Excerpt - Prosper & Thrive
Prosper & Thrive, book 7 of the Thrive Space Colony Adventures.
Have warp, will travel! A three-world tour!
Thrive Spaceways proved its new warp gate by saving Sass’s butt on Sanctuary. Now Ben and Copeland seek to turn their invention into a business. The Sanks hire them to visit the European theme world of Cantons.
But first the reunited crews owe a whirlwind trip home for inventor Teke. After 15 years, how does Denali of the pterodactyls fare?
Next stop is Sanctuary. Will the AI Loki let his people go?
And then on to Cantons’ city-states of…pikemen and Renaissance wizards?
Rejoin the motley crews of Prosper & Thrive for another space opera romp across the sorry stars of the refugee diaspora on the wing and prayer plan!
John Copeland harbored deep misgivings about this outing, like the screaming war cries of half a dozen pterodactyls circling above the ship. Pterries for short. He double-checked his children’s breath masks.
His eldest son, Nico, age sixteen, insisted he wouldn’t be caught dead in shorts and mesh camp shirt. His teen obstinacy was self-correcting. He’d regret it soon enough. In contrast, Cope’s youngest, nine-year-old Socrates, looked like a native born Denali, except for his short dark hair. When his dad told him to wear shorts, Sock aimed to please.
“He’ll be fine, Cope,” Teke growled, his bald head glistening with sweat. The Denali-born physicist was a good looking guy, with golden skin. He stowed away on Thrive to leave his homeworld half his life ago. “My survival genes are dominant, remember? That’s why you look like me, right, Sock?”
Sock clutched Cope tighter, his favorite of three dads. The boy would rather be like his brother Nico in every way. But he nodded resolutely, determined to face Dad-T’s homeworld.
“Teke, he’s terrified,” Cope said. “Look, let’s wait and set up the bio lock first.”
“If Nico’s going, I’m going!” Sock insisted.
Nico sighed hugely, too old to be handcuffed to a baby brother.
“Today he’s my son,” Teke reminded Cope firmly. “Always yours, and yours too, Ben.” Cope’s husband was Captain Ben Acosta, adoptive father to both boys. “But today he meets my world. My friends came to see you, Sock.”
Sock gulped and grasped Cope tighter. “You’ll protect me, Dad.”
“Well, Zan and Teke will protect both of us,” Cope hedged.
“And Wilder and me,” Ben insisted, checking his paired blasters. “We enjoy shooting things.” The captain and security goon traded a grin.
The door from the hold opened. Everyone in the narrow cargo lock squeezed sideways to make room for the latecomers. Cope was expecting Hugo Silva, software expert and envoy from Sanctuary. He hadn’t bargained on Kassidy Yang and her buzzing camera drones.
Kassidy flashed him a dazzling smile. “Videographer! For Hugo’s people back on Sanctuary. Show them what they’re signing up for on Denali.”
No one in their right mind would suggest the soft Sanks come here.
“Time,” Zan reported laconically. He hit the button to open the cargo door.
And Cope ran out of options. The moment the ramp cracked open, they were contaminated down to their hair follicles. “You’ll be OK!” he assured Sock. “Don’t leave my side, no matter what.”
“I know, Dad,” Sock insisted.
“Stay away from me and Teke,” Ben clarified. “We’re not safe at all.” As though to illustrate, he slipped out the side of the ramp before it reached the ground. Zan, Wilder, and Teke did the same. Judging by the cloud of swearing upon landing, Wilder forgot the 1.1 g gravity on this planet.
Sock let go of Cope to clap hands to his ears.
Yeah, baby, the hull muffles the monster cries.
The outside air hit them like a blast furnace, over 50 degrees Celsius — or 125 Fahrenheit, in the archaic units favored by the locals. Organic smells seeped in despite the seal on Cope’s mask, rich and musty. The air was pregnant with smoke from their guns burning the jungle off the spaceport before they could touch down. Noon-like sun glared through pillars of steam from hot spots on the fused rock and soil. Cope narrowed his eyes. Some of those spots glowed cherry-hot.
The ramp clanked to the stone. Cope grabbed his sons’ hands and strode forth to meet a huddle of waiting hunters, faces garish in the living red, black, and yellow of their bakkra symbiotes. “Kassidy, you’ll watch Hugo?”
