Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Hunt

The sword cut through the air in an effortless half-moon crescent gleaming white in the morning sunlight before glancing off the throat of the attacking warrior and sliding away leaving a deep slash. As the man fell to the floor grasping at the spraying wound Commander Lexa regathered her attack stance centring her energies and balance. She must live in her training or perish and in her mind's eye there was nothing but the next target as he too rushed towards her wielding a two handed axe swinging it back over his right shoulder as he prepared to deliver her a fatal blow.

 With a calm side step she allowed the man to continue his charge and swing with the axe head cleaving the air in which she had been standing with force. Lexa's blade slashed across the back of the man's knees cutting sinew and flesh and leaving him laying on the floor unable to stand. The whole move had taken seconds. 

"Commander!" 

Lexa's eyes darted along the tree line to where Indra stood surrounded by fallen warriors, whether they were her's or Movar's she could not know.

"That was the last of them!"

Lexa widened her perception from her mental combat circle and glanced around the clearing in front of her. The golden brown leaf littered ground was covered with thirty to forty dead and dying warriors and sprayed by their blood. Behind her on the ridge of the tree line she could see her four bowmen laying flat, barely visible to the enemy. All that remained was Movar's encampment below.

The ramshackle collection of crude wooden huts formed a circle around the still smouldering remains of a cooking fire and she could make out a few bedrolls scattered on the floor.

Lexa lowered her blade so the tip hung inches above the ground seemingly disarmed but like a scorpion's tail ready to deliver death with one swift movement.

"Movar! Come out and face our justice! You have no more warriors left to hide behind!"

She doubted there would be a response, the coward lacked honour and had been betraying their cause to the Mountain Men and slaving other villages to the Reapers. It was only on freeing the prisoners from Mount Weather that his treachery had been revealed. 

The Mountain.

Her eyes darted up to the rocky edifice to her left which towered above the tree line to touch the clear blue sky.
"Will we ever be free of them?" She wondered. 

She had freed her people for now but how long before they needed fresh blood? How long before their Reapers were scouring the woods once again dragging women, children and wounded warriors deep into their fetid caverns below those rocks? How long before she would have to try another attack but this time without the Sky People.

Clarke.

She had betrayed their blonde leader, a girl a few years younger than herself yet so naive. She had tried to teach her, show her the realities of being a ruler, that tough decisions must be made and that your people must come first even over your own feelings and desires. Feelings were a weakness. She had tried to explain that to...

To Clarke...

The name resonated in her head again like a faint echo. Her nose filled with the scent of her hair and her lips twitched with the memory of the feel of Clarke's pressed against them.

She pushed the feelings aside, the leader of the Sky People was of no importance only Movar's encampment and the blade in her hand. She raised it into a combat stance and moved forward again, her eyes darting from window to door to open space searching for the traitor.

She deftly moved between a pair of wooden huts and stared into the clearing beyond, her senses straining for any hint of attack or approach but thee was nothing. Perhaps Movar had fled? 

Without taking her eyes off the clearing she raised her left fist to signal her warriors to advance and prepare to search house to house if the traitor would not come and fight. She contemplated taking up position at the Central camp fire but didn't want to make herself vulnerable.

Lexa's warrior's approached stealthily from behind the ridge and with a tight nod left and right they broke into small assault groups and headed towards the huts weapons ready. 

Indra was at her side with her sword drawn.
"Do you really think he is here still?" Her question was more of a challenge than query and Lexa met it with the slightest shake of her head.

"No, he will have bought time for his escape with the lives of his warriors. We will have to track him."

"He will not be easy to follow, he knows these woods as well as we do." Indra looked across the clearing to the tree line opposite.

"He hasn't gone into the woods." Lexa said calmly, her eyes burning. "He's gone underground" she lifted her sword and pointed at a cave entrance opposite that was mostly obscured by bracken. It would have been easily missed had the bracken not been parted by something or someone recently.

With an icy smile playing across her face Lexa advanced raising her sword.
"The hunt is on."

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Deep Space contact

Helen's eyes opened with a start the black of her pupils shrinking under the harsh strip lights and
focusing on her surroundings. She was still cold from the deep slumber, her exposed flesh was dimpled and on seeing the white flickering steam of her breath just made her shiver involuntarily.

Her brain was as numbed as her joints and it took her a few moments to remember where she was and why she was in a pod billions of miles away from her friends and family in the deep dark abyss of space.

"Cecile" her voice croaked from a long dry throat. "Cecile, can you state location please."

A few moments passed as she blinked the sleep from her eyes and yawned. Why did she feel so numb? This wasn't her first stasis journey, she was used to these short hops from the Sol system to the colonies Rowlatt and Spee station, in fact they were almost routine, so routine she had saved about five years of her life.

A flashing green cursor on the glass face plate of the long cylindrical pod that she had called home for the last who knows how long, caught her attention. It hurriedly typed a line of text.

Good Morning Lieutenant Fallon - Your vitals are showing normal and the ship is ready for you.

