At last, Empire Reborn is almost here! This will be the first novel in the Taran Empire Saga, which is a sequel to the original Cadicle series but also serves as a new entry point to the broader universe.
About Empire Reborn
When Jason Sietinen is assigned to investigate a mysterious attack, he finds evidence of powerful transdimensional beings never before seen. Or so he thought.
Jason soon learns that critical information was lost through the millennia: Tarans had an ancient treaty with the aliens. Unfortunately, rogue actions by a shadow faction within the Empire just broke the peace.
With the future of the Empire hanging in the balance, Jason must find a way to unite the Taran worlds, including the lost colony of Earth, against the mounting threat. There’s just one problem: how do you fight an enemy you can’t see or touch?
Empire Reborn will be released on March 19th!
Jason Sietinen sped through the training course in his fighter with practiced precision, using the neural link to operate the spacecraft as an extension of himself. He couldn’t help grinning; the idea to volunteer as a space combat instructor had been a stroke of genius to get him flying again without shirking his leadership responsibilities. Stars, I’ve missed this!
As he finished his demonstration run, he was about to address his students when a presence at the edge of his consciousness broke his euphoria.
Jason’s sight narrowed and the jovial chatter on the comms faded to the background. Intense fear gripped him, despite his training. He’d experience the same foreboding sensation once before, though he’d never been sure if it was real—a prophesy or a waking nightmare. No, we beat them. They’re gone. This can’t be right.
The darkness pressed against his mind, closing in around him. Such immense power, sinister and all-consuming. Memories of the past vision rushed back and merged with his present perception. His surroundings melted away, leaving only his heartbeat pounding in his ears. He was alone in the void, trapped by the crushing force. Something was coming…
And then it vanished.
Jason drew a deep breath of the crisp, oxygen-rich air to steady himself. What was that?
His students were still joking with each other on the comms, oblivious to what he’d felt. He wanted to tell himself it was just a bizarre manifestation of stress, but he’d learned to trust his instincts more than that.
“CACI,” he addressed the onboard AI, “are you picking up any unusual readings?”
“Nominal,” the synthetic female voice replied. Sensor data scrolled across the head-up display on the windshield, casting a soft red and blue glow inside the cockpit.
He reviewed the information on the HUD, seeing nothing of note. “What about any recently filed incident reports?”
Truthfully, Jason didn’t know what he was asking. He glanced at the young pilots waiting to take their first run in real fighters. If there wasn’t immediate danger in the vicinity, then anything else could wait.
He tried to suppress the uneasy feeling and return his attention to the lesson at hand.
“So that’s how it’s done. Easy, right?” Jason asked his students in a more upbeat tone than he felt.
“This is nothing like the sims,” muttered Bret Hamlin, one of the Initiates. It was unclear if he’d meant to broadcast the sentiment on an open channel, but Jason wasn’t about to let it slip by.
“In fact, it’s exactly like the flight simulators. Though it might not look it while you’re parked out here watching me do all the work, give yourself a chance to get a feel for the controls. You’ll be surprised.” The sleek fighters, styled with tapered wings and rear fins suited for both spaceflight and in-atmosphere combat, were an ideal practice craft to help the pilots hone their skills.
“I think it’s pretty spot on so far,” Alisha Delroe chimed in, always the suck-up.
Her teacher-crush had been obvious to Jason from day one, but he’d made a point to not encourage her. Frankly, he didn’t have the time or energy to deal with it.
“Sampsen, you’re up. Just a maneuvering run, no targets. Don’t be a showoff,” Jason instructed. He’d learned that the best approach to keeping the lesson on track was to cut off the side chatter before it took hold. Let the students start a discussion on matters of opinion, and that would be all they’d talk about for the rest of the day.
Thankfully, Wes Sampsen did as he was told. His flight lines were loose and his reactions slow, but it was a decent initial run. Jason would rather see a student be too cautious out of the gate than try to act like a hotshot. Confidence could be built; breaking down cockiness was a lot harder.
“Nice work,” Jason complimented the pilot trainee. “Delroe, go for it.”
“Aye, sir,” Alisha acknowledged with far more sultriness than was warranted.
