she snapped the ATV door panel open and dry heaved out onto the icy ground onto her shadow. She squinted up at the sun, straight overhead. Useless. At home she might have been able to guess the time or even the season, but the skies of Tapaogani XII weren’t giving her any clues.
“Oh man, why do I feel like someone shoved a dozen rats in my belly?” She bent over in pain, holding her arms around her belly. Jody sat for a moment, catching her breath, willing herself to ignore the pain.
“It is really fraggin’ cold,” she said to the empty tundra.
Jody slapped the visor back down. “Maybe I didn’t pass out for that long. Or maybe I’m dead and this is the other side?”
She swiped the EVA’s armband control and peered into the visor at her name, age, and vital statistics before the suit began to run her post trauma subroutine.
“No. Not dead. Death doesn’t come with a diagnostic.” In fascination, she watched her heartbeat slow as she concentrated on her biofeedback.
“Access main computer. Locate primary planetary data on Tapaogani XII,” she ordered the ATV through her suit as she looked out on the white and beige landscape.
There was silence.
“Fancy.” She considered the suit and ATV’s capabilities when disconnected fromthe transport’s main computer. What could it access? What else could it do?
Moving her finger to the visor control she swiped her hand across. The screen turned from visual to thermal.
She closed the hatch on the ATV and watched the EVA’s visor screen turn from a frigid dark blue to a temperate green. The oxygen levels showed Tapaogani’s surface having breathable levels. She turned off the filtration system. She returned it to normal view. Jody reopened the hatch and stepped out onto the hardscrabble of tundra. Snow and patches of hard pack soil crunched beneath her boots. She took another step beyond the ATV, testing the snow.
The ATV’s silvery teardrop pod was flanked by avian extensions, now retracted against it at a forty-five degree angle. It sat on four thick tires, which towered above Jody’s five foot two frame. It fit two people in cramped comfort, in a pinch, three. The contraption reminded her of a grasshopper.
She kept her gloved fingertips to the vessel and walked around it, bending to check the undercarriage for damage. At the back, Jody climbed up the tire to examine the top of the vessel.
Stabbing belly pain made her double over. She stopped short, gasping. “Ow… no. Can’t… ATV outer shell inspection complete.” She grabbed at the tire and lay over it, her breathing quickening.
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