The second book in the Starship Hope Series has arrived and Marauders has got all your favorites: aliens, tech, and more hope.
ABOUT THE BOOK
How far is too far to save the human race?
Captain Dana Pinet is struggling to put her demons to rest while carrying the last of humanity still reeling from the loss of their world onboard the Starship Hope.
She and the crew will be tested yet again when they come into contact with a group of plucky aliens enthralled by their circumstances and eager to befriend them. Things turn ugly when the aliens make off with precious cargo and half their dwindling supplies.
In pursuit of the thieves, the crew discovers they’re not the only ones after the pirates, and getting caught in alien cross-fire will only make matters worse. If Dana can’t track down the pirates and their stolen cargo, it may bring about the extinction of the human race.
Marauders is the thrilling second book in the science fiction series Starship Hope. If you like intriguing first contact with aliens and survival at all-costs scenarios, you’ll love this second book by T.S. Valmond.
Marauders is now available on Amazon!
Captain Dana Pinet pulled back her elbow, sweat dripping into her eyes. She held her arm extended palm out, fingers curled, waiting for the next strike. She made slight adjustments to her stance, shifting the weight between her feet before she used her body’s momentum to propel her forward.
She missed kicking Commander Wade Chance’s head by millimeters.
He lunged at her, lifting her from the waist, the impact of the forward motion dropping them both to the yellow mat under their bare feet. Dana struggled to take in a breath underneath him. Wade didn’t give her long to recover. He straddled her, one leg on either side of her waist, his arms keeping her pinned to the mat. Dana used a scissor kick to buck him off, and it took another quick kick to his chest to force him back and off of her. She scrambled to her feet again, ready for the next advance. Wade wasn’t normally so predictable, charging again from the same direction. At the last moment, Dana dodged to one side while extending her right leg to trip him. He fell facedown onto the mat.
Before she could enjoy the view from above him, he rolled up onto his feet. Face to face again, she had to duck to dodge his left swing. She blocked several open-handed hits with her arms, but he hit like a hammer, even with his palms. Dana stumbled backward, grasping for balance. Wade took the advantage, using his entire body to plow her back onto the floor. In a practiced maneuver, he slid behind her, keeping most of his weight on her hips, wrapped his right arm tight around her neck, and held. She pulled at his arm, but it might as well have been a steel pipe. Trapped, with no way up, she couldn’t take in a full breath. Stars swam in her eyes before her hand slapped twice against his arm in surrender.
He released her in an instant. She gasped for breath for a moment, coughing when the air came in too fast. Then she stumbled to her feet.
Wade circled her, preparing for another charge. “You all right?”
Wade circled her preparing for another charge. Dana wanted to wipe that triumphant smirk off his face.
She cleared her throat before speaking. “I’m fine. Don’t look so disappointed.”
“What can I say, I’m glad you’re out of practice. You almost had me.”
He wiped at the sweat streaming down his face with the bottom of his shirt, revealing the toned stomach underneath.
Dana glanced away from him, letting her eyes settle on the matted wall behind him. She rolled her shoulders as a bead of sweat made a trail down her back. Her arms and legs burned with exertion.
Their morning runs had turned into morning workouts, and earlier that week, Wade had taken his first swing at her. He’d taunted her to the mat until she’d flung herself at him to shut him up. They’d both ended the workout sopping wet and with exhausted smiles on their faces.
This morning they’d run for ten minutes before sparring again. They were both fresh and energized this time, and Dana planned to nail him to the mat. Wade was lean and strong, with lightning-fast reflexes, but he lacked the strategic thought that had kept her out of his grasp for the better part of an hour. The only reason he’d gotten her the last time was because she could feel herself tiring.
“How many fingers am I holding up?” Wade asked, flashing three fingers at her and wiggling them.
She stopped circling and stood still.
“You look like you took a major beating. Besides, I don’t want the captain to pass out in front of the crew. It’s bad for morale.”
Her unwavering charge at his chest, head down, cut off Wade’s laughter. He tried to dodge, but she anticipated the movement. He had all of his weight balanced on his right front foot, and she corrected her course in time to bash him in the side. He groaned before he hit the ground. She used her legs to pin down his arms. He wiggled and squirmed but couldn’t get free. Instead, he managed to get his legs underneath him and lift her off the ground. With his hands released, he forced her back to the mat. The thud as she hit made him hesitate, but she groaned, proving she had some breath left.
