Reaver’s Quest: Chapter One


“No touching, please,” I ground out from between my teeth as I twirled away from the blue tentacle that had wrapped around my hip.



Keeping my professional smile plastered on my face I twirled and shimmed my way back up and down the long T-shaped platform.

Just think of the payout, I reminded myself. No more student loans, no more fitting two jobs in between classes, just as soon as this hell cruise was over.

A purple Shendairan, looking like a cross between a praying mantis and a cat, clicked its mandibles at me.

“Not bad, for a flesh bag of cookies.”

At least, that’s what the translator implant said.

The consortium of Loliax who owned this cut-rate interstellar cruise had provided all of us poor Earthlings with them, but back in the dorm deck, we’d been comparing notes.

Every night of the three weeks since we’d come on board had provided at least one terrible, hysterical mis-translation. 

Either the devices were shoddy, or whoever had programmed in basic Terran hadn’t really understood what pancakes were.

One song blaring out of the speakers shifted to another, and Masie, the second girl on this shift in the Starlight Lounge, stumbled slightly.

She was actually a talented dancer, not that it did us much good here.

“That’s a terrible transition,” she muttered under her breath as we passed each other. 

She was right.

Cyndi Lauper should probably never be played in the same mixtape as Ministry, and following it with Nirvana made my head hurt.

Only having a best friend in high school who had been fascinated by vintage musical styles let me know the difference.

But the Loliax, probably like most humans, thought all late 20th Human music was the same.

Thankfully we didn’t have to pretend to be sexy, as few of the sentients in the room were even vaguely humanoid.

As dancers, we were less like strippers, and more like animals at a zoo.

Which was good.

My flannel shirt was considerably warmer than tassels would’ve been, and I certainly wasn’t coordinated enough to manage that whole pole dancing routine without breaking my neck.

Another twirl and a dip, bringing my arms down in a sweep towards the floor, risking a glance at my comm bangle.

Ten minutes until our shift was over.

Thank all the gods of chocolate and coffee.

As I pranced back down the stage, my gaze swept out across the darkened lounge, filled with every kind of alien I could imagine. 

More than I ever had imagined, really, even though Earth had been contacted by the Galactic Alliance forty years ago.

My bestie Hanna probably could identify everyone, but she had dreams of being a xenobiologist.

I was simply a humble historian.

At least, I would be, once I could afford tuition again.

Three minutes left.

My cheeks ached from smiling.

Someone had told the Loliax that a smiling human was a happy human.

No exceptions.

Therefore all twenty of us that had hired onto the Sramiks Dream needed to keep a smile fixed to our faces, or risk endless rounds of customer complaints.

The customers had been promised happy, content primitives, to entertain and amuse them on their cruise.

And that was what they were going to get, no matter how any of us were actually feeling.

Two minutes left.

Hrrrnnngg!  Hrrrnngg!  Hrrrnngg!

The light snapped on in the room, large stripes along the corners quickly rotating through the rainbow in time with the blaring din.

Maisie and I froze mid-shimmy.

We’d seen the emergency beacon once, in our orientation on boarding.

This didn’t feel like a drill.

“Attention honored guests. Unexpected solar activity has been detected. Shielding has been raised. There is no cause for alarm, but for your safety and comfort, we ask all guests to retire to their quarters.”

Maisie grasped my hand. “Should we just go to our quarters too? They didn’t say anything about us?”

They hadn’t, but if it wasn’t safe for the guests, it wasn’t safe for us.

“Come on, let’s go,” I nodded, then pulled her behind me.

As the customers muttered and filed out of the lounge we slipped behind the stage, into the gray dingy room that none of the guests would ever see.

None of the other girls were there.

“They must’ve already started down,” I said to Maisie’s questioning look.

Sweet girl. Good dancer. Not terribly bright.

We ran through the service corridors, then down the lift to our deck.

But when we arrived at the dorms, no one else was running around.

Instead they’d gathered in a crowd around Kyla, who was pulling up screen after screen on the terminal.

“What’s going on?” I asked, sliding into place next to Hannah.

“We’ve got more to worry about than just solar flares,” Kyla answered me without looking behind her. “Before the alarm went off, I was poking around the Loli’s bridge systems.”

