Authors: Aubrie Dionne
Tags: #new adult, #Sci-fi, #space, #haven 6, #space opera, #tundra 37, #Romance, #Science Fiction, #scifi, #paradise 21, #apocalypse, #aubrie dionne, #a new dawn
“He’s not going to tell us, Skye.”
Skye turned her beamer on the controls and pulled the trigger, hoping she wasn’t too late. The panels exploded behind the men, sending everyone sprawling backward. Skye tumbled down the stairs as the room sparked into flames.
She reached the bottom with her whole body aching. Her ears rang, and her head pounded. Every moment seemed like slow motion, blurred together in an incoherent dream.
James. Where’s James?
Smoke choked her and she struggled to breathe. Skye crawled over the debris across the antechamber. Large pieces of the wall had caved in, and flames blocked the stairway.
No. No. No.
James had to be here. He was standing right next to her when the bomb went off. They both would have been blown back by the force.
“James!” She shouted his name over and over as the room heated up. Skye waved smoke away and saw a hand poking from a pile of rubble. She scrambled over and threw off a large piece of metal. James lay underneath, his black clothes covered in gray ash. Fear jolting her heart, Skye held his wrist, pressing her fingertips down. His pulse remained steady. She still had time to get them out.
Skye kicked at the pipe bracing the door. The smoke grew and burned her eyes, thick as a curtain. Coughing, she dropped to her back and kept kicking. The handle loosened and she shoved the door open, pulling James out.
Thank goodness no more guards were there to greet them. Skye dragged him far enough away from the burning building and began CPR.
“Come on, James.”
She pounded on his chest and tried blowing more air down his throat.
“You said you’d never leave me.”
James gasped in air and pulled himself up with a heave. “Where am I?”
Skye smiled, relief coursing through her. She glanced around at the garden and the stars shining through the glass dome. “In our own paradise.”
He winced as he tried to stand.
“Don’t move.” Skye put a hand on his chest.
His eyes flitted to the burning control tower. “The guards?”
“They’re gone,” she assured him. “We did it.”
“You did it, Skye. You destroyed the bomb before it could kill us all. You’re a hero.”
Skye bent down and kissed his cheek. “I had a good teacher.”
Gangmen emerged from the trees and the buildings around them, raising their lasers in salute. Two young men stepped from the crowd, laser barrels pressed against the back of an older man who looked a lot like Santa Claus in a blue suit. One of the younger men nodded to James. “It’s all clear, sir. The Radioactive Hand has suppressed any opposition. We’ve captured the leader of Outpost Omega.”
The older man’s fingers shook as he reached across his rounded belly and offered his hand. “My pleasure to meet you. I’m Gregory Hollis, the elected civilian leader of Outpost Omega.”
Skye helped James to his feet. He shook the older man’s hand. “I didn’t mean to cause such pain. I’m just looking for a place for my people.” James sounded repentant, ashamed.
Relief relaxed the old man’s stiff expression. He nodded, stroking his fingers through his white beard. “I’ve seen the news about Earth. I’m sorry the military refused your entrance. I can assure you, I had nothing to do with it.”
“You didn’t know Lieutenant Tehon planned to blow up the outpost?” Skye interrupted, suspicion eating a hole in her stomach.
His eyes widened. “Certainly not. If I’d have known, I’d have staged my own rebellion.”
James nodded. “The civilians will have free reign now.”
Gregory Hollis blinked. “You’re not going to take over?”
James shook his head. “You’re in charge, right?”
“Elected by seventy-eight percent of the people.”
“We’ll keep you in charge.” James nodded and the gangmen lowered their lasers. He stepped toward the old man. “Promise me everyone will be treated equally, with equal rations.”
Gregory Hollis nodded as if he really were Santa Claus promising to give each child a toy at Christmas. “Consider it done.”
After shaking the leader’s hand, James took in a deep breath and saluted the young men. “Go back to the ship. Open the hatch.”
The men beamed as if honored to have such a task. “Yes, sir.” They jogged back to the others assembled in the main square.
James looked at Skye and shook his head. “How did you know they were going to blow it up?”
