The following is an excerpt from my novel, “The Lone Wolf”, due out later this year. A friend of mine asked for an excerpt, so I decided to post it here. ~ Dellani
CALL ME ROMANCE
(July 1, 3032)
Lights on the computer console flashed, catching her attention. The bridge was dark since only the bots were supposed to be at work. Matilda checked the instruments carefully.
“Rubee, lights,” she told the ship’s computer.
“Initiating. Welcome, Commander Dulac.”
The lights came up slowly allowing her eyes to adjust. There was a flicker of movement on one of her screens. Why was a mining unit on approach? Curious, she activated the Tri-D viewer, focusing on an incoming ship. None of the miners were due until 0800. Glancing at the chronometer, she saw it was only 0230.
“Mine Unit One, what is your status?”
Getting only static in reply, Matilda zoomed the viewer trying to get a visual on the pilot. The mining station’s automatic hails were being ignored. Long fingers flew over the keypad as she tried to figure out what the hell was going on.
“Mine Unit One, do you have an emergency?”
Nothing. Hitting her comlink, she beeped Marc Slatterly’s cabin. “Captain!”
“Hmph?” She could picture him lying naked in the bed where she’d left him twenty minutes ago. “What? Matilda? Where the hell are you?” He hit the visual, rubbing his face to wake up.
“The bridge. We’ve got a problem. Get up here.”
“What?” Suddenly all business, he rose abruptly, searching for his pants.
“Unit One. Billy’s coming in hot and erratic. He’s not answering hails.”
“You know Guild protocol, Matilda.” He struggled into his pants, getting tangled as he tried to put his feet through.
She exhaled slowly, wiping her brow. She knew protocol as well as he, but in the ten years of Mining Guild service she’d never had to use regulation seventeen – destruction of a manned vessel. Until now….
“Maybe his comlink is borked.”
“Hail him a third time, then initiate protocol.”
“Are you coming?”
“On my way.” He didn’t bother to finish dressing. Grabbing his gun belt, he took off at top speed to the lift.
“Mine Unit One,” Matilda continued. “Slow your approach or I will enact Guild Regulation Seventeen. Do you copy?”
More static. She keyed in the coded sequence necessary to transfer the miner’s load to the cargo hold. Taking a deep breath, she tried once more.
“Mine Unit One, this is your final warning before I implement your self-destruct.” Tapping her comlink, she prayed Marc would answer.
“On my way, baby. I can go only so fast. Damn lift is slow.”
“Shit. I used the transporter.”
“There went my power. You know the drill, Commander.”
She lifted the clear Lucite lid over the red destruct button, hands shaking as she keyed in the final sequence.
“Mine Unit One, Billy? Can you hear me? Slow down!” Still no answer. “Don’t make me do this,” she whispered as her finger pressed the button.
The miner’s craft imploded, folding on itself like a deflated balloon. Biting her lip, blinking back tears, she turned away. Marc walked onto the bridge a second later, eyes glued to the screen. Taking her in his arms, he held her while she cried.
“You had to do it, Matilda. You had no choice. Look at his trajectory. He’d have come right through us.”
“I never had to do it before.” She wiped the tears fiercely away. And to a friend.
Marc checked the console, securing the destruct button without a word. Taking a life was never easy, but he’d grown used to it over time. Years as a Galactic Marine had hardened him. More as a Mining Guild officer had taken the sting out of senseless killing, but the first one was always the worst.
Taking her shoulders, he turned her to face him. “You did your job, Matilda. Sometimes that’s not easy.” Puzzled, he paused, looking around. “Why are you up?”
“Something didn’t feel right. I came up to check it out.” She shrugged, pressing against him as his arms held her.
“You’re like me. Your hunches are rarely wrong. I don’t know how I missed it.”
She smiled up at him, rabbit punching his ribs. “I wore your ass out.”
Chuckling, he had to agree. “How about we go back to bed and let me try to get even?”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “I need something to take my mind off….”
Marc slung an arm around her shoulders, kissing the top of her head. “I reckon I can distract you for an hour or two.” He chuckled, white teeth flashing through the confines of his dark red beard.
