Hi there! I’m back after the holidays, writing, writing, writing. The first draft of Star Streaker #5 is finished, so I thought I’d post it here. Hope you enjoy it. Look out for the release announcement coming soon!
Star Streaker #5
Tribune 5760c—a dwarf planet orbiting a dwarf star in the far reaches of the Empire Triton. The small, frigid planet was home to a small, frigid population of humans and aliens. The thin atmosphere and constant nighttime were perfect cover for smugglers, pirates, or anyone wanting to avoid the Empire but remain within its bounds.
Tribune 5760c was on the very edge of everything. Beyond the Nilurian Belt where Rebels lay in wait. Days of hyperspace past the last of the Outer Colonies. Tribune was the very last stop before entering the uncharted void of the alien civilizations, the wanderers, and the lost.
“Weeks from anywhere,” pilot James Fletcher was saying, “and yet they expect us to believe they are selling authentic Zeus Corp Ghosts?”
“I don’t think it’s a stretch,” Captain Rance Cooper said. “Considering the cargo we just dropped off, I wouldn’t be surprised if this rock had all the latest tech tucked away somewhere.”
“For those willing to pay,” James said skeptically. He picked up the small earpiece from the table and examined it. It looked like a tiny squid, with long arms attached at the end of a narrow body. More like a virus, Rance thought.
“I will pretend as if you didn’t just insult me,” the seller said. He was a thin, gangly man with pale skin that was almost transparent. The result of spending his life on a planet that barely saw sunlight. “And I will explain once again that I have a reputable supplier who brings me shipments twice every Earth year.”
“If it’s so authentic,” James said, “where’s the serial number?”
“It’s embedded within the Ghost. Zeus Corp stopped putting them on the outside years ago.”
“It’s true,” Rance admitted. “My ZOD didn’t have one on the outside.” She referred to the Zeus Corp Optical Display implanted in her eye.
Rance had wanted ear tech for ages. Sleek, implantable devices were all the rage to those who could afford them. The one in her eye had proven to be indispensable on multiple occasions. She’d owned that one for years—a leftover perk from her life pre-Star Streaker. A reminder of her privileged upbringing, and one reminder Rance didn’t mind keeping. Implanting Zeus tech in her ear would eliminate using a handset comm altogether if she wanted to. It would wirelessly interface with the Neural Network Relay already in her spine and work seamlessly for communication.
The seller sensed Rance’s hesitation, her wavering. He scented the sale. She and James had only stopped in to see what was available. The other crew members waited for them at the ship. Much as she would have liked to, the captain couldn’t afford to outfit the whole crew with Ghosts. But then, the crew earned exactly what she did. If they wanted to save their money to buy one, they could.
With this thought, Rance’s finger twitched, an involuntary wiggle as if it were reaching for the shiny new tech.
The seller saw the movement and pounced. He grabbed the Ghost earpiece and put it in her hand. His hands were cold and leathery.
Rance had just talked herself into handing over her money when her old comm made a beeping noise. She put the Ghost on the table and walked to the door.
Her security officer’s face popped onto the screen. Despite the subzero temperature outside, beads of sweat ran down his face. Behind him, a rocky landscape bounced up and down.
“Captain,” Abel said with a short breath.
“Abel, why are you running?”
“I think it’s time to go.”
“This price won’t last long!” the seller called from behind her.
“She’s not paying that price, either,” James said with a huff.
“Abel,” Rance said, waving away the distraction. “What’s going on?”
The sound of a laser rifle came from the handset. Abel hit the ground, and a cloud of dust obscured the screen.
“Abel!” Rance cried.
James ran up behind Rance, who already had a hand on the door handle.
“Hey!” the seller called, clearly irritated. “You walk out that door, and the price doubles—”
But Rance didn’t hear him. She was already through the door. A blast of icy air hit her face, reminding her of why she had a mask attached to her belt. “Abel!” she said to the comm.
“There he is!” James said, pointing to their right.
Abel was running, his feet kicking up clouds of gray dust as he ran toward the small spaceport’s landing pad. She glimpsed several wiry, long-legged creatures running toward Abel and pulled her stunner. Without asking more questions, Rance and James took off after their crew member.
They raced through the streets, cold air whipping their faces until they were raw. More blasts shot past them, and she ducked left down a side street after Abel. James followed, but now they weren’t sure which direction. Her ZOD didn’t pull up a map on this planet. They didn’t have a city-wide network. Round lights illuminated the street with pools of yellow. The pavement was covered in a carpet of dust.
“This way!” Abel called. He turned right, disappearing around another corner. More blasts obliterated the concrete walls to Rance’s right. Dust and stone rained down on her and James. James squeaked and pulled Rance to the left. She would have given him a hard time about the noise, but she was too busy keeping her head on her shoulders. Rance shot back in their direction, without aiming. She couldn’t see well, anyway.
Her shots didn’t faze them, and five shapes emerged from the dust—broad-chested, armor-plated aliens with ridges on their shoulders. Fangs and claws rounded out the terrifying image, and Rance shrank back against the wall.
