October 31st has become so much than Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve, and Samhain to me. It is the last day I can celebrate my sanity, my ability to do whatever I want, whenever I want. For starting tomorrow, my life, my hobbies, and my service belong to NaNoWriMo.
To celebrate this year’s exciting adventure with Gabriel, Evelyn and Maria, I thought I’d post some teaser scenes from Renegade‘s sequel, Exile. Exile was also the subject of my 2010 NaNo (which I won, whoo!). Further proof that NaNo has been so beneficial to me since I started participating in 2009.
So, without further ado, let’s leave the comforts of our homes for the far reaches of space, where our hero is currently looking for answers to a potentially life-altering problem…
Two years later…
There was nothing unusual about this part of space: stars, planetary systems, debris that may or may not have been the remains of colliding asteroids. The only difference was that he never wanted to see it again.
Glancing past the debris, Simon’s gaze narrowed when he spotted the rectangular craft in the distance. It had been the same view that greeted him all those years ago, when he had carelessly believed in its promised sanctuary. Five years he had been imprisoned by the Nureni, using skills he had mastered in the XSF and during his stint as a mercenary, to find the things needed to keep the colony alive. But as much as he hated being their personal scavenger, the worst was yet to come.
His hand clenched, tightly, as he glanced at his reflection. While he might have freed himself from the Nureni, killed Nuos and returned Autumn Welles back to Earth, that face would always be there. Reminding him of a past he was doing everything he could to bury.
A sharp jolt of pain shook him. Simon touched the base of his neck, felt the raised bit of flesh there. Nuos had once used the stem connector to keep him in line, but as time passed it had started to bother him more and more. His hand tightened over it. He might not be able to do something about this human body- not yet, anyway- but he’d be damned if he had to live with this thing anymore.
The pain that cut through him this time forced him to grab onto the edge of the console. As he leaned over to catch his breath, the sensor by his hand lit up, and a holographic Xabeldi appeared.
How can I be of assistance?
Simon ignored the question as he sank into the pilot’s chair and gripped the rests. He waited until the nagging ache passed before glancing at the hologram. “Just get me in and out of there fast.”
Simon scowled. “I told you to stop calling me that.”
The program looked up at him. I am currently conversing with my user, Xargun. It would be incorrect to address you otherwise.
Annoyed, and in no mood to keep correcting it, Simon made a few adjustments. It had been hard enough getting rid of all the information from the ship’s former owner. He’d spent much of that time listening to the demand he turn himself over to the proper authorities for the theft of the ship.
New streams of data flowed in the hologram’s eyes. “Mental responses disengaged. Visual verification for the Xabeldi also known as Simon, completed,” it announced. “How can I-”
“Look for anything that will get rid of the stem connector,” Simon ordered crossly.
The hologram responded and disappeared. Simon looked into the distance, watching the Nureni stronghold grow larger as the ship neared it. It was dark, the glass containers on the exterior cracked. The wide bay doors stood open, the hangar dark.
“Analysis complete,” the hologram announced. Simon rose from the chair and headed for a tall storage locker to pull out an armored black and red uniform. He started to dress as the computer spoke.
“I have detected a chamber in the sub floors where the equipment you seek is stored. The complex has been inactive for some time. I urge you to use caution.”
“Right,” Simon answered, snapping the gauntlets in place over his gloved hands. He turned his hand over, inspected the mesh covering his palm. These were standard grade for members of the espionage unit in the XSF; it would make finding hidden control panels all the easier. After securing the helmet in place he took a pistol, checked its power level and holstered it at his waist. “Let’s go.”
The ship began a slow descent. Simon marched to the rear of the cockpit and swiftly entered codes into a wall unit. The doors shuddered, unlocked and slid open. The ship had barely touched down when Simon stepped out into complete darkness.
He switched on the exterior lights of his helmet. “Where’s the entrance to that sub level?”
“Directly below. I can provide you with a route to-”
“No time,” Simon interrupted. He pulled his pistol and opened fire on the floor. The yellow light pierced the darkness in quick bursts, allowing Simon to glimpse the damage to the panel there. When it fell away, it hit the floor below with a loud clatter. Simon jumped inside.
He touched down on the bent panel, its echo resonating in the empty room. Simon started down the corridor slowly. As he continued on he debated on using his telepathy to help track the equipment better. When the stem connector started to pain him, he also learned it enhanced his telepathic/telekinetic abilities for short periods of time. Unfortunately, this left him weak. The last thing he wanted to do was risk that while in this place.
