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EPISODE 1 – A HEFTY SENTENCE A Pulp Space Opera by Andrew Roberts
A Pulp Space Opera by Andrew Roberts

It’s the dawn of the 23 rd Century

Humanity has expanded beyond the Earth through the solar system, establishing the Empire of Solaris

With our own sector stored, President Gene Perry authorised the launch of the Astral Spirit.

This great vessel is set on a course to explore the reaches of space beyond the Solar System.

After many decades, more worlds were discovered and charted, while the Astral Spirit’s maiden voyage continued. Until recently…

Meanwhile, on the prison world of Artemis VII, criminals and traitors endure hardships of the boromite mines. Among them is Dane Tempest…

“Get back to work!” The guards screamed. Sweat was cascading down Dane Tempest’s forehead as he brought the pickaxe down on the rock face. From the corner of his eye, he could see the other members of his work gang extracting boromite ore from the hard rock of the caverns with picks and drills before depositing it in the buckets near their feet. He stopped to wipe his brow. An overseer struck him with a baton.

“Keep going you scum!” he screamed, “You know the penalty for smuggling!”

“Leave him alone!” one of the other miners shouted back, brandishing his own pickaxe. The overseer thrust his baton into the upstart’s chest, releasing an electrical discharge that knocked him out. Two more guards appeared and hauled the body away.

“Take him to Solitary.” The overseer ordered, “And put his gang on half rations.”

There was a moan of dismay from the other workers in the group.

“Shut up!” one of the guards screamed.

Dane just sighed and carried on with the work. If there was an escape opportunity, he had to take it. He felt someone tapping on his shoulder.

“Tempest,” one of the other inmates whispered, “I’m planning a blitz-out. Are you in?”

“Sure.” Dane replied. The inmate nodded at two of his friends. They started fighting each other. Other inmates flocked around from the other work gangs to watch the commotion.

“Now’s our chance.” The man whispered to Dane. They both took off down one of the tunnels as the guards arrived to break up the fight with their stun batons.

Dane was running down the caverns as fast as he could. He was becoming rapidly fatigued, and his breathing was becoming heavier. The inmate produced a set of leaves from his pouch and handed one over.

“They’re Aroteb leaves,” the man explained, “Chew them well.”

Dane complied with the instruction. As he chewed the leaf, he felt his heart rate boosting up, and felt wide awake. He kept running at almost twice the pace he was at before.

“Where are we heading?” he asked the stranger.

“There’s another entrance to the surface that’s been overlooked by the security forces.”

“Why’s it overlooked? What’s there?”

“There’s a mutant colony. It’s a gamble, but we won’t be followed there.”

Dane felt uncomfortable at the stranger’s planning, but it was the best chance he had. After all, he could end up in solitary if he was caught.

After what felt like half an hour of running through winding tunnels, the pair found themselves at a dead end. The stranger grabbed Dane’s pick and started chipping away at the wall. Natural light began to shine through the cracks. Dane watched him work, but was distracted by the sounds of voices in the caverns. It was the sound of voices that were coming closer.

“Hurry man!” He hissed, “The guards are coming closer!”

There was a sudden crumbling as the caverns wore away, revealing an entrance to the barren surface of Artemis VII. Before the pair could do anything, the stranger was hit in the torso by a laser. Dane quickly ran through the opening as the guards arrived. He kept running, not turning back until he stumbled and fell into a crater. Pressing against the rock, he listened out for the pursuing guards.

“Any sign of him?”

“No. He must have hidden in one of the pits. Let’s just leave him for the freaks.”

Dane peered over to see the security patrol leaving. He clambered out of the crater and wandered through the wasteland. As he roamed, he noticed smoke in the distance. Could it be a settlement? He recalled how the unnamed inmate mentioned a mutant colony. He sighed. It was a gamble he had to take.

It took almost fifteen minutes for Dane to reach the source of the smoke. He came across

a collection of prefabricated shacks. The sound of a shot rang out and a metal bullet

ricocheted off the rock close to his feet. He stood completely still as a hooded figure emerged from behind a rock pile, carrying a primitive rifle.

“Stay where you are.” He ordered. Dane wasn’t moving as several other figures emerged behind him. One of the figures prodded him in the back of his neck with his own rifle,

urging him to move. He was taken to the largest hut at the centre of the village. In a dimly

lit room, he was forced to sit down. Smoke filled the room as he noticed another person

sitting opposite to him, his face concealed by the shadows.

“Are you alone?” The hidden figure asked with a seedy voice. Dane nodded. “You escaped from the mine?”

