Formation: Ghost Squadron, Book 1
By Sarah Noffke, Michael Anderle, & J.N. Chaney
Docking Bay 17, Deck 25, Onyx Station, Paladin System.
“Follow me,” instructed Julianna, standing on the loading bay of the QBS Atticus Finch. The ship had only just docked with what appeared to be Onyx Station.
Eddie stared at her with an auspicious eye. She was quite the babe, this Julianna woman; tall and slender, with gorgeous, obsidian hair. He could tell she was beautiful the first time he saw her, even in the dimly lit bar, but here, with proper light, she was almost angelic, like she’d been molded by the gods themselves.
Eddie had heard of genetically modified humans, but he’d never actually met one for himself. Such a thing was reserved for higher-ranking military personnel or proven combatants that the Empire viewed as invaluable. The process, what Eddie knew of it, involved a long hibernation period inside a specialized pod, and resulted in enhanced abilities such as speed, strength, and increased reflexes, among several others. It also had the added effect of making you far more attractive. At least, those were the rumors.
In Julianna’s case, all of the above seemed to be true.
“Are you my escort?” asked Eddie, walking down the deck.
Julianna raised her brow. “We have a meeting with General Reynolds in five. Are you ready?”
“All work and no play, I see,” he remarked.
“Our mission is of the utmost importance. You understand that, right? This isn’t some pleasure cruise.”
“Are you sure? Because I packed a few pairs of shorts and some sunscreen,” he quipped.
“Try and fail to be clever later. We’ve got shit to do now.”
“Let’s hit it, boss,” said Eddie, tossing his duffel over his shoulder.
She led him through the deck and onto the station’s platform. Onyx Station was one of the largest in the Empire, with over six million residents across several species. Some people called it the ‘Etheric melting pot’; others said it was nothing but a suffocating box. The few times Eddie had been here, he’d found it to be a mixed bag. He enjoyed the variety of people and experiences, and there was always a new restaurant to try, but he also enjoyed his privacy, and Onyx Station wasn’t exactly built for solitude.
Still, it was worth a visit every now and then. He liked the hot dogs on the main deck; Bokey’s Pups, he believed the establishment was called. And then there was the Main Street Diner, the closest thing to Earth food you could get out here: burgers, soup, steak, eggs and hash—even spaghetti.
Eddie had never been to Earth. Humanity had long since left it behind. Oh, sure, people still lived there, but he’d never see them. Not in his lifetime.
The galaxy was his home. It always had been.
Eddie was born on an Etheric ship and raised by patriotic parents who knew what they believed. The two of them had met in the military, both of them pilots, and fell in love between missions. For Eddie, being a pilot was in his blood. It was part of his soul.
He had always liked fighting. It relieved his stress, gave his life purpose, and he liked helping people. Moreover, he was good at it. For all of those reasons, being a soldier made sense to him. It was the only thing that did.
“Hurry up,” prodded Julianna, turning to look at him as they walked through the deck.
He was trailing behind, unaware of the growing gap between them. “Slow down a bit. What’s your hurry?”
“We have to meet with General Reynolds in less than two minutes. You’re moving too slow.”
He double-timed it to catch up. When he was finally at her side, he gave her a sideways look. “Happy now?”
She didn’t answer.
“You’re kind of a downer, aren’t you?”
“I just have a job to do, that’s all,” she stated.
“Doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it.” He grinned. “See? I’m having all kinds of fun.”
They reached the elevators, and the doors suddenly opened, as though the machine had been waiting for them.
“Inside,” she told him.
“I’m simply never late,” affirmed Julianna.
The doors closed and the elevator began its descent. “That so?” asked Eddie.
“I hope you can adjust to being a soldier again, Captain Teach. I understand it’s been a while since you last wore the uniform.”
“True, but you never really forget, do you?” he answered as the doors opened. “Even if you want to.”
She glanced at him and nodded. “No, I guess you don’t.”
They stepped out, making their way through a long corridor with silver walls. Each side was lined with offices, though a single desk sat in each of them. It seemed both natural and strange that no one should be on this deck, depending on the meeting he was about to have.
They rounded the corner, and Julianna stopped. “With ten seconds to spare. In here,” she directed, motioning to a closed door.
Eddie smiled. “You should know, my birthday isn’t until next month. I hope there’s no party inside. I’d still take some cake, though.”
Julianna rolled her eyes, and Eddie opened the door, revealing another office—although this one was certainly not empty, nor was it small. Unlike the others, this room revealed a man waiting with a cigar in his mouth, sitting back with his feet up on the surface of the desk.
“Ah,” said General Lance Reynolds, grinning his trademark smile, the same one featured on all the posters that were outside Federation recruitment centers. “Right on time, Captain Teach.”