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Calsufer

Starfarer Legends Book 1



BY

Eric Magliozzi











Calsufer

Copyright © 2017 Eric Magliozzi

All rights reserved.


This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to names, places, or actual person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States. Any reproduction in any form without the express written permission of the author is prohibited.


Cover Art Licensed from Fotolia

Book Cover Design By: Heather Weikel


Printing History: 2017


Visit author web site at http://www.bluedestiny.net







DEDICATION



For my sons,

The light in both your eyes brightens the entire world












TABLE OF CONTENTS

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Epilogue

Prologue

A haunting, pale glow consumed a small starship approaching the third moon of planet Aemelis. Trying to establish a stationary orbit, Krisara soaked in the eerie brilliance as her fingers shakenly maneuvered across the controls of the ship. Her heart suddenly fluttered having thoughts of supernatural beings looming over the barren surface, though she masked the fear behind a stern visage and reminded herself the phenomena was a simple reflection of the sun and not a result of swarming ghosts.

She activated the high-powered scopes underneath the metallic belly of the ship. When the images of the moon’s surface poured over the monitors, she was relieved to see nothing unnatural dwelled there. The lenses swept over rocks and craters and then locked on a diamond-shaped craft hovering near a crash site.

Horned creatures, wearing oxygen tanks and jet packs, salvaged valuables from the smoking remains, flying back and forth to their ship with crates filled with various treasures. Krisara saw traces of a goat in their countenances, and immediately identified them as Draskonis. Draskonis were a scavenger race, annoying, though normally innocuous.

Shaking her head, Krisara pressed a switch on the dashboard to retract the scopes. She looked at her partner, Anashoka, who sat in the co-pilot seat. “It looks like the Draskonis beat us here. Don’t they know it is illegal to scavenge from any vessel in this sector?”

“I’m sure they know,” Anashoka said. “And I am sure they don’t care. They are vultures and will swoop in wherever they sniff a profit.”

“I’m curious why the downed ship was broadcasting a distress signal on a channel that is--”

“Fifteen years old,” Anashoka finished. “I am curious about that myself.”

Krisara shifted in her seat; the movement caused her long, black hair to dangle over her face, enough to prevent Anashoka from noticing the concerned look in her deep-blue eyes. “You’re being a bit more diligent than usual. Any reason why?”

“I’m getting a little bored of these reconnaissance missions and thought it was better than sitting here and watching our instruments collect data.” Anashoka crossed her arms and sighed. “I thought the life of a Warder would be more exciting than this.”

“Be patient. We’ll get more exciting missions once we become Guardians.” Krisara understood her partner’s frustrations, especially given that Anashoka was a Celinisti. The Celinisti race possessed a spirit more akin to a wild beast, constantly having a desire to roam free and exhibit their uncanny speed and agility. Spending hours sitting in a spacecraft felt like purgatory to them.

Anashoka rolled her wolfish eyes and said, “I am not sure why we keep getting these mundane assignments. These tasks are more suited for recruits and we have been Warders for five years.” She gazed blankly out the cockpit window. “I’m beginning to regret I ever joined Serephen.”

“You’re not the only one,” Krisara whispered under her breath.

The Serephen organization provided security services and protection for six allied planets in the Caldarris solar system, a system consisting of thirteen total planets. Warders were the lowest ranked enforcement agents and dealt primarily with low-profile criminals. Krisara complained profusely about the assignments since she felt it detrimental to progressing in rank. The ultimate goal of both women was to become Guardians. Guardians engaged in special operation missions that threatened the peace of the entire solar system and required unique talents and unconventional methods to accomplish. If by chance a Warder stumbled onto something with serious implications to the wellbeing of a planet or system, the case was expeditiously reassigned to a Guardian.

The dashboard beeped. Krisara adjusted a trio of dials and traced a transmission coming from the Draskonis ship. The signal lasted for about a minute and then stopped. Shortly afterward, the engines on the Draskonis ship powered up and it made an immediate jump to lightspeed, vanishing from their radar.

“What’s going on?” Anashoka asked.

“I’m not sure.” Krisara put the recorded transmission through the translator and read the output on the monitor. “They must have thought we were someone else or realized we were Warders. They retrieved a disc encoded with a Guardian encryption code, but would not do an exchange here. There are coordinates to a location on planet Sulea. The sum of the credits they want for the disc is quite substantial.” Krisara leaned back in her chair and digested the information. “A Guardian encryption code,” she whispered. “This isn’t good. I wonder who was on that crashed ship.”

“We should report this immediately to Garrison,” said Anashoka, a trace of resentment in her tone. “I am sure he will assign a couple of Guardians to reclaim the disc.”

Krisara thought about their commanding officer briefly and then punched in the coordinates to Sulea. “Why should the Guardians have all the fun?”

“Garrison will berate us to death if we don’t report this.”

“Well, that is what he does best,” Krisara replied. “Unfortunately, a slight malfunction in our communication system will delay that berating. Right now, I have a disc to retrieve on Sulea.”

1

The dawn light shimmered over a city in ruin. The reddish gloom it cast fell over mounds of crumbling, stone blocks and steel structures that might as well been giant skeletal hands reaching for the sky. A smoking airship spiraled out of control toward these mammoth frames, and then exploded into a ball of fire. The debris rained down over the war-torn surface, and the ashes of the ship’s lone occupant settled amongst the thousands of others who perished here – such was the life on planet Calsufer.

On the outskirts of the city, Colton Asher stood within a patch of burnt, lifeless trees observing the incident through a spyglass. The explosion served as another reminder to the current condition of the planet, and he believed there would be no end to the destruction until everyone was dead. For the moment, he reminisced on better times, inhaled the warm air, and tried to forget about this world; then he remembered the day his father abandoned him here, and the turmoil that followed.

