Living in Freefall (Living on the Run Book 1)

BOOK: Living in Freefall (Living on the Run Book 1)
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Living in Freefall

 

by Ben Patterson

Copyright 2013 Ben Patterson

 

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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or
reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the
case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Printed in
the United States of America.

Summery

Orphaned at fourteen, Ericca Archer and Tyson, her
eleven-year-old brother, found the universe a hostile place. Sold into slavery,
never in one place long, they learned to survive. But Errica’s dream of a
peaceful world and a free life drives her to escape captivity. Now, she and he
are freelance security agents for a team of scientists who need them to protect
their plans and equipment. With part of that technology—plans to what may be
the most dangerous weapon ever created—in the wrong hands, she must infiltrate the
weapon itself and sabotage key components. To get the job done, Ericca must
elude ship’s security and escape detection, even as the forces of several
governments align against her. Coming out of this alive will require the help
of her brother’s guns, and every bit of luck she’s never had. But there’s no
choice. If she’s ever going to have a peaceful place to call home, she first
has to keep the universe from blowing up.

Chapter One

They had set out three months ago, the seven of them, and seventeen-year-old
Riley Archer had grown dog weary of the lack of action. He was eager for
adventure but they had found none. For a science vessel, cloak and dagger jobs
like these were few and far between,
but
they paid well,
and
had
the potential to be quite fun . . .

. . . 
if
not for their captain, Jordon
Kori. The science ship’s captain always made these jobs more complex than they had
to be. Riley usually took in stride whatever came his way; his older sister Ericca,
however, did not. Captain Kori’s
imaginative
ways of doing things tended
to push her every button.

On the bridge of the privately owned exploration vessel,
Freefall
,
Riley quietly reclined in the co-pilot’s seat to read a book. The holograph
star chart projected above Ericca’s nav-computer’s panel went largely ignored. It
served only as a prop should someone happen in. No one ever did.

Freefall’s
A.I. brain –
a fist-sized cube
– made
piloting the ship from the bridge obsolete. Voice activated, the ship could be
commanded from anywhere aboard her. This room served only as a prop for the
Federal inspectors who sometimes stopped them. The bridge was small and cramped
and, except for Ericca and Riley, none of the crew bothered coming up here
anymore. Brother and sister found it the perfect place to get away from the
others.

A slow plodding metal on metal
thunk
. . .
thunk
. . .
thunk
drew Riley’s eyes up from his book. His sister, Ericca,
sat reclined in the pilot’s seat with her leg cocked up on it. With one arm relaxed
on her knee, and the other resting on the window ledge, she held her knife loosely
as she tapped out her irritation. She stared out the window at the stars
perhaps, perhaps at the Grenadier Nebula, or perhaps—
lost in thought
—at
nothing at all. She raised the knife by bending nothing more than her wrist,
and tapped its blade tip on the ledge slowly again and again. Suddenly, she gripped
tightly and drove it hard into the steel shelf; the tyrillium blade penetrated
the metal nearly an inch.

Riley watched her with mild amusement. Capt. Jordon Kori’s tyrillium
steal, an alloy he had contrived not five years ago, had yet to find its way to
the marketplace. The knife, a birthday gift from Captain Kori, had been given
to replace the blade Ericca had snapped in two. Kori guaranteed this one would
last her a lifetime.

Ericca gripped the knife, and tried to pull it free. It
didn’t budge.

“Bored?” Riley asked, startling his sister who spun her head
to him. Her face flushed red.

Ericca looked embarrassed and angry, both at once. “What?!”
she snapped.

Riley offered her a small grin before dropping his eyes and raising
his book to block her out, yet he was careful enough to not completely cover his
view of her.

Ericca returned to the unmoving blade and gripped it with
both hands. If she wasn’t careful, she’d snap that blade tip right off.

No
,
she wouldn’t
, Riley remembered. Kori’s
alloy was virtually unbreakable.
Oh, this should be fun
, he thought as
he peered across the book at her. Though Ericca strained against the unyielding
blade’s leather-bound grip, she was careful not to grown or grunt out loud.

Riley wanted to laugh at her—
the knife certainly was
—but
he kept it to himself.

Ericca released the handle and for an instant the knife
vibrated like spring steal. Intrigued, she pulled the handle sideways and
released. The knife made a low warbling sound. She did it again and got the
same result. Then, with effort, she leaned the grip over nearly to the window
severely bending the blade. All this time Riley surreptitiously watched her. It
was then, when she released the knife that the windowsill chose to let go.
Before he could react, the blade flew end over end right at him. In the next
moment the knife’s blade sliced into and through his book, stopped only by the
hilt. The blade’s tip was just inches from his face.

