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Crash Land on Kurai: The Hikoboshi Series, #1

Crash Land on Kurai: The Hikoboshi Series, #1

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Crash Land on Kurai: The Hikoboshi Series, #1

355 pages
5 hours
Jul 18, 2017


When a space journalist crashes into a deadly intra-colony war, her hunt for the truth will either save her life or sentence her to death…

Starship journalist Yumi Minamoto's hot temper makes turning around her poor reputation an impossible challenge. While on a mission with her brother Shintaro to investigate a neighboring colony, her vessel comes under vicious attack, leaving her bleeding and disoriented. During the battle, Yumi's boss hands off a data device with secret, valuable information inside, just before her escape pod slams into a nearby moon.

Clinging to life and desperate to find her brother, Yumi and her fellow survivors emerge into an alien civil war with unknown agendas and honor codes. Navigating their differences is treacherous, and everything becomes more complicated when one of the natives takes a keen interest in her that Yumi can't say no to. As she's captured and used as a pawn in negotiations, the journalist has a hunch something on the device could help her and the crew… if only it hadn't gone missing during the crash.

Can Yumi use her truth-seeking skills to ally with the right side and recover the data before her life is torn apart in a battle for planetary supremacy?

Crash Land on Kurai is the first book in the fast-paced Hikoboshi Space Opera Romance Series. If you like high-tech futures, ancient Japanese honor codes, and character-driven action, then you'll love S. J. Pajonas' thrilling sci-fi adventure romance.

Note: THIS SERIES MUST BE READ IN ORDER. It is a true series and plot elements carry through every book, from beginning to end. You will miss too much by reading this series out of order or skipping around. This series contains a slow-burn romance, profanity, and sexual situations.

Jul 18, 2017

About the author

Stephanie (S. J.) is a writer, knitter, Capricorn, Japanophile, and USA Today Best Selling author. She loves summer, downtempo beats, yoga pants, foxes, owls, dogs, sushi, pasta, and black tea. She lives outside NYC with her husband, two great kids, and her dog who always wants to play. When it comes to her work, she writes about everyday women and uncommon worlds. Find her online at https://www.spajonas.com

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Crash Land on Kurai - S. J. Pajonas

Chapter One

My fist flies forward, smashing into Gen Miyazawa’s face with a satisfying crunch. The crowd around us falls into silence as if they’ve jumped off a cliff and left nothing behind but a rush of air. Gen’s head snaps back, and if he hadn’t strapped himself in, he’d be floating away instead of unconscious at the mess hall table. That was easier than I thought it would be. When Gen’s mouth runs, my temper jogs alongside it, my foot jerking out to trip him. I should have punched him ages ago.

My brother groans, knocking me out of my head and into the pain radiating up through my knuckles. No big deal. I shake my hand, but nothing feels broken, not like the last time I beat someone down. That was when I almost lost my job, though, so it was a difficult fight to top. This? This was me dealing with a bully.

Thanks, Yumi, Ayame says, tilting her head and watching the drops of blood float away from Gen. I can’t believe what an ass he is.

Don’t encourage her. Shintaro, my loving and caring brother, points his finger at Ayame. She gets no extra props because he’s an asshole. He crushes his food pouches and unstraps from his seat. What am I going to tell his boss now, huh?

I dig in my food pouch for the last chunk of carrot in my stew. The truth. Tell his boss that Gen can never keep his mouth shut when he should.

People at other tables either mind their own business or nod along with me. One thing’s for sure, Gen’s not popular, and I’m the least of his worries.

And don’t bring him around here again. I know you’re trying to make friends with other people on the ship, but he’s not worth it. Really. Look at what he said about you, about us, our family. I should’ve broken his arm too so he’d be stuck on the ship.

Gen stirs with a snort. This is an excellent time for me to skedaddle.

Shintaro leans in, dropping his voice to a harsh whisper. Just because you’re one minute older than me doesn’t mean shit.

