Authors: Kevin Hardman
Fringe Worlds #1
Kid Sensation Series
The Warden Series
The Fringe Worlds
Terminus (Fringe Worlds #1)
I would like to thank the following for their help with this book: GOD, first and foremost, because each book I get to write is a blessing; and my
family, for always being there
. Last, but not least, I dedicate this book in loving memory of my father, Isaac.
This book is a work of fiction contrived by the author, and is not meant to reflect any actual or specific person, place, action, incident or event. Any resemblance to incidents, events, actions, locales or persons, living or dead, factual or fictional, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Kevin Hardman.
Cover Design by Isikol
Edited by Faith Williams, The Atwater Group
This book is published by I&H Recherche Publishing.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address I&H Recherche Publishing, P.O. Box 1586, Cypress, TX 77410.
Printed in the U.S.A.
1. the Roman god of boundaries;
2. the boundary or limit of something;
3. the end or extremity of anything;
4. a final point in space or time.
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Table of Contents
They were waiting for him when he got home. For Master Sergeant Arrogant “Gant” Maker, Galactic Marine Corps (Ret.), it was a day he had known was coming for years. Still, it was an odd sensation – to finally be vindicated.
He had been down at the practice range, firing off a few rounds as he did every day, when a blue light suddenly flashed on his left wristband. It was an indication that there was motion inside his cabin.
In the two years that he had been on Ginsberg, he’d never once had an unexpected visitor. In fact, he hadn’t had any visitors whatsoever.
It wasn’t that Ginsberg was a terrible planet. It was actually rather nice, with picturesque views and a rustic charm that was difficult to put into words. It was far enough out from the Gaian Hub that a retired soldier’s pension could go far, but close enough to have access to all the comforts of civilization.
Maker took his time going back to the cabin. Normally, he would have run the two miles between the practice range and his home, viewing the distance as an opportunity to get in a last bit of exercise. Instead, he decided to dawdle, walking along the wooded trail that led back at a leisurely pace. He had waited years for them; they could wait half an hour for him.
As he walked, he heard a familiar scrambling in some nearby bushes, and a moment later Erlen scurried onto the path and fell into step beside him. About the size of a large dog and looking like a cross between a salamander and a spider monkey (among other things), Erlen preferred to dash about on all fours. He could, however, rise up on his hind legs when necessary.
Erlen growled softly, a low rumbling that was easy for Maker to interpret.
“Yeah,” Maker said. “We’ve got company. We knew they’d come eventually.”
When the cabin came into view, Maker saw what he expected: a hovercraft bearing military insignia parked next to his own near the front of his home. As Maker could have predicted, Erlen ran ahead, making a beeline for the unfamiliar vehicle. When he got close, the alien made a surprisingly powerful leap, landing on the roof of the military craft. Then his tongue – a lengthy and supple blood-red appendage – flicked out as he quickly licked the vehicle.
This wasn’t surprising to Maker in the least. Erlen tasted everything; it was part of his nature. And it wasn’t just confined to inanimate objects, either. Erlen was just as willing to taste living things. Using his tongue, however, was just for show. Erlen’s paws – in addition to housing retractable claws – also contained papillae on their pads much like those on the human tongue (although his were dry). In short, the alien creature could actually taste objects merely by touching them.
Maker took another glance at the military emblem as he came abreast of the unfamiliar craft. Now that he was closer, he could see telltale markings that denoted the vehicle’s point of origin: Echelon. Maker couldn’t help being slightly surprised.
Gaian Space – that region of the cosmos primarily occupied and controlled by
– consisted of several discrete regions that branched out almost spherically from a central core. The heart of this expanse was the Hub – the multitude of worlds that served as the cultural, financial, and governmental nerve center of the human race.
Next to the Hub was the middle region known as the Mezzo, worlds that were generally considered the industrial arm of humanity, the suppliers of raw materials. Outside of the Mezzo was the Rim, which was typically thought of as two sections: the Inner Rim and the Outer Rim.
