"Golden World of Opportunity and Adventure!"
Or so said the emigration brochure. On that promise, Cara Harvestmoon had given everything so she and her brother Shawn could escape the hell of their home world for a new life on the golden forest planet.
But they soon find themselves trapped at the center of a building global war between the two races of native peoples. The Timmon welcome the human colony for its promises of technology and space travel, while their cousins, the Delerin, fear an invasion and want the humans to leave—or die.
In a race against time and the advancing Delerin, Cara fights to save the colonial village of Fairdawn, the primitive frontier town that she and Shawn helped build with their own sweat, perseverance, and relentless will. But with little left to offer, what will she give to protect them all?
"This book has a slow start developing characters but 75 pages into you are hooked on the story. Hook Line and sinker! I really enjoyed reading about the everyday hardships and dangers of settling on a new world. A great read, looking forward to reading the next book. I highly recommend it!"– Amazon Review
"This author has the ability to paint a beautiful picture. A true sci-fi classic for sure! New worlds, wonderful new cultures, creatures, and more! A must read if you are a lover of all things science fiction! This perfectly written series has something for everyone and is sure to have you hooked!"– Amazon Review
"Wonderful book. From the seemingly endless imagination that went into a primitive planet to the best star ship battle I've ever read, this book has it all."– Amazon Review
"Timmistria needs people."
And so Cara cowered with Shawn, standing in line in the rain with all the others, drab and bent like bedraggled pigeons, there despite the weather, the rain— always the rain. And tonight it rolled down her cheeks like warm tears.
What passed for the emigration checkpoint was a tall metal desk under a cantilever awning, dimly lit, foreboding, intentionally stark and intimidating, backed against the ten-meter-high fence that separated them from where they all longed to go. The line of hopefuls moved with the speed of a well-fed snake. Cara tried to calm her heart beating against her breastbone. She clutched the portfolio of transit papers to her chest.
Timmistria, a primitive frontier planet, needed people. Weeks earlier, Cara's emigration officer had read the press bulletin to her: "The beautiful golden world of Timmistria offers pristine landscapes and endless opportunities for adventure and prosperity." She'd tried to learn more about the place as she and Shawn petitioned for passage on the next outbound vessel, but information was sketchy at best. The emigration fees for Timmistria were small, enough that even she and Shawn could find the money.
Unlike Principia, which consumed and digested its human occupants with casual distaste, this world needed people. And it could never be worse than the hell that was Principia. Could it?
There were six people in line ahead of them, and nearly twenty behind, in groups of two and three and four, all milling and uneasy with the same nervous energy of fearful expectation that she felt. Shawn, her younger brother by two years, slouched under his gray-green trench coat and hood, protection from the relentless acidic drizzle. His coat was worn, just like everything they owned, what there was of it. He stared downward, only his nose and chin visible under his hood, and rocked metronomically between heels and toes.
Two people ahead of them presented their papers to the checkpoint agent, a dour, putty-faced man seated behind the chin-high desk. Under the protection of the slanted metal roof and out of the everlasting drizzle, the agent wore only a crinkled black leather jacket over his gray uniform. At his gesture, the two would-be emigrants pulled their hoods back to reveal themselves. The tall one was a woman of dark complexion and wiry dark hair, her features, which suggested Old-Earth-African origin, dimmed by the wan lighting of the checkpoint. The other person was a lighter-skinned man with pock-marked skin and splotches of bleached hair, common marks of a post-gene-war farm worker.
At the agent's nod, they quickly pulled their hoods back over their heads. He waved them past, and Cara's heart skipped and then beat harder with newfound hope. One of four bear-like guards, clad in the red and black leather of the Izio Home Guard, touched a control panel and the gate swung open. The guard shoved the couple through, then stepped in front to block it until it closed. Without looking back, the two lucky emigrants began running, out of the circle of light that illuminated the checkpoint and into the darkness beyond.
