include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for Origin Expedition by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.



Origin Expedition

The Origin Trilogy



Charles F. Millhouse



Copyright © 2018 by Charles F. Millhouse

Published on Smashwords by Charles F. Millhouse

All rights reserved.

This is a licensed ebook for your personal enjoyment. this book may not be resold or given away to other people. If you wish to share this work, please purchase another copy to pass to a friend. Thank you for respecting the hard work of the author.

This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.

First Printing: 2018

This book is available in print at most online retailers


stormgatepress.com

stormgatepress@gmail.com



Contents


Origin Expedition

Midpoint

About the Author



Dedication

This novel is dedicated to “Never Giving Up”, set your goals and see them through…




Also Written by Charles F. Millhouse

The Captain Hawklin Adventure Series

The Secrets of Monster Island

The Subterranean Empire

The Jade Dragon

The Underwater Menace

The Shadow Men

The Skyhook Pirates


The New Kingdom Trilogy

Creatures of Habit

Daybreak

Reckoning


Talon’s Epic

In Memory Alone

Crossroads of the World

Tales of the Lost Empire

The Long Twilight

Battle Lines


Visit stormgatepress.com for all available titles.



Acknowledgements

This novel, like all my published works could not have happened without the woman I love. Mary Ann Millhouse. Who works hard keeping my story on track and me pointed toward the goal.


I’d also like to thank all my friends and fellow writers who have supported me, inspired me and rooted me on. Without them I’d be sitting in a stupor wondering why I ever wanted to be a writer.


Most notably, I’d like to acknowledge two people for their tireless efforts.

Charles Davenport. Over the years he has provided me with many wonderful covers, and Origin Expedition is no exception.


And Stacy Sowers, an incredible writer in her own right, and my beta reader on this project. Thank you.




The struggles of time are the chains of ignorance

No machine, nor beast, nor idle hand can fix disparity

The grandiose are indigent, the workers’ soul – relentless

Infinite wisdom, boundless dexterity… the cornerstone of life

One race, one world, one chance

Man – that marvel of the universe

Poem of the oppressed

Robert Trudeau – late twenty-second century poet



Dalnaspidal Breeding Facility

Earth – Scotland

April 14, 2442


The Fortitude class transport blasted its way into the restricted area, thrusters on full. Alarms of the ORACLE system blared throughout the cockpit. Its screeching drowned out the simplest of thoughts. The Lady Da’Mira Tannador stood next to the old scar-faced pilot watching him glare at the controls in front of him. He’d warned her that overriding the computer watcheye came at a risk. She grimaced. He kept his hands poised over the holographic control board, erratically flying his craft to confuse whoever might scan the area.

Holding on to a tarnished railing in front of her, Da’Mira steadied her footing. She refused to protest. The pilot, although paid well for his criminal act, could turn and fly his ship away on a whim, if she provoked him. Out the main view port Da’Mira’s golden skin reflected on the stall glass. Her scarlet hair hung in contrast against the borrowed green camouflage overalls that smelled of someone else’s body odor.

Beyond her reflection, people gathered on the ground, the thunderous wail of the transport’s engines drew them out of their shoddy dwellings. The facility’s inner building's moss covered with green-gray walls were dirty and rundown, the ground dry and brittle from lack of rain.

Along the outer area of the facility, a cascading laser field of tratonic energy fenced in the compound. Power surged between tall reflector polls that stood several yards apart and encircled the area. Da’Mira clenched her fists. More people appeared from the buildings. They looked skyward, in shock that a transport flew so close to them.

“There’s so many.”

“Yes Milady, nearly a thousand live here,” the pilot told her, his tone rough, curtly.

Da’Mira leaned on the railing to get a better view. Some of the breeders struggled to stand. Skinny and malnourished she worried the back blast from the shuttle’s engines could knock them over. Their clothes were filthy, and thread worn. Breeders were considered nothing more than cattle; Da'Mira loathed that term. The slaves only function was to breed more slaves. How could our society have fallen so far? She wondered.

Dozens of haggard women gathered below the ship. Breeders kept dazed and docile through drugs. The women bore children several times a year and destroyed their bodies by the time they were thirty. “They look so hungry.”

The pilot flipped a switch and silenced the alarm. “It won’t be long before the Orlanders send a security detail, if there aren’t some posted in the facility already,” he warned.

“Take us closer to the ground. I’ll go to the back and release the cargo.”

He banked the transport to the left. Its hovering thruster roared to life, Da’Mira clung to hand grips anchored along the wall to steady herself while she walked to the back of the vessel. For a transport ship the cargo area wasn’t big. The old Fortitude ships weren’t built to haul large amounts of cargo. At least not the amount Da’Mira hired the ship to transport. To contract a newer vessel, like wearing the wrong attire, would have drawn unwanted attention.

She squeezed herself into the hold, pushed past stacks on stacks of silver cargo crates. Da’Mira didn’t have the luxury of waiting for the right cargo ship to come along, even food disks expired. The black marketer took a gamble selling them to her, but she paid him well. The fact that a high-born wanted to feed breeders came completely as a shock to the man. After all, the high-born didn’t care about the deprived, right? Da’Mira had found it more than a struggle to persuade anyone to listen to her pleas. If her father had caught wind of her conspiracy to feed the breeders, she wouldn’t have gotten this far.

Working in secret took precise timing and planning. How many of them died before Da’Mira put her plan into action? The number incalculable... intolerable. She pushed forward nonetheless until she stood in the back of the cargo ship ready to make her arduous efforts a reality.

A series of lights came on when Da’Mira entered the cargo bay, along with a holographic control panel near the back of the hold. As she reached the illuminated panel she turned and looked out over the vacuumed sealed crates. She smiled grimly toward them, wishing there could be more. How many will this feed and how many more will die because there isn’t enough?

