Southern Carpathian Mountains, 1022
“Blow it.” The captain gave the order in the same measured tone that he’d used throughout the long journey and the emergency landing. He had no choice. His crew depended on his staying calm and in control, even though his insides were quaking as much as theirs.
Shaking off the hold, the captain said, “We’re already marooned, you fool. We cannot allow the indigenous population to see our craft, let alone claim it.”
With a jerk of his head, he reiterated his order. The young engineer, who was forced to take on the mantle of chief, set off his series of well-placed charges. The great irony of their crash was that while most of their essentials were so much metallic junk, the explosives they’d carried to take core samples from planets had survived.
They did their adapted job admirably. The remnants of his very first ship as captain turned into a fiery ball that shot plumes of flame high into the night sky. What will the natives think of such a sight? Who can say? They were undoubtedly still pondering the meaning of the bright streak created by the crash, so one more unfathomable event hardly mattered.
The first officer bared his teeth, the glow of the fire shining off the white enamel. “You’ve doomed us! We’re stranded here now.”
“Our fates were sealed the moment we left the wormhole prematurely.”
“A mistake made by your navigator.”
“Yes, and he paid the ultimate penalty for it.” The captain closed his eyes briefly against the pain of his loss. He’d hand-picked most of the crew and now over two-thirds of them were gone. He forced calm into his voice before he gave in to the temptation to shove his fist into his first officer’s face. This bickering was useless—and dangerous. If they had any hope of surviving, they needed to work together.
“We were never going to be able to fix the ship. This primitive ball of dirt won’t have what we need. The longer we left the wreck intact, the more likely local intelligent beings would get over their fear and come explore the goings-on here. You’ve already killed two of them,” he added with a snarl because he still felt guilty.
The male scoffed. “They got too close. I did what had to be done, and what do you care? These creatures are far beneath our species. Their intelligence is less than that of a child. They spend their days watching other animals eat grass that they’ve just pissed and shit in.”
“Exactly. In small numbers, they are no threat to us. There are less lethal ways to deal with them, but we can’t afford to let others of their kind know we are on their planet. They will react out of fear and we number only thirty now. If enough of them attack, not even our weapons will save us.”
The male’s eyes flashed with glee. “Then we attack them first. If we have to live on this far-flung place, at least we can rule it as we see fit.”
“No! We are warriors, trained and pledged to defend.”
“Our own people—the hive.”
“Everyone!” he roared, his patience at an end. There were more important and urgent matters. They needed to move on from this place and find somewhere to settle before the locals got bolder, an isolated spot until they could determine how to blend into this world. Thankfully, their species appeared outwardly similar enough to give them a fighting chance to do so.
As he stared his first officer, the others arranged themselves in an emerging pattern. Half of the surviving crew placed themselves behind the belligerent male, while the captain could feel others covering his back.
So, is this how it’s going to be?
He tried for more patience and reason. “We must work together to forge some kind of life. Perhaps our people will find us one day. Maybe the highest of the creatures living on this planet will gain technology and wisdom to a point that we can reveal ourselves and find a way home.”
He stared into the eyes of someone he’d thought of as a friend, someone else he’d picked for his crew. “We have a long time to discover a solution to our situation. This planet can support us. The sun may be too bright, but the night comes often enough. We can breathe the air and the lower gravity makes it easy for us to maneuver. Even the available food is palatable so far.”
The officer flicked his tongue across his teeth. “The aliens do taste good. Sweet,” he added with a heavy-lidded gaze.
Sometimes being captain meant putting aside personal disgust and doing what was best for the crew. “Yes, their blood can sustain us, but there are other things to consume. We will not kill sentient beings again unless we are given no choice. In time, we might find those who will be willing to feed us.”
Although the officer raised his eyebrows at the word ‘willing’, he also inclined his head in subtle submission. “You heard the captain,” he bellowed to those around them. “Pack what you have and be ready to move. This place holds nothing for us now.”
The battle over the course their future would take was not finished.