Bay-zar. Class-M planet in the middle of no-where. Dust, dust, and more dust. Unless ya circled 'round to the more habitable region, you'd be stuck without a ship to anywhere. 'Round the corner though, you could find everything from ship parts and dried food packs, to roast dog and the rare bi-cycle. Hell, you could even buy yerself a gen-u-ine religion if you were so inclined.
The ultimate tourist trap. And here I'd taken the bait.
When Eerl stepped off The Marzipan, he was one of a billion tourists on Bay-zar. He expected to shop for rare artifacts from war-ravaged Earth and maybe study at the grand library, but not even his background in Human Studies from the University of Tersia could prepare him for what came next: A military beefcake with a grudge, a wartime conspiracy, a stolen ship, a galaxy full of prejudice, and at the center of it all, a young human named Mel in search of the truth.
Her search for her past and his quest for knowledge take them across the stars as they uncover the darkness and fear in us all.
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|Publisher:||Grey Sun Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.21(d)|
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By Raven Oak
Grey Sun PressCopyright © 2015 Raven Oak
All rights reserved.
A FISH WITHOUT A BICYCLE
Class-M planet in the middle of no-where. Dust, dust, and more dust. Unless ya circled 'round to the more habitable region, you'd be stuck without a ship to anywhere. 'Round the corner though, you could find everything from ship parts and dried food packs, to roast dog and the rare bi- cycle. Hell, you could even buy yerself a gen-u-ine religion if you were so inclined.
I wasn't sure why I'd come here; touristin' weren't my thing. Only that I'd never been to Bay-zar, and everyone said ya hafta visit at least once. It wasn't the humidity that left my noses crinklin' in the bright sun, but the smell of manure and too many beings as hundreds of heads bobbed up and down in a sea of booths, goods, and tourists.
The ultimate tourist trap. And here I'd taken the bait.
Sweat pooled inside my heavy ship boots. Other tourists from the ship bumped ma elbows as they disembarked The Marzipan (don't ask, the captain has weird taste in food, or so I heard). This little squirt elbowed his way past me and half-a-dozen folks crowded 'round a blazin' red booth promisin' trinkets made of gen-u-ine gold, fresh from the mines of Miral.
I cringed when he hollered 'bout his silly ideas for usin' dead folks for energy. I weren't but three steps away from this fool when a white-hooded figure shoved its way through the crowd.
She skidded to a stop just inside my personal space. "Ever been to Bay-zar?" she asked with a quick glance over her shoulder. Two beefy men carryin' scowls were comin' in fast 'nough to knock over a stand of leafy green somethin's. Girl leaned close to me like we was kin, and my frame hid her as them military beefcakes passed.
Every race, religion, creed, gender, species, and nationality in over a hundred worlds traveled through Bay-zar, or so I'd heard, but never before had I seen her kind outside a book. Hell, I didn't think they even existed no-more.
A departin' shuttle sent a cloud of dust skitterin' 'cross us, and her hood fell back. Whispers moved 'cross the market like rain — first as tiny droplets, mostly ignored 'til the downpour caught everyone off guard. Then all motion stopped. The market's chatterin' and clankin' died as all focus shifted to her. One of them fancy gentleman tumbled over a child in his attempt to flee. Some three-eyed creature let loose a half-cough, half-scream as it raced up the ramp of The Marzipan.
"What?" I asked. "She's just a hu- man."
"B-but look at her! She's only got two eyes!" a voice cried out.
"Yeah, and two legs. Who uses two legs anymore?"
The cries from them tourists continued, but the female hu-man stood there in cargo pants and a tee-shirt that read, "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle."
To them, she was the plague. She was a one-way trip into the flames of a dyin' sun.
And she was awesome.
I didn't know what a fish was, and I'd never seen a real bi-cycle, but by golly, I was gonna find out.
"The name's Eerl." Somewhere in all my readin', I recalled somethin' 'bout hands bein' important to hu-mans. I held a slightly damp hand palm-up in front of her face. When she exposed two rows of lightly yellowed teeth, someone behind us growled as they passed. But she kept on a-smilin' and flashin' those weapons like they weren't nothin' at all.
"Mel." She seized my hand and pumped it up and down. "You've never been to Bay-zar?"
I shook my head. "Nope. First time. You?"
