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Touch of Lightning Sneak Peek

Book 1 in the Lightning Touch Series (A completed series)

Chapter 1

The screen on the Navigational Computer flashed red in the top right corner and my heart stuttered. It would’ve taken a fraction of a second to bring up the following warning message, but to me, it felt like minutes.

No…

This was the part of my job that I hated.

There was ground movement predicted in the area. Strong ground movement. They estimated a 4.5 on the meter, complete with aftershocks.

“Javolo?” My heart was pounding in my throat and I could hardly push the word out.

“Yeah?” His voice sounded extra scratchy over the Com system today.

I could feel a cold sweat forming on my forehead. “You need to hang on to something. You’re about to get a four point five.”

“Okay, Cal. Will do.”

Another thing I couldn’t stand was the wait. I couldn’t breathe properly. I tried to sit still in my seat and calm down. It didn’t work. It never worked. If they knew how badly the quakes affected me, I’d lose my job instantly.

Breathe… Just breathe. In. Out. In. Out.

My hands were shaking so badly that I shoved them under my thighs to stop them.

“Are you somewhere relatively safe?” I could hear the tremor in my voice and hoped the distortion through the Com would hide it.

“Yep.”

I resisted the urge to ask Javolo if he felt anything yet. I couldn’t ask any questions that could give away how I was really feeling. I had to appear calm. They recorded all conversations.

In. Out. Relax…

I wasn’t scared for me. I was safe and sound in my little cubicle up on the space station while Javolo was underground down on the planet, Kronos, mining the universe’s most sort-after mineral, Amakio, and putting his life on the line. I was scared for him, and all of the other Diggers down there.

Most of the quakes on the planet were minor, and there had only been one partial collapse of one of the tunnels since I’d started working for Katoa Intergalactic Mining and Exploration five months before, but that knowledge didn’t help to ease my panic every time it happened.

“Okay, here it comes…”

My heart stopped, I was sure of it. Then galloped ahead full speed as I waited.

Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Relax… Let go of the desk… Relax… Start with your fingers and toes…

I kept trying to relax, one part of me at a time. Maybe it helped. I couldn’t tell.

Why did I even apply for this job in the first place? Yeah, I know. I gotta start somewhere and work my way up… But I don’t think I can handle this. Panicking every time I see those words on the screen… I couldn’t cope if something happened to Javolo… He’s my friend… My best friend.

Sure, there were the girls I knew from work — the other Nav Operators and admin staff — but it was different with them. They were friends, but not real friends. I couldn’t really talk to them. Not about the important stuff.

Then there was Malvolio. We’d been seeing each other for about four weeks, but that was a totally different kind of relationship.

“Cal?”

Javolo’s voice brought my thoughts back to the present. “Uh, yeah?”

Only Javolo would think to shorten my surname from Callista to Cal, as if it was my first name.

He reported exactly what the Nav Computer had told me as it happened. Three smaller tremors… Then…

“Whoah!”

I put my hand over my mouth so I wouldn’t cry out. Then I started my relaxation techniques again. I had to pull myself together, and quickly. I had to wipe the image of being surrounded by dirt and tree roots from my mind.

“Okay. It’s gone.”

I remembered to remove my hand. I took a deep breath and opened my mouth to talk, but Javolo beat me to it.

“That was a big one. Nearly knocked me on my butt.”

A picture of him falling onto his butt in his cumbersome Mech-suit popped into my mind. Now that would be funny to see. And it would be even funnier once he tried to get back up. I’d seen footage of just how difficult that task was in a training video.

Mech-suits were big mechanical suits that the Diggers could climb into that supplied oxygen and boosted their strength so they could dig up the Amakio and bring it back to the waiting shuttles. They had arms and legs powered by hydraulics that were extensions of the Diggers limbs, allowing them to dig and lift heavy weights while mining.

“I told you to hang on to something.”

There really wasn’t anything he could hold on to down there, but I had to say something to try to lighten the situation.

I forced myself to breathe slower and waited for my heartbeat to return to normal. My hands still shook so I clasped them together in my lap. I hated feeling like this. It was overwhelming, but I was thankful he was okay.

“Yeah, that you did…” he said.

I braced myself and waited for more aftershocks. They were only minor. I had to keep telling myself everything was okay and to relax.

I pulled my thoughts from the images in my mind that I wish I could forget and I tried to keep my voice even. “Okay, report.”

“No damage. No more ground movement. The suit’s reporting that all systems are functioning normally. Anyway, guess what?”

I smiled. Javolo didn’t miss a beat. It was straight back to our conversation. “What?”

I busied myself with the Nav Computer terminal, collating all the information that Javolo’s Mech-suit had reported before the quake so it could correlate with the sixteen orbiting navigational satellites and make the necessary corrections to his position on the screen. Now I had his exact location.

