I know, it seems a bit odd. But in this case, I have turned to writing fiction. I originally started the story as a NaNoWriMo project. But I felt I had written myself into a corner I didn’t know how to get out of. So the project got shelved for a long time. Recently, I started to write on it again. Since picking back up, I’ve added nearly 15,000 words. I won’t say it is the next Hugo winner or anything like that, but I enjoy the story. Reading it makes me want to know what comes next, which is a good thing I think. Of course, then I have to write what comes next, which can sometimes be a bit problematic.
I’ll share a bit of the story here. When it is done, it will be available definitely as an e-book. Print copies I am still undecided on. It would be nice of course, but those cost a lot more money than e-books. So, now, without any more delay, the first chapter of Astra Ascendant.
The sun shone in through the window, waking Miles Coventry. He blinked as his mind began to wake up and engage. The room was bare, spartanly so. Only a small cot and a rudimentary facility for waste in the corner. He sat up, the motion making his head swim. The last thing he could recall was shadowing the operative from the Bear’s intelligence.
It wasn’t so bad tracking the aliens since they stood out so much. It was the other human nations that made it hard. Someone from the Ursae Republic looked like a Novaya Ruskayan Commonwealth citizen or a native Terran. He held his head in his hands until it stopped throbbing, or at least subsided to a manageable level. Standing up, he stretched his 6’1” frame and rubbed his hand through his short brown hair. He moved to the window and peered out. The skyline looked like the Greater New Boston skyline, so he was still on Earth. He prowled around the room, checking for anything that might aid him in his escape.
The room was small, only eight feet to a side. The cot took up most of one wall, with the barred window almost directly across from the sturdy door. He stared idly out of the window as his fingers ran around the bases of the bars, seeking out any weakness that might be present. His mind was racing, formulating and rejecting plans of escape when he heard a faint click behind him. He turned slowly as the door opened. The man who entered was dressed in a business suit, his greying hair combed neatly. He stepped inside the door closed behind him with a sturdy click.
“Mr. Coventry, it is good to see you awake again. I hope the effects of the stunner have worn off by now?” His voice held a slight accent, and Miles frowned as he tried to place it.
Miles cocked his head to the side and looked at the man, “I don’t think we’ve been introduced. You know my name, why don’t you tell me who you are and why you’ve decided to kidnap a citizen of the Confederation?”
“Come now Mr. Coventry. Kidnap? Surely you jest. Why you are free to leave at any time you wish. My name is Anton Grigorovich, and I am the attaché to the Ursae Republican ambassador.”
Miles considered the man’s dark blue eyes for a moment, testing him for the truth. With a mental shrug, he walked past him and tugged the door handle on the door. To his surprise, it opened readily. He was halfway out of the door when Grigorovich called out, “Mr. Coventry, do you not wish to know why we brought you here?”
Miles stopped and turned to face him, “All right. Tell me why you locked me up in a cell; in what I am presuming is the Republican embassy. You can be sure I will be filing a complaint with the authorities once I am out of here.”
Grigorovich smiled slightly, his lips barely curving as he gave a low chuckle, “Mr. Coventry, may I call you Miles? Mister always sounds so formal, not used between friends. As you have surmised, this is the Republican embassy on Earth. In New Boston in fact. Come, follow me and I shall explain in detail why you are a guest here.”
Anton led Miles down the corridor from the cell; heading to what Miles guessed was the more public areas of the embassy. “The relations between your Confederation and my Republic have been estranged, especially for the last fifty years or so.”
Miles snorted at that, “Relations between the Confederation and the Republic have been cool at best, glacial most of the time. Your Republic is xenophobic, isolationist and ready to attack outsiders at the drop of a hat.”
“So you say, Miles. The Republic was born of Terra, descended from one of the great generation ships that our ancestors built. We are no longer beholden to Mother Terra. Not since our ship boosted from orbit and headed out to the stars. What we found there…” Grigorovich fell silent. After a few silent steps, he seemed to shudder and then brightened, “That is not why we are here. Republican Intelligence knows that you are a senior field operative for the Confederation Bureau of Intelligence, which is why we invited you here.”
Miles stopped short, then continued walking, “A stunner to the back is not the politest of invitations you could have issued.”
Grigorovich smiled, his eyes twinkling, “Come now Miles, do you think we could have dropped an invitation in the mail and have you respond? At best, you would have thought it a joke and thrown it away. No, we needed to get you here and have your full attention. Ah! Here we are. After you.” He held the door to the conference room open for Miles. Miles looked at him briefly then entered, taking a seat at the luxurious hardwood table, “So why don’t you tell me why you ‘invited’ me here? I’m a captive audience, as it were.”
