As usual, the excerpt is also available on ReadWave and Wattpad, but just in case the links don't work for some reason, I'll post it here as well.
You had an excerpt of No Port to Land, the first installment in the Law and Crucible Saga here, and now it's time for a taste of the second installment, Point of Origin. The rest is available on Amazon, for pre-order until December 15 and to buy after that. Enjoy!
Point of Origin
The nurse helped Thea settle in bed for the night. The sheets scratched her skin like sand paper and the saggy mattress did no favors to her spine, but at least she could breathe easier. Sitting up in this gravity took all the strength she had left, sometimes up to the point of making it hard to think. With most distractions gone and her mind left to wander, it was worse in some ways.
She thought about the dead end her life had become, how close she’d come to solving one of the biggest mystery in the known universe, and how naïve she’d been thinking people would have liked to know the truth. Mostly she resented not knowing if she was right. She’d tried solving the equation in her head during the many sleepless nights, but without writing down the steps, she lost track of the calculations after a couple of hours. And she couldn’t write any of it down or talk to anyone. It was too dangerous.
Thea sighed and shifted in bed, wincing when one of the bedsores split on her back. She was fed up with feeling weak, and she hated feeling sorry for herself. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much she could do other than wait. She’d sent the coded message in hopes someone would pick it up and track her down. Six months had passed since they had extracted her from the emergency shuttle, found her body damaged and brought her to the asylum. If it took much longer, she’d be past the recovery point. Everything would be lost. It would be such a shame as she was still young and should have had a full life ahead of her.
If only she could sleep. But if she did, the nightmare would come, the same nightmare she’d had for the past six months. It started with her on board the ship and her colleagues dying. In reality, things had happened at a much slower speed, she’d left before she saw it happen, but they always seemed to skip paces in her dreams, making the deaths more horrifying. Then came the crawling on the endless corridors, struggling to find a way out while her limbs became weaker and weaker. The solution was a no brainer. The ship was compromised and she needed to leave it if she wanted to have the slightest chance of survival. Finding the emergency shuttle and figuring out how to use it had nearly killed her, but slipping into the stasis capsule while not knowing when someone would come for her, if they ever did, had been worse.
Still, against all odds, she had made it this far. How much longer?
Dawn caught Thea staring at the ceiling. There was nothing else to see outside the window other than the gray sky. Little by little, the asylum came to life. She had made it through another night. She should have been relieved, but the various aches made it difficult to care.
And then the nurse came into her room with the dreaded announcement:
“You have a visitor.”
Law ignored the benches and chairs that bordered the asylum yard. All that concrete failed to feel welcoming. Not a spot of green in sight. No wonder the patients didn’t get any better. He could barely breathe in the tight confinement of the high fences, and he was healthy as far as he knew.
A male nurse pushed a wheelchair out through the terrace door. He set the wheelchair by the table and put on the brakes. “Here you go, sweetheart. The fresh air will do you good.” He looked up at Law. “Don’t get mad at her if she doesn’t answer. She’s nearly catatonic.”
“This will be fine, thank you,” Law said, his voice cold and dismissive. She deserved better treatment. Anyone deserved better treatment than that.
The male nurse retreated, leaving him alone with the patient. He’d asked for privacy and he got it. The terrace door remained open though, and the shadows in the hallway told him someone was watching.
The woman in the wheelchair didn’t move. With her elbows propped on the armrests, all her focus seemed to go into keeping herself upright. Her records claimed she was a few years younger than him, but with the dark shadows under her eyes and the gaunt cheeks, it was hard to tell. Black hair fell limply down both sides of her face, probably pretty when washed and styled as it still held some waves where it settled on her chest.
“I’m Captain Law. My ship is waiting in the spaceport,” Law said. “I have a business proposal for you.”
From the pale face, black eyes peered at him.
“My crew and I are planning to haul a whole bunch of ore from an asteroid two systems away. We need a specialist on our team to get the gig. Old regulations and such, but they’re not going to change them for just one trip.”
She arched an eyebrow. Good. She was interested. They were making progress.
“Yes, a geologist would be better, but an astrophysicist will do, too.”
A gleam of irony flashed in her eyes. He’d had to say it to see if she were a good fit for his crew. They were going to be stuck together for a long time.
“I basically only need your accreditations,” he said. “We’ll do all the heavy lifting so you won’t have to move a finger, but the local authorities insist you be physically present so…” Law shrugged. He hadn’t lied so far.