Wide-eyed, he rolled the book onto its back, and lowered it
to show his sister.

Dumbstruck, Ericca, herself startled by the mishap, peered at
him over her hand covering her gaping mouth. She stared at him for a long
moment, and then suddenly broke out in laughter.

Not amused, Riley pulled the knife from his book, looked at
it, looked at her, and then tossed it haphazardly toward the exit. It skidded
across the floor and stopped when it hit the far wall. Lucky for him his book
was thick.

“I’m sorry, Archer,” she said, doing a poor job of keeping
the laughter out of her voice. Ericca never called Riley by his first name
unless, of course, she was scolding him. Some folks felt that her doing so was
odd, but she didn’t care. To her he looked more like an Archer than a Riley, so
that’s what she called him.

As sisters went, Riley couldn’t have asked for a better. She
had a good heart, which she just kept hidden beneath leathers that had seen
heavy use. She preferred these durable duds because they made her look older
than her twenty years. Ericca was pretty—something she couldn’t help if she
tried—and most men took her for naïve because of it. Fact was she was anything
but innocent
or
foolish. She and he had had their share of tough times
and now neither could afford to be seen as vulnerable.

The irony was, two years ago she wore dresses, bright summer
frills, and fluffs befitting a royal, and lived in a mansion. In fact, she came
close to becoming an actual Queen. But that was
once upon a time
in a
kingdom
far far away
. A prince had eyes for her, and he was handsome, confident, and
approachable. To Riley, she and the prince seemed a good match for each other.

The king was getting on in years. Some felt the old man would
die soon, but that was a lot to hope for. Now, she sat on the bridge of an aging
research vessel, a starship older than the king, and these days she dressed
mostly in black well-weathered leathers. Riley supposed the faraway look that
was often in her eyes was understandable. She missed their folks. She missed
their having a home to call their own. He felt bad for her, but what could he
do?

In the tight bridge, a little less than two feet separated
his seat from hers. Except for the bright instrument panels, the consoles were,
like everything else in this ship, well-aged grey metal. Momma Kori, the
captain’s mother, kept every inch of this vessel
diner-plate
clean, but you
couldn’t tell it at a glance. Try as she might, there was simply no way to hide
the ancient look or feel of this past-its-prime space boat.

Today, like every day for the last two months, they had
spent hours searching for their captain’s quarry and Riley had grown as tired as
his sister looked. She climbed from her seat, patted his shoulder. “Sorry,” she
said, and went back to retrieve her knife. Returning, she plopped
unceremoniously back into her seat.

“Bored?” he repeated after a moment.

“Huh? What?” She tilted her head back and rolled it to
stretch stiffening neck muscles. Her jet-black hair fell below her shoulders
and swayed behind her as if it weighed nothing. “No, actually, I’m not.” With
one hand she pulled her long hair over a shoulder and started to twist it into
a ponytail.

“So what’s on your mind?” Riley said, watching his sister
with a mix of bewildered amusement.

She met his gaze with unflustered eyes. “Several things,
actually.”

“Give me one.”

“Okay. Something about our captain bothers me, Archer . . .

. . . In the back of my mind,” she continued,
“I have this sense that we’ve met him before.”

“You mean before Los Dabaron.”

She thought for a moment. “I guess it’d have to have been.
But that can’t be right.”

Though that battle was eight years ago, thinking about it
still made Riley shudder. He was just nine at the time. His sister was twelve,
and like her, he didn’t like thinking about those years. His cousin’s death still
stung. It seemed senseless back then—it seemed senseless even now. Nearly
freezing to death, he and Ericca had somehow survived, but Cousin Clayton never
woke up from that terrible sleep. Riley took Clay’s death hard—Ericca did too,
and those memories were never easy to go back to. If they had met Jordon Kori
before then, he’d have been a boy himself.

Ericca rubbed her temple. “Ever since Captain Kori signed us
on, his behavior has been weird.”

“Weird? How so?”

“Like he knows us. Couple
that
with this. His face
seems familiar, but I just can’t place it.
Ugh!
” She brushed the thought
off with a flick of the wrist. “Oh well, never mind. I think being on this ship
is dulling my senses. Now I’m starting to imagine things that never were.”

