Monday, November 5, 2018

Origin Expedition Chapter One

COPYRIGHT 2018 Charles F. Millhouse

Buy your Ebook copy at the following links:

Dalnaspidal Breeding Facility

Earth – Scotland

April 14, 2442

The Fortitude class transport blasted its way into the restricted area, thrusters on full. Alarms of the ORACLE system blared throughout the cockpit. Its screeching drowned out the simplest of thoughts. The Lady Da’Mira Tannador stood next to the old scar-faced pilot watching him glare at the controls in front of him. He’d warned her that overriding the computer watcheye came at a risk. She grimaced. He kept his hands poised over the holographic control board, erratically flying his craft to confuse whoever might scan the area.

Holding on to a tarnished railing in front of her, Da’Mira steadied her footing. She refused to protest. The pilot, although paid well for his criminal act, could turn and fly his ship away on a whim, if she provoked him. Out the main view port Da’Mira’s golden skin reflected on the stall glass. Her scarlet hair hung in contrast against the borrowed green camouflage overalls that smelled of someone else’s body odor.

Beyond her reflection, people gathered on the ground, the thunderous wail of the transport’s engines drew them out of their shoddy dwellings. The facility’s inner building's moss covered with green-gray walls were dirty and rundown, the ground dry and brittle from lack of rain.

Along the outer area of the facility, a cascading laser field of tratonic energy fenced in the compound. Power surged between tall reflector polls that stood several yards apart and encircled the area. Da’Mira clenched her fists. More people appeared from the buildings. They looked skyward, in shock that a transport flew so close to them.

“There’s so many.”

“Yes Milady, nearly a thousand live here,” the pilot told her, his tone rough, curtly.

Da’Mira leaned on the railing to get a better view. Some of the breeders struggled to stand. Skinny and malnourished she worried the back blast from the shuttle’s engines could knock them over. Their clothes were filthy, and thread worn. Breeders were considered nothing more than cattle; Da'Mira loathed that term. The slaves only function was to breed more slaves. How could our society have fallen so far? She wondered.

Dozens of haggard women gathered below the ship. Breeders kept dazed and docile through drugs. The women bore children several times a year and destroyed their bodies by the time they were thirty. “They look so hungry.”

The pilot flipped a switch and silenced the alarm. “It won’t be long before the Orlanders send a security detail, if there aren’t some posted in the facility already,” he warned.

“Take us closer to the ground. I’ll go to the back and release the cargo.”

He banked the transport to the left. Its hovering thruster roared to life, Da’Mira clung to hand grips anchored along the wall to steady herself while she walked to the back of the vessel. For a transport ship the cargo area wasn’t big. The old Fortitude ships weren’t built to haul large amounts of cargo. At least not the amount Da’Mira hired the ship to transport. To contract a newer vessel, like wearing the wrong attire, would have drawn unwanted attention.

She squeezed herself into the hold, pushed past stacks on stacks of silver cargo crates. Da’Mira didn’t have the luxury of waiting for the right cargo ship to come along, even food disks expired. The black marketer took a gamble selling them to her, but she paid him well. The fact that a high-born wanted to feed breeders came completely as a shock to the man. After all, the high-born didn’t care about the deprived, right? Da’Mira had found it more than a struggle to persuade anyone to listen to her pleas. If her father had caught wind of her conspiracy to feed the breeders, she wouldn’t have gotten this far.

Working in secret took precise timing and planning. How many of them died before Da’Mira put her plan into action? The number incalculable... intolerable. She pushed forward nonetheless until she stood in the back of the cargo ship ready to make her arduous efforts a reality.

A series of lights came on when Da’Mira entered the cargo bay, along with a holographic control panel near the back of the hold. As she reached the illuminated panel she turned and looked out over the vacuumed sealed crates. She smiled grimly toward them, wishing there could be more. How many will this feed and how many more will die because there isn’t enough?

Da’Mira placed her delicate hand inside the spectrum of lights of the control panel. The scanner read her palm and she manually typed in a code. The transport’s back cargo doors opened, sliding downward. The wind from the ship’s engines kicked up dust and debris, stinging Da’Mira’s eyes. The inrush of natural air took her lungs by surprise. The high-born were given synthetic oxygen since the day they were born. She struggled to breathe, the gusts of wind tore at her green camouflage overalls and she steadied her feet so not to slip out the back of the ship.

