tagSci-Fi & FantasyPlanetrise and Moonfall Ch. 01

Planetrise and Moonfall Ch. 01

bySpencerfiction©

Chapter 1

Reaching moon-fall

Year 20 R (Republic, Imperial date 7961 E)

It took longer than I estimated to reach moon-fall. I planned it out at just over 14 terranhours from start to finish with five fairly cautious jumps through what was clearly a complicated planetary system -- never good to leap into uncharted space without knowing exactly what you are aiming at and I hadn't been to this system for about a fifth of a century -- but my zulon nav com called Mylon put less trust in my methods and, without even bothering to inform me, changed two of my plot points and added four of her own so the very last leap would be line of sight.

Prior to these stages we had first been holed up for a fortnight in primary prep before travelling for a further two weeks, disguising our journey and destination from the numerous patrols and system scans which sought to deny us our goal, which we hoped would enrich us beyond our wildest dreams.

Hell, as soon as we entered our dest-sys I donned my radsuit, a rather old-fashioned jacket and trouser article made of a blend of clunky polyfoil and vegiglass, but nowadays they don't grow many of these my size. When you are built like an orbiting bogbox you can't afford to be choosy when you clearly can't afford to credit-buy custo. The nametag on the suit showed that before recycling through the charity megstore on Egius Tertio, the original owner was a guy named 'Joe' and my name was 'Ivan' but with just a bare crew of five desperados on board there was really no need to rename it. Three of the crew had the slightly more comfortable but also clearly second-user radsmocks and the names on those also didn't match the people I knew as Kevlin, Skeech and Selene either.

This far into the centre of the Milky Way galaxy means the stars virtually fill the cosmos and this was an uncharted and unnamed triple-sun system to boot, so when I say it was bright, it was actually blinding. I swear you could feel the radiation pickling your skin through the triple hull. But the radiation wasn't our only danger, what concerned me was what filled the voids between the planets. The trouble with triple-sun systems, is that the planetary orbits are so confusing that planets don't last long but the resultant debris, made up of various sized jagged lumps of rock and ice from long-dead worlds, can be lethal forever.

Our first leap had taken us to the edge of the first asteroid belt, but before we could leap into the space between this and the outer gas giant, it would take at least half a terranhour for our tiny vessel to generate another small wormhole for the next leap.

It is hard for non-space-travellers to understand the principles of space travel. They look at all the 3D feely movies and think the process is instantaneous and that the few tense seconds of time before a leap is added by the movie director for dramatic effect, such as I saw recently in Star Trek 1497, when the stricken Starship Enterprise escapes destruction by an instantaneous leap into hyperspace. But it is nothing like that. To move a vessel like the Enterprise containing over 600 people into warp mode, would take five or six terranhours to build an entrance and they would have to have another zulon at the destination end to simultaneously set up an exit hole. We only had the one zulon, within our own vessel, there was no other presence in this uncharted and therefore unpopulated system, so it all had to be done from one end. This close to the asteroid belt, there was bound to be stray debris, so we used the vegpulse engines to follow the direction of the orbit and travel slightly faster than the orbital speed to avoid any surprises coming at us from behind and steer past slower objects ahead. That was the theory, but with three suns floating around, this system was seeded with unpredictability. It is what kept its contents secret, or only known to men too dead to beat their way back out again. We still experienced some bumping however, but nothing that the hull couldn't cope with. It would get worse though as we penetrated further into the system towards our destination.

This system had four main planets that had still managed to avoid direct impact with one another during the lifespan of the Milky Way, just two gas giants and two rock planets. Those latter tortured spheres weaved their orbits far too close to the suns and were beyond any human use, their bare rock surfaces alternating between frozen and molten every two or three hours, their atmospheres long since boiled away and the streaming clouds of frozen dust and gases had long added to the system's barely navigable debris; landfall on the gas giants was also impossible, our hull, even our brilliantly pressure-resistant interstellar pods, would cave in before we hit the outermost clouds made up of a deadly cosmic soup of poisonous and corrosive gases; we would land on what serves as a planet surface in the form of droplets of liquid acid rain or, more likely, hail.

