"Get in, Grace, now!" a voice screamed at her.
Grace couldn't move, she was too terrified and her feet felt like lead beneath her. Catastrophic events paralyzed her movements. Fire blazed around their space shuttle. Explosions were to her left and right as a meteor shower exploded around them. Trees were reduced to matchsticks as the bomb-like fireballs struck. The small pond to her left was invaded. The meteor hit and then sizzled producing a mist of cover. The water exploded with a cannonball-sized mass. The waves rose high in a cascade shower, dropping brackish water onto all within reach. Everywhere Grace looked people were falling to their deaths, being blown to pieces. Running flames that zigzagged in no apparent destination didn't register. She could see the legs moving under the blaze. How could fire run? It was surreal how the burning mass slowly dropped to the ground, haloed in dancing shades of red and orange. Burnt flesh seared an imprint in her memory with what her eyes were seeing. She gagged.
Grace turned her head slowly. She could hear the voices of those around her, they registered, but slipped from her ears like water. Too many sounded at once. It was like being in a crowded stadium. Before long, her heartbeat pulsed like a dripping faucet in the dead quiet of night. She felt dizzy then remembered to breathe. Her breath was a whoosh of intake. It cleared her thoughts and muddled mind and she could hear again. Women were begging Grace's pilot to take their children onboard. Pitiful hands clutched at him, screaming toddlers wailed and clung to their mothers with hands like vice grips. Tiny faces filled with panic and betrayal. Why would their mommies give them away? To Grace it was the ultimate test of a mother's love, to let go of someone you desperately love for their well-being. Grace could feel her heart break as the mothers pleaded. But Grace knew the captain of the shuttle wouldn't, couldn't take them. There wasn't any room.
Earth was dying and only a select few could be transported to a new world colony. They didn't have much time--even less now.
A hand gripped Grace's elbow, fingers digging into her soft flesh, and spun her forcefully around, up into the shuttle. She stumbled and was hauled upright. Captain Chase was breathing hard when he flung her into one of the ten seats. The hatch was slammed into place and Grace almost vomited as reaching, clasping fingers were sheared off and dropped to the shuttle floor. Captain Chase raced to the front of the craft where he and the co-pilot sat in two additional seats.
"Go, damn it, there's nothing we can do!" the captain shouted.
"We can't lift off. People are on top of the craft. Bloody hell, Chase, if we go, we will take twenty people to their deaths," the co-pilot, Adams, replied in a high-pitched frazzled tone.
"Then boost it, and the lucky sons of bitches will be close enough to the ground to survive when they hit. The shuttle is a sitting duck with the meteors. Now go," the captain said through gnashed teeth.
To Grace's horror the captain put his hand over Adams' and gunned the throttle. The craft jumped forward. People fell to their deaths, some incinerated in the tail fire. Worse were the others who hung on. Grace sobbed as she watched a man screaming he would get off now if they would just please land. But they wouldn't land and he was going to die. Both Grace and the man looked down at Earth at the same time. They rose higher than the mountaintops, up past the cloud. The man was gasping in tiny puffs of air, his eyes wide in horror.
Grace lifted her hand to splay her fingers against the window. The man's desperate eyes met hers and Grace felt her tears fall with his. The man was going to die and there was nothing she could do but offer comfort through her gaze, meager as that would be. She could see her terror mirrored in his pitiful gaze. His mouth was wide trying to breathe. His eyes were liquid pools of fear. Grace wished she could toss a pebble into his fear, to send a ripple so she wouldn't see. To distort his impending agony. She couldn't look away. Slowly his eyes closed. He had tied himself on with his belt but he slipped across the window and dangled. He caught fire as they left the atmosphere. Grace felt her heart pounding in her chest. It was mercifully quick. His burned body stuck to the side of the window. Grace's eyes remained fixed until the burnt mass sizzled into a bubble and slipped off.
"Damn it," the captain snarled. "Damned stupid fools have burnt the hull."
