The Freedom Express – Chapter One

Harry Rogers watched the extinct comet grow slowly larger on Liberty Station’s main screen with something approaching awe. Not that they’d managed such a feat, but that he was somehow intimately involved with it at all.

A week ago, he’d been in Italy, planning the rescue of a kidnapped child from her scumbag biological father. He hadn’t even heard of Liberty Station, much less guessed that it wasn’t an orbital hotel. If someone had told him it was humanity’s first interplanetary spaceship, he’d have laughed his ass off.

In the time since, he’d circled the globe to save a beautiful woman named Jess Cook and found out that aliens had once visited Earth and uplifted humans. At least, that’s what they thought had taken place.

Perhaps they’d figure out a few answers to their myriad questions at this unassuming hunk of rock. The extinct comet had a designation, but he couldn’t remember it. They’d taken to calling it the city of gold. Not in the literal sense, but in the hope they’d find treasure of a different sort there.

“What’s our ETA to orbit, Lindsay?” he asked Liberty Station’s command pilot.

She half-turned away from her console to face him. “We’ll match speed in twenty-three minutes, Captain. It’s too small to say we’re orbiting it, though. More like we’re matching course and speed. We’ll be about a kilometer away from it.”

“Thanks. I’m still getting used to this space pirate thing.”

Lindsay gave him a look of mild disapproval. “We’re not space pirates, Harry. You’re actually the commanding officer of this ship, believe it or not.”

“Oh, I think he believes it,” Jess Cook said as she walked in. “He just refuses to act like an adult about it.”

“That’s a base libel,” he said with a false tone of dignity.

“No, it’s not. It’s slander. Libel is something in writing.” Jess sat down at the engineering console. “The reactor is still working perfectly. I wanted to give it a thorough diagnostic since it’s been almost a week. If something goes wrong with it, we’ll have a long walk home. I have to say, they really designed it well. I think it’s going to keep trucking longer than the ship is rated for.”

“I’ll pass my compliments on to my mother, if she decides to chat before shooting next time we meet. I’m sure she’ll be pleased. Maybe she can use that in the brochure.”

They’d stolen the prototype nuclear reactor right out from under his scheming mother’s nose for this ship. Slickly planned, he had to admit. It was his father’s idea, which caused him no small amount of annoyance. At least he’d had to redo the plan to make it work. That was something.

Still, Jess had a point. It wasn’t as if they had any spare parts if anything went wrong with the stolen unit. It would be a lot better to spot a problem before something broke.

“What about the alien power supply?” he asked. “Could it be used to provide backup power?”

The crashed ship they’d found near the Mayan pyramid had still been turned on. Jess—against all common sense—had taken the blue cube that powered it before they fled his murderous brother Nathan.

Well, he supposed it hadn’t been such a bad idea. The asshole had stolen the ship.

It annoyed Harry no end that he’d had Nathan dead in his sights and yet the bastard had escaped with his life when he attacked Liberty Station. At least they’d gotten rid of the bombs Nathan had left behind.

Jess shook her head. “I’ve been examining it in the lab, but it’s still holding tight to its mysteries. Without the cradle it came from, I’m not seeing how it transmits energy. Of course, the reverse will hopefully be true for your mother. That crashed ship won’t tell her how the cube generated power. And even if she manages to cram a reactor into that hull, it still won’t fly.”

“That’s not an assumption we can safely make. Eventually, she’ll strip the drives out of that thing and mate them with another of these nuclear reactors. Then she’ll come after us.”

Jess looked unconvinced. “She’s in a lot of trouble. The police are looking into her dead chief of security and his hobby of torturing and killing people. And then there’s the aftermath of your raid on her lab in Paris. You blew up the building where she made the reactor. No, she won’t be after us anytime soon.”

He admired her optimism. In fact, he liked a great many things about the plucky woman. But, history had taught him never to count on his enemies doing what he wanted them to do. After all, they were the enemy.

* * * * *

Kathleen Bennett stalked into the laboratory at her main campus in Chicago. The ship carrying the crashed alien vessel had arrived last night and, as much as she’d wanted to see what all her blood and treasure had paid for, she needed to allow the scientists time to unload it and make an initial assessment.

Her mood couldn’t possibly be worse and she had to remind herself that she needed to exercise restraint. No ripping people’s heads off. No matter how royally they deserved it.

One of the subjects of her ire was watching the wrecked ship from an enclosed office above the lab floor. She came here to get briefings from her senior science staff. The last person she wanted to see there today was her son.

“Nathan,” she said coolly. “I thought you were working on other matters.”

He turned away from the glass and smiled. She could see his father in his eyes. That didn’t improve her mood one bit. Clayton was on her shit list, too. In fact, she’d cheerfully exterminate all males in the bloodline. Could and, eventually, would.

