July 30, 2013

Teaser Tuesday with Steven Donahue

Today's Teaser Tuesday is with Author Steven Donahue.


Blurb:  Twelve-year-old Amy Sutter steals the experimental spacecraft Liberty Bell to rescue her father and his colleagues from alien captors called the Crownaxians. She is pursued by Lt. Yale Brown, the officer in charge of the ship’s security, who has orders to bring back the Liberty Bell at any cost.

Amy Sutter tightened her grip on the yoke as she stared at the monitor on the console. Sixteen oval-shaped, purple objects dotted the screen. She took a deep breath, targeted one of the alien ships and fired her first missile. The enemy craft exploded and created a fireball that destroyed the ship beside it. Amy smiled and wiped some sweat from her forehead. The other ships began firing missiles at her as she turned the Liberty Bell to the right and dove hard toward the surface of the planet below. A proximity alarm sounded behind her as the missiles flew over the top of her ship. Amy then pulled back hard on the yoke and lined up her next shot.
She waited until the enemy fleet got closer before she fired the laser cannons mounted on the outside of her 150-foot long spacecraft. She obliterated two more vessels before the Liberty Bell took a direct hit of laserfire on the portside wing. The shielding held but the concussion of the blow caused Amy to smack her head against the console. Thankful she was wearing a helmet, Amy shook off the momentary dizziness and tried to line up another shot. Before she could, three more laser blasts wiped out her cannons. Two more blasts caused another alarm to blare. Amy looked at the console and saw that her life support systems were failing. However, her engines were still online. She sent out a distress call as the enemy ships started to surround her. She then steered the ship away from the fleet and initiated the Sprint Drive system. The Liberty Bell bolted through a gap in the enemy’s formation and the crafts disappeared from the ship’s radar as they fell far behind the spaceship.
Amy let out a sigh and quickly searched the digital maps for a suitable planet to land on. Before she could find one, the Liberty Bell began to violently shake. The temperature inside the cabin shot up. Before she should shut down the Sprint Drive, Amy heard a loud explosion behind her. Then all of her instruments stopped working and the cabin grew dark.
The exasperated pilot unbuckled her safety belt and flipped a switch on a side panel. The door over her head opened and the twelve-year-old girl climbed out of the simulator and down a ladder to the concrete floor. She took off her helmet and looked at her reflection in a small window on the simulator. She brushed back a lock of her dark brown hair and saw a welt forming over her right eye. Amy shook her head and smiled at her clumsiness. “Serves you right for sneaking in there,” said a voice behind her. Amy turned around and saw Lt. Yale Brown marching toward her. The officer had a clipboard in her hand and a relaxed look on her face.
Amy shrugged. “I got four of them this time,” she said. “Then the Sprint Drive exploded as I was getting away.” She handed the helmet to the lieutenant and walked with her toward the equipment storage room. Around them other pilots were training for various missions, while security officers stood guard at the building’s four entrances. Amy glanced at the busy soldiers and noticed their tense expressions.
“You can’t trust that engine,” said Yale. “They haven’t perfected it yet.” At 5’10”, the twenty-eight-year old woman towered over her young friend. Yale’s frame was lean and strong as a result of her military training and her short blonde hair fit neatly under her green cap. She wore a camouflage shirt and matching pants, standard issue for Union soldiers, and no makeup. Her light green eyes had a tendency to change colors in differently lighted rooms.
They reached the door to the storage room and Yale unlocked it by running a blue key card with a magnetic strip along a black keypad. Amy followed the lieutenant into the room and watched Yale tuck the helmet on a shelf next to other flight gear. Then she turned to face Amy. “Should I even bother asking how you got into the machine?” she asked. She put her hands on her hips and smiled.
Amy reached into her pocket and pulled out another blue key card with a magnetic strip. She waved it in front of Yale’s face. “Just got to have the right tools,” she said. Yale glared at her and yanked the card out of the girl’s hand. The lieutenant stuffed the card in her shirt pocket and pointed to storage room door. “I’m going, I’m going,” said Amy. The girl tiptoed past her friend and watched the lieutenant lock the door.
Yale chastised the guards on duty for letting Amy slip past them, before she handed another officer the clipboard. Then she escorted the girl out of the facility and they walked side-by-side toward the adolescent’s living quarters. The crisp morning air was a delightful change from the normally arid atmosphere on Paldor, a small hot planet just outside the Milky Way. The Sutter family resided in building 400, in one of the more elegant homes in the 23 square-mile Pioneer Settlement.
