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Abandoned

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Abandoned

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Author: W. Michael Gear
Publisher: DAW Books, 2018
Series: Donovan: Book 2

1. Outpost
2. Abandoned
3. Pariah
4. Unreconciled
5. Adrift

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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(2 reads / 1 ratings)



Synopsis

Supervisor Kalico Aguila has bet everything on a fragile settlement far south of Port Authority. There, she has carved a farm and mine out of wilderness. But Donovan is closing in. When conditions couldn't get worse, a murderous peril descends out of Donovan's sky--one that will leave Kalico bleeding and shattered.

Talina Perez gambles her life and reputation in a bid to atone for ruthlessly murdering a woman's husband years ago. Ironically, saving Dya Simonov may save them all.

Lieutenant Deb Spiro is losing it, and by killing a little girl's pet alien, she may have precipitated disaster for all. In the end, the only hope will lie with a "lost" colony, and the alien-infested reflexes possessed by Security Officer Talina Perez.

On Donovan, only human beings are more terrifying than the wildlife.


Excerpt

Like a weary Hercules, Mark Talbot hunched in his battle armor. He perched on the rounded stone outcrop deep in the forest and stared up at the night sky. A combat-hardened Corporate Marine private--supposedly the toughest of the tough--he fixed tired eyes on the patterns and swirls of stars. Wondrous stars. A sparkling, frosty hoar that glittered against the soot-black sky.

God, he wished he was out there.

He took a deep breath, caught the rank odor rising from inside his armor, and wrinkled his nose. He stank like shit in a toilet. He had lost count of the days that he and Shin had been living in their pro­tective gear. Thirty? Forty? Hard to tell since he'd left his personal com back on the doomed aircar. Somewhere along the line, one day had merged into another and they'd lost count.

Propped back in the shadow of the rocks, Shin gasped in pain. More than a week had passed since the slimy leech thing had bored its way into her foot. After weeks in armor, Shin had wanted a bath. They both had. They'd drawn lots. She'd won.

At the pool of clear water they'd found, she had stripped off her armor and waded out. Splashing and scrubbing, she'd laughed, squirted water at him as he stood guard and swapped banter.

The squishy creature had waited until Shin stepped out on the muddy bank. She'd been too busy drying her hair to notice when the thing came wiggling out of the mud. Didn't feel it until it pierced her skin. Had barely had time to look down before it had burrowed into the bottom of her foot. Even as she shrieked it was inching its way under the skin of her ankle and deep into her calf.

Looking back, he should have amputated her leg at the knee. She'd screamed at him not to. Said it would have been a death sen­tence. Pleaded that the thing would probably emerge on its own. That it probably couldn't survive in a human.

He should have done a lot of things differently.

That was Donovan.

A person did a lot of looking back on Donovan.

Talbot tensed as a strange, piercing whistle sounded from the for­est. Massive trees surrounded Mark's stone outcrop; they rose up in a black wall. Trees on Donovan were like nothing he'd seen on Earth. These were giants, four and five hundred feet tall; high over­head the triangular branches interlocked, and the leaves were huge. Walking beneath them was like traveling through an immense cav­ern. And the roots, they were the worst of all. Tarry too long in one spot and they'd slither out of the ground, seek to wrap around a foot, ankle or calf. Get caught by the roots and within an hour they would completely engulf a person to the point that not even powered com­bat armor could break free.

Safety could only be found on one of the stone outcrops. Chunks of bedrock, they jutted up like islands in the ocean of forest. Talbot and Shin had made their way north, traveling from outcrop to out­crop. For whatever reason, the roots avoided solid rock.

The weird, piercing whistle sounded in the forest again. This was something new. Yet another horror in Donovan's endless parade of terrifying creatures and plants, no doubt.

For the most part he and Shin had grown used to the sounds, the constant chirring, clicking, singing, and chiming of the wildlife. He didn't know if any of the creatures even had names--though some must have been cataloged by Donovan's colonists over the colony's thirty-year existence.

The house-cat-sized, four-winged fliers were the worst peril, but they couldn't penetrate armor when they swarmed him and Shin. Then there were the sort of dinosaurian bipedal monsters; the smaller clawed creatures; the leechlike sucky things that had burrowed into Shin and slipped out of the mud to try and pierce his armored feet and ankles; and the list went on. Vine-like hanging predators would swing out, only to scrape along his impregnable and slick-sided armor. The firehose-thick snake creatures that whipped sideways to tangle around his feet might not be able to penetrate his protective shell, but they'd trip him. And falling was always precarious because of the roots.

That was another thing about Donovan; the damn plants moved. One way or another, everything on Donovan would try and kill you. As Garcia had found out, and Shin, dear Shin, was even now expe­riencing.

"You all right?" he asked, annoyed by the hypocrisy of the salu­tation.

"One of the things is wiggling in my stomach, Mark. I feel... like I want to throw up. But it's... numb. I'm... falling, spinning. Endless damn vertigo. God, so... sick."

She'd told him that there were several now, eating their way through her body. Either the first had divided, or there had been more than just that one that had gotten under her skin.

Talbot leaned his head back and imagined himself flying off his solitary stone perch and soaring up, up into the night sky. Burning his way out of the gravity well. Past atmosphere into the vacuum. Then on beyond the orbit of Donovan's moon. Out away from the star they called Capella. Clear out to the inversion point.

He closed his eyes, let the fantasy possess him as he floated there in space. As if in a trance, he would clap his hands, invert symmetry. Godlike, he'd pop out of the universe and navigate his way back the Solar System some thirty light-years distant.

Home. Blessed, wonderful home.

What he'd give to walk the avenues of Transluna, to peer into the shops, walk into a food stand and eat sausage, donuts, tacos, red beans and rice, Szechuan shrimp, couscous, chocolate cake. Or anything for that matter. Home food.

