Authors: Luna Hunter
Copyright 2016 Luna Hunter.
Published by Luna Hunter at Amazon.
This work of fiction is intended for mature audiences only. All characters represented within are eighteen years of age or older and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This work is property of Luna Hunter, please do not reproduce illegally.
Thanks for picking up my book! This is the fourth book in the Zoran Warriors series, but it can be read as a standalone. Enjoy!
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lease remain in your seat
. Xxerth erltty tu xrrynng. Bbbrzt tiizr birrzz bbr. Please remain in your seat.”
The automated voice, accompanied by a blaring klaxon, wakes me from my sleep. The mechanical voice cycles through several different languages – Universal, Xythian, Terulian – for all the different types of aliens on board.
The first time I manage to fall into a truly deep sleep in the weeks I’ve been on this overcrowded transport ship, and the freaking alarm goes off.
Just my luck.
I curl up tight in my seat and cover my ears with my hands, but the high-pitched alarm cuts right through. I was just having the perfect dream: I was back on Earth, having a picnic with my parents. I could feel the fake grass between my toes as if I were really there again, and I could see the
, Earth’s space station, orbiting high above. A distant memory.
The only one I have of them.
I try to hold onto the feeling a moment longer, but it slips through my fingers. All I feel is hungry, cranky, and sore. My joints hurt from being folded up into the well-worn seat for a whole month. Thousands of aliens have used this seat before in the past decades, ensuring that by the time I came to use it, it was pretty much ruined. To think we’re not even halfway to our destination…
Begrudgingly, I open my eyes.
“Brughtsts! Globvers glob glob!”
The large, round, gray alien to my left is arguing with one of the stewards. The flaps of his skin shudder and shake with every movement of his basketball-shaped head as he tries to make a point. I have no idea what their species is called, and that goes for most of the aliens here. It’s a cacophony of hoots, wails, grunts and groans as all the aliens around me try to make sense of what’s going on.
The Suricat stewards – small and furry beings, like meerkats, only they pilot spaceships – are doing their best to calm everyone down, but I can’t hear their chirps over all the grunting. As one skitters past, I hold out my arm.
“Hold on! What’s going on?”
“Please stay put, human,” the small creature says in Universal. He’s wearing a dark blue uniform, like a proper flight attendant, and his big brown eyes are staring into mine. “Help is on the way.”
The Suricat tries to get past me, but I stand and block his way.
“What do you mean? Are we stranded? Will we make Vortex Station in time?”
He nods exceedingly fast, and speaks even faster. “Yes, yes, yes, of course, yes, nothing’s wrong, please return to your seat.”
The small being runs between my legs, dashing off into a hallway that’s only just big enough for his kind’s slender bodies. I ball my hands into fists and punch the cushion. I never should have boarded this piece of junk.
Not that I had much of a choice.
was the only ship heading towards Vortex Station – the only place in the universe holding the answers I’m looking for. And if I miss my rendezvous, the truth may escape me forever…
I need a drink.
I slip my way past the throng of aliens that fill the walkway, cursing in their own languages. I head toward the canteen, but find the way blocked by a gang of Silverbacks.
That’s what I’ve dubbed the gorilla-like aliens. They don’t speak a speck of Universal, so I have no clue who they are or where they’re from. All I know is they give me the creeps. There’s a whole pack of them on board, and all they seem to do is purr conspiratorially amongst themselves and shoot glances from under those large, furrowed brows of theirs.
No response. The large gorilla blocks my path, his back turned towards me, as he screams something unintelligible, the harsh sound making me wince.
I’m not awake enough for this.
“Excuse me?” I say again, tapping the gorilla on its back.
He jumps up, turning around, his red eyes wide with anger. He roars in my face, dousing me with his spittle, one hand thumping his chest. His other hand points towards the food dispenser. Three other Silverbacks are gathered around the machine, all looking at it with a mixture of wonder and anger as they randomly push its buttons.
I wipe the spit off my face, my temper rising by the minute.
