The Luxorian Fugitive by Mann Ramblings
Ship Logs of the Santa Claus: Book One
Release Date: 17 April, 2015
Sergeant Liam Jacks is the security chief of transport vessel, The Santa Claus. He travels the planetary cluster with Marc Danverse, his best friend and captain, seeking to escape his tortured past and find some peace of mind.
Having been through a civil war together, Danverse and Liam are close. Maybe too close….
All that changes when mysterious stranger, Hadrian Jamison, an escaped Adonirati, books passage to Alpha Centauri. Can he be trusted? Can the stories of his past be believed?
As Liam’s fascination with Hadrian grows, jealousy threatens to tear apart his friendship with Danverse.
When Hadrian’s owner shows up, Liam is forced to go against orders in order to launch a rescue mission to save him.
The ensuing conflict may be more than any of them expected.
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“HAVE YOU found him yet?”
“Hurry! We don’t have much time!”
“Scanner picked up the target in the crowd.”
“I have him in my sights.”
“Sergeant, terminate with extreme prejudice!”
“I… I can’t. You can’t ask me…”
“Take the shot! That’s an order!”
“Captain, you can’t be serious.”
“Pull the trigger, damn it, or we all die!”
“Oh God, forgive me…”
Cold sweat rolled off Liam’s body as he sat upright in bed, sheets tangled around his legs. His deafening pulse drowned out the soft whirr of the environmental systems and the mechanical hum of the ship’s movement. There was a hollow quality to the titanium hull of his private quarters that seemed to amplify the resonance of the dream.
“Pull it together, Marine. You’re not a child.” The horror refused to recede even now that he was awake.
Liam looked around his room as his reality began to settle. The windowless room was nearly pitch-black; the only illumination came from the data screen on the wall, its soft cyber-green time code proof that he was not lost in the abyss. Yes, he was aboard the cargo vessel the Santa Claus. Yes, they were en route to Luxorian from Alpha Centauri Prime for a supply delivery and pickup. Yes, he was the security chief of the thirty or so men employed on the ship. Yes, the dream was of a harsh memory, but still just a dream.
“Mrs. Claus. Status report please.” Liam spoke in quiet, shaken tones while his unsteady hands threaded through his hair. A synthetic voice, sounding like a middle-aged woman, hummed back in response.
“It is zero three seventeen, Sergeant Jacks. We will be docking at Luxorian Spaceport Alpha at approximately eleven fifteen. System sync to the Luxorian environment is in progress and will be complete in two hours and twenty-five minutes. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No.” His reply was brusque, but Mrs. Claus’ feelings couldn’t be hurt; she was artificial, after all. Normally, Liam found Captain Danverse’s penchant for ancient Earth history—including the ship’s name and the computer’s voice identity—endearing. Marc was his best friend, after all. But tonight there was no comfort in it.
Even without the nightmares, it was hard to sleep well when forced to acclimate to a new planet’s environment and timeline every time you came into port. The ship’s systems were designed to gradually shift the sleep cycles of everyone on board to match up to the active hours for each destination. Add the dreams into the equation, and his rest was as fractured as his self-esteem.
“Lights. Low,” he commanded. Twin light panels on opposite sides of the small room began to glow. The undecorated metal walls were nothing more than panels hiding the storage spaces within. The large bed looked out of place in the three-by-four-meter space, but was required for any chance of a comfortable night’s sleep. Not that he’d seen many of those in a long time. A lone desk sat in the corner with a basic chair on wheels, covered in dirty clothes. Several recessed shelves held stacks of paperwork, but the entire room was devoid of anything personal.
Liam peeled himself from the dampened sheets, the fabric refusing to release from the tackiness of his salty skin. He knew he couldn’t sleep anymore, even if the bed weren’t already cooling and saturated. The ship ran warm, but he couldn’t suppress a slight shiver as the air hit his bare skin. Even the dense pelt of hair that covered his chest, arms, and legs provided little warmth at the moment. He slid into a pair of cargo shorts and sleeveless shirt that were piled in the corner, too shaken to care if they were clean enough to wear. A pair of thick-soled sandals waited for him in front of the room’s exit. Out of habit, he picked up his communicator from the random pile on the desk and put it in his ear.
He placed his hand on the plexiglass palm reader embedded in the hull and the door slid open with a loud hiss. From the outside, he slapped the matching panel to close the door and trudged out into the hallway.
His footsteps gave a soft metal echo as he wandered in no particular direction through the dimly lit tunnel. This was no luxury liner; a subtle vibration could be felt at all times from the tech and mechanicals hidden behind the scuffed and weathered walls. The Santa Claus was sturdy, but not designed for creature comforts. Captain Danverse had purchased the decommissioned cargo ship nearly a decade ago and offered Liam a job when the pair had left the military following the Centauri Prime civil war.
Intelligently, Danverse had populated the Santa Claus with a crew of men who could stand the long distance between stops and could appreciate the company of their fellow men. Ports were few and far between, and it was a small world to live in for an extended span.
