On her world, they call her star struck, but why do the stars beckon her so …
On a mining outpost in the Inner Worlds, a young woman dreams of the stars. When she falls in with a motley crew of bounty hunters seeking to avenge an injustice, Novi believes her dreams have come true. But her journey has just begun.
Led by the only man to bring the mightiest army in the sector to its knees, the crew is engaged in a wily cat and mouse game with the powerful Guild Coalition. With her new shipmates, Novi dodges space outlaws and greedy corporations, mingles with Synths and settlers, jumps the Star Portal Labyrinth and discovers a mysterious legacy bequeathed by the Gods. But each exhilarating adventure raises terrifying questions about her. Can Novi find the answers she seeks before time runs out for her?
Author’s Note: This fantasy adventure in the style of a swashbuckling space western is set on faraway exotic worlds. Adventure, intrigue and action abound in this tale of a feisty young heroine embarking on the quest of a lifetime.
Strap yourself in for fabulous reading entertainment … this tale was a rapidfire adventure from its beginning to the end
— 5 stars from Tome Tender
… was everything I had become used to in Landon’s writings – fast, exciting, full of mystery and intrigue, with a very human element thrown into the mix …
— 5 stars from Author Grant Leishman
it’s a great story, with great world building and a great set of characters…It’s what I’m used to when reading one of her books
— 5 stars from BiteIntoBooks
I found the writing engaging, the characters strong and fun to read about, like friends you might meet in real life. There was fascinating, realistic dialogue between characters that made each of them come to life on the page.
— 5 stars from Dax Munro
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Novi stood transfixed before the oversized display screen. A stray observer might conclude that the eye-catching clips of travel destinations held her attention. The reel played in a never-ending loop to entice the well-heeled tourist looking for his next vacation. But Novi was neither well-heeled nor a tourist. Rather, her raptness was a smokescreen — the deserted Vestibule left her limited options for subterfuge. Having followed her quarry to the Shuttle Vestibule, she waited for him to make the next move. So far, the man seemed content to pass the time with the Guild Corps. The guards, attired in the Corps colors of red and yellow, were happy to answer the stranger’s questions.
The sleek masks on the guards’ faces distorted their voices but Novi didn’t fault them for being careful. Though spacious and well-kept, the Shuttle Vestibule smelled of the mine. On Idriko, it was hard to escape this. The air in the Vestibule irritated her eyes and deposited a fine layer of black dust on everything, including the sealed display screen. The suspended pollutants in Idriko’s air were known to play havoc with tech. While a masked cleaner diligently made the rounds of the Vestibule to wipe away the blackish smudges, he could not keep up with the grimy deposits.
Even Novi, Idriko bred, had trouble breathing the unfiltered air. The Shuttle Vestibule was located outside the Dome that protected the settlement on the planet. The enormous opaque Dome purified the air for its denizens. And had done so since the mine began operations almost a century before. A decade ago, as the skies over Idriko turned brackish with pollution from the mine, the Dome had commenced projecting artificially clear skies to lull its denizens into a sense of normalcy.
Idriko was a mining outpost. Or, a prison colony, depending on who you asked. Novi preferred to identify her world as a mining planet. Not because she objected to the moniker of prison colony. To her, like all the Dome denizens, the prison barely registered in their daily lives, while the miners provided an ever-present reminder of the mainstay of their outpost. The economy of the Dome ran on the mine. An artificial settlement built to cater to the miners’ wants, the Dome would empty in no time if the mine ever closed down. Rumors hinted that a few decades ago, the mine had been in danger due to a shortage of laborers willing to work in the hazardous conditions. Soon, Kuzhampa had been built — a high-security prison located on Idriko. Suddenly, the mine was no longer short of workers. Like a majority of the Inner Worlds, Idriko fell under the jurisdiction of the Guild Coalition. Both Kuzhampa Prison and the Idriko Mine were owned and operated by the Guild, while the planet’s Shuttle Vestibule and the Star Portico up in space were administered and guarded by the Coalition’s military — the Guild Corps.
