Return to the Stars

This is the fourth story with Derek and his crew. It is longer than the others, about 17000 words so I will only be posting a sample. As soon as I get a cover for it I will put it on Amazon and Smashwords.
I have started writing a mystery that will be a novel instead of a short story. So far I am writing about 2500 to 3000 words a day so hopefully in a couple of weeks I’ll have it finished and sent to my editor/daughter. Before it gets published I will put a sample here for everyone to read.

Return to the Stars Chapter 1

“I could use a little help guys,” Keri growled into her com, as she pulled a splinter of rock out of her cheek. She could feel the blood running down her face from the wound it left. He had been way too close with that shot and she didn’t want to give him another chance. She had been in a deadly dance with Torvald for an hour now while she waited for her partners to show up. Moving from boulder to outcropping then on to another boulder trying to get a clear shot at each other. Easing her head around the side of the huge rock she was hiding behind, she spotted him moving towards her. Snapping a quick shot at him the slide on her automatic locked open showing it was her last shot. She hadn’t planned on a prolonged fire fight and had only brought one extra magazine. And now it was empty along with the first that she now carried in her pocket.
“Crap!” she forced herself to whisper. “Beech. Derek. Where are you?”
“Almost… there,” came the out of breath answer from Derek.
“Close,” Beech responded, also out of breath.
Kerri could hear her adversary coming closer and she pulled one of her throwing knives from the forearm sheath she always wore. If she missed and didn’t get killed she still had the one on her other arm. As fast as he was coming he must have realized she was out of ammo and thought he was safe. Taking a deep breath she stood raising her arm to throw but she was too late. He was right in front of her with his gun tracking in to shoot her. Not enough room for a good throw.
“Hold it!” Beech’s voice bellowed down at Torvald from the top of the giant boulder next to him. The man froze with his gun pointed right at Keri’s chest. For a second she thought he was going to shoot her but then she heard Derek say quietly from directly behind her, “I wouldn’t do it. If you do you’re dead if you don’t you go to jail.”
Apparently this got through to Torvald and he slowly laid the gun on the ground. Sliding her knife back into its sheath Keri stepped over to the man and hit him square on the nose, breaking it and spraying blood all over him. Torvald sat down on the nearest boulder holding his bleeding nose and groaning.
“What was that for?” he moaned in pain filled voice.
“For trying to kill me you idiot!” the woman spat at him. “I’m just taking you to jail not trying to kill you. If your dead I won’t get paid.”
Handing the bleeding man a piece of gauze from the first aid kit in his pack Derek said, “Here, put this on your nose and stand up.”
When Torvald was standing Derek searched him for weapons as Beech kept his gun trained on him. Finding nothing but a pocket knife he put his hand on the mans shoulder and forced him back down onto the rock. “Now we have to wait for him to stop bleeding to head back,” Derek grumbled. “It’s already late and now it’s gonna be dark when we get back.”
“So what?” Keri asked “Is it that important we get back sooner.”
“If it’s too late we’re gonna get charged another days rental on the truck,” he answered. “Maybe we should take the rental out of your share of the reward.”
“Calm down,” Beech broke into the argument. “Let’s just pack his nose so we can get moving.”
Working quickly they pack Torvald’s nose full of gauze and started him walking back towards the truck. He tried to complain but it was to difficult for him to talk and try to breath at the same time so he stopped talking and just walked. It was tough going on the mountainside and no one said much of anything as they left the high rocky country and entered the trees. An hour later they finally made to the vehicle where Beech bound their captives hands and tied him to the bed of the small vehicle. Sitting next to the man he kept an eye on him while the others climbed in front they headed back to town.
A few minutes after starting the drive they stopped next to another small truck that was smashed against a tree. Keri hopped out and searched through the vehicle quickly finding a small pack and nothing else. She climbed back in with the others and they headed out again. While Derek steered the truck down the winding mountain trail, the woman searched the pack for any kind of weapon. Finding nothing but a few clothes and a small electronic reader she repacked it and tossed it in back with its owner.
The four rode in silence for the rest of the ride down the mountain to the small town at the base. It wasn’t much of a town just a few buildings around a small landing pad for cargo ships. Basically it was a loading station for the iron ore brought in from the mines up in the mountains. It was loaded onto cargo vessels and flown about 500 kilometers away to an area of flatland where it was smelted and shipped to earth to be used in construction. This was where the three needed to take their prisoner so they could retrieve the Patera and head to Mars.