Back in his cabin, they wiled away the next hour. Afterward, though she was tired, she couldn’t go back to sleep. Something still felt wrong, like an instrument played off key. Now that there was nothing to occupy her mind, she focused on her misgivings. She wanted to wake Marc so she would have some distraction, but one look at his sleeping face told her that was unlikely. He didn’t sleep much, but when it did, it was deep.
Instead, Matilda rose and showered, dressing in a fresh uniform. She intended to go back to her own quarters after kissing him goodnight, but her feet took her to the cargo bay. As she approached, the creeping feeling on her skin grew worse, the hairs on her neck rising. Something wasn’t right, but she couldn’t determine what. Pulling herself away from the doors, she ran to the bridge, calling up the ship’s manifest.
There it was, plain as the nose on her face. There was a load of Trimagnite ore collected from the destroyed mine unit. In a panic, she buzzed Marc’s quarters.
“What the hell? Romance, where are you up to now?”
“Get dressed and get up here now! It’s urgent.”
“Again? Dammit, can’t I get some sleep?”
“Not if you want to live.”
Within five minutes, he joined her. She gave him a cup of joe to clear his befuddlement. Gulping it down, he made a face, but in a few seconds, he was clearheaded as she told him what she’d found, showing him the scan. Trimagnite had a very distinctive pattern.
“Damn! What was he thinking? He didn’t have the equipment or storage capability for this. Digging that shit without proper shielding is lethal!”
“So, what do we do? Trimagnite can make us all go nuts! Why didn’t he tell us?” Her voice held a note of panic.
“We both know the raw ore is not only toxic, it’s a very strong neuro-stimulant. I’m surprised he lived long enough to get it to the ship. I’m contacting Commandant Riley. We can’t carry this, we’re only minimally shielded. Even if we’d known ahead of time, we’re not prepared to transport it.”
His fingers flew over his keypad as he sat at the console, waiting impatiently to connect. Matilda stood nearby, hugging herself. Knowing it was Trimagnite didn’t make her feel any better, in fact she felt worse. Everyone in the galaxy knew the damaging effects of the semi-liquid ore; disorientation, hallucinations, madness and death. Once the process started, there was no halting it. They would die – horribly.
Lost in her thoughts, Matilda hadn’t realized Marc was talking to Commandant Riley. Instead of a uniform, he was dressed in a dull brown business suit, his hair neatly combed, looking a lot like a rat in the dim light of the control room.
“That’s what I said, sir. Trimagnite.”
“That’s impossible! I had no prior knowledge of the load, or I’d have sent a bot ship.”
“I sent a data file. You should be getting it in a moment. It shows the Guild Registry of the Trimagnite. Someone knew he had it. Commandant, I can’t expose my crew to this for more than twelve more hours. Otherwise we both know what could happen.”
“I don’t have any bot ships in the vicinity, but there is a Merchant Marine in the sector. He can be there in a couple of hours. He’s shielded and can transport to us. Dammit, Captain Slatterly, I had no idea. I’d never do this to you and your crew.”
“As long as we get it out of here, consider it forgotten. Who’s picking up?”
“The ship’s called the Loup Garou. It’s registered in Beta Quadrant. Guy’s a gypsy of sorts, works here and there, no set port of call. VanLipsig is the name. Wilhelm VanLipsig.”
There was a stunned silence. Marc said nothing, staring blankly at the screen.
“You’re sure that’s his name?” He asked distractedly.
Riley’s hands fluttered over his keypad as he verified the information. “Yes, says here Wilhelm VanLipsig. Goes by the handle Lone Wolf. Do you know this guy?”
Marc didn’t reply right away. “Yeah,” he said hesitantly. “At least I used to know a guy by that name, but he died awhile ago.” Suddenly, he was all business again. “Thank you, Commandant. We’ll be ready for VanLipsig. Slatterly out.” Marc sat at the console, not even remembering to disconnect.
Matilda broke the connection, looking at him carefully. “What’s up?”
He jumped at the sound of her voice as if she’d shouted. “Ghost from the past, baby.” He shook his head. “I was sure the bastard died….” He rubbed his eyes with his fists. “We can’t do anything more for now. Let’s go back and get some sleep. Rubee will wake us when the guy gets here.”
Rubee was the ship’s computer. She ran operations while they slept.
