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Sergeant Liam Jacks is the security chief of transport vessel, The Santa Claus. He travels the planetary cluster with Marc Danverse, his best friend and captain, seeking to escape his tortured past and find some peace of mind.
Having been through a civil war together, Danverse and Liam are close. Maybe too close….
All that changes when mysterious stranger, Hadrian Jamison, an escaped Adonirati, books passage to Alpha Centauri. Can he be trusted? Can the stories of his past be believed?
As Liam’s fascination with Hadrian grows, jealousy threatens to tear apart his friendship with Danverse.
When Hadrian’s owner shows up, Liam is forced to go against orders in order to launch a rescue mission to save him.
The ensuing conflict may be more than any of them expected.
Cold sweat rolled off Liam’s body as he sat upright in bed, sheets tangled around his legs. His deafening pulse drowned out the soft whirr of the environmental systems and the mechanical hum of the ship’s movement. There was a hollow quality to the titanium hull of his private quarters that seemed to amplify the resonance of the dream.
“Pull it together, Marine. You’re not a child.” The horror refused to recede even now that he was awake.
Liam looked around his room as his reality began to settle. The windowless room was nearly pitch-black; the only illumination came from the data screen on the wall, its soft cyber-green time code proof that he was not lost in the abyss. Yes, he was aboard the cargo vessel the Santa Claus. Yes, they were en route to Luxorian from Alpha Centauri Prime for a supply delivery and pickup. Yes, he was the security chief of the thirty or so men employed on the ship. Yes, the dream was of a harsh memory, but still just a dream.
“Mrs. Claus. Status report please.” Liam spoke in quiet, shaken tones while his unsteady hands threaded through his hair. A synthetic voice, sounding like a middle-aged woman, hummed back in response.
“It is zero three seventeen, Sergeant Jacks. We will be docking at Luxorian Spaceport Alpha at approximately eleven fifteen. System sync to the Luxorian environment is in progress and will be complete in two hours and twenty-five minutes. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No.” His reply was brusque, but Mrs. Claus’ feelings couldn’t be hurt; she was artificial, after all. Normally, Liam found Captain Danverse’s penchant for ancient Earth history—including the ship’s name and the computer’s voice identity—endearing. Marc was his best friend, after all. But tonight there was no comfort in it.
Even without the nightmares, it was hard to sleep well when forced to acclimate to a new planet’s environment and timeline every time you came into port. The ship’s systems were designed to gradually shift the sleep cycles of everyone on board to match up to the active hours for each destination. Add the dreams into the equation, and his rest was as fractured as his self-esteem.
“Lights. Low,” he commanded. Twin light panels on opposite sides of the small room began to glow. The undecorated metal walls were nothing more than panels hiding the storage spaces within. The large bed looked out of place in the three-by-four-meter space, but was required for any chance of a comfortable night’s sleep. Not that he’d seen many of those in a long time. A lone desk sat in the corner with a basic chair on wheels, covered in dirty clothes. Several recessed shelves held stacks of paperwork, but the entire room was devoid of anything personal.
Liam peeled himself from the dampened sheets, the fabric refusing to release from the tackiness of his salty skin. He knew he couldn’t sleep anymore, even if the bed weren’t already cooling and saturated. The ship ran warm, but he couldn’t suppress a slight shiver as the air hit his bare skin. Even the dense pelt of hair that covered his chest, arms, and legs provided little warmth at the moment. He slid into a pair of cargo shorts and sleeveless shirt that were piled in the corner, too shaken to care if they were clean enough to wear. A pair of thick-soled sandals waited for him in front of the room’s exit. Out of habit, he picked up his communicator from the random pile on the desk and put it in his ear.
He placed his hand on the plexiglass palm reader embedded in the hull and the door slid open with a loud hiss. From the outside, he slapped the matching panel to close the door and trudged out into the hallway.
His footsteps gave a soft metal echo as he wandered in no particular direction through the dimly lit tunnel. This was no luxury liner; a subtle vibration could be felt at all times from the tech and mechanicals hidden behind the scuffed and weathered walls. The Santa Claus was sturdy, but not designed for creature comforts. Captain Danverse had purchased the decommissioned cargo ship nearly a decade ago and offered Liam a job when the pair had left the military following the Centauri Prime civil war.
Intelligently, Danverse had populated the Santa Claus with a crew of men who could stand the long distance between stops and could appreciate the company of their fellow men. Ports were few and far between, and it was a small world to live in for an extended span.