"Where are we Cecile? What happened to your audio?"

Again the blinking cursor flashed.

Our current position is 0.059 by 0.874 by 1. My audio circuits have degraded over time and require maintenance.

Helen laid there for a moment trying to wrap her brain around the information she had just received.

"Wait Cecile, are you sure of those coordinates?"

The blinking Cursor, taunting her, appeared again.

Affirmative.

"Cecile, how much time has passed since the crew entered sleep?"

The answer was almost instantaneous.

Four hundred years, four months and eight days.

Helen's eyes widened with shock and horror. This had meant to be a short hop of a couple of weeks yet if her estimates were right they were now sat on the edge of the galactic plain. What could have gone so wrong with Cecile and the sleeper systems to allow such a huge deviation.

Then it hit her, deviation was not the word for it. Her family, her dog, her fiancé, whom she was due to marry in six months were all long dead and buried, so were their grand children and their grand children. As far as she knew they were so far removed from any form of civilisation and Human space that the likelihood of being found was phenomenally small.

Her heart began to pound against her rib cage in panic and her breathing was becoming more and more frantic. She had to get our of this metal tomb, she had to be free, she had to see for herself. Cecile had said that there was a problem with her vocal processors, maybe her cognitive systems were offline and in need of retuning. Maybe all of this was just a computer glitch and they were five days off course.

"Cecile, open the hatch. Open it quickly please." Her panic began to overspill into her voice and she started to press her hands against the glass and push. She had to get out immediately.

Thankfully there was the reassuring snap of the locks and the hiss of heavily processed incoming air that greeted her nostrils causing them to curl away. She didn't care she just had to get out. She pushed the lid up hard and swung her legs out onto the metallic floor.

As she gulped down the air she looked around the emergency lit empty room. The only sign of life was the flashing green cursor on the blank computer screen on the far wall, strangely none of the other pods were opening or even lit. She hopped down onto the hard metallic floor and crossed with urgency to the nearest stasis pod.

The glass on the front was covered with a thick layer of dust obscuring the occupant's features. She gulped in apprehension as fear began to gnaw in the pit of her stomach as she noticed the power light was blank and not its' customary constant red.

It has to be empty. she thought to herself. Please... let it be empty.

She flicked off the latches and tried to lift the lid but it refused to move. Looking round she saw an emergency fire axe in a glass case on the wall opposite, she quickly removed it and jammed the shaft into the gap and pushed down with all her strength. A loud his of escaping dust and air greeted her as the decaying seals tore apart and opened. She coughed and forced down a retch as the full cloud of noxious smell hit her, her fears that this pod wasn't empty were becoming realised. As the dust cleared she saw it, the white skull amidst the grey dust of what remained of what had formerly been a crew member and friend. This had been Engineers mate Harry Honisch.

She fell backwards onto the floor and stared up at the opened casket in shock. Honisch was a good friend to her and the rest of the crew. He'd been a middle aged family man with six kids on the German colony on Mimas which he missed every time he went away. Not that it mattered, they would all be long dead now. It didn't seem fair, how could he be dead?

After what seemed like an eternity she climbed to her feet and crossed to the Computer screen.

"What happened Cecille?"

There has been a power shortage. I had to save those who were the most vital to the mission and sacrifice the few.

The bluntness made her wince, why was she more vital than Harry?

"Who else is still alive?" She found herself asking but dreading the answer.

The following personnel are alive;

Lt. Cmdr P. Burgess (First Officer)
Lt H. Fallon (Navigator)
Lt R. Kommanova (Engineer)

She read the short list three times. Three people out of a crew of fifteen. Suddenly she realised there was a name missing that she had hoped would have still been there.

"Cecille what is the status of Lieutenant Sarah Upcraft?"

Deceased.

A one word answer that cut through her straight to her core. "When?"

Two years and four months ago.

So close yet... She crossed slowly and deliberately towards the pod that she knew had held her friend. She held her hand out above the covered glass and let it hover not wanting to scrape away the dust and confirm what she knew was true.

Finally she lowered her hand and wiped away the grey mass and there she was. The air tight nature of the stasis chamber meant that decomposition was slowed right down and the young girl with curly brown hair laid there with her eyes shut and hands resting on her chest as if sleeping.

"Is there no way to resuscitate her?" Helen's voice was a croaky whisper. "There has to be something we can do. Cecille? Answer me!"

With a whispered curse she turned back to the monitor on the far side of the room and stared at the read out from the ship's computer.

Lt Upcraft is deceased I'm afraid. There is nothing that can be done to revive her. When the systems began to fail her heart rate was slowed down and stopped whilst she slept. Too much time has passed and her vital organs have already began to degrade and her brain has been dead for too long.

I am sorry Helen. As a cartographer she was considered to be highly valuable to the mission but as the power systems continued to degrade she was considered to be expendable in comparison to the others.

The facts were irrefutable but that didn't make it any easier. She stared down at her friend, her eyes welling up and her throat choking up. It felt like only an hour ago that they were saying good bye to each other not four centuries. Why did she get picked to go and not her?

