Big excerpt from THE CAPTAIN WHO BROKE THE RULES

We’re two weeks away from the release of The Captain Who Broke the Rules, Book 2 of the Ptolemy Lane Tales.  So here’s a big chunk of the start of the story.

Excerpt

EXCERPT FROM THE CAPTAIN WHO BROKE THE RULES
COPYRIGHT © CAMERON COOPER 2022
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Captain Who Broke The Rules

On my third day aboard the Jan Mayen Island, I woke to find a memo from Captain Sandor waiting for me to accept delivery.

This is to inform you that at 02.47.45 hours this morning, ship’s time, the following cargo containers with serial numbers registered to your passenger profile were jettisoned.

JMI-1340-9850-AOU0892-GTX

JMI-1340-9850-AOU0893-GTX

JMI-1340-9850-AOU0894-GTX

As a state of emergency was in force at the time, no warranties can be claimed.

Thank you and enjoy the rest of your journey aboard the Jan Mayen Island.

Cptn. D. Sandor

I skipped breakfast. I couldn’t have eaten it, anyway. Instead, I headed for the Courtyard, where the thirty or so passengers on the JMI tended to spend their waking hours, to get away from the cramped quarters. At least you could stretch out your legs in the Courtyard.

I wasn’t there to stretch my legs, though. Not today. My intention was to find out why my cargo had been dumped, and what I could do about it. There was always a senior crew member on hand in the Courtyard. They rotated through concierge duty one after the other, and no one but the Captain herself was exempt.

Thirty seconds in the Courtyard told me mine was not an isolated case. Everyone was bunched around the poor sod of an officer who’d snagged this shift, their voices lifted in protested, demanding their possessions back.

“That was everything I own!”

“We’ve moving to Bryant. How the hell are we supposed to survive on Bryant with nothing? It’s a class three settlement!”

“It took me ninety years to build that collection!”

The officer was a slip of a girl, with a smart board and patience that was wearing thin. I lingered long enough to hear her start to repeat herself, then turned and scanned the Courtyard. The crew common room was on the other side of the Courtyard, through a wide doorway.

I headed over there and was halted at the opening by a sergeant who was only a bit bigger than the girl trying to placate the other passengers, but not as big as me.

He didn’t seem to be bothered by the weight and height differences. “Sorry, this area is for crew only.” He didn’t move a centimeter, not even when I got up close.

“That’s right. I’m looking for the Captain.” I peered over his shoulder and around the common room. It had smaller tables and chairs, the same food printers that were in the Courtyard, and off-duty crew gobbling down breakfast.

Among them I spotted the Captain’s cap of black hair, half-a-head higher than anyone else at her table. “Captain!” I shouted.

She paid no attention. The others at the table were heads-together with her, talking softly.

“Hey, buster, back off!” the sergeant said, gripping my arm. “She don’t need passengers in her face this morning.”

“I’m not in her face,” I pointed out. “I’m right here.” I filled my lungs and bellowed, “Sandor!”

This time, she looked up. The blue eyes narrowed.

The sergeant shook me like a wet rag. This was the reason he was on door duty this morning. They were expecting something like this.

I let him shake and held his gaze.

He stopped but didn’t let go of my arm.

“You think I couldn’t get through you if I wanted?” I asked him. “I’m being polite, but frankly, that’s the most you should expect. I want answers. You jettisoned my freight and it was important to me.”

“Everyone’s freight was important.” He shrugged.

“Not like mine was.”

“I’ve got this, Finlay,” Captain Sandor said, from behind the Sergeant.

I peered around him once more. “Hello Captain.”

She stood close by the nearest table, her arms crossed. “Step around,” she told me. “You get sixty seconds.”

Finlay sighed and waved me through with a disgusted look.

I stepped around, moved over in front of her.

“I gotta hand it to you, Lane,” she told me. “Three days is all it took for you to forget what I said when you came aboard.”

“I haven’t forgotten what you said,” I assured her. “You made an impression.”

The day I’d boarded, I had barely got my duffel stowed in the tiny stateroom when the door announced the Captain was outside, then slid aside to let her in.

She stood just inside the door—which put us barely a meter apart—and crossed her arms as she was now. She had long legs and thrust one of them to the side and measured me. “So you’re Ptolemy Lane.”

I hid my sigh. Lots of people had heard of me, but so far on this trip I’d managed to avoid anyone getting in my face with rumors they’d heard about me, or stories they’d been told that they objected to. “The fringes are getting way too small,” I muttered. “You are…?”

