Chapter 1 Excerpt
The expanse of space is harsh and unforgiving. It’s just the kind of place for Admiral Lorna Holden to find comfort. There was something about the Stygian void that led her to a state of contentment she had not felt since childhood. Contentment, she had found, was difficult to come by in the Far Reaches. For the century that mankind had maintained a presence around the coyly titled gas giant and her two inhabitable moons, it seemed she was more likely to find a tale of conflict and despair in the place of stories of triumph and peace. It was for this reason she had joined the naval branch of the Union of Sovereign Nations ten years prior. Though she was young when she signed, Holden was anything but naive. When the proposed Union of Sovereign Nations was finally established only to be immediately countered by the movement known as The Confederate Territories of the Reaches she knew what had to be done. How could progress occur and stability be reached while the CTR chose to wallow in their century old filth instead of push forward for the betterment of the people? She knew it was time for change. She knew it was time for a cleansing and one decade after the start of this turmoil, the USN was ready to deliver the coup de gras.
The Admiral had just successfully established a blockade around the gas giant known as Bor and the bigger of the two moons FR1. A crushing defeat of the CTR Naval forces in open combat had lead to this opportunity. By cutting the supply line from the mining facility above FR2, it would only be a matter of time before the USN ground forces could end this conflict. For the time being, however, she could think of nothing better to do than admire her work through the central viewport of her command deck. Lorna’s profile stood out to those with her on the bridge of the USNN Jade Serpent. Her light, straight hair that sat naturally on the shoulder of her tall, athletic build gleamed with the radiance of the sun, yet her face remained as stone. She had always been an inspiring, yet intimidating presence to her crew and she intended to keep it that way. She hoped the image of her silently surveying the mangled corpses of battlecruisers, corvettes, and frigates of both ally and enemy make would remind them of who she was. Admiral Lorna Holden knew her crew. She knew that even though they would follow her to the ends of the unknown regions they were terrified. She liked it that way.
Resounding footsteps approached Holden from behind and the booming voice of her trusted captain soon followed. “Ma’am, we have an approaching shuttle. They claim to be civilians heading to FR3, what’s your suggested course of action?” The Admiral glanced over her shoulder at the creature known as Captain Raymus. The strangest discovery that mankind had made when they came upon the Far Reaches was that of the indigenous life. Captain Raymus was no exception. Just like the rest of the original inhabitants of this sector, Raymus was what humanity would consider an anthropomorphic animal. He was something closely resembling a rhino, to be exact, though he stood on two legs, was capable of speech, and could use his hands to finely operate machinery.
“We’re a blockade. What course of action do we always take, Raymus?” Holden said, turning her head back toward the viewport calmly. She had grown accustomed to the creatures of this world, though most people still feared them and allowed their fear to become hatred in return. She fought hard for Raymus to become an officer, and he respected her for it. She respected him for their similar methods of ensuring victory and their drive for the betterment of all people, human and anthro alike. It also never hurt to be on the good side of a seven foot living tank. Of all the anthros she had ever come across, he was the most imposing. Whether it resembled a bear, a feline, or some other earth creature, nothing held a presence quite as commanding as Captain Raymus.
“Yes ma’am. I will prepare a boarding party at once.” Raymus knew the answer he was going to get, but he always asked her guidance anyway. He had never felt fear in his life, but he imagined the aura she exuded was something like it and he couldn’t help but acknowledge that.
“Very well. Return with news or not at all.”
Raymus turned with a grunt of confirmation and made his way through the room. As soon as Admiral Holden heard the metallic doors slide closed on the other side of the bridge she let out an audible sigh. Despite the appearance of distaste she aspired to maintain among her men, her grief actually stemmed from the incompetence of her superiors. Though there were few above her, they were there, and their presence pierced like a thorn. She grew tired of sitting idly in orbit while battles raged on the surface of the moon below. There was no reason in her mind that they couldn’t bring the whole might of the fleet down upon the remnants of the CTR. The unconvincing reason she had been told repeatedly by high command was that they wished to avoid instilling fear in the civilians. What the generals and commanders failed to acknowledge was that the people of the Reaches had been instilled with fear for the last decade.
“What’s one more day of terror when peace is sure to follow?” she said under her breath as she turned to leave the bridge. As she continued across the spanning command deck she could feel the anguish of her men. They were creatures of space to be sure, but they despised catching the enemy one ship at a time in this vacuum while their brothers in arms died en masse below. The falsehood of peace that the Union hoped to achieve by forcing a surrender through blockade seemed idiotic to the men who were putting their lives on the line every day. By blocking access to the privately owned mine they were stopping the production of weapons and fuel for the Confederacy, but to what end? The Admiral never forgot to remind her superiors that slowly disarming a threat when complete annihilation was an option was a waste of resources and foolish. And it seemed high command never forgot to answer it with deaf ears.