I awoke Lt. Kommanova several times over the last Century. He has been working steadily to try and economise power and re-route many of the dying systems. The priorities were for engine control and the stasis pods.

She nodded slowly, they were not decisions she wanted to make. How can you weigh one human life against another? How could Sarah have been allowed to go but not her just because she was the navigation officer and Sarah the Cartographer? The slimmest of margins had sealed Sarah's fate and poor Hohnisch.

"Where are the others?"

Kommanova is in engineering and Burgess is on the observation deck looking over the logs. He requires you there as soon as possible to discuss the situation.

She nodded slowly turning her mind forcibly away from Sarah's death, there was nothing more that could be done, however much it hurt. She had to find out what had gone wrong and how they ended up here in the middle of nowhere, or rather the edge of nowhere.

She stepped out of the door and into the dimly lit corridor hearing her boots clank on the metal plated flooring. It was a strange noise, one that she hadn't heard that often. Usually the hallways were bustling with people or background noise and all the other things that she took for granted now in this empty ship drifting through space everything was bombarding her senses. She could hear the engines pulsing and even the electronic buzzing from the power conduits passing their information.

She cautiously continued down towards the observation deck scolding her self that there was no reason to be scared or cautious, this was her ship with her friends aboard. What was the worse that could happen? She reached the door and paused, a noise behind her, something she wouldn't have heard if the ship was its normal busy self but it was unmistakable. Boots on metal. No one had been alive in the Stasis bay, no one could have come from there. Part of her brain willed it to be Helen still alive but she instantly dismissed it, it had to be something else. Her gut reacted telling her it was something bad, she could feel it in her soul that something malevolent was at the other end of the corridor, not evil per say but deeply, deeply wrong. With a gulp of air in her dry throat she gently tilted her head to the right and there it was. She caught a glimpse of a tall figure wrapped in a black cloak with a hood that cast the face into shadow, all that was visible was a pair of black eyes that glinted under the emergency lighting and a cruel smile that twitched as it regarded her.

She placed her hand on her side arm and span round to face the intruder but as quickly as she turned the figure dissolved into thin air as if wiped away and she found herself staring down the empty corridor at a maze of piping and conduits in the exposed wall cavity. There was nothing there, and it was unlikely there had been anything there.

"You've been in stasis too long Sarah, your mind is getting distracted." she tutted to herself as she activated the door stud that opened to the observation deck. "Too long."

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Defiance: redraft of Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Zosen IV was a hive of activity. The colony on this far flung, temperate world had been founded five years previously and had rapidly increased in size. Settlers from all over the Empire had been drawn to the rich mineral deposits and the endless employment in the defence factories. The Admiralty required a constant stream of warships, star fighters, and a defence force garrison. The population had grown from the first few thousand settlers who had emerged from the seeding ships to forty million in just five years.

Unlike so many other worlds forcibly settled by Parliament, Zosen IV had a rich wealth of minerals and a good temperate climate and no surprises. The memory of Partolli II was still fresh in the mind of every Galactic Scout and colonist. The planet scans showed a similar template as Alpha prime and rich in minerals with fertile soil. Four nights into the colonies existence all nine thousand settlers were killed, as was the battalion of soldiers sent to investigate. It was a month before the next military vessel passed by and landed more troops. Lieutenant Herrick, the sole survivor reported to his Captain that nocturnal Ogre like creatures rose from the caves and culled everyone.

Luckily for the millions on Zosen nothing like that existed here.

By eighteen years old Stacey Nash had already seen much of the Galaxy. Her father had been assigned as a navigator on a civilian Survey ship and had taken his family with him. Stacey had seen the birth of a star, looked into the eternal darkness of a black hole and the deep purple haze of a Quagor Nebula. Life on the "Aurora" had been educational and an experience that had moulded her view of the galaxy, it was bigger than her and in comparison she was a tiny atom in a much larger animal. She knew others who thought they were a vital organ or even the very centre of the Galaxy but she let them labour under their false beliefs, it would one day catch up with them one lonely night. She still thought about the days out in deep space wandering and exploring, she would let her mind return there to stop it thinking about the boring nature of her job and there here and now…

Now though... Now she was stuck here. Her mother had died four years previously and her father had deteriorated and almost penniless took the emperor's golden credit and became a miner on Zosen. After the accident that had left his left side paralysed she had taken a job as a pit worker too. Two years of scratching a living from rock and taking care of her two younger brothers had left her with a wistful melancholy but with a chipper sense of humour. She had learnt to swing a pick and operate heavy machinery quickly and to defend herself from the advances of the other miners even quicker. More than one man had reported to the infirmary with a broken jaw or arm and the whisper "Leave Stacey Nash" ran quickly through them. She loved the respect she had earned but it came at a price, people were often too scared of her and she was often treated as a pariah by most. Her only real friends were Eddie and George, two other pit workers from the same watch. George was like a surrogate father who constantly looked out for her where as Eddie was a young lad, a newbie. She' saved him from a fight two years previous and since then they'd become inseparable. Eddie reminded her of her brothers and his wide eyed youth, albeit that he was only two years younger than her, was like a reminder of the innocence she had lost the moment she had walked into the mines and picked up that axe for the first time.

