The following is a free chapter from the first book in my Starships at War military science fiction series Strike Battleship Argent, available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore!
The newest crop of hotshot officers readily agreed there was something almost magical about the way modern warships were constructed. Jason Hunter had fallen deeply in love with the third-generation ships of the line the first time he had seen the design, and the Argent was most assuredly the “prettiest girl at the prom” when it came to the Captain’s Corps and their bragging rights.
Hunter was a self-admitted romantic. He often opined there was no more glorious creature in all creation than a “maiden resplendent in all her finery.” This was usually interpreted by colleagues and rivals alike as a fanciful metaphor for the unblemished Citadel-class hull Seven-Four-Zero.
Command One approached the enormous weapons platform from her port quarter. He tapped the transponder indicator with a gloved finger in the academy-approved manner to make absolutely sure his shuttle was transmitting multi-frequency encrypted “friendly” signals on all of Argent’s pickups. He knew what his baby was capable of if she detected an unauthorized scanner contact inside her command zone, and he knew well the only thing worse than being vaporized by your own ship’s point defense was knowing that your ship had opened fire on eighteen cases of 30-year-old scotch.
Green and white running lights glimmered. A ship of the line was a vessel engineer’s expression of sheer power. The shape was meant to convey an intimidating potential for destruction. Her formidable engines, mighty main batteries and lithe energy weapon emplacements were breathtaking even for someone not acquainted with the design genius. The soaring main hull gave the enormous vessel a majestic profile. Her sweeping triple flight decks were as innovative as they were formidable. Hunter’s ship could launch and recover squadron after lethal squadron of smaller ships ranging from deep space fighters to surface mechs.
Argent was brand-new. There were some inboard spaces where crew recruits swore they could still smell new paint. Some of the officers had to admit they had never seen so much expensive hardware in such pristine condition all in the same place before. Hunter had made a point of “walking the decks” and visiting every compartment, berth and space within hours of receiving orders to take command. He knew a 23-year-old Skipper already had his share of challenges to overcome. Breaking tradition would be nothing more than tempting luck, and all Captains, young or old, knew one thing about Skywatch duty: Luck was at least as important as everything else put together.
Hunter had his enemies. At least three flag officers directly opposed his rapid promotions, but when faced with the realities in his jacket, that gleaming Skyshield Legion decoration on his uniform, and his short, fiery billet as Flight Leader of “Yellowjacket Nine,” where he became the first Ace fighter pilot under the age of 20 in fleet history, even the most shrill objections were inevitably quieted.
What he had was the respect of the men and women he had fought with. There were some things even Skywatch Academy couldn’t teach, and there were some collars where a Captain’s insignia belonged, age be damned. There were also some ships that needed a crew up to the task of following a Captain like Jason Hunter into battle. The officers that recommended his promotions had high expectations, and Hunter knew that no matter how accomplished his crew became, he needed even better officers.
Re-assembling those officers was the Captain’s current mission.
After expertly landing Command One on starboard flight deck three, Hunter powered down and disengaged his shuttle’s controls. The atmosphere normalized and the environmental computers balanced pressure between the shuttle interior and the crowded, magnetically sealed seven-acre flight deck before the airlock indicators switched to green. Hunter’s commlink went live and the familiar voice of the ranking crew chief sounded from the omnidirectional crystal speaker in the Captain’s uniform collar.
“What have ya got, Skipper?”
“I’ve got the hard stuff, Chief,” Hunter punched the hatch interlock and opened the shuttle’s side door. Duncan Buckmaster was always a welcome sight. He was at least twice Hunter’s age, with the service stripes to prove it. Within an hour of learning the Captain had requested his assignment to one of the most prestigious commands in the entire line, he had become Hunter’s staunchest ally. The speed with which he shaped up the Argent’s flight crews was the stuff of legend. He was three weeks from mandatory promotion to Master Crew Chief: The highest non-commissioned Skywatch rank.
“Good to have a non-trainee command officer back aboard, sir,” Duncan said as he activated the shuttle’s disembark ladder. “Everyone’s been nervous as a new bride’s first Thanksgiving around here with the junior division in charge, and I’m starting to feel like a dad left home with all the kids.”
“Chief, I can only promise you this: When I finally round up my truant officers, you just might long for the days of the junior division. I’ve got some of the fleet’s biggest delinquents waiting for us on Jupiter Five, and we’re going to blow the roof off of Scary’s.” Hunter slapped Buckmaster’s shoulder. “Why don’t you take the hop down with us? We’ll set you up with a steak and a stein and tell some story!”
“I appreciate that, sir, but you told me before we left Oil Can City you wanted Paladins, T-Hawks and Wildcats ready for action in two weeks. Well, today is day ten. I’ll take that steak if you’ll take two out of three.”
“Point conceded, Chief. Let’s call it a rain check.” Hunter turned and pointed as he made his way to the magneto-lifts. “I owe you one. If I don’t deliver in a week, you have an open invitation to the Captain’s table for dinner!”
“Much obliged, sir. Where do you want all this hooch?”
“Just put it somewhere customs can’t find it in case we get waylaid!”
Hunter synchronized his personal chronometer with shipboard time and jogged to the flight level lifts. This was one party he couldn’t be late for.
Strike Battleship Argent is available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore!