THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION – PART THREE

Solis Delacey and a landing party from the Kyann ship, the Kr’tl’tk are on shore leave on a forested planet called Urwald. Delacey has no trouble with the Guiranam engineers, but mistrusts her fellow humans, particularly a young man named Hathan whose advances she has found unsettling.

The Guiranam returned after dark. They were happier than Solis had ever seen them and they were boisterous and chattering about their day spent in the branches. Their cheerfulness was infectious and Solis felt happier than she had in a long time. The Kyann were more reserved but Solis could tell that they were pleased for their colleagues. When the Kyann smiled the sight was fearsome, but Solis was not intimidated, not since she learned that the Kyann no longer tore each other’s throats out to settle disputes.

The pre-fab’s stasis units were mostly depleted but there was more than enough left to feed their little group for longer than they planned to stay. An evening meal was soon prepared and the Guiranam and Kyann and Solis shared a table. Carstairs and Hathan ate at a separate table, huddled together in conversation.

The Kyann had a bottle of Rasha and Solis was given a glass and told to drink. It was a cloudy liquid with small white flecks floating among the murky depths. Solis took a hesitant sip. The stuff burned in her mouth and she swallowed instinctively and it burned the rest of the way down. She coughed violently and the Kyann and the Guiranam laughed uproariously.

They continued in good companionship for a short while longer. Solis nursed her Rasha but the Kyann and the Guiranam seemed to have no limit to the amount they could put away.

Urwald’s sun sank below the horizon and the Guiranam, tired from the day’s activities turned in one by one. Solis did not notice when Carstairs and Hathan had turned in but they were nowhere to be seen. The Kyann repaired to the communication alcove to report back to the Kr’tk’tk.

Solis wandered outside to enjoy the waning sunlight. The jungle seemed dark and cold in the darkness and it made her shiver. She hugged herself as she stared into the black mass of the dense greenery. The Guiranam had said that she sould join them when they went out again the next day. Solis would not be able to climb but she thought perhaps a hike through the trees might be pleasant. Looking at it now she was not so sure.

She re-entered the pre-fab. She was heading towards the stairs when saw the Kyann both hunched over the communication array, looks of intense consternation on their faces. Solis wandered over. They were intent on a communication. One of them increased the volume to the array’s speaker. The communication was coming through but it was garbled.

Solis felt a trickle of fear. She had spent enough time with the Kyann to recognize certain facial expressions and the expressions that these to wore now worried her.

The speaker gave forth a burst of static. She heard a voice shouting in Kyann — something about an approaching vessel. There was another squawk of static. Then a voice was demanding the intruder to identify itself. Another burst of static. Then shouted voices — a confusion of shouts and hurried commands.

Then silence.

The Kyann looked up, each regarding the other with shocked expressions. Solis felt fear like hot needles crawling in her stomach and over her scalp. “What’s happening?” she asked. Her voice sounded small in the sudden silence.

The two Kyann regarded her with haunted expressions. Before they could say anything there was a bright flash followed by a crack like thunder. The ground shook and Solis grabbed the back of a chair to steady herself.

The Kyann jumped up and ran to one of the pre-fab’s big windows. There was a flame in the distance. A patch of the grassland and part of the jungle was burning.

Solis saw shapes moving around the flames. Then came the unmistakable sound of weapons fire.

Suddenly the entire structure was awake. The Guiranam came racing down from the upper floors confused and shouting. The Kyann were shouting about weapons. “They’re in the shuttle!” the co-pilot shouted in Kyann. Without warning the Kyann raced out of the pre-fab.

Solis heard a staccato blast of weapons fire and saw the Kyann pilot fall into the long grass. In the stuttering light she could see dark figures in combat armor coming towards them.

The Guiranman were suddenly moving, fleeing the pre-fab. Solis found herself running with them. Weapons fire was deafening around her head as she ran out of the pre-fab and headed towards the dark jungle along with the rest of the screaming and hollering Guiranam.

She ran headlong and soon the dark jungle closed around her. The Guiranam took to the trees and soon she was on her own, a lone Terran on the ground running for her life and as frightened as she had ever been in her life.