Yellowed dead grass flocked the grounds of the breeder facility. The trees around the camp stood leafless, dead from lack of nutrition in the soil. A byproduct of the chemical dumping and other hazardous materials pumped into the Earth over the centuries, it leached the soil fallow, a key reason the high-born left the planet almost three hundred years ago.

Activating another code into the control panel, a conveyer belt began to deliver the silver crates full of much needed food to the people below. Da’Mira smiled. The transport ship hovered less than twelve feet from the ground. The crates fell out onto the dead sward. Da’Mira hung out the back of the ship and watched them land. Her lungs were finally acclimating to the natural air, though she still struggled to take deep breaths. Below the ship she saw the women swarming over the crates. They ripped them open with their bare hands. The food disks fell to the ground and scattered about. The hungry women dove for the disks, gathering up all they could… before–

Da’Mira stood in the back of the shuttle helpless as a handful of rough security men, armed with clubs and blunt instruments shoved the breeders aside. They swung their weapons wildly driving the ravenous women back, beating them brutally while the men looted the food disks for themselves. They shoved the disks into bags and baskets. Da’Mira’s fingers itched for a plasma rifle.

She had been warned about the security men, true to their reputation. Da’Mira bit her lower lip, ashamed to be a member of the same race. The idea that anyone could treat another human so callously tore at Da’Mira. The women were weak and starving, with little time for recovery before becoming inseminated again.

The practice sickened her. How many children have these women produced in their short lives? There were few like her – few who questioned the way things had been for nearly three hundred years.

Questions like – How can the high-born families, the Nine, allow this to continue?

The continuous breeding programs produced thousands of children a year, yet there had been no increase in population. Where had all the new-born slaves gone?

Valid questions, but the answers eluded her. Da’Mira found herself stalled at every attempt. Her questions infuriated her father and blackballed her in high-born society.  

Da’Mira watched helplessly while the guards stockpiled the food disks for themselves. The handful of women in attendance cowered away. Some wept and some protested, but none had the power to fight back. Then she noticed something odd. None of the guards wore the insignia of the family Orlander. The crest they bore unmistakably belonged to the illusive family Everhart. The secretive family that hadn’t been seen or heard from since the old patriarch Baylor Everhart died nearly two hundred years ago.

Preparing to leap from the shuttle platform, Da’Mira hesitated when she saw a young, dark haired girl bolt forward into the group of security men. The child slipped between them and scooped up an arm full of food disks before running back out. Two of the officers gave chase. The nimble young girl, no older than fourteen, did her best to stay ahead of her pursuers, but the rugged men gained ground on her.

Da’Mira activated the transports communication device through the holographic interface. “Pilot we need to pick up that girl!” No reply followed. Da’Mira yelled her intentions again and still no reply followed.

She raced back to the cockpit, but the pilot refused to look at her.

“Didn’t you hear me?”

“I did,” the pilot replied, his voice was gruff and unconcerned.

“Well… pick up that girl before it’s too late.”

“That was not part of our agreement. I wasn’t paid to land. Now my long-range scanners have picked up Orlander patrols closing in fast. We need to retreat.”

Da’Mira wondered if the patrols belonged to the Orlanders or Everharts, but she refused to listen to his surrender attitude. From inside a zipped pocket on her overalls she pulled a small dainty plasma weapon fit for a lady. She pressed the barrel against the pilot’s right cheek indenting it into the man’s hardened face and spoke clearly. “You will pick up that child or I will shoot you here.”

“Then who will fly this ship?”

Da’Mira’s voice didn’t waver. “I will fly it, or I will die trying. Now pick up that girl.”

He spun the transport around in a quick maneuver. Its landing thrusters kicked up even more dirt and rock when it landed between the fleeing girl and the two pursuing men.

From the cargo hatch Da’Mira waved for the girl and held out her hand. “Come here. Trust me!”

The young girl hesitated. Her large round lavender eyes narrowed, studying Da’Mira.

“There isn’t much time!” Da’Mira shouted over the roar of the engine.

The two men rounded the ship, their weapons help high.

The sullied girl dropped the food disks and sprinted for the transport. She leapt up into the back of the craft taking hold of Da’Mira’s hand.

“Go!” Da’Mira yelled into the communication device. The pilot blasted the transport straight up into the sky leaving a white trail of fuel vapors in its wake.

Da’Mira led the young girl to the cockpit. Her dark suntanned face was covered with dirt and her clothes, thread-worn, barely fit her body. Clearly, she’d been wearing them for a long time. Da’Mira saw herself in the girl’s strong will.