She moved one finger. Such a tiny gesture but so full of meaning. He liked that about her. She was supposed to be smart given her line of work, but it pleased him to discover her brain hadn’t succumbed to the affliction plaguing her. He’d been counting on that.
“Right. Well, I’m afraid we don’t have a doctor on board at the moment, but our medbay is well stocked to keep you comfortable. And…” He paused for effect as if he was really trying to sell her the job. “I’m willing to fly at zero g all the way there. The crew won’t like it, but it’s cheaper than hiring a nurse.” Another shrug.
Something like a chuckle left her lips, and Law allowed himself a little smile.
“It will be like heaven after the gravity crushing you here.” He was tempting her and felt no shame for it. He needed her on the ship, and this wasn’t an offer she could refuse. It was her only ticket out of this damned system. “If there are any problems, our communication officer, who is also a woman, can help.” Mia would strangle him for volunteering her services without asking her first, but he had a feeling the woman sitting in front of him was less weak than she appeared and it wouldn’t come to that.
Come to think of it, he’d been an ass for delivering his pitch standing up and forcing her to crane her neck to look at him. Law pulled a chair and sat down, which brought him closer to her eye level. The arch of her neck changed accordingly. Wonderful.
“So, what do you think?” he asked. “Interested?”
She didn’t answer right away, and when she did, her voice came out raspy as if she hadn’t used it in a while. “What’s in it for me?”
“Half a share of the profit after we restock the fuel.” Law raised a hand. “Only the permanent personnel gets a full share.”
Since she still didn’t answer, he added, “You can use it for nerve replacement therapy.”
A low blow to remind her what was at stake, her survival. Law wasn’t a cruel man, but sometimes a statement needed to be made. She needed to know who was in charge. “I’ll need an answer soon. We’re taking off at noon.”
He stared at her, armed with all the patience in the world, and just when he was thinking she might have exhausted her word quota for the day, the whisper came.
Law leaned over the table and reached for her hand. He held it with the same patience until her cold, stiff fingers closed around his. “There. We have a deal.” He smiled and released her hand. “We’ll come to pick you up in the morning. We’ll deal with the formalities tomorrow.”
He got up, nodded and was on his way. It was only when he reached the metal gate he made the mistake of looking back over his shoulder. Her intense stare cut him to the bone and all the way back to the ship, he had the acute feeling he’d been had.
Thea ran her fingers through her short hair. It had taken her only forty minutes to cut it, and the hair had dried before she finished so she hadn’t had time to style it other than comb it back, but it was done. She would have finished sooner if she hadn’t already been exhausted after washing up and slipping into the standard-issued overalls the crew wore. Despite the fatigue that made her limbs heavy and clumsy, she felt better and was happy to discover she hadn’t completely lost her fine motric skills. Still, cutting her hair at zero g had been more than a little challenging.
Law and a big, blond guy called Eradiez had come to pick her up from the asylum in the morning, wheelchair and all. After signing triple release forms, they had taken her to the ship where it became clear it hadn’t been built with the use of disabled passengers in mind. Her wheelchair became useless as soon as they entered the hatch. So they picked her up and carried her to her designated cabin, strapped her to the couch then they forgot about her, which she was grateful for because they didn’t get to hear her groans and whimpers during the brutal take off. Their pilot was a murderer.
Once enough time had passed for the various new aches to decrease and the nausea to settle down, the pangs of hunger drew Thea out of her cabin. She hadn’t eaten anything all day, and it became more apparent no one was going to play room service for her. Figuring out how to float from handle to handle took a little more coordination than she had at the moment, but it wasn’t impossible. She could do this, though she didn’t see why they wouldn’t put her in a stasis capsule for the duration of the flight. It would certainly be easier for everyone, and they wouldn’t have to worry about her. Assuming they did.
The deserted corridors suggested at least part of the crew had to be in stasis, which wasn’t unusual for the long hauls. Perfect. No one to laugh at her feeble attempts to move without bumping into walls. Finding a rhythm was the key, so she focused on that while looking for a way to the mess hall. At least there were no steps to climb.
Down the third corridor, a woman walked out of a door. Dark brown, short curls floated gently around her tanned face as she turned. “Good. You’re up.” The cold greeting was accompanied by a not entirely dismissive up and down look. “I’m Mia Torres, communication officer. Come in.” She nodded back to the door she’d come out of. “Law wants you in the medbay.”
Without another word, she stalked back, leaving Thea to follow at her own pace.
Thea looked mournfully at the woman’s straight posture and the traction boots that kept her feet connected to the floor. She’d tried the pair found in her room, but the magnetic field was too strong for her to use them successfully and she’d failed to find a way to adjust the field. Maybe one of them could help her with that.