Da’Mira placed her delicate hand inside the spectrum of lights of the control panel. The scanner read her palm and she manually typed in a code. The transport’s back cargo doors opened, sliding downward. The wind from the ship’s engines kicked up dust and debris, stinging Da’Mira’s eyes. The inrush of natural air took her lungs by surprise. The high-born were given synthetic oxygen since the day they were born. She struggled to breathe, the gusts of wind tore at her green camouflage overalls and she steadied her feet so not to slip out the back of the ship.

Yellowed dead grass flocked the grounds of the breeder facility. The trees around the camp stood leafless, dead from lack of nutrition in the soil. A byproduct of the chemical dumping and other hazardous materials pumped into the Earth over the centuries, it leached the soil fallow, a key reason the high-born left the planet almost three hundred years ago.

Activating another code into the control panel, a conveyer belt began to deliver the silver crates full of much needed food to the people below. Da’Mira smiled. The transport ship hovered less than twelve feet from the ground. The crates fell out onto the dead sward. Da’Mira hung out the back of the ship and watched them land. Her lungs were finally acclimating to the natural air, though she still struggled to take deep breaths. Below the ship she saw the women swarming over the crates. They ripped them open with their bare hands. The food disks fell to the ground and scattered about. The hungry women dove for the disks, gathering up all they could… before–

Da’Mira stood in the back of the shuttle helpless as a handful of rough security men, armed with clubs and blunt instruments shoved the breeders aside. They swung their weapons wildly driving the ravenous women back, beating them brutally while the men looted the food disks for themselves. They shoved the disks into bags and baskets. Da’Mira’s fingers itched for a plasma rifle.

She had been warned about the security men, true to their reputation. Da’Mira bit her lower lip, ashamed to be a member of the same race. The idea that anyone could treat another human so callously tore at Da’Mira. The women were weak and starving, with little time for recovery before becoming inseminated again.

The practice sickened her. How many children have these women produced in their short lives? There were few like her – few who questioned the way things had been for nearly three hundred years.

Questions like – How can the high-born families, the Nine, allow this to continue?

The continuous breeding programs produced thousands of children a year, yet there had been no increase in population. Where had all the new-born slaves gone?

Valid questions, but the answers eluded her. Da’Mira found herself stalled at every attempt. Her questions infuriated her father and blackballed her in high-born society.  

Da’Mira watched helplessly while the guards stockpiled the food disks for themselves. The handful of women in attendance cowered away. Some wept and some protested, but none had the power to fight back. Then she noticed something odd. None of the guards wore the insignia of the family Orlander. The crest they bore unmistakably belonged to the illusive family Everhart. The secretive family that hadn’t been seen or heard from since the old patriarch Baylor Everhart died nearly two hundred years ago.

Preparing to leap from the shuttle platform, Da’Mira hesitated when she saw a young, dark haired girl bolt forward into the group of security men. The child slipped between them and scooped up an arm full of food disks before running back out. Two of the officers gave chase. The nimble young girl, no older than fourteen, did her best to stay ahead of her pursuers, but the rugged men gained ground on her.

Da’Mira activated the transports communication device through the holographic interface. “Pilot we need to pick up that girl!” No reply followed. Da’Mira yelled her intentions again and still no reply followed.

She raced back to the cockpit, but the pilot refused to look at her.

“Didn’t you hear me?”

“I did,” the pilot replied, his voice was gruff and unconcerned.

“Well… pick up that girl before it’s too late.”

“That was not part of our agreement. I wasn’t paid to land. Now my long-range scanners have picked up Orlander patrols closing in fast. We need to retreat.”

Da’Mira wondered if the patrols belonged to the Orlanders or Everharts, but she refused to listen to his surrender attitude. From inside a zipped pocket on her overalls she pulled a small dainty plasma weapon fit for a lady. She pressed the barrel against the pilot’s right cheek indenting it into the man’s hardened face and spoke clearly. “You will pick up that child or I will shoot you here.”

“Then who will fly this ship?”

Da’Mira’s voice didn’t waver. “I will fly it, or I will die trying. Now pick up that girl.”

He spun the transport around in a quick maneuver. Its landing thrusters kicked up even more dirt and rock when it landed between the fleeing girl and the two pursuing men.

From the cargo hatch Da’Mira waved for the girl and held out her hand. “Come here. Trust me!”

The young girl hesitated. Her large round lavender eyes narrowed, studying Da’Mira.

“There isn’t much time!” Da’Mira shouted over the roar of the engine.

The two men rounded the ship, their weapons help high.

The sullied girl dropped the food disks and sprinted for the transport. She leapt up into the back of the craft taking hold of Da’Mira’s hand.

“Go!” Da’Mira yelled into the communication device. The pilot blasted the transport straight up into the sky leaving a white trail of fuel vapors in its wake.

Da’Mira led the young girl to the cockpit. Her dark suntanned face was covered with dirt and her clothes, thread-worn, barely fit her body. Clearly, she’d been wearing them for a long time. Da’Mira saw herself in the girl’s strong will.

“You don’t have to worry. You’re safe with me,” Da’Mira told the girl, but mistrust flared in the girl’s eyes. “Do you have a name?”

The girl did not answer. She looked out a small port window; her breathing shallow, rapid.

“You’ll get use to the regulated air. It’s cleaner than what’s on Earth.”

“You think so?” the girl responded but did not look away from the window.

“I am Da’Mira… what’s your name?”

“My name is my own, you cannot have it,” the girl replied in spiteful Scottish tone.

Da’Mira stood and gave the girl a pleasant smile and joined the pilot at the controls. “What about the Orlander patrol?”

The pilot shot Da’Mira an uneasy stare, and grumbled, “I don’t know. If their ships were close enough, they could have identified us. It could be bad… for both of us. I should have never taken this job.”

The Orlander and Tannador families were old rivals. The Nine were held together by uneasy alliances. Da’Mira’s actions could rekindle old hatreds. She looked back at the dark-haired Scotts girl. Just by freeing a breeder from the facility, she might have brought more trouble than needed. I should have left her there.      

A deep bellowed alarm rung throughout the cabin indicating an ORACLE system reboot.

“I thought you bypassed the watcheye,” Da’Mira said.

