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Authors: Pauline Baird Jones

The Key

BOOK: The Key
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The Key

by Pauline Baird Jones

 

 

Published by L&L Dreamspell

 

Spring, Texas

Cover Art by Paul Greer

Interior Design by L & L Dreamspell

Copyright © 2007 Pauline B. Jones. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of the copyright holder, except for brief quotations used in a review.

This is a work of fiction, and is produced from the author’s imagination. People, places and things mentioned in this novel are used in a fictional manner.

ISBN:       978-1-60318-011-5

Visit us on the web at www.lldreamspell.com

Published by L & L Dreamspell

Produced in the United States of America

 

 

Acknowledgements

I’d like to acknowledge the help of Jamie Engle and Richard Llanes, my first readers for this book. If she hadn’t liked it, I might never have finished it.

I’d also like to acknowledge my son and space battle consultant, Nathaniel B Jones. Who knew that all those years of playing video games were actually a good thing?

And I’d like to thank my daughter, Elizabeth Vargas and her husband, Paul Greer for my amazing cover.

And last, but certainly not least, many thanks to Lisa Smith and Linda Houle of LL Dreamspell for being willing to publish this very, long book. And for having the guts to start a publishing company. You both rock. :-)

 

I’d like to dedicate this book to my husband Greg,

Who has stuck with me for thirty-two years,

And who actually seems to be hoping for that many more.

 

 

PART ONE - One

 

Kiernan Fyn heard the high-pitched whine of a ship and could tell it was in trouble, even without the dark smoke trail spewing from the tail. It was coming in too fast and too steep.

The pilot must be dead—before the thought finished, the ship started a series of brutally sharp turns. Okay, not dead…yet.

Fyn strained with him through each turn, remembering how those turns felt, remembering trying not to crash.

And crashing anyway.

The pilot still hadn’t slowed enough, and if he didn’t turn soon, he’d go straight into the water. Kikk had a lot of water. Not a lot of ground. Only one place that was flat enough to attempt a landing.

The nose of the ship edged up a bit, but still not enough...it made a sudden turn toward him. Okay, he’d seen the beach. Now he just had to make it…

It dropped below the tree line, and after a bit, Fyn felt the impact ripple through the ground under his feet. The ship popped briefly into view again, then dropped out of sight. Another impact tremor. Longer this time, then…nothing.

No explosion. That was good. There’d be something to salvage.

He broke clear of the thick jungle and saw a deep hole in the sand. A break, then a furrow stretching down the beach so far he couldn’t see the end.

He hesitated, searching the blue-green sky for any pursuit, but it was empty of everything but the drifting remains of the ship’s smoke trail. He jumped down on to the white sand and walked along the furrow. Soon he could see the downed ship, the front crunched up against a tree.

He approached with caution, doing a complete circuit, looking for signs of a secondary explosion, but it just hissed a bit, then subsided into a resigned silence.

It wasn’t like any ship he’d seen, though he liked the look of it. It was long and sleek and dark.

He traced an odd drawing on the side, under some unfamiliar symbols. A small square of dark sky and stars, and a larger section of dark and light stripes.

The damage from contact with the tree wasn’t too bad, but—he walked to the rear—weapons fire was. He bent close and sniffed. Dusan energy blast. There was another scorch mark on the side. That it had landed almost intact told him it was a tough, little ship—and a decent pilot.

He looked at the cockpit and saw a figure slumped over the controls. Fyn climbed up on the wing, studying the mechanism that kept the cover in place. After a few tries, it retracted with a loud, almost angry hiss.

The pilot’s gear was as dark as his ship, his face hidden by a sturdy looking head covering. He also wore a heavy, dark flight suit, with the same symbols from the ship imbedded in the material.

Some flexible tubing stretched from his facemask to the ship. Probably his air supply. Fyn felt along the side of the mask and managed to unhook it.

Now he could see a gap between the suit and the headgear. He worked his fingers in until he felt skin and was surprised to feel blood pumping beneath the still warm surface. He found the strap, undid it and lifted the headgear off. The pilot’s head fell back against the seat.

A woman?

He’d never seen a woman fly a ship and he’d been all over the galaxy. Her hair was red, it was so many shades of red, it flashed in the sunlight, catching the rays in the strands and reflecting them back as fire. He touched it, almost afraid it would burn, but it was as soft as the skin it lay against. Matching lashes lay in neat half moons against pale cheeks.

She moaned and shifted, turning her head and he saw a nasty gash on the side of her face, near the hairline. Blood dripped sluggishly down the side of her face.

A harness held her strapped in the seat. He explored the clasp for a few minutes and finally it popped apart. He felt along her arms and legs, then checked her ribs for damage, before easing her free of the craft and laying her in the sand.

She was tall, but surprisingly light. Her suit made her look more bulky than she was.

Inside her ship, he found bandages in a box with a red cross on the outside. She stirred again, when he cleaned her wound, but she didn’t wake. Once he’d contained the bleeding and applied a covering, he went back and searched the cockpit again. He found a bag of what he assumed were emergency supplies and a couple of weapons.

He would have liked to study it all in more detail, but the light was fading. He needed to get them both under cover before dark.

