Vidan was again reaching out to the stars: sadder and wiser…and cautious, unwilling to repeat the mistakes of the ancestors. The Commonwealth was born, reaching out to lost colonies and establishing new ones, rediscovering lost technology and how to navigate the star-ways. Many of the lost colonies not only survived but thrived–and they remembered their abandonment and the harsh centuries of the Downfall…
Orphaned and now evacuated from the only home he’s ever known, Bain’s dream of becoming a Spacer is suddenly more possible than he ever realized. Aboard a small Free Trader ship with a forceful yet caring and quirky captain, Bain learns the ropes of combat and courage. Battling not only the threat of the human race’s biggest enemy, the Mashrami, Bain must battle his own enemy as well–a bully who prefers Bain over a punching bag.
Ebook and Print versions available exclusively from Amazon:
GENRE: Science Fiction ISBN: 978-1-876962-18-0 ASIN: B003XYEAN8 Word Count: 42,988
“You want to fill my ship with children?” The woman’s voice cracked with strain and penetrated the thick door of the planetary governor’s office. “I run a cargo ship, not a passenger liner.”
Bain Kern paused in the lobby door and tried to hear better. The orphanage director had sent him here to deliver a message. Even though nobody would tell the children anything, everybody in the orphanage knew that the colony on Lenga was being evacuated. Their planet was too close to the path of destruction that the enemy Mashrami ships were cutting through civilized space. Bain guessed that woman with the governor didn’t want to be part of the evacuation; maybe she wanted to stay and fight. He would have stayed to fight the invaders if he could. He knew it was useless to ask. He was just a boy, an orphan, and he was never allowed to do anything exciting.
Governor Cowrun’s secretary had left three weeks before to join the space fleet. Who could Bain give the message to? Should he just leave the paper on the desk here in the lobby, or wait to put it in the governor’s hand? He stood in front of the secretary’s abandoned, dusty desk while he thought. The people inside the office kept talking, but in softer voices. Bain couldn’t hear anything. He stepped a little closer to the door.
It was cool here compared to outside. In the middle of the planet’s ten-month summer, any place with a roof and shadows felt cool. Bain sat on the hard wooden bench across from the office, so he could see inside when the door opened.
Dust coated everything, not just the secretary’s desk. Bain saw empty drawers hanging open and doors standing ajar in echoing empty supply cabinets. He wondered how the governor got any work done without papers, supplies or his secretary.
Bain closed his eyes and tried to get comfortable on the bench. He didn’t mind waiting. Anything was better than staying in the hot orphanage dormitory as a target for the bullies. No one was in a good mood because of the alien Mashrami attacks. The little children were allowed to cry. The bullies picked on everyone else. The ones in between–like Bain–had to put up with it.
Bain wondered if he could work for the governor. That would get him out of the dormitory when his lessons were done. The office was cool, and it was too hot to play outside. The bullies picked on him because he was smarter than most of the boys his age. Bain thought he could handle the work of a secretary.
Maybe someday he could earn money to go to school and learn to work on a spaceship. That was what Bain wanted more than anything in the world–even more than getting away from bullies like Toly Gaber. He wanted to be a Spacer and travel between the stars.
“It’s worth trying,” Bain whispered. “I don’t care how dusty and boring it is in here, it’s better than outside.”
Bain was tired of hot sunshine, scorching air, dust, brown plants and everyone telling him to conserve water. The war with the Mashrami didn’t make life much more interesting. No one told the orphans anything, but they could guess. The Mashrami invaders had found a Knaught Point to make the jump from their galaxy and were trying to take over the galaxies where the Humans of the Commonwealth had lived for nearly three centuries.
The Mashrami were the only interesting part of the war. No one knew what they looked like; the alien invaders never left their ships. They used stun bombs or electronic scramblers that killed computers when they attacked ships in the cold silence of space. They never used voice communication to demand surrender from the worlds they attacked. Some people said the Mashrami didn’t have voices, or even mouths.
“Someday, Cowrun,” the woman growled, loud and clear as the door swung open.
Bain stiffened and kept his eyes straight ahead. He hoped he wouldn’t get in trouble for staying, but this was exciting!
“Lin, I know you better than you think. You don’t hate children. Neither does Ganfer,” Cowrun said.
“That’s Captain Fieran, to you.” She stepped through the door.
Bain tried not to stare, but he had never seen a captain before. Captain Lin Fieran was a small woman, maybe a hand taller than Bain, and he was only in his early teens. She had glossy black hair pulled back in a thick braid that fell past her waist. It had streaks of silver in it. Bain had never seen anyone old enough to get silver in their hair.
Her face and bare arms were the light cocoa brown of Spacers who used thin radiation shield plates to get better speed. Her loose, black trousers were tucked into silver mesh boots with soft soles, so she didn’t make a sound when she walked. Her sleeveless shirt was a patchwork of glossy colors: royal blue, crimson, emerald green and gold, belted at the waist with a silver mesh sash.
She wore a copper band on each arm, between elbow and shoulder. Their flashing lights showed different ship functions. A Spacer was always in contact with her ship.
