Silent Death

Black Pearl: Freelancers Book 1

One last test between Madison and her future, what could go wrong?


A Silent Death – 



The voice straightened the back of every cadet in the room. It was as good as a whip cracking over their heads and might as well have been. Hell, they might have preferred a whip over the punishments their sergeants usually came up with. 

Whatever created the officers running the academy really did break the mold. Madison didn’t like how they seemed driven to ensure nobody ever graduated. It was in their every swagger, every scowl, every attempt to pronounce a word they were sure their cadets had never heard before.

They would have liked to fail every last wobbly-kneed one of them. They’d already failed a solid third of the class. Those who’d made it to exam day were the ones who stuck it out and pissed them off the most.

She always thought it was an odd way to think. It was their job to ensure the cadets made it through the program, but they prided themselves in ensuring few of them did.

She never understood it. They were proud of their own failures.

That said, they did a damn good job of straightening the backs of every cadet in the room with them. She didn’t enjoy how their voices made her back straighten of its own accord.

“Exam day.” The officer paced out in front of them. His boots connected with the ground with firm clicks that made the faint-hearted cadets look at their feet. “You were made for this day. Whether you were made to succeed or fail is your choice. You have been given the tools you need to succeed. It’s time for you to show what you’re made of. This is the first day of the rest of your lives, maggots! Now, step forward when you hear your names!”

They were supposed to be quaking in their tall naval boots. The black uniforms of the officers were supposed to inspire those present to learn from them. Inspiring them with fear didn’t seem like it would make the most intelligent or intuitive candidates, but if they wanted that, they had to get with the program. Or find another one. There was a fine living to be made with paint on canvas for those who couldn’t. 

She’d been through the song and dance before. Unlike the other candidates, she knew she was ready for what they would bring. The only reason she hadn’t graduated from the Naval Academy’s Advanced Gravitic Tactics School was that she’d picked a bad moment to beat the piss out of one of the other cadets.

A poor move, but one she would probably make again if she had the opportunity. It seemed the Navy was infested with little shits like him, and they always seemed to think having rich parents meant they could get away with everything.

He’d gotten his, and more importantly, he’d gotten kicked out of NAAGTS right alongside her for instigating the fight. He’d even been blacklisted from applying again while she’d received the offer to start all over again.

Not the best take, but some justice had been done.

“Cadet Ishmael Jove!”

Speaking of legacy failures. She caught a smarmy look from him to his friends before he stepped forward when his name was called. Madison didn’t think she had enough patience to keep from denting his skull in a similar way, but she would be blacklisted if she got into another fight. People would notice that she was the common denominator.

“Cadet Madison Justice!”

She stepped forward beside Jove, keeping her back straight and staring directly ahead.

He leaned in closer to her. “I guess one could say Justice is half-blind in this case, wouldn’t you?”

Madison didn’t budge from her spot. He could say all he liked, but she wouldn’t break formation on exam day.

“That’s clever,” she answered. It was, even if she’d heard it before. It was a fairly obvious joke. “Keep talking, and I’ll get one of the instructors to find out how your family feels about paying through the nose for a navy implant while you’re still mopping floors.”

“I wouldn’t stoop so low. I’m already marked for an officer school position after I graduate.”

“In other words, they’d have to shell out for one of the expensive ones. One that can teach you how to read.”

“Back in line, maggots!” One of the officers approached them, getting so close that Madison felt his hot breath on her cheek. Even Jove knew better than to talk his usual lecherous smack when an officer was breathing down his neck.

“You have your assignments!” the lead instructor shouted when all the names had been called and accounted for. “Report to your stations!”

There’d been a time when she first started out when she’d needed someone to yell at her to get moving after a call like that, but they’d been through two years of grueling training.

When one of the instructors told them to jump, they grabbed their gravity boots without question. She didn’t bother checking the sheets to see where her other class members were stationed. Exam day was about as close as any of them would come to manning a ship before they made it to the screens. Perfection wasn’t required, but the instructors wouldn’t tolerate the cadets plotting with their peers.

Her hopes of being sent to the lookout position were dashed. Three others caught that assignment, probably the better choices. Reading the sheets and interpreting them was what some would consider a boring job. Still, she appreciated the silence and the ability to work on her own with nothing but the whirring of the machines for company.

