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Shattered Minds (A StarSeeker Novel Book 1)
 

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Shattered Minds (A StarSeeker Novel Book 1)


  Shattered Minds

  (A StarSeeker Novel)

  By David Byrd

  Copyright © 2017 David Byrd

  All Rights Reserved

  This is a work of fiction. Names, Characters, Places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally and are not to be considered real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.

  Chapter 1

  “That’s it captain, we’re all unloaded and ready to go.” Jevin said. “Hatches locked, engine primed and ready.”

  “Very well, Zara lift off and set course for Midway Station,” Captain Nash said.

  “Aye captain…clearing atmosphere in 3…2…1,” she said. “Course entered, jump begins…now!”

  The stars blurred momentarily on the display screens as the ship entered faster than light travel and sped along the course towards Midway Space Station in the heart of the system. Jumping always caused a momentary nausea and as Nash looked over at Jevin he seemed to be having trouble this morning. Jevin Carter was a big muscular man in his late 30’s with red hair, green eyes and a perpetually ruddy complexion. He was physically imposing at first sight but behind the stocky frame he had a carefree attitude.

  “Jevin, are you alright over there?” Nash asked. “You look like hell. You of all people know not to eat breakfast before a jump.”

  “I…well I didn’t eat breakfast but I had a small…ah…medicinal last night,” he said with a wink.

  Nash and Zara laughed heartily knowing a small medicinal was just Jevin’s way of saying he had too much to drink.

  “Just don’t hurl on the console Jev or it will be hell to pay from me,” Zara said with a wink.

  “Roger that ma’am, I don’t ever want to be on your bad list.” Jevin said.

  Nash was content in that moment. With Zara and Jevin at his side he felt the trials of the past were just a distant memory.

  “Ok then, I ‘m going to get some sleep on this leg and then review the contract listings for the next job,” Nash said as he rose and started for the bridge hatch. “Oh and don’t break the ship while I’m out please.”

  “No promises…Sir,” Zara said with a smirk.

  Zara Tso turned her attention back to the flight displays and Nash stared for a second. To an outsider, she would seem an unlikely crew member since she was obviously of Asian descent somewhere in her past. One would think her allegiance would be to the Pan Asian Alliance but her parents defected before the expansion wars broke out. Somewhat small with dark eyes and short hair that she frequently colored to match her extreme moods, Zara was also athletic and moved with the grace and deadly precision of a caged panther. She was probably in her late 30’s although neither Jevin nor Nash had ever dared to ask.

  Nash took a lift to the crew level and entered his room. All three of the crew had quarters on this deck as they worked as a team and there was no rank. He was the captain of the ship and the others would follow any order he gave, but more often than not it was just three people working together for common purposes.

  Nash stripped off his duty uniform and entered the refresher. He took the time for a real but brief shower with actual water as a reward for the last contract success. Water was precious aboard a starship and was rationed judiciously. Afterwards, he stretched out on his bed to catch a quick nap.

  “Computer audible,” he said looking up at the ceiling bulkhead.

  “Identify,” a pleasant but simulated female voice said.

  “Nash, Quentin J. Captain,” Nash said aloud.

  “Voice Print confirmed…ready,” the computer said.

  “Contracts open for bids…display visually,” he said.

  The computer was capable of projecting data on any hard surface and at the moment he only had to look up to the ceiling and read the current contracts.

  “Expand mining delivery,” he said as the display expanded with detail. “Cancel…not enough credit for that job. Expand Medical Transport.”

  Detailed job specifications filled the bulkhead calling for a delivery of medical supplies and 1 person from Earth to Nix Station which was nearly the farthest system containing human inhabited worlds. The pay scale listed was twice the normal rate for this type of job.

  “Computer…send to Jevin’s console…request backtrack and verify.” Nash said.

  “Completed”

  “System Off,” he said and with that he fell quickly to sleep. A skill learned long ago.

  A few hours later, Nash went back to the bridge to relieve Jevin and Zara for the last leg of the flight.

  “So Jev what did you find out about this contract?” Nash asked.

  “Well Cap… the security checks are clean and the source routing is going through two industrial systems and back to the originator,” Jevin said. “I don’t see a tracer or a tracking add-on so it looks clean.”

  Nash was thoughtful considering the possibilities here. Jevin was not only his friend and crew member, he was also highly trained in Military Intelligence and his skills in those areas were excellent.

  “What’s wrong?” Zara asked. “You have that look…you know the one I mean, like you swallowed something awful and are trying not to show it.”

  “It’s just a feeling,” Nash said. “The contract price is double the normal fee for a job like this. Go ahead and bid but bid just slightly higher than the asking. Let’s see how important this shipment and person really are. Then you two go get some sleep and I’ll wake you at Midway Station.”

  Chapter 2

  Dr. Fenton Burke sat at his desk in the administrative wing of Paxton BioScience awaiting the protests that would surely come from Dr. Danforth sitting in front of his desk. He already knew that Danforth came from very old money and had deep connections and could make things a bit tricky but he had confidence in his ability to manage people situations to his way of thinking. It was one of the reasons he was a top administrator.

