So because Robin Tindle asked I decided to throw up the first chapter of my latest manuscript. It hasn’t gone through final edits yet, but this should give you a taste.
Captain Jax Roux hated being cold. But being cold and naked was even worse.
“Welcome to the Bates Space Station, unidentified male visitor,” said a computerized, female-gendered voice through the speakers in his stasis capsule. “Please remain calm during the re-stabilization process.”
The shakes racking his body were hard to control as the blood rushed to his frozen extremities sending pinpricks of heat down his arms and legs.
Jupiter’s balls, this bit donkey’s ass.
Jax gritted his teeth, knowing the worst was yet to come. Deep Stasis was a technological advancement that allowed a person to travel twenty light years in a matter of two human years to the less inhabited Centauri Outer Planets, but the side effects sucked.
“Please remain calm as your stasis capsule pressurizes and opens,” droned the automated voice.
A hiss of warm air blasted inside his capsule, causing chills and icy sweat to break out across his skin. The prickling sensation became a slow burn as he flexed his fingers and toes to get the blood pumping and help speed up the re-stabilization process. Of course, speeding things up brought the nausea faster.
The iced-over plastic cover opened with a swish of compressed air, and just in time. He rolled to his side and lost whatever contents had been in his belly for the last two years. Mostly stasis fluid and stomach acid.
“Ah hell, man. At least aim for the pail. You’re acting like you’ve never done this before.”
Jax lay back, grateful for the folded clothes the attendant had plopped down on his chest. He moved the clothes lower covering his man-junk, still cognizant enough to know being cold was never good for the ego.
Oh, he’d done this before, three different times to be exact. Way more than enough to know re-stabilizing was a bitch, but really no way around it. Well, no way around the processes at the outer-lying Bates Space Station. At the Ritz Space Station a person would wake up in a fluffy white robe, IVs dripping in mega amounts of B12 vitamins and anti-nausea meds, and a special “relaxer” that made coming out of stasis feel the same as waking from a really good night’s sleep.
Yeah, no such treatment at the good old BSS. But the BSS did have its advantages. The station didn’t check micro-identification or report to the Interspace Travel Database. If you had enough galaxy credits and kept your head down, then a man with a record—or without one—could get along just fine.
Jax coughed and tried to get his lungs used to breathing real air instead of stale manufactured oxygen. Of course, the space station had manufactured air, but here was the smell of bleach, rot, and ripe old men that made a person feel like they were alive and not in some plastic, hyper-allergenic, de-sensitized coffin.
He groaned to a sitting position and swung his legs around, letting his feet touch the first solid ground in two years. When the gray bowed walls of the station stopped spinning, he tried wrestling into his pants. It took three attempts and four more visits to the bucket on the floor, but he finally got himself half dressed.
It had been ten years since Jax had been to the Bates Space Station, too close to Omega Interpol for his liking, but not much had changed: gray floor and walls, steel rolling doors where the capsules would load after the self-guided ships were docked, a half-a-dozen attendants checking on the numerous guests in various stages of re-stabilization. All in all, typical outer lying space station. The BSS never had much to promote, and the new vertical orange striped lighting didn’t do the place any favors.
Two men that staffed his port were in the official gray sweat-ringed uniforms and gray footed booties. One stood by Jax’s side with a slim tablet in his hands and the name “Locke” on his name badge. The other was busy typing into a computer at a nearby console. They both looked as if they’d taken the water rationing protocol Omega Interpol had put into place seriously, and hadn’t bathed since before the first human colony left earth twenty years ago.
A small, furry rodent with sharp teeth buzzed by his head. Even groggy, Jax backhanded the flying rat into the adjacent wall.
“It’s hard to catch the flying ones when the cats still don’t have wings,” the said not even looking up at the sound of the splat behind his head. “Mutation seems to be getting the last laugh by affecting the evolution chain from the bottom up.”
Yeah, rats and cockroaches, the only ones guaranteed to survive the end of the world.
“Name and ID number,” asked the beady eyed man, Locke, with hair that seemed to wither under the florescent lights.