“Sandor,” she said shortly. “Here’s the thing, Lane. You’re used to running your town—”

“It’s Georgina’s Town, not my town,” I corrected her. “And I’m really not the man who runs it.”

“You kick people out. You get to decide who stays and who goes.” Her tone was withering. She stepped a little closer. “You don’t get to decide anything while you’re on my ship. Is that clear?” The single overhead light gleamed in the pitch black of her hair, which was sable smooth, trimmed into a flat cap that accentuated her cheekbones…although I had the feeling she’d cut it to keep it out of the way, and couldn’t give a damn about displaying her cheeks, which were thinned and tight with anger right now.

I raised a brow. “Crystal clear,” I said.

“I don’t like trouble,” she added. “I just want to get my passengers to Abbatangelo.”

“That’s all I’m looking to do,” I told her truthfully. “What have you heard about me, Captain, to make you feel you have to warn me?”

“I’ve heard enough.” She considered me once more. “You are too used to controlling things for yourself. People like you cause problems on a small ship like the Jan Mayen. I’m heading those problems off right now. Behave yourself, Mr. Lane.”

She backed up and raised a hand at the door control. The door opened. She looked at me once more, expectantly.

“I’ll behave myself,” I had told her.

She’d turned and left without another word. And for three days, I had behaved myself as promised. Tossing my cargo broke that agreement, though.

I faced Sandor now and said, “What was the state of emergency?”

“What?”

“The emergency that made you jettison cargo…all the cargo, I’m starting to think.” The voices in the Courtyard were getting louder as more people came to find out why their baggage was gone.

“There is no emergency,” she said with a soothing tone.

“Then you lied about the emergency status to avoid the claims? That makes ejecting the freight even less understandable.”

Her mouth opened. Her eyes narrowed. Then she sank onto the table behind her and stretched out her legs. “There is no emergency,” she repeated. “But there was.”

“And now there isn’t, because you tossed…” I caught my breath as everything clicked into place. “For the speed,” I breathed. “You blew the freight to get better speed.”

The blue eyes were cold. “You know a little about space flight, then.” She sighed. “Enough to be hazardous.” She glanced around, looking for eavesdroppers, which was interesting, given we were in the crew section, among people she was supposed to trust. “I will tell you, Mr. Lane, because I know you will badger me until you get answers that satisfy you. But you cannot share this with anyone. Panic, in a small ship, is contagious. Panicked passengers are dangerous.”

Keeping the passengers ignorant was a backhanded way of protecting them. But she had correctly guessed that I would prod and insist until she told me what was going on. So maybe she was right about that, too. “What was the emergency?”

She hesitated, then said. “There was a slaver ship on our tail.”

I drew in a deep, slow breath, riding out my reaction, my thoughts racing. Sandor didn’t really have to say much else. I could figure it all out from there. The fringes were full of murderers, thieves, pirates and con artists of every stripe. Slavers put all of them to shame. They were the moldy edges of the underbelly of Terran territories. They attacked ships out in space, where the ship was cut off and vulnerable. They would plant a reactor-killer in the engine room while the ship was still in dock, then following them through space until the killer fired, bringing the ship to a body-smearing halt. They would board, scrape the ship of anyone still alive, and take them back to the pleasure domes in the Galxinayah quadrant.

Of the thousands of people taken by slavers, only a half dozen had ever escaped the domes. Those six survivors had revealed the truth about slavery in the domes, which went well beyond sex service. Experimental surgery. Mutilations, gladiator fights, target practice, hunting safaris. Whatever a customer wanted and could afford, they got, no matter how sick or perverted.

It was unusual for slaver ships to operate in this quadrant, although they obeyed no rules but their own. Maybe they were sizing up the neighborhood, preparing to move onto virgin territories ripe with new slaves.

A slaver ship on our asses could only mean that this ship had been targeted. And Sandor had dumped the cargo to increase her speed.

Interstellar flight was dictated by a ruthless equation involving the limits of speed, mass, inertia and the amount of energy the ship could carry with it. You could have more of one if you gave up one of the others, but you couldn’t have all of them. Neither could you veer outside the lane to your destination because that would use up fuel you didn’t have and guarantee you didn’t make it.

Sandor had given up mass, to gain speed. As she considered the emergency over, she had gained enough speed to pull away from the slaver, which was bound by the same immoveable laws.

“You found the reactor-killer, then,” I said.

