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Author: Dave Bara
Publisher: DAW Books, 2017
Series: Lightship Chronicles: Book 3

1. Impulse
2. Starbound
3. Defiant

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Lt. Peter Cochrane and his new wife, Karina, are under attack.

When Peter and Karina escape an assault by a hostile government on his new command, Defiant, he travels with his wife to fend off an Empire attack on Skondar--which just so happens to be where his ex-lover, Dorbina, is stationed.

Worse still, the attack is led by Prince Arin, the Butcher of Carinthia. As dark secrets that could change everything are revealed, Peter must face the battle of his life--one that could save the human race, or doom it...


Prologue--On Carinthia

Six Weeks After the Attack

I held my wife's hand tightly. It was small inside my own, and I was glad of that. I wanted her to feel protected, cared for, and even loved in these difficult moments, and any gesture toward that end was to the good as far as I was concerned. Lady Karina Feilberg, Princess of Carinthia, was holding vigil, as we all were, waiting for her father to die.

Grand Duke Henrik had faded fast after the attack on his home world. Within weeks he had taken ill, then was confined to his bed, in and out of consciousness. As I watched him now from across the bedroom he had shared with his wife for so many years, he seemed peaceful but not altogether content. There were still signs of the struggle of life, of unfinished business. He was a stubborn man, and he would go when he damned well pleased; that much was clear. But go he would.

The Earthmen had offered some of their miracle technology to keep him going for months more--perhaps even a year--but he had refused in one of his clearer moments of lucidity. I couldn't blame him. His wife was gone. His first son had betrayed him and their world, bringing down a devastating atomic attack on Carinthia. He would likely never see that event avenged, but I had vowed in my own heart to bring about justice for him, the man who had become my father-in-law, if I was given the opportunity by the universe.

But for now it was enough just to hold my wife's hand and let her know I was here for her if she needed me.

The bedroom curtains were open, and the late winter sun of Carinthia's star, Zeta Herculis, shined yellow-gold light into the room. That light nearly reached the elaborate medical bed that tended to the grand duke, mostly with automated protocols. A web of tubes and wires moved about his body as if alive, monitoring and taking readings, then applying treatments as necessary. Two doctors were always present, and at least six other technicians monitored his condition minute by minute from medical display stations spread throughout the spacious room, often consulting quietly amongst themselves.

Karina and I sat together on a large sofa in the middle of the room. It felt odd, us being there, just stuck in the room while everything happened around us. But it had been this way for two full days now. Karina had only rested when I insisted upon it or when her brother Benn was there to keep watch over her father for her. She knew Benn would inform her of any sudden change in the grand duke's condition.

In some ways I envied Benn. He was busy running the government, trying to coordinate the massive effort of all the Union worlds to aid Carinthia in her recovery. It was going much faster and better than expected, but there was still a long, hard slog to go, no doubt of that. But at least he had the distraction. Karina had none of that and wouldn't leave her father's side in any case.

As for me, I could only say that the vigil was a way to avoid my own problems. I'd had many since the Battle of Pendax. Nightmares, sudden anxiety, even depression, not wanting to face the day. Karina had helped me through much of that in the weeks after the attack, as had the Green Court's doctors, but there was no panacea. I had wiped out over thirty thousand human lives defending the Union. That would take a toll on anyone.

But now I had to think of Karina and her fear of losing her father and facing the grief of his inevitable passing. I focused all of my energy on supporting her, and through all of this, support her I would. "For better or for worse" is what the Vicar of KendalFalk had said on the night we were married. This time on Carinthia was undoubtedly the worse, and I wondered if the better times would ever come.

The double doors to the duke's bedroom opened suddenly, and Prince Benn came through, trailed by a small entourage of uniformed advisors. He came directly to Karina. She and I rose from the sofa to greet him.

"Has he said anything more?" asked Benn.

"No," replied Karina, shaking her head. "Just the one request for you to come."