But when he opened his eyes, it was to stare up at the alien sky that had become too familiar. No Orion, no Coal Sack, or Big Dip­per. Just the whiter, brighter smear of the Milky Way, and clusters of stars for which he had no names.

The servos whined in the night as Talbot resettled himself atop the stony outcrop. He checked his charge: barely twenty percent. Come morning he'd have to clean the voltaics. Take enough time to let Capella recharge the power pack. Fact was the suits wouldn't take a full charge anymore.

One of the night creatures flew past in a whisper of wing beats. The dark form blotted the stars as it slowed, circled, and decided he and Shin weren't food.

Shin made a deep-throated gargling sound, kicked her left leg out, and tensed. He waited out the spasms, then asked, "I could end it. Want me to?"

She swallowed hard, kept panting for breath. Had there been light he would have seen the sweat pouring down her round, brown face. The terrified quivering of her eyes as they jerked about in their sockets.

"Maybe." She sucked another frantic breath. "Can't feel a thing below my chest."

Nothing had prepared them for Donovan. It was one thing to read that the planet was dangerous. Another to have its jaws snapped shut around you.

"We were screwed the moment we lifted off from Port Author­ity," Talbot whispered to the night.

"What the hell were we thinking?" Shin asked.

"Garcia's idea." He smiled bitterly. "I still remember how he looked at us over the rim of that beer mug in the tavern. 'Do you really want to space back to Solar System without going out there?' Remember, Shin? That look in his eyes?"

She tensed so quickly her armor clattered on the underlying stone. When she finally managed to relax and catch her breath, she said, "Yeah. And he was the first to die. Walked under that droopy look­ing tree. With the big floppy leaves and all the weird vines."

"And the vine wasn't a vine at all," Talbot finished, remembering how Garcia had tried to bat one of the hanging "vines" to one side only to have it whip back and shoot into the gap between Garcia's collar and his neck. Even as Garcia screamed he was being lifted. Lifted! Heavy combat armor and all, right up into the tree.

"How did that thing do that?" Talbot asked.

"No wonder the Donovanians call it a nightmare," Shin whis­pered. "We couldn't even get a fix on him up there. Couldn't put him out of his misery."

Talbot made a face in the night. Word was that a nightmare devoured its victim alive. Sent shoots inside a person's body to slowly digest him from the inside out. Like the things inside Shin's body were doing to her.

They'd flown south from Port Authority in their jury-rigged air­car. Traveled just over six hundred kilometers, deep into the forest beyond the southern extent of the Wind Mountains, and set down in what looked like a clearing in the trees.

As they leapt out, they'd noticed the thick root mat squirming under the aircar. Wiggling roots. Wow. That was new.

Didn't matter. They'd been too busy bragging about being the first humans to ever set foot on that spot. Laughing, staring around at the universe of huge trees rising up to majestic heights around them. Odd trees, with triangular branches, weirdly shaped green, turquoise, teal, and lime-colored leaves.

Not to mention the noise: a cacophony of singing, clicking, rat­tling harmonics.

And they'd started their circle, clambering over the root mat. They proceeded with their helmets hung on belt clips, sniffing and remarking at the exotic perfumed odors. They carried their rifles at the ready. Each had his heads-up display monitoring for movement, heat signatures, and any threat.

But damn, the whole place was alive. Flashes of gaudy color flick­ered among the branches as Donovan's peculiar Technicolor crea­tures vanished in pell-mell flight.

"Wish we could go back, Shin. Slap ourselves silly before we jury-rigged that aircar and flew south."

"I'd be happy..."--she sucked a pained breath--"to be put on report. Scrubbing toilets never..." Again she tensed and grunted in pain.

"Looked so good?" he finished for her.

He thought back to Garcia. How they had shot futilely up into the branches. If they stepped underneath, the whipping tentacles would try and catch them. And if they stood still, the roots would inexora­bly begin to feel their way up and around their armored feet. And all the while, high in the tree, they could hear Garcia screaming.

"I keep seeing the aircar," Shin said through shallow breaths. "Remember, when we got back. It was just a thick ball of roots. What stupid..." She stiffened, groaned.

"Can't believe we left our coms in the aircar," Talbot whispered. "What a bunch of fools."

"It's the smart way to do it," Garcia had assured them. "Can't disobey an order if we're not around where we can hear it, right?"

"Must have been an equipment malfunction," Shin had joked.

The massive woody strands had crushed the aircar as if it were a foam cup.

Mark Talbot stared out at the night, his heart like a leaden anchor in his chest. At least twenty days had passed, and probably more, since he and Shin last heard a shuttle, which meant Turalon had long since spaced for the Solar System.

As far as Talbot knew, it was just him, Shin, and Donovan.

God help them.

The odd rattle in Shin's throat made him turn. "Shin?"

Nothing.

He shifted, raised his thumb light, and flicked it on. Shin's almond eyes were wide, sightless, the pupils fixed. Her mouth hung open, caught in a silent scream. Threads of her black hair shifted with the breeze.

A mouse-sized bulge appeared under Shin's skin where her neck cleared the armor. Horrified, Talbot watched it make its slow way up and around under her jaw. He tried to imagine what it would feel like to have something eating out the inside of his tongue.

God, I can't stand this.

"Good bye, old friend," he whispered. Weary to the soul, he stood, grabbed Shin's booted foot, and rolled her unceremoniously down the steep slope. Her armor clattered hollowly as it bounced its way down the rocks and into the forest below.

No way was he going to sleep next to her corpse when those things might slip out and take a try at him.

Tilting his head back, he looked up at the stars again.

I am alone.

Copyright © 2018 by W. Michael Gear


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Abandoned

- SpaceAndSorcery
  (4/27/2019)

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