All around, Grace heard quiet sobbing. She wiped at her own eyes. The craft was equipped to hold twelve people and a reasonable amount of supplies. They had almost no supplies. Adams had snuck in eight more people instead. As he scanned the shuttle, the captain claimed his co-pilot's softheartedness would be the death of them. From the corner of her eye, Grace watched as a woman crept up beside her. She was tiny and the two of them were able to share her seat with another man seated to their left. The man was studying the tiny woman with interest. Grace wasn't much taller than the woman beside her, standing at five foot four. Grace's one hundred and twenty pound frame pressed against the hard shuttle wall to make room.
The shuttle was equipped with a shower and one toilet holding ocean water. They couldn't waste their precious fresh water supply. The chair she was in would recline into a small bed with a built-in pillow. One thermal blanket was issued to each of the ten passengers and the captain and co-pilot. Grace had been allowed one small bag with her belongings. She didn't have anything; the flood had wiped everything out.
Grace looked out into vast darkness. Then looked back at Earth as it diminished in the distance. A dark cloud covered it like a smile from hell. Sparks lit every few moments as meteors hit and exploded--the devil's pimples. Another shuttle trailed them; it too looked damaged, defeated, as they slunk away like dogs with their tails between their legs. To her far right, she saw two more shuttles. The light showed a male and female pilot in one, two males in the other. All looked overcrowded. How small they appeared in the vastness of the universe. Grace felt small. She felt alone.
They were running out of shuttles as the Earth became too volatile to enter and exit. Soon no more would venture there again. Earth was a lost cause. Grace had been lucky to get out alive. Nothing in her future was certain and her past was but a blur. When did it all go sour? Too many whys were dangerous thoughts when she was so vulnerable.
Grace felt an odd sense of betrayal toward Earth. It was home. How could home do this to us? She felt like one of the children the mothers had tried to save--or damn. Nothing was certain. Slowly the flooding had increased in some areas of the world. It crept up on them. Oh they oohed and ahhed and felt pity like all the other times when across the seas their homes were lost. Money poured in to the suffering nations. Soon enough, the money stopped when it hit home. Parts of the world were hit with a devastating drought and soaring temperatures. Infestations of rats and insects clouded other parts. Earthquakes wiped out most of Asia. Tsunamis struck, battering the shorelines. A volcano erupted in Yellowstone Park. They knew they were doomed as California and Florida slipped into the ocean. Hawaii and Australia sank like fallen Atlantis. Meteor fires wiped out crops and orchards. Starvation was rampant. The sun shone less as the smoke from raging fires rose heavenwards. Mother Nature had turned rabid.
The first shuttles out a few years prior carried scientists and heavily armed marines. When news came of a new world able to sustain human life, people were amazed. They had been gifted with salvation. The problem was they were unable to make larger crafts. The smaller ones could maneuver around falling meteors; the larger ones were unable to. The shuttles left more frequently, but it took two weeks for them to return and there weren't many. The people worked double-time to create more but they became damaged quickly. The last of the shuttles that now flew were so battered from years of painstakingly transporting the few survivors that a person was taking their life in their hands when they climbed aboard. The death toll had climbed into the billions.
Grace's family hadn't the money, power or position to buy into the shuttle rides. When finally it came to their turn, the pilots had said they would take only Grace, since she was of childbearing years. Her parents were too old. Grace refused to leave even though her parents had begged her to save herself. Grace had watched as the shuttle had flown off without her. Soon after, world communications went down. Phone lines were useless. There was nothing on radio or television. Electricity that had been scarce before became nonexistent. They were completely alone. No one knew how the rest of the human race was faring--or dying.
For a while Grace and her family had clung to life, finding small amounts of food in the wreckage. The people of their small community banded together to aid one another. For a time there had been hope. In packs of tens, the little community would forage. Their numbers kept them safe enough. If a house crumbled during an earthquake, they would be welcome into another's home. Tents were pitched. Guards wandered with machine guns keeping intruders out. Grace had belonged to a family of sixty. Men, women and children all had familiar faces. Grace knew everyone by name. Even in adversity they were a family of strangers who grew to care for one another. Grace had been happy. Then tragedy struck.
