Here’s chapter 3 of Seeker (StarFighter Part II). I actually have most of this book written, but am posting the chapters only after significant editing. Keep in mind these are still in draft form, and the final work might be different.
Let me know if you catch any typos! See below links if you haven’t been following along.
Morgan stared down at the pad. The cursor blinked rhythmically, mocking him, daring him to try writing something. How could he even begin to describe what had happened? He could barely believe it himself. Would anyone else?
It probably didn’t matter. No one will ever get this anyway.
The sad truth rattled about in his head. This was his message in a bottle. A thousand years ago, he could just as easily have been some washed-up, half-drowned sailor—clothes in rags, stranded thousands of miles away on an island the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
That sailor would have had a better chance at rescue than Morgan Greenfield. In Morgan’s case it was light-years, not miles, that separated him from home.
He sighed and looked over at Lieutenant Jason Carver—his equally unfortunate new roommate. It had been Jason’s idea to write these letters. The lighting in the strange room was dim, just as alien as the room itself. Jason’s brown skin had taken on a red hue. His face looked gaunt and ghoulish, the lines under his eyes and at the edges of his mouth were cast in deep shadow. For a junior lieutenant in the ISF, Jason looked too old and too serious as he tapped away into his pad. His wife is dead. Who is he writing to? What will he say?
Morgan bit his lower lip and resolved to write something, anything, on the slim chance that Earth would somehow find them. But what do I write? His finger hovered over the tablet. Dear Mom and Dad, you probably think I’m dead. By the time you read this, I probably will be…
“Man, I don’t know how to do this.”
He dropped the tablet. Even the way it fell to the deck plate was strange, as if there was something wrong with gravity. Which, he supposed, there was, as gravity shouldn’t exit on a ship in freefall orbit. The Maurians had somehow developed the ability to pull everything “down”. The effect varied slightly within a compartment as you paced about it. Morgan had been trying to move around as little as possible to keep himself from feeling sick.
Jason looked up at him from his makeshift bunk—a thing assembled quickly and without much thought for comfort, let alone the proportions of a human being. “You ok?” he asked.
It was a funny question, considering the person it was coming from. Morgan shook his head. “How do I tell them I’ll never see them again? How do I tell them we’ll all be dead by the time the message reaches Earth?”
Jason sighed. “Where are you from?”
“You know where.”
Jason shook his head. “Say it.”
“Arizona.” Morgan winced. It hurt just thinking about the place.
“They’re from there too?”
“Then just tell them you miss Arizona. Tell them you love them.” Jason sniffed, then stared at the bulkhead. “Regarding all this…” He waved a finger in the air. “Just cut out the crap about dying—tell them we’re going to get back. Del Toro and Mog will figure out a way.” The lieutenant chuckled. “Or, maybe not. Doesn’t matter really. But, tell them the good part. Stick to that.”
Morgan wiped at his eyes. “Blairsford, Arizona, COA, Earth. Now that’s a trip. I wish I had my phone, I’d show you a picture of my car. Seems so out of place, things like cars, when we’re way out here.”
The ghost of a smile flitted across Jason’s lips. It was a sad smile. His eyes were red from his own nightmares. Neither one of them had slept well since the accident.
Morgan picked the pad up off the ground and started to type.
Hi guys, it’s me. I don’t know how to tell you this, so I’ll just tell it straight up. I’m alive. If you get this message, it means the ISF figured out what happened and sent a ship after us. It’s a slim chance, but Commander Del Toro says there is another prototype, half-completed, that might be able to follow the Sagitta’s path.
Sorry, you might not know what that is. I’ve got no idea what cover story they’ll tell you. I hope Captain Batson tells you the truth.
See, the Sagitta was a warp ship. When we went up to Starlight Station, we went to the space show, just like we’d planned. Batson got us rides in the Firefly fighters, just like he promised. It was the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
Morgan paused, remembering Liz.
We left the station and went to see some new ship called the Sagitta. My pilot said it was a classified project, but we could do a fly-by. Something went wrong when we flew by it. It knocked out our power. They hauled us aboard, but then an accident happened, and we went somewhere else, somewhere far away.
There aren’t any stars here except for one, and one really cold planet. And, aliens! I’m not messing, there are whippin’ aliens all over the place. We helped the Maurians—these half-lion, half-werewolf-looking behemoths —and saved them from the Ta’Krell, who blew up the Maurians’ homeworld. The Maruians are trying to find Earth, but they aren’t sure if they can even get there since their engines don’t work the way the Sagitta’sdid.
You probably think I’m crazy. I wish I was. When we escaped from the Sagitta, the Ta’Krell came after our fighters. I tried to save Liz, but _
The cursor blinked up at him, and Morgan choked back a sob. The pad trembled in his white-knuckled grip.
“Hey there,” said Jason. He put his pad down and went over to Morgan. He hesitated for a moment then put a hand on Morgan’s shoulder. “You can do this, sailor.”
Morgan pushed him away and stood. His hands were shaking so bad that typing was impossible. “I’m the reason she died. If I hadn’t asked her to go with me—”
“Stow it,” said Jason. “You know it wasn’t your fault. You’re in the space force now. You can’t be looking backwards when there’s a metric ton of crap coming for us frontwards.”