“The fact that
can’t operate the food dispenser is not
fault, you… buffoon!”
I push the ape to the side and stride towards the machine. The beasts scatter wild-eyed when they see me approach. I tap a few buttons and, seconds later, hand the Silverbacks each a cup of water.
The four of them are crowded around me, towering over me, and as my anger subsides I realize just how foolish I’m being. These beasts could snap me in half with their pinkies, and here I am, pushing past them and lecturing them like a cranky librarian.
I do stupid things when I’m hungry.
If my best friend, Barb, saw me now, she’d chew me out. She warned me countless times about the dangers of space, but even she couldn’t stop me. Leaving her behind in Chicago was the hardest decision of my life, but opportunities like this don’t come by twice in a lifetime.
We’re both mechanics – or grease monkeys, as she’d call us – employed by the Federation to repair their shuttles. We’re so close we’re practically family, but when I got the message, I
to follow this lead.
I hope she can find it in her heart to forgive me.
“Here,” I say as I hand the chest-thumper a cup. “Please don’t eat me, okay?”
The ape takes the water, nearly crushing the cup in his strong hands. He swallows the cup whole – plastic and all – and looks at me with a contented grin. Satisfied, they stumble away, walking on their fists as much as their feet.
. How can their species travel through space when they can’t even make a drink?
To my dismay, the Suricats don’t carry coffee or anything like it on board. The closest I can get to caffeine is a foul, bright-red liquid that smells of sulfur. I keep my nose pinched shut as I gulp it down, the stuff burning all the way down. The nausea passes quickly, and I feel slightly more alert than before. I quickly scarf down a nutrition bar and head back to my seat, my hunger stilled.
The speakers crackle with the familiar, high-pitched voice of our Suricat captain.
“We have lost engine power,” he says, “but all life-support systems are still online, so don’t worry. We’ve sent out a distress call, and it’s been picked up. Help will arrive in six hours or so. Please remain calm.”
The message is then repeated in Xythian and Terulian. I can hear a collective groan pass through the ship as everyone’s worst fear is realized.
Well, not our
fear, but it’s up there. If the air system malfunctioned or the hull cracked, we could all be dead before we even knew it… but losing engines in the vastness of space is no picnic either.
We’re drifting aimlessly now. A stray meteor could smash the ship to bits, and there’s nothing we could do to avoid it. I’d rather take a meteor to the face than be boarded by raiders, though.
Vortex Station, our destination, is infamous for its lawlessness. Piracy runs rampant in that sector, and we’re a sitting duck. I’ve heard more horrifying stories about raiders than I care for. Everyone who knew I was heading to Vortex all told me the same thing: “Raiders will ambush your ship and slaughter everyone. If you’re lucky, they’ll throw you out the airlock, grant you a quick death. If you’re not so lucky… they’ll use you as
Thank you, Barb, for that warning. It makes me feel really happy right about now.
My skin crawls at the mere thought of raiders. I know space is a harsh environment – after all, you’re always only one catastrophic system failure away from death – but I’ll never understand how anyone can commit such horrifying acts.
I head back to my seat and close my eyes, rubbing my temples with my fingers. If we’re exceptionally lucky, the ‘help’ that’s underway is not an unscrupulous raider, but a kindhearted trader on the way to Vortex.
That’s the only way I’ll ever make this rendezvous with my contact to get the answers to the questions that have plagued me all my life long. I glance at the triangle-shaped mark on the inside of my left wrist, burning brightly, and I quickly pull down my sleeve, covering it up.
I still have no idea what it means, but I’m streetwise enough not to draw any attention to it. Anyone that has ever seen it has labeled me a freak – that gets old
I pull up my datapad and try, once again, to crack the encrypted message I received several months ago. So far, all I’ve managed to get is “Vortex Station” and my name. I have to decipher the rest and
, or I’ll have travelled all this way for zilch.