She shrugged, feeling as though she’d just been put through the recycling factory and been reshaped into a harder form she wasn’t used to. “I thought of Utopia, and how the government would rather kill than share it equally.”
James put his arm around her and pulled her close. “Well, whoever’s left is going learn to share it now.”
“I hope we have enough to go around.”
“We’ll work it out.” James spread his arms over the vast garden stretching against the glass dome as if wanting to break free and spread into deep space. “All those colony ships are heading toward paradise, but we’ll make our own paradise right here.”
Skye adjusted the trail of her dress over the freshly cut grass. She’d never worn something so frivolous, but today she’d abandoned her scavenging rags for something they’d found in the station’s antique museum. Gazing up at the twinkling backdrop of deep space, she wondered how, in all the universe, she came from the dingy, rat-infested alleys to this bubble of paradise up in the stars. She’d made her own destiny, and changed the world at the same time.
“Come on, Skye, we’re going to be late.” Carly pulled on her hand, holding a bouquet of real cherry blossoms. The little girl wore an embroidered, lacey dress as well, mirroring Skye like her own mini-me.
“I think he’ll wait for me, but you’re right.” Giving Carly a wink, she led her up a hill where rows of white chairs were set up. All heads turned in their direction as light techno music drifted on a rhythmic beat. She felt like she’d fallen into some holoscreen movie, but today was all very real.
James stood at the end of the aisle dressed in a suit. Seeing him wear such formal clothes made her laugh, but when she regained her composure, she focused on how achingly handsome he looked. He’d combed back his long hair, bringing out his strong cheekbones, and his eyes stared at her intensely as if they wrapped around her soul. If two people could find love in such hardship and chaos, then there was hope for everyone left behind.
I’d like to thank my agent, Dawn Dowdle, for believing in my manuscript and finding such a wonderful publishing company. Also, thank you to Liz Pelletier and Heather Howland at Entangled Publishing. Thank you to Kerry Vail and Stacy Abrams, my eagle-eyed editors who worked so hard to polish this manuscript. My beta readers come next: the best sister in the world, Brianne Dionne, and my mom, Joanne, for giving me support and intriguing insights. My awesome critique partners deserve numerous thank yous: Cherie Reich, Theresa Milstein, Lisa Rusczyk, Kathleen S. Allen, Lindsey Duncan, and Cher Green. My flute teacher and life mentor, Peggy Vagts, comes next, for encouraging me to pursue writing and flute as dual dreams. And lastly, my husband, Chris, for allowing me the time I needed to work on edits, do research, and most of all, write.
Aubrie Dionne is an author and flutist in New England. Her stories have appeared in
A Fly in Amber
, and several print anthologies including
Skulls and Crossbones
by Minddancer Press;
Rise of the Necromancers
by Pill Hill Press;
Nightbird Singing in the Dead of Night
by Nightbird Publishing;
Dragontales and Mertales
by Wyvern Publications;
A Yuletide Wish
by Nightwolf Publications; and
by Aurora Wolf Publications. Her epic fantasy is published with Wyvern Publications, and several of her ebooks are published with Lyrical Press and Gypsy Shadow Publishing. When she’s not writing, she plays in orchestras and teaches flute at Plymouth State University and a community music school.
Keep reading for sample chapters of TUNDRA 37, the companion novel to A HERO RISING...
I’m losing her.
Abysme guides the vessel in silence, her blind eyes rolling as she senses our course, two hundred years away from Paradise 18. She’s scattered her thoughts among the stars, and her mind drifts farther from the sister I once knew. I fear the machine has engulfed her individuality. She’s forgotten the meaning of our goal, the oath we took three centuries ago. Most of all, she’s forgotten me, creating an emptiness inside me more profound than the desolation surrounding us.
If I had my arms, I’d reach out to comfort her and usher her back from the black abyss spread before us. As children, I kept her alive through the destruction, signing us up for the
and winning two tickets off Old Earth before it succumbed to hell. But can I save her now?
I send impulses through my brainwaves and into the ship.
Bysme, do you hear me?
