For eons a dark force has lurked inside Archalon, waiting.
In 2354 the Confederacy set it free. Now the alien uprising is imminent and there’s only one person left to stop it.
Nova goes where others dare not. She shoots first, talks little, and carries a chip on her shoulder the size of Boullion 5. Her reckless courage is all that stands between the Ancients and the annihilation of the human race.
Fear the hero who has nothing left to lose.
Targeted Age Group:: 16-60
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I’ve always loved Tomb Raider and Doctor Who, and a few years ago I started thinking how cool it would be if the two combined… and so The Nova Chronicles were born.
I had an idea for a Lara Croft type character who would travel space like the Doctor having adventures, and then for good measure I threw in some space western characteristics reminiscent of Firefly.
The story soon took on a life of its own and has grown into a vast universe with life or death stakes and a wide cast of very different characters. Still, at its core, it’s still Tomb Raider in Space.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The main character, Nova, was loosely based on Lara Croft from Tomb Raider – I always loved her tough-nut attitude. But her companions stem from a whole range of places. Her companion robot was not (despite what some people think) based on Hal from Space Odyssey. He was always going to be a quirky companion with some elements of Marvin from Hitchhiker’s Guide, but not quite so depressing.
The other bounty hunters are loosely based on video game characters, and other people I’ve read about, but mostly they came to life on their own as Nova’s story progressed.
Another shockwave rocked the bounty hunter vessel, Crusader, and sent shudders through the metal hull. The old ship vibrated as the engines struggled. The ship was big enough for one person to work and live in, but only just.
Nova grabbed the nearest handhold. Red lights flashed above her head and a low siren wailed. Her black hair created a pool of darkness in the bright lights. Her violet eyes sparkled as they took in the emergency messages flashing across her screen.
She struggled to stay upright in the rocking ship. “What was that?”
She looked at Cal, the Class Four Labourbot. He hovered in mid-air, unaffected by the quaking ship. His spherical, metal body was the size of a large melon. The single camera lens that functioned as his eye roved around the control board, taking in the dials and readings.
“Fuel cell explosion detected,” Cal said.
“What do you mean the fuel cell exploded?”
Nova’s white knuckles clutched tighter as another shockwave rocked the ship. Her body whipped sideways, and her hip slammed into the nearest wall. She winced as tendrils of pain shot through her leg. Tears stung the corners of her eyes.
“Dammit!” Her thick boots thumped on the metal as she pulled herself up off the floor.
“The last collection we made must have been sabotaged. Explosives have blown a hole through the fuel cell.”
Nova glared at the robot. Red warning lights flashed through the room and lit up Cal’s panels. The ship’s control board glowed with warning lights. Pressure gauges, heat gauges, fuel gauges, all of them pushed into the red zone, making the alarms wail louder. If they didn’t sort it out soon, the ship was going to blow.
“Cal, can you fix it? At least well enough to get us home?”
“I can patch it up but it would never last all the way to The Jagged Maw.”
“At least tell me we’ve got enough left to pay for repairs.”
“Negative. The ship’s maintenance scan reveals that the explosion cut a hole in the side of the cargo pod. Whatever we had is now in a trail behind us.”
“So we’ve got nothing?”
“Please tell me that wasn’t the same cargo pod that had my weapons in it.”
“I’m afraid it was.”
“Grishnak!” Nova cursed.
“Swearing won’t help our situation,” Cal said.
She clenched her teeth and glared around the control pod for any kind of solution.
“Why the hell would someone do that?”
“My scenario simulators suggest they plan to follow behind us and collect it.”
“Why can’t the bastards find their own damn jobs?”
“Human behaviour continues to baffle me.”
Nova’s teeth ground together. She clenched her hands into tight fists. If she ever got hold of whoever had done this…
Another shudder forced her to latch on to the handhold.
“Get back there and fix the fuel cells. And make sure the airlock holds.”
Cal hovered away.
“Crusader!” Nova said. “Stop that alarm!”
The alarms cut short and were replaced with the rumbling and rattling of the old ship, as the thrusters choked.