As frightened as she had been of the dark jungle now it was her only sanctuary and she pushed as fast as she could, ignoring the branches and creepers and vines that whipped at her face, neck and shoulders and tried to keep her feet as the dense undergrowth threatened to trip her up again and again.

The sound of the weapons fire began to recede behind her but she could still see the occasional flash through the dense trees. She tried to calm her racing thoughts. What had happened? Had someone attacked the Kr’tk’tk? Had the ship been destroyed? But why? Why would anyone want to attack a Kyann ship? They weren’t on a military standing, it was just a routine Commonwealth mission? Why would someone attack them? And why would someone want to kill a group of engineers and one frightened cadet on the ground?

A root or a low branch caught her in the shin. Pain flared up her leg and she cried out as she went down. She held her hands out to break her fall, but it never came.

She felt hands grabbing her from behind and suddenly her stomach lurched as she felt herself being drawn upwards into the trees.

…to be continued…

THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION

Okay. This is a bit of an experiment and, for me, a scary one. I am going to be posting my first draft novella THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION in parts to this blog. The scary part is that I am only halfway finished writing the thing.

So I am going to be posting one part every week and hopefully by the time I get to where I left off I will have written more to post. And if I run out of material, well then I’m just going to have to write by the seat of my pants and hope that it all makes sense in the end.

The final version will eventually be available as an e-novella from Rage Machine books. That version will be different from the one posted here on the blog (better written, more coherent one would hope).

So, why am I doing this? Partly to get myself motivated to finish the thing. I could give myself a deadline but I am usually far to forgiving with myself when it comes to those. Involving the readers of this blog seemed like a better way to go about it. I’m also hoping to get some feedback.

Also, since this is a prequel to my novel THE MASK OF ETERNITY, I am hoping to gain some cross promotion and generate some interest.

So, here it is, part one of THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION:

1. URWALD

“DeLacey! What in the name of the Eternal Void do you think you’re doing?”

Solis DeLacey started when the Lieutenant’s voice shouted into her earphone. She looked up and saw the shuttle coming through the bay doors, headed right towards her and knew that she had just made the biggest and the last mistake of her life.

She’d pulled a zero-g rotation in the shuttle bay. She’d been assigned to one of the Empress Jade’s maintenance shifts and had spent the morning harnessed to the wall of the docking bay, moving from station to station, checking readouts and effecting minor repairs when necessary.

That was when her harness became tangled. She unhooked herself from the guide ring and hadn’t hooked a second one beforehand — standard procedure. While she was busy trying to untangle her harness she had floated into one of the shuttle laneways.

Now the Lieutenant, a JG whose name she didn’t know, but who everyone just called “Black Pete” was shouting into the earphone of her helmet, and death in the form of an 82,000 pound shuttle was hurtling towards her and there was nothing that could stop it.

She felt the collision sooner than she expected it hit her in the side, knocking the wind out of her. Suddenly she was hurtling out of control. The hanger bay was tumbling around her and she lost all sense of up, down, backwards and forwards. She spun around and saw a splash of red, then something covered her faceplate and she couldn’t see.

She felt hands grabbing at her, it seemed from every which way. There was a confusing cacophony of voices in her headphones — shouted crosstalk that sounded like gibberish in her ears. She heard Black Pete shout “Oh, Dear God, No! NO!” but the rest was an indecipherable jumble.

The hands were slowing her spinning. She had closed her eyes to prevent vertigo but opened them now and everything was red. She tried to wipe away what was covering her faceplate but a hand grabbed at her arm, stopping her. A small part of her faceplate was clear and she could see a helmeted face in front of her. The face’s mouth was working but she could not hear what it was saying. It must have been speaking into a different frequency.

Then she was turned around. She got a brief glance at her arms and legs. She seemed intact, but there was something red all over her suit. She looked up and saw little red globules floating all over the hanger deck. She caught sight of a wall that was streaked with red and realized that it was blood.

She felt a hot panic burning in her head. Was she injured? She didn’t feel injured, she felt fine. Then what…?

Suddenly she could hear Black Pete’s voice in her earphone “Get her out of here! Get that stupid bitch out of my hanger deck!”

The hands pulled her along and that was when she saw the crushed atmosphere suit floating amongst the red globules, The suit was torn open and inside she could see more red — a deeper, darker red — almost black.