"I live here. Sort of." Another growl as a Rharstian passed, his tentacled eyes dartin' back and forth. 'Round us, tourists settled back into their hagglin' over knick-knacks and patti-macks, whatever they were. I ain't sayin' folks huddled near or nothin'; in fact, a nice empty circle settled 'round us.
"I ain't never heard of hu-mans livin' here. Once upon a time maybe, but —"
Her laughter cut like them hydraulics on the The Marzipan when they went belly up, but I pretended not to notice. "Where do you think that phrase came from?" she asked, and I shrugged. More laughter from her sent a whiff of moldy bread my way.
With breath like that, no wonder them folks were scared, but I reckoned it were more 'n that. A quick look-see showed her body to be little more than bones and whipcord. She went on like she never noticed my frown. "From humans. More than half of your Common vocabulary came from Earth. Hell, your accent would put you right at home in the southern United States...."
More words I ain't never heard. What were states and how'd they get all united? I mean, there was a war goin' on. As far as I knew, Earth was dead, long destroyed by them damned ryddarl — nothin' more than bottom feeders from Ryddar with enough firepower to blow up a sun and then some. When she said home, I lost what little there was to my river of thought.
"... But I figure it's somewhere out there."
"What is?" I asked.
Her smile sorta fell gentle-like. Poor girl weren't nothin' more than a youngin' standin' two footed on the dirt of Bay-zar. Poor and alone. My heart sank.
"My home. Earth," she said and fingered the stone slung 'round her neck with a frayin' rope.
"That's it!" The shout from behind weren't nothin' compared to the shove that came next as a beefy, red-skinned man with a taser grabbed her tee-shirt. "You aren't welcome here! You've been told that before, human. Now get gone." He glared and twirled the taser by the wrist strap with one finger.
"But she lives here," I muttered, and the muscles of his four arms thickened.
Before I had a chance of findin' out exactly what that meant, a deep rumble set the booths to tremblin' and the market's chatter returned to silence. Mel's blue eyes widened, and she whispered, "Oh, damn." She didn't laugh no-more, didn't smile neither. Just stood transfixed. Mel stared at the sky like the heavens were fallin', even when the red-skinned enforcer jabbed her shoulder with his meaty fingers. I followed her gaze, as did the rest of them folks in the market. And when the shadow fell 'cross us, blottin' out the sun, even the enforcer fell silent.
It was big.
Well, big didn't do it justice, but I'm a simple Tersic — words weren't ever my strength. Damned ryddarl ship blackened that sky and then groaned under the weight of its own size. I ain't never seen a ship like that. The Marzipan coulda fit in that ship's pocket, and ya would've never seen it in all the coils and loops and doo-dads hangin' from the engines of that behemoth.
If you've seen a herd of cattle escapin' a cyber-lion, you've seen Bay-zar in that moment. Feet kickin' up dust as people ran in every direction, though none was the right one. Didn't matter if they went left or right, that ship was everywhere. Mel trembled beside me. Those eyes — only two of 'em, yet I'd swear she seen more than me when she done looked at the underbelly of that ship.
One moment she was still. The next, she gave me a shove that done sent me outta the street and behind some flimsy curtain. I had just enough time to recognize it as a street vendor's booth before Mel barreled in. "Keep moving!" she shouted.
I didn't know where we was goin', but I reckoned I didn't need to. The screams and groans outside hurt my ears, and Mel gave my hand a desperate tug. The youngin' led me through a maze of booths and back alleys that smelled of piss and shit. So strong was the smell, bile rose in my throat. That ship landed somewhere behind us, and silence descended. We musta run circles 'cause I saw The Marzipan as we ducked behind an empty wooden crate.
Several smaller ships burned. Somethin' struck The Marzipan with a muffled thud, but the shields held. I'll admit, I didn't do much thinkin'. My brain spun 'round in all that chaos while bodies dropped to the dust below. As Mel tried to catch her wind, I hauled her over to The Marzipan and pushed her through the open hatch. "What are you doing?" she hissed, but I shushed her. No need to call attention to her or nothin'. I tossed her jacket's hood over her head to cover them dark-brown curls and placed a finger to her lips.
"Don't say nothin'."