Bain wanted more than ever to be a Spacer. In space, he could listen to all the information bands. He could find the truth about the war, if the Humans were winning or losing. He could travel among the planets and explore. He could help the Commonwealth in the war.
“Lin,” Governor Cowrun said, his voice gentling, “the children won’t hurt your precious ship.” He leaned his skeletal frame against the wall and gave her a pitying smile. The dim light from his office created a halo behind his balding head, catching in the fringe of his curly black hair.
“You think I’m scared of that?” She snorted and turned away and saw Bain. She paused, her hazel eyes widening a little.
Bain knew she saw just another dusty, sweaty, colony boy, his face tanned from the long summer; black hair shaggy because no one had tied him down for a haircut recently; his dust-colored clothes tight and patched because clothes as well as books and medicine were in short supply. He wondered if she could tell that two generations back, his family had roamed space, too.
“No.” Cowrun shook his head. His blue eyes sparkled. “I think you’ve been alone too long.”
“I have Ganfer. Who could be alone with that busybody hailing every ship within ten light-years?” Lin grinned at Bain, then turned back to Cowrun. “Is that one of your defenseless orphans? He doesn’t look defenseless to me.”
“Boy, what are you doing here?” the governor asked.
“Message from Director Chandly, sir,” Bain said. He slid off the bench and hurried across the room to give the paper to Governor Cowrun.
The problem with living in a war, Bain decided, was that adults always stopped talking when children were in the room. Just because they were children didn’t mean they couldn’t understand. He knew it was useless staying–the conversation wouldn’t be interesting again until he was gone.
“Thank you. When you go back, tell the director to come see me immediately. It’s very important,” Cowrun said. He nodded for Bain to go.
“Wait,” Lin said. She rested her hand on Bain’s shoulder. Her eyes narrowed a little as she studied him. Bain felt like she could see through him, all his hopes and dreams. “Are you afraid of the Mashrami?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Bain was proud he remembered his manners. The dormitory parents had to scold him sometimes, because he forgot to say ma’am and sir and please and thank you.
“Because they’re trying to kill us, and we don’t know why. And because we can’t fight back real well.”
“Well, the Fleet is learning to fight back better every quarter.” She frowned at Cowrun, and Bain was positive now Lin wanted to be part of the fighting and learning. “They try to destroy Human colonies because they want our worlds.”
“But there are lots of planets nobody lives on. Why do they have to have our planets?” he blurted.
“Good question.” Her hand gripped his shoulder a little tighter before she released him. “What’s your name?”
“Bain Kern–I mean, Chobainian Kern, Ma’am.”
“What do your parents do?”
“Ma’am, they’re dead.” Bain tried to keep his voice soft, so it wouldn’t sound like he was correcting her. He didn’t want to make a Spacer captain angry.
“Well.” She softened her voice. “Sorry, I forgot. What did they do before they died?”
“We had a shuttle, and my father transported supplies and passengers between the farms and the factories.”
“Were you training to be a pilot?” Lin smiled, but it wasn’t a teasing smile. Bain decided he liked her.
“I want to be a Spacer, Ma’am. My grandparents were Spacers, until they settled here.”
“Oh?” She frowned a little, but Bain didn’t think she was angry. “What were their names?”
“Lissa and Dan Kern.”
“What was your grandmother’s maiden name?”
“I don’t know.”
“All the family records were destroyed when their shuttle crashed,” Governor Cowrun offered. “They never registered with the authorities, and they lived on their ship. You know how Spacers are.”
“I do indeed,” Lin said with a grin. She winked at Bain, surprising him. “Well, Cowrun, I have to talk over your request with Ganfer, but I think he’ll have no trouble with this job.”
“Ganfer wasn’t my worry,” the man muttered. He earned a chuckle from Lin. Their teasing surprised Bain–lately, all adults were grumpy, arguing about the smallest problems.
“I do have a few conditions,” Lin added.
“Of course.” A broad smile crossed his face.
“First, you make as few modifications to Sunsinger as possible. No fancy little rooms, no teaching computers, no robot nurses on my ship.” Lin ticked off items on her fingers as she spoke. “The flight is going to be fast, and some children get space-sick when they hit free-fall. Just new insulation and seals in the cargo holds, net bunks and stasis seats–that’s all they need.
“Next, I don’t want all babies. I want a wide range of ages. The older children can take care of the littles, so we’ll get more orphans off planet. Fewer interfering adults on my ship.” Lin studied Bain as she spoke. Her look made him feel cold inside. He couldn’t breathe for a few seconds.
“Last,” Lin said, putting her hand on his shoulder, “this boy goes in the first load I take.”
“I think that can be arranged.” Cowrun nodded at Bain, and his smile grew wider.
“You’d better. I want someone with Spacer blood around, if we run into any troubles.”
“Do you understand?” the man asked, bending closer to Bain. “If there’s any trouble, the captain is going to have to depend on you.”
“Yes, Sir! Yes, Ma’am!” Bain tried to bow, but his body wouldn’t work right. Inside, he thought he could start to fly without jet pack or wings or even a ship. He was going into space!