From a window in her home Grace had waved to a little boy on a bicycle that fateful day. Little Mikey. Mikey's stare was fixed past her head and Grace had been so confused, because he had looked so scared. A guard had raced to the child yelling. The eight-year-old had been scooped up under a strong arm. The Earth had trembled, the guard and child fell. The ground split, sucking man and boy down. Horrified, Grace had watched her family and neighbors die in a flash flood and mudslide. The only reason she had lived was because her room was in the attic. The house had careened down the side of a hill. Grace had struggled to her bedroom door. Down a flight of stairs she had fled, her body pitching and slamming into the walls, but when the door opened beneath her, all she could see was mud and water. Her parents and the people living with them were gone. Grace was alone.
The house had hit the overflowing river and floated for a while into what looked like a vast lake--an abyss of despair. Grace had made it out to the rooftop. She had climbed from her window and scaled the building, looking down into the rolling mass of muck and filthy water. Rooftops of other houses could be seen but no one else sat atop them like her; everyone else had perished. Grace had called and yelled for hours, but no one answered. Solemnly she had gazed in all directions and knew the true meaning of being alone. She had sat for a long time, with her legs pressed tight to her aching chest watching the water rise until her feet, then ankles, then legs were soaked. Her feet had slipped on the slick rooftop. Higher the water rose until one lone watercraft approached. Grace had been grateful to pile into the overfilled vessel. It had taken days with no food or clean water until they had reached land.
It had been then that Grace was introduced to Adams and Captain Chase. She had fainted at the men's feet. Starving, dehydrated and desolate, Grace had thought she was finished. When she awoke wrapped in a wool blanket, Grace was given water and bread. She had wandered aimlessly through the camp until she realized her parents would be furious with her if she gave up. She was down but not out by a long shot. She tried to make friends, but most of the people there had given up. Grace came to know why.
The shuttle she was now on had previously crashed to Earth in a secluded area weeks prior to this take-off. Captain Chase and Adams had fixed the battered vessel, but there were too many people to fit. No one had known they had even fixed the craft, since they had kept it quiet insisting it was a lost cause. The two men had quietly informed the lucky ones they were taking on their last trip the night before take-off. Only the ones they felt stood any chance of survival were offered a seat. Grace had told the captain she would give up her seat for a child, but the captain said where they were going was untamed. He explained the little ones would be better off in the comfort and care of their parents. Most were unhealthy and diseased and malnourished. They didn't stand a chance in a foreign unknown, let alone a familiar unknown.
Grace had shuddered with the thought. What kind of place are we headed to? Adams had said to claim it was primitive was downplaying it. Grace lay back in her seat and closed her eyes, tired of her thoughts. The trip would take four to six days. There was little water and almost no food, but they were reassured there would be some on the planet. Primitive though it was, it was flourishing.
"My name is Stacie," the woman beside her whispered.
Grace's eyes snapped open. She turned her head to look at her. The petite woman was dark-haired and dark-eyed. Grace had seen her and a few others arrive at their camp only two days ago. She hadn't gotten to know her. Grace didn't know what to think. Because of the eight stowaways there would now be even less food and water.
"I know what you're thinking," Stacie said in a tiny voice. "Don't worry. The only way we could come aboard was if we agreed not to eat or drink anything."
"For four days?" Grace asked, appalled.
"I've gone longer," Stacie replied with huge sad solemn eyes.
Grace could imagine. Stacie was about five foot two but couldn't have weighed more than a hundred pounds...maybe. Her gaunt cheekbones were prominent. Sticklike arms and legs were visible under tattered material and for just a moment, Grace wondered why Adams would think to save her. When Grace looked deeper into the woman's eyes, she knew why. The woman was a fighter; she was nowhere near defeated. She was born to live and she had survived--just like Grace. Grace stuck her hand out.
"My name is Grace. I'll share what I'm given. If we die, we can go together." Why not? No matter what she had been through, or would be through, her morals would never change. She owed her parents and herself that.