He wrapped his arms and legs around her until she couldn’t move, pinning her to the mat.
“Such a cheater, plowing into my ribcage,” he said, still holding her tight.
Dana wasn’t ready to give up, but as she struggled, he only tightened his physical hold on her body like a snake. She placed her hand flat to the floor and slapped it twice, releasing Wade’s hold on her. She didn’t bother getting up, but turned her head to face him when he lay down on the mat beside her.
“Not bad. Better than the first time.”
Dana wiped the back of her hand over her forehead.
“I can’t wait to knock that smug smile off your face.”
Dana wiped the back of her hand over her forehead.
“You and how many more?”
“I don’t want to bring someone else in on this, but if you don’t start letting me win, I might have to.”
“Don’t be a poor loser. I’m sure you’ll be better next time. Maybe stretch a little more.”
She punched him in the shoulder.
“What did you do that for?” he howled.
It was Dana’s turn to smirk. She knew he’d never hit her back, and it hadn’t hurt him as much as he complained.
They both fell into a comfortable silence, not filling it with frivolous conversation as they stretched out their sore muscles. Dana winced when she reached her left arm over her head.
“Sorry about that.” Wade’s expression changed, his eyebrows drawing together in genuine concern and his voice softened. “Sorry about that.”
He was biting his lower lip in the way he did when he felt guilty about something. She hated that face. She’d seen it before, back when they used to date. Maybe that was why she wanted to plant him face-first into the mat.
“Don’t,” she said.
“Don’t do that.” Dana waved a hand in the air around his face. “Don’t act like you’ve broken me.”
Wade’s face tightened, and he looked like he was gritting his teeth.
“I’m fine,” she insisted.
Dana waved a hand in the air again, this time as if encompassing the room and everything in it. Needing to fill the now-awkward silence with conversation, she leaped on the first thing that came to her mind.
“Have I mentioned that every time I watch my mother’s vid message, I cry at the sight of my dog?”
Wade’s eyes came up and met hers for an instant longer than she could take without looking away.
Dana laughed at herself, but the same sadness gripped her chest even now. She swallowed back the emotion, willing herself not to cry.
“When I watch my mother talking about her day, we’re as close as ever. Then…” Dana’s voice hitched as she fought back tears. “She mentions Viktor, and she shows him sitting by the door. I break every time. Seems wrong to be mourning my dog more than my mother.”
“It doesn’t surprise me. She was larger than life. The woman was shameless. Fearless.” He huffed out a laugh. “Remember the officer’s ball? She came with you and stole the entire night, as I recall.”
Dana could picture her mother that night, dressed in one of her new evening gowns, twirling in front of the dignitaries and political figures of the time as if she were their queen. They loved her, and even a few of the husbands got angry jabs from their wives when she passed by them.
“She knew how to light up a room.”
“Yeah. You have it, too, but you wield yours a little different. You command a room where she entertains it.”
Dana had never thought of her and her mother sharing anything other than DNA. She was most often compared to her father. Even after months of mourning, her mother couldn’t seem to bond with Dana the way she could with everyone else.
Wade continued circling back around to her mother.
“You cry for your dog because Viktor lived, ate, and ran with you,” Wade continued. “He was your constant companion, and an innocent. He didn’t understand why you left or how little time he had. Your mother would have lived out her last days to the fullest, you know that. Oh, I’m sorry,” he said when he caught her crying.
He lifted his hand to touch her, but then dropped it as if she were on fire. It only made it worse. Rebellious tears sprang into her eyes and he reached out a hand again, this time to hold her shoulder.
“I think that’s it. Viktor didn’t understand, and somehow that’s worse.” Dana wiped an angry hand over her face, but she didn’t shrug him off. “Enough,” she said, more to herself than to Wade.
Wade cleared his throat. “While we’re on the subject of vids, I need your help with something.”
Dana latched onto the change of subject like a life raft.
“What’s wrong? What happened?”
Wade shook his head.
“It’s what’s not happening.”
Dana waited for him to continue. It sounded personal, and she gave him the time and space to share when he was ready, as he’d done for her. They’d come so far in such a short time. She would never have dreamed just a few weeks ago that they’d be here, talking about their grief like old friends.
“I shouldn’t be bothering you with this, but I’m worried about Maggie.”
