Inkitt’s Beyond Time contest ends on July 27th and I need a push to stay in the game.
According to the site: The stories that earn the top 10% of reader votes get the chance to be picked by the Inkitt staff for 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize.
With over 300 entries, I need to stay ranked within the top 30 slots of vote-getters. Voting happens when you click on the heart icon at the bottom of the story page or next to the story’s title on the list page.
In order to help you help me, here’s the first chapter of Fix, book one in one of my two new series. My hope is that you like it enough to read the rest of it on the Inkitt site and vote for it to remain in the contest. Or, if you already know that you want to vote for it because you’re awesome, here’s the link right now. Thank you for your support.
By Jeremiah Kleckner All Rights Reserved ©
“Who hides in an asteroid belt anymore? Goddamn cliché. He knows we have sensors on this thing, right?” Wren’s voice trailed off over the ship’s internal com link. “Ten metric tons of Necris…”
The Swift Destiny jerked left as a collision screamed off of the hull.
Malik opened a direct channel to the starboard gunnery bay. “Concentrate, Wren. Celwik’s hoping we’ll lose him.”
“It’s a waste of time. Even if we lose visual, we can follow the trail of his Forward Pulse Inducer,” she said. There was a brief silence, followed by the clicking of switches. “I hate asteroid belts.”
“Nobody likes asteroid belts, so get over it.” Malik turned off the link and let her stew. Wren’s a better shot when she’s angry. Her words stuck with him and a trace of doubt grew to overtake his thoughts.
He switched on the com channel for the cockpit. “Carthen to Trey’lis.”
A moment of static hissed. “Hosk here, Captain.”
“Do we have a sensor lock on him?”
There was an audible breath before her answer. “No and we lost visual.”
“How about his FPI trail?”
“It’s faint, but usable. Something is actively scrambling his signal.”
“What do you mean ‘something’?”
“Just what I said. Every time Danton cracks it, a program scrambles the data we get back. We’re putting it through to your display now.” The round table in the center of the bridge lit up in blues and whites as the hologram projector powered on. In seconds, the ship and the surrounding asteroids in their immediate area were laid out to scale.
The small alien to Malik’s right climbed out of his seat and scurried onto the edge of the table. He tapped three buttons and sharpened the image. The Abyssiet then pointed a thinly furred claw at the damage indicators on their ship’s image and trilled, “Fix.”
“I know Trikta, I know, but it can wait,” Malik said.
They’d been going at it with the smuggler for hours, but he was more damaged than they were and they couldn’t afford to lose the advantage by giving him the opportunity to recover. Malik waved his hands over the display, scrolling the image ahead several hundred kilometers.
Hosk’s voice growled over the com link. “There are seven large masses in the center of the field. Danton’s betting me a chip that he’s hiding behind the third one on our port side.”
“Don’t go pissing chips away. We’re rationed as it is,” Malik said. He then looked over at the fog that seemed to cover the entire clearing in the center of the field. “What’s with this gas cloud?”
“It’s thick, probably flammable.”
Malik took another breath and examined the floating masses in the center of the cloud. “You and Danton can get us in there, right?”
Another hiss of static greeted him, followed by Hosk’s reply. “We don’t have much choice, do we?”
“Not unless we want to go back empty-handed.”
“Then yeah, Captain, we can get us there. Just keep the gunners on target. We can’t take too many hits like before.”
“Understood. Full ahead. Carthen out.”
The link to the cockpit switched off and Trikta scrambled back to his station.
Jallo Celwik wasn’t a part of the Shogol Network, but he did a great deal of business with them, which made him worse in Malik’s eyes than if he declared an allegiance to the dark order. The Planetary Alliance had more than their share of problems, but at least they were consistent from system to system. That kind of reliability was necessary when hundreds of billions of lives were on the line. If their intel was right, and Jallo was smuggling ten metric tons of Necris, his capture could set them up to help keep the galaxy from falling into more sectarian violence.
Taking Jallo down should be easy. They just had to get to him.
Malik’s thoughts were broken by another crash against the hull. “Report.”
Trikta let out a soft whine that Malik recognized as frustration. He then rasped, “Zeebo not a good shot.”
“That’s not it,” a low, clear voice said from the port tactical station. Jogger tapped three keys on his console and the event replayed on the center display. “He shot something that broke apart and we were hit with the debris.”
Malik nodded, having learned long ago to trust the analyses of this tactical officer. Jogger was one of the last of his line, a Genetically Engineered Bio-Replicant, built to withstand space travel and hostile environments. Many defected and were lost or destroyed in the war with the Shogol. It was a shame, they were truly magnificent creations. Considering his enhancements and training, Jogger was rarely wrong in general, even less so while being fed constant data at a bridge station of a starship.
The ship rattled violently and Malik was thrown to the floor. The bridge lights shut off for a moment before the emergency backups came on in their place. Malik stood and examined the damage alert indicators that flashed all over the holographic display of the ship.
“What happened?” Malik shouted. “More debris?”
“Impossible,” Jogger said. “That first wave should have been the end of it.”
“So then why are we blind?” Malik asked. He braced himself against the holographic display table and stepped over to his command chair. “Trikta, power up a few bots for the repairs.”
The beaked alien chirped his understanding and ran out of the back bridge door.
Malik then spoke into the com-link to the cockpit. “Hosk. Ahead one-eighth. Let’s see if we can get into the clearing.”
“Without sensors?” the pilot responded. There was an ounce of excitement to her voice, as Malik knew there would be. His former protégé was, to say the least, eager for a challenge. “There are a lot of moving rocks out here.”
“The center is more open,” Malik said. “Have Danton pull up our last reading and run a predictive program. Just get us away from this mess.”
