A Guide to the Muddverse
…building over time.
Reading Order for the Jake Mudd Books
Tangled Peril, A Jake Mudd Tale, a prequel novelette
Reads as a stand-alone. No need to read the prequel before starting the main series, but you should read it anyway because it’s a fun read.
Deadly Cargo, Jake Mudd Adventures Book One
Forced Vengeance, Jake Mudd Adventures Book Two
Heat Seeker, Jake Mudd Adventures Book Three
Broken Solace, Jake Mudd Adventures Book Four
Lost Humanity, Jake Mudd Adventures Book Five
Then he turned his glance to the most dangerous part of the situation—the woman standing a few feet past the brick-jawed guy.
She raised her exquisite brow, smiled at Jake, and shrugged her shoulders slightly. Then she widened her eyes before glancing down at the gun on the boss man’s right hip. She looked back up at Jake and slowly nodded her head.
You gotta be kidding me.
Jake shook his head almost imperceptibly just a half-inch to each side. The woman’s long auburn hair was tied up in a loose ponytail, cascading onto the shoulders of her snug black jacket.
A digital image appeared in the center of the mirror. A man was sitting in a yellow oversized upholstered chair. He was heavyset and bald. His arms draped over the sides of the chair, and he had black tubes stuck into his skin on his neck and chest. He wore a red shirt, peeled back at the chest where two tubes were inserted. Jake noticed the tubes plugged into a panel on the wall behind the man’s chair.
The man’s breath was visible when he spoke. “I am Baron Vos. I run this part of the city. You are?”
There were ice crystals on the man’s overgrown eyebrows. A vent below the tubes connected to the wall belched air that was visible, like the man’s breath.
Jake realized the man was in the cold room.
“Jake Mudd. I was told you’re the man I need to see.”
Shortest among the group, Brun, thick with muscle, stood next to the stone table. He was opening and examining several small metal boxes and cylinders, clipping each onto his belt or the strap across his shoulder after inspection. His left cheek, with reddish skin like all the others, bore a scar that covered it, half his forehead, and part of his left ear. Jake recognized it as the remnants of a bad burn, the kind that comes with a nasty tale. Not a run-of-the-mill accident, this one left a grizzly patch of rough discolored flesh. Bet it still hurts, Jake thought. He couldn’t decide the man’s odds.
Jake glared at one of Sarah’s cameras. Then he quickly ran through his options in his head. He remembered a name from his last visit. There was a man, using the term loosely, that helped him out of a run-in with one of the officials.
“Actually,” he said, “I’m also here to see Chori Kawf.”
Jake pulled out the viewing goggles Hodin had given him. He scanned the horizon. Nothing in sight but more empty land, and the base, now half visible. A stark contrast from the natural surroundings of rock and dirt and mountains in the distance to the west, the Cracian facility, with huge curved structures and smaller rectangular buildings below them, was larger than Jake had expected. He saw a series of stacked and overlapping long rectangles, all made from metal, but weathered in appearance. No doubt the harsh elements of Daedalon had taken what must’ve once been polished surfaces and turned them into a patchwork of rust and pitted steel, or whatever material made up the series of fused buildings. No guards in sight. He couldn’t see the bottom of the structure. He saw no windows. No doors. No openings of any kind.
A few minutes later he piloted the shuttle through three layers of orange-red clouds. Then he corrected the ship’s trajectory to line up with Halcion Station, as shown on the screen by a blinking blue light. Another minute and the structures in the area around Halcion Station, shown as colored icons on his screen, came into view. He noticed they weren’t at all uniform in construction. Some were small and looked to be an assemblage of scavenged materials. A few were larger, about three times the size of the smaller ones. The larger ones had polished metal roofs and white walls, looked like plaster or white stone. The area was crisscrossed with wide lines running between the buildings and in the area just beyond them. As he descended, changing the angle of his view, he could tell the lines were trenches. They looked like roads dug down into the ground and they were deep.
The air was still, though it was the shuttle’s instruments that told him that. He saw no vegetation of any kind on the planet, at least where he was headed. The ground offered only dirt and rock and sand, all the way to the horizon in every direction. No water in sight either. Hills surrounded the settlement, and beyond those, five miles out, mountains. Some of the tallest he’d seen.
“Why the hell would anyone live here?”
—circumstances and a desire to leave the doldrums of his previous life drove him to take passage on Jake’s ship. He is looking for a fresh start, but has little to no interest in adventure or danger playing any part in his new life. Nonetheless, he finds he has a hard time parting company with Jake’s crew when given the chance.