With Jason’s athletic build, chestnut hair, and striking teal eyes, he was used to getting that kind of attention, but it still made him uncomfortable. While his popularity had been well and good growing up on Earth, now that he was an active participant in the galaxy-spanning Taran Empire, he could never be sure if it was him or his family name that people were interested in. The Sietinen Dynasty was tantamount to royalty, known to everyone throughout the expansive civilization, but Jason couldn’t care less about their wealth and influence—that was his twin sister’s domain. She played princess while he got to be the consummate soldier and leave the politicking to the people who actually cared.
“Watch your lines,” Jason called to Alisha over the comms as she cut a little too close to one of the buoys that defined the flight lanes.
The training course in the void between Jupiter and Saturn was composed of markers leading past various enemy-simulation targets. For these preliminary practice purposes, the drones were inactive while the students got comfortable maneuvering out in the black versus inside flight simulators. Other training could get students competent with the controls, but only time in a genuine spacecraft revealed the psychological impact of facing an immense expanse where the nearest celestial body was a distant speck.
Jason had loved it from the first time his father took him out in a shuttle. Most days, he found the vast nothing calming—a reminder that he was a tiny piece of something grander than an individual could comprehend. It kept petty day-to-day problems in perspective. At this moment, though, he felt none of that usual comfort. Whatever he’d sensed at the start of the lesson was still out there.
“Easy, Delroe!” Jason warned again as Alisha made another dangerous turn.
Young trainees like her were all too common—trying to prove they were the next superstar who would set the bar for future generations. The Tararian Selective Service’s training program was effective at reining in those reckless impulses, but it took years to mold someone into a TSS Agent who would be valuable to society. Early on, emerging telekinetic and telepathic abilities had a way of getting in teenagers’ heads. They felt invincible. Jason knew, in retrospect, he’d suffered from the same affliction at their age. Now, at twenty-six and a graduated Agent, he had sufficient life experience to recognize when others were acting stupid even when he didn’t always make the wisest decision himself.
“That’s enough, Delroe. Bring it in,” he ordered. She’d come close to clipping too many buoys for him to allow the run to continue.
“Sir, I—” she started to protest.
“We’re not trying to set any records today,” he said in a firm tone. “Let Hamlin have a chance.”
The comm cut out at the start of an aggravated sigh from Alisha.
There’s one in every group. Jason shook his head. Not everyone was a natural, as much as they wanted to be. It sucked, but that was life.
He kept a watchful eye on Hamlin, and then the remaining seven trainees, as each completed a practice run. A few would need more hands-on coaching, but he was confident he could make decent pilots out of every one of them.
“All right, time to head back,” he told the group when the last trainee had finished.
Jason activated the automated navigation control for a group jump back to TSS Headquarters. The pre-programmed protocol allowed close proximity subspace transit to the space dock on the far side of Earth’s moon, out of sight from prying eyes. With the rise in space traffic in recent years, it was becoming more difficult to keep the base’s presence secret, even with stealth shielding. Though it wasn’t Jason’s direct concern, he knew that a TSS team worked around the clock to keep the Empire’s existence hidden, through various technological, political, and private intervention means. A waste of resources, as far as he was concerned.
Blue-green light swirled around his vessel as the subspace distortion generated by the jump drive allowed the craft to slip into subspace. The hop to Headquarters was so short that he was only fully immersed in the ethereal light for a blink of an eye. As his fighter dropped back into normal space, the distortion dissipated like fog on a warm morning.
Before him was the impressive TSS spaceport, fixed via a gravity anchor to the far side of the moon from Earth. From a distance, the glow of the station’s illuminated branches would merely be a faint point of light in the dark. But, up close, the dome-roofed concourses and central hub of the sprawling structure were an impressive sight to behold. Windows between the sculptured metal framework shone with a pearlescent finish, reflecting the onboard lights of the approaching ships. His heart swelled each time he saw it—originally, from the excitement of stepping into a futuristic society relative to Earth, where he’d spent the first sixteen years of his life; now, it was the welcome sight of home.
The team docked near the station's core on a short concourse dedicated to berthing the fighters used for training. Jason shut down his own craft and then watched the remote feed of each student going through the power-down process to make sure all connections were made and it was safe to disembark. All reports came up blue for ‘good’.
“Great work today.” Jason removed his flight helmet.
At the all-clear sign, the students piled out from their vessels. He met them on the broad concourse next to one of the curved windows overlooking the moon below, and they formed a semicircle around him. Their light-blue flight suits indicating their Initiate rank contrasted his Agent black.
“So, having now been out in the real thing, how does it compare to the sims?” he asked.