A fighter jet flew overhead. Amy squinted at the tail markings for Earth’s Union Defense Fleet. She thought about their ongoing war against the Crownaxians, an alien species that no surviving human has ever seen. The highly intelligent warriors attacked a human settlement on the planet Blaros. More than 3 million people were killed in the attack and eight years later the human death toll had skyrocketed past 29 million, with no end in sight.
            Amy knew that Earth’s overpopulation and dwindling natural resources forced mankind to seek shelter elsewhere among the stars. However, the Crownaxians refused to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict, which had forced the Union to institute martial law on all human colonies. The five major settlements on Paldor all fall under the jurisdiction of Gen. William Knox, a 55-year-old career officer. Amy had heard rumors that the general had become overly cautious, sending out only defensive patrols, and that some of his subordinates had lost faith in him.
Yale and Amy walked into Amy’s home and found Clayton Sutter sitting at the dining room table. The diplomat was typing on a laptop computer. His chestnut brown hair was prematurely receding toward the top of his skull and his fierce brown eyes stared intently at the screen in front of him. Amy said a quick hello to her father and tried to duck into her bedroom, but her mother spotted her in the hallway.
Pam Sutter’s hazel eyes widened as she put her hand on her daughter’s chin. “What happened to you, young lady?” she asked, shifting her gaze from Amy to Yale, who was still standing behind the girl.
The lieutenant spoke first. “I’m afraid she bumped her head while running a program in the flight simulator,” said Yale. She tightened her fists as she glanced at Clayton. Amy watched her dad rise and walk toward her. He put his hand on his daughter’s shoulder and looked at the bruise. “I promise this won’t happen again,” said Yale.
Clayton shrugged and turned toward his wife. “It doesn’t look too bad to me,” he said. Amy let out a sigh of relief. Then she saw him turn and glare at her. “But you shouldn’t have been in that simulator,” he said. His face reddened. “What were you thinking?” He moved his face close to hers. “This base is not your playground. You cannot go wherever you want any time you want to. There are a lot of dangerous places that you need to stay away from. I want you to promise me that you will follow the rules from now on,” he said.
Amy nodded, having heard this before, and forced herself not to blink. “I will, Daddy. I promise,” she said. She opened her arms and wrapped them around him. He hugged her back and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. Then he let go and sat back down at the table. Pam crossed her arms over her chest. Amy knew what she was waiting for. “I’m sorry,” said the young girl. “It won’t happen again.”
Pam looked at her watch and sighed. The auburn-haired woman was a few inches shorter than Yale, but Amy found her far more intimidating. She was a meticulous and ambitious physician with a strong need for order and discipline. Pam tended to be less affectionate than her husband, at least toward her daughter, who frequently felt uneasy around her.
            The doctor glared at Yale. “I hope this breach of security is not commonplace, lieutenant,” she snarled. “I’d had to think what a spy for the Crownaxians could do if given the chance.”
            The lieutenant cleared her throat. “I assure you it is not,” she replied. “And those responsible will be punished.” She glanced at Amy, who offered a sympathetic shrug.
            “I have to go to work,” said Pam. Then she addressed her daughter. “There’s an ice pack in the freezer. Put it on your bruise for twenty minutes, then take it off for twenty, then put it back on for twenty more,” she said to Amy, without looking at her. “It will help keep the swelling down.” Amy watched her grab her physician’s bag and move toward the door. Pam stopped by her husband and kissed him on his forehead. He looked up at her and smiled. “I should be home by six,” she said.
He kissed her goodbye, and then continued typing. Yale held the door open for Pam, and then followed the woman out. Amy noticed the pained look on Yale’s face and she wondered if her friend would get into trouble for her stunt. After the door closed, Amy went into her bedroom and quietly shut the door behind her.
She flopped down on the bed and quickly forgot her mother’s medical advice. Instead she stared up at the stars and planets painted on the bedroom ceiling. She silently counted each star and gave each one a name, something she always did when she was trying to calm her nerves. Then she thought about the Union Academy again. It would be two more years before she would be old enough to apply. Not that she thought she could get in. Amy knew that her math grades weren’t high enough and that her language skills needed to improve. Still, she hoped that she could follow in her parents’ footsteps and graduate from the academy someday. Then she would study for her pilot’s license and try to get a job on a real spacecraft.