Morgan glared at the lieutenant. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” said Jason, plucking the pad out of Morgan’s hand, “that you’ve got no time or brainspace to be hating on yourself. You’ve mourned for your friend, but now you need go get over it, and get over yourself. You aren’t dead.”
Morgan glowered down at the floor. “I wish it had happened differently is all.”
Jason’s dark brow furrowed for a moment, then he suddenly broke out laughing “No kidding. You and everyone else on this ship—human and Maurian—wishes it went down differently.” Jason’s smile faded. He walked over to the small window and looked out into the starless abyss. “My wife is gone. So is my captain, and a whole lot of other people. The question is, what are we going to do about it?”
Morgan was silent. Earlier, he’d been seeing red. He had had jumped at the opportunity to don the ISF colors and strike back for Earth. Now, he wasn’t so sure. It didn’t help what people said about him. The humans were confined to the lower levels of the Narma Kull, and it was hard to avoid the gossip.
“Del Toro doesn’t need my help,” said Morgan finally. “What good would I be anyway? I’m just a loser from some town that no one’s ever heard of.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Jason. “But you will be a loser if all you do is sit around here feeling sorry for yourself. I thought you wanted to be a fighter pilot?”
“So, what changed?” Jason turned away from the window. “Most kids your age would kill for the chance you’ve been given.”
Hulking death machines spewed green fire in Morgan’s memory, obliterating the Maurian fleet. Hunter-killer attack ships, sleek as arrows and deadlier than any human fighter craft, made quick work of the Sagitta’s small compliment of Fireflies. What was it Commander Mog had said? The Maurians only had a dozen warships left, and most of those heavily damaged?
“Nothing changed,” said Morgan finally. “I do want it. It’s just…we’re going to get killed out here, you know? If these Ta’Krell are the demons of Mauria, like they say, the Maurians don’t stand a chance. They can take over your mind, and their fleets of ancient starships are unstoppable. Even if we can get to Earth and somehow convince the ISF to help us, we’re screwed. Tons of people are going to die.”
Jason blinked. “Yeah, that’s war. That’s how it goes.”
Morgan stared at the lieutenant. “Um, and you’re ok with that? You’re fine with the fact that some Ta’Krell fleet might get the drop on us and blast us to atoms?”
Jason laughed. “Of course not. I’m just used to it. You’ll learn. In the ISF, the reaper’s shadow hangs over us every day. Man, you don’t need a Martian invasion to feel the scythe’s blade tickling the back of your neck! Space is dangerous, and as sneaky as the devil. People forget that. We train and train, but accidents still happen. Torn space suits, power failures, decompression, pirate raids…you name it, we’ve got it. Even a relatively minor wound can dust you in zero gravity.”
Morgan scowled. He couldn’t imagine living like this. “How do you get used to it?”
Jason shrugged. “You just do. It’s risky, sure, but none of us gets out of life alive, landlubbers or otherwise. Besides, who else gets to do what we do? I still remember my first sortie on the frigate Yangtze Kiang. The way we blasted out of that crater on Deimos, I thought my face was going to peel off. Whippin’ Marties never saw us coming till it was too late. I nearly crapped myself when we lassoed their stim ship with our mag grapples, but the Yangtze’s hull was one of a kind, purpose-built for latching on to cartel ships at high speed. We hauled those bastards in, caught them red-handed with a hold full of fairy chips—Luna Six stimmies. What a payday that was!”
The lieutenant’s face had been glowing from the reverie, but then his countenance fell. “That’s the mission where I first set eye on Adrienne. She’d plotted our course…God, she was so beautiful.” He hung his head. “Yeah, you could die, but then again we’re all going to snuff it. It’s just a matter of how and when. We might as well have fun with the living part, while we have the chance. You know what I mean?”
Morgan looked away. “I guess so. It kind of sounds like the first time I hit two-fifty in a car. I guess I wasn’t really thinking about it.”
Jason glared at Morgan. “Two hundred and fifty KPH? That’s pretty fast on land.”
Morgan laughed. “KPH? Nah man, I’m talking MPH. My grandfather’s cars were old-school.”
“Damn, no wonder Jack likes you.” Jason shook his head. “Speaking of pilots, you should head down to the hangar bay if you’re serious about learning to fly. Jack and Wally have been working all night. I think they’ve got one of the training modes rigged for you and Victor to try.”
Morgan scowled. He’d been trying not to think about Victor. “I guess I could head down.”
“You know the way?”
“No.” Morgan felt in the pocket of his jeans out of habit. His phone wasn’t there. The Maurians had confiscated all human tech not integrated with someone’s body, out of fear that the various unknown handheld devices might be a weapon. Going to have to ask Mog for that back at some point. I wonder if it’s still charged.
“I’ll take you then,” said Jason. “I’ve been walking the ship, learning her ways. It takes my mind off…things. She’s big, but not that big. It’s just about a twenty-minute jog from here.”
“Jog? Can’t we take a transpod?”
“Screw that,” said Jason. “You’re in the space force now, man. It’s time to get your pansy ass in shape.”