Our destination was one of the moons around the inner gas giant, and Mylon the onboard zulon prepared herself for the last leap to moon orbit, waiting for 20 terranminutes or so for the moon to rise above the horizon so there could be no mistake in navigation. We had to leap through a wormhole, conventional vegpulse engines would take about seven terralunars to reach that moonfall but we wouldn't last a day out there once we got past the outer gas giant and into the first of several icy rock asteroid belts.

As you can imagine, the rest of the crew were less than impressed by this exhausting near-21 hour shift, which didn't auger well when your fellow travellers are cut-throat pirates and outlaws or worse, and your position as pilot-master of the vessel depends on the most tenuous of mental melds with the on-board zulon.

The skipper Kevlin directed a scowl in my direction, his one gold tooth in a row of mainly black ones glinting in the starlight, matched by the reflections from the heavy, deeply engraved gold ring dangling pirate-fashion from his right ear lobe and protruding between the lank black and silver strands of his shoulder-length hair. His scowl was mirrored by the mate's sneer, an unavoidable expression on his part since his past participation in a blade fight had frozen his face that way. They were both chinocauk, the second most common human race after chinoasian, and these two were as common and villainous as they come.

Even their skivvy, the galley hand Selene, at around 20 terranyears the youngest member of the crew, gave me a rolling of her deep warm brown eyes in plain embarrassment at being acquainted with such demonstrative ineptitude -- and she was being kind as we had recently shared, well, shall we say intimate history together? Selene was a rather fetching moon-faced mongol, a rare breed nowadays after the racial cleansing of the 7872 E civil war; cheerfully plump and a willing, almost too willing and certainly indiscriminating, distributor of her sexual favours. So she was popular with, well just about all the crew.

The last member of our not-so-happy band was Lilian and she stood to the left of me by the vegpulse engine console looking cool and elegant in her stunning made-to-measure i-radshift, a modern nebulous vegsilk cloak with hood, the body part of which static-clung to her tall slim form which accentuated her heavy, but buoyant and thrillingly-pointed breasts. Only the weighty double-bladed dagger, the weapon of choice for the sophisticated lady-about-space, strapped to her waist outside her cloak, disturbed the classic line of her fabulous form, her set of slim throwing knives, I recall, being strapped to her left forearm. She didn't need a name badge, even the discrete designer label of 'Lamani' at the base of the hood was unnecessary -- clearly she was accustomed to the best, 'making do' didn't even figure in her vocabulary.

Normally she wore tight-fitting dark clothes, where her shape blended into the background of the dark green inner hull, but in this yellow-sun-coloured i-radshift, her splendid form was a magnet for gawping at by all the crew. The Skip Kevlin was clearly aroused, but as far as I could tell from a recent knifepoint nick in his left cheek, that Lil had successfully rebuffed the grizzled pirate's risky sexual advances on the woman who had financed this expedition and was determined to call the shots.

The vessel's mate, Skeech, always drooled from his crooked mouth, but any doubts about his present state of arousal were dispelled by his hand jerking up and down inside his dull grey radsmock. And as for the second female member of the crew, Selene, despite her evident proclivity for regular buttwinkling, she also made no secret of her latent sapphist tendencies and had to my knowledge at least once sought to add Lil to her sleeppod notches without actually dulling her whittling blade.

Me? Well I wasn't even in the running for Lil's attentions. No, Lil was clearly in a class of her own and had known comfort and wealth in an earlier life before recently descending by necessity into dealing with the likes of present company.

As far as I knew, it was Lilian that funded this operation, seeking to exchange her life of comparative comfort, guaranteed by sexually befriending a series of rapidly bored planetary potentates, to an independent life of limitless wealth and power.

When my homeworld, the former Dukes of Merciant-owned Como Prime, was taken over by the Great Rebellion and my father, the last survivor of my family was put to the sword, the rebel general assigned to rule in his place found the treasury coffers empty and me unable to tell him anything no matter how much he tortured me physically or through drugs. Then he fruitlessly tore my homeworld apart, whilst burying me deep into the penal system, where I should have been lost forever. It was this hidden secret treasure house that these villains believed I could access that brought this venture thus far to this forbidding place, a killing ground more fearsome than anything mankind or zulon-kind could imagine.

