Excerpt - Thrive Earth Return

Thrive Earth Return, Thrive Colony Corps Space Adventures Book 1.

Earth is dead. Long live Earth.

Captain Sass Collier can’t die. A century ago, the Colony Corps carried her to the stars in the exodus called the Diaspora. Because Earth was doomed.

Still she longs to see home again. She hopes the terraforming tricks and miracle cures of the colonies can heal the one best planet for humanity. She expects to find isolated pockets of survivors, desperate for help.

She arrives with her motley crew from the boonies to face not one, but three surviving worlds — Earth, Luna, and Mars.

And Sass’s homecoming starts off with a bang.

The Northern League tyrannizes Earth now. They catch Sass and her ship to hold hostage against each other.

Can Sass save her crew from their most powerful foe yet — the mother world?

Join Thrive’s family of misfits for hard SF with rivets and fresh page-turning space opera adventure!

Suggested for fans of Firefly,Lindsay Buroker's Star Kingdom, or Dennis Taylor’s Bobiverse.

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The Colony Corps carried refugees
from a failing Earth
to spread among the stars.

Stranded on marginal worlds
with too few people,
the colonists struggled to survive.
Their numbers plummeted.
They lost contact with Earth,
presumed dead.

Now a century later,
a resurrected Colony Corps
revisits the mother planet.


Chapter 1

November 1, 2218

Earth suddenly appeared before Captain Sassafras Collier’s eyes, deep blue with the waters of life, swathed in a gauze of pure clouds. A sunspot dazzled from the South Atlantic. Her mouth opened as though she could taste home again, after 95 years away — 80 subjective.

Today mother world and forgotten colonies would meet again. She sat in awe at the magnitude of what they were about to do. What happened here since she flew away?

Her partner Clay Rocha, beside her in the two-seater bridge, seized her hand and squeezed. She shot him a huge grin and squeezed back. Clay was the last one left who’d been with her on that awful day they launched from Earth.

Because neither of them could die. Or rather, they hadn’t figured out how yet, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. Their bootleg experimental nanites were amazingly capable. Even hacking their bodies to pieces, repeatedly, once failed to kill them. Sass trusted the experience would not be repeated. That hurt.

The glowing fractal flower of the BECT warp gateway continued to burp out three more ships behind her own Thrive One. Sass paid them little heed, in her hunger to feast her eyes on her homeworld. The ocean loomed unnervingly close from a mere 4,000 kilometers, filling her screen.

They’d inserted on a track similar to the old International Space Station, heading northwest between the eastern point of Brazil and West Africa to the northeast. Farther away than that, atmospheric haze obscured the lay of the land. In 20 minutes their path would curve into the Maritimes from the east.

And Sass and Clay would see home again, the land of their birth. She was in her early thirties when they left, Clay five years older. They looked younger than that now.

Sass and her science lead, Eli Rasmussen, had compromised on this insertion point. Sass wanted to start at her old home, Upstate. The name harked back to northern New York State before the United States collapsed, decades before she was born. But to gauge the health of the planet, Eli wanted to see the Sahara and Amazon more than a temperate forest. Assuming Upstate was still forested.

Besides, it rained in Upstate for five solid years before she left the planet. Nothing to see but cloud cover. Eli won that round.

Only a few minutes longer, she exulted. They sped northwest at a good clip. Their orbit would take about 140 minutes per circuit of the planet, ten full passes per day, each offset like a ball of twine to visit all but the polar regions. Their altitude offered a viewing aperture 3,000 km across before the atmosphere blotted any useful detail. On the first few passes, she would see Upstate, and Eli could study his precious Amazon from edge to edge.

This first glimpse of the Amazon showed mottled tan instead of green. Africa shone a solid bright beige, not a cloud in its sky. On Eli’s biome map, the southern half was once green, too. Not anymore. Whiskers of dust reached aloft from the engorged desert, and disappeared north into the familiar whorl of a hurricane aborning.

Beside her, Clay leaned chin into hand, as rapt as she was.

