The Brothers’ Keepers
A Nicholas Branson Novel #1
by Matthew Peters
Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, and Jesus’ purported spouse, Mary Magdalene. But what about Jesus’ siblings? What role did they play in early Christianity?
Contemporary Jesuit and renowned religious historian Nicholas Branson is about to find out…and the answer will shake the foundations of the Judeo-Christian world.
It all starts with the murder of a United States Senator in a confessional, and the discovery of a strange religious document among his possessions. At the urging of his FBI friend, Branson joins the investigation. His effort to uncover the truth behind the murder draws him into the search for an eight-hundred-year-old treasure and into a web of ecclesiastical and political intrigue.
Accompanied by a beautiful, sharp-tongued research librarian, Jessica Jones, Branson follows a trail of clues, from the peaks of the awe inspiring French Pyrenees to the caves of war-torn Afghanistan. Along the way, shadowy powerful forces trail the pair, determined to keep safe a secret buried for centuries.
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Nicholas Branson had just managed to get to sleep when—Christ almighty!—the phone rang. He started, grabbed his cell, and sat up in one quick motion.
“Yeah?” He dabbed his eyes with his palm to blot out sleep.
“Nick? Greg, Greg Hanlovian.”
“Han? Why the hell are you calling at this hour?” Branson clicked on the lamp and groggily got his bearings. The red digital clock on the rickety nightstand showed 4:02 a.m. Across the room, the particle-board desk was covered with open books, facedown, forming little tents under the crucifix on the wall.
“Did you hear?” Han snapped.
“What happened last night?”
It’s still last night. “No, I went to an—I had a meeting. Came home, did some work.” Now he was wide awake. “Is Nola all right?”
Branson relaxed a little. “Well, what happened?”
Silence at the other end.
“Thomas Caldwell has been murdered.”
“The senator from California? Head of the Armed Services Committee?”
“Yup. Gunned down in a confessional in St. Peter’s last night, sometime after nine.”
Branson shook his head. “St. Peter’s? I don’t understand. What was he doing in a confessional at that hour? Was Caldwell even Catholic?”
“No, he wasn’t. But there’s something else, and that’s the reason I’m calling. There are some photos.”
“Can’t talk about it on the phone, Nick. Meet me at Spencer’s in half an hour.”
FLIPSPACE Missions 13-15
by John Steiner
Surpassing the speed of light remained elusive in the 2170’s. However, the trick was to hold still to swap out spatial locations. For Colonel Sumitra Ramachandra, Major Lamarr Fitch, Captain Malcolm O’Connell and the rest of the ISS Mockingbird’s crew jumping between solar systems is just the start of their wondrous, sometimes zany and often perilous missions. The future of aerospace defense stretches far above the blue yonder.
Murder of Ravens
During Earth-duty, the ISS Mockingbird takes part in an airshow, until an unprovoked strategic strike by the Jade Continuum puts Earth defenses on high alert. Colonel Rama and Major Fitch must rally their crew and prepare for a counter-strike raid to Mars to unravel the Continuum’s motive and remind them that they’re not out of reach. Mustering their assets also means that Colonel Rama must convince their former flight surgeon, Malcolm O’Connell to rejoin the crew. However, he brings his own bad news.
A reconnaissance mission to the exo-planet HD 40307G has gone wrong. Two crewmembers are left behind, as the Mockingbird evacuates researchers back to Earth. Captain Diaz is forced to put another of his team into cryptobiosis and hold out until the Mockingbird’s return. Trekking 500 kilometers, and evading Jade Continuum forces, Diaz encounters indigenous intelligent aliens called Leons. Lacking SETI training, Diaz must overcome cultural differences with the Leons, and ensure the return of his team member, whatever the cost.
Paired off with the ISS Kulshedra, the Mockingbird is dispatched to a second colony established by the Jade Continuum in violation of international treaties. Securing the skies over the exoplanet named Purple Haze becomes suspiciously easy as the Continuum abandoned their colony in haste. Along with a sole surviving member of the Jade Continuum, the SETI Team finds an unusual form of intelligent life capable of terraforming the bodies of macro-organisms, even those alien to the planet. Tensions rise over what to do with a prisoner of war while the alien threat grows.
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MURDER OF RAVENS
Sparse cirrus clouds streaked a light blue sky dotted with lighter-than-air monitoring probes. Below lay the Berlin ExpoCenter Airport. A temporary stadium that seated over a hundred thousand encircled a set of runways with a healthy few hundred meters of green between. Millions more watch via M-Cast cameras at ground level and in the floating monitors.
The ILA Berlin Airshow had overtaken Paris in being the world premier aerospace event thirty years ago. On May 20th, 2177 the show would include a demonstration of the ISV-71 Ravens of the 1st Raven Light-Ops, FTL. It would end with a simulated aerial knife-fight for the foremost and longest serving ISV-71 Raven, the ISS-454 Mockingbird, piloted by Colonel Sumitra Ramachandra and Major Lamarr Fitch, against a flight of four OSF 168s.
Standing at a podium near one of the runways was the 1st Ravens Wing Commander, Brigadier General Benjamin Chaffee. The seventy-two-year-old dark brown general in his black uniform narrated the events transpiring far above. “The ISV-71 Raven is a lot bigger than a fighter, but don’t be fooled. The Raven has a proven track record in air-to-air knife fights, and has made its name in multi-role deep space operations. NATO’s Aerospace Defense Response now fields sixteen ISV-71s organized into four wings, with another twenty-four Ravens to be added over the next three years.”
Taking a pause, General Chaffee turned his gaze skyward right as four Orbital Supremacy Fighters zipped overhead and pitched into a steep climb toward the ISS Mockingbird. The fighters exhibited a blended body-wing design with canards on their nose cones and variable-height stabilizers. In contrast, the ninety-meter long Mockingbird loitered two kilometers up in a straight-wing flight mode. The ISV’s elongated diamond-shaped hull, triangular tail and variable position wings reinforced to viewers below the raven outline for which the ship design was named.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you’re in for a treat,” General Chaffee promised. “What you’re seeing is a flight of four OSF 168s on their way to start some trouble with the famed ISS Mockingbird, the Raven that found the lost crew of the Astraeus and carried out multiple SETI first contact missions. You’re about to see something we at ADR like to call, ‘doin’ the Ramachandra’.”