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GRAVITY book 1, Dark Anomaly

Coming June 18th, 2020

CHAPTER 1

Was I dead?

I felt sore and bruised whenever I moved. Did dead people feel pain?

I was still inside my spacesuit, which meant unless I’d taken it with me into the afterlife, I must still be alive.

What had happened, though?

The damage from the impact with an asteroid wasn’t that big, I had managed to fix it in minutes. Then, I got back inside my one-person spacecraft. But before I had a chance to get out of the bulky suit, all hell broke loose.

The instruments went haywire. The last memory I had was that of the screens of instruments on the control panel blurring into a wide colorful ribbon of light around me. My spacecraft plunged off course, spinning out of control, as I was suspended inside.

Now, all motion seemed to have stopped. But I didn’t remember when and how.

I must have passed out at some point.

Carefully, I took a deep breath and lifted my head inside the helmet, then moved my arms and legs to assess my body for injuries. My muscles hurt, but my limbs appeared to be functioning. The suit must have saved me from the worst.

Had there been a crash?

I had no idea where I was.

Lying on my side, I didn’t attempt to get up while wearing the suit. Bulky and strong, it had been built to withstand the enormous pressure of the planet Omphi’s bottomless ocean. However, it was not exceptionally comfortable to move in.

Instead, I rolled onto my back and lifted my arm, bringing the screen built into the sleeve to the glass of the helmet.

The light of the communication device was on, but I couldn’t send a message out. Despite the light, the device was not functioning.

The readings of the environment outside of the suit were off, but not by much. The pressure and the oxygen level remained stable. There appeared to be no breach in the hull of the ship.

Carefully, I opened the hatch on the chest of the suit, then crawled out of it.

My head swam with dizziness when I attempted to stand up. My stomach roiled, and I dropped to my knees, vomiting onto the floor.

Not the floor, I realized, staring at the warped and cracked wall panel under my knees. The ship lay on its side. Save for a few blinking lights on the control panel above me, the power was off. However, gravity was keeping me, my suit, and thankfully the mess I had just made down.

The gravity was real. If it were the artificial kind created by the ship, I would have been on the floor, not on the wall.

I had most definitely crashed.

But where?

The Anomaly was the nearest space object to my craft when an asteroid hit it. However, I was well aware of the Anomaly’s enormous gravitational field, and I had made sure to stay far away from its reach.

I had studied the mysterious space abnormality for years. At first, it was thought to be just another black hole. However, it had exhibited behaviours vastly different from a typical black hole.

Shortly after my graduation from the Academy, I applied for the mission to closely explore the Anomaly.

It’d been well into my first year of working on the station orbiting Omphi, the closest planet to the Anomaly, before we had enough data collected by unmanned probes to send a person even closer.

I’d volunteered.

It was supposed to be a day trip. I had made sure to stay the calculated safe distance away from the Anomaly. The blow from the asteroid might have nudged me a little closer, but still nowhere near close enough that I would have to worry about the Anomaly’s pull.

Something had happened, and I needed to figure out what.

First thing first. Where was I?

Had the computer of my ship somehow activated the return route after the incident with the asteroid, sending me back to Omphi?

Then I might now be in that planet’s ocean.

Why the spaceship had crashed, instead of safely docking with the station, remained unknown, but its system would have sent a distress signal upon impact of the crash. The search and rescue team should have been already deployed, as per the protocol.

I needed to see if the ship’s communication system was still functioning, even if the suit’s wasn’t.

A faint screeching noise reached me.

Hands on the wall, I listened carefully. It seemed to be coming from the outside.

Omphi was a water world, with no land. If I’d crashed into its ocean, shouldn’t I feel the rocking of the waves? The vibration of them splashing against the hull, maybe?

Yet the spaceship remained completely stationary, albeit on its side.

The screeching noise grew louder, then bright sparks shot out in a spray from the opposite wall.

Someone was clearly trying to get on board of my ship by cutting a hole in its hull.

Why would the rescue team damage the ship like this? Unless the crash had been bad enough to disable all entrance points at once?

I moved over to the control panel.

The stream of sparks had completed a full circle. The cut-out fell in with a loud thud. Then a stream of smoke or steam blew in, filling the interior. Its chemical scent was unfamiliar, and I held my breath, trying not to inhale too much of it.