It spoke to how discombobulated Jax was that he almost barked out his real name and number. He wasn’t Captain Jax Roux anymore. He was a wanted man, and it was time he started acting like it. “Smith. J. Smith. ID number 00415.”
The pair of beedy eyes peered from over the tablet. “There seems to be a glitch in the system. Are you sure that is the correct name and number?”
Oh, Jax was sure alright. Sure that was all the ID Locke was going to get. Jax had been such a cocky prick before he left. He’d been sure that all the charges against him would’ve been cleared up. He’d left for Planet Nekkar on a tip that there was an eye-witness willing to testify for him. Well, maybe the term “willing” was pushing it. No one went to Planet Nekkar unless they were running from something, but Jax wasn’t without his own brand of persuasion.
Over ten years and three planets later, cocky had faded.
But Jax had about two hours before the after-effects of deep stasis started to take a toll on his system. He didn’t have the time or the desire to explain all this to some BSS lifer that didn’t know his dick from a galaxy dog on a bun.
“Put a hundred galaxy credits on my tab for your trouble. I am sure the documentation can get worked out somehow,” he growled, starting to feel the beginnings of hunger pains that, if weren’t taken care of, could bring a grown man to his knees.
To Locke’s credit he didn’t even blink at the hefty bribe. Maybe he’d take some of the money and use it on a shower.
The other attendant came over and grabbed Jax’s thumb and rolled his fingerprint onto the scanner. The man paused long enough to make sure he got a good image, than tapped the screen with his stylus and moved back behind the console.
“Date of birth is the second month of year 3010,” Locke said.
At least that much was true and Jax was starting to feel every one of those years.
“But you’ve been through…” Locke did a low whistle and gave Jax his first real eye contact since docking at the station, “three rounds of stasis, so you’ve lost quite a few years.”
Jax’s body might be going through a mild case of tremors, and his head was getting that disoriented drunk feeling, but he didn’t need a lifer calculating how old Jax was now. Every time a person went under went stasis their body stopped all processes, including aging. So even though chronologically he was thirty-six-years, his real age was closer to thirty. “I need my bags from my ship, a room, and a post-meal. How long did I pre-pay for?”
It had been ten years since he’d left BSS, and all the space stations and re-stabilizations were starting to run together.
Jax nodded. Stasis was no joke. The brain didn’t know it had been asleep for years and thus had no need for the basic things of life. During deep stasis, a computer regulated everything a person needed to survive—breathing, blood flow, and bare minimum of life support. But the brain didn’t like to be tricked. Once out of stasis, the brain knew it hadn’t dreamt, eaten, or had sex in years, and the body was determined to make up for lost time.
It took three days to stabilize, to feel human again. And maybe in his case, be able to think clearly again. Even at the Ritz Space Station they couldn’t speed up the process, they just made it way more enjoyable.
If someone had to, absolutely had to, twenty-four hours was the bare minimum the human body could function on before going back into flight. But twenty-four was almost unheard of and just too damn painful. And Jax was in no hurry. He planned on spending the entire three days eating, sleeping, and… “Did I pre-credit for anything else?”
At this moment, realizing the reason Locke’s hair seemed to wither was because space lice were jumping around like there was a party going on, he had no desire to touch a BSS whore. But he knew he would be changing his mind soon enough. After a few hours of sleep and some hours of wicked dreaming, he’d be hornier than a pilfering raider after months in space.
Locke scrolled through with his thin stylist pen. “Yeah, looks like you paid for a courtesan. Did you want full body decontamination?”
Jax looked at Locke digging at his scalp with long black rimmed fingernails. Jax scooted back, cautious. His hair had grown out during stasis and space lice was a tough kill. He nodded. “How much?”
“Five hundred credits.”
“Five hundred!” He would’ve shot to his feet if the room hadn’t still been spinning. Five hundred had been his monthly salary when he’d first started out in the Centauri Guard.
Locke scratched under his arm pit, eyes never leaving his tablet. “Inflation.”
