Thrive Aden Ruin, Book 6, Thrive Colony Corps Space Adventures
Dark-humored Frazzie, and stolid engineer Tiktok, win ranking cadet berths on Sass Collier’s exciting mission to investigate the dead colony world of Aden. Eerie ruins nestle among Aden’s dark rugged canyons, and a quarter million settlers are gone. What destroyed Aden colony?
Meanwhile Frazzie’s dad, the disenchanted admiral Ben Acosta, migrates Rayas Colony. His cadets can transport the people. But the Rayans also need their precious space station. That engineering feat requires Ben.
Do they have the League’s blessing? No.
Do they care? Also no.
Sass and Ben foresee no major hurdles. They’ve succeeded at similar missions before. Then the Colony Corps abruptly loses them both.
When Frazzie and Tiktok face what killed planet Aden, can they survive their coming of age?
Frazzie Acosta-Copeland blew out through pursed lips as she took position in the starting lineup, piloting a shuttle. In this spacer’s steeplechase, the leading contestants flew shuttles, racing against pilots in bigger couriers and PO-3 starships.
The handicap was an honor, of sorts.
She checked her trim, double-checked her position and attitude. “Ping it,” she directed her copilot, Matthieu. An Academy classmate from her own hometown, his parents were Sagamore immigrants.
“Ping what?” he inquired.
“Inform Thrive Two we’re ready,” she clarified. “Identify as Merchant shuttle, Acosta and…?”
“And?” Matthieu prodded.
“Your surname. Family name?”
Her copilot grimaced irritation and punched the button. “Thrive Two, Merchant shuttle. Acosta-SK and Tremblant ready. Shuttle out.”
‘SK’ stood for Sassafras Kassidy, to distinguish Frazzie from her brother Acosta-Texan, the hands-down favorite to win this race. Socially they still used Acosta-Copeland as their surnames. But that was too cumbersome for fleet use. Her brothers Nico and Sock claimed Copeland as their father, because they weren’t Ben Acosta’s biological sons. In fairness, she and Texan took Acosta, to yield three Acostas in the fleet, including Acosta-B, the boss man.
“Matthieu Tremblant,” Frazzie repeated, trying to impress it on her memory. “Sorry I blanked on your name.” She knew him well, of course. Everyone in this test had worked together for two years, the inaugural Space Academy class. But they’d also played together as children. Matthieu’s dad was Captain Martin, flying for Sagamore on Poisson. Martin preferred not to use a surname.
“Pas de problème,” Matthieu muttered, and she knew she had a problem.
She shot him a smile. Frazzie’s smile wasn’t up to Sass’s candle-power – yet – but she was working on it. She bounced up and down in her seat, and wiggled her balled-up fists an inch. “Beat Texan, beat Texan! We’re gonna do it this time, right?”
Matthieu threw up his hands in surrender. “What, you leave me something to do?” Then he grinned to show he didn’t mean it. The copilot handled guns and comms. Matthieu wouldn’t let her down.
“All ships, prepare for steeplechase!” Sass’s voice came over their comms. “In ten, nine, eight.”
Matthieu flicked the countdown the moment she said ‘ten.’ In Aloha system custom, no one completed a countdown. The pilot had her readout, and that was pressure enough. Generally the gunner had rocks to worry about. Though the contestants started in clear space today, dominated by the tiger-striped gas giant. The moment the timer hit zero, Fraz hit the accelerator, gunning just north of her position in the starting clump to space herself from the others before she hit the Rings of Pono.
Lasers stabbed out from the mother gunships ahead. These weren’t cutting lasers, merely light tracers. But they formed the first gauntlet of the event. Frazzie’s forethought placed her closest to Poisson, the Sagamore flagship. Which meant the light beams swung fastest from that one, but three other gunships swept their targeting lasers around at the same time. No, not around – in arcs, back and forth.
Fraz couldn’t think this through, but she could feel the rhythm. She eased up on the accelerator for a moment, watched a tightly collimated Poisson beam pass her, then gunned it, jogging left to miss the laser from Daddy’s ship, Merchant Thrive, just in time. She immediately jogged right again, narrowly avoiding a beam from Friendship, Uncle Abel in command.
Or monitoring, at least – students held the bridge during this exam.
She swore she missed the lasers as narrowly as possible, yet Texan already zoomed ahead. Stop thinking about Texan! She needed to focus on her own task. The sparkly diamond threads of the Rings began to dissociate into a cloud of debris ahead as she drew near. Harmless lasers weren’t the obstacle anymore. Now it was asteroids.