That was when a black fog seemed to swallow her up.

***

She woke up in the infirmary. She had a brace on her neck. She blinked her eyes open and Bruno Varagas was by her bedside. “You really screwed up this time, Kid,” Bruno said. Bruno was her shift leader. He was handsome and affable and had taken Solis under his wing right from her first day aboard the Empress.

“What happened? she tried to ask. Her neck hurt like hell and her throat felt closed up and dry.

Bruno got a cup of water from a spigot and she drank gratefully. “You didn’t put on a secondary hook,” Bruno said. “How many times have I had to remind you about that?”

The accident came back to her then and the sight of the suit leaking dark blood. “Who was it who… who…” she couldn’t finish.

“Her name was Hannah Callin.”

“Callin? Oh, God…” Lord Admiral Callin was the father of the Terran Fleet, His family had built Earth’s space navy from the early days of contact and expansion. If your last name was Callin you were destined for greatness in whatever field you chose.

“Yeah. She was one of Lord Admiral Callin’s nieces. She was an exemplary cadet with a near perfect record. Needless to say no one is very happy at the moment.”

Solis felt tears welling up behind her lids. “Why didn’t she just let me pay or my own mistake…?”

Bruno shook his head. “I don’t know. Personally I think the Callins are wound too tight. That, and they think they’re invincible.”

The tears were rolling down her cheeks now. She reached up to wipe them away but her IV wouldn’t let her. “So what happens to me? Do I get bounced?”

“Well… not exactly.” Bruno pulled out a clip-pad. “They wanted to bust you back dirtside but we got a communique from a Kyann ship that needs some extra help. I managed to get your name on that list.”

“A Kyann ship?” Kyann and Terra were equal partners in the Commonwealth but they generally kept their fleets separate. “At least it’ still in the Commonwealth. I guess it’s better than being transferred to the Orion Hegemony.”

“Don’t laugh. There were some who talked about selling you as a slave to a Kruath ore freighter. They might have done it as well except Kruath has broken off diplomatic relations with the Commonwealth… again. You know how the Kruath feel about Terrans.” he said. Solis nodded. The Kruath hated Terrans with a particular vehemence.

“I argued for the Kyan because right now it’s your best chance to stay in the Void. Unless you want your sorry ass dragging in the dirt?”

Solis tried to smile. “Thank you, Bruno.”

“Don’t thank me. There’s little chance you’ll ever serve on a Terran ship again and you likely won’t be back to the Empress. Kyann ships emphasize discipline and there’s rumors that Kyannum officers still tear out subordinate’s throats to enforce it.”

***

The Kyann vessel Kr’kt’kt pulled alongside the Empress Jade. Solis was still wearing the brace on her neck, her unruly curls were still wet from the shower. She’d gone from the infirmary to her quarters to shower, change, pack a duffel and then rush to the airlock.

There was a small group of cadets and a few officers who were waiting for the airlock to cycle through. She stopped in the entrance. One of the cadets, a thin-faced young man with a sneer, turned and looked at her. “Hey look,” he said. “It’s a giraffe!”

Solis felt her cheeks go hot. She was certain that her face had turned scarlet as every eye turned to stare at her. At 6 foot two inches she had always towered over her fellow cadets and she took the occasional good natured comment, but this was nasty.

“Belay that, Hathan,” one of the officers, an older, balding man, scowled.

The airlock cycled open then and the group turned and began entering single file. Solis took up the rear. They filed out the Empress Jade’s airlock, through the interstice and into the Kr’tk’tk’s airlock. They bundled in and the airlock closed behind Solis. Then the room began to spin. It felt like the entire airlock were moving under her feet.

Solis had heard about the Kyann airlock designs. Instead of extending outwards like the airlocks on Terran ships, the Kyann had a swivel structure. That meant that the rear door now became the front.

The airlock stopped moving and locked in place, and the airlock hatch that had been behind her, but was now in front of Solis, began to cycle open.

Solis looked up… and up. The Kyann that stood in the open hatchway was a good foot taller than her and she was the tallest of the group. He was lean and muscular and his body bristled with fur. He looked down at solis with unnaturally green eyes.

“Welcome aboard,” the Kyann rumbled.

To be continued…