Original Publication: 10/2003
Length: Long Category
Word Count: 50,595
Genre: Science Fiction/Futuristic Romance
Available formats: PDF, RTF, Epub, HTML, Mobipocket (.prc)
© Cover Art by Jenny Dixon, October 2013
New Concepts Publishing
Lake Park, GA 31636
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author's imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.
It might almost have been Earth. The globe below them was awash with ocean--80% to be precise--but the glow from the red sun that sliced through its atmosphere gave the waters below the eerie look of blood....
“An ocean of blood.”
Victoria glanced sharply at Captain Huggins. Seated before her at the console, his back was to her as he divided his attention between the viewing screen and the readout from the vessel’s probes.
After a moment, she realized he wasn’t telepathic. It was only a coincidence that he’d voiced her own thoughts. An involuntary shiver skated along her spine as she returned her attention to the viewing screen.
“Creepy, eh, Tory?”
It took an effort to keep her upper lip from curling in distaste, but Victoria Anderson was a firm believer in self discipline. She kept her expression impassive. She didn’t turn to the speaker. There was no sense in encouraging the man. Not that he could be discouraged. “Chilled,” she lied succinctly. However much she would’ve liked to dispute it, even to herself, she found the prospect below them unnerving.
“Right. Takes a bit to get the blood pumping after such a long hyber-sleep. I could warm you up a bit, if you’d like.”
This time Victoria didn’t bother to hide her distaste. “Do you mind?”
“Eh?” Jim Roach’s look was hopeful.
She gave him a plastic smile. “I’d like to hear the report.” She moved away from him, closer to the console, where the captain was pulling up a report from the computer. “What’s it look like?”
He frowned, but didn’t turn. “A bit more than tolerable, I’d say.”
Victoria’s lips flattened. She could see enough of the report to tell that barely tolerable might be an understatement. “They said the conditions were acceptable.”
Captain Huggins threw her a quick glance before returning his attention to the report. “It’s livable, if not hospitable. The construction crew seemed to deal with the conditions without any problems. Anyway, you knew the information the company had was sketchy.”
A flash of anger, quickly quelled, went through Victoria. He was right. She’d accepted the assignment, knowing how the company was ... knowing they hadn’t seen much beyond the find of the century. The crew’s survival was important to them, but only in terms of whether or not they survived long enough to mine the precious mineral that resided a scant 50 feet below that deceptively threatening surface.
It was deceptive, she told herself. Granted, this tiny system was at the very edge of the outer rim, light years from the beaten path. But several probes had been diverted to the planet to gather as much information as possible before the first landers were dispatched.
“You pick up on the beacon yet?” ‘Hugs’ Huggins asked his communications officer, Leigh Grant.
“Nothing ... Too much interference. Wait.”
“You got something?”
“Yeah. Faint. There’s ... Yes. Definitely. Looks like about 60 degrees starboard. Maybe 50 clicks. Good job, Hugs! You sat us down practically on top of it.”
‘Hugs’ looked anything but huggable, Victoria thought wryly. He was built in the general shape of a water bug....a pear shaped torso, arms and legs like skeletal remains
... no doubt from 40 years of shuttling around the galaxy and doing little beyond moving from his console to the hyber-chamber and back again. He’d probably spent two thirds of his life in hyber-sleep, which no doubt accounted for his youthful appearance. He didn’t look half his 68 years.
One would’ve thought the compliment would’ve pleased him, but he didn’t show it. In fact, he looked faintly alarmed.
Victoria felt another prickle of uneasiness as he glanced over his shoulder at the ground crew assembled behind him. His gaze finally settled on her. “You heard Grant. We’ll be docking shortly. Maybe you’d like to get your gear together.”
No way was Victoria going anywhere, but she could see his point.