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Authors: P. J. Haarsma

Wormhole Pirates on Orbis

BOOK: Wormhole Pirates on Orbis
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or, if real, are used fictitiously.

Copyright © 2009 by PJ Haarsma

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, taping, and recording, without prior written permission from the publisher.

First electronic edition 2010

The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:

Haarsma, PJ.
The softwire: wormhole pirates on Orbis 3 / PJ Haarsma. —1st ed.
p.  cm. — (The softwire series)
Summary: At the start of their third rotation of service, Johnny Turnbull, his sister, Ketheria, and friends face pirates who seem to know JT and want him to deliver a mysterious message.
ISBN 978-0-7636-2711-9 (hardcover)
[1. Computers — Fiction.  2. Pirates — Fiction.  3. Science Fiction.]  
I. Title.  II. Title: Wormhole pirates on Orbis 3. 
III. Title: Wormhole pirates on Orbis three.  IV. Series.
PZ7.H11132Sof   2009
[Fic] — dc22      2008029667

ISBN 978-0-7636-4777-3 (paperback)
ISBN 978-0-7636-5237-1 (electronic)

Candlewick Press
99 Dover Street
Somerville, Massachusetts 02144

visit us at
www.candlewick.com

“Girls,” I said, plopping down next to Theodore. “
They’re
the aliens!”

“Max again?” he mumbled. His face was pressed against the glass portal that ran the length of the shuttle.

“I don’t get what she has against Space Jumpers.”

“It’s pretty simple, JT. Citizens don’t trust them.”

“But we’re not Citizens,” I reminded him.

“We want to be.”

I looked up to sneak another glimpse at the Citizens relaxing on the mezzanine above my head. It was just high enough to make me feel inferior. The Citizens dined the entire trip to Orbis 3, reclining on puffy loungers decorated with green and gold Gia silks.
We
sat huddled together on cold aluminum benches and ate only what we brought. There were four other knudniks traveling with us, and they sat obediently near the feet of their respective Guarantors. When ordered, they bolted up the short set of steps to administer whatever mundane or demeaning task was imposed upon them. I hated the Citizens, but Theodore was right; I still wanted to be one.

“What are you looking at?” I turned and asked him.

“I’m trying to see the wormhole. This is the closest any shuttle ever gets. Eight thousand, four hundred, and thirty-three kilometers.”

I squeezed next to him and peered out the portal into the stars.

“I see Orbis 3.” I gestured to the huge ring hanging in space. “But where is the wormhole?”

Theodore pointed. “Look, there. See how the crystal moon bends a little? The wormhole does that. We must be directly in front of it.”

I watched the heavy orange moon Ki pinch and distort as our huge space shuttle lumbered toward our new home.
What will our new Guarantor be like?
I wondered, but I had already resigned myself to the fact that knowing who it was wouldn’t make him any nicer.

“Look!” Theodore said, pulling away from the window and holding up both hands in front of his face. It seemed as if some invisible force were tugging at his skin, stretching it toward the wormhole. “It’s happening to you, too.”

It was happening to
everything.
One of the Citizens above Dalton poured his drink over the edge, and the greenish liquid appeared to smear across the cabin before it splashed onto Dalton’s head, much to the delight of the other Citizens.

“Hey!” Dalton protested, but the Citizens only applauded or stomped their feet.
Would they even notice us missing if the shuttle ripped open and we were all sucked into space? Would they even care?
I wondered. Then the alien ordered Dalton to clean up his mess.

“It’s an optical illusion,” Theodore said. “The wormhole is bending the light before it reaches our eyes.”

I turned my attention back toward the wormhole and immediately noticed that something wasn’t right. Directly in front of me, Orbis 3 and the crystal moon were bending and twisting violently.
That’s more than an optical illusion,
I thought. Something was coming through the wormhole.

“Is that supposed to happen?” I elbowed Theodore.

“What?”

“That!”

With a crackle of bright blue light, a spaceship pierced the blackness of space. The ship was the color of charred metal and rimmed with flashing red lights. It was much longer than our shuttle and twice as tall. It pushed through the wormhole — straight toward us.

“It’s gonna hit us!” I cried, but the huge vessel turned portside and saddled next to us. Harsh searchlights from the ship splashed through our cabin.

“Wormhole pirates!” one of the Citizens screamed.

“But that’s impossible!” another exclaimed.

“What’s a wormhole pirate?” Maxine Bennett cried as she clambered next to us.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“You have to get Theylor,” Theodore whispered quickly.

