Excerpt - Ringship Prosper
This is the blurb for Ringship Prosper, book 5 of the Thrive Space Colony Adventures series.
The heroes left behind.
Sass Collier and the Thrive vanished a decade ago to visit another star. Most of her crew stayed behind on their home moon.
Ben Acosta, captain of the ringship Prosper, still joyfully plies the spaceways. Until his ex decides to head into space with an audacious plan.
The Thrive crew reunites to test a faster-than-light breakthrough that could change everything.
Experimental conditions may be adverse. Mileage may vary.
Can Ben keep his decrepit ship flying, help his ex prove ground-breaking new physics, save innocents, steal priceless technology, and pay the kids’ tuition?
The Thrive Space Colony Adventures resume with book 5!
The most brilliant physicist alive opened his apartment door to a surprise knock. Two overly tall, overly muscled guys in business suits shoved their way in, pushing him backward. One quietly pulled the door closed.
“Teke of Denali? The physicist?” the other inquired.
Eyes alight and sense of humor engaged, Teke combed a coy hand over his shapely and shiny bald pate. Aside from long black eyelashes, Denali were completely hairless. There were exactly four such men in near-Mahina space. He was the one who lived at this address. “How stupid are you?” he inquired.
Zan — a Denali of the hunter caste — snorted amusement from the living room. Young Teke had sounded a little down when he called. Something about his company being in financial trouble, a concept Zan didn’t fully grasp. But he came around for drinks to cheer him up.
Teke noted the gun bulges in the new visitors’ jackets and waistbands, and suggested, “Zan, I think they’re more your type.”
Zan’s answering grin was euphoric. “Really? How fun!”
The rear guest shuffled nervously. His eyes flicked briefly to the forward one. Teke didn’t bother to point this out to his compatriot. Zan’s bald head already hung around the corner to survey his new prey. The way he bared his teeth increased the back one’s nervous quotient.
“The new owners of Thrive Spaceways sent us,” Goon 1 declared. “Ring Ventures. Your new bosses.”
Teke tilted his head. The answer to his question appeared to be very stupid. “There was something about a shareholder meeting tomorrow. Nothing to do with me.”
“You are the most valuable mind at Spaceways,” the goon claimed, drawing himself to his full height, 210 cm, in an attempt to be more intimidating. Denali tended toward short and stocky, being native to 1.1 g gravity compared to Mahina’s paltry 1/6th g. They were also strong as an ox compared to a typical stretch-skeleton Mahinan. “You’ll come with us. We’re to make sure you transfer to the company along with title.”
Teke chuckled. “Slavery! I think you misconstrue the nature of my employment.”
“But do continue,” Zan urged. “We’d love to hear more.”
“You are recording, yes?” Teke inquired.
“Oh, yes!” Zan assured him, patting his pocket comm.
“Give me that!” Goon 1 reached for the comm, in close proximity to Zan’s crotch.
Zan reached out with a quick single chop, and fractured the four long bones in the man’s hand. “So he entered the home, made vague threats, tried to molest me…” He raised his voice somewhat over the visitor’s screams. Many nerves complained when those bones shattered.
Teke leaned his shoulders against the wall in a coquettish pose, one bare foot flat against the painted drywall and his hips curved outward. “Oh, we can evolve excuses later. So tell me more about why I should let you take me. Where?”
“They said one physicist!” Goon 2 protested.
“Yes,” Teke assured him, raising an index finger. “One.” From his sexy lounge, he pushed off, missed Goon 1’s head by a hair, and smashed the bridge of Goon 2’s nose with the ball of his foot. On the backswing, he kicked Goon 1 in the ass, causing him to lurch forward from his crouch over the ruined hand. “Oh, my. The carpet. Please stop bleeding on it.”
“Honking lunatics!” Goon 2 shouted. He fumbled to open the door.
Faster than the goon thought humanly possible, Zan leapt over his companion, grabbed Goon 2 by the suit jacket, and planted his bleeding face somewhat into the wall. Then suddenly his gun was out of his waistband and cracked on the back of his skull. And that was all Goon 2 knew.
“Easily distracted, are you?” Teke crooned to Goon 1, trapped between himself and his warrior friend. “I’ll ask again. Who sent you? And where did you plan to take me?”
The man licked his lips. His eyes darted for escape, but found none. Zan clarified his position by resting the gun on his temple.
“Fine! I’ll tell you everything!”
