CHAPTER ONE

I have been always a red haired dare-devil. I lived for the thrills, the danger, but best of all, showing off. As a youth I was invincible. I took this attitude too far at times. It got me into trouble, but I didn’t care. Instead of worrying about it, I just chalked it up to my education and upbringing. Then, at the old age of eighteen, I got drafted into the United Earth Force or UEF, where I discovered what real thrills, dangers, and challenges truly meant, and the potential costs associated with them.

Being slender and tiny, I could fit into practically any armored vehicle or aircraft. Learning how to run them was just a matter of downloading their specs via the UEF-installed neural port behind my left ear. Then, after some practical hands-on training, I was good to go, and always made it a point to surprise my superiors with some unexpected, unscripted, wild-ass maneuver that I had dreamed up.

When asked just what the hell I was doing, my standard response was, “Sorry, sir. I was just curious to see how,” fill in the blank, “would handle it.” Or, “Sir, you can never know in combat, when you might need to do it.”

That answer usually stunned the training instructor into silence. Usually quickly followed by some choice words about my twisted sense of reality or state of mind. But down deep, I could see in their eyes their wonder and awe that a woman had thought of it, then, did it—for the first frickin’ time.

After my latest maneuver tortured the hell out of the frame of an armored sled, I got transferred to the Air & Space Command side of the UEF, as someone finally figured out that I was too much of a wild child for terrestrial vehicles.

In UEF flight school, I finally met my match. No longer was I the exception, but rather the norm. I thrived upon the extreme competition and found within myself a grounding that I had never before possessed. Then one day the major and head of the school took me aside.

“You’re Candidate Katherine Kramer. Is that correct?”

“Yes, sir.” I crisply replied, while wondering what this attention was all about.

“Candidate Kramer, you came to us on a recommendation that you could ‘do some real damage’ in the air or space arenas. Candidate, was that an accurate assessment? Be careful with your reply.”

I gulped at that, but then recklessly pulled the trigger.

“Yes, sir. I am a one-woman wreaking crew. Just get me in the air or space, and allow me do my thing, sir.”

“Interesting. So, you think that flying a transport would not be your ‘thing’?”

I stiffened my back another several degrees and declared, “Don’t waste a deadly resource, Major Griffin.”

“Thank you, candidate, for that frank piece of advice. I’ll keep it in mind.

“Dismissed.”

As I returned to my flight training class, I wondered whether I had screwed the proverbial pooch on that surprise, snap interview. So, I put it aside and focused on the here and now.

While hardly a picnic, flight school taught me more about myself than anything else. And yet, there was always this nagging question in the back of my mind. Was there more to this, somewhere?

Through all the flight training, one individual always seemed to be in the background, watching. At first, I just thought it was my imagination. But I came to recognize this warm itching sensation on the back of my head, which would cause me to turn and stare back. It was always the same tall, lean and mean guy with a rigid set of eyes. His gray-green flight suit hung on his frame. Oddly, he wore no rank insignias or flight patches, but all the officers always touched their cap brims in his direction as their form of a non-regulation salute. He would just smile and nod back in acknowledgment.

Just who was this guy?

All I had was a name patch that said in white block letters: JONATHAN. Little did I know that this man was responsible for all things military at a certain Indonesian corporation.

*          *          *

Flight school graduation came and went. I passed as a second-class navigator, which meant that I was now fully qualified to fly…something for the UEF. Tradition stated that after graduation a list would be posted with names and flight assignments. Just getting near enough to that damn list was nearly impossible with thirty-nine other eager bodies all pushing and shoving to get a look, so I hung back, crossed my arms, and waited for the area to clear. And then, I felt that now long familiar warm tingling on the back of my head. I turned, and sure enough, there he was.

“Congratulations, Navigator.” He said with a well-modulated voice that hinted of a friendly welcome to a fraternity.

“Thank you, sir. But I’m only a second-class navigator.”

“Not in my eyes. When I’m finished with you, you will be the best navigator on the planet.”

“What!?!”

“Yes, Navigator, Second-Class, Katherine Kramer.” He now lifted his chin toward the wall and its posted list. “You were right not to bother with that assignment list, because your name’s not on it.”

“Wwwhat?”

“I pulled your ticket, navigator, second-class. Henceforth, you are on loan from the UEF to first train in, and eventually navigate, our planet’s latest interceptor prototype.”

“Wwwhat!”

“You heard me right, nav. My new interceptor sorely needs a maverick test navigator to push it to the absolute limits, and just like with the UEF Army, its Air Command is not for you. I watched you repeatedly push the inertial dampers on the sim trainers to the max, that is until one actually failed. And then there is that latent telepathic element of yours. In the UEF that would be totally wasted, much less augmented. No, navigator, second-class, you need to be somewhere where you can be you.

“Now, how’s that for a recruitment pitch? You in, nav?”

“Yes, sir!” I said perhaps a bit too quickly.

*          *          *

Yes, I was a young, foolish, red head of twenty years and for me Bandung City, Indonesia, was a far-away place in a story-book land that I was not quite ready for.

But first things first.

Before I became an employee of that corporation in Bandung City called GENEMEDCO, I asked for a break, and took on a wild-assed lark, a brief stint as a mercenary. The broker wanted my dad, but he pawned me off instead as a better fit. Yes, I disappeared for four months, and went A.W.O.L. from the UEF Air & Space Command, but was really on loan during that period to the above corporation. Murky, I know. But then again, at that time I was a wild child.

BUY