Sonya is a teenage ex-con who wants to make a fresh start. She lives in a star-faring civilization and signed up to help settle a new planet with her parents. The frontier planet is known as Varuna and it takes ten years to reach, keeping the colony very isolated from the rest of humanity. When Sonya and her parents arrive in orbit, they are attacked by a hideous marauding alien species known as the Gacrux. Militia troops from Varuna come to their aid as the frontier’s guardian defenders.
They are the Machete Clan.
“She’s up, look!”
My eyes focused on the short stature of my mother beaming over with some sort of thankful relief.
“Mom,” I said.
“Yes, sweetie!” She said. “You’re up! We weren’t sure if you were going to—.”
“The doc was a bit worried about you,” boomed another gleeful individual. A deeper voice. “Said you slipped into a coma when they took you out of stasis.”
It was Dad. They were both at my side, just like they said they would be ten years ago. Ten years before entering stasis aboard this colonial starship.
“Did we make it?” I asked. “Did we reach Varuna?”
“Yes, dear. Yes, we made it.” Mother said.
“Blokes are even playing one of the old promotionals,” Dad said, gesturing at the wall holo.
I looked to see a world full of greens and yellows against the backdrop of blue oceans, dominating the planet’s surface. A ring of gold dust circled the azure orb like an angelic halo. A planet unlike the one I grew up on for most of my life. The promotional narrated the planet’s key importance in the star sector.
“Discovered by star explorer Penelope Moreno, Varuna was in high demand as a colony world for food and medicinal production to key mining facilities throughout the sector. Prior to its discovery, most miners were at the mercy of the long ten-year journey, often delayed with massive logistical issues…”
“So, they didn’t think I would wake?” I asked.
“Well, unfortunately interstellar travel can still be dangerous. You were stuck in a coma for a bit there. We’ll need to have the nurse unit look you over to be sure everything’s fine,” Dad said.
“A nurse unit? Not a doctor?”
My attention was taken by the opening doors and a whirring sound that approached.
“The doctor is currently with a few more serious individuals at the moment. There’s nearly ten thousand people he must monitor, you understand,” rang a high-volume, albeit, monotone voice. Entering my room was a floating bot that possessed a collection of extended appendage tools that dangled from its forward profile like a metallic beard. At the bot’s center was a large ocular cam, orbited by three other ocular sensors. “If you would like, I can schedule a consultation after my examination, but the wait time is approximately four days.”
“No,” I said. “It’s fine.”
The bot floated to me and held up a thermoscan. “May I take your temperature?”
I nodded and the nurse unit placed the thermoscan over my head.
“Seems a bit warm. Do you feel ill?”
“Just what I think are my cramps coming on,” I mumbled.
“It could be a sign of something more serious. Standard procedure requires I sample your blood.”
I groaned. “Isn’t there some other way you can check? My head is pounding.”
“Of course,” the bot stated. Suddenly the holo feed on the wall mutated into a reel of coding and data scrolls orbiting a massive whirlwind of hypnotic hues that reached out in three-dimensional coils. My attention was bewildered by the display of photonic coloration before feeling a rapid, and sharp, prick.
“Hey!” I turned to see the bot pulling a needle from my arm. “What the hell?”
“Apologies, mistress,” the bot said. “I needed a sample to complete the diagnosis.”
“You said you would find another way. You lied!”
“Apologies, but there are no other procedures to sample for the full range of concerns. What do you call it? A white lie?”
“That’s a violation of medical rights,” I said. “I know. They told me so in juvie.”
“You’re not in juvie. You’re aboard a starship and aboard a starship the captain reigns supreme.”
The bot swiveled around and departed the chamber.
I turned back to my parents, both had amused looks about them, the pricks.
“You two think this is funny?”
“Don’t mind the bot,” Father said. “It’s a bit smug for a bucket of circuits, but it grows on you.”
“Has the doctor ever showed his face?”
Mother snorted, “Only on the holo. He was kind enough, but he said some of his colleagues didn’t stay. He’s been swamped in duties I guess.”
“Not stay? What happened?”
Mother and Father hesitated, looking at each other, same as they appeared when I asked to go to the Kai Sun Resort for spring break.
Mother looked at me and said, “They left the ship.”
“Left the ship? Why?”
“We don’t know,” Father said.
A shudder erupted. The emergency alarms blared and my body gyrated in sudden shock. Amber lights winked in and out from every crevice of the chamber.
The nursing bot whirred in. “Mauve-Lorenzo family, please accompany me to a security chamber.”
“Security chamber? What’s going on?” Father demanded.
“There has been a forceful rupture in the crawl space of the exterior hull. We are apparently being boarded.”
“Boarded? By who?” I asked.
“Unknown, but sensors have picked up an alien craft several days ago. Profile suggested an alien on the interstellar piracy list.”
“Aliens?” I asked.
My eyes dilated.
“Let’s get the hell out here,” Father said.
