Admiral

He is the last to wake. The label on his sleeper pad identifies him as an admiral of the Evagardian Empire—a surprise as much to him as to the three recent recruits now under his command. He wears no uniform, and he is ignorant of military protocol, but the ship’s records confirm he is their superior officer. Whether he is an Evagardian admiral or a spy will be of little consequence if the crew members all end up dead. They are marooned on a strange world, their ship’s systems are failing one by one—and they are not alone.

Tor.com is pleased to reveal the cover for Sean Danker’s Admiral, the first novel in a new military science-fiction series! Check out the full cover below, and read an exclusive excerpt from the novel, publishing May 2016 from Roc.

 

Admiral Cover

 

Chapter One

 

There were voices.

“An admiral? Is this a joke?” one of the voices said.

“It’s the seal. Look at this. I think someone’s done something to it.”

“Is he alive?”

“This isn’t even our ship.”

“He’s breathing. I have him.”

I was distracted from the pain wracking my body by a pair of soft lips on mine, and a rush of welcome, secondhand oxygen. The kindness didn’t last. A powerful fist smashed into my sternum.

The hand drew back for another blow, but I managed to grab the wrist and hold it. I didn’t need to be hit again.

Coughing, I opened my eyes just to shut them again. There were three lights blinding me. I released the wrist, then slowly sat up and groaned. Someone backed away from me. The deck was cold, and the air didn’t taste right.

I opened one eye and squinted up. Three people stood over me. Two young women, one young man. They wore only service-issue undergarments. Like me, they must have just come out of their sleepers.

I had no circulation in my limbs. My mouth was dry. The world was skipping frames, and my mind was stumbling to catch up. Sleepers were good at shutting down brain function; they weren’t as good at bringing it back. I could feel my heart twitching in a way that I didn’t particularly like, though the sleeper wasn’t to blame for that.

I felt like a dead man. I’d had bad wake-ups before, but nothing like this. Apart from a few readouts, the sleeper bay was completely dark. No lights, no emergency lights. Tangled as my head was, I knew that couldn’t be right.

The deck was metal, and not especially clean. I could feel an aggressive nonslip pattern of ridges under my palm. That was unexpected.

“What’s happening?” I asked, rubbing at my eyes and trying to make myself focus. It was as if I had all the negative effects of ethanol poisoning, but none of its perks. Every part of my brain was struggling except my memory. “Where are we?”

The three exchanged looks.

“Undetermined, sir.” That came from the shorter of the two females. The tall one watched me suspiciously, and the young man looked like he was trying to wake up from a bad dream. I knew exactly how he felt.

“Did you pull me?”

“You were showing warning lights. Something’s wrong with this unit,” the young man said, tapping the sleeper’s plastic shield. “The power’s gone, sir.”

“Thank you.” That was why these three had their hand-lights. My thoughts weren’t so jumbled that I didn’t know they’d just saved my life by getting me out of that sleeper.

I didn’t know where we were, but it wasn’t Payne Station. The paralysis was wearing off. I wanted to close my eyes and lie back down.

So I got to my feet, wobbling only a little. I reached up, touching my hair. It was short. I’d already known that; I was just checking.

The taller of the two women was eye to eye with me, and I’m nearly two meters. The look she was giving me wasn’t particularly friendly.

I rubbed my face, finding stubble. I shook my head and considered the three young people, thinking fast.

I eyed the young man. “Are you a tech?”

He nodded. “Ensign Nils. Trainee.”

“Trainee?”

“Graduate, sir.”

I looked them over, trying to understand. “All of you?”

“Yes, sir,” they replied as one.

Evagardian trainees. All graduates. I sort of waved my hand at them.

“And you’re all going to the Julian.”

“Yes, sir.” Nice chorus.

“First assignment?”

“Yes, sir.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose and groaned. They politely just stood there, staring at me. We were all shivering.