The hatch closed behind us, cuttin' off the sun. All them practice drills paid off as I pulled Mel toward the cargo hold's front. Slightly muted sobs dead ahead corrected my path when I turned wrong, and soon after, the beam from a flashlight hit my front eyes. The light shifted to Mel's hood-covered face before it clicked off, strandin' us in darkness.
"Why are the lights out?" someone whispered.
"The shields are taking too much power, I suppose."
The speaker was hushed by one of The Marzipan's guards who asked, "Everyone here?"
"Everyone except Rhiohl. He's dead."
I didn't know which one of the passengers said it. Didn't rightly recall who Rhiohl was either. Guess it didn't matter no-more.
When a crew-member ordered us strapped into the racks, I took care of Mel. Weren't no reason to alert anyone — not yet anyway. She stayed quiet-like as she leaned against the cushioned wall-rack. When the belt clicked 'cross her scraggly frame and locked her into place, I seen the fear in her eyes just the once before she blinked it away. Sharpness stared back as I belted myself in. She took holda my hand and squeezed.
The Marzipan's thrusters sent a vibration through my feet. We were leavin' Bay-zar.
If we were lucky, we'd make it off world alive. And if we were luckier, no one would notice the hu-man stowaway.CHAPTER 2
OUT THE AIRLOCK
The mystery of our escape from the ryddarl kept me frettin' on it rather than worryin' on the folks 'round me on The Marzipan. Mel kept her head down as the ship shuddered and bucked its way through Bay-zar's atmo. A couple a dips set my stomach turnin' and my ears to poppin'. Weren't but a quiet few minutes 'til the ship's artificial grav kicked in. The lights remained dim for a mite before brightenin'. We were free and into the deep.
One moment, we were ace. The next, these two sisters from Barduun II did the math on Mel's appendages.
The scream they let loose made my ears wanna curl up and die. You'd've thought Mel was a ryddarl herself the way the captain glared, but I planted my three feet in front of Mel and glared right back.
"She has to go!"
"She's an albatross."
Both sisters talked right over each other. I done rolled my eyes at the silly little fools. "Barta, Marta, do ya even know what that word means? I don't think it means what ya think. Besides, where'd ya learn an Earth word like that?"
"Like you're one to talk," muttered Marta.
"What word?" asked Barta.
"Albatross," Mel whispered. The way she sorta shrank in on herself, I reckoned it weren't the first time she'd been called somethin' cruel. The crowd pressed closer to us, and I puffed out my chest, though the unicorn on my shirt might've diminished my false bravado a tad.
"She's cursed. I know that word. She'll bring the ryddarl back!" This was from a little squirt who'd "accidentally" bumped into me as he'd deboarded The Marzipan. His apology was as shitty as his lame-brained ideas 'bout human fuel.
Marta shouted, "Put her out the airlock!"
"What if she brought the attack?" The little squirt scratched his nose as he tried to hide compound eyes behind red-rimmed eyelids.
"Yeah! She's human! They're all violent creatures. War makers!"
"And how do ya know that?" I asked.
Barta's nose scrunched up. "Every war that's ever been was started by those humans. Everyone knows that."
The whines set my nerves a-janglin' and when this tough-guy type stuck his face in mine, the rot on his breath was more violent than anything I'd ever done. The look in his eyes — not sane at all. "You can't just kill her!" I shouted over all them voices, but they went right on with their crazy talk.
"Out with her!"
"But she'll die. Captain, ya can't seriously —"
"Who cares if she dies? Didn't her kind kill yours at the beginning of the war?"
Mel cocked her head to the side as she stared at me. She couldn't figger it — that much was clear. Honestly, I couldn't figger it myself. Why was I defendin' her? Them folks be right that her kind's war had brought all sorta trouble to my own. I flushed hot at the thought, but my eyes fell to Mel's shirt.
Them folks didn't want her gone for nothin' other than fear. I weren't gonna let 'em kill her, not when I had so many questions. I stood taller, starin' right into the face of that beefcake. There was no way I'd win in a throw-down with someone almost twice my girth and muscle mass, but I was hopin' I wouldn't hafta.
I'd heard tales of a man named Moses partin' some red sea — he must've been vacationin' on Tyrus IV — but I never thought it possible. When Mel stepped between us, she parted the sea of passengers and crew just like that Moses fella. Them folks fell back a few steps, and the two sisters moaned.
