THE DARRI COMMISSION (Dominion Rising #3)
“Rikkard, you need to wake the hell up right now!” Selene kneeled on the bed, her heart pounding in her ears as she shook Rikkard’s shoulders.
Rikkard shot up, his hair sticking in every direction possible, and looked around wildly. He yanked a laser pistol out from under his pillow; one she hadn’t known had been beneath her head half the night.
“What’s going on?” he asked, his voice feverish as he inspected the metal room for intruders. When he realized there were none, he slowly lowered his pistol. His scared expression quickly turned livid.
“Come on, I’ve got to show you something.” Selene stood, her fingers thrumming her hip by her pistol, strapped around her waist by her utility belt.
Rikkard glanced between her worried expression and her bare legs and boots. She wore one of his looser shirts, which fell to her mid-thighs. Selene flushed. When she’d gotten up in the middle of the night for a walk, hoping to calm her restless mind, she hadn’t expected to find anyone, let alone discover the planet was in danger.
“What’s going on?” he repeated. Rikkard slung his legs over the side of the bed, quickly yanking on his boots before grabbing his holsters. He pulled his belt back through the loops of his pants, and attached the holsters before putting his laser pistol away.
“It’s a lot to explain,” Selene said. She glanced between him and the door, chewing on her lip. Her mind raced with her heart. She wiped her clammy hands on her shirt. “Just… come with me.” She turned to the door, and Rikkard caught her wrist.
He pulled her back to face him, his brows furrowed with worry.
Selene sighed. “You’re not going to believe me without seeing it for yourself.”
His brows rose. That got his attention.
Selene led the way from their quarters back into the metal hall of the pirate ship. They weaved through the corridors, a small maze of their own, until they reached the cargo bay.
Rem’s white hair bobbed up, his eyes still wide with fear. “Finally!” He waved them over, and scooted aside to let Rikkard sit.
Rikkard looked between them before taking a seat in front of the holoscreen. His fingers hovered over the holokeys glowing on the long metal table Rem had claimed as his own. It was just like him to find a workspace even on a pirate ship.
As Rikkard scanned the same document Selene and Rem must have read a dozen times, his brows rose high on his forehead, nearly disappearing in his dishevelled black hair.
Selene’s lips pressed into a firm line as she watched Rikkard read. His eyes roamed left and right down the page. She knew exactly what he’d be thinking. The same emotions had rolled through her not long ago.
Not only had the Aldar Dominion lied about everything they were, but they’d actually sold Earth to an alien race called the Darri. The Darri had commissioned a new planet, one suitable to their species. The Aldar had quite literally caused the apocalypse, destroying the planet with solar flares, storms, and allowing humans to go to war over all of their remaining resources. They’d ruined the human race, all for money.
Selene’s fists clenched. She still couldn’t believe it. This planet was her home, and the Aldar sold it. What right did they have to Earth?
“What the fuck?” Rikkard murmured.
Selene squeezed his shoulder. It was a lot to take in. She’d read the page again and again for over an hour before she knew they had to tell the others. It might be the middle of the night, but information like this was too important not to share immediately.
“It’s crazy!” Rem motioned at the screen. His eyes were still wide, dark circles beneath them, and sweat on his forehead.
Even before they’d found out about the Darri, Rem had been going through a lot. Her heart clenched. It was all too much to put on his head, especially when he hadn’t forgiven himself for Lanny.
“Crazy is one word for it.” Selene shook her head. “Utter lunacy is another.”
Rem nodded in agreement. “How can they do this? How did they do this?”
“I don’t know.”
“They can’t just take our planet and sell it to some third party corporate species! We’ve lived here for thousands of years!” Rem threw his hands in the air, his exasperation mirroring her own.
“I know. We’ll figure something out.” She had to cling to hope that they would. They’d find a way out of this mess. If the document was right, they had about two hundred years left of the Aldar Dominion’s ‘preparation phase’. Once that was over, the Darri would move in, and do Aldar only knew what to them.
“This is turning into a bad sci-fi movie,” Rem groaned.
Selene smiled. “I know the feeling.”
