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Copyright © 2018 by CHARLEY MARSH
Omega Lab 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 depositphotos.com
Logo by Peter Corbin
Print ISBN# 978-1-945856-53-2
Books by Charley Marsh
About the Author
Margarita King, Commander of the Viking-class ship, Junkyard Dog, took a deep breath to calm her temper. She stepped to the clear nosecone and looked out at the stars, deliberately turning her back on the others in the main cabin.
The Dog was a prototype ship, the only one of its kind in the Viking class. Fashioned after the large sailing vessels of Old Earth, the curved main cabin held not only the ship’s command center but the dining area as well as individual berths concealed among the cleverly fitted cabinets and drawers created from synthetic wood.
Margarita found the ship’s interior aesthetically pleasing, unlike the other Viking class ships with their metal surfaces and sharp, hard lines and edges that were preferred by her ex-comrades. It was this preference, this weakness, for the ship that had set her up for the sabotage that was meant to end her life.
She and the ship had survived and she’d been on the run since, gathering a crew of odd misfits about her as she gathered the courage to return to Mars Base and face the people who wanted her dead.
At the moment that same crew of four sat behind her at their stations. Rita could feel their glares boring into her back, between her shoulder blades. She resisted the urge to scratch there. Never let the enemy see that they’re getting to you.
The ship had recently departed Bolkarus Station, supposedly en route to Mars Base, but her crew had mutinied. Now the ship merely drifted in space while they fought her for control of their destination.
Mutinied? Hell, it was a full out revolt. If she had still been a member of the Mars-based Red Barons–a Major no less–she’d know exactly how to handle this.
Throw their asses in the brig, every last one of them.
She turned and glared at her crew. Her supposed friends. Unfortunately the effect of the glare was lost on them as her eyes were covered with an electro-magnetic visor.
The visor, a slick little gizmo that her chief engineer and systems officer, Lexa, had created after Rita had been blinded in a last ditch attempt to save her ship, was the crux of their argument. The ship had been saved at the cost of Rita’s sight.
The visor didn’t allow Rita to discern color, but she had a plenty good memory. She knew the small red heat signature in the co-pilot station belonged to tiny blue-skinned Lexa, with her large amber-colored eyes and sloping shoulders. Lexa, who was leading the revolt.
The only Weegan to ever leave the home planet, Lexa was a whiz with anything mechanical or computer oriented. Taking things apart to see how they worked and putting them back together so they worked better was in her DNA. Since joining Rita on the Dog she had more than earned her non-existent pay.
Rita felt she had done the Weegan a huge favor, agreeing to take her off planet against her family’s wishes. And this is how Lexa chose to repay her?
“The visor is working fine. I can see everything I need to see.” Rita had to work hard to keep her voice level and calm when inside she wanted to yell at them all.
“That’s not true, Rita.”
Rita recognized the smooth, pleasing voice belonging to Yani, a Translator and Crystal Worker she and Lexa had rescued from the Ruby City.
“Are you calling me a liar, Yani?” Rita asked, her voice cold.
Truth was, she was stunned at the way her friends had turned on her when she told them they were headed to Mars Base. She felt a solid, icy lump settle inside her chest. This was the first time her friends had so adamantly disagreed with any of her command decisions.
In the past Rita had explained to them the why behind her choices and the others had come around to agreeing with her. But not this time. This time they were united against her.
“Of course I’m not calling you a liar,” Yani answered mildly. “You are the most honest creature I’ve ever met. But Rita, you have to admit that the visor cannot show you the expressions on other’s faces, an important part of any confrontation–as you well know.”
“I don’t need to see their faces. I can hear, can’t I? I’ll be able to tell what they’re really thinking from their voices.”
“I have to agree with Yani, Rita.”
Great, another voice heard from. John, a.k.a. Healer, was another one of Rita’s rescues. Why hadn’t she just left them all where she’d found them? Life was so much simpler when her only companion had been her telepathic shadow-creature, Darwin.
“You do realize that the bulk of communication is physical, not verbal,” John continued, oblivious to Rita’s thoughts of banishing them all back to where they’d came from. “What you are proposing to do is dangerous. You need to be at your best, with all your senses working. You need to be able to read body language.”
