Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Jamaican Heat – Availability Update

Posted: August 26, 2014 in Books

newWith the signing of the publishing contract with Solstice, ‘Jamaican Heat’ will be temporarily pulled from sales as there will be a NEW vendor list and pricing; as well as the availability date.

This will include both the eBook and a hard copy (paper) option.

Stay tuned for details……

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Jamaican Heat – A Love Story

Posted: August 2, 2014 in Books

JamaicanHeat

Jamaican Heat

A Novella by William DeSouza 2014

 

The warm Caribbean breeze streamed down the Blue Mountain range into Kingston bringing with it the sweet odors of banana, sugar cane and mango. The gentle winds of the tiny tropical island felt like a warm blanket as it wrapped around me. The leaves of the mango and hibiscus trees in the yard bristled with each gust as if in anticipation of the next encounter between secret lovers.

I looked up toward the mountain and could see thin white wisps of clouds flow past the peek, traveling toward the ocean and parts unknown. I was content to sit here forever and let life unfold in front of me, content enough that I was only a watcher, not getting involved with the day to day turmoil that lay outside of my control.

As I sat on the veranda, friends and family mixed and mingled around me, catching up on the latest news, and of course the latest gossip. The women showed off their latest frocks and the men, well, they did what men did best in social situations. They found a quiet out of the way place to play games and drink beer.

The dominos slamming onto the wooden card table startled me as my uncle Brian exclaimed in joyous triumph, “Beat dat ya dog ya!” A boyish grin crossed his lips, his Jamaican accent was thick with the patois slang of the tiny Caribbean island.

“Ya workin it ard misa Brian. Ya need not worry bout ya winnings though,” replied Trevor, an old family friend. He slammed his double sixes down and jumped up with his hands raised in victory.

The table reverberated with the play and laughter boomed from everyone present.

I enjoyed watching these grown men behave and play like boys, as if embracing their youth for the first time. They were family, friends and strangers at the same time and I adored them all. There was a deep sense of familiarity about their faces, their voices, and this place. At the same time I felt as though I was an interloper as I watched with a kind of voyeuristic pleasure.

Truth be told, I was more a stranger these days. These hot blistering days where only the tourists ventured out in Kingston under the blazing mid-day sun.

I may have been born on the island but I left Jamaica soon after I married Jeffery. It’s been almost six years since I was last here.

Right out of University and in my very first job, I met Jeffery through a mutual friend. I used to read about love in romance novels, but only when I was with him did I understand what love really was. He was in the Canadian Air Force working at the embassy here; and being from Canada, Jeffery didn’t know much about the island. But that just gave me the excuse to spend time with him playing tour guide. It wasn’t long after that we decided to marry. I was nineteen and full of hope.

Six years ago, and a lifetime away, we left Kingston and the blissful tropical breeze of Jamaica to the frigid cold and snow of Northern Ontario. Jeffery’s home was Sturgeon Falls and it was as far from Jamaica as the sun is from the Earth.

Sturgeon is a tiny town that serviced the paper mills and forestry industry of the area. It also served as a bedroom community for some of the air force personnel posted in North Bay Ontario.

About a forty five minute drive West of North Bay, it’s nestled along a winding river and had some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen outside of my home in Kingston. It was the wild and rugged beauty of Canada’s North with vast spaces and rich forests I’d only read about in school. I used to think Jamaica was a green place. But for all its population, Canada was a vast open space full of trees and green fields dotted by the occasional town along a ribbon of railways and highways.

I smiled on the inside thinking about those first years in my adoptive home. The way Jeffery had to hold me tight those winter days, trying to keep the cold out. I was warm enough in the well heated house, but I liked the warmth of his body and the strength of his arms around me even more.

Nineteen forty seven was a wonderful year. The war had been over for two years and life on the island was grand. The signs of prosperity and hope were everywhere and I was marrying the man I loved greater than life itself. It was a year of change, discovery, anticipation and also sadness, for I was also leaving the island and would be so far from my family.

I remember the buckets of tears from my mother and sister – and myself of course, as I boarded the ship that would take me to a new home and a new life. I also remember the powerful, vice like embrace of my father as he whispered his love for me in my ear. He never said much before, but I always knew he was proud of me. To hear him say it now was bitter sweet as I was about to embark for the three week journey.

It wasn’t as if I wouldn’t see them again, but it would be a while and it would only be for short visits. That was life in the modern world though, and I was looking forward to it. I might even say I craved it knowing my new life was going to be shared with the man I love.

Canada was grand. We settled in Sturgeon Falls after buying a modest home there. It was a short drive from Jeffery’s work at the Canadian Air Force base in North Bay where he functioned as head of the signals and communication section. It was a quiet place away from the busy city.

In a way, Sturgeon reminded me a bit of the quiet life back home – well, if you take the snow and cold out of the picture, and the French language half the town spoke.

Jeffery and I lived and loved as much as any two people could, at least until that January in nineteen fifty two. We’d been married for almost five years by then and Jeffery’s job in the military, plus the now ranging conflict in Korea, kept him busy during the day and me socializing with the other military wives. He had his weekends off of course and was home anytime between four-thirty and six o-clock every day. It was truly a wonderful life we had.

By January the war in Korea had raged for two years. We had heard that things were going well for the United Nation forces, but many of us had our reservations.

Jeffery received new orders that month and my heart sank with the weight of a thousand suns.

The army needed experienced signal men to bridge the vast distances of the battlefield. Jeffery used to tell me that ‘communications was the key to winning any war’.

“It was only going to be a six month deployment in a safe area,” he had said as he comforted me.

“I won’t be gone for long; and I’m only going to train the signal’s people there on the new radios. There’s nothing for you to worry about,” he kept reassuring me.

Three and a half weeks after he left – I wince each time I recall the moment – just over three weeks into his service, I received a visit from Jeffery’s commanding officer and the base pastor.

I collapsed at the door the second I opened it and saw the big black car with the Government of Canada license plate pull up in the drive. I used to listen to the war correspondence on the Canadian Broadcasting Service and I knew how bad it could get over there. I knew what news was coming when I saw the car, and yet I wasn’t ready for it. How could I be, no one could be ready to hear your life was being ripped apart. I died on the inside that day.

Life has a funny way of changing stories in the middle. You start a life with big dreams that you’re going to live out the rest of your life with someone, raise children and grow old together. Then just as it begins, it ends unfulfilled.

Jeffery and I were having too much fun enjoying each other; we had made a conscious decision to have children later on. Now, I had nothing but bitter sweet memories and a pain in my heart that would not go away.

At the funeral, I relived that painful day the news arrived. Jeffery’s parents and family were very comforting and we shed a river of tears together. I ached from the pit of my body and my legs felt week. I wanted to crawl under a rock and never come out. My life, my future, was in a shambles and I had no idea what to do.

There was nothing left for me in Canada after that. Sure I had my work and of course Jeffery’s family, but I didn’t have mine. I didn’t have my supports that I so desperately needed at that very moment.  His parents understood when I told them I couldn’t stay.

I did try, lord knows I tried to stick it out. In the end though, they would have come to the same decision if they were in my place. I am going to miss them. We comforted each other with our shared loss and promised to keep in touch. Funny, the loss of a son and a husband – two lives lost in the death of one beautiful man.

So in the spring of that same year I put my affairs in order, including the sale of our home and arranged for Jeffery’s survivor and spouse’s pension to be deposited into the Royal Bank of Canada here in Kingston. After booking my passage, I took the train to Toronto and boarded a flight to Jamaica.

And here I am today, lonely but not lonely; alive and just a bit dead at the same time. Oh how I miss him, even after two years, it’s hard to move on with the everyday challenges that life brings us sometimes.

Still, now that I’m back in Jamaica, I have my family to lean on, and my sister has been fantastic. She’s been a sounding board for me and a pillar to lean on when my heart breaks.

Mind you, that may change now that she is engaged. That’s the reason for this party today – a celebration of love and hope.

My eyes begin to tear as memories flood back from the past. I need to get back to my here-an-now and get control of my emotions, I thought to myself.

This isn’t my day after all, it’s my sister’s and I’m not going to ruin it for her by stealing the show. Besides, I’m sure that everyone has seen enough of me cry with the uncontrolled sobbing of a hysterical woman.

“BaYa!” Shouted mister Tubbs as he threw down a domino. “Ya see, I am not finished wit yous just yet. So ya na jump to victory too soon.”

Everyone, myself included, burst out laughing again at the site of these men taking the game, and living, with such zeal and light hearted fun.

The urban sounds of Kingston also intruded on our gathering with distant car and truck horns, and the public address speaker booming calypso music from the tavern not too far away. A small grove of mango and hibiscus trees blocked much of the sounds and views outside our gate, but the distinct sound of the Kingston tram headed to Constant Springs pierced through the air as it squeaked to a halt.

I could just see just enough down the drive and from the trams open sides, I could observe men and women in various styles of dress, arms full of packages either heading home, or shopping and maybe even to work.

I also spotted one young and handsome man step off, a brown paper package wrapped tight with butchers’ string under one arm and a bouquet of flowers held tight in the other. I knew who it was the second I saw him.

The pressed white shirt contrasted nicely against the dark gray suite. The white porkpie hat, white patent leather shoes, his slim body, tight – oh my, I have to stop.

“Rodney!” shouted my sister as she ran down the drive to meet her fiancé at the gate.

I have to say that it was still a bit strange calling him her fiancé. While not arranged, it was as if the union was preordained in the boardroom of two major corporations trying to find common ground to work together. My father’s heavy machinery company and Rodney’s parents Bauxite factory joined not just by a common concern in making money, but also the unity of their children.

She reached the end of the drive and swung open the black wrought iron gate in mere seconds, practically jumping into Rodney’s open arms. He dropped the wrapped package but held onto the flowers with ease. His strong arms holding up my sister’s full weight as she fawned all over him.

Such public displays of affection are very rare in Kingston, frowned upon by ‘civil’ society – and I was so jealous. I envied her with all my being and missed my Jeffery the way he used to hold me like that. I put down my glass and ran inside to my room, closing and locking the door behind me as I collapsed on the bed – tears in my eyes.

I am an educated woman with years of life experience and I know that these emotions are totally illogical.  It’s been two long years, why do I still feel this way?

They are my emotions however and I wasn’t sure how to control them. I wanted to – no, I had to get control of myself. Seeing my baby sister and Rodney kiss in the drive should not send me over the edge after all this time.

So what was it? What was causing me to break down like this? Why should I lose control of my emotions when I spot that gorgeous body walking toward me? His strong arms, chiseled chest and – oh God, I just figured it out.

It wasn’t their love for each other and jealousy that made me lose it. It wasn’t me missing Jeffery, although I did. It was the man that I wanted. It was the strong arms and body holding me tight – pressing me into the bed!

OK girl, get hold of yourself. I am not that kind of person. I am a grown woman and widow and mature enough to know what is appropriate. I am not taken back by a man – with a body to kill for. Damn!

I laid on the bed for some time, not really sure how long. I could feel his weight press on my legs. I could feel his strong hand run along the right leg, moving toward my thigh. I knew it was wrong but that didn’t matter, it felt so good. His arms pulled me toward him as I turned on my back, my hand moved from my breasts, down my side and toward my….

“Elizabeth? Are you ok dear?” I heard from the other side of the door as I opened my eyes in surprise.

Shit. It was just a dream. A vivid and desperate imagination playing tricks on my fragile subconscious and emotions.

I didn’t realize I was holding my breath as I tried to answer, “Yes,” I sang out. “I was just a bit tired mama. I’ll be down just as soon as I freshen up.”

I was on my back starring up at the ceiling fan turn slowly, quietly. The shutters on the window were closed but a light breeze could be felt blow across my legs and face. I know I was smiling but not sure why. It was just a silly dream after all and didn’t mean anything. Just a dream I kept telling myself. A dream I was beginning to believe was, or could be real.

No, dreams can’t be real and this dream can never come true. I had to remain true to who I think I am, who I believed I am. My sister was engaged to marry this man in six months and I could not allow my illicit desires to wreck someone else’s life. Mine was a bit of a train wreck after all and it wasn’t right to toss others on to the same track.

“Don’t be long hon, I’m having dinner served in an hour now that Rodney has arrived.”

“Okay, thank you,” I said almost out of breath. I heard my mother walk away after a few seconds.

I knew she worried about me even though I kept reassuring her that I was alright. That wasn’t a total lie since I did feel better. The hard part right now was trying to control my – desires. This was the nineteen fifties after all, women were not supposed to feel these things. At least I didn’t think we were supposed to have lustful thoughts.

I wish I could talk to someone about this, about how I felt. I definitely couldn’t talk to my sister about this. That wouldn’t do, as I tried to explain to her that I lusted after her future husband.  Ya, that would go over well. I could see the headlines in the Gleaner – ‘Woman Kills Sister in Fit of Rage!’

