This one is so new we don’t even have a cover yet. Heck, the book is still funding on Kickstarter (Hint…Hint…) but we’ve enjoyed Daire’s Devils by Danielle Ackley-McPhail so much, we really wanted to share it with you while you still had a chance to get in on the action. This is an action-packed, character-driven military science fiction novel based on the Alliance Archives MRPG developed by Mike McPhail in the early ’80s. 


Chapter 1

Corporal Katrion Alexander could see no stars.

Well, not from the command deck of the Groom Experimental Complex, anyway. The filter of the protective shielding and the harsh electric glare lighting the compartment rendered anything that would have been visible to her unaided eye imperceptible. Two hundred and seventy degrees of pure, inky black surrounded her. That’s why she liked being in space so much lately. It matched her mood.

Like tonight, for instance, brand-new to this post, she’d barely been on the station two hours when the officer of the watch tapped her to cover a shift for someone named Simmons who had reported to sickbay. Kat hadn’t even requisitioned her kit from stores yet.

What a classic SNAFU. Everything was off-kilter. Schedules delayed, launch sequences misaligned, posts vacant. With typical military efficiency, everyone’s signals had been crossed. Kat had a recall out for the deck crew mistakenly given liberty, but she didn’t hold much hope they’d surface. Just as well. She could use the solitude, and one command console operated pretty much like any other in the military. The United States Aerospace Command, or AeroCom, favored consistency… in their tech, anyway. Besides, she’d opted for computer infiltration specialist for her military occupational specialty. There wasn’t a system in service or development she couldn’t run, take apart, or break into.

She was familiarizing herself with this particular setup when a change in the outside ambiance drew her attention.

“Oh, mercy!” She let out an appreciative breath as the ship she’d just cleared for departure came into view directly overhead. If the flight path hadn’t crossed a few klicks above her observation dome, she likely wouldn’t have seen the ship’s movement. The Galloway, a prototype Chamberlain-class attack vessel built and outfitted right here at the research-and-development end of the station, blended into the texture of space. Her running lights flickered, the only glimmer against the darkness, barely illuminating the dull matte finish of the hull in microbursts. The black surface’s engineered tincture all but absorbed the flashes, further dampened by the almost cellular hatch markings engraved on the ablative hull plating. The ultimate in space camo for ships. AeroCom’s systems registered the vessel—they knew what to look for—but, as of yet, no one else could. If it weren’t for alert beacons used during conventional flight, the ship would have been a hazard. Shielded against every form of observation short of up-close visual sight, the vessel represented a covert marvel, the prize of any fleet. The trade-off to achieve the equivalent of a sniper ship: the Galloway sacrificed heavier armor for speed, advanced stealth, and weaponry. So, basically, she wasn’t any more difficult to disable than her less stealthy counterparts once the adversary knew her coordinates.

Of course… by then, it was theoretically too late.

Ping. Ping.

Kat didn’t even twitch as the comm system alert tone sounded through the chamber. That would be Tac Stanton, commander of the Alexi, the ship that should have been the next to deploy. Let him stew. She’d encountered him before. Never a pleasant experience. In fact, he seemed to go out of his way to be as difficult as possible, no matter the situation. He should be grateful his ship was getting out of here any time this solar week, given the mess she’d had to sort through when she came on shift.

As the Galloway deployed, Kat’s gut flared with the burn of pre-battle tension. She should be on that ship. Instead, they’d stuck her on this station while others… while her team went off to patrol the stars.

The resentment still burned raw. She had just climbed from the ranks of combat infantry to special ops, only to be notified that she had psych-tested out of her team after only a month. Kat expected that her mother actually had something to do with that ruling. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d called in favors to interfere with Kat’s “reckless” career choices. Hell, Kat had journeyed all the way to the Tau Ceti star system to enlist with AeroCom. Not that the distance had proven completely successful. Kat had more than enough points to have earned her sergeant’s stripes but Mother had her papers so tied up in red tape that Kat might be retired before she ranked up. Not that she had any proof of that, beyond past experience…

In any case, for reasons military command wouldn’t explain, they had given Kat two options: punch a keypad, or push a broom. Rebelliously, she’d nearly grabbed for the broom. Let them waste years of intensive military training and proven combat experience, right along with her multi-million-dollar transport fee.

Only her honor stood in the way of such retaliation. She had sworn an oath to stand between the common people and the harm they might suffer from not only the Legion but at the hands of pirates and corporations and the faceless, as-yet-undiscovered dangers lurking in space. AeroCom might have forgotten this. Kat could not.