Lil merely looked down her nose at me as if she had expected little more than I was able to deliver from my pathetic piloting efforts. With the hood restricting my view of her oval face to just her brown almond eyes, aquiline nose and full red lips, which parted slightly to show a glimpse of her twin rows of perfectly straight teeth, glacial white against her darker skin, her expressionless face spoke volumes of what she expected of me.

Lil, and she had continually corrected me for shortening her name from Lilian (which only encouraged me to use my favoured contraction at every subsequent opportunity), had made no effort to disguise how much she despised me from the start. She was a product of and a supporter of the Revolution and to her I was Imperial Scum, a relic, an anachronism of a bygone age of master and slave.

She was clearly too perfect to be true: ferociously intelligent, elegant both in movement or repose, and unbelievably attractive, to be living under the radar in the criminal underclass to which my companions, which now also included myself, were forced to endure.

To me it had long been obvious that Lil must be an F3 hybrid, one of the turkoblack models that I had only ever encountered once before, and that brought back painful memories. The F3s only revealed their existence towards the end of the long drawn out civil war and brought about a sudden collapse in the imperial system. They were indistinguishable from the humans they were modelled on. Cloned from farmed cells a grown by the rebels in large numbers many years earlier, they were used with devastating effect to infiltrate Imperial bases, often as sleepers filled with false surface memories. They were unaware of the time bombs they were designed to become, until triggered at the moment of attack, to murder and sabotage, heralding inevitable victory for the Rebels. This was a pattern that had spread across the galaxy in a few short terranlunars, ending what seemed an unending unresolvable war and led to today's status quo, the so-called Galactic Association of People's Republics of Humanity.

Yes, I had certainly come across an F3 hybrid before and only few of us survived because they took prisoners in those early days, until the penal colonies were filled to overflowing. Lil sensed I was ex-Imperial, not just because I was caukoturk, which I disguised as much as possible by complete defoliation and carboblacking my fair eyelashes. I had even resorted to squinting my naturally round eyes for so long that I forgot I was even doing it. She must have picked up the traces of serial number tattoos which separated politicos from ordinary prison stock, that I had sought to disguise as old star-burn.

Like old enemies, Lil and I kept ourselves at a respectful distance but always held each other in view with a wall behind our backs and a sharp blade ready to hand. My own dagger of choice was of bone, long-ago fashioned from some unnameable hybrid creature which they fed to us when on rare occasion near-rancid meat was offered for prisoners to fight over for the guards' amusement. That blade had faithfully preserved the integrity of my ancient arse up to this point for about nineteen of the last twenty years.

Come the thieves' unequal share-out of the spoil from our present venture, would herald the inevitable reckoning, we both knew that, Lil and I.

OK, Kevlin and Skeech would naturally work together once we hit civstateside, and I was certain that even Selene's sharing of her favours between the pair wouldn't preserve her minority share of any treasure for very long.

I had met Kevlin in the slammer, of course, where I was a forgotten political prisoner of war and he was a first-offender criminal briefly incarcerated for possession of stolen goods, hence escaping the usual capital solution for piracy. He carried a token within a body cavity that he showed me that I had been discovered at last. His greasy brief got him out before me but not until I made sure that he was aware of what I knew about hidden treasure beyond his wildest dreams: the total wealth of my family that could count its forebears and its accumulate power and influence to build a vast treasury through several millennia.

In order to obtain my own release, about a terranlunar later, I had to kill and assume the identity of a prisoner due for release in defiance of the system, helped by bribes from Kevlin on the outside, going past guards who didn't check my forged papers as closely as the Republic State paid them a pittance to do.

On the outside I sought out Kevlin as the person I needed to find a crew and, following recovery of the treasure, assured Lil and I that he had the contacts to launder the treasury into usable state credits. He used Lilian, for whom he had smuggled illegal luxuries, to identify, finance and prepare the right vessel. Lilian was looking to build a retirement fund to replace the favours she presently lived on from rich patrons. We were both certain that this venture would give her that.