“Sit over there.” Mia pointed at the consultation table. “I’ll do a brief evaluation. It won’t take long.” She pressed a series of buttons on a screen.
With some maneuvering, Thea managed to set herself down on the table and strap her waist in. Several sensors surrounded her and moved around her, beeping faintly. One dared to prick her skin, and Thea winced, taken by surprise.
“I’m not a doctor, but it doesn’t require a degree to check the readings,” Mia said, her hazel eyes glued to the screens. “We have a pretty good medbay here.”
Law had said they did. Thea nodded as the equipment in the room was more advanced than anything she’d seen at the asylum. But then again, one couldn’t compare a private ship to an institution funded by the state that admitted only people who had nowhere else to go. “Do you get to use it often?”
“You have no idea.” A smile threatened to crack Mia’s lips, but a frown quickly replaced it as the results came in. “Your nervous system degeneration is up to 35%. That’s not too bad after six months. It was only 25% at the first evaluation mentioned in your file. It means it’s not aggressive so there’s still time.” Meaning you can do the job here and then get the proper treatment.
Thea forced her jaw to unclench at the time mention. Both Mia and Law talked so carelessly about nerve replacement therapy when that was one thing she couldn’t do even if she were in a system that did such things and she had the funds for it. Luckily, there were other alternative treatments, less invasive, that could keep the degeneration under control. They wouldn’t fix her, but they would slow down the process and perhaps even stop it for a while. It would have to do.
“Your muscle mass is in a much worse state,” Mia said, “but six months in bed would do that to you. We can help with that.” She pursed her lips. “I don’t see anything else that requires immediate attention.” She almost smiled again, probably at the thought she wouldn’t have to babysit her charge too long.
Thea didn’t understand what she’d done to make Mia resent her already, but life was too short to worry about such trivial issues. It wasn’t like they were friends.
“Now, I need your permission to give you these.” Mia came by her side, holding a tray with three syringes lying on it. “This—” she picked up the biggest one, “—is a standard immunization cocktail that should protect you against most things we might come upon out there. Your last immunization was done over a year ago and it didn’t cover everything so it was just about time to do it again. It also includes immunization against a nasty plague part of the crew came in contact with a while back. They’ve all been cleared since, but we don’t want to take any chances.”
Thea nodded, wary of the mention of “things they might come upon.” She’d thought she wouldn’t have to leave the ship for this job, but they could just as well bring something in…
“This one—” Mia held up the medium-size syringe, “—contains steroids for the muscles, and something that might or might not work on your nervous system, but it can’t hurt to try.” She paused and didn’t touch the smallest syringe. “This is a long term contraceptive. Its action can be reversed at any time and there are no lasting effects. Law is adamant for all of us to take it. He claims the ship is too small for kids and the drama that comes with them.” Her voice turned wistful then she shook her head. “Anyway, it’s safer than anything else I’m giving you, but if your religion forbids it or whatever other reasons you might have, you should talk it up with Law. Fair warning though, it won’t be a nice chat.”
She didn’t want a confrontation with the captain so soon into the trip. “No, that’s fine.” She rolled up her sleeve and held out her arm.
“In case you’re wondering, relations aren’t prohibited between the crew members.” Mia swabbed her skin. “But Merrick is mine. And you better talk to Sienna first before approaching Eradiez if you want to keep any of your hair. As for Law … good luck with that!” Her laughter carried a hint of malice.
Sex was the last thing on Thea’s mind despite the boredom of the past few months, but the last remark intrigued her. “You don’t like Law?”
“Of course, I like him. I wouldn’t work with him otherwise.” With him, not for him. “He’s … different. He asks a lot and gives everything in return. Such dedication is compelling, and people usually deliver. It’s why we work so well as a team. But getting involved with him? I can’t imagine doing it without getting consumed in the process.” She picked up the first syringe, shaking her head.
Each shot stung worse than the last, but they were nothing compared to the pins and needles shooting up and down her limbs when she maintained one position for too long.
“All done.” Mia swabbed her arm until no blood came out. “I’ll take you to Law, and then you’re free of me.” This time, she did smile.
So she hated her. Oh, well. Thea released the straps and jumped off the table. Or at least, she tried. The zero g pushed her up, she lost her balance, and she hit her shin against the corner of the table. Cursing under her breath, she flapped her arms and followed Mia out of the medbay. Her legs might be useless, but she was getting a good workout for her upper body.