The aliens leapt toward Rance and James. Rance fired again, this time aiming for a light above. The stunner’s power was enough to explode the light in a shower of sparks that fell directly on the aliens. It didn’t hurt them, but it disoriented them enough for Rance and James to follow after Abel.
The low metal buildings surrounding the spaceport were directly ahead. Beyond, a control tower stood up on a rocky hill, its light blinking like a welcome beacon.
“Tally!” Rance yelled into her handset. “Open the ship!”
They sprinted down the street, ducking into doorways whenever they could to look behind them. But the aliens didn’t follow.
“Where are they?” Rance asked, more afraid now than when they were shooting at her. “Did they give up?”
“I doubt it. Those weren’t rubber bullets they were firing at us.”
When they reached the dusty landing pad, the bronze Star Streaker glimmered dully beside clunky freighters and heaps of scrap. Beside the Streaker sat a sleek but strangely shaped spacecraft—a fighter shaped like a fan with long arms extending forward. It looked like it had been grown from some black tar, rather than put together with metal.
“That wasn’t here when we landed,” James said.
“No. Is it an organic ship?” Rance had heard of them but never seen one. Since the Empire didn’t exactly like aliens and wasn’t on friendly terms with most of them, alien ships were rare within its territories.
A bright blast shot past Rance’s head, causing her ear to sting with a fresh burn. She ducked and kept running. The aliens had come out onto the landing pad from the other side. “They’re going to cut us off!” James yelled.
He and Rance zigzagged all the way to the ship, ducking behind scrap heaps and ships as needed. Thankfully, Abel was already inside. He had grabbed a pulsing ion rifle of his own and was firing from within the hold. It forced the aliens to take cover, allowing Rance and James to reach the ship in safety.
With a jump, Rance landed inside the cargo bay. James landed beside her, and Abel covered the opening while Tally closed the ramp.
Stray fire entered the bay, bouncing off the far wall and leaving scorch marks in the bulkheads.
“Stop shooting at my ship!” Rance yelled. She rolled to the side and stood just as the hold doors closed. The Star Streaker was solid, but she heard small pings as they continued to fire at the hull. She rounded on Abel. “Explain!”
“It was innocent, Captain. I swear.”
“Captain,” Harper called using the ship wide comm. “They just entered the fighter. It’s rolling toward us.”
“Is it armed?”
“To the teeth.”
That was bad. The Star Streaker wasn’t armed. But it did have shields.
James sprinted for the stairs and the cockpit.
“Is everyone accounted for?” Rance asked.
“Here, Captain,” Solaris said over the comm. “I’m in the cockpit now.”
Rance took the stairs two at a time. “Abel, you can explain while we get out of here,” she called over her shoulder.
Upstairs, Rance crammed herself into the captain’s chair and pulled the flight screens toward her. The Streaker was fast. As long as they got her safely out of Tribune’s atmosphere, they wouldn’t have a problem getting into hyperspace to avoid any more trouble.
A shock wave hit them so hard the ship bounced sideways. Rance saw the ground tilt and they all leaned right. The alien fighter was firing on them from the ground. “Shields!” she yelled.
James was already working, and in a moment the shields were up. He engaged the thrusters, and then the Streaker was in the air preparing to exit Tribune’s gravitational pull.
“Everyone okay?” Rance asked.
Tally, Abel, and Harper all answered. They were strapped in ready to go.
“Uh, Captain,” Solaris said.
“I see it,” Rance said grimly. The fighter had followed them. It was so close on their tail that it risked a collision. They fired again, and the Star Streaker shuddered as its shields absorbed the impact. “What in Triton are they doing? If we jump to hyperspace like this, we’ll blow them straight back into the planet.”
“Maybe they are counting on us behaving nicely,” Solaris said.
“We don’t behave nicely,” Rance said.
James snorted. “You are the nicest captain I’ve ever met.”
“Except when she’s mothering us,” Solaris added.
“Or yelling at us,” James said.
“Or making us do the laundry.”
“Guys,” Rance interrupted, “maybe we could concentrate on shaking those aliens off our butts? Besides, if I didn’t make you do your laundry, the ship would smell like a locker room.”
“I vote we all start doing our own laundry from now on,” Solaris said.
“I only do my own,” James said, half-turning to Solaris. “Who else’s laundry are you doing?”
Solaris shot Rance a dirty look. “It was on the duty roster when I started,” he said. “The CO has to wash the captain’s uniforms.”
James snorted. “The last CO didn’t do that.”
Rance grinned. “I thought you enjoyed it, sunshine.”
Solaris smiled back as the ship bucked with another direct hit. “Like I’d ever tell you.”
“Must not have been too bad. Took you ten months to figure out.”
“I’ve only been on the Streaker ten months? Seems like a lifetime.”
“That bad, huh?”
“No,” Solaris said, locking eyes with Rance. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
An alarm sounded. Already, the shields were at twenty-five percent. Whatever the aliens were firing at them was more powerful than anything Unity used on their fighters. Too many more direct hits and the shields would be useless. “Sons of Triton,” Rance muttered. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Well, almost every minute,” Solaris amended as the Streaker shook with another tremor. The aliens had missed as James maneuvered away, and the shot had skipped off their starboard side. “What are they hitting us with?”