“On it,” she said. The link switched off and the ship bounded forward with a shot.
Jogger opened a channel to the gunnery bays. “We’re moving. Only visual is available. I’m forwarding the display data to your stations now. Make it work.” He then turned to Malik. “I’m routing tactical to the cockpit.”
“Do what you need to,” Malik said. Before he finished his sentence, Jogger walked through the forward bridge door into the cockpit.
The door whispered shut and Malik found himself alone on the bridge, blind and deaf. He always found the choice to split the cockpit and the bridge into two separate sections questionable at best. It isn’t a favored design among human captains, but Malik had grown accustomed to it.
The Amun Empire, while it existed, had so little use for war. Even when there was a dispute within a system, the arrival of a Necri ship meant the end of the argument. There was no fighting, nor were the Necri a fighting race. There was no need for it. Times are much more complicated now that the Necri are gone.
Suddenly, the table hummed and 3D images came alive on the display. The communication link signaled and Hosk’s voice sounded through the speakers. “We’re back up and running, Captain.”
“I see that. How’re we doing up there?”
“It was dicey for a while, but it’s nice to have eyes on the road. Jogger’s headed back to tactical now.” She stopped short and Malik heard other voices behind her. “Captain,” Hosk said, “We’re losing power.”
Malik walked up to the table and placed his fist on the image of their ship. He stretched out his fingers and the image expanded. Alongside the closeup, readings and system status updates flashed, many of them in red. Malik scanned these for a moment, perplexed. “I see it, but I don’t get how this is happening. The damage isn’t that bad.”
“Yeah, let’s keep moving,” Malik said. “Celwik already has too much of a head start as it is.”
The door from the cockpit slid open and Jogger stepped through. He and Malik nodded to each other, but said nothing as Jogger resumed his station.
Behind him, Danton Fynolt dashed into the bridge. As the secondary pilot, navigator, and default science officer, Danton was often called in and out of the cockpit and had developed a trademark gait as he ran between sections of the ship which Malik found both embarrassing and comical, even in emergency situations. He trotted up to the display and huffed, “Got it.” He then magnified the image of the port engine with a wave and selected three flashing zones. “Actually, the bots spotted them and sent the images back.”
The flashing zones froze and an image overlay mapped over the diagram.
“Whatever Zeebo shot back there must have been carrying these,” Danton said with some pride. Three masses seemed to be growing off of the hull like grey and leathery sores. “They’re some sort of inorganic parasite, probably nano-tech. Celwik must have laid them out like mines.”
“Good job, Mr. Fynolt,” Malik said, then opened a channel to the robot bay. “Carthen to Trikta.”
Seconds later, the tone signaled and Trikta warbled through the speakers. “Trikta here.”
“I need you to redirect three bots to scrape parasites off the port engine.”
Trikta chirped and the link shut off.
Malik looked back at Danton and collapsed the expanded 3D display to show a large swatch of the center of the asteroid field. “What are we looking at as we get closer to the center?”
“Well, the fog gets thicker,” the navigator responded. “That’s one thing.”
“And these masses here?”
“Two are just dead rocks,” Danton said. “It’s the big one that has my attention. We have a visual confirmation on several deep caves.”
“Are these big enough to fit Cewlik’s ship?” Malik asked
“There big enough to fit two of ours side by side.”
“So this is where he’s hiding.”
“That’s the thing,” Danton said. “I don’t think Celwik just hides here. I think he lives here.”
“What makes you say that?”
“We’re experiencing sensor irregularities.”
“From the short earlier?”
“That’s what I thought at first, but no.” Danton flicked a few of the display readouts and zoomed in on the numbers. “There’s a huge energy source within 1000 kilometers. In spite of that, our sensors are kicking back readings as though this rock were no different than the other two.”
Malik examined the display for a breath. “A 3rd generation cloaking device.”
Danton smiled. “That’s my suspicion exactly.
“If that’s the case, then he already knows we’re here,” Malik said. “Get back up to the cockpit. I’m going to open a channel and see if he wants to do the right thing.”
The door slid open as Danton walked into the cockpit.
Just then, Trikta walked in from the back door and climbed into his station. “The suckers are gone. Bots are in their bays.”
“Good work, Trikta,” Malik said. He opened an internal link to all stations. “Are we all ready?”
Zeebo, Wren, Danton, Trikta, and Hosk all checked in. Malik looked over at Jogger, who nodded.
Malik then opened an outside channel. “Jallo Celwik. This is Malik Carthen, Captain of the Swift Destiny and formerly the Liothern of Sector 5849 of the Amun Empire. There are six more Liothern on this ship with me. On behalf of the Liothern Collective and the Planetary Alliance, you are charged with smuggling for and abetting the Shogol Network. Stand down and turn over your cargo.”
Malik then turned, sat in his command chair, and waited. A few moments passed in silence, but he was used to this. Every Liothern was. Celwik was feeling the same indecisiveness that all animals feel when they’re trapped. Malik just had to wait to find out what decision he makes.
Then he made it.
There was a shimmer on the display as the surface of the asteroid changed. In the place of a sheer rock face, a large metal docking bay glistened. Three steel sensor dishes and four cloak emitters jutted from all sides of the asteroid. A massive engine kicked two short bursts, rotating the asteroid slightly to face them.
“It’s an old Necris processing station,” Malik said. “He must be using it for the storage space.”
Three small objects shot out of the docking bay and sped toward them in a tight formation.
Jogger spun from his station to face Malik. “Fighters.”
The attack ships closed the distance to 500 kilometers and split off into a flanking maneuver.
“I see them,” Malik replied. He watched them for a moment, then switched off the outside channel and spoke over the internal link. “Alright, assholes. Let’s get to work.”