Sample Sunday – Mindbender

Did you ever wish you had a superpower?

When I was a kid, ESP was my superpower of choice, mostly so I would get the answer right when the teacher called on me in class. But as I got older and started to like boys, I saw telepathy in a different light. What if someone could read my thoughts?

That threw a goose into the ducklings. Did I hate telepaths or did I want to be one of them? Instant conflict. And conflict, as you know, is the basis of any good story.

The story became a world.

A terrifying world in which telepathic people were kept in concentration camps. Citizens were given tax allowances for turning in their neighbors. And a Gestapo-like psychic police force was given free rein to hunt down the filthy mindbenders.

But stories are populated with people.

Enter Taralyn, a streetwise eighteen-year-old with enough savvy to keep under the psychic radar. She has taken a homeless ten-year-old girl under her wing. Her unofficial adopted daughter. But the little girl is captured and mind-wiped, leaving her trapped in a nightmare world. With a psychic prowess that surprises even her, Taralyn steals her from Camp. Now they’re both on the run.

That’s only the beginning of the story.

Mindbender – The Telepath Wars is science fiction for young adults and older. It explores cruelty, prejudice, and intolerance. But it also questions what it is to be a mother. Do you have to give birth to bond with a child?

It is available in print at Amazon. If you prefer eBooks, you can find it at your favorite online bookstore. And it is soon to be an audiobook, which is my favorite way to read.

Here’s an excerpt:

mindbender-cover

MINDBENDER – THE TELEPATH WARS

by Roxanne Smolen

CHAPTER ONE

Taralyn Stone leaned against the wall in the darkened hallway. As with a hovering camera, her sixth sense saw the layout of the clinic, saw the elderly guard asleep at his desk. It had been easy to scan his mind, easy to extract the location of the shipment. Now she needed to get the drugs and get out before someone discovered her.

She swept ahead telepathically, scanning the shadows as she walked. A left turn. Another to the right. She was taking too long. Voices echoed in the corridor. Taralyn froze. Opening a door, she hurried into a room.

Footsteps passed. She waited, scarcely breathing. When no one entered, she relaxed her shoulders and glanced about. A cabinet stood against the wall. It held a standard keypad lock. Taralyn sighed in relief. She had imagined retinal scanners or voice-code recognition. Keypads were easy to bypass.

Closing her eyes, she peered into the mechanism. She saw which keys had been pressed often, which had been ignored. Delving deeper, she felt the combination surface—like playing guess the cards when she was young. After a moment, she punched in the seven-digit code, and the lock opened.

Taralyn moistened her lips. “Be there. Please be there.”

If her information was wrong, she didn’t know what she’d do. Desperation goaded her down this path, but luck led her to the clinic. She’d heard about the hijacked shipment of Mask via a storefront newscast. Through a series of psychic scans, she traced it here.

Switching on a small light inside the cabinet, Taralyn searched the vials and bottles. Her haste left the neat rows in disarray. On a lower shelf, she found what she needed. She pulled out the tray.

The room lit, startling her.

A man said, “If you’re looking for Parazine, we don’t keep it in stock.”

Taralyn stood, tray in hand, thoughts whirling faster than her body. She saw the man point a gun. For a moment, she considered planting a false image in his mind, making him think he saw a nurse or a cat. But the tray tipped, spilling the vials over its edge.

The medicine for Gloriana.

“No,” Taralyn cried as she juggled the tray. She dropped to her knees and chased the scattering bottles.

The man said, “Don’t move. I’m calling the police.”

“But you can’t. They’ll find me.”

He frowned. Taralyn sat on the floor and covered her face. Her hands trembled, betraying her panic, and she balled them into her eyes. They would find her. They would take her away.

Gloriana would be alone.

Stooping, he picked up one of the vials. “Mask? Why would you want—” He looked at Taralyn. “You’re a telepath?”

Without intending to, Taralyn scanned him. Images and emotions burst over her. He was a doctor, he was afraid—and he knew how to handle a linac gun.