The trouble began ten years ago when a madness suddenly took control of the world. People began to act irrationally as if enthralled to stir up controversy. Petty arguments turned bloody across the globe, spreading an unstoppable force of chaos, and soon after, wars ravaged the land. The planet’s leadership tried to suppress the savagery and quickly crumbled. Only after years of bloodshed and rebuilding forces, the planet’s regime reformed from the ashes and oddly began fighting under the banner of Cephius, a mythological god of strength and order. Cephius promised to bring back order, re-establish civilizations, and restore the world to a prosperous state. The inhabitants answered by building fortified settlements to resist any attempt at subjugation, realizing this new regime was nothing but an oligarchy that would bring more death, more destruction, and the planet’s population closer to extinction.

A shot rang out within the ashen forest. Colton drew his revolver, spun in the direction of the sound, and observed a flock of ravens take to the sky. He immediately fell behind a tree and waited for any sign of an intruder. Several minutes passed and nothing but the wind stirred among the dead. Reluctant to remain idle, he moved from tree to tree toward the heart of the forest and eventually came upon a cabin situated at the edge of a swamp.

The cabin’s walls were rotted and moss covered. The dwelling, it seemed, was best suitable for a nest of snakes. Thousands of insects swarmed around the exterior and a dread stench drifted in Colton’s direction, an all too familiar smell. Against his better judgement, Colton crept up to the front entrance, swatting at the pests buzzing around his face, and gingerly stepped inside.

The horror inside the place, he knew, would haunt his memories for the remainder of his life, for lying on a bed of straw with a gunshot to the head was a beastly creature resembling a half man, half beast. The thing had dark, rubbery flesh, long thin arms, insect-like wings, and a face that seemed more monster than human, though the gun wound had obscured it enough to prevent any reconstructing of details. Colton studied the creature and immediately thought of the Culchidra. Culchidra normally came in the night and fed on human blood. The entire planet was infested with them. After the cities fell, these creatures began to surface. Some believed they were mutations from nuclear radiation, but others had suspicions someone brought them to this planet to feed on the survivors. It was just another burden that besieged the inhabitants. This creature closely resembled one of the Culchidra, and given the human features, made Colton believe these monsters were indeed human mutations.

Colton pried a rifle from the creature’s hands and wiped the blood from the tarnished barrel. If it were not for the beast’s elongated arms, he doubted the thing could have pulled the trigger while aiming at its own head. Nevertheless, a good weapon was hard to find these days, and costly, and this particular one had a nice scope attached, a prize worthy of Colton’s efforts to endure the stench and pests infesting the area.

After a quick search for any other useful items, Colton exited the cabin and thought about returning to his home, a town called Ravensar. His journey out here in the barren region, aptly named the deadlands, took him miles away, though he served as the town’s scout and it was his job to warn the townsfolk of any impending dangers advancing on them.

After a long mournful glance at the dead forest, Colton strapped the rifle over his shoulder and headed back to Ravensar. He travelled for most of the day and soon found himself surrounded by a thick forest with green leafy trees and the rustling of small critters roaming over the ground. A scattering of birds flew from one tree to another, searching for springs to drink. Then, he heard branches snapping, heavy footsteps stomping around in the shadows. Colton removed his revolver and glanced over the surrounding trees and undergrowth that blended perfectly together. Did something follow him back?

Footsteps plodded toward him from behind, along with a moaning sound, and Colton spun around with his revolver chest high. A shrouded figure in a tattered cloak wildly charged him with a large knife in hand. Colton reacted instantly, pulled the trigger of his gun, and sent the cloaked beast hurtling backward into the trunk of a tree. The menace slumped to the ground, thrashed about on a pile of leaves and twigs, and then went still. Using the tip of the barrel of his gun, Colton pushed back the hood of the attacker.

Colton had no idea where these brutish fiends originated. The people of Calsufer called them Morakoi; a name derived from a local myth about a creature that feeds on the energy and blood of the living. Morakoi were humanoid with wan colored flesh, almost as if all the blood had been drained from their bodies. Their eyes, horrifying embers, resembled a massive blood clot with no pupils. He believed they hunted on scent and sound, unable to fathom how those grotesque eyeballs could provide any form of sight. His stomach knotted, thinking he led this creature back to his home from the deadlands. His job was to scout for trouble, not bring it back to Ravensar.

Unsettled by the thought that other creatures might be wandering about, he holstered his gun and sat under a tree to guard the way to Ravensar. If more Morakoi followed, Colton intended to bury them along with the one he already killed. He waited patiently, for several hours, and then felt his body fighting off sleep. His eyes drooped heavily as he listened to the wind moan on the horizon. A warm breeze brushed through his dark hair, whispered soothing melodies in his ears; the dulcet sounds of nature finally lulled him to a deep slumber -- and then he dreamt of hell, of Calsufer.

2

The Warder ship cruised over the surface of planet Sulea, crossing over oceans, deserts, and then reaching a dense forest of giant, red trees covering a mountain range that spread far into a curtain of thick mists. Krisara checked the Draskonis coordinates and pinpointed the location to an abandoned mining town. Instead of landing there directly, she touched the ship down less than a mile from the spot preferring to check things from afar for signs of trouble.

Once the ship settled within a small clearing, the women exited the craft and scurried their way to town. The exact location of the exchange marked the rooftop of the largest complex in the area, a four-level warehouse. Heavy winds swirled through the interior, moaning, revealing the emptiness of the building.

The women entered the warehouse and moved swiftly, quietly, dancing over broken glass, whisking by rusted steel beams, and navigating up a rickety stairway to the roof. Krisara could understood why the Draskonis chose this location; there were plenty of darkened areas to hide and set an ambush. Perhaps they intended to screw over their buyers and steal the money, and then slaughter the fools afterwards. If they did intend to spring a trap, however, she wondered why they were not already here.