Dana kept her eyes from widening and pressed her lips together to hide her surprise. The last thing she wanted to talk about with Wade was Maggie. His boisterous reporter girlfriend was his business. Maggie was a woman used to getting what she wanted, and Dana wasn’t sure she trusted her. She told herself it wasn’t just that she always seemed to have unblemished skin and perfect hair. Or the fact she’d brought more shoes with her onto the Hope than any one woman in space deserved.
She banked the jealousy creeping through her and focused on Wade. He was her friend now, and she would be there for him. She waved him on with both hands.
“I get it. You need a female opinion. Let’s have it.”
“That’s it. You’ll tell me if I’m being an insensitive tool.”
“Most likely, but I’m listening.”
He grinned and gave her an exaggerated eye roll before he continued.
“She hasn’t been the same since we received our messages.”
“Everyone’s been unsettled by those videos. They were essentially carrying voices from the grave,” Dana said, thinking of her own sleepless nights, the nightmares she’d been having.
“True, but at least you’re talking about yours.”
“No. She won’t tell me anything about what’s in her message. Worse, if I come in and catch her watching it, she’ll turn it off. Then she’ll pretend like I didn’t just see her crying over whoever sent the message.”
“That doesn’t seem suspicious. Have you shared your message with her?”
Wade tensed as his face grimaced.
“Not really. We’ve talked about it, though. It’s from my mom. Dad doesn’t say much of anything, but I can’t exactly show her the vid.”
It was Wade’s turn to clam up. His cheeks reddened, and he shook his head, as if deciding about something.
“She… says some things about you that Maggie wouldn’t appreciate.”
Wade stood up, then gave Dana a hand to her feet. It was even harder to bank her curiosity after that statement. She wanted to know more––needed to know more.
Wade must have read her expression because he raised an eyebrow. “Put it this way, if Maggie saw it, she’d be unhappy.”
“Has she met your mother?”
“Yes, several times,” Wade said before looking down at the floor.
Dana cleared her throat.
“I see your point. Well… maybe that’s why she’s been holding back. Because you haven’t shared yours.”
Wade bit his full lower lip while he thought about it.
“No, I don’t think that’s it. We’ve talked about mine at length. She hasn’t asked to see it, and she’s satisfied with my summarizing it. With hers, there’s nothing. She won’t even say if it’s from a family member or a friend.” He ran a hand through his brown curls. She’d seen that tick before when he was anxious. “I wish she’d say something about it like you have. You and I have no problem talking about our messages. What’s on hers that she doesn’t want me to see?”
Dana was pondering the same question. Maggie was hiding something. Something so big she didn’t want her boyfriend to know. Though it fed into her suspicions of the woman, this wasn’t the time to tell Wade that.
“I can’t answer that. But you obviously care for her as much as she cares for you. There’s no reason to push her. Be there for her when she’s ready.”
The words were out of her mouth before she’d thought about them. Dana leaned down, putting her hands to the floor attempting to hide her face as she changed the subject.
“You could invite her to come workout with you in the mornings. Maybe that will get her talking. She’ll be too exhausted to resist.”
“Yeah, right,” he scoffed. “Have you met Maggie? She doesn’t wake up until noon, and she works until midnight. Besides… she doesn’t exactly know I meet up with you every morning.”
His words caught up to her brain a second later, and she took a step back from him.
His mouth opened to answer when a loud boom, followed by the rocking of the room, brought them to their knees. They both scrambled to get back to their feet, running for the comms a moment later. Dana put her hand over the panel and spoke.
“Status? Are we under attack?”
“No, it originated inside the ship.”
Something rocked the ship a second time. A wave of electricity ripped through the panel to her hand, coursing up her arm. She flew backward hard against Wade, who’d been right behind her, and crashed onto the mat several feet away. They peeled themselves off the floor and crawled for the door. Wade reached it first. Dana watched him grip its edges through blurred vision, trying to force the sealed doors apart. He was beating on the door and calling for help when dizziness overtook her.
She shook her head in a feeble attempt to force back the blackness creeping along the edges of her vision but failed.
Dana opened her eyes, trying to make sense of her surroundings, but everything was so dark, she couldn’t make them out.
Panic filled her when she realized she couldn’t see.
She must have screamed, because suddenly heavy hands grabbed at her. She slapped at them. The annoying humming in her ears blocked all sound from getting through, even her own voice.