Jax groaned. “Jupiter’s balls, she better screw like Helen of Troy with her space suit on fire for that price.”
Locke’s expression didn’t change.
“Fine, I’m good for it.” Jax stood and the space station spun in a whirl of colors.
“Hey, careful. You fall and bust your head and you’re screwed. We don’t have a medic here.”
Jax steadied himself. Of course, why would Bates have a medic?
“Your thumb print will unlock your door. Pod number is 204,” Lock said. “You have full meals for three days. Make sure you vacate after that. If you don’t, we have security that will help you leave.”
Yeah, he knew all about security on the outer-laying space stations—freaking bullies with clubs. He just needed to make it to his bed, get some rest, some food, and have a good lay. Everything else could be figured out later.
Princess Mia pulled her spacesuit’s hoody lower over her eyes as she walked past a group of men loitering in the hallway.
“Hey, watch it, boy,” said a bald headed man, pushing her as she walked by.
Princess Mia didn’t look up, just stuffed her hands deeper into her pockets, and shuffled by. No use making eye contact. There were bullies throughout the space station. The best protection was invisibility.
She quickly turned down a corridor of rooms to get out of their sight. She’d been here too long; her permanent residence was starting to be noticed. In a place meant for transitional purposes only, her presence for over two weeks was odd in itself. Not to mention why a young boy would linger in a place known for criminals and drifters without any protection.
Mia needed a way off the BSS. She needed a ride to Planet Nekker or Planet Kuma. She wasn’t picky, just needed a way off the station. When she first escaped from her father’s home, she planned to get as far as the BSS. The journey from her home at the Centauri capital had only taken two weeks. Hitching a ride on one of the transports had been easy since there was no reason to go into stasis. But if she wanted to go to any of the outlying planets, she would have to find a way to go as a passenger. There was no way to fake deep space travel.
Back when Mia had been behind the protective walls of the palace, where servants had taken care of her every need, she’d thought it would be easy to bribe her way onto a ship via the small amount of jewelry she’d taken with her. Looking back, it had been a stupid plan. All her jewelry was designed to reflect the Omega Centauri crest, which was a ruby in the center and three amethysts at the triangular points. The crest was way too recognizable, which she found out the hard way. She had given a pilot a small broach, but realized her mistake when she overheard him contacting Interpol to say he believed he’d found the missing princess.
Mia had gotten away from the captain, but it would only be a matter of time before her brother’s men had this space station turned upside down looking for her.
Mia ran her thumb with its special adhesive key-print across one of the door sensors. The Im-O-Print was a version of a skeleton key; it could open most moderate security doors. She had quite a bit of success getting in and out of pods throughout the station. She couldn’t secure a room on her own, but it didn’t take long to realize that most of the pods were occupied with guests recovering from stasis. At first Mia would sneak in, heart pounding, tranq in her hand, ready to snatch the waiting post-meal and run back out. But soon she realized nothing bar catching fire would wake the men up, and locked in a room with an unconscious body, free food, and satellite TV was the safest place to be. No reason not to camp out and eat post-stasis meals while she tried to secure passage on the next outer-lying flight.
The screen on the door glowed red indicating denied access. The Im-o-Print was starting to wear, and the locks were opening less and less. Before, she’d always been careful to keep track of when the pods were occupied and unoccupied. There was always a slight chance a man could be awake in the first few hours of getting to his room, but that was easy enough to determine as watching the clock.
Now though, with fewer and fewer doors opening, her options were wearing thin. She went to the next thumb panel—red. Then the next. She made her way down one side and was ready to start back up on the other when a scan-panel glowed green—gotcha!
She cracked open the door and slipped in. The room was dim—they always were. There was a post-meal on a cart in the corner, cover still on, stemware still wrapped in plastic. Mia checked out the bed and smiled. There was a rather large mound huddled under the covers, and once her racing heart quieted in her ears, she could hear the sound of heavy breathing. Jackpot!