It was almost dark when they pulled up at the office of the mining company. The manager was just coming out the door when they climbed down from the truck. “We’re back,” Derek called to him as he started to lock the door.
“See me tomorrow,”the man answered and walked away.
“Great,” Derek grumbled. “Now he’ll charge us.” Looking at his female partner he said, “Thanks.”
“Oh, shut up,” she told him with a smile. “I’m sorry, but it was worth the money to punch him. It felt good after he shot at me so much. And payback for this.” She pointed at the small gash in her cheek.
“I know,” he said, resignedly. “I probably would have done the same.”
“Well, ” Beech asked. What are we going to do till morning?”
After some discussion they finally decided to wait at the loading dock for the first hauler in the morning. If the manager didn’t show up soon enough to collect his rental on the truck it was his fault. Parking the truck next to the office they walked across the pavement to the dock. It wasn’t really a dock but more a platform to oversee the automated loading of the ore haulers. Beech climbed up first followed by Torvald and then Keri and Derek. By the time Derek reached the platform, Torval’s hands were re tied and he was lashed to a railing post. Derek drew first watch so the others lay down on the steel deck and did their best to sleep.
Because of his military training, Beech was able to sleep anywhere and anytime so it was almost instantly that Derek could hear his steady breathing. Keri was winding down from the stress of the shootout with Torvald so the crash following the adrenaline high caused her to fall asleep quickly, too. Their prisoner didn’t sleep but he was in no mood to talk which was ok with Derek. He enjoyed his time alone and didn’t get enough of it lately. It was fully dark now and the stars were shining with strange constellations. Slowly rising above the mountain tops the twin moons of Darcor shown an eerie light over the loading area.
Staring into the night sky Derek watched the lights of a ship pass by in orbit. This was on of the reasons he had left Earth when he was young. All the overcrowding of the planet along with the constant light. Even at night it was almost as bright as day only with artificial light so people could work their jobs. Everything on Earth ran around the clock with no break. Taking time to look at the stars was impossible since it was always too bright to see them. Derek was 25 years old and in space before he had a chance to see the stars in person. He had fallen in love with them instantly and hadn’t returned to Earth since.
Leaving behind all he had ever known was hard but times like this he knew it was all worth it. He’d been close to a girl and he missed her sometimes but knew he could never return. If he did it would kill him after the solitude of space. It was where he belonged. Looking down at his partners sleeping on the cold steel of the deck he realized they had become close friends also. Even though they had been shot at today and could have been killed, he was happy here with these people.
“What are you smiling about?”
Derek was yanked out of his thoughts and back to the platform. Looking down he saw Beech looking up at him with a questioning expression on his face. “Nothing,” he answered. “Just enjoying the view. Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”
“It’s your turn,” Beech replied. “Get some sleep, we need you to fly us off this planet tomorrow.”
Looking at the watch on his wrist Derek realized he had been daydreaming for quite a while. Looking around the area in the bright moonlight he was glad to see nothing had changed. Staring into space when you’re supposed to be keeping watch, he thought. Could have got us all killed.
“Ok,” Derek told Beech. “Enjoy the view and don’t let her sleep to long, you need rest too.” He grabbed his pack and stretched out on the deck laying his head back on the makeshift pillow and tried to will himself to sleep. After a few minutes he managed to drift off into a fitful sleep where he dreamed about the girl he left behind and flying through the stars with her.
Waking to a roaring noise and a blast of wind in his face, Derek looked up to see an ore hauler settling next to the platform. Looking around he saw Keri untying Torvalds hands so he could climb down the ladder. His other partner wasn’t in sight and Derek asked, “Where’s Beech at?”
“Finally wake up from your dream, huh?” Keri asked with a smile. “He went to check on the manager. He wants to pay the rental on the truck.”
She looked at him for a second as the noise from the haulers drive dropped off to a low hum. “So, what or who were you dreaming about? Whatever it was it sure made you happy.”
Derek’s face blushed slightly and he replied, “I don’t remember. Shouldn’t we get off of here and out of the way?”
Keri chuckled a little and said, “Sure. You climb down and I’ll send Torvald after you.”
Grabbing his small backpack Derek climbed to the ground and waited as the prisoner joined him. Retying the mans hands they both waited for Keri to reach the ground. At the same time Beech arrived with good news. “I talked to the manager and we can hitch a ride on this hauler when it heads back. He also apologized for running off like that last night. He said it was his anniversary and he was already late for dinner.”