Admiral Holden stood waiting for the automated door to open with her arms tucked neatly behind her back. She turned her head to the left, addressing the nearest deck officer. She instantly recognized the strange, yet soft, face of Lieutenant Bugsby. This doglike creature reminded her of a puppy she had as a child back on Earth before her family made the voyage to the Far Reaches. “Lieutenant, I will be in my quarters. Hail me when Raymus reports back with the outcome of his boarding action.”
“As you wish, Admiral.” affirmed Bugsby with his small but hoarse voice.
“Thank you, Lieutenant. You have the command deck until the Captain or I returns.” Lorna turned back toward the open hallway and continued on to her quarters before she saw the excited nod on the anthros face, but she knew it was there. It always was.
Chapter 2 Excerpt
A roar like thunder pierced the air like a draconic bellow out of a fairytale, but the barkeeper didn’t mind. It had been six hours since the large ape sat across from him at the bar, and he had been asleep for the last four of it. Though the anthro’s snore was more than offputting, it wasn’t like he was scaring patrons away. Business had been bad since the war started and had only declined further with the blockading of the mining platform. The cavernous area that made up the front end of the tavern had once crawled with life, though now it sat dormant, waiting for the winter of war to pass. The bartender was glad to see that some creatures were willing to weather the proverbial winter. Despite the oddities of his current guest, he was glad someone was there. To be clear, however, the ape was even more peculiar than most that frequented the bar. Even as he slept he let an oversized cigar burn like an ember in his mighty jaw. His barrel chested torso was cloaked with a faded poncho that now rose and fell in rhythm with each resounding snore. The hat whose brim hung over his eyes when he waltzed into the desolate tavern now sat next to the hollow whisky bottles he emptied like an elephant at a watering hole. The barman thought the apes getup was almost comical, though he would never say that to the hulking creatures face.
Species, outfit, and drinking habits aside, there was one thing about his snoozing guest that he couldn’t shake; the hand that held those whisky bottles. In place of the ape’s left forearm was a crudely constructed metal prosthetic. If there was one thing people liked to share more than a drink in a joint like this, it was conversation. Unfortunately, there had been more than one discussion among patrons about claiming a bounty on an ape with a mechanical arm. “Could my luck really be this rotten?” the tender thought to himself. “There’s no way the only living thing to pass through my God forsaken doors today is the infamous...”
“MCGRAW!” Shouted a voice from the now open doorway. The bartender dropped the glass he had been cleaning out of surprise, shattering it on the ground. The sleeping gorilla now known as McGraw, however, didn’t stir at all. The shout came from a rather stout man who was flanked by two others of less notable stature. “I’m talking to you, McGraw!” barked the man again. “Do you know what you’re worth?”
“Thirty thousand.” whispered McGraw. “I can’t hear you, boy. Speak up.” The barkeep shifted his glance from the three men back to Gorilla McGraw just in time to see the beast grab his hat off of the counter.
“I went through all the effort of robbing that Union train and I’m still only marked at thirty thousand. What a waste of time that was.” The fat man waddled closer to McGraw who slowly pushed his stool away from the bar while rising to meet them. “Who the hell are you, anyway?”
“Don’t be so coy, ape. We’re the world famous Crosby Brothers!” “Must not be world famous on this planet, cause I’ve sure as shit never heard of you.” McGraw had, as a matter of fact, heard stories of the Crosby Brothers on multiple occasions. More often than not the tales concluded with the fat one eating his words while their target escaped. “Look, I came here for a drink, not to get harassed by some two bit bounty hunter and his lady friends.” McGraw reached over toward the only bottle left on the bar that had liquid remaining in it. His mechanical left arm let out a soft whir as it moved with the same lack of fluidity as his organic one on the right.
“Watch your tongue, boy. We’d rather not take you in dead, but losing the extra thousand might be worth teaching you some respect,” said the one of the skinnier Crosby Brothers as he gently caressed his plasma blaster that sat sloppily in his holster.
“Now if you don’t mind, mr. barman, we’d like some alone time with McGraw, here,” the fat brother chimed in. Not wanting to die over someone else’s squabble, the bartender moved hastily through the storage room and out the back door. When the room had sat silently for what felt like hours but was more realistically seconds, all three Crosby Brothers raised their weapons slowly, leveling them on their prize.
“I told you boys I just came here to drink,” said McGraw before he took the final swig that his bottle had to offer before shattering it completely over fat Crosby’s head. The remaining two brothers fumbled nervously trying to unholster their weapons, but Gorilla McGraw drew his sidearm with ease and fanned two shots into each of their legs. Their kneecaps were instantly charred and gave way with a sickening snap as the force from the shots forced them to the ground. Not one for tricks, McGraw slid his pistol back into his holster with force as he let out a grunt of satisfaction. Stepping over the screaming Crosby Brothers on his way out of the bar, McGraw was sure to leave them with some simple advice. “Next time you aim to kill a sleeping man, don’t wake him first.” The bright neon signs and old faded posters that lined the walls of the pub gave way to a blanket of endless stars as McGraw passed through the portal of the doorway.