Fringe Colonies Book 1: Alliance
Starting over is never easy, and the wildness of the fringe isn’t making it any easier on Kit and her “crew”. Kit didn’t expect to be fighting for her future right out of the gate.
1 – Her finger hovering over the launch button, Kit paused.
She was leaving the space station and heading off to Ephren, a much smaller hub in the depths of the sector, with every item she possessed. She’d told herself that she’d be back, had even promised her previous captains, but she knew it wasn’t going to happen.
It was time she moved on and found somewhere she felt she could settle. Somewhere she belonged.
“Ready?” Barien asked, thumping the base of the control console with his boots as he sat down in the gunner’s seat.
That was the trigger she needed. After flicking him a grin and pushing her jet-black hair out of her face, she jammed her finger on the button and locked in the coordinates.
Ephren, here I come.
Then she waited. The docking bay wasn’t at its busiest, but it wasn’t empty either, and it appeared that everyone else had decided to try to leave at the same time. Half an hour later, someone finally got to them and designated a flight path into the vastness of space.
“Last chance to get off and stay behind.” Kit glanced at her friend, noticing the sadness in his brown eyes.
“Nah, it’s cool. I’ll come with you.”
“Completely. We both know you’re considering not coming back. This way, we get one last epic memory for sure.”
Frowning, Kit found she couldn’t look his way again. Was this goodbye? Did he know how she truly felt?
If so, he wasn’t the only one. The leaf sisters, her previous captains, had shown a similar understanding. Somewhere in the massive cargo area of the ship was a typical leaf-culture dress: white, with roses embroidered on the cloth. For a few months, she’d worn something a lot like it day in and day out, as everyone did in their crew, but it just wasn’t her. They’d bought her the new dress right before she left. The crew could opt to wear it as a uniform, so it was a memento. The spacers in the leaf culture wore theirs all the time, but she didn’t hold much hope of ever wearing it.
Kit now wore canvas pants, boots, and a denim jacket. Those were much more her style and infinitely more comfortable.
While she considered not coming back, the dockhand waved her forward. Larger than the average cargo ship yet too small to be used for much else, her vessel, the Jaunty Camper, wasn’t the best model in the dock, but it should get her where she needed to go—Ephren, where she could find the Xeartais crew dispose of her cargo.
“Nine kellians to go,” she said as they lifted off the launchpad. She pushed down on the throttle.
“Want to take a break while I watch the ship?” Barien asked.
Shaking her head, she motioned for him to take the time off instead. He sighed.
“What?” she asked.
“I wasn’t sure you’d actually leave.”
“One of these days, I won’t,” she replied, but she didn’t know if even she believed her words. What would it take to make her stay somewhere? She had no clue.
Before she could think about it further, an alarm blared, which made her jump.
“The alert system works, then,” Barien observed.
“What do you mean, ‘it works, then’? Didn’t you test it?”
He shook his head, tousled blond hair bobbing.
“I know you said this was cheap, and I’m grateful you found me a ship at all, but seriously, you didn’t think of checking the security features and making sure they all worked before we set out?”
Straightening, she checked the systems console to find out what was wrong. The culprit was obvious; the back hatch of the main cargo bay wasn’t shut. Two-thirds of the bolts designed to keep the contents safe in the vacuum of space had failed. Only six held it in place, and they and the cargo were in danger.
“We’d better not get into a bad fight,” she offered. “The back cargo hatch isn’t going to hold against even the slightest hit. We’ll need to be careful not to get blown sky-high or lose our atmosphere.”
“Want me to see if I can fix it?” he asked, no doubt feeling guilty, but she shook her head. It wouldn’t be easy while flying, and she didn’t want to delay. The longer they were in the gap between the hub and the small space station, the more likely they were to be attacked or have something else go wrong.
Frowning, Kit decided to run full diagnostics, which she should probably have done before leaving. Warnings and lists of ship parts doing strange things came up on the monitor.
“Sorry,” Barien muttered, reading over her shoulder. “Best I could do.”
“Don’t start feeling guilty or ashamed of it again,” Kit replied. “You bought me a ship. Hunk of junk or not, it’s giving me something no one else ever has.”
Barien raised his eyebrows.
“Freedom,” Kit explained, trying to hide her frustration at having to. He meant well, but she needed more people in her life who got her. Going to Ephren was another attempt at finding that.
While the ship compiled a list of things she needed to fix—in order, with the most important at the top—Kit stared into the vastness of space. There was almost nothing nearby; stars twinkled from thousands of light-years away.
A movement to port caught her eye. Striding to the window, she stared out.
“Another ship,” she reported, wondering why she hadn’t been alerted by her radar.
“You sure?” Barien asked and scooted over to the radar. There was no blip on it to let them know they weren’t alone.
She nodded, pointing at the vessel. At first, she wasn’t sure it was getting larger, but it became clear that it was, and it was heading in their direction.
“How far are we from the asteroid belt?” he asked.
“Too far. They’ll be on us before we get close. Battle stations.”
Barien scooted back to the weapons console. He’d been briefed on what she’d need him to cover if they were attacked. She flicked the ON switch on the ship’s lone repair bot and strapped into the seat at the navigation console. For now, she planned on avoiding them and keeping them at bay with a few shots, but who knew if it would work?
Although she kept one hand on the throttle, she left the autopilot on as she watched the ship approach. No one was in range. There was a chance they’d stay that way and give her ship a wide berth as they went somewhere else.