“This is Aart’s fault,” she said to herself, thinking over the last twenty-four hours.
It had all been going so smoothly. Aart’s info on a good haul proved better than expected. The drop had been easy; the goods had practically fallen into their laps. Even Aart couldn’t have predicted how good the take would be. Now here she was, stranded, with nothing to show for it.
Crusader’s smooth voice cut through Nova’s thoughts. “The labourbot is damaged.”
Nova’s head whipped up. “What?”
She didn’t wait for a response. Letting go of her handhold, she sprinted out of the command pod. The ship jolted and her body was hurled into the wall. Her shoulder and side exploded with pain. Grazes stung her arm and dribbled blood. She stumbled and leant against the wall. She took a deep breath and limped forward. Agony shot up her side with every step but she pushed on.
It was only a small distance to the engine room. Pipes and wires crowded close to her head. Each wall was covered in panels and drawers which opened into storage holds and cargo pods. The air stunk of oil and burning plastic. Dripping echoed through the close confines.
It felt like her heart was in her throat as she ducked under the machinery and hurried to the back where the fuel cells were pouring their contents onto the floor.
Cal lay in a flammable puddle. Black burns charred his panels and all of his lights were off.
“Dammit!” Nova said.
She fell to her knees by the robot’s side. She pulled him away from the leaking fuel. He was hot to the touch.
“Systems critical. The fuel cells must be repaired,” Crusader said. “Sealant from compartment four-b will be sufficient.”
Nova reluctantly left Cal’s side. She opened the small drawer labelled four-b and rummaged inside. Her hand brushed over glue sticks and a welding gun. Something sharp caught her finger and slashed it open.
She yanked her hand out of the drawer. A deep cut poured blood out of her middle finger and loose flesh hung on either side of the wound. Pain coursed through Nova’s hand. It got worse with every beat of her heart. Her finger throbbed.
She wrapped her other hand over the cut and winced. Blood seeped out around her palm.
“Shit. Shit. Shit.”
She cast around for anything to stop the bleeding.
“Cal! Can you-” Her eye caught the motionless robot and she remembered why she was there in the first place. “Oh dammit!”
“Compartment three,” Crusader said.
Nova tucked her injured hand to her chest and used her other hand to open compartment three. It was much tidier than the other drawer and full of first aid supplies. She yanked out a bandage.
She used her good hand and her teeth to wrap the bandage around her finger. It turned bright red in an instant. She wrapped the bandage until a ball of cloth surrounded her finger. She slammed compartment three closed.
She ground her teeth together and stomped to compartment four-a. This time she pulled the knives out of the way before shoving her hand deep into the drawer. She found the sealant wedged at the very back.
She pulled it out and stepped over the puddle. She shook the tube and took off the lid. She squeezed the grey gel over the spurting hole in the fuel cell. It absorbed and hardened, forming a coat over the leak. It would buy them some time.
It wasn’t the first time Nova had repaired a ship. She’d grown up fixing the rusted machinery she found lying around the dirty streets of her home world. Nova was born on Tabryn, an orphan left on the steps of one of the city’s many brothels. The house mother, Roxanne, ran an orphanage from the same building. That was where Nova grew up and learnt how to survive.
There weren’t many ways to survive on Tabryn.
Roxanne always told Nova that she either had to learn to spread her legs or learn to fight. Nova chose to fight. When she was older, she made some money in mech fighting. Before any of that, she repaired robots and machinery. Things were always breaking down on Tabryn and children were cheap labour.
When she was seven years old, Nova was almost crushed by a loose drill arm. She’d gone inside the multifunction mining machine to repair a busted pipe and the whole thing collapsed. She was lucky to crawl out of the wreckage alive.
She knew Crusader better than anyone; she was the one who had fixed the beaten up wreck and turned it into a functional ship. She’d picked it up cheap, battered, and broken after a drunk-driver crashed it into Tabryn’s desert. It had taken a long time, but with Cal’s help, she put the ship together again, and it was her ticket away from her hated home planet. Crusader and Cal were the reason she was still alive. They’d given her her freedom.
