Authors: Casey Calouette
EDGE OF REDEMPTION
A Star Too Far : Book Three
For those who keep me going, Walt and Jen.
Copyright 2014 Casey Calouette
All Rights Reserved
Cover art by Justin Adams
Edited by Max Booth III
You can find more at
he star burned a deep abyssal blue. It had a name but no one cared. The system was a ponderous place. A place of little value. Without resources, development was nonexistent. It was visited only because it was on the way to places that were worthwhile.
Belts of rock drifted. Rocks of stone, iron, and just enough nickel to make a miner dream. The remnants of dreams littered the system. Abandoned mining platforms, drone probes, even a refinery. All testaments to failure.
Mao Chen was not interested in failure. But it seemed quite interested in him.
“Dammit,” he whispered.
His mind kept playing the conversation he would have with his family. The family who invested everything in his shipping operation. The family who would be left with nothing. Well, not nothing, just a cargohold filled with goods that no one would want besides the Harmony Worlds or a newly founded colony.
Across the room, his nephew, Wei, squatted next to a battered console. “Shit, junk!”
“I thought you were good at this?” Mao asked.
“I am, this is just—” He stopped and hissed. “Shit!” Wei looked up to his uncle. Rings grew under his eyes like an eighty year-old man.
“Enough!” Mao said.
Wei glared across the room. He straightened himself out and plopped down. The chair was a relic of an age before gravity generators. An age when straps were necessary. He settled himself in and crossed his arms across his chest. “You said—”
if you fix it.
If it’s not fixed, nothing.”
Wei leaned forward and sighed. Above him the displays flickered and blinked. Seemingly at random the screens would shatter into a wall of white static. Only the center of the screens was visible—the edges and corners blurred with two generations of wiping and accumulated grime.
Mao would have cast him out if he wasn’t family. He was cheap—of that, he was thankful. But he was an addict—of that, he was not.
“Hey?” Mao held out a slender data packet with an orange stencil of a garish girl on the side.
Wei perked up. His eyes squinted. “Season seven, episode nine, I’ve got it.”
“Here?” Mao dangled it from side to side.
Wei licked his lips. “No.”
“Then fix it!” Mao screamed across the bridge. “See? Greed is good. It motivates you.”
The screen leveled out before Wei could try again. The flickering disappeared. Mao hissed at his nephew and studied the display.
Halfway across the system the rest of the convoy was burning towards Earth. Or, at least, in the same direction. A line of comms requests was scattered on another screen. They all said the same thing in different words.
Hurry up, we’re not waiting.
“Look! You cheap bastard, they blinked. Greed is good you say. I told you,” Wei yelled through a screwdriver crimped in his brown teeth.
Mao waved him off. “How was I supposed to know? We saved fuel on the way out.”
“You’ll get us killed, they’ll come from behind and slit our throats because you’re too damned cheap.”
Mao ignored him and sat up in the chair. His ship, the
Greater Prosperity of the Rising Ocean,
was on a gentle fuel saving plot. It’d take longer, much longer, but it was also much less expensive. Every time they blinked, it cut five percent from his profits.
The screen danced and settled.
“Hey, hey! Don’t touch!” Mao yelled.
“Give it to me. It’s working, right? Give it to me?” Wei backed away from the console.
“Gah.” Mao tossed the chip across the bridge and sent it ricocheting down the slender hall.
Wei chased after with the look of glee only an addict could wear. He disappeared down a hallway along the spine of the freighter. Cargo locks dotted the way. The ship was surrounded with wedge-shaped containers with a Haydn drive on one end.
The ship groaned as gravity generators compensated for Wei. With every step, more generators fired and surged new stresses. Alloy bent, steel moaned, and the weight settled.
Mao cringed. He could picture the fuel rods burning away like a candle guttering in the wind.
The screen flickered. Mao prayed. A new message appeared. His reed thin fingers danced on the yellowed console. “Shit, bastards,” Mao whispered.
The message was a simple set of blink coordinates. They were effectively abandoning them. He could catch up, if he wasn’t flying in an ancient relic patched together with dreams and prayers.
It all started so well, he thought. A contact in the
followed by a trading voucher. The other merchants looked down on him in their fancy ships. All he’d need was one run. One run to buy that fancy ship, fire his nephew, pay off his family and he was on his own.
Instead, the war started. Two blinks out and the scattered remnants of the UC fleet told the story. The
had dealt a deadly blow. So much for my tax dollars, he thought.
He felt lucky that the Hun—god, he hated that word—hit the planets first and let them flee. Why bother with a ship when an entire world was open to plunder?
The metallic groans stopped. The reactor settled back into the same groove it had occupied for a century and a half. Mao pulled out a small tablet and started to plot his way home.
Digits danced on his mind, and not kilometers, but dollars. With every blink, he winced. Not only would he lose money getting back to Earth, but also travelling out once more to sell. He groaned. The profit kept falling.
Mao’s stomach started to roll. Anything that reduced the profit had a tendency to make him ill.
