After years of waiting, here’s the first look inside Exodus, the first book in the forthcoming Starship Hope series. Originally entitled Hope Saved, this new and improved story takes place immediately after the prequel Ensign.
About the Book
One ship. One stowaway. Too many terrorists and no turning back.
Since the death of her father, Captain Dana Pinet has always wanted to follow in his footsteps and go on missions to deep space. The opportunity arrives when she’s chosen to lead an elite crew to explore uncharted space to find a new planet for her people. The world government is hiding the whole truth. A planet-killing asteroid is already on its way. The secret designed to keep their people from panicking has birthed a terrorist group bent on exposing the truth whatever the cost.
When rebels manage to escape the planet onboard the Starship Hope, Dana will be forced to make a choice between duty to her crew or following orders. Her choice right or wrong could be the thing that destroys the last remnant of humans in the galaxy.
If you like complicated female heroines committed to duty, heart, and home you’ll love the beginning of a new science fiction adventure featuring Captain Dana Pinet. Begin Exodus, the exciting first book in the action-packed space opera series Starship Hope by T.S. Valmond, today.
Exodus is now available on Amazon!
Dana Pinet watched world events unravel like a kitten’s worn-out ball of string. She processed the scattered bits of news, piecing them together to gain a better picture of where the world government was on the Hope project. The rise of taxes, the price of fuel, and the development of new technologies all got equal attention as she imagined the government stockpiling for the mission.
She followed former crew members’ movements and reassignments for clues on who would be part of Hope’s crew. Dana didn’t like the idea of having her crew picked for her, but this was a unique situation. Top-ranking government officials would screen and come to a consensus on every potential crewman, evaluating their deep-space compatibility, as well as analyzing their comprehensive abilities.
In her dreams, Dana envisioned living with myriads of people from her past, exploring the galaxy beyond Zelenia’s backyard.
One face always appeared in every dream, no matter how hard she’d tried to forget him.
Wade Chance had saved her life. Dana was grateful to him for that, but after her father’s death, she’d ended things with him. Looking back, she knew she could have handled the whole ‘break-up’ situation better, but, at the time, he had been too painful a reminder of what she’d lost.
Dana’s tablet signaled her next briefing would be starting soon, and she used the device to listen to the news broadcasts while she put on her running shoes. Occasional reports regarding asteroid sightings showed up in her feed. The news was filled with speculation and theories related to the world’s military organization and what they had planned to do about them, considering everything from a manned spacecraft to take them out, to a government conspiracy that the world was ending.
Dana picked up her keys. As soon as she did, Viktor, her golden retriever, came running. He pulled his leash down from the hook and, with it between his teeth, sat expectantly at her heels.
“Sorry, boy, not this time. I promise I’m not going out for a run without you. When I get back, I’ll take you, I promise.”
She patted Viktor on the head and slipped out the door to her personalized transport, waiting in the drive. Most of her neighbors were heading out to work. Mrs. O’Malley, the grandmother of two who lived in the small sage house across the street, caught her eye. The older woman put down her laser hedge-cutter and waved. Dana waved back, then slid into the front seat of the small vehicle. The tablet connected with the audio system, broadcasting the latest world news as she settled into her seat, her eyes on the screen.
The transport was the color of liquid silver, and traveled on the ground with four rubber wheels, like the antique cars from the Blue Earth’s documented history. The main difference between the two was the lack of glass windows beside each seat. The interior temperature was controlled by the COMP system, and the dash displayed her location and the positions of the other vehicles on the road, eliminating the need for glass windows to see out through Most of the time Dana used the self-driving option so she could focus on the news or her reports on her way to mission briefings.
On the tablet’s screen, a man with an impeccable gray suit to match his salt and pepper hair broke down the latest information.
“Reports say that the asteroid conspiracy group has yet to choose a name for themselves, though they insist that the threat to the planet is real. They are not identifying themselves, they say, due to the threat to their lives.”
After a twenty-minute commute to the center of the city from her home, Dana parked her transport off to one side of the designated road, slipping her tablet into a hidden compartment under her seat. She climbed out holding her access card and ran down the beach, heading due east. A thin crowd of people dotted the sand, taking up residence on brightly colored blankets and portable chairs with large umbrellas to block out the morning sun’s intensity.