“We are coming into high orbit. The watchtower is within range. No bypass in the world can shut that out. It has master control over all ORACLE systems, even one as old as this.”

The Watchtower came into view. The two massive black onyx towers that hung in stationary orbit above the earth – watching, scanning evaluating everything within range and reporting it all to the high-born. How else could the Great Houses ensure compliance with those who serve them? Da’Mira stood motionless.

- Inquiry, the ORACLE system came online with a question.

“Proceed,” the pilot said glancing at Da’Mira.

- Why has this system been off line?

“Maintenance,” the pilot spoke again, like he had told this lie before. Da’Mira winced.

-No maintenance was scheduled.

The pilot cleared his throat. “It was unscheduled... the unit’s primary system was indicating a fault and closed it self-down for minor repair.

The ORACLE system hummed. The reflective red light on its base pulsated. A bead of sweat ran down the pilot’s indented face. The pool of perspiration hung off his chin while he waited – his eyes circling, assessing the threat.

The Fortitude transport hung in a high orbit. The massive Watchtower, the ORACLE system control station, loomed close. Da’Mira stood as stiff as the pilot, her breathing shallow. Once the watcheye scanned the ship it would detect her and the dark-haired girl. Questions would be asked. Would she be discovered?

-State your destination.

The pilot gave Da’Mira a hardened look. “I’m on special assignment for the Lady Da’Mira Tannador.”

Da’Mira’s hazel eyes widened. She grabbed the pilot by the arm, but he shrugged her off snapping his arm away from her grasp.

“I request permission to proceed to Tannador house, to offload my cargo,” the pilot said, his voice low, humble.

Again, the red light on the watcheye pulsated. The human benefactors, the family Lexor sat in the looming Watchtower making ultimate decisions. Time slowed, giving way to thoughts, indecisions, and miscalculations. Da’Mira knew she could have done things differently, but none of those thoughts had a pleasant outcome.

-You may proceed to Tannador house.

The ORACLE system’s voice thundered an added warning.

Do not waiver from the following flight plan.

Coordinates flashed on the computer console, and the pilot turned his vessel accordingly. The transport flew past the Watchtower. It grew larger and larger in the view port. Da’Mira followed it as it towered over them. She looked back at the dark-haired girl who sat on the floor of the flight deck. She pulled her legs up into her chest and hid her face.

Da’Mira wanted to tell the girl not to be afraid, that everything would be all right, but Da’Mira wasn’t sure if even she believed that.


Tannador house orbited two hundred miles above the Earth and traveled more than seventeen hundred miles an hour, fully orbiting the planet every ninety minutes. A gyrating axis constantly turning at the center of the orbiting mansion mimicked Earth’s gravity. Several dozen small sensor probes surveyed the area around the station, continually scanning for any potential thing that could cause damage or be a threat to the Tannador Family. In the distance along the same orbit Evergarden loomed, the home of the secretive family Everhart. Da’Mira felt a strong connection to Evergarden, a connection that eluded her since she’d never been on the platform.

“Fortitude transport.” A man’s voice cut across the communication system. “This is Tannador House operations. Follow the prearranged flight path. Once inside the station you will be instructed where to land.”

The pilot adjusted the transport’s speed to match the large station’s pitch and rotation. Da’Mira’s stomach lurched with queasiness. She closed her eyes. Landing on an orbital platform always made her sick. As a small girl, her brother Quinton made fun of her when she turned seven shades of green upon an approach. Memories of him pestering her brought back the past. Da’Mira took a deep breath and opened her eyes just in time to see the transport fly through the docking port. The massive landing bay’s bright light blinded her. She shielded her eyes with the palm of her hand.

The transport flew along a guided flight path and moved toward a raised platform. Bright yellow landing lights flashed in unison. The pilot fired the ship’s landing thrusters and gently maneuvered his craft into position. When the ship touched down the platform lowered into a second well-lit chamber, coming to a slow secure stop on the deck.

Outside the ship several security officers assembled in formation, dressed in the purple and yellow colors of the family Tannador. They drew their weapons, but aimed them down toward the deck, they rushed the ship.

“I knew it,” the pilot said shooting Da’Mira a scowl.

The access door of the transport blew open. The hydraulics hissed, and the door filled with coolant, spilled over from the ship’s engines. The guards ran in. They quickly secured the pilot and the girl, but no one laid a hand on Da’Mira.

“This is uncalled for. These people are under my protection!”

“I beg your pardon Milady,” the lead officer said. “I am under orders to secure anyone in this ship and have you escorted to your father.”

Da’Mira stiffened. “No harm will come to them?”

“I’ve been instructed to hold them in the security area and await orders.”

Da’Mira looked at the girl. She wanted to reach out for her, but the child looked away, lowering her eyes to the floor.

The long walk from the landing bay through the empty corridors of the mansion gave Da’Mira time to rehearse what she planned to say to her father. She knew their exchange would be more of a lecture and less of a conversation. Her father, Hek’Dara loved to hear himself talk, and Da’Mira often suffered on the receiving end of many of her father’s rants.

Da’Mira blocked out all her past experiences with him and focused on what she needed to say this time. The palms of her hands began to sweat, and her heart raced when she entered the cathedral room. A massive flamboyant chamber that, when empty, echoed from even the slightest sound. Hek’Dara loved to hear his voice resonate off the walls.

Her father stood at the balcony, hands tucked behind his back. His freshly pressed dark suit bore a stiff collar around his thick neck. His equally dark beard spilled over his clothes and melded seamlessly into one another.

A massive window towered as high as the vaulted ceiling and frightened Da’Mira as a child. Her teacher Kab’ic Gear had trouble getting her to listen to his lessons when their day ended up in the ornate room. Even many years later, Da’Mira found it difficult to concentrate in here. Her father’s reflection shimmered off the glass. She ignored his abrasive stare and fixed her eyes on how his image looked with the Earth shining behind him. The thought of Kab’ic Gear flooded her mind and she bit her tongue. How can I ever forgive you for what you did to my teacher? He was a good man and didn’t deserve his punishment.

