Sneak Preview: Two’s Company, Chapter One

My newest science fiction novel, Two’s Company, is due to be available in December of this year. It’s a space opera style sci-fi story, dealing with a plot to drive independent terraforming companies out of business so a mega-corporation can become a monopoly. It also has a heroine with an attitude, artificial intelligences known as Personalities, an intelligent computer virus, and maybe an old-fashioned fist fight or two. It will be available in ebook and print in mid-December from Amazon, Smashwords, and other retailers.

Here’s a sneak peak at Chapter One:

Two’s Company

By

M.A. Kropp

Chapter One

“What the hell?” Deuce started as the shells bounced off the force shield around the Deuces Wild. “JJ! I thought you said they had no weapons! And get those shields up to full!” It took a moment for the Personality’s voice to respond.

“Well, that’s what I was told. Shields full.”

Deuce swung the ship in a wide arc to avoid another round. The shield was holding, but it wouldn’t stand up to too many direct hits. She frowned as she registered JJ’s words.

“Told by who?”

Another shell pinged off the shield, lighting up as a red point on the display in front of her.

“I can’t believe she lied.” Deuce could have sworn her ship’s Personality sounded disappointed. What was he talking about, anyway? They were the only two on board.

“What are you babbling about? Who told you they were unarmed?” Again, a pause.

“Sheila.”

Deuce punched a few keys on her console, and looked at the nav board. She jabbed a key on the console. What was taking him so long?

“JJ! I want the maps. NOW!”

The nav board lit up with the star map she’d requested.

“And who the hell is Sheila?” She scanned the map, found what she was looking for, and tapped the screen.

“Sheila is the ship’s Personality. We had a very nice conversation on the subchannel when they showed up behind us. She assured me they weren’t looking for any sort of trouble, and that no one was going to shoot.”

Was that a sigh? A sigh? If they weren’t running for their lives, this might even be funny.

“Oh, for the love of… Get us to the Outer Bank. We can lose them in the asteroid field. I hope.”

She turned the ship onto the course JJ plotted. The asteroid field was huge, but at least it would offer some cover. And the Deuces Wild was smaller, lighter, and more maneuverable than the ship chasing them. They slipped into the Bank as another round of shells came at them. Debris spread out as several small rocks were hit by incoming fire. Deuce flew the ship deeper into the Bank, rolling and banking in evasive maneuvers. She watched the sensor readout. The other ship slowed as it entered the field. Broad range sensors were sweeping the area. The asteroid field was not nearly as dense as most people imagined, but Deuce hoped it would interfere with the sensors enough to buy them some time.

“So, let me get this straight. You picked these guys up, didn’t bother to mention it to me, started chit-chatting with their Personality, and just took her word for them not being BannerCorp ops? What were you thinking? Especially knowing where we just came from? This isn’t a pleasure cruise. We’re looking for something to hang Banner with.”

Silence. Deuce kept an eye on the scanner readout. The other ship was closing on their hiding spot, behind an asteroid that almost counted as a small planet. She was beginning to think JJ was sulking when he spoke.

“I was thinking it was pleasant to talk to another Personality. Harmon isn’t exactly chatty, you know. Sheila is different. I like her.”

Deuce squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. If she didn’t know better, she might think her Personality was flirting with this Sheila.

“Yeah, Harmon is a bit stiff, but that’s how he was made. And he and Tom get along fine. I get that you might enjoy talking to someone new. Except that we’re out here on a spy mission and that ought to make you more suspicious, not less. And to fall for an old come-on trick like that? She bats her baby blue electrons at you a couple times and you fall apart? JJ, I’m ashamed of you.”

“Well, I…”

Deuce cut him off. “Save it. Here they come.” The bigger ship was almost on them. “I’m taking her full manual.”

“Are you sure, Deuce? I’m part of the ship. I can navigate faster and more accurately.”