“Mother, you’re looking radiant today.” His tone held a hint of mocking just under the surface. He just couldn’t help himself. All her restraint vanished in an instant.

“You let that bastard’s ship get away and lost every single member of your newest team doing it,” she said harshly. “I told you that I didn’t want to see your face, yet here you are, testing the limits of my patience. Aren’t you supposed to be figuring out how to kill your father?”

Nathan shrugged indifferently. “Things are too hot in that corner of the world. Not only is his security on high alert, but the US Navy surrounded his new island getaway with a carrier battle group. The only flight in was some UN bigwig.

“So, I decided to come back here and see how this situation has developed. If I can’t kill my father, I’d like to make some gains on figuring out how to kill my brother.”

As much as she wanted to disagree with his assessment, he’d hit all the high points. Oh, except for the police still crawling all over her campus. Thankfully, her lawyers had stymied their desire to search every building. What did they expect? That her dead chief of security had hidden even more bodies in them? Probably.

As if the seventeen they’d already found in the little copse around his house weren’t enough.

And those bodies had brought in the FBI, which was another entirely unwelcome experience. Those bastards had been trying to get access to her secrets for decades. Now they thought they had carte blanche to do as they pleased.

Her legal eagles had been less successful on that front, but they’d kept the nosey bastards out of the most sensitive areas by having a friendly judge quash the overly broad subpoenas on national security grounds. Based on what was supposed to be in this building, they’d never get access.

If they had any idea what she had actually hidden here, they’d go absolutely ape shit. A real life Area 51. Complete with a crashed spaceship and aliens. Or maybe humans. The anthropologist she’d virtually shanghaied was still hedging his guesses.

In the end, it didn’t matter. Alien or human, no one could deny that they’d been more advanced than current day humanity by hundreds of years. Maybe thousands. And this ship had supposedly crashed when the Mayan’s were a going concern.

Oh, yes. The FBI would lock everything down and shuffle them all off to some secret prison if they had even the slightest suspicion of what she possessed.

Kathleen stepped up beside her son and stared down at the wreck. At one time, it must’ve been fairly sleek, in a boxy sort of way. It looked like a cargo container with wings.

“And what have you found out, since you’ve been here?”

“Your people are still taking pictures of the inside. Father and Harry didn’t get anything useful from it, though. The engineers think they’ve found where the battery would’ve gone. It’s missing, so the thing is an expensive paperweight.”

She shook her head. “Sometimes I despair. What makes you think your brother didn’t take it? He had the opportunity. Or better yet, the woman you failed to kidnap for me. Twice. No, three times. We mustn’t forget your magnificent foray onto their space ship. I’m sure she was there somewhere.”

“Because I saw their lab. We took everything in it. And I only had her in my sights twice. And she’s proven to be unexpectedly resourceful.”

“Yes, so I’ve heard. How is your rear healing up?”

The one bright spot in this was that she’d never tire of reminding her son that an untrained woman had shot him in the ass. That never got old.

His gaze narrowed. “It’s healing well, thank you. As I said, she’s a lot more than your scant intelligence briefing indicated. And now she’s as far out of our reach as if she’d gone to another planet. Almost literally, in fact.”

It annoyed her no end that her husband had built a spaceship right under her nose. One that had once belonged to her, dammit. Leaving aside the fact that she’d milked the government dry on “cost overruns” and “falling behind schedule,” she’d sold the subpar skeleton to the Russians. They’d in turn sold it to her never too often damned ex-husband.

She’d caught wind of his plan to make it into a space hotel. He’d rambled on about that pie-in-the-sky vision while they’d still been a couple. Idiocy, she’d called it. She’d told herself that he was welcome to waste his money on it when she’d uncovered his purchase.

Her spies hung around the orbital construction site long enough to make sure that was what he was really building before moving on to other parts of his business. She needed to know about projects that mattered, after all.

Only that had been a mistake. By the time she realized Clayton was building a spaceship, he’d already stolen her nuclear reactor prototype and smuggled it up to orbit. Him and her oldest son, Harry. Once Nathan failed to stop them, it had left the Earth on what certainly looked like a quick trip to Mars.

Once she’d have been unimpressed by that, but the ship on the floor below highlighted that folly. They were looking for more technology. The aliens might have gone elsewhere in the system. Perhaps there was an undiscovered base waiting on Mars.

Something they’d found had clued them in to a specific location. Probably the damned book.

That was the one useful thing that Nathan had recovered from Clayton’s hotel at the Yucatan Spaceport before he’d blown it up. Her experts had determined it bore marked similarity to something called the Voynich Manuscript. Only the unknown author had penned those papers five centuries after the Mayans had buried her book. Another damned mystery.

