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Webways To The Universe
Journey To Jangala
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-835-4
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 243 Pages
Published: May 2011
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Total Readers: 1

From inside the flap

The Commonwealth species may officially be at peace, but maintaining it is a struggle, especially with the frog-like Siderans who make a business of piracy and poaching, and a habit of hating Terrans. With alien technology, starships jump vast distances between star systems along safely mapped trajectories that create a webway for galactic commerce. The Terran Exploration Force was created to map new webways for Terran control in the continuing race among Commonwealth members.

TEF Scout Jason Wade goes from depressed that his long-time partner is retiring to being overjoyed at being promoted to Captain. His world starts tumbling, though, when his replacement partner turns out to be not only a woman, both young and attractive, but also the spoiled and lazy daughter of a wealthy family. Escalating tension between the mismatched and frequently quarreling partners is put on hold when their exploration flitter is shot down by Sideran poachers.

Stranded on the jungle planet of Jangala, they must forge a partnership with the natives if they have any hope of finding their scoutship. But their native guide requires that they first mount a dangerous rescue mission up perilous escarpments and down treacherous rivers that also brings Jason to terms with his orphan past.

Webways To The Universe (Excerpt)


Prelude

Acris br'Tal waited patiently for the arrival of the final package, floating motionless in zero-gravity at the entrance of the access tube of the Mystic Hunter. Her steady gaze focused down the busy central axle tunnel of Dekil Space Station that served both for passengers as well as freight . Behind her she could hear the muttering curses of her two new partners as they finished loading the delivery of supplies onto the waiting starship. Both were Terrans and worthless in her opinion. The distinctive sounds of the Terran language grated painfully on her large tympanic membranes. But as much as she despised the Terran race, she knew she must tolerate these two--at least until they had served their purposes for the illicit mission ahead.

The final package she awaited was a computer disk of star charts stolen by her third sister from the main archives of the Terran Exploration Force computer banks. The charts, when combined with a search program she had stolen several months earlier, would enable the Mystic Hunter to leap ahead of legitimate explorations. Piracy of unprotected planets was her goal. Patience was her greatest virtue. Beside her floated a similar but slightly broader figure, trying unsuccessfully to mimic the stoic posture of her leader.

"Do you know what thossse two ssstinking Terransss did with the advancsse creditsss you gave them?" The sibilant sounds were prominent in the urgent question whispered by Mictyl br'Tal. She spoke in the native language of Sidera, who like all members of her race, had difficulty wrapping her thick tongue around some sounds. Without waiting for Acris to answer her rhetorical question, she rushed on disapprovingly. "They bought ssseveral casssess each of insssidiousss narcossstiksss and that vile poissson they call vodka!"

Acris released her stubby fingers from their grip on the safety bar as she gently turned her thick body to face Mictyl. Her equally compact neck prevented her from simply turning her head to directly address Mictyl's concerns. Light glistened from her dark, moist skin and she looked like a syntho-plastic statue had it not been for the animation of her eyes.

"Yesss, little sssissster, I know," Acris spoke quietly and paused to swallow, causing her protuberant eyes to briefly withdraw into the deep sockets of her wide head to automatically moisturize the sensitive organs. "They were in credit trouble with Dekil Ssstatssion and unable to pay their bill. I convincssed the ssstupid Terransss that we would sssettle their accountsss, and the exsstra creditsss made it easssier to get them to agree to transssfer the regissstry of their ssship from Terran to Sssideran. I knew they would ussse the money I gave them for sssuch. The foul sssubssstancess are addictive to their weak kind. I even encouraged them to bring plenty, asss we will be gone ssseveral monthsss. They are limited creaturesss becaussse their resssolve isss weak to thessse chemicalsss. But it will keep them compliant to our plansss."

Their conversation was interrupted as the two Terrans of whom they spoke came clambering down the access tube, another disagreement apparent between the ill-matched pair. They bumped together roughly as they arrived at the portal, arresting their weightless momentum as they grabbed onto the convenient handholds.

"You have to be the clumsiest idiot I know!" Serge Ladanov spat vehemently at Bernard Savelle, making his face shine even darker with anger through his thick, bristly beard. With a twist of his arm in the null-gravity, Ladanov deftly turned in mid-air around the hand-hold to continue his tirade, "You ever mash my hand loading crates again like that and I guarantee I'll beat you to a pulp!"

"It was an accident, Serge!" Savelle whined, bobbing his head like a Volanian nestling begging for food. "I said I was sorry." Their petty dispute stopped when a strong and quiet voice rebuked them.

"Enough! Be quiet!" Acris spoke in Terranglo, her hoarse grunting of it nearly a snarl. She knew contemptuously that neither of the Terrans could understand Sideran, and she preferred not to speak in Standard as it was even more difficult for her fat vocal chords. "Your quarreling will bring unwanted attentssion to usss."

