Authors: MJ Kobernus
Tags: #first contact, #shuttle, #crash landing, #alien action, #mutant aliens
Copyright © MJ Kobernus 2016
This is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places, events and incidents are either the
products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious
Any resemblance to real persons,
living, dead or immortal is purely coincidental.
MJ Kobernus asserts his moral
right to be identified as the author of this book.
All rights reserved. This book
or any portion thereof, may not be reproduced or used in any manner
whatsoever without the express written permission of the author,
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Any copyrighted material is
reproduced under the fair use doctrine.
The cover art is the work of
Ashraf E. Shalaby.
Published by Nordland Publishing
Hunted follows on directly the
events that take place in
. You can read this as a
standalone story, but do yourself and favour and go back and get
Salvage, if you do not already have it.
In honour of the men and women
who have dedicated their lives to helping mankind achieve its
destiny. One day, the stars.
A note from the
is the second
instalment of a series of short stories. These are ‘teasers’, if
you will, for the grand novel,
one day emerge from my fevered imagination. But don’t worry, these
are not spoilers since they take place before the action of the
The next instalment is
Palsenz Planetary System
Someone was moaning. The sound registered slowly as
First Officer Stephanie Chu regained consciousness. It took a
moment more before she realized she was making the noise herself.
She tried to move but gave up, gasping, the pain in her head timed
perfectly with her heartbeat, each pulse a needle in her brain.
Her eyes were sealed shut by something sticky.
Raising a hand, she wiped at the substance until she could finally
open them, but the cabin lights were out. What was this stuff? She
probed her head gently, grimacing in pain when she found a ragged
The crackling blue arc of an electrical short
punctuated the dark. Other senses awoke, the acrid stench of
burning plastic assaulted her nose. Panicked, she tried to sit up,
pushing against the straps that held her. Hopefully the automatic
systems had managed to take care of the fire. But what the hell had
happened? She fell back into her chair.
Then the memories came flooding back. The mission to
, the attack on the salvage crew, their
escape and the proximity mine that had taken out the drive.
The salvage team had gone aboard the abandoned
Argoss and then . . . Pål! Her hand reached out for the control
panel, desperately feeling for the correct switch. She triggered
the cockpit lights and they illuminated, sending shockwaves of pain
through her cranium. Blinking rapidly, she turned to examine her
partner. Captain Pål Knutsen was strapped into his chair beside
her. His chest rose and fell in a regular rhythm and she breathed a
sigh of relief to see him alive. They had been together since
training; the shuttle
, and its captain, were her
world. Hitting the release on her chair straps, she climbed to her
feet on uncertain, weak legs.
The planet’s gravity was higher than the spin in the
gen-pop sphere of the
. Used to spending much of
her time in zero-g, now she felt heavy, clumsy.
With one hand always touching a bulkhead or
handhold, she moved to Pål, feeling for a pulse at his neck. It was
there, strong, steady. Good, he would be fine. She bent and laid
her head next to his, giving him the briefest of hugs, then turned
and made her way through the narrow hatch into the central
fuselage, crawling slowly where usually she would fly. It was
pitch-black but she palmed a switch and the fuselage lights
flickered into brightness, illuminating the large hold.
Strapped to the starboard bulkhead were three
bodies. Two tech-engs from the
one of the things that had attacked the
salvage team. It was hairless and smooth, dark skinned. Its head
was small, its mouth wide with a bank of needle-like teeth.
The creature’s stick thin arms and legs articulated
in odd ways. It was barely recognizable as human. But she had seen
its eyes. There was no mistaking what it was, what it had been.
Of the five arcs that had set out from Earth, only
had made it to the
distant world that would be their new home. Or so it was believed.
When they had arrived in the Palsenz system, there was jubilation
at the discovery of the
in a geostationary orbit
around the only Kepler-classified Super-Earth Planetoid. Clearly
the great arc’s autopilot still functioned, which meant that other
autonomous systems were online too. A good sign. The
would be a tremendous boost to the colonization effort and a
salvage team, led by Officer First Class Jensen, had been assigned
to assess its condition.
performed a remote survey
of their new home, Chu and Knutsen were ordered to transport Jensen
and his team, dock with the
and gain access. The
salvage team were to assess the damage to drive and control systems
and report on the
crew, if any. They quickly found
that there were no survivors, but most incredibly, Jensen’s team
also discovered that the radiation burst that had wiped them out
centuries before had been initiated by the bridge crew. They had
evidently committed mass suicide. Why they would do that became
apparent when the salvage team was attacked. Jensen had led the
survivors back to the airlock where the shuttle was docked, and Chu
had gone into the
to defend the position, killing a
number of the creatures herself.
