Free Science Fiction Adventure Story | Starblazer Part 7

The citizens of Tellus thought their town was safe, but an unexpected visitor arrived with a dozen copters and armoured soldiers. 

Is this the end for the small settlement? 

Find out in the latest chapter of Starblazer:


Aya dragged her feet down the last few steps and out the side door of the stadium into the throng of Tellus Market. The dusty road was busy with rickshaws and people. She weaved a familiar path through the narrow pass between brightly lit stalls selling brightly coloured cloth, bags, clothes, refurbished tech, and food. Lots and lots of street food.

The scent of spices and oils reminded her she hadn’t eaten since lunchtime, and she almost considered grabbing some hot dumplings as she passed. But Nanna would have made supper and Aya wasn’t wasting the credits she desperately needed to save.

She brushed past a few kids gathered around a Quantum TV, one of the few in Tellus. It looked like they were trying to watch a Zero-G match on the tiny 17″ screen but it kept fritzing out. Greenish-hued players dove this way and that, and it was almost impossible to tell which team was which. But it looked like a couple of Martian teams. It still wowed her that they could get live images from a planet millions of kilometres away. Even if they could watch the match again tomorrow in colour, it was still amazing to feel part of it in real-time. She ducked away, reminded of her own failed match, and headed toward the fish bar and station street.

At least she was getting paid for something today.

As she cleared the market, she spotted her team seated around a table at the noodle bar beside the loop station subway. Kiri’s words came back to her. Why had she joined a team? Was it just to get a few credits from Zhao? It seemed like a good idea at the time. There was so little else to do in this dust bowl and she did love playing Zero-g. But maybe she was just more of a liability.

She looked around for Zak’s Plaice, a stupid name since the only fish they served was tilapia. She’d never been to the fish restaurant before, but it was easy to pick out. Not just because of the garish neon sign, but also because it was the only storefront with green plants and aquaponic tanks filling up the windows. As if they had plucked a little earth jungle from the amazon and sent it here in a jar.

She could feel the difference in the air the moment she walked through the doors.

The restaurant was cool, and the air smelled clean, and not just from the scrubbers. She didn’t know why she’d never been here. It was a tiny oasis. Each wall was filled with tanks, stacked high and overflowing with greenery, and in the low blue light she could see the doomed tilapia swimming this way and that, a dozen or more in each tank.

Around the room were twenty tables or more. But only one was occupied.

Captain Haruka was at the far table in the corner, under a flattering Daylite. Her long black hair, braided in part, and tied at her nape, flowed down her back as she leaned over a bowl of what looked like fish soup. It smelled good. The captain’s extravagant hat had been placed on the seat next to her as if she were playing ‘tea party’ with it. In front of her table, standing a broad seven feet tall was Ragnarsson. Aya hadn’t worked out if he was her second in command, her bodyguard, her husband, or all three.

He stared at Aya as she picked her way across the restaurant. A barman looked up from cleaning glasses and ducked away into the back the moment he met her gaze. Not at all unsettling. 

Ragnarsson loomed over her as she stood at the table waiting for Haruka to notice her. 

It took several long minutes of the woman slurping before she finally sat back, dabbed at her mouth with a cloth and gestured to the seat in front of her. 

Aya sat. 

“How is my ship?” she asked.

Aya nodded but realised she was going to have to force her closed throat to work if she wanted this to go well. Haruka was not a woman with patience.

“The Starblazer is finished and ready to go. It’s docked on pad 8. Mendoza always likes to run a final systems check so he’ll probably be in touch in the morning with the pickup details.”

Haruka nodded, her face a ceramic mask. “And our little arrangement?”

Aya nodded and glanced around. It was only those three in the restaurant and she realised now that was by design. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that the moment she spoke about what she had done, she would get caught. 

“All taken care of. A panel on the bridge just needs a tap from an authorised fingerprint to light up the display. The whole system is independent, temperature controlled, it has its own power supply which needs to be charged separately, but then everything will run quietly in the background.” Aya dug out the schematic paper from her pocket and handed it over. Haruka scrolled it and tapped through the data.

“Capacity is just under a metre cubed, it is completely undetectable with shields running independently of the ship protecting power signature, temperature fluctuations, and contents. If anyone scans that panel, it will read like any other panel. I’ve watched Mendoza himself scan it and he didn’t notice anything.” Aya thought back to the horrifying moment Mendoza had decided to conduct a full scan of the bridge, searching for a rattle that shouldn’t have been there. It was a tense thirty minutes before he gave up with a promise to rip the hull apart. It was after that that she decided to install sound dampening on the smuggler hole as well, and remove her kit before she closed up in the morning.

