Marauder, p.1

Marauder, page 1

 part  #2 of  Outcasts Series

 

Marauder
 


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Marauder


  This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.

  MARAUDER

  First edition. June 16, 2018.

  Copyright © 2018 Cyndi Friberg.

  Written by Cyndi Friberg.

  Table of Contents

  Copyright Page

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Epilogue

  Next up in the Outcast Saga:

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  Chapter One

  “It has been too damn quiet lately,” Kage Razel said. He leaned against the front edge of his desk, arms crossed over his chest. He was dressed in a khaki uniform instead of the outlandish barbarian getup he used to intimidate enemies, but his asymmetrical hair and piercing dark eyes still made him look dangerous.

  Rex Dravon didn’t respond to the odd announcement. He wasn’t even sure why Kage had summoned him to the Viper, the ship currently serving as Outcast headquarters. Kage led the diverse group of mercenaries and had been their leader for the past fourteen years. Some of the fiercest, most brutal fighters in the galaxy proudly called him overlord, so Rex tried hard not to piss him off. Rex had been fascinated with the Outcasts for years. They seemed larger than life and endlessly mysterious, especially their notorious overlord. Rex had only been doing business with them for the past few months, but both sides seemed satisfied with the alliance. General

  After decades of fighting other people’s wars, the battle-weary Outcasts decided to establish a settlement all their own, a civilization based on freedom and individual achievement. They wrote a simple charter with as few rules as possible, but everyone agreed to abide by those rules. They also agreed on penalties for breaking each rule, consequences that were harsh, often lethal.

  The planet they’d chosen for their brash new world was in the middle of nowhere, so Rex’s services went from convenient to crucial overnight. Rex was a smuggler, the best damn smuggler in the universe, according to many of his customers, and Rex himself, of course. And for the time being at least, he worked exclusively for the ambitious Outcasts.

  “We could throw a party.” Arton’s perpetual frown made it hard to tell if he was serious or not. Knowing the ever-grim harbinger the way Rex did, he was being a smartass. Rex wasn’t sure if it was Arton’s ability to see the future that made him so damn grumpy, but Kage trusted the harbinger and frequently sought his opinion before making final decisions.

  “Only if you agree to wear a dress,” Kage responded with a smirk. Most presumed the overlord was Rodyte, or a Rodyte hybrid like the majority of his men. So why didn’t he have phitons? Even Rodyte hybrids had a reflective ring separating their irises from their pupils. Kage’s eyes were solid black with no hint of any other color. Odd. “Our reluctant guests have fought us at every turn, which isn’t surprising. But the past ten days have been much too quiet. I think they’re plotting something and I want to know what it is.”

  Their “reluctant guests” were several thousand human females that the Outcasts had rounded up and dragged to this secluded planet against their will. The all-male Outcasts couldn’t start a settlement without females capable of bearing their young. With one exception, each human female was genetically compatible with at least one of the Outcasts, most had many matches from which to choose. Still, knowing that the Outcasts wanted mates rather than sexual playthings hadn’t gone very far toward earning the trust of the resentful females.

  “Sounds like Outcast problems to me.” Rex crossed his legs, balancing his ankle on the opposite knee so his foot could bounce off his excess energy. “Why am I here?”

  “I want to set a trap using your shuttle,” Kage told him. “Everyone knows your missions take you off-world on a regular basis. If we leave your shuttle open and ready to depart, I want to see if any of the females are still desperate enough to try to steal it or even stow away.”

  “I see. And if it’s stolen, are you offering to replace it, because I’m pretty sure none of those women can fly a Linusian shuttle. It’s taken me weeks to get used to the controls and I’ve been flying since I was old enough to walk.”

  “They won’t get that far,” Kage insisted. “If any of them so much as climb aboard, you and Arton will be two steps behind. Most are claiming they’ve accepted being here and are no longer interested in returning to Earth.”

  Arton scoffed. “We’ve only been here a month. That’s highly unlikely.”

  “I agree,” Kage said. “This way we can know for sure.”

  Rex shrugged. He’d already offloaded his cargo and was ready to head back out on another supply run. A small delay wouldn’t really matter. “How long do we wait for one of them to take the bait?”

  Rubbing his stubbly jawline, Kage was silent for a moment. He stared into the distance, eyes slightly narrowed. “Two hours,” he decided. “That should be enough time for word to spread and at least one of the troublemakers to make her move.”

  “Anyone in particular you’re trying to catch in this strange little trap?” Rex wanted to know.

  “My money’s on Thea,” Arton volunteered.

  Kage chuckled. “Thea Cline is always a safe bet, but I’ll take Shivon Roxtin over on Cobra.” The Outcasts had landed twelve identical ships, fitting them together nose to nose, forming a multi-level “Wheel”. The networked complex now housed the majority of the settler population, making it easier to manage and defend. Each ship in the Wheel was named after a snake, six found on Earth in honor of the females, five Rodyte snakes for the males, and one snake found on multiple worlds for the fifteen percent of the Outcasts who were from other planets. Rex found all the symbolism rather silly. Why not just name the ships one through twelve and be done with it?