I slipped on some pants over the medical gown and then a tank top while my parents collected our belongings. Dad threw on one of his old mil jackets and zipped up like he was going to war. The attire was bullet resistant and had a number of sensor disruptors.
My mother glanced at the thing and said, “That weight’s just going to slow you down.”
“Me?” he asked. “No way. I used to march fifty kilometers in this thing.”
“I can’t believe you took it with us.”
“It’s a classic. Any marauders will think twice before confronting us.”
“You know, Sergeant Gabriel would have skinned you alive for misappropriation of squad inventory if she knew you stole that thing.”
“Stole? They don’t even use the design anymore.”
“Forgive me,” the nursing bot interjected. “It’s quite a journey to the habitation deck and then to the security chamber. We’ll need to move with a bit more haste.”
The family and I fell in line and followed the bot through the corridor. Amber and red lights continued to flicker as the alarms reverberated against the bulwarks. The decking curved ever so slightly upward, against what was the ship’s rotating hull. I started to realize that we were the only ones around.
“Where’s all the people?” I asked.
“Most of the other patients were discharged to the habitation decks, where they wait for our final approach to Varuna.”
We passed medical room after medical room. My legs were ragged with that elastic feeling, a wretched side-effect after years of stasis. I could feel the weakness, stumbling onto my knees and then completely to the decking like a toddler that just took its first steps.
My parents glimpsed back, my father giving Mom the bag and then lifting me over his shoulder.
“Well,” I huffed. “This is embarrassing.”
“Never mind it, love,” he said. “There’s no room for pride out here.”
“Pride?” I said. “I spent six months showering with thirty girls when you were on deployment.”
“Honey, could we not with the guilt trip right now?” Mother said. I rolled my eyes.
We continued down a stairwell that merged into a lower level of the ship.
“This way,” the bot said.
We turned to another stairwell and descended to the next level, which was taller and brighter than the previous. Full of warm lighting and an umber paneling that gave the corridors a more amiable, albeit a little antiquated appearance.
Other passengers trotted down the vinyl decking, babbling with anxiety and confusion as the alarms blared. More nursing and service bots were floating about, ushering people into corridors and out of living chambers.
Screams began to echo in the distant corridors while the evacuation raged on like a frenzied riot. My ribs were tender against the pressure of my father's shoulder, my heart fluttering like a hummingbird on steroids. Dad caught us up to the other dazed refugees who were trying to figure out what was going on. Most of my eyeline was limited to a frontal angle over Mother's head, who trailed behind. We lugged through the herd of panicked, screaming people, and I saw a flash of blinding light emanate from the deck we ran over.
I flinched and Dad jerked suddenly, nearly dropping me before readjusting his grip with his other arm. I saw sparks and flames arcing from the decking we just passed. Dad twisted to look, mirroring other passengers’ naïve interest and suspending the retreat to take notice like moths to a flame.
More screams echoed when I said, “Maybe we keep going…”
The sparks came to a halt, leaving a perimeter of scorched vinyl and glowing yellow alloy-melt. Mother tugged at us, wordlessly begging Dad to keep moving.
The ring of torched deck sucked downward faster than decompression.
We double-timed on our exodus, darting towards the medical bot as it whirred into a thinner corridor. A rapid rumbling noise exploded from the recently burned tunnel and my dad somehow found more speed to sprint with. Along the way I could hear sharp sparks and metal-on-metal scrapes booming in our wake. The rapid strikes against the vessel’s partitions began to increase in mass with the flood of screams that were less an echo now, and more of an all-encompassing environmental commotion of dread and terror.
“What the hell is that!” I screamed.
“The bot was right,” Mother said. “It’s Gacrux.”
“What the hell are Gacrux?”
“Alien bandits,” Dad said. “Nomadic raiders of the darker vac.”
“When we were on deployment,” Mother began.
“You mean when you left me at that boarding school.”
“Yes,” Mother said, rather crossly. She shrugged off my snark. “Well, patrolling for Gacrux is what we did.”
“I thought you patrolled for pirates.”
“They are pirates,” Father said. “Being human isn’t a prerequisite for thieving. And they like to steal people for enslavement too.”
I couldn’t tell if he was invoking a morbid sense of humor or being dead serious. I decided to clamp down on my woe-is-me attitude.
As we approached another crossroad, a dozen passengers rushed past, all of them quickly tailed by monstrous beings treading on four legs like a centaur of myth. Their front legs were larger and more muscular than their rear. Attached to their bodies’ were gold-orange casings of armor that shimmered as though a field surrounded them like a protective specter. The creatures wielded what looked like javelins, sparking with bouts of plasma and stimulated radiation as they chased down passengers, gutting those that fell to the wayside.
“Oh, bloody hell,” I belched.
The bot turned us around and led us around an emergency hatch where we heard an unexpected crunch. I looked up to see the bot fall to the deck like a pile of bolts.
We looked up to see a Gacrux on its hind legs like a steed from hell. In its hand, it lifted a spear of flaming white fire, ready to strike.