Celeste is a salvage expert working on an outpost in deep space. What she wants more than anything is to stake the first claim on a valuable piece of salvage and buy her way back to civilization.
While on a routine patrol, she comes across an unusual vessel. At first it seems like fate has decided to shine upon her.
The derelict spaceship is unlike anything anyone has ever seen. And Celeste is certain she's finally found her claim to fame and fortune. But once she tries to lay claim to the vessel, things go very wrong.
Stephanie takes a tale that you think you know the outlines of and then with a deft twist changes it utterly. A look into the depths that the quest for survival can drive us. – Daniel Potter
"Ms Bedwell-Grime is a talented author and I for one look forward to reading more of her work."– Sharyn McGinty, In the Library Reviews for A Darker Passion
"The author grabs your attention in the first few lines and fleshes out her story well without an overuse of words. Her concise writing is a pleasure to read."– Aloe, Long and Short Reviews for A Darker Passion
"From the time I first read Guardian Angel I became a fan of Stephanie Bedwell-Grime's writing."– Lesley, The Eternal Night Reviews for Fallen Angel
Celeste opened her crate and reached for one of her cutters. Who knew what that webbing was made of, she thought. Cutter in hand, she reached down and seared a thin beam of laser across a link of webbing.
A load moan tore through the storage bay.
"Now, that's not funny," said Blackwell. "We got work to do here. Whoever that was, stop messing around."
The floodlight above them dimmed momentarily, as if something had darted in front of it. Celeste glanced up. So did Kai and Blackwell. Verne and Larry were hunched over one of the bundles, busily sawing through the webbing. Kai and Celeste exchanged wary glances through the faceplates of their helmets. Over the speaker, she heard Blackwell grunt as if something had startled him.
When Celeste looked up, nothing blocked the light. "Power fluctuation," Kai said. "We're on batteries here, we've got limited power. We should pick up the pace."
Well, Celeste couldn't argue with that. The sooner they had this thing packed up and towed back to dock, and the credits were transferred to their accounts, the better. Warm wind, a sun setting on the horizon and sand, Celeste thought, as she returned to the task of sawing through that gray webbing. The strange material was strong, she discovered. They couldn't tear it, or shred it. It took Verne's laser knife to cut through it.
Having to borrow Verne's equipment irked her. He'll probably ask for a bigger percentage, Celeste thought. Using his laser, she sawed through a square patch of the webbing, until she had a piece big enough to peel back. Putting the knife down, she reached down and hauled. At first it was like trying to bend steel. Beneath the ragged gray cloth, something moved.
Then the webbing gave way all at once.
Celeste tumbled backward, pack, tanks and all, landing with a thud against the deck. The ship gave a giant heave. The walls and the floor seemed to contract in a powerful shudder, throwing them off balance. Everyone staggered, grasping for a handhold. Off somewhere in the shadows, she heard Verne cursing.
"What was that?" came Tal's voice over her helmet speaker.
"I don't know." Her own voice sounded strained and tinny in the confines of her helmet. "I thought it was something you did."
"Wasn't me." Tal sounded downright offended that she would question his piloting skills. "Everything's stable here. But another fluctuation like that and we won't be."
"Hurry it up, everyone," Verne said.
Celeste scrambled awkwardly to her feet. "Take what you've got, pack it up and let's go. Back at the ship we can get a better handle on what's happening over here." She couldn't run the risk of putting the team in danger, she thought reluctantly. The last thing she needed was a union grievance.
Kneeling down, Celeste shone her helmet light on the bundle she'd been trying to liberate from the webbing—the one she thought she'd seen move.
The webbing was empty.
Beside her, Kai worked away at another bundle. "Did you take my stash?"
His head came up. The look in his eyes wasn't friendly. "What are you talking about?"
Celeste pointed to the empty webbing at her feet.
She saw Blackwell and Verne approaching from off in the shadows. "It couldn't have run off," the ever-dour Blackwell said. Verne looked equally unconvinced.
"There was something in there," she insisted. "Something that moved!"
Beneath the glare of light on their helmet faceplates, she caught a glimpse of their dubious glances.
The ship gave another heave, like a giant bear waking from a long hibernation.
"I think we should be high-tailing it back to the ship," Celeste said over the intercom.
"It'll only take us a couple of minutes to pack up this stuff." Verne put his hands on his substantial hips and stared at her. Threatened is more like it. But despite the difference in their sizes, she wasn't intimidated—at least, not as much as she was by the thought of being stranded on the derelict. Or sued by her crew.
"We could risk a few more minutes," said the weasel-like Blackwell, siding with his buddy, Verne. Larry said nothing, but stepped up beside Verne and Blackwell. Together they formed a wall with their bodies. Kai remained where he was, but regarded the show of defiance nervously.
"We're leaving." Celeste put every ounce of authority she possessed into those two words. She looked around at the rebellious faces, and then addressed Tal over the intercom. "You got that Tal? We're coming back."
"Roger that," came Tal's voice from shipside.
"You heard the boss," Kai said, in a rare show of solidarity.
Once they had reluctantly acknowledged the order, they loaded their supplies in an organized hurry. Those who grew up station-side were used to emergencies. They knew the drill: unless death appears imminent, never leave your gear. Don't panic and use up unnecessary oxygen.
They formed a neat line, each with a buddy to keep an eye on one another. Towing lights and anti-grav crates, they headed for the access tube. Being the team leader, Celeste watched to make sure everyone was accounted for—that everyone had made it to the hatch.
Blackwell went in first, followed by Verne and Kai. She'd taken a step to follow them, when suddenly Verne turned around and said, "Where's Lawrence?"
Almost at the mouth of the access tube, Celeste turned to survey the derelict's storage bay, but whatever timer or device controlled the pale interior lighting picked that moment to dim it until she could no longer make out anything within the darkness.
"Lawrence?" she heard Tal call anxiously over the intercom.
"Larry?" Celeste said, figuring the hated derivative of his name might incite a response.
But no one answered. Larry's channel lay silent—not so much as a grunt, not even the whisper of static.