"Deal," Stacie said and grinned.
"Are you on here alone?" Grace asked her.
"Yes, none of the stowaways have anyone. We all promised Adams undying loyalty in exchange for our lives. I believe there's already a power struggle going on at the new planet. How did you get to be chosen? I mean except obvious reasons."
Stacie stared pointedly at Grace's face and then generous breasts.
Grace grinned somewhat wryly thinking it was beginning all ready. She couldn't help the way she looked. She imagined everyone thought the same thing. They all most likely thought she was chosen because the captain and co-pilot were hot for her. She had long white-blonde hair and clear blue eyes. She had been told she was gorgeous, even by the captain.
"I'm afraid it's nepotism, plain and simple," Grace said then sighed. "Adams found out he and I are related. Second cousins of second cousins kind of deal, a real shock to us both. Same deal with me about the loyalty. I think you're right about the power struggle."
"Sure you're related. I can see the resemblance," Stacie said sarcastically.
Grace just shrugged. It was the truth; Stacie could believe what she wanted.
The shuttle lights suddenly began to dim and the captain stood up to address them. For a second his eyes settled onto Grace before assessing everyone in general.
"We need to conserve all the energy we can. With you new people onboard, we might not make it." The captain's glare settled onto each individual stowaway.
Grace felt Stacie shudder.
"Believe me, if I could, I'd open the hatch and send each one of you out by force."
"Real personal type of guy, huh?" Stacie whispered.
"I hope Adams has the balls to go up against him if he has to," Grace whispered back. "Chase is a real hard ass."
"Time will tell," Stacie said. "So the captain really isn't your boyfriend?"
Grace gave her a look filled with distaste.
Stacie summed her up and nodded her belief.
"When we reach the planet, Ulsy, you will immediately find your assigned quarters," the captain said.
His booming voice in a confined space made Grace want to cover her ears. The man was huge, at least six foot three and built like a machine. He could have been handsome if he wasn't so ugly on the inside.
"That is for those chosen ten. The rest of you will be found places and put on work detail for your crime of endangering the lives of others."
There were many grumbles and groans that followed his statement.
Grace saw the captain's jaw twitch. He was a cold bastard. His hands balled into fists. His eyes narrowed onto two men in a far corner quietly talking in hushed tones.
"Mutiny is a sentence that carries swift actions," Captain Chase warned. "It's punishable by death. Immediate death. Don't make the rest of us have to put up with your stinking corpses."
"Gotta love subtlety in a man," Stacie said.
"Something tells me this is going to be the longest four days of my entire life," Grace replied.
Stacie nodded in agreement.
"Well at least we have each other," Stacie said. "I'm afraid I could talk the leg off a chair."
Grace grinned at her.
"Oh no, this is my seat you're sharing. I get to go first; you can listen to my life story. I was a happy baby my mother said..." Stacie laughed.
Both women jumped when oxygen masks fell from overhead. The captain reached up and put on his. Adams held his in his hands. Grace and Stacie looked worriedly at one another. Grace had a bad feeling in her gut. This time Adams rose and addressed everyone. Grace studied him. He was a nice-looking man, neither tall nor short. He was perhaps in his early forties with thinning hair. Stacie was right; she bore no family resemblance to him.
"The air is about to thin so listen carefully," Adams began. "Those of you with masks put them on now."
Grace hesitated; Stacie gave her a nudge and nodded. Grace looked apologetically at Stacie and slipped her mask on.
"For those with masks, you will find you will be getting sleepy. There is no need for concern. The trip is better if you sleep most of the way. For those who don't have masks, we need to control your breathing. The shuttle will flood with gas shortly. Do not panic, because you will wake up. We need to conserve oxygen, so we need to stop as much air intake as possible."
Grace felt Stacie's hand slip into hers.
Grace squeezed it.
"You're knocking us out?" a man yelled, incredulous.