“Of course!” Kassidy claimed, still intent on her camera drone deployment. “I thought I remembered the heat.”
The Sanctuary emissary Hugo Silva stood transfixed, gaping at the hellish scene. Pterries dove and harassed each other, maddened by the sonic shield above. One dipped too low.
The hunters suddenly tackled their guests aside as a stunned behemoth crashed between the two starships, Prosper and Thrive. The monster thrashed feebly, a 7-meter wing flapping and sweeping at the ground, screaming agony as it touched dull red hot spots.
“It’s hurt, Daddy!” Sock whispered in anguish.
“Well, it’ll be dead soon,” Cope hazarded, though this wouldn’t comfort the child. Sure enough, Sock gazed up at him, brow crumpled as though betrayed. “Honey, pterries kill people. And they can break a starship.”
He hustled his kids to clear the thrash-zone with their guides. Kassidy dragged Hugo to catch up, until one of Thrive’s lesser guns had a clear kill shot. Gore splattered out, including a gob on Nico’s long pants. The pterry twitched and lay dead.
The hunter guides angrily barked at Thrive through their comms to finish the job. A bloody pterry carcass was worse than a live one. Others would swarm for a free lunch. The gun started up again to cremate the thing where it lay.
“Go!” the lead hunter demanded. He jogged to a couple of stakes in the ground which marked the exit through the invisible sonic barriers.
Trotting as ordered, Cope tried to explain the system to the boys. But they weren’t listening. He remembered well his own first steps into the Denali jungle, astonished and overwhelmed by the exuberant, hostile life crowding vast and aggressive all around him.
Nothing lived on their home moon Mahina unless a human put it there.
Denali was prettier during the polar winter night when he arrived. Not to mention cooler, a mere 30 degrees, or 90° F. Now the summer foliage was furled and ‘cocooned’ to protect tender living tissues from the killing heat of perpetual sun. Brown and yellow and purple seed pods hung like beaded beards from every corkscrewing, zig-zagging, and ferny branch. The underbrush appeared webbed over in thorny dead grass.
Alas, the predators didn’t hibernate in summer. A waist-high fanged ‘skunk’ hurled itself into the sonic corridor and fell twitching to block their path. A hunter lunged to gut it with a practiced swipe of a knife, then tossed it out, trailing brilliant scarlet blood. This excited a feeding frenzy as other animals rapidly converged to feast.
“Go, go, go!” the hunter screamed, as soon as the path was clear.
Cope hoofed it, dragging the boys. He quit worrying about anyone else. This was not the Waterfalls he remembered. He left here in summer. And the sonics controlled the voracious neighbors fine. But now they seemed less effective.
A hunter beckoned urgently from the sharp bend in the path, to the right with a sudden drop around an enormous tree. Cope remembered the landmark, where they clambered downhill on its roots like giant stairsteps.
Nico let go his hand to run in front, because the path narrowed. Three abreast brought the creepy leaf cocoons too close for comfort.
Just as the hunter ahead waved a swooping arm to demand they hurry up, a ‘jaguar’ pounced on him from behind, ripping his arm off. Cope and Sock stumbled into Nico’s suddenly frozen back.
The beast didn’t look like a jaguar, any more than the pterodactyl and skunk looked like their namesakes from Earth. Denali used Earth names to dub ‘similar’ wildlife. The beast was slow-slung, fast, and powerful, black with stripes of reddish purple.
The jaguar dropped the hunter’s detached arm as the man screamed in anguish. The monster switched to gnaw on his meatier shoulder. Cope’s Denali crewman Zan pushed him and his sons aside. He took a knee and aimed his blaster. His first shot exploded the hunter’s head, the second the jaguar’s. Then he ran forward to haul both bodies off the path before any more creatures could swarm in. Teke, Wilder, and Ben trotted by to help.
This was too much for Sock. He tried to bolt into the jungle, away from the carnage. He made it three steps straight into the sonics. He fell flat, with the barrier crossing his midsection. Cope hauled him back into the pathway, stunned and twitching. The moment the dad was sure the boy’s heart was still beating, he cradled him in his arms.
Nico tipped off his face mask to vomit by the side of the path. Cope barely managed to avoid doing the same, as Zan and Teke swung the dead hunter’s body into the grassy underbrush.
