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Alone at the helm of the Junkyard Dog, pilot Margarita King notices a dense cloud of red dust approaching her ship. A strange anomaly of space never before recorded. Before Margarita can react, an unseen force takes control of her body. Pressing in on her until she winks out of existence. Join the crew of the Junkyard Dog as they embark on their strangest adventure yet—one that will change their lives forever.
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Copyright © 2018 by CHARLEY MARSH
Red Mist 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
E Book ISBN# 978-1-945856-33-4
Print ISBN# 978-1-945856-32-7
About the Author
Also by Charley Marsh
Alone at the helm of the Junkyard Dog, Margarita King used the rare solitude to think about where her life was going. She hated to admit it, but until their visit to New Earth she had found it extremely difficult—next to impossible even— to let go of what had been the driving and defining force in her life for most of her adult years.
To know that she no longer belonged to the Mars-based Red Barons made her feel as if a part of her body had been lopped off, like an arm or a leg.
Or her head.
Running into Red Baron Antony Marcus on New Earth had changed all that for her. Now calling himself Tony Mark, Tony had been forced to abandon his career in law enforcement because of an accident that left him with permanent amnesia. He had walked away from the Barons and taken on a group of orphans.
He had created a new life for himself. No regrets, no second guesses.
Rita needed to do the same. It was a truth she needed to accept. There could be no going back, not now. Even if she tried, she would never be able to fully trust her co-workers. They had broken the line. They had turned on one of their own. They had turned on her.
She needed to start thinking of how she wanted her life to be going forward now that she no longer belonged to the elite law enforcers of the galaxy. Since the sabotaging of her ship she had been on an aimless run, bouncing from one crisis to another without any plan, like a piece of space jetsam.
She stood in the twilight of the Junkyard Dog’s main cabin and looked out the clear nosecone at the stars. So many stars just in the Milky Way galaxy—up to four hundred billion estimated. An impossible number to count. And more galaxies beyond with their own hundreds of billions of stars.
Her mind boggled over the numbers, over the sheer size of it all. And she counted as less than even a speck of dust in the whole big scheme of things. More like a mere atom in the great cosmos.
She heaved a soft sigh, not wanting to disturb her fellow shipmates.
Behind their closed bunk doors she could hear the soft snores of Lexa, fully recovered from her ordeal on the planet Myam, and Yani, still recovering from the wound she received on New Earth during the pirate attack.
There was no sound from their passenger’s bunk. They had met the Healer when Lexa had been seriously injured on Myam. In exchange for helping Lexa Rita had agreed to take him off the desert planet..
As it turned out, there had been nothing the Healer could do to help Lexa, but Margarita had made a deal and she agreed to take him with them when they left. Standing over six foot herself, she had felt a great deal of empathy with the Healer’s six-four body forced to live in a structure built for the four foot tall Zetoks.
She felt a degree of comfort knowing they had a Healer aboard the Dog should anything happen to one of them. He had come in handy on New Earth, treating both Yani's and Tony Mark’s laser burns.
Rita had rudimentary medical knowledge of course; it was a requirement for every Red Baron pilot. But her knowledge only helped humans, not Weegans, or translators, or any other beings she might encounter who needed help. Healers were trained to diagnose and treat every living thing.
Her attention was drawn back to the view of the stars and the innumerable possibilities of life forms. Who knew the variety of technology and wonders that lay out there waiting to be discovered? The galaxy was so beautiful and mysterious. Could you call it discovery if something knew they existed but you simply hadn’t met them yet, she wondered?
And why were her thoughts traveling down such strange paths? Why was she even awake?
Something had woken her. Some dream, or a sound that had penetrated her sleep, but when she’d gotten up to check she’d found nothing to alarm her. And Darwin slept. If there was any danger to the ship and its occupants the shadow-creature would have warned her.
Still, she felt unable to return to her bunk. Unlike the days when she flew mostly solitary missions for the Red Barons, these days Rita had constant companionship. And companions meant more responsibility for the person who commanded the ship. For her.
They really needed to give the Healer a name, Rita thought idly as she watched a dense cloud of red dust off the port side of the ship. Yani was a translator but they didn’t call her “translator.” She was also an individual. As was the Healer.
When everyone awoke she would put it to them. Between them they should be able to come up with a name that he would like.
The cloud of red dust seemed to be stretching across space with a soft creeping motion that blotted out stars until all Rita could see on that side was the color red. She watched it expand and contract slightly, almost as if it were reaching out, seeking.
Caught up in its movement, she didn’t understand that it could be dangerous until it began to move toward the Dog.
“Dammit!” Rita whirled away from the nosecone and took a step toward the helm. Suddenly her body felt as if she was walking through water, the resistance so great she couldn’t move forward. She was frozen in mid-step.
She opened her mouth to warn the others but only a grunt emerged from her throat. She looked wildly around her but could see nothing holding her, nothing preventing her from moving or speaking. And yet she couldn’t do either.
The small, recessed, red emergency lights that ran in twin lines from the nosecone to the aft section of the ship blinked at her. Rita pressed her eyes closed tightly and opened them. The lights continued to blink in a rapid, undulating pattern.
She pushed against whatever force held her but to no avail. She was frozen. Unable to move, unable to grab a weapon, unable to warn her shipmates.
She blinked again and rays of pinpoint red light shot from the floor to the ceiling of the main cabin. The light rays danced like searchlight beams around the cabin, never resting, but moving over everything in an orderly fashion.
