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Book 2: Raptor (Audiobook)

Book 2: Raptor (Audiobook)

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Casey sat alone in the conservatory among her mother’s overgrown menagerie of exotic plants and fought against a tightness in her chest.

The funeral had taken place nearly two weeks ago. Hundreds of well-wishers had come and gone, but the tightness never left. A hard knot lodged behind her sternum that ached when she breathed, especially when she thought about Mom—a brilliant, beautiful, nurturing woman who had been taken from these worlds too soon.

“Miss Osprey,” said a robotic voice, startling her, “your father would like to see you in his study.”

Casey glanced through a tangled knot of green, blue and purple foliage to where XB-9, their family’s servant bot, stood just inside the doorway to the conservatory. Casey hadn’t heard the motion-activated glass doors slide open. She’d been lost in thought, drifting through memories, drowning in grief.

That happened a lot lately. She’d run out of tears, but the sadness came unexpectedly and at the most inopportune moments. Like right now, looking at XB-9 through the veil of her mother’s beloved plants. Leafy vines spilled over the edges of their containers. No one had trimmed them back in months. After Mom fell ill, only the room’s automated watering system kept them alive. A thick beard of tangled moss tumbled down to brush against the chromed top of XB-9’s bucket-shaped head.

Casey sighed and turned back to look at the flowers in front of her. Across from the bench seat, a Torch Lily was in full bloom. These flowers were among Mom’s favorites. A dozen brilliant, brush-like heads the color of the sun faded to twilight at their base.

“They bloom in waves as the season fades from summer to autumn,” Mom once told Casey as she, maybe six or seven years old at the time, stared raptly up at the tall blonde goddess. The conservatory was Casey’s favorite room in the house—because it was her mother’s favorite. She made Mom bring her here every morning and every evening, and would ask her to name each flower. She hardly remembered all their names now, but she remembered the way the light made a halo out of Mom’s long hair. She’d loved watching her talk about things she loved more than Casey had ever loved anything herself. Anything except her mother.

“These flowers are the bridge between the seasons. Their blossoms have to be pruned as they fade so they don’t steal water from the ones trying to bloom next.”

In Mom’s final weeks, Casey had tried her best to follow those instructions. Her mother hadn’t been strong enough to get out of bed, let alone care for her plants. The ones that needed constant care had already faded, shriveled and died. But though she clipped the withered gray flowers of the Torch Lily with the same clippers her mother used, something had gone wrong. The new flowers coming in now were weak and pale, dying before they even had a chance to blossom.

So much potential for beauty, withered by the shadow of death.

“Miss Casey?”

She sighed. “What is it, bot?”

“Your father requests your presence, please.”

Casey’s gut churned as XB-9’s message finally penetrated the fog and registered in her mind. Why didn’t he just come down here himself?

But, of course, she knew why. Dad hadn’t entered the conservatory since Mom got sick. This was her mother’s space—Dad had no interest in flowers or plants. No interest in anything except the Fleet and the endless Kryl War. In the early days of Mom’s diagnosis, he’d still been running around the galaxy on various missions. She didn’t think she’d ever forgive him for that. He called it his “duty.” But wasn’t a father’s duty to his family first? It seemed so clear and obvious to her. She didn’t understand what was so important that he kept getting pulled away.

“His heart is in the right place,” her mother once told her. This was near the end. Her voice had become thin and raspy. She had trouble holding her head up off the pillow for more than a few minutes at a time. “Don’t hold a grudge, okay? He’s doing the best he can.”

“Miss Casey,” the bot interrupted again, a threatening optimism edging his voice into a higher pitch, “would you like me to carry you upstairs on my shoulders?”

“I’m not a kid anymore, Niner.” She used to love riding XB-9’s shoulders around the family manor’s many rooms and sprawling grounds (sprawling for Ariadne, at least. Casey had been ten when she first developed a sense for how rare property ownership was on the Solaran Empire’s capital planet). He had been her personal steed. Her ever-present companion. Also—she had realized as she entered her teenage years—her bodyguard.

“Technically, your are a minor until your sixteenth birth—”

“I’m thirteen.”

“You are twelve years and nine months old.”

“Close enough.”

His speakerbox flashed, indicating humor. “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades,” he said in a tone of voice more pleasant than she could muster.

Casey had added Old Earth idioms to XB-9’s language database a couple years ago. Mom loved them, and Casey had taken a shine to them, too, even though she had never seen a horse or a hand grenade in real life. The thought pulled a dark veil over the cradle of life and color in which she sat.

Casey decided she couldn’t stand the conservatory any longer. It had been like that for the past few days. Her heart would ache for her mother, so she’d walk across the house and sit here, but after a little while, it made her too heartsick to stay put. Movement usually helped. She jumped to her feet and strode past XB-9, timing the breezeway’s automatic doors so that her shoulders brushed their edges as she passed through.

“What’s Admiral Grump want this time?” she asked XB-9, who trailed behind her.

“That’s Inquisitor Grump now, Miss Osprey. He has accepted the promotion. The Emperor himself pinned on his new rank.”

Casey’s foot caught on a fold of the carpet that lined the hall, and she stumbled. “Figures. Is that why he wants to see me? To tell me about his new job?”

“He told you he was going to take the job over dinner last night.”

“Oh.” She didn’t remember that. “Are you sure?”

“Quite certain, Miss Osprey. A servant bot’s recall is 47.5% more reliable than a human being’s, and 99.997% accurate according to manufacturer tests.”


She reluctantly trudged up the curving staircase, through the library, and into her father’s office.

“Casey,” he said, or rather, he sighed, almost like she’d been lost and suddenly found. “There you are.”

Shipped off to Polar Prep Fleet Academy, Casey grieves the death of her mother while struggling to find a place among her peers.

She hates it. Why did her father have to send her away? It feels like he doesn't love her anymore.

With the memory of her mom festering like a raw wound, Casey's experience at school goes from bad to worse when she stands up to Renata Spector, the most popular girl in school.

People at Polar Prep are not what they seem, and the only one looking out for Casey is herself. To survive Renata's torments, and keep her fragile existence from tumbling down around her ears, Casey has to be braver than she's ever been.

Or risk losing herself altogether.

Raptor is a tale of becoming and bravery, of a young woman finding herself and learning the difference between right and wrong. This is a standalone novella in the Relics of the Ancients space opera universe about the formative years of one of the bravest starfighter pilots in the Solaran Fleet.

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Series reading order

Starfighter Origins
1. Spare Parts
2. Raptor
3. Operation Heartstrike

Relics of the Ancients
1. Starfighter Down
2. Hidden Relics
3. Rogue Swarm

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