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Once a law enforcement agent who believed in the black and white of the law, now a private citizen who sees shades of gray, Margarita King finds herself on a mission that straddles the line. As the Junkyard Dog carries Rita and her crew to the only known source for a powerful crystal known as the Rose Sunstone, she asks herself if the end justifies the means. Possession of the sunstone means imprisonment without parole. Should Rita risk everything–including the freedom of her crew—for a friend? They soon learn that not only galaxy law protects the rare crystal. Join Margarita and the crew of the Junkyard Dog as they tackle a deadly task in the tale of the Rose Sunstone.
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Copyright © 2018 by CHARLEY MARSH
Rose Sunstone 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 Dreamstime and depositphoto
Logo by Peter Corbin
Print ISBN# 978-1-945856-29-7
Books By Charley Marsh
About the Author
Margarita King came out of the Time-eze drug-induced sleep mode and lay in her bunk, unmoving, while she willed her mind to wake up and catch up with recent events.
The Junkyard Dog was on its way to an obscure planet called Myam. Or more likely, they had arrived and that’s why she was awake.
It was the why of the journey that had given her fitful dreams. She had never heard of Myam before finding the small message disc that Slade had hidden in her bunk.
And when had Slade found the opportunity to do that she wondered? It had to be while they were both on ZetiTau. She knew why he had hidden the disc rather than hand it to her directly. He was giving her a choice.
Rita sighed. Life was never simple.
So far it had been a rough year, starting when someone, or someones, had tried to get her killed several months earlier. People Rita had worked with and trusted. One of the things she had loved about being a Major in the Red Barons, the enforcers for the Office of Galactic Safety and Police in the Milky Way galaxy—was that someone always had your back.
That trust, that knowing that she could depend on her team of pilots, had been the most important aspect of her career. After a lonely childhood, mostly ignored by her archaeologist father after her mother had drowned, Rita had finally felt as if she belonged somewhere. The Barons had been her family.
Now she traveled the galaxy in what was essentially a stolen ship, the same ship a coworker had sabotaged to bring about Rita’s death. She still had no idea who wanted her dead, but she wasn’t ready to return to the Red Baron’s Mars base to find out. Not yet anyway.
Besides, according to a renegade Red Baron she had met on Fagan II, her coworkers had already held a funeral for her. Empty casket of course. They couldn’t very well produce a body when she was still living, could they?
On that thought Rita smiled and gracefully leaped from her gel bunk. She stretched her lithe, six-two frame and bent to lay her palms flat on the deck of the Junkyard Dog.
It felt good to be alive.
She took a few minutes before she woke the others to run through a series of stretches and martial art movements that kept her strong and supple, then donned one of her new midnight blue skinsuits.
Made from spider silk, the suit shimmered in the low cabin lights. It was luxurious and beautiful, a gift from the grateful Shia Marie, known galaxy-wide as the Spider Woman of Kwaku.
Rita appreciated the gift for more than its beauty. The skinsuit was nearly indestructible and protected its wearer from anything short of a fusion bomb.
Shia Marie had also gifted her shipmates Yani and Lexa with new skinsuits, a gift of incalculable value. The suits were produced in limited numbers and were hard to come by. The waiting list for them was years long.
Rita activated the ships nav screen and checked the Dog’s position. The warp drive literally warped time and space to enable travelers to cross vast distances with little actual loss of time.
While she had never experienced a screw-up in the process, when Rita awoke she always expected to find herself somewhere other than where she was headed. The accuracy of the bending of the time/space fabric never ceased to amaze her.
The screen told her they had arrived at their destination. It was time to check on the others.
Rita walked over to the starboard wall and depressed a hidden latch. A section of the wooden wall slid open, revealing the three bodies of her newly formed crew. She smiled when she saw them tangled together in one bunk.
“Wakey, wakey, my friends,” she said in a soft voice. The Time-eze, a drug that diminished the ill effects of warp travel, was carefully dosed to last the full trip and no longer. Her three shipmates opened their eyes immediately. Two smiled at Rita.
“Are we there?” asked Lexa, a diminutive blue female Weegan who was hairless and possessed extraordinarily long fingers and toes. Lexa was the ship’s new engineer and diagnostician, officially titled Systems Officer. At the moment her amber eyes sparkled with glee at the thought of exploring a new place.
“Yes. We’re here. How do you feel?” Rita was still experimenting with dosage amounts of the Time-eze for the tiny Weegan. Lexa barely came to Rita’s waist and was slight of build. The danger of over or under-dosing was very real and could be dangerous for Lexa.
Lexa grinned, a wide smile that exposed bony plates instead of teeth. “Great! I feel great. And hungry!”
Rita returned Lexa’s smile. “You’re always hungry,” she said.
Lexa nudged the young woman on the other side of the bunk. “Yani, wake up. We’re here and I’m hungry.”
“You’re always hungry,” Yani mumbled. She rolled over, opened her emerald green eyes, and smiled. “As it happens, so am I. What will it be?”