As for my mother, well, that was almost as bad. Damn, I could still remember when I first started to have my period all she said was, “the pads are under the bathroom counter.” What a way to begin womanhood. She was definitely not one to have a conversation with about these types of emotions.

Jamaica in the fifties might as well be England in the Victorian era of prudish ideas, behaviours and attitudes. Even back in Sturgeon Falls it was never this bad. The women there talked about anything – including who was sleeping with whom and the sexual escapades of some of the single men. It was most enlightened compared to Kingston.

I dusted off my funk and gathered my thoughts. I looked at my watch and realized I should be out there with everyone. I took a bit of time though to straighten my dress and after looking in the dressing table mirror, wiped off my mascara. Having black bags under the eyes didn’t go with the curried goat that was being served with dinner; and quite frankly I looked worse than the goat right now.

“Blast!” I said out loud as I noticed a rip in my nylons. It must have happened when I – well it was a vivid dream after all. I grinned at the memory; it felt good in more ways than one.

“Ah well, it’s too hot for nylons anyway,” I said as I removed them and tossed them in the waste basket under the dressing table.

I stood in front of the mirror, just far enough to see all of me. The white cotton dress I wore hung loose; and you know what? I looked really good in it. I grabbed the hem, lifted it up and twirled, playing with my look.

I slipped on my white strapped sandals and took one last look in the mirror before taking a deep breath, then opened my bedroom door and headed outside.

The sun was still high in the sky but a few white clouds had moved in, helping to cool things off just a bit. It would set within the next two hours.

Thelma had begun serving dinner and the long table set up in the back yard was a site to behold.

“Thelma, you have outdone yourself,” I said quietly to her as she passed by with a platter of cut and roasted breadfruit.

“Tank you misses,” she said with a smile.

Ripe mangos and bananas adorned the centre piece. The wonderful odour of fried plantain, dumplings, callaloo, codfish, roasted breadfruit and rice and peas filed the air.

Ginger beer, sorrel and of course Red Stripe beer was also placed strategically on the table. The boys of course having easy reach of the stubby Red Stripe bottles.

Some people had already begun to gather at the dinner table but I could still hear the domino game in full swing around the front of the house in the carport. My mother told Thelma she could bring the curry goat out as she marched toward the front to break up the game.

I chuckled to myself as the sound of my mother’s ‘persuasion’ drove the remainder of the men to the table. There was nary a protest to be heard from them as they scampered to the back yard.

I chose my seat with some purpose and sat down, across from Rodney, who sat beside my sister. I have to admit in hindsight it wasn’t the best place to plant myself. I wondered what possessed me to do such a thing when I quickly remembered why. I chastised myself for playing with not only my own emotions but that of my sister, who quite frankly was a very innocent party to my lustful thoughts.

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Beyond Death’s Door: Fortune Favours The Brave

Excerpt of Chapters 1 to 5 (unedited)

A Science Fiction Novel by William A. DeSouza © 2012 


Chapter One

The drop ship engines rotated as the pilot throttled up, the nose lifted slightly as the tail ramp closed like a vice. The main motors whined as the nacelles, one on each wing, shot out a blast of hot exhaust into the ground sending debris flying into the recon team just disgorged from the rear ramp. The four skids shifted slightly on the earth, the weight transferred off the landing gear as it retracted into the belly of the ship, Ten thrust vectoring nozzles around the armored drop ship pivoted, pushing the beast higher into the air. It was a black monster rising higher into the sky, its bite even more lethal than the deafening roar of the motors.

As the ship lifted off, Corporal Heather Brassard ordered her squad to check the perimeter. She was in command of the four man reconnaissance team ordered to scout an area reported to be increasing in rebel activity.

She looked back toward the drop ship as it quickly vanished from site, loose rubble, sand and dust still swirled around in vortex patterns from the powerful main motors.

The recon team was on their own now, with just enough supplies to fend for themselves. This was a quick, no contact mission. ‘Recon and Return’ was the order and Heather was more than happy to comply.

Her squad was made up of three fresh minted newbie’s and this would be a good way to break them in.

Heather checked her arcs and surveyed the area. They were dropped near an old sports field; a gothic styled two story building surrounding the playing area in decay. One entire side of the building was shattered, leaving her a good view of the inner playing area.  The bleachers on either side of the field framed the empty, open and long disused playing surface. Twisted rubble lay among the tall weeds and grass. On each of the two levels, arched entrances spaced out behind the bleachers open to the dark shadows of what was once a cultured and vibrant civilization engaged in sport, art and music.

From what Heather could see, it had been some time since anyone watched an event or played on the overgrown turf. Giant poster boards either hung at awkward angles from posts and the sides of the arena, or lay crumpled along the ground. Some showed upcoming concerts while others still had images of the last event to be held here, a football match between a local and a visiting off planet team.

A large digital score board lay half leaning on the ground and the wall it once hung on, garbage strewn all around it. The scene of destruction was spread over a wide area, evidence of a decades’ long struggle between humans for control of a population that couldn’t even remember what started the war.

It was time.

“Liam, take point,” Heather ordered over the squad net, the internal communication kept silent within the enclosed combat helmet.

Trooper Liam Hudson didn’t hesitate as he checked his front, stood, and moved forward about thirty meters before the rest of the squad followed.

Heather advanced the squad, stopping every hundred meters to take measurements and scans of the area. The routine lasted for the next three hours before their first break. They encountered no other life and found no rebel activity; at least no recent activity in the recon area.

Heather set up a defensive perimeter as she chose a defendable spot for their breather. Each squad member ensured they had overlapping arcs of fire as they kept one eye open for any activity while grabbing a quick bite of a nutrition supplement and water.

The air was hot and thick, with shimmers of heat rising from the black rock and debris strewn about the streets. It was still early in the day and UV light from the sun passed through the thick cloud layer that blocked much of its visible light, heating the planet and cooking the local life.  It would get hotter once the cloud layer was burnt off by a rising sun.

Entire sides of houses and low rise buildings were blown out while others stood as though nothing had happened. Transports, public and private ground effect vehicles could be seen from the squad’s vantage point. Some burned out, some lay crushed under the weight of the rubble while others just looked as if they were quickly abandoned by their drivers. A number of bodies, bones really, could be seen, some piled in heaps, others where they first fell.

After ten minutes, Heather got her squad up and moving forward, line abreast, keeping parallel with the buildings as they followed the prearranged trace. They checked each doorway, window and blast opening they came to.

There was an eerie silence to the place. Heather cranked up her helmet pick-ups, trying to force some sound to be made. The only sound however was crunch of gravel or branches beneath the combat boots of the squads combat armor.

No animals or insect sounds could be heard either and that concerned Heather. She had the squad spread out even more to avoid bunching up. In a way, the lack of noise was tranquil and inviting. It was also something to be cautious of.

All that calm changed quickly as rounds suddenly rang out around the four man squad.

Each member dived for cover as automatic weapons released burst after burst of deadly seven millimeter darts. They smashed into the ground around the squad. Heather slammed hard against a fallen stature of some long dead local colonist. Liam and McDonald dived behind a low wall while Fortran ducked into an old bomb crater at the entrance to a shell of a building.

As they took cover each trooper released their safety and fired a wild burst into the air in an effort to keep whoever opened up on them down.

“What the hell is that,” shouted Fortran as he hit the bottom of the crater head first. The first thing he did was curl up into a ball hoping the rounds being fired at him would bypass his head and body, his head ringing from the pain of impact with the bottom of the crater.

Heather scanned the area and still found no electronic signatures, telling her that she was fighting against people that either found a way to mask their signature or removed all their electronic gear, turning off all electronic piece of equipment. She chose to believe the latter.

“That, trooper, is someone trying to kill you, now keep your head about you and find us a target,” Heather tried to scan the area directly in front with no luck. She was hoping to see a muzzle flash but no such luck in the early afternoon sunlight.

She was also surprised at how calm she sounded.

McDonald lifted his weapon above the wall and fired widely back hoping to hit something but he wasn’t sure where the fire was coming from. Feeling frustrated, he switched his weapon selector to grenade and let loose a two round volley at a hundred meters.

“Grenade!” he shouted on the squad net, adrenaline pumping through his body.

The explosion sent rocks and other debris flying but the enemy fire did not let up.

Rounds pinged off the marble body of the fallen statue protecting Heather, causing her to duck lower for cover. It also forced her to look for different cover. If they have her squad ranged in, something heaver was headed their way. Disengaging her site she held it up just above her cover. The view being patched through her helmet display was not encouraging.

Finally she spotted some alternative cover, “Liam, McDonald, Fortran, on three, we move toward that low building, just on the right of the shed at seventy five meters. Fortran, pop smoke at twenty five and fifty meters.”

The other’s all looked up when Heather finished, each one seeing the new cover using the same process as Heather. The gray and white walls of the two story building were pitted with holes. The windows were blown out and part of a wall had collapsed in the front, but it did have all the compulsory bits and pieces that made it a defensible position.

It would be a run to get there, but at this point, Heather did not see much of a choice.

They all acknowledged the move order as Fortran switched the ammo selector on his rifle to smoke.

“One, two,” she took a deep breath, then, “three,” Heather finished counting and they all rose up, fired off covering rounds in the hopes their attackers took cover of their own, long enough for the four troopers to make a run for it.

Fortran popped the smoke rounds as ordered. Less than three seconds later they exploded just above ground, sending a dense cloud of dark smoke wafting in the air.

Dust and pieces of stone erupted where Heather’s squad fired in unison. Debris fell to the ground in the area of impact as darts exploded off the side of buildings. She hoped that this was enough to create confusion upon those firing at them.

As she took her third stride, Heather caught site of a puff of smoke or dust followed by a large flash from the corner of her eye. The helmet vision enhancers made it clear that someone just fired at them with something bigger than a rifle, and in that instant she knew this was not going to end well.


Chapter Two

Heather stood, supporting her weight by leaning up against a wall, her armored back pressing hard into the cold stone and composite support column. Her breathing was labored and heavy as the pain medication began to wear off. Heather wasn’t used to feeling this much pain but her wounds were beginning to rip open and the sensation of flesh ripping apart by shrapnel was once again at the forefront of her thoughts.

Quickly she scanned her surroundings, trying to keep her mind focused and divert attention from the wound and her pain.

The support column was one of twelve holding up a crumbling ceiling located in what used to be the main public transit station for this city. Years of conflict had reduced the once grand and mighty building to an empty shell. Overhead, light fixtures once touted to be the most grand and ornate on the planet, lay in ruins along the length of the building.

She was on the second floor concourse overlooking the large space. Heather could see its gothic arches and pillars, no longer the prominent feature of years gone by. Two of the meter wide pillars lay across the floor, each one shattered by the impact of a smart bomb dropped long ago. Heather looked up to see a hole in the roof several meters wide where the columns once intersected, reinforcing rods bent at odd angles.

The cream coloured marble walls were pitted, gaping holes blown through into adjacent rooms or to the outside. What doors she could see were hanging off on their tracks or hinges, many of them just leaning up against debris or on the ground. Smalls arms fire clearly evident on much of the surface. Small painted murals or laser etched works cut into the marble for passerby’s of an earlier period in time were now faded. Some walls had growths of creeping vines while others covered in debris or furniture piled along lengths, set as barricades for firefights.

Heather also saw the human side of this long drawn out conflict. Two bodies, well, what was left of them. The first was more a skeleton than body, still in its fatigues, lying behind a low wall. It was about thirty meters from Heather but she could clearly make out the hole in the skull. The second was mostly body parts, the remainder of what was human now lay scattered around the open floor on a lower level, further away than the first. As she continued to follow the carnage that took place here she became aware of more skeleton remains, one with flesh still dripping off the bone. It was evidence of more recent action.

“Time for another dose,” she said quietly, the pain getting worse as she winced.

She hated the meds but thankful for them at the same time. There was always a risk they could dull the senses, making her more of a target than she already was. There was also the risk of passing out from the excruciating pain.

“Stop over thinking this Heather and take the meds trooper”, she said to herself between clenched teeth.

She pressed her back against the pillar for support, and keeping her injured leg as rigid as possible, she lowered herself into a seating position, grimacing as she did.

Heather laid her T12 pulse rifle across her waist with her left hand while removing the dust cover from her body armors medical control panel. She selected the dosage and keyed the button that sent relief through her body and into her leg.

Afterward she checked the seal on the quick patch at the entry point for the metal barb that pierced her leg. The blood had stopped and the seal was still in place, however she thought, that it would be time to change it soon. Replacing the cover on the panel, she let out a quiet sigh.

The explosion from the grenade could have been far worse for her if it wasn’t for the fact that it landed on the far side of her recon team. For three of the four man team it was as bad as it could get – they didn’t make it.

