Atom Ulvan, Left Fist of the Emperor, lived a life of power until a rival family destroyed the Meriwether Clan. Now, on the run across the galaxy, Atom must flee the death behind him and use his unique skill-set to survive.
Intent on hunting down his enemies, his two-year-old daughter Margo might be the only one to stop him. Without her, nothing exists to keep Atom from an all-out war on his betrayers.
Genesis is a space-western odyssey across the galaxy that forces a gun-slinging rogue to balance his life between trying to stay alive and coping with fatherhood on the fly. Hop aboard the One Way Ticket with Atom and Margo as they fly the black in search of redemption, revenge, and a little peace and quiet.
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“I never buried her,” Atom whispered to the ghosts as he sat on the metal stairs, his head in his hands.
He sat in silence, listening to the atmo recycling.
“It’ll pass, girl,” he said without lifting his eyes. Margo cooed in reply. “We just need to find our course. We’ve got a ship and some open skies to get lost in. The Walkers will keep after us, but they won’t ever catch us. I won’t let them.”
Atom lifted his head to look at Margo, and she smiled with childish innocence from where she sat in the middle of the empty cargo hold.
“Admiral of the Cheturian Empire, and all I can salvage is one lousy merch,” he thrust himself to his feet and paced the hold. “I’ve commanded fleets of battleships and carriers, marine armies have dropped on planets at my word. But all that’s gone now, and I’ve commandeered this pile of junk.
“One Way Ticket seems a solid name, though.” His sad laugh echoed through the hold. “I’ll keep it on the books, but I gave her a new brain. I even named that AI Kozue. You’ll understand when you get older.”
Margo toddled over to Atom, and he picked her up. Greedily, he hugged her to his chest, breathing in the scent of her soft, dark ringlets. “You look just like your mother, minus the curl in your hair.
“That you get from me,” he lifted her above his head and smiled, but sorrow lined his eyes. He dropped her to his hip and headed for the stairs.
“I’d say it’s time we plot a course for nowhere. Wanderers we’ll be, just you and me, and the ship makes three,” he sang as he mounted the stairs and danced in folk fashion to the empty bridge. “One little astral family.
“Let’s see if we can’t find ourselves something to keep this crate flying.”
* * *
The stars winked in a lonesome kaleidoscope of pinpricked light. Only the nearest systems moved in the darkness as the One Way Ticket sailed through the void with minimum engine output.
Atom reclined in the pilot’s seat, embracing the silence.
“Where to, Go?” he locked his hands behind his head and smiled down at his daughter/copilot as she sat, with a chubby hand pressed against the plasteel laced canopy, at the nose of the bridge. She looked up and studied his face with a solemn air.
Atom cocked a scruffy eyebrow. “Oh, Fiver, you have so much to learn. I’m not sure how I’m going to raise you proper without your mother.
“The ship will have to be your mother.” He dropped his propped feet from the console and stood. “It’s a poor substitute, but it’ll do. I can’t replace her in my heart, and honest, I don’t feel the need to.
“As long as we stay a step ahead of the knives and pick them off as we find them, I’ll be content.” He scooped Margo up in his arms and held her close. “Not happy, mind you, but content. Happy died with your mother. I’m bound to her memory, and that’s locked in this ship, so I’m married to this ship now.
“We’ll raise you.” He held her back and studied the innocence of her eyes. “Live or die, we’re bound to her memory and the honor of our family. We may be wanderers now, but it’s our duty to carry on the Ulvan name for as long as we have breath to do so.”
Keeping his eyes locked on his daughter, he swept from the bridge. “Kozue, keep us on course, and let me know if anything pops the scans.”
“I’ll do that, Atom,” the ship’s AI replied in a soft feminine voice.
Atom paused in the hatch. The voice belonged to his wife, and while it tugged at his heart, the familiar kept his mind focused. His first order, after initiating a hard burn from his home system, entailed loading every scrap of his wife’s digital footprint into the AI. While it proved a mimicry, the ship’s core absorbed a surprising level of his wife’s consciousness.
“Keep our child safe.” He reached out with his off hand and caressed the wall.
“That I will, dear. And protect yourself as well.”
“Go first, Kozue.” Atom looked down at his daughter as she nuzzled into his chest. “Always protect her first.”
* * *
A red light blipped on the dim bridge.
“Atom,” Kozue murmured, rousing him from a light slumber. Across the room, Margo slept in a cocoon-like hammock.
“What is it?” Atom rubbed sleep from his eyes, sat up, and tossed his blanket back.
“I’m detecting a ship flying in our wake.”
“She’s broadcasting a merchant code, but the vessel is still too far out for scanners to get a good read.”
“I hope she’s just a merch,” Atom muttered as he dressed and hurried to the bridge. “Keep ears on Go for me.”
“I always have ears and eyes on her, Atom.”
Atom jogged through the hallway. Miraculously, the ship gave the illusion of space, despite the structural constraints of every space-faring vessel. Dimly lit, the hallway somehow appeared pleasant rather than cold.
Only a few days out from Greenholm, Atom found himself falling in love with the ship. More than just a memory, she offered a future, a wandering future, but a future nonetheless. The ship offered freedom. She offered a slim chance, a chance to survive, but also a chance to carry on. Admiral of nothing, Atom dictated his own future. No longer beholden to the dictates and mandates of the Cheturian Emperor, he wandered after his own will, free but masterless.
“The ship is closing,” Kozue stated. “Long range scans support the ID tag of a merch, but something in their approach seems off.”