The screen flickered and settled once more. A horizontal gray line burned a bar across the center of the nav display. A white dot appeared in the middle.
Mao squinted and laid the tablet down with a trembling hand. It was a blink signature. A blink almost on top of the convoy.
“Wei!” Mao boomed. “You useless son of a goat! Get up here!”
A second white dot appeared. The green icons of the convoy hovered and continued moving. They were at a point where they could only burn forward, burn back, or blink to a celestial even farther away from safety.
Groans echoed from the hull as the gravity generators announced Wei’s passage. The addict stood with relaxed eyes and a dazed look on his face.
“Warm the Haydn up,” Mao said.
Wei rolled his eyes. The rings around his eyes were gone but the tension of an addict remained. “Can it wait?”
Wei followed Mao’s fingers. His face drooped as his jaw hung down. He turned and scurried down the corridor.
The groan of the hull announced Wei’s departure back to where the Haydn drive resided. The groans spread even faster than before.
The white dots turned to red. The convoy data stream updated the newcomers:
raiders. Light corvettes blinked in and were approaching the convoy. He didn’t expect a message warning him—the stream of information was more than enough. He knew the ships across the system had enough troubles that they weren’t worried about him.
His orbit slung them out and away from the hostilities. The red icons burned closer to the rest of the convoy. Burning away from him. He was watching dead men. His heart skipped a beat and he felt the doom of bad luck. He was as superstitious as he needed to be.
The light from the ships was nearly thirty minutes old. In less than thirty minutes the red icons would reach the green of the convoy. The fancy ships filled with fancy goods wielded no weapons.
A gray faced speaker crackled on the bulkhead. “One hour.”
Mao stood slowly. He set the tablet down onto the wood paneled table and began to pace. His knees popped with each step. He pondered the course he was on. He ignored the fact that there was a battle going on. Quite one-sided, of that he was sure. If anything, it bought him time, and time was what he needed. If he used the Haydn, they’d see it, but where would it take him? He was still inside the system, maybe a few astronomical units.
Icons winked out and were replaced with question marks. Finally the last icon disappeared and the pair of hostile icons dimmed. The display showed the last bits of data. Zero acceleration. Vector and velocity matched the wrecks. The raiders were pacing with the wrecks.
Below him the paint on the open strip of bridge was worn away, showing the glint of steel. Real steel, not alloy. Someone else had paced the same place. Mao felt a connection to the past. More of a connection to some long dead Captain than to the dead souls half a solar system away. It bothered him for a split second. Then he saw how he would survive where they wouldn’t.
Open communications crackled. Men called for help. Men pleaded, begged, cried. Then silence.
He felt particularly lucky. If he had blinked with the rest, he’d be dead. He was running silent, still, with hardly a blip from his reactor. The only way they’d find him was if they went active and scanned for him.
The thought of the dead men didn’t bother him. He was sure they’d not shed any tears for an old Chinese trader if the roles were reversed.
The groan in the hull announced Wei’s return.
“We continue on,” Mao said.
Wei looked back with wide eyes. A nervous tic fired in his cheek.
“Look.” Mao nodded to the display.
The display flickered and pulsed. The icons were gray question marks showing last known positions.
“We need to blink,” Wei said.
“We’ll do nothing.”
“If we blink, they will see and follow. Be patient, you idiot.”
Wei ran his hands over his oily face and moaned.
“Anyway, they are busy,” Mao said. “Greed, my nephew, greed delivered us. They are too busy looting to worry about this poor ship. Being frugal saved us: they never even knew we were here.”
Wei sat down hard and watched his uncle smile a thin smile. The old man looked back up to the screen and saw the same thing that was happening across a dozen solar systems.
Generations of deprivation suddenly erupted.
Lieutenant William Grace stepped out of the transport and sucked in the recycled air of the shipyard. For two months he’d paced and watched space pass by. One blink after the next brought him closer to Earth. Closer to his first command. Closer to a planet that wasn’t his own. The lights in the hall were too bright, too close, like carbon arcing in the darkness.
t wasn’t the open spaces of a real station. Or, god forbid, an actual planet. He’d visited Earth on the last trip and found it claustrophobic. The raw crush of humanity was almost too much. He’d seen the requisite sites. Tampa crater was blossoming into a tourist locale, all with polite images to the tragedy that really did create ocean front property in Florida.
Montreal, where he was raised, still felt the same. He passed that trip just walking the streets and staring into windows that were old centuries before. He’d heard Paris was nice, but Montreal was always in his heart.
Home. It hit him and he felt a tug in his heart. Farshore, burned, gone. He suddenly felt lonely. It was an odd feeling, the Navy had seemed to be a good fit for a man with no roots. Now though, he wanted something more. He wanted a ship of his own, a place to call home.
A stocky Marine Lieutenant pushed past and stomped down the passage. William watched him go and felt the sadness replaced by anger. He’d not gotten along with the bullheaded son-of-a-bitch. Few things worse than a disagreeable shipmate.
The rift was widening between those born on Earth and those from elsewhere. He’d had his fill of glances, insinuations, and outright snubs.