You’re right, I say, pushing away from him with Ayame by my side. My hair floats forward into my face, the long strands brushing against my cheeks where it came out of my requisite zero-G ponytail. It doesn’t mean shit. It never has.

Time to blow out of here. I grasp the mess hall’s door frame and use my momentum to curl me around into the hallway toward our room. Ayame takes my arm, hoping to help me flee the scene of the crime quicker.

No such luck.

Yumi Minamoto! The deep male voice echoes off the surrounding corridor, and my blood cools. Shit. It’s the commander. You’re one strike away from being sent home, ricochets through my head, the last thing my boss, Chieko Mori, said when she caught me trying to put together a Friday night fight club. Honestly, she should have let me do it. I could’ve blown off my steam there instead of at the lunch table.

Don’t move, the commander barks at me. I turn around slowly, hoping this doesn’t piss him off. The ship’s doctor floats past him into the mess hall as other people try to exit. Several jet past me, and I stare them down until they look away.

Maybe I should go, Ayame whispers at me. I reach behind me and grab her hand.

No. Stay. Please, I beg her. Look, I know it wasn’t right, but now you’re my only witness.

Fine. She sighs, jerking her chin at the mess hall.

The commander finishes talking to whomever is inside the door and rockets down the hall. He’s a bird floating on the wind, not an awkward man in space.

Yumi Minamoto, he says, hooking his foot into a handhold in the floor (or what I consider to be the floor at this moment) and crossing his arms. Never has my full name carried such a weight of significance. Why am I not surprised to find you at the center of this mess?

Sir, I —

He holds up his hand, his eyes hard as stone. Don’t you dare say another word.

My face heats as I clamp my mouth shut. I’ve never been reprimanded by someone so high up the chain of command. I’ve really screwed this up.

And where the hell is Kazuo Uchiyama? The only reason he’s on this trip is to keep you in line.

I don’t know whether to answer or not.

Never mind. I’m at my limits with you.

They’re going to send me home, I know it.

Sir, may I speak? Ayame asks, piping up from behind me.

He narrows his eyes at her. And you are?

She clears her throat. Ayame Akiyano, uh, Plant Biology. This is the first time she’s ever addressed a member of the naval crew. She usually has so little contact with them, but I manage to bring out the second in command. I have a talent for getting into trouble, or so my mom says.

Go ahead. He waves his hand at her, resigned to the fact that this situation will not go quietly into the night.

Gen Miyazawa is a bully and an asshole, sir. His eyebrows raise. He insulted Yumi’s entire family and then me for good measure. I was close to hitting him myself, and I’ve never hit anyone. Ever.

All true. Ayame is the sweet and quiet one, living in greenhouses and labs. If our families weren’t connected, I doubt we’d have ever become friends. But growing up together made us more tolerant of each other.

Is that so? He turns to look back at the mess hall and make eye contact with Shintaro. Shintaro shrugs his shoulders at the commander and heads off in the opposite direction.

He sighs again, rubbing his face. I’ve had enough of all you civilians. You would think being raised together from birth would make it easy for you to work together. But no, I’m beginning to think it wasn’t the best idea the empress ever had.

Mentioning the empress is a sure ploy to rile me up, but he presses on.

Minamoto, you are confined to quarters for the next two days. Get someone to look at that hand of yours.

I look down at my right hand, and the fingers are swollen and red.

Sir, how am I supposed to do my job confined to quarters? I was dismissed, and though he’s already two meters down the hall, he stops and returns. I immediately regret opening my mouth.

Minamoto, do you have any idea how badly I fought to keep you off my ship?

I don’t answer. It sounds like a rhetorical question. A trickle of sadness bubbles up in my belly.