“Last night I saw the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen!” he exclaimed through the static over the Com.

Where did that come from? I wondered.

The last thing we were talking about that wasn’t work-related was a HoloMovie I’d seen recently about a droid that thought it was human. But I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to tease him.

“Ah-huh. Like the redhead you saw last month?” I laughed. “Or the brunette in the grav shaft last week?”

“No,” he said quickly, “this is different. Cut me some slack, huh?”

“Nah. Can’t do that.” I giggled. I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t care that I was sitting in my dull little cubicle all by myself with a wide grin plastered on my face.

This was the part of the job I loved the most. I could dig at him like that and he knew I was kidding. He may have been my work partner, but it wasn’t all business. We could joke around and be ourselves, even though it was frowned upon by ‘The Company’ as we called it.

“She looked amazing,” he continued.

I rolled my eyes and stopped myself from laughing out loud. “Suuure she did.”

I couldn’t agree with him. What would be the fun in that?

“I’m serious.”

The Nav Computer was taking its sweet time. We couldn’t do anything until I had all of the information. There could be warnings in the last few segments of data.

My mind wandered while we waited. Rogan, the partner I’d had before Javolo, was all business and no interesting conversation. Once he’d been replaced by Javolo, my job had become a lot more interesting. A lot more fun.

I looked back at the data on the screen. Still not finished. Talk about slow. It was frustrating. Everything was so out-dated and archaic here. They needed to update the whole system and I knew exactly which one would be able to handle the workload. Computers were something I knew well. Something I’d excelled in throughout my schooling.

I’d majored in Polymer Science and Engineering and wanted to work for Katoa’s research department on things like improving the materials for the Mech-suits and oxygen masks, but I’d quickly realised once I’d started working here that they weren’t interested in keeping their technology up-to-date. It seemed they didn’t like to spend money, even if it would improve efficiency and safety. I only had to look at the ridiculously archaic equipment we were forced to work with to see that. Typical. Were all large companies like this?

I seriously hoped not.

This low-end job was supposed to be my start so I could move up to Research and Development, but I’d decided on a different strategy. I’d already started to research other companies. There was no way I was going to stay here once my two-year contract was up. It had turned out to be a dead-end job, even if it was with one of the biggest companies in the Known Universe.

“Where to now, Boss?”

I tried to suppress a giggle, and failed. “Ah, I like that.”

“Like what?”

I sat up straighter. “You admitting I’m the boss.”

“Well, you order me around all day and I have to obey your every command. It’s almost like we’re married.”

I stopped what I was doing. Why did my stomach do a little fluttery dance when he said that?

I tried to concentrate on what I was supposed to do next. “Umm, still waiting on the computer to give me everything.”

Then the last of the information finally hit the screen. I read through all the relevant stuff. No warnings. No problems.

Good.

“No probs with the report. Time to get back to work.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

I checked the blurb on the side of the screen telling me where the next vein started. “Head down the tunnel to your right.”

“On it.”

I remembered what we were talking about. “Come on then, tell me about her.”

“She has long dark hair and bright blue eyes that seem to flash at you when she smiles,” he began.

Oh, wow… What a description! I thought, a smile tugging at my lips. Javolo was such a romantic.

“Turn left at that intersection and go down about twenty metres,” I said. I could hear the suit’s hydraulics as he walked the distance. That was unusual. The connection was clearer than normal for a few seconds.

“And she has the most perfect bod…”

Typical male, I laughed to myself. So much for being a romantic. “Yeah, I believe you…” I told him. “Stop there.”

“It’s true,” he protested. “Okay, it’s true this time… Well, ya know, last time the girl wasn’t perfect like I’d said, but still really pretty. And a really nice person… and married.”

And not even human. Not that he would’ve had a problem with that — but it was funny that Javolo had thought she was. I guess her tail would’ve been hidden under her dress. I giggled. “Now go forward. Bit more… Bit more. Stop. Turn to your right. You should be facing a wall with a visible vein through it.”

“Yep.”

“Okay, start. Middle of the road.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

He immediately started up his rock-breaker, which was attached to the left arm of his Mech-suit. The other arm sported a four pronged mechanical hand for picking up samples, with a shovel-like scoop on the back of its “wrist” for scooping the debris away. The mechanical hand and other parts of the suit contained sensors that detected traces of Amakio and transmitted the locations to the Nav Computer. This information was triangulated with data from the other Diggers and the sixteen satellites to pinpoint the mineral deposits under the ground.

While Javolo worked, it was too noisy for us to talk, so I twirled a piece of my long hair around my finger as I watched the screen to check for any new data or warnings, and was left to my thoughts. More and more often lately, my thoughts came back to the end of our partnership — our Rotation — together and I couldn’t help feeling anxious about it.

