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Authors: Mike Shepherd


BOOK: Deserter
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Table of Contents
Praise for
Kris Longknife MUTINEER
“A whopping good read. Kris Longknife is a gutsy, complex character with a twist of wry humor to leaven the kick-butt attitude. Fast-paced, exciting, nicely detailed, with some innovative touches.”—Elizabeth Moon
“Solid writing, exciting action, and likeable characters.”
—S. M. Stirling, author of
“Mike Shepherd has written an action-packed, exciting space opera that starts at light speed and just keeps getting faster.”—
Midwest Book Review
“This is a fast-paced adventure.”—
“You don’t have to be a military sci-fi enthusiast to appreciate the thrill-a-minute plot and engaging characterization.”

Romantic Times
“I’m looking forward to her next adventure.”

Philadelphia Press/Review
Ace titles by Mike Shepherd
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4V 3B2, Canada (a division of
Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)
Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017,
Penguin Group (NZ), Cnr. Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand
(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196,
South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author
Ace mass market edition / December 2004
Copyright © 2004 by Mike Moscoe.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
eISBN : 978-0-441-01227-5
Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
ACE and the “A” design
are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

“Okay, Engineering, let’s see if we can finish the test run this time,” Captain Hayworth announced.
“And let’s try not to blow up the ship,” Lieutenant Junior Grade Kris Longknife added under her breath. Still, she nodded agreement with the Captain of the Fast Attack Corvette
as did the others on the bridge around her. The crew attended to their duties, faces professionally bland in the reflected reds, blues, and greens of their underway stations. The cool, processed air didn’t actually smell of fear. Not quite.
The Captain turned his attention to Kris. “Lieutenant Longknife, match your board to Engineering. Inform me if you see anything wrong. And this time, only use Navy-issue gear.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Kris tapped her station, converting it from offensive weapons to a copy of the ship’s engineering station a hundred meters aft of the bridge. Everything was green. Question was, would the board show anything red before the
was nothing but a glowing cloud of dust?
The Kamikaze-class corvettes, with their smart-metal armor, were great ships to serve on during peacetime. Rather than keep the ship a cramped and crowded man-of-war, the armor was thinned out and used to expand the vessel. Kris liked her private stateroom. For the last five years as more ships of this class joined the fleet, that had not been a problem. Built as large “love boats,” they rarely converted to thick-skinned warships.
But Earth’s Society of Humanity was only a memory along with the eighty years of peace it had brought. Every newscast told of rumors of war. Wardhaven needed fighting ships.
And the last few conversions of Kamikaze-class ships into tight, small, war fighters with thick battle armor had shown a disturbing tendency to catastrophic problems with their reactors.
So the
had spent much of the last two months tied up to the Nuu shipyard docks converting itself back and forth between large and small and trying to figure out what didn’t work quite right. Solve that problem, and Wardhaven had forty good warships to contribute to the United Sentients Navy. Fail, and Wardhaven’s allies would have a very small stick to face the other six hundred planets of fragmenting human space.
And Kris might very well end up dead.
“Engineering, I show your board green,” Kris said.
“Aye, aye. Bridge sees no problems,” the Chief Engineer drawled with carefully measured sarcasm. Kris had less than a year in the Navy and had yet to meet a Chief Engineer who valued any viewpoint that originated outside his domain of reactors, generators, and the maze of superconductors that connected them.
Still, Kris had closed down two of the last five tests.
NELLY, Kris thought. ARE THE ENGINES STABLE? Facing guns and mutiny had finally convinced Kris that subvocal talk between her and her personal computer was too slow and subject to problems. In the last upgrade of Nelly’s hardware, Kris had submitted to a direct jack into her brain. What Kris thought, Nelly heard, and what Nelly heard, she was very likely to make happen. The pet computer around Kris’s shoulders might weigh less than a quarter kilo, but she was a hundred times more capable than the combined computers of the
