ICYMI: We’re celebrating Nina Croft’s Dark Desires series all week long in anticipation of the release of Flying Through Fire, book six in the series. We started by sharing a bonus scene from Break Out (book #1), but the goodness didn’t stop there…Yesterday we shared a bonus scene from Deadly Pursuit (book #2), and today, we are sharing a bonus scene from Death Defying (book #3), which is currently on sale for just $1.99 for a limited time only! Check it out!
“We’ve lost contact, Captain. The signal is dead and there’s been nothing from them in over three hours.”
“Shit.” Callum sat back in his chair, and studied the monitors while he considered his options.
He’d been captain for ten years now, ever since he’d been woken from cryo, and in all that time he’d never had to make a decision. He was out of practice. The ship virtually flew herself, the crew had trained together for years before they left earth, and everything worked like a well-oiled machine. Or had done until the Trakis One vanished off the scanners.
Five hundred years they’d survived in the vastness of space.
Now, they’d finally reached a system which appeared—at least at first sight—to be able to sustain life. Then just as things were looking up for mankind, and the long trip was finally over, disaster struck.
The Trakis One was their lead ship and carried the President of the Federation of Nations as well as his daughter, Tamara. He’d been engaged to Tamara for a while back on Earth until he’d realized what a bitch she was. Hard to believe that was over five hundred years ago. If he and Tamara hadn’t parted company, then in all likelihood, he would have been aboard the Trakis One as well. And now he’d be….he didn’t know…wherever the Trakis One was. Maybe they’d never know what had become of the ship.
But the real problem was that the captain of the Trakis One was also the man who made the final decisions for the fleet. Now the rest of them were wandering around like headless fucking chickens. About time someone stepped up to the mark.
He leaned forward and pressed the comm unit that would connect him to the other ships. “This is Captain Callum Meridian of the Trakis Seven. I say—let’s do this.” Then sat back and waited.
Tasha his second in command entered the bridge and came to stand behind him, resting a hand on his shoulder, and watching the monitor.
“Hi sweetheart,” he murmured. Tasha was an excellent officer, she’d also been sharing his bed for the last five years—pretty much since she’d been woken, and he’d decided he’d had enough of celibacy.
“What’s happening?” she asked.
“Just waiting to see if anyone out there has the balls to see this through. Or whether we’re just going to sit here for another five hundred years.”
There were nine ships in all, well, eight now the Trakis One had vanished. Twenty-four had set off from Earth, named imaginatively, the Trakis One to Twenty-four. Each ship had carried ten trained crews, nine of which were placed in cryo as they set-off on the long journey, to be woken as they were needed. Callum was the tenth captain of the Trakis Seven, and the last. In addition, each ship carried ten thousand “Chosen Ones.” The future of humanity.
Twelve of the ships had gone their separate ways long before Callum had been woken from cryo. They’d had no contact from them in over three hundred years. Another three had been destroyed in unexplained explosions. He supposed that was good going—none of the technology had been really tested before they left Earth. There hadn’t been the time.
Finally, when he’d decided they must have all gone to sleep, the comm unit crackled. Everything was getting old; it was only a matter of time before bits started to fall off—another reason to get off their asses and get moving.
“You’ll take point?” Captain Crane of the Trakis Three asked.
Obviously everyone was a little nervous after what had happened to the Trakis One, and no one wanted to be first to follow wherever they had gone. But it was time to grow some goddamn balls. Adrenaline spiked in his system at the thought of some action at last. Back on Earth, he’d been a fighter pilot, a whole different ballgame than captain of a space cruiser. No amount of training had prepared him for the boredom.
Callum grinned and squeezed Tasha’s hand. “Yeah, I’ll take point.”
One by one the other captains gave their agreement. When the vote was in, it was unanimous. “Looks like we’re on.” Callum said. “Set a course for through the system.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea, sir?” That was his third in command, Aiden Ross. He cast the man a glance. What stroke of bad luck had given him Aiden-No-Balls-Ross as his third? “Hell, yes. I want off this ship. Don’t worry, we have the last co-ordinates of the Trakis One—just make sure we steer clear of that spot.”
It would be a while before anything happened. Before the Trakis One had inconveniently disappeared, each ship had been allocated a planet. They were to approach, do an initial survey of conditions, and if they met certain pre-set criteria, then they were to land and investigate further. This system had two suns and thirteen major planets circling those suns in various orbits, plus a number of outer planets at the edges. Callum’s planet was one of the thirteen, but on the far side of the system. He settled back into his seat rested his booted feet on the console in front of him and had lapsed into an almost hypnotic state, staring at the monitors, when something jolted him awake.
“Shit,” Aiden muttered from beside him.
“Too right.” They were passing the first planet at the edge of the system, keeping a safe distance as this was the last known co-ordinates of the Trakis One. Callum stared at the image filling the screen and got an inkling of what must have happened to the ship.