“Something I’ve never seen before,” Harper said over the comm. “Some cross between a laser array and plasma cannon.”
“And we’re still alive?”
“Not for much longer.”
“Captain,” James said seriously. “What do we do?”
Rance hated the thought of actually blowing the aliens back into the planet. Not because she felt too bad for them, since they were shooting at the Streaker. But because there were plenty of innocent lives on Tribune that could be lost if it landed in the city.
“Why are they shooting us in the first place?”
James did a complicated swoop, hoping to lose the alien ship long enough to make the jump. But the aliens stayed just as they were, as if they had some invisible tether attached to the Streaker and were simply along for the ride. “Their pilot is good,” James said. “Maybe the best I’ve ever seen. Except me, of course.”
“Abel,” Solaris called. “Who are these people? Pirates?”
“Wrong again, boss. Alien warlords.”
Alien warlords, Solaris mouthed, disbelieving. Then he yelled, “Why in Hades are warlords chasing us?”
Rance sighed. “I knew it was too good to be true.”
“The six months of uneventful trips.”
“It was bound to end sometime.”
“Sorry, boss,” Abel was saying. “But she was so beautiful.”
Rance’s eyes widened in shock. James, who was concentrating on flying and trying to evade the latest barrage of fire, hunkered down over his console as if he were trying not to laugh.
“Beautiful?” Solaris asked. A vein stood out on his forehead. “Who was it? Please tell me it wasn’t the warlord’s wife.”
“No. Nothing like that. I met a guy who was selling a cappatter.”
“We already have one of those!” Rance yelled.
“It was a girlfriend for Henry.”
“That doesn’t explain why an alien warlord is after us,” Solaris said, clenching his fists in his anger.
“It was his daughter’s pet. It was stolen from him, and he caught up to the sellers just as I met them.”
“Please tell me you don’t have this cappatter now.”
“No, boss. I left it with them. What kind of simpleton do you take me for?”
Solaris fumed. “You’ll talk civilly, or you’ll be on lav duty for a month. Assuming we get out of this, that is.”
“This isn’t my fault. I didn’t know it was stolen.”
“Hey Captain,” James said, breaking some of the tension. “Know what happens when cappatters mate?”
“You get more cappatters?” Rance said weakly. Really, she’d thought Abel was smarter than this. But when it came to that furry creature that ran freely about the ship, the man had lost his mind.
“Lots of cappatters,” James was saying. “The ship would be overrun within the month.”
“I’d almost rather it was the alien’s wife,” Rance muttered. “At least that seems like something to fight over, rather than a pet cappatter. Then I could understand getting shot at.”
“What is it with the tough guys and their cappatters?” Solaris asked, clearly still angry with Abel. He pulled out his staff from under his chair and stood. “Hang on, everybody.”
“Wait, Solaris!” Harper said. “I’ve figured it out. James, I’ve been watching their maneuvers. They have trouble following when you nose down. Something about their propulsion system at this close range. Take a nose-dive.”
James obeyed. The Streaker dipped forward sharply. As it dipped under the alien vessel, James twisted the Streaker so they saw the alien’s underbelly. More rapid fire came at them, but the shields held. They were too close for effective maneuvering from any missiles.
The alien ship requested an open channel. Rance answered. “Captain Cooper here. Why are you shooting at us?”
A long, dark face appeared on the screen in front of her. The aliens blue eyes and protruding forehead reminded Rance of old Earth movies she had seen of alien sightings. He spoke in a deep voice, in a guttural language that sounded like metal scraping over rock, accented by deep booming tones.
Deliverance, the ship’s AI, translated. “You have insulted Xar,” the alien said.
“My apologies to Xar,” Rance answered. “We meant no disrespect.”
“You will pay tribute now or die.”
“That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?” Rance asked. “I’ve never met Xar. It’s rude of him to ask me for money when he won’t even show his face.”
The alien moved out of the way and another took his place. He looked similar to the first, but he was obviously taller, and he wore multiple earrings, necklaces, and even a nose ring. All of them looked like they had teeth attached. Human teeth.
“Humans always think they are funny,” he said. The alien grinned, showing dirty yellow fangs that looked like they had been chiseled to sharp points. “At first, it’s all jokes. Then, the screaming begins. I am Xar. Surrender now, and we may only take your ship.”
“They’re maneuvering around to fire again,” Solaris said.
“Hyperspace coordinates sent to Deliverance,” Harper said calmly. “Punch it, James.”
James hit the button. Rance watched Xar’s face disappear as the Streaker made the jump to hyperspace.
All three of them sank back into their chairs in relief.
“Well,” Rance said. She couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“That was a first, Captain,” James said. His hair was soaked with sweat.
“Abel,” Solaris said sternly, “meet me in the galley. And bring your toothbrush. You have a lot of cleaning to do.”
What did you think? Let me know in the comments! More snippets will be coming your way in the near future. If you want to get an email when the book is available, sign up for my Readers’ Group. When you do, you’ll also get a free story in the Star Streaker universe. Use this Bookfunnel link: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/3dmy6fkpcv
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Happy reading! 😉