Hek’Dara’s nostrils flared. He eyed Da’Mira’s clothing and cleared his throat drawing her eyes to him. “That will be all,” he told the guards.

The security team saluted and turned, no words were spoken, the sound of the men’s boots echoed throughout the room.

Da’Mira stared past her father at the Earth. Dark patches littered its surface, dead areas where life no longer thrived. The planet merely existed as a cesspool for the breeders, dirty and disease ridden.

“Look at you,” Hek’Dara said, and waved his large hand at her attire. “How could you wear such a thing?”

“Don’t you mean to ask how could I do such a thing?”

“Of that I have no misgivings daughter. You have always been a disappointment.”

Da’Mira glared at her father. He’d never been the type of man to mince words. Why would he start now? “I…” She held her tongue and refused to tell her father she was sorry – she wasn’t.

“Do you know what you’ve done and how many favors I had to ask of Avery Lexor, so your mercy mission would go unnoticed. If Iris discovers what has happened, I won’t be able to protect you. Why did you do something like this, daughter?”

“I thought that might have been obvious. The people are starving.”

The angered look on Hek’Dara’s face turned grim. “Those aren’t people down there Da’Mira, they’re cattle. They breed, we care for them. It’s the way it’s always been. We high-born take their wellbeing seriously.”

Da’Mira pointed at the Earth behind her father. “That isn’t care, that’s mass genocide! There may be less people on the planet than ever before. We’re devolving them into animals. We’ve destroyed our culture, our vast history and our inevitable future… and for what?”

“You know what for!” Hek’Dara shouted. “Our way of life would be over if we didn’t move to orbit. The slaves are the –” He lowered his voice, realizing it was carrying off the walls. “The slaves are our backbone. If it wasn’t for those people you champion, our society would crumble.”

“Has it ever occurred to you father, that we are destroying who we are as a race?” Da’Mira turned her back on her father, surprised that she could be so bold. “Perhaps we deserve to crumble.”

Hek’Dara’s voice thundered through the great hall. Da’Mira winced. “How long do you think the human race would have survived if we hadn’t taken steps to ensure our culture? Earth is a dying world – we had no other choice. If it wasn’t for the hierarchy, we set in place our way of life would have ended… long ago.”

Da’Mira turned back to her father, her voice hardened, “And what about the rest of humanity? Are the nine families the best we have to offer the future? It frightens me. As long as we remain here in orbit of Earth, mankind will not survive. We need to colonize another planet.”

Hek’Dara exhaled. “We’ve had this conversation before.”

“One of the many worlds we’ve excavated and claimed for our own could be a suitable planet to move to.”

“The Union Charter clearly states that the human race must remain on Earth and never sacrifice our home planet. We are humans of Earth,” he said.

“Don’t recite the litany to me. It was crafted by the Everhart family who wanted to keep us here for some made up reason. Humans of Earth. Haven’t you ever wondered why? Isn’t it strange? What unearthly experiments are the Everhart’s performing in those breeding facilities of theirs?”

“Enough Da’Mira… enough!”

Da’Mira’s demeanor sunk. How can he be so blind?

“We might not be the best. We may have made some mistakes along the way. But we keep to the Union Charter. It’s our judgments here and now that will secure a future for those that will follow in our footsteps.” Hek’Dara took a deep breath. “Your devilish actions might have jeopardized our status with the other eight families today my daughter. Partnerships that have delicately allied us for almost three hundred years. The family Orlander will discover sooner or later that it was you who interfered in one of their facilities. When that happens, I won’t be able to protect you. It was my quick thinking today – and a few favors called in with the family Lexor – that prevented your discovery.”

“You don’t owe me any favors.”

Hek’Dara tightened his large hands into fists but relaxed them. His dark beard furrowed. “I am your father Da’Mira. I protect you even if I don’t condone what you do. But, sadly I can no longer trust you. So, I have taken steps to see that you don’t do it again.”

Da’Mira’s brow tightened. “What do you mean?”

“A one-man expedition on one of the new planets, designated Kepler 369, has stopped sending out its regular signal. I intend on sending you to investigate.”

“Me – how?” Da’Mira straightened her shoulders and placed her hands on her hips.

Hek’Dara’s eyes narrowed. His bushy eyebrows rolled down tight over his eyes. “On our exploration ship, of course. With your penchant for adventure this should be the perfect quest for you, daughter.”

Da’Mira placed her hand to her mouth to hide pursed lips. “But Quinton is on Requiem.”

“I’ve recalled your brother. He is on his way home. In a few days, you will depart as the ship’s new master.”

Da’Mira drew down the zipper on her overalls. She swallowed into a dried throat and hoped her father was joking. Yes, that’s right, it’s a joke. “I’ve never been master of a ship before, especially something big as Requiem.

“The crew will see to the mastering of the ship, you will simply accompany them and oversee any discoveries the archeology team might uncover.”

Da’Mira tossed her hands in the air, she caught a whiff of the previous owner’s body odor from the overalls and she put her arms back down. “Why must I go?”

“A Tannador must command the ship to claim the planet as ours. Otherwise the claim is forfeit, you know the rules, Da’Mira. Besides, productivity is down from Requiem and I hope you can put it right and bring it back up.”

Da’Mira glared at her father. Was he telling the truth or not? She hadn’t paid attention to acquisitions and claiming of a planet when her lessons fell to that. To be master of Requiem was her brother’s destiny. Not hers. “I don’t want to…”

Hek’Dara waved his hand in absolute ruling. “I’ve made up my mind Da’Mira. I mean to send you away, so you can’t cause this family anymore trouble. Sending you into deep space will put an end to your anarchist ways.” His nostrils flared again, and his eyes brightened in triumph.

Da’Mira acquiesced and clenched her jaw, she wanted to lash out, refuse to go and refuse to be treated like a… like a slave. She wasn’t a slave – she was his daughter, which in many ways was worse. At least a slave wasn’t the daughter of Hek’Dara Tannador.




