Teenager Jane Benedict is awakened by her father and ordered to memorize a mysterious code. Hours later, Mathias Benedict is dead and Jane and her brother, Will, are wards of United Earth Corporation. To evade the company's murderous clutches and uncover the meaning of her father’s last message, Jane leads Will on a desperate escape across the galaxy aboard the Freetrader smuggler ship, Solar Vortex. Tangled in the crew’s fight against UEC, Jane saves the life of young smuggler Maclan Sawyer and learns her father’s code identifies a secret cargo shipment that may spell doom for the entire Freetrader cause and the extinction of an alien race.
Piracy, intrigue, romance, and a daring rebellion from Earth wait on the planet Rimrock. Will Jane answer the call to adventure and find new purpose on the galactic rim or will death for high treason be her fate?
As they raced across the bay another pallet full of cargo erupted. Flying bits of debris rained down on them. Jane slapped the falling embers from her hair. They reached the bulkhead and huddled behind stacked containers. Jane stifled a cough as acrid smoke rose in billowing clouds from the burning goods.
Her mouth went dry. “Mac, there’s no alarm. The fire suppressors must be off-line. The smoke will get thicker and eat up the oxygen.”
Mac spied around the corner of the crate. “I see him. A sweeper on the catwalk with a laser rifle. He can’t draw a bead from there, but the instant we make a run for the hatch, he’ll spot us. We’re trapped.”
“How did a sweeper get on the ship?” whispered Jane. “I thought no UEC boarding party made it over.”
“No clue. Nobody spotted any, and none of the alarms went off….what’s he doing now?”
Jane and Will inched up beside Mac. The sweeper bent over and appeared to adjust a device at his feet. “We have to warn the others,” Jane said. “There may be more.” She spoke into her com. “Doc, can you read me?”
“Jane—” A crackly din drowned out the rest.
“We’re trapped in cargo bay Delta-120 with a sweeper. Do you read?” The only response was a hiss of static. Jane peered at them with anxious eyes. “My line is dead. Anyone have a signal?” Neither Mac nor Will’s com had reception.
Jane swallowed. “I don’t know if Doc got the message.”
Mac scowled. “We’re out maneuvered and outgunned and can’t wait around to find out. The smoke is getting thicker by the second.”
Hack emitted a muted tinny whine. “What’s his problem now?” hissed Jane.
Will yanked off the tarp and checked the readouts. “The weird signal’s back. It’s stronger this time. Hack has a lock. It’s definitely coming from that thing on the catwalk with the sweeper.”
Mac’s gaze narrowed. “His rifle beats the cutter for long-range shooting. If the sweeper were at ground level, the odds would be more to my liking. I can sneak up on him.” He blew out his cheeks in frustration. “How to draw him out without getting shot is the problem.” He turned to Jane and Will. “You two wait here. When the shooting starts, make for the hatch.”
Jane grabbed his arm. “Mac, this is crazy. You’ll never get close enough. We need a better plan—”
Mac shook off her grip. “There’s no time. One of us has to make it out of here and go for help. Now run!” He broke from cover and darted around a loader.
The sweeper instantly spotted him. Jane watched in horror as the laser rifle fired a spread of explosive charges. A direct hit to the loader’s engine mushroomed debris into the air. Mac dove behind a cargo container abutting a rack of mech suits. He was unharmed for now, but had no safe way to advance any farther.
“What do we do?” said Will. “Run for help?”
Jane’s focus returned to the sweeper. With his laser rifle at the ready, he used his other hand to hurriedly work on the object at his feet, acting as if time weighed hard against him. Jane’s gaze narrowed. A person so consumed by a task would hate to be interrupted. As a matter of fact, the right interruption might make him boiling mad. Mad enough to drop his guard and take his attention off Mac.
Her expression hardened. “Will, I have a plan.” She explained in a rush.
Will chuckled. “I like it.”
“How much time will you need to get into position?”
“Thirty seconds ought to do it.”
“I can keep the sweeper busy that long without getting shot.” Jane drew the cutter from her holster. With shaking fingers, she reset the controls for a tight beam. At this distance, hitting the sweeper would be a miracle, but the glow from the cutter made her a fine target for him in the dark. “Ready?”
Will’s face turned pale. “Are you positive Mac will be in position?”
“He’ll understand as soon as I start running. He knows how to shoot.”
“Yeah, but you don’t. Be careful, Jane…promise.”
“I’ll make it back, Will. I swear. On three…one…two…go!” Jane dashed from cover aiming straight for the sweeper’s position.
Jane fired wildly while mentally counting the seconds. Her shots went way out of range. Although none landed anywhere near the catwalk, they drew the sweeper’s immediate attention.
Crackles of lightning ripped through the air as he returned fire. An energy blast hit near her feet, bubbling the metal deck plate. Jane dodged in panic, adrenaline pumping through her veins.
Close—too close. Don’t think! Run! Run! Run! Twenty more seconds…
Jane tore across the bay, darting through smoke, dodging flames. She veered toward the bulkhead aiming for the safety of a storage container. The back of her neck burned as if she could feel the laser sight zero in on her. A beam sliced the dark to her left. Jane sidestepped in a panic. She was in the open…no place left to hide. The sweeper had her in his sights. A red dot centered on the middle of her chest. She looked into the face of death.
“Now, Will!” Jane shouted
Best-selling Kindle author, L. A. Kelley lives in Florida where the heat and humidity have driven everyone slightly mad. Every aspect of Mother Nature in Florida is evil and wants to kill you. The state has hurricanes, tornadoes, rip currents, floods, brush fires, and giant sinkholes that will drag you to hell without even time to pack a change of underwear. She considers it a favorable place to write fantasy/scifi adventures with humor, romance, and a touch of sass. Her favorite pastime is to call in Bigfoot sightings to the Florida Department of Fish and Wildlife. They are heartily sick of hearing from her.