It had not occurred to Chu that the mutants could
get inside the shuttle. That was when they lost the two tech-engs,
until the thing was brought down by Jensen.
When Pål performed an emergency evac from the
, she had thought they were finally safe. Except the
mutants fired proximity mines into their path. They had been
designed for clearing asteroids, but proved just as deadly to the
shuttle, knocking out the main drive, leaving the ship helpless.
The next thing Stephanie knew, they were dirt-side and she was
waking up with the mother of all headaches.
A mumbled cursing caused her to spin around. The
only survivor from the salvage team was struggling with the
strapping that had kept him safe during their forced landing. One
arm had been gashed open by the mutant before it was killed, but
that did not appear to be bleeding anymore. Even so, Jensen looked
“It’s okay,” she said. “You’re safe.”
“Where are we? What happened?” He coughed and blood
flecked his lip.
“We’re on Palsenz. Somewhere in the Badlands, I
He snorted in dry amusement. “You and I have
different understandings of the word
She nodded at the sentiment. It perfectly mirrored
her own thoughts. Although Palsenz supported a meager biodiversity,
the Badlands were different. Even from orbit, the
’s sensors detected strange readings from the
“We’re lucky to be alive,” she said. Jensen nodded
but looked unconvinced. Unspoken was the thought that although they
had avoided the frying pan, they might well be in the fire, as the
Badlands comprised a large area of blasted rock and desert with no
life and bizarre topography.
But Stephanie Chu counted her blessings. If they had
crashed on any other planet in the system, they would be dead. The
gas giant was a raging storm of hydrochloric acid and the rest
ranged from impossibly high gravity to tiny, airless rocks. Not the
best place for a forced landing. At least Palsenz had air.
“Here,” she said. “Let me help you.”
She pulled the strapping free, and Jensen collapsed
into her arms, grimacing.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know,” he gasped. “My ribs . . .”
He stood straighter as he got used to the gravity.
“I’m okay, really.”
“Good. There’s a medkit on the bulkhead there,” she
pointed to a box fixed to the wall. “I need to check on the
As Jensen opened the medkit, Stephanie crawled into
the cockpit. Pål was still out, but unbelievably he was snoring.
Typical! She gently shook his shoulder. Then harder. “Pål.”
“What?” His eyes blinked opened, after a moment
focusing on her. “Damn, you look a mess.”
Stephanie chuckled. Her hand went to her long black
hair, matted with blood. Usually it needed careful control to stop
it from floating all over the place, but now it hung lank and
sticky against her scalp. No doubt she looked bad, but that was the
least of their problems.
“I should take a look at that cut on your head.”
“No, it’s okay. Check the comms, please Pål. We need
an evac off this rock.”
“You sure? It looks nasty.”
“It’s not bleeding anymore.” She gently touched her
scalp, then winced. It was not life threatening. It could wait.
Knutsen hit the strap release on his chair and sat
up straight. He did not look any the worse for having survived the
forced landing. Stephanie felt a momentary irritation at that. His
blonde Nordic locks were not even mussed.
“Assuming that the
is in range
now,” he said, hands reaching out to flick switches, “it will take
a couple of hours at least before another shuttle can reach
He donned his headset. “This is the shuttle
, do you read?”
No signal. He tried again, then threw off his
headset. His sigh told Stephanie everything she needed to know.
Instantly she turned and hit a switch marked EPIRB. It was old tech
but it would broadcast their position for as long as the ship had
might not be in range for some hours
yet, but they could just sit tight and wait for pickup. She thanked
her ancestors that the
had held together, coming
down in one piece. It might even be salvageable. Whether it was
testimony to Pål’s skill as a pilot or divine intervention was
moot. She would light a joss stick once they were out of this
“How’s Jensen?” Knutsen asked, with a nod towards
“Broken rib, looks like,” Stephanie replied. “Might
have pierced a lung. Not good.”
Knutsen levered himself out of his chair with a
grunt and flexed his shoulders. “The gravity is higher than I
“It’s only a little more than Earth normal. We’ve
been running on three quarters gee for too long.”
Knutsen shrugged noncommittally and crawled through
the hatch into the fuselage. Stephanie followed and clambered down
into the hold. Knutsen stopped in shock at the sight of the mutant
and the two dead crewmen, hanging limp from the wall.
“What the hell is that?”
Jensen had used some of the strapping to wrap around
his chest. He was pulling it tight, wincing with the pain.
Stephanie stepped forward, helping him tie it off. He had evidently
come to the same conclusion as she had; broken ribs. Knutsen
glanced in his direction, giving him a quick once over, before
returning his gaze to the mutant.
“You going to be okay, Jensen?”