"It was explained that there isn't enough food and water onboard and you all agreed. It will be less painful for you if you are unconscious," Adams said. "There is to be no fighting over food. Starvation can make a person do dangerous things. It would be impossible for you to watch day after day while others eat and drink. There would be too much animosity. Let's all get there in one piece."
"You'll kill us!" the man yelled. "We have the right to eat, too...at least a little."
To Grace he looked guilty. No doubt the man had come aboard with the intension of bullying food from others to sustain his own life. He was a large man; if he wanted her rations, Grace would have no choice if she had no protection from him.
"Easy, Dustin, I swear it's for your own sanity and safety," Adams reasoned.
Dustin looked terrified. He screwed his face into an angry glare and suddenly rushed forward with a below of rage. A woman screamed and Adams snapped his mask into place and flipped a switch as the captain stood ready to fire his weapon.
Grace knew it was a stun gun but the power had been increased. It would kill. Suddenly Grace felt Stacie's head slip to her shoulder, and the hand in hers went limp. The woman was out cold.
The man about to attack Adams dropped to his knees a mere foot away from his goal. Dustin's hand rose to his throat and he clawed at the co-pilot's pant legs gasping for breath. The man slumped heavily and lay on his side unmoving.
"Cold bastards," the man beside Grace said. He had made no attempt to lower his voice.
"Damn right we are!" the captain shouted in response. "We're also the ones in charge of your lives. Sleep now. In a few hours we will wake you and give you water and dry fruit. Then you'll sleep again."
"What about the others?" Grace asked.
"If they survive, they will be welcome on Ulsy," the captain said. "If not then they will be buried on Ulsy." The captain leered at her then flopped into his chair.
Grace felt cool air invade her mask. She blinked and struggled to stay awake, it was a battle she soon lost. She drifted into sleep with a lone tear trailing its way down her cheek. Good God what had she gotten into?
Grace woke slowly; her eyelashes fluttered open then closed in confusion. She felt a hand at her neck tilting her head forward. She looked up into Adams' concerned gaze. She once more wore the oxygen mask. She knew she would be out again soon. Adams had informed her the gas-filled shuttle decompressed for only a few moments. Just enough time for them to have water and a mouthful of food. It didn't give the others a chance to wake from their deep drug-induced slumber. The last time Grace had come to, Stacie looked dead. Her lips were parched and dry. Her eyes were rolled into the back of her head. Grace couldn't stand it. Stacie was the first friend she had made in a long time. She liked the feisty tiny woman and respected her courage. Grace had begged Adams to let Stacie wear her mask and they would alternate food and drink. Adams was reluctant, but Grace pleaded until the man relented.
When Grace had gone under without the mask, she had been terrified. The air had thinned to almost nothing. She had felt as though she were suffocating. It was mercifully quick and Adams had held her hand.
The next time she awoke, the captain had been there. He had been furious. From the look on his face Grace knew the man wanted her. She was forbidden to take her mask off again. Grace had glared at him; she had known him less than a week but well enough to know he was a bully. His eyes had followed her around their camp. Chase had been more than suggestive. It seemed the more she blew him off, the more persistent he had become. It occurred to her Adams wasn't the only one who had a hand in her coming aboard. It would seem Chase had other plans. Grace had defied him and was surprised she had once more woken to be fed and given water. More horrifying was the fact Stacie was no longer beside her.
Grace choked down some water. "Where?" she muttered.
"She's fine," Adams whispered. "She's near the front with the captain. He wants to make certain you reach Ulsy alive."
"When I'm asleep, does he..." Grace stammered.
"I swear he hasn't touched you," Adams said. "But when we get there, you need to stay close to me. Chase has his sights set on you so beware."
"Will he hurt Stacie?" Grace asked. Stacie was tiny and pretty and out cold, vulnerable.
"No, he isn't interested in women with little to no breasts," Adams said grimly. "Did you take a look at the other women he chose?"
Grace hadn't but did now. Her eyes narrowed. All five women given seats were beautiful and big-breasted. The five men chosen were all Chase's cronies. Out of the eight stowaways five were women. Curiously she glanced at Adams.