It had been another gruelling day in the mines. The government had upped the quota of ore required, they were obviously gearing up for something and the supervisors were taking it out on the workers with louder threats, shouts and abuse than usual. More carts had to be filled, more rock chipped and with less workers as the military reservists were called up for active duty.  She was even starting to feel grudging jealousy for them, a way off planet or at best out of the mines and into a barracks with regular food and pay. She had thought about volunteering but who would take care of her family? She was also below regulation height and she had heard women got a tough time in the infantry which was a shame because she had been trained to shoot by her father and she had always been a dead shot.

Stacey and Eddie were walking down the escalator to the habitation sector, stretching their aching arm muscles and trying to acclimatise to the bright summer day light. The sound of martial music carried across the crisp cool morning air. Stacey strained her eyes in the direction it came from. From their lofty vantage point she could see the columns of figures marching along the main street that ran through the centre of town before cutting past the pits and on to the space ports and the squadrons of transport ships that had been arriving for the past fortnight. Green helmets bobbed like a sea whilst silver plates and bayonets glinted and sparkled in the sun. The sounds of crumping boots on concrete and the shrill shouted orders of officers and NCOs carried through the still air/

"Looks like a parade." Eddie said incredulously

"Well Yeah..." Her dry sense of humour often relied on Eddie's stupid comments and was rarely left wanting.

"Do you want to take a closer look?"

She didn't even have to answer, this was excitement and standing in the darkness all day carving out chunks of rock was an occupation that needed any form of excitement, anything new to talk about in the canteen or if you saw a colleague for a few fleeting moments before you felt the lash of a supervisor’s tongue for shirking duties.

The hurried down the hill and into the shanty town of grotty prefabs, lean-to's and unsanitary tenements that lived under the grandiose name of worker’s habitation sector. Jumping a burst sewer main and its stinking discharge they picked their way through the slime towards the merchant sector and the aortic road that was the "Main Street."

Stacey had become accustomed to this place. She hated it and yearned to leave but the sights, sounds and smells had long been engrained in her mind and she had acclimatised even secretly loved it. She knew every alleyway, back route and side street in Mineville. The official cartographers and military planners probably called it something else but for those who lived here it would always be named after it’s defining feature.

Eddie still curled his nose in disgust at the effluent that flowed down the street in the open drain and tried to avoid stepping in slime. His attitude would change but Stacey hoped that would take a long time, when others had lost their standards and embraced their lot they had lost a part of themselves as she feared she had.

They crossed the rusting bridge over the brown slimy river that was clogging with slag and sewage and into the "Merchant sector" and walked down the dark ally into the cheering crowd.

Through the mass of citizens Stacey could make out the soldiers of the fourth Zosen light infantry, their pulse rifles held to the port, the regimental band playing with a jaunty number that kept everyone in step behind the red regimental standard. Behind the column of men came the APCs and light tanks. Their engines roared a throaty cough as they rolled down the black tarmac streets.

It was an impressive sight especially for the civilians who rarely saw such a spectacle, or any spectacle come to that. She couldn’t help feeling a sense of pride at the flower of Zosen’s youth marching off to war to protect them from alien aggression. They’d all read the news and releases about how the N’kell ate human young and were a terror of all civilisation pillaging their way across the Galaxy and now they were coming this way. Animals in body armour with large claws and a savage disorganised and poorly equipped scourge that would ravage the planet and leave it burning before continuing on. These boys would stop them in their tracks and turn them around at the first battle. Tell this barbarian horde to try somewhere else.

"Fools" a familiar voice filled her ears. George stepped out of one of the shadowy doorways and up to her and Eddie.

“Come on George they’re the shield of the Empire.” Eddie scoffed

“They’re dead men walking.” His voice was as cold and crisp as the morning air. “I’ve fought the N’kell boy, they are ruthless and efficient killers bent on one thing- the annihilation of the enemy. When their Admiralty has finished wiping these boys out they will come for us here.”

“Do you really think so George?” Stacey half smiled as she tried to make light of the dark prediction. “I’ve heard the N’kell are a mindless rabble. Surely our disciplined lads will make short work of them?”

“Definitely” Eddie pointed at the proud looking infantry column “They’ll deal with them easily. Look at all their kit, the discipline.”

George shook his head, his eyes fixed on the troops. “Their high command has known this day was coming and have prepared for any incursion by us. Then once our shield is cut off they’ll stab deep into our heart.”

Stacey’s blood ran cold. What if George was right?

“I’ve seen N’kell troopers, twice the size of you boy, seen ‘em cut a man in two with one swing of their blades. I watched a whole battalion wiped out by a squad of their frontline assault troopers like they weren’t there. They’ll fight and they’ll win and then they’ll come here.”