The Diaspora, their exodus from Earth, stole them away to desperate colonies on distant airless moons, or direly unsuitable planets. Because the homeworld was doomed. It could not heal, only grow worse. The air was barely breathable, biomes collapsing, weather disasters mounting in a downward spiral. Survivors warred for control of the remaining scraps of arable land and potable water, while overpopulation destroyed what little farmland was left.

How many survived? And how could Sass help them? She leaned ever closer into her screen, longing for evidence of life in the open ocean.

And she recoiled as suddenly Ben Acosta appeared on her screen. A handsome guy, with regular features and a Mediterranean complexion, hair the color of an old penny, these days he styled himself Commandant of the Colony Corps, or C3. Admiral would be too pompous a title for a handful of modest ships and under a hundred spacefaring crew.

Sass couldn’t help frowning at him for inserting himself into her glorious vision of Earth.

“I’ve got a few minutes,” Ben said hesitantly. His three ships would continue on to Mars, a less challenging target for this historic reunion for humanity. “You could still change your mind. Come with us. Before you commit.”

Ah, the last-chance pitch. She smiled kindly at her onetime protege and shook her head. “I’m home, Ben. Thank you. For everything.”

“But it isn’t home, Sass,” Ben countered. “Mahina is your home now. Earth is a dangerous unknown. Never mind, we won’t rehash that now.”

She wanted to humor him. Mahina was a dead moon when she arrived all those years ago. Of the quarter million souls she arrived with, Mahina had killed everyone by now except Clay. Their descendants carried on, like Ben.

“I care about Mahina forever. You know that. But I left years ago. We’ll be OK.” This wasn’t her first rodeo. She’d reopened other worlds.

He searched her eyes. “Call me before going in. And look long and hard before you commit. Promise me.”

“Yes, Dad.”

Ben was 80 years her junior. He appeared 25 instead of his actual 40-some years, as did they all. His career had leap-frogged hers when a single bad-old-warp jump cost her a decade of space experience relative to him. But he’d always be a baby to her.

He chuckled. “I’ll call you tomorrow with what we’ve learned on Mars. And I want a full report.”

“Yes, Commandant.”

“Because I love you and I care, Sass. You’re important to the colony worlds. Earth? They forgot you long ago. Stay loyal to Mahina. Please.”

She nodded gently. If everyone she once knew on Mahina was dead, this was even more true of Earth. “I won’t betray you. And this isn’t good-bye. So get off my screen and go look at your own planet. Mars is red. The blue one is mine.”

He smirked appreciation. “Right, then. Tomorrow!”

“Tomorrow. I hope you’ll point a comms beacon at them by then.”

“Yes, I will. Because I don’t want you to talk to Earth before I talk to Mars.”

But he had no authority over her, a fact that rankled him in Sass’s opinion. Thrive didn’t answer to his shiny new Colony Corps reboot. The old asteroid hopper belonged to her and Clay outright. She’d cottoned to Ben’s paranoia enough, stripping her poor ship of any technology that Earth could use to backtrack to find Mahina, the Aloha system and beyond.

“No promises. Love you. Bye.”

He nodded once, and cut the channel.

And Earth returned to her screen in cotton-candy glory.

“Don’t be mean,” Clay murmured beside her. “We need his backup. For the crew, if not for us.” Cute as Ben was, the C3 couldn’t hold a candle to her partner. With a warm Latino complexion, tall and dark-haired, Clay looked like a male model. Both were the sort that plain blond Sass instinctively avoided. Vain.

Sass grimaced at him. But the guys were right. She owed it to the crew to get them out alive. A 24-hour delay to study the planet amounted to due diligence. She rubbed fingers that itched to key in a landing sequence. She opened a window in the view of the mid-Atlantic to watch Ben’s ship vanish into the fractal glory of their new warp gateway, hard to see against the puffy white clouds.

What a different century this could have been if the Diaspora used that gateway, instead of the one-way trip to the colony worlds of the bad old warp. The gaudy display winked out before her.

