Authors: Edward West
A Cadet Starship Chronicles novel by
Edward Dean West
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
2013 Edward Dean West Jr. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means; electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without express written permission from the author.
Published by Edward Dean West Jr.
Cover art by Edward Dean West Jr.
Table of Contents
Best Of All
This is a story of rogues and outsiders. Of thieves, liars, and the worst kinds of men. It also tells of great justice and extraordinary feats of bravery. There is love, life, laughter, and the brightest of souls. There is also hatred, death, and the darkness within. This is a story of hearts, and it is also a story of stars.
One fully knows the value of life when they are comfortable with mortality to the point that they're ready to die. They've seen enough, done enough and are ready for eternal peace. Yet when the moment of death arrives their heart swells and they cry out in fear, defiance, and with great desire their wish to live: "I don't want to die yet!" I do not know these people, but I pray every night that someone will grant them their wish. Not only do I see the value of my life, but theirs as well.”
It was snowing on the evening of February 1, 20XX as an anxious Ryan Swift paced back and forth in a busy hospital corridor. It was the kind of climate controlled place that never seemed to get the temperature right, for healthy people at least, and the smell of disinfectants gave him a sick feeling. He reached up and pushed his chestnut brown hair out of his eyes, only to have it flop back down his brow. Marceline Swift, having seen her husband so worked up, suggested that he step outside for some air. He wasn't sure how the narrow, brightly lit hallway of a place he'd only been to when he was sick, or dying, was going to help him relax.
Trust me honey, we've got time.” she said, but it had already been ten minutes since he had stepped into the hallway. Ryan worried that if he actually went outside he might miss it all. What was taking so long? Was the baby taking the bus?
A nurse poked her head out of the delivery room and asked “Captain Swift?”
He's here!” Ryan exclaimed with a mixture of joy and relief. He walked into the room and the entire ward heard him cry out in fear.
Sir please calm down. It's only your wife.” the nurse said.
B-but...her...it...my god!” Ryan proceeded to freak out.
What he had seen that day could not be unseen as they say
. Marceline then gave a shout and pushed. Ryan wasn't sure if he could take this much longer. How could childbirth be so brutal and violent?
Marceline! What have I done to you!? I'm so, so sorry!” he fell to his knees. How did it ever come to this!?
Marceline did two cycles of breathing exercises and then gave her husband a smile.
Baby...you're doing...unh...juuust...fine!” she attempted to comfort her husband.
To Ryan she looked beautiful. Like a goddess of victory on the battlefield, with her damp blonde bangs clinging to her forehead and a fierce look of determination in her gray eyes. Then he looked down again.
OH MY GOD, NO!” He lost it once again.
Hang...unh...in there!” she encouraged her husband between pushes. Ryan had finished gearing up in a surgeon's mask, surgical gown, and latex gloves; determined to help his beloved wife and approaching child in anyway possible when the doctor stood up.
You have a boy!” the doctor announced.
Ryan looked at his son dangling upside down in the doctors grip. When his eyes did not open and he made no sound,
Ryan quickly became worried for his son.
Say Doc, shouldn't you smack his butt or something?” as he began slapping his own face.
The doctor did indeed plan to lay hands on the child, but as he pulled back his hand a pair of lazy brown eyes opened and found Ryan's.
Whoa, chill!” Ryan threw up his hands “Don't hit him! He's cool, he's alright!”
Upon seeing the hysterical look on his father's face the baby laughed. Ryan gave a sigh of relief and smiled at his son “Leo!” he said and took his son to sit on the bed alongside Marceline.
She put her finger out and Leo grabbed it “He's amazing!” she said and kissed his little hand.
Leoric grew into an energetic young boy, full of curiosity. At night his father would lift him onto his broad shoulders and take him out into the yard to see the stars. He would point out planets and constellations as he told his son stories of daring adventures, risky missions, and epic space battles. When the other kids would play war, he was always the first to join a team as a leader, support, or any of the other roles. He had an early fondness for action, tactics, and strategy and did not care what his role was as long as he could play. During holidays his mother would help him bake snacks to bring in for the class which earned him the favor of his peers. When rainy days came Marceline would sing to him as he tried to accompany her by guitar.
From time to time Ryan would bring his military buddies home, and it became a tradition to challenge Swift's boy with trivia about ships and cosmic battles. To their amusement and approval, Leoric often showed himself quite knowledgeable about these subjects. As he grew older, those visiting the Swift household would bring technical publications such as manuals and magazines for the young captain in training to read. One such visitor named Zachary Method, Ryan's closest friend, shared Ryan and Marceline's pride and excitement for Leoric's potential. Despite always worrying for her son's safety, Marceline agreed to let Leoric sit in the cockpit of Zach's Personal Fighter Class Cruiser, and once he grew older he was even allowed to fly it short distances.