“You don’t have to worry. You’re safe with me,” Da’Mira told the girl, but mistrust flared in the girl’s eyes. “Do you have a name?”

The girl did not answer. She looked out a small port window; her breathing shallow, rapid.

“You’ll get use to the regulated air. It’s cleaner than what’s on Earth.”

“You think so?” the girl responded but did not look away from the window.

“I am Da’Mira… what’s your name?”

“My name is my own, you cannot have it,” the girl replied in spiteful Scottish tone.

Da’Mira stood and gave the girl a pleasant smile and joined the pilot at the controls. “What about the Orlander patrol?”

The pilot shot Da’Mira an uneasy stare, and grumbled, “I don’t know. If their ships were close enough, they could have identified us. It could be bad… for both of us. I should have never taken this job.”

The Orlander and Tannador families were old rivals. The Nine were held together by uneasy alliances. Da’Mira’s actions could rekindle old hatreds. She looked back at the dark-haired Scotts girl. Just by freeing a breeder from the facility, she might have brought more trouble than needed. I should have left her there.      

A deep bellowed alarm rung throughout the cabin indicating an ORACLE system reboot.

“I thought you bypassed the watcheye,” Da’Mira said.

“We are coming into high orbit. The watchtower is within range. No bypass in the world can shut that out. It has master control over all ORACLE systems, even one as old as this.”

The Watchtower came into view. The two massive black onyx towers that hung in stationary orbit above the earth – watching, scanning evaluating everything within range and reporting it all to the high-born. How else could the Great Houses ensure compliance with those who serve them? Da’Mira stood motionless.

- Inquiry, the ORACLE system came online with a question.

“Proceed,” the pilot said glancing at Da’Mira.

- Why has this system been off line?

“Maintenance,” the pilot spoke again, like he had told this lie before. Da’Mira winced.

-No maintenance was scheduled.

The pilot cleared his throat. “It was unscheduled... the unit’s primary system was indicating a fault and closed it self-down for minor repair.

The ORACLE system hummed. The reflective red light on its base pulsated. A bead of sweat ran down the pilot’s indented face. The pool of perspiration hung off his chin while he waited – his eyes circling, assessing the threat.

The Fortitude transport hung in a high orbit. The massive Watchtower, the ORACLE system control station, loomed close. Da’Mira stood as stiff as the pilot, her breathing shallow. Once the watcheye scanned the ship it would detect her and the dark-haired girl. Questions would be asked. Would she be discovered?

 -State your destination.

The pilot gave Da’Mira a hardened look. “I’m on special assignment for the Lady Da’Mira Tannador.”

Da’Mira’s hazel eyes widened. She grabbed the pilot by the arm, but he shrugged her off snapping his arm away from her grasp.

“I request permission to proceed to Tannador house, to offload my cargo,” the pilot said, his voice low, humble.

Again, the red light on the watcheye pulsated. The human benefactors, the family Lexor sat in the looming Watchtower making ultimate decisions. Time slowed, giving way to thoughts, indecisions, and miscalculations. Da’Mira knew she could have done things differently, but none of those thoughts had a pleasant outcome.

 -You may proceed to Tannador house.

The ORACLE system’s voice thundered an added warning.

–Do not waiver from the following flight plan.

Coordinates flashed on the computer console, and the pilot turned his vessel accordingly. The transport flew past the Watchtower. It grew larger and larger in the view port. Da’Mira followed it as it towered over them. She looked back at the dark-haired girl who sat on the floor of the flight deck. She pulled her legs up into her chest and hid her face.

Da’Mira wanted to tell the girl not to be afraid, that everything would be all right, but Da’Mira wasn’t sure if even she believed that.

Tannador house orbited two hundred miles above the Earth and traveled more than seventeen hundred miles an hour, fully orbiting the planet every ninety minutes. A gyrating axis constantly turning at the center of the orbiting mansion mimicked Earth’s gravity. Several dozen small sensor probes surveyed the area around the station, continually scanning for any potential thing that could cause damage or be a threat to the Tannador Family. In the distance along the same orbit Evergarden loomedthe home of the secretive family Everhart. Da’Mira felt a strong connection to Evergarden, a connection that eluded her since she’d never been on the platform.

“Fortitude transport.” A man’s voice cut across the communication system. “This is Tannador House operations. Follow the prearranged flight path. Once inside the station you will be instructed where to land.”