"Chase let those people stowaway...at least he let the women. The bastards who established Ulsy miscalculated and the ratio of men to women is too large, but something else is going on and Chase either knows what or knows someone high up who does. I have been trying to stack the deck with more honest men. Chase has been stacking the deck with his own men and promises of power. The situation on Ulsy is volatile. The planet is filled with strange beasts that they hadn't noticed before. I've never seen one, but others have caught glimpses. They are elusive but dangerous. Women have gone missing, and men have been gutted. Our housing is pathetic and little protection. The planet is so raw. Food is gold."
"I thought it was filled with food," Grace whispered.
"It is for those who can get it."
"Then why keep bringing more people if it's dangerous?"
"It's better there than on Earth, Grace. Something is going on but I'm not sure what. There are even rumors floating around that some men are working with these beasts. In the meantime don't worry about your friend. One of the men Chase chose for a seat on the shuttle has his sights set on Stacie. You'll be happy to know she is also getting water and food. I can't go into it now, but the three stowaway men are lucky he hasn't killed them. Even on Ulsy we have rules about murder--to a small degree. Now I'm still asking for Dustin's life. The women of Ulsy are being given to men with power so Chase wouldn't dare harm one no matter what they did or do. Chase said Dustin was about to commit mutiny, punishable by death. He's an expendable man. We all saw him charge us. I'm afraid there's no hope for the man once we land."
Grace was horrified. "Why, why would you tell me this?"
"So you will be afraid and stay sharp. Stay away from Chase, girl," Adams snapped.
"Are we really related?" Grace asked.
Adams bowed his head. "No. I just wanted to try and keep Chase in line while aboard the shuttle. He would have brought you aboard one way or the other. My ruse was the only way to protect you. I guess I have more of a conscience then I like to admit. You remind me so much of my niece. She went missing on Ulsy months ago. She's about your age. Her mother, my sister, is beside herself with worry."
He then shoved her mask back over her face. Before Grace could say anything, she was out cold.
Grace awoke when jostled. Her seat bounced and her mask slipped off. She grabbed for it but the air was clear. No more oxygen flowed from her mask. All around her, people were waking, both passengers and stowaways. Everyone looked as dazed and confused as she felt. Stacie was stumbling and crawling back down the aisle to her. She dropped heavily into Grace's seat, almost landing on her lap.
"What is it?" Grace cried out.
"We hit something," Stacie panted. She shook her head in an obvious effort to regain her senses.
"Are we at Ulsy?" Grace asked in a panic.
"From the way the captain is swearing and how pale Adams is I'm guessing no."
Grace looked out her window. A massive piece of metal was slowly spinning away from the shuttle. She swallowed hard. The mangled object looked like an Earth craft. Chase was yelling orders and Grace felt her heart begin to hammer in her chest.
"Straighten it out!" Chase bellowed.
"The controls are not responding!" Adams yelled back.
"Oh God," Grace whimpered.
Up ahead was a giant black hole. They were headed straight for it. The engine spluttered and creaked eerily. Ever so slowly the vessel slipped forward on a collision course with empty nothingness. The lights flickered off and they were flying blind. The entire shuttle was enveloped in darkness.
Grace stretched her seatbelt over to fit the both of them. She struggled to click it together, but her fumbling was successful. Both women clung to one another. The shuttle was spinning in the air. Once more it became hard to breathe. People were screaming.
With a bounce they exploded from the black hole. The engines kicked on for a moment. A planet appeared and they hit the atmosphere. It felt like being shoved down by a large wave. The engines whined and groaned and once again shut down. They were jerked from side to side.
Grace had never been fond of amusement rides; this was like the roller coaster from hell. An explosion sounded and Grace screamed when a jagged blue flame seared a crack in the hull.
The captain was shouting at everyone to put their heads down.
"Our force field has been breached! There's nothing to stop the hull from being crushed!" the captain bellowed.
"Kiss your ass goodbye, Grace. It was nice knowing you!" Stacie yelled.