They went back to Marc’s quarters. Of course, once they lay down, he didn’t want to sleep. Instead of his usual style, Marc took her roughly with an intense focus as if trying to purge his memory of something highly unpleasant. He had never behaved like this before. Matilda would have been worried, but he urged such intense sensations from her body, she could hardly think.
Exhausted, they curled up together. Marc lay behind her, his arms around her protectively, as if by his presence alone, he could keep her from harm. They slept deeply and Rubee woke them a couple hours later when the Merchant Marine ship hailed them.
Once he was up and dressed, Marc was all business. He called her Commander Dulac and she followed suit by calling him Captain Slatterly. It seemed odd for him to be so professional when they had just been so intimate, but she knew something was bothering him.
As Matilda followed Marc to the docking bay where the ship was locking on, she noticed he was armed. The energy weapon he wore was hardly standard Guild issue. On the maximum setting, it could take down a man Marc’s size, putting a sizable hole in him.
“Expecting an army? You can kill a xar beast with one of those.”
“I wish I had something bigger. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. If I order you to fire, Commander, you fire. No questions. Is that clear?”
He opened the door to the docking bay. The other ship had attached and the airlock was pressurizing. As the door spiraled open, Matilda sensed a shudder pass through Marc. He raised his weapon, covering the entrance.
Slowly, with a casual air, a man entered the airlock. Nearly as tall as Marc, he was leaner of build. His curly, dark brown hair fell to his shoulders. He stood still while Rubee scanned his identification tag before releasing the force shield in front of him.
He wore a black eye patch over his left eye and a scar ran from his left temple to the corner of his lips. It was an old scar, worn and somewhat sunken. A slight stubble of beard shaded the lower half of his face, all but the scar line, which was a pale crescent in the dark. His uncovered eye glittered black and dangerous in his ruggedly handsome face. Holding his arms from his sides, he waited as Rubee scanned him for weapons. Finding none, she gave clearance for him to pass.
He stepped forward, lighting a dark, thin object. The pungent odor of a cheroot filled the confined space. Squinting past the smoke, he gazed into Marc’s eyes. Marc’s weapon remained pointed at the other man’s head, his calm expression strangely predatory.
Their visitor sized Matilda up with a glance, dismissing her as non-threatening. He puffed on his cheroot thoughtfully. A crooked grin cracked his face in half, the scar pulling his left lip up at an odd angle.
“Marc, it’s been a long time.” He held out his hand.
Marc remained aloof, not taking his eyes off the visitor, lowering his weapon or acknowledging the proffered hand.
“Kind of a cold reception, isn’t it?” His voice was rasping and low.
The smile was replaced by a slight frown, a hint of sadness in the obsidian eye. Then the same placid expression took its place. Nothing in Marc’s face betrayed what he was thinking or feeling.
Marc spoke calmly. “Commander Dulac, please show Colonel VanLipsig to the lounge.”
“Of course, sir.” Looking puzzled, she did as he asked, feeling his eyes on her.
Marc followed, covering the man from the rear. When they had seated themselves, Matilda ordered three cups of joe from the synthunit. Marc kept his weapon out on his knee with his hand resting upon it. The other fellow leaned back, seemingly unconcerned and at ease. Taking a sip of the joe, he grimaced, glancing down at his cup before matching his gaze with Marc’s.
“Marc, I know we parted under difficult circumstances, but is this really necessary? I’m here to do a job, nothing more.” He carefully kept his hands in plain view, moving slowly, talking with deliberate ease.
Marc looked at him blankly, his expression bland. “I thought you were dead, Wil.”
VanLipsig nodded slowly, thoughtfully. “You were sure you killed me.” His voice was flat, toneless, unemotional. He shrugged casually, tilting his head to the left. “I got better.” There was a flash of a chilling smile.
“The reports of my death were greatly exaggerated,” VanLipsig quipped, dark eye glittering mischievously.
Marc’s fist dented the table with a furious blow. “Dammit, Wil! Can’t you just stay dead?”
VanLipsig threw back his head, laughing caustically. The laugh became a long, high pitched, chilling howl. Matilda felt a shiver run through her to the very bone. She did her best not to show it, but a subtle shift of her bearing betrayed her. His gaze penetrated her soul, laying it bare, finding it wanting.