Abandoned. Forsaken. Hunted.
When Brokk’s campaign fails, he realizes that he has lost not only his prize but his homeworld as well. With no support from his government and labeled a renegade by his leaders, Brokk is forced into hiding. While he rebuilds his fleet, Brokk meets a powerful new ally and makes a dozen new foes.
As Brokk navigates the criminal underworld and plans his next move, one thing is certain: the Galactic Order will not stop until it has brought Brokk to justice. But surrender is not in Brokk’s blood.
BEFORE THE JUMP
“Look alive,” called a red-headed, barrel-chested man wearing a gray tank top that used to be white. Red, a name he had picked up because of his fire red hair and pale white skin, sent shivers up the spine of anyone that dared to cross him. He was good at his job and he commanded his vessel with an iron fist. He kept them alive too, but when mercenaries complained about their leader they rarely considered the good. “We’re crossing the border zone!” he bellowed, wandering from station to station to ensure his men were scanning their sector.
Three of them, one at the front and one on each side manned laser cannons that supposedly cut a ship in half in a matter of seconds if someone crossed him. None ever had but Tamara wasn’t sad that she didn’t get to see the show. It was a far better strategy to let a mercenary boast about the capabilities of his ship rather than be forced to show her what it could do in a dogfight.
Tamara glanced over at Red and smiled. She liked him. She always had. Red grabbed his handlebar mustache and gave her a wink, his pale white skin shining whiter than ever under the florescent lights in the cabin of the transport ship. He fancied himself more desirable than he really was. Another aspect of his shining personality.
“You gonna keep us safe up here, Red?” She asked.
Red stood for a moment and stared at her, rubbing his mustache the whole time. She suspected he wanted to say something deep and meaningful, but that just wasn’t Red. The deeper he thought, the harder he rubbed his face until finally Red’s foot, covered in a black leather boot, started tapping too. Somehow that mustache must have been hardwired into his brain because when he rubbed the hair on his mustache, the foot couldn’t help but stomp. Finally, after what would be an awkward length of time for anyone else, Red conceded and threw the question back at her. “I should ask you the same thing.”
“You know I don’t work well up here in the void. Not much oxygen, Red.” She looked around the cabin and out of the window before adding “not many elements to play with either.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. None of us want to die if you get out of sorts,” he responded with a bit of disappointment in his deep brown eyes. “I had to ask though.”
The burly man flexed his chest as he walked past Tamara and continued his checks in the cabin of the small vessel. Their trip was a relatively small one, only fifty parsecs to travel, or the equivalent distance between the planet Hestos and the moon of Charlon. Their ship, a small transport vessel carrying about sixty passengers, four marines, two pilots, and Tamara was a trading ship but had recently been contracted to supply workers to the ever-growing farming requirements on Charlon. The folks they carried were happy for the work and Tamara was happy for some fresh air away from the bustle of Hestos.
As they entered the border zone, their ship groaned and creaked. Tamara could see the steel bulkheads pressing inward but she knew they would hold. They always did. Gravity was distorted in the border zone and pressed on even the most well-constructed vessel in ways that nobody could guess. Not anybody on this ship at least.
As the ship entered, the once blackness of space was suddenly a soup of colors bombarding the small portholes evenly spaced in the crew compartment. Reds, yellows, greens, and blues penetrated every crack of the ship forcing the gray bulkheads and silver floors to reflect a magical array of rainbows throughout the cabin. There were more elements now, but still nowhere to run if she allowed herself to be tempted, if she allowed herself to reach out and seize the boiling gasses of the Rainbow Nebula. No, deep space and the center of a nebula were no place for her talents.
Suddenly Tamara heard laughing from the front of the cabin and saw a small Hestonian boy, no older than thirteen giggling and pointing. “His hair is purple, like a girls!” the boy exclaimed gleefully. Tamara found the source of their entertainment just in time to see Red storming out of the passenger cabin and towards his pilots. Suddenly, she realized his hair was purple from the blue light of the nebula inundating is features. Even his mustache was purple and hid the scowl of contempt he held for the workers that mocked him.
So space can humble even the most barbaric of men, she thought to herself, giggling a bit but suddenly feeling terrible for the man that was so easily angered. He wasn’t a bad man, but he was demanding to work for and he relied far too readily on the false image that he sought to portray. Empathy was her strength and she felt it more for Red than she did anyone else. As a young girl, it was him and his team of mercenaries that saw worth in her. Where on Hestos, a place of logic and science she was an outcast, he took her in and made her his own. She clung to him like a father. And what child isn’t just a little embarrassed for their father?
