A New Dawn Novel, Book Three by Aubrie Dionne
A product of an illegal pairing, Eridani is the only woman without a lifemate aboard the colonization ship the Heritage, and she is determined her less than perfect DNA will not get in the way of finding love. As the ship nears its final destination of Haven 6 after five hundred years of travel, images from the surface show evidence of intelligent life on a planet supposed to be uninhabited. Commander Grier assigns Eri to the exploratory team to spy on the alien society and return with information on how to defeat them.
When Eri’s team lands, tribes of humans attack and Eri is saved by Striver, the descendant of a colonist and a pirate from Old Earth’s colonization efforts in other parts of the galaxy. Striver helps Eri rescue her team, and they are drawn to each other despite their different allegiances. While Striver battles with trusting Eri, Eri must decide whether to warn him and his people about the commander’s intentions or follow orders and complete her mission.
Praise for HAVEN 6:
★★★★½ stars “Fascinating, well-drawn characters and a well-developed alien world make this a tale not to be missed.”
- RT Book Reviews
© 2012 Aubrie Dionne
Matching request denied.
Eri stared at the response on her computer screen as reality prickled the hairs on her arms and then sunk like a bomb in her stomach.
Alea iacta est.
The die has been cast.
She thought of all the ways to express disappointment in the languages of Old Earth: apogoitefsi in Greek, rozczarowanie in Polish, die Enttäuschung in German, and désappointement in French. Such useless knowledge. Her linguist mind teemed with words, making her the most archaic and impractical colonist on the Heritage.
Not only was her job obsolete, but now she’d never have a computer-designated match.
An oscillating holopicture of her parents’ faces drew her attention. She refused to blame them for her predicament. As an illegal DNA crossing resulting from an unrecognized pairing, she knew the computer would never consider her DNA acceptable for lifemate pairing, especially at her ripe age of twenty-five. Her profile had too many question marks, plus a few propensities for disease.
She should have known from the start. She shouldn’t have persevered, pressing the Matchmaker for a decision she couldn’t make because of the rules. How could the Matchmaker argue with a system that had worked successfully for hundreds of years? Eri’s determination raised her own hopes only to crash them down in the end each time she sent a request.
Well, this was the last time, wasn’t it? She clicked off the screen. All of the men her age were taken, and the age discrepancy between her and the graduating class was scandalous. She wiped her eyes. If I can’t work within the system, then there must be some way to beat it by hacking into the matching program or changing my genetic report. Would the Matchmaker catch it? How embarrassing would that be? What would the punishment be?
Her computer alarm beeped.
Aquaria’s pairing ceremony.
She scrambled through her desk, overturning broken light sticks and soybean wafer wrappers to find something to tame her hair. Using the black computer screen as a mirror, she clipped her frizzy strawberry curls with tiny plastic clips. How could she let so many hours slip away?
Daydreaming about having her own pairing, that’s how. She shot up from her desk and pulled her arms through the ceremonial blazer of her uniform. The Heritage’s coat of arms badge decorated her left breast pocket. Pressing the portal panel, she watched the particles dissolve like her dreams.
The corridors lay as empty and silent as a barren world. The Guide dictated that all colonists must attend each pairing ceremony.
Eri shook her head. She had lamented her own lack of pairing to the point of disobedience. Her boots clunked on the chrome as she rushed through the clear glass corridor connecting her small bubble of offices to the belly of the ship. Stars sparkled like pinpricks all around her. One point in particular glittered like a giant diamond, outshining all the others. The sparkle wasn’t a star.
Despite her tardiness, she stopped halfway down the walkway to trace Haven’s circumference with her finger on the glass. Yesterday, it was the size of her fingernail, but now it glowed beyond her entire fingerprint.
Soon we’ll all leave this ship behind.
A wave of melancholy tinged with hope washed over her. Maybe the computer would reassign her a more meaningful job. With plenty of resources, and couples allowed to have as many children as they wanted, maybe Commander Grier would deem the pairing system obsolete. Maybe.
Eri wanted to stay and fantasize, but she’d already wasted enough time. Would her sister notice if she rushed in ten minutes late with puffy skin around her eyes? Probably. Aquaria noted every new freckle on her arm, as if skin cancer were a problem when they had no sun. It will be a problem soon enough on Haven, though.
She tore herself away from her future and entered the main corridor connecting to the ceremonial viewing deck.
Rows of uniformed colonists sat on either side of the aisle. Aquaria stood at the podium, holding hands with Litus Muller, her perfectly chosen lifemate. She reminded Eri of the ancient beauties in her translation texts. A lacy ceremonial gown that Eri would never get to wear flowed to the last steps of the stage. Aquaria’s long black hair shone dark as deep space and her skin glowed in the simulated candlelight. While Aquaria inherited their mom’s loveliness, Eri had her dad’s Irish heritage, and with that, his wayward radish-colored hair and blushing, freckled skin. If it wasn’t for the infamy of the scandal, no one would know they were half sisters.
