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The Long Way Home
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-692-0
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 285 Pages
Published: July 2009
OUT OF PRINT

From inside the flap

A surprise assault on an Exploration Corps starship by implacably hostile, xenophobic aliens leaves its one remaining longboat as the only option for warning the home worlds of the existence of the predators. Unfortunately, the starship met disaster while thousands of light years from Earth. Theoretically, that sort of voyage in a longboat is possible but has never been attempted. In order to return, the crew has to stop on numerous unknown planets to renew supplies and hydrogen fuel many, many times along the way. They know they will certainly face danger and inimical life forms, as well as the hazards of braving interstellar space in a ship meant only for travel within a solar system. And before they get anywhere close to Earth they will need to figure out a way to destroy a much larger and much better armed alien starship. The ship shadowing their every move must not be allowed to follow them home to Earth and its colonies. The long journey has to succeed, even as more and more members of the crew fall prey to perils of the incredible journey. Humanity must be warned. There will be no second chance. Fail, and the poorly armed home worlds will likely die.

The Long Way Home (Excerpt)


Prologue

For almost a century humans expanded their domain beyond Earth. The huge exploration starships ranged outwards, staying gone sometimes for a year or more while seeking habitable planets and hoping someday to meet other star-faring species. At first Earth and its colonies armed their ships against the possibility of hostile aliens. They constructed warships to patrol the home worlds and set up extensive defenses in case of need. As time passed, and humanity remained free of competition, preparations for fighting interstellar wars lagged. A once mighty military devolved into little more than a police force for settling squabbles among the several home worlds and policing the more remote colonies. The prospect of meeting other intelligent life in the galaxy waned. Scholars began writing long tomes proving beyond doubt that humans were a singularly unique species: the only one which had managed to evolve intelligence and break the bond of their home planet. Further, they postulated that even should another intelligent species be discovered, it was certain to be friendly. Nevertheless, Mankind ranged outward, seeking new frontiers but appearing destined always to be alone. To be sure, the exploration ships still carried contact protocols designed for technically sapient species, but they had never been used. The exploration ships also still went armed, but as time passed, it was thought that the weapons would never become necessary. And even if by chance they should, it was almost universally accepted that such an event would occur by accident rather than design. It was thought that other technically advanced species would welcome a meeting. The idea that such aliens might be hostile became a laughable notion-one that not even science fiction authors used very often as a theme.

Such were the conditions when the new class of Exploration Ship Sam Johnston began its voyage. She was more than a year’s travel and a thousand light years beyond the frontier worlds when the fabled technical civilization of aliens was first encountered. Contact protocols were initiated, and initiated again. By the third try at contact it was a foregone conclusion that the scholars had been wrong. Dead wrong. Disastrously wrong.



Chapter One

"I wish it was us going instead of them," Explorer E2 Jeremy Costa said to his companion as he looked up from his Reader and stifled a yawn. The Explorer rec room in the Sam Johnston was about half full and at this hour beginning to get noisy. They’d have to move before long if they wanted to continue perusing studies in their primary specialties: xenomicrobiology and astronomy for him and xenogeology and xenopaleontology for her.

"Huh!" Siegfrer Sorenson replied. "You in a hurry to die, Jer?"

"Of course not. But it’s a longboat going down this time. They can fight back." The Sam Johnston carried two large longboats with a crew of three officers and ten spacers, along with five explorer officers and fifty to sixty explorer ratings. The two boats, each as large as a wet navy frigate, alternated the completion of assignments. They were warp capable but couldn’t go nearly as many light years in a single jump as the big mother ship, and weren’t meant for interstellar travel at all, except in an emergency.

"The idea is to make peace with those…critters," Siegfrer answered. Shoving her Reader aside, she punched for a drink, and added, "But they haven’t shown much inclination yet, have they? They seem more geared to killing any of us that come close."

Noticing that she had ordered a drink, Jeremy did the same. He considered how to reply while he waited for the cart to arrive. He was only an Explorer Two on his first cruise-and newly promoted scarcely a month ago at that-while she was an Explorer Three on her second mission. Finally, he did speak.

"Why do you think they killed the scouts, Sieg? Any idea?" It wasn’t the first time by far that the question had been asked, and not only by him.

"Who knows?" The chunky but well built blond of Swedish ancestry shrugged and shifted in her seat while doing interesting things to the top of her camouflage fatigues. "Best I can tell you is that they’re alien. And if I were the Captain, I don’t think I’d have come in this close, even if she is backing up Shannon." The boat she referred to was their opposite number. Theirs was the longboat Hurricane Jack.

Jeremy grinned slyly, emphasizing his young age and what he’d been told was a handsome face. "Now you know more than the Captain does!"

"The monkeys on that inhabited moon are the same ones that killed both scouts in the last system we were in. I bet we’ve stumbled onto some colony worlds of an empire, and they have orders to keep all aliens at arm’s length, even if it means firing on intruders. And we’re the aliens by their light."

"Well, yeah, but couldn’t they have made a mistake?"

"Twice in a row on the same planet? Get real, Jer. That’s why we’re here now, in a different system. The captain’s trying again, but frankly, I don’t give it much hope."

He couldn’t argue much with her logic. The star system where the little scout ships had been lost was known only by a catalog number, but it had one inhabited planet. The sapient beings there were the first aliens discovered in all the years since humans had begun exploring the galaxy. It had yet to be named officially but was informally called Condor by the crew of E.S. Sam Johnston. No one knew yet what its permanent designation would be, but the usual practice was to allow the crew to attach a name to a newly explored planet. From orbit it was found to be thinly populated, yet the inhabitants displayed a fairly high technology. The crew of the first scout discovered just how high-tech, when their craft was shot out of the sky with an energy weapon while broadcasting contact protocols. The next was allowed to land and then was disabled. The six-man crew was slaughtered as soon as they stepped outside.

"I suppose not," Jeremy conceded, his young face earnest beneath his dark hair, "but I still say they might not be so damned quick on the draw when a longboat lands, especially when they know Sammie’s in orbit above them. Captain Beauchamp’s been broadcasting for a week. Surely they’ll know by now that Shannon is peaceful." He looked inquiringly at his friend, but she simply shook her head.

"I don’t buy it. The scouts had one of our longboats orbiting both times, and it still happened. Anyhow, there’s no point in arguing. The Captain has decided. We’ll find out soon enough, one way or another, so drink up and let’s go study-or find something else to do." She touched his shoulder and winked.

"I’m for that," he said, quite willing to forego any further discussion. Siegfrer was great even if she did move around a lot, having stated that she didn’t intend to settle down yet. She had been with him for several weeks now. He had to admit she had taught him things he’d only fantasized about before she took him to her bed. Nevertheless, and despite where they were headed now, he still wished it was the crew of the Hurricane Jack longboat rather than their opposite numbers in Shannon who were landing on the inhabited moon of the gas giant.


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