“But…”  Eddie tried to break into George’s flow but was waved silent by the elder man.

       “Discipline and weaponary is all well and good on the battlefield but the trick is to get off your warships first. Their warships are impressive, even more so than ours and they know that we’re coming, you think these boys will stand and fight on the field of battle? I say they won’t even get to disembark.” George took one last look at the parade before turning away towards the Worker’s habitation area. “You mark my words… Death will come to us all if they cross the border.”

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Final draft of Defiance, Chp 1

I have rewritten and redrafted Chapter 1 of my Sci-fi book so....

Enjoy! (Comments and criticisms are very welcome!!!)




Chapter 1


The four Salamander fighters roared overhead in a low pass saluting the recent graduates. The freshly promoted Second Lieutenant Jonathon Eldon looked up at them. His heart leapt with pride and excitement. Clutching his dispatch papers and graduation roll he began to relive the same day dreams that had got him through the bad times here at the academy and a spur for the endless testing. Being a fighter pilot in the "Service" had been his dream and ambition since he was a small youth growing up on the Agri world of Rowlatt, staring up at the blue sky on a warm summer’s day dreaming of dog fights and medals.

"Hey John!" A familiar voice cut into his reality. Looking across the "Quadrangle" he saw her walking towards him.

Lieutenant Claire Doolan, his bunk mate smiled as she drew near. Her blue eyes sparkled in the sun light with a youthful playfulness. They had been billeted together for three years now and had become nigh on inseparable, she was always on his wing and he was always on hers.

"Did you get your orders Freya?"

Freya was her pet name for him; she said that his snores were like the sounds of a dying Freya night beast. He never quite believed her, nor knew how she knew what a dying night beast sounded like but had grown to like the name.

"Yes indeed. 51st." He smiled broadly "Stationed on the Valkyrie. What did you get?"

"53rd on the Hercules. I'm shipping out in two hours." She shifted her eyes down to the grass below.

A wave of shock washed over him. He and Claire had been friends for so long, from day one at admissions through every test they had flown on each other’s wing and been such a major part of each other’s lives that he couldn't imagine being separate from her. The 53rd or Ace of Spades was a prestigious assignment as well, their commander Lieutenant Colonel Jenkins was almost legendary pilot among the Academy freshmen and indeed the whole Fighter service, but not as prestigious as the 51st’s commander Colonel Wallner, a highly decorated and accomplished officer who was the poster boy of the Fleet and Jonathon’s hero. He had been exceptionally honoured to find he was assigned to be on the same ship as him but now, without Doolan at his side it made the assignment ring hollow and meaningless. All thought of glory and achievement lost under the dark waves of loss and regret as if his arm had been cut off. It was only with the possibility of losing her that he realised how much she truly meant to him.

"That was fast." He managed to murmur after a few moments.

"Yeah I know." She tried to manage a half smile. "Something about fleet movement into the Oberon Sector and needing the best pilot for the job!"

"Then surely..." he began but stopped, looking her straight in the eye he smiled "They have chosen well."

She punched his arm lightly "Don't get all mushy on me Freya."

They grew silent and started walking to the dorm. "Are you all packed?" His voice was tight and lacked its usual light heartedness.

"I don't think in the three years I've been here I've unpacked everything." She said wistfully, "Anyway, all that crap in the dorm is yours!"

They laughed again and he put an arm around her shoulder.

"I'm going to miss you Doolz."

Her step faltered and her eyes rolled up to meet his, a touch of remorse nagged her features.

"Going to miss you too Freya." She half whispered. “I know it is not in your nature but… Stay out of trouble, ok?”

 

Charlotte sat on the end of her bed, her kit bag at her feet. How could her entire life be fitted into such a small bag? The room lay bear save for a book left casually in the middle of her bunk.

The Room's emptiness seemed to resonate around her and permeate her soul. Amy, her roommate and best friend had shipped out that morning. She had been second top of her class and received promotion to the cruiser Hercules. It was a prestigious assignment. Second Navigational officer on the Command ship of the Zosen sector.

Charlotte hadn't wanted to see her go. Where ever there were pranks her and Amy had started it. Where ever there was a party her and Amy had planned, publicised and starred in it. Amy was the brash out going one, Chalotte the insular studious one but when she was with Amy she had become a mirror of her charismatic nature and was one of the twin stars at the centre of their own galaxy.

Her three years here had been a rollercoaster ride of dizzying highs and crushing lows. She had fought and won the title of "Top of the class" and majored in Astro navigation with a ground breaking study on Quagor Nebulonic formations. A theory so complicated she had managed to dazzle her lecturers with guess work and supposition.

A brief smile played across her lips as she remembered Doctor Cubb's face as she argued the point he was making failed to stand up to the laws of physics and then proceeded to explain to the aging professor, who had dedicated his life to the study of this field, that the basis of his ideas was:

    A) Dated and flawed by current research, and;

 B) If the "Presumptions" were followed by a crew in the field they would all end up dead.

To her surprise he agreed -to an extent- before sending her to report to the head of the department.