Of course she had been. Her shifts at the lounge were just a distraction from her real interest — learning everything possible about Galactic computer systems. 

“They’re not just raising the shielding, they’re preparing to disengage the passenger disc,” she continued.

“Wait, what?” I blurted as Hannah hand gripped mine. 

“They’re leaving us?” Masie asked at the same moment.

All of us looked at each other in horror.

I mean sure, we knew The Sramiks Dream was designed to separate in case of extreme emergencies, the disk that held the bridge and the passenger cabins having its own, smaller jump drive.

But surely they wouldn’t do something like that just for a solar flare, right? I mean, even old Earth could handle something like that. 

“They can’t do that,” another voice broke through my shock, and then the room was filled with the sound of all twenty of us talking at once.

Which wasn’t going to do any of us any good.

“All right!” I shouted, hands over my head. “We can argue all day about what they can or can’t do, but it looks like they’re doing it anyway.”

Kayla glanced at the screen, nodded. “Separation will be complete in five minutes.”

“So let’s focus on what we can do.” Not that I knew what that was.

“Escape pods,” Hannah announced. “We need to get into them now.”

“They’re not going to leave us,” Allison argued, arms crossed over her chest. “We have a contract with them. How do we even know that Kayla is reading those screens right?”

“Make you a deal,” I said. “Thirty minutes in the pods, just in case. And if Kayla’s wrong, and we’re all over reacting, I’ll take your shifts for the rest of the cruise.”

Allison rolled her eyes. “I’m not that much of a bitch.” Her lips twisted into a half-smile. “Fine, I’ll get into my pod. But I reserve the right to tease you all until we’re back on Earth.”

“Four minutes,” Kayla said.

“But where do we go, if…” Masie’s lips were pressed into a thin line.

Hannah looked at the circle of faces that gathered around us. “Once they’re deployed, the pods will automatically search for a planet that matches the biological needs of the sentient inside, remember?” Her smile looked forced, even to me. “And if it’s a long way off, we’ll just sleep for the ride.”

“Not going to happen,” Allison insisted. “They’re not going to abandon us.”

Kayla turned back to the screens. “I’m piping the external cameras to the view screens in each pod. We’ll know soon enough what happens, or doesn’t.”

“Anyone have a better plan?” I asked. “Then let’s go. Thirty minutes. What’s the worst that can happen?”

Dashing to our cabin, Hannah and I grabbed the first things we thought of.

“CheezE puffs and your tablet,” she teased, even as she tossed her own tablet into a bag.

I shrugged as I pulled the blanket off my bunk. “If Allison is right and nothing happens, I’ll get a reading break. And if not…”

Ice balled in my stomach as the panic I’d been pushing away ever since the first alarm sounded washed over me.

Hannah hugged me tightly. “If not, we’ll find each other, and figure it out from there, right?”

“Right.” Swallowing hard, I steadied my legs, and pulled it together. “Let’s go enjoy that break.”

Each cabin had two pods set into the outer hull, not much more than tubes, barely large enough for me to raise my arms over my head.

As the hatch sealed behind me, the small screen filled with the view from the external cameras from our section of the ship, just as Kayla had promised. The long body of the Dream stretched before us, ending in a massive domed disc.

“See, they’re not going anywhere,” Allison’s voice was tiny through the pod-to-pod comms. “I’m taking a nap.”

“Everything is going to be fine,” I murmured, clutching the blanket to my chest. “This is just a false alarm. A weird day. A story to laugh about later.”

And then a jolt shook the pod, and nothing was fine at all.

Slowly, the disc moved further away from us, until a thin crescent of black was visible between the two parts of the ship.

Then a white hot flare circled around the disc. 

“Guys, that’s the jump drive powering up,” Kayla’s voice sounded distant.

No one answered her. 

We all watched, locked into our pods, as the light moved faster and faster until it was a single burning loop of fire.

Then a flash of gold filled the screens, and the Dream didn’t jump.

It exploded.

The pods deployed.

And as the sleeping gas filled my lungs a last thought wandered through my mind.

I guess we’re in for a ride after all…

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