“So the Darri are planning to what… enslave us?” Rikkard asked.
Selene’s smile dropped, and she exchanged a look with Rem. The document wasn’t specific about what the Darri planned to do with them, just that the Aldar would enslave them for the Darri commission. Whether they’d be enslaved, or all killed in the end, remained to be seen. At least the commissioned Icarus would be all right, not that she had the luck to be one anymore.
“It doesn’t say,” she said. “Just that the Dominion plans on enslaving us for them.”
“But we can only assume the worst,” Rem said. He placed his hands on his hips. “Enslaved or dead. They’re not great options.”
Selene agreed. “We have to tell people. There’s still time to stop this.”
Rikkard’s brows furrowed. He sat back in his chair, running a hand through his tangled hair before wincing, caught on a knot. He shook his head. “Telling people will only cause more trouble. A civil war.”
“But if we don’t tell people, how are we going to stop it?” Selene’s heart pounded in her ears. She took a deep breath, trying to stay calm. She had to remind herself that this was still far away. There was still time.
“I don’t know if we can,” Rikkard said. His eyes darkened.
“What?” Selene and Rem said in unison.
Rikkard looked up. “We’ve done some pretty crazy missions in the past, but this isn’t what any of us signed up for. This isn’t our job.”
Selene stepped back. “We can’t just let them do this!”
He sighed. “That’s not what I’m saying.”
“Then what are you saying?”
“This is a warning. It gives us plenty of time to prepare. Plenty of time to get out.” He met her gaze.
Selene’s eyes widened. “You want to just leave?”
“Millions of people might die,” Rem whispered.
“Billions have already.” Rikkard’s jaw hardened. “If this is true, then we need to go, before the Darri arrive, before the Dominion enact their plan to enslave us all!”
Selene shook her head. Before she could respond, Rem beat her to it. “Guys, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.” He leaned away from the holoscreen. “The three of us can’t do anything ourselves. We’ve got to tell the others.”
Rikkard opened his mouth to argue. Selene narrowed her eyes, and he shut his mouth. “Great idea, Rem.”
Rikkard met her gaze for a long, tension filled minute before looking away. “Fine.”
“Rem, get the rest of the crew,” Selene said. “Let’s meet in the Captain’s office. I’ll get Erock.”
Rikkard cut her a look, but she ignored him. She didn’t have time for his jealousy, especially if he was bent on leaving Earth and letting the Darri have it. Selene wasn’t about to go down without a fight, no matter what he wanted.
Rem nodded and took off into the ship.
“You should go with him,” Selene said.
Rikkard narrowed his eyes.
“I’m serious.” She followed back into the ship, her fists clenched at her sides and her heart racing. She couldn’t believe Rikkard would want to just run away. Leaving their old cargo ship behind was one thing, but leaving behind their planet was another.
“Selene.” Rikkard followed. Selene rolled her eyes and lengthened her stride. “Selene.” His fingers closed around her wrist.
She yanked her hand away. “Not now.” Hurt flashed through his eyes, and she quickly spun to get away from it. Her heart squeezed. Rikkard she could deal with later, but for now they had to gather the team and come up with a plan.
A plan that didn’t involved leaving the human race to die.
Selene knocked on a metal door sometime later. It had taken her longer than she expected to find Captain Erock’s room since there was no flashing ‘the Pirate Captain lives here’ sign.
“Just a minute,” a husky voice growled inside.
She placed her hands on her hips, tapping her foot as she waited.
Rikkard leaned against the wall a few feet away, his eyes dark and his arms crossed. He was not happy.
Selene looked back at the door as it whooshed open.
Captain Erock stood in the doorway, shirtless with a pair of low-hanging sweatpants barely covering the lower half of him.
His brows rose in surprise and his amber eyes looked her up and down, his gaze pausing on her bare legs.
“So you’ve finally come to me.” He grinned, flashing perfect white teeth. He stepped back, holding his arm out to welcome her inside. “Please, come in.”
Selene rolled her eyes. “Seriously? I’m not here for that.”