She fidgeted, pushing her light brown hair behind her ears and scooped up her muster sheet again. There was no need to read it, she had read it four times, had committed it to memory but found solace in reading it one last time.

 

"1st Lieutenant Charlotte. M. Bell Navigational officer first class - Report to chief navigator Harkins aboard Valkyrie in 48 hours (0900 27-4)

Shuttle 0745 departs Rantru academy 16.00 25-4"

 

Short but simple. She glanced at her watch. 14:55. With a sigh she stood up and scooped up her bag and book. How could her life feel so light?

Approaching the door she turned to take one last glance around at the gunboat grey walls and metal bunks. She could hear her and Amy laughing; the sound resonated and seemed to escape from the walls. She smiled gently. The room had been so full of life now lay in state.

"Good bye Room." Her voice was soft and tinged with remorse.

Forcing another smile she flicked the light switch plunging the room into darkness, save for the white glow of the door, which slowly faded to black as she closed it.

One chapter ends, however much you loved it, another begins.

 

Admiral Cylix stared out of the window of hi spacious offices at the top of the academy at the cadets who were celebrating graduation and packing their gear for departure and at those still on training drilling out on the parade ground. He had been Chancellor for many years, too many years really. The flower of youth below were the best they could be, the best the Fleet could ever hope for.

“You are taking the best recruits I’ve ever seen Michael, you know that don’t you? You had better not be getting them all killed or sent on a fools errand.”

Admiral Michael Stimson regarded the star maps on the situation report table. He had brought them here to get his old mentor’s opinion on his audacious plan for glory, glory he knew he deserved. Those fools in central command had overlooked a golden opportunity. Since the human Empire had reached N'kell space they had stopped. The original exploration vessel that had opened up the way to the Galactic core had returned with comprehensive intelligence reports and many encounters.

Captain Bond had engaged the same flotilla of N’kell defence craft time and time again but had never been defeated. This alien "Menace" was obviously a paper tiger and not worth worrying about. Stimson looked at the Zosen gap. His superiors had worried their heads over this patch of space and millions of credits had been diverted to planetary defences but the answer was much simpler than that. A battle group under the more than capable Vice Admiral Oaten would smash through the door and the whole rotten structure would collapse.

Oaten's fleet was the most powerful reconnaissance force put together, mainly from the Zosen defence force. Twenty heavy cruisers with the cream of the navy and fighter force all led by the flagship Vengeful.

The N'kell didn't stand a chance.

A second fleet to be led by Stimson would follow up and mop up survivors. The rewards for Oaten and himself by a grateful Parliament and Emperor would be far reaching. Glory and wealth would be his forever and the Human Empire would move another step towards greatness.

“It is perfect Franz, you’ve seen the plan.” He stood and pointed at the map as if they held the key to everything. “After the first engagement the fleet will disperse and take the key systems of VLR 207 and VLR 338 thus removing their ability to produce ships and I will spear head the attacks on their energy production on VLR 109 and then move to take their home planet. Of course it won’t come to that.”

The old Admiral moved from the window and over to the star charts one last time and stared through them blankly. It all looked good on paper but he had seen it all before.

“Where did you get your intelligence from?” he asked dryly.

“One of our agents.” Stimson answered with growing irritation. “I think her name was Underwood.”

“Is it a good source? Do you trust the agent’s recommendations and observations?”

“She comes well recommended. Her service file is exemplary and she has been on deep cover so long that the guys at Intel didn’t remember her but admitted she was on the system so must be one of theirs.” He handed her file over to Cylix to browse over. Truth be told he was worried about the Intelligence report as well. It seemed a lot to base an entire strategy on.

“It does seem very perfect doesn’t it?” Cylix muttered placing the report back in the file. “This agent files a report just as you gain command of the Zosen sector fleets and the reports from Captain Bond are declassified by Internal Security.”

“What are you driving at?” Stimson was losing patience with his mentor. He had come all this way for his blessing, for him to look at the plans and say “Good work, go to it!” but all he had got was questions, questions of competence, questions of why?

Cylix scoffed and turned back to the windows and the warm sunlight that touched his face. “I have seen a lot of war and of death Michael. I have seen my good friends taken away, ripped apart by fire or sucked out of hull breaches as I tried to pull them to safety. I would not wish it on anyone else, least of all the young cadets you are taking from here. I fear you may be opening up a Pandora's box that once opened will cost many thousands of lives and for what gain? Do you think that we can penetrate the Galactic core? Gain the ultimate power source? Do you think any of it will make the slightest difference?”

Stimson had heard enough, he scooped up his reports and began rolling the star maps for storage in the sealed tube he had brought. Clearly this had been a waste of time and the old man had lost his nerve and will for battle. “When did you get old Franz?” he muttered under his breath.

“The day I watched my crew die.” Came the hushed response from the window. The loss of Kraken was required reading on several syllabus’ across the fleet training manuals. It had been an epic disaster that had seen an entire Cruiser’s crew wiped out save for a handful of bridge officers who by mere fluke had been off ship inspecting the new defence grid being built at Quatora IV. The Alien vessels of unknown origin had dropped into normal space, made two passes at the warship and then jumped out of the system again.