The smoke cleared quickly, revealing a dark silhouette in the glaring light streaming through the hole in the wall.

From the first glance at the person, it became clear—they were not from my station.

Tall and broad, the being had a humanoid form with male proportions. Dressed only in a pair of worn dark pants and heavy boots, he was holding the tool he’d used to cut the hull.

Tossing the tool aside, he stepped inside my spacecraft.

“It stinks in here.” He rubbed his nose with his forearm, then added a long curse that got simply translated as “fuck” through my device.

I touched my fingers to the universal translator implanted in the back of my head.

My entire team had gotten the implants before leaving Earth. It had been only a few decades since the first contact with the extra-terrestrial Federation had been made. Humans had finally discovered another intelligent life form in our galaxy. However, it came not as a single race, but dozens of them. The Federation included representatives of seven populated planets from five different solar systems. All of them were much closer to the Anomaly my team had been studying than to Earth.

The male who had just barged into my spaceship must have been one of the species that belonged to the Federation. He obviously spoke the language recognized by my translator, though I couldn’t immediately place him.

If I understood what he had said, chances were he’d understand me as well. The translation implants had been mandatory for thousands of years among the members of the Federation. Many races had them implanted within the first year of a person’s life.

Hope sparked inside me. As a member of the Federation, he would be obligated by law to assist me.

While I was gathering my thoughts to come up with an appropriate greeting, he clicked on the light strapped to his upper arm, illuminating my empty spacesuit in the middle of the floor.

At its sight, the newcomer leaped back. Raising both firsts in defense should my suit attack him, he seemed fully prepared to fight back.

“Wyck,” he said over his shoulder.

Another one of his kind climbed in through the hole. Just as intimidating in size, with wide shoulders and massive arms, this one wore dark pants similar to the first one. In addition, he also had a short leather vest on.

A chain was wound around Wyck’s thick wrist. He yanked at it, and I nearly yelped in shock as a large, terrifying animal leaped into the ship. Black, with red markings, the monster had three heads; each maw was open, displaying several sets of sharp, translucent teeth.

“See if this one is alive.” The first newcomer ordered to Wyck, tipping his chin at my spacesuit.

Wyck led his animal to it. The three-headed “hound from hell” took a sniff at the suit, then pivoted my way instead. All three of its heads lowered to the ground, the middle one gave out a loud hiss. My insides leaped from fear, but I straightened my spine.

“Greetings…” I cleared my throat, addressing the one with the flashlight on his arm, since he seemed to be the one giving orders here. “Under the interplanetary law of the Federation, I request your assistance. My ship—"

The one with the flashlight twisted my way, illuminating me. I blinked at the beam of light directed at my face and quickly covered my eyes with my arm.

“Well, this one looks very much alive,” the male sneered, something thick and heavy in his voice sent cold shivers of dread down my spine.

This didn’t seem right.

These individuals and their behaviour were unnerving and intimidating. Their rugged appearance raised concern. The clothes they wore were not recognizable uniforms. Several rips and slashes in them seemed to have been made by teeth, claws or blades.

My throat went too dry to speak.

The monstrous animal moved my way. “Back, Lesh.” Wyck yanked on the chain.

“I’ve got to get out of this stench.” With a large hand, the first one grabbed me roughly by my arm, dragging me to the hole in the wall.

“Wait…” I tried to protest, but it was like attempting to stop a tugboat. I could either hurry and catch up or fall down and be dragged behind.

“Vrateus will want to see this, Crux,” Wyck pointed out.

“We didn’t break any of his precious rules…yet,” Crux scoffed, shoving me through the opening into the bright light outside. “He’ll see it soon enough. But we got here first.”

The “outside” turned out to be a long corridor, lit by strings of light suspended from the ceiling. The panels on the walls and the ceiling here were cracked and bent out of shape, just like the interior of my ship.

Did our spacecraft collide in space, somehow? Was that the reason for their unjustified rude behaviour toward me? Where they angry with me for crashing into them?

“Let me see what we got sent to us this time.” Painfully squeezing my arm, Crux yanked me closer.

His skin was the color of clay, with a reddish tint to it. It darkened to charcoal grey on the three bumpy ridges that ran along his bald skull. Similar ridges stretched the entire length of his massive shoulders and down his arms.

A wide rugged scar crossed one side of his face, narrowly missing his eye. It must have been a nasty wound when it was fresh.