A cacophony of simultaneous replies ranged from “Amazing!” to “Terrifying”.
He smiled at them. “Looking forward to getting back out there?”
“Stars, yes!” they practically said in unison.
“Good. I want to clean up a couple of techniques before we go out again, but I think we can target another flight next week.”
There were grins all around.
Jason escorted them to an automated transport shuttle leading to the surface port at the bottom of a crater. The three-pronged port converged at a semi-circular lobby with a bank of elevators along the curved back wall. It was the singular way to get into the secure underground base deep within the moon.
They filed into an elevator car, and the doors slid closed; a pulsing white light gave the only indication of downward movement. Midway through the ride, there was a thud as the car passed through the lock separating the top half of the elevator shaft from the lower portion that extended into the shell surrounding the Headquarters structure. At the center of the metal sphere was the eleven-ringed base, each section self-contained except for access via the central shaft.
The elevator stopped at Level 2, the section dedicated to the Primus Division, the classification for the most powerful Agents and promising trainees. Jason and select others had been granted a Primus Elite distinction, but they operated within the broader Primus framework for administrative purposes. Different floors within the ring held a mixture of student housing, Agent quarters, common areas, and offices. It was a fully functioning city, filled with the best and brightest. Most days, Jason couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.
“See you in class. Have a good afternoon,” he bid the students farewell before heading toward his residential wing, anxious to reflect on the strange experience with the dark presence. Is it worth saying something to Dad?
“Sir, may I have a minute?” Alisha asked from behind him.
Jason schooled his expression before turning back to face her. “Of course.” He tucked his flight helmet under his arm.
Alisha’s helmet dangled from its chin strap in one hand while her other arm crossed over her stomach. The brows above her large, dark eyes were drawn together with frustration she couldn’t quite mask. At nineteen and in the Initiate stage of the TSS Agent training protocol, she was caught between newcomer and higher-skilled Junior Agent. It was a particularly frustrating time for students while they waited for the full extent of their Gifts to emerge. Jason’s own telepathic and telekinetic abilities had developed quickly, but he’d watched many of his friends play the agonizing waiting game as their peers started to pass them by.
She waited for the other students to get beyond earshot down the hallway before continuing. “I wanted to ask about earlier. What, exactly, did I do wrong, sir?”
He raised an eyebrow. “You can’t tell me?”
She frowned. “I was trying to be efficient with my trajectory. Look one target ahead.”
“You were cutting within meters of the buoys. It wasn’t safe.”
“I knew I had the clearance.”
“You were in an unfamiliar craft,” he reminded her.
“Sir, you said yourself that they handle like the simulators. I’ve logged hundreds of hours in those.”
She had him there. He took a measured breath. “I’ll grant you that. However, there’s a difference between efficiency and being needlessly reckless. Generally speaking, you never have to get that close, even if you have the skill to do so. You have to find the balance between what will accomplish your objective and making sure you and your craft get home intact.”
Alisha nodded and looked down. “I understand. I’m sorry, sir.”
She still seemed annoyed, but Jason appreciated her willingness to concede. He bent his head to catch her gaze. “I should have been clearer in my instruction; it’s not all on you. But next time when I say to take it easy, don’t keep pushing it, okay?”
Jason gave her a supportive smile. “It was solid flying, though. I’m looking forward to seeing what you can do.”
Her face lit up. “Thank you, sir.”
“Have a good night.”
Jason resumed the walk to his quarters. With soft copper and deep red hues complementing the wood paneling and gray carpet, the residential halls felt like a cozy home rather than a military installation. After ten years with the TSS, living in the underground base seemed as normal as his childhood on Earth. He did miss being able to go into the countryside—and the rain, oddly—but his assignments to various planets offered a suitable substitute.
He was almost to his quarters when he spotted Gil, one of his former roommates and fellow Primus Elite, heading his way.
“Hey, what’s up?” Jason asked.
Gil rubbed the edge of his overcoat between his thumb and forefinger, a nervous tick Jason had observed many times over the years. “What do you know about the attack?”
Jason’s thoughts flashed to the dark presence he’d sensed during the flight lesson. “What happened?”
“I was hoping you knew. All I heard was a ship went missing, and they just found a lone survivor.”
That didn’t sound related to his experience. “Who’d you hear that from?”
“A friend out on remote assignment,” Gil replied with a shrug. “I thought your parents may have said something.”
Jason sighed inwardly. “Contrary to popular belief, I rarely get information before anyone else.”