Dana slowed down, scanning the spattering of faces until she spotted the man with the dark glasses over his eyes and the bald head. He wore a trench coat the color of wet dirt and sat on a wooden bench with his face tilted toward his shoes. A white cane with red paint halfway up its length rested at his side. She greeted him as instructed.
“Be careful, the sun is high today,” she said as she jogged by.
“Thank you, I will,” replied the man, and slipped a brown cap over his head.
He’d be signaling the door now. In her head, Dana counted the steps as she ran from the signal light post. It was green, so as soon as her foot hit the pavement, she began the count. She made it to forty-three before she reached the back door of the restaurant. Stretching out her legs, she pressed her hand to the panel on the wall and let the plate scan her palm print. The door opened, and a uniformed officer sitting on a metal chair stood up to salute her as she entered.
“Good morning, Captain. They’ve got your things in the changing room on the left.”
“Thanks, Charlie,” she said. “I saw the Cyclones lost again this week. How are you doing?”
From their first meeting, Charlie Kipke’s warm smile and round face welcomed her as if he’d always known her. She’d never gotten around to asking him if he’d worked with her father.
“I’m fine. They’ll get’em next time, Captain.”
“Dana,” she corrected.
“Whatever you say.” His staunch refusal to call her by her first name was an ongoing joke.
“Okay, Charlie, see you next time.”
“No problem, Captain.” He held her gaze, making it clear he had no intention of ever calling her anything else.
She shook her head and jogged down the corridor, where she reached the changing room on the left. The outside of the door was biocoded and marked: RESTRICTED ACCESS, to keep out the restaurant staff and droids. Her palm-print granted her access. The artificial lighting was dim compared to the bright sun outside and the room always carried the scent of floor cleaner. She spotted the enclave of lockers and sat down on the bench to remove her running shoes. Her last name with first initial was tagged on a locker in the second row third from the end. It popped open when she pressed her thumb to the biocoded lock.
They’d given her a uniform identical to the one she wore on assignment. By the time she’d dressed, her escort had arrived—a female guard with a no-nonsense gaze that didn’t waver as she turned to lead her to the room where Major Thompson waited with several others, including General Hughes, his eyes droopier than usual.
The room, hidden behind the restaurant’s bar, was as unimpressive as it had been the first time she’d entered. Dana wondered why the world government continued to use the establishment for their monthly meetings on the new project. By now, they should at least be on the base where the starship’s being built, she thought.
Plain, undecorated walls surrounded them on all sides, and a large oval table dominated the center of the room. The seven officials, introduced to her at previous meetings, sat waiting as she took her seat beside Major Thompson and across from General Hughes, who led the meetings. His droopy eyes were tired but sharp as he spoke.
“It’s time to inform the public about project Hope.”
“Now?” The question came from Major Thompson.
“Yes. The ship is nearing completion,” General Hughes continued turning his attention back to Dana. “You’ll be leading our finest, carrying citizens chosen to be the foundation stones of our society in the unknown world. The date of your departure will need to remain classified until the last moment. We’ll release some details of your voyage to the press in the months to come.”
Dana listened with interest. Until now, she’d had to keep her excitement at bay, unsure she’d get to keep her commission. She knew how these things went. At any moment, the project could get another mission, a better captain, a change of administration, and she’d be out. But now they were ready to go public with her name as the captain, finally making the whole thing real.
General Hughes looked her way. “Do you understand what’s next?”
“As I understand it, General, you plan to begin evacuations as soon as we have the coordinates of the new planet,” she said, reciting what she’d been told in previous meetings.
“That’s correct, Captain. We have every confidence in your ability to find us a new home. Your name will be in the headlines as Hope’s new captain. As the face of this project, they’ll naturally be curious about you. Several reporting agencies will want to do some interviews with you.”
Dana didn’t like the idea of sitting down with nosey reporters and spilling her guts. However, she knew how these things worked. If she declined it would look bad for the fleet and cause more trouble than it was worth. Better she stick to whatever official statements they had for her.
“What would you like me to say, officially?”
“Officially, nothing. You are free to talk about how you’ll be a part of something top secret, etcetera. Other than your personal feelings and reflections, you cannot say anything. As far as you know, there’s no production schedule or flight trajectory. There will be experts to speak for the agency to the press, and we’ve got a digital file of talking points we’re sending to your tablet. In general, stick to things you know, like your own business, and perhaps even your father. Reminding the public of what your father did for us will install confidence in the project and help the public perception of our activities.”