"What are we waiting for, Acris? We've got everything loaded now and ready to go, including those two big unmarked boxes. And they really have some mass! What's in them?" Ladanov felt brave enough to try standing his ground with the Sideran, pretending he had not been corrected for his errant behavior by throwing several questions at her, the alcohol on his breath testified to the source of his courage.

"I wait for one more delivery. A ssspecssial disssk, if you mussst know, that will make our work easssier. And the cratesss are none of your busssinessss. Now, be quiet!" There was no mistaking the threat or her vile temperament as the strident hiss echoed harshly down the confines of the gangway tube. Even the thick-witted Ladanov could tell that he had pressed closely to the limits of Acris' tolerance.

The two Terrans fell quiet immediately and drifted to the other side of the entranceway, pushing at each other like a couple of juang-bats jostling for a perch. They turned to watch down the main passage tunnel of the central station axle, knowing now that Acris was waiting for a special delivery. It wasn't long before a lone figure in the distance caught their attention. It quickly grew in size as it bounded towards them, leaping agilely with powerful legs from one handhold to another, even ricocheting from smooth places on the passage walls where no handholds existed to expertly thread between other travelers and freight shipments.

"Would you look at that, Serge?" Savelle whispered ingratiatingly, trying to smooth the rancor of his human partner. "They even move like frogs--look at her jumping through the air in all the tunnel traffic. Just like a frog does in the water!" He quietly giggled at his remark, unaware of the Siderans' sensitive hearing, but fearful nonetheless should either of the aliens detect his disparaging remarks from across the gangway. The newcomer arrived, casually snagging a handhold to balance expertly in the air in front of the other two Siderans. Acris turned towards Ladanov and Savelle.

"Go inssside the ssship now." Her orders were low keyed but the tone carried no doubt that she intended them to be followed and further implied that any conversation between her and the new arrival would be private. "Prepare for immediate departure."

Ladanov and Savelle grudgingly but quietly floated down the access tube as they were told. It galled them both to be dismissed so imperiously. But the Sideran offer to bail them out of their station indebtedness, especially after Ladanov had drunkenly gambled away their meager savings, was an answer to their prayers even if neither could remember the last time their shadow had darkened the door of a church. The Sideran promise of even greater riches with the use of their ship on this mysterious mission forced them to obey, at least for the time being as Ladanov saw it. The Mystic Hunter had come into Ladanov and Savelle's hands under shady circumstances at Wigelia, a backwoods agricultural system on the far side of the traveled universe from where they were now. The pilot and first mate were at first thought to be missing, but Ladanov and Savelle had appeared with all the proper documents indicating they had purchased the Mystic Hunter from the original crew before departing for Wigelia.

But that would soon be all behind them. After this mission with the Siderans, they could return to Terra with new forged identities and live their separate lives of luxury. Even if the Siderans' secret mission didn't produce all those riches, afterward the two mismatched partners could resume their cargo hauling and trading route on the web fringes of the civilized universe. It hadn't been the most lucrative of businesses, but it had put food on the table and a growing distance between them and the Patrol--and any questions the Patrol might have. He and Savelle certainly wanted to keep clear of any legal entanglements and there was no doubt the Siderans felt the same way.

At least we get our ship back, out of debt and maybe some extra credits to boot, Ladanov rationalized to himself.

The triad of Siderans hung motionless, none saying anything until the two Terrans were clearly out of earshot. Then, as if on some unspoken cue, the three held their four-fingered hands upward while each placed a chubby palm against the one next to them. They floated thus silently, almost as if they could confirm the identity of the others by osmosis through their moist membranous skin. A moment later they parted hands and floated further inside the access tube doorway so as their next actions would not to be seen or heard.

"It isss good to sssee you both again." Ranskit br'Tal spoke first, her quiet chirping in Sideran scarcely audible a few meters away. "I would that I wasss going with you rather than ssstaying here among thessse offensssive beingsss."

"Yesss, sssissster," Acris responded, trilling quietly from deep in her throat. "But you ssserve usss all in the work you do, asss unpleasssant asss it may be. Do you have the disssk?"

Ranskit slipped a small computer disk from her pocket into the waiting hand of Mictyl who deposited it without comment in the small flight bag slung over her wide shoulders.

"Fly far, fly fassst, my sssissstersss. I wisssh you good hunting, and may you return with richesss enough for usss to go home at lassst to Sssidera." Ranskit's sonorous notes carried great hope as well as longing for their ordeal to be done.