The Highlands of Dalnaspidal

Five miles south of the breeding facility

Scotland – April 14, 2442


Colin McGregor ran across the open rock face of Dalnaspidal, his tightly laced knee-high boots slipped under the loose gravel. He gripped his splinter rifle in his hand and it kept in time with the rest of his body while he sprinted unchallenged over the rough terrain. He felt the weight of the ancient broadsword on his back; it bounced along with each stride. Its leather wrapped hilt bumped against the back of his head. The braid of his sangria hair cushioned the impact. Though rarely unsheathed, he inherited the sword from his father who inherited from his father and so on... A generational weapon that stood more for rank than it did for battle.

His red and green kilt blew behind him, a cool spring breeze whipped up under the garment. He repositioned the broadsword strap across his chest, the gray dingy long sleeve shirt he wore, drenched with perspiration, stuck to his dark sunburned skin.

He raced toward a niche of trees in the distance. Nearly an hour passed since he received the weak signal from his friend Shane Gibson. Colin snuck out of his camp after strict instructions from his clan chieftain, James Stewart Langland, forbidding him to leave the encampment. An order he happily disobeyed. He didn’t want to go on a long hunt anyway, but he couldn’t ignore the message he received.

It said, come quick to the Hallmark.

The Hallmark was a small crop of trees where he and Shane played as children. Just trees to most people, they held no significance at all. For Colin and Shane however, it was a place to escape, to drink stolen whisky from his father’s private store and to meet girls. Colin lost his virginity among the trees of the Hallmark to the young Caroline Black. It was a private affair between her, Colin and Shane. She freely gave herself to them in an afternoon of unbridled passion.

Those were long ago times before the breeding facility was built within shouting distance of the trees. From that time on the Hallmark, no longer a place of retreat for Colin, but a place to spy on the high-born. Through sun washed eyes Colin saw the form of a man running toward him. Though it might have been Shane, Colin dared not take the chance. He slid to a stop, stooped to one knee, raised his splinter rifle and focused his sight through the weapons scope lens. Colin steadied his breathing. Sweat ran down his face and stung his dark eyes. He saw Shane running toward him like he was being chased. Colin focused his lens past his friend. A long moment passed, and no one appeared, Colin breathed easy, but he saw the panic on Shane’s face. Something scared the hell out of him and Colin knew in an instant it could only be one thing.

Colin stood up, continuing to watch the Hallmark through the rifle lens just in case. When Shane neared, he lowered his weapon, rubbed his weathered hand over his red beard and waited for what he feared the most.

Shane stumbled when he came within feet of Colin, falling face forward into the slag. His cinnamon hair covered with blood. He’d been shot, and Colin didn’t waste time sitting his friend up. He checked Shane for a wound but found none.

“Have you been shot?” Colin asked, ripping open Shane’s green vest.

Shane shook his head no, “Killed a guy in the Hallmark – an Orlander security man I think.” He reached up his hand to Colin, who pulled him to his feet.

Colin stared at Shane for what seemed like an eternity. His thoughts were filled with one outcome after another. “Are you going to tell me what happened?”

“It’s your sister, Colin – your sister they took her…” Shane said; his voice filled with sadness and dismay.

It was what Colin feared. He’d fought for months to find a way to rescue his sister from the breeder camp but on every attempt, he failed. The Orlanders took her for one reason. To subdue his attacks against them, and it worked. With his mother and father dead, his sister was all he had. “Who took her?”

Shane shrugged his shoulders. “The transport was unmarked. From my vantage point whoever was on board was trying to drop off food for the breeders. Your sister got caught up in trying to fight off the camp security men from stealing it.”

Colin grinned. His sister without a doubt was a McGregor, and she had the temper synonymous with the name. They both came by it honestly. Their father Douglas McGregor had his fair share of bad temper. Many times, he and Lord Langland, the clan chieftain, were at odds over something. Douglas reminded Langland that lives were at stake and hiding from the high-born wasn’t living at all. Colin carried on his father’s tradition by uttering his words, the fight needed to be taken to the enemy. Colin collected his thoughts, asked, “Why would they kidnap a breeder – that doesn’t make sense?”

Shane gripped Colin’s arms and steadied him, said, “They didn’t – they didn’t kidnap her. She jumped on the transport of her own volition.”

Colin narrowed his eyes. He tried to figure out what his sister might have been thinking.

“Maybe Lexor could help,” Shane said.

“Blah – he can’t be trusted,” Colin snarled. “Avery Lexor’s been telling me ever since my sister was captured he would get her out. He’s failed! I –"

“Wait – wait,” Shane said. “Listen!”

Colin recognized the familiar eerie buzzing sound that he’d heard many times before. “Mobile ORACLE watcheyes.” He pulled up the rifle to his eye and looked along the horizon through the lens. Soon enough he saw the airborne watcheyes buzzing about like giant insects. “Damn it! We better go,” he said and bolted across the basin that separated the Hallmark and the breeding facility. Shane followed him.

The buzzing sounds ever present behind them. Colin kept their run to a steady jaunt. When the two were younger they covered many miles over the years running between clans to deliver messages. Living on the run, the clans needed to remain off the grid. Any technology could alert the high-born to their presence. After three hundred years the free men of Earth had learned to live off the land again, to find things like drinkable water and food to hunt; which was not an easy thing to do, considering most of the planet was uninhabitable. Even the highlands of Scotland were not immune to the damages the Earth went through when the high-born led the low-born into orbit. Leaving them and other nomadic tribes scattered throughout the planet seeking a way to survive. The strong were able to adapt while the weak died off quickly.

After the U-6 virus killed off most of the people, the population of the planet had been drastically diminished. People were starving after the sudden collapse of Earth’s infrastructure. Simple things like growing food and preserving were considered a lost art. The population turned to those who seemed to know what to do. The Nine, the high-born families of the newly formed Union said and promised the right things.

Two billion people evacuated the planet – in the first days when the Union became the aristocratic leaders of the human race. The McGregor’s were among them. Low-born subordinates to the high-born, however following rules were never a McGregor’s strongpoint. After a hundred years they returned to the Earth, and when other clans followed, the truth came out.