* * *
The last time Morgan had run through a spaceship, the ship had been performing a hard burn trying to outrun the alien monsters that were shooting great holes in it. He and Liz had nearly died making it to the hangar bay. Morgan’s legs still hurt from that mad dash, and now—running through the Narma Kull—they complained even more. Sweat dripped into his eyes as he panted. It’s like a literal jungle in here. He grit his teeth and struggled to keep up with Jason, trying all the while to not think about Liz.
They rounded a corner and came face-to-face with a pair of Maurians. Jason slowed, and Morgan nearly bumped into him. The humans stepped to the side as the aliens approached, and Morgan had to fight the instinct to turn and run. Jason handled the encounter much better by offering the two huge shaggy beasts a quick salute.
“Good day, gentlemen,” said Jason, with no trace of hostility or fear in his voice.
One of the aliens returned the gesture, raising a clawed hand to its prominent forehead. The other said something that sounded like “Yarl best nasty.” Morgan wasn’t wearing his translator, so he had no idea what that really meant. Yeah, you look nasty too, he thought. He grimaced as he caught a whiff of the creatures as they passed.
Standing at least two feet taller than Morgan, these Maruians were large, but not the largest he’d seen. They wore minimal clothing—just basic coverings about their waists and simple green vests that left much of their furry chests and arms bare. Hellcats had been a good name for them, but Lieutenant Del Toro had forbidden the humans from using that term anymore—unless in reference to the genocidal Ta’Krell, who looked the same as the Maruians but actually deserved the moniker.
Jason resumed running, and Morgan was happy to follow. They encountered no other members of the Narma Kull’s crew, probably because Jason had led them into a section of the ship that seemed less travelled. The dimly lit maintenance corridors and access crawlways soon became Morgan’s worst enemy. They turned left, then right, then right again. Soon, Morgan had lost all since of direction.
“You didn’t say we had to climb down stuff,” Morgan said, after they descended down a ladder for the third time. His legs and forearms ached from the increased gravity. Strange humming machinery filled the space that they emerged into. Jason paid it little mind as he darted down a narrow side-corridor.
“You’re lucky we’re going down,” said Jason. “On the way back, we’ll be climbing up.”
Gasping for air, Morgan struggled to catch up to Jason. The ceiling in the corridor was low, such that a Maurian might have to duck, although there were still a few inches between the top of Morgan’s head and the pipes and cables that snaked along in the overhead.
“How did you figure out this way to the hangar? We’ve only had free rein of the ship for a week.”
“I told you, I’ve been walking the ship.”
“Yeah, but this route is ridiculous. No way you memorized this so fast.”
“True. When I told him what I wanted to roam, Mog gave me a map.”
“A map? And you memorized it already?”
The lieutenant laughed. “No. It’s in my head. I imaged it.”
“Oh.” Morgan wanted to ask more, but his lungs hurt too much. Even though the Sagitta had saved the Maurians from destruction, it was a little weird that the aliens were so trusting as to let the humans run around their starship unescorted. There were areas that were off-limits, such as the engine core and the bridge, but for the most part Commander Mog seemed unconcerned about having thirty random humans wandering about his battleship.
“Almost there,” said Jason. He turned right, swore, then nearly bowled Morgan over when he ran back out from the way he’d come. “Wrong corridor, it’s the next one.”
Morgan clutched his side and kept running, his feet pounding down against the metal deck. He made a mental note to ask Jason about his bioware. Unlike Liz, whose eyes had glowed when she was reading a visual overlay, there was no external tech visible, no clues to tell an observer that Lieutenant Jason Carver had recorded a 3-D map and was following it in his head as he ran. Except for Victor—a civilian—and one of the younger ISF scientists who had a mechanical arm, none of the Sagitta survivors appeared to have bioware, or at least not the commercial variety that most people on Earth flaunted these days. Some had scars from where tech had been removed.
Morgan, who had been allergic to bioware since birth, had felt almost normal around the ISF crew, until he realized that some of the humans had access to an internal information overlay that provided them with instructions on everything from constructing a field toilet to navigating through the maze of an alien warship.
Dripping with sweat, Morgan was just about to tell Jason where he could go when they popped out of a small sliding door into a main corridor. Across the way, a large archway was open, revealing the Narma Kull’s massive hangar bay. Morgan could feel the wonderful cool air spilling out of the door. Silently, he thanked Mog for agreeing to modify the hangar’s environmental settings.
“We’re here,” said Jason. He hardly sounded out of breath.
Wheezing, Morgan bent over, placed his hands on his knees, and waited for his heart to slow down. Looking across into the hangar bay, he could see the hustle and bustle around the three dark-hulled human fighter craft that the Narma Kull had recovered after the battle. One of those had been the ship that he’d escaped from the Sagitta in.
The Fireflies were in various states of disassembly, with humans and aliens alike sorting through the collection of components and wires laid out on the deck. A sandy-haired, fair-skinned man wearing a blue flight suit was standing on the nose of one of the ships.
“What are you waiting for, pilot,” said Jason. “Let’s go see how the work’s coming along. Come on, step to it!”