The following sneak peek of Star Runners: Dark Space sees Josh Morris returning to a very familiar place (Atlantis) in the previous books in the Star Runners Universe. Hope you enjoy it!
As the doors closed behind him, one member of the working group glanced at Josh but said nothing.
He continued down the row of various star vessels, all locked in the deep storage of Atlantis. Flickering tube lights lined the ceiling, casting a ray of light through the dust. Given the state of the storage hangar the farther he walked from the elevator, it was apparent most Legion staff rarely had cause to come down here.
As his boots echoed with each step, he passed a freighter in space three-one-four, noticed the scorch marks on the hull. An older Trident III came next with its wings above the fuselage in park, and the Lobera insignia emblazoned under where the stenciled name of a Star Runner would be placed. He lingered for a heartbeat in front of the old fighter, wondering how it ended up in such a place. In fact, how did any of these ships end up forgotten in the dimly lit hangar? All were once a labor of love for the manufacturer and, presumably, the owner, only to be left here to await use or, more likely, the scrap heap. He marveled at the untold stories of these old ships and the crews who worked to keep them operational.
Pulling away from the vintage Trident, Josh marched onward until the parking slots reached the four hundreds. Two newer Tridents sat in four-zero-two and four-zero-three, both from the Excalibur Squadron. Following this pair, he saw a modified Trident with three black streaks painted in sloppy fashion onto the rear stabilizer. He clenched his jaw.
Back when Rodon was the scourge of Quadrant Eight, his minions would capture any Legion craft they could get their hands on, modify it, and use the vessel to continue scavenging. The Trident in front of him had suffered the same fate, somehow being reacquired by the Legion and landing here in Atlantis.
Had it been captured during the battle? He'd heard about the overwhelming odds the Star Runners had faced, talked a little about it with Austin.
He frowned, reaching up and sliding his fingers under the fighter's nose.
I should have been here to defend Atlantis that day, he thought. Instead, I was a prisoner of Dax Rodon.
He moved on.
Up ahead, dwarfed by the size of the modified Trident, sat the tiny triangular vessel once piloted by Matta. He touched his chin as he shuffled forward, amazed at the craft’s minuscule size. He studied the two compact laser cannons protruding from the dull red hull and shook his head. Somehow, this insignificant craft had brought him from the Zine System to Earth in one curve.
Stopping in front of it, he reached down to touch the canopy. "Hi there," he whispered. "Remember me?"
He keyed for the canopy release. With a pop hiss of hydraulics, it opened, and the control board buzzed to life. As the smell lifted from the cockpit, he closed his eyes.
Jet fuel and Lutimite dust.
The distinctive odor brought him back to the asteroid where he’d been forced into labor alongside his friend, Delmar. It was the same place he'd met Waylon, where they’d exacted their revenge on Cyclops and the other pirate guards at the price of losing several Barracudas.
Amazing the little craft still smelled of that asteroid.
Tossing his satchel behind the seat, he hopped inside and placed the headset over his ear as he brought the primary systems online. Flipping switches across the dashboard, the controls came to life, pulsing a growing whine of electronics. The curvature drive display activated and calibrated, revealing a star chart of Quadrant Eight that promptly zoomed onto the Solar System. Leaning forward, he typed a search for the Tormada System, secret home of the Barracudas. After a brief calculation, the curvature drive came back with a positive result.
Holding his breath, he fired up the twin engines. They coughed once and roared to life on the second attempt, rumbling his seat. He closed the canopy, morphing the outside sound to a high-pitched whistle. Resting his fingers on the stick, he gently pulled into a hover.
A twinge of excitement surged through his bloodstream, the familiar feeling he always felt at liftoff. He was flying again.
Easing forward on the throttle, he maneuvered the small craft through the storage hangar and passed the old ships toward the exit.
"Ah, this is Atlantis Control," the female voice cooed in his headset, "we have you on our screen now. Proceed to exit hatch three B for clearance."
He set the fighter down in the exit hatch and braced himself. The inner door rumbled shut, and he was locked inside. Right now, he figured the controller was cycling through the list of approved departures. Seconds turned into minutes.
He closed his eyes and keyed to transmit. "That's right, Control."
A pause. "We have you scheduled as Condor six-four-zero with an open return date. Is that correct?"
"No surface contacts in visible range. You’re cleared for takeoff, Condor six-four-zero. Proceed with powering shields as the exit hatch equalizes. Protocol requires shrouds before one-hundred feet, but you have no shroud."
"Follow flight pattern Bravo three-four for clear departure path. Clear skies until high orbit."
He exhaled and activated his shields. “Roger, Control.”
Water filled the exit, surrounding the energy bubble created by his shields. In sixty seconds, the crimson lights transitioned to green. The outer door rumbled open. Landing lights stretched into the darkness on the ocean floor.
"Here we go," he said without transmitting, easing more power into the engines.
The force pressed him into his seat as the fighter shot from the hatch, bubbles swirling around the canopy.
Glancing over his shoulder, he watched Atlantis disappear. He pulled back on the stick, increasing his angle of ascent as he gave the engines more power. The water quickly transitioned to a dull blue.
The fighter burst through the surface and into the clear sky. Giving the engine a bit more thrust, he accelerated over the Pacific Ocean, increasing his incline to nearly ninety degrees. The Gs pressed on him, but he could only smile as the sky soon darkened, and stars appeared as he entered deep orbit.
Star Runners: Dark Space is the fifth book in Star Runners Universe and is now available for pre-order! It releases on August 3!