Darwin chose that moment to leap into Rita’s arms. The rare creature was a mash-up of life forms. With the head of a giant cat–a leopard or tiger perhaps–set on a dog’s body with two tails, he looked like a mad science experiment gone wrong.
Rita absently smoothed Darwin’s wiry fur while she looked for a way to explain to her crew why they had to return to Mars Base immediately.
Ever since the sabotage of her ship by a fellow Red Baron, Rita had known that she would have to return to the home of the Barons one day and ferret out the person who had ordered her on a mission where she was meant to die.
While helping the people on Bolkarus Station she had realized that the time had come. She was ready to face the truth. For reasons she couldn’t quite explain, even to herself, she needed to return now, while she was strongly motivated.
“I realize that returning to Mars Base is dangerous,” she said slowly, feeling Darwin’s chest rumble with his purr. “But I’m ready. I need to find out who was behind the sabotage of my ship and what they gained from my death. I need–”
“We understand that, Rita,” Yani broke in. “But we want you to be at your absolute best when you head into whatever confrontations you’ll face there. There will be confrontations and some of them could be very unpleasant. They could also be deadly.”
“Yani’s right. As the ship’s Healer I recommend that you make a detour to a medical lab and get your eyes replaced before facing whatever waits for you on Mars Base. Besides, remember when Blackie shorted out your visor? You were blind again. What if someone knocks it off your head or finds another way to neutralize it? You need your eyes, Rita. You need to see.”
Rita squeezed her useless eyes shut behind the visor. Everything her friends said made sense. Why was she arguing against them?
Maybe she was afraid that if she put off returning to Mars Base any longer she’d never go. She’d end up on the run forever, hiding from the very organization she was once so proud to be a member of.
Technically the Junkyard Dog still belonged to the Red Barons, which meant she and her crew were traveling the galaxy in a stolen ship. She could argue that since the ship was meant to be destroyed along with its crew of one, the fact that she’d saved it meant it now belonged to her. To the victor go the spoils.
She started to open her mouth to remind her friends that they were in a stolen ship–that they needed to buy the ship from the Barons before they were caught, but snapped it closed.
Her friends were right. She needed to see the faces of the people she suspected wanted her dead. She needed to see the look in their eyes to know who to trust. She needed her own eyes working. She needed to be whole again.
“Fine. We’ll set a course for the nearest medical lab with cloning abilities. John, could you please find out which lab can fit me in on short notice?” She hesitated. “And John? Use my rank. Tell them Major Margarita King needs their services as quickly as possible.”
Rita set Darwin on the deck and headed for her pilot’s seat, a comfortable gel seat that molded around her body like a warm hand when she sat.
She waited for the others to cheer their success but they remained silent. The argument over her eyes had been the first real disagreement her friends had engaged in and everyone felt uncomfortable, including Rita. She cast around for something to set them all at ease.
“Yani, how about prepping a meal? All this arguing made me hungry. I’ll set a new course as soon as John gives me the location of a lab and we’ll eat.”
“Oh boy,” Lexa said. “Chopsooey!”
Everyone groaned at the meal Lexa could never get enough of and the rest of them would just as soon never eat again.
And just like that, they were back.
Margarita King was not a coward, not by a long shot. She had faced down gatorsnakes with their long jaws full of needle sharp teeth and armed mercenaries and had leaped from a rocketing ship with nothing but a winged flightsuit between her and certain death.
But the concept of some unknown entity removing her eyeballs from her head made her insides turn to jelly. It didn’t matter that new, hopefully better eyes would take their place, it was the idea that such an important piece of her self would be gone forever.
At least that was the reason she was giving herself for her fear. The truth was that she didn’t want someone mucking about with her body. Removing pieces of her–important pieces, even if they weren’t working at the moment . . . she suppressed a shudder. What if they–the unknown they–messed up? It didn’t bear thinking about.
And yet she couldn’t help thinking about it. Would she be disfigured for life, walking about with two holes in her head where her eyeballs used to be? Or would they sew up the holes and force her to wear patches?
