Trisha Johnson  

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Kiiron : the first book in the "Lodestar Rising" trilogy by Trisha Johnson



Book Description

Karl Dornik, military specialist turned drifter, crash lands on Iskinar, a desert planet in the Veil Nebula. He is arrested and taken to Kiiron, the location of a highly secret military base. While being transferred to Midpoint Haven, the military government’s command center, he manages to escape and is rescued by the beautiful Treecia ven Willem, a trader on her way home from worlds deep in the heart of the galaxy. She is tall, blonde and fiercely independent, but she has a dark secret. Dornik is determined to penetrate the mystery surrounding Kiiron, and he and Treecia return to Iskinar, where they are befriended by the diminutive Corrua, whose people have been taken captive and transported to an unknown destination. They offer to help find Corrua’s wife and children and become involved in a mesh of politics and intrigue, implicating both the Confederation (the original, civilian government) and the Protectorate (the military rulers). Whether you’re a science-fiction adventure fan or not, you’ll be turning the pages of Kiiron to see what happens next!


Chapter One

Location: The exit of connective #588, Veil Nebula.

"If you buy cheap, you'll buy twice," his mother had told him as he left to buy his first scooter. Karl Dornik remembered those words now as he sat in an uncomfortable couch on the flight deck of his latest acquisition. He hadn't actually paid for it, he'd won it in a game of dice, on one of those rare evenings when luck "sits on your lap" and tells you what the other guys are holding. With an exaggerated sweep of the arm he'd moved his green cube across the table and "bumped" his opponents clean off the board! He'd cleaned their pockets, and one had settled with the papers and start code to this ship. This previous owner had obviously not listened to his mother either! The computer had neither speech recognition, nor a synthesiser, and was about as helpful as a "house" dealer! Commands were entered through a keypad and the information displayed on a screen for crying out loud!

Not for the first time, he reflected on the similarity between the ship's controls and an old-fashioned and well used arcade machine. He recalled seeing something similar in a dusty storage room on a small transit base in the Argoyne system. It also had a crack in its display panel, not unlike the one in the ship's Plexiglass window, which, despite the fact that it was triple-laminated, was the source of considerable mental discomfort to him. So much so that he checked at least once an hour to see if the crack had grown. A small piece of adhesive tape, on which he had drawn a mark with a pen, recorded its slow but inexorable progress. In a week, it had lengthened by eight millimeters. Once more he leaned over the panel and made another mark, squinting to check whether the other laminates were still intact. So far, they were!

For the hundredth time, an alarm sounded. There had been nothing to see the last ninety-nine times, so why think this one would be any different? Anyway, they'd stopped, eventually. But it was different this time, more insistent, and it had been sounding for nearly a minute! He sat down and pressed the key engraved with a question mark. It was far more worn than the others and felt floppy to the touch. The screen flickered with several horizontal lines, then gave him the answer. It said something about the "starboard engine close coupler" having been disengaged, with additional information—like the "failure code"—whatever that meant. A few seconds later, it displayed a flashing "#" prompt. He concentrated on that single character for the best part of twenty seconds, willing the screen to tell him what to do but, as with the voice and speech recognition, the computer lacked any psychic ability. Not that any computers did have it, but it seemed to be the only way he was going to communicate with the thing!

"Dammit to hell!" he cursed and pressed the question mark again. The machine repeated the message. He typed "BACKUP" and the machine gave another set of codes and the message: "BACKUP ENGAGED." He sat back, grinned and thought, Nothing to it. A few seconds later, the engine stopped with a shudder! The computer reported the event with a simple statement to the effect that it had been shut down in accordance with standard safety procedures.

"What do you mean the starboard drive is out?" he yelled. There was no answer. He hit the key again. The computer repeated the message—adding every technical detail it could think off. "Yeah, I understand all that," he lied. He typed, Can we restart the drive?

"#," the machine replied.

"Oh, that's just great!" he muttered. "Less than ten hours from Kiiron and the damn thing blows up on me." He thought briefly about the reason he'd come out this far in the first place, then switched his attention to the navigational display, calling up a readout on any nearby planet. He scanned the information rapidly, twisting his lower lip between his left thumb and index finger. Right, I don't have much choice, so it '11 have to do. I'll try and make the desert. The dunes should be soft enough to land on without ripping the belly out of her. And I'll put out a distress call. Someone might pick it up. He pushed himself deeper into the pneumatic couch, pulled the seat belt straps over his shoulders, gathered the waist and crotch straps together in his lap and latched them all together with a twist of the central locking disc. He pulled down hard on the shoulder strap adjusters, feeling the heavy woven material bite deep through the flight suit and into his flesh.