He ticks off the points on his fingers. You’ve been in jail a dozen times. You published an unauthorized account of the empress’s personal life, leading to days of protests in Yamato. You put two people in the hospital after you lost your temper at being fired from your job. When he puts it all together like that, my missteps sound really bad. "And that was six months before we left Orihime for this mission! Your boss assured me you wouldn’t get in the way. That your talent" he growls the word far outweighed your behavior.

He shakes his head, and I don’t know what to say. The empress forgave me in private for the exposé I had published without her permission. I figured that had been communicated, but it looks like the mission director left the information off my briefing. Hell, I’m here because she wanted me on this mission.

Everything else is true. I was in jail a dozen times, but mainly because I went there to protect my sources. I published that account of the empress’s life, but I was tired of her ruling over everyone and keeping her secrets, well, secret. Still, she eventually forgave me. And yes, I put two people in the hospital when I was suspended (not fired) from my job. They attacked me while they were drunk, hoping to scare me off from coming back to work when my suspension was over. The fact of the matter is that I’m the best journalist this mission could ever hope for. I get the story, and I don’t become emotional. I can’t help it if other people are jealous.

She’s the best, sir, Ayame says, and pride overtakes the bubble of sadness. But I keep it down. I don’t crack a smile. Smiling now will just end me up in the brig.

I can be controlled when I want to be.

Well, now she’s a third-level documentarian. I’m revoking your all-access pass to the ship. If you’re to cover something about the mission, you’ll do it with your boss, Mori, and no one else. Understood?

Sir, I don’t think you can do that.

His eyes could melt snow. I can and just did. Report to Chieko Mori as soon as you’ve finished your forty-eight hours cooling down in your quarters. And don’t be surprised if she keeps you in your room the rest of the trip.

He pushes off and zooms down the hallway. I don’t bow. I don’t move. I don’t breathe until he rounds the corner.

Fucking hell. My mother is going to kill me when I return home.

Ayame laughs. What does your mom always say? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?

She says I fell and clung to her roots. I press on the flesh of my fingers and watch the skin rebound slowly. I need to put my hand on ice. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to kill me. I get in enough trouble when I’m home.

Ayame floats backwards, coaxing me to follow her. Our quarters are in the next section over.

I bet she’s in heaven with you gone. No late night runs to the police station. No meetings with the board of YNS. Just her, your dad, and your older brother.

Shut up and stop rubbing it in. Don’t you love me? I wink at her. This is our usual banter. If I want to piss her off, I talk about how she was third in her class and not first, how she’s good with plants but can’t swim, and how she’s in love with my brother, though he only likes boys.

No, she lies. Now let’s get back to the room before your hand falls off.

Chapter Two

With the stress of the trip, my massive screw-up, and my hand throbbing in an ice bag, a migraine the size of the ship descends on my brain. Lights burst in my vision, and my head throbs as if tiny men are dancing around in my skull. I don’t want to remove my hand from the bag. I don’t want to struggle out of my restraints to turn off the lights. Why did we deactivate the voice commands anyway? Oh right, it was because those assholes from three doors down would shout into our room in the middle of the night and turn the lights on. Just to keep us on our toes.

I press my forehead to the desk and close my eyes, close out the world around me.

Back home, I had bowed with my forehead pressed to the floor for a long time before sitting up to face the empress, a woman I had both admired, loved, and came to distrust over the years of watching her in her own home.

How could she indulge her family and then demand so much of our people? Our families were close, so tight-knit I couldn’t tell where ours ended and hers began, so she’d given me favor, favor I felt I didn’t deserve. I ruined our relationship when I published that exposé of her family, and she still forgave me. I didn’t deserve that either.

I have gifts for you to bring on your mission, and I’m trusting you to put them in the right hands, she’d said, her hand on my shoulder. My body had shaken at her touch. Why would she spare me? I may not like the girl you were, but I hope to be proud of the woman you’ll become.

Proud of me? How would that ever be possible after what I did?