I pulled myself together and tried to look as though I was in control of my life. How had these three gotten onto a ship transporting me? I took a deep breath to keep my temper under control.

“Relax,” I told the trainees, who were standing stiffly, all earnest propriety. Giving their military customs and courtesies their all, insofar as they could in their underwear. I waved at them again. “You’re not in uniform.” I frowned. “But I suppose you ought to be. Get dressed.”

They shifted uncomfortably, and I realized that without power they couldn’t access the lockers on their sleepers.

Nils cleared his throat. “Sir?”

I turned on him. He had a little muscle that he probably hadn’t had before service training. He embodied every tech cliché, so he couldn’t really be anything else. He was pale, and a little twitchy.

Then again, so was I.

“What?”

He panned his light over the ceiling, showing hard lines and rough, gray metal. “Sir, this is a Commonwealth vessel. Ganraen.”

“I doubt that.” I rubbed at my sore joints, swearing internally.

“Sir,” the tall girl said, very firmly. “The engineering markings are all here.” She used her own light to show me a faded plaque on the bulkhead. It was the emblem of the Ganraen Royal Trade Commission, and a map of the deck.

Well, it was pretty hard to argue with that.

“Yes, it’s Ganraen built,” I said, looking around. These graduates couldn’t have been intended to revive on this vessel. How had this happened? It wasn’t just the wake-up. It wasn’t the state of my health, or my malfunctioning brain. Something was very wrong here.

The tall one didn’t seem to like me much. I’d been conscious for only a minute; what could I have possibly done? The disapproving look on her face looked so at home that maybe it wasn’t personal. She had that kind of face, the kind where you thought that maybe the fierce scowl was the default setting.

“What’s your name?” I asked her.

“Lieutenant Deilani reports as ordered, Admiral.”

“Admiral?” I blinked, taken aback. Making a point of looking bland, she panned her light past me. Indeed, my sleeper had all the right markings. There was an Imperial Admiral’s crest, plain as day.

“I’ll be damned,” I said, gazing at it. “I’ve been promoted. Drinks for everyone. Especially me.” It was time to change the subject, and I addressed Lieutenant Deilani. “What’s your area?”

I was curious; I’d met a few young officers over the years, and kids with brand-new commissions usually didn’t run around with chips on their shoulders like hers. It struck me as a little ungrateful.

“Bio, sir.”

I pictured this young woman bossing people around a medbay and decided she’d be good at it.

The third trainee was standing at parade rest. Unlike the other two, who had standard service haircuts, her hair had not been cut recently. There was only one way someone in the Service could dodge the haircut, and that was to need that hair for ceremonial or culturally significant purposes. That meant this shorter girl probably came from a tiered bloodline, a family whose genes were considered valuable.

She was pretty. Not gorgeous, but she was natural. She hadn’t augmented herself that I could see. She hadn’t tweaked her complexion or done anything too obvious to her features.

She did have that aristocratic poise, though.

“Name?”

“Salmagard.”

“What do you do, Lieutenant? If you don’t mind saying?”

“Private, sir.” She was staring at me with the same interest I was getting from Deilani, but with none of the animosity. Her voice was soft and musical.

I stared back at her, not sure I’d heard correctly. And I didn’t like the way she was looking at me. It wasn’t hostility on her face, but there was an intensity in her dark eyes that made me uncomfortable.

I could see the gears turning in her mind.

And the tall one—Deilani—now looked even more threatening. I forced myself to focus.

Salmagard was an enlisted aristocrat? Was that even allowed? I’d never heard of them doing that. Aristocrats were supposed to be a big part of the Imperial Service’s officer corps; there was a long tradition of it. I’d never given it any thought, but if someone from one of these families couldn’t pass officer aptitudes, didn’t they usually just find another career?

I didn’t know. And I didn’t know the first thing about Private Salmagard, but I had a feeling she wasn’t the type to fail anything she didn’t want to fail.

This was a lot of strangeness to wake up to.