  “Dr. Burke, I’m really not suited for this assignment,” Danforth said. “You know my work can’t wait for the weeks it will take to complete this assignment.”

  “Dr. Danforth, I know your assistants can continue in your absence,” Burke said. “I’ve read your performance reports and both of your understudy’s have a glowing review from you and they continue to perform some of the highest top secret projects we have going on. Surely you can spare the time and besides, we need one of our top scientists for this.”

  Danforth stared for a few seconds wondering if discussing any personal connections could sway his mind but probably not.

  “Alright I’ll do it on one condition,” Danforth said. “I’m not traveling on some third world bucket. I want first class accommodations and a first rate lab to work in on arrival.”

  “Yes…Yes of course anything you want,” he said. “Oh by the way you need to check in with medical before leaving. They have prepared a special immunization with the most recent strains in the area. One can’t be too careful when visiting a distant world.”

  With the decision made and nothing else to discuss, Danforth left to get the immunization on the way home to pack for the trip.

  Midway Station

  “Rise and shine spacers,” Nash said through the ship intercom feeding to Zara and Jevin’s quarters. “Midway Station docking in ten minutes.”

  That should get them up and stumbling about he thought with a slight smile. They were really about a half hour out and on the outer glide path but he also knew his crew needed a few minutes to clear the cobwebs.

  Roughly 15 minutes later Jevin and Zara appeared on the bridge in their arrival uniforms consi
sting of coveralls that looked slightly too large and over used, patched and scuffed. Nash had already changed into his. It never hurt to have prospective business partners view them as slightly sloppy. They would never realize how far from the real truth that was.

  “I’ve got telemetry from the station captain,” Zara said. “Handing over docking control in 3…2…1. The board is green. Just kick back and enjoy the ride.”

  Midway station was the largest space station midway between Earth and the farthest outer colonies and outposts. An enormous gray wheel slowly turning in space to provide nominal gravity, there were all manner of small ships docked to the outer docking ports from freighters to military ships. Midway Station itself was second only in size to the Earth Alpha station but that space monstrosity was mostly military controlled now. They were entering into one of the larger docking bays with full atmosphere since there was a lot of cargo to load and unload from the starboard ship cargo bay.

  “Engines off, starboard cargo latches disengaged,” Zara said. “Now boys…we have a few hours to kill before the cargo is offloaded and we head out...What do you say we go to that little bar and have a few rounds?”

  “Aye you mean the one down on deck 36…down the back alley by the scrap dealer?” Jevin asked grinning at Zara.

  “I see you’ve been there before Jev…find anything you liked?” She asked raising one eyebrow in his direction.

  “Ah my love you are the only one I dream of,” he said with a straight face.

  “Alright you two, take off,” Nash said. “I need to check in at the flight office and then check on our next contract. But keep a chair handy.”

  “Roger that Cap. But don’t be too long, you know Zara can’t hold her liquor.” Jevin said making a hasty exit through the open bridge hatch before Zara decided the fun was over.

  Nash smiled at his two friends letting off steam. It was good to make port occasionally because being cooped up in a ship for an extended length of time tends to wear you down and little things become larger arguments.

  Nash exited the ship and watched the cargo offload for a few minutes satisfied that the deck crew was solid and handling the detail well. He caught a few stares from the crew and workmen in the area looking at the ship and then back to him…probably confused at the difference but that’s how he wanted it to appear. He made his way to the flight office and filled out a few forms and then proceeded to the contractor’s level. This level was setup for independent business men and women to bid on general space contracts and had multiple office spaces for temporary use. Each had a licensed contractor terminal connecting to the general bid system. Nash logged in and checked his active bids. There was an acceptance notice so he entered the code provided in the acceptance and opened the contract.

  Standard stuff he thought reading through the normal provisions and addendums. In addition to a load of cargo and scientific equipment, he was to provide transport for a Dr. Danforth to Nix Station. Bonus credits consisting of half the full contract amount if the crew assisted Dr. Danforth’s work and provided security for the duration of the mission.

  “Ah…there it is…I had a feeling there was something more to this,” Nash said aloud. Well the amount and bonus would set them up for some time to come; he thought so he confirmed receipt and accepted by placing his thumb on the terminal scanner. The deposit amount was auto-transferred to his account and then a message flashed open on the screen.

  Due to time schedules, Dr. Danforth will be arriving at 0800 hours tomorrow on Midway Station via military fast scout ship. Cargo will be offloaded and ready for departure by 0830.

  Nash had that feeling behind his left ear. He had taken shrapnel there some years back and he called it his sixth sense. Whenever it started to itch he was wary and right now it was burning.

  Nash signed off and made his way to the dive bar where his crew was waiting. He would tell them the rest tomorrow since by this time they would be pretty well into it. They had a few rounds to celebrate and then Nash left them to their shore leave. When he left the bar Jevin was explaining the dynamics of plasma propulsion to a young woman at the bar and Zara was in a spirited card game.