  “Shivon likes to run her mouth,” Arton agreed, “but Thea is sneaky and clever. That’s much more dangerous than mouthy.”

  “So put your credits where your mouth is,” Kage challenged. “How much do you want to bet on it?”

  Rex shook his head. These two placed bets about the most irrational things. They were betting on the setting sun the other day, trying to predict the exact moment the star would sink beneath the horizon.

  Arton named an amount and they clasped wrists, formalizing the wager.

  “I’ll delay my departure by two hours, but no more,” Rex warned. “I have a schedule to maintain.” Which was a lie. He came and went when the mood struck him, one of the primary benefits of being his own boss.

  “Two and a half,” Kage countered. “You need time to ready the shuttle for our little game.”

  “Fine. Two and a half.” More than ready to get moving, Rex pushed to his feet. “What shall I do with the female or females if they take the bait?”

  “Depends who we snag,” Arton told him as he stood. “I’ll take care of it. All you need to do is make your shuttle an easy target.”

  “Understood.” He followed the brooding harbinger from the war room aka Kage Razel’s office and they exited the Viper through the aft airlock on deck four. The Wheel really was a marvel. Connecting walkways, some enclosed, others only railed, stretched between the ships, allowing the inhabitants to move freely from one ship to the others without ever touching the ground.

  They walked in companionable silence for a few minutes, skirting several of the ships as they headed for the large clearing that served as a shuttle lot. Rex looked around, enjoying the orderly activity and sense of purpose apparent in each motion. Supplies were being dispersed evenly throughout the ships. Workers were building and repair
ing all sorts of structures surrounding the Wheel, storage sheds, private domiciles, even small shops. With each passing day the area looked less like a landing field for random aircraft and more like an actual settlement. Everyone worked and everyone was rewarded for their efforts. It felt well-organized and surprisingly peaceful for a bunch of mercenaries and their reluctant brides.

  “You’re not technically an Outcast,” Arton’s deep voice drew Rex’s attention back to the harbinger. “But you’re vital to our existence, so I ran your DNA profile through the matching data base.”

  Rex whipped his head around and looked at Arton, shocked by the bizarre revelation. “How did you get my DNA?”

  “You visited the clinic on Mamba last week,” Arton reminded casually. Sunlight shimmered off his sleek silver-and-black hair and made his eyes appear particularly blue. His phitons were silver, the color unique to harbingers. In fact, harbingers all had similar coloring, pale hair, blue eyes, and those strange silver phitons. It was a side-effect of the genetic manipulation that had originally brought about harbinger abilities.

  Rex had cut his shoulder on the scaffolding that workers had been erecting and the wound had been bleeding too heavily for him to return to his own ship, the Marauder. Arton hadn’t invaded his privacy to get his DNA.

  Though unsolicited, the harbinger’s snooping made Rex curious. “What’d you find out?”

  “You have three matches among the human females, but one has much stronger indications than the other two.”

  “How did you manage to find over three thousand genetically compatible females in such a short time? The Outcasts weren’t on Earth that long.” He’d wondered about that detail ever since he heard about the mass kidnapping.

  “We hacked into the battle born database. With a few exceptions, these females volunteered for their transformation program, which is basically the same as ours. We just approved their applications before the battle born had the opportunity.”

  Actually, the Outcasts had stolen the procedure, and one of the lead geneticists, so they were emulating the battle born, not the other way around. Outcasts had a lot in common with the battle born whether they chose to acknowledge the similarities or not. They were both Rodyte hybrids who had rebelled against the unfair structure of Rodyte society. The battle born chose to reform the system, mostly by force. The Outcasts chose to abandon it entirely and start over.

  Battle born was a label given to the offspring of Rodyte warriors and their Bilarrian captives. It had been the hope of every warrior that his offspring would inherit their mother’s abilities, thereby reintroducing magic into the father’s bloodline. The program had been marginally successful with female offspring. Sons, however, were all born latent. They could sense their power, often had spontaneous sparks of ability, but they were unable to access their full potential. Ultimately, the practice had been outlawed, but not before it resulted in an entire generation of barely tolerated hybrids. The battle born were shunned and bullied, abused and subjugated until they had no choice but to rebel.

  Rex was the product of a similar union, and like his battle born brethren, he had a well of untapped magic he was unable to access on his own.

  “Won’t the battle born miss three thousand genetically compatible females?” Rex asked after a lengthy pause.

  Arton just shrugged. “They’d approved four hundred and fifty thousand by the time we left, so they’ll barely notice the three thousand we took.” A completely unrepentant smile suddenly parted his lips. “Of course, I skimmed the cream right off the top. Our females have the highest compatibility indicators possible. Our success is almost assured.”

  Somehow Rex doubted it would be that simple. They were dealing with human females, after all. Still, it was intriguing to say the least. “And my matches specifically? If I choose to court this female, will I be taking a mate away from one of the Outcasts?”

  “I planned for this sort of complication.”

  “What does that mean?” Rex’s tone was a bit sharper than he’d intended, but he’d been opposed to the idea of kidnapping the females in the first place. It was one of the reasons he’d chosen not to officially join their merry band. “You grabbed a few extra while you were shopping for mates?”