Maybe this was why Ensign Nils seemed so lost.

“Sorry,” I said, smiling at her. “I wouldn’t have guessed.”

“I’m in negotiations, sir.”

Maybe she was kidding. No, she didn’t seem like the type, not at a time like this. Why not? Why wouldn’t she be a negotiator? It looked like this was that kind of day.

Was it day?

I focused. The glare from the hand-lights was hurting my eyes. Salmagard’s placid mask was perfect. She wasn’t letting anything slip out, not a trace of individuality. Her eyes were still fixed on me.

I’d known Nils was a tech by looking at him. What did Salmagard look like?

Well, she looked a bit like a real negotiator. Like, a real, actual one. One that talked to people.

But I wasn’t sure Evagard actually had those.

She wasn’t kidding. And she recognized me. The other two didn’t, but Salmagard did.

I kept my bearing. It wasn’t as though this was the first time my life hadn’t gone as planned.

“All right,” I said, blinking.

I took Nils’ light and studied the markings on the plaque. The graduates were correct. This was a Ganraen vessel refitted by the Evagardian Empire, and I was pretty sure it was Captain Tremma’s freighter. And Tremma wouldn’t leave his passengers to wake up alone in the dark without a word.

The deck under my bare toes told me something was off about the gravity, but we weren’t in motion. If we were having a power failure, we were lucky to have gravity at all.

That was assuming this gravity was artificial. What if it wasn’t? Were we in dock? Landed?

“Admiral?” Nils pressed, looking uncertain. I’d been lost in my thoughts. There was something wild in his eyes. These circumstances were well outside his comfort zone.

“Right,” I said, waking up. They were looking to me for answers, or at least guidance. Admiral indeed. The sleeper bay was freezing cold; I needed to get these three dressed and out of here. I opened my locker, which I’d never locked in the first place, and rummaged through my bag, coming up with a folding knife.

I flicked it open and knelt by the nearest sleeper, motioning Nils over. “Put your light on that. Right here.” He did so. I ran my fingers lightly over the plastic, found the spot I was looking for, and gave it a sharp strike with the handle of the knife. The trainees were bewildered. They’d probably never even seen a metal knife outside a museum. They’d been trained with lighter and stronger synthetic blades. Or at least, one of them had. Maybe the lieutenant too—imperial officer courses were supposed to have a token close combat component.

But Deilani didn’t need a knife. She had those bony elbows. And that look she was giving me.

It wasn’t working. I whacked the panel again. “Did they change it?” I rubbed my chin. The stubble was killing me. It had to go. “It’s supposed to pop right off.” Well, it wasn’t supposed to—but I’d broken into lockers before. It wasn’t a difficult task; I should’ve been able to do this in my sleep.

I was still misfiring, and the look Deilani was giving me wasn’t getting any warmer.

This wasn’t working. I sighed and got up, going to the bay door. Just in time, I remembered there was no power, and grabbed the handle instead of hitting the palm switch. The rubber grip was cool to the touch, but the hatch didn’t budge. I adjusted my grip, planted my feet, and put my back into it. Nothing.

I blew out my breath and drew back, shaking my sore hands. It was obviously stuck.

“Well,” I said. “This is awkward.”

“Permit me, sir.” Private Salmagard stepped past me, taking a firm grip on the handle. Surprised, I stepped aside. I’d been about to ask Nils for a hand.

Salmagard wrenched the hatch open, letting in a blast of icy cold. The air in the corridor wasn’t much warmer than that in the bay, and it was also pitch black.

Salmagard stepped aside, bowing her head.

I cleared my throat. “Thank you, Private.” I listened. There was no sound.

I’d never experienced a completely silent ship before. The only systems running were auxiliaries with their own power supplies, like sleeper readouts. This lack of sound wasn’t peaceful or calming; it was terrifying. Something was catastrophically wrong. When your ship is on emergency power, you’re in trouble. When your ship hasn’t got any power at all, if you’re not dead, you will be soon.

