Book Tours: Book Excerpt The Burning Sun


I’m hosting an excerpt from space opera novel “The Burning Sun”, the second book in the First Admiral Series. Enjoy!

Book Excerpt

Out in front of the rapidly-advancing waves of plasma, Billy Caudwell drew the Black Rose to her designated position. To his right, Billy could view the dull orange orb of Mercury. Behind him, to his left, had he chosen to look in that direction, the deeper red of Venus would have been visible. However, one hundred and fifty kilometres behind him, the five, two-kilometre wide, octagonal Star-Destroyers that formed the base of the protective umbrella, were preparing for the forthcoming action. The crews had been briefed and everyone knew what was expected of them. The atmosphere aboard all of the Alliance vessels was tense, but calm. Arranged at their stations, in their pentagonal formation, the five huge Star-Destroyers, Colossus, Titan, Atlas, Hercules and Zeus, looked like an impenetrable wall. But, Billy and every single crew member aboard the huge slab-sided planet-killers knew that they were facing powerful forces that could sweep them away as easily as a child scattering twigs.

Aboard all five of the Star-Destroyers, the Engineers were powering up the massive Proto-Star reactors. The reactors, the size of a cathedral back on Earth were fuelled by material harvested from young stars just before they went nova. The vast amount of potential energy held within the proto-star matter was locked in heavy sealed chambers and surrounded by layer upon layer of force-shielding and safety protocols. For the upcoming battle with the super-heated plasma, the Engineers knew they would have to draw upon every ounce of energy from the huge reactors. There was no margin for error; any mistake, however small, was likely to be fatal for Billy and every crew member that waited for the plasma to arrive.

“This is Spearhead One, have reached contact position,” Billy announced into the Communications Network indicating his position nearly one hundred million kilometres from the Earth.

“Roger, Spearhead One, this is Control One,” the voice of Marrhus Lokkrien responded to him from the War Room of the Aquarius, “we have four minutes to contact.”

“Acknowledged, Control One,” Billy replied, “Do we have power from the Star-Destroyers yet?”

“Spearhead One,” Lokkrien’s voice sounded calm and professional, “the Star-Destroyers report full power will be available in ninety, that’s niner zero seconds.”

“Acknowledged,” Billy replied, glad of a friendly voice, “that gives us plenty of time to test out this system.”

“Roger, Spearhead One,” Lokkrien replied, “the target should be entering your scanner range in ten seconds.”

“Understood, Control One,” Billy replied turning his attention to the third Display Screen on his right, which registered only the static icon of his own horribly exposed vessel.

Slowly, Billy counted down the seconds and in his mind’s eye he saw the leading edge of the first wave of super-heated plasma snaking and twisting forwards in the blackness.

At times, the leading edge double backed on itself; spiralling like a whip as it drove relentlessly and inexorably forward like an all-consuming avalanche. And, in his mind’s eye, Billy also heard the vicious howling like a wind storm that heralded some dark malevolent force.

“Control One, I have scanner contact,” Billy announced as the first stream of yellow appeared on his Display Screen.

“Acknowledged, Spearhead One,” Lokkrien responded, “Star-Destroyers standing by; force shield control has been set to automatic.”

Calmly, Billy digested the information that the force-shielding controls had been taken off manual. When the umbrella was activated all force-shielding control would be relayed from Billy’s mind aboard the Black Rose through the shielding itself to the computers aboard the Star-Destroyers. Billy, and the Alliance Fleet Engineers, knew that the split-second it took for a voice command to be relayed and reacted to by an operator could well be that split-second too late. The mind control systems aboard the Black Rose linked to the computers would give Billy and the Alliance vessels that additional edge.

“Roger, Control One,” Billy replied and drew a deep breath as he prepared his mind for what was likely to be the longest, and, perhaps, the last, three minutes of his entire life.

“Spearhead One, Star-Destroyers are ready to initiate force shield umbrella,” Lokkrien announced.

“Acknowledged, Control One,” Billy replied turning his attention to the Central Display Screen, “can we initiate in sequence, Control One, I want to check that these sectors pan out.”

Billy wanted to make sure that he knew from which Star-Destroyer he was drawing power in each sector on his Display Screen. In the heat of the action, he did not want to mistakenly try to draw power from a reactor that was already heavily committed.

“Roger, Spearhead One,” Lokkrien confirmed his understanding of the situation, “commencing initiation sequence now…Sector one, Colossus.”

