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Margarita King, owner and commander of the Junkyard Dog, decides to visit New Earth to give her companions some much needed R & R. New Earth, fashioned after the great amusement parks on the original Earth. Visitors from all across the galaxy come for the amazing rides and to test themselves at the games of skill. Prime marks for the gang of abandoned children with nowhere to go and only one way to survive, and for a visiting ship full of cutthroats. Join Margarita King as once again the crew of the Junkyard Dog finds life-threatening trouble in an unexpected place.
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Copyright © 2018 by Charley Marsh
New Earth is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and places are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For more information contact: timberdoodlepress.com
All rights reserved.
Published 2018 in the United States of America by Timberdoodle Press.
Cover art courtesy DepositPhoto
Logo by Peter Corbin
EBook ISBN# 978-1-945856-31-0
Print ISBN# 978-1-945856-30-3
Also By Charley Marsh
About the Author
The Junkyard Dog and her passengers had taken a leisurely two weeks to reach their next destination. Two necessary and productive weeks, thought Margarita King, commander of the Dog, as she looked around the table at her companions.
Lexa, the tiny blue Weegan who had been nearly crushed to death by the sand creatures on Myam, had bounced back with the resiliency of youth. She ate, smiled, and chattered in her usual manner, the horror of being buried alive a distant and faint memory now.
The slim and elegant Yani, ebony-skinned, emerald eyed, mild-mannered and polite to the point of erasing her own personality, had begun to toughen up. The experience of nearly losing her dearest friend had left its mark on the translator’s perfect demeanor in a positive way. She no longer held back her feelings and thoughts to the extent she had prior to Myam.
The newest addition to the Dog’s odd crew had probably benefitted from the slow journey the most, however. Three years of living in a society of four foot tall Zetok’s had taken its toll on the body of the six-four healer who sat next to her, robbing him of muscle and mass.
She noted with satisfaction that regular meals and workouts in the ship’s small holo room, a room Rita had had no use for until recently, had filled out the healer’s emaciated frame.
The healer’s copper-colored skin had lost its gray tinge and his silver-gray eyes were clear and content. He had proven to be an intelligent and pleasant companion for the three females. And it never hurt to have a medic handy.
Darwin, her telepathic shadow-creature who looked like a cross between a lion and a dog with two tails, accepted and liked the healer. That was recommendation enough for Rita. It had been a good decision to take on the stranded medic.
Rita noticed Yani and Lexa both staring at her expectantly. “What?”
“You’re thinking,” Lexa said. “I can see it on your face.”
Rita smiled. She appreciated Lexa’s outspoken honesty. After years of dealing with the conniving, back-stabbing bastards from the Red Barons who had sent her out to die, she found Lexa a refreshing change.
“Yes. I was thinking. I do that now and then you know.”
“Care to share?” Yani asked.
Rita shrugged one strong shoulder. Healer wasn’t the only one who had taken advantage of the time to heal and work out during the last two weeks. All of them had been working on self-defense techniques and strength training.
“”We’ll arrive at New Earth tomorrow,” she answered. “I was thinking that you will all enjoy the visit.”
“What’s on New Earth?” Lexa shoveled a sporkful of her latest favorite food, veggiepie, into her mouth, her large amber eyes fixed on Rita’s face.
Lexa loved strange new places, although some of the ones they’d visited recently had been less than pleasant. She thought of the sand creatures on Myam and suppressed a shudder. She didn’t want Rita to know she still had bad dreams about them.
“New Earth is an entertainment colony,” Rita answered, “designed after the ancient amusement parks on Old Earth.”
“What’s an amusement park?” Lexa stopped eating, her eyes bright with curiosity.
“Amusement parks on Old Earth were places where people gathered to play and have fun in all sorts of different ways. From the history I’ve read the parks mostly had an assortment of rides and games to play with prizes to win. And food stands not unlike the ones on ZetiTau.”
Lexa grinned. “I like to eat,” she said around a mouthful of pie.
“We hadn’t noticed,” Rita said dryly. The Weegan’s metabolism ran hot and needed plenty of fuel to keep it revved. Lexa might be half Rita or the healer’s size, but she consumed as much food as they did, if not more.
Rita ate another sporkful of pie and complimented Yani, who had taken on meal prep as her contribution to the daily running of the ship.
“So New Earth is a playground for travelers. Interesting. I’ve never seen an amusement park.” Healer pushed back his plate and politely wiped his mouth. “I wonder if I’ll find it amusing.”