Cylix had stood aboard the defence platform and watched helplessly as his ship had been torn apart in a matter of minutes. They had known where to attack and what to damage first and left no one alive. Those glowing orange engines of the alien vessels had haunted his dreams ever since and completely changed the way he thought forever. The deaths had laid on his conscious, he knew his presence would not have changed things but he had felt as Commanding officer he should have died with them. The psychotherapist called it Survivor’s guilt and Post traumatic stress syndrome and put him on lighter duties as a Staff officer moving files for a senior officer. He had kept his head down and worked hard but had never taken to the fleet again. It was how he had ended up here, teaching and finally overseeing the education of others. It was strange that he was sending others out to do the work he could no longer do, to fight and possibly die leaving him behind helplessly watching again from the sidelines but there had been no war for a decade and he had been proud to send the best and brightest people out to excel in their fields but now it looked like that it had started again. He watched his protégé demonstrating the latest plan and the vessels he was directing and all Cylix could see was a list of future memorials rolled up with star maps and in the arms of a dead man heading out of the door.

Stimson paused by the door, his anger and disappointment abating for a few moments. “Good bye Franz.”
The old Admiral looked up with a wizened smile and nodded at his former protégé. “Good luck Admiral, I hope to see you and my cadets back soon. I have buried too many in my time already, I don’t want to have to bury you as well.”

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Into the Dark Part 2

Carries on from Part 1



Some days she questioned why she had got into Archaeology in the first place. It had been something she had been interested in and with nothing else going to do on her home world of Rowlatt apart from farming it seemed like a logical step to escape. Get paid to do what she enjoyed and rarely have to leave a library or choose her assignments, or so she thought. At least at Dremerdius she had her own quarters, a subaltern to assist her with moving some of her papers from one desk to the other and a senior officer who didn’t care what she did as long as their was a report every month about surveys or on her work on Dremerdius IV and even then she had doctored a few of the results. She still remembered remonstrating with him when the order from above came down but he just shrugged and told her it was out of his hands. Small minded office busy body just wasn’t interested as long as it didn’t affect him.

She climbed out of the lift and froze at the sight of the Forward observation post’s access door. Her stomach rolled as she worried what was about to be unfolded. Last time she had been summoned to a meeting she found herself out here. Then again what was the worst that could happen? She took a deep breath and opened the door to a large glazed room that overlooked the main prow, in the middle of the room Commander Devonshire was hopping excitedly from one foot to the other in front of a beaming Captain Kinnock. She recognised the head of xeno-biology, some of the geologists and Captain Wilson the head of the security detail. This couldn’t be good.

“Ah! Jane.” Commander Devonshire turned around with a huge beaming smile. “How was the equipment? Never mind, we’re going to be working with it soon!”

It caught her somewhat by surprise. All this time she had got used to the idea of cruising around the black void of utter nothingness and resigned to finding nothing. Then again, it was only a matter of time before they bumped into something out here in the void. Her scientific inquisitiveness quickly peaked and almost against her will she started thinking about what could be found, would there be alien life? Would there be some lost civilisation buried or abandoned on the plains? Despite the nagging feeling that this would be a pointless empty world that may not even have a breathable atmosphere.

“Really sir?” She tried to sound enthusiastic “What’s or ETA?”

“Next week.” Devonshire grinned broadly. “Probably by Tuesday.”

“We’ve labelled it G-490.” Captain Kinnock beamed. “Long range scans show it to have a tolerable atmosphere and weather.”

“You’re going to be one the first onto this world. I’m really envious of your opportunity Jane.” Devonshire was still chattering on oblivious.

First on the world. It sounded like it should be a really exciting prospect, to trail blaze onto a new world, to see what no one else had seen before and in a way it did but at the same time she couldn’t help but think this was incredibly dangerous being on the first barge on the planet. Surely she could still trail blaze from the second shuttle? Let Security go forward and secure the landing zone or whatever they did and then send in the archaeologists and geologists. How useful would an archaeologist be in an emergency or battle situation that didn’t involve digging? She couldn’t remember the last time she fired her sidearm, possibly time to dig it out from the box under her bed and practice. She didn’t want to be caught out armed with nothing but a trowel by an alien ambush.

“Nothing to worry about Lieutenant we’ll keep you safe. My troops will be right by you all the way.” Captain Wilson approached, his face completely deadpan. He was one of those professional looking soldiers, one who fought his way through three wars single handed armed with nothing but a fruit knife and if anyone would keep the survey teams safe it would definitely be him, even if he was on his own. Many archaeologists or non-combatant specialists often became annoyed by soldiers getting involved and clogging up their dig sites but for this mission she felt somewhat relieved that an armed presence would be securing the area and keeping watch and Wilson was the sort of level headed veteran who would keep them out of trouble.