Unlike her, I have one operating eye and can see the control chamber we hang from. Twisting my head, I search her features. Her skeletal face twitches. She writhes and the wires holding her in place stretch taut. I wonder what I’ve done to us, the shock of our disembodiment jolting me. Every input hole drilled into my skull snakes with activity. The ship surges through me, a vast intranet of information, names, status charts, and infinite trajectories. If I couldn’t feel the cold, regulated air on the remnants of my torso, I’d be lost in the machine too. I remind myself of our mission and the perseverance flows into my veins.
She doesn’t respond and the fear wells up from within me. Can I guide the ship alone? I realize I’ve left her at the helm for too long while I drifted into memories.
Status of Beta Prime?
Bysme speaks in monotone computer speech as she turns to the corner of the main control deck where the orb glistens, tempting us with the mysteries hidden in the cosmic swirls within its core. Sometimes, I wish we’d blasted the ball off the hull after its tendrils attached to the outer frame instead of recovering it for study. We’ve guarded it for so long, Project Beta Prime has become part of us, yet we’re further than ever from unlocking its secrets. All I know is the insistence of my memories, like ghosts that refused to be ignored.
. The weight of my voice in our mindspeak reflects my disappointment.
Like everything else.
Bysme falls silent, and I scan the systems searching for answers that aren’t there.
Names trailed in pairs along the wallscreen as the next batch of destinies unfolded. Gemme pulled her hair into a ponytail and sipped her synthetic coffee, reviewing the computer’s choices. Beside her, a constellation of stars glittered on the sight panel. She studied the spherical pattern, content to watch the world float by from the safety of the
’s computer analytics wing.
She’d live and die on the decks of the aging transport ship. The certainty of her fate comforted her from the black void pressing in. Consistency gave her solace, and in her life regularity reigned. She lived through her work, finding life in numbers.
After another long sip, she gazed up at the screen and read the first pair of names.
Aaron Tixton and Cassandra Smith.
She accessed their profiles with the tip of her finger on her keypad. Both Lifers tested well in energy maintenance and ship repairs. Their personalities were type ISTP and type ENFJ, and their family trees didn’t intersect until third cousins in the first generation, providing a promising match. Neither showed any manifestation of the rare hypergene they’d searched for since they left Earth, but no one she’d ever matched had. There were no guarantees the Seers would last until the ship reached Paradise 18. Suppressing a moment of worry, she scratched her chin, then typed an affirmation on the touchscreen.
Ray Ellis and Melissa Stewart
. Although they were three years apart, Ray being the senior, their genes were optimally compatible. With resistance to Alzheimer’s, cancer, and heart disease, they would produce durable children. The touchscreen flashed as her finger pressed enter.
Molly Fritz and—
The portal beeped, interrupting her work. Who would visit so early on the first morning shift? She’d dragged herself out of her sleep pod for a reason. The Seers expected the next report by fourteen hundred, and she didn’t have time for unplanned meetings.
Gemme sighed and clicked off the screen. She couldn’t have an intruder spying on the new sets of matches. She pressed the portal panel and the particles dematerialized like falling stars, revealing a stellar beauty.
“Gemme.” Luna shifted and leaned her busty body against the portal frame. “How are you? I haven’t talked to you in years.”
For a reason.
Uneasiness spread through Gemme’s shoulders, making her neck tingle. A vision of Luna’s highly mascaraed teen face scrunched up in anger came back to her.
What am I going to do with you, you freckle-faced cybergeek? You make me look bad with all your studying and high test scores,
Luna had taunted before she smacked Gemme in the chest, leaving a bruise that had lasted for two months. Sure, Gemme had pushed her back, but Luna’s final shove had landed her in the recycling bin. She’d suffered in that cold, metal container for four hours before a custodian heard her banging for help.
Luna had claimed it was an accident, and as the Lieutenant’s daughter, and the descendant of the original founder of the
, everyone believed her. Gemme hadn’t pressed the issue. No one messed with the Legacys. Since then, she’d stayed clear of the beauty and her bullying tactics. As Luna hovered over her, Gemme sensed where this conversation led, and it made the coffee in her stomach churn like acid.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do, Luna. What do you need?”
Luna flipped her wavy blonde hair behind her shoulder and stared at her as if she had a right to be there. “I want to discuss my pairing.”