“Understood, sir.” She didn’t like the idea of using her father’s memory in that way, though she understood the need for the public to be on their side.
General Hughes must have misinterpreted her facial expression for uncertainty. “Without specific details, you won’t have to lie. This will make all of your appearances and interviews more genuine. There’s nothing worse than military personnel trying to make a lie look believable.” Hughes glanced around the table and then with a nod stood. “That’s all we have for you today, Captain.”
“Thank you, sir.” Dana stood.
Major Thompson rose from his chair and waved her over to join him. “A moment, Captain.” He lowered his voice as he walked her to the door, letting the others file out ahead of him. “Your mother will know there’s more to it. Do your best to keep it from her.”
A twinge of pain struck her heart. She shook her head. “She won’t ask questions.”
Major Thompson waited for a beat, as if wondering if she would say more. She didn’t.
“Oh. Well… if she does, and you find yourself in a tough spot, I’ll be happy to talk to her for you.”
The major had known her mother since Dana was a child. He’d served with her father, like many retired Space Fleet officers. Despite him and his wife spending time with her parents while Dana was young, he didn’t know her mother anymore. The woman hated any reminder of the past, including her own child.
Dana wished she could confide in him—or anyone, for that matter—but it felt too much like a betrayal. Her mother was her problem, and Dana couldn’t imagine her father wanting his old friends prying into the dysfunction that was her mother. She didn’t want them digging into her repressed emotions, either. Dana admitted to herself, alone, that she didn’t want any of them knowing what her father’s death had cost her.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Eartha said. She was so nervous it was like a buzzing along her skin that never stopped even as she bounced up and down on the end of her best friend’s twin bed. She envied the bubble-gum-pink color on the walls and the posters of famous boy band members Becky’s mother let her put up. Eartha complained to her parents her own eggshell-colored walls were too boring, and that she wanted more than the displays of the galaxy and scientific tables. What she got was a boy band calendar with twelve months of touring pictures that hung on the back of her bedroom door.
Though drab in comparison, Becky never said a peep about it when she came over.
“Just take a deep breath and remember to smile,” Becky said, taking a deep breath and smiling to demonstrate.
“Why would I smile? It’s not like he can see me.”
“He’ll hear it in your voice, making him smile, too. It’s psychology.”
Becky’s mom was a psychologist. It was no wonder her daughter knew all kinds of things about body language and behavior she’d read from the antique books her mother kept in their study. Becky’s bright eyes slanted like a cat’s when she was pleased about something. At the moment, they were wide open, her lashes reaching up to her sculpted eyebrows.
Eartha shook her head, already losing her nerve. “This is dumb.”
“Don’t be silly. Do you want a boyfriend this summer, or not?”
Eartha bit down on her lower lip. She weighed the pros and cons in her head, as she did for any choice, and came up with more cons to having a boyfriend than to not having one. The problem was that being kissed weighed heavily on the pro side.
“You’re going to be thirteen soon. Are you going to wait until high school to find your first boyfriend?” Becky placed the palm-sized phone in Eartha’s hand. The purple, sequined case had been the only decorative concession her mother allowed.
Becky’s reasoning made sense. She and Becky had been best friends since the fourth grade. Back then, Becky had been friends with Tammy. When Becky decided she preferred hanging out with Eartha, Tammy had gotten jealous and planned to beat up Eartha after school. Becky stepped in, giving Tammy a hard hit across the nose, which kept the girl from ever bothering either of them again. From then on Eartha had gone along with all of Becky’s plans no matter how insane.
Becky had no fear when it came to trying new things. It was a quality Eartha envied, but often needed help to accomplish. This was just another one of Becky’s adventures, and Eartha needed a push if she was going to keep up with her friend. Eartha didn’t want to be the only girl in high school who’d never had a boyfriend, but that didn’t mean she was ready to call up a boy and ask him out.
“Okay, but what if he says no?”
“He’s not going to say no. Boys are desperate. The fact you’re even giving him any attention at all will make him like you. I swear.” She shrugged. “And if you don’t want to start with James, we have six more we can try.”
