Excerpts

From the Book...

"Engine core meltdown in thirty-two minutes," the ship's computer said in a synthesized female voice.

"Words every captain wants to hear first thing in the morning," Torrie muttered. Lying on her back, she yanked open the panel door above her. The primary circuits flashed furiously inside the cabinet. No wonder it wasn't responding: the entire system was overloaded. She'd never be able to circumvent the problem from here.

Swinging out from under the engine banks, she hit the deck running. As she sped through the empty corridors of her dying ship, she pressed her personal comm unit. "Howser, where are you?"

Her first mate responded, "In the shuttle bay, loading the crew into the transport ship. When are you getting here?"

"I'm not." Torrie leaped onto the third rung of the gangway ladder and climbed to the upper level.

"What? The ship is going to blow up in—"

"Thirty minutes, I know," she finished, pulling herself up to the main deck. She ran past the flashing alarm lights toward the bridge. "You take the crew and get the hell out of here."

"If you're staying, so am I," Howser replied. "Your brother didn't put me on your maiden voyage to skip out when things got bad."

Torrie jumped through the bridge hatchway. "And Carmon didn't make you captain on this freighter, either. So get your ass in that ship and take care of my crew, or I'll jettison the lot of you whether you're inside or out. And don't even think about staying behind. I already sealed the air lock."

"Damn it, Torrie."

She shimmied into the command chair. "You better move before you lose the force-field barrier. I don't need to tell you what happens to an unprotected body in deep space."

She punched up the systems, but they responded sluggishly. For some unknown reason, the engine core temperature was still rising steadily into the red zone, and nothing she'd tried so far could stop its slow march to detonation.

"We are launched," Howser said over her comm. The shuttle bay holocam confirmed that the small transport carrying Howser and the rest of her five-man crew was pulling away from Ventura2. She closed the shuttle bay doors in case Howser decided to play hero.

"Jump to hyperspace now. I want you as far away as possible."

He grumbled something that she didn't quite catch and probably didn't want to hear anyway, but her scanners verified the transport's jump—out of visual, and out of danger if she failed. Then she remembered something and glanced around the bridge. "Do you have Nod with you?"

"Yes, of course," Howser griped. "He's flying around here, asking everyone if he can help. Really, can we reprogram him? Doesn't he have another line?"

Despite the dire situation, Torrie smiled. "If we ever get out of this mess, I'll try again." Then she added a heartfelt, "Thank you, Howser."

"Don't thank me. I'm the one who's going to have to tell your mother and the rest of the family that you went down with the ship for no good reason."

The lights on the bridge flickered off, leaving only the control console lit. Wonderful. Torrie decided not to tell Howser.

"I don't plan on letting my ship explode. There has to be a way to cool the core." She tried manual shutdown of the engine drives, but they wouldn't obey. She tried rerouting all activity through the primary channel so she could cram a shutdown command through the secondary systems. No go.

Frustrated, she repeated an earlier order, hoping it would get through this time. "Computer, Priority One command: shut down engines immediately."

"Unable to comply," it responded, as it had to all her previous requests.