The Keeper Theylor was seated above the Citizens in a small compartment reserved for those who rule the Rings of Orbis. I moved toward the steps, wondering if the Citizens would let me pass, when our shuttle lurched forward and threw me to the ground. I saw Theylor spring from his cabin.

“Get back to your seat, Johnny,” Theylor called out to me with his left head. His right head dipped to focus on the ship’s portal. He moved so fast that his thick purple robe blurred with his transparent blue skin as he shifted between the Citizens.

I dashed back to my seat and squeezed next to Theodore. My little sister, Ketheria, was there now, too. In fact, everyone had moved to the starboard side to gawk at the mysterious ship that was now upon us. The vessel was so close it filled the entire portal. Painted on the side of the ship was an alien skull posed over gnarled crossbones. I watched three bay doors crack open on the side of the pirates’ spaceship and thick mechanical arms unfold from each opening. Once untangled, they clamped onto our shuttle, and the impact knocked even more people to the floor.

“What are wormhole pirates?” Max shouted, pulling herself back up.

But none of us answered. No one knew. Theylor now stood at the top of the steps and faced the hatch. Both of his heads spoke at the same time. “Children, stay where you are.”

I asked Theylor, “What’s happening?”

“A hostile vessel has emerged from the wormhole. Security will be upon them —”

But heavy pounding on our shuttle door interrupted Theylor’s warning.

One Citizen screamed, “You can’t let them in!” as she raced to remove her jewelry and hide it in the loungers.

But whoever wanted inside was coming anyway.

WUMP!
The shuttle hatch crumpled inward.
WUMP!
And the seal to the metal hatch broke. Ketheria covered her ears as the escaping pressure screeched through the cabin. I swallowed frantically, trying to adjust to the pressure change. One more wallop and the hatch crashed to the floor. Someone screamed.

All the oxygen should have been sucked from the cabin — for that matter, so should I — but besides the pressure change, the atmosphere held. I should have been terrified as well, but my curiosity was stronger than my fear. I had experienced many strange events during my two rotations on the Rings of Orbis, and I wanted to see who (or what) had broken that hatch open. I
wanted
to see a wormhole pirate.

Theodore and I snuck to the far side of the wide metallic stairs. Theylor did not see, as he was now concentrating on the hatch. I had a direct line of sight across the Citizens’ area to the gaping hole that now replaced the shuttle door.

“Can you see them?” Theodore whispered.

“No. Just the hole,” I replied. “And some sort of green plastic tube that’s sealing the opening.”

A delicate Citizen with iridescent green skin that spilled off her head like human hair dropped herself behind the closest lounger, blocking my view. The alien shook her hand at us.

“Get away from me,” she hissed, and we moved farther along the stairs. I saw more Citizens hiding behind loungers, or anything that would conceal them.

“Isn’t anyone going to defend themselves?” Theodore whispered.

“Citizens?” I replied. “They pay people to do that for them.”

Max had moved next to us. “Where are your Space Jumpers now?” she said, smiling. I knew that she was referring to our earlier argument.

“Space Jumpers would never show themselves around so many Citizens. It’s not allowed,” I argued.

“That’s convenient. Maybe because there’s nothing in it for them.”

“Space Jumpers aren’t like that. They are protectors. Neewalkers are the ones who do it for money.”

“Then who pays for their —”

Theodore cut her off. “Would you two shut up?”

A staunch alien dressed in a black armored suit and heavy boots ducked as he sauntered onto our shuttle. His white skin, stamped with a web of purplish veins, was stretched and pinned to the metal helmet on his head. “What a sorry bunch we have here,” he said, and spat on the floor. His skin sparkled as he spoke, his voice thick like radiation gel.

“How dare you boldly . . .”

The wormhole pirate spun toward the voice and hoisted the biggest plasma rifle I had ever seen. He aimed and ignited the weapon all in one motion.

“Keep quiet, Citizen!” the pirate roared.

Theylor, who was as tall as the pirate, stepped forward, speaking calmly. “Security has been alerted.”

“We have no quarrel with you, Keeper,” the pirate replied. “We’re just here for our bounty.”

“Rotten thieves,” one Citizen hissed, but when the pirate raised his weapon, the alien immediately shrank behind a lounger. We all did, for that matter.

Another pirate peered in from the broken hatch and then skittered next to the first one. He fidgeted with his heavy-looking rifle while repeatedly glancing out the portal.

“Collect their crystals,” the large alien ordered.

“Wha — what for?” whispered the nervous one.

BOOK: Wormhole Pirates on Orbis
2.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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