“NO!” Rita and Yani both said. Lexa had a tendency to find a new food she liked and then demand it for every meal, until the others thought they would die from boredom. For the last month nearly every meal had consisted of vegetable chopsooey, a riff on an Old Earth favorite.
Lexa pouted a minute but her natural good nature was irrepressible. “Okay then, let’s have pancakes. Jomanja pancakes.”
“Deal,” Yani said, crawling over her bunk mates. She stood and stretched her lean body. Her red skinsuit gleamed against her ebony skin. Her long black braid hung to her waist.
She twisted the braid up onto her head and secured it with one of the colorful scarfs she always seemed to have on her, then headed to the Redi-Meal to get them some food.
By this time the last member of Rita’s crew sat on the bunk and yawned, his long pink tongue curling inside his mouth.
“Come on, Darwin, Yani’s cooking.” Lexa waited for the shadow-creature to jump to the deck before closing the bunk enclosure.
Darwin had actually been the first to join Rita on board the Dog when the ship had crash-landed on B4629. A rare and legendary creature, Darwin had adopted Rita when she saved him from certain starvation. Shadow-creatures were telepathic, extremely dangerous to anyone who tried to harm their chosen companions, and unusually odd looking.
With his lionlike head, silver-gray doglike body, and two tails, Darwin made Rita think of a genetic lab experiment gone wrong. Because of that she had named him after the father of Old Earth evolution, Charles Darwin.
Rita picked Darwin up and stroked his wiry fur as she carried him to where Lexa was setting the pull-out table. Designed after the sailing ships that used to ply Earth’s oceans, everything in the Dog’s main cabin tucked away and fit together, much like a wooden jigsaw puzzle. That was one of the things Rita loved about her ship. It was stylish and quirky.
Much like her crew, she realized with an inward smile.
One of the after effects of warp travel was hunger. Rita always made sure the Redi-Meal system was well supplied whenever she got the chance to replenish it. As the number of people on board the Dog increased, supplies went more quickly. She made a mental note to stock up again at the first available supply depot.
“Where’s our next stop?” Lexa asked after she’d demolished several stacks of pancakes, swiping her finger across her plate to get the last of the pancake syrup and sticking it in her mouth.
Rita gathered the empty plates and placed them in the Auto-Wash, then returned to the table.
“We’re orbiting a planet known as Myam,” she answered as she sat down. “I’m here as a favor for Slade.” She stopped and thought about the independent agent’s unusual request. In the old days, the days when her job was to uphold the law, she would have flatly turned down Slade’s request.
These days matters of the law weren’t quite so black and white for Rita. Now there were shades of gray, nuances of right and wrong. Yes, what she was here to do was against galaxy law. But it was for a greater good.
Still, she wasn’t sure that made it the right thing to do.
She had wrestled with the dilemma while they were on Kwaku. Sometime during the ordeal with an imposter called Phet, she had decided to help Slade.
But she still wasn’t sure about dragging Lexa and Yani along with her. If they were caught and convicted Rita and her crew would spend the remainder of their days in a rock cell on Alcatraz Moon.
Yani and Lexa must have caught Rita’s mix of emotions for they both looked at her with puzzled expressions.
“Are you going to tell us why we are going to Myam?” Yani asked.
For a long moment Rita said nothing. Then she heaved a big sigh and said, “We’re here to find some Rose Sunstone.”
She waited, but neither of the girls reacted. “Rose Sunstone,” Rita said again. “Slade needs a chunk of it.”
Lexa’s broad forehead wrinkled. “Didn’t Shia Marie have a spider made from that? We saw it in her office, remember? You remarked on it. Of course, that was before we knew we were talking to an imposter.”
Lexa shuddered. The memories of Phet, a giant spider with a humanoid head and an appetite for bodies to feed her young still frightened her.
“That’s right,” Rita answered. “Shia Marie did have a Rose Sunstone spider in her collection. I meant to ask her how she came by it but it slipped my mind.”
“Why does Slade need the sunstone?” asked Yani. She picked up Darwin’s empty plate and added it to the Auto-Wash, then returned to the table and slid in next to Lexa.
Darwin leaped gracefully onto Rita’s lap and settled into a ball. She stroked his back absently while she gathered her thoughts.
“As Lexa knows, Slade has been trying to catch up with a ship full of trobium smugglers. They landed on her planet and nearly destroyed it,” Rita began.
“That’s right.” Lexa nodded at Yani. “If it weren’t for Rita, Weegan would have been blown apart. She—”
“Yes, well, that’s not important now,” Rita broke in. Lexa’s admiration embarrassed Rita. She did what she did because it was the right thing to do, not so others would think her a hero.
“I’ll tell you later,” Lexa whispered loudly. She smiled at Rita’s glare. “What? What you did was important to me.”
“What is important now,” Rita continued, “is that every time Slade thinks he’s caught up with the cargo ship filled with illegally mined trobium, they get away.”
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