And he did. And when he finished, Teke mused, “What a peculiar recruiting technique.”
Zan opined, “I think this is what they call ‘strong-arm tactics.’ But their arms snap like kindling. They hoped to bully you into cooperation.”
Teke’s expression crumpled in aesthetic anguish. “That’s so dumb.”
“They don’t breed for IQ here.” Zan toed their captive’s shin idly. “Police? And before or after he’s dead?”
The guy lurched for the door. Zan dropped him with a single chop to his neck, then paused to check his pulse. “Still alive. Barely.”
“Oh, well. Sorry about this.”
“No, I’m glad I came. Mahina is so dull.”
“Me, too,” Teke agreed. “You’re the one with diplomatic immunity.” The pair traded a wry smile.
Zan came here on the Thrive to represent the hunter caste of their world. Then-teenager Teke was merely a stowaway. He had to behave and earn a living, even pay to attend college. Or rather, his mentor Copeland paid for him to get what he could out of Mahina University, that not being much. Even the urbs here were barely gene crafted. The school focused on medicine and terraforming. In physics, Teke outstripped its faculty long before he came to this dusty moon. Settlers like these goons, brains addled by toxic air, poor nutrition and worse education, seemed barely human.
“I should call the boss before the police,” Teke mused. Though he hated to cause him more stress at a trying time.
Copeland, president of Thrive Spaceways, was glad he did. Sort of.
Ben Acosta hit the Saggytown bazaar with a single ambition — to snag himself an Aloha three-world ramen. He’d nursed a craving for weeks for the quirky dish. Busy traveling the rings of the gas giant Pono, the spaceship captain couldn’t satisfy the call.
Now, the Dusk sunlight slanted lemony through a haze of dust. The refugees of Saggytown didn’t go for refinements like sidewalks and gravel. They didn’t even level the regolith, Mahina’s native rocks and moondust. He smirked at a couple houses angled from the street to bypass a jagged chunk of asteroid. Then he turned the corner from the radial avenue into the bazaar proper.
A brilliantly colored patchwork of canvas awnings spread before his adoring eyes. Sellers hawked their wares from tables, carpets on the ground, or stacks of shipping crates. The aroma of weird food wafted in the air, dominated by the omnipresent Schuyler city deep fryers. The locals loved to boil things in oil. Immigrant Saggies mingled freely with native Mahinans from all walks of life. He grinned as he spotted a few teens in the latest fashion trend, decked out as Denali hunters in splotchy-patterned skin-suits and loincloths. They loitered by the ramen stand — perfect!
He strode to lean on the ramen counter, and placed his order to the wizened Sagamore grandmother below. Her English was unintelligible, so Ben switched to her native French-based creole to make his wishes clear. He delighted when she gaped, then shot him hex signs with her crabbed hands. The tiny paddies hated it when outsiders understood them, maybe because they spent their entire lives muttering superstitious gloom and doom.
His order placed, he turned to the gaudy kids with a grin. “Trying to look Denali, are you? You need a bald cap. Or shave your head. And with those hunter colors, you should paint your eye sockets black, and around the mouth and ears.”
“What do you know about it?” one boy retorted.
“Been there,” Ben replied. “I know Zan, the only real Denali hunter on Mahina.”
He approved whole-heartedly in principle of including Denali here in the open-air bazaar. But in fact there were only a handful available so far from their own planet. He’d served as third officer on the ship that brought them here, the Thrive. The Denali didn’t wear bakkra on Mahina, though. Back home, their skin paint came from microbe colonies cultivated on their skin, not clothing. The kids’ loincloth markings looked like fairly authentic fakes, though.
The captain pointed to one. “That skin comes from an otter. Vicious creatures. They all are, on Denali.”
The kid scrunched his face. “You look familiar.”
Ben grinned. “Might have been on the news a time or two.”
The boy’s companion elbowed him. “That’s Ben Acosta, fool, captain of the Prosper. Thrive Spaceways, right, sir?”
The waist-high paddy grandma reached up on tip-toes and sloshed Ben’s ramen onto the counter on delivery. She followed through with rude imprecations, more signs to ward off evil, and, “Ramen, ten credit!”
“Ramen, four credit,” the officer countered. “Plus a one credit tip for the kind and beautiful lady.” He placed a hand over his heart, as though pledging devotion.
“Who, her?” the boy countered, wrinkling his nose.