Tamara wasn’t a marine, but she was a fighter and her worth to Red was more than just the company of a daughter. Tamara was a half-breed, a mix of Lysop and Hestonian that gave her certain gifts. Men who didn’t understand feared her people, but those who did, men like Red, knew there was nothing mythical or magical about the things she could do; she simply had a greater understanding of nature. A greater sense of the form that elements took and the properties of those elements under certain conditions. That understanding gave her the chance to manipulate the natural world and create things entirely out of the ordinary.
Call her a witch or a wizard and you might be right, but Tamara didn’t think so. To her, it was as natural as talking and as enjoyable too. There were constraints of course, but as she grew under his tutelage she learned to harness her understanding and had only once mistakenly seared his fire-red hair.
“Hit the thrusters!” She heard Red shout from the cockpit. Instantly, pressure increased on her chest as the ship pushed against the soupy nebula that exerted its own force against the small gray vessel. “Is that all you’ve got?” He shouted again, chastising the pilots for the lack of power in the nebula. “My mother can swim faster than this!”
He wasn’t simply bellowing orders, however. Underneath the humor and the insults, Tamara suddenly sensed panic in his voice and climbed to her feet to rush towards the open cockpit.
“What is it?” she asked, reaching him as he left.
He ignored her, instead searching for his marines. “Lock and load, we’ve got pirates coming!” he hollered.
Gasps filled the cabin and scared passengers looked towards their fearless red-haired leader for guidance. The smile that once rested smugly on the young boy’s face was now flat and fearful; his eyes wide with dread.
“What about the lasers?” She asked, watching as the men manning the guns pushed away and grabbed their personal rifles.
“Won’t work in here,” was his response. “Too dense, we’d ignite the whole cloud. Want to die?” he asked, looking at her before turning his attention to his men. “Jakk, put their heads down and take position behind that steel,” he ordered. Tamara looked to see a man with hair as dark as coal and a black beard moving through the cabin with a rifle held high. He looked calm, but she could hear his heart beating fast in his chest. She could sense the blood pulsing beneath his veins supplying nutrients and adrenaline to his muscles.
The border zone was no place to get caught by pirates and made for an impossible rescue. If the enemy vessel breached their hull they would be burned alive by the scalding nebula. If their engines were damaged, they would sink to the core of the gaseous beast until all of their food and life support had been depleted and the gravity of the nebula itself crushed them all to death. Their only chance was to run to open space and hope they had enough power left to escape the pursuing ships.
Suddenly, Tamara felt thrusters fire, this time pressing upward on their bodies. The pilots were trying to evade the pursuing vessel and seek a way out of the cloud. Immense pressure attacked her lungs. Her breathing was short and her vision faded.
The cloud was too dense, too deep, and too thick to think. Colors continued to pour in through the window at a dizzying rate of speed. Green. Yellow. Blue. Red. Green. Orange. Then nothing. Blackness. They had escaped. The pressure on her chest disappeared. Sighs of relief filled the cabin but a jolt and a shriek brought Tamara back to reality.
A small spear the size of her fist ripped through the steel hull of their ship and anchored like a grappling hook into the rear wall. Oxygen rushed from the vessel but a second jolt pulled the hook tight against the frame and sealed the hole.
“They’ve got us!” shouted Red. “Suit up! Get your oxygen masks on!”
Panic ensued as frenzied passengers gripped for their belongings, desperately searching for their emergency kits in the event of a damaged hull or other disaster. Tamara too zipped her blue jumpsuit up to her throat and pulled a hooded mask up from behind. She could feel oxygen fill the suit, but there was something else as well. Complete silence. The ships engines had been dampened. They were fully in the grip of the enemy ship. Lights flickered and faded, replaced with the red emergency lights that came on when they were operating on auxiliary power, fueled by the batteries that contained who knew how many hours of life support before they were done for.
Tamara sensed Red’s approach and spun around to see that he too had switched out his filthy tank top for a clean black jumpsuit. A clear mask covered his eyes and mouth. At first, he didn’t speak, instead looking at her figure in her skin-tight space suit. In the midst of panic, Red always found a way to show people he simply didn’t care. His interest in the carnal was paramount at all times and never once wavered in the realm of uncertainty.
“I can still make your blood boil from inside your suit,” Tamara said.
“My blood is boiling just looking at you, girl,” was his response. She didn’t retort and he didn’t give her the time to. “Can you sense anything up there?” He asked, suddenly with fearful dread coating his words. “Are you connected to them by the harpoon cable?”
Tamara tried, but she couldn’t. “The void… they’re too far still,” she strained.
“It’s okay, girl.” He responded. “They’ll be here soon, maybe you can feel them then.”