Kat swallowed her bitterness and grudgingly accepted her unsought role of station support staff. She would diligently work every shift she could pull to bring her closer to the day she earned her ticket home. Heck, she hadn’t even unpacked her duffle before she clocked in on the roster. She’d still have to stick around until she served her tour, but at least she’d have a ride out of here at the end.

The alert tone sounded once again, somehow seeming more insistent. Again, Kat ignored it. Only an emergency signal obligated Control to respond to hails from vessels waiting in the queue, and this gave no indication of an emergency.

Hands splayed over the keypad—set below flush, into the hip-high console—she entered the final release sequence and sent the Galloway off ahead of schedule with a silent salute. After all, the timetable was already screwed up. The quicker they departed, the sooner she could adjust to her exile. The vessel drifted the proscribed distance before engaging its drive system. From the command deck, her sensors registered the telltale vapors bubbling in the ship’s wake as the Galloway initiated its electrogravitic drive envelope.

With her brown eyes burning, she smothered her resentment anew. Her team—the 142nd Mobile Special Operations Team, informally known as Daire’s Devils—counted among the vessel’s complement of regular troops and special ops teams. Though she had been the newest member of her team, they already felt like family. Being parted from them stung like a betrayal. Whether on her part, theirs, or the bureaucracy’s, she couldn’t say, but it didn’t sit well. Had she rung out of training, no one would have blamed her for knowing her limitations. But to have her superiors determine her—an experienced operative—substandard didn’t sit well. To be labeled, out of all those in her team, as unacceptable, and not even know why…

Her fingers clawed the console housing, thankfully in no danger of triggering the recessed keypads. With a deep breath and hard discipline, she forced her bitterness back into its crater and mentally rolled a rock over it. She then turned her focus back to the task at hand.

With the Galloway clear, she began to process the next vessel. This time, she opened the channel as the alert tone persisted.

“You incompetent fool! Can’t you follow a deployment schedule?”

Kat’s lips tightened into a thin, hard line and her hands fisted reflexively. Her mood darkened even further at the thought of dealing with the notorious Commander Tac Stanton. Pompous ass. They had had dealings with one another when she’d shipped to the Tau Ceti system, and occasionally since then. She would never understand how such a slug had risen to command level.

“A glitch in the deployment systems required minor adjustments to get things back on track, commander,” she responded across the open channel in her own carefully neutral tone.

“Glitch?! Station Commander Trask will—”

Kat cut him off. “The Alexi’s next in the queue. Is your vessel ready to deploy? If not, I can process the incoming Hirobon transport…”

“Yes!” he snapped out the single word hard and tight, cutting her off. “We are more than ready.” Kat’s eyes narrowed. Stanton was way too worked up over a simple delay, even for him.

“Commencing pre-deployment scans, now… position your craft for launch,” she instructed him as she reviewed the datafeed for anomalies. She noted a small mass registering out near Tagalong, just cresting the planetesimal’s horizon. She initiated second-tier scans, but they revealed no recognizable mechanics or transmissions. Density analysis suggested low mineral content and no ferrous deposits. Just a rock… roughly the size—if not the shape—of a good-sized yacht. It fell outside of the scheduled flight path, so she made a note of her observations and beamed a copy of the report to the Alexi’s flight crew, along with their release codes.

“You are clear to deploy.”

She did not linger to watch this vessel. Turning back to her monitors, she started on the next flight plan. She didn’t get far. The console in front of her registered an unauthorized communications burst tight-beamed to the station. It ended before she could intercept it through one of the perimeter sensors.

Probably Stanton griping to Trask because she’d made him wait.

Great. She’d been on-station only a few hours and the first complaint had already been added to her docket.

Kat shrugged off her annoyance. She might not be happy with the turn her career had taken, but she had duties to fulfill and too much honor not to care. Turning back toward the transparent shielding that allowed her a direct visual of her domain, Kat scanned the deep-black oblivion. Toward her distant left, in the direction the Alexi had launched, she saw a ghostly glimmer, like the after-image of a camera flash, and nothing else. Had the Alexi had enough time to engage its drive and rocket out of range? Kat didn’t think so. The older vessel ran with fusion impulse engines.

Something didn’t feel right. Kat sequenced a full-system scan, engaging all the remote sensors linked to her console. Reviewing the ’feed as it processed, her every muscle tightened like the steady ripple of a python’s coils. She sent a secure quick-burst query to the Alexi’s comm and waited for the security-coded confirmation.

The deck comm remained silent.