After dozing off and dreaming about the academy, Amy awoke to the sound of someone knocking on her door. She sat up and told the visitor to come in. Amy brightened when she saw Madison walk through the doorway. The 6’6” robot closed the door behind it and walked to the middle of the room. A briefcase dangled from the robot’s left hand. The sleek, dark green metallic machine was modeled on the human form. “I’m sorry I’m late,” it said. “Suzy Porter asked me to stop by and replace the Science data file she lost over the weekend.” Amy smiled at the familiar brass sound of her friend’s voice. Madison rested the briefcase on the desk that sat four feet away from the top of Amy’s bed. The robot took out a mini-comp and turned it on.
Madison was the first fully automated, sentient being to successfully emerge from the laboratory of a Union science group headed by biologist Stanley Greenland. Unfortunately for the group, they were not unable to duplicate that success with later models, nor were they ever able to explain why the androgynous Madison worked and those that followed didn’t. Amy believed that it was because Madison had a soul, an opinion not shared by anyone else.
Originally conceived as a supersoldier for the Union Defense Fleet, Madison was reassigned to Paldor after several Union Council members lost faith in Greenland’s work. The constant setbacks became too disheartening for the biologist, who then decided to retire after the Council cut off his funding. With no teachers living in the Pioneer Settlement, Madison was reprogrammed to tutor the students of various ages who resided with their parents in the small hamlet. Since none of the other kids were Amy’s age, Madison taught her privately. Amy felt honored to be among the robot’s pupils but she still wished that she could attend a regular school on Earth. Her father’s numerous assignments kept them moving from place to place and the Sutter family hadn’t been back to Earth in nearly four years.      
“We are going to start with Algebra today,” said Madison. The robot pulled a chair away from Amy’s desk, placed it against the wall and sat down in it. Another chair was pressed against the desk.
Amy plopped down in the empty chair and rolled her eyes. “Algebra is so boring,” she said. “Can’t we start with something else?” She picked up a pencil and started doodling on a small pad of paper. Without thinking, she began to sketch the outline of a spacecraft. Although she had never seen the real Liberty Bell, Amy could imagine what it looked like from having been in the simulator. When she finally realized what she was doing, she filled in the details of her sketch from what she thought the outside would look like.
“Please turn on your tutor-comp and go to page 43 of the math section,” said the robot. “We have a lot to cover this morning. Your last test score was very disappointing.” Amy frowned and put aside the sketch. She picked up her tutor-comp and sighed as she searched for the page. “Look at the first problem and tell me how to begin.”
Amy did as she was told and the duo spent the next hour deciphering the mysteries of Algebra. Then they moved on to History, Science, English and Social Studies. After the lessons ended, Madison packed up its teaching materials, while Amy sat on the bed and stared at the stars on her ceiling. “Why did this stupid war have to start?” she asked, looking over at the robot.
Madison zipped up the briefcase and sat down on the bed beside her. “You know all about that,” it said, shaking its head. Amy shrugged. “I don’t have anything new to tell you. Blaros was attacked and the Union fought back. It certainly is a terrible thing, this war.”
“Have you ever seen a Crownaxian?” asked Amy. The robot shook its head no. Amy leaned against the wall. “I know, I know, no one has ever actually seen one. But I hear that they want to take over every planet in the universe. And nobody can do anything to stop them.”
“Where did you hear that?” asked Madison.
Amy crossed her arms over her chest. “From some of the other kids. They say the Crows are mindless killing machines, just bred for war. And they’ll eat anything, even each other.” Amy grimaced. “That’s so gross. I hope I never have to see one of them. If I did, I think I would just die.” The words slipped out before she realized the gravity of them. “Oh, I don’t mean like the people at Blaros. I know that was tragic and all. But I’d be terrified to come up against a Crow unless I had a laser gun in my hand.”

Madison stood up and grabbed the briefcase. “I wonder what their children say about humans,” it said. The robot extended a hand and helped Amy stand up. The cold, metal surface of the robot’s hand made her shiver. She quickly let go and led the instructor to the door. Amy exited first and Madison followed her through the living room to the front door. Clayton walked over from the kitchen and thanked Madison before the robot left.

Author Bio: Steven Donahue was a copywriter for TV Guide magazine for 14 years. His first novel, Amanda Rio, was published in 2004. It has received critical acclaim from reviewers for Amazon.com and thebestreviews.com. Steven currently resides in Bucks County, PA with his wife, Dawn. He has two novels coming out in 2013: The Manila Strangler (Rainstorm Press) and Amy the Astronaut and the Flight for Freedom (Hydra Publications).


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