By Daniel Sandoval
The crew members of the Fleet Explorer Clarion are each extraordinary, so brilliant that their contributions are coveted by the very civilization that produced them. The medical officer suspects the mission is a ruse to discard them all into the unyielding darkness of uncharted space. And if the deep black doesn’t destroy them, their survival is threatened by a tyrannical captain.
By a catastrophic accident, they are marooned just out of reach of a virgin world. With a stowaway who also helped elevate the character of their sentience, they face an adversary as deadly as unquestioning faith and as promising as genuine love.
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Chapter I: Danger of Darkness
Newton slammed the intercom button, “Prepare for impacts! Upward bounce! Deadly force!” The hand controls were still slack, half a second, just about the time he had left before there was no possible chance for survival. He almost spent that instant deciding they were dead, giving up, but with a surge of anger he pulled at the manual controls. The helm responded. Newton pulled up the point at the top of the ship, since angles may deflect instead of breach the hull. It wasn't protocol, supposed to hit bottom first, the strongest part of the pyramid shaped spaceship. Their course started away from a collision with the first object, full power deceleration.
“Save it or make sure we die,” said the captain's voice from the intercom, “because if you cripple us out here, I'll kill you.” This was not said in jest. Captain Mot was probably foul tempered enough to actually kill a crew member. How the Interstellar Fleet promoted him to captain was a mystery to everyone. There were two species from their world, graces and busters. Mot was the only robustus in the entire fleet to command a ship. His sort were physically strong, absolutely fearless in a fight, but many of them were imbeciles.
Again, Newton looked at the view screens and wondered if he should attempt to survive. In a counter-motion spin along with a hard pull on the backward axis, the first object missed the number three facet by a few meters, close enough for the magnetic turbulence to rip the control from his hand and start the spacecraft tumbling. He gritted his teeth, watched the screens, flared his navigation spot and pushed the control savagely forward and left. Contrary gravity began pulling the blood from his brain, started a ringing in his ears and made his vision go gray.
Miraculously, the speeding ship missed the second object, also so closely that the ship began to pull off true line. Still trying to see with failing eyes, Newton fought the helm, getting nauseated at trying to shoot for a window that wouldn't hold still. One of the objects began to flash faster on the screen, still going too fast, too fast to survive impact, too fast to use the shields. He turned on the shields. He angled the ship for a glancing skip off the number two facet. BaWAMM!
The sound of the gyroscopic engines rose in pitch. A shock-wave from the impact damaged one of the engines; he remembered that he turned off the power stabilizer. Two more objects, both began to flash more quickly, full power on the brakes but the ship still closing too fast, still with the load directly on the engines. Which one did he want to hit?
Choose your destruction, he thought, and did, the object with a slightly slower flashing rate. Just that split second of distance might be the difference between catastrophic and manageable damage. He took a deep breath and pulled the actuator. KaBLAMM!
With the shields up and the servos off, most of the collision shock went directly to the main engine. Everything inside the ship went dark. Outside, they tumbled through space, finally flying slowly enough to give them some time between objects, had there been anyone conscious at the helm. Newton passed out from the G forces momentarily starving his brain of blood.
A full minute counted down as the automatic restart went through the process on battery power. Emergency lights kicked on along with one screen, the graphic of ship status. There was still enough residual heat from the gyroscopic engines to generate power, so the start-up ran a diagnostic on the engines and put power to the only engine remaining, number three, the rudder, the smallest, barely enough to bring back internal gravity and also move the ship.
Newton woke up face down, floating above the floor. He began to drift down as the lights changed from emergency cells to ambient light. Just as his hands and toes touched the floor, a sound reached his ears from the bottom of the spacecraft. A roar of uncontainable rage vibrated up through the metal struts of the deck. It was Captain Mot. The heavy thumps of a monster bounding through the spacecraft toward the bridge got louder. Apparently Mot checked the condition of his ship and was serious about his threat to kill Newton. The sound of someone else running toward the bridge came from another part of the ship. He got to his feet and stood there listening, listening to the approach, seriously considering whether to go to the weapons hold and shoot Captain Mot as he came through the door.
To confuse things more, two small, three-fingered hands grabbed Newton from behind underneath his arms. In a typical yet amazing feat of athleticism, Pin, the other robustus on the crew, had her small feet hooked into the machine brackets overhead, and hanging upside down, she gracefully pulled a man practically twice her height up into the overhead conduits. Busters could move with incredible speed and stealth if they wanted to, which is why Newton didn't even know Pin was on the bridge. With a quiet little grunt, she tossed him like a rag doll higher up to a place on top of an air duct.
“What are you doing?” he asked, just catching himself from falling.
“Not talking, not dying,” she answered. Pin pulled herself upright and turned toward the approaching noise. She wasn't wearing her mechanic's uniform but instead a sleep leotard. Newton thought it was strange for him to be noticing her body seconds before Captain Mot burst onto the bridge and killed him, but there she was, balancing on a mechanical brace, a short woman with a thickly muscled body, nicely rounded smooth with a layer of femininity, still with the slender waist of a woman and the triangular hands and feet of a robustus.
Captain Mot hit the door switch so hard that the wall shuddered before the door to the bridge slid open. So quickly that it was a noisy blur, Mot stepped in, spotted Newton, snatched a clamp off his belt, hurled it at Newton and stepped sideways because Pin used a small metal disc to deflect the clamp back toward him. “I'll kill you, too!” shouted Mot.
“He dies, we all die!” Pin screeched. “You don't know computers! Computers run the ship!”
With a voice that rumbled from a growl to a roar, Mot bellowed, “Ship don't run, so he dies!”
A hatch slid open to the bridge from another direction. In walked Ronnie Chamberlain, the medical officer, a gracile like Newton and the fourth and final member of the crew. She looked at her captain with the forced patience she always had when dealing with him. “We got a problem?” she asked with her hands behind her back.
“Stay out of this, gracile, I could snap your bones,” Mot snarled.
“I respectfully remind the captain that it is against regulations to snap the bones of crew members, which means killing them is also prohibited,” she said dryly.
“Regulations are wrong!” He lunged forward and Ronnie revealed that behind her back she had a stun gun in one hand and a dart pistol in the other. There was the whistling crack of a directional stun pulse as she tossed the dart pistol to Pin. Pin caught the pistol and planted a dart in Mot's thick neck.
Mot kept moving toward Ronnie as Pin followed his movement for another shot. “No, Pin!” shouted Ronnie. The captain took three, progressively slower steps, groaned as a clumsy hand went up to his neck, and fell to the floor.
“Shoot him again?” asked Pin.
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