  Arton looked at him and smirked. “Basically.”

  “What happens to the leftovers after everyone has chosen a mate? Are they stuck here without a partner, or will you take them back to Earth? I was under the impression that none of the females were going to be allowed to leave.”

  Again Arton shrugged as if none of this was of great importance. “We’re not forbidding them from leaving. We just have no intention of taking them anywhere but to bed.”

  And the Outcasts were the only ones on this entire planet, so the females were SOL.

  He suddenly wanted to punch the harbinger squarely in the face. Rex sighed. His attitude about kidnapping was really irrelevant. The females were here and there was nothing he could do about it. Well, he could refuse Arton’s offer, but that was counterproductive and pointless. If his potential match didn’t bond with him, she would likely be claimed by someone else, someone less understanding and patient.

  He smiled at his own justifications, knowing they were bullshit. He was no different than any other male. He longed for a mate and offspring to carry on his line. He’d just never thought they were real possibilities, but he sure as hells wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity now.

  He cleared his throat, trying to sound casual, almost indifferent. “You said one was a stronger match than the others. Do I know her?”

  “You know of her.” Arton glanced at him and his smile turned secretive.

  “Meaning?”

  “You’re almost a perfect match with Thea Cline.”

  “Your favorite troublemaker?” Rex laughed. Arton was right. Rex had heard all sorts of stories about Thea’s antics since the Outcasts captured her. She’d tried to escape twice, though there was absolutely nowhere to go. The entire planet was an inhospitable wilderness. She fought with the other females and even took on one of the guards. He’d suspected they were kindred spirits, but who in his right mind would want to mate with such a troublesome female? “Thanks for the warning. I’ll be careful to avoid her from now on.”

  “The pull has been known to draw compatible couples together.” Arton shot him another sidelong glance. “For that matter, so has our ruthless overlord.”

  He looked at Arton, not sure he understood. “Overlord Razel likes to play matchmaker? Is that what this trap is really about?”

  “Not entirely,” Arton stressed as they reached the shuttle lot. “I suspect his motivation is layered. He really does want to know if the females have given up on trying to escape, but he also wants to bind you to us in any way he can. Without your contacts, we’d be in serious trouble and Kage knows it.”

  Rex knew it too, but it was always nice to hear he was appreciated. He took a deep breath and looked out over the shuttle lot. The pilots landed wherever there was room, creating a messy collection of shuttles in various shapes and sizes. His was three quarters of the way back and all the way over to one side. Where the Rodyte shuttles were smooth and rounded, his shuttle was sharply angled with jagged edges along the bow. It looked like a wasp among honey bees.

  “Is Thea pretty?” The question was out before Rex could stop it. He didn’t want a mate. Females only complicated otherwise simple situations.

  “Physical appeal is largely subjective,” Arton said, “but I find her more esthetically pleasing than most human females.”

  That was high praise from his stoic companion. “Blonde or brunette?”

  “Light hair, but dark brown eyes. The unusual combination is part of her appeal.”

  Rex had always been partial to brunettes. Not that it mattered in this situation. Genetic compatibility easily trumped outward appearance. Personality, however, was vitally important. Soul bonds lasted a lifetime. No one wanted to be linked with a hateful, argumentative p
artner. “Wasn’t she recently widowed? I’d heard that grief is largely responsible for her misbehavior.”

  Arton nodded. “She lost two children and her mate in the LA Tragedy.”

  Pity and compassion gripped his heart. Her family had been wiped out in one horrendous event. No wonder she rebelled. The LA Tragedy had been completely preventable. That was the worst tragedy of all. A rogue human attacked one of the battle born ships, forcing the battle born commander to return fire. The human then lost control of his ship—a highly sophisticated spacecraft of alien design that the human had no business piloting in the first place—and smashed into the heart of Los Angeles. Rex cringed. The devastation had been unthinkable. He didn’t know the exact number, but many thousands of humans died.

  They lapsed into silence as they reached Rex’s shuttle. Arton waited outside while Rex put the ship on standby and deactivated the external security alarms. He left the control matrix active yet idle, curious to see how far the females would take this.

  “The trap’s all set,” he said as he rejoined Arton on the ground.

  “Let’s head back toward the Wheel. Then we’ll circle around and conceal ourselves in those trees.” Arton pointed toward a dense copse of trees to Rex’s left. “We’ll have a clear view of the hatchway without being too conspicuous.”

  “Works for me.”

  Knowing it would take time for word of the unguarded shuttle to spread, they strolled along at a leisurely pace. There was much about what the Outcasts were attempting that appealed to Rex. He too was tired of power struggles and political manipulation. His background was similar to most of the Outcasts, so he understood their frustration and their determination to build a society more receptive to individual needs than the Rodyte military.

  “You’re unusually quiet all of a sudden,” Arton noted.

  “You’ve given me a lot to think about,” Rex admitted. “A mate was never a priority for me, largely because the concept never seemed real. Now that it’s an actual possibility, I’m torn.”

 
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