I usually post the excerpts on ReadWave and Wattpad, but ReadWave seems to be down at the moment and Wattpad requires an account so for now I'll post it here and add it there later.
Here you go, the beginning of No Port to Land. The rest is available on Amazon, for pre-order until December 15 and to buy after that. Enjoy!
No Port to Land
Nia slipped out of the nest when the alarm started. Behind her, Gart muttered something. It was too early for him. Lucky for her, Nia could function with little sleep and was intrigued by the reason the alarm had started. It wasn’t an emergency alarm that would have all the ship’s passengers panic, but a simple notice something had happened and those who wanted could go and find out more. She was definitely interested.
She arranged the bandages on her arms before walking out into the main corridor, leaving uncovered as little skin as possible, and blinked under the strong lights. Several people were heading in the same direction, among them Adette, so she joined them.
“What happened?” she asked with half a voice.
“They caught a shuttle,” Adette said and pulled the blonde strands over her ear to hide the gray crusts, her other hand resting on her rounded belly.
“It was sending out an SOS signal while heading straight at us.” Adette smiled widely. “They caught it before it hit us.”
Around them, people commented about the news, but Nia dropped her shoulders. A damaged shuttle was no use. They would never leave this damned ship.
The second disappointment came when she saw the alleged shuttle, more like a rescue module at this size. And the modules rarely had a guidance system, even if they had suffered damages less serious than this. It had been brought onto a platform near the entrance, where mechanics armed with blowtorches struggled to open it. Considering the way they pulled on it, chances were it would never fly again. Given the life expectancy of the passengers, it was better for them to be dead.
The crowd gathered around staring, exchanging the latest gossip in whispered voices. Cherevic stood under the walkway with his partner in crime and threw dark glares from a distance. More mouths to feed. Farther afield, Sarezez’s head rose above the crowd, his tall silhouette surpassing most. Nia hid behind Adette, avoiding the man’s dumb smile. She didn’t feel like dealing with him.
Papa Ote’s ticking cane announced his arrival several seconds before he set foot on the walkway. The cane’s blows itched like hell, and her childhood memories made Nia’s ears instinctively prick despite having not received one in a long time.
The old man paused at the edge of the walkway and supervised all the action from above. His lips tightly pressed together showed he had no illusions either, but his lively eyes missed nothing.
With a screech that pierced their ears, the mechanics managed to open the shuttle’s door. Three bodies tumbled out, their faces cyanotic because of the lack of oxygen. Nia narrowed her eyes, but she was too far away to see if they were still breathing.
“They’re alive!” one of the rescuers shouted. “And armed.”
“There’s one more inside,” said another voice.
When they pulled out the last one, a big, heavy man, he was still batting an arm. They took their weapons and laid them on the floor where doctor Hossek leaned over them.
Four men and all in their prime. The initial irritation was replaced by concern. What if they all survived? At the last board meeting, they had announced there was only enough food supplies left for two more people above the existing head count, and as the ship deteriorated, the food supplies decreased quicker than the population.
“Take them to the sickbay and see if we can recover anything,” Papa Ote said.
“The big one is mine.” Adette elbowed her gently.
Nia shook her head. Gart’s nest was better than any amusement the new arrivals could provide. She turned her back on them and left the deck, tormented by dark thoughts.
The hours she waited for the commotion caused by the shuttle’s arrival to calm down passed terribly slowly. Nia busied herself in all corners where she normally had no business being in under the pretext of collecting orders, to test the waters. How did people feel about the event? How many would have preferred to get rid of the intruders immediately? And who already had hopes to leave with the shuttle? All these variables were risks that affected her plans.
Slowly but surely, she advanced towards the sickbay. When Doctor Hossek left the room for a moment, Nia slipped inside and closed the door behind her. One of the strangers was already standing, black hair falling down his bowed forehead while he fastened his pants. At his right, the blond giant whom Adette liked leaned against the wall still unused to the gravity on board the ship. On the left, the third man was sitting on the bed and kept running his fingers through his short brown beard. The fourth man was lying in bed at the end of the room, hooked up to the machines and still unconscious.
“More tests?” the bearded man said.
“No, I’m looking for the doctor,” Nia lied.
“He went to lunch,” the man in the middle said, finishing dressing.
Nia hesitated in the doorway. Alone in a room with four strangers where three could attack her at any time didn’t seem like a good idea, even if they hadn’t had time to recover fully and the knife she carried could have defended her somewhat.
