Nexus Point – Chapter 1

April 19, 2010 at 4:52 am 2 comments

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Stranded on a primitive world, facing death at the hands of the natives, betrayed by her crew, hunted by drug smugglers, Dace has one hope of surviving – convince the undercover Patrol agent trying to kill her that she’s innocent.

EXCERPT Nexus Point, by Jaleta Clegg

Buy it your way, all links are here: http://www.nexuspoint.info

Chapter 1

“Dace? We really need to talk.”
I hunched my shoulders. I doubted Jerith wanted a discussion. He much preferred lecturing.
“Oh, Captain?” He leaned over my chair; the stench of old sweat filled the tiny cockpit.
“What?” I kept my back to him, choosing instead to watch the interplay of colored light across the viewscreen. I wrinkled my nose at the smell.
“The ship needs a week in drydock. Everything is falling apart. See? The coolant levels are spiking again.” He reached over my shoulder to tap on the indicator.
I pushed his hand away. “The ship is fine. That’s just an air bubble. It will work itself through the system soon enough.” Less than three weeks out and I wished I’d never signed his contract.
“We need to put the ship in drydock, Dace.” Jerith swung my chair to face him. “I’m telling you as your engineer that this vessel is unsafe. The whole hyperdrive system could fail at any moment. It needs repairs and adjustments. As the captain you should take responsibility. If you won’t, I will.”
I ignored his juvenile attempt at intimidation. I could play that game better. “You can check the coolant on the ground at Thurwood if it will make you feel better. The hyperdrive system is fine. I checked it myself. And as the ship’s engineer, I’m paying you, not some drydock tech company.”
“You haven’t paid me anything. And coolant systems that old are not my job.”
“You said they were when I hired you.” I suspected he just didn’t want to crawl through the access conduits. If I hadn’t been female and young besides, he might have shown me at least a little respect.
He snorted, crossing his flabby arms.
“Scared of tight spaces? Or are you just incompetent?”
“How come there isn’t any soup left?” Flago smelled worse than Jerith. Neither cared much about personal hygiene. “All we got are two week’s worth of breakfast cereal.”
“You ate the soup already,” Jerith said.
I sighed and rubbed my forehead. Tempting as it was, beating them into submission would only make matters worse, though the strategy had worked on the bullies at the Academy. “So eat cereal. It was the only thing I could afford on Beccurot.” Less than two months out of the Academy, the ink still wet on my pilot’s license, and my crew hated me. It wasn’t what I’d envisioned.
Flago sniffed. He stalked all four steps to the galley.
“Drydock, or I won’t fly with you. This ship isn’t safe.” Jerith slapped my chair.
“Feel free to leave anytime.” I turned back to the controls as he left the cockpit.
He muttered in the galley with Flago. I didn’t care. Let them plot. When we made port, they were both getting off. Permanently. Close quarters with people I couldn’t stand drove me crazy.
My board erupted in red lights. Sirens screamed. Alarms shrilled. The ship shuddered violently. I froze for a split second before the Academy training kicked in. The autopilot flashed. We weren’t at destination. The engine whined as the temperature shot up the scale. I flipped the board to manual control and slammed the hyperdrive shutdown switches initiating an emergency downshift. Lost and drifting in normal space beat the alternative which involved exploding.
The bubble of normal space generated by the hyperdrive collapsed. My vision blurred as three dimensional space twisted into seven. If we weren’t close enough to a gravity well big enough to lock onto, we were about to be smeared across the transect boundary of hyperspace.
The ship lurched and shook. We finally slid free. The universe flipped right side out. Lights flickered madly. Every indicator glowed red. I booted the sublight systems.
They barely responded. The power feeds flashed. Something exploded. The ship tumbled.
“We just lost half the coolant system,” Jerith shouted. “The core’s redlining.”
“Where are we? Flago?” I barely heard myself over the screaming alarms.
The ship rocked as an escape pod shot away. Flago was gone. I swore under my breath as I wrestled with my ship. I wasn’t going to let it explode if I could prevent it. I slammed switches like mad, trying to stabilize the ship.
“The core is redlining, Dace!”
“I know!”
“Cut it loose!”
I didn’t want to. If I dumped the core, we would be stranded with only emergency power. It might be weeks before anyone found us. If ever. I hit the override buttons. It didn’t help. The indicator crept closer to the red zone.
