Fractured Orbits (a serialized novel)
Chapter 1 of 50
Fractured Orbits is book one in the Encoded Orbits Trilogy. It’s being released as a serial with chapters coming out on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The first ten chapters are free.
The girl with the liquorice-coloured curls sat at a desk in the second row. She chewed on the end of her pencil with her side teeth as her adult front teeth hadn’t grown in yet. Her 3D printed clothes marked her as a refugee from New Haven—someone who had fled when the bombs fell.
She shifted her datapad on her desk as the teacher brought up a hologram depicting a figure-eight dotted with cyan points of light. The shimmering image extended until it filled the area above the students, forcing them all to tilt their chins up to see it.
“The Loop is the reason our ancestors on the generation ships chose this system almost two-hundred and fifty years ago,” the teacher said, pointing at the hologram. “Each cyan dot represents a wormhole. All together, they form a network connecting a series of solar systems.”
Molly pulled the pencil from her mouth and used it to scratch behind an ear, her glossy black hair bouncing with each movement. She frowned as she studied the loop of wormholes stretched through the air above her head.
“But there’s a catch.” The teacher pointed at the line joining the dots. “The network is one way. If you don’t get off at the system you want, you need to go all the way around.”
Molly put up her hand.
“Yes, Molly,” said the teacher as he stopped in front of her desk.
Her brows pulled together before she spoke. “But what about the wormholes that don’t fall on the figure eight?”
“Good observation.” He strode back to the front of the class. “There are a few gates that we know of off the main loop. For example, Indigo Station and Rokan both sit at the end of off-Loop links.”
Molly nodded and resumed chewing her pencil.
“Is that the one?” Greer asked as he looked away from the video feed and at Major Zane, Rock 13-A5’s head of security. Her mono-brow and meaty hands suggested an unflattering throwback to Cro-Magnon genes. Zane lacked refinement—unlike Greer’s new boss, General Swa.
“Molly Oswiu has displayed unexpected skills,” Zane said.
The woman sat way too close to him, but her office was tiny, leaving no other option. Greer shuttered. He could even smell the coffee on her breath.
“You need to be more specific. The skills I’m looking for only manifest in less than one in a billion children.” Greer studied the classroom. Could that little girl really be what he was looking for? From his current point of view, Molly Oswiu seemed ordinary.
The colourful artwork plastered across the wall didn’t hide the fact that the room had been repurposed from an adult space. Children were never supposed to be on the Protectorate’s secret base—yet here they were.
“We’ve detected vibrations through the ground that originate from the girl’s quarters. She’s also had a few disagreements with classmates that have resulted in objects being moved.”
Greer cocked his head. “What kind of objects?”
“Stationary, shoes, food. Nothing big. And no one has gotten hurt.”
“Have you sequenced her genetics?” Greer asked as he returned his attention to the feed.
Zane frowned. “Her mother has not authorized us to. We can’t just do that to a civilian, let alone a child.”
Greer pursed his lips as he focused the video feed on the little girl. According to the files, she had just turned seven—younger than he was hoping for. That could be a problem.
“The girl’s mother…tell me about her.”
“Veena Oswiu was a professor of mathematics at New Haven University. After the bombing our cryptography department recruited her.”
“And the father?”
“Hwicce Oswiu. He’s a soldier, currently deployed on Candy Cane Lane.”
“Hmm.” Candy Cane Lane was the last active battlefield in the Protectorate’s war against the Nadar Alliance.
He zoomed the video tighter onto Molly.
The latest intelligence reports suggested the Nadar Alliance had figured out how to take people with abilities like Molly’s—that is, telekinetic tendencies—and turn them into super soldiers. Molly was the first person within the Protectorate who they’d found with even a hint of this kind of potential.
Why did she have to be so young?
“Have you seen enough?” Zane’s gaze bored into him.
Greer shifted his focus back to the screen. After months of hunting, Molly Oswiu was the best human candidate he’d found to be the Protectorate’s first super-soldier; he needed to overlook the fact she was a child, push away his misgivings and focus on the task he’d been assigned. If he accomplished it, the reward would be great, and his name would go down in the history books.
“Does anyone know how the gates work?” the teacher asked.
The little girl in the classroom raised her hand once again.
“A rock world holds each gate in its place. My mom says these worlds are extra heavy; she also says no one really knows how the system works or who built them.”
Greer turned off the video feed and turned to Zane. “I need to take the girl with me.”
The edges of Zane’s mouth pulled down. “Absolutely not. The Protectorate doesn’t kidnap children.”
“General Swa ordered me to reproduce the work the Nadar Alliance is doing on super soldiers. This girl is the key to that.” Greer shifted in his seat under Zane’s continued gaze.
“Molly is too young to consent to being your lab experiment, and I’m certain her mother won’t on her daughter’s behalf.”
“It’s for the good of us all,” Greer said. “According to the intel reports, the Nadar Alliance already has dozens of super soldiers. If they attacked here, there wouldn’t be a thing you and your team could do to stop it. We need to defend ourselves.”
“The Rock is safe.” She leaned back and smoothed the indigo fabric of her uniform. “I’ve done as General Swa has ordered and shown you the girl, but I won’t condone you getting closer.”
“My work cannot be completed without taking that girl to my lab.” Greer shifted in his seat, surprised a mere security chief seemed willing to contravene her commanding officer’s orders.
Zane pointed to the door. “Get the hell out, and if I catch you going anywhere near that child, I’ll throw your ass in a cell.”
Greer stood and left the office without a word. Zane wasn’t going to help him get what he needed; the woman was more of a goon than a strategic thinker. But if he didn’t produce a super-soldier for the Protectorate, General Swa would fire him and condemn him to obscurity. He couldn’t let that happen, even if it meant kidnaping a little girl.
He strode through the hallways heading towards the tram station. The mostly empty utilitarian grey corridors gave him the space he needed to think. With the introduction of the GenEn protocols shortly after humans arrived in the area, no one was openly tweaking human genetics, yet Molly clearly had abilities beyond a normal human, and the Nadar Alliance had found dozens of others like her.
As he arrived at the tram station, he paused. Swa was going to expect him to have a plan. He took inventory of what he knew.
Millions of humans passed through the gate systems each year, yet no one understood how the wormholes worked. On the surface, the radiation inside the gates appeared harmless to humans, yet both plants and insects showed rare mutations after passing through. If only their ancestors had thought to bring higher animals with them when they left Earth, he’d have better lab animals.
As the tram rolled into the station, his thoughts went to Subject 33. He licked his lips; that specimen would be in his possession soon. Then there was the writing found carved into walls in caves on the anchor worlds. Most likely, the Gate Makers wrote those words before they vanished. Would decoding them give him the insight he needed to reproduce and augment the gates effects? Everything had to be related—he was sure of it.
Without Molly Oswiu, his project couldn’t progress. But how would he get her? Zane was right on one point: kidnapping a child was distasteful. So he needed that little girl to show her true colours. Then for her safety and that of everyone on the Rock, she would be handed over to him and become Subject 34.
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