The migraine increases and makes me moan. I never said I was a likable person. I have a few friends, and they’re the only ones I won’t compromise for a story. Them and my sources. My first journalism teacher in middle school would wax lyrically about how journalism failed humanity before the wars on Earth, then came back into popularity during the post-war years when everyone left had been confined to Nishikyō, the last city on Earth. When all the Terrans came to Orihime years later, they brought their freedom of the press with them.

Journalism was the right choice for me, the right path to take in school. I loved to write, but fiction never inspired me. Catching the truth on camera or finding corruption makes me soar inside. It’s the only thing I can rely on. The thrill of the hunt.

The doorbell rings, and I try to ignore it. The very sound of the bell makes my migraine increase by ten times.

I breathe in and out, counting to ten each time and focusing on a part of my body that doesn’t hurt. My toes. At least my toes don’t hurt.

The doorbell rings again. I groan. Go away! Yelling is a bad idea. I’m now nauseous.

It’s me and the doctor. Let us in.


Sigh. I should have known he’d come by.

Let yourself in. It’s not locked.

The door slides open with a whoosh and click. One thing I hate about zero gravity and miss about home is footsteps. At home, because our family is influential and at the top of the food chain, we’re taught defense from a young age to save our skins from assassins. We’re taught to listen for footsteps and determine how many people are approaching. We’re taught to fight with the jō, a long karate staff, like our father. We’re taught how to jump, swim, and negotiate like a ninja. Space does interesting things to ninja instincts. I don’t like it.

Hey, Shintaro says, tapping on my shoulder. I lift my head and squint at him. His face softens in sympathy. A migraine? Why didn’t you go to the infirmary after the fight? I waited for you there.

I close my eyes against the brightness of the overhead lights. The doctor, Kiyota, lowers the lights to the dimmest setting.

Confined to quarters for the next forty-eight hours. The only thing in life that can make me cry now is pain, and I hold back the tears. I won’t cry in front of Kiyota, no matter what he does to me. Figured the commander wouldn’t care if I was in pain.

And I don’t want to be confined to quarters forever. This mission will not only make my career, but it’ll also repair everything I’ve broken.

What’s your level of pain right now? Kiyota asks, and I swallow to keep my lunch in my stomach.

A four, maybe five. Not so bad. Lying comes easy when it’s about myself. I save the truth for everyone else.

Shintaro kicks me in the leg, and I howl in pain. What about now?

Fuck! Why did you do that?

He sighs. Because you’re lying. I can tell. I didn’t grow up right next to you and not be able to read your pain.

Having a twin brother when you want to pull the wool over someone’s eyes makes living impossible. Impossible, I say.

Fine. It’s like an eight. My hand is numb now, and my head feels like it’s going to explode. I press my forehead back onto the desk. My migraines are always worse in microgravity. And then they spike the first days back on solid ground.

We expected this. Kiyota’s nimble and warm hands grasp my left hand and extend my arm. Of everyone onboard, he doesn’t judge me. He only cares about my body and keeping it alive. I like him. Make a fist, please.

I would protest. I can’t stand painkillers and never have, but I’m confined to quarters anyway, so what does it matter? I might as well not suffer. If they work, I can sleep and then keep myself busy after with mission statements about the system we’re approaching. I still need to learn as much as I can about our theories of what awaits us there. We’ll be arriving tomorrow.

I’ll give you an anti-inflammatory as well. Should keep the swelling down in your hand.

Thanks, Doc, I mumble into the table. I don’t notice the pinprick of the needle, but the pain fades, making my body relax into a lump.

While I’m lying there, he pulls my hand from the ice bag and checks it, humming and poking at my knuckles and fingers before wrapping everything with tape and gauze. I don’t think anything’s broken.

It’s her brain that’s broken, Doc. Nothing can fix that.

I’ll check back on her in a couple of hours, Kiyota whispers to my brother. I know he’s gone when I hear the door open and click shut again.

Are we going to talk about why you punched the daylights out of Gen Miyazawa?