“You’ll know soon enough. Let’s finish up here, get the Dog set for a warp leap, and go.” Rita pushed away from the table, placed her dishes in the auto-cleaner and settled into her helm seat. The gel seat accepted her body and curled around her backside like a warm, comfortable palm.
Other than Lexa, who had left a large family on the planet Weegan, the Junkyard Dog had become the only home the group had. It made a comfortable home, and all Rita needed. She hoped the others felt as content.
The Dog’s stylish interior, copied from the ancient sailing vessels of Old Earth, was unlike any other ship in the Baron’s fleet. Living in the Dog was like living in a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle: no wasted space, and everything fit together in a way that told her the designer had put a great deal of thought into the ship. She appreciated any kind of artisanship that combined form with function.
No other Red Baron wanted to be assigned to the prototype ship—they preferred the harsh lines and sterile metal of the other ships in the fleet—and so the one-of-a-kind Dog became Rita’s by default. When she had survived the attempt on her life she had kept the ship.
The others finished their meal and made everything secure, then took to their assigned seats. Rita preferred to have them make the longer warp leaps secured in their bunks, but they liked to be with her for the shorter leaps.
“Healer, we’ll need Time-Eze for twenty minutes, no longer.”
The healer set about working out the proper dosage for each body and loaded five pressure syringes. “All set.”
The Time-Eze minimized the adverse effects that moving through the space/time field had on travelers. It slowed the aging process and kept their bones from becoming brittle.
“I’ll dose myself. Give Yani, Darwin, and Lexa theirs, then strap in and do yourself.” She took her dose from the healer, set it on the console in front of her, and finished inputting the settings for the leap to New Earth. “Everyone set?”
“They’re already under,” Healer replied. He strapped into his seat, applied the pressure syringe to his arm and closed his eyes.
“All right then. New Earth here we come,” Rita muttered as she finished setting the small delay for the leap, dosed herself, and closed her eyes. What adventure awaited them there? The Junkyard Dog had yet to visit a place without running into some sort of trouble.
As she slipped under she sent up a fervent prayer that their visit to New Earth would be trouble free.
And knew that she was wasting her breath.
“Wow, iced! Look at that! Yani, I want to ride on that!” Lexa tugged at Yani’s hand.
Yani turned her head and cast a worried look at Rita over her shoulder. “What is that?” she hissed.
“It’s called a roller-coaster. They were a very popular thrill ride on Old Earth.”
Yani pulled Lexa to a halt and stared at the small train of open cars careening around sharp corners over their heads. Screams filled the air as the train swooped down a sharp incline, jerked to the right, and swooped again.
Yani swallowed the lump of fear in her throat. “I-I don’t think I can ride that with you, Lexa,” she said weakly. “That looks far too scary for me.”
The five of them, Darwin in his favorite spot draped over Rita’s shoulders, stood watching as the train clacked slowly up a steep incline, then let loose on the downside. Screams of glee and terror rang out over the park.
Yani grabbed her stomach. “Nope. Definitely can’t go on that ride. How about that big wheel thingy over there. I could do that. What is that ride called, Rita?”
Rita craned her neck to look up at the top of the lighted giant wheel with its swinging seats. “It’s called a Ferris wheel. That one must be at least two hundred meters tall. You’ll get one heck of a view from up there, Yani. You’ll be able to see the entire park I imagine.”
“Healer, will you ride the roller coaster with me?” Lexa begged. She dropped Yani’s hand and tried to pull the healer forward. His eyes twinkled at Rita.
“I’d love to,” he said. “I have to admit that I’m curious as to how the sudden turns and drops affect a body. Seems the best way to find out is to try it myself. Unfortunately I have to decline.”
Rita dug into her waistpak, pulled out a handful of credits, and set them in the healer’s free hand. “Consider it an advance on your salary as ship’s medic,” she said before he could protest. “We don’t expect you to work for nothing.”
Healer opened his mouth to refuse, then closed his hand over the credits. It galled him to be flat broke, and he hated the thought of accepting Rita’s charity, but she had given him an honorable out and he felt grateful for her generosity.
“Thank you,” he said instead. He grabbed Lexa’s hand. “Let’s go, my little brave one, and see what the roller coaster is all about.”