Body parts scattered around the area along with various other debris. A one meter piece of metal reinforcing rod ended up flying almost twenty five meters, coming to rest in Heather’s leg just above the knee. It just missed the femoral artery, the large blood supplying artery that begins in the lower abdomen and travels down into the thigh.

A centimeter or two on either side and it would have likely been game over, she thought.

In the aftermath of the explosion and flying debris, she found herself hurled into the air, landing beside a rubble pile. Dirt, rocks and building material scattered about in heaps as if someone tried to clean up the mess. It lay just on the edge of a drainage canal running the length of the street toward a row of houses. It was not previously visible from her vantage point but clearly, if she had seen it that would have been a better point to run for. Hind sight is twenty-twenty is the old saying she thought.

Heather needed to work quickly, her ambushers may think she was dead with the rest of her squad but they would make their way down to verify that assumption.

She had to remain conscious, and she needed all her strength and concentration to remove the metal rod. The pain was as close to unbearable as she fought the urge to pass out. She first cut the penetrating barb as close to her wound with a laser cutter and mustering all her will, pulled it out, sealing the severed flesh with the medical laser. Her blood loss was minimal as the barb had sealed the artery, so blood only flowed when she removed it. The warm and dark liquid that fed the body with life began to flow quickly until the medical laser sealed the leaking artery and skin.

Heather wasn’t a hundred percent certain she managed to seal the all the artery but she did not have the training or time to check. She had to get out of there in a hurry, no time to think, only to react and stay alive. She activated her med kit and pain killers mixed with a cocktail of antibiotics streamed into her blood stream from the self injector built into her combat armor.

She rolled down into the canal and disappeared into the smoke still drifting about, finally making her way to safety.

Now, after an hour of running and trying to evade her pursuers, she sat back against the pillar. She would mourn the loss of life and her team later, if she lived.

It always came down to that, living or dying. Both options followed a hard road with twists and turns and every trooper had to figure it out for themselves. You did not have free will when it came to dying in a combat zone, that option was left up to the enemy. But you could affect the outcome by using everything you learned in life and battle school; if you used your head and had a certain amount of luck on your side.

Right now other more pressing things needed to be dealt with, death would have to wait.

After the pain killers came the antibiotics. Heather first removed the old seal and compress bandage, careful not to pull on the wound itself. She then pulled a new compress from the medical pouch on the tac-harness and striped the protective back off. The antibiotic compress would cover the wound area and protect it from infection and dirt.

Heather did a quick ammo check, “Just fuck’en marvelous.” She exclaimed after counting only four and a half mag’s plus another half load in her rifle. With each mag holding fifty darts, she knew the remainder of the seven point five millimeter darts would exhaust itself in no time if she was caught in a fire fight. The grenade count wasn’t much better.

She chided herself for not policing up the ammunition, weapons and explosives from her dead team. At the time the pain and her immediate survival was the top priority. Their attackers were not about to wait for her to get settled and any future action she may have to take did not enter her conscious thoughts. It was a first year rookie mistake and she was undeniably not first year.

She took the time to put a fresh mag into her weapon, redistributing the two half mags to make one and reloaded her grenades. To help conserve her ammo she put the fire selector switch to single shot. Each dart had to count now. The power pack would last and she had one other so that wasn’t an issue.

She rested, but she struggled to control her breathing while waiting for the pain medication to kick in. Heather took the briefest of moments to close her eyes. It was a vulnerable time for her and she knew it. She must focus her mind on survival.

In combat, treating the wound was only part of the equation for staying alive. Not only could your injuries kill you but you also have others still trying to kill you finishing off what they started. She counted herself lucky for getting out of the grenade blast area before a cleanup crew came in to check on the dead. Whoever fired off that grenade would not have just run off, they would have come in and finish off any survivors.

She knew there were no other survivors of her recon team. Her tactical combat helmet readings showed no life signs from them.

Corporal Heather Brassard was part of a rear breed of Humans, a trooper in the Terrain Armed Forces. The TAF only took the best humanity had to offer from the colony planets around the New Confederation. A veteran at four years she had already proven herself in combat several times over and this was just another mission to her. Life and death was a constant part of her world and she would never change any of that.  Death was something to avoid at all costs, and that struggle gave you the main reason to live.

Heather opened her eyes, startled by a noise. The combat helmet she wore amplified the sound and if she still had a team, she would have known exactly what direction and distance it came from. The pick-ups from each trooper would exchange information through the data comm link and triangulate the source. This time however she was alone and all she had was her own personal equipment, her wits and experience.

I’d be dead already if they knew where I was. She reassured herself with that thought.

Without moving her body too fast or too much, Heather released the safety on her weapon and lowered the helmet visor. As soon as the visor locked, thermal and other sensor data scrolled across her heads up display.

The sound could have been anything – a ventilator fan moved by the light breeze, an animal scavenging for food, loose debris falling, anything. Something, call it instinct, told her that the source was human however.

The self administered medication was beginning to kick in. The pain was still there but it was bearable, a dull throb instead of a sharp stabbing. It was enough however to help her focus on the current circumstance.

Heather, still leaning against the post with her back began to slide down slowly. She needed to get flat in order to roll over onto her belly without string up any dust or bringing attention to herself. As she repositioned she heard another sound, this one clearer but still unfamiliar.

Once on her back, Heather took a deep breath. With her face shield down no one would hear her breath. Any noise she made would have alerted her enemies.

The break-away rebel faction the TAF was engaged with were well armed, well trained but not always disciplined. Heather was counting on a mistake or two being made by the other side if she was going to live. A hell of a lot of luck couldn’t hurt either, she thought to herself.

Without making a sound she rolled over in place, making sure she remained behind the cover of the column. She winced when the skin on her leg stretched near the injury, treating to rip it apart.

It was now she realized breathing was a good thing and took two deep breaths. Heather wasn’t even aware she was holding her breath. She could only hope she didn’t stir up any dust.

Slowly she removed the gun-site camera from her rifle and activated the imager on her helmet display. Holding the rifle camera in her left hand and keeping it close to the ground, she moved it past the column, giving her a panorama of the far end of the building.

What she saw was discouraging and heartening at the same time. At least six rebel soldiers were making their way toward her position. They were line abreast about two meters apart sweeping the debris. Heather could only assume they were searching for her, maybe part of the group that took out her squad.

On the up side, she thought. They’re doing such a clumsily job, I could just get lucky.

The other positive was the squad searching was one level below her on the far side of the concourse and this provided her with a good field of fire should she have to engage, which at this point seemed very likely to Heather.


Chapter Three

In a high geosynchronous orbit onboard the Terrain Armed Forces Navy Ship Athabaskan the communications room was ablaze with activity. Much of that activity focused on finding Heather and her squad. TAF sensor drones orbited the planet sending out a spider web of sensor signals, trying in vain to reach the recon patrol sent to investigate reports of rebel activity in an isolated section on the planet.

“Status!” barked the comm officer as she entered the room. Commander Latrell was small in stature standing only one and a half meters tall but her presence was felt everywhere she went. She had a voice that would put the best drill sergeants to shame and she was as intelligent as she was beautiful. Her blond hair fell on her shoulders in waves. This only highlighted her deep blue green eyes and a body that men, and some women, would kill for.

“No return signal from the recon team Commander. Their last check in was seven hours ago and they are one hour overdue.” Came the reply from the senior NCO at the off ship comm duty station.

“Has their CO been notified?”

“Aye – they have been. Commander, they have also been ordered to stand down by Flag. The orders just came in as you arrived.”

Latrell cocked an eyebrow. “The flag ship ordered the unit stood down?”

“No Commander, Flag actual. I suspect he has something else in mind.”

This was a surprise to Latrell. Whenever a unit or squad was in trouble and needed to be retrieved, it was the squads’ base unit that would have pulled the rescue mission. In this case it should have been the Terrestrial Light Armored Guards, Heather’s home unit.

“The old man must have something special in mind for him to pull us from the rescue.” She said to no one in particular. “Has the captain and the unit CO been notified?”

“Aye Commander, just prior to your arrival.”

Lets see how this plays out then, she thought.


Chapter Four

“Launch CAT” The Admiral was matter-of-fact, hiding the reality and magnitude behind the first CAT mission.

Rear Admiral Walter Affleck sat in his command chair onboard the flag ship York, showing no emotion. He was hoping not to have to use the CAT teams so soon after their formation, but it was as good a time as any for a real world test.

In front of him, the flag bridge was silent as his orders were passed to the CAT commander.

The envoy from the New Confederation government looked back at the Admiral at the command chair and asked, “Ah, sorry to interrupt Admiral, but what is this CAT team? I was informed that this was only going to be a reconnaissance mission but at the sign of any action, I assumed that you had ground troops ready and we would be treated to a show.”

Nevus Stevens was part of a delegation from the New Confederation budget committee looking at how the military functioned. It was hoped that the new members of the committee would gain a better understanding of the reasons things ran as they did with the military and the immense responsibility the New Confederation had towards the many worlds that made up its membership. The others in the committee had left the flag bridge when action stations were sounded, content to see what was happening from a briefing room several decks below, all except Nevus however.

The Admiral did not look directly at the envoy. The disgust he was feeling now would only spill out and he was not sure what the consequences would be. He was tempted to find out however, should Nevus continue to be a pain. Biting his lower lip instead helped to subdue the rage that he felt for bureaucrats and this one in particular.

Not long ago the corrupt bureaucratic system was purged and what was left was an efficient and coherent system of government. The purge however did not remove all of the incompetent individuals. Some inept individuals had had been missed.

Affleck had to deal with this medium level pen pusher, at least for now. He was sure that the purge would catch up to those stragglers representing what he considered to be the lowest facet of human evolution.

Taking a slow, deep breath, the Admiral answered, “CAT Mister Stevens is short for Combined Arms Team and this is their first operational – combat – mission that you know about. They are ground troops of a sort – they are an off shoot of the Joint Task Force, but while the JTF functions as individuals and in very small unit operations, the CAT team operates in squad to platoon size units and with a highly specialized mandate. They would be the equivalent of an old Earth marine unit.”

Affleck took another deep breath before continuing, “I will be happy to answer your questions,” pausing briefly to add emphasis. “After this mission and my troops are recovered.” The sting in his tone was evident and Nevus took the hint, backing slowly away into the corner of the bridge, just behind Affleck’s command chair.

—-

Major Jerold Braun watched his team gear up with a proud smile. His CAT team’s first active mission was starting out on a high note and it would afford him the opportunity to gauge the effectiveness of the CAT concept – at least in a limited operation.

“Major, all drop ships report ready for departure,” Captain Norton, Braun’s team commander, said as he approached.

“Very well Captain, you know the drill, time to prove this concept.”

Norton saluted, turned and with a spiral wave on his right hand in the air gave the ‘go’ order for the pilots to seal the hatches and start pre-launch drop procedures.

“All personal clear the bay – all personal clear the bay,” repeated the AI voice over the intercom. “Drop ship sequence has begun – launch in tee minus two minutes.”

Major Braun saluted and quickly removed himself from the bay, joining the other navy personal. One by one the blast doors lowered into their recesses, sealing the launch bay. Red lights flashed on as the warning klaxon sounded.

Swing arms, attached to contact points on the dorsal of each drop ship lifted them as the drop bay doors swung open to the vacuum of space, cutting off the klaxon at the same time. Without air, there was no sound. Braun watched as water vapor condensed and disappeared as quickly as they formed when the bay doors began to open.

Braun activated his headset, “Flag actual this is Major Braun, drop ship launch has begun.”

—-

From outside the enormous troop transport ship, the drop ships paled in size as they exited the bay. The four black drop ships would not even be seen if it wasn’t for the outside running lights of the massive transport.

Inside, Captain Norton checked the status of the troopers through the telemetry link. All showed green as he gave his final orders, “Squad leaders, we still haven’t picked up a transponder from the recon team but the initial drop point is where we start our search. Landing sequence is CAT two, three four and one.”

The squad commanders knew the rest of the mission orders and all acknowledged the landing sequence.

Sergeant Maya Schenk switched the comm channel to her squad,

“Fifteen minutes – stand by.”

The drop ship shuddered as the engines rotated to slow it from mach five to less than five hundred kilometers per second. The drop ship gunner scanned for targets as the pilot lined up on the landing zone.

“Stand up – prep for action,” ordered Schenk.

Each trooper reached over the shock frame and released the safety, swinging the frame over their heads. They reached for their weapons and loaded them, inserting a fresh magazine, then put their safeties on. No trooper said anything. Just before the rear ramp lowered, they would remove that safety, allowing death to rain down on anyone who impeded them from the mission.

As the ship neared the ground, at twenty five meters, the pilot flared the nose, raising it up while the tail dropped. They were coming in hot and expected enemy fire as soon as they landed. The gunner had previously picked out possible targets based on years of experience and training and he let go a salvo of Hyper Velocity Missiles or HVM.

