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Copyright © 2021 by Robert C. James

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Cover design by Yvonne Less, Art 4 Artists

Contents

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Prologue

Three Years Later

Chapter 1

Nine Months Later

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Epilogue

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Frontier’s Reach

Robert C. James

Prologue

UECS Raptor

Three years. Forty million dead. Unparalleled destruction. Who knew one of the most catastrophic wars mankind had ever waged would end on the backdrop of such beauty?

The colors of the great nebula mesmerized Lieutenant Jason Cassidy as he walked onto the command deck of the UECS Raptor. Its official designation was Nebula TPA-338. Hardly a fitting name for something of such artistry. The blues, greens, yellows, and reds of the gaseous phenomenon created a spectacular display revealing just what the universe offered beyond the small blue jewel of Earth.

“Are you just going to stand there?”

Jason snapped out of his trance-like state at the deep voice of the Raptor’s Chief-of-the-Boat, Chief Lin, who stepped through the hatchway beside him.

“You better get to the helm, sir,” Lin said to him with a wry grin.

Jason shared a smile with the chief then walked along the circular upper deck of the Raptor’s command center to take a seat at his station. To his left, the Raptor’s navigator, Lieutenant Christian Nash, looked at him expectantly.

“You took your time,” he said. “I don’t often beat you up here.”

Jason opened his mouth to say something, but Nash beat him to the punch.

“Not Ensign Robinson again?”

Jason tried to hide his smirk. “Well—”

“I knew it! You couldn’t help yourself, could you?” Nash could read Jason like a book. Always had. The pair went to the academy together and graduated just as the Earth-Centauri War began. They’d risen through the ranks and become the best of friends.

“She’s nice.” While Jason saw nothing long-lasting coming out of the relationship, they were a comfort for each other in a dark time.

“She also has a fiancé back on Cerberus,” Nash pointed out.

“You know what they say about different ZIP codes?”

His friend chuckled as Commander Riggs broke up their childish conversation.

“Lieutenant Nash, how long until we’re within weapons range?” the Raptor’s first officer asked from the pit, below the upper level of the command deck.

“Four minutes, Commander,” he replied.

“And what’s their ETA to the outer edge of the nebula?”

“Twelve minutes. We’ll reach them well before they can enter it.”

Jason checked his monitor at the ship they were pursuing. A Foulke-Class freighter. It’s designation: SS Bombay. While a fairly standard craft, the Bombay wasn’t just any ship. It represented the end of a conflict. When the Earth-Centauri War officially ended five months earlier, a task force was put together to hunt down the remaining civilian and military leaders of the Centauri Rebellion. The Raptor had been tasked with spearheading the mission. So, while the bulk of the force’s servicemen and women were given the reprieve they deserved, the war continued on for Jason and the rest of the crew.

Five hundred rebels were tracked down in the months since the surrender. But one had been most elusive. Doctor Benjamin Tyrell was a minor player in the rebellion war effort, but one deemed extremely dangerous with orders to kill on sight. Jason often wondered what the man had done that didn’t justify bringing him to trial. Tyrell’s official file had been sealed tight. None but those at the very top of the United Earth Commonwealth and the Defense Force knew his true story.

“Lieutenant Ortega, when we’re within range I want a firing solution on the Bombay.”

The steely gaze of the Raptor’s CO, Captain Pizzeri, connected with the ship’s combat officer from the pit. Lieutenant David Ortega nodded at the ‘old man’.

“Sir, the Bombay is attempting to open a commlink,” came the voice of Ensign Kennebeck from the communications station on the opposite side of the command deck.

“Block the link,” Riggs said to her. Along with a prompt destruction order, under no circumstances were there to be any communications.

“Commlink blocked.”

“Two minutes until weapons range,” Ortega noted.

“So, what are you going to do with your furlough when we get back home?” Nash whispered to Jason.

That remained a question Jason was yet to answer. He didn’t know where home was anymore.

“Perhaps you could take Ensign Robinson to Lake Osiris on Cerberus. I think that’s where her fiancé proposed to her.”

“Ha-ha.” Jason rolled his eyes, returning his attention to his monitor where a new bogey appeared on the scanners.

“Sir!” Ortega bellowed, seeing the new blip first. “The Bombay has launched a torpedo. It’s armed with a tritonium warhead!”

Jason didn’t wait for the captain’s order. He slowed the forward trajectory of the Raptor and turned hard to port, showing the destroyer’s well-shielded underbelly to take the brunt of the blast. The maneuver churned the bottom of his stomach, even with the artificial gravity masking the worst of the g-forces.

Then the torpedo exploded.

White light filled the command deck as the warhead detonated before them. The blast threw the Raptor off its axis and sent

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