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Prodigal Sun By Christina Engela Characters: 11263

Updated: 2018-06-29 19:01


Prologue

"A flag is all the proof you will ever need that any government is up the pole." - Christina Engela.

PRODIGAL SUN

Imagine if you will:

Life is a cheap thing in the cold of space, out here in the black – a place where the only witness is space.

And space is silent.

It is here – far from home, in the fiery face of an alien star which burned bright with the light of loneliness – that a small ship from far away now found itself through a peculiar combination of unfortunate circumstance, coincidence, timing and a large helping of terribly, incredibly bad luck.

It was said, by some, that space is like an ocean. Never turn your back on it, they said – it'll kill you! Go into it unprepared, and it will chew you up and spit you out like leftover Martian Quail stew. Whether it's radiation poisoning or a micro-meteorite punching through the hull of your ship, space is a very perilous place. Treat it lightly – or play with it, and it will kill you when you least expect it.

As a panting Tracy Ferris scrambled into the life-pod, this thought was precisely what was running through her already agitated mind. From the very beginning of their association, she'd had a bad feeling about Brandon Carver. Something about that guy just never seemed to fit. Sure, he was good looking – but so were many of the other out of work space bums hitch-hiking from place to place she'd also had the misfortune to meet.

Carver claimed to be a bounty hunter down on his luck – and having been in that position more than once herself, Tracey felt empathy for him. That was her first mistake. Her second was to take so him on as a member of her crew against her better judgment – just for the trip – one way. That was all he needed to get back on his feet again, or so his story went. Both added up to a disaster on such a grandiose scale that it had almost cost her, her life!

It seemed in retrospect that Carver had been a very bad call on Tracey Ferris's part – because twelve hours out of Aldus Prime, he got into an argument with the crew over dinner. Well, not over dinner itself – dinner was chicken ala king – it was at dinner, but the argument was about vampires. That's right – all this drama and inconvenience was the result of an argument at the dinner table – about fiction and fantasy! The guy actually believed vampires were real, and claimed to be a bona fide vampire hunter!

Idiot! She cursed mentally. Carver lost his cool when he got laughed at – and started a heck of a fracas by shoving Mak around in the ships tiny diner. The fist fight escalated into a full-blown melee' with guns and blasters – and somewhere along the way, someone shot the nav-computer and they dropped out of light-speed here – wherever here was!

Both Mak and Splinter, the other two members of her crew, were killed in the shootout with Carver – leaving her to fight for her survival alone against the raging madman! One thing led to another as they say, and now the whole inside of the small starship was a blazing inferno! She paused to grin tensely to herself – a rather naughty grin, because – well, at least Carver was still in it, somewhere.

Tracey hurriedly shut the door behind her to prevent the flames that had been licking hungrily at her caboose all the way down the corridor, from following her inside. Then, almost falling into one of the gravity couches, she hurriedly strapped herself into it before punching the emergency release. She hoped the escape system still worked. It did. The explosive dead-bolts fired, shaking the pod loose, dislodging it from the rapidly disintegrating wreck, just about shaking the crap out of her on its bone-jarring way into the great wide open.

As soon as she could make out just one of everything around her again, she toggled the nav-system. A small display on the control console less than a foot away from the tip of her pointy little nose showed her the state of her largest and only possession, which was rapidly receding in the rear view. Flames were starting to sear through the hull plating, fuelled by the escaping oxygen and fuel, and licking the void like angry demonic tongues. From there, she couldn't tell if the other life-pod had been launched, but she certainly hoped not. She hoped she'd seen the last of Brandon fucking Carver – after what he'd done!

Tracey noted that they seemed to have dropped out of hyperspace in the middle of a planetary system. The blazing wreck was drifting towards a small planet nearby and, seeing as the small engine of the life-pod hadn't fired yet, so was she. A quick check of the system proved that it wasn't going to either. She cursed. It was quite a foul curse to come from such a pretty mouth, but who aside from her and any gods who might be listening, would hear it anyway?

The main motor was offline, but the landing thrusters seemed to be okay. They were online at least, so after re-entry she could make a controlled descent, or at the very least, a hole in the ground at the location of her choice.

The planet she was rushing towards was unknown to her. When the stardrive crapped out, they'd dropped out of warp right here. It was highly likely they were off all the regular trade routes – and she had no real weapons left to speak of, so she could only hope she didn't run into any trouble down there. There seemed to be a breathable atmosphere, but last thing she needed was to get eaten by the locals. After all, she was in enough trouble up here as it was.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire… She cursed again. It was Tracy Ferris's First Rule of Holes in action – when you

're in one, stop digging. Boy, was she getting in deep!