“Stay sharp, sis. Things’ll pick up soon.”

“Why on
Earth
did the captain name this old scow
Freefall
anyway?” An image jumped right to the front of Ericca’s mind. “When I first saw
that emblazoned on her prow, I thought, ‘Now there’s a spaceship I could sign
on to.’ It had such a nice ring to it.”

Riley remembered that. They had just escaped their
enslavement. Stealing away from the pirate king in the middle of the night, he
and Ericca had made a run for it in their little planet jumper. Miles from
nowhere—
well between worlds
—their little two-man shuttle up and quit on
them. Inexplicably power reserves quickly fell to zero. Adrift, they worked for
hours to reignite the engines. But without power to life-support, time
eventually ran out. Nearly frozen,
an old spaceship happened across them.
That anyone had found them at all . . .

Through their frosty canopy, Riley looked up to see ‘
Freefall

written in well-worn big block letters. Moments after, Captain Kori tractored
them into his cargo bay, popped their hatch, and wrapped them in warm blankets.
That was the second time in Riley’s short life that he and his sister had
escaped becoming popsicles. He remembered shivering fiercely and looking up at
the captain—Kori’s mother and sister beside him—and seeing that look of
recognition in his face even then. Pressed, Kori would admit to nothing.

“So now, sis, you’re having second thoughts?”

Ericca shot an irritated look back at the door. “What was I
thinking? I hate freefall! I want to feel solid ground under my feet. I want
danger, excitement. Not this.”

Riley chuckled. “You don’t think riding in this old bucket
is dangerous? Think about it. Any minute now rust could breach the hull.
That’s
dangerous.”

She turned to face him and leaned forward to rest her elbows
on her knees. With her head turned slightly down and her eyes raised to meet
his, she looked evil. “I want to kill something, Archer.” Her tone was blunt
and matter-of-fact.

Archer snorted back a laugh. He knew her. She didn’t really
want to kill anything other than time. “Wow, sis,” he said. “You really do have
some pent up issues there.”

She turned to the star-chart, tabbed in their current
location, and expanded the view. Several blips, distant but within reach of
their little recon ship, appeared.

“What say we fire up
Viper
, ditch
Freefall
for
a few hours, and go hunting? There’s got to be a Confederate or pirate ship
within reach.” Ericca and Archer’s two-man interplanetary jet had since been
modified and improved by the Kori team. She was a sturdy craft,
now
, and
reliable. Most importantly,
Viper
was fast. Though it was never intended
to be, the Koris armed it with small cannons of their own design, and
that
made her dangerous. And Riley
lived
to be dangerous.

Ericca pointed to a holographic blip in the star-chart.
“Looky there. This one might prove interesting. It’s moving at a pretty good
clip.”

“In the mood to harass someone, huh?”

A sly smile flitted across her face. “Sneak up on a Confed
ship, do a quick fly by? A little boom and zoom?”

“Sure,” Riley mused. “If we do it right, sis, we could piss
off a fed ship in short order.”

“Enough to get it to chase us?”

“Seriously, sis? Do you doubt your abilities?”

“I’d like that.”

“Me too,” he said with hunger-filled eyes. “That would be
exciting, but . . .”

She jumped to her feet and clapped his shoulder. “A little
game of cat and mouse, Archer. Come on, it’ll be fun. We’ll be back before the
captain knows we’re gone.” She turned and headed for the door.

“Hey, I’m all for tagging a government cruiser,” he said,
remaining seated. “A few of them have pretty impressive juice. However . . .”

She turned back to him and scowled.

“Right now, Ericca, that’ll have to wait. Captain’s been
plotting and planning this heist for months. If we screw around and muck up his
plans, he’ll have our hides.”

She sighed and looked back at the exit longingly. “Archer,
my boy,”—
she turned back to him
—“I swear if we sit here much longer I’m
going to go stir-crazy. Plans or no plans, I’m running out of patience.”

“He saved our lives, sis. We owe him.”

She sighed her irritation. “Yeah, sure, but when is that
debt ever going to be paid off. I can’t take much more of this.”

“We need our own ship,” Riley said without thinking. Before
he could bide his tongue, he heard himself describe the first thing that popped
into his head. “Something big enough to hold
Viper
, a few supplies, and
can easily be made to feel homey during long runs. But at the same time, it
should be small and inconspicuous, something easy to hide.”

She stepped closer. “You mean a launch platform of our own
for times like this?”

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