No such luck. She was manning the tubes with most of the other cadets. It wasn’t terrible work most of the time. Someone needed to be there on most ships at all times. So long as the ship didn’t come under attack, it was an easy gig. It mostly involved cleaning and maintaining the tubes in preparation for when they did need to be used.

Even when they were under attack, it wasn’t like they had much to do. Loading the tubes was mostly mechanized, which meant all they had to do was keep things running. The singular downside was that it was where most enemy ships tended to attack first. If the fight went poorly, they would be the first to know it.

Then, they wouldn’t know much of anything else.

“You know, there was a time when these exams were conducted on real warships,” Jove called to the small group of lackeys he’d gathered for himself among the other cadets. “I’m not sure why they stopped the practice. It’s the best way to cut the chaff and the useless individuals. Literally cutting them, in that case.”

His lackeys laughed, and Madison forced herself to ignore him. She found her station and called up the sheets on the screen in front of her. It was supposed to replicate a real ship as closely as possible, and the sims were challenging enough to tell apart those who had it from those who didn’t.

Not that someone like Jove would understand that.

“What do you think, Justice?” He approached her station, abandoning his for the moment. “What does your eye see? I know we’re in the navy, but I’ve always thought the patch was a bit much. I don’t suppose you’d ever give us a peek of whatever hideousness you have under there to justify keeping it covered.”

“I have to say, your attempts at getting me undressed are more and more pathetic as time goes on, Cadet Jove.” She didn’t look up from her screen. “I would suggest you return to your station, or it’ll be marked that you’re too uppity to sit in a cadet’s chair. Not the sort of thing the brass wants to see in their officer candidates.”

He scowled and rolled his eyes but did as she suggested. Just because she was slightly older and more experienced than the rest didn’t mean she was better. Having a freelance father who instructed her throughout her childhood was what gave her a leg up.

Her implant had all the sensors it needed to see through the thin material of her patch, but she preferred people didn’t see it. Not that it was unsightly, but people would ask uncomfortable questions about why a cadet already had a Navy-grade implant. It wasn’t linked to any of the usual military connections that came with it, but it was still a good trick to keep out of sight.

“Nothing out of the ordinary here,” she muttered under her breath. Their instructions were a run-of-the-mill disabling op with no severe twists and turns involved. The instructors had them marked off to disable the Steam capabilities of a ship on the run. There was a time element, as usual, but nothing off-the-wall. Except they were operating on the real equipment they were supposed to use in such a situation. 

The calculations came to her a little too easily. Most of the computers they worked with were designed to pre-run the calculations to cut the time, but gunners were supposed to know the math well enough to correct for any variables.

She punched in the calculations for her tube without referring to the pre-loaded markers. She did it early enough to give the other candidates a chance to check her math and punch the same in for themselves. She didn’t see the point of trying to derail the others. If they needed help, she was willing to help.

Even if they didn’t ask for it. She noted that the cadets copied her calculations to their computers and ran them through the simulations. Even Jove did the same, although only after it was clear he hadn’t recalled the precise equations required to send a torpedo off into the black of space.

It had been drilled into all of them that anything they launched would keep going until it eventually hit something. That something could be an asteroid three or four star systems over in a hundred years, or it could be the ring they were orbiting.

Any shot that went awry, even a practice shot, would be a marker against them. Math wasn’t emphasized in officer schools since they were supposed to leave most of the calculations to their subordinates, but it was still a requirement.

All the lights flashed green to tell them a hit had been scored, and the officers came in to check their results.

“Not bad, recruits,” one commented. “Not bad at all. You got through the easy part. Boarding runs are next. Let’s go!”

They jumped to the sound of the officer’s voice and started making their way through the ship’s corridors.

“You’re not going to take credit for working the easy part out, then?” Jove growled after they were in the elevators, heading up to the bridge. “Wouldn’t be the first time you tried to turn a simple operation into a major victory for Justice.”

It wasn’t the first time someone jabbed her over her name, and it wouldn’t be the last. She was already blue in the face over explaining how it was a mistranslation of her surname. Most people understood and called her Caertais, but the Navy marked it as Justice, and there was no changing it. Not without running through kilometers of red tape designed to keep folks from changing their names on a whim.

Her father once explained that most of the databases were built on ancient software, so if someone changed their name in one system, it could take decades for the change to reach other systems. Even then, the only people who changed their names did so because they had some nefarious reasons to run from their birth name.

It didn’t matter. She could change it after she graduated. 