Each time he turned, the head lamps showed the thick wires stretching across the floor. After leaving the main hall he entered a spacious room. There he found a still-functioning terminal.
Simon lifted his right arm, touched the panel there. “Can you get into the system?” he asked when the hologram appeared.
There was a brief pause. “Negative,” it reported. “Security firewall has been engaged. Interface with Nureni technology is forbidden. It-”
Simon cut its comments short with a quick touch of a button. He didn’t need the lecture. After holstering the gun he pressed both hands to the console. A low ache began to develop in the back of his neck by the time he finally found what he needed. He punched in the codes relayed to him by the computer and waited, absently rubbing the back of his neck. After some moments a groaning sounded, traveling up and down the room before it was suddenly flooded with green light. Simon turned away, ready to continue his search when he realized where he was.
The wall was lined with a series of capsules. A few stood open, bodies collapsed on the floor in front of them. Wires leading from each capsule joined in the circular pit in the center, where another body lay. Simon approached it cautiously, his hand going for his gun.
The body was larger than the others, with long, clawed arms and legs. The hole in its skull identified it as Nuos. Simon spent a moment staring at it before he let loose a single shot. The blast took Nuos’ head off its body. When it hit the ground, it did so with a heavy, metallic thud. Grunting, Simon turned toward the exit.
He had searched the main levels- he avoided the corridor that led to his old cell- before he came across a small chamber hidden in the corner. A flashing wall unit allowed him to see a long table sitting in the center, the metal containers scattered around. Mechanical arms hung from an overhead device. As Simon stared at this, he was suddenly overcome with pain. He gripped either side of his head, his eyes squeezing shut as swift, distorted images flashed in his mind: two guards holding him down, a Nureni standing above him, the overhead device shining brightly in the light.
Was this where they had done it? He couldn’t remember.
“Biometric readings have escalated,” reported the hologram’s voice from his wrist. “A sedative may be necessary to ward off further discomfort. Shall I prepare one for you?”
Simon was breathing heavily as he shook off the effects. “No,” he snapped. He looked past the table to the console on the wall, used it to help focus his thoughts on why he was here. “Just keep looking out for trouble. I’m almost done here,” he explained as he placed his hand on the console. The hologram acknowledged him and fell silent.
It took several tries for Simon to get past the security system. His hands were shaking a bit as he called up the information. After scanning the first few lines he frowned. Of course it’d be coded in a language he couldn’t understand. Left with no choice, he downloaded the data onto several discs taken from his belt. He had just secured the last one when a muted explosion rocked the room.
Simon grabbed onto the console for support. “What was that?”
“Power generator has overloaded,” the computer answered. “Internal systems have been severely damaged. The station will not be able to maintain gravity for long.”
“Great,” Simon muttered, and bolted from the room. Already he could see the effects of the explosions in the corridor; cracks had appeared along the walls and floor, and the wires had been torn open in some spots. The floor had also buckled nearer the hangar. Simon had to use telekinesis to launch himself across a sudden chasm in order to make it to the other side.
Alarms had started to blare as he appeared through the opening in the floor, and just in time too: another explosion caused the supports holding it in place to give. Simon barely managed to make it to the landing plank before more panels collapsed.
He was in the middle of sealing the doors when the hologram appeared on the wall panel. “Foreign craft detected heading our way,” it reported.
“What kind?” Simon demanded as he headed for the pilot’s seat. He threw himself down and started pressing keys.
“Unregistered cruiser. I am reading several weapons systems on board, all of which are highly illegal in this sector.”
Simon scowled at this. Another common problem he’d had to deal with was mercenaries. While he didn’t know who had posted the bounty on his head- Arxon or Saronna was his first guess- he was in no mood to deal with anyone looking to collect. All he wanted to do was get back to the outpost.
“Get the weapons ready,” he commanded as he steered the ship out of the hangar. Portions of the walls continued to collapse.
“This is a luxury craft. It is not equipped with weapons.”
It was, but the computer didn’t know that. Of course, had Simon installed the system at an authorized location, he wouldn’t be dealing with a confused computer now.
“Then give me manual control,” Simon barked impatiently. The computer complied.
Simon sped out of the hangar at top speed, ignoring the ship’s warning against acceleration while in dock. As he banked to the left, he could see the Nureni base slowly falling apart. He had only seconds to enjoy its demise, for a blast grazed the front of the ship. Quickly righting his position, he turned to see his opponent.
The merc’s ship closed in on him, its dual cannons zeroed in on him. “I’ve got you trapped, traitor Xabeldi,” the mercenary growled- literally, if not for the translation- stated over the communications channel. “Surrender now and or I will send you to your death.”