Erock’s face fell, and he sighed, letting his arm fall to his side. “How disappointing.” He leaned against the doorframe. “What can I do for you, pretty?”
“There’s something important you need to see. Meet us in your office,” she said.
Erock leaned out of the doorway to look down the hall. He spied Rikkard, whose cold eyes had gone murderous. “In my office?” he questioned, looking back at Selene.
“Trust me, you’ll want to hear this.”
The captain sighed. “All right.” He waved her off. “I’ll be there shortly.”
Selene nodded, and stepped away from the door. It slid back into the wall, the captain disappearing back inside. Selene turned back the way she’d come, ignoring Rikkard’s icy gaze as she made her way back to the captain’s office.
Half an hour later, the entire team was gathered, and not looking too pleased at having been woken up in the middle of the night.
Darius sat in a chair at the conference table, sleeping sitting up with his face leveraged on his hand. Eria sat two seats down, yawning as she tamed her curly hair. Selene quirked a brow. When she told Rem to assemble the crew, she hadn’t meant for him to include the former captain of the Smugglers Legion. She wasn’t exactly part of the team.
Flik and Sav spoke in hushed tones on the other side of the table. They both had dark rings under their eyes, and Sav looked utterly defeated. Just like Rem, he was still blaming Lanny’s death on himself.
Selene sighed and shook her head. She leaned back against Erock’s desk, watching the room as they waited for the captain.
Rem scurried from one end of the room to the other, bringing up a three-dimensional projection from a small silver square at the center of the main table. He didn’t flip to the page right away, but with a glance and a nod at Selene, she knew he was ready.
“All right, what have you woken me up for in the middle of the night?” Captain Erock trudged inside, a kind-of shirt on, that might as well not be there as it revealed everything down to his navel. He walked across the room to the conference table, taking a seat at the head. His bright gaze flashed between her, and the featureless screen. “Well?”
Selene looked at Rem and nodded. Rem turned to the screen and hit a button on a small silver controller he held. The blank image shifted to the document she’d read countless times, the title large and bold at the top: Code name: The Icarus Project.
“Read carefully,” Selene said. She stepped away from Erock’s desk, and joined the others at the conference table, though her skin buzzed with nerves. She didn’t bother sitting. “It’s all true from what we can tell.”
She gave the others several long minutes to read and re-read the document. When the room sat in complete and utter silence for almost ten minutes, Selene inspected the faces of her friends. They all had the same wide-eyed, disbelieving look. It was hard to take in; especially after all they’d been through recently.
“Where did you come by this information?” Erock growled. His fists shook on the tabletop.
Selene looked at Rem. “From the data hives in the Dominion facility we rescued Hallie from.”
Erock smashed his fist against the table, and they all started. Rikkard’s hand flew to the pistol at his hip, and Selene quickly splayed her hands, motioning for him to calm down.
Andreas, and Erock’s other lieutenant stepped from the wall, their eyes wide, and their hands at the guns on their waist. The two had slipped in behind their captain, and stood at the back of the room until now.
“What the hell are we supposed to do with this information?” Erock asked. His amber eyes swirled with fear. “Are you sure it’s real?” He cast a desperate look at Selene.
She nodded grimly. “We’re sure.”
“Then, we’re all fucked.” Darius leaned back hard on his seat.
Selene couldn’t disagree.
“Shit,” Flik said. His large alien eyes had gone buggy.
Her heart leapt as she realized Flik might know more about this Darri species. “Flik, what can you tell us about them?”
Flik met her gaze, terror stealing his typical smugness. Her heart sank. “They’re one of the most hostile, violent species in the Milky Way.”
Her heartbeat thundered as she clasped the edge of the conference table for support. Shit. That is not what she wanted to hear.
“I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner,” Flik said. “The way they overheated the planet, diminished the oceans, the radiation…” He shook his head. “It’s the perfect climate for the Darri.”
Selene wiped her clammy hands on her shirt. “What can we do to stop them?”
Flik blanched. “Nothing ourselves.”
Selene sat down hard on the nearest chair, her breath whooshing from her lungs, the wind snatched from her sails. “Damn.”