A scrawny young man was seated on one of the benches. He had blue skin, but otherwise looked human.
“I see the near future,” the man said. “And I see you walking through that door into the judgement arena and myself sitting here unharmed as you leave.”
Jake recalled in his mind when he’d first heard about a race with such an ability. At the time, he didn’t believe the woman that told him. After all, he remembered, he heard it from her after the two of them were halfway through their third bottle of delirium. He later came to know the race as the Blues, not being able to understand their name in their native tongue. He smiled as he pictured the woman for a moment, then returned his attention to his situation.
“I’ve heard of your kind,” Jake said. “I also heard there aren’t many of you left.”
The man glanced downward. “No. Not many.”
“So the stories are true?” Jake asked. “The purges, I mean.”
The man nodded. “All too true. It was only the Enforcers that kept our people from being wiped out.”
Jake thought about the run-ins he had with the Galactic Enforcers through the years, when he was still living the mercenary life. The memories put a bad taste in his mouth. But he knew what the young man was talking about. For two years, the pressure from the Enforcers on him and his fellow mercenaries eased up as the Enforcers turned their attention to tracking down the Shry, a diaspora of extremists who blamed the Blues for the dissolution of the once-great Shry civilization.
“I never much cared for the Enforcers, but they were right to help your people,” Jake said.
The young officer nodded. “We weren’t responsible for the decline of the Shry, not all of us, anyway. The ones that were had long-since been banished from the ranks of our people. But the Shry wouldn’t make the distinction.”
Coming out of the lift he got his first look at the massive space city of Eon. It had been a couple of years since he’d visited the space station metropolis. He could see that it had grown even from the sprawling conglomeration he remembered it to be.
Eon first served as a refueling and trading outpost for those braving the uncertain frontier of this part of the galaxy. Over the years, it drew the wayward and the unseemly with its offer of unbridled opportunities for profit and mischief, and for the absence of interference by the various policing organizations that hampered much of the galaxy with law and order.
Word quickly spread through the many networks of ruffians and the unruly. In time, more of that sort came from across the vastness of space to do business at Eon, and often settled there. The remote space station grew to accommodate those that came.
Now it stood as a gargantuan city, fixed in space, alone in its galactic neighborhood. It played host to the underbelly of the universe, with kingpins and factions carving out their own sleazy pieces of the city. A dangerous place where anything could happen and all could be had for a price, it was just the place Jake needed.
At the far side of the room, near the rear, stood a short thin man clothed in gray pants and a loose yellow shirt. He wore no shoes on his extremely wide feet which each had six toes. He held a device that looked like a lantern, but it gave off no light. He spoke again and Jake realized the voice came from the lantern. “It’s very temperamental.”
“You have come for one of my wondrous creatures? Word of Felik’s collection brings many visitors. None can match what I have to offer here.”
Too soon. Wait until book five is closer to release.
Galactic Shipping Agency
Established with the signing of the Galactic Shipping Treaty, the GSA’s signatories currently include the governing authorities for the overwhelming majority of the people from twenty-seven races. The GSA creates and oversees the regulations which govern cargo shipping throughout the galaxy. They also have a limited enforcement arm, though most enforcement is done under the authority of the individual signatory members. The GSA maintains the central system for scheduling and transacting cargo shipments, facilitating connections between shippers, consignees, and carriers.
Jake knew he didn’t care for the man standing in front of him when he first talked to the guy earlier that day. The dark-haired heavyset man had insisted Jake bring the package back to an abandoned storage yard on the edge of town.
Standing in the center of the massive pad of cracked concrete, Jake’s opinion of him firmed. The guy exuded asshole without saying anything. Jake stared at him, letting a few moments go by in silence.
The man scowled.
This guy smells.
He pressed a button on the panel and energetic mostly melodious music came through several speakers embedded all around him in the walls of the craft. A few minutes later he piloted the shuttle through three layers of orange-red clouds. Then he corrected the ship’s trajectory to line up with Halcion Station, as shown on the screen by a blinking blue light. Another minute and the structures in the area around Halcion Station, shown as colored icons on his screen, came into view. He noticed they weren’t at all uniform in construction. Some were small and looked to be an assemblage of scavenged materials. A few were larger, about three times the size of the smaller ones. The larger ones had polished metal roofs and white walls, looked like plaster or white stone. The area was crisscrossed with wide lines running between the buildings and in the area just beyond them. As he descended, changing the angle of his view, he could tell the lines were trenches. They looked like roads dug down into the ground and they were deep.