Over time Ryan began to notice that his son had a penchant towards sticking up for other kids whether with his words or his hands. While they were proud of their son's good intentions, both parents agreed that Leoric would get himself into too much trouble someday. As a precaution, Ryan taught his son to box when he was old enough for two reasons: the first was so that his son would be able to defend himself and the second was discipline. He wished for his son to know his own strength and what he was capable of. All things considered Leoric was very happy throughout his early childhood. However, the blessing of innocence quickly fades as ignorance recedes and reality rears it's ugly head.
It was a crazy hot summer in 20XX as tensions between The Empire and The Rebel Faction reached a fever pitch. This was also the year that a squadron of rebel bombers broke through Earth's defenses. Their primary targets were military installations and government buildings, but contempt for the upper class led
to the idea of punishing the decadent citizens who lived in luxury.
Leoric was walking home from school when the first bomb landed, and at first he didn't know what was going on. Construction work? Fireworks during the day? The word terrorist attack simply was not in his register yet. Then the sirens began to wail and he knew that something must be wrong. Another bomb struck as if to blast away any chance that this was an accident and the growing dread in the pit of Leoric's stomach urged him to get home immediately.
He stuck to side streets and alleyways, knowing that if he tried to move down any main streets he'd run into panicked crowds of people. During emergencies, crowds tend to take on a mob mentality complete with pushing and shoving, and the last thing Leoric wanted was to die by being trampled. His palms were sweaty and the sound of his heartbeat thudded in his ears like a sledge hammer. The explosions were getting nearer, closing in on him, and he broke into a full sprint as a bomber plummeted into a row of houses a few streets over, the resulting impact spew smoke and ash into the surrounding area. Leoric wasn't expecting this and inhaled a lungful of the choking death. He wretched, coughed, spit and sputtered as he turned down another alleyway to escape. Once he was clear, he stopped to breathe; his mouth dry and lungs on fire. He became aware of fire all around him now. Buildings he had seen everyday, towers of brick and glass that hadn't caught his eye before now blazed insanely as if waving at him with glowing hands. The sickly sweet smell of burning wood coming from nearby houses cloyed at his nose and he put his hand over his face. The idea came to him that people were dying, maybe his mom too. He pushed these thoughts from his mind and set off running again, but after only running down a block he heard the sound of a voice screaming in pain. Pain, agony and fear. This too he pushed from his mind. Leoric wanted nothing more than to stop and help that person, but he knew he could not. Even if it damned him to hell, he had to leave that person to their fate. Even if their fate was death; he had to get home and help his mother.
After a few moments that seemed like hours to him, Leoric emerged from an alleyway on his block. His house was within sight and he began running towards it at full speed. Just then he heard another screaming voice. He looked to see who was screaming and cursed himself under his breath. Sure it's wrong, but it's one thing to hear something and not respond. The less you know the better you feel. However Leoric was looking at this screaming person, a child slightly younger than himself, as he waved his hands from the second floor of a burning house. Their eyes met, and he was now calling out to Leoric for help. This he could not ignore, but everything was on fire including the lawn beneath the window. The kid was going to have to jump, but fire obviously didn't enhance his chances of being caught by Leoric, or making a safe landing by himself. Leoric looked around the front yard and in the driveway saw a car with a tarp on it. Close enough he thought. He dragged the tarp off of the car and managed to throw it on the fire, smothering it without burning himself.
Leoric cupped his hands to his face and shouted “Jump!”
I can't!” the kid whined back.
Leoric pointed a finger up at the kid and roared “Wrong! The correct answer is 'okay'! Now jump or die!”
That kid must have believed him, because he summoned what courage he could and jumped. Leoric did catch him, but stumbled and fell backwards onto the tarp.
Sh-!” Leoric hopped back up instantly and ran out into the street with the kid still in his arms. The tarp, while having successfully smote the fire, remained very hot to the touch. He regained his composure and set the kid down.
You okay?” Leoric said, rubbing his own backside, and hoping that he didn't burn anything important. Like his butt and junk.
The kid nodded vigorously as if his enthusiastic head bobbing said it all. Leoric supposed that it would have to do in this situation.
Where are your parents?” Leoric asked.
At work.” the kid replied.
Not good. There wasn't a chance that the downtown district made it out of this unscathed. Also from the sound of approaching explosions Leoric concluded that another bombing was about to begin.