Deuce shook her head. Her hands gripped the flight controls

“Maybe, but you don’t have my instincts. You’re a great Personality, you’re smart, know the ship inside and out, but you’re still not me. Besides, you’re distracted right now.”

“That’s not fair.”

“I said, save it. Here we go!” Deuce punched the engines to life and the ship shot out from behind the asteroid. She angled away from it into a field of smaller rocks. The display lit up with red flares as the smallest bounced off their shield. Deuce zig-zagged through, ignoring the hits. The bigger ship followed, its shield also deflecting hits.

“Deuce…”

“Don’t bother me while I’m driving!”

The Deuce’s Wild shot out of the small rocks, and Deuce rolled as their pursuers sent another round of fire at them. The Outer Bank asteroid field was made up of rings of space rock, some smaller like the belt they just left, and some with larger, more bulky rocks. They were heading for one of the larger belts now.

“Deuce, some of those rocks…”

Deuce growled at the computer console. She didn’t take her eyes off the asteroid field ahead.

“I know. I’m going to try to lose them in there.” The ship shuddered and a large flare flashed on the shield display, right at their tail.

“Torpedo hit on the rear shield,” JJ said. “We won’t take another one.”

Deuce felt the muscles in her jaw tighten. “Dammit! I was trying to be nice.”

Deuce leveled the ship and rolled her down and under the bigger one, heading back the way they’d come. The pursuing ship swung around, more nimble than Deuce expected, and followed. She dove back through the small rocks and headed for the big one they’d used as cover. She slowed marginally as they approached, giving the other ship a chance to catch up. Deuce gripped the helm controls so tightly her knuckles turned white.

“Deuce…”

“Shut up, JJ.”

The surface of the asteroid loomed in front of them. The big ship picked up speed, coming straight at them.

“Deuce, they’re firing again.”

“SHUTUP, JJ”

Deuce pulled the ship up, hitting the engines hard. The Deuce’s Wild shot up along the surface of the asteroid, and skimmed across the top. The bigger ship wasn’t so lucky. The explosion as the missile hit the surface of the asteroid flung debris back into the path of the pursuing ship. Several pieces tore into the hull of the ship causing it to veer off course and into the surface of the asteroid. Deuce turned the Wild just as the explosion lit up their screen. Deuce settled the ship into a slow, curving path that followed the asteroid belt.

“That was close,” she said. “Remind me to look into arming this thing when we get back.”

Deuce watched the pieces of the ship roll slowly in the vacuum. “Life pods? Did anybody get out before it blew?”

She stared into the broken pieces of the ship, trying to detect any sign of survivors. She could feel a chill run down her back as the adrenaline rush of the last few moments faded. JJ swept the field with their scanners.

“I’m not detecting any.”

Deuce shook her head and closed her eyes for a long moment. She hadn’t wanted anyone to die out there, but she was fighting for her own life. She let out a long breath, opened her eyes, and gave a short nod of her head to the broken hull pieces. She jumped slightly when JJ spoke.

“I’m sorry, Deuce, but there don’t appear to be any survivors. I have everything recorded, and I am adding the scans of the debris field so you can report it when we get back to HunterForm.”

She leaned back in her chair. Report. She hadn’t thought of that. The crash would have to be reported, of course, and that would mean an investigation. An investigation that would likely ground her for a while, and possibly forever if she was found negligent in any way.

“Bugger it!” she muttered.

“What was that?” JJ asked.

“Nothing. Just plot us a course home, okay?” She let out a long breath as JJ set the nav system to get them back. Whatever happens, she’d deal with it when it came up. Right now, they needed to get the information she’d found back to Tom at HunterForm.

 

***

 

“It wasn’t your fault, Deuce.” JJ spoke as they came up on the hyperspace beacon.

“I hope the authorities see it that way.” That thought brought a scowl to her face. The authorities, in this case, were StarForce, and that meant the general would likely find out about this little scuffle. And that meant- well, she wasn’t sure exaclty but it wasn’t a pleasant thought.