If her dark brown hair wasn’t already bristle-brush short, it would have stood on end. Adrenaline sharp-focused her thoughts in an instant. A growl rumbled in her throat. Her left hand reflexively itched for her gauss rifle, currently locked away in a weapons locker aboard the Galloway, probably already assigned to someone else. Instead, she hit the print button on her console, and the report scrolled out on a thin slice of durable acrylisheet. The hardcopy confirmed her suspicions. Readings showed no sign that the Alexi had initiated its drive system. The ship couldn’t have moved beyond visual on conventional thrusters. It definitely should still be within hailing range.

“Control to Commander Trask,” she sent out a hail to the station commander. Precious minutes passed with no response. She needed his clearance to initiate High Alert status. “Control to Commander Trask, please come in, sir,” she repeated as she keyed in an urgency code linked to the message.

Still no response. Her internal alarms went into overdrive. On station, there was no time Trask could call completely his own. Moments of crisis superseded everything. Station commanders were always online, their personal comms bonejacked directly into their jaw, just below the ear, same as ships’ captains or elite military squads. Her hand went to the site of her now-deactivated, subdermal comm. She missed the buzzing sensation of someone’s words transmitting along her jaw. Sometimes, she thought she felt the faint vibration indicating a live feed, but she attributed that to wishful thinking.

Kat set the hail on auto-replay. Then, uncertain of the commander’s status, and faced with a high probability of threat to station security, she snapped into action without command authorization, a risky choice. Flipping open the cap that covered the alert toggle, she notched it to the next level, setting off a klaxon throughout the security zones of the station. No need to panic the civvies… yet.

Not three minutes after the alarm sounded the station’s first defense, a wing of Condor-class scout vessels jetted from their hangars like canned air from a hull breach.

“Control to Wing Command, do you copy?”

“Mustang Sally readin’ you loud and clear, Control, where we headin’?”

Neither the flatness of the transmission nor the gravity of the situation took the color out of the pilot’s irrepressible Texas twang. Finally, a friendly voice. And bonus, one clearly from Earth. Kat allowed herself the briefest of smiles and responded, “Spread your wing out in a vector scan of quadrant 0689Alpha looking for unaccounted debris, followed by a deep-space scan from that location targeting the vessel Alexi, ident-code ND-061. Presume hostiles are in the area. Should you make contact with the Alexi, secure absolute confirmation of the ship’s status. Over.”

“Gotcha, Sally off.” As they headed for the coordinates she beamed to them, Kat initiated the High Alert protocol.

Her fingers flew over the keypad. First, she punched in the locator sequence keyed to Commander Trask. A schematic of the station appeared on the monitor before her. The spiraling design corkscrewed around a central maintenance tube, with pairs of directional thrusters running along the coils’ outer edges. The Command, or C-deck, in the head, angled out into space to allow Control an unobstructed view of the docking area, the shipyard, and most approach vectors, with auxiliary C-decks at key points along the complex.

Commander Trask’s designation did not register on any coil.

Nervous tension sizzled the length of her. No way Trask had left the station. From just the short time she’d spent in his presence as she handed over her orders, she recognized him as too hardcore, too dedicated. She sent a priority-coded message to the head of station security, with a secondary request to search for the commander once they had confirmed the station secure from outside threat.

Extremely uneasy, Kat took the perimeter sensors off standby and set them to full sector scan. One keystroke transformed the transparent observation dome into a split-screen display, allowing her to view the Groom Experimental Complex’s total perimeter via the remote sensors while monitoring the constant datafeed. She then initiated the security fields around the station defense hubs and essential operations. The personnel manning those stations ran through their own checklists. She initiated next-stage High Alert protocols, triggering orders activating all security squads, off-duty and on. Incoming and outgoing ship traffic paused—which caused more than a little uproar until Kat turned off the non-station transmissions—and all station personnel were on standby, waiting, as her PawPaw would say, for the shit to hit the fan.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail 2021

Award-winning author, editor, and publisher Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books (

Her published works include seven novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, Daire’s Devils, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections Eternal Wanderings, A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, Transcendence, Between Darkness and Light, The Fox’s Fire, The Kindly One, and the non-fiction writers’ guides The Literary Handyman, More Tips from the Handyman,  and LH: Build-A-Book Workshop. She is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Side of Good/Side of Evil, After Punk, and Footprints in the Stars. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.

In addition to her literary acclaim, she crafts and sells original costume horns under the moniker The Hornie Lady Custom Costume Horns, and homemade flavor-infused candied ginger under the brand of Ginger KICK! at literary conventions, on commission, and wholesale.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and four extremely spoiled cats.


  1. Pingback: SNEAK PEEK – DAIRE’S DEVILS | eSpec Books

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