  It was after midnight as he made his was down the narrow corridors they called alleys on this deck. Crowded with scrap parts, trash and all manner of containers and boxes it was the junkyard of the station. Despite having a few drinks Nash’s senses were on alert. Something didn’t seem right. When he came to the bar there were quite a number of people bustling about but now it was deserted. Not even the pimps and sharks with their seedy shop spaces were open. There was a corner up ahead that would be the quickest way back to the central lifts but it would also be a great place for an ambush. He stopped and looked for an alternate path finding a space behind a large cargo container to maneuver through. He took a moment to pull his weapon and silently crept through the space which would place him in a position to see what was around the corner he had been approaching.

  He knelt down and peeked around the corner and then pulled back. There were two men on opposite sides of the corridor with weapons trained. If he had rounded the corner he would have been dead by now. With his training taking over he weighed the options in seconds and made a choice. Assuming a firing stance he aimed for the gun the man on the right was holding. The particle beam stabbed out and hit the gun that exploded in the man’s hand knocking him over and incapacitating him with pain. At the same time he leapt the few meters to the other man who was just turning around. In a couple of moves the man was unconscious on the ground.

  Nash moved to the other man in obvious pain as his hand was badly damaged by the blast. Nash pulled a military tourniquet out of a utility pocket and set about stopping blood flow.

  “Who are you and why were you trying to kill me?” Nash asked with his fist holding the bunched shirt of the other man at his neck. “ANSWER me or I may take that tourniquet off!”

  Nash heard a click down the hallway and then a thud. A familiar sound he’s heard dozens of times before of a pin being pulled in a grenade, but when he turned around it was too late. A military issue flash bang went off and he faded to darkness.

  Sometime later, Nash came to with a splitting headache. Military ordinance had advanced greatly in the 200 years they had been colonizing space. The flash bangs as they were called incapacitated but didn’t kill. This one overwhelmed the neural systems of any biological creature similar to a stun gun but in a wide radius. He looked around but there was no sign of the two men. The area looked to have been sanitized since there were no blood traces except…a few drops on his coveralls under where he was laying. Reporting this would only delay them since whoever cleaned up had probably bribed the people in the area so instead he went back to the ship.

  Chapter 3

  Gerald Wear had been having trouble sleeping the last few days. He was having nightmares and difficulty concentrating during the day. He also had a small bug bite on his leg that became painful until he went to the doctor who gave him some meds which seemed to clear it up. You couldn’t be too careful since RanClor IV had only been colonized 50 years ago. There were still many species not yet cataloged on the planet. RanClor IV was the farthest human colony from Earth in the Nix system. It was a green world, habitable for humans if a bit humid. Algae being the primary export on the planet and most colonists were Algae farmers. Gerald however came from a long line of farmers and decided he wanted to work in other areas. He had been training on heavy cargo loaders in the central spaceport for the last 6 months hoping to earn his master license.

  “Gerry what took you so long man, we’ve been waiting to finish that freighter and knock off early,” his buddy said as he came in.

  “Ah…just not sleeping that’s all, let’s get to work,” Gerry said climbing into a combo loader. The loader had multiple devices for all manner of cargo and containers from the basic forks to articulating vises. During the shift his leg started itching again and when he reached down to scratch, it was bleeding slightly. Hi
s right eye was also cloudy and he kept blinking to clear it but nothing was working. Noises were coming from the stack of containers he had been working on. Weird, sloshing sounds. He drove closer to the containers and could see a trail. It was wet and shiny and looked almost like…slime. He was starting to become afraid. He’d seen something like this as a kid that scared him to death. But it couldn’t be…not here he thought.

  As he drove around the pile he saw it just like in his deepest nightmares, a creature with tentacles, wet oozing goo…and a mouth full of razor sharp pointed teeth looking at him. At the absolute height of terror he floored the loader at the creature and raised the forks.

  A scream and a tremendous crash sounded that had people running from all parts of the dock to the area. What they saw there was incredible. Impaled and obviously dead on the forks of the loader was Gerry’s friend and buddy he had worked with for six months and inside the hauler Gerry was smiling and saying over and over…”Got you.”

  When the medical team arrived they sedated Gerry and prepared to take him off.

  “How many does this make?” asked a dock worker.

  “We’ve had six this week and I hear twelve others from different areas. All raving lunatics. Earth has been requested to send help as soon as possible.” The med tech said.

  Chapter 4

  Midway Station

  Dr. Danforth waited in a small room off the main flight deck built for those few passengers or crew members who were waiting for their ships. The area was a bit grimy and not at all what Danforth was used to growing up in a wealthy estate on Earth and moving swiftly through the academic community to earn a top spot in Paxton BioScience. Assured of first class passage, Danforth was beginning to wonder what the rest of this trip would be like.

  A crew chief walked by and Danforth took the opportunity to ask about the transport ship. “Excuse me but I’m looking for the StarSeeker?” Danforth asked.

 
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