“Clear!” Zan called out. “Move it!”
Cope tugged Nico to close ranks with their protectors. He simply carried Sock. They navigated the tree-root spiral staircase OK. Three steps past the tree, a ‘giraffe’ muzzle dipped into the pathway, then shrieked in agony at the sonic barrier.
The 16-year-old wasn’t so grown-up now. Nico nearly knocked Cope over clutching him for safety.
“I need to be indoors now!” Cope demanded.
Zan glanced around in misgiving. But one of the other hunters, up on current conditions, barked, “Everyone jogs! Now!”
He led the way. Thoroughly spooked and pouring sweat, Kassidy and a sobbing Hugo kept up. Ben and Wilder dropped back to sandwich Cope and the boys as they ran steeply downhill.
In a few more minutes, they arrived at the roof of the bio lock, its heavy glass dome overgrown with vines. They piled in and down the spiral staircase into the airlock vestibule. After all the visitors cycled onward into breathable air, the hunter squad exited without a word, back outside to repair the dodgy sonic path defenses which cost them a man.
Cope collapsed to a bench, holding Sock tight. The others stripped and inserted clothing and gear into slots in the wall for separate cleaning.
“Cope, shake a leg,” Teke insisted.
“We’ll catch up,” Cope replied. “Take Nico with you. Ben, watch him.”
The captain nodded. He didn’t pause in getting his gear slotted. He made sure Nico did likewise.
Teke opted to argue. “This reception is for me. And my son. Hero’s return.”
Zan growled, “Man died, Teke. For your ego.” Their hunter crewman slammed the physicist into the wall.
“Zan!” Ben barked. “Move on.” Ben stared him down until Zan pushed through into the showers.
They should have taken a bio lock tank between Prosper and the dome. Waterfalls offered. Sass and the Thrive contingent agreed to whatever the city thought was best. But no, Teke insisted he be ‘treated like a competent adult.’ He was rusty at living Denali-style, but fully trained. So the Prosper crew took the hard way.
Except local wildlife control had degraded since last they visited the city by the glorious river falls. Cope and Ben hadn’t bargained for this kind of terror run. Sass and Abel hadn’t left their ship yet, the Thrive. But they’d beat Cope by half an hour by the time he made it through the multi-step decontamination process.
Ben pushed Teke through the door to face Zan, but tarried a moment himself. “Cope, you can only go forward here.”
“I know,” Cope agreed. “He’ll be OK. Just need the world to go quiet for a minute.”
Ben nodded. “He’s staying on Mahina. While we go to Sanctuary and Cantons.”
Cope tipped his head and hugged Sock tighter. “Children aren’t forever, Ben.” All too soon his youngest would be a mouthy teenager, and never sit on his lap again.
“Our lives are in space,” the captain countered. “Nico and I need you. Thrive Spaceways needs you. Sock needs a safe place to go to school.” With that, he left Cope and Sock alone.
“Everyone’s mad at me.” Sock’s reedy voice shook on the edge of tears. “I’m sorry, Daddy!”
“Hush, sweet one,” Cope crooned. “I’m not mad at you. Dad Teke just wants to show you off. He’s proud of you.”
He wasn’t convinced by his words either. But finally, with the two of them alone, he helped the boy strip out of the strange outfit. They sorted their things into the cleaning holes. They drank deep from the fountain, slightly orange with a tang of iron.
“I’m going to shave my head,” Cope volunteered. “Gets us through the steps faster.”
Sock rubbed his hair unhappily. If Cope wasn’t mistaken, the child already sported ocher patches of bakkra, the tell-tale color of fear. Better get him into the showers quick.
“It’s cooler in here,” Sock murmured, as they passed into their first of several scrub-downs.
And it was. Cope was amazed. Despite clouds of steam clogging the next stage, the temperature was cooler than he remembered even in winter, an almost comfortable 85 Fahrenheit — below 30 Celsius.
“Daddy, I don’t like Denali. Dad Ben was right. I should’ve stayed home.”
The boy quietly wept while Cope shaved his head bald. It was less hassle than shampooing three times with tar soap to kill the rego bakkra. The engineer consoled himself that at least the child didn’t ask why Uncle Zan killed the other hunter. Mercy killing, Cope hoped.
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