The Guild Coalition was the pre-eminent conglomerate on the Inner Worlds with a broad portfolio of business interests, jurisdiction over a majority of planets and a large army to enforce its writ. Once, it had also been the richest corporation. But that position had been usurped by Ventini Corporation, or Venn Corp as it was popularly known. Unlike the Guild, Venn Corp focused on one lucrative enterprise. Its innovative and cutting-edge Star Portal Labyrinth had effectively rewritten space travel within the Inner Worlds.
Novi cast another surreptitious glance at her quarry. The stranger continued to chat with the two guards. She’d been packing the last of her gear for her off-world camping trip when her employer had informed her, in his unhurried way, about the stranger asking questions. Mandolyn Wyrento was more than her employer. He was the closest thing Novi had to a paternal presence in her life. Wy had given her mother shelter and a job when she’d come seeking sanctuary nearly two decades ago. After her mother’s passing, Novi had taken over her duties at the tavern, as well as the accommodation at the back of The Watering Hole, Wy’s popular taproom and saloon in the Dome.
The double doors behind the guards slid open and passengers poured into the Vestibule. A shuttle had just landed. No one came to Idriko for pleasure. Thus, most of the disembarking passengers seemed to know their way around, though a few paused to ask the guards for directions. The Corps soldiers pointed everyone to an archway marked ‘Dome’. Inside, a self-driving capsule provided underground passage to a terminal in downtown Dome. This way, no one breathed the poisonous air on Idriko a moment longer than they must.
As the last of the disembarking passengers made their way through the gate, the sign over it flashed ‘Shuttle Ready’. The stranger pulled out his tablet to show the guards his ticket. Novi unhitched her own tablet and hurried to get into line behind him. In the cramped shuttle, she stowed her case of camping gear to claim a seat at the front, intending to be first to disembark at the Star Portico before the stranger disappeared into the crowds.
The Portico bustled with activity. Thanks to the thriving mine, Idriko boasted one of the busiest Star Porticos in the neighborhood. The space station was laid out as a gigantic circle with gates leading out from it like the spokes of a wheel. Travelers milled about, crowding the food court, shops and leisure services. Novi hefted her gear to follow her quarry discreetly. He seemed to know his way around the Portico, heading straight for a gate to disappear through it. Novi glanced at the display above the gate. It flashed a gate number but nothing else, not even a name. That meant the docked vessel was private, not intended to carry passengers or cargo. For a brief moment, Novi speculated that it might be a prison ship ferrying prisoners to Kuzhampa. No, she realized immediately, Guild regulations forbade crafts carrying prisoners from docking at Star Porticos.
Novi pondered walking up to the craft and asking its personnel the name of the vessel. She could follow up if she had a name. Yet, she hesitated. What was the worst that might happen, a wavering Novi reminded herself. They might refuse to give her any information. Then, she’d be no worse off than before. Sometimes, being bold and taking chances paid off. It was a lesson Novi had learned from the rough and tumble pioneers who called Idriko home.
Hitching her tablet onto her belt, Novi strode confidently through the gate. The port at the end of the narrow corridor was connected to a craft. But to Novi’s surprise, no personnel guarded it. Perhaps, the craft had automatic sensors. If so, it was a sign. Or at least, Novi took it as a sign. Reaching for the antique locket around her neck, she pressed until a soft click assured her that it was disabled. She was now a shadow, able to glide through tech sensors without detection. Girding herself, Novi stepped onto the docked vessel. Just for a moment, she tensed, readying to flee back to the anonymity of the circular Portico hall.
But there were no alarms. Nor did any personnel step forward to interrogate her. Taking a deep breath, Novi glanced around the vessel’s cramped airlock. The illustration of a delicate, brightly-colored dragonfly shimmered in the air over the open archway that led into the starship. Novi almost gasped with relief.
Of all the different starcraft plying their trade in the Inner Worlds.