Devonshire was beaming at her again, it was a facial expression that seemed alien to his usual serious demeanour, she had never thought he could be giddy about anything, not even as a teenager. She had always presumed that he had been in his mid forties since he was a child.

“Isn’t this exciting?” he enthused.

“Indeed sir.” She smiled. His excitement was infectious and there was a flame within her that was starting to burn brighter as she thought about the prospect and raised herself out of the rut she feared she lived in and the dark dank boredom this voyage had brought. She could spend the four month journey home reconsidering her next move in life and what she wanted, now she should just make the most of this opportunity to break up any monotony.

“I think the best thing we can do now is prepare for the dig. Jane, you should go and make sure the equipment is ready for deployment and working properly.”

The flame snuffed out but she managed a resigned nod and half smile. “Of course sir.”

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Prisoner

I opened the other phial and poured it into the glass beaker and began to mix the two viscous golden liquids together with the glass rod viciously with a repetitive clink clink of glass on glass. 
"How long will this take?" the filtered voice of my captor echoed breathlessly in my ear. I could see their helmeted visage reflected on a dozen different bottles on my work bench.

"I am going as fast as I can, you cannot rush this delicate reaction" I said slowly not ceasing my work for a heartbeat.

"I took you because you were supposedly the best and most efficient." Again, the slow metallic voice bereft of emotion.

I remembered that night, being awoken from my bunk by an armoured glove gripping my night shirt and throwing me to the flagstone floor. The pale green armoured figure casually aiming a shock rifle steadily at me whilst I bundled some clothes into a bag.

Being shoved at rifle point out into the corridor, past the dead security guard hunched over a blackened blaster wound and out into the cold night towards the customised insectile vessel hidden out in the woods. The memory of seeing my roommate's lifeless grey eyes staring across at me, her mouth open in a silent sigh as the blood ran from deep slash in those dainty wrists into a dark pool. Sigardson was her name, she'd only been at the facility a few days but was enthusiastic about her work in Quantum theory and the crystalline drives that powered our great warships. She had been innocent, I was innocent!

"You took me because I was easy to catch." I said testily, ceasing stirring and looking up into those lifeless black eye plates. "Now do you want this to work or not?"

I felt the steel blade gently pushing against my chest almost immediately, I'm not sure when or from where it was drawn but the promise was definite.
"Pretty ballsy Professor, now finish the job or you'll end up like your pal Sigardson."

My mouth worked quicker than my brain and I heard myself saying "Why? Can you mix this accurately?"

The blade shifted from a gentle threat to clear and present danger as it now broke the skin of my abdomen enough to make me recoil and for blood to begin staining my pale grey jumpsuit.

"Back to work." Metallically filtered or not, you could hear the menace in the voice. I obeyed immediately.

As I stirred and added the sodium chlorite as well as the hydrogen monoxide.

"How did you know Sigardson?" I muttered.

"I didn't know her. We spoke before she died. She was not who I wanted and a possible lose end."

"So you killed her?" I tried not to let my attention falter from the reaction in front of me.

"I was merciful." the voice was blunt.

"Merciful? You slit her wrist and left her to bleed to death." I choked a little.

"Professor, what do you think is going on here? My employer needs this compound and as quickly as possible, they're up against something far more evil than me. I did her a favour, if the others had got their hands on her, and they would have, then... She'd have died but not well."

My stomach churned. What was I a part of? Maybe the mercenary was right and Sigardson did go the right way, but what will happen to me when I am no longer useful. I took the first step in that direction.

"I've finished," I muttered. "hand me that bottle would you?"

The blade vanished from my side and I heard the click of the shock rifle as it was laid against the laboritory wall, I glanced sideways at it and at the slim armoured figure at the next work station looking for the stoppered conicle glass I'd indicated. I quickly began running the math on my chances.

"Don't even think about it." There was a firmness in the mercanry's voice that like a boot on a spider, crushed any thoughts I had. "Unless you have my DNA you can't pull the trigger."

I sighed and took the flask when it was held out for me by the same gloved fist that had pulled me out of bed that night.

"Are we done here?"

I gently poured the compound into the flask and placed the orange stopper into it. "Yes all done." I held it out for the merc to take, if I was to die here they could carry their own damn formula.

"You carry it, I may need to blast us out of here professor." My captor moved deftly but surely towards the door and peered out into the metallic corridor beyond. "Looks clear. Keep behind me and if rounds start flying stay low. You're no good to me dead. Although if the Syndicate's goodn get their hands on you you'll wish I had cut your wrists too."

I looked over the table briefly to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything - an old habbit of mine that held no relevance to this new life I found myself living. Then my eyes fell on something on the floor next to the table and my heart lept! There was an universal key card, it looked rather battered but looked to be in working order. I examined it from a distance and my heart stopped when I saw the familiar chipped corner of my cell key. It must have fallen out of the mercanry's utility pouches. I quickly scooped it up and followed the armoured figure to the doorway clinging to the phial because my life genuinely depended on it surviving the journey back to the ship. After that... Well that depended on the Merc.