Their eyes met. Taralyn sensed that she should trust him. But she didn’t want to take that chance. She’d already risked too much.

“Please,” she said, “I need the Mask. I need to keep them from tracking me.”

“Who?”

She swallowed. “Enforcers.”

He looked at her hard as if expecting her to recant. As if she should apologize for evoking the name of the dreaded psychic police force. He put the gun away. “Come with me.”

Taralyn blinked, confused. The doctor held the door open. With her head bowed, she got to her feet. As she did so, she picked up a handful of Mask vials and slipped them into her pocket. They walked down an adjoining corridor. A cluttered counter lined the wall, and file cabinets interspersed the examination rooms. Ahead, a yellow light fell from an open door. He motioned her toward it.

Taralyn felt an upsurge of doubt. She backed away. “I’m not a thief.”

“You’re a thief, all right. Just not a good one.” He motioned again.

She entered a cramped, windowless office lit by a flickering desk lamp. Cracks decorated the walls, and the ceiling showed water stains.

“Have a seat,” he said.

Choosing one of the mismatched chairs, she perched on its edge.

He tapped the desk with the vial. “Why would you steal telepathic suppressants? You know, of course, that the Association considers them a controlled substance.”

“It’s as illegal for you to steal them as it is for me.”

“If that’s your game, you have more to lose. Mask is illegal because the public doesn’t want people like you to hide their true nature. Now, answer my question. Or would you rather speak to an enforcer?”

Taralyn blanched. She thought of telling him about Gloriana. Ten-year-old Gloriana was Taralyn’s adopted daughter. Not legally, but the love was just as strong. The girl was empathic. Empathy was a rare form of telepathy that made Gloriana’s usual good mood infectious.

That good mood was gone. Now, Gloriana lay on a newspaper mattress alternately thrashing and unresponsive. Taralyn couldn’t take her to a doctor because doctors were the ones who did it to her. They broke her mind trying to understand what made her different.

She didn’t want to tell him that, so instead, Taralyn said, “I only want to use the drug until I can get to safety.”

“I see. Then you won’t mind if I give you your first dose?”

Taralyn fought to keep from shying away. She’d planned to give the suppressants to Gloriana, hoping to calm her telepathic abilities. Never had she expected to take the drug herself. The man’s eyes were bright. Testing me, she thought. Leaning across the desk, she offered her forearm.

He pounced as if to trap her. Breaking the tip of the vial, he injected the Mask. “You won’t feel the full effect for thirty minutes.”

Rubbing the sting away, she glared at the doctor.

“So, where are you from?” he asked.

“You expect to have a conversation now?”

“Are you married, single?” He spread his hands. “Do you have family here in LA?”

The question brought a jab of pain. She thought of her estranged parents and of Mirabeth, her older sister abducted by the Association. She had no idea where any of them were.

He moved to the door. “I trust you won’t be offended if I step outside a moment.”

“Suit yourself.”

“Don’t try to leave.” He walked out.

Taralyn hid her face in her hands. Foreboding trickled down her neck like ghostly fingers. She’d thought it would be easy—she’d grab the drug and get out. She hadn’t considered someone might catch her.

A flurry of angry whispers escalated outside. The door had closed but not latched. Taralyn moved nearer and peered out. Hushed voices came from the hall.

“What are you doing?” someone said. “You don’t know her.”

“We have no choice,” said the doctor. “The others will be here soon. We have to get her out.”

“She could be a spy, Ken. One of those psychic implants. She could expose us.”

“What do you want me to do, kill her?” A pause, then, “Look, if it will make you feel better, you can run a DNA scan on the needle. That will at least get her civicard number. But you’d better hurry because I’m placing the call.”

He moved away, speaking rapidly. Taralyn could not hear his words. She tried to reach with her mind but found it difficult to focus. An odd sensation. All her life, she’d relied upon her extrasensory talent and her wits. Soon her innate senses would be gone.

She still had her wits.