 “Excuse me, but…” I started, hoping to reach some understanding here. Could it be that this particular male lacked the implant for some odd reason? He didn’t appear to understand me at all.

He touched his nose to my temple, making a loud sniffing noise.

“A female,” he growled low. “What a boon.”

A shiver of revulsion ran through me. I fought to free my arm from him, but he wouldn’t budge.

“I’m Svetlana Kostyk,” I said as loud and clear as I could manage, hoping that if he didn’t understand my words, he would at least catch from my tone of voice that I disapproved of his behaviour. “I’m on the peaceful research mission from Earth. Our station is currently orbiting the planet Omphi. I need your help in contacting my team, please.”

It remained unclear if Crux understood any of that. He stared at me with his yellow eyes, focusing on my mouth for a moment then sliding his gaze further down my body. His wide nostrils continued to flare as he sniffed the air around me.

Surely, this brute couldn’t be the leader of any spacecraft.

“I need to speak to whomever is in charge here.” I desperately looked around, hoping to find someone with a better grasp of the situation.

The wide corridor was quickly filling with all kinds of creatures. Some had humanoid body shapes. Most were bipedal. However, I didn’t recognize any of the species here. By the way they all gaped at me, their mouths open, drool dripping off their fangs, their tongues rolled out, it was impossible to tell if any of them were at all intelligent.

“If you just could…” I made another attempt to free my arm from Crux’s grip, wishing to put some distance between us, but he only held tighter. “By intergalactic laws, I am guaranteed personal freedom and respect," I desperately reminded him.

The laws were strictly enforced by Federation Forces. Even space pirates obeyed them. If captured, the protocol stated to site the law and demand a contact be made with the authorities for a ransom from the special fund. From that moment on, it would be up to the Federation Forces to deal with the pirates.

Back in the Academy, I attended a lecture by a guest speaker who had been personally captured and held as a hostage by space pirates. He said he was treated with respect and dignity until the ransom had been paid, and he was released.

Was this a pirate ship?

I regarded this motley crew of individuals of all possible shapes, textures, and colors. None of them were dressed in anything that resembled a uniform of any known government.

Fear vibrated through me, but I inhaled deeply, forcing myself to act as calmly as possible. Pirates could still be negotiated with.

Hopefully, even the one who kept holding me…

My hope for any intelligent communication with him had quickly evaporated the moment he licked my ear then bit on my neck.

“Hey! That hurt!” I yelled, trying to twist out of his grip once again.

He finally let go of my arm, but only to grab me around my waist next.

Stricken by panic, I forgot all about diplomacy.

“Let me go!” I jammed an elbow into his gut.

“Yesss,” he hissed in my ear, his hot humid breath slinking down my neck. “Fight me.”

Was he insane?

“Crux. Drop her.” It came from the crowd, not exceptionally loud but said in a firm voice that carried authority.

I exhaled with relief. Finally, someone in charge here.

A tall man stepped out of the thickening crowd. Subdued whispers from others reached me.

“Vrateus…”

“Captain is here.”

Nearly as tall as Crux or Wyck, the newcomer appeared to be leaner. His silver-white hair looked more like long fur, streaked with black. It had been shaved off above the pointy ears, the skin there covered with intricate tattoos. The same fur covered his forearms and the back of his hands. He flexed his fingers, and a set of black, curved claws slid out.

This one definitely could be a pirate, he was even dressed the part, complete with a wide-sleeved white shirt and tall boots. Two long swords were strapped to his back by embossed leather belts. Huge gems glistened on his fingers, and a row of golden hoops decorated each of his pointy ears.

His outfit appeared to come straight from some theater play. To my knowledge, no one in the Galaxy dressed like that anymore.

The noise of shuffling feet and rumbling voices lowered to a hum with his appearance.

“Sir,” I started, with a renewed hope. “I am Svetlana Kostyk, on a research mission from Earth. My spaceship suffered an accident…”

The newcomer paid absolutely no attention to me. His focus was fully on Crux.

“I said, drop her,” he growled, baring a pair of long, white fangs.

He slowly raised his arm. With a hard click, a metal gun appeared in his hand, seemingly coming out of nowhere.

I stared at it in shock. Was it a real weapon? I had never seen one before.

He pointed the gun at Crux.

Copyright @ Marina Simcoe

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