On the Central Display Screen, the first sector on the top left of the image lit up. Glancing to the left Display Screen the first bar chart flickered upwards for a brief second before returning to its nominal state. Sector two, the top right of the Display Screen was lit up with power from Atlas. Sector three was bottom right of the image and lit up with power from Zeus. Sector four, the bottom sector was powered by Titan with sector five lit up by the Star-Destroyer Hercules. With all five sectors established, Billy became aware that the great swirling mass of super heated plasma was getting very close.

Travelling at nearly seventy-five million kilometres per hour, the mass of plasma was hurtling towards the pathetically small Black Rose and the accompanying Star-Destroyers. The detectors on Earth picked up the solar flare relatively quickly. This left the Earth Governments with a hideous dilemma. The super-heated plasma was moving somewhere in the region of ten times faster than any previous solar flare. The Earth was about to be engulfed with very little warning and with no chance of any realistic defence from the surface. In capital cities throughout the world, the Doomsday Warnings went out and people struggled as best they could to reach their home and families to await the end. Unknown to the people of Earth, a lone teenager in a small space craft was all that stood between their planet and annihilation. That lone teenager was rapidly running through the mechanisms of the force-shielding umbrella. Quickly, Billy adjusted the variables, drawing power from more than one Star-Destroyer to reinforce a number of sectors on his force-shielding.

Having run the permutations, Billy just had time to draw one deep breath before the message came through from Lokkrien.

“Spearhead One, Spearhead One,” Lokkrien said, “we have ten seconds to contact,” he said and began the countdown.

“Acknowledged, Control One,” Billy replied, “Thrust Engines to maximum,” he declared.

Aboard the five Star-Destroyers, the Engineers were also setting the huge Thrust Engines to maximum. Even when at their waiting station, the huge vessels were going to need stability to hold the force-shielding umbrella in place when the plasma waves hit.

“Four…three…” Lokkrien intoned as the tension rose rapidly throughout the Star-Destroyers.

“Good Luck everybody!” Billy added.

“One…con…” Lokkrien counted down but never got to complete the count.

In the Black Rose, at the very tip of the force-shielding umbrella, Billy felt like he had been hit by an enormous sledge hammer. The massive jolt from the leading edge of the plasma wave slammed into the force-shielding around the Black Rose at the same moment that Billy fired the Thrust Engines at full forward velocity. The push from the Thrust Engines and the power to the force-shielding from the Star-Destroyers held the small space vessel in its station.

The Star-Destroyers were hit a fraction of a second later. The umbrella had survived the initial impact, but the constant demand on the Thrust Engines from stabilising their positions would mean that they could not hold the umbrella for long. As with most of the force-shielding umbrella idea, Billy was gambling that the plasma waves would pass before the Thrust Engines burned out.

Aboard the Aquarius, lodged behind the circle of five Star-Destroyers, the impact was no less ferocious. In the War Room, Lokkrien was knocked from his feet forcing him to grasp the edge of the War Table to prevent him taking an embarrassing and painful fall. Around him, anxious Officers and Technicians grabbed their consoles or any available structure to steady themselves against the shaking and shuddering of the initial concussion wave.

“Casualties and damage…report!?” Lokkrien shouted amidst the rumbling and violent shaking as he clung precariously to the War Table.

“No serious damage reported from any vessel, sir!” an Engineer responded, “all systems still performing efficiently!”

“Several minor injuries reported on Atlas and Titan, no fatalities!” another voice added.

“Let’s hope it stays that way,” Lokkrien muttered between gritted teeth as he held on grimly.

With the initial impact survived, Billy was now focussed on monitoring the incoming strands of plasma and powering up the force-shield sectors to deflect the danger away. Sitting rigidly in the high backed chair, Billy felt the Black Rose being buffeted and hammered by the incoming waves of super-heated plasma. With teeth gritted, he focussed on the three Display Screens his mind issuing commands to bolster each sector as required. Very quickly, Billy was under pressure as the waves of super-heated plasma hurtled towards his position. The waves were just coming in too fast for Billy to comfortably handle.

Meanwhile, in the War Room of the Aquarius, Lokkrien monitored the three-dimensional image of the situation. On the screen, Lokkrien could see the umbrella was holding its shape. Struggling to stay on his feet against the constant pounding, Lokkrien watched anxiously as the Black Rose image seemed to be engulfed by a great plume of fire. The super-heated plasma bounced away from the nose of the Black Rose giving the vessel the appearance of a fiery halo. But, the reinforced force-shielding was working as the vessel seemed to be cutting through the plasma like an arrowhead casting the fiery material off in every direction except towards Earth.

“Sir, we’ve lost contact with Spearhead One!” an alarmed Communications Officer called out.

“That’s to be expected with all this radiation flying about; do what you can to regain contact!” Lokkrien responded loudly as he braced his legs against the War Table, “Flight Surgeon, is Spearhead One still all right!?”