Placing her hand in her pocket so the stolen vials would not clink, she turned back to the room. Diplomas and awards staggered across the back wall, all of them in the name of Dr. Avon Emory. On the desk, she found a picture of a man standing with two boys—a fishing trip. They looked Middle Eastern.

Taralyn thought of the doctor detaining her. Green eyes. Freckled skin. Not Middle Eastern. He must hope to protect his identity by placing her in someone else’s office. She wished she’d gotten more information before the Mask kicked in.

She explored the burst of images she’d received when she first scanned him—flashes of carnage. He’d served as a doctor in the Three Moons War. Why had he been thinking of that?

She delved deeper into the instant of thought, peeling away layers to reveal a vague face. A friend he had made in the Service. Someone he was trying to protect. Xander Landsman.

Sighing, Taralyn sank onto the chair. Why had she allowed herself to be shot with Mask? She didn’t know anything about Ken the doctor other than he was involved in something illegal. Yet, her first inclination had been to trust.

He planned to run a DNA scan through Central for her name, hoping to find a police record. He would be disappointed. The last entry in her file would be three years ago as a runaway at age fifteen—if her mother had bothered to report it.

“Comfortable?” the doctor asked as he entered the room.

Taralyn stared at the ceiling. “It hasn’t been thirty minutes yet.”

“I’m in a bit of a hurry.”

“Of course. Settle something for me. Why would a small clinic in a ghetto keep a supply of a controlled substance?”

“Mask wasn’t always used to suppress telepathic abilities. It was originally an effective anti-depressant.”

“But you don’t use it to treat depression.” She looked at him, daring his denial.

He sat on the edge of the desk. “I hope you understand why it was necessary to inject you. There are places, people at risk.”

“And I can’t be trusted.”

“Your integrity is not the issue.”

“No. It’s how I’m perceived.”

He appeared relieved, pleased that she understood. But she didn’t. She never did.

“I have friends, acquaintances,” he said. “Some of them telepaths like you. We would like to help. If you’ll let us.”

Taralyn swallowed a laugh. No one had ever wanted to help her. She looked at him, at his bright green eyes and short wavy hair. “This isn’t your office.”

He shook his head.

“But you’re a doctor here.”

“I think it best we don’t get to know each other.”

She did laugh then, knowing that his search for police records came up empty. “If I wanted your life story, I’d only have to scan you, Ken.”

He hesitated just long enough to be noticeable. “That would be impolite.”

Of course, she thought. The refrain of the normal. Be like us or be cast out.

“I’ve arranged to have you smuggled from Earth,” he said. “It won’t be an easy journey. You’ll go to a place of sanctuary where you’ll be given a new civicard and the chance for a better life.”

Taralyn bolted upright. Hope. Why did he offer her hope? Had he looked into her dreams? Had he read the torment in her face? Don’t believe him, a tiny voice warned. He’s manipulating you. He’s afraid of you. Yet, Gloriana deserved more than a crate in a warehouse. They both deserved more. “What do you want in return?”

“Your silence.”

His answer surprised her. With more bravado than she felt, she said, “Tell me. Why would a doctor carry a gun in his own clinic?”

He gnawed his lip, probably wondering if she would know if he lied. “I’m afraid. Mostly at night. I volunteer my time, but I don’t live here. I’ve never gotten used to how unstructured the ghetto feels. No boundaries.”

“You have your police.”

“I call them three times a week. They never come.”

The truth. Taralyn nodded. “You have my silence. What’s your plan?”

He stood. “You’ll have to hurry. Go to the city spaceport. Shipping Bay 9.”

“Who should I ask for?”

“No names. Someone will contact you.”

He ushered her out the office and down the hall. Taralyn felt rushed and uneasy. She looked in vain for the owner of the other voice, the one who had warned against her. They were involved in a covert operation. An Underground Railroad, Taralyn realized, transporting truant telepaths off Earth. An image rose through her muddled senses. A place of sanctuary. Outpost Io.