Mel smiled like nothin' was wrong. "It's okay," she whispered to me as she rested a hand on my shoulder.
"Captain, ya can't do this. It's wrong, and ya done know it," I said, and he scowled. "Besides, I gotta know some things before I'm willin' to lay down and kill someone."
The lights went out. A clamor of screams and moans bounced 'round in my ears alongside The Marzipan's thrusters. Somethin' large hit the ship's side, and I clung to the racks with them others as unsecured crates slid 'cross the cargo hold. "Grav's malfunctioning, Captain," the pilot said over the comm-unit.
"We should have never chartered with The Marzipan," Marta whispered to her sister.
The captain leaned his shiny, bald head against the wall's steel panelin' and sighed. "Look, Eerl, I know you like the human, but those are ryddarl on our tail. Would you kill us all?"
Barta wrapped her thick arms 'round her sister. The only thing separatin' them from bein' as bipedal as Mel was the mech tails they'd had implanted. That and the color of their skin. I didn't get the hatred one bit.
"Maybe if we turn her over to the ryddarl, they'll let us go!" said Marta.
Mel frowned. "You really think so? Do you know how many times the ryddarl have attacked Bay-zar in the past five years? Over a dozen. They didn't care that I was there. They didn't take me and leave the rest of you tourists to carry on. They just continued their slaughter without any regard for what planet one was born on. The only reason The Marzipan hasn't been blown sky-high is because the ship's too valuable in one piece."
Girl was right on the moolah. "Would ya hand over yer child? Yer sister, Marta, if it would save us all?" When I asked the question, Marta slapped me. The monster rock on her finger stung my jaw.
The Marzipan swayed as another volley of somethin' hit us. Mel's bottom lip slid out in a pout and trembled. "I just want to go home."
It must've been the glum way the words tumbled out, 'cause them passengers quit their bitchin'. This passenger beside me coulda been anyone's granny — curly grey hair, three eyes whose color was faded just a touch, and stooped posture — she peered at Mel from 'round the beefcake. "She's just a child. Almost a baby, really." The sisters scowled, but granny paid 'em no mind. "Not her fault the ryddarl came to Bay-zar. She wasn't even grown when the war came."
The captain picked up the comm-unit. "Ryddarl still on our tail?"
"Negative. Another ship caught their eye."
The captain grunted. "Thom, get us out of here. Head for the nearest port — we've got some 'cargo' we need to dump."
And that was the end of it.
Mel wasn't bein' sent to her death right then, but it looked like she'd be departin' at the closest port. A few passengers mumbled, but no one was willin' to go against the captain and lose their credits.
"Everyone needs to remain in their rooms until we get clear of the ryddarl," the captain ordered. The crew split, but them passengers stood 'round gawkin'. They didn't wanna go first, their backs to the hu-man, but they weren't 'bout to leave her alone.
When the captain barked his orders a second time, I grabbed Mel by the elbow. "Let's get outta here."
"I don't have a room to go to."
I shook my head and propelled her forward. "You owe me credits, Tersic, for her ride," the captain called out behind us. Them passengers behind us came a smidge too close to clippin' my heels in their attempt to follow, and the rot smell on the tough guy's breath followed me clear down that narrow corridor. The captain's comm-unit squawked. Pilot was a-panickin' again, and the captain brushed past us in a rush. Left alone without him, the mutters swelled, and I picked up the pace. My three legs moved a lot faster than Mel's two. She jogged beside me to keep up.
Excerpted from Class-M Exile by Raven Oak. Copyright © 2015 Raven Oak. Excerpted by permission of Grey Sun Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Praise for ...,
CHAPTER 1: A FISH WITHOUT A BICYCLE,
CHAPTER 2: OUT THE AIRLOCK,
CHAPTER 3: PLANET MIRAL,
CHAPTER 4: ZEE'S A RIGHT JERK,
CHAPTER 5: GETTIN' ANSWERS,
CHAPTER 6: WE NEED A SHIP,
CHAPTER 7: I FOUND US A SHIP,
CHAPTER 8: RYDDAR,
CHAPTER 9: THE TRUTH,
About the Author,
Message from Grey Sun Press,
Sample from Amaskan's Blood,
Join the Conspiracy!,