Two hundred meters past the gate and electrified fence that held it, in its own pool of light, lay the goal for all of them— the surface-to-space shuttle. The small craft would carry the lucky few to the departing interstellar transport vessel CS Pleasant Princess, headed for several worlds on the Fringe frontier.
Next in line was a group of four, by appearance and demeanor a couple in their 50s and the woman's parents. As the younger man and woman presented their papers, the woman spoke in a strong northern accent of slurred vowels and hissed "s" sounds. The whole clan bowed repeatedly, like a circle of conversing pigeons. Cara's hope at the first couple's success collapsed when the agent barely glanced at the foursome's documents, tossed them back across the tall desk so they struck the younger man in the face, and then waved them all away.
The man protested, which brought the guards from the shadows. They grabbed the emigrants by the arms and necks and hustled them away from the desk, out of the light circle like drunken dance couples. In the eerie calm that followed, the night seemed suddenly darker and the rain colder. Cara felt the fire within her die. She felt the water in her boots, the mucus threatening to drip from her nose, the sores on her arms, the bruises on her legs. If it was possible to age by standing in one place, she grew years older in the next few seconds.
She was drawn back to the high desk, which seemed a sheer merciless promontory as she stepped forward. This was the fourth portfolio of transit documents that she and Shawn had presented at this gate, and these papers, like all the others, had been procured with payments several times more than the official regulation fees. Cara had done other things to get them, memories that kept her awake and shivering at night, things neither Shawn nor anyone else would ever know about.
She laid the documents gingerly in front of the agent, as one might a beautiful broken butterfly. She held no expectation that these would be accepted where all the others had not. And yet she and Shawn had come again, when it seemed they'd been drained of the strength, rinsed of persistence and hope.
Each time they'd come, there was a different agent presiding, another surrogate St. Peter. She wondered by what criteria or cronyism they were chosen, what questions they were asked during their interviews, to find the desired mix of cold-hearted, random judgment. And where did they move to after this occupation, to what other soul-crushing government authority?
The agent yanked the papers from under Cara's fingers with a bored glance. Like those parchment documents, he was an anachronism, serving a function ripped from a lost age.
"Shawn and Cara McElroy, brother and sister." He chewed his words with both contempt and overt suspicion. "Drop your hoods," he croaked, flapping his fingers at them. Cara and Shawn complied. As they stood under the agent's intense but somehow disinterested examination, the guards returned to their stations on each side of the gate, curling their mongrel lips at Shawn as wolves might at a smaller domestic dog. They eyed Cara like a morsel to fight over, leaving little mystery what they would do to her if given the opportunity. And a rejection by this agent could be that opportunity. It had happened to her once before.
She tried to ignore the guards, but they baited her by hooting softly like mourning doves. Determined to keep her poise, she focused on the agent's face and caught him staring at her, not like a hungry dog as the guards were, but like a bird of prey, eyes gray and soulless like glass marbles. She returned the gaze, not knowing what expression would serve best, having failed at this three times before. She must not appear weak, or defiant, or worst, defeated. But how should she carry herself after paying her dues many times over, submitting in ways she couldn't bear to remember but could never forget?
From the corner of her eye, she could see the nearest guard licking between his extended fingers, slurping as if sucking a wet fruit. The others moaned suggestively and snickered. Hearing it, the agent's face turned dark, and he glared down at Cara. Her body chilled as if her own trench coat had been ripped from her, exposing her. When he turned his attention to the guards, her heart stopped beating.
"Shut up, you baboons." He slid the papers back across the desk at her and nodded toward the gate behind him. "Go."
Cara was stunned for an instant but gathered the papers and grabbed Shawn's arm. He stood rigid, like one waiting for a blow to fall on him. She pulled his arm close and tugged him toward the gate. It seemed the guard would refuse to open it, but at the last instant he reached for the panel behind him and the gate swung open slowly.
She whispered, "Just keep moving," not sure if the words were meant for Shawn or her or the gate.