“Why do you do this?” she asked. She’d meant it as a general question—why would any of you, the normal population, want to help a group of people that you persecute and fear—but the doctor took the question personally.

“There was this kid in my neighborhood. I didn’t know him well. One day the Association came to his door. The kid was terrified, his parents anguished. They didn’t want him to go. He went, erased as if he’d never been. I remember thinking no one should have that much power.”

They reached the delivery entrance. An overhead light came on as the doctor unlocked the door and peered outside. Then he looked at her, and for an incredible moment, Taralyn thought he was about to offer her his hand. Imagine, a normal person touching a telepath. But he caught himself. His eyes hardened.

In that instant, Taralyn knew he told the truth about his distrust of the Association. He did want to rid Earth of its suppression. But even stronger was his distrust of her and her kind. He wanted nothing less than to ship every telepath off his world.

Old memories came rushing back—the fear in her mother’s eyes, her father’s disgust. Hot shame rose to her cheeks. She turned to leave.

“One more thing,” the doctor said. “There’s a story on the streets. A rumor actually. About two weeks ago, a ten-year-old girl escaped from an internment center. Have you heard anything?”

Taralyn froze. Gloriana. How did they know of her? What did they want? “No one escapes the Association.”

“Well, this one did. We’ve been looking for her since.”

“Why?” She faced him. “To interrogate her? If there is such a girl, don’t you think she’s been through enough?”

He raised his hands. “Our sources say the enforcers kept her in a secured wing. We’d just like to find out what the Association wanted with her.”

“What they’ve always wanted. To protect the population from us filthy mindbenders.”

“It may have started that way, but there’s something more now.”

“Like what?”

The doctor paused. “That’s what we’re trying to find out.”

CHAPTER TWO

Taralyn stepped into the cold night air. The clinic’s door latched shut behind her. Reaching into her pocket, she brought out the vials of Mask. Five. Only five. Taralyn winced with disappointment.

Her heels clicked as she followed the deserted streets. She watched the shadows. Trash blew like tumbleweeds along the sidewalks. Light glowed behind barred windows. She saw evidence of weapons fire—crumbled brick, melted glass.

Courtesy of the new linear accelerator guns, she thought.

Rumor held that linac guns were the product of Malocchian technology. She’d heard that Malocchians were benevolent travelers who stumbled upon Earth from another solar system. Taralyn had never seen a Malocchian. She didn’t believe they existed. Besides, if they were so benevolent, why would they give people guns?

She passed beneath a lamp that looked elongated and slanted. The Mask skewed her perceptions. In the back of her mind, she heard a strange hum—or possibly the absence of a hum, the dearth of background thoughts to which she’d become accustomed.

This is what it is like to be normal. So alone. So separate. No wonder they hate us.

Climbing to a public transit station, she boarded the roofless people mover. Even open to the air, the seat stank of urine and garbage. Only a few riders shared her section of the conveyor—a tired-looking woman in a threadbare coat and a pair of lovers who whispered and laughed as if oblivious to the world around them.

Taralyn slouched in the molded chair and looked up at the stars. What was the doctor’s connection to Outpost Io? Io was a mining co-op. It played a central part when the colonized moons of Jupiter tried to secede from Earth. The discovery of wormhole technology put a quick end to the uprising. Now it seemed the outpost harbored an Underground Railroad.

Who was Xander Landsman? How was he involved?

She rode the mover to the end where the seats cleaned themselves by tipping and traveling upside-down on the return trip. Stepping off the belt, she skirted the pools of light in the open station. No sense in advertising her presence. The doctor had complained of the rough neighborhood surrounding the clinic. Obviously, he had never visited this part of town.

Stealing into darkness, Taralyn accelerated to a brisk walk. She felt handicapped and exposed, unable to range ahead with her senses. This was the cusp of gangland territories. She knew of their patrols. It was because of those armed squads, rather than in spite of them, that she chose this place.