She spotted a vacant seat in the last row and tiptoed over as Aquaria and Litus recited their vows. Eri switched the sound off the locator embedded in her arm. The thought of pressing a button by accident, causing a shrieking alarm to go off, made her always check twice.
“I pledge my loyalty to you and the Guide…” Aquaria kept her gaze on the podium, as if straining to remember her lines.
“I’ll uphold all customs…” Litus’s voice rang out, strong and certain.
Yada, yada. Eri blocked their words and focused on the pair. Aquaria’s mysterious blue eyes contrasted with Litus’s perfect curls of blond hair. They were two opposites, like a moon and a sun, and yet they complemented each other.
Eri shifted as they recited their final vows. The congregation applauded, a roar of sound changing the solemn atmosphere of the room. People stood from their seats as if Commander Grier’d had them glued there all day. Ushers carried platters of food from a dwindling biodome harvest. The sweet scent of fresh fruit filled the room. Eri slipped through the spaces in between groups to grab an apple and congratulate Aquaria before the receiving line grew too long.
“Eri! There you are! I kept looking for you in the crowd.”
Aquaria threw her arms around her and squeezed. “I’m sorry, Aquaria, I came in late and had to sit in the back.”
“What’s wrong?” Her sister’s eyes shone so bright, Eri saw her disheveled appearance reflected in them.
“Nothing. I wanted to congratulate you.”
“Nonsense.” Aquaria waved away the ceremony like she was shaking off a chore. “Something happened. Are you sick?”
“No. You should be with Litus. I’ll tell you about it later.” Shining the apple with her finger, Eri suppressed a wave of guilt. Her sister shouldn’t spend her reception worrying.
Aquaria took her hand in a viselike grip, her lacy sleeve tickling Eri’s arm. “I’m not going anywhere.” Aquaria tugged her away from the crowd, and they ducked behind the podium. “Not until you tell me what’s got you so upset.”
The scent of artificial lilac tickled Eri’s nose as they stood over the vent. She struggled to keep her composure. She was the older sister by two years, after all. Swallowing a lump in her throat, she met her sister’s penetrating gaze.
“The Matchmaker turned down my pairing request again.”
Aquaria’s mouth fell open. “That’s not nothing. That’s everything you’ve been working for. And to have to come to my ceremony afterward…Eri, I’m so sorry.”
“I’m the one who’s sorry. I’m worrying you on what should be the happiest day of your life.”
“Litus is important, yes, but so are you. My relationship with him doesn’t diminish what we have, and it never will.” Her voice fell to a whisper. “And you deserve to have a lifemate just like everyone else, especially if you want one. I don’t care what the computers say.”
Eri stepped back, shooting a look across the room to make sure no one was eavesdropping. She’d never heard her sister talk blasphemy against the Guide.
The locator on her arm vibrated, and she checked the sender, relieved to have something else to look at other than her sister’s overly compassionate face.
A single message scrolled across the miniscreen.
report to the main control deck immediately.
Eri almost choked when she saw the sender.
Aquaria grabbed her arm. “What is it?”
Eri began to shake, and her knees weakened. “It’s a message from Commander Grier. She wants me to report to her. Now.”
Because I showed up late? Impossible. How could the commander oversee every operation on the ship and keep track of each colonist at all times? Commander Grier had never acknowledged her in any way, not even a stray flick from her computerized eyes.
She’s just a brain connected to the mainframe. Maybe she has nothing better to do.
Aquaria blinked in surprise. “Well, you’d better go now, you lucky star. It’s not every generation someone of our status gets to meet the commander.”
Wouldn’t Aquaria rather enjoy her pairing ceremony than meet the commander?
Eri shook the thought off and gave her a quick hug. “You’re right.”
The corridors to the main control deck stretched before Eri like a forbidden land. No one passed beyond the row of guards without sufficient clearance. People worshipped the commander like some demigod because she was the last of the Earth generation. She couldn’t have all her devoted followers kneeling at the main control deck’s portal.
Eri would much rather sneak back to her office and read ancient Greek plays. But in a ship surrounded by deep space, she had nowhere to hide. No one disobeyed the commander.
A guard three heads taller than her scanned her locator and allowed her through with a narrowing of his eyes. Eri returned his stare as she passed. After the denied matching request, having someone question her importance churned her stomach.
