About the Book
Helena “Dray” Draybeck is a cocky military brat, and Jordan Bowers is the daughter of a high ranking ambassador. Both want to be top pilots when they finish fighter pilot training at a Terran military space station. Both live under the shadow of very different family legacies.
Just when it looks like smooth sailing for their success as cadets and their growing attraction to each other, the Novans declare war. Dray and Jordan now have to survive an acceleration to active duty and a dangerous secret that threatens their happiness together. They learn that the enemy has many faces.
“Pull up, Dray! This ship’ll burn on reentry.”
A determined grin spread across Helena “Dray” Draybeck’s face as she angled their FX-27 star fighter into the upper atmosphere of the Novan planet. Her copilot shouted obscenities through her headset, but she ignored him. Ford was an unimaginative putz. She drummed her fingers on the flight console, beating out a mindless tune while she waited. The holographic readouts flashed warnings across her field of vision.
Ford was frantic as he screamed through the headset. “Pull up, or I’ll take control of this ship!”
Dray’s fingers stopped. “Touch my flight pattern, and I’ll stuff you down the waste recycler.” Putz.
Ford slid down in his seat harness. “Damn it, Dray. Why does every test flight have to be a freaking death match between you and Jordan?”
Dray’s grin widened. “Because she’s the only competition I have around here. Now prep booster three.”
Dray watched her readouts, calculating the precise trajectory she needed to pull off her stunt.
Jordan Bowers hit them from behind with small weapons fire. The ship’s hull rattled around Dray.
Three seconds, two seconds. One. “Fire booster three!” she shouted.
Ford fired the booster, while Dray redirected the FX-27, timing a perfect atmospheric bounce that threw them up and over Jordan’s star fighter in a dizzying roll that turned Ford an interesting shade of green. Dray switched to the rear viewers and watched Jordan’s fighter turn into a yellow ball of fire as it burned through the Novan atmosphere.
“Yes,” she whispered. Dray let Ford handle their return flight and landing on Buenos Aires Base Station, while she basked in her triumph. Six months after joining the Terran Military’s officer training program, she was at the top of her class. Beating Jordan proved that.
Dray waved goodbye to the pinpoint lights of the titanium mining colony on Achilles-5’s moon as Ford coasted into the landing dock on Buenos Aries. A minute later, the lights in their cockpit changed from amber to green. Ford pushed open the hatch and rushed out.
Dray stepped out of the flight simulator and was accosted by the cheers and congratulations of her fellow cadets. She pulled off her helmet and ran her fingers through her short hair.
Jordan and her copilot emerged from the adjacent flight simulator. Jordan pulled off her helmet and let loose her shoulder-length black hair. She saluted Dray as her own well-wishers came over to console her. Dray’s gaze lingered on Jordan, mesmerized by her light brown skin and deep-set brown eyes. Jordan was gorgeous.
They’d both enrolled in the officer training program at the same time, both going for their pilot and officer credentials. Their first meeting remained one of Dray’s most revisited memories. They sat in the same battle strategy class, and Jordan’s tall figure and perfect Terran Standard accent had captured Dray’s attention. Then Jordan trounced her in their first head-to-head simulated battle. Brains, beauty, and an itchy trigger finger. What more could a girl ask for?
The shouts of congratulations brought Dray’s attention back to her own cluster of friends. She didn’t beat Jordan every day and she was determined to make the most of it. Maybe she’d finally have the guts to talk to Jordan about something other than their classes. She knew almost nothing about her main competition. But she didn’t have a chance before Major Fenton, their chief instructor, slammed open her office door.
“Cadet Privates Draybeck and Bowers, in here now!” Fenton barely showed her gray-haired head before retreating inside her office.
Jordan gave Dray a wry smile as the two entered Fenton’s dungeon. The white composite interior of the major’s office carried no warmth, much like its primary occupant. Fenton sat in her black-mesh chair, thick arms folded over an ample chest. Dray’s breathing was steady; she was called to task in this particular office every other day.
“What is the purpose of this program, Cadet Draybeck?” Fenton asked in her usual raspy voice.
