Compound Twelve was situated fifteen miles from the center of Cenoth, out where a forest of ancient trees gave cover and isolation. It contained two domes in an area that was considered very pretty by local standards and breathtakingly beautiful by someone who had really only known the barren splendor of Mars. While Earth had vast spectacular forests, Aleisha had joined SEAS for the promise of alien wilderness.
The door opened to the Khekarian’s hand and her awesome presence was within the room. Filling it immediately. Owning it outright. An assertive and predatory gaze homed in on Aleisha, leaving her feeling suddenly caged in with a ferocious animal, no escape and no chance of any.
On the job, Aleisha realized. A shudder rippled through her flesh.
“She’s Khekarian,” Aleisha stated. Charlie didn’t see the problem.
“Yes, there are two of them,” he answered easily.
“Soldiers?” Aleisha queried, swinging her head to look at him. She was invaded by deeper anxiety. “Didn’t you think I should know? Didn’t you think it was relevant?”
Charlie could do nothing to save her. He watched and wept while his young wife bled out giving birth to a dead baby girl.
As young pioneers and First Wave settlers to the planet, they never saw the danger of true isolation. Now death had taken everything to live for. With his own hands, Charlie buried her, his wife and their unnamed daughter, there at the homestead they had been creating. He would never again appreciate the wilderness. He would never again step into their home.
Charlie never remarried. He grew old in one of the cities on Zumaridi, working as supervisor at the large transport warehouses, overseeing the delivery operations that serviced the towns and settlements across the globe.
Over the years, the road teams became his life. Some of them were like family to him.
That’s why he cares when things go horribly wrong for Aleisha.
Aleisha was born on Mars. She was eleven when she moved to Earth and fell in love with the wondrous sights there – The cities were not domed, they were open and free – The sky was blue by day, not red, and the sunsets were opposite to what she was used to.
Best of all there was Earth’s natural wilderness. The sheer scope of it awed her, the diversity of flora and fauna excited her. It was all so alien to a child of Mars.
She knew from that moment on that she wanted to live and work in a wilderness setting. She wanted to become a pioneer. She wanted to explore new worlds. As soon as Aleisha was of age (16), she joined Space Exploration And Settlement (SEAS), then waited more than a year to be placed out along the distant edge of Terran space colonization.
Within days of her arrival, though, she realizes that her dream has turned into a nightmare, but there’s no going back now and no way out.
There’s a killer in the team, a murderer with no remorse, no care.
He wants to own her.
What if we Explored Space – and Found it Already Taken?
What if we established ourselves out there and discovered that we are the smallest and weakest civilization there is?
What if we colonized alongside two giant empires hell bent on destroying each other?
What if we had something on one of our worlds that would tip the balance in favor of one side or the other and enable one empire to dominate the galaxy.
All of it.
What if both sides knew?
Ruthless looked as tired and worn as Tanya. This morning her hair had been a checkerboard of black and white squares, tufts twisted into messy spikes. Now the white squares were ochre with road dust. Knowing it, she ran her hand briskly through her tufts and let the cloud of dust fall away from her. “Christ, this stuff gets everywhere.”
“Down my throat for starters,” Tanya said. “C’mon, let’s get out of here. I want a long hot shower and a long cold beer.”
They headed to the next rig. On the way, Ruthless glanced with interest towards Charlie’s office. “Do you think she’s in there?”
“The newbie, the seer.”
Tanya snorted. “Don’t think about her. She won’t last.”
“Who’s collecting her, then?”
Tanya looked grim. “Who do you fucking think?”
I don’t know about you but I like my warmth, and as pretty as snow is, it’s not nice waking up to a cold house, it slows me down – Yes, folks, it’s Winter in Australia and we’ve had days and nights of sleet and hail and snow.
I’ve changed all my screen savers to warm sunny pictures. Icebergs are out. Snow, ice, water scenes, even cool colors are out. In come pictures of volcanos, fire and desert scenes. All just to give me the illusion of warmth as I sit in a cold office at 5:00 a.m., wearing fingerless gloves, waiting for my brain to warm up with the latest cup of coffee, and start producing.
Yes, I do have a heater in my office. It’s a kerosene heater meant for outdoor camping. I DON’T CARE, it’s faster than waiting two hours for the combustion stove in the kitchen to kick in. Actually, unless it’s very cold, I won’t light that until the afternoon.
He looked reptilian to her. He had no hair, no fur, no eyelashes, yet his face was streaked with highlighting that added mammalian warmth and mammalian expression. Aleisha didn’t know what she was seeing.
Clearly of a primitive society, his clothing was a broad strip of cloth, although the drape of material that wrapped between his legs and around his waist was folded and tucked to a meticulous design. It was the color of shadows – he was the color of shadows, an interesting mix of browns and reds and charcoal.
His eyes captivated her, the one feature that stole her breath away. They were large. They were expressive. Soft eyes currently frowning, they did not look reptilian at all. Intelligent eyes, Aleisha thought, eyes with streaks over the lids, giving them natural mascara, eyes with depth and feeling. Cougar eyes. The irises were russet, the vertical slits of his pupils narrow black lines.
It took just a moment to take all this in, a moment to feel awe at his presence, then Aleisha realized why her heart pounded with fear. She was seeing him clearly enough and he was also seeing her, staring at her, which was simply not possible. Aleisha wasn’t present – her perception was, but not her body. She gave him nothing to focus on.
The murderer was still occupied, now lowering himself with the woman’s body, wrapped up in the odor and the color of her life-blood. How could he not notice such a towering presence right beside him?
There was no time to work it out. The alien-native’s stare was fixed on Aleisha and he came forward, moving with sudden purposeful intent, stepping through both corpse and killer. Speeding forward now, he surprised her afresh, literally melting from her view.
Color washed from him first, becoming shades of grey before disappearing altogether, immediately followed by form. Line and shadow faded into nothingness.
The experience ended in that confusion, dropping Aleisha back into physical plane limitations.
Quaking, still leaning forward, a hand over her heart, she blinked, then breathed deeply, trying to fathom meaning.
What was he, a ghost?
Who’d have thought! It’s as efficient as a manacle – the teleporter locked on Aleisha’s wrist makes it impossible for her to escape the pioneering road team determined to sell her to the Khekarians.
She can run if she wants to, but they’ll just bring her back again.