Welcome to the 6 Moons, a bustling planetary system just a wormhole’s jaunt from the Sol system. Six populated moons orbit a gas giant and four alien races struggle in relative harmony to live, dream, and eventually die on the various moons around the gas giant, Ixion.
But how did they get there? If you’ve read any of the Holly Drake books, you know what life is like on the 6 Moons for Holly and her crew of thieves and rogues. If you’ve never been there, this is a great entry point.
The 17,000 word short story below features Holly’s long ago progenitor on his way to the 6 Moons as the captain of space zeppelin named Fortune’s Zenith. Along the way, he encounters dangers humans never thought possible!
Keep in mind, this is only Chapter 1, which is ~1300 words. To read the rest, you’ll be invited to sign up to read the rest as a serialization. You’re not obligated to enjoy the story, however!
Across the Aether: the First Colonists of the 6 Moons
“That’s it! Lower her in, boys! Careful, careful!” Watson Wolfe called.
He raised his hands, pantomiming with them as though he’d be able to guide the figurehead onto the nose of the space zeppelin from where he stood in the coastal shipyard.
He leaned forward and gripped the banister of the scaffolding with one hand as the crane holding her lurched and the old figurehead began to sway and tug against the lines and braces holding her. “I said careful! She’s priceless!” he shouted.
“Oy! stop calling me boy,” the crane driver called.
Watson glanced up at the woman and scowled.
“Use a more appropriate term and maybe I’ll be careful with the old girl.”
Watson cussed inwardly. If he shouted her down, she’d likely drop the damn antique just to spite him, and he wasn’t going to fly across the aether of space without his figurehead. She’d protect his ship, no matter what the alien Centau race thought of him and his superstition.
They were partially to blame for his superstition, being the ones who’d educated him on the dangers of space and wormholes. Monsters, for the love of god. Ages, humans had gone believing that the lore about space monsters was preposterous—something that defied science and reason.
And yet they were out there, drinking the aether, riding its streams and supposedly preying on ships. The Centau had only alluded to what the monsters did, precisely, with the ships. But he would be damned if he’d find out by being naive. If there could be monsters in space, anything was possible. Which meant this talisman against the darkness could possibly do something, anything, against them.
And who cared if it didn’t? The statue was a damn work of art. He was going to have the best-looking ship of the entire fleet.
He bit his lip as he watched the workers—mostly men, hence his usage of the term boys—grab the braces and pull the beautiful feminine statue onto the nose of the zeppelin. She was an angel, with her arms and wings thrown back. Silvery and ivory white, with the wind riding in her hair. He’d found her in a museum storage room, forgotten, and the ship she’d graced long ago dismantled for the wood and other materials, salvaged to build and outfit the vast fleet of zeppelins that would take the voluntary colonists across the cosmos to the 6 Moons. Much of what was used came from decommissioned cruise-liners, due to ancient seafaring vessels primarily being too water-logged and damaged to use.
But if those old boats could be rehabilitated, their scraps were used as well. Watson was fairly certain that the only captain who wanted a figurehead was himself.
The workers continued securing the figurehead to the nose of Watson’s zeppelin, Fortune’s Zenith. As he stood on the scaffolding, watching the process, his heart swelling with pride, a voice at his side suddenly spoke, disrupting his proud reverie.
“The fleet leaves in three days. Yet you focus on the most extraneous aspect of your ship.”
Watson closed his gaping mouth and grimaced, glancing up at the tall Centau, Con Taimois, who had come to stand beside him. The complexion of the male Centau was light brown. A humanoid like Watson, he could have passed for an ancient progenitor that divided off some forgotten human ancestral line. Perhaps even more recent than distant. The alien’s hair was shocking white and tight to his skull, and his eyes a dark violet.
“Did you bring me a manifest?” Watson asked.
Con pulled a handheld v-screen from within his bright green robes and handed it to Watson without moving his steady gaze from the ship. He suppressed a shiver at seeing the spider-leg length of the Centau’s fingers.
Watson flicked his gaze back out to the shipyard feeling the doubt again about what he was doing. Beyond the cradle holding the massive zeppelin—the passengers would ride within the steel, reinforced body, unlike the historical zeppelins and airships of Earth’s mighty past—an array of other ships were also in the process of being finalized. It was an inspiring sight. He clenched his jaw—a bear’s ass he’d be left here on Earth while thousands of colonists took off for greener pastures and adventure.
How many alien races were out there, in the stars, and how many of them weren’t peaceful like the Centaus? Watson planned to take his chances with the Centaus—with their advanced tech they could protect humans from unfriendly aliens. Because . . . because he suspected that word was out that the sentient race on that one blue rock in that one solar system were kind of weak, perhaps? Well, he didn’t intend to find out the hard way.
Watson dropped his gaze to the manifest and glanced over the list of passengers who he would ferry to the 6 Moons beginning in three days. He swallowed, digesting that bit of information. Tomorrow the passengers would start bringing their possessions. It was beginning.
“Sometimes you almost convince me, Con, that you’re not an evil civilization out to trick us. But, it doesn’t help that your name is exactly like a word in my language that means to deceive, old boy.”
The list of passengers included families. Almost all of them, in fact, were families. Word on the street was that the Centaus wanted to populate the 6 Moons with other productive races. Though Watson still hadn’t met any of the other races who would live there, he’d heard from people who’d heard from friends that they weren’t Cthulhu-like, ugly beings.
Thank god for that. Despite their oddities, he didn’t object much to the Centaus. The hardest aspect of dealing with an alien race was simply finding a way to relate to them. That was an issue he could live with. What he couldn’t live with? Being forced to exist in harmony with sentient jelly fish or squids.
“My crew isn’t on this list,” Watson said. “They need to be on there. In case something happens.”
“What could happen with your statue protecting you?” Con asked.
“If I didn’t know better, Con, I’d think you were making a joke. Not very hilarious, but a worthy effort.” He let the v-screen drop to his side. “My crew. Let’s add them to this list.”
Con was always preternaturally still. His movements were stately and regal, and he rarely smiled. At the moment, he looked down his nose at Watson and then gave a slow tilt of his head. “We shall. After I inspect the inside of the ship.”
“Fine with me. It’s built to your specs, after all. Well, with all my frivolous human flourishes thrown in.”
“Centau flourishes are usually a necessity disguised as beauty. The wood that you outfitted the interior with and the other decor is very unnecessary when metal suffices, but I understand that it is what you consider beauty and comfort,” Con said as he followed behind Watson across the scaffolding to enter the ship through a passenger doorway in the hull.
“Metal’s got no warmth,” Watson muttered under his breath. “You need wood, contact with the living. Or at least something that once lived.”
He suddenly found himself thinking about wood as being a dead thing—tree carcasses—and surrounding himself with it like some kind of psychotic tree butcher.
As they entered the ship, he shook his head to derail the weird train of thought. It made absolutely no sense. Of course using wood was normal and not inhumane. What sort of fool—
The thoughts were cut off as workers from the construction crew began reporting to him and Con. The two of them strode through the ship and Watson became absorbed in ticking off the first batch of final checks in preparation for departure in three days.
Nicole here. Thanks for reading! If you’re super into the story, you’re invited to hit the button below and snag the rest. My newsletter is a wicked good time and I’d love to have you join up.