Following the Rim was the Fringe, the outermost edge of the Gaian Expanse and human settlement. It was an area that had garnered a reputation for attracting the wrong elements of society – unsavory individuals and men of questionable character – because of a dearth of law enforcement in the region.
Finally, other than those sectors known to be home to other sentient species, areas beyond the Fringe (most of which were uncharted and unexplored) were known simply as the Beyond or X-Space. Few people ventured Beyond without a very compelling reason.
All of this flitted through Maker’s mind as he mentally noted that his current home on Ginsberg was just inside the Inner Rim. Echelon, a planet that essentially served as a huge military base, was actually situated inside the Mezzo, but on the opposite side of the Hub. In short, his visitors had come a long way to see him.
A soft growl brought Maker back to himself as Erlen leaped from the vehicle, landing deftly beside him as he reached the steps leading up to the cabin’s entrance.
Unsurprisingly, there was a Marine standing guard at the door – a big, strapping fellow maybe fifteen years Maker’s junior. He wore beta-class body armor, which probably meant that he wasn’t really expecting trouble but wanted to play it safe. Of course, it was difficult to say since some guys wore their Class Bs all the time, as if they were afraid of some random stranger walking up behind them and shooting them in the back.
The young Marine’s nametag and rank designated him as Sergeant De Beers, and he quite likely served a double role as both bodyguard and driver for whoever was waiting inside. For a brief moment, Maker wondered if he was going to have trouble getting into his own home. The question was answered a second later when the sergeant suddenly came to attention and then stepped sharply aside.
“They’re waiting for you inside, sir,” De Beers said, his hand snapping up into a salute.
Maker returned the salute without thinking, the result of instinct ingrained by almost two decades in uniform. Even three years later after his last salute to anyone, the old habits died hard.
Oddly enough, the young man didn’t give Erlen so much as a glance as they passed, which meant that he was either highly professional or had already been briefed about Maker’s “pet.” Maker presumed it was the latter. He went inside and closed the door after Erlen dashed in.
There were three of them inside. He recognized the first: General Kroner – a highly decorated, career military man whom Maker had served under when he first joined the Corps. Tall and standing ramrod straight, Kroner was the walking epitome of a Marine.
The second person was a dark-eyed woman dressed in a black, full-length bodysuit. She was about average height, with pale, blond hair that fell down to her shoulders. A badge just above her left breast identified her as a civilian aide – some sort of civil servant.
Like the general, the woman had remained standing. In her hands she held a medical module – an advanced, interactive simulator typically used to allow medical students to practice surgical procedures in three-D. At the end of surgery the student would be given a grade and informed whether his patient would die, fully recover, etc. (A scaled-down version of the simulator was also sold as a game for kids.)
The module was one of several such devices that Maker owned, and he frowned upon seeing the woman holding it. He really didn’t like people handling his things without permission, but said nothing. The woman, clearly noting Maker’s displeasure, placed the module back where she had originally gotten it – a nearby bookshelf – next to similar simulators for other subjects such as chemistry and physics.
Maker’s final visitor was a wafer-thin man with a neatly-trimmed mustache. Outfitted in a gray business suit, the man was lounging in an easy chair, clearly having made himself at home. He exuded a self-important sense of authority and entitlement. Maker recognized the type right away – a bureaucrat.
, Maker said to himself. As if to reinforce the notion, Maker noticed that the man had in his lap an odd headpiece that seemed to continually shift through the colors of the spectrum. A rainbow hat – the latest fad among the trendy and elite. Maker almost rolled his eyes.
“Gant,” said the general, walking towards him and extending a hand. “How are you?”
“Fine, sir,” Maker responded as they shook hands.
“I see you’ve still got Erlen with you,” Kroner noted.