Ben controlled the gateway, not her. He refused to risk Earth getting hold of one. They’d only re-established contact with half the colony worlds yet, but combined they expected all the colonies to amount to less than a million souls. He had only the one means to protect them from a potentially hostile mother planet — close the door.

The fractal’s disappearance sobered her. The doorway was now closed on her, too, unless and until Ben reopened it.

Though its disappearance did her science team a favor. The gateway spewed noise across the electromagnetic spectrum, which surely scrambled their sensor readings.

A threat light flashed on her dashboard. The Electrostatic Discharge system, the ESD shields, took a hit.

“Probably just a dead satellite,” she murmured to Clay. “Computer, display impact.”

Then she winced. She didn’t have a ship AI anymore — artificial intelligence — another compromise to placate Ben’s paranoia. All of her computer systems were lamed. Instead she keyed up the schematic manually, as they took another hit.

That was no space debris. That was an attack laser! “Dammit!” She took the controls to evade manually. “Clay, figure out what’s shooting at us!”

“Shooting…?” Clay broke from his reverie and froze, perusing his control panel. He had no idea how to do that manually. Normally he’d ask the AI to do it.

“Evasive maneuvers. Dodge! Do not fire!”

Clay took the helm and jerked the ship upward, away from the planet. “We don’t shoot back?”

Sass anxiously reviewed visuals and cross-checked them with ESD energy impacts. “First choice, duck. Then talk. Shooting is our last resort.”

“Didn’t you just promise Ben not to talk for 24 hours?”

“Screw Ben. We need to say we come in peace. Open that conversation with our guns, and we’re done.”

Clay countered, “Self-defense.”

“Not now, Clay!” She switched channel to hail her engineering chief. “Darren, you’re seeing the lasers hit our ESD?”

“Lasers? I figured that was debris.”

“Clay! Too high! Keep our altitude within plus or minus five hundred klicks, or we’ll hit something. Darren, I need ideas!”

“Why didn’t it shoot at us before, I wonder?” Darren mused. “Found it.”

He tossed coordinates to her. She rapidly fed the numbers into her threat display, replacing her longed-for home planet with a scatter diagram of near objects. The damned laser platform lay beneath them. “It’s shooting up?!” Why would they point an armed satellite upward? “Clay, try diving below, 3900 klicks altitude. And keep veering east-west, speed up, slow down, you know. Be unpredictable.”

“Sass, you should take the helm.” Clay was a good pilot, even a daredevil in atmo. But his brain balked at orbital mechanics. “How much can the shields take?”

Darren fielded that question. “About two minutes, but our orbits should diverge right about…now.”

Sass sat frozen, eyes on her threat display. But as the seconds ticked past, Darren’s prediction appeared correct. The satellite wasn’t firing at them anymore. Gradually her hunched shoulders dropped. She breathed deep and unkinked her neck in relief.

But Darren was still thinking. “Maybe the gateway confused it.”

“Diverging orbits worked,” Sass pointed out.

“Yes, but if it’s a defensive screen…”

Sass hung her chin. “Then there’s a global array of the damned things. But why?”

“Defense,” Darren replied simply. “Implies they have something to defend against. I’ll work on it.”

“Thank you, Darren.” Sass sat back in her seat, but kept her orbital scatter-gram on her screen instead of the tantalizing Earth panorama. She’d assumed all the crap in orbit was defunct. But that laser pumped an awful lot of power into her shields. Not exactly evidence of life, but —

“Sass, Eli,” the botanist hailed her. “We’re picking up signals!”

“Saying what? Send it to me.”

“Ah, no. A lot of signals. Satellite comms, bouncing all over the planet. Tens, hundreds of thousands. They’re not hailing us.”

“Oh. Can we listen in?”

“I did that.” A hesitant note entered Eli’s voice. “Here. Coupled video signals, two people chatting.”

The videos opened on her screen. Sass leaned forward for her first glimpse of folk from home.


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