Dawn (Shadows of the Void Book 3)

By JJ Green

Sci-Fi

eBook

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373
5 mins

 

Arriving from a starjump was like swimming up from deep water, emerging into the air, and rising to the upper stratosphere. Carl had starjumped more times than he could remember, but he didn’t think he’d ever get used to it. Intense pressure on his body and, it seemed, his mind, gave way to a sense of infinite space and incredible lightness. Like the rest of the crew on the flight deck of the Galathea, he grabbed the nearest fixed object as if to steady himself, even though he was well-secured in his pilot’s harness.
The first thing he did was check on Harrington, who was sitting bound to a seat at the comm console. She was looking a little green, but she seemed okay. That misborn Haggardy was taking his revenge too far. Harrington had done the right thing when she’d put him in the brig. What else was the chief security officer supposed to do if she suspected he’d been infected by a hostile alien? As far as Carl was concerned, Haggardy was still under suspicion.
Turning his gaze to the former First Mate Haggardy, now acting master of the Galathea, he had an urge to punch the older man in his smug, self-satisfied face. What had he done to protect the crew from the aliens on K. 67092d? Nothing. It had been up to Harrington, Navigator Sayen Lee, and himself to save the ship and their shipmates. Now, the Galathea had lost nearly twenty officers, and their prospecting mission for their employer, Polestar, was over. No one would receive any bonuses. The crew was on the verge of mutiny, and it was possible one of them could be possessed by an alien.
“Not bad, Lingiari,” said Haggardy, releasing his safety harness, standing, and stretching. “Grantwise couldn’t have done better himself.”
Carl grimaced. As far as he was concerned, if it weren’t for Haggardy’s spinelessness, Pilot Grantwise might still be alive. Carl had always longed to pilot a starship, but not like this.
The comm console bleeped. It hadn’t taken the governorship of Dawn—the planet they were now orbiting—long to get in touch. Haggardy went over to the panel and swiped and pressed the screen. After briefly scanning the message, he commanded the two defense units who stood guarding the door, and who accompanied him everywhere round the clock, to follow him as he left the flight deck.
Carl unclipped his harness and went to Harrington. He unknotted the binding around her ankles and wrists.
“Thanks,” she said, “but are you sure you should do this? He could be back any minute.”
“Krat him. What’s he going to do? Tie you up again?”
“He could put me in the brig, or worse.”
“If he puts you in the brig, at least you’ll get to lie down. And as for doing anything worse, that’d take guts. Does that sound like Haggardy to you?”
“You’ve got a point.” Harrington rose to her feet and twisted her ankles and wrists in circles. She was half a head taller than Carl, but that had never bothered him. He’d always liked her statuesque frame.
Harrington returned to the comm seat and scanned the screen. “He’s taking the call from Dawn in his cabin. I wonder what they’re talking about.”
“I’m wondering how he’s going to spin what happened on K. 67092d to make himself come out smelling sweet,” said Carl. “That’ll be a job and a half.”
“What’s he going to tell them about you and me, and Lee?” Harrington shook her head. “It’s going to be hard to explain ourselves to Polestar and maybe the Global Government when we don’t know the story he’s told them.”
“No point in worrying about it now.” Carl perched on the comm console. “So, what’s the plan?”
“I’m waiting to hear what the governor of Dawn has to say. Why did Polestar tell us to come here and not return to Earth for quarantine? We have to be sure none of the remaining crew are infected before we go planetside anywhere in the galaxy. We can’t risk those aliens spreading.” She thumbed an icon on the comm screen, but it had no effect. “I can’t access external comms. I bet we’re both locked out of all but the most basic systems. If we get the chance, we have to warn the governor about Haggardy. If only I could contact Dawn directly myself, or even Earth.”
The door to the flight deck opened, and Haggardy returned. “I don’t recall telling you to untie our security officer, Lingiari.”
“I don’t remember you having any reason to tie her up.”
Haggardy’s eyebrows rose. “You must have a short memory, then. But never mind. Luckily for you, you’ve pre-empted my order. I was about to set you free myself, Harrington.”
“Came to your senses, finally?” the security officer asked. “Or maybe that alien you’re carrying around messed with your brain?”
The acting master’s expression hardened. “That’s a serious accusation to be throwing around. I’d be careful about repeating it to the governor when you arrive on Dawn. Or you might find yourself under suspicion.”
“You’re sending her to Dawn?” asked Carl.