Krisara removed a rifle from her shoulder and shifted to a prone position behind a mound of cinder blocks. She stretched out, feeling her form-fitting outfit tug at her skin. It was made from a stretchy synthetic rubber, though at times, felt a bit too constrictive. She endured the discomfort because the warmth it provided outweighed the alternative of wearing heavy clothing. Unfortunately, for her partner, Anashoka, who stood behind another barrier freezing from a chill wind, did not share the same tolerance for tight clothing.

“I can’t take this cold,” said Anashoka, wrapping her sheer halter dress around bare legs that were protected only by knee-high boots. Over the dress, she adjusted a purple leather corset that might have provided protection against a knife to the heart, but the armor did nothing to warm her from the cold night wind. Irritated to see her friend relaxed and comfortable, Anashoka scowled toward Krisara before going prone.

“Don’t glare at me with those wolfish eyes,” Krisara retorted, feeling the biting gaze of Anashoka’s bright yellowish-green embers. “If you keep insisting on wearing that primitive garb, you’re going to freeze.”

Anashoka reached over her back and unsheathed a sword. She placed the blade on a pile of debris and then unsnapped the thumb break on her holster. “If you had my agility, you would understand why I dress the way I do.”

“Yes, I know. You only remind me of your uncanny speed every time the subject of attire is brought up.” Krisara ran a hand along her belt to check pouches, two holstered pistols, and numerous gadgets. She then unzipped a pocket on her sleeve and pulled out a small plastic case that contained a pair of contact lenses. Delicately, she removed the contacts one at a time and fitted them over her eyes. The moment she put them in the color of her eyes changed from a deep blue to a bright purple. The special contacts allowed her to see in the dark and had one other far more useful function. If someone gazed into them long enough, they could fall under the influence of the wearer and be more susceptible to suggestions.

The women bickered back and forth for two hours, their breath misted around them from the frosty weather. Krisara’s mind circled constantly around the reason they camped here and wondered what information was on the disc the Draskonis found. For the sum of credits they wanted, the information must be significant enough to make someone very powerful. And who did they think they were contacting? Or maybe they did make contact with their buyers, and Krisara got lucky picking up the transmission.

Anashoka stood up and batted at her long, dark, red locks that blew wildly in her eyes. “Krisara, the information we intercepted must have been a deception to throw us off the trail. No one is coming here tonight. Good thing we checked it out first. It would have been embarrassing reporting a rumor of this magnitude.”

Footsteps creaked on the stairway. Anashoka quickly slithered back to her hiding place. A group of five men, each clad in a hooded tabard over a steel cuirass, walked by the women carrying an iron box. They continued past mounds of debris until they reached an open section of roof that contained a solid foundation. On their backs swayed a leather sheath-like case that housed a longsword and an assault rifle. Krisara recognized the model of rifle, a Razor-T86, a weapon with a serrated barrel. The teeth-like edge underneath the barrel could be used in close combat to rip open the gut of the intended victim or utilized to saw through obstacles. The Mulrathins carried these type of weapons, and it concerned Krisara they might get their hands on something significant. Mulrathins often achieved their goals by war and imperialism. Conquest and wealth was all that mattered to them, no matter how many bodies they laid in their wake. Of course, their poorly developed technology prevented them from dominating advanced civilizations, leaving them to prey on less developed cultures. If they got their hands on some kind of super weapon or technology, the butchery they would unleash would be catastrophic.

In the starry sky, a ship descended rapidly and then suddenly slowed as flames spit out from low-powered thrusters underneath the craft. The roof creaked under the weight of the ship when it touched down, and for a moment, Krisara thought the vessel would plummet through. The diamond shaped craft had a pair of wings angled downward, and by the size of the ship, contained perhaps a crew of three to six men. Under each wing, the points of missiles reflected the moonlight. Immediately, both women recognized the design – it was the Draskonis. The Mulrathins removed their rifles and shifted uncomfortably, as if intimidated by the explosive rockets that pointed in their direction.

“If there are at least five Draskonis on that ship, it will make things more difficult,” said Anashoka. “How do you want to play this?”

“We wait for now,” Krisara said.

The ship’s entry ramp lowered. A single horned creature exited the craft. The face resembled a hairless goat with grayish eyes and a flat, open mouth in the shape of a butterfly. A set of tiny teeth lined the entire opening, and seemed more suited for sucking in food than chewing it. It was a male of the species; the females did not have horns. A defiant twinkle radiated in the creature’s dark, ominous eyes as it reached into a leather coat and pulled out a black box that translated its words to a universal common tongue. “I advise you to lower your weapons. They make me a bit skittish, and my gunner has a twitchy finger.” The Mulrathins grunted in unison and complied.

Krisara shrugged in disgust. “What a repulsive creature. I should blow that ugly mug off its shoulders. They must be out of their minds to deal with the Mulrathins.” She positioned the scope of her gun to aim at the creature’s head.

The Draskonis stopped in front of the Mulrathins and said, “Open the box. I want to see what is inside.”

One of the brutes pressed a button on the box and the lid lifted up. It was filled to the top with currency units.

“That’s a lot of money right there,” Krisara said, grinning.

A board creaked behind the women. Anashoka was the first to turn and saw a Mulrathin creeping up behind them. She leaped up, grabbed the sword, and dashed toward the man. The Mulrathin spun his rifle in her direction and shot. Bullets sprayed over her shoulder and chipped holes in the cement wall behind her. Anashoka barely evaded the deadly projectiles. As nimble as a cat, she slashed outward and cut the Mulrathin across the throat. The armored monster clutched at the wound trying to stop the blood from pouring out. Anashoka wasted no time in finishing him by driving her blade through his chest.

Suddenly, several bullets whizzed over the heads of the women. The Mulrathins near the ship took notice of the confrontation and lit up the area with muzzle flashes. Krisara whipped out a pair of energy pistols and returned fire; the Mulrathins’ bulky frames towered over the small mounds of cover and were easy targets. Anashoka tore a semi-automatic pistol from her holster and joined in the fray by spraying the Mulrathins with a multitude of rounds. In the darkness, flashes of gunfire lit up the area like lightning as bullets and energy bolts danced across the air. Two Mulrathins were shredded apart by energy bolts, a third took a bullet in the head, and the remaining two staggered toward the ship’s entry ramp knowing they were too exposed.