I went back into the bay. “We’re in trouble.” I took my pistol from the locker, and both Deilani and Nils took a step back with wide eyes. It probably wasn’t every day they saw an unsecured weapon on a spacecraft.

“That’s not service issue,” Nils said. He probably didn’t mean to say it aloud.

“We need to hurry. There’s no life support,” I told him. “But if this is the ship I think it is, there’s still plenty of air.” I took aim. “Why would you lock your personals on a transfer to the Julian? Nobody’s going to steal from imperial sleepers.” I shot the lock, and Nils’ locker sprang open. I freed the other two as well. The Empress could bill me. Everyone went to their lockers and got dressed.

Deilani wore an officer’s white shipboard fatigues. That uniform couldn’t be much fun to maintain, but she’d done a nice job with it. Salmagard’s black negotiator’s fatigues were every bit as impeccable as Deilani’s whites. In contrast, Nils’ tech uniform was rumpled, and his rank insignias were crooked, but even Evagardian techs aren’t realistically expected to be in regs. Some things were the same no matter where you went.

They were all staring at me again, or rather at my clothes.

“What? You can’t expect me to wear my dress whites when I’m traveling,” I said, straightening my somewhat shabby jacket, as though that could hide some of the holes, stains, and scorches.

It had been a long time since I’d dressed this way. It felt good. Alien, but good.

“At least you don’t have to salute me like this. Let’s find out what’s going on.” I took the emergency hand-light off my sleeper, slung my pitiful bag of belongings over my shoulder, and went into the corridor, shining the light around.

I tried to focus. I was almost afraid to look at Private Salmagard. I wasn’t misreading the way she was looking at me; I wasn’t that lucky. She thought she knew who I was, but she still hadn’t said anything. It wasn’t enough to act calm—until I knew what was going on, I had to be calm.

I let out a long breath, looking down the narrow corridor. It had been a long time since I’d been aboard this ship.

These old Ganraen freighters were some of the ugliest ships in existence. Dark, cramped, all metal and sharp edges. Everything was gray, except for where things had rusted to brown. There were handholds all over in case of a gravity loss. I imagined trying to navigate these rusty, jagged corridors in zero-g, and shuddered at the thought. A ship like this would be a death trap without gravity. Would it kill these guys to add a little padding?

On the bright side, the ship would be even uglier with the lights on.

“What is it, sir?” Nils asked. “What is this ship?”

“Ganraen cargo freighter,” I told him, still staring into the gloom. “Privateer class, maybe? I don’t know.”

“How did we get on it?” Deilani demanded.

“I could guess,” I said. “But I don’t think you’d like it.”

Fresh graduates on their way to their first assignment expected to be flown around the galaxy in the Empire’s latest ships, not whatever bucket happened to be going in the right direction. It didn’t matter because they were asleep in any case, but I didn’t want to spoil their illusions. On a ship this size there was a lot of air, but we still needed to get a move on.

“Captain Tremma should be on the bridge.” I looked at Nils. “This is his ship. I think. You’ve studied Ganraen spacecraft, haven’t you?”

“Yes, sir. Extensively.” There was a note of pride there. Nils seemed like the type to know ships.

“This one’s been refitted to meet Evagardian specs, but it’s probably still more or less recognizable. Where do you think we are in relation to the bridge?”

He considered it, gazing down the unlit corridor. A moment passed.

“Sir, this is an old ship, and I don’t recognize the layout. But big Ganraen ships always launch from the stern,” he said, shrugging.

And sleepers were kept near escape craft so disoriented passengers wouldn’t have to be shepherded far to reach safety. Nils thought we were on a lower deck near the stern, and that felt right.

“Sounds legit. We need to go up.” The lifts were useless without power, but there were plenty of old-fashioned ladders.

