Space is not always filled with adventures and glory. Not everybody goes racing off to battle evil and save the galaxy. Between the rebels, pirates, royals, and spies are the everyday people who work hard just to get by and ensure everyone gets home safe. Less Than Three Press presents a collection of tales about the ordinary folks who keep the stars running.
The Aurora Conspiracy by Lexi Ander
Several years ago, an accident that almost claimed Regin Valenta’s life had stolen away the person he’d loved. For the last four and half years, he’s licked his wounds on a mining station on the edge of nowhere, working as a crane operator for Aurora Minerals and Rare Metals. His cybernetic limb pains him, but he’s learned to live with the discomfort, and he’s finally beginning to believe he can make a life without the man he’d loved above all. With six months left on his contract, he can leave and finish his geology degree, and begin anew.
The arrival the Fraternity’s constables suddenly adds a complication Regin’s didn’t count on. Someone is blackmailing Aurora Minerals and Rare Metals, and Regin’s their number one suspect. Details of the accident that almost took his life are being dug up, and a love he thought beyond salvaging barges back into his world. Does Regin walk away or will he dare to grab hold of a second chance at happiness? Is it possible for him to regain everything he ever wanted or will a saboteur to steal it away again?
Waiting was the worst. I knew the constables did it on purpose; the guilty squirmed unless they were self-assured. I didn’t know why I’d been brought into security for questioning, but I was positive I’d done nothing wrong. How could I get into any mischief when I kept to myself?
Tipping the cup back, I finished off the water. It had a slight mineral aftertaste, but that was to be expected when living on a space station orbiting an uninhabitable planet; everything was recycled to the nth degree. The taste of the processed water seemed sharper than usual and I wasn’t sure if any hypersensitivity was imagined or caused by the low-level tension sitting on my stomach.
The veneer at the edge of the tabletop had peeled back, either from age or from those trapped with nothing to do in the sterile room as they too waited. I scraped a dark fingernail over the clear, curling bits of lacquer, mentally noting that I needed to file down my nails again. They had grown out enough that they were becoming pointed.
The door to the interrogation room opened and two constables from The Fraternity entered, a Nylithian and a Brakkayn, both wearing blue uniforms that did nothing to hide the fact they wore light armor underneath. Did they expect me to attack them? The fact that I knew one of the constables, at one time deeply and intimately, should’ve caused some kind of emotional reaction. Relief, panic, or anger—with a bit of cussing on the side—would’ve been more appropriate than this dull numbness that wasn’t even colored by surprise. I’d been duped, and knowing that made it possible for me to give the constables a blank face. They wanted something from me, of that I was sure, but I wouldn’t give anything away—I hoped.
Somewhat familiar with The Fraternity, I’d known they would require I take a serum before the interrogation. When constables questioned you, they skipped over all the other stages of the interview straight to ‘give me the correct answers’ in the first meeting. Constables didn’t beat around the bush; they pulled it up by the roots to get to the meat of the matter. That I didn’t react to the sudden appearance of that particular Brakkayn meant they had dosed me pretty well—with more than something to loosen my tongue. Glancing at the glass of water, I called myself every kind of fool.
I hadn’t expected them to be sneaky about it.
I gave my attention to the Nylithian as I attempted to recall my humanitarian studies from college. Of the two, he would be the real threat to me. I remained still as I surreptitiously looked the reptilian over. His face—and I knew his gender because the females of their race had four arms instead of two—was partially obscured by a steel cowl, the gauze-like metal covering his large eyes. Only the flat nose and wide thin mouth were visible. Glancing down to his hands I noted he wore gloves, at least for now. The danger would come if—when—he removed them.
Reluctantly, I turned my gaze to the Brakkayn, perhaps a wee bit thankful for the drugs that coursed through my veins. He wasn’t surprised to see me, which was understandable. No constable would enter an interrogation room without knowing the background of the person they planned to question. The color of his skin ran from a dusky gray to almost silvery in hue; a healthy color, not sickly gray-green like the last I saw him. I was pleased he’d recovered. Hope I wasn’t aware I’d harbored these last several years dissipated under the steely gaze of those dark, unreadable eyes.
Glancing away, I stowed my useless questions behind my mental shields to hide them from the coming interrogation. Now wasn’t the time to renew old acquaintances. I leaned back in the chair and waited as if I had all the time in the universe.
The Nylithian spoke first. “I’m Constable Kwan Warthunder and this is my partner, Constable Makari Gan’Sey. Do you know why you are here today?”