From under wing pylons, the sleek short missiles shot across the sky to impact with the ground around the LZ. Plasma bursts fired from the belly turret burned through the air, killing anything in its path. Anything that was alive in the landing area was now dead.

“Ten seconds!” barked Schenk as he stood by the ramp controls.

Experience gave Schenk the sixth sense to know exactly when to toggle the control key, dropping the rear ramp and giving everyone a view of the ground below them. The squad started to move out a split second before touchdown and they fanned out to either side of the drop ship, taking up a perimeter.

As soon as the last man left the ramp the pilot throttled up and rotated the engine pods. Dust and other loose rubble flew about as the ship lifted off to assemble in orbit with the other drop ships.

Schenk barked his orders through the internal communication of the combat helmet, gathering his squad as they headed out in their assigned search direction.

Just as the last squad left the LZ, Norton’s ship landed and the command section, along with the heavy weapons detachment disgorged, allowing the drop ship to blast back into orbit. They would await the pick-up orders or act as close support, where they would release their arsenal of missiles and plasma weapons.

—-

“Admiral, the CAT is on the ground and searching,” reported the communication officer on the flag bridge.

Affleck sat waiting for confirmation, “Thank you.”

He showed no emotion on the outside, but on the inside, hidden from prying eyes, he felt pain for every injury or death inflected on his people. It was a personality trait that he was told would eat him up from the inside, but Affleck did not care for that assessment. He felt that it gave him the strength he needed to make the right command decisions. He would not give an order that had no gain or made no sense and he would not second guess his own orders.


Chapter Five

The six men searching for Heather stopped moving forward as the lead rebel soldier signaled, holding up his left hand. She was seen as the puppet of their enemies and had to be killed; to be made an example of. It would not do to allow this one survivor escape.

—-

Heather was not sure if he was the squad leader at this point or just the scout for the squad. Nor did she care. The six men took up a clumsily position behind anything they could find for cover.

She looked for any escape, trying to find a way out without engaging the people out to kill or capture her. Checking the exits available to her only confirmed that there was no other ways to escape the group below. Nothing she did would give her a free pass. It was about to come to a fire fight and she wanted to make sure she had the upper hand.

Scanning the group, she spotted one of the men pick up a portable radio from his pack and say something. She could not make out what was said, even with the enhanced pickups in her helmet, but her instincts told her that this was the most likely leader of the group, and her first target.

Her mind raced through different scenarios as to what would happen once she let go the first round. Where would the others run to? Would they go to ground? Or would they just become embolden and attack with renewed anger.

As she contemplated her alternatives, training and instinct took over as she replaced the gun site camera on her rifle. Slowly she moved the rifle to the edge of the pillar and sited her first target, gradually squeezing the trigger.

The man on the radio did not hear or react to the sound Heather’s rifle made. His head split apart from the back, sending blood and brain matter to the ground behind his body.

One of the others closest to the dead man stood and shouted a name, horror on his face as the first man died in front of him. Heather did not care why at this point, but aimed at the new target and fired.

The second man slumped down to the ground as the dart ripped through his heart, joining his comrade in death.

The other four men in the rebel squad avoided make the same mistake, instead, they began to fire anywhere they thought Heather was located. Some of the rounds came close to her, ricocheting off the wall above and beyond her. Her training told her that she was still hidden as their rounds were scattered and not aimed, so moving at this point would only serve to draw unwanted attention to her position.

Time and the odds were not on her side, but with patience and training there was improvement.

Heather did not have a direct line of site to the remaining four so she decided to use a couple of grenades in the hope of drawing them out into the open.

In the front of her thoughts was conservation of ammo as the counter changed from green to yellow and the number of rounds showing decreased with each shot. She would not mind if the shrapnel or concussion from the grenades killed or wounded the remaining hunting party. Switching the fire selector from dart to grenade, she sited-in on the impact area and fired off two grenades in quick session.

The first round landed just to the rear of the stone information kiosk being used as cover. The grenade was set for impact detonation, allowing the explosion to throw as much debris and shrapnel in the air.

Heather cranked hp her magnification on the helmet camera and watched for any sign that the solder would attempt to escape the massacre, assuming he was still alive.

She got her wish as he dived out from behind cover on three limbs, with his free hand dropping his weapon in the process. Heather squeezed the trigger just as he looked up, his thoughts registering his impending death.

One of the remaining rebels stood up to fire on Heather’s position, her muzzle flash giving away her location. He only managed to let loose a quick burst as the second grenade went off. The concussion throw him forward into the low table, his arms flung forward throwing the rifle loose as his head slammed into the top of the table. Slumping to the ground as his legs bucked out from under him.  Heather sighted on the soldier but lost sight as he fell behind the table, not getting a chance to fire a round into him.

Heather, realizing she still had the magnification ramped up on her helmet display, adjusted it down giving her a wider field of view. She scanned the area hoping the remaining two would show themselves.

She could hear the two of them shout something, but her audio pickups could not decipher what was being said. Whatever it was, it was not in Standard English. Still, she only had two left out of the original six to contend with.

—-

Schenk had his section fan out, ten meters apart in a line abreast and moved forward once the drop ship cleared the LZ.

“I want to hear a sit-rep before anyone opens up,” he ordered.

Each trooper acknowledged the order as they advanced quietly through the brush, toward the edge of a large city park, now overgrown with trees and low growing foliage.

As the squad approached the edge of the park, Schenk looked up above the tree line that was now beginning to thin out and saw the top of an old stadium, one side of it missing. He ordered a halt and took out his hand scanner.

Passing the scanner in an arc just in front of him, it picked up no other life but that was never the only tool used to accurately determine if someone was in the area. It was easy enough to mask a human’s body signal if you really wanted to.

“Dostoyevsky, set up the track-mine. We don’t have a lot of time but I want cover if we have to get out in a hurry.”

“Right Sergeant.” Responded the young trooper as he removed his pack, taking out a tripod and tube.

Trooper Dostoyevsky popped the tripod open and leveled it. Quietly but with deliberate purpose he secured the one meter tube at a connection point and plugged in the fiber optic cable to the power supply attached  to the tripod. As soon as he did, a three by three centimeter control panel opened at the mid-point of the tube and telltales changed from red to green after the built in computer powered up the tracking mines arming sequence.

“Mine is up and running Sergeant,” said Dostoyevsky as he took up a position just left of the now active mine.

“OK people, this is the route the recon squad took and we’ll follow it till we find something or get a recall.”

—-

Heather’s original despair began to diminish as the odds were beginning to improve and she started to feel better about her chances. It looked as if she would survive this brief battle and she had forgotten about the pain with the adrenalin rush she was experiencing. Her muscles began to relax and she found herself breathing again, not realizing she was even holding her breath for a second time.

That initial elation she felt quickly disappeared though when she was forced to withdraw as automatic weapons fire knocked fist size chunks of marble from the column and it rained down around her.

“Shit!,” she cursed trying to avoid being hit.

Having to back track from the edge and loose her line of site was not doing her any favors. This was a rookie mistake and she chided herself for it. She let down her guard for just a split second and it was going to cost her if she could not gain back the advantage she just had.

The fire coming down on her position was not aimed, more random covering fire. “Dam it, they’re trying to get under the walkway,” she said out loud.

As one of the solders provided covering fire, the other took full advantage and ran toward the door at the far end of the concourse. It led to a service stair to the upper level walkway where Heather had taken refuge. Getting to the door he slammed his back against the wall. He gestured to his comrade, holding up five fingers, then four, counting down.

At zero he fired a grenade up the stair case to the second level where Heather was situated under cover.

The grenade detonated on contact with the door to the second level sending it flying off its track. Bits of building material, dust and shrapnel exploded out from the stairwell entrance forcing Heather to roll for cover again.

Acting on instinct alone she snapped the selector switch on her weapon to grenade and fired through the now open space to the stairs. It thumped and clanged as the grenade bounced off the wall and fell toward the bottom of the stairs. Heather, now well back from the edge of the walkway and out of site of her initial targets, quickly realized a classic distraction tactic and threw herself back toward the column, taking aim at the rebel soldier begging his run toward cover. Heather instantly moved the fire selection switch from grenade to automatic fire and get go a quick burst just in front of the target.

Darts ripped through his upper body dropping him to the ground. At the same moment the grenade she fired exploded at the bottom of the stairs. A muffled cry could be heard as she turned toward the open doorway, ready for action should someone come charging though.

Nothing happened however as the dust settled and pebble size pieces of material fell to the ground. She increased the audio pick-ups on her helmet and could hear a faint moan from below.

The scatter of dust and smoke cleared as Heather made a move toward the stairs. Leaning against the column for support she pulled herself up, standing with the most of her weight on her uninjured leg.

As she reached the door, she braced herself and tentatively moved her gun camera around the corner and aimed it down the steps. At the landing she spotted the lone rebel sitting with his back against the wall. His head was slumped forward and his arms limp by his side. Heather looked for his weapon but could not see one in the area.

She began to enter the stairs when her audio pick-ups heard the unmistakable sounds of more solders coming into the station.

Her heart fell at the thought she was not getting away this time. Well, it was a good fight and a good run she thought.

Instead of going back down the steps, she made her way back to the column and settled in for what she assumed was going to be her last stand. Double checking her ammo status, she counted one and a half magazines of darts and two grenades.

She thought, that would take care of half a squad if my luck lasted that long.

Her injured leg began to throb again and she felt it become cold and wet as the blood leaked out from the quick patch. “Fuck it, I may as well go out lucid – to hell with the pain meds,” she said out loud.

She watched as a full squad entered the far end of the station, this time however, they were dressed in armor.  Then she saw it, TAF armor. It was her people.

—-

“Watch for snipers people, this is where we picked up automatic fire,” warned Sergeant Schenk.

Switching over to a TAF emergency frequency, he called, “CAT Team Bravo to Recon Two-Six Alpha.”

Heather was never more excited to see anyone, other than Peter Talbot, her on again off again lover. “Recon Two-Six Alpha, Rodger. Look up CAT Team.” She sat up and using her rifle waved toward Schenk.

Schenk returned the wave and sent the medic and three of his squad to secure the upper area and treat Heather’s injuries.

For Heather, the blood loss was beginning to have an effect as she slowly felt very sleepily, darkness beginning to overtake her senses. The relief of seeing her rescue was enough for her mind to relax, and body to give way to the adrenaline rush and shut down.

After getting a preliminary report from the medic on Heather’s condition, Schenk switched frequency to the platoon net and called for recovery. “Have a med team stand by, we have one survivor and she’s lost a lot of blood.”

To Be Continued…..

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Sales of the SF novel ‘Death’s Door: Where Right and Glory Lead’ have been increasing as retail points expand.

As of March 8th, Death’s Door is available for sale at Kobo, Amazon, iBooks, Google Play app store, windows app store and BlackBerry World for PlayBook.

You can find direct links to all of these retail outlets from WilliamDesouza.ca ( http://williamdesouza.ca/bookstore.htm ).

Stop by and get your eBook copy of ‘Death’s Door: Where Right and Glory Lead’ today.

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I am very happy to announce that my eBook ‘Death’s Door: Where Right and Glory Lead’ is now available for sale through: Kobo; Amazon Kindle; Blackberry World; iBooks / iTunes; Android / Google Play; Windows; and Nook / Barnes & Noble. Visit http://www.williamdesouza.ca/bookstore.htm for direct links to each one of the eBook retailers. The saga is just beginning!

 

BOOK LAUNCH NEWS!

Deaths Door Cover Art

 

Death’s Door: Where Right and Glory Lead is now available for sale as an eBook on KOBO, Canada’s largest online eBook retailer.

You can purchase it directly from KOBO at http://www.kobobooks.com and read it on your KOBO eReader or through the FREE eReader app on your PC, Blackberry, Apple, Android or Windows tablets and selected smart phones.

Death’s Door: Where Right and Glory Lead is a SciFi novel about the men and women of the Terrain Armed Forces (TAF) and their struggle to survive in a war that threatens to rip apart the New Confederation.

Pirates are not supposed to be this well armed or organized with a fleet armed and poised to invade and destroy the core worlds. The TAF will have to pull out all their best assets to delete this enemy.

http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/Deaths-Door/book-paEJcZPKzk2Jdf4HUr7o0g/page1.html?s=vDWcIs7Cwk-0R7wg2GQ-zQ&r=1

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I just finished reading the SF short story ‘Babylon 5: Red Fury’ by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan. It was one of those shorts that you wish was a full novel; you want more. Red Fury is well written and reads nicely with just enough detail to get you hooked while keeping you on a short lead. Claudia and Morgan weave in a lot of action on every page as the plot unfolds. if you are a Babylon 5 fan, i recommend you visit http://claudiachristian.net/babylon-5-red-fury/ and download your free copy (PDF format)

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The Outer Colonies – by William DeSouza ©2012

Draylan Kir leaned back on the small bar chair raising its two front legs off the polished floor. That was a mistake as the ten plus drinks he’d just finished this morning affected his ability to balance himself, and the chair.