We traversed the freighter, the trainees trailing me obediently. Whatever their feelings on the plausibility of my impressive promotion, no one else was taking the lead. Deilani was struggling with that, but we were all confused, and we all wanted to know what was going on.

It was a long walk from one end of the ship to the other, made even longer because I didn’t know where I was going. Our lights showed us nothing but Ganraen corridor after Ganraen corridor. They all looked alike, and they were all stiflingly tight. Loose grating rattled underfoot every time we crossed a maintenance hatch.

There were safety covers on the deck that weren’t even secured with magnets.

Now I was really hoping the gravity would hold. This ship was a death trap. Maybe we were lucky it didn’t have power.

I preferred Evagardian ship design. The Ganraens built utilitarian vessels, but even the newer ones came out looking grim, even sinister, and Tremma’s freighter was not new. Panels were missing from bulkheads, exposing piping and circuitry. The ship was well maintained, but it wasn’t always easy for Tremma to get his hands on Ganraen materials, even during peacetime.

If we looked in the engine room we’d find half of everything jury rigged, or just broken down and neglected.

That was my guess about all of this—that we’d simply broken down. What I didn’t understand was where Tremma was hiding. He should’ve turned up minutes after the sleepers spat out the trainees, power or no power. There was no positive reading for this situation.

As we clanked through the dark, empty corridors, my apprehension grew.

Once we found the arterial corridor that ran the vessel’s full length, it was simple enough to follow it to the bridge. We had to pry open the hatch, and the graduates’ surprise was obvious. The rest of the ship had led them to expect a Ganraen cockpit: a cramped space with three consoles for three Ganraen flight officers, but what they got was a minimalist Evagardian command bridge.

It was a spacious chamber with five consoles, and panoramic viewports, which were currently as dark as everything else. The floor and bulkheads were white and clean. With the way I was feeling, the padded chairs looked inviting. The bridge was modern and luxurious compared to the rest of the ship.

It was also deserted. My light fell on an old-fashioned cup on the floor, and a dark stain. I knelt to touch it. Dry.

I sank into the command chair.

I was thirsty. Hungry too. So were the others. I pointed at the control chair beside mine, realized how imperious I looked, and made the gesture a little less flamboyant. Trying to sound appropriately military, I issued my first order. “Ensign,” I said to Nils. “Dismantle that so we can get at the power cell.” I tossed him my knife and leaned back to think. An encouragingly short amount of time passed before I heard him get to work.

He was what, twenty? And Salmagard was about the same age. Deilani might be a year or two older; she would’ve had more training. This was a charming start to their careers.

“What could cause the gravity to feel this way?” I asked after a moment, not opening my eyes. I couldn’t do this alone. I wasn’t up to it. I needed the trainees to pull their weight.

“The gravity drive could still be spinning down from the power loss, sir.” That was a good answer, but Nils was wrong. This felt different.

“It’s not that,” I said. “I wish it was. But we’d be able to feel it in this ship.”

“Suppose we’re adrift in the belt,” Deilani said, running a hand over one of the consoles. “The interference could account for it . . . sir,” she added, a little too deliberately. It wasn’t petulance or haughtiness in her voice, it was open dislike. I still didn’t know what I’d done to offend her. I understood that meeting such a young admiral struck her as odd, but didn’t we have bigger problems?

“Not that, either.” Her theory wasn’t out of the question, but the odds were too slim. “The belt isn’t even on the way,” I mused. “But what is?”

“When were we transferred from the personnel carrier, sir?” That came from Salmagard. She had a lovely voice. There was no hint of accusation in her words. Her face was calm. No hidden meaning. It was just a question. She wasn’t giving me a knowing look.

She knew, though. I could feel it.

“I’d like to know that too. I guess you came from Marragard?” I eyed their rank insignias.

Marragard was where imperial servicemen were gathered for graduation from the most prestigious academies, and only the best would be assigned to the Julian. “Then we must’ve picked you up on the Demenis side. So Tremma probably picked you up at Burton Station. That’s only two hops to Payne Station. Safe route.”