The planet itself was dark ochre encircled by spiraling radiation rings of palest yellow to blood crimson. But it wasn’t the planet that drew his attention. Beyond that was a gaping pit of blackness—as though all the light had been sucked out of the world. The planet was orbiting a black hole. He’d never seen a black hole before and a shiver ran through him. Had that somehow sucked in the Trakis One? Poor bastards wouldn’t have stood a chance if they’d inadvertently crossed over the event horizon.
“Let’s hope the rest of the system is a little more hospitable,” he muttered.
Through the next days they had confirmation that the Trakis Four and Five had landed safely and their planets were habitable. It looked like mankind had found a new home at last.
It took them a while longer to reach their designated planet. By the time they were in orbit, Callum was itching to get on solid ground. Unfortunately, the preliminary checks didn’t look hopeful. While there was an atmosphere that could sustain life, the oxygen levels were lower than optimal, the nitrogen higher, and there didn’t appear to be any water. Anywhere.
Plus, the view out of the scanner hardly appeared welcoming. A barren surface of grey-green rock, the landscape pitted with mountains interspersed with vast flat plains. No vegetation to be seen or at least nothing they recognized.
But he could see no reason not to continue the investigation. Even if the planet turned out to be uninhabitable, there might be valuable resources. He set the Trakis Seven on course for one of the flat plains which should prove a safe landing site for the huge ship.
Within minutes of setting the new course, they were in trouble. It was as though a huge fist had closed around them and was dragging them in. No longer heading for the flat plain, they were on a collision course for a rocky outcrop. And they were speeding up.
His pulse raced and he gritted his teeth as he fought to wrest back control, but the ship was unresponsive. Shit. No way had he survived five hundred years wandering the vastness of fucking space just to crash now.
After five totally unproductive minutes, he turned to the rest of the crew. “Strap yourselves in. We’re going down.”
He threw himself into the captain’s chair and buckled the harness. A waste of time. At this speed a crash would shatter the ship, smash her into a thousand pieces with no chance of survivors. He’d faced death a hundred times as a fighter pilot back on Earth, but this was different. He wasn’t so much scared of dying as pissed off with the sense of powerlessness. “Goddamn it.”
Then the ship slowed as though caught in a net, maybe some sort of gravitational field. They were still travelling too fast, but if he could get back the steering there was a chance.
At the last minute, she came back to him. Huge and unwieldy, she was slow to respond. He only had seconds but managed to turn her slightly from her course. The scream of tearing metal sounded loud on the bridge as they grazed the rocky outcrop, then bounced along the ground. Callum was flung across the bridge as his seat broke loose and he landed with a crash. The lights flashed off leaving them in darkness. Then the emergency systems kicked in and a dim, orange glow lighted the bridge.
Finally, they skidded to a halt. He lay staring at the ceiling for a minute. When he was sure they had actually stopped, he unstrapped his harness and pushed himself to his feet. A groan escaped his throat, but really, apart from bruises, he was fine. He glanced around. Tasha’s seat had held and now she unstrapped her harness and staggered to her feet. She rubbed her ass. “Great landing, captain.”
“Yeah. You okay?” he asked.
“A bit sore, but otherwise undamaged.”
“I’ll kiss it better later,” he promised and turned to survey the chaos. “Everyone else, okay?”
“Dex is down. Broken neck.”
Shit, Dex had been a good guy. Callum headed to the spot where his seat should have been and opened up the diagnostic screens on the console in front of him. The ship didn’t look in too bad a shape and could no doubt be repaired sufficiently to get them off this piece of shit planet and onto one of the more hospitable ones. But the repairs would take time and he might as well find out what he could about the place.
He turned on the external monitors. As the prelims had shown, the air was thin but breathable. The temperature within viable ranges. “Wake the environmental team from cryo,” he told Aiden. “They can do some tests while we go take a look around.”
An hour later, the engineers were hard at work fixing the ship, and the environmental team was coming around from their five hundred year sleep. There was nothing else he could do back here so Callum took a team of five men and headed down to the docking bay. For the first time since he’d woken, he strapped on a weapon at his waist. Who knew what they might find here. Aliens? Little green men? Excitement filled him—there was a whole new world out there.
“You’re in charge,” he said to Tasha. “Keep them working. I want out of here ASAP.”
As he opened the outer doors, the sense of wrongness hit him. He couldn’t think of another way to describe it. There was nothing tangible, just everything felt fucked-up. He stared out across the flat plain trying to analyze what was making him want to turn around and lock the doors tight behind him. The suns had only just gone down and a dull crimson glow still bled over the edges of the horizon.
“Are we sure this is a good idea?” Aiden asked from beside him. “Maybe we should wait in the ship.”
That decided him. “Shut the fuck up, Aiden. Where’s your sense of adventure?”
