Rogue Mate: Chapters 1 and 2

Chapter One: Kayln

 

“This one’s yours, Kalyn.” The blonde with an ever-present smile and kind looking eyes opened a bland gray door into a bland gray room.

Inside was a bland gray desk, a bland gray chair and an empty set of shelves mounted to the wall.

There were no windows.

That was fine.

The windows would’ve had a view of the bland gray planet that was now my home.

“Great.” I forced the word out of my mouth. This place was the farthest thing from great, but I didn’t want to say that to the woman who’d opened the door for me.

She didn’t build this place. It wasn’t her fault everything was so bleak.

“I’m sorry but I’ve forgotten your name. What was it again?”

“Lynna Forgrave.” She gave me an understanding smile. “And there’s no need to apologize. Using the Flosh drive for space travel is enough to scramble anyone’s brain. I’m just glad you were alive when I opened your transfer pod.”

“So am I,” I forced a laugh.

The mortality rate for traveling to Persephone, the single established station on Pluto, was disturbingly high. Flosh drives were a relatively new innovation.

One of every four travelers didn’t make it.

And even if you did, it hurt like hell.

“It’s good to have you here,” Lynna continued. “I looked over your history in the Space Force when they forwarded your records here. You’re exactly what we need on this station.”

“I’m glad to be of service.”

My throat felt like I’d swallowed moon gravel. I should’ve realized someone here would see my history.

Joining up was never part of my plan. After completing my primary studies, I wanted to go to the prestigious university on Mars to study anthropology. After the devastating war on Earth, I wanted to see how the planet’s wealth of unique cultures had changed.

Some of them were wiped out completely but they still deserved to be remembered and honored. I also wanted to track the cultural shifts caused by the drastic drop in the male birth rate and what that meant for the future of our species.

It was a nice dream.

My mother, Adastria Askvig, detested the idea of me becoming an anthropologist. She said such a profession was beneath us, but never bothered to explain her reasoning. Everyone knew my mother.

She was a powerful woman on Mars, often referred to as the ideal all women should aspire to be.

In her mind, that was especially true for her daughter.

Too bad I proved to be a massive disappointment.

“It’ll take you a little while to get used to how things work here.” Lynna’s voice startled me from my thoughts. I tried to look like I hadn’t just been zoning out. I really hoped she hadn’t said anything too important before that.

I would’ve missed it completely.

“I’m sure it’s quite different from Mars,” I replied, stalling, just a bit.

“Quite,” Lynna agreed. “Even the most minor procedure here can be dangerous. It’ll be a lot to learn.”

“Why did you come all the way out here?” I asked, then immediately bit my lip. “Of course, that’s none of my business,” I covered quickly.

Lynna gave me a reassuring smile.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I’m actually here to study the effects the Flosh drive has on the human body, as well as the effects of living far out in space.”

“Learn anything significant?”

Pluto was at the very edge of the Terran system, far from our sun, cold, dark and unfriendly.

Only fifteen years ago it was considered unlivable. Since then, a new and incredibly powerful atmospheric converter was invented that was strong enough to use on Pluto’s thin nitrogen-and-methane-based atmosphere.

If the atmosphere wasn’t enough to keep us way, it literally snowed frozen particles of carbon monoxide.

“Besides the fact that the Flosh drive is incredibly dangerous, we’d freeze in less than a second if exposed to the outside temperature, and a single crack in the structure means death for all of us?” Lynna asked.

I nodded.

“Then no, nothing groundbreaking yet.”

Persephone Station was nothing more than a cluster of square buildings made of thick metal connected by clear tubes. The tubes were made of adamantine diamonds refined into sheets.

Both the tubes and the structures were coated in some kind of sealant that kept the worst of the cold out. It didn’t stop frost from forming, though. It was impossible to see out of the tubes, like walking through ice caverns.

A booted foot kicked open the door to my new office as a tall woman with unruly black hair haphazardly contained under a bandana scowled at me. She threw a stack of papers on my desk.

“We need these parts ordered as soon as possible,” she said gruffly.

I was taken aback.

Was this how everyone was welcomed here?

“Maris,” Lynna said sharply. “This is Commander Askvig. She arrived only a few hours ago. Commander, this is Maris Stoyer, she’s-”

“I’m the chief engineer.” Maris folded her arms across her chest. “I make sure we don’t turn into nitrogen popsicles.”

“I look forward to working with you.” I tried to smile warmly.

“That’s nice,” Maris simpered. “Doesn’t change the fact that we need those parts.”

I looked at the papers Maris had tossed my way. I knew what some of the requested items were, but others were completely foreign to me.

Next to each order was a price. The bottom line was astronomical.

“I’ll have to make sure everything is within the budget before I order it,” I said. Persephone Station wasn’t very well funded. That was to be expected for an observation station that had yet to observe anything significant, and mostly seemed to be a holding place for troublemakers, malcontents and the useless.

Just like me.