“Sir, stress levels above normal, blood pressure elevated, pulse and respiratory rate rising rapidly!” the prompt medical reply cut through the shuddering impacts.

Well, at least he’s still alive, and fighting, Lokkrien thought and steeled himself for the continuing ordeal.

Aboard the Black Rose, Billy Caudwell was feeling far from comfortable as the vessel was buffeted and slammed from almost all angles by the super-heated plasma waves. Billy felt that his teeth were being rattled from his jaws, and that his bones were being ground into powder through the intense pounding that the Black Rose was taking. Still, despite the brutal turbulence, Billy held firm. His attention fixed on the three Display Screens before him Billy worked the numbers and diverted power to where the force-shielding needed to be strongest. On the Central Screen, the triangular sectors lit up in rapid succession like flickering lights on a Christmas tree as the power usage bar charts danced and flickered.

But, most dangerous of all was the heat. Despite the reinforced force-shielding the temperature in the Command Cabin of the Black Rose was rising rapidly. With the force-shielding of the Personal Environment Suit set to maximum, Billy was, as yet, unaware that the temperature was climbing to dangerously high levels. The hull of the Black Rose quickly began to glow dull red as the heat built up. Meanwhile, inside the Control Cabin, Billy kept a watchful eye on the dancing bars and figures of his Display Screens as the assault from the super-heated plasma seemed to intensify. On the Display Screen, the strands of plasma seemed to thicken and become denser and more numerous as sheet after sheet of searing hot death bombarded the tiny shuttle. Judging the intensity of the bombardment by the dark areas on his Display Screen, Billy was able to anticipate where to divert the power to the deflecting force-shielding. With wave after ferocious wave of plasma hurtling towards the frail and fragile looking shuttle, Billy’s mind and reflexes were only just able to keep that split-second ahead of the next scorching onslaught.

The Thought-Command mechanism built into his Personal Environment Suit provided him with those additional fractions of a second that would otherwise have been lost sending the impulses from his brain to his hands and fingers. And, it was those split-second decisions that were the difference between life and an agonising, fiery death for the young pilot of the Black Rose. But, despite the technological advantages, Billy was still finding things more than a little bit uncomfortable.

Aboard the Star-Destroyers, things were equally uncomfortable for the crews as the Engineers anxiously watched the power consumption being diverted to the force-shielding. The initial drainage on the proto-star reactors had been well within acceptable tolerances. However, now that the force-shielding was being challenged the power consumption had rocketed.

So far there had been none of the dangerous power spikes that wore at the fabric and infrastructure of the reactors. But, the Engineers knew that even greater demands would be placed on the reactors and that the chance of power spikes grew with every passing second.

Aboard the Aquarius, Lokkrien was also far from comfortable. Watching the two-dimensional display Screens that were projected up from the floor of the War Room, Lokkrien could see the same displays that Billy was monitoring.

Power consumption was acceptable and the force-shielding seemed to be holding up well under the intense onslaught. Lokkrien was, however, worried about the human component in the mechanism.

“Hull temperature on Spearhead One just reached one hundred thousand degrees Kelvin!” one of the Scanner Technicians announced to the violently shaking War Room.

That’s nearly one million degrees Celsius, Lokkrien calculated quickly as another savage concussion hit the Aquarius.

“What’s the temperature ceiling on Spearhead One?” Lokkrien asked anxiously.

“Unknown, sir!” an Engineer replied honestly, “we’ve never tested Spearhead One’s hull to destruction!”

“Oh, wonderful,” Lokkrien muttered.

Sitting down on one of the chairs that were attached to the War Table on a curved support, Lokkrien finally gave up his dignity in favour of comfort and a degree of stability. This allowed the others at the side of the Table to also sit down. No one sat whilst the Commanding Officer stood.

“Sir,” another voice interrupted his thoughts.

“Report!” Lokkrien interrogated the new voice.

“Sir, we’re through thirty percent of the plasma streams!” the voice of a Scanner Technician reported the first piece of encouraging news.

Mentally, Lokkrien gave a small sigh of relief; that was one third of the material successfully pushed aside. The main crises would come at around forty to sixty percent and at the very end when the biggest bursts of plasma were ejected from the Sun. But, so far, so good, Lokkrien thought.

“Excellent!” Lokkrien replied, “Keep calling out those numbers!”

“Sir, Colossus, Zeus and Hercules all report huge increases in power demand,” an Engineer called out.

Looking over at the bar charts on his display screens, Lokkrien could see that three of the five oscillating images were now up in the red zone for power consumption. When the images jumped into the white zone at the top of the chart there was a danger of catastrophic explosion.