Those who were left on the planet became the breeders, the very souls that kept the upper-class in luxury at the expense of their humanity. Breeding more and more slaves so the high-born could continue their way of life. Through each generation, the slaves became more obtuse, education was limited to general tasks, the less they knew the better, and the high-born liked it that way. Mankind sat at a crossroads.

From that time forward the clans were hunted like animals by the Orlander’s security force. Every day became a fight for survival, forging a life on a planet that no longer wanted to support life, while hiding from the high-born. For the Highlanders the war meant survival – to the enemy it meant eradication of anyone that threatened their new way of life.

The mobile watcheyes were persistent. The harder Colin and Shane raced to draw them away from their clan the closer the airborne hunters came. The watcheyes never gave up. They wouldn’t retreat, not until they reached their prey. Before long the mobile devices would be close enough to use their stinger missiles. Though limited in range, the rockets were accurate and powerful when fired in close quarters.

Shane stumbled and rolled over an embankment. He dropped his splinter rifle when his body hit the rock, he gasped.

Colin skidded to a stop. He rushed back to his friend.

“I’m sorry Colin I… I can’t go on,” Shane said. His face flushed white.

Colin powered up his rifle. “Then we make our stand here.”

“No – no,” Shane said. His voice riddled with concern. “You need to go, I’ll hold them off. You have to find your sister and you can’t do that dead.”

“Right now, my concern is for you, my friend,” Colin said climbing up top of the embankment. He stared through the telescope lens. The approaching watcheyes whizzed about scanning and searching, relentless. They were no bigger than a bonnet from an old gas-driven automobile. Shaped like a decagon, flat and slim. A mighty propeller in the center of the craft kept it a loft and gave the watcheye its unmistakable sound that grew louder as they approached.

Colin scooted down on his back. He eyed Shane and asked, “Can you shoot?”

Shane nodded that he could and climbed up next to Colin once he retrieved his rifle.

“I counted five watcheyes. Our best bet is to wait for them to fly over-head and shoot at their underbellies. Their defense plating is weakest there. Can you do it?”

“Do you know how many people have successfully fought and won over a watcheye?” Shane asked.

Colin’s eyes narrowed. He understood Shane’s point, but if he hoped to live another day he had to fight the approaching craft. If not for him, but to save his sister, wherever she might be. “If you’re afraid I’ll do it myself.”

“Goddamn it, Colin I’m not afraid – I’m a realist. They will detect us before we can take aim.”

“We don’t have much choice. We can’t attack them head on and we can’t run. Their weapons will get us for sure.”

Shane gave Colin a narrowed stare and tightened his jaw as he raised his rifle up in preparation.

Colin cringed. Shane and he had been through a lot and both had no trouble speaking their minds. He gave his friend a reassuring nod before the maddening sound of the watcheyes filled every corner of his thoughts; the terrifying sound resonated so loudly that he couldn’t even hear the sound of his splinter rifle power up. Small pebbles at his feet shook; if he didn’t know better he would have mistaken the vibration as an earthquake.

Large shadows of the flying craft cast over them, seconds later the yellow skin of the first watcheye flew overhead. Nervous, Shane pointed his gun preparing to fire, but Colin motioned for him to wait.

All five craft appeared. Colin waited for the right time to attack. The words of his grandfather resonated in his head over the buzzing sound. Trust in yourself – in the end that’s all you can do. Colin squared his shoulders, raised his splinter rifle toward the watcheye closest to him and fired.

The plasma charge tore across the sky and hit the craft right in the propeller. The watcheye tumbled through the air, smashing into another craft that flew too close. They fell to the gray shell rock and exploded in a fiery mess.

Shane fired his splinter gun, but the other watcheyes scattered and became more difficult targets to hit. Several of his shots missed and the crafts spun around locking target.

Colin fired his weapon again hitting the watcheyes head on, causing little damage. “The armor plating is too strong in the front!”

Shane stood between several crafts, drawing them toward him at eye level.

“Shane, get down!”

As the watcheyes fired their ordinance Shane dove for the cold hard ground. The missiles cut through the air and hit the ships opposite one another. The other watcheye scattered away from the explosion.

One left, Colin thought. The heat from the burning drones singed the hair on his arms. He couldn’t see the final watcheye through the smoke. He gripped his rifle, listened for it and sprung to his feet. The watcheye flew only feet from him. His heart skipped a beat. He didn’t take time to think – but react. He pulled the trigger, but his splinter rifle misfired. Again, he tried to fire and again nothing happened. With no time to unsheathe his sword, Colin turned his rifle around to use it as a club. He charged at the watcheye. “Think you’ll kill this McGregor, do you?” he yelled. He swung wildly. Striking the craft one blow after another getting in several good hits and tearing a piece of the armor plating free before breaking the butt of his rifle clean off. Colin stood defenseless waiting for the stinger missiles to fire.

Weapons fire from behind Colin cut into the craft’s torn armor plating. The watcheye flipped end over end and Colin dove for the ground, his bare knees skidding against the rock. He glanced up and saw Shane firing again. The ORACLE spun to the ground and smashed on the rock.

Colin let out a roar and smiled at Shane beaming with excitement. They won, and the watcheyes hadn’t fired a shot. Elated he stood proudly, covered in dirt and soot from the smoke. He’d never fought a watcheye, those who had in the past, had failed. Destroying five seemed like a dream. A story he would tell his grandchildren one day. Colin heaved his chest. The pride swelled in him. It would be days before he came down from such a high.


Back home and to the safety of their hidden encampment near the dry Loch, Oich, the victors swore themselves to silence. The last thing they wanted to do was allow their clan chieftain to learn of their battle. Both swore to Lord Langland that they would never jeopardize the safety of those in the camp.

Too many other clans were discovered by the ORACLE system over the last few years. Their sects wiped out in a matter of minutes. Lord Langland understood Colin’s hatred toward the Orlander security forces. You’re a threat to this clan, Langland told him. Colin set out to prove the old man wrong. If it’d been known he and Shane did battle with the watcheyes, Langland would expel them both – or worse.