The life-pod drifted for a few minutes before gently bumping against what could only be described as the surface of a very small, very shiny moon, and began falling rapidly towards the ground – slowly at first. Before too long, it became really hot inside the pod, and Tracy Ferris was beginning to wish she'd remembered to pack her bikini – and maybe some sun-block with the friction resistance factor of silica. By the time got the thing under control, she was already on the night-side of the planet, doing a pretty good imitation of a shooting star.

It was a rough ride, and probably not the worst she'd ever had – but then again, life-pods weren't designed to be comfortable. People didn't take life-pods out for a quick joyride round the block – they were single-use devices intended for use in case the worst happened and the best course of action was to leave your ship and take your chances out in the black. A life-pod basically gave survivors of a calamity in space slightly better chances of reaching the nearest ship – or the surface of the closest habitable planet alive – than they had in their underwear. Which, statistically speaking, was most frequently what survivors of space disasters happened to be wearing at the time of said disasters striking. Go figure.

A few minutes later, her head still ringing from the jarring impact of a 'landing' so not 'text-book' she hoped nobody had seen it, and after checking the atmospheric readout, Tracey Ferris popped open the hatch. The cool night air streamed inside, giving her sweaty body a sudden welcome chill. She took a moment to breathe deep, then picked up a spanner from the tool bin and wielding it like a weapon, climbed all the way outside.

The outside of the hull was still hot to the touch and bits of it glittered in the moonlight where the paint had been scoured off by soil and rock. The life pod had made quite a crater in um – whatever this planet was – a shallow crater about half as deep as the pod was high… and it was at the end of a half-mile long shallow trench scoured into the landscape of what looked like a large ploughed field. She saw what looked like burning vegetation in the distance, at the other end of the trench leading away from the crash site! Boy was the farmer going to be pissed!

Well, that'll endear me to the locals, she thought, hoping that they wouldn't invite her over for dinner – at the business-end of a knife and fork!

The stars glowed faintly above in the night sky. At least that was one less thing to worry about! Where was she? She scrambled back down the side of the crater to the pod. The communications system was out of action. The pod computer had also fried some of its circuits in the crash landing and would be of no further help to her – unless she wanted to hang around and listen to music. There was nothing else much of value left inside – just a canteen or two of water, some food packs, a survival knife which contained a line-fishing kit in the handle, with a built-in GPS receiver in the handle cap – which incidentally, was of no use on a non-colony planet without satellites. Was this a colony planet?

She grabbed the survival pack, slung the canteens and food pack over her shoulder, and turned on the GPS receiver in the hope that this was a colony world and not… nowhere. The small display blinked… and blinked… and then brightly displayed a name in small letters. 'DEANNA', it said.

Where the hell is that?

So there were satellites here! And that meant she was on a colony world of some sort! That also meant there were people here – and right now, people were a most welcome change – especially people who wouldn't want to put her on a menu!

A little arrow indicated the direction of the nearest settlement, and a distance. 17km. Lovely! 17 was a lot better than 170 or 1700! Strapping the utility belt around her waist, she scrambled back up the slope to the ploughed field above. Once at the top, she shifted the weight of her baggage before starting her long walk. The phrase 'every journey begins with a single step' popped into her head, causing her to roll her eyes dramatically. Steadying herself, Tracey Ferris took a determined step forward. Something in the grass went 'eek', faintly.

* * *

Quite some distance away, a man who went by the name of Brandon Carver was smoking – but not in the usual way that a man would casually sit and smoke a cigarette – for relaxation, for instance – or after sex for example – or to satisfy an addiction, or for the sake of image. No. Oh, no.

Wisps of smoke slowly rose from the tangled and soot-smeared locks atop his aching head as Carver sat brooding inside his life-pod, pondering just how fucked he might have been at the present moment – and once again, probably not in a way he would've enjoyed. Together – he and the life-pod – were currently plummeting toward the planet below at a speed he'd rather not think about.

He'd only just got out of the ship in the nick of time – in fact, he felt quite tender in a medium rare sort of way, as though sunburned – as one might get trying to swim through a fireball! He realized with considerable discomfort as the pod shuddered and jostled around him, that his tender bits were chafing against the body harness that was keeping him in the seat. Tugging at the straps proved futile, as gravity and g-forces were set against him. Checking the small control display to make sure there was nothing more he had to do to assist the autopilot in controlling the craft, he allowed his mind to wander.

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