After she’d stolen Gloriana from the Association’s internment center, Taralyn was afraid to return to the apartment she rented. She knew the Association would be waiting. They’d want Gloriana back. So she moved into an abandoned, burnt-out warehouse where the current residents suffered their presence.

It was to this warehouse that she ran now, bursting through the door with the relief of reaching home. The air reeked of charred wood and plastic. Soot darkened the shadows. A hole in the ceiling opened the three floors above. Silhouetted against the sky, the pockmarked man peered down. After a moment, he disappeared.

She crossed to where she’d left Gloriana. The girl lay motionless except for shallow, erratic breaths. She wasn’t asleep. She was vegetating. Taralyn could hardly get her to eat anymore.

“I’m here, Glori.” She stroked the matted hair.

“She had a bad dream,” a man said.

Taralyn glanced toward the voice. It was Big Mike, their self-appointed guardian. The sheen of his dark face gleamed in the scant light. He sat upon a metal work table, one of the few furnishings that would support his bulk.

Dreams. He had no idea of the nightmare world that trapped the girl. But then, neither did she.

Taking out a vial, Taralyn injected the telepathic suppressant into Gloriana’s forearm. She hoped the drug would act as a psychic painkiller. A desperate ploy, but she didn’t know what else to do.

The newsprint mattress smudged the small face, but the skin beneath the grime was unblemished. Registered telepaths bore a branded T upon their cheekbone. Taralyn rescued her before the mark was bestowed. Before they sent her to Camp.

Tears filled Taralyn’s eyes. She couldn’t imagine life without Gloriana. They met two years ago and had become inseparable. Taralyn felt it was her purpose to keep the little girl safe.

Taralyn had been Gloriana’s age when the Association took her sister, Mirabeth. Suddenly, no one was there to protect her. She shuddered, remembering her terror and loneliness as she tried to hide her own psychic talents.

She couldn’t let that happen to Gloriana, wouldn’t leave her to fend for herself. It had been stupid to risk exposure, stupid to try to steal the Mask. But if she hadn’t, she would not have learned about the Underground Railroad.

Would she go through with it? Would she allow herself to be smuggled from Earth?

Her mind balked. No. It was too dangerous. She wouldn’t go to the spaceport. She didn’t know those people, didn’t know their intentions.

A tiny voice drowned her doubts. Somewhere there was a place where people like her could live in safety. Somewhere there was a haven. Outpost Io.

They had few possessions—a hairbrush, a blanket, a pair of chipped teacups. She bundled everything together and set them on the table beside Big Mike.

“I want you to have these,” she said.

“Leaving?”

“Yes. Tonight.”

“Best take your things, then. Don’t know but you might need them.”

She pictured herself carrying a knapsack in one arm, trying to support Gloriana with the other. She shook her head. “You could use a blanket, and you can sell the cups. It’s scant payment for all you’ve done these past two weeks.”

The large man picked up the bundle and looked away. Taralyn roused Gloriana. She obeyed complacently, gazing downward, unseeing.

“Where you headed?” asked Big Mike.

“Sanctuary. At least I hope.”

“Be careful of the dark places,” he said.

CHAPTER THREE

Taralyn stood on a scrub-laced hill gazing at Shipping Bay 9. The structure sprouted like a mushroom beneath a halo of lights. A low hum filled the air with an electric tingle. In the distance, departing flights streaked away like sparks.

Holding Gloriana’s hand, she shuffled down the sharp slope. Dust rose in a cloud. Gloriana sneezed, the first sound she’d made. Taralyn hugged her shoulders.

They’d had no trouble getting to LA Space Port. Gloriana walked stiffly, complacently—what Taralyn termed her auto-walk. The girl could walk for miles without showing signs of fatigue.

Taralyn, however, was drained. Doubt twisted her stomach. As a telepath, it was her nature to be paranoid. Even as a child, she was always alert, always poised to bolt. She didn’t trust easily, certainly not a stranger. “What am I doing here?” she whispered.

Gnawing her lip, she approached a cargo elevator. The door opened, and she ushered Gloriana inside.

