Excerpt: STARBOUND by Dave Bara (DAW)

BaraD-LC2-StarboundUSDave Bara‘s Starbound is the sequel to the author’s debut science fiction novel, Impulse. The author was one of the many hotly-tipped new science fiction authors of the past 12 months, and the novel seems to have clicked for a good number of SF fans. (There were so many interesting new series and SF novels published this past year.) I’ve not had a chance to read Impulse, yet (I do own it, though), but I’m certainly intrigued in the series. Here’s the synopsis for Starbound:

THE FIRST EMPIRE HAS RETURNED.

THE NEW GALACTIC UNION HANGS IN THE BALANCE…

The Lightship Impulse is gone, sacrificed while defeating First Empire ships the fragile new galactic alliance hoped it would never see again. 

For Peter Cochrane, serving as third officer on the Starbound and tasked with investigating a mysterious space station in a newly re-discovered system, the wounds of battle may have healed, but the battle is far from over.

Due to be published in North America by DAW Books in January 2016, the publisher has sent me this following excerpt to share.

*

We breached the environmental barrier without incident, a static field hugging the contours of our shuttle as we came in and landed on the debris-littered deck. I watched as the second shuttle joined us, then ordered Sergeant Marker to deploy his troops.

Two minutes later and I was on the deck myself, surrounded by our units. The deck was strewn with debris, smashed machinery, and wrecked equipment panels. There were dark streaks of fire damage on the walls, as if there had been a pitched coil rifle battle here in the past. Whether that past was recent, old, or ancient remained to be discovered. The main hangar doors leading inside the station were blown off or disintegrated, with no trace of them except jagged edges of scorched metal near the threshold. It was enough to give me pause.

“I want a squad to reconnoiter that hallway. Two guards each at the shuttles. The rest of us are moving out,” I ordered. Marker and Babayan barked out their orders and a squad of five went to the door threshold and then out into the darkness. The unlucky pairs of guards took their defensive positions on the shuttles, the pilots also remaining inside as a precaution. You didn’t want to risk losing your way off a hostile station on a reconnoiter. The rest of us formed a single rank to enter the hallway with a squad in front, followed by Marker and Babayan, then another squad, then me, and the rest spread out behind.

After thirty seconds our original reconnoiter unit signaled it was safe for us to move up, and we did.

The hallway was broad and wide, the kind of thing you’d expect of a utility corridor designed for moving cargo, but it was massive in scale and very, very dark. The gravity was consistent with the landing bay, and near as I could tell it was close to one Earth gravity. We’d have no need to activate our own gravity units to stay stuck to the deck.

I let Marker and Babayan deploy their troops as they felt comfortable doing, following along in my place with the pack. I flashed my helmet lights on the walls, and saw that the same dark streaks of singed metal or some other material were present all along the hallway. We progressed about thirty meters at a time, taking our time to make sure we stayed together. I watched as the helmet lanterns of the marines would push forward in groups of five and then stop, being passed by a second group, and so on, until their light vanished in the encompassing darkness. After ten minutes of this I got a private call from Marker, who was running the point for our expedition.

“I’m here,” I said into my private command com.

“I’m about fifty meters ahead of you, sir,” started Marker, then he hesitated. “I think you’re going to want to see this.”

“I’ll be right there,” I said. I ordered a full stop for our entire unit and then started forward alone, using my helmet lantern to illuminate the few meters in front of me as I passed by several members of the excursion squad. Up front a cluster of five marines had their lanterns running over something large blocking the hallway. Except for the lantern lights of our marines, there was nothing illuminating the hall.

I came up and pushed between a pair of marines and in next to Marker, who was closest to the object. I walked slowly, flashing my lantern over the surface of the thing, running it back and forth. After a few moments I focused on one particular area. The object was made of a dull greenish metal, covered in singe marks and the gray/green glitter of metal exposed to vacuum for too long. But what I saw was indisputable.

“Is that an eye?” I said aloud.

“Looks like it, sir,” said Marker reluctantly. I ordered Babayan and another squad of five marines forward. Together we bathed the object in light with our lanterns.

It was a head. A human-looking head, but clearly made out of metal and laying on one side of its face. It had to be ten meters tall. The head was cut off at the neck, which was singed and burnt, its twisted metal protruding and sticking to the left wall. To the right, there looked to be an opening that humans could squeeze through between the head and the outer wall of the corridor.

“This is a mechanism, a humanoid automaton of some kind, but on a scale . . . it would have to have been fifty meters tall, at least,” I said. Marker lit up his light to max and went to the ceiling.

“Plenty of space for it in here,” he said. “The ceiling is twice that high.”

“Do we go forward?” asked Babayan. I hesitated only a second.

“We do,” I said, “Those are our orders. Survey and catalog.” Then I switched back to the unit com and ordered the marines through the “hole” near the wall. I squeezed through behind Marker and Babayan, determined to stay closer to the front the rest of the way.

We walked through what could only be described as a corridor clearly blasted through the body of the fallen machine. We went on this way for nearly seventy meters as we weaved and ducked through the broken machinery. The mechanisms that we saw inside the “body” of the automaton were so advanced as to be indecipherable, to me anyway, and I fancied myself as a bit of a technology buff. What we were looking at was very ancient, that much was clear, and had been frozen by the vacuum of space for a long, long time. When we finally reached the end of the machine’s body, we encountered something even more disturbing.

Dead bodies. Many hundreds of them, in space suits. I ordered a squad to both our left and right to investigate while Marker and Babayan and I took our own survey, our digital recording equipment taking in as much as possible. The bodies inside the suits were black with age and desiccation, and some had undoubtedly decayed inside their suits while they maintained some environmental integrity. Others were nothing more than dead bones or large piles of ash, indicating they had been vaporized. The one distinguishing mark on all these men was the gold stripe of the Imperial Marines on their black helmets. A pitched battle had been fought here, and the Imperial Marines, the best fighters the First Empire had to offer, had lost.