“Okay,” Maris clapped her hands together. “Hopefully, the atmospheric converters won’t give out while we wait.”

“They won’t.”

She left without waiting for me to dismiss her.

“I wouldn’t read too much into that,” Lynna said quickly. “Maris likes to push the boundaries. She’s hard to handle if you’re not prepared for it.”

“As you can see, I’m not prepared for anything,” I sighed.

“You’ll get the hang of it,” Lynna encouraged.

I could tell she had more to say, but she was cut off by an ear-shattering alarm that nearly gave me a heart attack. A red light mounted on the wall began to flash.

“What is that?” I demanded, fearing a catastrophic system failure.

How tragic would that be? I survived the journey here just to die the first day.

Ignoring my question, Lynna pointed to a button on my desk. “Hit it! It’ll send everyone to their emergency stations!”

I slammed it without thinking twice, and then we ran.

 

 

 

Chapter Two: Dejar

 

“Remember that run on Jendo where we nearly died crashing our ships into each other?” Aavat asked.

Aavat was my second-in-command, my biggest rival, and a total pain in my ass. “You mean the one where you cheated by planting a tracer on my ship?” I asked.

“Well, if you weren’t smart enough to find it, that wasn’t my problem,” he responded, a smirk revealing his recently filed teeth.

“Oh, really? You mean the tracer you hid in a broken garbage bin where none of my men would be willing to look?”

“That would be the one,” he answered.

With a shrug, I shared his smile. “I still can’t believe the payout for that job was barely enough to refuel us.”

“Really? I got enough to make repairs, as well.”

Of all the…this…with a shake of my head and a look of anger, I turned away from Aavat and to Qal. “How much longer before the fold is finished, Qal?”

As my primary pilot and navigator, I could trust Qal to fly the Rogue Star through a black hole and out again without damage. His bronze-colored skin, mixed with his white hair, gave him a “charming look”, if you believed his stories.

“The AI is having second thoughts. I’m arguing with her now.”

The grin broke through his attempt at a serious face. He might be a fantastic pilot, but I could also trust in him to be the least serious person on my ship at the worst possible times.

Most of the bridge laughed at his attempt at humor.

I, however, did not.

“Qal. I understand your need to attempt humor, but this is not the moment.” I bared my teeth, and no one on the bridge would think it a friendly grin. “If we are off by even a fraction of a parsec, we set off the Dominion’s alarms and are hunted down and killed. So, I ask again, my soon-to-be-demoted pilot, how much longer before the fold is finished?”

He put on a serious face, one that I knew was fake. “Only a few more minutes, Captain. The ship’s AI reports that our coordinates have been properly coded. No one will know that we’re here.”

“Thank you, Qal,” Aavat said as he took his seat next to me. He leaned in close to make sure I was the only one to hear his words. “I hate having to come here.”

I grunted, then pitched my voice low to match. “I do, as well, but since our last job left us far behind on credits, we don’t have much of a choice. The people of Eca will pay well for this water and ice.”

Our last job was supposed to have been an easy delivery with a big payday.

What we hadn’t anticipated was that our employer would have triple-booked the job, which turned it into a damaging race against two other teams that ended up with more than half of the cargo being destroyed.

With no other paying work directed our way at the moment, we had to do the one thing that was riskier than we felt comfortable with.

And to be honest, that was saying a lot.

We had to come out to an unevolved, protected system, to harvest the water and ice in the outer asteroids.

If we set off any sensors, the Dominion would hunt us down.

Best case scenario? They would confiscate our ship and leave us on the nearest planetoid to fend for ourselves.

With the penalties we already had already acquired in our career as mostly honest cargo runners, best case seemed unlikely.

The only thing that made this job worth it would be the pay, it would be enough to set us up for nearly a year.

So, here we were. A few minutes from exiting the fold and spending a few hours to a day harvesting water and ice.

I brought my computer screen up and double-checked the AI reports. The coordinates would place us in the middle of the asteroid belt on the outer edges of the Terran system, just far enough from the sensors to keep us hidden.

While the Terran system had a large asteroid belt between the fourth and fifth planets, we were interested in the much smaller one at the periphery.

Less ice, but hopefully less danger.

I hated using the fold.

While it sped up travel substantially, it was dangerous and used a lot of power.

I never did, and still don’t, understand how the fold works. Aavat explained it to me once, when we first banded together, but I struggled with the idea.

He had taken a piece of paper, drawn two points on it, then folded the paper. Instead of us having to travel the entire span of space between those two points, we would somehow “fold” space and bring those two points closer together.

Our current trip to Terran space would normally take three years to traverse, but with the fold, it only took us a few hours. It just drained our engines by nearly half, and that meant either a long recharge or an expensive refuel, and I hated wasting money and time.

Qal’s voice caught my attention. “Seven seconds to exit, Captain.”

I took a deep breath, counted slowly down to one, and let it out as we exited the fold.

Coming out of the fold was another reason to hate it.

If the viewscreen had not been dimmed, the exit from the fold would have been nearly blinding to everyone on the bridge.