He carried her and her stuff back to his cave, lowering her onto his bed, a pile of leaves and vines culled from the surrounding jungle. He pulled off her heavy gloves, exposing hands that were narrow with long, well-formed fingers. Her dark suit seemed constrictive, but was secured with an odd metal track that pulled down to below her waist. Under her flight suit, she wore clothing that was unlike anything he’d ever seen. It was mottled in the shades of the earth and clouds. This clothing had many pockets, filled with more stuff. No wonder she looked so bulky. He emptied the pockets, studying each item, before adding it to a pile. She also had a knife in a holder and what looked like a holder for the smaller of the weapons he took out of the cockpit.

Two of her weapons were curious. They seemed to operate on a projectile penetration basis, unlike his energy based ones. He tucked all three behind a boulder. No reason to arm her until he found out how she felt about him.

He settled down by her, watching her and waiting for her eyes to open, wondering what color they’d be.

It was hard not to feel like the gods had sent him a gift for not giving up, but he realized she might not see her arrival in quite the same light. He ran a finger down the smooth curve of her cheek, then across her soft, full lower lip, relieved to see the slow rise and fall of her chest.

As light faded, worry replaced curiosity. Perhaps she had some injury beyond his ability to detect.

He’d expected to die here, and to die alone. None of the Ojemba would look for him. Their numbers were not large enough to risk men in fruitless searches for lost comrades. Every time he went out on a mission, he knew he went out alone.

Every day since he’d crashed on this miserable planet, he’d decide to get it over with. He’d stood by the ocean, telling himself to walk in and finish it. If he couldn’t fight anymore, what good was he? And each day he turned and walked back into the jungle.

Hope was a hardy plant, to keep growing in a place like Kikk.

It was a brutal, hostile planet. In the season since he’d been stranded here, only the occasional Dusan patrol had stopped by and none of them had landed, just buzzed the surface. They came for the same reason Kalian had sent him here.

They were looking for the lost Garradian outpost.

He could have told them, if it was on Kikk, it wasn’t on this continent. He’d had plenty of time to search for it.

Fyn didn’t believe in the Garradians or the outpost.

He did believe in killing Dusan. Since they’d over run his planet, it was all he believed in.

But now, as he watched the woman, he remembered other things he had believed in, things he used to feel. He’d cursed the gods, and not just because they’d stranded him here. Why had they sent him this gift now? And what cost would they demand in return?

There was always a cost.

Just before the light faded outside, he pulled a weapon and fired it at the rocks, adding an orange glow to the deepening dark. It provided warmth, but also helped keep the biters out.

Finally, when he wondered if she’d ever wake, she began to stir. He retreated to the other side of the cave and waited...

* * * *

       A vague throbbing in her right temple towed Sara back to a consciousness she didn’t want to face, though she was a bit fuzzy on why…

She opened her eyes to zero dark thirty—a darkness somewhat lightened by an eerie orange glow.

Okay, starting to remember…

She not only wasn’t in Kansas anymore, she wasn’t in the cockpit of her bird. The rough hewn rock over head seemed to indicate she was in some kind of a cave, but how did she get from
Dauntless
to cave?

She remembered…

…the dogfight.

…the double hit to her six.

…heading for the closest planet like a fast falling star.

…doing bat turns to slow her descent.

…seeing the long stretch of flat, white beach between tangled mass of jungle and sparkling ocean.

…endless feet-wet finally giving way to feet dry.

The narrow beach had skimmed past way too fast as she struggled to manage her uncontrolled descent.

She remembered pulling her nose up long enough to clear a rugged tumble of rock spilling from high bluff into ocean, but on the other side ground was ground and no landing is a good one that ends against a tree.

Yeah, she remembered the tree.

But she didn’t remember a cave.

Her head didn’t seem to like all the remembering. She touched the complaining spot, finding something that felt like a bandage at the apex of the pain.

Okay...didn’t remember that either.

She tried moving various body parts. Everything was a bit banged up, but still worked, which was probably good. And she knew it would get better. It always did. Her zoombag had been loosened and her gloves were gone. Add that to the list of things she couldn’t remember, with an asterisk for slightly creepy.

As the rest of her senses began to come back on line she inhaled a warm, metallic scent that seemed to be emanating from a circle of rocks, the source of the orange glow. It was mixed with a warm, earthy smell and some scents she couldn’t begin to identify. There was a bit of a nip in the air, the edge taken off by the…fire? Was it a fire? It didn’t flicker like a fire.

It was deeply quiet in the cave, quiet enough to hear her own breathing…and someone else’s. An icy trickle made its way down her back. Who...or what...was sharing this cave with her?

Sara sat up, stifling a groan when various bruises and bangs registered formal protests to her brain-housing group. She’d planned to stand up next, but something stirred across from her.

Who—or what—ever it was rose, throwing an ill-formed and very large shadow against the wall and roof of the cave. Maybe it was the bad light, but the outline was very Sasquatch-ish—shaggy and kind of ominous. The icy trickle turned to a rushing stream.

It moved toward her, passing into the half light cast by the sort of fire. Not Sasquatch, though he could have been a second cousin. He had a head full of dreads, he bristled with armament and he bulged with muscles wrapped in what appeared to be tight fitting leather. It was hard to find features—his face was darkened by dirt or camo, or both—but his eyes were deeply, sharply green.

And he was really, really tall. Sara had to tip her head way back to look up at him. He didn’t speak, which upped the eerie factor a few more degrees.

She somehow managed to get her legs under her and stand up. She was a tall girl—
Tall Girl
was actually her call sign—but the top of her head didn’t reach his chin. He’d have to be around seven feet to top her by that much.

BOOK: The Key
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