The shuttle screen marked Halcion Station with a crosshair. He turned the craft to line up with the flat stretch of dirt just behind the station. Halcion was one of the larger buildings, the same white walls he could now see were stone. Big rectangular blocks stacked three high, then the metal roof on top. Fixed to the roof, a satellite dish and an antennae array. No vehicles outside. Not around that building or any of the buildings.
The character next to Brun couldn’t have been a starker contrast. Taller even than Jake, thin, but with a wiry frame that looked strong and tested, Hanlan was the only one among them that said nothing, gave away no expression. His eyes spoke only focus, with an intensity that Jake recognized from his own darker days. Holding a long slender rifle, the man, at a disturbingly careful pace, turned the weapon and moved it, closely taking in every inch of it. Jake couldn’t decide if he was checking the rifle’s condition or merely admiring it. He knew why the man had been chosen. Even if Hanlan didn’t make it back, you can bet there’d quite a few Cracian bodies scattered across the battlefield to show he’d been there.
Jake figured Hodin, physically close to his own stature and with the seasoning of many battles it seemed, stood the best chance.
The man on the screen wore a black and gray uniform that was ripped in a few places and anything but crisp and clean. Dark green skinned, he churned his jaw and licked his lips with a forked crimson tongue before speaking.
The recessed panel on the wall in front of them slid to the left. A man stood on the other side of the opening. His cheeks bulged. He chewed for a second, then swallowed. Jake spotted the other half of the sandwich in the man’s left hand, which rested down at his side.
…Jake grinned at hearing someone else giving Nadira a tough time. He stepped past Jafir, grabbing the other half of his sandwich from him.
Jafir turned and reached for Jake, who had already stepped away from him. “Hey, that’s mine!”
Jake mumbled something that sounded a little like ‘hungry’, though his speech came out garbled with his mouth full. He’d taken it in a single bite.
Jafir tailed Jake as he walked over to Nadira, but let the argument die out. Jake figured the guy realized he came up a foot shorter and sixty pounds lighter.
—namesake of the series, Jake Mudd is a former mercenary traveling the galaxy transporting goods to out of the way places. He operates under the radar to avoid enemies hellbent on settling old scores.
He squinted and raised his right hand to shield his brown, blood-shot eyes. The light washed out his tousled brown hair and his tanned, stubble covered jaw, making him look paler than he was.
Jake took the pistol from the form-fitting depression in the tray. He held down a black button on the side of the weapon with his thumb until a green light lit up on the top of the blaster. He let go of the button. The light went off. He stood and holstered the gun on his right hip, zipped up his dark brown leather flight jacket and grabbed his overnight bag before heading into the cargo bay toward the shuttle.
The slender man with reddish skin addressed Kharn with his head bowed, eyes averted. The man wore a uniform, gray and unassuming, a single insignia on the right lapel of his buttoned coat. A circle containing a section of a DNA double helix spread apart at one end, each diverging strand merging into the surrounding circle, the insignia marked him as a member of Crassus Kharn’s science service.
An elderly lady stood in the doorway, half her body behind the door. She had black hair, pale wrinkled skin. She wore a blue dress.
“I’m sorry, Mable,” Allie said. “You’re right. It has been.”
Mable nodded toward Jake. “He OK?”
“He saved my life,” Allie said. “Got me away from Gammon, but we need a place to lay low for a while.”
Mable let the door open the rest of the way, revealing the shotgun she had in her right hand. “In that case, get in here.”
Walking away from the shuttle, he pressed the transmitter on his belt, shutting the ramp door. He made a survey as he walked toward her. Her voice had been spot on. She looked in her late twenties. Fit. Long brown hair. A refreshing change from the usual sort that he met on cargo drops, slave girls aside. Her clothing might have been a uniform. She had tan pants, form fitting, and a shirt that crossed in the front at a diagonal, two sides forming a triangular neckline. There were emblems on the shoulders, though he couldn’t make out what they were.
Once inside, he noticed that it wasn’t the red sand in the air that made her skin look reddish. That was its color. A muted rust sort of red. Not a sunburn, at least it didn’t look like one. It looked more like her pigment. He wasn’t surprised. He’d seen many non-human races over the years. But he was curious, he hadn’t seen her kind before. Aside from her skin, she looked human, at least what he could see of her.
Planet of the Faklu
The leaves of the trees surrounding him quivered. Birds, wings of bladed feathers, took flight en masse from the canopy. Then the thunderous steps. Distant at first. From down the trampled path through conquered trees. The Faklu. Coming to dinner.
Jake worked the knot in the vine on his ankles. It was too tight to push his fingers into it, and too slick to get a decent grip on it with his hands.