Sandor frowned. “We will.” She got to her feet. “Your sixty seconds are up, Mr. Lane. Please return to the passenger section of the ship.”

“You’re breaking the rules.”

She tilted her head. “Rules?”

I nodded. “Didn’t they tell you it would be smarter to stand down, let them board and take their pick of the passengers, and preserve your ship and crew?”

Her face worked. Anger glittered in her eyes. “No captain would ever—”

“They all do,” I assured her. “They tell good tales about surviving by the skin of their teeth. They all lie, and the owners of their ships pat them on the head for it. But you’re not doing that. Why is that?”

Her jaw worked. “None of your business. Good day, Mr. Lane.”

The next bit of the puzzle dropped into place in my mind with a nearly audible click. “You have a history with them…” I breathed.

Sandor sank back down onto the edge of the table. The blue of her eyes was stormy. With another quick check around for observers, she reached up and pulled aside the open neck of her uniform tunic, to reveal the flesh over her heart. It was scarred with jagged pink ridges, radiating out from a white divot that was nearly circular.

“A governor,” I said and swallowed. The governors were devices implanted over the heart and attached to the nervous system. It made the dome slaves compliant and delivered pain when they weren’t. The only way to remove a governor without a fully equipped surgery was to tear them out, roots and all, then thrust white hot metal against the wound to cauterize it before you bled out.

It left a distinct scar like the one Sandor had on her chest.

“You’re one of the six,” I said.

“Is that what I am?” She let the tunic drop back over the scar.

“How long were you in the domes?”

“Long enough.” She put her hands together, an oddly peaceful gesture. “Twenty-three years. Then I got lucky.”

I wondered how much luck was involved. Twenty-three years was longer than most survived the domes. She had a powerful will to survive. It gave her the ruthlessness necessary to blow a ship full of passenger cargo and probably her paying freight, too.

“So you see, I won’t stand by and let them take their pick,” she added, her tone conversational. But there was a glitter in her eyes that belied the tone. “And I don’t give a damn what you think, Mr. Lane.”

“You don’t like me.” I only now recognized the distaste making her mouth curl.

“It’s nothing personal.”

“I think it is,” I countered. “I’ve never met you, but you have already decided you don’t like me. I don’t think it is just my reputation for stirring up trouble.”

“You have far too much personal power, Mr. Lane, which I think is dangerous in the fringes. Too much power in one set of hands leads to misery.”

“Depends on who is holding it.”

“Not really.” Her tone was very cool. “Not long after I got this—” and her hand touched the tunic over the scar, “I applied for a resident ticket in Georgina’s Town. Everyone says it is peaceful there. That you don’t have to look over your shoulder all the time.” She shrugged.

Now I got it. “You were turned down.”

Her eyes were cold as she stared at me.

“Who gets to live in Georgina’s Town…that’s not my decision. I don’t even get a say in it. I’m paid to keep the peace among the folks who live there, that’s all.”

“I think you’re selling yourself short, Mr. Lane. I think you have far more power than you claim.”

“Let me help you find the reactor-killer,” I countered.

“Why? To demonstrate you’re a nice guy?” Her tone conveyed how inadequate such a gesture would be.

I didn’t get to answer her because a no-striper came running up, sweat making his temples glisten and staining the shirt under his arms. “Captain! Sir! Captain…”

He was shaking, his eyes wide as he stared at the captain. I don’t think he even noticed me standing there.

“What is it, Jardine?” Sandor got to her feet. She was tall, but not skinny.

“Sir, it’s Sahak! He’s…” Jardine swallowed and leaned toward her, his face pale. “He’s been eaten!” he mumbled.

Ptolemy Jovan Lane meets his next adventure.

Lane’s personal cargo is jettisoned while traveling back to Georgina’s Town after the death of a friend.  Lane confronts Captain Sandor and learns the ship is being pursued by slavers.  Captain Sandor’s response to the disaster is anything but typical. Nor is she above roping in Lane to help…

“The Captain Who Broke The Rules” is the second Ptolemy Lane space opera science fiction story by award-winning SF author Cameron Cooper.

The Ptolemy Lane Tales:
1.0: The Body in the Zero Gee Brothel
2.0: The Captain Who Broke the Rules
3.0: The Maker of Widowmakers’ Arm
…and more to come!
Space Opera Science Fiction Novelette


And don’t forget that if you pre-order the book direct from me, you get it a week earlier than you would if you buy it from the other retail sites.

Enjoy!