Gil cracked a smile. “Sure, downplay it all you want.”
Jason waved him away with his flight helmet. “I need to change. I’ll let you know if I get any details.”
His friend started to walk away. “Oh, and are we still on for the match?”
“Shit, is that tonight?” The video game tournament had slipped his mind. He knew it was silly that they still indulged in such an unproductive diversion, but it had become a tradition. And, it was nice to do something with low stakes.
“Dude, you can’t cancel again.” Gil’s shoulders slumped.
Jason ran through the mental list of everything that would be delayed by attending the game. Despite the sizable disruption, his friend’s pleading eyes got the better of him. “All right, I’ll be there at 19:00.”
Gil’s face lit up with a grin. “Prepare to be slaughtered.”
“That’s all the trash-talk you can manage? You don’t stand a chance.”
“I haven’t even gotten warmed up.” Gil held his arms wide in challenge while he strolled away backward.
Jason shook his head as he placed his palm on the biometric lock to his door.
He’d been in the same quarters since graduating to Agent five years prior. The warm shades decorating Headquarters’ common areas carried into the living area, simply furnished to be both efficient and stylish—like most elements within the TSS.
Jason passed through the sliding door into the bedroom and tossed his helmet onto the double bed. He changed out of the flight suit and donned his standard black TSS Agent uniform, tailored snugly enough to show off his physique without being gratuitous. The t-shirt, slacks, and boots would fit with almost any outfit, but the knee-length overcoat with its narrow lapels and tapered waist gave the uniform its iconic look. Until recently, tinted glasses would have been a mandatory accessory—to hide the bioluminescent irises of those with Gifts. However, recent legislation to legalize the civilian use of those abilities had allowed the TSS and its Agents to become more accepted in society, no longer needing to downplay their abilities to set others at ease.
A quick check of his message inbox confirmed that there was no mention of the attack or any other crisis. Still, as a precaution, he decided it would be better to disclose his experience than not. Since his father was often in meetings as part of his TSS High Commander responsibilities, Jason opted for a text message: >>I sensed something odd during the flight lesson. It reminded me of what I saw in the nexus. We should talk when you get a chance.<<
With the message sent, Jason settled onto the plush couch in the living area to review some of his students’ written assignments. He was just getting into it when his handheld chirped.
A text message from Tiff illuminated on the matte surface of the palm-sized device. >>What are you up to tonight?<<
Jason knew from experience that it was a thinly veiled booty call. He slid open the handheld, which activated its smooth screen, and typed back, >>Stupid amounts of work, and Gil roped me into gaming.<<
>>Booo! I was hoping to unwind. It’s been a bomaxed day.<<
>>Same here, but can’t tonight. I’ll block out tomorrow evening.<<
>>Ugh, fine,<< she agreed. >>But only because I actually like Gil.<<
>>Your infinite understanding will be noted for future generations to admire.<<
>>I’m the best. Don’t you forget it!<<
Jason smiled. >>Never would.<< He paused. >>Hey, you didn’t hear anything about an attack on a ship, did you?<<
>>Yeah, actually,<< Tiff replied. >>There’s been some chatter this afternoon. Prisaris is handling it, I think. Why?<<
Prisaris is near the Rift, but… His brows furrowed. >>No reason. Just heard about it from Gil, and I wondered if there was more to it.<<
>>Not that I know of.<<
>>All right. I’ll see you tomorrow. Usual time?<<
>>Yeah, see you then. Now, get to work!<<
He closed out of the chat and frowned at the screen. Prisaris was the TSS base closest to the Rift, and anything having to do with the former war zone set him on edge. Still, the threat related to the Rift was supposed to have been resolved. Unless my vision all those years ago wasn’t about what I thought it was, and there’s something else lurking out there…
There wasn’t anything more he could do about it until he spoke with his father. Until then, plotting how to win the tournament would be a welcome distraction.
— — —
It wasn’t often that TSS High Commander Wil Sietinen found himself perplexed, but this particular set of information defied explanation. He had been studying the report from the Prisaris base for the better part of the evening and was no closer to understanding the strange incident.
“Wil, come to bed.” His wife, Saera, was standing in the doorway to their bedroom. Based on the scowl twisting her beautiful features, she wasn’t pleased that he’d brought work home to their quarters—not that she hadn’t done the same on numerous occasions in her capacity as TSS Lead Agent.