Here was another sign from YanTeo, Novi told herself. A few summers ago, at Wy’s suggestion, she’d crewed on a DragonFly-design cargo-hauler for three months. The stars always seemed to beckon, making Novi restless if she spent too long on Idriko.
DragonFly starships were designed with a maintenance duct that crisscrossed the perimeter of the vessel, with access to every chamber and bay on it. She could use the duct to walk the length of the craft with no one the wiser. Novi stepped cautiously into the ship — a small entryway led into the vessel from the airlock that connected it to the Portico’s docking port. The first thing to strike her was the sheer size of the starship. The cargo-hauler she’d crewed on was smaller than this vessel. Three corridors faced her, leading into the ship. Above one was the universal symbol for Space Bay. She made for it. But something, instinct perhaps, had Novi turn back to glance at the Portico gate. High above the archway that connected the airlock to the ship’s entryway was an embossed emblem — a massive gray snarling beast with glowing eyes and exposed fangs. Under it was lettering in an unfamiliar alphabet. But Novi didn’t need to decipher the script to appreciate the peril she stood in. Heart beating much too fast for comfort, she fled into the corridor towards the Space Bay.
Shyte. Shyte. Shyte.
Pirates. Outlaws. Rebels. Corsairs. Mutineers. Heretics. Apostates. The list went on. And those were only the names the Guild called them. They called themselves the Renegades. On the Rim Worlds, they were heroes — patriots and freedom fighters who’d taken on a financial and military behemoth to defend their way of life.
Believed to reign deep in the dense rainforests on the Rim Worlds, the rarely-sighted but fearsome Yedigrul beast had been the symbol of resistance for the Renegades — an apt mascot for a small and fierce outfit that had fought the larger and better-funded Guild Corps to a standstill. Five years ago, the ambitious Guild Coalition had attempted to expand into the Rim Worlds, a set of sparsely-populated systems on the outer edges of the Asteroid Ring that defined the boundaries of the Inner Worlds. But the independent-minded RimWorlders had wanted no part of the Guild. A determined Coalition had sent in the Guild Corps to conquer the worlds militarily, expecting to enforce their writ with minimal resistance. But from the tropical forests had emerged the Renegades — a ragtag collection of bounty hunters, space pirates, outlaws, spacers and local law enforcement, united together to defend the Rim Worlds. Rumor had it that even prison ships, crewed by released prisoners, had joined the fight to expel the Guild Corps from the Rim Worlds.
Novi, like many Guild citizens, was canny enough to look past the Coalition’s slick publicity campaign to discern that the war had not gone well for the Corps. Six months ago, an uneasy truce had been declared and the Guild had retreated back to the Inner Worlds to further its ambitions. Some of Novi’s cynicism about the Guild came from Wy. An outspoken critic of many Guild policies, Wy had instilled in her a healthy skepticism of corporations — they tended to put profit above the welfare of their citizens. But some of Novi’s appreciation and awe for the exploits of the legendary Renegades was a result of her Idriko upbringing. Like other provincial citizens, Idrikons could appreciate the courage, guts and sacrifice required from a motley crew of RimWorlders to take on the might and power of a professional, well-armed and massive military force, sent in to conquer them by a determined corporation. On many Inner Worlds outposts, tales still abounded of Ryfkin Soren and his Renegades — the RimWorlders who’d checked the ambitions of the powerful Guild and delivered a humiliating defeat to the Corps. The first of its kind the Guild Corps had faced in its long and illustrious history. From what she’d heard about them, Novi suspected that the ferocious Renegades would not take kindly to a Guild citizen sneaking onto their vessel.
The vast Space Bay lay deserted, with the neatly stacked and secured crates of supplies and cargo casting mysterious shadows. Renegade or not, they certainly ran a tight ship, Novi reflected approvingly. Though not new, the craft was uncluttered and sparkling clean. This was no ordinary starship. She’d never set foot on a Star Cruiser before, but the size of the Space Bay confirmed it for her. Facing the massive space door, which gave the Bay its name, was a large console built into the wall, up on a small platform accessed by a set of stairs. She made for the space door. Adjacent to it would be an access to the maintenance duct. Thanks to its DragonFly design, Novi knew her way around the ship.