Sworn to secrecy, Colin burst with excitement. He wanted to shout from the highest hilltop that he took the battle to the elite. He felt like he could single handily topple their decadent empire. Too many people over the last three hundred years had died so they might live in lavish splendor.

Drawn up in his thoughts, Colin ignored the people in the camp staring at him and Shane. He knew he wasn't well liked, and he didn't care. Dirty children ran around under foot playing, yelling and screaming. Some carried sticks pretending them to be swords or held them like splinter rifles.

“I’m the great Colin McGregor, fighting off the Orlanders,” one child yelled.

“No, I am!” Another replied.

Colin ignored what they were yelling. Why would any child want to be me, he thought.

When Colin heard Shane’s wife, Lonnie, he snapped to attention.

“Look at you, will ya!” Lonnie said in her shrill voice. She stood with her hands on her hips, her fingers tapping steadily. “Where have you been off to - ya come home looking like this?”

Colin looked down. Dried blood caked his knees and smoke from the exploded watcheyes stained his kilt. For the first time he looked at the palm of his hands. Deep lines were cut into them; they were filled with so much dirt Colin couldn’t see the skin.

“Both of you need a bath,” Lonnie said. Her deep green eyes sparkled. “But I’m not drawing it for you. You two can go find a bucket and go into the river in search of water and good luck to you.”

“But Lonnie my dear–” Shane said, hands reaching out for her.

“Don’t my dear me. I’m not your mother, and if your mother was here – God bless her – I know she would tell you the same thing.”

Colin wanted to laugh, but he knew that would only rile Lonnie more and he didn’t want her wrath coming down on him – but it was too late.

“And I don’t know what you’ve got cooking behind those steely eyes of yours Colin McGregor. I’m sure you had something to do with how you both look. If you’re going to get my Shane into trouble I don’t want, you coming around anymore. I don’t care if you are life-long friends… do you understand me?”

Colin shook his head and mustered out a, “Yes mum.”

“Now the pair of ya go get a bath and I’ll have supper ready for the pair of you, when you return.”

 

Colin immersed in the warm bath that he boiled himself though only enough to take the chill of the loch water. It’d been nearly a month since his last bath. His ripe odor became the conversation piece of the encampment; even Lionel the barb wrote songs about his stench that filled the evening dinner table with laughter. In the tight community everyone knew everyone, they relied on each other not only for protection but for sense that everything would be alright. Anytime the watcheyes could find them. Most of the other clans in Scotland were dead or on the run, some took refuge with Lord Langland against Colin’s better judgment.

Food and fresh drinking water were difficult to come by. The clan had little of it and adding to the population only made providing for everyone that much harder. The depletion of wild game sent hunting parties further away from the camp than ever before and added to the risk of being detected by an Orlander security patrol. More and more the high-born sent forces out to hunt down and kill the rebels and hunting parties were the easiest targets.

Sooner or later the clan would have to fight instead of hide, Colin knew that. Lord Langland refused to endanger his people even though he had admitted to Colin in private that it was much more likely that a confrontation could not be avoided.

Colin dunked his head under the cooling water and scratched the rough whiskers on his face when he came up for air. His reddish hair hung down over his eyes. The water had turned a grey charcoal, but his russet skin looked clean.

“You smell better already,” Shane joked while he sat in a tub next to him.

Colin laughed and pulled his hair out of his face. His laugher turned a somber tone when he asked, “You think she’ll be… well that she will…”

“Your sister is a survivor. You know that Colin. She knows when to speak and when to keep quiet. That’s what kept her alive in that breeder camp for a year.”

“I should have never listened to Avery Lexor. He will pay for his promises – I give my word to all that’s holy that he will pay,” Colin said through clenched teeth. “I should have gone after her, I should have–”

“Disobeyed Lord Langland? You remember what happened the last time you did that. He nearly exiled you,” Shane warned.

“To the devil with him,” Colin said sharply – his voice carried.

Colin,” Shane said in a hushed breath.

“Only you would be so bold to speak against our clan chieftain like that,” Darmon Hill made his presence known when he approached from behind.

“Been spying on us long Darmon, or were you getting your jollies watching us take a bath?” Colin asked.

Darmon Hill, a tall sickly man came to Langland’s camp more than a year ago from a clan destroyed by the Orlanders. It didn’t take long for the sable-skin man to win the ear of Lord Langland. Silver-tongued, Darmon used his influence and become appointed adjudicator, passing judgment and keeping law inside the village in the name of Lord Langland.

Of all the extra people that took sanctuary in the Langland clan, Colin trusted Darmon the least. The moment he arrived he began to cement himself into the ruling body. Most of the encampment’s recent troubles, including the capture of Colin’s sister stemmed from Darmon’s involvement.

Lord Langland knows you left the camp McGregor, even after he ordered no one to leave except those going on the hunt.”

I know the order,” Colin replied snidely.

Darmon leaned on the end of the bath tub. “Do you want to draw unwanted attention to our camp?”

Colin stood. His lean defined form stretched out of the water exposing his endowment to the sniveling man. “Our clan is not your clan, dog. You are an outsider who has delusions of grandeur.”

Darmon couldn’t take his eyes off Colin’s down below. “I… I speak for Lord Langland. He trusts me to govern his lands. I am his authority.”

“I piss on your authority,” Colin said stepping out of the tub, his back to Darmon.

Shane followed Colin’s lead and climbed out of his bath.

Darmon took a step back when he found the two Highlanders looming before him. He broadened his shoulders and steadied his nerve. “Then perhaps you can tell Lord Langland that. He’s ordered for you to see him – in the morning.”

Colin wrapped his kilt around his waist and strapped the wide belt tight against him. “Good. Maybe now we can lighten the air about you.” He turned his back on Darmon.

“He’s gone,” Shane said with a smile that turned grim. “You know what you’re doing?”

“No,” Colin replied. “But sooner or later I will have words with that man.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t end with your hands around his throat,” Shane said.