Kevlin was a necessary evil in this venture and I knew he would target me first, once my unique knowledge of our destination and access beyond the security system of the Treasury expired, I would be of little further use beyond that. We may have been setting out as a band of thieves but there would be no inference of honour among our temporary band of convenience once the promised glint of treasure became a reality.

However, I knew they would underestimate the gorgeous hybrid, their kind always did. I also knew that a trained F3 hybrid assassin would choose to take me out first before carving up the inept pair of buckos, so at least I knew exactly where I stood - right at the end of a dead end called Shit Street.

OK, I had the reputation of killing an F3 hybrid once, but that was over 20 years ago, when I was in my prime. I had few illusions of the outcome of any one-on-one with one of these assassins now. But for the present we all needed each other. As for Selene, well she could shag any one of us to death if she wanted to but she was without any of the skills to control or dock the ship or dispose of any of the anticipated cargo or riches. Poor Selene was alway a candidate for victim rather than victor. You never know, though, the killing machine that I knew as Lil might even let Selene off with enough loot for her own modest means. These hybrids were bred without bottom line compassion but in my experience of them, expediency didn't always mean total slaughter.

I smiled at the concept of a partly-dehumanized assassin having more humanity than most humans of my recent acquaintance, which was not beyond the realms of possibility.

Like my brief previous experience with Kevlin, I had recently seen Lil before too. She was part of a 'do-gooding' group that visit prisons ensuring inmates' fair treatment. I spotted her straight off because mostly they are crabby old spinsters and widows, with too much wealth and pleasure-leisure time on their hands for their own good, usually with guilty consciences of planet-wide population abuse, in need of assuaging. Either that or they were seeking their next tame 'house boy' to take home with them to relieve the boredom for a while.

Lil was bright and fashionable and sensationally gorgeous. She stood out from the crowd all right and, although at the time she visited the penal colony I held hopes to, I had no real expectations of ever seeing her again. If she had recognised me as more than just a face in the crowd, well so far in this trip she hadn't acknowledged it. Since my release I had filled out a bit, after being hungry for almost half my life. As for deprivation during incarceration of the caring touch of a woman? Well, the homely Selene had recently seen to the baser of my bodily needs.

My brief reverie is interrupted as I feel the tug of the inner gas giant on the hull as we enter the elliptical orbit that heralds the penultimate stage of our journey. Through my mind-meld connection to Mylon, a flood of information comes into my consciousness, the distance from the planet, speed of orbit, forecast projections of different scenarios. Even though my link to Mylon is pretty tenuous, she only let me into her edited grudging version of consciousness so far, and I only let her into where I want her to go. I learned from my old zulon long ago how to hide my thoughts and memories by flooding my brain with other memories, such as those consisting of 20 long years of penal servitude in the most savage period known to human civilisation; just a few moments of that is enough to put any mind reader off her appetite!

I still felt at ease with Mylon though and, well, safe. Mylon may hate me, but she is wired to protect me, when push came to shove, if only to preserve my arse long enough to face an enquiry by her peers when the opportunity arose and returned to what registers in the New Republic as "civilization".

I suppose now is the time and place to reflect on where we had come this far into my unedifying life cycle, particular as it was likely to come to a swift inglorious end very soon, now.

I may never get a better chance.

***

The F1s were cloned simply to follow direct orders as fighters and as only the hitherto heavily outnumbered Rebels had them initially. They initially tipped the balance of the civil war their way following their introduction. But the imperial houses were soon on the case and used their version of the technology to good effect to restore the civil war stalemate for several more decades. These first manifestations of androids were identical soldier drones and had none of the 'bits' that the F3s needed so they could infiltrate without suspicion. It was the F3s, basically born human but genetically-enhanced during childhood, which had a devastating effect to end the resistance of individual worlds, which they did by taking out the leadership of each with minimal effort. Hell, the F3s came in many forms, although the vast majority were female, and were raised from genetically-altered human children, they could even procreate with humans, their offspring indistinguishable, which is why the powers that be decided they don't make them anymore since the war was won.

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