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   Chapter 1 No.1

The Galaxii Series Omnibus 1 By Christina Engela Characters: 11622

Updated: 2018-06-29 12:01


Blachart

Imagine, if you will:

SPACE.

Just think about it.

As frontiers go, this is probably the most final of them all, not because it may be the last frontier, but because as long as we try to cross it and explore it, we take it with us. No matter how far we go, the frontier will always be just that much ahead of us, tantalizing our curiosities. Thus, we can never really cross it in so far as just push it back a little.

The universe is so vast, so immense, we can never expect to explore it all. It is in effect, not so much a final frontier as an ultimate frontier; the ultimate frontier – as wide as it is deep. Stars shine coldly in the unimaginable blackness. Out of the darkness, a tiny speck caught the distant light of stars – a tiny gray speck that, as it moved, seemed to grow larger, catching the light just so until it revealed itself to be a ship.

Mykl d'Angelo groaned where he sat slumped in his chair. The irritating noise was unsettling his pet dog lying on his lap. The wickerwork garden chair creaked pleasantly under him and some native Earth birds made pleasant sounds above while the cool wind wafted over him as he lazily …

Wait-a-minute!

Reality kicked in after marking its spot 'position vacant' for the short and pleasant while. He groaned mournfully as he found himself staring at the inside of his own eyelids. The first thing that occurred to him was the terrible bone-wracking pain running up and down his spine. Pain? No, curiously enough. It was the memory of it that seemed to hurt so much. Maybe that's what scared him. Or perhaps it was the creaking of the ship – which consisted of tons of normally strong and silent hi-tech duranium, durastress and titanium materials, which surrounded him…

He opened his eyes and looked around. The smoke had cleared up, except for the wisps rising from what until very recently had been his 'mac. Ugh. The last thing he remembered was…was…what did he remember? Bright flash. There was a noise like…like – someone frying crisps, actually. Weaver had suddenly gone rigid, screaming, then glowed a bright yellow, which alternated with a luminous blue and neon pink. It was a rather nice blue, he remembered. What the hell was that? Oh yes. The surge of pure energy that had pulsed through the ship. Of course, it did pass through Weaver on the way… He was surprised there was a body at all, considering the kind of power that it conducted before almost burning out like a spent fuse.

What else? Oh yes – the ship-wide alarm was blaring. Still blaring, to be more accurate. It was an annoying, soulless mechanical sound that reverberated down the corridors of the ship – his ship, and signified an emergency, or as in this case, total disaster! Steeling himself, Mykl lifted his head off the hard deck he'd been lying on, turning it carefully from side to side just to make sure his neck wasn't broken. It wasn't he concluded, and carefully sat up. Then, coughing from the electromagnetic dust in the air, he shook his head, praying that the dull thumping wasn't an indication that it might fall off. He rose slowly to his feet, eyeing the smoking remains rather sadly. Mykl d'Angelo struggled for a decision. He had to contact the bridge – if, he mused, there was still a bridge.

The lights were still on. The gravity net was still operating. The communications panel in the wall in front of him seemed to be working, but there was just no answer from the other end. He tried again anyhow.

"d'Angelo to the bridge."

Silence was the only reply he got.

"d'Angelo to the bridge! Answer me, Jang!"

He got the same result. There seemed to be no other solution but to go there himself. There was nothing more he could do here anyhow. He couldn't hope to assess the damage, but he realized it must be pretty bad. At least things like lights and the doors still worked – and that damned alarm!

A walk down the corridor led him to the elevator – and another body. It lay sprawled in an unnatural position on the deck. Turning it over, he recognized it as Fuller, his cargo master. The man's neck was broken. Had to be, looking the way he did.

Swearing under his breath, d'Angelo tensely entered the elevator. Fortunately, that was also still in order. When he got to the bridge, everything looked pretty ordinary – except for the third body of the day, which was lying spread-eagled on the deck with an almost comical look of surprise on his face. Jang was dead, although d'Angelo couldn't see the cause, but then, he was no doctor. He sighed dismally. Now he hadn't a navigator either – or a crew for that matter.

He slumped down in the skipper's command seat and shut off the irritating alarm from the control console in front of him. He sighed another deep sigh. It seemed to be a wonderful day for Mykl d'Angelo, captain and owner of the 'tramp' loderunner Pegasus. As wonderful days went on his personal scale, he rated this one 'one of the best'.