Then she felt the soothing touch of fingers on the side of her face. The figure leaned closer, and she could barely make out Wade’s features. She wasn’t blind, her eyes were beginning to adjust to the dark. Dana stopped hitting at the hands and relaxed into them.
His mouth opened and closed in wide, exaggerated movements. He wanted to kiss her? That had to be it. He’d turned off the lights and lit the candles. She arched her back and lifted her chin toward him. He was so handsome. She remembered the feel of his kisses as her eyes fluttered closed, awaiting the warmth of his mouth on hers.
Then his strong hands shook her. Her eyes went to his shadowed face again. Something had made his features so severe. Why was he so angry? No… not angry… worried. Something made his features so severe. What had she done to cause that facial expression? Did it have something to do with the dark.
The room was still tilting and spinning as Dana reached out a hand to rest it on the side of his face. She wanted to make the dizziness stop and after a long span of silence the room’s gyrations slowed. Wade smiled down at her, his mouth moving again. What was he saying?
Even with the buzzing gone, it was like listening through water. Dana reached up to rub her ears, finding they were wet. Had they been swimming? She tried to look at her brown hand, but it was invisible in the dark. The skin of her hand hurt as if it had been burned, and she couldn’t see why. The buzzing in her ears was still too loud. Her hand went to her mouth where Wade hadn’t kissed her, then to her face.
“Dana, can you hear me?” Wade’s voice filtered in through the buzzing. He still sounded too far away.
“My ears are ringing,” Dana said as she tried to sit up. “What happened?”
His hand was heavy against her chest, forcing her back down.
“Not yet. You’re hurt. Let me find something to help.”
The haze in her mind was parting, and she was beginning to remember where she was. Dana lay still, her back against the mat of the exercise room floor, assessing her injuries. It was taking her mind longer than it should have to replay the last things she remembered. They’d been sparring a few moments ago… had he knocked her out? No… they’d both been on their feet near the door. They’d been talking about Maggie…
Her face burned as she realized she’d almost reached up and kissed him in her semi-conscious delusion moments ago. She was thankful the dark hid her embarrassment. She’d almost reached up and kissed him in her unconscious delusion.
Wade gave her just enough time to revel in her embarrassment before he returned with a round, palm-sized flashlight. He set the flashlight down, face up between them, as he worked. He held a couple tubes in one hand and blue bandages in the other. He rubbed a medicinal cream from one tube over her hand, then wrapped it before moving along to tend to the wounds she hadn’t yet noticed further up her arm. Only when he’d finished did he ease her into a sitting position.
“How long was I out?”
“A few minutes,” he said, passing her an open water tube. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
She sipped the cool liquid, easing the scratch of her dry throat. “A loud boom.”
“Do you remember me speaking to Cliff over the comms?”
“No, what did he say?”
“That the cause was internal. Then an electrical surge took out the comms with your hand still on it. Blew us both back onto the mat. We shook it off. We were both headed back to the door for help, but when I turned around, you’d passed out.”
“Did anyone hear you?”
“No, and if it took out the communications system and the doors, the damage must be pretty extensive.”
“So we’re stuck here for now.” Dana looked up. The nearest crawling tubes were three men high. The ceiling was even further up. They’d never reach an exit conduit in a room designed for intense climbing and jumping.
“I’ve already assessed the room,” Wade told her. “There’s no way out of here without help, but at least we’re safe. The equipment is stable, and there’s nothing dangerous to us here.”
Dana hadn’t even considered the equipment; how easily a running machine could have fallen on her while she was out cold.
Wade positioned himself beside her, his back against the wall.
“What are you doing?”
“Getting more comfortable,” he said, stretching out his legs and leaning his head against the wall, his eyes closed.
“Why aren’t you figuring another way out of here?”
“Like I said, there’s no way out.”
How could he be so calm? He sat there, seemingly without a worry about how they’d get out. It was infuriating.
Dana leaned forward until she was on all fours before getting her feet under her. Her knees wobbled, but she stood on her own. She looked back to flash Wade a smile filled with pride, but his eyes were still closed tight. Dana poked out a finger toward his face to catch him peeking, but he didn’t flinch. She snatched up the flashlight and took a tour of the room.
It was as Wade had told her. The heavy equipment was undisturbed. The vents were too high. Even if there was double the equipment to pile on top of each other, she still wouldn’t be able to reach them. Dana checked behind panels and shifted a rack of towels to one side to look for more ventilation shafts, but found nothing.