He never accused her, never demanded anything of her. He was her comfort and her rock. He cared for her unconditionally, even in this moment where she felt helpless and desperate. At a time where she should be panicked and considering the past and her future and what might become of her, she instead looked up to the calmness of her captain and found peace.
The ship creaked and jolted as the larger vessel reeled them in like fish caught in the sea. The groaning of steel being pushed and contorted intensified until a sickening realization struck Tamara—they had docked. The enemy ship was directly above them. Suddenly, pounding could be heard and the pale shrieks of steel yielding to cutters filled the compartment. Marines fixed their weapons on the ceiling, waiting to extinguish the threat.
They wouldn’t get their chance. The enemy was prepared. As soon as the ceiling of the ship had been cut, they simply let the ten-ton steel object fall into the cabin below. Passengers screamed as smoke filled the compartment. Guns erupted upwards shooting at anything that dared enter, but it was too late. The filter on her suit was never calibrated to remove the toxin emitted from the smoke grenades that now filled her lungs.
Losing control of her body, Tamara fell hard to the ground. As her vision faded she could see Red standing tall, firing his weapon. Then everything was black.
Fluffy white clouds drifted across a deep blue sky. The sun peaked out just long enough to expose the hundreds of workers below to its warmth and then dipped behind another meandering monster. It was midday and Tamara was starving, but she had not yet reached her quota and lunch was served proportionately to the amount of fruit an individual picked.
A breeze pushed inland from the south, carrying with it the scent of salt from an inland sea and kicking up dust into the faces of the slaves that labored against the elements for a few good greltins. The small bulbous fruit typically grew in clusters on tall orange vines but the drought had been vicious this year and Tamara and her companions were worked even harder to get every last ounce they could scavenge before the harvest season ended.
Tamara stepped through a series of wires holding the greltin vines to the wooden posts and examined the next section. They were bare. A second gust of wind hurled more dust into her face from the south and she grimaced, tucking her hazel green eyes deeper into the cloth that covered her mouth and nose.
The protective tuck brought a sharp pain to her skull and reminded her not to move too quickly. Even after five years, the metal crown she wore that was screwed into her skull at the corners of her head to stop her from escaping still hurt if she moved too quickly.
“It looks like we might finally get some rain,” whispered a fellow slave over her shoulder. “Keep some of that dust down.”
Tamara agreed but declined to respond and hated him for risking the attention of the overseer for such an obvious comment. As the other man worked, he eventually passed her by without another word. Feeling her hot breath venting up into her eyes, Tamara turned from the wind and dropped the cloth down to her neck, eager to breathe the unfiltered air.
It was a hot day, but not the hottest of days. She was grateful for the clouds to block the sun but dreamed of the mountains beyond their dusty farm on the outskirts of their town. The mountains, like an oasis in the desert, shot up from the north against the backdrop of a dust-filled horizon. More attractive than the mystery of the wild was their rich green color that promised clear water and dust free air. In the evenings after a long day’s work, Tamara listened to slave tales of rivers flowing abundantly and more food than anyone could hope to eat.
It was nearly every day that Tamara considered escaping there, but she couldn’t; not because of fear but because of the nagging question—what then? She wouldn’t survive long with the crown blocking out her mind; certainly not if she was confronted by a pack of wild animals. In truth, she knew she was without options, and while she vaguely remembered the life she once lived, it was simply a memory, a ghost from the past, an inconsequential cluster of neurons that distracted her from her work.
Tamara turned back to the greltin vines just in time to notice the overseer was watching her. She had allowed her eyes to linger on the mountains too long and now her taskmaster had become suspicious. Moving quickly from vine to vine, Tamara tried to look busy in her work, but he had already come down from his stoop and was walking towards her. Panic surged from within. A pit grew in her stomach and erupted upward towards her throat.
Tamara walked quickly to the next row, desperate to pass his gaze. Hopeful that he would see something else that dissatisfied him and forget about her. It didn’t work and his hot breath was soon heavy on the back of her neck as he leaned in to spin her around.
The stench of garlic and onions carried a raspy voice with it. “What were you looking at, girl?” he asked, every word dripping with indignation and hatred for the slave he was forced to watch over.
Tamara tried to look innocent. She tried to speak but the pit that had moved to her throat clogged the words. She swallowed and tried again. “The vines,” she said. “I’m searching for clusters of greltin.”
He held her gaze for a moment, penetrating his brown eyes deep into hers. His leathered skin, darkened from years of laboring in the sun, glistened with fresh sweat that had drained from gaps in his dusty brown tunic. It was a heavy cloth for this time of year, burlap and cotton, catching the heat of the sun and torturing its wearer. Tamara’s eyes darted over his large body. The burlap was tied at the waist with a leather belt. Attached to the belt and hanging off one hip was a whip, which he now reached for.