“I’m sending both of you. Or rather, the governor has requested that you pay her a visit.”
Carl and Harrington’s gazes met.
“She would have liked to speak to Navigator Lee, too, but that would be difficult to arrange with the navigator in stasis. The governor’s an understanding woman, and she agreed to leave her out of investigations for the time being, until the ship is declared free of infection and safe for her to board.”
“But Lingiari and I could be infected,” Harrington said. “How does she know we won’t spread the infection to Dawn?”
“Dawn is a quarantine and vetting station for ships that might be harboring this infection,” replied Haggardy. “The governor explained that it isn’t the first time this hostile species has been encountered. Polestar recognized the pattern of events we experienced, and that’s why it sent us here. You’ll both be tested. If you pass, you’ll wait planetside until the whole ship’s crew has been examined and cleared. Then, we can return to Earth.”
Carl couldn’t see how it would be possible to test for something so difficult to detect. He wondered how many false positives they’d found. “And if we don’t pass?”
“I’ve sent a team of defense units to clear the shuttle wreckage from the shuttle bay,” said Haggardy. “A transport from Dawn will be arriving soon. You can go there to wait for it. Don’t even think about trying anything, Harrington. I can countermand the defense units in a moment, and even if you were to get back control of the ship, where do you think you would go?”
Haggardy obviously wasn’t going to tell them what would happen if they weren’t cleared of carrying the alien infection. And what did he mean when he said the species had already been encountered? Was it already spreading across the galaxy?
The ship’s corridors were quiet as they went to the shuttle bay. The crew were always subdued after arriving from a starjump, and Carl imagined that many were confused and worried by the events leading up to their arrival on Dawn. Like him, they’d probably anticipated a return to Earth, not this detour.
At the bay, the sight of the remains of the small ship he’d flown on countless trips to and from the Galathea tore at Carl’s heart. The moment that he’d participated in its destruction had been a sad one.
Defense units were busy pulling apart the wreckage and taking it away. Where parts of the shuttle had melted to the floor, they were using their weapons to sever them.
Harrington leaned against the shuttle bay wall, her arms folded.
“We’re just going to do what he says?” Carl asked.
“I don’t see what choice we have. He’s right. We can’t do anything while he has the defense units under his control. If we run and hide, they’ll find us in the end, and we’d only be putting off the inevitable. Besides, we aren’t infected, so we’ll pass the tests, and then maybe we’ll get a chance to tell our side of the story. And if Haggardy’s possessed, they’ll find out.”
“I’m wondering what else the governor said that he didn’t tell us,” said Carl.
“Yeah, I’m wondering that too. Hey, Is Flux going to be okay while we’re gone?”
Carl had been concerned about his small alien friend, too. “Yeah, he’ll be fine. The little fella’s got plenty of friends to look after him.” Carl smiled at the memory of finding out that Flux hadn’t been as much of a secret aboard ship as he’d thought he had.
An alarm sounded, and the shuttle bay lights flashed. A synthetic voice came over the intercom, warning them to evacuate as a transport was approaching. Carl and Harrington waited outside the bay while the transport docked. When they returned, a small, neat, kite-shaped shuttle awaited them. An MT11. It was an old model, but Carl had always appreciated the economy and simplicity of its design.
As they boarded, he noticed a modification: a plexiglass screen separated the passengers from the pilot. A precautionary measure, Carl guessed, to protect the pilot from infection.
They strapped themselves in, and Carl tried to recall what he knew of the place they were going. All he could remember about Dawn was that it was a frontier colony: a resource-rich but undeveloped world that the Global Government had purchased for a fortune from Polestar’s rival prospecting company. The Government had strongly encouraged a disaffected group who were generating political tensions to settle there. What had they been called? He couldn’t remember.
Dawn was also the only planet where humans had settled alongside a secondary colonizing alien species, the Haidiren.
“What do you think’s going to happen if we don’t pass the test?” he asked Harrington.
“Why wouldn’t we pass?” But from the way she didn’t look him in the eye, Carl guessed she was thinking the same thing as him—what if the whole thing was a set up to get them off the ship quickly and quietly? What if there was no test? What might really be awaiting them on Dawn?


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