CUSTODIAN OF THE STARS
Captain Zachary Crowe, owner of Planet Janitor, is in love with his busted down Russian ore freighter Shenandoah, and fancies himself an entrepreneur. He’s only been in business for four years, trying to wrangle planetary job assignments that deal with cleaning up the environment and making close solar system jumps to pick up precious ores and space trash. His crew consists of seven less than stellar professionals. Their problem is they’ve destroyed biological ecosystems and habitats through neglect, and incompetence. They’ve had bad press, bad luck, and bad breath…
That’s until the slick vice president of Orion Industries Real Estate Development hires Planet Janitor for a clandestine operation that entails a 26-light-year trip out to a newly found habitable planet in the Tau Ceti system.
Planet Janitor finds out too late that they’ve been suckered into a job that entails disposing of millions of skeletons—a genocidal graveyard. They soon discover what killed this indigenous species and, being ill prepared and unarmed, are caught up in a fever-pitched battle for their lives. They must contend with genetically engineered marsupial lions, drop-shipped on the planet by an alien species. These crew members, who’ve been failures and outcasts all of their lives, transform into a fighting unit that refuses to go quietly into the night. When it appears that they have vanquished the vicious creatures, they are faced with the arrival of the aliens who created these pet animal soldiers…then the real fight begins.
I think this story combines some of the elements of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, with a breathless fight to the finish, along with the inconceivable measures used to survive on a hostile planet that can be likened to the perils of Robinson Crusoe on Mars. The action is gritty and visual, while the characters discover that heroism and self-esteem is a trait that is best achieved via cooperative teamwork, self-worth, sacrifice and love for each other. One reader told me I had another Firefly; I didn’t know what that meant.