“Don’t be afraid,” she told her. “Think of this as an adventure.”

The girl stared ahead in silence.

The elevator rose then opened onto an immense open-air platform. Monorail lines laced the edge. Squads of workers off-loaded the freight cars while others reloaded the cargo into outbound shuttles. Which of these people should she approach?

“Can I help you?” A man rushed toward them from across the compound. He had sharp, beady eyes and a communications tracer clipped to his pocket. More than likely a superintendent.

She smiled. “Yes. I’m meeting someone.”

“We don’t give guided tours.” The roar of a monorail cut off his words. He took her arm roughly and escorted her to an area between the hangars. “As I was saying, you’ve no business here.”

“I was invited.” She snatched her arm from his grasp.

His pocket beeped, and he spoke into the tracer. “Go.”

“Offline again,” a voice shouted.

“Damn.” He stamped his foot, then wagged a finger in her face. “Don’t move. Stay right here.” He hurried away.

Shielding Gloriana from the wind, Taralyn looked toward the gathering dawn. She watched a cargo shuttle touch down upon a landing pad. Across the yard, she saw the superintendent wave his arms and berate a man twice his size.

She wasn’t going to stand there waiting for him to toss her out. Moving along the back of the hangars, she followed a narrow path. Weighted-down newspapers and lunch boxes marked the places where workers took their breaks. Despite the brightness, the platform held impenetrable shadows.

One of the shadows spoke. “I was told you would be alone.”

She jumped and stifled a yelp. “Your information was wrong.”

Someone moved closer. This was their contact. This man could help them.

“You don’t understand,” he said. “There is only room for one.”

Taralyn froze as his words swept over her. Only one? Had they been offered hope only to have it dashed away because there was only room for one? “Well, what do you expect me to do? Leave her behind?”

“What’s wrong with her, anyhow?”

Taralyn swallowed a knot of frustration. “Look, I swear she’ll be no trouble. She’s helpless.”

He paused, then chuckled. “I think you’re both a bit helpless. I like that in a telepath. Stay here. And this time, do as you’re told.”

With a swish of a cloak, the man brushed past her. She peered around the side of the hangar and watched. He strode to the superintendent, spoke to him, then disappeared behind a shuttle.

The superintendent turned to stare at her.

Taralyn shied from his gaze, hating herself even as she retreated. “This adventure is out of control.” She was at their mercy, having to do their bidding, having to say please. Helpless, he’d called her. Well, she didn’t need his help. She could find a way out of the city on her own.

Then Gloriana sniffled and snapped her back to reality.

She cupped her hands about her little girl’s small face. “Don’t worry. I trust him.”

The cloaked man emerged behind her. “Time to go.”

Taralyn walked with him across the deck. “The superintendent appeared in awe of you.”

“Should be. I’m a pilot.”

“What did you tell him about me?”

He laughed. “I told him you were my girlfriend, and that we were taking your addled sister for a shuttle ride.”

“Sister?”

“You look too young to have a daughter her age.”

“Won’t they wonder about us when we don’t return?”

“Shift change. By the time I get back, everyone here will be gone.” He opened the port hatch of a cargo shuttle. “After you… darling.”

She bit her lower lip. With a protective hand atop Gloriana’s head, she climbed into a cramped cockpit. Cold air hissed from a vent in the ceiling. Lights winked upon the walls. The control panel ran with colorful displays, and graphics reflected in the forward view shield.

“Sit to the right.” He climbed behind the pilot’s console. “And be sure to get that harness over both of you.”

Taralyn crawled to the empty co-pilot’s chair. She sat on one hip and wedged Gloriana next to her before tightening the restraining harness about their shoulders. The girl’s emaciated body felt like bones.

“Ever been in space?” he asked.

“No.” Her voice sounded weaker than she would have liked.

“You eat recently?”

She shook her head.

He grinned. “Good.”

She watched him touch a series of glide points upon the panel. A vague rumble sounded behind them.

