Note: this is an Adult-themed, Science Fiction Space Opera intended for readers over the age of 17.
A disgraced Imperial officer who’d found solace by working refugee camps for displaced citizens had sponsored a camp on his home planet of Earth. His two-decade sojourn is shattered when rogue military elements of his host country stumble across political secrets and discover they are not alone in the universe. Inadvertently forced to disband his camp, a going away party with his closest Earth friends finds them chased across the spiral arm before becoming stuck in the middle of a death void in a damaged ship. His mixed crew of Earthlings and outsiders must come to terms with their situation before they can finally bond as a family.
Under Imperial edict, the Commonwealth of Planets – via private contractors – directed a small portion of its expenses towards establishing new colonies on worlds that were located in select areas adjacent to the existing sphere of influence. The principal criteria for such was showing that the target planet was viable, unoccupied and safe for colonization – which is what one particular firm had determined when it found, researched and certified Talas-4.
Talas-4 was a particularly beautiful little world with abundantly verdant land masses, plentiful herds of edible game animals, potable fresh water from a plethora of lakes and rivers, and a relatively benign axial tilt of only eleven degrees. If you liked shirtsleeve weather, you could be assured of a reasonable approximation of it for the majority of its one-point-four year, Standard, rotation about its sun.
If only they’d dropped off their last group of colonists there…
Rodak-3 was hot and nasty. Normally, one would expect that its orbital position would have made it uninhabitable at all, but when you factored in two missing planets – as evidenced by the shattered rings of asteroids orbiting both closer in and further out than Rodak-3 – there was a strong suspicion that something bad had happened in the distant past that had pushed its orbit into a slightly more forgiving position. Even then, it still wasn’t a place where you’d want to vacation, let alone try to live on, though.
The colonists were certainly surprised when they’d arrived this far into the Blight, with their fuel supplies immediately becoming critical after their botched sequence of transitions.
Efforts to identify suitable volumes of reaction mass from orbit – dihydrogen monoxide – proved fruitless, and their only alternative for survival was to land and see if they could find enough moisture to scratch out a living until a rescue could be mounted.
Without a thorough ecological workup, they had no idea where to even find water, let alone have any guarantees their colony’s supplies of food, seed and livestock would allow them to survive.
To improve their chances, they’d spread themselves out in ten different directions from their landing site – just as they’d originally planned – but with little hope of survival as a whole. In the meantime, a transition beacon outfitted with a “distress screamer” had been launched towards Commonwealth space with information on their current location and situation.
The land itself appeared dry and desolate, despite the heavy concentrations of brush and areas of forest that offered a moderately high, tight canopy with dusty shade. No one could figure out how the vegetation managed to survive at all until they’d dug down very deep and discovered taproots stretching five or six times the depth normally expected of them.
Digging wells was arduous work, but each group had managed somehow, and despite all their peril, most of them survived the first two months, Standard, of that hot summer. A glimmer of hope prevailed when the skies darkened with the first drops of rain they’d seen since their arrival.
Unfortunately, the rain woke up the dominant species of the planet who were more than a little perturbed at learning they’d been invaded while they’d slept.
Ex-Imperial officer “Tank” ran freelance jobs out at the Fringe; that ragged dividing line between the Commonwealth and its adversary – the Hegemony. Aside from the occasional intrusion into enemy territory – an official “armistice” rather than actual “peace” prevailing – he mostly contracted his crew between locals and other business interests who had need of something harsher than a nasty dunning letter.
Mercenary Tank plied his trade using the tools and skills he’d acquired over years of service to the Commonwealth – right up until he’d personally been found less than pleasing in the eyes of the Emperor. After his fall from grace, it seemed the only viable alternative left to him was an application of those learned skills; enhanced by the accumulation of a small band of mercenaries for hire.
Their latest contract was providing ground forces to perform a recovery operation out in the Blight – a desolate area of space ravaged by forgotten wars and designated as “low-priority” by Imperial authority. In this particular instance, a colonizing agency had sent five ships to the wrong planet – one already occupied by an indigenous apex species.
Instead of contacting Commonwealth Colony administration directly, they’d considered it a somewhat higher priority to quietly recover their would-be colonists while inflicting the absolute minimum of disruption to the indigenous population, as was mandated by Imperial edict.
It was quite simple enough in concept. Just go in, recover the colonists, and try not to leave a bad lasting impression with the existing landlords. The timeline was estimated at a few weeks…