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Placeholder image  Preview of Starman #7: The Heart of Danger

The following represents a collection of excerpts from various chapters in the book. Enjoy!

The hatch opened onto gloom. Zip stepped to the edge and peered outside in every direction. There was no movement discernible in the immediate vicinity. The Starman jumped to the deck, crouched, and turned slowly in a circle, once again taking stock of his surroundings. He could see only vague shapes and silhouettes in the murky interior of the giant Xenobot transport ship.

"We'll move under the ships," he said, "back in the direction where the Xenobots began their inspection. If we can get through their line and into the area they've already searched, maybe we'll be safer. We'll look for a ship more to our liking."

The young Starman took a moment to quiet his mind. He entered a state of calmness and minimal mental activity. He forsook all thought of what had happened or what might happen, and gave his sole attention to the immediate present. He stilled his emotions. In his mind he blended himself into the surroundings as if he were merely a stanchion or support for a spacecraft. His tranquility lowered his mental profile so that the Xenobots, who seemed to become aware of other beings by detecting their mental presence, would not be drawn to his aura.

Slowing his breath and lowering his heartbeat, Zip began to glide from one ship to another, staying in the shadows. At one point, he suddenly became aware of a group of three or four Xenobots coming in his direction. He instantly subdued the involuntary surge of awareness in his mind by imagining that he was immersing himself in a pool of dark water, warm and relaxing, falling out of sight of any observer. He slid over to the closest support pylon of a spacecraft and merged with its shadow. He did not even keep his laser pistols ready, but crossed his arms over his chest as if he were folding wings around himself like a bird and going to sleep.

"Jack!" shouted Zip. "We've entered hyperspace! At the worst possible time!"

"Xenobots coming to this space, Zip. Xenobots coming to this deck. Many Xenobots."

"Jack," said Zip slowly and deliberately. "We're going to follow through on our plan." The Starman pressed his lips together tightly. Then he spoke through clenched teeth.

"We're going to blow a hole in the side of this mighty freighter and escape in this warship."

"We in hyperspace, Zip."

"I know, Jack. I don't know what will happen if we leave the freighter while we're in hypertransit, but I am sure that if we do nothing, they will find us in minutes and we won't stand a chance.

Fire up the engines." The Starman laughed in exultation, and his eyes lit up. "Let's go!"
The Titanian ignited the engines of the Xenobot warcraft. "Raise us!" ordered Zip. "Blow open the side of this freighter and take us out!"

The warcraft lifted up from the deck and hovered in place.

It swiveled to face the portal through which it had come just hours before. The close quarters of the deck below and the space behind the ship were engulfed with the exhaust of the fusion-powered spacecraft. Even without Jack's advantage of being directly connected electronically to the enemy's communications system, Zip could sense the intense, even massive, group consciousness of the Xenobot presence behind him. Red hatred washed over him from somewhere outside. Like a rock fixed in the rapids of a river as the current surged over it, Zip stood firm and unyielding. He felt invincible!

Suddenly, a sharp memory came into Zip's mind. He saw the empty canyons of Old New York, the same view he'd had when he was controlling Turp's ship, the Brown Crab, by compad. He was surrounded by people who were trying to kill him. He felt vulnerable and exposed to the merciless hatred of countless enemies. He shivered. A sharp pang of loneliness and longing came through him.

He wondered if perhaps he had let his friends down by plunging headlong in his determination to board the Xenobot ship. More than one person had tried to talk him out of it, including Karax. He hadn't yielded, and now he'd put Jack's life at risk. Finding him and Jack would most likely prove to be just about impossible. In fact, he could not see any way in which he and Jack could emerge from their current dilemma alive. The Titanian was so loyal and so trusting. An overwhelming sense of guilt washed through the young Starman. He bowed his head. His shoulders drooped as if under a crushing weight.

"Maybe nothing outside door, Zip," said Jack, almost brightly. "Maybe we sent to place no one ever come."

For half an hour it seemed that way. The friends waited in silence, Zip debating whether he should open the hatch or not. Doing so would whisk away all the atmosphere in the spacecraft and, little enough oxygen as there was in its composition, outside of his suit's storage system that's all he had. He would tell Jack that if nothing happened in the next six hours, he would open the hatch.

Suddenly there was a loud clunk on the outside of the hull and the spacecraft rocked slightly. Zip straightened to his full height of five and half feet and gripped his laser rifle. He stepped aside so that he would not be immediately visible to whatever was coming through the hatch. His eyes blazed with intensity, his nostrils flared, and his lips tightened.
The hatch suddenly slid open, revealing three armed Xenobots. Zip fired the instant he perceived their telltale metallic exoskeletons. Taken by surprise, the three went down rapidly with smoking holes in their barrel-like torsos. The smoke whipped backwards as the atmosphere from the ship Zip had entered surged into the Xenobots' boarding ship.

"Let's go, Jack!" shouted Zip, and leaped toward the open hatch. For only a second, in the shadows cast by his dimmed suit lights, he saw the yawning passageway of the new ship before his view was obscured by four more of the enemy scuttling toward him. He fired again and speared the first one with his weaponlight, but this time his fire was returned. A laser beam shot passed his head and skewered the shoulder pack where it attached to Zip's suit. In swift alarm, Zip whirled counterclockwise to present only a side-body target to the Xenobots and to protect Jack from further assault. The shoulder pack, however, had been loosened and flew off Zip's suit as he spun.

"Jack!" he yelled. A second burst from enemy lasers seared the space where Zip's head had just been and sheered off the end of his laser rifle. With a snarl the Starman flung his useless weapon down and, turning, ran toward the opposite side of the ship, looking fruitlessly for the shoulder pack.

"Aayahhh!" he screamed in anger, frustration, and to release the pent-up energy of battle. Weaponless, he saw the pipe he had used to assist Jack to place Karax's device and snatched it up. "Ah, Jack, Jack!" he lamented with teeth-clenching intensity.


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2011 by David Baumann, Jonathan Cooper, Mike Dodd. All rights reserved.