They all sat in silence for several long minutes.
“Nothing… ourselves?” Eria repeated.
Selene looked up to meet the woman’s gaze.
“Nothing ourselves, but what if we had help?” she continued.
Flik’s terrified gaze lessened to curiosity, then lit with wonder as he realized something Selene had yet to catch on to. “We’d need help. Big help.”
“That’s all well and good,” Erock snapped. “But we have two hundred years to figure this out, if what this document says is true.” He motioned at the screen. “That’s two hundred years to raise an army to protect Earth.”
Selene nodded. “If we tell the public, they’ll rally to protect the planet.”
Erock shook his head. “That’ll only cause trouble.”
“There’d be civil war,” Sav agreed. “No one is ready to face a fight like this, especially knowing that the Aldar are behind it.”
“Their military is too big,” Flik agreed. “They’d be able to squash humans.”
Flames of anger licked her chest. “But it isn’t just humans this affects,” Selene argued. “Sure, the Aldar have a big military, but civilians still outnumber them. We aren’t just humans. We have the Zahkx too.” She looked at Flik for confirmation, and he shrugged.
“Sure, the Zahkx civilians.” He emphasized the word.
“Given a couple hundred years, I’m sure we could get them battle ready,” Selene said.
“It’s too risky,” Rikkard snapped. He stepped away from the wall he leaned against to join the conversation. “It’d be the Alliance rebellion all over again.”
Selene’s chest tightened. “Only there’d be no corrupt Director this time.”
Rikkard cut her a look. “That doesn’t mean information wouldn’t get out, or we wouldn’t be compromised. Running an operation like that would take too much manpower.”
Selene growled, her fists clenching. She hated how quickly they were all dismissing the idea that humans and the Zahkx could, and would fight back given the chance.
“Guys,” Flik said. He stood, holding his hands out, trying to diffuse the situation. “I have an idea.”
Selene took a breath to calm herself. “What is it?”
“Remember what the Zahkx originally came here for.” He flashed a smile. “The Zahkx, not the Aldar, came here to watch and observe. We came here with a beacon to relay the information we found back to planet Aldar. The beacon is already built… well, most of it at least. We just need to complete it.”
Selene raised her eyebrows. Hope stirred in her chest. “We could get the Zahkx to help us?”
Flik nodded. “All we have to do is finish the beacon and we’ll have backup. A lot of backup.”
Erock growled. “That’s all we need, more aliens.”
Selene shot him a look. “If they can save our asses, why not?”
The captain shrugged. “The Dominion came here with nefarious purposes in mind once, who’s to say they won’t do it again?”
Flik’s face flashed red. “The Dominion has been out of contact with their own corporation for as long as the rest of us. They wouldn’t be able to gear up in time to launch a new plan.”
“Says you,” Erock said. His eyes darkened with suspicion.
Selene held her hands up. “Okay, I think we all need time to cool down and digest all of this. Let’s take some time to think about it, and decide what we want to do.” She paused, glancing at each of them. “Fixing this beacon means breaking into the old Zahkx ship, right?”
Flik nodded. “The Saegon won’t be easy to get back into.”
She sighed. “Of course not, but when has anything we’ve done ever been easy?” Flik flashed a quick smile, and she returned it.
“All right,” Erock grumbled as he stood. “Let’s reconvene in the morning.” He yawned and stretched his back.
As the others emptied out, Selene folded her arms and watched. It hadn’t gone quite as well as she’d hoped, though she couldn’t quite imagine what else she’d been expecting. No one could have seen this coming, and they were completely unprepared.
Eria paused at the door, looking back to inspect Captain Erock. Selene’s brows rose as they quite obviously assessed each other. After a moment, Eria smiled flirtatiously and winked before stepping into the hall. Erock was quick to follow.
Selene rolled her eyes and stood. Though her muscles ached and her bones felt hollow, she had no time to rest yet. She met Flik’s gaze as he hesitated by the doorway. He nodded slightly. Tonight wasn’t over yet.
Before she could rest, Selene had some information to extract.