Dark Legend: A Story in the Stars (by Cheryl Wolverton)

Prologue

"Thank you, Leila." Dalon leaned back from the Gen sitting in front of him. Releasing his tentacles from around her arms, he watched her withdraw, her face a perfectly blank expression.

"Would you perhaps like to lie down, Hajene--"

Dalon shook his head, wincing at such a formal title.

Leila hesitated, then said softly. "I apologize for our transfer. My mind was on..." her eyes dropped.

"It was on the person you really wanted transfer with." Dalon felt the energy, the selyn, the Gen had just given him humming through his system, renewing him, giving him life for one more month, but that was all he felt. As she'd given her selyn to him, she'd held back emotionally. Emotions were just as important in some ways as the life giving energy that every Gen produced...the energy every Sime burned each month to live.

So, what did he do about the problem with Liela? At this rate the next ten months were going to be pure shen.

"I understand," he finally said. "However, since we will be out here, in space, several more months as we analyze this new ship, you'll have to get used to having transfer with the other high order channel. That was part of the rules upon acceptance to this crew."

Again Leila nodded. "I'll go up and check the readings if you want since our latest jump should be complete and we should be coming back into real time soon."

This time it was Dalon who shook his head. "I think it would do me better than you. Go back to Ronnel. You two discuss this."

Dalon stood and left, walking through the darkened metal corridors, his mood not the best. They'd been in travel only six months, still had ten months to go before all of the tests on this ship was done and they could return to Earth. And now he had to put up with a discontent Gen who didn't want to give her selyn to him, but only Ronnel.

He pushed open the cockpit door and slid into his seat. All eight tentacles--two small rope like flesh colored appendages along the ventral and two along the dorsal side of each wrists which were used just like fingers--as well as his fingers flew over the controls hitting various buttons, Dalon checked the selyn consumption of the engines, the time left until they were delivered back into real time, then paused.

Frowning, he thumped the star dial with a tentacle. That was the second time the dial had registered one thing while his Sime senses, which were in tune with his exact location in the universe at all times, told him they were off course.

Not by much, but a little in space could be disastrous. Last time it had happened they had passed a white dwarf.

Pulling up the star charts, he scanned over the last four hours, checking. Sure enough, within the last hour they had passed near one again. Why hadn't he picked up the course error himself sooner, he had to wonder. Probably because he'd been so concerned about the problems on shipboard. Or maybe it was this shenned altered space that was slightly disorienting.

Quickly, he typed in his observations and then decided to go ahead and pull the ship back into real time sooner than he normally would so he could make a course adjustment.

Ten more months of this, he thought disgusted. Ten more months of listening to his Simes whine because one of the Donors who came along had decided, in her nager at least, that she didn't want transfer with anyone except Ronnel. Dalon thought again of the beauitful selyn field of energy he had zlinned just before he had taken transfer with her and taken that energy into his own body.

Dalon didn't want these problems. He only wanted to fly. Dalon's tentacles flew over more switches as he readjusted the engines and computer information.

Why couldn't life be simple? He should have been born back when the Channels were Channels and a Companion was just that; a Companion, someone there with you all the time, working with you, taking care of you while you had that Gen there with his or her field to rest on. Back then they probably hadn't had half the problems they had now. They didn't put up with reluctant Companions who wouldn't share their selyn. Instead, the Companions were eager, excited to serve. He'd read enough stories in history to know that.

It had been such an easier time.

Flicking the final switch, he sat back as the computer engaged and the engines whined.

A bright flash burst in front of him.

Dalon threw up his arm. "What the..."

The engines jerked.

A short hesitation and suddenly every alarm in the cockpit blared.

Dalon shot forward in his seat, pulse racing as lights flashed, bells clanged and engines whined.

The star chart didn't match up with where they should be.