The little paddy woman peered up at Ben, gap-toothed mouth gaping in astonishment amid her wrinkles. Abruptly, she snapped her jaw shut and clacked her fingers for his credit card.
“I’m not giving you my card, gorgeous.” The captain reached over the counter to collect the chunky payment device for himself to key in the transaction. The thing was too heavy for her to heft onto the counter herself. He loved how everything was makeshift and ramshackle in Saggytown. Once payment cleared, he held the display for her to see.
“Big tip for lovely lady. Merci beaucoup.” That was upper-class Saggy for ‘many thanks.’ So far as he knew, the rice-farm tunneling paddies didn’t say ‘thank you,’ a sentiment at odds with their doleful worldview. He returned the machine where he found it.
Finally, he dug into his ramen with gusto. Aside from incorporating yam noodles, the three-world dish tasted nothing like Denali’s tropical fiery cuisine. That was fine by him. The fried Schuyler meatballs of mystery meat — probably printed soy — were perfection, swimming in a slightly sweetened soy-and-onion base. The pink pinwheel disks of Sagamore fish paste didn’t taste like much, but added a fun rubbery texture. The fresh Mahina eggs and cabbage were a welcome reprieve from space provisions. “Maman, you’re a wonderful cook!”
The paddy clucked her tongue and shook her head at him. She sank below onto a short stool to brood with her inner demons.
“What’s your name, kid?” Ben asked the Denali-costumed companion who knew him by sight.
“Denzel. Your ship here now, the Prosper?”
Ben grinned. “Just in today. Offloaded in Mahina Actual this morning. And now I’m home. I love this ramen.”
“You can’t eat ramen in a starship?”
“Spaceship,” Ben corrected on automatic. “No warp lens. No stars.”
The boy nodded confidently. “I knew that. Sass Collier took the Thrive into space with the only warp lens, ten years ago. Won’t be back for another decade, if ever. The starship Thrive, not the Thrive Company.”
“That’s right. You follow space! Say, you go to Schuyler High? My son Nico’s there.”
Denzel wrinkled his nose in disapproval again. “You’re that old?”
“He’s my ex-husband’s kid. Nico Copeland.” Ben’s top-of-the-line nanites kept him looking 25 rather than his 34 years true age. But he wasn’t quite old enough to have a 15-year-old kid, unless an older woman picked him to breed with. The creche specified that guys should be 21 before conception, with a proven work track record. They granted exceptions for religious minorities. But Ben certainly hadn’t looked to breed as a teenager.
Denzel’s eyes boggled. “Copeland’s a frill?”
Ben mock-backhanded him. “I dare you to call Cope a ‘frill’ to his face. Just try it sometime.”
Denzel snickered. “Nah, old man Cope is docks and locks, righteous. Even if he is a frill.”
“Well, thank you. I think.” Ben chuckled. Unlike his ex, he wasn’t from gritty Schuyler. The blue-collar dialect often sailed right past him. “So you know Nico?”
“Sure. We ain’t in high school, though. Docks and a job for me.” The city of Schuyler was Mahina’s goods distribution hub. The dry loading docks remained its core defining industry, even while the city diversified and grew like a mushroom.
Ben curled one corner of his lip in a half-smile. “Won’t make space that way.”
Denzel shrugged. “Won’t make rent without it. Say hi to Nico for me.”
“Will do.” Ben watched the kids lope away, on some rebellious gravity setting intermediate between Earth-normal and Mahina-native. The new nanites kept their skeletons from growing attenuated by that bad habit, provided they could afford the treatment. For himself, Ben kept strong and compact the hard way, living strictly at artificial 1-g from babyhood, 1.2g for workouts. He found it fascinating, the way a new generation adapted to the health tech Thrive worked so hard to make available for them.
His comm buzzed him. “Hey, Cope, I’m home!”
“Yeah, you got in hours ago. Where are you?” his ex demanded.
Ben raised an eyebrow. Not quite the cheerful welcome he expected. In truth, he was stealing a couple more hours of freedom before being enveloped by his family reunion. He felt a tad guilty about that. But he intended to celebrate sunset with Cope in a couple hours, and commence the monumental task of catching up with their kids. “Saggytown. Figured you’d be at work —”
“Well, I’m not. Get home now. It’s eviction day.”
“Now,” Cope growled, and clicked off.
Ben abandoned his ramen and headed home, jogging through the shopping crowd.