“Won’t you go as well?” she asked.
If she could convince them to leave the sickbay, the patient would be left alone and then ... A lot could happen because of the old equipment.
“The doctor gave us some vitamins and advised us to wait,” the same interlocutor said. “But I would like to take a look at our shuttle. Is that possible?”
It wasn’t clear if he was asking for permission, but neither had they been locked in sickbay. And if they didn’t mind the throng of people dressed in rags and covered in festering sores, who was she to comment on their tastes?
“Sure.” She nodded. “It’s three levels below.”
“That far?” the bearded man said.
“We didn’t build the ship.” Nia shrugged.
“Will you show us the way?” the other man asked with an affable smile.
Nia looked from one man to another, hiding her calculations under a cautious expression.
“Are you the boss?” She focused her attention on the man who appeared to be the group’s leader. She didn’t like that smile. Too open and honest, the way it shouldn’t be.
“Captain Law.” He held out his hand.
“Better not.” Nia raised her arms to show her bandages.
“Ah ... yes ... better not risk it,” Law said and lowered his hand, but didn’t take a step back. “Merrick is coming with me—” he nodded toward the bearded man, “—but Eradiez stays here. Svenegald hasn’t woken up yet.”
Without the colossus, it was better. But did he leave him behind to guard the other?
On the way to the door, she glanced discreetly at the quarantine bay. The LEDs on the doorknob showed it was locked.
The cargo hold was devoid of people. The absence of any guards transformed Nia’s fears into reality. Why guard a wreck? Their mechanics were not the most skilled in the universe, but they had checked the shuttle and their conclusions must have not been encouraging. Only Jet snooped around the damaged hull, not daring to enter.
Seeing them, the boy lowered his head between his shoulders, to hide his face. A gray crust covered half of it, decorated with dried blood on the margins, where he hadn’t resisted the urge to scratch.
Nia followed the men’s reactions with interest as this was their first contact with the symptoms of the plague that affected them all. Merrick looked at him with undisguised curiosity.
“Thank you for guarding our shuttle,” Law said without blinking.
Jet made an attempt to straighten his back, ready to take all the credit for it, but then he shook his head. “I guarded nothing. They broke it before I got here.”
The men exchanged a glance.
“Did they ruin everything?” Law asked.
“They broke it into pieces,” Jet said. “But it was already broken, so they said.”
Nia took a step closer, ready to grab him by the shoulder. The kid was talking too much.
“Let’s see if there’s anything left in one piece.” Law signaled Merrick to enter.
“Where are you coming from?” Jet asked.
“From a ship...” Law looked around. “…smaller than this one.”
Nia hardly refrained to give him an ironic look. Really? It would have been difficult to find a bigger one. The Pacific was a cruise ship, once equipped to carry thousands of passengers. Nia recalled the last trip, when it still had a crew, and these strangers didn’t resemble its members at all.
“What happened?” Jet asked. “Why did you leave it?”
“Technical failure,” Law said and climbed the steps leading to the entrance. “Do you want to take a look inside?” he asked from the doorway.
“May I?” Jet squeaked and slipped past him before he could answer.
Law followed him with an amused smile. Nia remained outside, all kinds of horror scenarios passing through her head. Prisoner in the cabin along with two strangers and a child who could be used for blackmail? No way. She had fought too hard to let her guard down just now.
She took a step closer, however, paying attention to the conversation inside.
“How bad is it?” came Law’s muffled voice.
“They cleaned out everything they could take,” Merrick said.
The grumble that followed didn’t say much. What did they expect? When you were forced to survive in a closed environment, you recycled everything. It was surprising they hadn’t stripped away the floorboards as well—they could certainly be used for something. But they didn’t seem utterly resentful. Or maybe they had seen enough on the way from the sickbay to realize what trouble they had entered.
“Can you fix it?” Law asked.
“Partially. I can replace the missing parts with what we find here,” Merrick said. “The worst part is the last blast perforated the hull and affected the conversion system. That’s why we ran out of oxygen. That one I can’t fix with what we have on board.”
“We’ll ask them if they can help. It’s a big ship. There must be something appropriate around…”
They still hoped to leave with the shuttle. Nia thoughtfully ran her fingers on the burned surface of the hull. There had been no technical failure; someone had shot at them. And that someone could still be after them. Therefore, they were in a hurry to leave quickly. That suited her. She just needed to secure a ticket with them, and she knew how to do it.
The problem was she needed two tickets.