The pilot adjusted the transport’s speed to match the large station’s pitch and rotation. Da’Mira’s stomach lurched with queasiness. She closed her eyes. Landing on an orbital platform always made her sick. As a small girl, her brother Quinton made fun of her when she turned seven shades of green upon an approach. Memories of him pestering her brought back the past. Da’Mira took a deep breath and opened her eyes just in time to see the transport fly through the docking port. The massive landing bay’s bright light blinded her. She shielded her eyes with the palm of her hand.

The transport flew along a guided flight path and moved toward a raised platform. Bright yellow landing lights flashed in unison. The pilot fired the ship’s landing thrusters and gently maneuvered his craft into position. When the ship touched down the platform lowered into a second well-lit chamber, coming to a slow secure stop on the deck.

Outside the ship several security officers assembled in formation, dressed in the purple and yellow colors of the family Tannador. They drew their weapons, but aimed them down toward the deck, they rushed the ship.

“I knew it,” the pilot said shooting Da’Mira a scowl.

The access door of the transport blew open. The hydraulics hissed, and the door filled with coolant, spilled over from the ship’s engines. The guards ran in. They quickly secured the pilot and the girl, but no one laid a hand on Da’Mira.

“This is uncalled for. These people are under my protection!”

“I beg your pardon Milady,” the lead officer said. “I am under orders to secure anyone in this ship and have you escorted to your father.”

Da’Mira stiffened. “No harm will come to them?”

“I’ve been instructed to hold them in the security area and await orders.”

Da’Mira looked at the girl. She wanted to reach out for her, but the child looked away, lowering her eyes to the floor.

The long walk from the landing bay through the empty corridors of the mansion gave Da’Mira time to rehearse what she planned to say to her father. She knew their exchange would be more of a lecture and less of a conversation. Her father, Hek’Dara loved to hear himself talk, and Da’Mira often suffered on the receiving end of many of her father’s rants.

Da’Mira blocked out all her past experiences with him and focused on what she needed to say this time. The palms of her hands began to sweat, and her heart raced when she entered the cathedral room. A massive flamboyant chamber that, when empty, echoed from even the slightest sound. Hek’Dara loved to hear his voice resonate off the walls.

Her father stood at the balcony, hands tucked behind his back. His freshly pressed dark suit bore a stiff collar around his thick neck. His equally dark beard spilled over his clothes and melded seamlessly into one another.

A massive window towered as high as the vaulted ceiling and frightened Da’Mira as a child. Her teacher Kab’ic Gear had trouble getting her to listen to his lessons when their day ended up in the ornate room. Even many years later, Da’Mira found it difficult to concentrate in here. Her father’s reflection shimmered off the glass. She ignored his abrasive stare and fixed her eyes on how his image looked with the Earth shining behind him. The thought of Kab’ic Gear flooded her mind and she bit her tongue.  How can I ever forgive you for what you did to my teacher? He was a good man and didn’t deserve his punishment.

Hek’Dara’s nostrils flared. He eyed Da’Mira’s clothing and cleared his throat drawing her eyes to him. “That will be all,” he told the guards.

The security team saluted and turned, no words were spoken, the sound of the men’s boots echoed throughout the room.

Da’Mira stared past her father at the Earth. Dark patches littered its surface, dead areas where life no longer thrived. The planet merely existed as a cesspool for the breeders, dirty and disease ridden.

“Look at you,” Hek’Dara said, and waved his large hand at her attire. “How could you wear such a thing?”

“Don’t you mean to ask how could I do such a thing?”

“Of that I have no misgivings daughter. You have always been a disappointment.”

Da’Mira glared at her father. He’d never been the type of man to mince words. Why would he start now? “I…” She held her tongue and refused to tell her father she was sorry – she wasn’t.

“Do you know what you’ve done and how many favors I had to ask of Avery Lexor, so your mercy mission would go unnoticed. If Iris discovers what has happened, I won’t be able to protect you. Why did you do something like this, daughter?”

“I thought that might have been obvious. The people are starving.”

The angered look on Hek’Dara’s face turned grim. “Those aren’t people down there Da’Mira, they’re cattle. They breed, we care for them. It’s the way it’s always been. We high-born take their wellbeing seriously.”

Da’Mira pointed at the Earth behind her father. “That isn’t care, that’s mass genocide! There may be less people on the planet than ever before. We’re devolving them into animals. We’ve destroyed our culture, our vast history and our inevitable future… and for what?”

“You know what for!” Hek’Dara shouted. “Our way of life would be over if we didn’t move to orbit. The slaves are the –” He lowered his voice, realizing it was carrying off the walls. “The slaves are our backbone. If it wasn’t for those people you champion, our society would crumble.”