She didn't breathe until they had crossed the threshold and had reached the other side of the fence. Cara fell into a trance then and could do little more than put one foot ahead of the other. She clutched the blessed papers close to her so they wouldn't get soaked and led her stunned brother toward the lights of the waiting shuttle, sitting an impossible distance across the wet pavement. A tall person in a gray or pale green uniform stood at the bottom of the loading ramp, the lights from the open doorway casting an aura above them in the drizzling darkness.
Cara paused so she and Shawn could don their hoods against the poisonous rain. While she covered herself, she caught a glimpse of the person in line behind them, a young woman perhaps four or five years older than Cara, guiding a small boy about five years old. Cara had learned the woman's name on the bus from the terminal. Cristina and her son Paolo were bound for Herpetia, an Old-Earth-sized world about 100 parsecs from Timmistria. She was widowed, her husband having been burned and buried in a mining accident. When she told the story, Cara's throat had clenched at the memory of her own family's similar tragedies. Cristina was trying to join a sister who'd been able to emigrate two years earlier.
Cara stopped to watch, nervous for the young mother and son. Cristina presented her own papers. After a long examination, the agent said in a barely audible voice, "These papers appear forged. Step aside."
Immediately the head baboon lurched forward. The young mother stood her ground at the desk, hands outstretched in protest. The guard grabbed her arm, as he'd done with one of the four prior emigrants. Her hood fell back, revealing her thin face and hollow eyes.
The guard growled, "This way. We need to talk to you in private."
Cara glanced back over to the shuttle. The attendant, now revealed as a tall woman in a simple double-breasted uniform, waved Cara and Shawn forward, but Cara stopped her brother with a hand on his chest.
"We have to help her, Shawn."
Shawn seemed to awaken from his stupor, and together they trotted back to the gate, kicking up water from rain-spattered puddles. The gate had clamped shut, electro-locked against the heavy fortified framework that held it.
Cristina struggled against the guard's grip, reaching for her child, who stood frozen and crying near the desk, his hood down, his dark hair growing wet and slick.
Cara shouted through the gate, so that both the guard and the agent could hear her, "Let them go! You know those papers are real!"
The guard paused to regard Cara, while still gripping Cristina's wrist firmly enough to make her writhe in pain. "Zark off! Get to the shuttle. Unless you want back over here."
Cristina's voice cracked when she called him. "Paolo, come, bebê!"
The agent roared, "Somebody get this kid outta here." To the next people in line, he shouted, "You people step up, or I'll send you all back to your slums."
Cara rattled the gate. "Let her go. I have money." She was lying. Most of their money had been sacrificed on their documents and other illegal fees, and the small amount she carried would surely not buy the woman's freedom.
The guard ignored her and began dragging the struggling woman from her son, who cried and stamped his feet.
The sky suddenly tore open with a sky-spanning streak of white light and a roar that lasted far too long to be thunder. Immediately afterward, sirens began wailing from all around them, and for a brief nonsensical instant Cara thought she'd triggered an alarm. A second streak of light and roar ripped across the heavy overcast.
The guard who'd held Cristina released her, and she fled back to her son. The guards gathered, apparently not certain what was happening.
The agent's voice pierced the siren wails. "Access closed! Clear the field!" The others in line stood for a moment as if stunned but made no move to leave. They gathered in front of the desk, their protests rising in volume and pitch. The guards drew their shock wands and advanced on the emigrants in a human wedge, the air around sizzling with the flash and snap of the electric prods.
Cristina had fallen to her knees and clutched Paolo to her chest. The boy cried and jabbered in emotional Portuguese. The head guard returned to seize her by the arm again. He jerked her to her feet so that she was forced to release the child.
"Come on, you. Not done with you yet."
Cristina fought against the painful grip, then bit his hand. He yelped and backhanded her hard enough to crumple her to the ground.
Cara threw her body into the gate, hoping the impact would jar it open, but it held firm against the heavy magnetic threshold. She looked for a door switch on their side of the fence. "Shawn, help me!"