“And life signs?” Haruka asked.

Aya chilled at the thought of anyone being boxed up for any length of time in the tiny cubby she’d created. 

“Completely undetectable. The air filtration system is a subsystem of the main scrubber, so whoever is in there will have their own air supply.”

Haruka nodded. Still staring at the schematics. “Good, if that’s everything, you can go.”

Aya froze.

Haruka slowly moved her eyes up from the paper to meet her gaze. “Is that everything?” she asked.

“I… erm,” Aya glanced up at Ragnarsson, looming over her. He cracked his knuckles in a gesture that told her he’d watched too many smuggler movies. “We agreed I would be paid today.”

Haruka raised two perfect eyebrows and placed the paper on the table in front of her as if to set her entire focus on Aya.

“I think I would rather pay you when I have my ship.”

This wasn’t what they’d agreed. If Haruka had her ship, what would stop her from leaving the planet, the system, and being a ten million klicks away before Aya had a chance to react? She swallowed hard. 

“It’s just…” she had to hold her body still to stop it from shaking. Was she really negotiating with smugglers? “You said you would.”

Haruka smiled again. Aya was beginning to find that smile unsettling.

“Don’t you trust me?”

‘No. Of course, I don’t. You’re a smuggler.’ “Of course, I do,” Aya spluttered. “But—”

“But?” Haruka looked at her, then leaned back in her chair. “Aya? That’s a Japanese name, isn’t it?”

Aya blinked. Blindsided by the deviation. “It’s a common name in a lot of languages.” She didn’t know if it was clever or foolish to sidestep the question.

“So you don’t have Japanese heritage?”

Would Haruka prefer it if she did? Why did it feel like she needed to hide as much about herself as she could, yet if she lied she felt Haruka would somehow know and use it against her? 

“My great-grandmother was Japanese. I was named for her.”

Haruka smiled again. A brief but full smile reached those dark and unscrupulous eyes. “There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? We’re getting to know each other now. So, your great-grandmother was Japanese, but you don’t consider yourself to be?”

Why did Haruka care? Did she think they would have some kind of Japanese sisterhood? Would she get paid today if they did? 

“I don’t consider myself anything.”

Haruka seemed genuinely surprised by her answer. “Not even Ceresian?”

Aya shrugged. Maybe it would be easier to just wait until tomorrow rather than enduring these weird questions. She was acutely aware of Ragnarsson standing behind her. If she got up to leave, she would have to get through that giant of a man. 

“That must be very lonely,” Haruka said matter-of-factly. Was that a threat? Aya wasn’t sure which one of the smugglers she should be more worried about, but there was something about pointing out how alone Aya was that made her acutely aware of the danger. She ought to just leave, but she felt as though she would not be getting out of the chair until Haruka wanted her to. 

But Aya had one last card to play, and her skin tingled in excited fear. “I can give you the access codes as soon as you pay me, so it makes no difference to me if that’s now or next week.” Aya shrugged as if the money was a side issue and not the only thing she wanted.

Haruka looked up at her again. This time, there was something new in her eyes. Her smile was broad enough that her cheeks were dimpled. Very unsettling on a hardened, armed smuggler.

“Well, well, well, Aya Turner, I am impressed.” Haruka shook the paper, “and not just with your technical skill.” She sat back in her chair, and this time the smile didn’t slip. “Okay,” she said with a nod, reaching into the breast pocket of her long decorated jacket, “I accept your extortion.” She withdrew a pile of shining gold notes and laid them on the table in front of her.

Aya stared at them. She had seen gold before, had even seen an aurum note, but had never seen so many in one place, and never pulled nonchalantly from a pocket like that. It must have been the whole amount she was owed, at least a thousand credits if not a bit more.

“What?” she couldn’t help the word slipping from her mouth.

“Oh, you’d rather get credits, would you? Credits that the government can de-value at any second, and that any two-bit hacker with a quantum computer can steal or replicate on a whim. Okay, I’m down with that.” She went to pull the aurum notes away, but Aya’s hand shot out protectively, touching the other side of the neat pile. The two women faced one another, each with a hand on the money.