There were scanned pages of the manuscript all over the Internet. Thankfully, since her ex-husband had bought the original. The damned thing was probably on the spaceship, too. Yale University had traded it for a substantial endowment. As if they didn’t make enough money already. Those places were a whole other kind of scam.

With her luck, there was some secret message written on them in an alien version of invisible ink.

Clayton had been ahead of her every step of the way. He’d played her like a sucker. Now she had to show him that he’d made a terrible mistake.

“I’ve been thinking about how we can capitalize on this situation before it becomes public knowledge,” she said. “I have a new mission for you.”

Nathan raised an eyebrow. “I do hope it’s more fruitful than your most recent endeavors.”

“Since it mostly relies on people other than you, I have some confidence it will succeed. Still, you have a part to play in this. My sources tell me that your lady friend made a stopover in Italy on the way to steal my reactor. Whatever she was doing, it got one of their local mob kingpins in trouble with the law. I want to know what she was after.”

“Why don’t you have your local contacts find out?”

She wondered how she could’ve failed so badly. “Because I don’t want even more people to know what we’re doing, idiot. I’m always looking to keep my secrets more tightly concealed. And if you don’t want to be downsized, I suggest you stop pissing me off and get moving.”

* * * * *

Josh Queen, the secretary of state for the United States of America, stepped out of his plane and onto the island of Nauro. Formerly the Republic of Nauro.

He recognized at a glance that the man he’d come to see hadn’t bothered to come in person. That made him boil on the inside, but he kept his face pleasant. It wouldn’t do to tip his hand too early.

As it was, it had taken him almost a week to arrange a meeting with the old bastard. After the farce of an election the islanders had held, naming him President for Life, off all damned things, he’d told the US Navy to bugger off when they’d tried to isolate him. And he’d gotten the UN to back him.

Only the United Nations General Assembly, to be sure, but that carried weight with the public. Especially since the United Nations Security Council had been nothing more than a deadlocked joke for decades. The US, Russia, and China never agreed on anything anymore.

The other permanent members were a bunch of clucking chickens. Little more than noise. France would collapse any day now, overrun by Islamic fanatics.

That was the correct title for them, even though the US refused to call them that. Great Britain was under a state of siege. At this point, it was a fifty-fifty guess on who would blow up the channel tunnel first: the terrorists or the British government. He personally had money on the terrorists.

And why was Russia still even a member? After their economy collapsed again, they couldn’t even feed themselves. Their military was so weak that Iran pushed them around.

As for the non-permanent members of the council, who cared?

China, on the other hand, was a real military power. It was arguably stronger than the US at this point, though the Americans would never admit it. Unfortunately, both of them knew how the cards were stacked. US might was shrinking as they fell under the economic thrall of the Asian bastards.

And didn’t said bastards just know it.

The small delegation awaiting him seemed to be a mix of islanders and Rogers’ executives. One of the latter stepped forward and extended his hand. “Mister Secretary. Welcome to Nauro. I’m Jacob Thomas, vice president of island operations. The president sends his regrets, but he was unable to put off a very important meeting.”

Screw it.

“Well, that’s refreshingly blunt. And insulting as hell. Might I enquire who might be more important to meet than the secretary of state of the United States of America?”

If the man was intimidated, it didn’t show. “A delegation from the United Nations led by the secretary general. He came to personally provide certification that the world government acknowledges the sovereignty of our nation.”

The man was trying to piss him off. “As we both know, the United Nations isn’t a government at all. And it certainly doesn’t tell the US what to do. You’ve got a lot of balls talking trash like that when we have a task group waiting to come in and free these people from the economic slavery you’re about to put them under. We won’t stand for that.”

“You won’t? Interesting. I wonder what President Duan thinks about that?”

Queen narrowed his eyes. That could only be President Duan Xiaoying of China. “And what does she have to do with this?”

“She’s graciously extended the protection of her navy over us while we get on our feet. There’s a task group of her ships on the way as we speak. I suspect she’s take a dim view of any unwarranted aggression after her government recognized Mister Rogers as the rightful president of this wonderful nation.”

“Are you threatening my country?”

“I was just about to ask you the same thing.”

Queen reigned in his temper. It didn’t matter who supported this little piss ant of a country. He’d squash them like a bug if they didn’t reverse course. And if China wanted to make an issue of this, perhaps it was time to bloody their noses, too.

“I think I’ve heard as much of your posturing as I care to. If you’d like me to go back into my plane and leave, I can do that. At which point, I’ll call the admiral in command of this carrier group and tell him to start operations. I bet the Chinese back down in the end. They certainly will if we’re in control when they get here and you’re all on your way to Guantanamo.

“So, stop pissing me off and take me to see your boss.”

If you’d like to be notified as soon as the book is released, sign up for my mailing list by entering your email into the box on the right side of this page. I’ll only contact you with new releases or sales. No spam.