Ground vehicles and aircraft were coming to life all around them, the whine of fuel-cell engines and turbo-plasma drives adding to the general din assaulting Cara's ears. Behind her, she heard the sound she feared, the shuttle's drives beginning to cycle up.
Part of her brain screamed for her to give up and run to the shuttle, but the sight of the vulnerable young woman being manhandled birthed an upswell of anger and frustration. Shawn found an emergency gate release and palmed it. The gate swung inward, and Cara fell through the threshold, landing painfully on one knee. Shawn helped her to her feet, and they charged through.
The guard held Cristina by the arm and slapped her hard. Shawn pushed past Cara before she could stop him and slammed his entire body into the guard. The effect was like a lemon thrown against a rock. Shawn collapsed against the guard's body and then rebounded and staggered backward. The guard lashed out with his free hand, gripped Shawn by the neck, and flung him to the ground.
Cara joined the struggle. She grabbed the guard's arm and tried to pry his fingers from their grip on Cristina's wrist. But his hold merely tightened, evoking a squeal from the woman. Then he grabbed Cara's arm with his other hand and crushed her against his chest, so that he glared downward into her eyes and breathed cheap alcohol into her face.
"I knew you wanted some of this. You even came back for it."
Cara's wrist held a small pouch of skin she'd grafted on after a brutal street attack. In it was a cocktail of noxious chemicals sealed in a polymer lozenge. She slapped the guard to burst the packet, and the chemicals sprayed into his face and eyes.
"Augggh!" He released both of the women and swung wildly, striking Cara on the side of the head. The blow snapped her jaw around and knocked her sideways, but she staggered several steps and stayed on her feet.
The guard bellowed and clawed at his eyes and face with both hands. Shawn had recovered from his fall and jumped at the guard again, pummeling his massive leather-covered back and shoulders in a barrage of balled fists. He looked like a preteen child against a much larger bully, his blows ineffectual against the guard's armor.
Beyond where Cristina knelt next to Paolo, the other three guards were occupied with their grim blockade, steering the group of protesting emigrant petitioners away from the open gate. The agent stood in his high seat with a hand weapon raised above his head.
"Get back, you scum!" He fired at the ground near the tussling emigrants. An energy bolt struck the wet plasti-crete and spawned a geyser of sparks and a swirling puff of steam.
Cristina resisted when Cara tried to pull her to her feet. She clung to her son and refused to release her grip around his shoulders.
"Shawn! Hurry! Carry the boy!"
Cara's brother had beaten himself weak-limbed against the guard's bowed back and shoulders. His head snapped around at her voice, and he joined her in trying to lift the terrified and shaking woman.
Cara glanced behind him and said, "Hurry, the gate's closing!"
Shawn took the woman's face in his hands, forcing her to meet his eyes. "I will carry him, but you must let go."
She searched his face, then slowly opened her hands and allowed him to pick up the boy. He cradled Paolo to his chest and lunged toward the gate. He slammed it with his hip just before it settled into its frame and pushed through, the boy now a kicking bundle held tightly in his arms.
Cara guided the woman after them. Cristina shivered, either from the electric shocks or from the cold rain. More light streaks crossed the sky, followed by sounds like rushing water that echoed over the field, momentarily drowning out the bellowing of the agent and guards and the cries of the emigrants grappling with them.
Just as Cara and Cristina approached the gate, the head guard leaped from the shadows to block them, wiping his face with a damp rag and menacing them with the shock wand. His mouth moved, but Cara could hear only angry barking over the noises of the aircraft.
Cristina broke from Cara's grasp and tried to run past the guard, but he lashed out with the wand, and she fell to the ground shaking. He struck her several times more, then turned his attention to Cara, slashing the weapon in the air toward her like a swordsman. In a brief pause in the aircraft noise, his voice cut through to her, "Come and get it, bitch!"
She had another chemical pouch on her other wrist, but the wand would keep her too far away to use it.
She backed away from the advancing guard. She had learned to be quick in too many street fights, and she knew she could lure the guard further from the gate so she could race around him and escape. But she couldn't make it dragging the injured mother.