“Computer, I need clearance for flight path one-oh-five-seven.”

“Specified path has been logged and cleared.”

“Initiating.” He pulled back on the thrust bar and eased the shuttle off the platform.

Taralyn gripped the safety harness as she stared out the view shield. The platform lights fell behind them. In the darkness, LASP glittered like mounds of multicolored jewels.

“Entering window,” the pilot said. “Three-second burn. Three. Two. One.”

The shuttle angled upward and shot into the morning sky. Bands of sunlight layered the clouds in pink and blue and gold.

“Encountering turbulence,” the computer said.

“Buffers on full.”

Her head bounced against the headrest. They were leaving Earth. She felt a mix of dread and elation.

As if breaking through a barrier, the shuttle burst from the hazy sky into a crisp, bright star field.

“It’s beautiful,” she whispered.

“Yes. That’s how it always starts.” He chuckled. “I’ve adjusted the oxygen content in the cabin. If you start feeling queasy, take a few deep breaths.”

Taralyn braced herself for weightlessness, determined not to feel ill. She wanted to shake Gloriana into sensibility, wanted to laugh with glee for the wonder of space.

The pilot’s fingers danced upon the control panel. “Approaching orbit. Computer, confirm velocity incidental.”

“Tangential readout at three-point-five-six-four kilometers per second.”

“Adjusting yaw to minus ninety degrees.”

“Orbit is stable.”

Her head swam with vertigo, and she took a slow breath. Streaks appeared among the stars. Other spacecraft.

Taralyn cleared her throat. “May I ask where we’re going?”

“The Princess of Mars. If you’ve ever wanted to see a luxury liner, now’s your chance. Of course, accommodations might not be what you’d expect.”

“Mars?” She frowned. “But I thought—”

“Careful. The Association has people who can wrench those thoughts right out of your head.”

“That’s hardly likely. No telepath would betray their own.”

“You’d be surprised.”

She recalled the doctor’s comment about the Association becoming something more. Was this what he meant? Were they recruiting telepaths to assist them in rounding up fugitives?

A ship came into view—two rings crisscrossing an egg-shaped propulsion unit. It shone bright red against the star-speckled backdrop. As they approached, she saw it was garishly painted. Spotlights glanced off its hull.

“Reference object sighted,” said the pilot. “Computer, cancel all orbital velocity.”

Her eyes widened as the cruise ship loomed. She cringed against the seat.

“Applying braking thrusters… now. Radial velocity at six… five… four… cutting thrust.”

The Princess of Mars filled the view screen. Taralyn fought a moment of disorientation. The rings of the ship spun one way while the egg turned the other. Her stomach lurched.

“Setting yaw to plus one-eighty. Computer, increase pitch.”

Slowly, the shuttle rotated until the cruise ship could no longer be seen. She swallowed the sickness in her throat. Were they going to dock backward?

“Pitch at plus ninety degrees,” the computer said.

“Counter outbound velocity.”

“Radial velocity at three hundred meters toward. Two hundred. One hundred.”

“Cancel all fine thrust.”

Again, the cruise ship dominated the view. They descended into it, lowering past receding doors into a shaft. Beams of light crosscut the walls. Stark shadows filled the cockpit.

“Vertical velocity at ten meters per second,” said the computer.

“Secure landing struts.”

“Secured.”

“As soon as we’re down, I want you to unhook the harness and get onto the floor,” he said in an undertone. “There’s not much room. Do the best you can.”

“All right.” She flinched as the shuttle settled.

“Now.”

She fumbled with the latch and slid to the floor, pulling Gloriana beside her. A tight fit, but they would manage.

He caressed the control panel. “Cutting all engines. Computer, open the bay doors.”

A puff of hot air circled the cabin. Rocket fuel and grease.

The pilot climbed toward the hatch. “Keep your head down.”

Then he left.

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt of Mindbender – The Telepath Wars. If you would like to read more, you can find it at Amazon or wherever eBooks are found. Happy reading!

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