The last week hadn't been any better, come to think of it. On Monday they arrived at Gorda, just to find that the cargo of electronics he was to ship to Beowulf had been taken by another freighter for a lower fee. It took him until Wednesday before he found another cargo – which had to reach Brien by Saturday. After a brief career in the Terran Space Fleet, Mykl d'Angelo, 26, had left all the uniformity, rules and regulations behind him. Despite that, as a former Exo aboard a 'Fleet starship, he'd grown accustomed to things being done a certain way – and that carried over into his leadership style as the civilian skipper of a loderunner. This didn't sit too well with his raggedy civvy crew, and there was often friction between them during the few short months of his career as skipper of the Pegasus. The last straw fell when

his former crew mutinied a day out of the Hermes system and demanded a pay increase. They also demanded more time off and a better cook – at least one who knew which end of a frying pan to hold. The union tended to call that sort of thing 'collective bargaining', not actually mutiny – but hey, the results were the same. Personally, Mykl favored the term 'piracy', but this wasn't the high seas and out here, there were real pirates to worry about. Mykl's finances being what they were, he was unable to comply – and so, Pegasus made an unscheduled stop at Beowulf anyway, without his say-so. There – at the space port, his former crew disembarked and cheerfully waved their middle fingers at him, before heading to the nearest employment office to put their names down for the next available openings on any loderunner other than Pegasus. That was the last time he saw them. Fortunately for him, three of his crew – Weaver, Fuller and Jang, had opted to stay with him – and that was just barely enough to run the ship so he could leave Beowulf again. Whether it was out of loyalty, or perhaps just convenience, he didn't know – and now, never would.

"Look where it got them, poor bastards!" He muttered to the ship in general. Today was Friday, and if current events were any indication of what the future held in store for him – then he could expect a pretty rotten weekend. Under the current set of circumstances, he was unlikely to meet the deadline to get his payload to Brien.

The Pegasus was a good old ship – particularly the latter. She was moving on forty years old and was prone to breakdowns. They were minor breakdowns that had little effect other than to slow her down some, but they made her a little less than reliable – and in this line of work, speed and endurance – and keeping to time tables, was everything. Pegasus wasn't really efficient at anything anymore, except perhaps at breaking down at awkward times. Newer ships were more efficient, but he couldn't afford one. He could barely afford this one as it was – and if hadn't been for a stroke of luck in the oordo races on Brien eight months previously, Mykl d'Angelo would probably still have been sitting at the spaceport bar wondering what the hell he was going to do next with his life.

To try to make up lost time, Mykl had to push Pegasus to her limits. He sighed again, easing his weary frame out of the skipper's chair and into the one behind the helm console. Cruising at full throttle was fine for a while, he mused while running a diagnostic scan of the ship's systems – that is, until Weaver reported a minor problem down in engineering and asked Mykl to give him a hand. Mykl didn't have much entech training at the Academy, nor had he picked up much more expertise on warp engines while serving on the Fleet ships – but he could help Weaver by holding this and passing that. Then Weaver had to go and put his damn attenuator in just the right place at just the wrong time, which caused a short in a main feed line – a really bright thing for an engineer to do.

Bright pink, Mykl thought, running his blackened fingers through his short sandy brown hair with considerable effort, accompanied by assorted snaps, crackles and pops of residual static electricity. Then Mykl changed positions and went to sit at the helm. The sensors showed no space traffic at all. The viewscreen was off. Turning it on only revealed the whirling stars outside, which told him that Pegasus, a cylindrical ship about a kilometer long, was doing somersaults nose over tail. He deftly brought the maneuvering thrusters into play, slowing the tumble caused by the explosion to a stop. The stars stopped whirling. A stable ship helped him to feel better. It was at least a start. A chime from the console told him the diagnostic scan was ready – it elicited another pained moan. To say that the engines were all off-line would be an understatement – they didn't even register on the diagnostics inventory. The explosion had essentially destroyed the engines entirely, and caused an auto-seal of several stern compartments. More than half the emergency batteries were also damaged, and had reduced his chances of staying alive for more than a few hours to less than a couple of days at best.

Truthfully, d'Angelo wasn't surprised that had happened. Weaver, like his predecessors, had been a kind of starship 'backyard mechanic' and at the time of the explosion, the stardrive was all but held together by bits of wire and duct tape. Okay, that was an exaggeration, but it wasn't far from the truth. Weavers' mistake had cost him the stardrive – and Fuller and Jang their lives. "Blown up" seemed a little inadequate to describe what had really happened, but what remained of the engines was now spread over the last light-year or so behind him. Now that really made his calendar cycle!

Pegasus had been going hell for leather when the engines blew, and right after that, the old ship had dropped to sub-warp speed. It was still moving pretty fast, though gradually decelerating – roughly in the direction of Brien – but with the amount of drift caused by the explosion, it was likely Pegasus would pass through space also away from the main trade routes. Now he sat alone in space, on a disabled starship about fifty years from anywhere on conversion drive – assuming he still had that. He did not. What he did have was the Short Shit – the ship's only shuttle, which was basically a space-going jalopy that he might use as a life-boat to take him to Brien as Pegasus passed by. That is, if it had enough fuel and didn't break down in the attempt. At the current speed and rate of deceleration, Pegasus would pass by its closest point to Brien in about three years' time – and Mykl doubted he could hold his breath that long.

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