"Computer, manual control," Dalon rapped out, then froze. Distortion made him blink as he tried to focus. His Sime senses told him things were happening that were impossible, they were hurtling to places they had never explored before. It couldn't be...they couldn't go this fast, this far... but his senses didn't lie...

Slapping his hand on the comm, he shouted, "Ronnel! Get up here! Now!"

The ship shouldn't have been able to do what it just did, he didn't think. Then disaster struck.

Looking at the dials, he cursed as they hurtled out of control straight toward a planetary object in the distance.

He punched in codes to get the ship turned before they all were fried or crushed with the impact.

"Shen shen shen!" he cursed, slapping in codes faster and faster, trying to compensate for the fluctuating ship. He could only go so fast, though, because without exact information he just might hurdle them into a moon or another star.

A sudden jolting threw him against the restraint of his safety harness. Dalon tried to hold the ship against the gravity of the plant that caught them but just couldn't. "Helpless. Like a ship without a rudder," he growled low, staring at the screen, watching the planet grow bigger and bigger, defying him to break free of its death grip.

"Shendoni!"

Land loomed. Dalon braced himself.

Impact.

Pain crashed through his skull , spots exploding before his eyes.

Engines whined and crunched as metal twisted, rearranging itself as the land saw fit to reshape it.

Dalon's world turned upside down. Blaring whistles and warning devices sounded, echoing inside his head.

The force of his out of control ship held him paralyzed against his own seat.

Suddenly the ship released its harsh grip and he flew forward, his head and arm connecting with the computer system.

Pain and echoes of destruction warred within him. It took him a moment to realize all was quiet.

The quiet was just as complete as the symphony of noise earlier... eerie and just as uneasing.

Seconds, minutes, he wasn't sure how long he lay there. Finally his mind began to function again and he tried to assess just how much time had passed. Everything was still too fuzzy for his mind to calculate what his internal senses tried to tell him.

Woozily, he realized his head was bleeding.

Trying to zlin where everyone else was, he faltered when he couldn't find any life signs on board.

Had they left him? Had he been unconscious that long? No, a Gen would never leave a channel behind. They had to be outside checking the damage or this part of the ship had been cut off from where they were and they simply couldn't get to him.

He staggered up and down through the corridor, grabbing the walls for support. They were at a funny angle. "Leila?"

Dalon probably thought of her first since he'd just had transfer with her. "Ronnel?"

A wave of dizziness overcame him and he leaned weakly against the wall until it passed. The stench of smoke and burning ciructry filled his nostrils. Coughing, he wiped his face across the back of his arm. Smoke hung low in the air burning his eyes, interrupting his zlinning ability.

Something wasn't right. Other than the ship. Why couldn't he zlin his crew? Why couldn't he hear their voices? Though he still staggered woozily and had trouble concentrating, he knew he had to find his crew.

It was two more steps before he knew. Disbelief filling him he forced himself forward to identify what he knew he'd zlinned...

...until he saw the blood.

Leila's broken body, along with the rest of the crew in the crews quarters filled his vision.

Pain and grief filled his heart.

They hadn't even had a chance. No safety harnesses in here, only at their stations. And there hadn't been time to get to their stations. Things had happened too fast.

"No," he murmured, disbelief warring with any other thoughts he'd had earlier about surviving this. "No!"

His disbelief turned into grief. His entire crew was dead.

"No!" he roared shaking in fear. Fear that would not be easily quenched, fear that buckled his knees as he slid down the side of the hold. Fear because he was six months from home, alone on an unknown planet and in one month he would die the most horrible death imaginable. Instead of dying with his crew, he had just been given the opportunity to find out what attrition was like first hand.

A sound far off, outside distracted him. Jumping up, he whirled.

That quick action did what no other movement had done thus far. Pain exploded in Dalon's head and his eyes rolled back as he sank, unconscious to the spaceship's deck.

But all was not lost, for fate had something in mind, something that would change the course of history for not only this planet, but Earth as well….

[Go on to Chapter 1]

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