“It’s good to see a man concerned about his wife’s feelings,” Keri commented.
“I think it’s more he was scared of her,” Beech chuckled.
“That works too,” Keri said with a smile.
The man that loaded the ore in the hauler came walking past and said to them, “You folks might want to go somewhere else for a while. It gets loud and dusty here. Loading should take about half an hour.” He turned away then and climbed onto the platform, pulled on a respirator and started working the controls for the conveyer.
The group headed toward the managers office to get away from the chaos and to see if they could find something to eat. The manager had told Beech there was a small break room in one of the buildings and they spent fifteen minutes finding it. The only food was a pot of coffee and a box full of prepackaged snack foods with an honor pay system. They each got a cup of the black liquid and dug through the junk food deciding to eat instead one of the energy bars that Derek had tossed in his pack when they left the Patera. Eating the bars and gulping down the coffee they got back to the hauler just as it was readying for take off.
Climbing into the cabin of the machine they nodded to the pilot and took seats in the small area behind the pilots chair. These or haulers weren’t made for carrying passengers but there was a small bench seat in back. Keri and Derek took the seat and the others sat on the dirty floor of the cabin. Torvald was complaining about the filth and noise but no one could hear him over the roar of the drive winding up. Finally he quit grousing and sat with a disgusted look on his face. The hauler shuddered as it lifted off and felt as if would come apart at any moment. The four passengers looked at each other with concern until it smoothed out and headed out of the valley.
When they reached altitude and picked up speed the noise lessened to the point that conversation was possible if they spoke loud. Torvald started complaining again until Keri gave him a look as if to say, ‘If you don’t shut up I’ll hit you again.’ The three bounty hunters sat in silence as they rode just wanting to get back to their ship.
An hour later they had crossed the five hundred kilometers to the main base on the mining planet. Looking out the windscreen of the hauler, Beech could see the black smoke from the smelters filling the air and a couple of cargo ships loaded with iron heading up through the filthy atmosphere. The noise and vibration started again as they slowed and settled toward the smelter’s landing area. Before the pilot dropped the landing gear he hovered and slowly backed the machine up under the unloading tube. The tube would lower into the bed and slowly suck the ore out and into the furnace of the smelter. They finally settled on the pavement with a thud and the drive started to slowly wind down.
“Come on let’s get moving,” Beech said to the prisoner. “We want to get off this stinking planet.” It did smell bad here with the smoke from the fires belching out around the clock but also the three were used to breathing the recycled and scrubbed air on a ship. The odors from any planet was overpowering for several days after spending days or weeks in space.
The Patera was docked at the main field on the far side of the base. The group had to walk through the soot covered town to reach it, fighting their way across the crowded track that the loaders took to deliver the fresh iron. First waiting for a break in the delivering giants and running across before the next set of six meter high wheels came along, then doing the same to cross the line of returning monsters. After crossing these lines the four had black sticky mud covering their clothes and their boots were caked with the nasty stuff making it hard to walk. They stopped and scraped off as much as possible and then continued towards their waiting craft.
The Patera was loaded and waiting when they finally made it to the warehouse it was docked at. They always tried to haul a load of cargo when they went after a bounty. This way if they failed to find their quarry they would still have income. Iron was the only cargo that left this planet so the Patera’s hold was filled with blocks of iron bound for Mars and then Earth. They would deliver the iron to the cargo manager and the prisoner to the military.
Derek checked in the warehouse office where the manager frowned at the muddy footprints he left in her office. After apologizing for the mess he collected his paperwork and hurried to catch up to the others at the ship. Settling into his chair in flight control Derek started pre flight as the others chained Torvald up and joined him in the control room. The Patera vibrated slightly as it lifted off and headed into space, it then smoothed out and the temperature in the ship started to drop. Tapping on the control screen Derek set the ship on course for Mars and leaned back with a sigh.
“I’m taking a shower,” Keri stated and left the room moving carefully without her grav boots on.
The two men sat in silence until a beep from the panel alerted to an in coming message. Pulling it up on the screen Derek read it and passed the information on to Beech. “It’s from Dobson. He says he has another fugitive for us to find. Also he says that Torvald had some friends here on Belgar who might object to us taking him.”
“Nice of him to let us know now,” grumbled Beech.”Not knowing could have got us killed.”
The proximity alarm started beeping and Derek tapped the screen to pull up the rear facing camera. “It still might” he told his partner as he pointed at the screen. On it was a pair of ships gaining on them at a high rate of speed.

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