She stared at the windscreen in front of her. It automatically dimmed when they entered hyperspace to keep the intensity from blinding her. She watched as the milky streaks that marked their passage flashed by, not really seeing them. There was something off about this whole situation. She was pretty sure they had been careful back there. So, how did that ship know they were there? It could have been coincidence or maybe she’d been careless, but she had a nagging feeling in the pit of her stomach that she didn’t like one bit. A short time later, she came back to attention and sat forward in her seat.

“Got the last four coming up, JJ,” she said as the nav computer pinged four times.

“You’re better than the nav controls, Deuce. Preparing for re-entry to normal space.”

The confirmations flashed across the screen as they passed the last set of beacons and JJ readied the ship to drop out of hyperspace and make the last leg home. Deuce tightened her seat harness. Drop-out was not usually too rough, but if another ship recently dropped through this beacon, there could be some after-turbulence. JJ started the countdown.

“Ready for drop-out. Drop in five, four, three, two, one.”

There was a momentary jolt and shudder that rippled through the ship’s hull. The windscreen cleared and the streaky brightness of hyperspace was replaced by the pinpoint lights of stars against the inky black of normal space. Up ahead, the Near Asteroid Field was visible as a haphazard collection of rocks in sizes from small boulders to huge chunks. Many of the medium to small rocks had mining rigs attached, and most of the larger ones were covered with terraformed domes. As they got closer to the field, those domes revealed the blue and green mini-worlds created underneath. Deuce took over the ship’s controls and guided them into the field and approached HunterForm’s dome.

“HF Control, this is Deuces Wild requesting dome approach.” The comm crackled in silence a moment before the landing field answered.

Deuces Wild, HF Control here.We’ll have you down in a few minutes. Welcome home.”

Deuce cut the comm channel, and brought the ship onto the approach vector. As she neared the atmosphere dome, a section of it slid open, leaving a long corridor open to the vacuum of space.

“Landing beacon locked. You can take her in, Deuce.”

“Thanks, JJ.”

The main engines shut down and smaller maneuvering rockets fired. Deuce flew the ship into the landing corridor and approached the inner bay doors. The outer hatch slid closed and sealed behind them. When it finished, the inner doors parted and Deuce set the ship down in the landing bay.

“JJ, make sure they take care of her and then shut her down, okay? Get a crew out here to check for damage, either from the shots or those rocks we bounced through.” There was a pause. “JJ?”

“Yes, of course, Deuce.” JJ finally answered. “As I always do.”

No need to get snippy about it, Deuce thought, as she unbuckled her harness. She pulled a data chip from the console and left the ship.

***

 

Deuce hurried through the hangar and into the terradome proper. Many of the independent ‘forming companies had headquarters out here. HunterForm was one of them. Deuce made her way through the lower levels of the office complex and rode the tube rail to Tom’s office. She settled into a seat in the rail car as it slid into motion.

“Quiet right now, isn’t it?”

Deuce jumped and turned in her seat at the voice.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you. Looks like we have the car to ourselves.” The speaker was an older woman carrying a comm tablet in a worn and scratched cover. Deuce forced a smile to her face and tried to calm her racing heart. She still had an unsettled feeling in her guts and this wasn’t helping.

“It’s okay, no problem,” Deuce said. “I was just kind of lost in thought there and didn’t hear you come in. It may be quiet now, but when shift change happens in a couple hours, it’ll be standing room only in here.”

The woman nodded. “I know. I work in supply accounting. I arranged my shift so I can leave before the rush.” The car slid to a stop, and she stood up. “This is where I get off. Have a good day.”

Deuce nodded and relaxed back into her seat. That run-in with the other ship left her more paranoid than usual. Lucky for her, no one else got on the car before she reached the stop for the company offices. She got off and walked to the door marked Tom Hunter. She pushed the buzzer and stepped through as the door slid open.

“Control said you were back.” Tom Hunter was tall and thin, with brown hair just beginning to show a few streaks of gray. He stood up from the desk as Deuce came in. “Sit, please. What did you find out?”