Damn. I thought he had gone too.


A pause. That’s it. Just no?

That’s it. Just no.

Fine. Let me get you into bed.

I rarely let my brother baby me, but it’s been a tough day already. He unstraps me from the desk, and heading over to the wall, he positions me next to the vertical sleeping bags.

Why didn’t Ayame stick around to help you out? he asks, unzipping my sleeping bag and hooking the IV device up to the wall so it won’t float away.

Because she’s got a job to do. I can’t ask her to stay every time I get myself in a mess.

I’d stayed with Ayame while her mother was in the hospital, and she had stayed by me plenty of times. But when we left on this journey, we had decided we’d make the trip as adults. It was time to be twenty-four-year-olds, not sixteen-year-olds. Besides, I never wanted to be sixteen years old again. Not enough time could ever erase sixteen from my memory.

When I have narcotics flowing through my system, it’s hard to remember I’m in space and I’m not a kid back home. We’ve only been on the ship for two months, arriving at our destination with three jumps instead of ten. Our people worked thirty years for a two-month journey across the stars. But it is what it is. My parents and others like them, including the empress and everyone in the government, had a difficult time convincing the population that this mission was necessary. But we need to reunite with the other Japanese migrants from Earth. We need a larger gene pool, a larger planet.

Bah. I push all the thoughts of work out of my head. Going over the reasons for the mission will only energize me, make me mad with lust for work.

Shintaro finishes zipping me into bed. Though the lights are dimmed, I can tell he’s disappointed in me by the slope of his face. He has Dad’s face, all angles with an occasional smile thrown into the mix. Mom loves to talk about what a fun and hilarious guy Dad is, but I only ever saw the looks of disappointment. And I can’t even escape those looks trillions of miles away.

Yumi, why don’t you loosen up? Stop picking fights and make friends. Find a boyfriend. Do something about all this anger.

Make friends? Find a boyfriend? He’s insane. Men don’t want me. I’m too brash, too determined, too driven. I scare men away.

Go away, I mumble.

I don’t want to hear about my problems from someone else.

You know, I… He pushes away from the bed, floating in the middle of the room. I care about you. Mom and Dad care…. I just want to make up for…

Shintaro hesitates, as my eyes droop. The drugs were a better idea than leaving me alone in my room for two days to stew. It’s never a good idea to let me stew. My headache and busted fist are serving me well.

What? What did you say? I ask him, aware that if he really wanted to tell me, he would have by now.

You know, I don’t think you’ve ever forgiven me —

Shut up. I let my eyes close, putting him far away. I don’t want to talk about it. Why would I want to talk about something eight years in the past?

You never do, he grumbles, shooting by me to the door. And here we are, still fighting over it.

Wait! My lips no longer work properly, which is not good. These meds are supposed to make my brain stop drumming, nothing more. Damn that doctor. He gave me extra because of my hand, and I have no tolerance for pain killers like I do with alcohol. Ponytail. Take it out? Please?

His face softens, and this time he looks more like mom. He’s only missing her wild, bleached white hair. Sure, he whispers, knowing how my hair hurts me when I’m like this.

He reaches for my head, and grabbing the elastic with his well-worn fingers, he pulls my hair free. Better?

Much. Hey, tell Kazuo I’m sorry I caused such a problem at lunch. He’s going to be pissed when he wakes up.

He’s already awake, and he’s already pissed. But not at you.

I sink into my bed and close my eyes as he turns off the light and leaves me to oblivion.

Chapter Three

My room comes alive with the jarring blares of warning klaxons. My hands instinctively fly to my ears to block out the noise, but one hand is a bandaged, aching mess, and the other is caught on something.

Stop! Stop! I yell, at the dark room pulsing with red light. The swirling flashes trigger a wave of nausea. I hold it down by closing my eyes and sinking into my bed away from the lights.