“The labourbot’s backup systems will fail soon,” Crusader said. “Immediate action is recommended.”
Nova turned back to the burnt robot. She carried him to a workbench and set him down. The bench was squeezed in amongst the other machinery. It was only meant for emergency repairs; this seemed like the right time.
She held her injured finger out of the way as best she could and lifted the outer panels away to reveal the inner workings. The tiny chips and wires fit perfectly around the motor. Each mechanical section moved in tandem with the rest of the robot. The parts came together to create an ingenious whole.
The smooth-running machinery was severely damaged. A gear clicked over in an uneven rhythm as it strained to keep the robot’s core functions going. Smoke hissed out from the motor and created acrid fumes.
Nova had to crane her neck forwards to see into Cal’s inner workings. Blood rushed to her head and her neck screamed in protest. Her eyes were the worst of all; they stung from the onslaught of smoke and fumes. Tears poured down her face. She blinked furiously.
She wanted nothing more than to slump down into her chair with a hard drink, but she couldn’t do that to Cal.
The process of reattaching wires was painstaking. Nova’s hands shook with the pressure. Every now and again she ripped her eyes away from Cal to check the fuel cells. For the moment they were holding together, but how much longer would they last?
She gritted her teeth. “Crusader, how are those cells?”
“Probability analysis suggests they will fail.”
“Yes, but when?”
“Between one hour and three days.”
“You can’t give me anything better than that?”
Nova bit her lip and took a deep breath. The worst thing she could do right now was lose her cool. Staying in control was the only way to save herself and Cal. If she didn’t do it for herself, then she had to do it for Cal. He’d been her faithful companion from the start, right from that first journey into the unknown.
“Negative,” Crusader said.
Nova shook her head and went back to work. The race was on. With every passing moment, more of Cal’s systems shut down. The motor was slowing down. It wouldn’t be long before it stopped completely and his systems would go into total shutdown. She could always reprogram him, but it wouldn’t really be Cal anymore.
His quirky personality would be replaced with the factory presets. The boring monotone voices would be no replacement for Cal’s brand of personality. Sure, he was a robot, but at least he understood her. Their connection had been formed over years of living together. No factory preset could do that.
Soot and grime covered her fingers. Streaks of oil traced up her arms, all the way to her elbows. The grey shirt she wore was covered in fuel and dirt; she wiped her forehead on her sleeve. The engine room was hot, especially with the failing fuel cells. Sweat dripped in front of Nova’s eyes from her forehead. The metal rod she was trying to reattach dropped out of her slippery hands. She cursed and wiped them desperately on her long pants before returning her attention to Cal.
Her bandaged finger made it especially hard to work. It bumped into a collection of wires and knocked them free. Cal’s warning alarm flared in response. The loose wires fell deeper into his machinery. She had to use her little finger to grip the cables whilst keeping the rest of her hand out of the way.
A quiet hiss snapped her attention from Cal’s charred wires. Her eyes focused on the fuel cells. A new leak had sprung. It was smaller than the other one but fuel was spurting out and creating a new pool on the floor.
“No, no, no!” she said.
She carefully laid Cal’s wires on the bench and dashed to the fuel cell. She’d left the tube of sealant lying on top. She pulled the top off. Her tense hands clenched too tightly and the grey sealant spurted out of the top. It landed on the floor with a splat and formed hard bumps.
“Shit!” she said.
The tube was squeezed flat. There was the thinnest layer coating the very top of the tube but that was all.
Nova’s voice tremored as she looked from the empty sealant tube to the spurting fuel cell. “Do we have any more sealant?”
“Negative,” Crusader said.
“Can we make some?”
“According to the Cloud, the formula is hidden by confidential patent.”
“Of course it is.”
Nova glared around the engine room for anything that could stop the leaking fuel.
“Could really use some help, Crusader.”
“Scanning all inventory.”
Nova kicked the lumps of sealant on the floor. They were completely solid, no chance of salvaging any from that. She gripped the work bench until the edge cut into her palms. Her head pounded as she tried to solve the problems crowding in on her. Crusader’s engines were failing, Cal’s systems were failing, the fuel levels were critical.