“What do you mean?” Atom dropped into the pilot’s chair and began pulling up information on his two holo-consoles.
“Their pursuit is too precise.”
“That it is.” Atom’s fingers flew through the air even as he scowled at the images hovering before him. “It’s a sloppy disguise. They’re trawling, and so the question sits, are they after me, or just after a ship?”
“They’re looking for a prize. A merch never travels directly in another’s wake, unless in a planetary holding pattern. Even then, most captains worth their air will vary the line by a degree or two.”
“True, I believe this to be a result of erratic waste disposal of merchant ships,” Kozue said, and Atom wondered if he detected a hint of his wife’s wry humor.
“That it is, love. But to these trackers, space is too big to have somebody in my wake accidentally. Talk to their core. Find me a hint of their intent.”
“I imagine they mean to board us.”
“My guess too, but do they mean to capture us or kill us? And if they mean to kill us, why not just drop a torp from a distance and be done with it?”
“My estimation is they want it to look like a pirate raid. A torpedo leaves wreckage floating in the trade lanes that might raise some questions among the royal families.” Kozue brought up schematics and a correspondence log with the pursuing ship. “A derelict with a couple corpses points to pirates, especially if it’s stripped. I believe I have been able to discourse with the Green Anne discretely enough that her crew is unaware of my intentions.”
“What did you find?” Atom rubbed a hand through his ruddy-blond curls and scowled at the information flowing by.
“Six crew. None of them have records in the core. In fact, I can find no record of these people anywhere. I believe we are pursued by ghosts. They may be mercenary, but more likely military. I don’t believe I have ever heard of a merc ship with no record whatsoever.
“Either way, probably indicates they are coming for the kill.”
* * *
Margo sat in the center of the empty hold, alone and playing with a rough metal doll Atom had cobbled together. With concentration, she banged the doll on the rubber flooring and made the doll take impressive leaps into the silence of the hold.
A hiss of equalizing pressure escaped as the outer hold door slid open. Muffled by the inner door, the thumping of the intruders sounded distant. With military proficiency, they overrode the locking mechanism and popped the seal on the inner door. A waft of foreign ship, sweat, and oil slid into the hold as the first pair of invaders crouched just inside the cover of the blast doors with their blaster rifles covering the room.
Margo looked up at the intrusion, curiosity lined her eyes.
Another pair, male and female, stepped beyond the first line in a low crouch. Their weapons swept the empty hold. All four paused to study the lone child sitting in the center of the hold, clutching her makeshift doll protectively.
“This is creepy, Cap.” The first soldier flipped on the personal shield hanging from his belt. “Somethin’ ain’t right.”
“I smell you.” The leader motioned for the rest of his soldiers to activate shields as he slid over to Margo. His eyes and rifle scanned the room in a constant state of motion. As he knelt beside the girl he counted the five hatches, including their point of access, two side hatches, a sealed blast door at the rear, and a final door at the top of a set of metal stairs above the blast door. “Venson, Crede, cover the flank hatches.”
Without a word, the second pair of soldiers drifted over to inspect the floor-level doorways away from the others.
The captain scowled at the shadowy, upper door, even as he knelt beside the girl. His rifle never wavered from the dim recesses beyond, but his eyes flicked to the child.
“What are you doing here, little one?” He scanned the girl and determined no threat. He reached for the girl.
A shot rang out.
Archaic and loud, the gun drew a squeak from Margo as she turned to locate the source. Surprise lit the captain’s face as blood seeped from a hole in his chest. With a grunt he collapsed to the floor, staring in wonder at Margo as his eyes lost focus.
Blaster fire erupted from the five soldiers, focusing on the hatch above. Disregarding the colorful display of death, Atom stepped through the door with a long-barreled pistol in each hand. The energy from the attacking rifle bolts slammed into his shield, swirling with light before absorbing into the shield batteries. Atom squeezed off a careful shot, and another attacker fell before the four remaining soldiers took cover in their doorways.
“You’re bleedin’ nutso, mate,” one of the cringing soldiers yelled from a side hatch. “If you miss, you punch a hole,and then we’re all space dust.”
As the man spoke, Atom made his way down the stairs, pistols at the ready.
“Then I shouldn’t miss,” Atom replied as he fired another shot, and the third soldier dropped.
Breaking into a sprint, he dove through the airlock hatch, and before the soldiers could react, he put a bullet in each of them. The first died with the side of his head painting the airlock wall, but the second lingered a moment with a sucking chest wound. Atom stood over his fallen foe and administered a merciful end before stepping back into the hold.
“Another step, and she dies,” the last soldier yelled as he clutched Margo to his chest with his short assault blaster jammed to her side. Sweat beaded at his forehead. “We’re here for you. I can drop her at the nearest planet and let her live, or I can drop her right here. Your choice.”
Atom eyed the man with disdain.
“She’s ready,” Atom growled. “As am I.”
Fusing childlike innocence and guile beyond her years, Margo reached down and tugged at the rifle muzzle. For an instant, the man’s eyes dropped to the girl. Atom took the opening with a sweeping shot, and the soldier lost his eye.
As graceful as a dancer, Atom stepped forward and lifted Margo from the man’s arms. Then the soldier sank to the ground.
“That proved impressive,” Kozue said.
“I trained my whole life as the Lord High Admiral,” Atom replied, looking over the corpses littering his hold. “It was my place to protect the emperor, and take his head if the time ever came. I never failed.”
“I know this, but that doesn’t alter the impressiveness of what I witnessed firsthand.”
Atom grunted in thanks.