The three sisters were the only females that were left of their clutch of over one hundred eggs that had hatched nearly thirty years ago on Sidera, a planet and its society totally cloaked in secrecy by barring all visitors. Most of the tadpoles had been nearly mindless males and were therefore simply ignored by their aggressive sisters, or eaten as necessity sometimes commanded. The few females were incredibly fierce, a trait most necessary to live in their strange matriarchal society. The competitiveness of the process insured that only the fittest females would survive the rigors of metamorphosing to eventually walk the land in adulthood, and even then only long enough to complete the next phase of technical training in their specific chosen fields. These few successful and ultimately trained females would then be driven from their home planet by the very mothers who'd laid them. Only when the offspring had succeeded in acquiring sufficient wealth could they purchase the right to return. With their off-planet earnings they could then acquire a tract of swampy land and begin the secret process of selecting a male for implantation into their hidden abdominal pouch, a rather permanent and physically altering event that would allow reproduction with the unintelligent but necessary males of their species. The implanted females would then be bound to remain forever on their flooded world and produce clutches of their own. Thus the cycle would continue in which the malevolent Sideran offspring would be spewed forth into the galaxy to either enrich their empire or perish.

"We will be gone ssseveral monthsss," Acris twanged plaintively in reassurance, "and you mussst ssstay at your possst. But remember, we are not hindered by the Terran exssplorersss' proceduresss to check every sssyssstem. We ssseek only that which we can exsssploit."

"I mussst go back to the ssstatssion hub quickly," Ranskit bleated meekly. "They know at the TEF headquartersss that sssomeone hasss violated the computer sssecurity ssssyssstem. They do not know that it wasss me that copied the ssstar chart filesss, but I fear I am being followed."

"Keep the faith," Acris responded with a piercing buzz. "We will sssoon return to our mother planet and be wealthy enough to command our own breeding poolsss asss well asss our choicsse of matesss for implanting. Then we will no longer have to go abroad and deal with all thessse inferior racssesss. Go now!"

"May our fertile eggsss be plentiful and our watersss alwaysss deep!" Ranskit burred in farewell before turning and, in one smooth leap, bounded back and out into the heavy traffic of the transit tunnel towards the station central hub. The remaining sisters watched in silence till she was lost to sight.

"You heard the ugly remark about usss by the Terran?" Mictyl's question exploded as a deep rattle, more in indignation than in doubt that Acris had heard Savelle's slighting remark. "We have the ssship. We ssshould dissspossse of them now!"

"Patiencsse isss important. We ssstill need them for now," Acris grunted with a hiss in mild reproof as they moved silently into the waiting ship, first sealing the gangway hatch and then the ship's door. "Go check to be sssure the Terransss are ready, Mictyl. We depart asss sssoon asss you join me on the bridge."

Acris had no more than buckled in to the captain's chair when Mictyl floated in to take the second. The engines were already powered up and ready for instant use. Without notice, let alone waiting for proper clearance from Dekil Station, Acris freed the station power connection and overrode the magnetic attachments to forcibly release the gangway tube. In their quarters below deck, Ladanov and Savelle felt the heave of the ship's sudden motion and heard the metallic bang of the tube breaking contact. They knew it was a departure in total disregard for normal procedures, but also knew there was nothing they could do about it. Acris continued backing the ship away as the alarmed voice of the Dekil Stationmaster instantly came over the bridge speakers.

"Alert, Mystic Hunter! Abort your thruster engines! You are red-flagged for debts due the station. You are not cleared for..." The shrieking voice of the Kurusian stationmaster stopped suddenly when Acris simply reached over and thumbed the volume to off as she continued turning the silent ship. The stationmaster kept frantically calling, but there would be no response from the departing Mystic Hunter. All on board felt the press of acceleration at the sudden and swift change of the ship's velocity as it bolted away. The proximity alarm sounded, alerting them to the dangerously close presence of a nearby ship. But it only blared briefly before Acris snubbed it to silence, too, overriding the automatic safety system to continue accelerating on their outbound course to one of the distant jump points that made Dekil Station a major webway hub.

"Why didn't you anssswer Dekil Ssstation?" Mictyl asked, more from idle curiousity than questioning any action of her dominant clutch sister, then rushed on as her mind went whirling. " I thought you were to sssettle the Terransss' docking chargesss, and how are we to jump safely when the Kurusssiansss will lock us out of data access for node departure vectorssss?"

"The Kurusssiansss who run Dekil are not important for now. We did not have the creditsss to pay for the repairsss to thisss ssship, nor for the docking feesss." A guttural chuckle of humor rumbled in her throat. "The creditsss we had paid thessse Terran ssslussgs for the ssship, and I usssed the balancsse of creditsss thisss morning to independently purchassse the departure vectorsss for our firssst node jump. When we return, we will be wealthy. We will sssettle accountsss then and sssell thisss ssstinking Terran ssship to go home in the grand ssstyle we are due. The Kurusssiansss forgive anything with enough creditsss. We will apologizsse and tell them the Terransss did thisss--that we are innocssent!"

"And what if the Terransss deny that?"

"They will not be around then to quessstssion," Acris croaked in short response before her explosive laughter rattled down the hall of the ship, the offensive and unmusical notes echoing coarsely as Mictyl joined in chorus. Ladanov and Savelle were both mystified at the strange maneuverings of the ship and inwardly shivered at the distant sounds of the Sideran mirth.