Threshold The Threshold Series Book 1
by Janet & Chris Morris Genre: SciFi Thriller Adventure
Set a millennium from now on Threshold Terminal—virtually a Grand Hotel in space— a young test pilot, Joe South, is thrust five hundred years into his future and finds himself in the thick of interstellar smuggling, intrigue, and the rough underworld of an alien environment. It is a time of danger and ever-shifting powers . . . and the destinies of a lost test pilot, an underworld scavenger, and two young lovers become irrevocably intertwined . . .
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Joe South should have died in Africa. He’d known it then. He’d never forgotten it. Test pilots were made from fighter pilots who figured they were indestructible because they were on borrowed time, should-be-dead men who were sure that God had given them Get-Out-of-Jail-Free cards, and South had won Test Pilot of the Year three years running.
He’d win it again, if he could just get through the physical on the other end of this mission and get back in the game. This one mission would put him way ahead in the standings. And he had plenty of time to practice biofeedback controls of his erratic pulse rate and whatever else he needed—months of easy cruising toward the little blue-green ball on his lidar.
So maybe he should get some sleep, give Birdy her head, and see how he felt once the transient jump effects wore off. If he had the dreams again, complete with flowers and sunsets like he’d never seen in his life, and soft-skinned aliens with wide eyes and sad mouths, then maybe he could get used to it. Ten years as a fighter jock and five more as a test pilot had taught South that you could get used to most anything.
“Birdy, I’m going off-line. Maintain present heading.”
He didn’t have to talk to the AI, he’d just gotten used to doing it. He canted his couch back, not bothering to take off his suit, or even his helmet, let alone go aft where he could shower and shave, and sleep in his bunk. You could get used to anything.
He wanted to let the suit’s system, rather than the bunk’s system, monitor his condition while he slept. You personified, in space. He’d personified the suit into a buddy, and the ship into a command chain, representative of Space Command. He knew it, and he knew it was a little wacky, trusting your suit more than your ship. But it had been a wacky mission.
Part of the trouble with his memory, which the medics had predicted, was remembering the jump phase stuff, and the directly post-jump phase stuff. You were in a different time dimension than your biology was built to handle. What was good about that was that he hadn’t come back an old, shriveled, incontinent geriatric. What was bad, everybody at Mission Control was waiting to find out.
One bad thing was going to be coming home eighteen months later and seeing everybody again—seeing his buddies with promotions, his retraining on new equipment because the tech improved so damned fast; seeing his folks, who were getting old now; seeing Jenna, who’d probably waited for him this time because she’d always waited for him before, even when he’d been a POW.
Everybody would be glad to see him, on the surface, but you were a stranger after so long. Being a stranger to your friends, to your wife and family, was something that hurt every time, and there wasn’t any regulation that could make the dissociation into something else.
Now that he was almost home, he could feel the tension of the inevitable reunions seeping into him, even from such a great distance, while he tried to fall asleep.
So he thought, when he heard the alarm blare, and saw the red light strobing beyond his lids, that he was dreaming. If he had a problem, out here, he wouldn’t have to worry about what it was going to be like reentering society. His mind was giving him a quick and easy out: a dream of not making it home because of systems failure.
But the strobing wouldn’t stop and the alarms hurt his ears, despite his helmet. Even as he was returning the couch to operating position, he was pulling up scans on his helmet system.
It was the plain old fusion pack, nothing exotic. But a runaway reaction or a shutdown could get him just as dead as anything more obscure.
He had a schematic on his visor that wanted him to add liquid to the system. Well, if worse came to worse, he could urinate in the emergency feed tank.
But worse didn’t come to worse: there was emergency coolant available in a backup tank, and Birdy was telling him not to worry about it.
He sat up for three hours watching the digital readout cool down and stay down. Birdy wanted to move the system back up to speed.
He didn’t. It was a gut reaction, and South always trusted his gut. Let STARBIRD tool along at lower power for a bit, at least while he got some sleep.
The AI had no way of testing whether the malfunction was a heat sensor or the system itself, or whether the additional coolant had done the job, unless he pushed the burn enough to hot things up.
“How long to Station dock, at this speed?” he asked it, the first thing he’d said aloud since the trouble started.
Birdy’s uninflected, precise voice told him.
“Crap.” The damned thing was right. He didn’t want to spend three years extra getting home, not when he was already hyped about it.
He sat back in his couch, crooked one knee, and reached for the autopad on his armrest. With it, he banished the synthetic aperture lidar and replaced it with a real-time forward view.
Staring at it, he thought he saw something move.
He really was tired. They’d told him to watch the psychological effects on either side of a jump. First, he’d seen spacemen, dreamed of other worlds when he’d never left STARBIRD, now he was seeing moving blips of light out here where nothing was.
Joe South took off his helmet carefully. Holding it between his knees, he ran his gloved hands over his face, then scratched his scalp all over. Time for a haircut. He looked toward the real-time view and caught his reflection: beardshadowed guy in his mid-thirties, eyes a little large and radiating concern, perfunctory nose, and a mouth that seemed, today, like it was a little too large or a little too loose for his oval face, though women said he was sexy because of it. He was just an average guy with an above-average need for adrenaline and a naturally athletic body that, trim and under six feet, was better suited to piloting than to professional sports.
If he was going to get dead out here in STARBIRD, he was going to do it in some above-average way, not starve to death or freeze to death or go quietly mad waiting for his life support to run out.
So maybe he ought to power her back up to her redline and see what happened.
He was about to do that when he saw the flicker in his forward view again. He cursed it, told Birdy to put it on the scope, and put his helmet back on. Inside his personal cocoon, he felt a little more in control.