Constable Kwan seemed to be waiting for me to elaborate. In any other situation, I might’ve laughed. In all honesty, I had nothing to give him. He moved over to the wall and activated a clear screen. The movement of his hands brought up and discarded files until my company documents were displayed, including the photograph taken five years ago. How young I’d appeared when I signed on with the company. Kwan flicked the circular dial that began the recording.
“Please state your name and occupation for the record.”
I slouched in my chair, projecting a bored air. “Shouldn’t you have asked me if I knew why I was here after you started the recording?”
Kwan looked at me over his shoulder, as if I was supposed to recognize his expression with half of his face covered. “Please state—”
“Regin Valenta, crane operator for Aurora Minerals and Rare Metals.”
“In the last twelve months, have you sent any electronic files to Aurora’s board of directors?”
“Do you, or have you claimed to have evidence of life on planet TN95623?”
I scratched my nose to keep from making a rude noise at the ridiculousness of the questions. “No.”
“Have you sent information to Aurora Minerals and Rare Metals stating you discovered life on planet TN95623?”
I was so mellow I couldn’t even lift my eyebrows. Even so, I quickly pieced together where their questioning was going. “That’s blackmail.” Was I sliding down further in my seat?
“Why would that be blackmail, Regin?”
I scowled, or thought I did, at Kwan. Didn’t he know it was rude not to look at someone when he spoke to them? “Because there is no indigenous life on that planet. The law forbids the mining of a planet containing life. Companies conduct extensive checks before sending down mining equipment. Planet TN95623 was thoroughly investigated before operations began. At this stage, any claim of life would be bogus and any person stating to have such information would only do so in an attempt to blackmail the company.”
I scowled at the water glass again. I was surprisingly wordy when a simple ‘no’ would’ve sufficed.
“Are you a member of the union, Regin?”
I snorted. “You know I am. Why are you wasting my time, Constable Kwan—?”
“Please, just Kwan.” I blew out a breath, suddenly weary. “Kwan,” I said, relenting. I attempted to push myself to sit straight, but my muscles had the consistency of gel.
Constable Makari finally moved, pushing up off the wall from where he leaned. I’d tried to ignore him since he’d entered the room, but suddenly I didn’t care if looking at him hurt. His healthy gray skin seemed luminous and his long hair hung loose to his waist in hues of gray, white, and silver. I recalled all too well how it felt in my fist and I longed to slip my fingers through it again. A dark gray horn started on his right temple at the hairline above his pointed ear, jutting straight back about six inches to end in a rounded point. The left horn was missing, but it looked as if there was a nub partially covered by Makari’s hair. He moved behind me, grasping me under my arms to pull me up from the slouch. He buckled the wide retractable chair straps across my chest. I couldn’t find it in myself to protest. It had been so long that I wanted him to touch me, no matter how clinically. Mesmerized, I watched his wide hands bring my arms up and rest them on the chair’s armrest. Did his dark claws lightly stroke the inside of my wrists before he latched them to the chair?
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Author Bio – Lexi Ander
At RainbowCon 2014 I found myself a little bit star-struck sitting in Jordan Hawke’s room. There was a lot of talking and double the laughter. I had the best time without melting down and having a fangirl moment with Angel Martinez or Jordan. *pats self on back* Over a cup of wonderful honey mead, David Hawk and Angel talked about mining and the effects on the land and water supply. I mostly listened, but the conversation was engaging and the subject stayed with me.
The opportunity came to contribute to the Keeping the Stars Running anthology and I jumped at it because I love writing science fiction. When I sat down to pen a story about a mining company—well everything I took away from that evening just fit. But The Aurora Conspiracy isn’t only about what the company has been up to, but about Regin facing his fears. It’s about second chances, about whether we can have connections with someone if we haven’t seen them in years, and well, you’ll see.
After last year’s RainbowCon I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to attend RainbowCon 2015. There were so many factors that came into play, then life turned upward, and I signed up again. My niece came with me last year and she jumped on the chance to go again. (I’m sure the proximity of the ocean had nothing to do with her decision.) ^_^ She did enjoy last year even though she worked on her college papers in between the panels she wanted to attend.
From July 16th to July 19th I’ll be in Tampa, Florida. If you’re going to RainbowCon, look me up even if it’s only for a short hello. I would love to talk you! Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a paperback copy of Keep the Stars Running. It not only has The Aurora Conspiracy, but there is About A Bot by Andrea Speed, The Prince and the Programmer by Cassandra Pierce, Survival by Leona Carver, and Flight Risk by Talya Andor.