“You know I can’t talk of future matches.” Gemme fought to keep her tone professional. “The computer makes the decisions. I only review the pairings and double-check for glitches.”
“You have more power than you let on, Gemme, dear.” Luna pushed past her and slinked across her office, tapping her fingertips along the keyboards.
Hot air flared out of Gemme’s nostrils. The nerve! Luna asked her to change the bylaws, to risk her job after years of bullying? Her cheeks burned like a supernova. The keys clicked under Luna’s long nails in a rhythmic pitter-patter. Thank goodness she’d locked down the system.
The blinking button for the screen stood out like a dwarf star. Luna inched toward it. Gemme squeezed by her and stuck her small body between Luna’s ginormous chest and the touchscreen, turning her back on her to protect the machine.
“I can’t change the pairings, only approve or disapprove.”
“You can disapprove of everyone for me.”
The harshness in her voice made Gemme whip around from the controls and stare her down. “You’re telling me you don’t want a lifemate?”
“You didn’t let me finish.” Luna’s lips slid into a smile. “Everyone, that is, except Miles Brentwood.”
Of course. Gemme could’ve guessed that request from a parsec away. The computer hadn’t assigned Miles Brentwood a lifemate yet. Five years their senior, not only was he powerful, attractive, and brilliant, his sweet charm could warm even the coldest reaches of deep space. Somehow, even though Luna was gorgeous, Gemme didn’t think she deserved Brentwood, and she reveled in the fact that she couldn’t honor Luna’s request.
“The computer decides the lifemates, not me.” Besides, pairing Luna with Lieutenant Brentwood would explode the mainframe of the lifemate pairing system. The computer’s choices had an excellent success rate, much better than the statistics she’d seen from Old Earth. She couldn’t imagine people choosing for themselves.
Luna shrugged as if she discussed tricking a five-year-old instead of defying a centuries-old system. “If you deny every pairing for me, eventually his name will come up.”
Gemme held her nose up, but her head only came up to Luna’s magnificent plunging neckline. Why didn’t her uniform ever look as good? “I’m not going to bend the rules for you.”
Luna pulled back and pouted her full lips. “I thought you’d say as much. That’s why I brought you a bribe.”
She dropped a piece of paper on Gemme’s desk. Before Gemme could reply, Luna slipped around her and jogged out the portal. “Think about it. Get back to me.” Her voice echoed down the corridor, cheerful, yet tense.
Gemme watched her leave, stunned. What could Luna have that she wanted, besides an apology? She’d already earned a cushy job with a cosmic view. Gemme picked up the piece of paper, feeling the strange thinness in her hands. Paper was only used for formal occasions. What could it be?
Opening the folds of the document revealed a border of glittering gold. The writing was etched in inky cursive. Gemme gasped as she studied the contours of the inscription.
Request granted. Please present this upon arrival on Control Deck 67.
A ticket to visit the Seers. This rarity was one more shred of proof the Legacys had advantages others didn’t have.
Why would she ever want to meet them? The Seers had sealed their chamber for the last century for fear of weakening their fragile bodies with germs. People whispered about their transformation from real humans born on Old Earth to skeletons and machines. Just thinking about how they’d severed their arms and legs after the limbs had atrophied to have wires run directly into their torsos made her squirm.
She realized Luna didn’t know her at all. Status quo contented Gemme more than any high position or special meeting. She wanted to live her life on the
, drink her coffee, and play matchmaker in space.
Gemme slipped the document underneath her keyboard. She’d have to return it to Luna herself. This couldn’t be trusted with interdepartmental mail and she didn’t want Luna thinking she owed her anything.
After the portal materialized, she flicked on the button for the pairing system and the list of names blinked on her wallscreen.
Now where was I? Oh yes, Molly Fritz and—
A letter G stole her attention from halfway down the second column. She skimmed the names.
It couldn’t be.
Gemme gasped and backed away from the wallscreen. Her touchscreen fell to the floor and rattled.
Gemme Reiner and Miles Brentwood.
Her first thought was of Luna running at her with a laser gun.
But I didn’t choose it. The computer did.