The ground shook below him. The dirt moved and resettled with each thud. The steps louder now.
He bit the vine. Like a mongrel chewing its lead, he worked the thick sinew with his teeth until it split.
He beheld the great Faklu as he fell to the ground ten feet before it. A mist carrying the beast’s foul odor dampened his skin.
The Faklu, a creature of equal parts dry, cracked, deep brown, leathery skin and fine, silken, black hair, the latter of which stood straight and un-flexing, more like black needles than hair. Four-legged, each muscled to a girth beyond the mightiest tree trunk, the beast’s three down-turned claws on each foot pierced dirt and rock alike with each step. With its black eyes fixed on Jake, the monster gaped, peeling back the wet inner ring of flesh to show the hundred blades that were the creature’s teeth. The sight of Jake must have stirred its appetite. The Faklu’s saliva pooled until it spilled over its teeth and fell to the earth twelve feet down. Then the Faklu hurtled toward him.
Jake stepped down into the recessed area of the floor containing the furniture and piano. He cleared his throat to signal the man at the piano, but the man kept playing.
Jake moved to the left of the red sofa, so the man could see him. “Professor?”
The man played on for another twenty seconds, finishing the piece. He exhaled and smiled. Then he rose from the bench and faced Jake.
”The cabby told me of your arrival,” the man said.
Jake nodded to the man. “Jake Mudd. You’re the Professor?”
”I am.” He approached Jake with his hand extended. He was strikingly slender, but not frail. Jake figured it was just the way the man was built. He wore a light brown beard, almost blonde. It was long and narrow, like the Professor himself. He dressed the part, a brown suit, the kind with the crossover lapel which buttoned at the right side of the waist—old school, Jake thought.
The screen flickered, and static came through a speaker. Then the screen cleared to an image of another reddish-skinned man, but he looked to be larger, stronger, like he could handle himself. He wore a dark blue jacket. He appeared much more formidable than the man that gave Jake a sandwich. Jake wondered if the two of them would get along, or if he’d have to test the man’s mettle at some point.
—Jake’s longtime companion, the artificial intelligence residing in the systems of an uncommonly advanced spaceship. She, like no other, knows Jake’s ways, good and bad. She has a will of her own and isn’t afraid to voice it to Jake.
The field drives faded, fixing the distorted ship in space a minute outside the projected orbital distance, and as the soothing hum of the drives ceased Jake woke from his typical in-flight nap. If anyone on the planet’s surface happened to be watching his arrival, they’d see the faded red nine-foot-high lettering on the side of the class 4 Tarian cargo vessel. GDS — Galactic Delivery Service. Twenty-three hundred eighty-two feet in length, his beloved Sarah remained a reliable companion despite the trouble she’d endured on his behalf over the twelve years they’d been together. The blast marks on the outer hull. A few asteroid dings here and there, from the times Jake and Sarah argued over manual versus auto-pilot mode. The new panels crudely welded on in a hurry to get her off the ground and off-planet just before an aerial bombardment. A bombardment which may have had something to do with Jake’s friendliness toward the betrothed of a local warlord on Geida Gamma. Bumps in the road.
“Great. Thanks for driving,” Jake said. He patted the bed rack with his hand. She felt it, as she felt everything in the interior of the ship. AI-linked meta materials throughout.
“You know you can count on me.” Her tone was soft. It seemed the spat was over.
“Like no other.” He stood and headed to the bridge…
The three of them walked down the ship’s central corridor and Jake explained the basic layout of the ship—cargo decks on the lower level, bridge in the front, medical bay in the middle, engines in the back and in the center of the ship at the farthest edges from the central corridor.
They passed the unoccupied crew quarters. The ship had sixteen rooms to hold captain and crew. Ten were private rooms. Tiffin and Dewey had been assigned one each. Jake had the largest, the captain’s quarters. He pointed to the door of his room as they passed it.
The lounge of the ship was designed for a cozy feel. The ceilings were low with light wood slats. The room had five seating areas, all opened up to one another, but made clearly distinct by the arrangement of furniture—soft couches and chairs with rounded edges and corners. Each cluster held together as if its own island by a large decorative rug beneath. The rest of the floor was green tile marbled with thin twisting random bands of white among the several shades of green. There was no harsh overhead light, but rather soft glow illuminating each seating area by a single light suspended from a thin steel cable attached to the ceiling. The side of the room farthest from the entrance was a sweeping semicircle of reinforced crystal glass, providing a view of the changing space-scape of stars and nebulae, and occasionally planets.