“As you are aware, relations between your Confederation and my Republic have never been the most cordial. The generation ship that the Republic was founded from was one of three sent from Earth, financed by the Russian nation. One of course became the Ursae Republic. Another the Novaya Ruskayan Commonwealth, and the third,” Anton hesitated, ignoring Miles’ look of exasperation. “The third was lost. Destroyed. I believe you now call that system ‘Stronghold’ and have quite the fleet presence there. As isolationists, the Republic has caused some of its own problems, namely the Trit’ikk’it and the Kal’Shak. The Trit’ikk’it most of the Republicans who are away from the home world, understand they are merely traders. The Kal’Shak of course, are a thorn in everyone’s side. Hidebound lizards concerned with glory and honor,” he snorted. “We have our worlds in the Republic. You have your worlds in the Confederation. The Commonwealth has theirs, the Trit’ikk’it have some somewhere out there, and the Kal’Shak want the worlds everyone else already have claimed.”
“Now, I did say you were free to go, and I certainly meant that. However, I do wish you’d stay long enough to hear what I must tell you,” Grigorovich sat across from Miles, and slipped a data chip into the table’s reader port. A hologram sprung to life between them. “As you can see, this is Confederation space marked in blue, and Republican space marked in red, with the Commonwealth and the Taurus Republic on either side of your space.”
Miles nodded; the star map was familiar to him as it would be to any child. He looked at it briefly, and then sat up straighter, peering intently at a section of space between the Commonwealth and Confederation space. Grigorovich smiled when he saw Miles’ interest, “So you see it too.” Miles nodded slowly, still staring at the small section of space, “What is it?”
Grigorovich zoomed the map in, bringing the sector into stark detail, “That, Miles is a Kal’Shak base. Or at least we think it is. The damned bugs come at us from the other side of our space, and we know where your fleets come from. That leaves only pirates or the Kal’Shak.”
Both men shared a moment of humor at the thought of the pirates building something on this scale. “It’s the size of a small planet if this scale is correct,” Miles said.
“It is. As near as our long-range scanners have been able to determine, the Kal’Shak utilized most of the rubble in that system to fabricate this base.”
“You’ve got my attention. What do you want me to do with this information?”
“Merely present it to your superiors. Let them decide what to do.”
Miles looked at him, “And where am I supposed to say I got this information? Republican data chips don’t just happen to be lying around much.”
Grigorovich laughed and looked at his watch, “In about a minute, you are going to be jumped by the Republican agent you’ve been tailing for most of the day. Sadly, the agent is not as well trained as he should be perhaps, and is about to assault you in front of witnesses. After you defend yourself, and incapacitate your assailant, you will find a secure pouch on him. In that pouch, you will find this data chip.” He held up the chip after he pulled it from the reader.
Miles tensed, wondering what was about to happen. Grigorovich smiled and slide the chip across the table to him. “You’d best hurry. We have a vehicle ready to take you to near the site where you were attacked, so you may arrive at your offices from the proper direction.” Grigorovich pushed a button and the door opened, allowing a young lady to enter. “Miss Smirnova will accompany you.”
Grigorovich stood and Miles walked to the door with the young lady. Once into the hallway, she guided him to an enclosed vehicle bay. They entered a plain, unmarked vehicle and drove out into the falling darkness.
Miles studied ‘Miss Smirnova’ silently as they drove through the streets. She seemed to be in her late twenties, lithe figure, and her shoulder-length auburn hair neatly framing her face. She was relaxed as they drove into the gloom, passing him his wallet and identification, along with his weapon and spare magazine. His eyebrows rose as he took the gun and started to holster it. He paused and pulled the weapon back out, looking over it carefully. He popped the magazine out and counted the rounds.
“It seems you missed with one shot Mr. Coventry,” Smirnova’s voice was a soft contralto. “Not to worry, your other two shots took our poor agent in the chest, killing him instantly. Poor Grigory should have known better than to try to attack you, but you had him spooked.”
Miles smiled bemusedly as she recounted an attack that never took place as far as his memory went, “I only missed once? I must be improving.”
The vehicle came a stop and Smirnova opened the door for him, “Two blocks to the west is where you were attacked. Authorities in this neighborhood are somewhat lax in their response times, but they are on their way now. You should hurry and leave the area.”
Miles stepped onto the sidewalk and turned to face the vehicle again. “Thank you, Miss… Smirnova was it?”
“Veronika if you wish Mr. Coventry.” She closed the door and the car sped off. He stared after it for a moment before the sounds of sirens brought him back to reality. He looked around and dashed off into the darkness, headed for safety.
Miles entered his apartment, and stood leaning against the closed door. He straightened up and walked into the main room. Depositing his wallet on the counter, he shrugged out of his jacket. He darkened the windows and powered up his deskcomp. He made a connection to the TCBI offices and logged his report. He stashed the data chip in a secure box, and headed to the shower, needing to scrub the residue of the day from his body.
Miles lay on the bed, his mind drifting off, when the door to his apartment burst open, and many figures in combat armor flooded into the room. He rolled off the bed, mind suddenly awake and filled with adrenaline. His weapon was in his hand as the first intruder burst into his bedroom. He didn’t hesitate and fired two shots, hitting him in the chest. The intruder staggered back, and a second forced his way in, aiming a weapon at Miles. Miles squeezed the trigger again, just as the intruder fired, the stun blast knocking Miles into unconsciousness.