“That’s what we’re here to do, son!” Lokkrien replied in as commanding a voice as he could muster amongst the rattling and shuddering of the War Room, quietly cursing the panicky Engineers on the Star-Destroyers who he felt were being too cautious.

Meanwhile, aboard the Star-Destroyers, the Engineers watched anxiously as the power was drained from the reactors into the force-shielding. The tons of proto-star matter, harvested from the star nurseries just before they went nova, could chain-react for tens of thousands of years before starting to deplete. Generating power was not a problem, but harnessing and controlling this wild untamed beast was a major headache. So far, the force-shielding and safety protocols around the proto-star matter were holding up. But, with the increasing demands from Billy aboard the Black Rose those force shields would be tested to their limits.

The Engineers were far from confident that the force shields could hold out for very long. If the force-shielding did fail, the Star-Destroyers would be vapourised, the proto-star matter would be liberated and there would be five new brilliantly shining stars burning close to what remained of planet Earth.

“Hull temperature on Spearhead One is now one hundred and fifty thousand degrees Kelvin, sir!” the Scanner Technician reported.

Aboard the Black Rose, Billy was starting to have trouble seeing the screens in front of him. The vibration from the pounding that the vessel’s hull was receiving made it difficult for him to keep an accurate focus on the monitors that seemed to dance around and blur in his eyes. With Billy concentrating on the screens in front of him, the microscopic machines of the PES began to adjust the force-shielding around his face to compensate for the instability.

“Sector two…sector four…sector one…sector two…sector three…sector two…sector five!” Billy’s mind issued instructions to the parts of the force-shielding that deflected the huge splashes of super-charged plasma away from the vessel. On his screen the triangles of each sector would light up white as the power surged through the linkages from the Star-Destroyers to strengthen the shielding where the intensity of the plasma was greatest.

For an instant, he noted that power consumption from Star-Destroyer Titan was getting dangerously high, the block rising and flickering into the red zone for a few brief moments. However, Billy knew that he had to keep focussed on the streams of plasma that were battering the hull of the Black Rose or everything would be lost.

“Passing through forty percent, sir!” the Scanner Technician indicated to the War Room.

“Flight surgeon!?” Lokkrien called for an update.

“Under very heavy stress, sir, but holding steady!!” the commanding voice replied.

“Nearly half way,” Lokkrien mumbled to himself, gritting his teeth.

Back aboard the Black Rose, Billy was starting to experience a new phenomenon.

With the volume of material from the Sun steadily increasing as the Black Rose pushed it aside, a new danger was emerging. The plasma that had been pushed aside was being pushed back towards the Black Rose by the volume of the material behind it. Like a snow plough pushing through a heavy drift, the pressure from the material bouncing off the shielding was pushing a great deal of plasma back at the Black Rose. Strands of super-charged plasma were starting to filter through the shielding further down.

It took Billy several seconds to realise what was happening and that he had to step up his game further to monitor and deflect super-charged plasma from the whole shield. Expanding his view of the shielding on his centre screen, Billy knew that he had no alternative other than to increase the demands on the power generators aboard the Star-Destroyers. As a result, he had to focus his mind even more intently on the screen in front of him as he watched for the splash-back from the streams of super-charged plasma that he had already deflected away.

“Two…one…three…four…one…one…three!” the rate of instruction rapidly increased from Billy’s mind to deal with the increasing splash-back.

The five triangles on his centre screen flickered even more rapidly as the power consumption bars of all five Star-Destroyers danced ever closer to the red zone.

“Going through fifty percent, sir,” the Scanner Technician announced as the whole umbrella passed through a huge bulge in the matter stream that signalled the height of the solar eruption.

“Half way,” Lokkrien mumbled to himself, “all downhill from here,” he prayed.

“Power usage reaching danger levels, sir,” an Engineering Technician called out amidst the shuddering and shaking.

“We’re not there yet!” Lokkrien responded.

For a split-second, Lokkrien considered listening to the Engineers and abandoning the umbrella. But, having come this far, he considered, it was now becoming a matter of pride to hang on in there. If Billy Caudwell, out there in the flimsy structure of the Black Rose could hold on, then so could Marrhus Lokkrien. He was not about to abandon his commander and friend just yet.

“Flight surgeon!?” Lokkrien called for another medical update on the First Admiral.

“Extreme stress, sir, heart rate and blood pressure dangerously elevated! He can’t hold out for very much longer sir!” the Flight Surgeon replied.

“Oh, yes he can!” Lokkrien replied as another violent shudder rattled through the Aquarius.

