Author Feature: Wings of Earth: 1 – Echoes of Starlight by Eric Michael Craig

One hundred thousand colonists don’t simply vanish… No bodies. No evidence of an attack. Just gone.
Ethan Walker likes his life as a freighter captain. It’s easy work with no need for anything heroic. That is, until a run to the Starlight Colony on the far edge of Coalition Space, ends with a shocking discovery.
Everyone in the Colony has disappeared.
The shipping company orders him to leave immediately and get his cargo back safely, but when he reports the situation to FleetCom, they tell him to stay off the planet and wait for them to get there. Unfortunately, that gives his passengers a chance to make a desperate play for answers about the fate of the colony.
He’s left with no choice but to attempt a dangerous rescue, even knowing that to defy orders will cost him everything.

The Olympus Dawn dropped out of cruise as it passed the outer threshold marker, ten light-hours from Starlight Colony. It was a picture-perfect sub-light transition as the residual photons snapped clear of the ship’s hull with the usual flash of infrared that swept up to ultraviolet across the forward screen. From outside, it would have looked like the typical hellish white-light flash of a photon boom, but from the inside, it was a wonderful phototechnic cascade of unimaginable colors.
“All hands rig for space-normal operation.” Captain Ethan Walker made the announcement more as a formality than anything else. His small crew had done this hundreds of times, so they knew their jobs. With only a couple exceptions, they’d be snoring and waiting for something interesting to happen.
“You just like the sound of your own voice don’t you?” Nuko Takata said from the seat beside him. When he glanced over, she winked. She’d been his copilot for over two years, and she knew him well enough to understand sarcasm was his preferred language. They had the ConDeck to themselves and she had her legs up and crossed on the corner of the console as she thumbed through the latest newswave on her thinpad.
“Marti, plot a course for the transfer beacon and set speed to half-light,” he said. As the ship’s resident Artificial Awareness, Marti did most of the real piloting and at least it wouldn’t give him any lip. Usually.
“There is a problem with that, Captain,” the AA said in its rich contralto voice. “The beacon seems to be down.”
“Down?” Nuko said. Dropping her feet to the deck, she tossed her screen to the side and leaned forward to look at her console. “It could be in eclipse but the nav-time says that won’t happen for another sixteen hours.”
Starlight and its co-orbiting sister planet Shadetree were some of the earliest exoplanets discovered by an old sky survey system that used transiting observation to find worlds orbiting distant stars. Kepler 186 was 178 parsecs from Zone One, but its stellar plane lined up with Earth, so a ship coming in on a direct line from the home system might catch the worlds lined up with each other. When that happened they’d have no beacon to use to get a navigational fix. The colony’s beacon sat at the barycenter of the binary planet and winked out for almost an hour out of every forty-eight.
“You’re sure we’re in the right system?” he asked, poking at her. She wasn’t the navigator, but since she’d punched the buttons last, it had to be her mistake.
“If it’s Tuesday, this has to be Starlight,” she said, shaking her head.

Wings of Earth: 1 – Echoes of Starlight by Eric Michael Craig

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