“Compartment twelve has rubber putty,” Crusader said.
Nova ran for the cupboard. “Will that be enough?”
“It is the only possible solution.”
Nova yanked open the compartment door. She grabbed the putty and massaged it as she moved around the engine to the fuel cells. She stretched it as far as she could and covered the leak. She wrapped the putty around the cell as far as it would go.
The leak slowed.
“It won’t hold for long,” Crusader said.
Nova didn’t stop for breath. She dashed back to Cal’s side and picked up a loose wire. She pushed the wire into the receiving jack. Cal’s core systems stabilised. At least for the moment, he wasn’t getting worse. The next part worried her the most. One wrong connection and she’d fry all of his internal circuits.
She breathed deep to steady her hands. She pushed her fear to the very back of her mind. She imagined a solid crate into which she shoved her emotions and then she mentally threw away the key. There was no time for emotions now. She put her cleared and logical mind to the task of fixing Cal.
Piece by piece, she reattached his intricate components. With every new connection, another system came back online. There were three wires left. She reached in for the red cable. As her hand brushed past the inner workings her bandaged finger caught on the stabilization switch.
She watched in horror as the fabric caught on the metal switch and tugged it loose. It clicked off. Lights flared up through Cal’s inner machinery. The motor shot into action. It spun at ten times the normal speed. The inner machinery whirred as it went into overdrive.
“Fuck!” Nova whipped her hand back. Threads of bandage stayed caught on the metal, loose threads waved in the flowing air from the motor.
Each intricate part of Cal’s machinery pumped faster. It was if each component was racing to fail first.
Nova plunged her other hand into Cal’s body. She fumbled with the loose switch. It took all of her coordination to put it back in place with a single hand. She shoved the switch home and turned it on.
Cal’s systems powered down to normal speed. The gears clicked into a steady rhythm and his motor stopped smoking.
Nova breathed a sigh of relief.
When she finally attached the last wire, she lowered the charred section back into place. She opened the interface panel and held down the red restart button. She squeezed her eyes closed and held her breath.
After what felt like hours, but was really only a few moments, Cal beeped. His motor whirred into action inside his metal casing and the robot lifted out of her hands. Cal righted himself mid-air. His camera-eye looked straight at Nova.
“There was a bright white light!” he said.
Nova sighed in relief. A smile spread across her face. Before she bought Crusader both the ship and Cal had been badly damaged. His fried circuits interfered with his artificial intelligence which meant that he could be uncomfortably human sometimes.
“Don’t be melodramatic. You’re a robot, remember?”
“My whole life flashed before my eyes!”
“It wasn’t that bad.”
“I thought I died!”
“Cal, be serious,” Nova said. “I fixed the fuel cell for now, but it won’t last long.”
Cal turned in mid-air to study the fuel cells.
“How are your systems?” she said.
“Diagnostic scan reveals no major faults,” Cal said, his voice returning to the flat monotone of his artificial intelligence. “However, long-distance travel is unadvised.”
“Can you fix the cells?”
Cal hovered to the fuel cells.
Relief flooded through Nova’s body. The dull, nagging pain inside her left temple disappeared. Her hands ached with the strain of fixing Cal. She stumbled to the pilot’s pod and collapsed into her chair with a sigh.
The adrenalin faded from her veins and pain poured in to replace it. Her entire left side ached from where she’d smashed into the side of the ship. Her arm was covered in dried blood and her cut hand stung.
She stood on aching legs and stumbled to the first aid kit. She yanked the door open and pulled out a Parapem strip. She laid the painkiller on her tongue and let the tendrils of cool relief flood through her. The soothing sensation spread over her head, down her arms and into her legs. Nova closed her eyes and enjoyed the sensation while battling with frustration.
They’d gone from having the biggest haul she’d ever seen, to having nothing. Worse than nothing, in fact, because now Crusader was broken. She needed to get the fuel cells repaired or she’d be stranded in the outer reaches of space for the rest of her life.
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