A few minutes later they walked through the whooshing doorway and onto the bridge.
“Hello, Jake,” Sarah said through the speakers overhead. “Welcome back to the bridge, Tiffin, Dewey.”
“How are you doing darlin’?” Jake said.
“I can’t complain,” Sarah said.
“Hi, Sarah,” Tiffin said, looking up at the speakers as she walked farther into
Dewey glanced upward and waved his hand, then stopped and shrugged.
“Don’t worry, Dewey,” Sarah said. “I can see on the bridge. I have cameras around the room.”
Dewey glanced around the large circular space. Small domes were positioned where the walls met the ceiling. There were five of them.
Jake walked toward the chairs which were in front of the large viewing window. “You two don’t have to use the jump seats. When you’re in here, either one of these will work.” He placed his hand on one of two chairs facing a series of buttons, toggles, and small display screens—all at arm’s length. He turned back to Tiffin and Dewey. “As long as you don’t touch anything until I say it’s OK.”
Too soon. Wait until book four is closer to release.
—a young woman coming of age with her own particular style. She has long made her own way on the rough streets of the gritty city Eon, a distant drifting outpost in space. She guarded her innocence using her cunning and inexplicable talent for all things technical. But she’s waited her entire life for something different. She doesn’t know what it is, but she knows it’s out there and she’s ready to take the journey to find it.
She wore long green shorts with cargo pockets on the thighs. She had her ankles crossed, one clunky brown lace-up boot resting across the other. Peering over the tips of her boots…
Scouting—knowing what’s going on in the streets and alleys below—is how she stayed alive on her own for as long as she could remember. She did it on foot, or hands and knees really, hiding and scampering like Squeakers until she was nine.
Tiffin reached into the pocket of her tan vest and pulled out a broken cube of cheese. She threw it into her mouth and munched it up while watching the now closed metal door the man had entered.
She chewed two more cheese cubes and gave one to Squeakers.
But we Waudure are not easily conquered. There are many of us who resisted and escaped. Though our numbers are great, we could not match the forces and the weapons of the Cracians, a war-like people. Those that could, made their way here, to the Untamed Lands, beyond the reach of the Cracians. We learned the ways of the wild lands of this world. We found refuge underground, in parts unexplored and unknown to the Cracians. It is here that we have continued to live for many years, doing what we can to free our brethren still under the yoke of the Cracians. But now, because of what you brought to this world, I fear we will no longer have sanctuary here.”
They were ten minutes out from the room where he met the Waudure leader. He came across several oddities in the Waudure stronghold. The rock tunnels they walked through were roughly dug out, but blue light from the patches of glowing crystal in the ceiling and walls revealed smooth metallic panels inset against the stone walls. Jake guessed they were compartments of some kind. Nadira walked with purpose. So, he didn’t have the chance to look closer at them. He heard a humming noise coming through the rock at points in their walk. The air felt warmer each time he moved through a section where he heard the noise.
He caught up with her. “The Waudure are much more advanced than these cave dwellings would —”
”We didn’t choose to live here,” she said sharply. Her words echoed against the stone.
“I know,” he said. “The injury on my back. Your people’s healing abilities are impressive. I mean, I have systems aboard my ship that could handle something like that, but I haven’t seen any planets in this region of the galaxy with that kind of tech.” He tried to stay upbeat, to sound complimentary.
“When the Cracians drove us here, to the Untamed Lands, we fought for months just to survive. In time, we came to understand the dangers — the beasts, the elements — and we learned the secrets within the planet.” Still walking, she pointed to the crystals as they passed underneath another glowing cluster of them.
They walked on for a while longer. Jake wondered about the crystals he continued to see through the passageways.
Jake watched Nadira open the pod transport door and step out into the massive underground cavern. He turned back to the large pod dash window in front of him and took in the view of the dome. It rose high into the air and looked like a sky. The rock of the cavern ceiling only faintly showed through the glow of blue light, the same sort as that from the crystals in the tunnels. Here the glow covered the entirety of the cavern’s ceiling. He heard and watched Nadira inhale the fresh air. Then she stepped away from the pod door. He sat looking through the glass. The cavern extended several thousand feet across, he guessed, and as wide. Vegetation covered the whole of it, at least on the ground.
“Jake, this is Yorian. He’s the leader of the Waudure.”
The man tipped his head toward Jake. He stood a few inches shorter than Jake, but had a definite presence about him. Small wrinkles and a slight discoloring of the skin on his forehead suggested to Jake that the man was older. He hadn’t seen those details on the other Waudure.