“Codes?” Haruka asked, cocking her head slightly, the smile still not faded. She was enjoying this.

With the money at her fingertips, Aya fumbled in her pocket for the key. She held it out and Ragnarsson snatched it from her hand. Haruka’s eyes left Aya’s for a moment as she looked up at the giant of a man inserting the key into a handheld computer and tapping at the screen.

“Rag?” she asked.

“Looks good,” he replied.

Haruka snatched the money pile and stood up. “Looks like we’re done here, kid. That was fun.”

“But you said—”

“Go tell security what I said, kid. We’re done.”

Haruka scrunched the notes back into her pocket and Aya stood. Her hands balled into tight fists. She wanted to scream. There seemed to be pity in Haruka’s eyes and that only made the swell of rage boil in Aya’s stomach.

“Space is a lonely place, kid, you might want to find yourself some friends.”

Haruka turned toward a door marked private and Aya knew it was over, knew she didn’t have the power to do anything about it. Wild ideas rocketed through her mind, but her feet were stuck to the ground like an overcharged grav-plate.

Suddenly, a roaring thunder sounded outside, like a distant explosion. The lights in the restaurant flickered on and off, and a new terror ripped through Aya.

The floor shook, and pictures fell from the walls. She screamed for her mother, but only the cold solid hands of MAX were there. He plucked her tiny body from the ground. 

“It is a minor tremor, Aya. We will protect ourselves.” He pulled her weeping form under the metal table and cradled her as she sobbed into his ceramic chest. Another boom rocked the building and this time it was more than pictures that fell.

Haruka spun on her heels, her eyes wide as she dashed for the door. Two men in shirts and trousers came running from the staff door. They huddled at the entrance to the restaurant, chattering loudly to one another.

It took Aya a moment to gather her senses.

“Is it a quake?” she asked, her voice shaking as much as the walls had. Ahuna Mons wasn’t far, they said it was safe, that the cryovolcano only had minor, controlled eruptions. But they’d been wrong about Io. It could be New Atlantis all over again.

Haruka glanced back at her and must have seen the fear coating Aya as her face softened slightly. 

“It’s no quake kid,” she looked out the window and beckoned a trembling Aya to stand next to her and peer out the door.

Most of the market had quickly gotten back to business. One man was shouting at a woman whose rickshaw had crashed into his stall, but other than that, it looked normal. She glanced at Haruka, who pointed upward, into the brown-tinged dusty sky.

There were lights, several of them, blinking red and blue like the lights of spacecraft around Tellus Spaceport.

“They’re not supposed to be there,” Aya whispered.

“They’re not supposed to be there, either.” Haruka pointed in the other direction and Aya’s jaw dropped as she watched six large black copters descend through the brown fog. It swirled around them like muddy water as the roar of their engines filled the air. All she could do was stare as she watched them pass overhead, so close she could see the occupants.

Soldiers armoured in black, with a huge threatening weapon pointed out from the open doors. It looked like there were a dozen armoured soldiers in each of the dozen copters, all of them heading toward the municipal buildings in the centre of Tellus. Now people were paying attention, looking up and pointing. The wind from the copters flew cloth and dust up into the air as people gasped and shouted.

“They didn’t look like Ceresian Security.”

Aya didn’t recognise the voice. It was one of the guys who’d run from the kitchen. But he was right. They didn’t look like the police.

“That’s because they’re not,” Haruka replied flatly. Aya glanced at her. She was whiter than a paper screen. She glanced at Ragnarsson, taller even than her, and they exchanged a look that chilled Aya to her bones. They knew what was going on, and they did not like it.

“What the hell is happening?” the other guy asked.

Haruka stepped out into the street and buttoned up her jacket. “I think the Jovians finally stopped playing games,” she said. “Rag? I think it’s time we left.” She looked at Aya again. Was that pity in her eyes? She’d just conned Aya out of three months’ worth of wages and she had the audacity to show her pity? “Get home kid, it looks like things are going to get tough around here, and people like you, well, you’re better off lying low.”

“Why?” Aya looked between the pair. “What do you mean about the Jovians?”

“Go home, kid, get out of public, secure your doors.” Haruka turned away, and Ragnarsson followed her into the swirling dust of Tellus Market.

Aya stared after the retreating figures, realising her hometown had just been invaded.

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Niamh Murphy is the best-selling author of 'Escape to Pirate Island' and other adventure books with lesbian main characters. Read more here.

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