Beyond the battle scene there was an empty chamber with no doors nor any other remaining mechanism.

“Reconnoiter that chamber,” I ordered, more to get our marines out of shock and awe and back into action. I switched to the command com channel and took up a position facing Marker and Babayan.

“What the hell is this place?” asked Marker. I looked to both of my marine commanders, and made a decision.

“I can’t tell you at the moment, Sergeant,” I said.

“That’s bullshit!” said Babayan, then followed after a beat with a pointed “sir.”

“These are Imperial Marines,” said Marker. “This battle must have happened hundreds of years ago. And that thing, that robot, what technology is that?”

I shook my head. “Again, I can’t tell you.” At this Babayan started to protest but I cut her off. “That doesn’t mean I don’t have my suspicions, I do. But I’m not authorized to share that information at the moment. Stay ready. Let’s assess the situation so that we can report back to the captain.” Then I ordered them off to command their squads while I switched to the longwave com and called up Serosian.

“What have you got, Peter?” came his low baritone through my earpiece.

“Just what you see from your monitors, several hundred dead marines. Imperial Marines. There was a battle fought here, a long time ago. Are you still reading active energy from this place?” I asked.

“We are, but it is general in nature and we’re unable to pin it down directionally other than to say it is several decks above you. Do you see any way to go up?” he replied.

“Not yet. And that energy field isn’t showing up on any of our monitors here. Is it possible it’s some form of Founder or First Empire shielded stealth tech?”

“Very possible,” said Serosian. “Be cautious, Peter.”

“That word is not in our vocabulary. I’ll report in again when we’ve found a way up,” I said, then dropped the line. The longwave chewed up more energy from my EVA suit than the regular com, but it also provided much needed privacy, and the signal would travel through any known stealth field.

I went up to Marker and Babayan.

“What have you got?”

“Come take a look,” said Marker. I followed them both up to the chamber, which I could see was not a chamber at all but an empty lifter shaft that dwarfed what I had seen on the Imperial dreadnought we had destroyed at Altos. And that one was massive.

“Look down,” said Babayan. I walked to the edge. The empty shaft went down hundreds of meters into the dark. As I flashed my helmet lantern down the shaft I could see it was filled with more dead bodies of Imperial Marines, piled on top of each other.

“Careful,” said Babayan. “The shaft from this level up appears to be a zero gravity zone. If you toss something in it floats, but if you throw it just a few meters down the gravity is active and the item will get heavy again and fall.” I reached over and grabbed an empty Imperial Marine helmet and threw it down the shaft. It moved slowly against the zero-G field and then accelerated onto the pile of detritus far below once it hit the gravity well.

My next decision would be critical. If we continued up, we might find out what this battle was all about and discover the source of the energy field. Safety dictated, however, that we withdraw. I called Commander Kierkopf on the command com channel and explained the situation, which she would no doubt be aware of from monitoring our unit cams.

“Serosian reports the energy source is still active, and it’s up there, on the decks above us,” I said. “Request permission to proceed to the source with an exploratory squad.”

“Denied, Commander,” she said. “Be practical. You have one hour and forty minutes of environment left in your suits. I doubt that’s enough time to properly investigate. And ancient or not, these remains give me pause. Quite frankly, they scare me, as they should you.” She was taking a hard line, which I respected, and reminding me of my duty to the marines. Nonetheless, we were here for a reason.

“Request permission to take up a single squad and Sergeant Marker to at least attempt to identify the energy source, sir,” I said. The line stayed silent for a moment longer.

“Also denied,” she said, with a professional finality that seemed inflexible.

That upset me. We were here to explore, and my intuition told me the answers to this mystery lay with that unknown power source. “XO, we came here for a reason. If you’re not going to let us investigate the energy source then why did we come to this station in the first place?” I argued.

“I’m not convinced of the safety of this expedition, Commander,” she replied. “And you and your force’s safety is my primary responsibility.”

“Then I request environmental supplies be sent over so that we can revise and extend our mission under pertinent safety protocols,” I said. I was pressing her. With each of my requests I knew it would be harder to say no, and I wanted to find out more about what had happened here.

“The captain advises we are already pressing our schedule and deviating from our primary mission objectives,” she said back to me.

“All the more reason to at least send up a small team to investigate,” I said. “And quickly.”

There was another moment’s hesitation. Then, “My answer is still no, Commander.”

Now I was frustrated. What we had discovered here merited more exploration, and since we were already here and deployed . . .

“Request the captain make that decision, sir.” Now I was openly challenging her authority again, after I had promised I wouldn’t. That wouldn’t go over well on either a personal or a professional level. “Respectfully, sir, we are here, now. The shaft only looks to be a few hundred meters high. We can reconnoiter it in thirty minutes, max,” I said, making my final case. There was no response for a good thirty seconds, then Captain Maclintock’s voice came on the com line.

“Six marines,” he said. “That’s including you and Marker. Colonel Babayan stays with the rest of the team and implements a safety protocol. If something bad happens I want a clear path back to your shuttles, understood, Commander?”

“Aye, sir,” I said, then cut the com and started barking orders. We had our window, and I was going to make sure we took advantage of it.

***

Also on CR: Interview with Dave Bara

Impulse is also published by DAW in in North America; and in the UK by Del Rey — covers below. Starbound is published in January 2016 by DAW and Del Rey UK.

For more on Dave Bara’s writing and novels, be sure to check out his website, and follow him on Twitter and Goodreads.

BaraD-LightshipChronicles2016

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