Several hours later, the excited squawks of the Silverbacks pulls me out of my workflow. They are pointing at one of the portholes lining the ship’s wall while they jump around and beat their chests. My stomach sinks as I see the terror on my fellow travelers’ faces.
Please, don’t let it be raiders…
y blade comes
down lightning-quick and disarms my opponent before he can react. His weapon falls to his side and he stands defenseless in front of me. His vermillion chest heaves up and down with every breath. Against his better judgment, he raises his fists at me. With my sword I can end his life in a flash, but his determination humors me.
“Very well,” I say, throwing my sword to the side. “Bring it.”
The flame-red man charges forward, both fists raised up high in the air. I drop to one knee and strike quickly, my fist connecting with his abdomen. He falls over, clutching his midsection.
“Not quick enough, Vukota,” I say, helping my second-in-command to his feet. “
is on you tonight – again.”
My men cheer at the news. When their general and his second-in-command have their weekly sparring match, they win either way, as the loser has to buy a round for the whole vessel. So far, the ship’s automated system has charged several thousand drinks to Vukota’s account, while I’ve yet to pay for a drop of the spicy black alcoholic drink.
“I’ll get you next time,” he growls, one hand rubbing the spot where my fist connected. “Next time.”
“Zyn, what’s the score?” I ask my mechanic over the com.
“Thirty-four to zero, sir,” the voice in my ear cackles.
“That’s what I said; next time.” Vukota grins at me. He bandages his arm where my sword struck him, causing a wide, crimson gash. On my ship, we fight for real. Training is useless if it’s not
. It’s the only way to prepare for a proper fight. That is why my soldiers have the lowest casualty rate of any fleet in the Zoran military – and that number includes the stray training fatality.
I wipe my bloody nose. Vukota got one good bash in. I got sloppy; cocky. For just a moment, but that is all it takes. It’s a good reminder to keep my guard up at all times – that or end up bloodied sooner or later.
That thought is still on my mind when my earpiece crackles with static once more. “Sir, please report to the bridge. We’ve picked up a distress call,” my pilot, Sern, says.
“Affirmative, Sern,” I reply. “On my way.”
I nod towards Vukota, and he understands me right away. We’ve served together for years, fought countless battles together – a nod is all we need to communicate.
We pace through my capital class ship, the
, and head towards the bridge. A distress call is bad news either way. We’re tracking a fugitive: treacherous Zoran Senator Bogdan, and if we stop to help, we could lose his scent. However, intergalactic law is crystal clear on this. Distress calls cannot be ignored.
“What’s the signal?” I ask my pilot as I walk onto the bridge.
“It’s a Class C transporter called the
,” Sern says. “Several hundred people on board. It has lost all thrust. It’s heading straight towards a meteor cluster, sir.”
? What kind of name is that?” Vukota asks.
“It’s a Suricat vessel,” my pilot explains.
“Suricats,” he says, shaking his head. “Moneygrubbing space-faring weasels.”
“Any other ships in the vicinity?” I ask.
Sern shakes his head. “No, sir. We’re the nearest ship in a million klicks.”
“Leave ‘em,” Vukota says. “Those Suricats probably killed the engines when they saw we were around. I bet they’re trying to hitch a free ride, save some fuel.”
My brow furrows. “Your distrust for them is well-known, Vukota,” I growl, “but we can’t break intergalactic law.”
,” Vukota says. “We can do whatever we
“Just because we
doesn’t mean we
,” I tell my second-in-command. “If we leave them out there, they’ll be smashed to bits by meteors long before another ship reaches them. Or worse, they’ll be enslaved by raiders. We shouldn’t go out of our way to make enemies.”
Vukota’s eyes burn with contempt for the aliens. “Are you serious? You can’t honestly think the Suricats will ever be of use to us?!”
I crack a smile. “You’re still mad that you bought a junker from that Suricat merchant passing by Exon Prime.”
“I paid for a
, damn it!” Vukota scowls. “I want what I paid for!”
I struck a nerve. “Let it go, Vukota. It’s been a decade.”