Jerith reached over my shoulder to punch the button that should have jettisoned the core. Nothing happened. He shoved me to the side, then slammed his fist into the eject button. The core didn’t eject. The temperature gauges slid into red. The core overheated. When it reached critical, it would explode and take the ship with it. Jerith scrambled out of the cockpit to the second escape pod.
The ship shuddered as his pod shot away. I couldn’t leave, not yet. Not until I’d tried everything. Star’s Grace was my life, my soul, my dream. I hit the reset switches. I cut all power. I sat in the dark and counted to five while the alarms screamed. I hit the switches to turn everything on again. Nothing changed. A new alarm hooted over the chorus of sirens. Less than ten seconds before the core overloaded.
It was still a hard choice. I scrambled through the galley to the last escape pod. I pulled the hatch shut and sealed it, abandoning my ship.
The pod launched itself automatically. I buckled the restraints, blinking back tears. The last time I’d cried was when I’d lost my first and only toy at the orphanage. Beido had been a scrap of cloth with a clumsy face, but she’d been my doll. The director had thrown her out when I made the mistake of showing I cared.
The ship exploded. The shockwave spun my pod out of control. Everything vibrated. I clung to the webbing, tumbling wildly through space.
The pod finally stabilized. I freed a hand to wipe my face. I’d just lost everything, every credit invested in my ship and cargo. I reached for the hatch release. Dying in vacuum would be quick. I pulled my hand away. The will to keep going was too ingrained, too many years of fighting everything and everyone. I slumped against the webbing. I’d just have to start over.
The pod’s simple controls should have come on automatically. I stared at the dark guidance screen and waited. The screen stayed blank.
I hit the power buttons. The screen fizzed gray and white. I flipped the switches and adjusted the settings. The screen flickered black before returning to static. I jiggled the frame. It cleared, briefly. I used my favorite swear words.
The profanity didn’t help. I popped open the access hatch above it. I wiggled my hand through the tangle of wires inside. Everything seemed to be connected, although the wires were old and brittle. Insulation crumbled off, leaving bare metal. I accidentally crossed the wrong two. I yelped and jerked my hand free as the system shorted. Static filled the screen before fading completely. I swore as I sucked my burned fingers.
I’d have to hope the emergency beacon still worked. I reached for the small storage locker. It supposedly held a water supply and emergency ration cubes. They would never go bad, or at least never get any worse. The door of the locker stuck. I squirmed around to bang on it, twisting myself in the webbing.
The controls beeped, a very insistent beeping. I glanced at the dead screen. It hadn’t magically started working. The lights flashed on the guidance system, indicating a planet close by. The pod was landing, whether I wanted it to or not.
I tried to untangle the webbing. I panicked and only twisted it more. The beeping increased in pitch. Atmosphere screamed past. An access panel banged loose. The pod shuddered.
The pod’s angle was too steep. I fumbled my arms free to hit the thrusters.
The pod spun. I hit the controls again. The pod tumbled. I panted in the growing heat. I had to think, not panic. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.
“I am Dace, I am strong. I can do this.”
It helped me focus. The pod still blasted through the atmosphere. I had to trust to luck that the planet was habitable. I might be breathing poison. If I managed to land in one piece.
I tried booting the screen one more time. Nothing happened. I’d have to judge it by ear. I’d done it at the Academy, once, in a simulator where the worst that could happen was a bad score. I’d die if I messed up this time.
“First thing,” I said, “straighten it out. Left thruster, just a bit. Ease back, Dace. Nose up, but not that far.”
I talked myself through the procedure. The pod quit spinning. I feathered the controls, lifting the nose, keeping the tail down. Now I just had to wait. The braking thrusters should come on automatically. I stared at the dead screen.
“No radar, no way to know how close . . .”
I was beyond swearing. I closed my eyes and sweated. I guessed blindly and hit the braking thrusters.
The pod lurched, slamming me against the webbing. The old fuel in the braking thrusters burned unevenly; the thrusters cut out sporadically. The pod fell like a rock. The thrusters kicked in, shoving me against the webbing. The thrusters sputtered a final time. Crash foam gushed from nozzles, partially filling the space.