The slightly overweight ninety-seven kilo Draylan, the chair and his current glass of amber coloured alcohol went crashing to the floor. Gravity had a way of doing that from time to time. The small but boisterous crowd at the table lost themselves in a roar of laughter.

Draylan however was indignant, “Son of a bitch, I wasn’t finished my drink yet. Bar-keep! What kind of establishment are you running here?!?! These chairs are defective!” The words were slightly slurred but he was happy with the message.

“Draylan my friend, if you’re not careful, they’ll cut you off,” laughed an equally intoxicated Murdock Jokinen, his thick Finnish accent slurred by an equal number of drinks.

Murdock reached over and clasp arms with the red faced Draylan, first steadying him, then pulling him up. Draylan checked the chair for damage, then finding none, quickly repositioned it between his buttocks and the ground – grumbling the whole time to anyone that would listen.

It was noon and the tavern was thick with people having a quick meal and a good time. Music of some kind played loudly in the background through hidden speakers, causing patrons to shout even louder to be over heard in the din. Two bar tending bots dispensed various coloured and locally fermented beverages into mugs, sometimes spilling the alcohol as servers and customers grabbed trays to pass around.

“Sergeant Jokinen, never poke fun at your seniors,” said Draylan after composing himself.

“Sergeant Kir, you my friend are only my senior in age, not in rank.”

The two men, both dressed in their garrison uniforms, broke out with a gut wrenching belly laugh.

Their camouflage tunics were open down to their waists and secured only by the wide unit belt bearing the insignia of the Marine Recon Unit. Stains of different colours could be seen on their shirt collar, almost blending in with the camouflage pattern of the uniform. The dark green undershirts they both wore were sweat stained as well. Their tan coloured pants, once pressed and creased, were now stained and wrinkled. Kir had one leg bloused at the top of his boot while the other hung loose. Both men were missing several unit insignia and the odd button on their uniforms, but nether cared. It’s not like either one was going to be inspected at any time soon.

Humanity has used military men and women to fight against itself in countless battles and wars throughout its history. From the Assyrian Conquest of Syria in 853 BC, the Wars of the Roses in 1461, the Hundred Days wars, American Civil War in 1862, right up to World War Two in the 1940’s and the Third Global Conflict in 2036. We have fought each other between planets and colony worlds. Our history is one of conflict that spans generation after generation.

In our colorful and violent history, we have also known peace, although it was once said that attaining peace was a human folly. Normally found in the period between wars and conflict, peace was elusive and fleeting at best. This time was different however.

This peace has lasted almost four hundred years, the longest span of zero conflict in human history. Humanity has used this period of prosperity to explore the mind, medicine, physics and the stars. We have stepped out of the shadow of our violent past, choosing instead to nourish the mind. Humanity has finally learned to play nice with itself.

With such an abundance of brotherly love around the galaxy, there has hardly been a need for a military. Sure, humanity still has a few criminals and bad guys. After all, it’s only been four hundred years, and human nature can’t adapt that quickly. However these lawbreakers have been handled nicely by the local Constabulary.

What is left of a military was spread out across the settled colonial worlds and used more for rounding up drunken smugglers that ply the space lanes and marching in colourful parades. Their hardware consisted of a few transport ships held together by a limited supply of spare parts. Never mind anything resembling a fleet. Sure, they had small arms, but a not many and only a short supply of ammunition that was closely guarded.

“Sergeant Jokinen, Sergeant Kir, I’m sorry to interrupt, but your presence is wanted in the garrison headquarters.”

Jokinen’s looked startled, and almost spilled the ale he was quickly finishing off. Kir was equally surprised by the interruption, not really paying attention to who was speaking and in his current state, not sure that someone was even there.

Recovering slowly, Kir finally spotted a very young corporal standing at attention. “Who the bloody hell are you?”

“Corporal Minsk, Sergeant,” snapped the corporal. “I was sent here to find the two of you and escort you back to the commandant. I believe he said something about using irons if I had to.” Minsk voice crackled when he spoke.

Kir spoke first, “What the crap does our leader want of us?” he belched loudly, “Tell him that the good Sergeant,” he pointed, “and I are….indisposed and once we sober up, we’ll be happy to report.”

Jokinen’s and Kir both looked very pleased with themselves as they diverted their attention back to their friends and their drinks.

“Sorry Sergeants’, I can’t do that. You’ll have to come with me now please.”

“Look little boy, go play solder someplace else. We’re busy.”

“Sergeant, I really do not want to use force if I don’t have to.” Minsk said with only a hint of trepidation.

Jokinen spoke up, “For the love of…. You are really starting to piss me off Corporal. What army are you going to use to force us to come with you,” he laughed.

The young corporal waved at four beefy military police officers waiting at the door to step forward into the light. Each one armed with a side arm, stun stick and muscles powerful enough to crush led.

“Oh,” mumbled Kir. “Well, he did say please Jokinen. Maybe we should go with the lad.”

Sighing, Jokinen agreed, “Right, let’s not keep the commandant waiting young Corporal.

The three men left the tavern, first Kir, then Jokinen followed by the corporal and four military police. A fifth officer was waiting at the ground transport. It was dark outside, the sun not yet raised above the horizon. The air was thick however as the humidity was near eighty five percent. They climbed aboard and drove off toward the base.

The drive was just short of two hours on the dust covered back roads.  While the command compound was not very far from the bar, the route they had to take due to construction on the main boulevard brought the transport around the rear of the training area. As for the two drunken sergeants, it felt as if they were driving for days.

“My friend, you have to stop me the next time I suggest drinking that slop. It gives you a quick buzz but stop drinking for a bit and my head pounds,” Kir held his head between his knees.

“I think the driver hit every hole in the road, including some that he must have dug out just for this trip.”

The two ton transport squeaked to a halt, adding to the sergeants’ discomfort.

”Jokinen, Kir, get in here right away. You two can sober up later,” shouted Commandant Bugatti from the open door to his office.

The Commandant stood with hands on hips and a scowl on his face. He was shorter than the two sergeants but could impose a sense command not seen in ranking officers for some time. His hair was cut short to fine stubble and his face clean shaven.

The air was still thick and the sun still obscured by the mountains in the distance and then by broad storm clouds hovering above the high peaks. It was much earlier than either sergeant realized but very little was happening on the base. There was hardly anyone even living or working on the main base these days. A few communication technicians, maintenance persona, support officersl and of course the military police detachment, of which Kir and Jokinen’s were more than a bit acquainted with.

“Yes Sir,” replied Jokinen as he rolled himself off the back of the transport. “Right away Sir.”

The sergeants buttoned up their tunics and tried to straighten themselves up a bit before walking into the commandants’ office, followed closely behind by Corporal Minsk.

“You two are in a sorry state,” began the commandant.  “I can’t blame you though. It’s not like this is a real military unit – not in the old sense of the word,” Bugatti sat on one corner of his desk. “Have a seat you two.”

“Thank you sir,” they said in unison as they sat down in the only other chairs in the office.

Turning to the corporal, still standing at attention, Bugatti said, “Thank you corporal, that’ll be all.”

Minsk saluted, gave a snappy parade square turn and marched off.

“You’ll have to forgive our young corporal gentlemen. He’s new and surprisingly idealistic. Now I won’t offer you a drink because you’ve had enough and I need you both very sober for this mission.”

Kir and Jokinen glanced at each other, Kir speaking first, “What exactly is this mission sir?”

“Just over two years ago the outermost rim colony set up on a planet in the Golla System. The system is at the very edge of the galactic border. The only thing beyond that is a great big empty. The planet, Golla Two, was by all accounts ideal for Humans with a temperate zone similar to Earth, and no dangerous wildlife or indigenous life that was hostile to humans. Six hundred and seventy two colonists, mostly miners and their families set up shop. They began an ore extraction and processing facility there. Everything was fine, cargo ships stopped by every three months and colony directorate had regular monthly contact with them. five months ago we lost all contact. Maybe I’ll have that drink instead. You two want coffee?”

Bugatti paused, pouring himself a tall drink and the sergeants a large mug of coffee.

He continued, “Four months ago we lost contact with CurtisFalls. Three months ago we lost contact with the colony on Aegis Three, and two months ago Sonora. Are you two getting the picture?”

Jokinen stood and walked over to the large screen on the far wall. He typed in some commands on the consol a large galactic map focused on the screen. He typed in the colonies Bugatti mentioned and tightened the focus to show only those. Behind him, Kir gasped in shock.

Each of the planets highlighted, when strung together, formed an almost straight line that started at Golla Two and ended with Sonora. The planets glowed red and with the white line running through them looked like a necklace being strung with semi precious gems. The time interval between each loss of comm was between forty and forty five days. On each of the planets there was a yellow question mark, a simple punctuation on five planets indicating a simple question – ‘what happened?’

Bugatti broke the silence, “I think you both see why Central Command is just a little concerned about the loss of comm’s. The…” he paused, “…situation gets stranger gentlemen. The obvious next step was taken as we sent out a ship to find out what was going on. Colony Directorate tapped the merchant barge Gaskin to follow up on their next regular run. The Gaskin set out for Golla Two within two standard weeks after we lost contact. What it found, and did not find, is what makes this so odd and a top priority. ”

“Look Commandant, you’re starting to dance around something and it’s not getting clearer. What did the cargo ship find?”

“They found the planet, its buildings and settlement, even the comm system fully intact. It did not find the colonists.” Bugatti blurted it out as if the words were stuck in his throat and he needed to catch his breath.

‘What?” exclaimed Kir and Jokinen in unison.

Jokinen followed up the thought, “What – no people at all?

“No people, no bodies, no bones, no sign of any life what so ever. And there’s more, not even the local native species of animals. There was no sign of any life and nothing from solar flares, radiation, natural or human catastrophe.  Nothing was found and no sign in any of the colony administration or personal logs to explain what happened. The logs just ended one day as if everything was fine. Even the colony ship was still docked at the transfer station.” Bugatti pored and took another drink.

“So what do you want us to do?” asked Jokinen with some trepidation.

“I’m not sure what I want you to do; I never signed up for this shit. In the fifteen years I’ve been in the military, the most difficult decision I’ve had to make is what uniform to wear. Life was supposed to be easy, we’re not at war, we barely have any crime at all outside of a few drunks or the odd pirate.” he glanced at the two sergeants who quickly turned away.

“I think he means us,” Kir mumbled to Jokinen. “At least the drunk part.”

“Right then… at this point I need the two most experienced people we have to head out to the targeted planets and find out what you can. Eyes on the ground and all that. It’s up to us to figure it out since we’re the closest jump off point. Gather what intel you can then beeline it to Preston’s Moon, the next colony in line with the others. If the timeline is steady, they will experience a loss of comm in twenty eight standard days. Evacuate them if you have to. You’ll have full authority to do whatever it takes to solve this mystery.”

As if to emphasize the urgency, he pointed to the large screen on the wall, widening the field of view.

“I think this will point out why headquarters has a larger than usual bug up their ass for answers.”

The magnification of the galactic map drew back to include dozens of systems. The solid white line changed to a dotted hash line and continued superimposed through some minor and then major population systems and near the end of the string was a glowing sun with a minor looking blue planet, Earth.

“I hate to break it to you Commandant, but what are we supposed to do? Head out in a scout ship and ask for information along the way – have you seen our colonies?” Kir was sarcastic but had a point. “All we have are lightly armed scout ships. What if we come up against something bigger? ”

“You run like mad and get word back to Central Command. I have a very bad feeling about this. Not knowing what happened to all those people is starting to scare the crap out of me. Command is pulling every cruiser, missile carrier and battleship out of moth balls. We’re using the cover that this is an administration exercise, trying to keep the civvies calm. Oh, and one more thing before you go…. From what we can gather using remote link up to the computer, the colonies database has been accessed – after the loss of comm. It beats me who, or what did it and why. It’s been the same for each of the planets.”

“And I see that you waited to the end to break the best news to us,” mumbled Jokinen.

Kir and Jokinen left the meeting in silence and fully sober. Outside the building the streets were empty and the sky just as dark as when they arrived, the only illumination coming from the lights lining the narrow road. Looking off toward the distant sky a faint sliver of light was beginning to crest the horizon, but not enough to brighten the mood of the two sergeants.

They glanced quickly at each other, the same morbid thoughts swirling through their pounding and hung over heads. There wasn’t much for either of them to say at this point as nether of them had any clue as to how they should be feeling.

They joined the armed forces decades ago with visions of glory and adventure and quickly became jaded. Peace had a way of sapping the life out of military personal very quickly and parade square drill was not giving them the adventure rush they sought.

They had both seen action on a number of covert ops on far off planets very early in their careers, but that was against the odd criminal gang or pirate. Back in the day, this type of mission would have been welcomed – then.