“The enemy is preparing to open fire again,” the computer announced. “Evasive maneuvers are recommended.”
Simon didn’t bother with an answer. He scanned the other ship, made a few adjustments to the weapons and opened fire. Two quick hits to the enemy’s lower hold was all it took to end the mercenary’s intent to collect.
“Enemy craft destroyed. Proper procedures in alerting its species’ government and kin are as follows-”
“How about we skip all that and you just get the spatial gateway online?” Simon suggested, turning the ship away from the wreckage. He really needed to do something about its civilian programming.
“Acknowledged. Spatial portal opening…now,” it replied.
A white circle appeared just ahead, arcs of lightning crossing the entrance. Simon sped through at top speed, again ignoring the hologram’s warnings.
He reappeared in the vicinity of a cluster of moons orbiting a large planet. Nestled between it and the largest moon hovered the outpost. Sunlight reflected along the silver body, concentrated the most on the dome-shaped upper region and leaving the slender, narrow support in shadow. It had been Simon’s sanctuary ever since he escaped the Nureni. Every time he returned from a completed mission or narrow escape, the sight gave him something he never experienced before: a sense of relief. A sense of home. This in turn made the outpost very, very special to him. He’d do anything to keep it safe.
Simon set a course for the docking bay, then let the hologram take over. It rambled on about their current location, what civilized worlds were nearby–and what ones to avoid– while he began locking down other stations. He wouldn’t be taking this ship the next time he needed to go out. If one, green mercenary could identify him, he didn’t want to think about what an experienced one would do.
Or Arxon and Saronna, for that matter.
As always, Simon’s mood darkened at the thought of their names. What should have been a quick set of missions to do away with all connections to his past had turned into a full year’s worth of running and hiding. He had used every trick he could get think of to avoid getting captured– that last escape had been by pure luck and nothing else– but he knew it was only a matter of time before they found him again, and the chase would start all over again. It wouldn’t stop until he killed them, or they killed him. And since he had no plans to die, all he could do was keep avoiding them.
But first, he needed the stem connector removed. Its disadvantages outnumbered its benefits.
“Approaching hangar doors,” the hologram announced.
Simon turned, glimpsed the ship’s reflection mirrored in the wraparound windows of the outpost’s dome. The twin doors retracted, exposing the brightly lit interior. Automated repair drones stood waiting to either side of the designated landing site, Simon’s secondary craft docked behind them. He frowned slightly at seeing the refit was incomplete.
The ship’s engines powered down, then off, allowing the retractable arms attached to the ceiling to continue guiding it inside. Landing gear was deployed, the loading plank descended, and Simon exited the cockpit. The room echoed of humming machinery as the drones came forward to begin evaluating the ship. They darted out of his way as he strode across toward the next room. A large computer was built into the far wall, the six, small screens showing different angles of the hangar. Across the way, three other monitors displayed various programs intercepted from Earth.
Simon turned his attention to the computer console, and the panels set to either side of the power generator. He smirked.
He’s fixing it. Again.
Another Xabeldi entered the room then, dressed in a white and purple suit, his head down as he inspected the data pad in hand. Several tools floated after him. Before Simon could speak he turned, his aura flashing the gold that indicated happiness. His eyes, bright purple despite the tinted glass of the helmet, shone with delight.
“You’ve returned, Xargmon!” the Xabeldi exclaimed. The habit of mashing his Xabeldi and human name had been there from the start, and Simon had long stopped trying to correct him.
“You’re just in time,” the Xabeldi continued, approaching Simon with quick steps. “I’ve just finished installing the new detection system. It operates at a higher percentage than the previous program, and at half the power. Let me show you!”
“Not now, Seixenth,” Simon began, some impatience in his tone. The last thing he wanted to do was hear one of Seixenth’s ridiculously long explanations. Seixenth immediately fell silent, gazing up at Simon with a broad smile. As Simon met his gaze he couldn’t help but crack a tiny smile. The outpost had given him more than just a place to stay.
Two years ago, after Simon had gone through the spatial gateway, he had not expected to wind up in an outpost, let alone in one already inhabited. He had appeared on the lowest floors, weakened and disoriented; just as he looked for a way out, Seixenth had just been there, as if he had been waiting for someone. At first Simon prepared himself for a fight, for he sensed Seixenth to be Xa’En. But what he originally thought of as an enemy turned out to be something very different.