Deuce sat in the chair in front of the desk, and Tom sat back down in his chair.

“Just got in. We had a bit of trouble.”

Tom’s brows lifted over dark brown eyes. “Oh?”

Deuce filled Tom in on the encounter they’d had with the other ship. Tom listened, steepling his hands under his chin, elbows resting on the desktop.

“And you’re sure this was a BannerCorp ship?”

Deuce shrugged. “Not 100%, no. They never contacted me directly. Everything I know came from JJ through their Personality, Sheila. But who else would be firing on me? I mean, yeah, I’ve pissed a few people off here and there.”

Tom snorted a laugh, which Deuce ignored and went on. “But not so much they’d want to blow me out of space. I don’t think. BannerCorp, now, that’s a different story. They know I’m running out of here. They want you out of business. And I was just sniffing around their new ‘forming job. Besides, that ship had some pretty fancy weapons. And that kind of firepower takes money. Which BannerCorp has plenty of.”

Tom tilted his head in agreement. “True. Still, something about this just doesn’t add up right. But I can’t put a finger on what. You said JJ was talking to their Personality before they started firing? Maybe he picked up some information from her.”

“I don’t know. He didn’t say anything about what they were chatting about. Honestly, it sounded like he was, well, if he were human, I’d say he was flirting with her.” She shook her head. “I don’t even know if a Personality knows what flirting is. He did say he liked her.”

Tom laughed. “I am pretty sure Harmon has no idea what flirting is, but JJ? He’s a whole different type. But I guess it’s a moot point, since she likely got blown up with the ship. Have you filed a report yet?”

Deuce scowled. “No, and I’m not looking forward to that, either. I’ll be grounded for a couple days, more than likely.” She wasn’t looking forward to that. Sitting still wasn’t something that came easily to her. Nor did having some StarForce inspector poking into her life.

“It sounds like you were acting in self-defense, so you should be okay. Especially if we can prove it was a BannerCorp ship that came after you. Speaking of which, what did you find out?”

Deuce dug into her pocket and pulled out the data chip. She handed it across the desk to Tom, who snapped it into a port on the console there.

“It’s not a lot, and there’s nothing that screams illegal, but with the rest of what you have, it may point a bit more in the right direction. There was definitely a TerraGov Senate logo on a ship tetherd to the work site. And this is not a government job.”

Tom turned his monitor screen so Deuce could see it, and she moved her chair to a better viewing angle. They waited a few seconds for the chip to load. The screen flickered and an image appeared. It showed the latticework structure of a terraforming project just being set up. Figures in vacuum suits could be seen climbing and working on the lattices. The long arms of the tethers where ships docked on the incomplete dome spiked out.

“Now, I got as close as I could and you should see…”

Deuce stopped as the screen flickered again and blanked. “What the hell? I watched the video myself when we got out of range of the planet. There was more than that on it!”

Tom pulled the chip out and inspected it. “Doesn’t look damaged.”

He snapped it back into the port. The same images began and then stopped. He tapped a few keys on his console and a stream of numbers scrolled by, and then stopped. He looked up at Deuce. “Nothing more on the chip. Are you sure you got more?”

Deuce glared across the desk at him. “Of course I am! I said I did, didn’t I?”

Tom held up a hand. “Calm down. I didn’t mean anything. If there was more, it’s gone now. Erased, somehow.”

“Not possible.” Deuce met Tom’s eyes. “Well, not by me, anyway.”

“I don’t suppose you made a copy?”

Deuce squeezed her eyes shut. This day was getting worse by the minute, and so was the queasy feeling in her stomach. “No. Didn’t think it was necessary, since I was the only one on board. I’m going to go check the Wild’s systems. Maybe we have a glitch. Although if there was, JJ should have caught it.”

She stood up. And stopped in mid-turn at the look on Tom’s face. “What?”

“You’re not going to like this, but- you said if there was a problem with the ship’s systems, JJ should have caught it?” Deuce nodded. “But he seems to have missed this. What if JJ is the problem?”