“We blew it, the Draskonis is retreating,” Anashoka shouted.

Krisara picked up her rifle and tried to track the creature through her scope and saw the entry ramp close. She noticed the missiles underneath the wings pointing their way and winced, thinking the Draskonis would blow them both to hell. An idea came to her. If she hit the missile just right, the ship was going nowhere.

The thrusters underneath the craft fired up, and it began to ascend off the roof. Krisara took aim and shot. The rocket exploded taking the entire wing and part of the craft with it. The ship spun out of control and plummeted downward, smashing through the roof, scraping over steel support beams with a hull covered in flames. A stern engine then accidently ignited, propelling the ship into the ground and it exploded.

“Let’s get the hell out of here before this inferno eats us alive,” Krisara shouted.

Anashoka furrowed her brow. “What’s wrong? Is that bodysuit starting to melt over your skin?”

“Just move your ass, before these flames ravage that smirk from your pretty face.”

The women scampered toward the stairway, coughing, ramming into objects, the smoke billowing out of the ship made it difficult for them to see and breathe. Anashoka outpaced her partner and made it down to the next level while Krisara had just stepped onto the top staircase. Flames shot up from below, and the stairway collapsed, bringing Krisara down with it. Luckily, the woman landed on a pile of garbage and mattresses, the furnishing of an old rec room. Anashoka rushed past the smoldering embers to check on her friend.

“Damn your Celinisti blood,” Krisara groaned. “I can never keep up with you.”

“If you talked less and moved sooner, you wouldn’t have to,” Anashoka quipped.

The blaze weaved around the walls and heated the hides of both women. Krisara sluggishly rose, picked up her rifle, and sprinted toward the building exit. Again, Anashoka was ten steps ahead. Steel columns crashed in their paths and they skirted over and under the support posts until they found their way outside.

“Do you think anyone survived?” Anashoka asked, glancing over the wreckage.

“I doubt it.”

Krisara ambled across a field filled with burning chunks of the Draskonis ship. She came upon two of the creatures, both dead, and then watched their leader crawl out from a shattered cockpit window. Profanity leaked from her red full lips on how this weasel managed to survive, but leeches like this monster always had a knack for cheating death.

“This is what happens when you deal with Mulrathins,” Krisara said.

The smuggler crawled over charred grass; blood dripped from his head, throat, and legs. One of his arms dangled, broken, and his legs resembled charred wood. It babbled incoherently and then removed the black box to translate. “My people will avenge my death. You witches will pay with your blood.”

Remembering she still wore the special contacts, Krisara knelt beside the creature and made sure the Draskonis got a good view of her eyes. “Where is the information you were going to give to the Mulrathins?”

“I’m not going to tell…” The Draskonis quickly lost itself in those purplish wonders; the contacts worked their magic on him as he slowly fell under their influence. He removed a miniature disc from his jacket and handed it over to Krisara.

“Good puppy,” Krisara said, breaking eye contact and the trance.

The Draskonis regained his composure, cursed, and spit blood on her boot. “You’ll not get away with this.”

Krisara took a few steps back and removed a small hybrid computer, a hybrapad, from her pouch that allowed her to view, store, manipulate, and analyze data. She pressed the magnetic disc to the back of the device and took a few minutes to break the encryption code. She waited for the information to display and then relayed the information to Anashoka. “The information on the disc is from someone with the codename Skolnir.” Krisara searched the database on her hybrapad and found nothing. She then linked up with the main Serephen database through a patch relay on her ship. Upon entering the name, she immediately got an access denied. Of course, this was only a minor inconvenience. A couple of hacking attempts provided at least a name -- Logan Asher.

“What are you doing?” Anashoka asked, seeing her hacking the Serephen database. “Serephen is definitely going to want our heads.”

“Perhaps,” Krisara replied. “Skolnir is a codename for a man named Logan Asher. He might be a Guardian based on the encryption method, though the code he used to encrypt the data hasn’t been used in fifteen years. He regrets he could not deliver the disc himself, but feels he might be a danger to any agent of Serephen. He says the data on the disc should be taken seriously.”

“What did he find that is so important?” Anashoka asked.

“Logan found a group of alien creatures hiding on Calsufer; the Sethraku. These creatures have been using mind control to turn the people on the planet against each other. There are pictures and coordinates here of the colony he found. In addition to that, they are building a fleet of ships equipped with star drives.” Krisara’s tone suddenly became icy. “A former Guardian named Jonah Boone is feeding them information, for what reason, he does not know. He thinks they may try to take down the entire Serephen organization.”

“I think it is time to report our findings,” Anashoka said. “This is beyond our ability to contain alone.”

Krisara ignored the Celinisti and digested the information. The ability to manipulate minds did not bother her, for her own special lenses performed a similar trick and countering the effects was obtainable at least. However, the idea of someone like the Mulrathins acquiring a star drive could throw the entire solar system into chaos by them having the ability to traverse planets in a matter of minutes to strike and retreat before friendly forces could gather to repel the attack. This is the main reason every known being in the system has poured boundless amounts of resources into developing a star drive. The first race to acquire the technology would have an unmatched military advantage.

“Are you listening to me?” Anashoka asked, annoyed at the lack of communication. She glanced down at the wounded Draskonis. “What are we going to do with this one?”

“He’s resourceful. Let his Mulrathin friends help him.”

“You’re just going to let him die?” Anashoka shook her head disapprovingly. She tore a piece of her dress and tossed it to the creature. “Your neck looks the worse. If you don’t stop the bleeding soon, you will pass out. Keep the pressure there. I’ll alert the local authority to pick you up and then you can spend the rest of your life in prison.”