Her visor would no longer work without her eyes to feed the information through. That would leave her with nothing if the transplant failed. She would be well and truly blind. No longer able to command her ship. Useless as flotsam and jetsam floating in space.
Her fear grew, her jaw clenched so tight she could barely speak.
The Junkyard Dog had landed on Omega Lab’s docking port two hours earlier. Located inside a hollowed out asteroid, Omega was the closest lab John could find that would take Rita on such short notice.
Because the asteroid held zero atmosphere, the docking port used a flexible, expanding tube to transfer customers from their ships to the lab’s entrance. The transport tube had been suctioned onto the Dog’s airlock door for well over an hour, waiting for Rita and her crew to depart.
Rita had dithered about the ship, claiming she needed to check on various systems that needed no attention. Putting off the inevitable process that would end with her eyeballs in some recycler trash receptacle and new ones in her head.
The others had waited patiently, watching her in silence. Well aware that she was stalling but allowing her that weakness. Perhaps they were all thinking that they would be no more eager to lose parts of their own bodies.
Eventually the moment came when she could put it off no longer. It was time to leave the ship.
Everyone departed with her, Darwin in his usual spot riding her shoulder, the others close but not touching, trying to lend her strength for the ordeal ahead. They had exited the ship’s airlock, shuffled through the transfer tube to an elevator that carried them deep inside the asteroid, and ended up in a featureless room with walls, ceiling, and floor made of smooth steel with UV lights built into every surface.
“We won’t leave your side, Rita.” Yani spoke quietly in Rita’s ear so the others wouldn’t hear. They stood together in the lab’s disinfectant chamber, waiting for the ultra-violet lights to kill any lingering bacteria–a process anyone entering the lab had to endure.
Rita heard the tension in Yani’s voice and wondered why she should feel nervous. Yani was trained to go into tense situations and negotiate a peaceful path out of any conflict. The woman was unflappable. The ability to learn any language and understand all sides of a disagreement were built into her DNA–
And there it was. The reason for Yani’s tension.
Not long ago, Yani had learned that she was a clone. Because she had believed herself to be a natural born humanoid with a loving family, the truth had been a devastating blow to her.
In reality she had been grown and birthed in a lab much like Omega Lab and trained in a sterile classroom with a group of clones exactly like herself. All memories of the cloning chamber had been erased from her mind and memories of loving parents implanted in their place. This had been revealed to Yani when her mind had been invaded by an alien life form.
While it was true that in general clones were treated well–they were created in small numbers to fulfill highly specialized and respected functions such as Translators and Healers–they were also denied basic rights.
Clones could not possess personal property. They had to go and do where and whatever they were told. They had no say over their lives and were in essence little more than living, breathing tools.
Rita had long felt that the Clone Laws were draconian. When she, Darwin, and Lexa rescued Yani from a Snakeman in the Ruby City she refused to return Yani to her former life. Even though it was against galaxy law, Rita opened a credit account for Yani, depositing a third share of the treasure gifted them by the grateful residents of Ruby City, and invited her to join the Dog’s crew.
The grateful translator had fit in easily and Yani soon became a valued crew member. More importantly, she became a valued friend.
Rita felt for Yani’s hand and squeezed it. “This can’t be easy for you,” Rita murmured. Lexa and John were talking behind them and she didn’t want them to overhear.
“I know you will, but it still can’t be easy.”
Yani swallowed, trying to ease the tightness in her throat. “I can’t help but wonder if this–if this . . . “ she couldn’t say the words.
“You’re wondering if this is the same lab that created you?”
Yani gave a curt nod.
“It might be,” Rita told her, “but it’s no longer your home. You belong with us now. Don’t let anyone tell you different.”
“I know all that, but–never mind. I don’t know what I’m feeling right now. A little frightened I guess, but I have no idea why I should be.”
Rita snorted. “You’re frightened? I’m about to have some unknown lab tech poke my eyes out and pop some new ones in. I’m quaking in my boots.”
Yani laughed and felt some of her tension ease. “Well since you put it that way, I think I’d be quaking too. Don’t worry, John will insist on being there and he’ll keep a close eye on things.”
“What will I do?”
Yano turned to look at John. “I told Rita that you’ll keep a close eye on the proceedings and watch over the transplant.”