“Never,” he growls. “I don’t forget. If we’re doing this, I’m shaking down every last Suricat on that damn ship. Aren’t all those weasels related? One of them must be his cousin or something.”
I shake my head. Vukota’s an excellent warrior, the best under my command, but his rash attitude is why he’ll never be a general. It takes more than pure fighting skills to lead.
“Set a course for the
,” I tell my pilot. “Vukota, get the cargo bay ready. If we can’t fix their engines, we might need to take a few hundred guests on board. I want them fed, and most of all, contained.”
“You can’t be—”
“That’s an order, Vukota.”
My red-skinned executive officer falls into line when he sees me glower at him. “Yes, sir.”
I rest my hand on my pilot’s shoulder. “Keep an eye on the radar, Sern. You see as much as a blip, you break right away, got it?”
“Sir, yes sir.”
* * *
, give me a status update.”
engine is totally fried, sir. This baby won’t ever fly again. She’s seen some things, that’s for sure. Been halfway across the universe and back, from the looks of it,” my mechanic says.
Mechanics always get strangely affectionate about ships. A quirk that comes with the job, I suppose. Spend all your life caring for machinery and it’s no surprise you form a bond.
“Roger that. Come back to the
. Drax out.”
It is as I had feared. We have to take all the
passengers on board – all two hundred and fifty-one of them. I half-expected it to be a trap of sorts; an ambush – we’re in unpatrolled space, after all – but this seems to be the real deal.
Anyone trying to ambush a Zoran Capital Cruiser will be dead before they know it, regardless.
I open a com channel to Vukota as I make my way down to the docking bay.
“Prepare to take them on board, Vukota. All of them.”
He sighs deeply. “Yes, General.”
I take my position at the entrance. Lined up on both sides of the broad hallway are dozens of my men. Each one stands seven foot tall, and is armed with a rifle. I don’t expect trouble from our guests, but this is still a military vessel, and I want them to know that.
“Open the door,” I signal to Vukota.
He inputs the code and the airlock separating the two ships opens. I hear Vukota coaching them from the back to keep moving in a single file. The aliens come pouring into my ship, most looking absolutely terrified to be on a Zoran vessel.
“You have nothing to worry about,” I say to them. “You will be returned to a safe port.”
They shuffle along, and none dare to look up and stare me in the eye. The passengers are a motley crew. First are the Xythians: tall, slender and pale. They’re all dressed in black leather, their white hair cascading down their shoulders. Smug, pointy-eared bastards.
Next are the stocky, olive-green, reptilian Terulians. They hiss amongst themselves as they stomp past, their heavy footsteps reverberating off the metal walls. After that come a contingent of Suricats: the small, furry creatures. I have to squat all the way down to shake the captain’s hand. I have to be careful not to squish the whole creature in my grasp – they’re that small compared to us Zorans.
At the rear of the group are an entire pack of Prymetas: broad-shouldered, hairy beings, known throughout the universe for their aggression and ferocity. I glance up at Vukota, and the message is clear. We have to keep a close eye on these aliens.
“Is that all?” I ask.
“I think that’s every— no wait, I’ve got one more,” Vukota says.
My heart seems to skip a beat when my eyes fall upon the loveliest creature I have ever seen. She looks up at me with big blue eyes, not having the common sense to avoid my steely gaze like everyone else.
A human female?
I blink again to make sure my mind is not playing tricks on me, but when I open my eyes, she’s still standing in front of me. I detect a hint of a smile as she drinks in my large frame.
“What are you doing here?” I growl.
She raises her eyebrow at me. “None of your business, Zoran,” she says coolly. “Are you taking us to Vortex Station?”
“Vortex?” I snort. “Never. That place is filled with nothing but scum.”
Her smile turns into a scowl, and she brushes past me, her shoulder bumping into me. I turn and watch her walk away, completely captivated by her swaying hips.
“She’s trouble,” Vukota says.
“She’s certainly something,” I say, my eyes still glued to her curvy figure.