“You might want to reconsider calling an operation you can’t run on your own simple, Jove,” she cut back without looking in his direction. “Then again, it is the kind of thinking I’d expect from a cadet who thinks he’s a weapon connoisseur because the servants his family paid to train him let him win.”

She didn’t need to see him to know his face had turned red. He was usually the witty sort, always ready with a quick rejoinder. When he was quiet, it usually meant he was steaming so badly that he couldn’t cook up a decent response.

Madison had a handful of theories as to why he’d chosen to target her as the center of his attention. It wasn’t because she wasn’t one of those who followed him around because of his last name and the money tied to it. His lackeys made up less than a quarter of their class, which meant he had at least thirty others to focus his attention on.

It didn’t help that she’d showed him up on almost every exam thus far. He’d been told his whole life that he was a genius, a prodigy who would rise through the military ranks effortlessly. Being met by someone who was better than him at everything had to be a blow his ego could not stand. 

There was also the fact that the oily bore had tried to subject her to his idiotic wiles. She hadn’t submitted to them like a dockside tart looking to hitch a ride out of tavern work on the coattails—or trousers, rather—of an up-and-coming officer from a well-heeled family.

It didn’t matter. She would ignore him going forward. They would manage to find a way to avoid each other in the Navy. She suspected he would go hunting for some revenge, but considering where she was likely to graduate in her class, they would probably send her somewhere with all the analysts. 

Not for long, hopefully, but long enough for the idiot to get himself killed in the line of duty. From there, she could find some work to do on one of the ships traveling the galaxy.

His weapon was that her instructors knew she was running the gauntlet again for fighting. They were keeping an eye on her and thought she was the instigator in these situations.

She would keep her head down, pass the exams, and move on to another line of work in the Navy, and they would never cross paths again.

“We’re going to be running a simulation on ship-to-ship combat,” the instructor told them when they reached the bridge. “As you’re aware, when ships are ensconced in their Gravitic bubbles, our attack options are limited. The bubbles protect the ships while they move through the Stream. Traveling through the deep dark is serious business.”

Serious business. She made a note of that since it was the instructor’s favorite line whenever he was teaching them. He was a former Marine and didn’t much care for any other part of space engagements. It was the boarding aspects that interested him most of all.

Serious business. It explained why he was there to teach them about it. Who better to teach them what boarding was about than someone who’d been on those ships all but crashing into each other?

“You have to account for the limited nature of the interaction once the bubbles are engaged.” He called up a recording of precisely that. She’d seen them before in the reccies, but never in person. And from the looks of how the sim was set up, they wanted them to carry out an actual boarding.

“Since your bubble is there to protect you as much as theirs is to protect them, it becomes all about attack angle. You want to maximize your ability to come in at an advantageous position so you can use your grapple cannons to secure them. From that point, you’ll want to deploy your forces quickly to disable the enemy ship without being secured yourselves. Then, it’s on the Marines to quickly disable the enemy’s ability to escape and fight back. Always remember your enemy is capable of fighting back and even boarding your ship in the middle of an engagement.”

They’d heard it a hundred times before, but it had been months since the last time they’d run combat sims. They’d never done it with real ships. Madison assumed there were controls elsewhere since the Navy wouldn’t risk one ship, much less two, on a training exam.

“Your positions are registered on the computer. Cadet Justice, you’ll be taking the skipper position for this op, which means you’ll be assigning the extraneous positions for your troops according to their skills. Good luck.”

He retreated back to below decks. Madison wasn’t surprised she was the one running the operation, but she was surprised to find that fellow cadets would be part of the team pantomiming the Marines for the tactical maneuvers.

Theory was all well and good, but it was unsettling to be put on the bridge for an attack like the one they were looking at. She rubbed her chin and looked over their attack vectors. Most other skippers would have weeks to plan, and there she was, with less than ten minutes to put her team together and organize them as best she could.

Madison rubbed her hands together nervously before turning to the team. She assigned them to groups based on colors and gathered the troops around herself. 

“All right, listen up. Red team, I need you calling the tubes. Blue team, you’ll be taking the Marine role. Tattis, Norman, Kavishaw, you’re with me on the bridge. Orders will be on your screens in minutes.”



It seems like Madison is well on her way to a Naval career. Find out if she passes or fails on April 5th when A Silent Death: Black Pearl: Freelancers Book 1 is released. Until then head over to Amazon and download it today.