“Your heart is going to get us in trouble someday, Anashoka,” Krisara said, inclined to let the Draskonis die rather than imprison him. She hated to leave trails or enemies alive, especially ones that might try to track her down and take revenge. Displeased over her partner’s decision, she wandered over to the building and found one of the Mulrathins, breathing heavily, and decided to probe him for information. “Where is your ship? Are there others waiting for you? I’m sure the authorities on Sulea would be interested to know why you are on their planet without authorization.”

“And where is your authorization?” the Mulrathin said with venom in his tone. His eyes were silvery, strange, and they sent a shiver down Krisara’s spine. “Serephen agents have no business on this planet. That is what you are, isn’t it? No matter, my people will enjoy skinning every piece of flesh from your bones.”

She grabbed the beast by the collar of his cloak and pulled him closer so that her contact lenses could entrance him. “What are you talking about?”

The Mulrathin cackled. “Your juvenile inventions will not work on me. My species are immune to those bewitching lenses. You’ll regret crossing us. One of our ships is in orbit monitoring this area. They have everything recorded; your words, your face, you are as good as dead. They will hunt you down and toss your carcass in space to rot.”

The expression on Krisara’s face turned to horror. She hadn’t considered the transaction would be monitored from space and now the Mulrathins knew she had a map to the alien settlement. She removed her pistol and pointed it at the Mulrathin’s head. “Sorry, but--”

A slender hand gently pushed the gun down. Anashoka stood next to her friend and shook her head. “Let him live. If you continue to go down this path and kill in cold blood, you’ll become nothing more than a callous killing machine. Let the Guardians have him. This is their territory now. We did our part.”

“Screw the Guardians.” Krisara holstered her gun. “We are going to Calsufer.”

A madness swirled in Krisara’s eyes, an obsession, and Anashoka could feel the tension in her partner’s body. “You’re hiding something from me,” Anashoka said. “I have never seen you so determined. And the reason I knew that distress signal was old is because you left your research on the ship’s terminal. What aren’t you telling me? And why did your attitude shift at the mention of Jonah Boone? Who is he?”

Krisara’s nail broke on the hybrapad from gripping the computer too tight, and then she said, “Jonah Boone killed my mother, and I will have my revenge.”

3

Krisara studied the navigation system with some uncertainty in her eyes on setting the proper course. She normally entrusted an android pilot to manage these things, but due to a recent malfunction, the machine smashed the cockpit dashboard with its metal hands. How she enjoyed tearing the mechanical head from its body at the time of its malfunction. It seemed like a good idea at the time, though now she regretted the action. There was something about space travel that rattled her, left her with an uneasy feeling of programming in the wrong coordinates. With her in control, the chances of colliding with an asteroid increased, especially dropping out of lightspeed. She believed Anashoka sabotaged the android to annoy her; after all, the Celinisti had a specialty in robotics and took pleasure in causing trouble. Krisara vowed to get revenge. Anashoka had a fear of insects, and Krisara managed to slip a couple of beetles within a stack of her partner’s clothes.

After preparing the ship for lightspeed, Krisara locked in the course for Calsufer, prayed, and switched on the flight automation system. It was not nearly as reliable as the android, but since it would take at least 16 hours to reach their destination, Krisara refused to sit in the cockpit for the entire flight.


***


Anashoka sat in the lounge of the ship wiping the blood from her sword. She retrieved a grinder, a utility to sharpen blades, and ran the device along the edge of the sword. Although it was not uncommon for someone to carry a sword in the Caldarris System, no one cared for a blade as meticulously as she did. Too often, she found herself low on ammunition and had to rely on the sword to fight out of a dangerous encounter. She despised energy weapons, and refused to use them. During a mission, a power pack on a laser pistol exploded on her. The blast nearly left her blind for life. It was fortunate the power pack was low on energy or she might have lost her hand, eyesight, or worse -- her entire head. If it were not for the Celinisti’s unique healing abilities, an inherit trait of her people that allowed them to feed off moonlight to mend wounds, the blindness, according to the physicians, would have been permanent. The bad experience made a sword all the more appealing, and Anashoka practiced hard at perfecting her swordsmanship skills.

Satisfied the blade was properly sharpened, Anashoka placed the sword on a circular glass table, leaned back in her chair, and thought of her partner. They were paired together 5 years ago, and had spent a great amount of time together, however, Anashoka hardly knew the woman. Anashoka learned bits and pieces of her partner’s past over the years, but not nearly enough to get to know her well. Krisara rarely spoke of her past, her feelings, and wedged a rift between the two whenever the subject came up. Anashoka considered the woman her friend first, a partner second, and felt betrayed Krisara withheld information, especially about Jonah Boone. There have been other occasions Krisara withheld important Intel from her, and given the personal nature of this latest development, it really lingered in her gut.

Krisara wandered into the lounge area and poured herself a glass of wine. She walked over to the seating area, kicked off her boots, and sat back in one of the cushioned chairs. “I’ve just spoke with Garrison. I informed him about the alien settlement on Calsufer. I’m not sure he heard me over all the yelling. I also tried to contact the Calsufer spaceport to gain clearance to the planet. There was no response.”

“I bet he wasn’t happy about the spectacle on Sulea.” Anashoka smiled sheepishly. Garrison was a cantankerous perfectionist. She remembered during field training exercises, the numerous scoldings she received for circumventing obstacles with her Celinisti abilities. The art of dodging and swatting rubber bullets with a sword was child’s play to her, and whenever she encountered a turret filled with the innocuous ammo, she easily bypassed the impediment. The placement of the turrets, of course, was to sway a trainee to take a different path. And every time Anashoka made a mockery of the course design, the veins on Garrison’s forehead bulged and his mouth spit out every profanity ever imagined.

“He did threaten to remove us from Serephen, but we had some communications problems,” Krisara said with a wink. “I think he also called us rogue agents, or something like that, and that we would be disciplined harshly. I told him as soon as we have our engines and comm systems repaired, we will report in for our next assignment.”