“Meet us at the Central Food Court in two hours. We’ll regroup and decide what to do next while we eat.” Rita waved off Healer and Lexa before turning to Yani with a wide smile. “I didn’t think Lexa would let you off so easily. I’ve ridden a roller coaster—once, and once only. I swore never to get on one again.”
Yani shuddered delicately. “I don’t see the attraction. I felt ill just watching it.”
The two women watched as Healer and Lexa climbed into the front car. Lexa had a wide grin on her round blue face and was talking excitedly to Healer. The remaining train cars filled with a variety of riders looking for a thrill—Golongols, Greffids and Puffskins took their places and the train began to slowly clack its way up the first incline.
Yani clutched Rita’s arm as the train dove and rounded the first corner with Lexa screaming at the top of her lungs. Healer’s head whipped back and forth and his black hair whipped around his face. “I can’t watch,” she said. “What if the train jumps off the track? They’ll be killed.”
“I think that’s where part of the thrill comes in, Yani.” Rita patted her hand, felt someone bump into them.
“Excuse me, ma’ams,” said a small voice.
Rita looked down on a young boy, his hands jammed into his pockets. He wore a too small, ragged and filthy, skin shirt with patched baggy pants that showed bony ankles. His face was dark with grime and his long blonde hair so greasy it looked brown. He smelled like a broken recycler. “Don’t worry about—,” she broke off. “Wait a minute. Take your hands out of your pockets.”
Fear leaped into the boy’s dark brown eyes and Rita knew that she had guessed right. She grabbed his shoulder before he could run and held firm. Squatting in front of him she kept hold of him with one hand, held out her free hand and wiggled her fingers.
“Give it back.”
The boy lowered his eyes and scuffed his bare feet in the dirt. “Didn’t do nothing.”
“Oh, I think you did. Should I check your pockets myself? I bet I’ll find more than what you just took from us.”
The boy tried to jerk away but Rita had anticipated him and held tight. She had experience with street thieves and knew how they worked. This one would be part of a gang, probably orphaned. She felt pity for the boy, knew his life wasn’t easy, but she wouldn’t be doing him any favors if she ignored the theft.
“You’re going nowhere, kid. Give back what you took from my friend.”
The boy pursed his lips. His eyes darted to the sides before landing on Rita again. “Didn’t do nothing,” he said again.
Rita sighed. She had to give the kid credit for trying to bluff her. “Don’t make me call the authorities on you. Give my friend back her knife.”
“What?” Yani slapped her hand onto the empty sheath on her thigh. “He stole my knife. How did he do that? How did you do that?” she asked the boy. “I never felt a thing.”
“I have fast hands,” he answered proudly, apparently deciding that further denying the theft would do no good. “The fastest hands in the gang,” he bragged. He pulled Yani’s black ebony knife from a pocket in his pants but didn’t hand it back to her.
Rita read the calculation in the young thief’s eyes. “Don’t even think about it,” she said sternly. “I’m Red Baron. If you hurt either of us I’ll be forced to hunt you to the ends of the galaxy and charge you with attempted murder. That’s a heck of a lot more serious than being charged with theft.”
All the color drained from the boy’s face. “Red Baron. I’m in it now,” he muttered. “Sting’s gonna whoop me good.”
The grime on his face stood out even more against his now deathly white skin. He squirmed and tried to break Rita’s grip but he was no match for her.
“Please,” Rita said. “Don’t insult me. I have you and you aren’t going anywhere until I decide you can. Now give my friend back her knife and apologize to her for taking what doesn’t belong to you.”
The boy didn’t hesitate this time. He handed Yani her knife. “Why do I gotta apologize? She shoulda protected it better.”
The kid had a point. Rita bit back a smile. There was something about the young thief that she found appealing. “Apologize and you can come with us to the Food Court. I’ll buy you a meal. Anything you want.”
The look of scorn and disbelief the thief sent her way pierced her heart. Obviously no one had given this kid anything in a long, long time, if ever. She heaved a sigh.
“I’m not giving you a choice, kid. Tell Yani you’re sorry and then I’m taking you to the Food Court. We’re hungry and you might as well join us. Plus I’ll be able to keep an eye on you.”
The boy scuffed a bare toe in the dirt. “I’m sorry I got caught stealing your knife,” he grumbled.
Rita rolled her eyes but figured that was the best she was going to get. “Yeah, I bet you are. What’s your name, kid?”
“My name’s Troy, but everyone calls me Ace cuz I’m the best.”
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