The vessel slammed into something and spun around. Something large sent it reeling in another direction.
Grace screamed when the vessel snapped almost in half. One entire section was propelled away from them and flew off in the distance taking half the passengers. Grace could see daylight, and very tall, massive trees. The shuttle hit the ground and bounced. Stacie crashed into her side. Grace gasped for breath. The shuttle rolled again and again until it finally teetered, groaned, then settled. Grace remained head down, with her arms clasped over her head.
"Are we dead?" Stacie whispered.
"I don't think so because your bony hip is digging into me," Grace whispered back.
Stacie clicked open the safety belt.
Grace rose to shaky feet. On wobbly legs the women stood at the side of the open shuttle gaping. Huge trees with long vines stretched before them. The dust was settling to reveal lush green, purple and red vegetation. It was like nothing Grace had ever seen before. The colors were so incredibly vibrant she was in awe. Earth had been so gray the last year, Grace had seen only bleakness. This was breathtaking.
"I can breathe this air," Grace said excitedly. "Have you ever smelt anything so incredibly fresh?"
Both women ventured forward. They were followed by a few others. The ground beneath their feet was spongy and soft, almost bouncy. It was no wonder their vessel hadn't just broken into pieces on impact. The air was clear and neither warm nor cold. The sky was a darker blue than Grace was used to, but it was bright outside. She understood why when she saw two suns and the outline of four close moons. She moved forward and touched a tree. The bark was as smooth as velvet and soft like the ground. She pushed into the tree bark. It was like foam except after a few inches it became very hard underneath.
All around her the others were gaping and exclamations of wonder were heard.
"Everyone stay together. There could be danger out here," the captain's booming voice stilled everyone's motion.
It was hard to imagine anything evil in this picturesque place.
Adams came out from the shuttle looking grim. "We lost two stowaways. Two of the men who weren't wearing seatbelts. They must have been ejected when the ship split. They're both face down on the other side of the shuttle. From the window I could see they suffered too much damage to be alive. I don't know about the others. I don't see their bodies."
Grace looked around. Dustin was still with them; he had apparently settled himself beside one of the passenger women. Their number was eight. Three women, five men. The others must have been in the other part of the vessel that broke off. Grace wondered at their fate. The captain was also looking at Dustin and Grace was remembering what Adams had said. When the captain's gaze settled onto the man with narrowed eyes, Grace reacted. Without thought she screamed at the man to run, but it was too late. Chase grabbed Dustin and zapped him with the stun gun.
"For mutiny," Chase ground out.
Dustin sank to the ground.
"How could you?" Grace screamed. "We have no idea where we are and you killed an unarmed man."
"You all saw him charge me and Adams," Chase replied calmly. "He would have killed us all."
"But you stopped him from being a threat," Stacie argued. "You murdered him in cold blood. I'll testify to that. They must have laws on Ulsy."
Chase glared at her and looked around. The man who had been giving food and water to Stacie wasn't among them. The captain grinned at Stacie then and moved forward toward her, fists balled. Stacie paled and took a step back. Grace maneuvered herself in front of her. She put her hands up on Chase's chest. Adams stepped forward as well.
"You have no idea what the real laws of Ulsy are." Chase sneered.
"Chase, we have a bigger issue here," Adams said. "We have no idea where we are and the part of the console that ripped off is in the other half of the shuttle. Our communication is severed. We have no way to contact Ulsy."
"We need to find the other half," Chase said.
He then looked down at Grace and gripped her wrists. He yanked her closer and kissed her hard.
Grace struggled and fought him. The kiss broke when Chase jerked forward and howled.
Stacie had hit him with a large branch across his back. Chase took a swing at her, but Stacie dodged him. She spun and fled into the brush with four others following her. Grace turned to join them, but Chase grabbed her again.
"Oh no," he snarled. "You're mine. I chose you as my reward for good service."