She circled the room until she stood in front of the main doors again, the charred remains of the console reminding her of what had happened. Thankfully it hadn’t been a full console terminal, or she might not have survived the electrical surge. Dana beat the edge of her left fist against the doors and shouted for help. Then she leaned against the door, pressing her ear to it, and listened for anything coming from the other side.
Defeated, Dana returned to where she’d been sitting and slid down to sit next to Wade to wait, placing the flashlight face up again between them.
His smirk was back. “Told you.” His smirk was back.
“I needed to see for myself.”
Dana put her palms against the mat and nodded. “We’re not moving.”
“I think whatever it was took out the engines. We’re not going anywhere.”
“I should go stand by the door in case someone passes by.”
Dana moved to stand, but Wade’s hand snaked out and grabbed her shoulder, avoiding her burned arm. He turned his head and opened one eye.
“Not so fast. You need to relax.”
“I’m the captain of this ship. I believe you take your orders from me, not the other way around.”
The look she gave his hand, still on her shoulder, would have melted any other officer. Wade, however, held her gaze. His hand remained firm, keeping her in place.
“You’re injured, and the dizziness could return,” he reasoned. “It would be great if you didn’t make things worse for me.”
“Yes. As you said, you’re the captain. If you become incapacitated because of your stubbornness, I’ll be in command of the ship, and then I’ll be forced to work.”
The laugh escaped before she could slap her good hand over her mouth. Dana quickly regained her composure and shrugged off his hand. He let go, and she settled in next to him, careful not to touch him. She still gave him a side glare, though, wanting to wipe that know-it-all smirk off his face.
“They’ll come for us,” he said. “Just wait.”
They sat in companionable silence. Dana had lost track of just how long they waited before something knocked against the gymnasium doors. Before Wade managed to pull her to her feet, something else hit the door with a loud metal-on-metal thwack. She and Wade were standing side-by-side when a male ARI with short blond hair forced the doors apart.
From behind it, Maggie came rushing in, the flashlight in her hand shining blindingly into their eyes.
“Hey, do you mind?” Dana asked, throwing up a hand.
The light in Maggie’s hand lowered, and Dana could make out their features again. The ARI remained at the door, but the corridor behind it was still black. It seemed the power was off throughout the ship. She was about to ask about it when Maggie stopped in her tracks, looking Wade up and down. Then her eyes went to Dana’s burned arm.
Maggie lifted her left hand to her hip and shook her head. “Well. Looks like you figured out how to get him out of his clothes again, Captain.”
Dana’s mouth fell open, but before she could respond, Wade was moving forward and wrapping his arms around Maggie.
“Come on, Mags, it’s nothing. I sacrificed my shirt to save my Captain’s injured arm.”
To her horror, Dana looked over and realized that the blue strips wrapped around her hand and arm had come from the shirt he’d been wearing during his workout. He’d been sitting there bare-chested the entire time, and she hadn’t even noticed in the dark.
Maggie’s pink lower lip protruded in a pout. She glanced around the room, as if expecting to see someone else. No doubt she was wondering what they were doing in the gym alone together.
Wade shrugged it off.
“You know me. I’m quick to provide help to a damsel in distress.” He gave her a playful pinch at her waist and a peck on the cheek. He guided Maggie toward the door, then turned to smirk at Dana behind her back.
Dana set her teeth and balled her left hand into a fist.
To make matters worse, Wade paused leaning toward the ARI to speak,
“The captain needs medical attention. Make sure she gets to the med-bay.”
Dana wanted to scream at him, but she had a pounding headache, and burns that needed attention. Besides, it wouldn’t do her any good to be seen wearing strips of her first officer’s shirt.
“See what’s going on in the engine room, Commander, then report to the bridge,” Dana said to his back.
Maggie giggled at something he said in her ear as he leaned on her for support. They didn’t appear to be a couple having problems, like Wade had hinted at. Maggie had come straight away to help him, knowing where he was even if she didn’t know with whom. Wade might have been exaggerating.
“I am perfectly capable of carrying you to the medical bay, Captain.” The ARI held out its arms. Both were covered by sleeves, but the left hand lacked the realistic skin of the right, exposing the internal wiring and metal.
Dana gave his arms a measured look before she turned her attention to its face. The ARI was almost twice her size, but she still managed to look down her nose at him.
“Try it, and I’ll have you disassembled and used for scrap.”
***To Be Continued***
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