Requiem – Tannador Explorer Ship.

Deep space April 14, 2442

 

Each great family had its own explorer ship. Their purpose, to obtain technology, wealth, minerals or whatever could increase the value of a family. Requiem, the newest of such vessels had the reputation of having a competent crew that logged in more deep space time than any other explorer vessel. A massive dome complex sitting atop an interline engine with the capabilities of creating its own wormhole and thus travelling over great distances in a matter of hours. The technology wasn’t without its problems. Without the correct calculations a ship could be lost so deep in space it might never return. Many of the original test ships ended up lost. A part of history and legend. It took many trials before the technology proved safe and deep exploration became standard.

Charles Long stared at the framed painting of Johannes Kepler that hung over his desk in his dim and dirty office. His eyelids were heavy; the hum of the ship’s engines relaxed him. He reclined back in his chair. His large worn hands folded in front of his hardened face. Charles glanced at the ORACLE system near his workshops entrance. The flashing red light always on, always watching, it never allowed him to forget his high-born masters were always present.

Choosing to ignore the watcheye, Charles returned his attention back to the portrait on the wall. He studied Kepler’s narrow cheek bones and thick furrowed goatee. A striking man. His thoughts turned to Vincent Abernathy, his work partner. Vincent loved the painting of Kepler. For no reason other than he enjoyed it.

Vincent and Charles were long-time friends. The two studied together, grew together as archeologists and were lucky enough to be employed by the Tannador family. Together they uncovered lost treasures and mysteries from the planets they’d surveyed, along with a cache of questions.

Teams of archaeologists were stationed on the Tannador flagship. Like every flagship in all the high-born fleets. Their mission: uncover anything that could advance a family in wealth, and by doing so in power. Charles had the privilege of leading up the science department on Requiem. A position he worked hard to achieve. Raising the status of the family Tannador well beyond all the others in the Union. Charles however didn’t rest on his laurels. He worked diligently to maintain the rank. Yet he’d been distracted as of late because of Vincent.

Charles continued to rest in his chair. His brow tightened, worried. Vincent had not reported from his preliminary survey of the planet Kepler 369 in nearly two weeks. Charles feared something had gone wrong. What’s happened to you? Charles regretted not being the one to take the lead on the first appraisal of the planet, but Vincent reminded him it was his turn.

Close, like brothers the two shared a friendly rivalry. Malice aside, they raced to be first to discover something no one had ever seen before. Their vocation for the Tannador family gave them the opportunity to do the work they loved. The investigation and recording of material from rare alien historical sights, even though deep down the two felt like grave robbers. However, the Tannadors, like all high-born were not interested in history – just wealth. The family with the most wealth, held the highest prestige.

Once a planet’s heritage was categorized and loaded off world, Requiem continued to the next mission leaving the excavation of a culture’s history unfinished. Questions unanswered and frustration for leaving the answers uncovered.

Charles shifted in his seat, took a deep breath to wake him and searched his desk for an uplink recorder, shifting some charts and folders to find it buried underneath. He fumbled with the small silver recorder until he turned it on. Vincent’s last report, the one sent before all communication stopped, played:

Doctor Vincent Abernathy, March thirty-first, day fourteen on planet Kepler 369. I’d never come across a world so rich in vegetation; I’d only seen things like this in video feeds when the Earth was fertile – many, many centuries past. It’s like magic. The soil is rich, and the water is clear tasting – if you can understand my meaning. It’s like how paradise is described in mythology. I’m glad it was my turn to survey a planet.

Charles smiled at the report, though he heard it many times in the last two weeks. He scanned ahead on the recording.

Doctor Vincent Abernathy, April second, day sixteen on the planet Kepler 369 – the nights have gotten colder and longer. At first, I thought a season change was taking place, but the vegetation remains green and lush. The days are pleasant and relaxing. I’ve yet to find any signs of past civilizations on this planet. Despite the strange energy readings, I picked up from the shuttle in orbit, I can find no reason for them. Tomorrow I will investigate the mountains in the south. I might find some answers there. I’d hate to write this planet off, but if there is nothing here of value the reason for stopping is arguable.

A deep paused followed and then the tone in Vincent’s voice changed.

I know this is impossible… but I have this underlying feeling of aggression that has made its self-more present by each passing day here. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that I’m being watched.

Charles rewound the recording and listened to those last words again – and again. They were the last words his friend said. The original long-range scans of the planet came back negative. No life, except some small foliage animals and several types of birds could be found, but nothing else, not even insects. Vincent tried to tell him that was impossible, on most worlds some vegetation could not flourish without insects – yet the scans did not lie. Listening to the recording one last time Charles swore he heard a deep growl in the distance. But on another listen he didn’t hear a thing.

Could some other lifeform have arrived on the planet after the original scans? Charles wondered. Or were there indigenous life on the planet that the scanners couldn’t register?

“Have you heard?” Jonna Grace asked when she came into the office tripping over a stack of ancient journals she didn’t see in the middle of the floor.

Charles stood from his chair, tucked down his brown vest, straightened his tie and arched his back. He’d sat in the desk chair too long and his bones reminded him he wasn’t twenty-two anymore. He cleared his thoughts of Vincent and studied his student, staring at her down his narrow nose. “You don’t have to yell girl.”

Jonna looked up at Charles who stood much taller than her. She brushed her light chocolate bangs out of her eyes. “Sorry prof.”

Charles forced a smile. It wasn’t his idea to bring the girl on as a student. Vincent knew how to get what he wanted, and Charles gave in, like he always did. He hated to admit that the girl possessed a keen aptitude for history and she picked up on things with ease. There weren’t many girls at sixteen that had total recall. A photographic memory came in handy and could be a damn nuisance when Charles wanted to win in an argument.

Charles picked up a stack of paper maps from top his desk. He filed them in place on a dusty shelf, from top to bottom in alphabetical order, he noticed Jonna staring at him.

“Uh, you know you could use a hand device to store your maps. No need for filing that way.”


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-41 show above.)