—and fifty times more expensive.
ALL ENGINEERING READOUTS ARE NOMINAL. Nelly verified Kris’s own assessment.
THAT’S MY PROBLEM. I JUST WANT TO BE ALIVE TO HAVE IT, Kris thought, noting that the latest upgrade seemed to have added something unplanned to Nelly’s repertoire: backtalk.
“Helm,” the Captain ordered, “hold her steady on course at one g acceleration.”
“Aye, sir. One g acceleration, steady as she goes.” The Ensign at the helm wore the relaxed expression expected, but one eyebrow lifted toward Kris. Was he counting on her to save them all, no matter what the Skipper said?
“Engineering, give me eighty percent.”
“Reactor coming up on eighty percent. At eighty percent . . . now, Captain.”
“Helm, put on one point five g’s. Steady on course.”
As the helm answered, Kris did a full review of her board. Nelly was doing the same review many times a second, but Kris did not trust any man-made device with her life, not even Nelly. All was green. Around Kris, the ship groaned as it took on more weight. One of the freebies with the smart metal was now happening. Without human intervention, the ship automatically thickened up scantlings, added an extra millimeter to decks, prepared itself for the growing weight of equipment and crew.
“Crew, prepare for high g’s,” the Captain announced. Kris’s chair, which a moment before looked solid, began to grow a footrest for her. The headrest stretched out to match her height, a full six feet; its cushion inflated. On a Kamikaze-class, the crew didn’t require high-g stations; they made them when they needed them. And if the crew had to move, their stations just flowed along with them. Too cool!
“Engineering. A hundred percent on the reactor, please.” No sooner had the Chief Engineer reported full reactor than the skipper ordered the helm up to two g’s. Kris held her breath and eyed her board. The
’s first test cruise had ended at this benchmark; the Engineer himself scrammed the reactor.
Five seconds into two g’s, Kris let her breath out . . . and everyone on the bridge seemed to breathe easier. The Captain held this course and speed for a long five minutes as every station reported in, not just Engineering. No problems.
“Lieutenant Longknife, is space clear ahead of us?” the skipper asked.
As quickly as Kris could at two g’s, she converted a small portion of her board back to weapons and did a search sweep. “Nothing ahead for two hundred and fifty thousand klicks, sir.”
“Discharge all four pulse lasers, if you please.”
“Yes, sir,” Kris answered and walked her fingers over all four of the
’s main weapons. Twenty-four-inch pulse lasers shot out into empty space, deadly for 25,000 kilometers, then slowly diverging. “All pulse lasers fired, sir.”
“Recharge lasers,” the Captain ordered.
Energy flowed from Engineering into the laser capacitors. Kris checked; there was still plenty of power to keep the fusion containment field up and direct the flow of superheated plasma to the massive engines accelerating the
at two g’s.
NO PROBLEMS, Nelly reported unnecessarily, but Kris was not about to squelch a good report.
“No problems,” Kris announced to the Captain after a thorough check of her board.
“All systems working well within their safety margins,” the Chief Engineer reported.
Captain Hayworth cracked a tiny smile; test runs two and three had not got past this benchmark. “Helm, take us smartly up to three g’s acceleration. Steady on course. Engineering, put us in the red.” Aye, ayes answered him. Kris locked her eyes on her board, now back to mimicking Engineering as her seat settled into a bed and the board slanted up to where she could easily see it. Except for the three master switches on her seat’s armrest, it would take a major physical effort to get to any of her controls. The reactor scram button was right under her thumb.
“Power flow to the lasers is decreasing. Recharge will take two extra minutes at this acceleration,” she told the Captain.
“No problem,” he muttered, his eyes on his own board.
“Three g’s it is, sir,” the Helm answered through gritted teeth. Kris didn’t much care for weighing over 170 kilos. The Helmsman, a footballer in college, was easily approaching 400. Great for crashing a line, lousy for deft movements on a control board now in his lap.
BOOK: Deserter
2.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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