The ship spiralled in, barely under control. How did it go? Too shallow and you bounced off the atmosphere like a flat stone skimming water. Too steep and you were char-grilled.He watched the cabin temperature readout while, with his fingertips, he moved the control stick, attempting to juggle the ship's direction on the one remaining engine and the flight control surfaces— though their aerodynamic effect was minimal at first. At sixty thousand meters, the atmosphere began to tear at the hull, setting up a tremendous vibration in the airframe. He feared the ship would tear itself apart as, through double vision, he reached out to pull the lever that dropped the landing gear to try and stabilize it.
At a little over three thousand meters the port drive cut: the sudden power overload had burned out its poorly maintained control circuits. At last he realized that the quirky computer hadn't been confirming the fact that the backup had been engaged, but that it was already engaged! Obviously it had been running on the alternate circuits for the last few months and the previous owner hadn't thought to press the "question mark" key to check!

Crash-landing alarms sounded and the ship was left to glide in without power. At the last possible moment he raised the landing gear. Two hundred meters above the ground, he burned off the last of the lifting thruster reagent to slow his descent.

The ship hit hard, nose up at an angle of thirty degrees, sliding along the sand, tearing the thin skin of the fuselage and breaking its back. The noise seemed to go on forever but finally it stopped. He sat for several seconds playing it back in his mind. Having reached the end of the "recording," he shook violently for a full ten seconds before regaining full control of himself. He opened his eyes and closed them instantly as the bright sunlight flooding through a gaping hole in the roof blinded him. Slowly, starting with his hands, he began testing his body for injury. Strange how training sticks, even after several years! He let the breath he'd held during the "checkout" go with a loud sigh, released his seatbelts, then stood up, automatically reaching for the flask of brandy he kept in a pocket on the left side of the couch. He swore loudly as he noticed the impact had sent a thin shard of metal through the lower corner, allowing the precious liquid to leak out. In a burst of pure anger, he threw the flask away, watching it crumple as it hit the radio panel. What was that? A light! Of course, the radio had to have a backup power supply! He reached toward the twisted wreck and flicked the power switch. Simple logic should have told him it was damaged beyond repair, but his spirits lifted as the wide-band telltale lit and the speaker hissed softly. He slowly keyed the tuner, only to hear the constant sound of static, instead of the familiartone of "station lock." Suddenly, a small flame burst from a ventilation grill, quickly  dying down with a faint odor of burnt insulation and a fine wisp of smoke. uShet!" he murmured, switching the unit off.

He was making his way to the rear of the ship when he stopped, turned, and went back to the instrument panel. He felt underneath it until his fingers touched the "auto-log." He bent to locate it visually, grabbed the handle and pulled it free. He straightened, noticing with a wry smile that the window had finally cracked all the way across. Well, it didn't matter now! With the small recording device secure in his pocket, he turned once more to leave the wreck. As he took a step, his foot crunched on something. He looked down and saw the pen, its sealed end broken by the pressure of his boot. He bent, retrieved it and returned to the control panel where he drew a line marking the end of the crack. The nervous tension that had built inside him during his headlong flight to disaster, finally released itself in a fit of uncontrolled laughter. He turned and made his way to the rear of the wreck, tripping over several times before finally standing on the dunes to look back at all that now remained of his home for the last two months. Slowly, as he took in his surroundings, the realization of how fortunate he'd been to escape unhurt swept over him as he surveyed the half-kilometer long furrow the ship had ploughed in the sand. Gathering together some food containers and a water bottle, he packed them into a knapsack and set out to look for help. He winced as he hefted it on his shoulders. He didn't need a mirror to know that the seatbelts had raised welts on them!

He was a little more than a kilometer from the ship when he noticed the angle of the sun was indicating the rapid onset of twilight. With little or no knowledge of the world he'd found himself deposited on, he had no idea how soon night would fall, so he decided it would be prudent to return to the ship for shelter and sleep, since the desert would soon become too cold for camping out without adequate protection. It took a long time to find suitable materials to construct a makeshift shelter: after all, a man traveling light in the precisely controlled environment of a spaceship has little need for camping equipment!

Before turning in, he sat and ate some of the cold rations and took serious stock of his situation. As far as he could remember from the computer readout, the planet was home to at least a million people, and he had no idea whether they were "friendly" or not. But at least it wasn't a "closed" planet, like Kiiron—he'd have had to get permission to land there. It was the one flaw in his plan before this happened. The nearest population centers, he recalled, were to be found to the north, in the temperate zone. There would probably be some in the southern hemisphere as well, but he didn't think he'd be able to cross the equatorial region—a thousand or more kilometers of desert lay in that direction. He decided to head north in the morning and, after covering himself with spare clothing, fell instantly asleep.


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