The contract with Katoa was for two years. They divided the time up into four Rotations of six months each. We worked with one partner for six months, then, so we didn’t get too attached, we were assigned a different one for each Rotation. This was my first Rotation, and after a short stint with Rogan, I’d been paired with Javolo. Javolo and I only had about a month left before we were assigned new partners. Maybe we were too close according to the company’s guidelines, but we were just friends. Really good friends. I felt a sense of loss at the thought of never being able to talk to him every day, and I hadn’t even experienced the loss yet. It was weird. And really awful.

Why do I feel like this? I thought as my fingernails tapped the grey desk. I had no answer. Why do we have to part ways? And why is this cubicle so drab and grey? It’s enough to make anyone depressed.

I thought about who I might end up working with. What if it was someone I didn’t like, or someone like Rogan that didn’t share my sense of humour? The chances of being partnered with someone with the same sense of humour and/or the same interests were pretty slim. That wasn’t a very encouraging thought.

Who would I be working with after next month? If we didn’t get along, I’d be stuck with him — or her — for six months. That would make my job difficult. It would make my life miserable. Of course, it was my job and I’d suck it up and do it, but I wished I could keep things the way they were.

I pushed all that aside for now.

I thought about what I might do on my next rostered day off. Maybe go swimming. It was always refreshing and it helped me to clear my mind so I could think and reflect. Something about water had always made me feel calm and relaxed. Or I could take a long walk in the park near my apartment. That was always good for my soul. I loved to lie on the grass and watch the birds flitting amongst the trees.

Those pleasant images were replaced by images of Malvolio’s angry face the night before at dinner when the waitress brought him a “slightly cold” meal. I couldn’t believe how angry he’d been over something so trivial…

I couldn’t think about Malvolio now. I had to concentrate on work. I tucked those thoughts away for later and thought about the park again.

After a few more minutes of noisy rock-breaking, Javolo began scooping out the rubble from the hole he’d created. “I can see the rest of the vein. It goes off to the right. Just need to collect this lot first.”

“Okay.”

I felt myself relax a little. I needed to concentrate on the job at hand.

I encouraged him to tell me what he could remember of the ‘perfect’ woman and it turned out that he’d only seen her for a brief moment as the door to the grav shaft slid shut near the entrance to the Golden Palace restaurant.

I gasped when I heard the name. The restaurant stood on the border between the Diggers’ Section and the rest of Perseus Station and was divided into two separate establishments. One for the Diggers and one for the rest of the space station. I’d been there the night before with Malvolio in the main section where he’d had his little tantrum. Javolo had obviously been in the Diggers’ Section.

A strange feeling crept over my skin as I thought about the fact that we’d been within fifty metres of each other and neither of us knew it. The sad part was that even if we’d come face-to-face, we wouldn’t have recognised each other. Diggers and Navs lived in separate sections of the space station and were never allowed to meet. That way they couldn’t get personally involved and it couldn’t affect their job performance. I had no idea what Javolo looked like.

I tried to shrug off the feeling.

I was amazed that Javolo could give me so many details about the girl after such a quick glance, and I suspected his mind had filled in some of the blanks. If he saw her again, it would be a different story. Maybe her eyes weren’t even blue, but I loved his poetic description of them.

It took Javolo the rest of the morning to extract the Amakio from that location, having to make more than one trip with his floating tub in tow. I was always amused when imagining the floating rectangular tub harnessed to the Mech-suit, hovering along behind him at mid-thigh level wherever he went. I’d seen them on the training videos. It was a strange sight.

My mind wandered again. It was almost time for lunch and I had to force myself to stop thinking about food and focus.

“Hey, Cal, how’s What’s-his-name goin’?” Javolo asked.

A weird sensation flowed through me at the question, like all the air had left my lungs, but I responded automatically. “It’s not What’s-his-name — it’s Malvolio.”

I heard him snicker. “What kind of name is Malvolio anyway?” he jeered. “Do you call him Mal for short, or just Vol?”

Of course, Javolo couldn’t pass up an opportunity to tease me about him.

“No,” I answered flatly. “Neither. He wouldn’t appreciate his name shortened like that.” I tried to imagine Malvolio’s reaction if I called him either of those names. A cringe. Or maybe an eye roll. But I didn’t want to be thinking about him right now.

“Oh, too good for the good ol’ nickname, ’ey?”

“Lay off him,” I warned. “He’s a nice guy.”

I grimaced inwardly and frowned. He was far from nice last night. That poor waitress.

How did things change so much? He was such a gentleman when we’d met. He’d somehow managed to make me break my promise to myself that I wouldn’t get involved with anyone while I was working here.

I wasn’t sure what to do or what I’d say when I saw him. I would have to deal with that later. Right now, we had work to do.

The Nav Computer spewed out our next location. “Okay, we have our next place…”

~ ~ ~

Copyright © 2019 Susan McKenzie

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