As it was, I always saw spots after exiting.

Immediately alarms began blaring as a dwarf planet seemed to materialize in front of us.

“What the kopa is going on?”

“We’ve exited in front of a planet!” Aavat yelled. “Move, Qal!”

“Wish I had thought of that!” Qal yelled back as he moved us to the left and kept us out of the planet’s gravity field.

“Status!” I yelled. I wanted to know what the kopa had happened and why we were in front of a planet instead of in the asteroid field.

Aavat’s science officer, a male named Wrangell, who was much smarter than anyone I had on my ship before the merger, answered. “Coordinates show us inside the asteroid field! Our computers are incorrect!”

Pous, our third navigator, added information to the mix. “We’re at one of the Terran outer planetoids sir.” A brief pause while he checked the status again. “Kout!”

“Explain.”

“AI scans show the planet has an outpost down there, we’re getting reports of at least thirty lifeforms. And it’s in trouble!”

“How did this happen?” I cursed. “We didn’t detect any life in our initial scans.”

Wrangell looked pained. “Officially, Terran life signs aren’t in the databases, so from a distance we couldn’t pick it up,” he said. “But up close, it’s hard to miss.”

“How are they in danger?” I snapped. “What happened?”

Wrangell replied. “We’ve created a shockwave with our fold exit, sir. The shockwave is destroying the outpost.”

I looked over at Aavat. He immediately started shaking his head. “We have enough troubles of our own. We can’t afford a rescue mission.”

“We can’t leave them. They’ll die,” I argued. “We can’t send a shuttle for thirty people, we have to land the ship.”

“Landing this ship on a planet, even with such weak gravity, without knowing anything about it is foolhardy!” he shot back. “They’re not our responsibility!”

They are now, I thought as I stared at him.

He backed down with a curse and a glare. With a smile, I got on the ship wide communicator.

“Attention! We’ve inadvertently arrived at a planet and caused the destruction of a Terran outpost. Thirty lives are at stake. We’re taking the ship down to the planet surface to rescue as many of them as possible, and I want that to be all thirty lives. All available crew not currently involved in keeping us in one piece are to report to hangar bay three with rescue gear,” I hesitated a moment, then finished my orders, “and weapons, just in case.”

I looked at Aavat. “You want the bridge or to join in the rescue?”

“I’ll take the bridge. If your stupid act ends up with you dead, then someone with intelligence needs to run this ship.”

I slapped him on the shoulder as I made my way off the bridge. “Always knew you hated real work.” I rushed down to the hangar bay. Twenty men waited for me. Good. I used my communicator to contact the bridge. “Get us near the outpost and keep close by.”

Qal’s and Aavat’s voices answered me as the ship began to shake. We had entered into the planet’s gravity field.

It might be weak, but still a shock to the structural integrity.

But that was engineering’s problem right now, not mine.

Several of us stumbled a bit as the ship made its way down, then the sudden slowdown knocked a few of us to our knees.

The ship jolted to a stop and Aavat’s voice announced over the intercom that we had landed, and the outpost was on the port side of the ship.

I suited up in an external rig designed to protect me from the harsh lack of atmosphere and took an atmospheric regulator mask from the stand next to the bay doors, as did others.

We bolted across the crust, swearing at the intense cold. Who in their right minds would build an outpost here?

Why?

“Grab and go!” I yelled at the others as I led several men into the outpost. “Anything living comes back with us!” I switched channels. “Qal! Connect me to the ship’s AI and have it pinpoint the life signs, broadcast to all.”

“Yes, sir!” was the response.

Within seconds, the Rogue Star’s AI was pinpointing the life signs of the outpost inhabitants.

The Terrans were all gathered in a small, densely populated area. They had all passed out.

Good. They wouldn’t fight us, at least.

They were frail and weighed nearly nothing. I was able to carry two at once.

In less than a half hour, we had everyone on back on board the ship. “Lift off, we’re done!”

As I watched the outpost fall in upon itself, the Rogue Star took off and rocketed back into space.

“Dejar?” Aavat called me on our private comms.

“What is it?”

“Where do we go?”

That was a good question.

And there weren’t any good answers.

If we had set off the alarms, we were going to be hunted. Even if we hadn’t set off the alarms, where could we take the survivors?

Contact with Terrans, with any “unevolved” species, was forbidden.

Bringing a bunch onto my ship? Not exactly part of the rule book either.

“Get us out of Terran space for now. Get us home. We’ll figure things out after that,” I finally said.

“Confirmed, Captain.”

There was a chance that the Dominion had tracked us. Which meant that we couldn’t take the women back to their home.

The Dominion’s proximity detectors for the Terran system would be on high alert for ships entering the system.

So now we had a crew full of aliens from a backward system as we raced around the galaxy as potential fugitives.

So…now what?

*************

Welcome to the world of the Rogue Star — I’d love to know what you think!  And Rogue Mate is available for pre-order now!

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