Retrieving her flashlight from her camping gear, she strapped it on her wristband, to locate the hatch cover that sealed the access. Unclipping the cover expertly in the dimly lit Bay, Novi swung her light into the access hatch. The passage lay empty and silent. Novi paused for a final second to reconsider the enormous risk of her venture. YanTeo had sent her a couple of signs but this was a Renegade vessel. Yet, the questions kept piling up for Novi. The stranger asking questions had a picture with him. Why would anyone look for Hirona after this long, she wondered? What did it have to do with a Star Cruiser that sailed with a Renegade mascot displayed proudly above the entryway? What was a craft with a Yedigrul doing on a planet under Guild jurisdiction? The man she’d followed aboard was an InnerWorlder — what was his connection to a Renegade Cruiser and Hirona? No, Novi determined, she must attempt to discover what was afoot. And whether it posed a threat to her.
Decision made, Novi swung her case in first before scrambling in. Of medium height, her petite frame fit into the passage easily. Though a taller person might have trouble squeezing through. As the hatch cover clicked shut behind her, faint light beckoned her up ahead. Pushing her case before her on all fours, Novi made for the light.
The passage ended at a walkway where inset lights provided adequate illumination. This was the maintenance duct with room to stand and move about easily. Novi unfurled from her crouch to glance around her. A jumble of wires lay coiled beside a toolbox, while tech and vent systems lined the walkway. Stashing her case by the toolbox, Novi switched off her flashlight to go hunting for the Cruiser’s control room. This would be the nerve center of the starship — the bridge, in a traditional ship used to travel over water.
It proved surprisingly easy to locate. The widest access passage from the walkway led Novi to Cruiser Control. A hatch on the roof of the rectangular-shaped room allowed access to the maintenance duct. Novi lay flat to peer down into the chamber, careful to make no sound. With the Cruiser docked, any noise would carry easily to the room below. Light flooded into the passage from the well-lit Cruiser Control through the translucent panel cover. It was enough for Novi to see the small patch of controls on the cover. Grateful to YanTeo for watching over her, she set to work on the controls. Within moments, the cover turned transparent, enabling Novi to spy on the room below. Directly under her was the distinctly-shaped Command Seat, fully equipped as befitted a Star Cruiser. It sat empty. She strained to peer around the Seat, her line of sight somewhat restricted, and could see two people in the chamber. Seated as they were, she could only eye the tops of their heads. They worked silently, without exchanging a word.
Moving away, Novi strode down the walkway again, until the murmur of voices drew her. This time, the access hatch ended at an air vent. The gap between the vents allowed the voices to carry easily to her. Novi adjusted the vents carefully until she could peer into the chamber. Located high up on a wall, the vent provided a good vantage point. Though she could view only some of the chamber, luck seemed to favor her. Facing Novi was the stranger she’d trailed onto the Cruiser.
“There’s no hide nor hair of her, Boss. I checked the mine employment records, the Dome accommodations and asked around the local businesses. Nary a flicker of recognition. Even did a round of the taverns.”
He seemed to be speaking to someone seated directly under the vent. Novi’s position made it difficult to see the seated person.
The stranger grinned. “For an outpost this size, it sure has a lot of taprooms” he remarked.
The smile seemed to light up his dour face. Novi had taken him to be in his mid-thirties, but now she realized that he was much younger. Probably just a few years older than her.
“This outpost owes its livelihood to the mine, Jerik. If it’s anything like other Guild operations, the miners need plentiful and frequent alcohol.”
Novi tried to peer down the vent. The stranger’s employer spoke in a low, deep, masculine voice with a lilting exotic accent. She’d heard her fair share of different intonations on Idriko, on her travels in the Inner Worlds and during her months on the cargo-hauler. But nothing remotely like the seated man’s unusual cadences.