Benn nodded and then went to his father's bedside, the doctors parting to let him pass. Karina let go of my hand and followed, standing on the opposite side of the bed from her brother. I held back, waiting for confirmation regarding what I should do. Respect for the family in these times was critical, and I was extended family only, not blood.

I looked at Benn and realized I didn't really like him much. I felt he had made mistakes, or at least different choices than I would have made, leading up to the attack on Carinthia. He had always held me at a distance, even after my marriage to Karina. I didn't mind. I still respected him and his position in the family as the prince regent. My loyalty was to my wife and went further only minimally. These were difficult times for us all.

Karina touched her father's arm to rouse him. He rolled around a bit, then opened his eyes.

"I'm here, Father," said Benn in German. My ear com translator worked so fast that it was almost seamless. I "heard" the words in German, but my mind comprehended them in Standard English.

The grand duke opened his eyes and looked first at his son, then at his daughter.

"Out with them," he said, waving his arm. "All of them...out." I assumed he meant the doctors. They all put their equipment in automated mode and shuffled out slowly. The automated medical monitor tried to adjust things according to the readings it was receiving, but the duke demanded that it be shut down as well. Benn nodded to the primary doctor, who put the device in standby mode, then exited the room. I turned to follow him out, assuming the duke wanted a few last moments with his children.

"Not you, Peter," he said weakly, and in Standard. "You are family now..." He coughed harshly. "You stay."

I made my way to Karina's side. Benn didn't look happy at this turn of events, but there wasn't anything I could do about that. It was the grand duke's choice. He looked to his second son.

"Benn, my steady and reliable hand. When I am gone, go to the family records hall. Retrieve the family codex." He spoke haltingly, then had a coughing fit that set off numerous medical alarms, but the automated monitor stayed in standby mode. When he recovered, he continued.

"Pull the cylinder on Arin. In there you will find all the proof you need to rule fully in my name." The cough came again, and Karina comforted him until it passed. Benn and Karina exchanged looks of confusion.

"I don't understand," said Benn. The grand duke nodded.

"You will. Arin...Arin...was...never my son. Your mother was already pregnant with him..." He coughed again. "...on the day we were married."

"What?" said Karina, shocked. The duke waved her off. I moved closer to her for support.

"It was not your mother's doing, Karina. Her honor was intact. Someone--we don't know who-- doctors...someone...they insem...insem...inseminated her artificially..." Again the coughing came, but less this time. "It wasn't her fault." His eyes closed then; he was fading, his physical strength to fight waning along with his will. Karina touched his forehead gently, and he opened his eyes again.

"I am so glad you are my daughter," he said to her with a weak smile. "You are so smart, so beautiful, so your mother..." Tears came to her eyes immediately. "Keep Benn here honest. Don't let him become too much the politician."

"I won't. I promise," Karina said, looking across to her brother with tears in her eyes. The duke's eyes started to close again, then he opened them one last time and looked directly at me.

"Peter..." I swallowed hard at the unexpected sound of my name.

"Yes, Sire?" I said, my voice cracking as I fought back my own tears. I took a step closer to the bed.

"Lightship Captain..." His eyes started to close again.


"Find Arin...Find him, and...kill him. He was never...our blood." He said the final words with surprising strength. I wasn't prepared for that.

"Yes, Sire," I said softly. "I promise."

Then he closed his eyes and said to Karina, "Keep those doctors out of here. I want to die in peace."

She did as he asked, locking the doors to the bedroom herself.

The three of us sat together on the sofa, none of us saying a word, and waited.

An hour later he was gone, both of his children holding his hands as he passed. Karina went back to the sofa, sobbing. Benn was stoic but much more physically supportive of Karina than I expected. They shared close hugs and quiet words, as a brother and sister should. I stayed out of the way. Benn left to make arrangements, or more likely to set plans in motion that had already been prepared. Karina stayed an hour longer with her father, then signaled me that it was time to go. I took her by the hand again, and we walked slowly back to our apartment.

And in my mind I was focused on only one thing: carrying out the grand duke's last command to me.

Copyright © 2017 by Dave Bara


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