“JJ? He’s been with me since, well, since I left the Academy. He’s never been anything but loyal. Why would that change now?”

“I don’t know. But he would have access to the chip, yes? And he didn’t come from the usual Personality sources. You don’t really know where he came from. And he has a past. What if Banner got to him?”

Deuce made a face. “I know he’s not the most sterling Personality out there, but he owes me. I busted him out of that net they put on him, and got him out of jail, so to speak.”

“Maybe. Just don’t overlook all the possibilities while you’re trying to figure this out. That’s all I’m saying. I can have Harmon take a look at JJ if you want.”

“Not just yet. Let me see what I can find out when I look at the ship’s logs. It could be something simple. Maybe one of the shots or a rock hit damaged something.”

She turned and left the office. She walked back to her ship, her conversation with Tom replaying in her head. She didn’t like thinking JJ was running a scam on her, but there was some sense to Tom’s words. JJ had control of pretty much every system on the ship. She could shut him down, although she didn’t like the idea. JJ had showed up when she needed help after the debacle at the Academy and he’d helped her get out of that mess. Still, she didn’t know all that much about him other than what he told her himself. And just because he’d never done anything to hurt her, didn’t mean he wasn’t capable of it. She would keep a close eye on everything JJ did from now on. If there was something fishy, she’d see it sooner or later. She could only hope there was nothing to see.

Two’s Company,  a sci-fi novel will be available in December 2018.

=====================================================

Coming soon: Two’s Company, a sci-fi novel in the space opera tradition. Artificial intelligence, corporate plots, spaceships, a heroine with an attitude. More details soon!

Available now :

tn_Circle Unbroken Cover (eBook)

After five years away, Kaili is coming home for the ceremony to install her sister as head of the family business. When an old rivalry threatens the family, Kaili and her partner need to use all their skills to save the sisters’ lives. Learn more here

 

 

tn_Six of One

A collection of six short fantasy stories set in varied worlds of magic and mayhem. Learn more here.

 

 

 

tn_Survival of the Fittest (Front Cover)

A short novelette set in a dystopian Earth after the final environmental collapse. Sam is a genetically engineered chameleon who may hold the key to mankind’s survival. Learn more here.

 

 

 

Feedmypeople-thumb

In a world reeling under the effects of severe climate change, food shortages are common, and arable farmland is scarce. Unscupulous distributors like Beni Oligowma take advantage of the shortages for their own gain. When a promising new technology for growing food even under the harsh conditions is unveiled, grocery store owner Frank is determined to see that everyone is able to benefit from the results, not just the Benis of the world.
Feed My People is a short story, set in a dystopian science fiction world, and is free. Learn more here

Five and Daemonthumb

Demon hunters Johnny and Cerise travel to the small town of Carroll Fork where they find a demon-possessed thrift store, a sweet old lady who is more than she seems, and an army of underworld inhabitants. Can Johnny and his trusty yo-yo save the town from a devil of a problem?

Five and Daemon, the Yo-Yo Files #1, is a short novelette in an urban fantasy setting, with elements of the supernatural and humor. Learn more here

YoYo#2Thumb

Things have been quiet. No demonic possessions, no otherworldly intrusions, nothing. And then Lucifer shows up in Johnny’s living room, claiming that two archangels are missing, and something is definitely not right in the heavenly- and other- realms. Saying he has nothing to do with it- this time- he asks Johnny and Cerise to help him find out what’s happening, and who is behind the disappearances. While they are trying to do just that, Lucifer is devilnapped by a larger-than-life serpent. He manages to get a clue to Johnny before he disappears. Johnny and Cerise are left to puzzle out the disappearances and try to find the missing angels. Oh, and stop what could mean the ultimate destruction of pretty much everything.

Snake’s Alive, the Yo-Yo Files #2 is an urban fantasy novelette with elements of the supernatural and humor. Learn more here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s