Again Grace struggled against him wondering what on earth he meant. Did he think because he saved people with his shuttle, people on Ulsy would turn a blind eye to confinement and rape? Oh God, would they? Once again Grace wondered what she had gotten into. A scream in the foliage stopped them all. Grace whimpered, when she remembered what Adams had said about creatures on Ulsy. There could be creatures here, too. What happened to Adams' niece?
Chase pulled her away from the shuttle with Adams trailing.
Grace was hard-pressed to match the large man's stride but she had no choice. Grace was yanked through thick vegetation. Everything was so different from Earth. Never before had she seen trees so tall or this cream-colored shade. The leaves looked prehistoric they were so large. Off to her right, Grace gasped when she saw what looked like a red frog. The thing was about half a foot in size and when it opened its mouth, she saw jagged sharp teeth--a forked tongue flicked out.
A screeching noise captured their attention and they all looked up. A bird with an eight-foot wingspan soared overhead. The creature was feathered on top, while its underside was slick as a dolphin. It squawked again with a big beak and had flaming colors of black and orange. It dropped lower and hissed at them.
Chase dragged her faster.
"You're hurting me," Grace snapped and yanked at Chase's hand. "This aimless running is pointless, you big coward."
They stopped abruptly and Chase tossed her to the ground.
Grace was breathing heavily; she rubbed at her aching wrist. She glared up at Chase then over to Adams. "So much for your crew," she said.
"We'll find the others," Chase said. He rubbed at his back. "Whatever scared your little friend must have been big. Hopefully it was a painful death."
"You're a cruel man," Grace said.
"I'm a very strong man," he countered. "I'm thinking you're going to be very pleased when I keep you safe from the dangerous things around here. And it looks like there may be a lot of them."
"I doubt it," she countered back. "The only dangerous thing I see is you."
Chase pulled her to her feet. "You better get used to it."
"We need to make a shelter of some kind," Adams said, looking around at their surroundings. "Who knows what's out there."
As if on cue, Grace screamed when something appeared behind them from the bush. It was huge. It took a step toward her and Chase. Grace screamed again.
Adams struck at it, then howled and gripped his hand tightly when he connected with the creature. It picked Adams up and tossed him against a tree like he weighed no more than a child.
Grace's eyes widened when she heard a sharp snap as his back bowed connecting with the trunk. With a hard thump he landed on the ground, bounced then settled, the side of his face resting against the spongy turf. His eyes remained open and fixed. Adams stayed down.
Chase bellowed like a bull in full charge and attacked the creature. Chase was a large man, but even he was dwarfed by it. Grace cried out when the creature punched Chase in the face. She heard a sickening crunching sound as bones broke. Chase went down; the solid blow had killed him instantly. The creature had literally smashed his face in. Grace choked on her vomit then gasped in air.
The being turned and looked at Grace standing there shaking and whimpering. It was at least six and a half feet. It looked like some mutant man-beast or man-machine. Its skin was ebony black and looked hard and shiny like solid armor. The eyes were nonexistent, only black protruding bumps. If Grace had thought Chase had the body of a machine, she was mistaken. This man-beast was broad and powerful. Muscles bulged and flexed. Its fingers were long and thick and curled into sharp talons. One slice across her delicate flesh and she would be disemboweled.
On the ground where it stepped, huge bare feet sank a small way into the spongy ground. The sharp claws on the ends of its toes dug into the yielding turf. Except for one that tapped in wait. The thing before her used the ground to get a strong grip. Instinctively she knew nothing would ever knock over this creature. It stalked her. Its movements were those of a predator's. Imprints of its talons made an impression in the ground for a brief second which then sprang back into place.
The closer it came, the more distinct its features became. Two white inch-long fangs hung down past its lips like a vampire. There were strange green glowing intricate markings across its forehead and cheeks that pulsed with color as they dimmed and brightened. Its nose was thicker and broader than a man of her planet. The nostrils flared and she knew it smelled her as it breathed in deeply. It blinked at her and cocked its head. It growled low in its throat. It then threw back its head and howled the most god-awful noise she had ever heard. Goose bumps dotted her arms. Her hair stood on end. She thought her heart stopped. Grace screamed and fled for her life.