“Someone helped me escape, but he was killed.” Dane replied.

“You shouldn’t be here. If the prison administration learns of this, we can expect reprisals.”

The man brought his head into the light, showing a superfluous third eye on the side of his head along with a deformed mouth. Dane felt sick inside, but was narrowly able to keep composure.

“We are outcasts. We are hated and feared in civilised worlds.” The man explained. “Why should we shelter you? What do you have to offer?

“I’ve got nothing.” Dane responded quietly. The chieftain nodded to someone. Dane felt a rifle butt being brought down on the back of his head and blacked out.

By the time he woke up, Dane found himself lying on a rough bed. His head was reeling. Waking up, his mind could make out a dark, cramped cell. Almost immediately, he realised he was in solitary. There was a sharp noise as the peephole in the heavy steel door was opened.

“Are you Dane Tempest?” A voice asked. He grunted in response, not quite awake or in a state to talk. The door opened up and two guards hauled Dane out, escorting him to another room where a man in a black suit was waiting for him. As Dane was helped into a chair, the man stared at him and checked several files.

“Dane Tempest,” He read out loud in a serious tone, “Born on the Mars Colony 2180, served as a supply officer on a spice freighter from 2201. Dismissed in 2205 after allegations of theft, went on to become a freelance smuggler. Charged with illegal spice trafficking in 2215 and sentenced to ten years hard labour in the Boromite mines on Artemis VII. Current duration served: Five years.”

“Yeah, so what’s your point?” Dane asked impatiently.

Skills profile: Proficient in hand-to-hand combat and use of energy weapons; talented pilot; expert navigator.” The man placed the file on the table and stared into Dane’s eyes. “I have come with a proposition for you.” He said.

“What kind of proposition? An appeal?”

“Are you aware of an exploration vessel known as the Astral Spirit?”

“I’ve been cooped up on this rock for five years.” Dane replied, “So no, I’m not aware.”

“Let me explain: The Astral Spirit was commissioned to explore the outer reaches of space…”

“Oh,” Dane interrupted, “That one. Yeah, I know the one you mean. What’s it gotta do with me?”

“Two weeks ago, it disappeared without a trace. Your file states that you’re a talented navigator, and I need your expertise in finding the Astral Spirit. If you agree, you will be granted a reprieve and may walk a free man. Just sign here if you agree.

The man handed Dane a pad with a stylus. Dane signed one of the boxes while one of the guards handed him a drink.

“To a prospective future.” The man said. Dane drank the contents of his glass, and started feeling drowsy.

“You’ll leave in the morning.” He was instructed. “There will be a ship waiting for you.”

As Dane was escorted back to his cell, he was sleeping peacefully within moments. The following morning, he was awakened by one of the guards. He felt a slight headache but was escorted to a hangar bay where a sleek ship was waiting. A man in overalls was loitering near the boarding ramp.

“Good morning Mr Tempest.” He said, shaking his hand, “I’m Jesse Roach. I’ll be your co- pilot for the duration of the mission. You’ll find your belongings in your quarters.”

Dane boarded the ship and opened one of the doors. Inside, he saw a crude set of living quarters. Lying on the bed was a sealed box containing a set of clothes and a laser pistol with a holster. He changed and put on the holster before walking to the cockpit where Roach was waiting. A green face appeared on a screen among the control panels.

“All systems are prepared Roach.” She said.

“Dane, meet Skylar.” Roach said, “She’s our computer.”

Before Dane could reply, the monitor emitted a bleeping sound as the words ‘Incoming Dispatch’ flashed on the screen. The individual who had offered the proposal appeared on the screen.

“Good morning Tempest.” He said, “I see that you have effectively prepared. I believe that you are experiencing a slight headache. That is to ensure your cooperation: While you were unconscious, we took the liberty of installing an implant in your brain. That is a kill switch. Any attempt to go rogue will be met with severe consequences. Other than that, I wish you the best of luck.

The man killed the feed. Dane stared at the monitor, contemplating the warning.

You try and betray him and that thing will fry your brain.Roach commented. Dane ignored his remark and sat down in the pilots seat, starting up the ships systems. He watched as the hangar bay doors opened, and fired off the main boosters after Roach set the craft to hover mode. The ship sped out of the hangar and ascended into the sky before bypassing the atmosphere, making its way into space.

Were clear.Roach said, Everythings running smoothly.

Right,Dane replied, Now lets find this vessel.

Will Dane Tempest find the Astral Spirit? Could his new implant possibly result in more work afterwards?

Find out next time in A Turbulent Voyage!

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