“He’s been keeping me out of trouble,” Maker said as Kroner bent down to stroke the alien creature’s head. He was one of the few people other than Maker that Erlen allowed such liberties.
After a moment, the general stood up again. “Allow me to introduce my companions. This is Bain Browing.”
The man with the mustache tossed his hat onto an end table next to the easy chair, then stood up.
“A pleasure,” Browing said in an unconvincing tone as he pumped Maker’s hand. He cast a skeptical glance at Erlen, who was retreating to a corner of the room. “Uh, is your, uh, pet dangerous?”
“He’s not a pet,” Maker announced flatly. “And yes, he’s exceedingly dangerous.”
Browing looked slightly nervous and appeared on the verge of making a comment, but Kroner cut him off.
“And this is Dr. Ariel Chantrey,” the general said, nodding towards the woman.
“So nice to meet you,” the woman stated, although Maker wasn’t sure it was nice at all.
“Doctor of what?” Maker asked, dismissing with the pleasantries.
The woman cast an inquisitive glance at Kroner, who gave no indication of what he was thinking.
“Psychology, for one,” she said. “But also, psychiatry, psychobiology, behavioral science and cognitive science.”
Maker raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
Dr. Chantrey waved a hand towards the modules on the bookshelf. “I hope you’ll forgive any discourtesy I may have displayed in–”
“Don’t worry about it,” Maker said, cutting her off. She was obviously curious about the simulators, but – after a moment’s silence – chose to change the subject rather than pry.
“Your, uh, friend,” the doctor said, nodding towards Erlen. “What type of creature is he?”
“He’s Niotan,” Maker replied. When a perplexed look came across the doctor’s face, he added, “From Niota.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ve never heard of it. Where’s it located?”
Maker shrugged. “Beats me.”
His response caused an even deeper frown on the doctor’s part, but she said nothing.
“Anyway,” Maker said, addressing all three of his guests, “I’m sure you good people didn’t come all the way to Ginsberg for a social call, so what can I do for you?”
There was a moment of silence, as his directness seemed to have thrown them off their game plan.
All of a sudden, General Kroner chuckled. “That’s a Marine for you – straight to the point. Alright, Gant, we won’t waste your time.” He nodded at Browing.
“There’s something we’d like you to look at,” Browing said, taking his cue. “But first, can you tell us how you came to leave the Corps?”
Crossing his arms, Maker snorted derisively. “Let’s not play games. We both know you’ve seen my file. You already know how I ‘came to leave’ the Corps.”
“But we’d like to hear it in your own words,” the woman chimed in. “So could you humor us?”
Maker frowned. He really wasn’t in the mood to humor anyone – hadn’t been for years. Still, it was evident that this was a tit-for-tat situation: they weren’t going to tell him anything until he told them something. Oh well…what could it hurt? Maker took a deep breath, then started speaking.
“We were on our way back to base – my unit, that is – from a mission,” Maker began. “We were well outside the Fringe, deep into the Beyond – at least a dozen jump points out.”
“Wait,” Dr. Chantrey interjected. “Did you say you were a dozen jump points out?”
“Yes,” Maker replied.
jump points?” she asked.
“Is there another kind associated with space travel?” Maker retorted in exasperation, answering her question with a question.
She flinched a little, and he realized he’d probably responded in a sharper tone than necessary. After all, any surprise on her part was to be expected; going twelve jump points into the Beyond was unfathomable to most people. There just wasn’t a reason to penetrate that deeply into the unknown. Still, he’d found the woman’s question irritating, since it seemed to imply that he didn’t understand the rudiments of hyperspace travel.
In essence, entering hyperspace allowed you to traverse great distances in just a fraction of the time that it would take in “normal” space, but it was not without its perils – the greatest of which was miscalculating the point of egress. Failure to accurately calculate the proper locus for exiting meant that a ship could come out anywhere, and plenty of spacecraft had been lost over the years because of it, particularly in the early years after hyperspace travel became possible.