What time is it? How long have I been out? What’s going on?

I have no answers.

This is not a drill. This is not a drill. General quarters. General quarters. All hands man your battle stations.

General quarters. That’s not good. And my station is on the bridge.

I reach for the zipper of my sleeping bag and peel the cocoon open, wincing at the pain in my arm. It’s my IV, biting into the skin in my elbow. I follow the line to the IV device docked to the wall and pop the cover open. The bag inside is almost depleted, but I have no idea if this is my first bag or not.

Pushing myself across the room, I hit the lights with my left elbow, and the room’s illumination comes up to fifty percent. The call button blinks at me, so I depress it with my elbow as well.

Please be advised that we’re being approached by unknown ships. The voice of the captain is time stamped as of three minutes ago, nearly sixteen hours after my lunch fight in the mess hall. I’ve been out for a while. Ayame's probably already been here, slept, and been back to work by now.

I unwrap my right hand and flex it. My fingers ache, but the swelling is gone. Good. That means I don’t need the IV anymore. I strip off the medical tape and extract the needle from my own arm. Watching the metal come out of my skin makes my head whirl, so I look away.

What the hell are you doing? Kazuo Uchiyama, my family’s resident ex-assassin and head of security, floats in the doorway.

I chuck the IV line away from me and put pressure on the puncture site. What do you mean, what am I doing? I’m obviously getting ready for something big. I wave at the flashing lights. He brings the control panel to life and taps until the flashing lights cease. Thank you. I was afraid they’d bring back my migraine, and I have work to do.

Please, Yumi, you know you’re confined to quarters. Kazuo tends to baby me as if we’re twenty years in the past. When I was just a kid, he used to carry me on his shoulders, and I would grab his long hair and pretend to ride him like a horse. Now his hair is short and shaggy, floating around his head in zero gravity. He’s not an old man, but forty-eight is ancient to me. He’s always been the one who was involved in my life, more than Dad. Dad had meetings to attend and trips to go on. Kazuo is more of a father. I have a lot of guilt over that.

I wave him off. Confined to quarters? What does that even mean? I smirk at my own brand of humor.

It means you have to stay here. Unless you have to go to the bathroom. He angles his head at me and the IV floating behind me.

I pause in the motion of getting my tablet. This tablet is my baby, specially made with a high definition 360-degree camera that can detach and go anywhere within a two-kilometer range. I was the first to get the prototype. Pretty much all technological advancements are made in my hometown on Orihime and kept there. Yamato is the center of advanced technology on my world. Everywhere else on the continent is trying to come out of the stone ages.

Right. I do have to pee. I slip the tablet into the front pocket of my flight suit. I hate wearing the stupid thing, so I wear it over a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

You know what I think happened? Kazuo asks, coming forward to grab my arm. You had to go to the bathroom, so you left your quarters. And while you were in the bathroom, the warning bells went off, and you thought you had to report for duty.

My head clears in a flash. Yeah. Yeah. That’s definitely what happened.

It’s a good thing you also pulled back your hair, grabbed your knife, and put on your boots too before you left.

I utter a rueful laugh as my boots come floating towards me. I thought you’d be mad at me. Haven’t you saved me from enough scrapes already? I open my locker, pulling out my favorite knife, the only weapon I could bring on the mission. We’re allowed only one personal weapon, and it has to be stored unless the ship is at battle stations.

He shrugs. You’re not half as bad as I was as a kid, you know that. And what you do actually helps people whereas Gen is just a sadistic bastard who loves to insult people and watch them squirm. He puts the IV back in its dock. I’m pretty sure he tortures animals in his spare time.

I shudder to think it. Animals are our most sacred treasure on Orihime. If this mission to Hikoboshi hadn’t been my destiny, I would have the animal-translation chip and be paired with my own animal back home. Instead, I’m here doing my life’s work.

Or trying to.

Let’s move, Kazuo says, pushing me to the door.

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