What was happening to her ship?
Rita turned her eyes as far to the right as possible. Out of the corner of her eye, almost beyond her peripheral vision, she saw the back edge of the nosecone.
The red dust cloud had reached the ship. It had to have moved with amazing speed to envelop the ship in the short seconds it had taken Rita to turn around and head for the helm.
Whatever was happening, the red cloud had something to do with it, she felt sure of it. It seemed almost as though the dust cloud had taken control of everything in the ship and was looking it over.
With curiosity? With the intent to do harm? Why? What did the dust cloud search for? Did the fact that it was searching mean it had intelligence? That it was a sentient being of some sort?
The red lights returned to their normal soft glow in the deck. Rita let out a small sigh of relief. Perhaps the dust cloud had scanned and found nothing of interest.
She waited for her body to be released as well but her condition remained unchanged.
“Come on,” she thought, “let me go. We mean no harm.” She closed her eyes and concentrated on projecting that thought: “We mean no harm. Let us go.”
The sensation of being frozen changed subtly. The first sensation had been one of her muscles refusing to obey her commands. This new sensation felt more like something was touching her, pressing on her body gently. While not painful, it felt uncomfortably intimate and invasive.
Rita gritted her teeth and waited. Surely whatever was probing her would realize she was harmless and would release her as it had the cabin emergency lights.
She sensed that the probe had stopped but the pressure against her body remained, holding her in place. A sharp pain stabbed suddenly behind her eyeballs and made her gasp.
She bit back a scream, afraid now that she’d wake the others. Whatever the cloud was up to, there was a possibility its search of the cabin hadn’t revealed the bodies sleeping inside their enclosed bunks.
The pain expanded, sharp and searing, as if it sought to burn through her brain. Rita moaned, unable to bear the pain in silence any longer.
The pain abruptly shut off. She sagged with relief. She would have fallen to the deck if not for the force that still held her upright.
Is it over yet? she wondered. Please let it be over.
Nothing more happened for several long minutes, minutes that felt like an eternity. Rita hung in the front of the cabin like a marionette waiting for the puppet master to insert her into the puppet show.
Only the faintest vibration of the deck beneath Rita’s feet told her that the Dog’s engines continued to work silently. She wondered if the dust cloud had invaded the ship’s systems, possibly causing it harm.
The longer she hung there the more upset she grew until she wanted to scream with frustration. At that point something new happened.
The sense of pressure on her body increased. She felt as if she were being compressed, forced into a space smaller than her physical body needed.
She lost her form. She could no longer see the ship’s main cabin, or even her body. She couldn’t see anything but a soft red mist.
The sensation continued until she grew so small that Rita felt herself wink out of existence.
“Where am I?” She had the thought but couldn’t voice the question out loud.
Rita’s whole body felt as if she’d just participated in a long and grueling hand-to-hand war with something large and massive. Every muscle and joint ached and protested. Her head felt as if it was trapped in a vise.
She opened her eyes and saw only the red mist. Closed them again.
The next time she opened her eyes the headache was gone, as were her aches and pains. She hadn’t the foggiest idea of how long she’d been asleep. Had the Healer taken care of her?
Something felt wrong.
Where was she?
Rita turned her head and cried out in shock. She sat on the edge of a sunlit cenote surrounded by dense green jungle. The hot sun warmed her bare shoulders. She could feel her long, thick braid tickle her back.
Insects and birds created a melodic cacophony of sound. It was a place she knew. The place of her greatest nightmare.
“Ready, darling? We want to do this while we have the most light.”
Rita turned her head in the opposite direction and saw her beautiful mother, Angelina King, climbing down a rope ladder, a scuba tank on her back, flippers hooked onto her belt.
A long, black braid, identical to Rita’s, hung over one shoulder. Her whiskey colored eyes, so like Rita’s own, laughed up at her daughter.
Rita scrambled to her feet. “No! We can’t make the dive, Mama!”
Rita’s mother ignored the outburst and continued her descent, a smile on her face. “Let’s go, kiddo. I can’t wait to see what we find down there. Last one in has to cook dinner!” With a splash she was gone.
Rita sprang for the rope ladder and began to climb down it as quickly as she could. The knowledge of what was about to happen sat like an ice cold rock in her belly.
She entered the water, hurriedly pulled on the flippers that hung off the belt she hadn’t noticed until now, and dove after her mother, frantic to reach her before it was too late.
The sun’s rays penetrated the clear water and turned it otherworldly. Small fish darted around Rita as she descended. The water grew cooler and remained crystal clear. At the bottom of the cenote she saw Angelina picking at the collection of human bones and skulls that had sat undisturbed for thousands of years.
Before she could reach her mother and ask her to surface, Angelina swam into a small cave leading off one side of the limestone crater. With a deepening sense of doom, Rita followed.
The whole scene had taken on a dreamlike quality. Was this what it was like to be dead? Did she have to relive the most painful moments of her life over again?
The cave narrowed and Rita’s mother indicated that Rita should turn around. Rita took several deep breaths trying to slow her now pounding heart.
Her blood beat in her ears and the ice ball of fear had swelled to not only fill her abdomen but her chest as well. Her muscles quivered with tension.
She looked at the woman who had borne her and loved her—the single most important person in Rita’s life—knowing that in a few minutes this loving, intelligent, warm, funny human being would be taken from her. And the pain of her loss nearly did her in.
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