Now, all they wanted to do was drink to excess and get paid for it. Neither Kir nor Jokinen knew when they ‘changed’, but they both agreed, in silence anyway, that they had. Today, at this point in there lives; this was not a welcomed mission.

It took a full day and a half, but they had the only interstellar shout ship left on the base readied for launch. Fully automated, the ship could be operated by the two and have enough cargo space to evacuate up to two hundred people. Three hundred soles could be packed into the hold if they stripped it down with no provisions or comforts. A disturbingly small amount if they had to run with evacuees’.

The only armaments on the ship was two exterior missile tubes with a rotating auto loader and six mark eight anti ship missiles a-side. They also had an outdated laser pack firing four high powered lasers. These were outdated, the term ‘high powered’ having lost its context over the years. Even the shout ship armor could withstand a barrage of laser fire from similar platforms.

Just as the ground crew connected the fuel lines to the scout ship for the final act before launch, Kir exited the control building, running into Jokinen carrying a large kit bag.

“I hope you have enough toilet paper in that sack of yours,” Kir teased. “You’d think that in millions of years of Human evolution, we’d be rid of the need to even use the stuff.”

“I’ll have you know that the outer rim is not known for its comfort in that department. I have enough for both of us to last six months.”

“Let’s hope it’s not going to take that long to sort this out. I guess at this point it’s too late to just turn and run?” Kir only half joked, a sad looking grin showing he was still not ready for the mission.

“Look, it won’t be that bad. We go take a look, head to the next colony in line, pass on any warnings and get the hell out. We’ll run as far as we can as fast as we can. A shuttle full of supplies and fuel can take us a long way if need be.”

“I guess you’re right. Well then, what are we waiting on? Let’s get the show on the road,” Kir’s grin widened.

The launch was uneventful as the ship left the system and went into hyper, its Faster-Than-Light main motors kicking in just past the outer planet in the four planet system. Inertial compensators protected the crew form the massive gravitational forces exerted in acceleration and deceleration maneuvers. That was the easy part of space flight though. FTL flight is always hazardous. You were both in and out of the universe, a kind of void where you didn’t exist. The danger was mitigated by the technology and a strict adherence to the laws of physics as they are now known; but it was by far the most perilous activity humans did. Without instruments, Kir and Jokinen would never have known they were travelling faster than light.

The ship was not without its creature comforts. A small space for a gym, separate sleeping quarters with washing facilities and a well equipped galley and games room made the one month trip tolerable. The most difficult part was the lack of alcohol.

The Commandant took the precaution of having the ship and personal kit searched before launch and neither Kir nor Jokinen was aware that the booze had been removed. The first week of the trip was spent cursing Commandant Bugatti.

After that, the two sergeants made due with more mundane pursuits. That was until they neared the Golla planetary system.

Kir sat at helm controls and entered the command to drop out of FTL five billion kilometers from Golla Two. That left them just outside of the Golla planetary system and gave them time to vector in on the planet while bleeding off speed.

“Launching probe.”

“How long for intercept?” Kir asked as he secured the helm station, switching over to auto-pilot.

“Just over twenty eight hours at this speed. We should begin to get telemetry around the fifteen hour mark.”

Kir rolled his eyes, “Better get some sleep then. I’ll be in my cabin if you wake before me. Don’t let me miss the party.” Both men rose and after making sure all bridge alarms were set, retired to their respective cabins.

‘ALERT, ALERT, ALL BRIDGE CREW TO STATIONS. TELEMETRY DATA RECEIVING WITH HIGH PRIORITY TAG. ALERT, ALERT.’ The computer voice billowed throughout the ship. It was an unmistakable intrusion on ones thoughts and both sergeants awoke with a resigned sigh.

Jokinen was first onto the bridge, followed within seconds by Kir. Jokinen took up his place at the engineering station and reconfigured the terminal to read the telemetry from the survey probe. His eyes widened as he read the data downloaded from the probe they launched.

“Son of a bitch!” he exclaimed. “Bugatti wasn’t kidding when he said there was no sign of any human life. There is nothing left and not a single trace of DNA is present,” he paused, “It’s as if all life has been removed.”

“Removed? Removed how?” questioned Kir.

“Don’t ask me, I can’t explain it. I checked the entire planet after the probe made a full rotation and – nothing. No human DNA detected at any level. No DNA! I can’t say it any simpler,” he began to show the frustration in his voice as he continued to read the data scrolling down the screen. Human, animal, plant, all registered DNA life wiped from existence.

Kir, sitting at the secondary navigation station, shouted, “Jokinen! Grab the helm, turn us around – Now!”

Taken by surprise, Jokinen replied, “What the hell are you going on about?”

“Pull up the long range sensor map.”

Jokinen keyed in the command and a sensor map of the system enlarged on his screen, replacing the previous life form data. He quickly realized why Kir had freaked as a red icon slowly came into view from the far side of the system.

Hidden from view by the light of the sun, they only saw ‘it’ as the distance narrowed and the small ships sensors made sense of the data. Magnetic fields from the local sun masked much of the planet and surrounding space to sensors, but Jokinen isolated the glowing icon and magnified it.

As he did his mouth dropped open. The ship, if you can call it that, was as large as a small moon. The cylinder shape vessel measured over two kilometers long and at least a kilometer in diameter. The mass indicator on the screens was off the scale and to say that it was big would have been the understatement of the century.

Jokinen couldn’t make out any details, but the limited amount he could see caused him to race for the navigation and helm control panel with Kir.

A new heading was input and Kir turned the ship around and fired the FTL motors, putting them on a trajectory for what would have been their second plotted navigation point.

As the ship entered FTL the two men leaned back in their seats and stared at each other without a word, or breath, between the two. Both men not even realizing they were holding their breaths.

“Ok, I am officially freaked out,” exclaimed Jokinen.

“You and me both my friend. I could brain Bugatti for confiscating our stash. The mass of that thing was – well, it was just off the charts!”

“Right, set course for CurtisFalls. I’ll load a message packet and fire it off to Command,” Jokinen stood, his legs still a bit wobbly, and walked to the communication station.

Kir, rubbing the back of his head, had a thought, “Jokinen, I’m laying down a spread of sensor beacons. I want some warning if that thing heads out this way. If we scatter the beacons along this line…,” he drew out a sweeping pattern two hundred AU wide. “We may get lucky.”

Jokinen studied the pattern before responding, “Sounds like it should work but I hope that ship, or whatever it is, stays right where it is. Let’s face it; we have nothing in our arsenal that could go up against it.”

One week seemed like one year for the two senior sergeants as they contemplated life the universe and their next move. There was nothing routine about this current leg of the mission and nether sergeant spoke for some time. Their thoughts wrapped up in the past and present with little consideration of a future.

Whatever that ship was, whoever crewed it, was so foreign to the Human race that neither could contemplate a future. There was no reference point to begin.

CurtisFalls was slowly moving closer to their tiny ship on the plot when the proximity alarm sounded.

“Shit! What the hell is that?” screamed Kir – woken from a light sleep.

“Relax, you’ll pull something you may need later. It’s just the proximity alarm. We’re approaching CurtisFalls. I’ll bring us in on a wide approach. I want to know if any other surprises are there for us.”

“Good thinking, but my concern right now is what our plan is for staying alive.”

Jokinen only glanced up quickly to agree with Kir’s immediate priority. His focus was on the long range sensors. CurtisFalls was a single planetary system that was resplendent with the raw materials used the construction of composite building materials. The planet itself was an unusual rocky core giant, nearly twice the diameter of Jupiter. A heavy gravity planet that was populated by the hardest of miners and explorers, it orbited its sun at one point five AU.

Jokinen asked, “What was the population of Curtis?”

“Just over three thousand miners and scientists at last count.”

“Based on this scan, it’s now zero. I’ve run the scan on two orbits and get the same result each time.”

Kir leaned back in the chair, closed his eyes, and breathed deeply, “This is not starting off to be a good trip. Look if this pattern holds up, we’re going to find the same issue at Aegis Three and Sonora. Why not head to Preston’s Moon right away. We’re running out of time as it is.”

“I like the way you think, mostly because I was having the same thoughts. The travel time to Preston from here is going to be at least a week and a half and that only gives us five days to evaluate the situation – if that.”

“Right then, setting new course for Preston’s Moon and uploading our findings in another message packet.”

Kir launched the message packet as soon as it was ready. The FTL missile fired out of the launch bay using thrusters and once it reached a safe distance from the ship, fired up the main drive motors and entered the void on course to Central Command. The missile would take at least two weeks before it entered the main shipping lanes then have to drop out of FTL to finish its journey on thrusters – adding another week.

Kir looked over at Jokinen, you know it’ll be just over three weeks before it reaches Command and some pin-head decodes it and passes the info to higher. By then…”

“…by then this may all be over and too late for them to react and save our butts,´ Jokinen finished Kir’s sentence.

The first two days were traveled in silence as basic maintenance along with double checking supplies and equipment consumed much of their time. Nether sergeant had much to say outside of polite nods and the odd word or two at the end of a shift cycle.

Something was bothering Kir however, and it was gnawing at him, eating away at that self assured outer shell he liked to project. He hated it when he wasn’t able to be in total control of his thoughts and right now he felt that as each second passed he was being taken over by a very disturbing set of thoughts.

“Jokinen,” called Kir on the intercom. “Jokinen, come up to the bridge,” he called again.

“What is it Kir, I’ve got my hand full right now swapping out the number four scrubber.”

“I’ll come down there then. Wait one.”

A couple of minutes later Kir opened the outer hatch cover on the O2 supply cupboard to find Jokinen ankle deep in lubricating oil, his coveralls filthy and stained.

“What the hell happened here?!” Kir shouted, both shocked and amused at the same time.

“What do you think happened?! This blasted ship is falling apart on us when we need it the most. The hydraulic pump blew and showered the scrubbers with oil. Why in the hell are we even still using hydraulic systems on a space faring vesicle?  Surly we should have progressed past the need for this twentieth century junk!” Jokinen cursed as he resealed the final scrubber and closed the access panel.

“What did you want anyway?”

“I’ve been thinking…”

“You know we’ve talked about that.”

“Look, I’m serious. Something’s been nagging at me since we spotted that ship. It’s the location.”

“What? You mean its orbit about the sun?”

Kir paused, shaking his head, “No, not that. It’s the system we found it in. We came out of FTL at Golla Two, found that ship, then bee-lined it for Curtis Falls. What did we find there?” it was a rhetorical question. “Nothing, everything with DNA gone. That means that thing may not have been responsible for the disappearances. We would have found it creeping around Sonora, the last place of contact.”

“You have been busy; but you’re not the only one who’s been burning the midnight oil. I’ve also tried to come up with an explanation and I think I may have another explanation for their presence in the Golla System. Let’s say that you want to take over planets, and the local inhabitants frown on that type of thing. After all, it’s their home and you’ve just invoked squatters’ rights. You’re the big man in the galaxy, you want space, and these upstarts are keeping you from developing the neighborhood. You have no fear of the law, because you are the law. How would you deal with the squatter’s?”

In this case, just wipe them out I suppose. Leave the buildings and other hard assets and get rig of the rest.”

“Exactly. You know have an empty house; you can bring in the moving van and the rest of your family and Bob’s-your-uncle, instant homestead.”

“You’re implying that thing was the moving truck?”

“I am saying exactly that. Check this out.” They walked over to a computer terminal, Jokinen pulled up a file he was working on. “I’ve pulled data and run sims taking all the information we have. And before you put your hand up, I know that the data’s incomplete. But at this time is all we have.”

Kir watched with interest the simulation play out. Once finished, he took a step back and closed his eyes, rubbing them first, then his temple. “I’m getting a headache with this stuff. It makes sense though. Kill off all life then seed the planet with your own, more friendly DNA plants, food, whatever. But kill them off how? And do what with the bodies?” Kir thought for a second longer before adding, “Holy crap on a cracker, we skipped Sonora. What would we have found there? The death ship itself?!?!”

“My thoughts exactly.”

The proximity alarm sounded, startling both men as they glared up at the speaker grill.

“We must be coming up to Preston,” volunteered Kir.

As they ran toward the lift, Kir asked, “Okay, if you’re right, and I think you are. What the hell do the aliens want with our data base? Why tap into the colony computers after whipping out the colony?”

“That my friend is a good question.”

On the bridge, they both took up positions, Kir on propulsions and Jokinen on sensors and weapons.

“We have life!” exclaimed Jokinen with a large grin.

Kir reached over and reconfigured his terminal for communications; calling up Preston’s Moon colony comm channel. “Preston’s Moon this is military shuttle on emergency channel fore-six-five. Preston’s Moon colony, this is Military Shuttle on emergency…”

“Preston’s Moon colony here. Identify yourself military shuttle.” The response was sharp with a hint of bitterness coming though as if to say, why are you bothering us.

Kir typed in a security override command on the comm terminal and waited for a response.