“Our engines?” Anashoka raised an eyebrow. “You are going to get us thrown out of Serephen. What do you think is going on at the spaceport?”

“I don’t know.” Krisara sipped her wine. “It’s a wonder anyone would be stationed there anyway with the war. I accessed all the files we have on Calsufer. It is an antiquated planet. The war has demolished the cities and there are thousands of independent towns. The atmosphere is also tinged with swirling red gasses that keep the planet warm. Scientists speculated the phenomena is artificial, but have no idea who created it.”

“Sounds like an interesting place. I suppose we should formulate a plan on how we intend to infiltrate the Sethraku infestation. I doubt they will just allow us to enter their operations freely.”

“And here I thought you weren’t listening to me on Sulea.”

“Well, sometimes you have something useful to say.”

“At least you’ll be happy you can wear those revealing rags of yours without getting cold,” Krisara said. “The Sethraku are hiding in the desert and even at night, the temperatures don’t drop below 65 degrees.”

“Maybe you should try wearing them and shed your rubber shell.” Anashoka moved over to the kitchenette and tossed a few pieces of fruit into a juicer. The machine swirled, diced, and then emptied the contents into a blue cup. She guzzled down the drink and then said, “Did the locals pick up that Mulrathin on Sulea?”

“No,” Krisara said with annoyance in her tone. “As a matter of fact, he was gone when they arrived, and they did not appreciate us being there without permission and promised to file a complaint to our superiors. I hope it wasn’t a mistake to let him live.”

“He looked pretty bad, I am sure he crawled off into a dark corner to die.”

“I can only hope he did die.” Krisara abruptly slammed the glass down. “If you ever stop me like that again, I will…I will…oh, forget it. Just keep out of my way next time. Give these bastards a second chance and they will put a bullet in your head.”

“I just didn’t think it was necessary to kill him. And what about the Draskonis? Did he survive?”

“Oh, you are really pressing your luck today, aren’t you? Yes, fortunate for us, he died. If he ever told the planet’s Civil Guard what we took from him, every bounty hunter in our system would be hunting us now.” Krisara rose from the chair and stomped in the direction of the cockpit, hearing the ship’s intercom whistle an alert for an incoming transmission. Anashoka followed with pouty lips.

Krisara switched on the monitors and comm speakers. A middle-aged man with short dark hair appeared on the screen. Her hands trembled at the controls when she felt Anashoka’s glowering stare, and she twirled her seat slightly to avoid the Celinisti’s gaze.

“I’m sorry I had to contact you this way,” the man said. “Your life is in serious danger. The entire Mulrathin star fleet is looking for you.” The image wavered a bit and then cleared up.

“At least it isn’t as bad being wanted by six different planets, Jack,” Krisara quipped, trying to mitigate the tension in the cockpit. The man on the screen was her father, and a former Guardian. Since his departure from the agency, he has taken up the life of a pirate. Krisara kept the relationship a secret, for if anyone knew she was his daughter, it would invoke all sorts of complications not only with Serephen, but also with anyone wanting to collect the bounty on his head, and she rather not have someone try to use her as bait.

“Seven,” Jack corrected with a wide grin. “But this is not why I am contacting you. You need to stay clear of Calsufer. The Scourge is in orbit, and word is, Greynar is looking specifically for you. I advise you to change your course and go into hiding for a while.”

“I can’t do that,” Krisara said. “I refuse to be intimidated by that flying cesspool or its captain.” Despite her words of defiance, Krisara’s face grew ashen with worry. Greynar commanded the Mulrathin flagship, the Scourge, and she knew those who crossed its path rarely lived to tell the tale.

Jack shrugged. “Why do the Mulrathins want you so badly?”

“I have something they want, a disc, and if they get their hands on it, you can start bowing to their Emperor.”

The transmission began to break up, scrambling the screen, and flooding white noise over the comm channel. After a few seconds, the monitor cleared up and Jack had a sour expression.

“Your transmission is really bad,” Krisara said. “Where are you?”

“I’m stranded on the Calsufer spaceport,” Jack said. “I docked to check things out before I headed to the planet. I have some business with an old friend there. The Scourge caught me off guard and blew up my ship.”

“An old friend named Jonah Boone?” Krisara said with disdain in her tone.

“Krisara, listen to me,” Jack pleaded. “Stay away from…”

The screen went black and the white noise returned to the ship’s speakers.

“So, that is your father,” Anashoka said, sitting in the co-pilot seat and regarding her partner skeptically.

“You knew?” Krisara’s jaw dropped in disbelief. “How did you find out?”

“I’m surprised Serephen allowed you to join them, being the daughter of a notorious pirate.”

“He’s provided me some good tips, things I never told you, but no one else can know. If word got out I was his daughter, Garrison would order you to execute me on the spot. Please, you must never mention this again. How did you find out? I never told anyone.”

“Before I tell you, I want to know a few things. We’ve been partners for five years now and there are some things I want to know.”

“Go on,” Krisara said, squirming in her seat.

“Am I just another partner to you or do you consider me a friend?”

“Of course I consider you a friend. Why would you ask such a foolish question? But it is important I find out where you got the information.”

“No one told me. It was obvious. It was in his eyes, his voice; he cares very much for you. I took a guess because I couldn’t figure out why an outlaw, wanted by seven planets, would go out of his way to warn a Warder. I’m surprised you admitted it so freely. Seeing him on the screen in front of me must have really unsettled you.” Anashoka’s lips bowed. “If you really do consider me a friend, you’re going to have to trust me.”

“Please, can we change the subject? I rather not get into this right now.” Krisara worked the controls and adjusted the comm channel in an attempt to reach the spaceport. Again, only static came over the speakers and she switched off the comm system. She checked the navigation monitor for their arrival time. “We are almost there. I see the spaceport on the radar.”