Seixenth honored Simon as a fellow Xa’En despite his appearance, and placed him in healing stasis in the sunlit chamber at the top of the station. Seixenth had also been there when Simon emerged a full year later, ready to assist him however he could. Having been alone on the station for centuries, he took Simon’s arrival as a sign that his duties monitoring the star system were done, and he was free to do whatever he wanted. He never asked Simon about the Xa’En, or Xa’Beld. At first this worried Simon, but he realized that it was a subject best left alone. He was still having trouble coming to terms with what he had seen and learned while there.
Though young, Seixenth was smart and resourceful. Their association had guided Simon to systems that were well beyond established borders, and Seixenth also proved to be an expert at hands-on construction. Be it a ship, computer, or weapon, Seixenth could build it, and with as few resources as possible. Hearing of Simon’s exploits on Earth (somewhat abbreviated) turned him on to human culture. There had been a time, some months ago, when Seixenth offered to build a spatial gateway to Earth should Simon want to visit Autumn. He had refused; he didn’t think she’d like another surprise visit. And he wasn’t exactly eager to go back.
And yet, there was one other, crucial role Seixenth filled: that of ally. Though Simon hadn’t realized it at the time, he had gotten used to having Autumn around. It wasn’t so much her company that he missed, but the fact that she had been on his side. Seixenth was all that and more.
Simon pulled the data discs from his belt. “I need you to read these,” he stated as he released the discs to float between them using telekinesis.
Seixenth set the data pad aside as he plucked the discs out of the air. “Is this the data for the stem connector?” he asked eagerly.
“Yeah,” he responded, unable to keep the edge from his voice.
Seixenth sighed. He took the data pad in hand again and inserted the discs into the underside compartment, one by one. “I wish you had taken me with you. I’ve only ever read about the Nureni. I would have liked to have seen where they had been living all these years.”
“Well, there wasn’t much to see,” Simon told him irritably. “They’re all dead.” He made an impatient gesture at the data pad. “Read them.”
At his command Seixenth nodded and activated the data pad. After several, long moments Seixenth met Simon’s questioning gaze.
Simon grunted. “You don’t know what they say.”
“I’m sorry,” the younger Xa’En said quickly. “The discs are designed to interface with a program I’m not familiar with.” He thought for a moment, brightened. “But if I had access to the computer you found the data in, I could use it to extract what we need.”
Simon leaned against the console and folded his arms. “Sorry, Seixenth. That was all I could get.” He frowned. “You sure you can’t just recreate the program?”
“I can’t recreate what I don’t already know,” Seixenth protested. There was a moment where he looked thoughtful before he nodded. “But I might be able to reconfigure the program you use to install illegal modifications to the ships. They are equipped with the latest in intrusion tech and—”
“I don’t care how you do it, just do it fast,” Simon interrupted. He ran his hand down the length of his face, heaved a sigh. “I’m going to rest. Get the detection system back up. A merc found me when I was leaving the Nureni stronghold. I don’t want any of his friends to find this place.”
“I will assign the drones to work on it right away,” Seixenth promised. He smiled brightly. “Oh! I adjusted the solar output of your restoration chamber to better suit your needs. Rest well, Xargmon.” He then turned away, the various tools floating after him. “Let me see, what shall I listen to while I work? Yes, I rather enjoyed that music…”
Simon watched him drift out of the room, shook his head and passed through the second doorway toward his personal chamber. A bed was rigged up to a redesigned restoration chamber, its interior lights glowing brightly. A squat, rectangular cold storage unit was beside it. Within was several nutrient tubes Seixenth had gotten for him while he had been recuperating. A computer had been built into the wall beside the clothing cabinet. Scattered supply crates made up the rest of the room. Simon paused to root through the one nearest the door, selected a new arsenal and disposed of his old weapons. Given Seixenth’s work efficiency, Simon had a pretty good feeling they’d be looking for whatever he needed to read the discs once he woke up. He intended to be ready.
After stripping off the armor plating and uniform, Simon stretched out onto the cot. He closed his eyes, activated the system with a thought. Just as he prepared to enjoy the warm, life-sustaining light a sharp jolt of pain launched him right onto the floor.
For a long time Simon lay on his side, his hands curled into fists, teeth clenched, eyes squeezed shut as waves of pain coursed through his body. Time seemed to stop as he waited the pain out; when it finally passed he took some moments to catch his breath. When he touched his face, moisture dampened his palm. His hair stuck to his brow.
Out of habit, he reached up to touch the stem connector. His fingertips grazed its outline, far more pronounced than before, but it was the distinct feel of metal that forced him upright. Simon probed the infected area with both hands, all his anger draining away.
Slowly, his hands fell away from his neck.
This was not good.