“The program trains officers to serve in the ADF, ma’am.” Draybeck knew the drill, but refused to make the lesson any easier. She hadn’t done anything wrong this time, strictly speaking.
“That’s it?” Fenton asked. “What about you, Cadet Bowers? Are you here to become another weapon of destruction for the Allied Defense Force?”
Jordan stared at the wall above Fenton’s head. “We’re here to learn how to lead the ADF, ma’am.”
Dray suppressed a sigh. Jordan played by the rules as usual.
“Precisely, Cadet. You train to be leaders. Terran Military personnel form the backbone of the inter-species ADF officer corp. And what kind of leadership mentality did you both show in that last simulation? Either of you?”
Dray sensed Jordan’s discomfort under Fenton’s glare. Fenton was a thick-necked, administrative pain in the butt.
“Cadet Draybeck, you have something you want to say?” Fenton’s cloudy gray eyes turned to her.
“Ma’am, the simulation was over. We crushed the Novan outer defenses.” Dray stared back at Fenton.
“And you thought you’d have a bit of fun trying to kill each other, eh?” Fenton’s voice oozed disapproval.
“With respect, ma’am. The simulations can’t match the challenge of one fighter against another,” Dray said.
“With respect, Draybeck? Spare me. The only person here who garners any of your respect is Cadet Bowers.”
A blush crept up Dray’s cheeks. She forced herself not to look at her fellow cadet. “She’s a top pilot, ma’am.”
“Hmph. What about you, Cadet Bowers? Do you also think you’re too good for the simulators?”
Dray held her breath, waiting for Jordan to toe the line and cave under Fenton’s icy glare.
“Yes, ma’am.” Jordan’s quiet answer shocked Dray. She was agreeing with Dray against Fenton? She turned to her coconspirator in time to catch Jordan’s wink. A warmth flooded her that had nothing to do with Fenton’s critical attention. Fenton glared at each of them in turn. Dray kept her expression neutral, but inside, she was celebrating. She’s on my side. <
“Don’t pat yourselves on the back too hard. All you beat was the second-level flight aptitude simulation.” Fenton’s fingers tapped on the thickest part of her upper arm. “The two of you have no idea what it’s like out there on the battle lines. No, don’t interrupt, Draybeck. I know your family history, but you personally, neither of you, have seen what one Novan Legion-class can do to a squad of FX-27s. They’re death traps. No simulator can mimic what they are capable of.”
Dray hated Novans. Not because they were a mongrel offshoot of humanity, but because her mother had died fifteen years ago in the last Novan war, fighting against Legion ships. She didn’t need Fenton, locked inside academia, to tell her the realities of what faced them if war broke out again. Besides, she didn’t think they were clueless. They’d studied all Novan military tactics. The key to defeating the Legion ships was to cripple the master ship at a distance before it was close enough to launch its collection of fighter drones.
Fenton stared at Dray. “Your mother came through this same program, Draybeck. I stood beside her, where the two of you are right now, when she chose fighter-pilot training.”
Dray clenched her jaw, fighting back her roiling emotions. She knew her mother had graduated from Buenos Aires. That’s why she’d requested admittance here. And that’s why she wanted to be a fighter pilot.
“You’ve got her skills in the cockpit, I’ll give you that. And her pain in the ass attitude,” Fenton said. “We spent two years together in a Novan prison camp before she got us and four others out. They don’t mention that about her anymore, do they? Not after Turin.” Fenton leaned forward. “She died too young.” Her eyes held Dray’s for a moment.
In their gray depths, Dray thought she saw a trace of sympathy. Or maybe it was pity. She didn’t want either. “I’m here to be a fighter pilot, ma’am.” She could sense Jordan’s questioning expression.
“I see.” Fenton unfolded her arms and stood. At two and a half meters tall, she towered over the two cadets. “Follow me.”
Fenton led the way out of her office and through the hushed gaggle of cadets waiting in the simulator classroom. Even without a glance from her, the cadets knew enough to disperse. Dray followed Fenton and Jordan, regaining her self-assurance. She would be a pilot, a damned good pilot. Just like her mother.