The planetary cluster of Alpha Centauri’s binary star hosted an unparalleled fifteen or more planets that were capable of sustaining life, but travel between them could take weeks or months depending on the quality of the ship engines. Faster-than-light capability was restricted to military-class vehicles. Subspace Link kept the information systems of every planet connected, and the space-station-sized hub kept the entire cluster in range and part of a vast system of cultures and technologies. The current run to Luxorian had taken weeks, and they would only be docked for one twenty-four-hour cycle to load and refuel before making a return trip to Centauri Prime.
Danverse had chosen this way of life because after the civil war he lost interest in planetary life, with its conflicting politics and the reminders of all the wasted lives. Liam had similar incentives to live off-planet, bearing the invisible scars of a wartime job well done. He lived on the transport ship in an attempt to bury the memories, but the dreams always returned to reignite the guilt in his breast.
And he was remembering it oh-so-acutely at this late hour.
Liam knew the blueprint of the Santa Claus like it was imprinted on his brain, but tonight he wandered without recognizing what deck he was on or what passageway he was in. A strange sadness filled him, weighing him down as the confusion thickened. He knew he had ridden a lift and walked down several corridors, but he was damned if he was aware of where he was as he rounded a corner.
“Boss? You look like shit,” Mac said.
“Mac? What are you doing up?” Liam straightened to hide his fragile frame of mind. Even now, his military training was too ingrained to stop maintaining the illusion of rank.
Mac was a rugged, dark-haired man with a sturdy body under the dirty coveralls he wore as the ship’s head tech mechanic. Short and thick, with rounded muscles, Mac was smaller and less defined than Liam, but no less powerful. Dark hair covered his forearms and could be seen on his chest where his zipper opened. His youthful complexion was stained with machine oil and other occupational hazards—and too many hours on the job. Mac was the youngest man on the crew, but made up for it in his diligence to his profession.
He knelt in front of an open access panel, various tools around his feet and hanging from his utility belt.
“Look who’s talking. I’m giving the system a few checkups and prepping the environments on Beta deck. We’re going to have a few guests taking the cruise.”
“Why don’t you let Mrs. Claus run the diagnostics and environmental presets and get some sleep?”
“First, I didn’t get this good by letting the tech take care of itself. Second, I don’t live on this boat because I trust females, boss. Synthetic or not, if she goes on her period, I’ll be the one who gets blamed when we all start screaming, ‘Oh God, oh God, we’re all going to die.’”
Usually Mac’s humorous demeanor was infectious, but Liam was having difficulty holding himself together. A tremor was building, making it hard to stand still. Mac’s brow flattened, and the scrutiny only made Liam’s nerves worse. He could imagine the calculations going on in the tech’s mind; he couldn’t hide how disturbed he must look. Mac couldn’t know the cause, but he had to see the damage as Liam’s facade started to erode.
“You okay, boss?” Mac asked. His genuine concern was clear. Still, Liam was not about to share his past.
“I’m fine.” His feet shifted as he searched for a polite excuse to step away. The rising awkwardness only amplified his tension and made him pause when the ideas wouldn’t form.
“The gym’s always open. I bet no one else is up.” Mac picked up a small tool and began making adjustments to the open logic boards.
“Thanks, Mac. That’s not a bad idea,” Liam said, relieved that Mac let the matter drop. “Don’t take too long with that. We need you during the docking.”
“Don’t worry. I’m almost done. Besides, I only sleep about four hours a cycle anyways. My brain rarely shuts down enough. Too much nervous energy, I guess.”
“Sounds like you could use a workout, too.”
“How do you think I get the four hours in the first place?” Mac nodded down the hall. “Go on, boss. I have to get this finished and you’re distracting me.”
Liam called out over his shoulder as he turned away. “All right. I’ll see you before we get to port. You do good work, Mac.”
“Go away, boss.”
It took a few moments for Liam to process his location and head toward the gym, a large section of Beta deck housing a sizable exercise room, connected with lockers, lavatories, and an open shower room for the entire crew and possible passengers. Since the Santa Claus was a former military vessel, most quarters did not contain private baths. The communal bathroom for thirty men was maintained in a near-pristine condition. Mac was obsessed with the sanitary and recycling systems working at optimal efficiency.
As Liam stepped off the lift and rounded the corner, he found himself in front of Captain Danverse’s quarters. Still haunted and fidgeting, he stared at the plaque engraved on the door. He knew he should go to the gym.
Fists tight, he resisted the urge to ring the door com. He should not be here. Not like this. It wasn’t fair to everyone concerned. He spun away, took one step, and stopped.
“Mrs. Claus, is Captain Danverse in his quarters?” He rubbed his weary brow with an unsteady hand.
“Yes, Sergeant. The captain’s status is marked as In and Do Not Disturb. Would you like me to contact him?”
“No, Mrs. Claus.”
He stood unmoving for countless minutes, admonishing himself over and over. The dream had left him so anxious he could feel his skin crawling. Muscles twitched in uncomfortable patterns as he barely held himself still. In the end, desperation and need won out.
Hands shaking, he turned and pressed the door chime. With his gaze to the floor, he waited the endless seconds for the door to be answered, his guilty conscience overwhelming his senses.
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