“Passing through sixty percent, sir!” the Scanner Technician announced as the bulge in the plasma stream started to tail off.

“Just the tail to go,” Lokkrien prayed as the hammering of the Aquarius continued unabated.

Out on the Black Rose, Billy began to notice that the intensity of the plasma stream was starting to reduce. The splash-back problem was starting to decrease. It looked like the major crisis had passed, but he knew that he could not let his concentration lapse for one single moment. Still jammed heavily into his seat by the intensity of the pounding, Billy tilted his head to the left, eyes still focussed on the screens, to achieve some relief for his aching neck muscles.

“Two……one……three……one……four!” the command rate was starting to decrease and the power demands from the Star-Destroyers was beginning to drop down below the red zone.

The buffeting and shaking of the Black Rose was still continuing, but Billy was starting to feel like the end was in sight. Still the great snaking, writhing stream of super-charged plasma just kept coming at him.

“Come on, Billy! Come on!” he urged himself to focus on the work ahead.

Starting to feel dizzy, he tried to shake his head and stared hard at the central screen.

“One…………..five…………..two…………..three” he illuminated the sectors on his central screen as the flood of plasma slammed into the force-shielding once again.

“Through seventy…and seventy-five percent, sir!” the Scanner Technician updated anyone who was listening.

“Nearly there! Come on, Billy!” Lokkrien hissed through clenched teeth as the pounding of the flagship continued.

Aboard the Star-Destroyers, the concerned Engineers were starting to feel slightly happier as power demands seemed to be reducing back to below the dangerous levels of the major crisis.

Their main worries now turned to the structural damage that the intense pounding would have caused to the enormous vessels.

“Eighty…eighty-five…ninety percent, sir!” the Scanner Technician kept the updates coming.

“Nearly there, nearly there, nearly there,” Lokkrien mumbled as he steeled himself for the final burst that was the dying convulsion of the solar eruption.

Aboard the Black Rose, Billy could see the final great wall of plasma hurtling towards the point of the umbrella on his screen. Breathing heavily, he tried to focus, but found his vision blurring as the screen seemed to fade in and out. An instant later, he felt that the Control Cabin of the Black Rose was starting to spin.

“No!” he yelled feebly as he gave one last desperate, supreme effort to focus on the screens.

Then everything went black.

“I’m sorry,” he heard a faint voice, his own voice, sighing in despair as he finally lost consciousness.

The Burning Sun

Book II The Burning SunThe adventure continues for Billy Caudwell, the teenage First Admiral of the Universal Alliance Fleet.

The Bardomil Empress, eager to avenge the defeat of her Imperial Fleet at the hands of Billy Caudwell, acquires a weapon that can generate super-charged solar flares and incinerate entire planets.  Having tested the weapon, the Empress discovers a strategic territorial weakness in Billy’s Alliance and launches the solar flare weapon at Planet Earth as a diversion to a full-scale assault on the Alliance.  Billy Caudwell, still trying to stay on top of his dangerous double life, now has to protect Earth and save the Alliance from annihilation.

And, as if that’s not enough, Billy also has girl troubles!

Author Bio

The author, William J.Benning was born in Dumfries (south west Scotland) in 1963. With his 50th birthday fast approaching, Benning has decided to grow old disgracefully. An intensely private individual, Benning recently returned to his home town seeking inspiration for his passion of creative writing. At age 18, Benning left home to take an Honours Degree in Psychology at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. He has some very fond memories, and many nights of vague recollection – which are, on the whole, probably best forgotten (!) – from his student days. After graduating, Benning had a career “false start” moving into the world of Pest Control Management. However, after several unhappy years, he switched tack and took further qualifications in Personnel Management, carving out a successful and enjoyable career in Human Resources as well as Learning & Development. Throughout his career, Benning has worked to support the activities of the British Red Cross.

From his early days as a First Aid Volunteer, he enjoyed working for the organisation which gave him further skills and built his self-confidence. Progressing within British Red Cross, Benning became a First Aid Instructor (Trainer), Assessor and Lecturer plus becoming invoved in training other Trainers and Assessors. Having returned to Dumfries to further his writing career, Benning now lives alone, but has been adopted by four members of the Canine Community. With four dogs in his life – and a newly arrived litter of Tibetan Terrier pups – plus a newly published novel, life is never going to be dull for Benning. William likes his sci-fi, but is also keen on military history and speculative fiction. Among his fiction favourites are Harry Turtledove, the late George MacDonald Fraser, Bernard Cornwell and Clive Cussler. William collects Edinburgh Crystal and has a terrible weakness for malt whisky. He has published his novel First Admiral with Malachite Quills in 2012.


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