He kicked back once more in the command chair, nearly horizontal, taking all the feeds on his visor display and letting himself get pumped up. He always felt better when he’d defined a threat.
He hoped to hell this was a real one, and not a phantom, like his dreams.
But Birdy had it, too. After giving him coordinates and zooming the lidar image so that he could read numbers on the sides of spacecraft such as he’d never imagined in his wildest nightmares, the artificial voice said calmly, “Unidentified spaceborne objects.”
“You bet,” he confirmed. “Let’s say hi, nice and polite: All hailing frequencies you can imagine, Birdy, our call signs, and make sure they know we’re U.S. Space Command.” American affiliation ought to be worth something, unless these were Creatures from Outer Space.
He didn’t think they could be: the numbers were Arabic, there on the spacecrafts’ sides, and the armaments looked like futuristic railguns on turrets, supplemented by under-belly cannon that were the direct descendants of the sort of Kinetic Kill Devices that Space Command had been testing for orbital deployment when South had left the solar system.
If they were KKD cannon, and whoever was on those ships decided to shoot STARBIRD, there wasn’t a thing that Captain Joe South could do about it. The X-99A wasn’t armed. She was a testbed.
He hoped to hell she wasn’t going to become a deathbed as he toggled himself into the com system and began identifying himself and sending a mayday in English, pidgin Russian, French, German and Spanish.
After all, he was having trouble with his power plant. As for what kind of other trouble he was getting into, he couldn’t see any way to avoid contact with whoever was out there.
They were headed straight for him, armed and dangerous. Unless he’d stumbled into somebody else’s test program, something was terribly wrong out here.
Either there was a war going on that had pushed tech parameters at an ungodly rate and Joe South had just stumbled into the middle of it, or the lidar return and his AI’s reading of it was right.
And if that were so, it was goddamn five hundred years since he’d left, local time, and Joe South was going to have one hell of a lot of explaining to do.
If those guys out there would let him, not just shoot first and the hell with questions later, the way those battleships told South they might . . .
Best selling author Janet Morris began writing in 1976 and has since published more than 30 novels, many co-authored with her husband Chris Morris or others. Most of her fiction work has been in the fantasy and science fiction genres, although she has also written historical and other novels. Morris has written, contributed to, or edited several book-length works of non-fiction, as well as papers and articles on nonlethal weapons, developmental military technology and other defense and national security topics.
Christopher Crosby Morris (born 1946) is an American author of fiction and non-fiction, as well as a lyricist, musical composer, and singer-songwriter. He is married to author Janet Morris. He is a defense policy and strategy analyst and a principal in M2 Technologies, Inc. He writes primarily as Chris Morris, but occasionally uses pseudonyms.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
Together we breed Morgan horses. We consult with Morgan breeders to help them choose crosses to their stock to achieve a desired result.
We are also musicians; Janet plays bass guitar, Chris sings and plays guitar. We have an album on MCA records. Look for Christopher Crosby Morris on Soundcloud or N1M.com
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
Janet wrote her first novel, High Couch of Silistra in 1975; a friend sent it to an agent who chose to represent her; she had already written the second book in the Silistra Quartet and her agent told her not to disclose that until they finalized the contract for the first one. When the publisher learned of the others, Bantam Books bought the succeeding three. When the fourth book was published, the series already had four million copies in print. Suddenly Janet was a novelist specializing in environmental, gender, historical and political subjects. In the process, Chris started as her editor and ultimately a co-writer. Since then, she and Chris have co-authored many books.
Who is your hero and why?
Heraclitus of Ephesus, a pre-socratic philosopher, whose Cosmic Fragments foreshadow our knowledge of reality and how to perceive it. Among his precepts is the statement that change alone is unchanging. We’ve worked Heraclitus’ fragments in here and there throughout our books.
Which of your novels can you imagine being made into a movie?
All of them. We write cinematically, our books are vivid adventures we undertake without knowing the destination. I, the Sun, The Sacred Band, and Outpassage are particularly suited to film. TheThreshold Series is a feast of opportunities for today’s special effects creators.
What inspired you, to write the Threshold books? Threshold explores what will happen if we meet beings who are interdimensional, not limited by time and space as we know it. Of course, there’s massive suspicion and mistrust when humans meet aliens capable of grasping a much wider time spectrum and able to predict what is about to occur as a result of current circumstance. How can ordinary people trust this super-human race and how can they not once given the benefit of their perspective?
Convince us why you feel Threshold is a must read.
Today our space telescopes are showing us pictures of events that happened millions of light years ago, showing us actual images of the plastic nature of time and space. It is a short conceptual jump from those images to imagining beings like us, but capable of accessing a wider present and acting in concert with events provably happening over vast time arcs. As humans, we may feel that a lifetime is but a moment in an eternal reality and guess what it could be like to be free of the clock-time that rules our earthly progress. In Threshold, we get to play on the greatest chess board available to our fledgling perception of our own possible futures.
We’ve gone to lengths to make this book available in e-book, trade paper, hardback, and soon in audiobooks.
Who designed your book covers?
Most of our covers, including Threshold, are realized by Roy Mauritsen, a gifted graphic artist.
Advice to writers?
As for advice to writers, here is all we know: write the story you want to read. Start at the beginning, go to the end, and stop. Seriously. From start to finish you must inhabit the construct in a manner that makes the reader choose to continue; if we as writers can’t feel what it’s like being there, our readers can’t either. Close your eyes, look at your feet where they are standing on the story’s ground; tell us what you see. Tell us what you hear. Ask at the end of each paragraph ‘what happens next?’. If you lose touch with it wait until you’re back inside it. Tell the story that comes to you, and from you, to us.