“Preston’s Moon colony confirms ship identification. State your business military shuttle.”

“Who are these guys?” mumbled Jokinen out of range from the mike. “We’re trying to save their collective ass and they question why we’re here?”

Kir continued seeking while nodding agreement to Jokinen, “Military shuttle, Sergeant Kir here. Patch me through directly to your…”

Jokinen quickly interrupted, cutting off the mike. “Wait… We’re not sure who we can trust, remember? We need to tread lightly here. Just ask for their maintenance tech supervisor. We’ll feign some comm issue, land, and check things out.”

“Good idea. I have my own thoughts along those lines as well.” He keyed the mike, “Sorry, we’re having some computer and communication issues that are getting worse. Put me through to your comm supervisor, we need to land and get this sorted.”

“Maintenance personal has left for the day, but land on pad zero-two and we’ll get you somebody to check out your comm tomorrow morning.”

Kir and Jokinen grinned, “Roger, pad zero-two. Out.”

“So, what’s your idea?”

“Simple, we find out by reviewing the space port landing logs. That data is open for review after all and wouldn’t draw any suspicion. The guilty party or parties will have come from the last distress settlement. Find him or her and we’re one step closer to, hopefully, stop the carnage that seems to be heading our way.”

And what if he, or she, has hidden their tracks?”

“Not likely. This hasn’t been made public to avoid mass panic and I’m betting this traitor has been counting on that little fact. He comes in on a scheduled ship, or lands in his own, and gets his job done. I suspect he books it out as quickly as his job is completed, so as to not get trapped. We’ll need access to the colony ship logs as soon as we land.”

“Sounds simple enough, I just hope we can get this solved soon. I need a good stiff drink. One thing we should do is send another sit-report to base. If the commandant has been able to get some transport, we’ll need them here for an evac. We’re running out of time however; I’ll send off a flash message.”

Preston’s Moon was remarkable for just one thing, a rich deposit of iridium, one of the rearest minerals found in the human settled world’s. The Colony was set up by the Preston Sac Corporation just to mine, process and ship the element. The moon itself, while pleasant enough for humans, was no vacation spot. It orbited a large gas giant which in turn orbited a pale yellow sun nearing the end of its rein as a primary star. The amount of heat radiation coming from the start was about half of what Sol produced for Earth. It was the tectonic action of the moons core due to the gravitational pull of the gas giant that kept it at a livable temperature.

The population of three hundred and eighty miners, administrators, technicians and researchers along with the families of colony staff posed a problem nether seargent felt they had sufficient resources for.

Jokinen watched the exterior monitors carefully as they approached the landing vector. There wasn’t much in the way of green and what there is was scattered in and amounst the living quarters.

The colony was set up like a small town of the old Mid Western United States on earth, with the main administrative structure at the centre while maintenance and housing radiated outwards in a spoke like pattern. None of the buildings exceeded two stories and all were the standard drab gray-white colour. There wasn’t anything remarkable about the colony.

Jokinen could make out the landing port, factory building and affiliated out-buildings all along the edge of the of the main housing section. Inside of the larger structure sat dozens of single and dual family housing domes, each one situated along a system of paved road and walkways that lead toward the centre of town.

“I’ve identified the main administrative complex and data centre,” Jokinen called back to Kir.

“We’re running out of time. We need to land now.”

Jokinen looked over his right shoulder, “No need to get your knickers all twisted my friend. We’ll make it.” He wasn’t nearly as sure about that statement as the words implied.

Blinding white landing lights lit up the belly of the shuttle and pointed down towards the pad. Landing struts extended from the main lifting body of the shuttle as the main engines rotated in preparation for landing. Landing pad zero-two lit up with two rings of concentric white lights encircling the outer section of the pad and a series of red directional lights marking the orientation of the shuttle on the pad began to flash.

“As soon as we’re on the ground, log into the space port landing logs. I’ll access the colony logs and launch the tracking program. If anyone tries to shut things down or lock off access we’ll know.”

Kir nodded and began to type in his command access code, giving him access to the landing logs.

Jokinen hadn’t lost his piloting skills as the shuttle skids touched the landing pad with just a slight kiss. He shut down the main engines, and locked off the flight controls.

“Military shuttle, this is Colony Space Port Administrator Walsh. I have been informed of your emergency and welcome you to Preston’s Moon Mining Colony. We don’t get many unscheduled ship visits and you are only the second military shuttle we have welcomed.”

“Second military shuttle?” Kir stared at Jokinen and shrugged his shoulders. “What other military shuttle are they talking about?”

Jokinen’s eyes widened and he too shrugged his shoulders, “I have no clue. The Commandant said nothing about a previous mil-shuttle being sent out; could they have meant since the establishment of the colony?”

As if on queue, the radio cracked to life again, “I guess its been very busy in the military these days… its only been two weeks since your comrades visited us from Sonora. I would like to invite you and your crew to a meal with my staff. Its not much but we have a chief that can do wonders with colony rations.”

“Ah…” Jokinen thought quickly, “Thank you for the invitation, we would love to join you but we have to try and sort out these comm and computer issues we’re having. Let us power down, lock off the affected systems and we could meet you afterward? Oh, they’re only two of us on the ship.”

Kir grinned, “Good thinking. Hey, I found something in the landing port logs that refer to that other mil-shuttle. It does say their departure point was Sonora but they did not list their final destination. How the hell could they have come from Sonora two weeks ago when we lost all contact two months ago?”

“They couldn’t have. I just pulled up a listing of all military outposts, ships and exercises and it confirms what you and I both already know. There have been no exercises, no outposts past our own little base and no ships that were ever listed as being in this sector.” Jokinen mulled over other possibilities quickly. “Pull up the visual logs for the port.”

“Good thinking. Looks like you’re learning from your betters.” Kir grinned at his friend.

“You’re older…. Not better you bum.”

“Got it.” After a pause, Kir transferred the image to the main viewer.  “You’re not going to like this.”

The image flashed on the larger main screen and both sergeants watched in confused horror.

“Is that what I think it is?”

“It looks like a miniature version of the moving van we just left behind at Golla Two. Its about the same size as this shuttle but…. How in the hell can these idiots confuse this for a human ship never mind a military shuttle?”

“Lets find out. Transfer the image to a tablet and bring it with you. We’re going to have a bite to eat with our colony friends.”

Kir transferred the image and a copy of the landing log for the ship to a free tablet and put it in his right pant cargo pocket. “Ready? Then let’s get going.”

The main hatch cycled open and the two men entered the access tunnel on the landing pad. As they came close to the hatch at the end of the ramp, it cycled open and they were greeted by a woman wearing  standard colony coveralls with red trim on the upper right sleeve denoting  colony administration.

“good morning gentlemen, my name is Port Administrator Walsh, Mary. Welcome again to Preston’s Moon.”

Jokinen was first to speak, “Thank you for your assistance Administrator…”

“Mary, please. I don’t stand of formalities hear,” she smiled and extended her right hand in greeting.

“Sorry, Mary. My colleague and I appreciate any assistance your tech crews can provide in getting our ship’s communication working again. I am Sergeant Murdock Jokinen and this is Sergeant Draylan Kir.”

Mary shook their hands in turn and directed them to follow her.

“Ah, before we go, I wonder if you can help us out. I didn’t know there was another military shuttle out this far in the rim. Do you remember the commander’s name or the type of shuttle they were…”

Interrupting again, Mary said, “The shuttle commander was Captain Red and his second in command was Captain Black. They were perfect gentlemen, even through they could not stay very long.”

“What did their shuttle look like?” Kir wanted to see if she thought the strange alien ship looked human.

“What? It looked like your shuttle Sergeant; a standard military shuttle.” They stopped walking and she turned to face Kir and Jokinen. “What’s this about Sergeant?”

“Mary, we need to meet with the head of your colony administration right away. It’s a matter of some urgency and…” He was interpreted. Mary seemed to have a habit of doing that and it was getting annoying.

“I’m sorry, but the Head Administrator is off planet right now. But you must know that.”

Jokinen cur in, “Why would be know that Mary?”

“Why? Because Doctor Meredith left with the other shuttle two weeks ago for your meeting?!” She seemed confused and alarmed at the same time.

Now it was Kir’s turn to sound confused, “Meeting? The military has no planned meetings with any colony personal in this sector planned. As a matter of fact, we’ve just come from the only military base in this whole sector… And I can assure you that we are the FIRST military ship to venture out this way.”

Mary took a step back and bounced into the bulkhead, a puzzled, queer kind of look crossing her face at the realization something was terribly wrong dawned on her.

“Mary,” began Jokinen in a softer tone, “Colony Directorate has asked the military to look into why colony after colony has gone dark. It began with Golla Two five months ago, then Curtis Falls four months ago, Aegis Three, and then Sonora lost contact two months ago. So you see, no human shuttle could have come from Sonora two weeks ago.”

He let that sink in. Mary was in shock and seemed unsure of what was going on. She looked to her left, then over at the far wall. Her mouth moved, as if to say something but no words came out.

Kir and Jokinen both took and arm and helped her to the waiting area, helping her into a seat.

“I saw the shuttle. I spoke with the two captains, and so did everyone else. We all did. How can you stand there now and say that it did not happen when…”

Kir pulled out the tablet, “Mary, you said that the shuttle on the landing pad was the same type of military shuttle we just landed in. Have you every seen a military shuttle before?”

She shook her head no.

Kir turned the screen to Mary, “This is the image from the security camera taken at the time you said a military shuttle, like ours, landed. Does this look anything like our shuttle?” The question came out harsh, far harsher than he wanted it to.

Mary looked at the image, stunned in silence. She shook her head and placed it between her legs, holding it with both hands.

“No No No No! I saw the same shuttle you two came in on and it was not that….that thing. What the hell is going on here? And where is Doctor Meredith? Who… what did he leave with?”

“That’s what we want to know too, because Preston’s Moon is next in line and we think that it, what ever it is, has already begun. Can you call an emergency meeting of the colony leaders, community managers and supervisors? Get them over here right away. We have something else to show them and we need to do it fast.”

It did not take long for Mary to contact all the leaders of Preston’s Moon. The meeting room was small, but accommodated everyone, some standing other seated around the table. Everyone was watching the large screen at the far end of the wall opposite the door.

“You have everything we know to this point, except this.” Kir activated the holo projector and the image of the ‘moving van’ came up on the screen.

There was an audible and collective gasp as the size, scope and implication of what they all saw on the screen sank in.

“What the fuck is that thing?!” someone yelled from the group; and it was not the only expletive spoken. Everyone began to speak and shout all at once as the first vestiges’ of panic began to take hold.

Jokinen had to yell louder to get the group to settle down; his voice carried the command presence honed over years of leadership as a sergeant. He began to feel that old sensation come back and it felt good to have a real mission. It’s been too long he thought.

“That’s ENOUGH! We can NOT all speak at the same time, and panicking is not going to help this colony survive. Sergeant Kir and myself have been sent to recon the situation, report back to Central Command and provide as much assistance we can to aid in the evacuation of any colony in danger. “ The room quieted down and people began to settle.

Someone asked a question, “What can we do? How much time do we have?” We have over three hundred miners, researchers, technicians and their families on this rock. How do we get everyone off?”

Kir spoke now, “All very good questions. To answer the first, we can get people off planet by implementing the evacuation protocol. You have our shuttle, and from the information we’ve been given by your space port administrator, you also have three ore processing ships in orbit along with two fast currier shuttles. Between the shuttle, the two ore ships and one of the fast shuttle, we’ll have enough space for everyone. But you must begin the evacuation now.”

A young man spoke up, “I’ll begin sending the evacuation recall notice. It’ll take time though. At least seventy five to ninety minors are at their shifts now. It’ll take about two hours to get them recalled and to the ships from the depth they are at.”

“Good, some of you can help him get the message out. Take nothing but immediate provisions and clothing; take nothing else. We will not have the space to start packing carry-on luggage.” Said Jokinen.

Kir quickly followed up, “Your next question was how long we have? Well sir, that is a very good question that we just don’t have the answers to. On our way here we bypassed Sonora and from the known timeline, we realized the ‘death ship’ may have been there. We just don’t know how long they stay, how long the process is, and when they will be heading this way.

The plan to evacuate Preston’s Moon continued for another four hours before breaking up and everyone went about the massive task of evacuating over three hundred people in a hurry. Everyone had a job to do, from getting the populace to the space port, to evaluating the miners underground.

Jokinen stood by the front landing strut of their shuttle. The sun was waning in the sky and a few clouds drifted by, being pushed by the unseen hand of a mild breeze high in the stratosphere. The clouds were lit from the bottom as the sun continued sinking in the horizon.

“You look like someone is about to pee in your drink my old friend.” Kir came up from behind, two cups of coffee in hand.