But with each minute that passed, it became clearer. They weren’t on course for anywhere else. Kit’s ship had caught their attention.
“Want to hail them?” Barien asked.
“Feel free.” Kit pushed the comm to him. “I don’t think it’ll make any difference.”
“Hello, unidentified craft. This is the Jaunty Camper. Please state your intentions.” Barien began as Kit rolled her eyes. Not only was the name silly, but if the other ship did contain pirates, there was no way they would say so.
“Ahoy there, Jaunty Camper. Pleased to meet you and your ridiculously named ship. We’re in a bit of a hurry and you’re evidently new around here, so I’ll explain this as quickly as I can. You probably want to prepare to be boarded. And if you could arrange your cargo so the valuable stuff is nice and accessible, that would also be helpful.”
Kit almost dropped the drink she’d just picked up. Turned out pirates did declare themselves.
“What do you want to do?” Barien asked.
Tilting her head to the side, Kit didn’t look his way. Although she’d been given projects to oversee while working with the leaf sisters, she hadn’t encountered any pirates, having stayed within friendlier waters. She didn’t have a clue how to handle this other than to try not to get boarded.
Kit waved for him to hand the comm back and jammed her finger on the button. “Sorry, no can do. We might be jaunty and a little bit camp, but we’re not pushovers. You’re going to have to work harder than that if you want my cargo.”
It made her grin, even if it was a silly response. Sometimes being antagonistic was satisfying.
“Make sure the guns are ready in case they catch up,” Kit told Barien once the channel was closed down.
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, pressing buttons and making himself look busy.
“And you’ve got a personal shield on and charged, right?” Kit asked. Most people had them, but she wanted to check after everything she had just discovered was broken.
“Aye. As always. I’m not getting shot. Anyone wants to hurt me, they’re going to have to use something far slower.”
“Good,” Kit replied. Most people said pirates didn’t use guns anyway. Life was considered more valuable and ships more important this far out on the fringe. You didn’t want to kill people when so few lived in your area of space as it was, but it only took one person to decide to use a gun, and everyone could end up scuppered.
Focusing on one task at a time, Kit took control back from the autopilot and pushed the throttle to max. They were still a long way from the first asteroid belt, and she wasn’t even sure if she could navigate inside one.
She’d been told to practice that skill. Knowing how to skirt one was helpful, but she’d been so busy setting up her moonshine business that she hadn’t had a chance. With no working radar, she was even less anxious to do so.
Despite weaving around space debris in the area and pushing her ship to full throttle, the pirates were gaining on her.
“Gonna have to send a few shots their way and see if we can discourage them. Let them know we mean business,” Kit said, hoping Barien didn’t ask what they’d do if that didn’t work. She had a sword at her waist, but she wasn’t that great with it. Her parents had never let her learn—something about it not befitting for a woman.
The thought made Kit chuckle. If her parents could see her now!
As the pirate ship came within gun range, she posed her fingers over the nav controls.
“Hope you’re strapped in tight,” she said a fraction of a second before she slammed Camper into a quick turn, bringing the guns around to fire on their pursuers. Barien grunted and did his best to time the shots for the right moment. Two plasma bolts shot from the side of the ship, but they both missed.
“Sorry,” Barien said. “Not had as much practice as I’d like.”
Kit tried not to yell at him. Although he wasn’t perfect, Barien was doing his best. Instead of replying, she flung the ship in a one-eighty to bring the other two guns to bear.
Barien fired again, getting the timing much better. However, as she watched the bolts on the screen, she noticed the pirates had changed trajectory as well to either fire or dodge the molten plasma. The shots went wide.
“Frell!” Kit exclaimed and flung the ship around. The straps of her harness dug into her shoulders.
There was no reply from Barien, and when she glanced at him, his head was down. He was concentrating. Neither of them found shooting easy, but she’d hoped to hit the other ship with at least one of the four bolts.
Imagining the pirates laughing at her, she kept turning while she waited for the guns to recharge.
Their gunner was faster. The ship in pursuit swung side-on, and two missiles hurtled at them.
Since the distance between the parties was so large, the shots went wide after a slight course adjustment, but she decided to keep attacking.
“Fire,” she said, hoping Barien could deliver.
He seemed to have his act together; two bolts flew from the Camper with enough precision that one of them struck them dead on and the other grazed one side and the shield.
“Yes!” Kit yelled. Scoring a hit would never get old.
Her joy was short-lived; the ship still followed them.
“Get the guns ready again fast,” she ordered.
“I’m trying.” Barien’s reply was muted as if he had spoken through gritted teeth. As the pirates got closer, Kit swung back the other way to give the other ship the message that she wouldn’t make it easy.
For the next few minutes, they flew circles around each other and fired when they could. Kit got another hit in, but it must have struck something inconsequential because it didn’t slow the other ship.
A knot grew in Kit’s stomach as the distance between them got smaller. She was sure she’d be boarded. She couldn’t let pirates onto her ship; everything she owned was on board, and she wasn’t sure she could start all over in another part of the galaxy. She’d tried it once; that was enough.
She had to keep her ship safe, but she was out of ideas.
Kit is going to have to do some fancy footwork to get out of this situation. However, so seems desperate enough to do what she has to do to get out of it. Find out what happens next to Kit and Barien on January 20th when Finge Colonies Book 1: Alliance is released. Available for pre-order now!