Wil leaned back on the couch with a sigh but didn’t close the report. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
“You can deal with it later.”
“I’m not so sure,” he replied with a frown. “This salvage ship attack is too bizarre to be a coincidence, given the proximity to the Rift.” Ever since the end of the Bakzen War thirty years prior, the Rift had been on his mind. The spatial tear was formed when a planet was destroyed in a massive telekinetic assault. Despite the TSS’ attempts to heal the wound, a sliver of it had remained—and was slowly growing again. He and others had been keeping an eye on it from afar, hoping nothing more would come of it. I should have known better.
Wil gestured to the report on the viewscreen and waited for Saera to get the gist of the contents.
“This can’t be right,” she murmured.
“I can’t find any evidence of it being falsified. In the event it is genuine…”
“Stars…” She sunk down onto the couch next to him.
“We can’t take any risks with the Rift. We need to be ready to respond if this situation develops.”
“Do you think this has anything to do with what Jason alluded to in his message?”
If it does, we’re in more danger than I can imagine. He took a steadying breath. “This attack was days ago, though.”
Saera smoothed her hand over her auburn hair. “Have you spoken with him yet?”
“No, I wanted to finish going through this first, since I’d rather keep the conversation rooted in observable facts.” Wil knew firsthand how visions from the nexus were cryptic and difficult to interpret. Years ago, when his son had visited the nexus, they had interpreted what he’d seen to be a sign of the coming revolution within the Empire. At the time, it fit, but it could have meant anything.
Wil stared at the impossible report on the viewscreen. “I’ve always feared that what he saw was actually another impending threat. Though Jason has never said as much, I think he’s wondered the same. I don’t know why else he’d bring it up now.”
Saera groaned. “Because things can never be easy for us.”
“Hey, we had a few years without a galactic-scale disaster to worry about.”
“Not funny.” She continued reviewing the frustratingly sparse information—so far, only a transcript of an interview and a single image.
“Have you evaluated scan data from the area?” she asked.
“I was just about to.”
Saera leaned forward, fully engaged. “Then let’s figure this out.”
— — —
“We have a problem.”
The telepathic warning intruded into Jason’s mind, snapping him awake. Beyond his father’s mental presence, his bedroom was quiet and dark. Jason rolled onto his back and threaded his fingers through his hair, trying to shake off the haze of sleep. He’d only made it into bed an hour prior, after having quite the heated competition with Gil. “Can’t it wait until morning?”
“It’s about the Rift.”
Jason bolted upright, his heart pounding. “Is it related to that attack?”
“Yes, a salvage hauler was destroyed.”
“We’re not sure,” his father replied.
Jason’s mind raced. I’d hoped I was just being paranoid.
The sector around the sealed spatial rift had been unoccupied for decades. Salvage ships had been instructed to stay clear of the area, though it wasn’t a surprise that at least one had gone in search of valuable scraps left over from the Bakzen War. Perhaps a rival had attacked the ship, but he suspected that his father wouldn’t have woken him in the middle of the night if the explanation were that straightforward.
“Meet me in my office,” his father instructed. “The threat may have come through the Rift.”
Jason threw back the sheets on his bed. “I’m on my way.”
He hurriedly dressed and grabbed his handheld from the charging pad on his nightstand. Shit, we don’t need another conflict. He slid the device into the inner breast pocket of his black overcoat and jogged to the door.
The hallways in TSS Headquarters were all but abandoned in the wee hours of the morning. Sconces lining the paneled walls were dimmed to half-brightness for the night, giving Jason the opportunity to let his senses adjust to wakefulness. As much as he and the other Agents in the TSS liked to believe that the organization’s charter was now driven by academic excellence, alerts like this in the middle of the night were a reminder that their duty was to protect the Taran people, first and foremost. There would always be new threats to vanquish, and they needed to be ready for anything. Their skills were too unique for anyone to take their place.
The familiar comfort of the environment helped settle Jason’s nerves as he jogged to the central lift connecting the facility’s rings. He took the lift to Level 1—the administrative center for TSS Headquarters—and hurried to the TSS High Commander’s office down one of the four primary corridors radiating from the dark-tiled central lobby. For most, getting called to the office would either be a great honor or a sign of impending punishment for a major indiscretion. For Jason, being the son of High Commander Wil Sietinen, a veritable living legend, it was a place for a casual family get-together as much as anything else. Tonight, however, was definitely not a social call.