Cristina had apparently read Cara's thoughts. When the guard stepped around her, she grabbed his leg and clung to it.
To Cara she said, "Please take Paolo. He'll die here if he doesn't get away." Her face held all the tragedy and fear of a million mothers who had sent their children away to save them.
"Cara! We have to go! They're lifting the ramp!" Shawn stood holding the gate open, struggling to hold the child in his arms. Paolo had seen his mother lying on the pavement and fought to reach her.
"Paolo! You must go! Go with them!"
The guard kicked Cristina's arms away, then struck her again and again with the wand. She cried out at each blow, reaching with her hands, quivering and collapsing to the wet pavement, unable to raise her head. Her eyes pleaded as she whispered, "T-take him. Please."
The guard raised the wand toward Cara, like a big dumb street kid with a blade and a bad greasy haircut. Cara nodded, then bolted around him toward the gate. She ducked when she passed the agent's desk, trying to avoid his attention. He stood up on the chair's leg supports like a horseman standing in the stirrups. He shouted at the tangle of guards and emigrants, then fired the weapon among them, striking an elderly man with thin gray hair who'd lost his rain hat. The man fell to his knees and clutched his arm.
Cara was past the guard then, but instead of breaking for Shawn and the open gate, she doubled back, leaped to the desktop, and slapped the second pouch of chemicals in the agent's face. He bellowed and stabbed at his eyes. Cara grabbed at his weapon, trying to avoid the trigger and the end of the barrel. The agent was forced to struggle between keeping his grip and wiping at his burning eyes and face. They battled for too long, and Cara could almost feel the guard coming to the agent's aid. She bit the hand holding the weapon, and the agent cursed and spit at her. She almost felt sorry for him, since he'd had the decency to grant passage to her and Shawn, but then bit him again and hammered his wrist on the desk.
"Go, Shawn! I can't leave her!"
In a spasm of inspiration, she grabbed the agent by the armpit and dug her fingers into the nerves there. His grip weakened involuntarily, just enough for her to wrench the weapon from his hand and slide to her feet. The guard was coming at her in a bull run, but he stopped short when she leveled the barrel at his chest.
She advanced on him then, and he gave ground only grudgingly, testing her, bleeding her of valuable time. A quick glance confirmed the other guards were preoccupied and outnumbered by the emigrants. The agent was busy scrubbing at his eyes with the hem of his shirt.
The guard stopped retreating and refused to go further, so she aimed the gun lower and pulled the trigger. A satisfying bolt of phased light split the gap between his legs and exploded on the wet pavement behind him. He stared down at the singed cloth on his pant leg.
"The next one takes your balls off."
His eyes went wide and then narrowed in rage, but he retreated when she pressed him, this time more urgently. She'd never shot anyone before, but after his abuse of the young mother, she begged him silently to try her again. She fired another round at his feet to motivate him to move more quickly.
She had reached Cristina, who was shaking from the wand's effects and laboring to rise to her hands and knees. Cara grabbed the woman's arm and tried lifting her, while keeping her eyes and gun sight on the guard. Cristina tried to stand, then fell back to the wet ground.
"You can do it," Cara said. "Lean on me."
The guard eyed them, looking for an opening, a chance to take Cara out. She stared him down. Cristina struggled to her feet, and Cara was able to support her and move backward in the direction of the gate. The guard moved with them, preparing to lunge.
Cara pointed the weapon directly at his heart. "Please try it." He glared but held back, and they continued to back away.
At the gate, Shawn supported Cristina, and together they passed through. Before shutting the gate behind them, Cara stared the head guard down one last time, then considered the other guards holding the remaining emigrants at bay. Shawn followed her eyes and shook his head.
"There's too many and no time. We have to go."
Even as she hesitated, a red and black paneled vehicle rolled up, and a half-dozen uniformed officers piled out, weapons drawn. Cara yanked the gate closed, and the three of them limped into the darkness toward the shuttle, Cara carrying the boy and Shawn supporting the mother. Paolo was too light for his age, obviously malnourished. Halfway to the craft, Cara realized she still held the weapon, and skipped it away into the darkness.
