* * * CHAPTER TWO * * *
In the year 2427, comms specialist Jackson Doon's universe is threatened by an unexplained cosmic event called 'The Light Pass'. The Light Pass, a beautiful but deadly phenomenon, has already destroyed dozens of planets before it reaches Iata, Jackon's home world.
The Exodus Fleet is taking off and Jackson knows how to get aboard. With nothing but a suitcase and a bio-tech dog called Frolic, Jackson sets off with the fleet to Carvern, the closest habitable planet not in the Light Pass's path.
But on reaching Carvern, Jackson finds himself unexpectedly on trial for murder. His only hope is a lawyer named Skana Larken, who's convinced both Jackson's home world and her own were not destroyed by the Light Pass, and is on a mission to prove it.
With Jackson's knowledge of ARPnet, his home world's communications hub, and Skana's unrelenting determination, they set out to follow the Light Pass in search of answers.
"Jex?” I switched off thought-rec on my Deywatch™ and looked around. The woman coming towards me had long dark hair, dark skin and yellow-gold eyes that were probably modified to look that way.
They had great biotech in parts of the galaxy that weren't Iata—you could be young forever, a guy or a girl, a chocolate unicorn—whatever you wanted to be. Just jump in the chamber and get re-moulded. Frankly, that kinda tech creeps me out. I'll get old in this body and like it, thank you very much.
She came up to the bar and ordered herself a drink. She glanced down at Frolic who looked up at her with mournful eyes. His silver tail swished once and then he dropped his head back on to his paws with a heavy sigh.
"What kind of thing is that?" the woman asked.
"He's a bio-tech fox-dog hybrid," I said. "There used to be a breed called a border collie—now they're all like Frolic. There ah, aren't any sheep on Iata."
"I hear there's not much of anything on Iata," she said.
I whistled. "Harsh. Way to make a man remember his home's been destroyed."
She waved a hand. "Your planet isn't gone. It's just been swept up by the Light Pass."
"Oh.” I didn't know what to say to that. First time I'd heard that theory.
She sipped some blue cocktail thing, her yellow eyes boring into mine. "My name is Skex".
I narrowed my eyes. "Don't you mean-"
"No," she cut me off. "Skex. Skana Lariet of the Exodus."
I was still going to think of her as Sex. To be honest, it was hard not to anyway. I dropped a piece of something breadlike beside Frolic who sniffed it, licked it and then used his paws to pry it from his tongue. He's fussy. Not a good way to be when you're a refugee.
"Well, you're not from my part of space, are you?" I asked.
"No. My planet is Gavra. Our ships joined your Exodus fleet ten years after they left Iata, just before the Light Pass hit our local space."
She sipped that blue drink, which, alarmingly, seemed to be glowing as it got darker.
"What makes you think our planets weren't destroyed?” I asked. "Our 'scopes saw nothing after the Light Pass swallowed them."
She snorted. "Iata scientists," she said derisively, "and Iata 'scopes. You see nothing."
I rolled my eyes. I was not enjoying this interaction. I finished my drink and got up off the stool. I patted my leg to get Frolic's attention and headed for the next bar. Skex caught up with me, the blue drink still glowing in her hand.
"They're going to execute you tomorrow," she said.
I nodded. "Yeah. Bummer, huh."
"I can stop it."
I stopped and turned to her. "How?"
She looked around furtively and pulled me into an alleyway. Now, I'd been told repeatedly and at length that on Carvern there's no such thing as privacy. You're monitored no matter where you go, audio, video, 3D senso-mon, the works. So, us being in an alleyway didn't fill me with confidence that we wouldn't be overheard.
"I've worked with interplanetary law," she said. "And I happen to know there is a law here on Carvern that if you're responsible for the death of a person who is not moral or law-abiding, you haven't committed a crime."
I blinked at her. That sounded like a really, really dangerous law. "Firstly, I have no-"
She put a hand over my mouth. "Don't speak," she said. "Don't incriminate yourself. Let me represent you."
I'd been about to point out how that law made me super legal to kill but we were on Carvern and anything I said, would be held against me.
"Okay," I said. "I assume you want something in return."
"Your help," she said.
Frolic looked up at her with liquid eyes. I folded my arms.
"What do you need?"
She sipped her drink. It made her lips glow. "I want to find out what causes the Light Pass."
"I thought everyone from Iata was lodged in the dark ages according to you."
She smiled. "Your file says that you worked for ARPnet—so if we can get in range of your planet, you should be able to figure out how to communicate with them, correct?"
Shaky logic, but alright. I didn't know how much help I'd be but it wasn't as though I had anything else to offer in return for her help. Not on a planet like Carvern where I had no access to ARPnet and... you know, other people's money.
"Go back to your lodge and stay there. Say nothing to anyone. I'll see you at the House of Law tomorrow."
"The what?" I said.
"The House of Law. They will send a runner for you."
"Sure," I said. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow."
* * * * *
I went back to the lodge I'd been appointed as a man standing trial, but since they had a bar downstairs, Frolic and I hung out with the locals for a bit. Then, drunk and resigned to whatever the morning might bring, I fell into bed. We'd had a good run, him and me. I mean, both of us were now technically in our eighties.
Frolic leapt on to the bed and curled up into a small ball of fluff. He poofed his tail over his nose and looked at me through the fur. I put my hand on his silky head and fell asleep, the red-orange light of Carvern's moon streaming through the window reminding me of my last warm afternoon on Iata. The planet that had, apparently, not been destroyed by the Light Pass.