As Novi’s eyes wandered the chamber, the mystery seemed to deepen. Though she could only view a portion of it, the room was large and luxuriously furnished. Across her was an oversized console, inset into the wall. Facing it was a dining table with two chairs. Fruit, ripe and perfectly formed, lay piled atop a basket on the table. Fresh fruit was a luxury few Guild citizens could dream of. She could also see one corner of a huge bed, with a rich silk coverlet draped over it. And directly below the vent were a pair of expensive-looking leather chairs, eschewed by the stranger who stood talking to the hidden man with the deep voice and exotic accent. The stranger, with the picture of Hirona, had referred to the seated man as his employer. Novi concluded that the unusually large quarters belonged to the owner of the vessel. That might explain the signs of prosperity in the chamber.
“The mine was uncooperative until I showed them the special authorization” the stranger explained. “Then, they stumbled over themselves to open their files to me, Boss.”
Who were these men, Novi wondered? The stranger talked of special privileges on a Guild facility. The Cruiser seemed more prosperous than the bare-bones crafts the Renegades had been rumored to fight in. And Novi knew no Renegade ship could possess the authority to demand that a Guild business open up its records. Perhaps, the vessel had changed hands to a prosperous owner who’d kept the Yedigrul embossed into the Cruiser’s entryway. Novi frowned at the thought. No one, vessel or person, could survive on the Inner Worlds without dealing with the Coalition. The Guild controlled the Inner Worlds. And Novi couldn’t envisage a Guild official doing business with a craft that proudly displayed the Renegade emblem. The Renegades had humiliated the Coalition and the Guild would never forget it.
“A dead end?” inquired the stranger’s employer in his lilting accent.
“Aye, Boss. There’s nothing here” the man said confidently.
Relief flooded Novi. She was in the clear. Her gamble to spy on the stranger had paid off. Whoever these men were, they seemed ready to strike Idriko off their list. Though why anyone had come looking for Hirona decades later was a mystery. One she must shelve for now, Novi decided.
A buzzer echoed in the chamber, as a voice with the same lilting accent as the seated man filled it.
“Venn Corp for you, Cap’n.”
Novi’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. He was the Captain, not the owner. The designation seemed to suggest that this was not a private craft. It must be a trade vessel of some kind, because it definitely did not look military. But a Star Cruiser was overkill for a trade vessel. Also, no military craft in the Inner Worlds would dare display the Renegade mascot so prominently.
Then, the rest of the disembodied message struck Novi forcibly.
Venn Corp. What the Zeuf!
Since when does a Venn Corp ship sail with a Yedigrul?
Venn Corp had been founded twenty years ago by popular archaeologist and explorer, Zufon Ventini. Before establishing the corporation, Ventini had shot to fame on the Inner Worlds when a StarVision camera crew had followed the Guild-funded adventurer on an expedition. The live broadcast of Ventini’s adventures had whetted the InnerWorlders’ collective imaginations, making the hard-charging, ambitious and dashing Zufon Ventini a household name before he founded Ventini Corporation.
“Patch it to my console” directed the Captain in his lilting deep voice.
Novi had seen Venn Corp personnel in their snazzy orange and gold uniforms with the embossed lightning bolt to represent the alphabet Z for the founder, Zufon Ventini. The man in the chamber was attired in plain clothes, not Venn Corp livery. Novi pursed her lips. Why on Idriko would Venn Corp employees have special privileges on a Guild-owned mine? The Guild Coalition and Venn Corp were competitors. For now, since they focused on different ventures, the rivalry had not led to any clashes. But Wy believed that sooner than later, the Guild would fight a war with Venn Corp. The Guild Coalition had never been a shrinking violet. And it would not give up its economic, military and political domination over the Inner Worlds without a fight.
The stranger facing her moved to exit the room as his seated employer stood up. The back of his head moved into view first. As he strode to the console on the wall, Novi’s eyes widened. Huge and well-built, with dark hair worn longer than an InnerWorlder, he was dressed in a simple gray shirt over dark trousers tucked into boots. The rolled-up shirt sleeves served to accentuate the powerful forearms and the swarthy skin covered with a fine dusting of hair.