She knew the day would come when her name would cross the screen, she just didn’t think it would be today or it would be him. Everyone would suspect she devised the pairing herself. She’d look like the most selfish, hypocritical computer analyst in the history of the
. She might even lose her job.
She scrambled to the floor and collected the touchscreen. Her hands shook as she replaced it on her desk. Wasting no time, she highlighted their names and the reasoning for the pairing. They both had history of mild high blood pressure, and a few minor propensities for anxiety in their family trees. They weren’t incompatible, but they sure as hell weren’t a perfect match either. Although, their first names sounded so right together: Gemme and Miles.
Shaking the nonsense from her head, she forced herself to focus. The fluorescent yellow connecting her name and his made her uneasy. Her finger paused over the word
. For a millisecond, she thought of his strong hands touching her cheek, running across the back of her neck and into her hair.
Why would such a man be matched to her? Obviously the computer had miscalculated. Here lay the one glitch she was destined to fix. Gemme’s finger trembled as she pressed the touchscreen. In an instant, their names disappeared, deleted forever in the vastness of deep space. Even the Seers wouldn’t detect it in their nets.
A response beeped on the screen.
Gemme breathed with relief. She couldn’t have people thinking she’d manipulated the system, especially Luna. Besides, attraction shouldn’t factor in any of the matches.
She picked up her coffee mug just as a crash echoed above her head. The floor rumbled beneath her feet. Had her deletion wreaked havoc on the whole system?
Two monotone voices echoed in unison out over the intercom. “Comet shower approaching. Collisions imminent. Evacuate the outer levels.”
Gemme froze. Danger to the
Impossible! The Seers would have detected any danger from a parsec away. They could never be wrong. The Guide said so.
Another crash shuddered the floor and she fell to her knees. The wallscreen flickered. She gazed out the sight panel at the familiar constellation. Balls of red with trailing tails streaked the sight panel. She fisted her hands. Had the Seers failed? She had no time to ponder the impossible. Her office lay on an outer deck. She had to get to safety.
Her first thought shot to the computers. Could she save her life’s work? For privacy, the Seers instructed each matchmaker to store all data on the computer in front of her. The lights flickered out and an alarm screamed down the hall. One of the fiery balls grew larger, hurtling right toward the glass separating Gemme from the void of space.
Forget the data.
Taking one look back at her touchscreens, Gemme sprinted to the portal and slammed her fist on the panel. The second it took for the particles to dematerialize tugged on her nerves. Visions of space sucking her out haunted her more than visions of being stuck to the ship like the Seers. Gemme clutched her hands together and bounced on her toes.
The particles disappeared, and smoke wheezed in. Bending down, Gemme covered her mouth with the sleeve of her uniform and ran. The ship pitched sideways, and she fell into the wall, bumping her knee. Her leg collapsed, but she forced herself up through the pain. The corridors lay empty. Was she the last one on the outer decks? She hoped so. Most of the Lifers slept in their cells at the heart of the ship at such an early hour.
“Hull breach imminent. Congregate to the inner decks immediately.”
Was there a hint of fear in the Seers’ voices? Gemme refused to believe it. The Seers had everything under control. They always did. They wouldn’t let anything happen to her, would they?
She punched the portal panel in front of the elevators, but nothing happened. Fear twisted her stomach, climbing its way up her throat. She breathed in, and the air seared the back of her mouth. Coughing, she slammed the panel harder.
Come on, you aging piece of junk.
The panel light flickered out like a dying sun.
Smoke filled the corridor and burned her eyes. She ran to the air shaft’s emergency ladders. Another crash hit the hull, and another. What were the Seers doing? Had they lost their minds? She clung to each ladder rung as she climbed down, afraid another shock would send her plummeting ten levels at once.
As she reached the next deck, the air spiraled over her head. Pressure sucked the breath out of her lungs. A warning buzz sounded, and the Seers’ unison voices echoed out, “Hull breach on Deck 86.”
Gemme searched below her feet. She could climb down ten more rungs to close the lower hatch, or climb back up five to close the upper hatch. Metal clicked, and the emergency systems made the decision for her. Beneath her feet, the particles of the lower hatch materialized.
Panic rushed up her legs along with the dwindling air. The Seers had locked her out.