The pod slammed into the ground, hitting hard and rolling. I ground my teeth, fighting nausea and glad I hadn’t eaten lunch.
It finally crunched to a stop, tilted on one side, nose down. The controls died with a mournful beep. The lights died. I felt along the webbing for the release clasp. I shoved my fingernails under the release and pried. I broke one nail before the webbing popped loose. I landed on the controls. The storage locker opened, dumping its contents out.
I fumbled for the hatch release lever over my head. I twisted my hands around it and yanked. Wind scoured the inside of the pod, smelling of mud and animals and rain. I thumbed the heater on in my suit as I crawled free.
I’d crashed in the middle of a muddy field, dotted with tangles of bushes. Clouds scudded across a gray sky. Rain spit in intermittent bursts. Folded hills rose to one side. The field dropped into a shallow basin on the other. A line of trees broke the distance halfway between the basin and the hills.
I reached into the pod to gather supplies. I had no idea how long I might be stuck on this planet. No one would look for me. I had no family. Someone might look for Flago or Jerith, though after living with them for three weeks, I couldn’t understand why unless they owed money.
I sorted through the jumble of things that had fallen from the storage locker, none of it what I expected. I found a bar of very old chocolate, two screwdrivers, a small wrench, and a nice set of lockpicks. Everything else in the pod was junk, not worth salvaging.
My pockets contained my ship ID chip and an assortment of wire connectors. I dropped the connectors into the pod. I couldn’t think of any possible use for them. I put the chocolate and my ID chip in my pocket along with the tools.
The lockpicks posed a problem. They were illegal anywhere in the Empire. Toiba, the junkyard dealer I’d bought my ship from, had taught me how to use a similar set, though I’d only practiced. I’d never used them on a real lock. I slipped the lockpicks into my left boot. I could always ditch them later.
I nibbled on chocolate as I picked my way across the mud towards the distant line of trees. I stepped around a clump of bushes. A huge creature munched grass on the other side. It brayed loudly. I dropped the chocolate. My heart thumped triple time.
The creature lowered its massive head and brayed again, showing me lots of very big, very square teeth. I retreated a step. The creature snorted, blowing strings of mucus from its nose. It stamped its enormous feet, churning up mud. I stared into its dark eyes certain I was about to be eaten.
The animal tossed its head. I screamed and ran for the dubious safety of the trees.
The beast chased me, braying loudly. Other animals like it joined in the chase, tails high and hooves squelching. Their huge bodies thundered across the field.
I swerved around a bush, barely keeping my feet as I slipped in the mud. I stumbled to a stop. The things surrounded me, all square teeth and stomping hooves. I darted to one side. They snorted. I ducked my head and ran for the trees. They brayed as they chased after.
I slammed into a fence under the trees, knocking myself flat and sliding under it into a dirt path. The creatures stopped on the other side, flapping their tails and blowing mucus.
Rain dripped in my eyes. I brushed it away. The creatures licked their noses with long tongues. I crawled across the mud, away from the fence.
Footsteps pounded on the dirt path. I crouched, ready to fight. People ran towards me, waving sticks and shouting. I heaved a sigh of relief. They must have seen my pod.
My relief died as they came closer. They waved the sticks, shouting angrily.
The lead man stabbed his stick my way. I rolled to the side, scrambling to my feet. The others circled, watching. I raised my fists, ready to attack. I’d lose the fight, but at least I’d get a few blows in.
The rain picked up, drenching all of us. I wiped water out of my face. Movement flashed behind me. I twisted around. One of them whacked me over the head. Blinded by pain, I landed in the mud face-first and passed out.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. melsmag  |  April 20, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Wow, this is great! very detailed and action driven!

    Reply
  • 2. Jaleta Clegg  |  April 20, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Thanks! If you like it, please consider dowloading it or purchasing it. The buy links are all located here: http://www.nexuspoint.info

    Reply

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Jaleta Clegg

I write science fiction, fantasy, and comic horror. I also have a whole horde of children and a lot of opinions.

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