Before Novi could react, the console blinked on and a vaguely familiar face filled it. In his mid-thirties, the man was attired in a sharp suit with a neatly-pressed handkerchief in his left pocket that displayed the lightning-bolt shaped insignia of Venn Corp.
“Captain” the sharply-dressed man on the console addressed the RimWorlder respectfully.
“Mr. Ventini” the Captain greeted him. “What can I do for you?”
This was not Zufon Ventini, Novi knew. For one, he was too young. Plus, pictures of the great man were plastered on advertisements for the Labyrinth all over the Inner Worlds. Even outposts like Idriko had not escaped the barrage of publicity. This must be the son, Zedak Ventini, she concluded.
“Father says you’re on a mission for him, Captain?”
“We’ve concluded the task, Mr. Ventini. It was a dead end. No one’s seen the woman on Idriko or any of the neighboring outposts.”
Shyte. It’s Venn Corp that’s asking questions about Hirona.
The Captain’s answer did not seem to surprise Zedak Ventini. Novi took that as a good sign. They hadn’t expected to discover Hirona on Idriko.
“In that case, I’ve a couple of jobs if you’re interested, Captain?”
So, the Cruiser worked for Venn Corp, was captained by a RimWorlder and flew the Renegade emblem. Hmm, Novi mused, perhaps the RimWorlder had fought as a Renegade or believed in their cause. That might explain the mascot on the entryway.
“What jobs?” the Captain inquired.
No, Novi corrected herself. The Cruiser worked with Venn Corp, not for them. The deference in Zedak Ventini’s manner towards the RimWorlder Captain made it evident that this vessel did not take orders from Venn Corp.
“Escort duty for some rare artifacts from father’s latest expedition” Ventini explained. “Nothing time sensitive. Just the usual safe transport to Headquarters.”
While Venn Corp made money hand over fist with its Star Portal Labyrinth, it was common knowledge that Zufon Ventini continued his expeditions on the side. But Venn Corp, like other corporations, employed its own private military — Ventini Guards. So, why would Venn Corp hire others to escort their precious cargo, Novi wondered. Plus, Zedak Ventini’s remarks made it clear that Venn Corp had used the Captain to transport their artifacts before.
“The second enterprise is delicate and requires someone with your touch, Captain” Zedak Ventini continued.
The Captain said nothing.
But whatever the Ventini heir glimpsed on the RimWorlder’s face must have satisfied him for Zedak looked pleased. “Retrieving an escaped prisoner.”
“A bounty contract?” the RimWorlder asked.
Though the man’s voice did not betray much, Novi had the feeling that the Captain was surprised.
“With a difference” Ventini answered. “We won’t pay if he’s dead. But if you bring him in alive, Venn Corp will pay bounty. Also, if you provide intel that helps us catch him, we’ll pay handsomely. Seven figures, Captain.”
Behind the vent, Novi went bug-eyed at the sum.
Seven figures for retrieving an escaped prisoner. Must be a hugely important one.
“What’s he done?” asked the Captain, echoing Novi’s thoughts.
“It’s not what he’s done, but what he is. A Synth working to raise an army.” Zedak Ventini shrugged. “Dead, he becomes a martyr to the cause. But alive, he’ll provide us intel on other Synths.”
Synthetics had been cropping up on the Inner Worlds in the last decade. Novi wasn’t sure what made them dangerous, but she’d never encountered one. Or perhaps, she had without knowing it. With the prevailing rampant prejudice against Synths, she doubted anyone would voluntarily advertise it.
Again, the Captain said nothing. His silence pushed the man on the console into further speech.
“This is nothing like the Rim Worlds, Captain” Ventini assured him persuasively. “They’re not fighting to save their homes from invaders. They’re demanding special privileges for Synths on the Inner Worlds.”
This time, the Captain was blunt.
“Why does Venn Corp care about Guild citizens demanding privileges, Mr. Ventini?” the RimWorlder asked evenly.