“Has it ever occurred to you father, that we are destroying who we are as a race?” Da’Mira turned her back on her father, surprised that she could be so bold. “Perhaps we deserve to crumble.”

Hek’Dara’s voice thundered through the great hall. Da’Mira winced. “How long do you think the human race would have survived if we hadn’t taken steps to ensure our culture? Earth is a dying world – we had no other choice. If it wasn’t for the hierarchy, we set in place our way of life would have ended… long ago.”

Da’Mira turned back to her father, her voice hardened, “And what about the rest of humanity? Are the nine families the best we have to offer the future? It frightens me. As long as we remain here in orbit of Earth, mankind will not survive. We need to colonize another planet.”

Hek’Dara exhaled. “We’ve had this conversation before.”

“One of the many worlds we’ve excavated and claimed for our own could be a suitable planet to move to.”

“The Union Charter clearly states that the human race must remain on Earth and never sacrifice our home planet. We are humans of Earth,” he said.

“Don’t recite the litany to me. It was crafted by the Everhart family who wanted to keep us here for some made up reason. Humans of Earth. Haven’t you ever wondered why? Isn’t it strange? What unearthly experiments are the Everhart’s performing in those breeding facilities of theirs?”

“Enough Da’Mira… enough!”

Da’Mira’s demeanor sunk. How can he be so blind?

“We might not be the best. We may have made some mistakes along the way. But we keep to the Union Charter. It’s our judgments here and now that will secure a future for those that will follow in our footsteps.” Hek’Dara took a deep breath. “Your devilish actions might have jeopardized our status with the other eight families today my daughter. Partnerships that have delicately allied us for almost three hundred years. The family Orlander will discover sooner or later that it was you who interfered in one of their facilities. When that happens, I won’t be able to protect you. It was my quick thinking today – and a few favors called in with the family Lexor – that prevented your discovery.”

“You don’t owe me any favors.”

Hek’Dara tightened his large hands into fists but relaxed them. His dark beard furrowed. “I am your father Da’Mira. I protect you even if I don’t condone what you do. But, sadly I can no longer trust you. So, I have taken steps to see that you don’t do it again.”

Da’Mira’s brow tightened. “What do you mean?”

“A one-man expedition on one of the new planets, designated Kepler 369, has stopped sending out its regular signal. I intend on sending you to investigate.”

“Me – how?” Da’Mira straightened her shoulders and placed her hands on her hips.

Hek’Dara’s eyes narrowed. His bushy eyebrows rolled down tight over his eyes. “On our exploration ship, of course. With your penchant for adventure this should be the perfect quest for you, daughter.”

Da’Mira placed her hand to her mouth to hide pursed lips. “But Quinton is on Requiem.”

“I’ve recalled your brother. He is on his way home. In a few days, you will depart as the ship’s new master.”

Da’Mira drew down the zipper on her overalls. She swallowed into a dried throat and hoped her father was joking. Yes, that’s right, it’s a joke. “I’ve never been master of a ship before, especially something big as Requiem.

“The crew will see to the mastering of the ship, you will simply accompany them and oversee any discoveries the archeology team might uncover.”

Da’Mira tossed her hands in the air, she caught a whiff of the previous owner’s body odor from the overalls and she put her arms back down. “Why must I go?”

“A Tannador must command the ship to claim the planet as ours. Otherwise the claim is forfeit, you know the rules, Da’Mira. Besides, productivity is down from Requiem and I hope you can put it right and bring it back up.”

Da’Mira glared at her father. Was he telling the truth or not? She hadn’t paid attention to acquisitions and claiming of a planet when her lessons fell to that. To be master of Requiem was her brother’s destiny. Not hers. “I don’t want to…”

Hek’Dara waved his hand in absolute ruling. “I’ve made up my mind Da’Mira. I mean to send you away, so you can’t cause this family anymore trouble. Sending you into deep space will put an end to your anarchist ways.” His nostrils flared again, and his eyes brightened in triumph.
Da’Mira acquiesced and clenched her jaw, she wanted to lash out, refuse to go and refuse to be treated like a… like a slave. She wasn’t a slave – she was his daughter, which in many ways was worse. At least a slave wasn’t the daughter of Hek’Dara Tannador.

COPYRIGHT 2018 Charles F. Millhouse

Buy your Ebook copy at the following links:
Paperback (Coming Soon)

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