Red lights flashed. Sirens wailed. Bayne Cormack sat up in his bed and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. His gaze swept through the large slate gray room and landed on the empty bed next to his. He wondered where his friends were. And why the irritating alarm was sounding. Someone had to have an explanation. He’d paid too much money to be woken up in the middle of the night for something stupid like a drill.
Pulling the sheet from the bed, he wrapped it around his waist. The blue accents appeared to be an eerie shade of purple in the red flashing light. The door leading to the main living area of one of the luxury starliner’s stateroom slid open partway then stalled before continuing to open. Hanging onto the sheet with one hand he ran to the cabin’s second bedroom, swearing when he found it empty.
Heart pounding, he ran through the cabin and pressed the control panel next to the door. It hesitated before sliding open. People in the blue and gray uniforms of the Centuriian Starlines rushed by, occasionally joined by the dark blue uniforms of Bissari Confederation military personnel.
“Brace for impact!” Someone shouted.
“Why?” Bayne asked, disbelief swirling. They were supposed to be on a pleasure cruise, a scenic trek through a couple of star systems before they reached their final destination. His thoughts turned to his three friends. They had all spent the evening drinking and dancing in one of the starliner’s many clubs, and each one had hooked up with a different man. Although, if Bayne knew S’yvyn, there was probably a woman in with them somewhere. The man found himself playing with more couples than anybody else Bayne knew or probably would ever know. Bayne shook his head and wondered where his friends were and if they were okay.
“What’s happening?” a female voice asked. A middle-aged woman peeked out of the room across the hall. She looked irritated and scared, echoing his own emotions. He took a deep breath and schooled his features into a long practiced blank façade.
“Don’t know,” Bayne replied, the noise from the alarms wreaking havoc with his head. “Was told to brace for impact.”
“Why?” A younger looking man asked joining the woman.
Bayne shrugged. “Didn’t say.”
“Pirates maybe?” the woman asked, paling.
The man shook his head. “Maybe we’re going to hit something.”
Bayne nodded, outwardly agreeing with the man. Pirates would be bad. They’d been known to go after smaller starliners, but he’d never heard of them attacking one this big. Hitting anything heading for Van Tora Kai was generally considered suicidal by everyone, since the planet was home to a huge military force. Service personnel always fought back, usually taking the lives of pirates, not bothering to hold them prisoner.
“Rogue meteor,” Bayne offered.
The man shrugged his agreement and pulled the woman back into their stateroom. Bayne watched the door close behind the couple and contemplated his next move.
An older woman in a dark blue uniform bellowed into a communicator as she rushed down the corridor. “Push the override. Open all the goddamned doors. We’ll be sitting ducks. Get the Mayday out!”
He recognized the uniform insignia and rank. She was either the captain of the starliner, or more likely one of the military starcruisers.
This ship was owned and operated by Centuriian Starliners, a civilian company, and had a final port at Van Tora Kai. The space station funneled tourists to one side of the planet while transporting service personnel to the other side. The planet housed the largest military academy and training grounds dedicated to space operations in the galaxy. It was the reason why he and his friends had taken this trip, a last hurrah for Garek, who had followed family tradition by applying for and being accepted into the academy. Eventually he would become an admiral, but first he was looking forward to years as a pilot in the military’s latest starfighter.
The first tremors hit the ship, and he lost his footing. His body lurched forward into the wall and then sideways down the hall. Somewhere along the way he lost hold of the sheet he’d used to cover himself. Pushing his arms out, he tried to stop tumbling about, grasping at anything he could use to secure himself. The ship creaked and groaned. People screamed. Bayne’s left arm throbbed from where he had landed on it. The ship rolled from side to side, tossing him along the corridor as he tried to get back to his cabin. Pain lanced his body. His right arm bent at an unnatural angle. Blood tickled the side of his head. Lights flickered and died. Artificial gravity went offline and he found himself floating to the ceiling with everyone and everything else.
“Why hasn’t the generator kicked on?” Bayne demanded. There were shouts and screams, but no one answered his question.
He needed to get dressed and to find his friends. Keeping his injured arm close to his body, he tried to pull himself along the ceiling to his room. The continual rocking of the ship along with the appearance of more and more debris made any real progress impossible. Everything from clothes and bedding to dishes, toys, and pieces of metal meandered through the corridor, their momentum driven by starliner’s movements.
Metal crunched. The ship lurched violently back and forth. Bayne reached out, catching the doorframe leading to his cabin with both hands as he was about to fly past it. He screamed in pain and pulled himself forward. Agonizingly slow, he dragged himself into the stateroom, now dreading how big it was, and slowly moved toward the bedroom. The ship pitched and rolled, flinging him from one side of the cabin’s main room to the other, colliding with cushions, empty glasses and decorative items. He slammed against the wall, cursing when a chair that either hadn’t been bolted to the floor or had worked its way loose hit him. His head bounced against something hard. Darkness engulfed him.
Bright light shone from behind his closed eyes. Bayne blinked rapidly, he could make out blurry moving shapes from where his body had become entangled with some of the furniture. He tried to move, but his body protested. He cried out in pain before he could think to stop himself.
“Help!” He called out. His voice sounded rough and foreign to him, his throat raw. “Help!”
“Shit! Live one!”
“Hold on kid!”
Bayne nodded and closed his eyes. The light and pain burrowed into him. He hoped his friends were okay. He’d never be able to face anyone if they weren’t. The cruise had been his idea. Rough hands grabbed him.
“Hold on kid. We got you. That med transport still around?”
“No sir. Said they were overloaded as it was, they were heading—”
Bayne lost the fight to stay conscious.