Deilani narrowed her eyes. “Why are we taking the long way?”

I realized that Salmagard wasn’t playing dumb for me, she was doing it because Deilani was better off curious than burdened by the truth. I tried to rally, thinking of an answer for the lieutenant. I had nothing.

“I know why I’m taking it. Why you’re taking it—that’s not a bad question,” I said. “I’m guessing your ride had a failure of some kind, and Tremma happened to be there at the right time. Someone decided to move you along to keep to schedule. Can’t keep the Julian at Payne Station forever.”

The Julian was the Evagardian Empire’s brand-new flagship. Supposedly the greatest warship ever built. The Empress herself was said to be aboard her now, overseeing the second leg of her maiden voyage. After her next tour, the Julian would continue to be seen at major trade hubs and high-traffic stations, an unmistakable reminder of the Empress’ absolute military superiority after the Empire’s crushing victory over the Ganraen Commonwealth.

And these three had been assigned to her. That meant they were good; personnel selection for the pride of the armada had to be especially rigorous.

I was hoping to reach the Julian as well, just not for the same reasons. Salmagard was no longer discreetly watching me. The fact that she wasn’t sharing her conclusions with Deilani at least hinted that she’d drawn some of the right ones. I was lucky that Salmagard was there. This was all very strange, and I wasn’t at my best. I needed a friend.

The route Tremma had been taking . . . Well, we could be anywhere. Thinking about it made my head hurt worse.

“You’re very young for an admiral, sir.”

I looked up at Deilani. “I know,” I told her.

“I’ve got it, Admiral.” Nils sounded pleased with himself. His timing was good.

I got up and went over to him. “I’ll take it from here. Get that panel off, uncover the ports.”

Nils gave me a look that was half suspicion, half admiration. He’d guessed what I had in mind.

The energy cell was used to power the mechanisms that physically moved the chair when a vessel was under fire, adjusting as the ship shakes and rolls so the commander doesn’t lose concentration. I tossed the cell to Nils, who knew exactly what to do. In minutes he had power running to the console.

I was hoping the computer would have something to say about the state of the ship. Not that I knew how to ask. “If you would,” I said, motioning Nils into the chair.

Deilani was staring at my hand.

“What?”

“You have very courtly manners, Admiral.” She sort of wiggled her hand. “Can you teach me to do that?”

Next time I’d just point.

“Nils,” I prodded, turning away from her without a reply. The ensign looked uncertain, but game. There was no doubt he knew his way around ship systems better than I did. It was time to get answers.

The system was running in its most basic emergency mode, so Nils had to physically enter data with his fingers, which he was impressively good at.

“Something’s wrong with it,” he reported immediately. “Sir,” he added hastily.

I was so different from the officers these three had been exposed to that they just couldn’t see me as one. My lack of uniform didn’t help, and neither did my sudden promotion to admiral. It probably didn’t seem believable to them, but that crest on my sleeper was hard to argue with. Deilani wanted to argue; I had a feeling she just wasn’t sure how to go about it. We were all off-balance.

But someone had to take charge, and my gut told me I was a better choice than Lieutenant Deilani, at least for now.

“The system’s corrupted,” Nils said.

“How?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know, sir. I can’t do anything with it.”

“Is there damage to the ship?”

“I wouldn’t know how to check with this,” he said, a bit sheepishly. “Not without at least basic protocols running.” He looked over his shoulder at me. “Sir, I want to try to get emergency power online.”

“Won’t do any good if the reactor’s damaged,” Deilani pointed out. She wasn’t even looking at Nils. She was looking at me. She was always looking at me. It wasn’t like I’d never been stared at before, but this was starting to wear me down.

