Chapter One: Gallus

“Gallus?”

It was Maris, Orrin’s mate and my pseudo-replacement as Second Engineer.

I wasn’t angry about it.

I still held the official title, so when I eventually ended up with my own ship, that would work for me.

If you had asked me a year ago where we would be as a crew and an operation, I certainly wouldn’t have said that we would be hiding out at a pirate sanctuary with a bunch of human women now part of the crew.

I most definitely would not have said that some of our own would end up falling in love with those same human women, or that the crew would have come to count the women as family.

What we ended up discovering, and blurted out to the entire galaxy, was that Dominion was involved in some back-door negotiations with several dozen governments, promising them inclusion into the Dominion if they paid with a selection of females that were to be tested.

The Dominion was looking for specific genetic markers that could be used to essentially create the “perfect” race.

We broadcast their own conversations with the humans from their own secret hiding place, which really put a bit of a crimp in their plans, and their popularity.

Now, because of us, they weren’t the supreme all-mighty governing body anymore.

Now, they were facing numerous public disputes, their reputation had taken a hit, there were suddenly more non-Dominion governments popping up, and some of the places that had surrendered their women in order to join the Dominion were facing serious political issues.

In the two months we’d stayed here at Sanctuary, I’d picked up on several reports of full-blown government turnover or rebellion in some of the sectors that paid the Dominion’s price.

And through all of it, we made a legitimate family with the human women, found a friend and benefactor in Itair, and gained some allies that we hadn’t had before.

So, if you were to have asked me a year ago where I thought we would be as a ship and crew, I wouldn’t have dreamt of any of this.

“What did you need, Maris?” I asked, sitting up from my lounge chair.

I was enjoying a day off, one of the few that I had actually taken here, and had found a place by the beach where the breeze was blocked just enough to let me still feel it, but not be bothered by it.

The purple ocean lapped at the beach while numerous birds squawked in the trees above.

Qal’s little blue friend chittered nearby. I must have woken her  up from her nap. “Sorry, Neela.” I said to her before turning my attention back to Maris.

“Orrin was wondering if you finished running the maintenance check on the new damper discs,” she said as she took a seat on a big rock next to me. When we had first met, she was—as the women said—a bitch. She was always angry about something and doing what she could to prove to us that she was smart and competent, even if that meant disobeying orders and going behind Orrin’s back.

I liked her from the start.

Her attitude and determination shut Orrin up and stopped him from being the pretentious ass that he was before all this happened.

Now, he and I were legitimate friends, and I liked that. I nodded. “Yes, ma’am. Finished them bright and early this morning, left the report on Orrin’s tablet. Why?”

She had been smiling until my question. “Because they’re off balance, again.”

“Again? Seriously? Kout,” I swore.

The umbba dampers that we had recently installed were giving me fits. When they worked, our output was phenomenal, but they liked to slip out of balance which screwed up our engines.

I thought I had fixed it and had conducted four tests on them to make sure. They had held up. “Any idea what caused it this time?”

“I’d lay money we can put the blame at the sticky feet of one of those damn little lizards that Shenna has been ‘adopting’,” she said with air quotes.

I should have known. Aavat, one of the members of the ships leadership,  had fallen for a young lady with a fabulous attitude, and a terrible sense of how much damage her kouting zoo was creating for all of us.

I let out an long sigh, dropped my head, and resisted the urge hit my head on one of the lush trees.

“Okay,” I said, about as dejected as I could possibly be. “I’ll go fix it. But,” I said, staring Maris in the face and putting on my most I’m-not-putting-up-with-this-scro-anymore expression. “You’re telling her to keep her goddamn animals out of the engine compartment, or I’m eating the bastards.”

Neela chittered loudly from behind me and jumped on my shoulder, smacking me in the back of the head.

I laughed. “No, not you Neela. You’re safe, promise,” I chuckled. That seemed to pacify the little blue…thing.

“Yeah,” Maris chuckled. “Like she’ll listen to me. You’ve used that threat before and haven’t followed through on it.”

I shrugged, stood up, and started heading towards the Star, Neela still sitting comfortably on my shoulder, her little tail wrapped around me to help her keep her balance.

“I’ll bring it up with her though,” Maris said as she came up next to me. “She needs to understand that those pets of hers are gonna get us killed if they keep messing with the engines.”

I nodded. I was trying to resign myself to the next three hours of work that it would take to balance the kouting discs again. I was not happy.

The next three hours were stressful. So much so that I was cursing every umbba creature on board this ship except for the cat, Persephone, and Neela. At least those two stayed out of trouble. I hated that little puff-ball that Shenna had stolen from Itair. It always made me wonder why he never confronted her about it. He had seen it roaming around the ship.

Bringing my mind back to the task at hand, I finished setting the discs to the proper balance and started running my maintenance checks.

I was into my third check when the alarms sounded. “RED ALERT! RED ALERT! DOMINION SHIPS INBOUND!” Qal’s voice blared over the ship-wide system, and if I knew Qal, he was also blaring it out over the outboard speakers as well.

I quickly brought up video and watched in horror as six Dominion ships of various sizes tore through the atmosphere. “Holy kout!” I swore.

I rushed to the primary engineering station and quickly started the process to the engines back online.

“Engineering!” It was Kovor’s voice, our third captain.

“Here, Captain,” I called back.

“Are those engines up yet?”

“Getting them online now. Activating shields and repositioning them above us,” I yelled back.

“Good. Make sure we’re ready to get in the air as soon as possible,” he called back and clicked off communication.

As if I would have done anything different. Maris and Orrin burst into the engine room, taking positions to help.

“The discs ready?” Orrin asked.

I nodded as the ship shook. I looked at the screen to see one of the Dominion ships firing.

Then, as quickly as the shooting started, it was answered.

Dozens of small ships launched from the surface while a barrage of laser cannon shots exploded on and around the Dominion ship that had fired.

It broke apart and began falling to the surface in dozens of little burning fireballs of debris.

Seriously?

We’d been here two months, and I’d never had a clue about the defenses around this place.

Not a surprise, when I had the chance to think about it.

A pirate haven was likely to be fortified, but I had not anticipated the pirates here to be so prepared and heavily defended.

It was a sight to behold.

Or would have been, if I’d been able to pay attention.

Instead I watched out of the corner of my eye as I worked with Maris and Orrin to finish getting the engines ready for launch and break atmo.

Tiny little puffs of exploding ordinance filled the sky in the screen as the Dominion ships fired in return.

We were rocked as several shots hit our shields.

“How much longer do I have?” I yelled into the comm unit.

“Twenty seconds,” Qal yelled back.

I could do it. I started counting down from fifteen, just in case. At eight, Kovor ordered us to fly and the engines fired to life as Qal started getting us into the air.

It was a harrying escape, our lift-off slightly hampered by the sand of the beach being as loose as it was, slowing down our ascent as the engines didn’t have a solid surface to push against.

Once in the air, however, the damper discs did their job and our engine kicked on hard. I lost my balance as the engines catapulted us forward and was forced to grab a nearby wall sconce.

Looking at Orrin and Maris, we watched the screen to see if we were being followed. As soon as we were clear of the planet’s gravitational field, the next call rang through the ship.

“Prepare for fold,” came the order from above. Scro. I hated folding. The queasiness I always felt kept me wanting to vomit for hours afterwards.

Something grabbed my leg.

Double Scro.

I looked down, spotted Neela, and called her up.

“Sorry, girl. Guess you get to see the stars after all.”

She jumped up to my chest and I held her close as the fold-engine kicked in and hurtled us away from Sanctuary and the Dominion ships.

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