Eartha didn’t want to do this one time, let alone six. Besides, the rest of the list had been more for Becky’s benefit than her own. Eartha had a major crush on James Geyer. At fourteen, he was a year older, and had wavy brown hair and killer dimples. Last year, they’d been in some of the same classes but this year he’d already gone to high school. He was the only boy she’d ever noticed in school. He played every sport and had tons of friends. They’d watched James on the field once, so confident in leading the other boys. Eartha saw how the others respected him and had developed the embarrassing habit of sighing whenever he was around. The rumor was he didn’t have a girlfriend yet, which according to Becky, meant she had a chance.
Once Becky learned of Eartha’s interest, she’d made it her mission to get them together. Eartha didn’t think James had even noticed her. Becky swore he’d looked over at her during soccer practice two days in a row. Eartha struggled to believe it, but ever since she couldn’t stop picturing James holding her hand at the high school and telling everyone they were a couple.
“My dad won’t let me have a boyfriend,” Eartha said, pushing the phone back at Becky. Yes, she knew she was wimping out, but it wasn’t a lie. She remembered a vague lecture from her father one night after she’d admitted she wanted to go out on dates to fancy restaurants.
Becky got up from the bed and moved to her vanity to put on more lip gloss. She didn’t actually need any, she just liked the strawberry flavor.
“We already talked about this. I know you’re freaked, but you’re going to have a boyfriend this summer. Don’t worry, I’ll cover for you. Every time your dad asks you about where you’re going and who you’re with, tell him you’re with me.” Becky sat back down on the bed and passed Eartha the gloss to apply to her own lips. She didn’t need the gloss either. Her lips were oversaturated with the sticky stuff already, and the added gloss just slipped over her lips. Becky picked up the phone, James’ number already cued up, and pushed it toward her friend.
This would be her fourth attempt at calling him in two weeks. The first two times she hadn’t gotten past putting the number in. The third time she’d hung up while it was ringing. But like a dog with a bone, Becky would never let her hear the end of it if she didn’t go through with it this time.
Eartha closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Becky reached out to grab her hand to steady her and nodded enthusiastically. When she was ready, she smiled and Becky handed her the phone again. Her eyes had gone to pleased cat-like slits.
Eartha’s hand shook as she pressed the link to his preset number. Her heart pounded harder in her chest with each ring. Her forehead broke out in a cold sweat, and she ran the back of her hand over it. When someone finally answered, her eyes flew to Becky’s face.
“Hello?” It sounded like a boy’s voice, but deeper.
“Sure, just a sec. Hey, Jamie, your phone!” he called out.
Eartha grabbed for Becky with one hand and the two girls clasped hands. Becky let out a steady, high-pitched squeal in anticipation.
In the background, Eartha heard James answer.
“Who is it?”
“I don’t know, some girl.”
James’s voice moved closer to the phone. Eartha clutched Becky to her.
“Hello?” he said.
“Hello?” Eartha’s throat was so dry the word barely scratched through.
“Hello,” he said again.
Becky reached up and put her finger into the side of Eartha’s cheek to force her to smile. She smiled, but she couldn’t get the words out.
“Hello?” James said into the phone. “Are you there?”
Before he answered, she hung up and threw the phone across the room. It slid along the carpet before it hit the door with a dull thunk. Eartha looked at Becky, and they both broke out into hysterical laughter. When Becky’s mom opened the door to investigate the commotion, they both jumped as if on fire. She looked down and noticed the phone but didn’t move to pick it up.
“Are you two all right?”
Eartha looked at Becky before they both fell back on the bed, rolling with laughter.
“You two are silliness to the second power. Come downstairs, they’re about to announce the next winner of the Hope passenger lottery.”
“Do you think we’ll win, mom?” Becky asked hopefully.
“I don’t know, but we’ll never find out sitting up here giggling.”
Her mother led the way into the living room and Eartha plopped down on the couch next to Becky who snuggled up next to her mom. The announcer was already up on the vid stream. Becky and her mom had identical straight brown hair and big blue eyes. At their last hair appointment, they’d each gotten bangs, making them look even more alike. Eartha wished she and her mom looked alike. Eartha’s wild black curls stood up all over her head and were nothing like her mother’s blunt bob.
“It’s starting,” Becky’s mom said, excitement tinging her voice. She sat with her legs tucked underneath her and passed them each a small bowl of popcorn from the coffee table.
Eartha murmured her thank you prompting Becky to do the same Then Becky reached for Eartha’s hand, and they clasped pinkies, each chanting at the same time in a whisper:
“Us for one, and one for us.”
***To Be Continued***
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