Zedak Ventini pursed his lips, looking grave. “This is highly classified, Captain. I would appreciate it if you kept it to yourself. Venn Corp has credible intel that the Synths plan to blow up Star Portals and disrupt Guild Corps movement. That puts Venn Corp property at risk and we’d like to get ahead of the threat.”
The Star Portals were Venn Corps’ prized assets. The technology had made them the richest corporation on the Inner Worlds in a dizzyingly short time. Connected in a mesh called the Star Portal Labyrinth, the portals used wormhole technology to tunnel ships through space at incredible speeds. What had taken the fastest vessel a matter of weeks, and sometimes months, could now be travelled in the blink of an eye. Venn Corp had four of these Star Portals in operation on the Inner Worlds. They were expensive but the Guild had the money to pay for portal travel. Novi understood that bringing down a Star Portal would disrupt the Coalition by delaying the Corps from responding to trouble in the farthest reaches of their territory.
“I’ll think about it, Mr. Ventini.” The Captain was noncommittal.
“Good.” The man on the console seemed content. “We’ll pay the usual fee for transporting the artifacts, Captain. Venn Corp will transfer half the payment now and the rest after delivery. Shall I tell father to expect you?”
“Yes” the Captain confirmed.
“You have unlimited privileges on SPL, Captain. Use the portals as you see fit.”
The RimWorlder was tight with Venn Corp, Novi realized to her bemusement. Venn Corp wasn’t even charging his Cruiser for traveling the Labyrinth. Corporations were rarely that generous, even to their closest allies.
“This Synth” the Captain interjected abruptly. “What prison did he break out of?”
“Serak Vedino broke out of Kuzhampa five days ago. Since then, he’s been sighted in the Badlands near the Azunti system.”
So, the Synth had escaped the prison on Idriko to hide out in the Asteroid Ring. Novi knew the Ring was referred to as the Badlands, due to the dangerous conditions and the enormous difficulty of navigating through the hurtling asteroids.
“I hope you agree to take on the bounty, Captain. You’re the best man for the job. And Venn Corp likes doing business with you.”
The console went dark as Zedak Ventini signed off. For a moment, the Captain stood motionless, seemingly lost in thought, before he activated his Hailer. It routed through the speakers in his quarters, rather than his earpiece.
“Jeryn” a woman’s voice with the same lilting cadences as the Captain answered the communicator.
Another RimWorlder, like the Captain.
“Need a word, Zin” the Captain said briefly, with an easy familiarity.
“Be right over” she signed off.
As the last of her words echoed through the chamber, the Captain turned to face the vent. Novi’s jaw slackened in shock, as she took in the strong hard-planed face with silver eyes that seemed to glow like a beacon amidst the jet-black hair and tan skin.
He’s not any Renegade. He’s the Renegade — Ryfkin Soren himself.
The man who brought the Guild to its knees.
Ryfkin Soren was rumored to have unusual light eyes, an anomaly for the large-framed, dark-haired, dark-skinned and dark-eyed RimWorlders — a physical contrast to the shorter, light-skinned, bright-haired and light-eyed InnerWorlders.
The planets enclosed by the ring-shaped belt of asteroids. The denizens of these worlds are InnerWorlders. They are shorter, light-skinned, bright-haired and light-eyed.
The planets on the outer edges of the Asteroid Ring. The worlds are sparsely populated, in comparison to the Inner Worlds. The RimWorlders are larger, dark-haired, dark-skinned and dark-eyed.
The ring-shaped belt of asteroids that encloses the sector known as the Inner Worlds. The Ring is also referred to as the Badlands, since it is tough to navigate due to the hurtling asteroids and their effect on technology of any kind.
CORPORATIONS & OTHER ENTITIES
The largest and most influential conglomerate in the Inner Worlds. Once the richest corporation, it has now been overtaken by Venn Corp. The Guild Coalition administers a majority of the inhabited planets on the Inner Worlds and is popularly referred to as the Guild and occasionally, as the Coalition. Their private military force is the Guild Corps.