“Why did you take Locke for your last name?” Anashoka asked, pressing the matter on personal information. “Was that your mother’s last name? You know, at one point, I was starting to believe you were a clone and had no life before the organization.” Anashoka waited for an answer and then grumbled in frustration. Krisara’s eyes were transfixed on the cockpit window, staring out into space, ignoring her every word. The Celinisti strummed her nails over the armrest of the chair, contorted her face mockingly, and even stuck out her tongue. Unable to provoke a response, she stood up and whispered, “You’re never going to tell me anything about yourself, are you?”

“We’re in trouble,” Krisara said, switching the flight controls to manual.

Anashoka leaned over to glance out the cockpit window and got a good view of the spaceport. It had been ravaged. Debris floated around the station, intermixed with at least a hundred bodies, and to the far right, a group of demolished Cephius starfighters drifted ominously away from the port.

“Damn Greynar,” Krisara said solemnly.

“Maybe we should take your father’s advice and stay clear until the Scourge departs.”

Dropping out of lightspeed, three ships appeared in front of the station. They were Mulrathin starfighters, also called Wyvers. Only seconds passed and the blue glow of their aft engines blazed brightly, propelling them toward the two Warders.

Krisara pushed on the control stick and made an abrupt turn toward the planet, evading the onslaught of cannon fire. “I’ve decided to open up a bit to you, Anashoka. You’re about to discover that I am a very, very, bad pilot.”

“I already know that,” Anashoka shouted, and then screamed. Her scream was not for the inevitable crash landing or being blown to bits in space – it was from the discovery of a couple of beetles crawling under her dress.

4

Cannon fire erupted in the skies. Colton awoke and slid behind an oak tree, flustered by the sounds of battle overhead. He sighed in relief when he realized the guns were not targeting him. Hastily, he took out a spyglass, scanned the skies, and found three Mulrathin Wyvers chasing a corvette-class ship. The fleeing ship descended toward the forest as deadly projectiles shredded bark and limbs from trees waving below. It was clear the Wyvers were trying to force their prey to land, firing their cannons overhead the lone ship. Then the unlucky or unskilled pilot of the fleeing ship suddenly lost control and a second later, crash-landed in the forest.

The Wyvers circled the area where smoke billowed from the craft of their victim, and then two of them landed their starfighters a short distance from the crash. Colton scampered through the forest trying to beat them there, but two of the bastards had already found the crashed vessel. They were examining the engines, power generators, and weapons. The Mulrathins were notorious scavengers; most of their technology was stolen rather than internally developed. One of them attempted to loosen the cannons for removal, and jumped back when the seething hot hull scorched him.

The entry ramp screeched open; the ship was resting on a grouping of split trees, elevated, and twisted in a peculiar angle that only allowed the ramp to drop three feet. Both Mulrathins whirled their guns in the direction of the ramp and waited. A woman crawled out from beneath the ship; she brushed aside long raven locks from her eyes, and then froze in place when she noticed the two Mulrathins pointing their guns in her direction. A red headed woman came out next through the narrow opening, but stopped halfway and tried to retreat the impending danger. The ship abruptly shifted, the door clamped down on her waist, and she screamed.

The Mulrathins snickered at the red-haired woman’s predicament, and then fired their guns on her comrade when they noticed she drew a pistol. The rounds tore up the ground, missing badly, and their intended target dove behind a tree. Colton removed his newly acquired rifle and scoped out the two savages. Within their hoods, he saw those ominous, silvery eyes, and thought a moment before firing. If he killed them, their comrades may come looking for him, and he already had enough trouble in his life. Colton also new if he decided to turn his back and count the wreckage as a loss, the women were as good as dead.

Deciding to take the chance, and having a general hate for Mulrathins, Colton lined the head of his first victim in his sights. A gentle squeeze of the trigger and the scoundrel fell to the ground with a hole in his skull. The other Mulrathin spun around and fired his weapon; the bullets hit a tree at least twenty feet from where Colton stood. Colton adjusted his scope, fired, and watched the second creature catapult backward from the impact. He kept his eye within the scope to watch for movement and then lowered the gun when he felt satisfied the wretch was dead. Satisfied with his work, he swung the rifle back over his shoulder and proceeded to the ship.

Adrenaline catapulted Colton forward and he almost hastily entered the site of the wreckage without a plan to guide him. He had to be careful, for all he knew, the women might decide he was an enemy and try to take him down. Colton slowed his pace, drew his revolver, and kept the barrel of his gun firmly steady. Even though he had no inclination of whether the women were eager to put a hole in his skull, or were friendly, he did understand, at least, the red haired one was innocuous for the moment. “You don’t need to hide from me. My name is Colton. I just came to investigate the crash. Come on out, your friend is trapped in the ship and if it moves again, the pressure will kill her.” Colton swept the area with his eyes and then took a few steps back when he heard a rustling behind a tree.

The raven-haired woman came out of hiding holding a pair of guns. For some reason, she was barefoot, and her eyes had a strange purplish glow to them. “Throw me your weapon.”

Colton immediately dropped his gaze to the woman’s curvaceous bosom, knowing she wore special contacts in her eyes. This was not the first time he had seen those mind-alternating lenses in use. “I hardly think either of us is in a position to demand the other’s weapon. Who are you?”

The woman shrugged irritably. She studied every detail of the man in front of her, from his brown hair, dark eyes, and fair skin, traits of the people from her home planet, Aldramar. She took special notice of the revolver he carried. “Where did you get that gun?”

“It was left to me by my father,” Colton said. “Why do you care?” He returned the probing gaze, analyzing the tight rubbery attire she wore, the high-tech pistols, and the special contacts. An agent of Serephen or a thief, he thought to himself. “It doesn’t matter. And you are either from Serephen or a thief.”

“How do you figure?” she said, surprise in her tone.

“Your outfit and weapons are high-tech and common among Serephen agents. Those lenses you are wearing are also not easily obtainable, and this bird is a corvette-class stealth model. My guess is you are a thief since you obviously had no idea how to fly this ship. You should have handled those three Wyvers easily with the kind of power this thing is carrying. Now, you can remove those lenses. I’m very familiar with their effects.”