“Two couriers out,” Matthieu provided. “Sweet.”
“Mind on the prize,” she murmured. Almost immediately, she swept the tablet before her with two fingers. This served as targeting control, flicking two rocks to Matthieu to handle. She handled the rest by dodging a path through – high, low, left-up hard on the diagonal. She had her eye on a particular iceberg to capture. But the flocks of rocks said this target was not to be.
Sighing, she fell off to the right, and cast around for a less busy strand of the Rings nearby. She needed to capture an iceberg small enough that she could still maneuver, not get clobbered by the ever-shifting chorus line of dancing dust motes, to rocks to moonlets, that formed Pono’s magnificent tutu. There. The berg was a little larger than she liked. Beside her, Matthieu’s firing fingers remained glued to their buttons. His thumbs rolled the trackballs for targeting. His ring fingers poked to lock on targets for auto-tracking. While she ducked, dove, and swooned around obstacles to approach her prize.
“Gotcha!” she crooned. “Come to Frazzie, sucker.” She extended her grav grapples to latch on –
And suddenly Matthieu’s shoulder hit her in the face as he reached into her side of the control panel. The shuttle spun on its axis. Just as quickly, he sank back into his own seat, firing like mad.
Fraz slowed the shuttle’s rotation to gift the Sag time to atomize more threats. She’d abandon her iceball if she had to – and she had to. A boulder the size of a house was headed their way. She slipped out of the juggernaut’s path, hoping to simply turn back and grab her ice.
And the damned thing collided with her iceberg! She spun and took off to hard-up right.
Matthieu complained, “Grab a snowball! We don't need such a big iceberg!”
True. She’d been showing off, trying to catch a berg too big for her, one big enough to fill a ville’s reservoir for planting season. But that wasn’t the criterion. Big enough to fill a PO-3’s water tank was the assignment. And she’d lost time, dammit.
Strewing a wake of laser-blasted asteroids, she dodged and ducked until the shuttle nearly paced a lineup of rocks and ice. Dad-Ben claimed the Rings were a quarter water ice, the prize feature of Pono. Though no one ever really did a census. The vast collection of proto-planetary objects was inherently uncountable, impossible to map. They shattered each other and veered off, for gravity to coalesce them into new forms. Moons like Mahina and Sagamore endured, but water icebergs continually married and divorced frozen methane and chunks of iron.
“Gotcha,” she crooned again, nabbing a small berg headed her way. This one was no bigger than her bedroom, and high in methane. “Burn off the poison, when you get a chance?” she requested of her gunner.
“Let go,” Matthieu requested. The top- and front-mounted guns wouldn’t track to where the grav grapples clutched the berg like a teddy bear to the shuttle's tummy.
She released the grapples and backed off a little. He fired, using the false-color sensor impression of what was desirable water, what debris. But the laser caught an unsuspected iron core and heated the object. Both water and methane subsumed off the hot metal chunk. And she came up empty again.
“Sorry,” her gunner lamented.
“Not your fault,” she assured him. “Caught a crappy berg.”
Matthieu said, “The mixed gases, they are not worth it. Find pure water. Ah!” He targeted an object and swept it to her side of the problem board. “Ice!”
“Good eye!” she exulted. She accelerated to pace it, dodging obstacles along the way. His target was even more excessive in size than her first. But she could manage it. Better yet, she could approach it belly-on and catch it with a swoop. The never-ending rain of rocks in the neighborhood was going her way.
She caught and held it, and at last added vector toward Mahina Orbital. Within the maelstrom of the Rings, the orbital held interdiction. Meaning that automated guns kept its near-space clear for safe harbor. All the Ring space platforms did that.
Too massy, the shuttle engines groaned to max capacity. Fraz kept a weather eye on her power consumption. She veered and rolled as though waddling like a duck, Matthieu wildly trying to shoot rocks she could no longer zip around. For a flock of fist-sized pebbles, she rolled and let them pepper her ice-belly. This was OK. Every berg included some gravel, and none added methane.
After a couple more very close calls, she shrieked in triumph as they crossed into MO interdiction. “Made it!” Matthieu shot his arms into the air, splayed his fingers and waved them. Then both rotated their heads, stretching ear to one shoulder, then the other, to bleed off the tension that turned neck and shoulders to belted steel, and breathed deep.
That accomplished, Fraz grasped her gunner in a hug. “We might not win. But damn, you’re good!”
“I cannot fly with a better pilot,” Matthieu assured her. “But do we lose? I think not!”