The military force of the Guild Coalition and also referred to as the Corps. The soldiers wear a bright red and yellow uniform.
The richest conglomerate in the Inner Worlds and popularly known as Venn Corp. Founded twenty years ago by Zufon Ventini, it is primarily a star travel syndicate with a side interest in archaeological expeditions. They own the Star Portal Labyrinth and are headquartered at Venn City. Their private military force is the Ventini Guards.
The private army of Ventini Corporation. Their soldiers wear a snazzy orange & gold livery with the emblem of a lightning bolt to represent the alphabet Z for Zufon Ventini.
A ragtag collection of RimWorlders come together to defend their worlds against a Guild invasion. Led by Ryfkin Soren, they disbanded after the peace treaty signed with the Guild Coalition. Their mascot was known to be the yedigrul, a snarling beast found deep in the dense rainforests on the Rim Worlds.
Hunted all over the Inner Worlds by the Guild Coalition who believe that they are a threat to the InnerWorlders.
INNER WORLDS GEOGRAPHY
Idriko : Novi’s world. A mining outpost with the high security Guild-administered Kuzhampa Prison and the Idriko Mine.
Merinyiko : The world Novi was heading to when she boarded Ilar’s Justice.
Zubiko Ethera : Rustic agrarian world in the Panthera sector, administered by Deziti Corporation.
Fumiko Terra : Sacred Realm 3.
Dirko Zau : Self-governed planet in the Jaraso sector, bordering the Ring.
All of the Inner Worlds is divided into eight equal-sized pie-shaped sectors. The sectors are all named after systems located within their territory.
Panthera Sector : Sector on the other side of the Ring from Idriko. It borders Azunti.
Azunti Sector : A sector between Panthera & Jaraso. Synths have made the Badlands that encircle this sector their hideout.
Jaraso Sector : Borders Azunti and is the sector where a majority of the self-governed settlements have cropped up.
Taribi Sector : The Badlands bordering it offers a unique narrow passage through the Ring, clear of large asteroids.
Star Portal Labyrinth (SPL) : Connected in a mesh, the portals use wormhole technology to tunnel starships through space at a fraction of the time it would take them to travel the distance. The Venn Corp owned Labyrinth has four Star Portals operating in the Inner Worlds.
Shuttle Vestibule : An area on a planet that offers shuttles to Star Porticos.
Star Portico : Space stations that offers docking services to starships.
The Five Year War : The war between the Guild Coalition and the Renegades, precipitated by the Coalition’s invasion of the Rim Worlds.
Edhoran Accord : Peace accord to end the Five Year War.
Sacred Realm (Realm) : Planets where the Benevolent Ones are believed to have stepped foot.
Heavenly Abode (Abode) : Believed to be the final resting place of YanTeo.
Novia ‘Novi’ Dozanti : A young Idrikon woman with secrets.
Ryfkin ‘Ryf’ Soren : RimWorlder hero of the Five Year War, leader of the Renegades and Captain of Ilar’s Justice.
Ilar’s Justice : A Star Cruiser with a mostly Renegade crew on a mysterious mission in the Inner Worlds.
Zinera ‘Zin’ Jeryn : An ex-Renegade, Commander Jeryn is Ryfkin Soren’s deputy on Ilar’s Justice.
Zufon Ventini : Founder of Ventini Corporation (Venn Corp). Archaeologist and explorer who shot to fame on the Inner Worlds when a StarVision camera crew following the Guild-funded adventurer on an expedition broadcast the venture live.
Zedak Ventini : Son of Zufon Ventini and heir to Venn Corp.
Mandolyn “Wy” Wyrento : The InnerWorlder owner of The Watering Hole, a popular tavern on Idriko. He’s Novi’s employer and a paternal figure for her.
Serak Vedino : The InnerWorlder believed to be a Synth leader.
Kural Divi : The only Synth to have escaped Guild custody.
Rolit Miveki : Leader of a self-governed settlement near the Ring in Jaraso sector.