“I swear,” she murmured. “I swear I wasn’t looking at anything. Please believe me, I swear.” She raised her hand to her face as he lifted his own to slap her, but instead, the large dark-haired man grabbed her by the wrist and threw her to the ground.
Dust splashed up as she sunk into the heavily traveled soil and her head rung in agony from the jostling of her slave collar that had been bolted into her skull. He would have known the pain such a throw would cause as he too held the scars of a former slave on his forehead; marks of a man who came from humble roots but now found his calling torturing those that were not as fortunate to buy their own freedom.
Tamara tried to scramble to her feet but her overseer had already unlatched his whip and rose it above his head to discipline the helpless woman. The first snap struck her forearm and she screamed in pain. Her vision blurred as tears welled in her eyes but she fought them from pouring to the surface, feeling a cold wet trickle of blood drain from her arm and drip to the dirt below. The whip sunk into flesh a second time, sending shooting pain up her back as she curled to protect herself.
From the corner of her eye, she could see him raise his arm for a third strike but stopped. In the distance, a voice called the cruel man to a halt and she recognized it. Her master. Her owner. Temporarily her protector. Temporarily. “Send her to me,” the man shouted.
The overseer reached down and grabbed her arm, pulling her to her feet like she was a child throwing a tantrum. Dust kicked up against her open flesh as he drug her upwards, stinging the raw wound. Through tear-blurred eyes she could see her temporary savior clothed in white standing on the balcony of his stone villa, disappearing as he walked inside, but his status as savior wouldn’t last. She knew it wouldn’t. She had been there before, summoned by the one that owned her body and she instantly regretted ever looking at those mountains.
“Take my word for it, girl,” the overseer said dragging her towards the villa. “You don’t want anything to do with those mountains. If the cold doesn’t get you, the beasts will. It’s untamed; even the strongest warriors don’t last more than a day.” He looked her up and down as they walked before adding. “You wouldn’t last more than a few hours.”
Tamara didn’t respond. Anything she said would surely earn her additional punishment. As the brute brought her closer to her master’s house, she knew the night would bring greater pains than this man’s aggression could have brought in a lifetime of beating. Where the overseer could only force the whip, her master owned her. All of her. Tonight, he would make her wish she had never distracted him from his work and in the morning, try as she might to hate him, she would be forced to make amends for her captors and look forward to another day. If she didn’t… if she refused to forgive them, the guilt and hatred would surely overcome her. Then where would she be? Depressed? Suicidal? No, Tamara would bide her time and keep herself healthy and one day, like the overseer that hit her, she might be free.
“When you get inside, you only refer to him as Master or Lord. Do you understand?” he growled, stopping to face her.
She nodded. “Yes, overseer.”
They had reached a brown front door made of darkened wood and bolted to the tan sandstone exterior. Two older women, the master’s servants, waited in the lobby wearing tan burlap aprons stained from food and dust. Their dark hair was pulled back into a bun and at once they rushed out to grab the slave from the overseer’s hands.
“Come,” one of the women said. “Let’s get you cleaned up so you are presentable to Master Orno. You remember how particular he is?” she asked, looking Tamara up and down before finally gasping in despair. “This just will not do,” she said in a high-pitched squeal. “Jelna, get the medical kit, we’ve got to have her healed up. He won’t like this at all, no, no, no,” the woman muttered with an outstretched hand, gesturing for Tamara’s.
Tamara accepted and suddenly the warm calloused hand of the housemaid had gripped her and was pulling her quickly through the home. It had only been a few months since her last encounter but the home had already been renovated. Sandstone tile was replaced with creamy marble and the light stone staircase that led up to the main dining hall had been cleaned and painted. Pots full of plants lined the hallways and the smell of flowers nearly overwhelmed her.
Despite the many changes, this was the same old villa and tortured memories of agonized nights fluttered back into her mind, tormenting her. The pit in her stomach that she so eagerly fought back down with the overseer outside suddenly ballooned upwards again and into her throat. Desperation engulfed her and she felt as if she would explode in nervous anxiety. Her face was hot and cold at the same time and each step, forced by the short fat woman felt weak under the weight of her body.
Fighting down the urge to throw up and pass out she tried to focus her mind elsewhere. It was hard with the collar and even the walls refused her ability to sense their texture. Her life was dark and without feeling, trapped within the fleshy walls of her skin, bones, and organs. Finally, upon passing a window at the back of the home, she set her mind to the mountain and all the solitude that it offered her. She would escape but first she had to survive. This was going to be a long night.