Aiden stiffened but didn’t say anything. Actually, Callum was having second thoughts about how good an idea this was. And third thoughts. The sense of wrongness increased as he strode down the ramp. Everything seemed fine. The air was a little thin, but breathable and he could smell nothing “off” in the atmosphere. His handheld monitor wasn’t beeping or flashing, but walking felt like pushing through fog. Tendrils curled around his mind and nausea rolled in his stomach.
“I don’t like this place,” Tyler said from behind him. “It’s a shit hole.”
“Yeah. All the same let’s go see what sort of shit hole it is.”
He stood at the bottom of the ramp orientating himself. The rocky outcrop loomed to his left, then to the front and right stretched the vast grey plain. Far in the distance a mountain range was silhouetted against the dim light. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, but the sense of wrongness didn’t ease.
Something flickered at the edges of his mind, tugging at his consciousness, and he gazed toward the outcrop. The dark rocks were cut by fresh scars where the Trakis Seven had scraped down their side. Lower down, he could make out the darker shadow of some sort of fissure cut through the rock. It was somewhere to start. “This way.”
They were all breathing heavily by the time they reached the opening in the rocks, and Callum’s heart was beating double time trying to get enough oxygen to his starved lungs. The gap was too narrow to take his shoulders straight on and he turned sideways so he could enter. He half expected complaints from his men—he wasn’t sure this was a good idea himself—but they followed him in silence. Maybe they too felt the strange compulsion to go forward.
The tunnel widened but they were headed underground now and the last of the suns’ rays vanished quickly. He flicked on the light from his monitor and kept moving.
Up ahead a dull violet glow lit the passage, drawing him forward until finally, it opened into a huge cavern, pulsing with purple light.
“What the fuck…?” Aiden said from beside him.
Callum stepped forward slowly, and a ripple ran through the place as though the rocks were alive. He caught a movement out of the corner of his eye and whirled around. As his sight adjusted he could make out snake-like structures growing out from the walls. Some sort of rock formations? But they moved as though with a life of their own. “What are those things?” Tyler asked in a hushed voice.
Part of Callum knew this was a really bad idea and they should get the fuck out of there as fast as they could run. But his feet didn’t want to move. Not in a sensible direction anyway. Instead they took him closer to the wall with its mass of writhing tentacles. He slowly reached out a hand and stroked his fingertips along the growth, and it shivered beneath his touch. The blind head slithered across the skin of his hand. Then faster than thought, it wrapped around his arm. Red hot daggers of pain jolted through him as it tightened.
He collapsed to his knees, lava pouring through his blood, scorching up his spine, melting his brain. Smashing to the ground, his back arched as he tried to tear the thing free. The pain built and built until his mind could take no more and he crashed into darkness.
He wasn’t dead.
That was his first thought as he came awake. The second was that the pain had vanished as though it had never been. He lay on his back, the sand soft beneath him, unwilling to move in case something bad happened. But if fact he felt good. Way better than he had since he’d stepped onto this godforsaken planet. Actually, if he was truthful, better than since he had first woken on the Trakis Seven ten years ago.
He lifted his arm, but the thing was gone, and though his shirt was burned away below the elbow, there was no mark on his skin. As he rolled his head to the side, he spotted shriveled remains lying on the ground beside him like a snake that had shed its skin. The rest of his men lay unconscious or dead on the ground, a withered tentacle by each of them.
All around Callum could hear the murmur of the tentacle-like structures as they waved languidly from the walls. Finally, he pushed himself to his feet, and stretched. There was no damage that he could discern, though he felt odd, somehow changed in ways he couldn’t identify. And his body buzzed with energy.
He crossed the space between them and crouched down beside Tyler, feeling for a pulse. It was strong and Tyler’s skin was warm to the touch, but not seriously so.
A groan filled his mind and he glanced up, searching the chamber for the source.
What the fuck…?
He heard the words inside his head, but couldn’t see where they had come from. Then Tyler rolled over, his eyes blinked open, and Callum reared back in shock. The eyes staring up at him glowed a deep, inhuman violet.
What the fuck just happened?
Again, the words echoed in Callum’s head, but Tyler’s lips hadn’t moved. Holy shit. Had he just heard Tyler’s thoughts? Or was he crazy? Tyler gazed up at him as if waiting for an answer. What the hell, it was worth a try.
Something really fucking weird, Callum replied.
About Death Defying:
With a coup brewing and the crew of El Cazador close to tossing him off the ship, Callum turns to Tannis. Sparks fly as they work together to make it out alive. But can Callum really trust the one woman hell bent on using him? Defying death has never been more dangerous, more sexy, or more fun.
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Don’t miss the rest of the Dark Desires series! (Note: each book in the Dark Desires series is a standalone, full-length story that can be enjoyed out of order.)