Taking one of the steaming cups, Jokinen answered, “You and I are both smart enough to know that nothing in life is that simple. At least if someone pissed in my drink I’d be able to confront the bugger. This… this is different. We still have no clue who may be helping the aliens and why; nor doe we have any clue of a timeline. We could get caught with our pants down any second now. We just don’t know when that ‘death ship’ will arrive.”

“I hear you my friend but what’s our option. The two ore ships can’t be remotely landed till tomorrow morning at the earliest. They still have to uncouple the storage pods from the ship and then remote it to the landing field. Loading the people won’t take too long but the ships are not exactly fast movers. Even without the pods they have very slow acceleration with the ion drives they use. Steady yes, but very slow to build up any speed.”

“I know, but what has me flummoxed is this matter of why Mary thought she was meeting two captains from a military shuttle that looked remarkable like ours. If it wasn’t for the fact that you can’t fool the recording devices, we would have no record of any ship. What was it? Mind probe, mass hypnosis, hologram? Whatever it was would have had to work on both the ship and the – people, she and everyone saw.”

Kir pulled a tablet from his jacket pocket and handed it to Jokinen. “This may explain some of it. I looked up the colony staff records for everyone. I wondered why they, whoever they are, would take the head of colony. Turns out that only two people have the access codes to the computer and comm system. The very codes that can be used to remote access the entire database.”

Jokinen did not sound surprised, “This does add one more piece of the puzzle and I’m beginning to see a whole picture forming. Stop me if this makes no sense. Take what we theorized on our way here about the ‘moving van’ and what the aliens want. It would make sense, for any invading species, to do a recon and scout out the planet, its defenses, resources, everything. This ship on the launch pad camera is that scout ship and through some from of mind control or manipulation, find out who has access to the codes.”

Kir chimed in, “They kidnap him, or her, and bring in the death ship, wipeout all life and using the codes acquired from the first victim gain access to all the colony database.”

“Yes, but why would they need the database anyway? They have the planet.”

“Maybe that’s the prelim scouting. The database has all the information on the resources, nature of the planet, the next planet in line and…. Shit!”

“What? Oh crap on a cracker! I just got it. Our planet is next in line! If they’ve already gained access then they may be headed….”

“If they got access they’re already on their way. We have to get their fast. A message packet will never reach in time.”

Kir thought quickly, looking around for inspiration he noticed the two fast courier ships on the next launch pad. “I can take one of the fast courier ships. If I leave now, I can get to into comm range in three days. A message packet would only arrive four days and they’d have to decode it.”

The sense of urgency just retched up ten-fold in the minds of both sergeants. Jokinen could not fault the logic in Kir, knowing that Kir was a skilled pilot and fully checked out on the fast courier ships.

“I hate the two of us separating like this Kir. I have a bad feeling.” Jokinen knew that one of them had to stay behind to oversee the evacuation. They were responsible, they were in charge and only they could be on scene to make the attempt.

“You always have a bad feeling. Look, it’ll be fine. Get the people off as quickly as possible and get back to safe space. I’ll get the word to Commandant Bugatti. The force can intercept the bad guys and by the time you arrive, I’ll have things ready for you and I to fly off to some safe part of the galaxy on a beach world filled with women and booze.” Kir grinned from ear to ear.

“You shit; I don’t believe that anymore than you do. Just be safe… okay.”

“You too my friend.”

Kir ran to the first fast courier and keyed in the override to open the hatch. He reached up quickly and began the automated pre-launch sequence and check out. He turned to see Jokinen make his own mad dash for the administration building. Stopping just at the door, he looked over to Kir and waved. Kir waved back but then gave a thumbs up and another toothy smile. It wasn’t real but he knew his friend’s smile was a facade also.

Life in the galaxy just became a dangerous shell game and as in most shell games, the odds are stacked against the player. Kir was fully aware that they may never see each other again. It was hours away from the expected loss of communication with command if these aliens stuck to their previous timetable.

The computer signaled to Kir that pre-launch sequence was completed. The ship had already been fueled and that saved time. Precious time that Kir once thought to be infinite was not ticking down to the end of everything he knew and cared about.

He reached up to the hatch and pulled down the mounting ladder. Climbing up, he reached over and pulled himself to the pilot chair, closing and sealing the hatch at the same time. Self diagnostic data scrolled across the secondary screen while Kir programmed the nav-computer on the main screen in front of his controls. An audible beep sounded to indicate the main engine pressures’ were now optimal and the ship was ready for launch.

“Preston’s Moon, this is fast courier two-four-niner ready for launch. All systems show green.”

“Shuttle two-four-niner, launch when ready. Good luck Sergeant Kir.”

Good luck to all of us, he thought then activated the launch drive.

Forty seconds later he was in space as the ship nosed its way over to the correct navigation plane for his trek home and with luck a very large drink. Kir smiled at the inner thought as he gave the command for the ship to transit to hyper. For the next four days he would be in the safest place in the universe as nothing could touch or interact with a ship in the void between space and time.

Time to sleep; for now anyway. Time for the meds to kick in and take his mind away for the next few hours.

As the fast courier ship came up to the designated breaking time three days after launch, Kir cinched up his restraint straps. Inertial compensators would keep him from splitting against the forward bulkhead but Kir also was very paranoid about automatic systems, preferring instead to be on manual as often as possible.

The ship entered normal space and continued to decelerate. Kir had programmed the communication system to contact Commandant Bugatti as soon as they exited from hyper.

Kir frowned when he received no reply right away. Even with the time delay, the FTL comm system on the courier ship should have gotten through to Bugatti.

Finally, “Courier ship two-four-niner you’re calling on an emergency comm channel for Commandant Bugatti. State the nature of your emergency and why you need to speak with the Commandant?”

Kir felt a chill come over him. Why not just patch me in to Bugatti he though. They know what my mission is and how important it is for the the human race to survive.

Kir got back on the comm, this time insisting to speak with Bugatti.

“Courier ship two-four-niner, you know that Commandant Bugatti has already for Preston’s Moon in the shuttle you sent for him. What the hell are you playing at Kir?”

Kir throttled back the ship and sat in silence, letter the tiny ship drift in space on a ballistic trajectory. He knew what had happened. That Bugatti and everyone else had been tricked to believing what never was. That Bugatti was most likely dead by now; that that the codes for much of the planetary defense were lost.

He also knew that his friend would have been out of time if they hadn’t gotten off that rock and that even if they did, it was headed here, to this planet and a population that was now on borrowed time. So little time to ponder time and the futility of measuring it. Kir realized at that moment that time really didn’t matter. Life would continue in some form even after time ran out. What was sad for him was that he wouldn’t be around to see time unfold. He realized that four hundred years of peace had, in the end doomed the human race. Humanity could never stand up to this threat unless it had the time to prepare and they were out of time.

Kir pointed the nose of the ship toward the main sequence star.

Time…. Time to live, time to die. Time to dream. Time to sleep.

Death’s Door – Where Right and Glory Lead, can now be purchased at Preston NewsStand, located at Tower III, Preston Square (347 Preston Street in Ottawa).

Excerpt of ‘Home World’

Posted: October 12, 2009 in Books

Damage alarms would cycle on and off as smoke and sparks lit up the darkened bridge of the Starlight. Captain Knox held her right arm close to her body with her left, trying to protect the broken limb while a medic put a ring bandage around a piece of bone that was protruding at an angle. At first she thought the bone was hers but the medic quickly realized, and pointed out to her that it was from the leg of a crew member that was scattered around the bridge.

She couldn’t remove it however as there was too much bleeding and this would at least control the flow until she could get to sick bay where the doctor would remove the bone and repair the artery and wound. Knox winced from the pain as the medic completed the bandage, applied a pain killer patch on her neck and then moved on to the next casualty. There were many casualties as the Starlight took several direct hits from an unknown energy weapons before it managed to limp behind a large planetoid.

Knox slowly reached down and after picking up a piece of conduit that had fallen into her chair threw it aside but out of the way. Half her bridge crew was dead or injured and replacements were slow in arriving, everyone having to deal with their own catastrophe.

She coughed and said, “Damage report!”

No one answered at first, but an older Ensign, coughing and spiting blood on the decking spoke up from the tactical console. “Auxiliary bridge is cut off from ship access – no comm traffic in or out. Damage control crews are swamped and only twenty file percent have reported in. The repair robots have been assigned to vital sections only but progress is slow. Medical is spread throughout the ship – casualties on every deck. Starboard missile tubes four through ten are open to space, port side tubes all report faulty outer doors or no launch computer access and unable to fire. It leaves us only three workable tubes and they are loaded, but have to fire using manual guidance and programming. Laser turrets on the belly are operational but targeting computers are down – top side batteries are all gone.” He took several breaths and found it hard to breath, the smoke becoming chocking as the venation system struggled to clean the air.

A medic reached the Ensign and gave in a needle with a breathing compound in an effort to help oxygen reach vital organs. He continued, “Engineering reports jump engines are gone and we only have minimal propulsion with maneuvering thrusters.”

Knox was an optimist but it was hard to see a bright side to what was happening. The decoys had worked but it didn’t take the Horde ships long to figure out what was real and what wasn’t. The final sensor data confirmed that the attacking ships were of Horde design so it was pretty much safe to assume it was the Horde.

Knox was shaken from her chair and she fell to the ground when an explosion somewhere on the ship rocked it. What the fuck was that she swore to herself.

“Report!” she winced in pain as she picked herself up off the deck.

“Secondary explosion in starboard missile tube fifteen – one of the repair robots cut through the containment bottle trying to get to trapped crew. Three tubes on either side of fifteen is now open to space – all crew lost in that section.” The Ensign was a professional but he had a hard time holding back his emotion.

“Fuck!” Knox swore out loud as she tried to take in the death of her ship. “Do we have access to the sensor buoys?”

“Yes sir, they were on the belly section not touched by the attack. Status lights are green but we have no way to confirm that.” The tech was a bit confused as to why the captain was asking about the buoys.

“We’re not in position, but launch the remainder and send them on their way. Their internal AI will take over without input from the ship. We came out here to do a job and we may as well finish it. Besides, we can use the network once it’s up to see what the hell is going on outside, assuming we can even tap into the network with all this damage.” Knox coughed. “Comm, load a message packet, flash status. Drop all our logs into it and send to command.”

She took her good arm and wiped back the sweat that had built up on her forehead, running her fingers through her hair. Her eyes were burning as she blinked. Turning to see the ship status board, she noted that the fires reported earlier were slowing coming under control and the surviving crew was safe for now. She also realized that there was still a lot of work left for the damaged control crews as they worked overtime in a feverously pitch to contain the ship wide damages. She took in a deep gulp of air and almost suffocated on the sulfur like smell that resulted when so much of the protective covering on the damaged power and optical conduits burned away.

At once the sensor technician spoke up, breaking the silence, “Captain! Limited external sensors are online.” The young tech checked her board and confirmed the readings before continuing. “We have short range sensors only but we can get a good read of our immediate area out to five hundred kilometers.”

Knox smiled and walked over to a working monitor, “Send the feed to the A-six monitor.” She studied the screen as it came to life with the data. The Starlight was on the far side of a planetoid that was part of a series of asteroids and other small bodies that could have been from a collision of to two or more large asteroids. Either way it was helping to mask the big but damaged ship. Knox said to the officer on watch, “shout down all non-critical emissions and use passive sensors only. No active energy signatures – go to silent running.”

The order was repeated and carried out amongst the ciaos that was taking place on the bridge. Knox didn’t know at this point if the missiles they fired had any effective results or if the enemy ships were still out there. If they were still out there and out of sensor range they only had to wait the Starlight out and as soon as they showed their heads, come in for the kill and finish them off. It wouldn’t take them much at this point thought Knox. The air scrubbers began to kick in and clean the foul air chocking the bridge as the recovery crew removed the dead and injured. Damage control was working on repairing damaged systems at the same time. To Knox, the bridge looked as it did during initial construction as she remembered the confusion on the ship when she made her initial inspection tour.

“Auxiliary bridge is reporting sir, there’re using text only – internal communications is still out in that section and no video feed is available. They report two dead and only one injury.”

“What about the XO?” asked Knox as she peered down at the communication station officer.

“It was the XO that reported in sir.”

Knox was relived to hear her executive officer was alive as she had grown fond of the Commander over time. Any other emotion other than relief however at this time would have to wait. Knox pulled over one of her screens and called up a schematic of available resources, including offensive missiles. She wanted to be sure that there was enough of a punch left in case she had to fight off another Horde attack. In the back of her mind she knew any gesture of confrontation would be futile and that they were dead. She was determined to go down fighting if it came to that.

Most of the port missile launch rails were still locked out with launch doors unable to open. Crews were trying to space walk and open the doors from the outside but it was doubtful at this time if this would work. Knox had a thought however, “Missile control – relay to port tubes to rig demo charges on the door slides and blow them off. I want those tubes open and ready to fire in one hour.”