She flipped her hood off and walked over to the tray, hoping for French toast. No such luck—meatloaf. She sighed, broke off a hunk, dunked it in ketchup, and popped it into her mouth. Still chewing, she walked over to the bags in the corner. She squatted down and started rummaging through the contents: Clean underwear—leave, sound tazer—pocket, brand-new oral-sanitizer—pocket, worn old paperback—what? Who carried around paperback books anymore? They were a waste of precious resources and space. Mia flipped through the brown worn pages and quickly realized it wasn’t a novel, but a journal.
Handwritten scribble occupied page after page, front and back, almost filling the entire journal. In the dim light, she tried to make out the words, but couldn’t. Her education in foreign languages was extensive. To date, she could speak twelve different languages and dialects and read and write in seven, but nothing scribbled on those pages looked familiar. A written code then?
She glanced back at the lump buried under the blankets and readjusted her opinion of the unconscious man. No one hand-wrote anything anymore, no need since all tablets had diction capabilities. There was only one reason someone would spend the time to scribble note after note; he was hiding something. Today, even with high tech firewalls, anything electronic was subject to hacking. No way an old-fashioned journal could be hacked.
Mia carefully put the book back in his bag. She only took stuff that she needed or could trade for credits, and then only stuff that wouldn’t be easily missed. She had a feeling this man would quickly miss his journal.
She shrugged. What did she care? Everyone here was hiding something—a past, a crime. She was hiding as well. She touched the necklace that was tucked under her spacesuit. She rolled the small diamond on the slender chain between her fingers. When she’d left the palace she’d taken a small stash of her personal jewelry to use for barter, but when she realized her mistake she’d dumped all of the jewelry except this necklace. The necklace was the one thing she risked keeping that had any sentimental value. Foolish maybe, but she couldn’t bear to be parted from and since it had no family crest on it she felt the keepsake was safe enough. The necklace was her touchstone, the only thing she had from her mother.
Nostalgia for the past welled up and pressed down on her. Her childhood had been filled with servants, parties, special tutors, and a doting father. Such was the life of being her father’s favored princess. But then, a year ago, her father had taken ill, and her brother Prince Sar had begun taking over their father’s duties. At first, Mia hadn’t noticed any difference. Her life pretty much went on the same, except for the less frequent visits from her father. It was no secret that Prince Sar was the king’s heir, and she assumed her life would take the course of her older sisters: a royal wedding in a year at age XX, a few children.
But then a few months into Prince Sar’s rule Mia was ordered to a different estate far from the main house. All her faithful servants, the ones she had her whole life, were replaced with men and women loyal to her brother. She was denied access to her father, her brother saying their father was too sick, and didn’t want to see her. Mia hadn’t believed that for a second. She’d never been denied access to her father. Even when he was with important Head of States he’d always had time for her.
It wasn’t until Mia overheard two servants talking about how they’d been instructed to drug her and take her to a transport-ship headed to Planet Mautitania, a harsh dune-riddled planet where slavery was alive and well that she knew her brother had every intention of getting rid of her. Other than being her father’s favorite, she had no idea what she’d done to deserve the Prince Regent’s disfavor.
Mia placed her palm over her heart to help calm her shuddered breathing. Within a week with the help of a loyal guard, Mia was able to leave the palace and her brother behind. She knew she had to figure out a way of getting in touch with her father, but right now she needed to stay a few steps ahead of her brother and the Centauri guard.
Her shoulders slumped. The fatigue of running, hiding, and planning just to stay alive wore on her. She hadn’t been trained for this. Her education was in the proper greeting of neighboring dignitaries, and the best tactical movements in seating charts. She sat down on the corner of the bed, her heart heavy in her chest. Her necklace warm in her hand. She was Princess Mia Centauri, daughter of the Omega Centauri, blood relation of the Centauri ruling class. Yes, all that was true, but even a Centauri could get tired. And even princesses needed a place to lay their heads. Mia looked down at the soft, white pillow and then at the rather large huddled lump to her side. Maybe she could rest for a moment, close her eyes just for a few. Once rested, she’d be able to make a plan, find her way off the station, stay alive.