The shuttle ramp hadn't lifted yet, but the craft's engines were revving up to a higher-pitched whine. More streaks of light crossed the sky, and loud roars and drumming of airport operations increased around them. Cara guessed that forces of the Carsinos Rebels were threatening the province.
Shawn waved and shouted to the service crew working on the shuttle's final preparations. The attendant met them at the bottom of the ramp, which began to recede into the hull as soon as they passed through the air lock door. The uniformed woman helped them through the narrow opening and down the aisle, saying nothing about their wounds and damaged clothing. The other emigrants were seated and strapped in, fear still fresh on their faces.
The attendant was a willowy, dark-skinned woman with a voice like melted chocolate, professional and silky smooth, unlike any Cara had heard before. "Find seats, please. We must lift in two minutes."
Shawn helped Cristina into an open seat, and he and Cara assisted her and Paolo with strapping in. Cara's hands and arms were bruised from her struggles with the agent, and the side of her head throbbed from the guard's punch.
Cara asked the attendant, "Is it rebels attacking?"
A sense of guarded tension came to the attendant's otherwise professional demeanor. Now that Cara had a chance to examine the woman's face more closely, she realized the tension had been there all along.
"No, ma'am. We're told Thinker hive ships have begun dropping into the system. The captain of the interstellar vessel has given us less than an hour to dock before he pulls out of orbit. The local fleet authority has ordered him to remain in the system, but he's ignoring those orders."
Thinkers? Here in the Principia System? Cara was suddenly terrified. Could they have cleared their last hurdle, only to be captured or destroyed by the marauding aliens?
"Why would Thinkers be here?"
The attendant could only shrug. To the whole group, she said, "Strap tight. The pilot plans to focus all engine power to the drive, so he won't be able to activate the artificial gravity. It's going to be rough. I'm so sorry about that."
Cara wanted to tell her that none of the passengers cared as long as they made it to the jump ship and out of the system.
Seconds later, the shuttle lifted ever so slightly and then leaped forward, pushing Cara back in her seat. There were gasps from the other passengers, and she found it increasingly harder to draw a breath. Gratefully, Paolo had stopped crying. He apparently found the sensation thrilling and began to giggle.
View screens came to life on all sides, as if the craft were made of transparent metal. Dense gray and brown clouds enveloped them, dotted by flashes of green and purple lights— lightning, she supposed, although no rumbles of thunder penetrated the cabin. Once, a bright white streak passed so close Cara was sure they would collide, but the craft passed above them without incident.
The passengers had fallen eerily silent, except the suddenly courageous Paolo, who laughed at every flash and turned his head from side to side to see out all the windows at once. His mother clutched his hand tightly, her head hanging with eyes closed. Her lips moved, and Cara realized she was whispering a prayer. She was shocked to find she envied the woman her faith. There were times when belief in a higher power would be comforting and supportive. But Principia had pried any such convictions from Cara's psyche long ago, and hope was a difficult commodity to nurture alone.
The pressure holding them to their seats continued unabated, and the shuttle rocked and bobbed as the clouds flashed by them faster and faster. And then they burst into bright sunlight, which filled the cabin with a brash brilliance that blinded Cara. She cried out with the others, bedazzled, and realized it had been months since she'd seen even the dingy sunlight that infrequently reached Principia's twisted ground. The view screens dimmed so the sunlight was more tolerable.
She started when Shawn touched the side of her face, where the guard had struck her. She winced.
He said, "You feel OK?"
She was sure he meant to ask how badly she was injured. Gazing out the windows at the blue sky and wispy white flags of clouds, she imagined she could hear them singing to her. The gray poisonous miasma of smoke receded below them. A gauze enveloped her mind, somewhere between waking and dreaming, and she chose despite her fear and fatigue to answer a different question.
"I feel amazing."