“I see you’re a smartass,” the woman remarked. “But the moment I do, you’ll…”

Beep…Beep…Beep…

“Get down!” Colton shouted, recognizing the sounds of a bomb.

Both he and the woman dove in opposite directions as the device exploded. The tremor from the blast rocked the ship; the entry ramp moved slightly and cracked the ribs of the redheaded woman trapped inside it.

Colton splattered down in a nearby swamp. He splashed his way out from the water, bothered by an intense ringing in his ears, and stumbled over to the ship. The redheaded woman appeared unharmed, though her friend was nowhere in sight. “Are you all right?” he shouted to the trapped woman.

“I think I’ve cracked some bones.” She tried to squeeze out without success. “I have to get out of this thing before it tears me in half.”

“I’ll get you out of there,” Colton responded. “What is your name? And your friend’s name?”

“I am Anashoka,” she answered. “My friend is Krisara.”

“Krisara,” Colton shouted. “We need to get your friend out of this thing or she will die.”

Krisara crawled out from a thick undergrowth, moaning. A piece of wood had impaled her leg and she tried to yank it out.

Seeing her in agony, Colton rushed to her aid. “Hold still,” he said, pulling the splinter out. He searched his pouches, took out a small silver can, and sprayed the wound. The bleeding stopped and the cut clotted over.

Krisara took a deep breath. “We need to get Anashoka out of the ship.”

“Can you walk?”

Krisara stood, staggered forward, and fell. “That damn spray has made my entire leg numb.”

“It will wear off soon.” Colton kept his gaze away from her eyes, annoyed she still wore the hypnotic contacts. “Can you remove your contacts? I’m sure your own eyes are much more pleasing to look upon.”

“I suppose,” answered Krisara, removing the lenses. “But try to keep your womanizing charms in check, will you. And just get my friend out of that hell trap.”

Colton returned to the ship, kneeled near the entry ramp, and noticed blood trickling over the edges around Anashoka’s waist. He removed a pen-shaped laser device from his leather duster. “I’ll get you out as quickly as I can.”

Anashoka’s breaths came in gasps and she implored him to hurry.

The sun hung low on the horizon and the coming of night worried Colton. He knew when the moon rose the Culchidra came out. He rolled under the ship, switched on the laser device, and worked frantically to free Anashoka. A blue laser shot forth from his tool and cut a wide opening around the ramp. The barrier slowly peeled away and he crawled out before the section fell. Anashoka pulled herself out from underneath the ship, huffing; her entire midriff was bruised. On her hip, stretching around to her back, however, was a foot long, black, slimy creature gnawing on her flesh.

Colton used his knife to pry the creature away. It fell to the ground on its back and thrashed around trying to get upright. He grimaced with concern, for these types of monsters infected their host with a deadly parasite. Colton cocked his revolver, aimed, and killed it. “How long was that thing on you?”

“I don’t know,” answered Anashoka. “Everything from my chest down is numb. I didn’t know it was on…”

The remaining Wyvern stormed passed the area drowning out her words and then shot upward toward the sky. It had observed the entire spectacle. Colton shook his head knowing they probably snapped images of his face and witnessed the slayings. “I hope it wasn’t a mistake saving you two.”

Krisara shrugged in disgust. “If you don’t know how to shoot that antique of yours, it might just have been.”

5

Colton urged the women to move hastily through the woods as the moon flung a foreboding glare on the region. Beastly winged shadows haunted the skies, searching for food, for blood. Krisara labored to keep up, the numbness in her leg hindered every step she took. Then Colton turned his head toward the sky when he heard a shriek. One of the Culchidra, catching the scent of blood, swooped down to prey on the source of the smell. Colton’s gun flashed in the dark several times, bullets sprayed upward, and the blood fiend soared uncontrollably into a tree.

“Get in there,” shouted Colton, pointing to a cabin made from metal plates and lumber.

All three of them rushed through a makeshift wooden door. Colton shut the precarious barrier behind them and then dropped a wooden plank within brackets across the door to barricade it. He whirled around to face the women and saw bewildered expressions on their faces.

“You’re kidding, right?” Krisara said, peering around the interior. It looked like a junkyard. Fragments of chairs, tables, and electronic equipment were scattered over the entire room; moss covered everything and small critters scuttled in and out of the stuff. Anashoka shrugged at the sight of the bugs.

Colton smirked and then pressed a hidden switch on the wall. A metal panel beside him slid open. “I think you’ll find it more pleasurable down here.”

“I doubt that,” Krisara remarked. She hobbled over to the secret entrance and peered down a set of stairs. “Cute.”

“Go on,” Colton said, rolling his eyes.

Without another word, the women entered the passage. Colton took one final glance around, pressed a switch to close the panel, and then shouted, “Just don’t touch anything.”

The chamber at the bottom of the stairs had all the necessities to live comfortably. It consisted of one main chamber connected to several smaller ones. The main area had chairs, couches, a kitchenette, and at least two dozen monitors connected to all sorts of machines. Colton moved over to a chair in front of a keyboard and six monitors. He switched on the panel and the screens immediately displayed various angles of the upper cabin interior and outside.

Krisara settled on the couch and winced in pain. The wound on her leg reopened and blood saturated her outfit. She removed a needle, thread, scissors, and spray cylinder from a compartment on her belt. Then she sprayed the wound to numb it, sutured the laceration, and cut the excess stitches. When finished tending to her injury, she glanced at her friend in astonishment. Anashoka had removed her corset and lowered the top of her dress, leaving her breasts clearly in view. It was not the audaciousness of baring oneself in front of a stranger that shocked Krisara; it was a hideous purple blemish that covered the Celinisti’s entire midriff and a greenish ridge running up the spine of her back. “Anashoka, by the looks of your wound, I’m not sure how you are still standing.”


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