“I don’t think it is. I don’t think there’s any damage to the ship,” Nils replied. “Anything that would knock out the power, then fail-safe the sleepers, would set off hit-confirm protocols—but the zero-g handles and oxygen masks in the corridors hadn’t been deployed, and neither had the automatic sealant. There’s no sign out there or in here that anything’s hit us. Even just a small meteor would put us on breach alert, but there hasn’t been anything.”

I should have noticed that.

“You’re right,” I said, grateful to have the ensign there. “If you think you can get power, do it.” I turned to Salmagard and Deilani. “There should be an executive escape craft near the bridge—find it and get a survival pack. We’re all dehydrated, and I don’t want to have to go banging on pipes yet.”

I wasn’t kidding myself; giving Deilani something to do wouldn’t make her happy, but I couldn’t think with her here, trying to glare her way through my skull.

Salmagard looked pleased by the order, and Deilani appeared faintly annoyed. “Go on. Don’t act like you’re not thirsty too,” I said, turning back to Nils. They took their lights and left the bridge to search. At least Deilani didn’t argue.

“I’m not coming up with much, sir. I’ve never seen an Evagardian system so crippled.”

“No pressure. But we might be dead if you don’t figure it out.”

He gave me a funny look. “One idea,” he said. “This ship has been refitted and repurposed with our tech. There might be a power supply that I can tap to run provisional functions temporarily.”

“How long is temporarily?”

“Depends on how much we use it, sir.”

“Case by case? What source?”

“If I’m reading this correctly, there’s a shuttle.”

“Ah.” I thumped my fist into my open palm. “I should’ve thought of that. But there should be more than one on a ship like this.”

“There’s only one that I can reroute here and now.”

“Odd. Could we do it manually?”

Nils shook his head. “That would be a lot more complicated than swapping an energy pack,” he said, eyeing the bundle of wires on the console beside him.

The shuttle’s cells wouldn’t be enough to move the ship, but they would get the computers running for a while, and maybe even air recycling.

“Sounds good,” I said.

“Wait a minute, sir. If we use that power it’s going to leave the shuttle useless.”

He had a point—we didn’t know where we were. The ship was crippled. The shuttle might be our only way off the freighter. If we were near something, escape craft would be enough, but if we weren’t . . . I started to laugh.

“Go ahead and use the shuttle,” I said, dropping back into the command chair. I slouched down, gazing at the ceiling. “We can’t use it in any case. How would we get the bay doors open? How would we cycle the airlocks? We couldn’t get to it. We definitely couldn’t launch it.”

Nils blanched, then did as I told him. Emergency lights came on. The ship was no longer black now, just dim. I let out my breath, staring at the light overhead. It wasn’t much, but at least we weren’t completely dead in the cosmos.

“I’m not going to run the lights on the whole ship,” Nils was saying. “Only where the motion sensors are tripped.”

“Fine. See if there’s anyone else moving.” Now I’d find out where Tremma was. And after that, where we were.

“Can’t, sir. I’m locked out of security.”

“Are you serious?” I didn’t understand. I sat up in my chair, turning to look at him. “How did it get this way?” Nils just shook his head. “Well, turn on the viewport.”

“That I can do.” He fiddled with the console for only a moment before the large screens came to life. I got to my feet, watching the feeds light up. I stepped back, and the blood drained from the ensign’s face. It would have been good to see a star formation, or Payne Station. Or another ship. A recognizable system, anything. But all I saw was shifting patterns of dark, sickly green.

We weren’t adrift. We were on a planet. That explained the gravity.

I swore quietly. Nils continued to stare, dumbstruck. And yet—this was not as bad as if we’d seen empty space, which was what I’d been fearing.

“What is it?” Nils squinted at the feeds.

“I don’t know. Raise the screens,” I said. Nils did so. We looked out through the transparent carbon shield at the green mist. It was lighter here than it had been on the screens.

“We’re in atmosphere,” Nils said, licking his lips.

“Yeah, but whose?”

Excerpted from Admiral © Sean Danker, 2016

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