The portal to the main control deck fell away like a million swirling stars, and she stepped onto a viewing platform that spanned the entire length of the front hull. Galaxies stretched out in smears of cosmic dust, and nebulas swirled in bright reds and blues. Haven 6 glittered at the center, like a diamond stuck on a painter’s easel.
A giant screen lowered in front of her. The pixels flashed to life, and the commander’s sharp features and bright green gaze studied her.
Eri wasn’t fooled. The image was only a recreation of who Ursula Grier used to be. In reality, the commander’s brain floated in pink embryonic liquid in a locked glass tank behind the screen.
She bowed before the pixels. “Eridani Smith at your service, Commander.”
“Excellent.” The commander’s eyes moved from Eri’s scuffed space boots to the clips in her raging hair. Did her cheek twitch, or did the pixels just flash?
“I need to know the extent of your dedication to our mission on Haven 6.”
Eri swallowed hard. Was the commander questioning her because of one tardiness in all her history? Stick to the truth, and your voice will come out strong. “I’m looking forward to landing more than anything.”
The commander’s eyes narrowed. Eri resisted the urge to squirm, feeling like an insignificant fly. Can she see my intentions to hack into the matching system? My continual cursing of my archaic job?
The image of the commander’s face grew so large, her eyes took up the whole screen. “Would you do anything to ensure the survival of the mission?” Her voice boomed, echoing over the glass sight panel.
The commander’s gaze simmered, searing Eri’s mind, and Eri straightened up, standing as tall as a five foot two woman could. She thought of Aquaria, her parents, even Litus. “Of course.”
The commander’s face returned to its normal size. “Good. I have a mission for you.”
Eri dropped her jaw, and then snapped it back up. Did Ursula Grier want to learn French?
“I know this comes as a shock. Sit down before you pass out. Let me explain.”
The commander flicked her gaze to a row of stools against the sight panel. Not wanting to seem insubordinate, Eri nodded and climbed onto the nearest one, pushing off a film of dust.
Not many guests for the commander.
Eri’s short legs dangled, and she tensed her muscles to hold them in place. Now was not the time to look childish.
The commander’s image fizzled for a second, then blinked back on. “We reach Haven 6 in a week. As you know, scouts sent out hundreds of years before we left Earth reported it uninhabited by humanoids or any other intelligent species.”
“Last night we reestablished contact with the scout droid sent to Haven 6 hundreds of years ago. Using its interface, we rebooted the satellite orbiting the planet. The satellite picked up images that would suggest the initial scout readings were wrong.”
The commander’s lips set in a grim line of disapproval before her face disappeared. Blurred images of a forest with brown thatched roofs poking out from the canopy filled the screen.
Eri leaned forward, eyes wide. Intelligent life? Not one scout ship had ever picked up even a sliver of proof they weren’t alone in the universe. Since the space pirates severed all communication among the colony ships, there was no way to tell what any other colony ship had encountered. The commander’s image reappeared before Eri could get a better look at the alien settlement. “Which leads me to alter my plans. I’ve appointed you part of an advance mission before colonization. A research ground crew.”
Eri steeled her knees so she wouldn’t collapse off the stool into a puddle of mush on the floor. “Why me?”
“You’re our only linguist, Ms. Smith. You must decipher the alien language and root yourself into their society. Only then can you estimate their abilities and any imminent threat to us.”
Did the commander choose her because she was expendable, or truly because of her linguist skills? She shot down the first thought and continued to listen. Maybe for once I’ll be important.
“We’re not going to land on a planet that may endanger the lives of the people on this mission. You, along with a small team, are to befriend whatever creatures reside on Haven 6.”
Eri’s heart almost burst with pride. “You want me to represent the Heritage?”
Grier’s lips tightened like she was mildly annoyed. “This is precisely why all colony ships have at least one linguist—in case they encounter extraterrestrial life.”
“Of course. I-I knew that.” Eri stuttered over her words. “It’s just—I’m so shocked. I’m honored and humbled you’ve chosen—”
Grier interrupted her. “Report all of your observations to me directly. I need to know their intelligence level, their advancements, and any weaponry these aliens possess.”
Eri saluted. “Yes sir, Commander.”
The mention of weapons did raise a red flag, but Eri squashed the concern down. The commander was just protecting all of them, making sure no one from the ship would get hurt. Besides, this was the first time she’d been assigned a task that would make a difference, and she wanted to prove herself and make the commander proud at the same time. By the time I’m done, they’ll be begging to promote me. Then, I’ll have my choice of a lifemate…gorgeous eyes, chestnut hair…someone to talk to, grow old with…
The commander’s rigid voice startled Eri out of her daydream. “Report to the briefing at seventeen hundred in Bay 6. Don’t repeat this to anyone without code nine clearance. Project reference: Delta Slip.”