Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Twilight Legacies:The 6th Eye genre

Illustrations(Starship Schematics)

The Twilight Legacies: The Sixth Eye Preview(Update2010)

Edited by Margaret Stoddard

Book Cover and Illustrations designed by M. J. Stoddard Copyright©2010

Copyright©2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 by M. J. Stoddard. All Rights Reserved.

“I will praise the Lord at all times.
I will constantly speak his praises.
I will boast only in the Lord; let
all who are discouraged take heart.
Come let us tell of the Lord’s greatness;
let us exalt his name together.”

Psalm 34: 1-3 NLT

Dedicated to

The Twilight Legacies:
The Sixth Eye


M. J. Stoddard

Prologue: Origins of the Six

In the beginning…God spoke the universe into existence. His hand stretched across infinity and gave birth to galaxies, stars, nebula, black holes and planets. And by His will, created His hosts of angels. Six unique and distinct races were forged by our Lord, each given special abilities and the Lord named that which He created: The Kelimoj-Rehan, the Aaian, the Artanai, the Noran, the Alokai and the Sudar. Each race was given a single crystal annulus, these annuli were the tokens of God’s unconditional love to His creation; each device was a key to a gateway to another realm and harbored tremendous power.
The Kelimoj-Rehan, also known as the Kel-Reh were the first to be created and were given great knowledge of the universe. The Kel-Reh could cross great distances in a blink of an eye. They were the first to have God-given, magical abilities that would later serve in the forthcoming battles. They were the cornerstone of the other races that would succeed them. The first crystal annulus was given to the Kel-Reh, this annulus was called The Malidesa-Ren; which simply meant ‘Beginning’ or ‘First Born’.
Brought forth from the Kel-Rehan bloodline, were the Aaian and the Artanai. Both races were distinct, in knowledge and in strength; they sought after God’s Truth and were both peoples of grace and understanding. They sought willingly after God’s character, as they settled among the stars and hoped. The second and third annuli; he Aaian received the Yrintu, the ‘Light’ and the Artanai received the Nairakto, the ‘Dark.’
The Noran were one of the many races that inhabited the thousands of systems in the galaxy, their empire swept over the stars and protected an infantile race called “humans.” The Noran embraced God as their own; they all lived by a code of honor and righteousness. They were legendary artists of the sciences, known as the “Conclave of Alchemy”. They constructed vast fleets of vessels that leapt across the stars through large portals forged by their kin: the Kel-Reh. The Noran received the annulus called the Nimaaj, the ‘Earth’.
The Alokai and the Sudar also from the bloodline of the Kel-Reh, each with their own unique abilities of space travel. The Alokai were given the Sahlin, the ‘Sun’ or ‘Life’; the Sudar were given the Erakin, the ‘Twilight’ or ‘Death’ to Losipharat, high commander of the Sudar multitudes. Losipharat grew more resentful and arrogant and one day he challenged God himself and was cast out upon a world of water, where he and his demon-kin suffered. Losipharat and the Age of Darkness began…
Countless galaxies were besieged at the hand of Losipharat, lord of the Sudar; war had dominated and billions of systems had been obliterated by the powerful fleet of the devilish foe. Losipharat’s power of deception strengthened and he became Shaita’an: The Serpent. The knowledge he possessed from his former occupation as chief and captain over his army allowed Shaita’an to attack on multiple fronts and overwhelm his enemy. Hundreds of thousands of systems across the universe were ravaged by his fleet, leaving a trail of destruction in the wake of his powerful fleet. Shaita’an thought himself invincible and challenged God, his creator.
The Noran and the others were summoned and formed allegiances with their brethren and joined forces against the Sudar. Ages passed during the war, finally the Sudar lost the war and were banished to a place no being could comprehend. The jealous, hateful leader of the Sudar, Losipharat was exiled to a system in the Milky Way, to a planet full of life, where he deviously planned his vengeance against his creator.
The guardians then destroyed all Sudar technology and over countless millennia removed themselves from the universe and disappeared, leaving behind their magnificent cities and technology spread across hundreds of thousands of systems in the universe. The legacies of the guardians etched in the stone and crystal, embedded with riddles and codes.

Descendants of the Five

As the Five races gradually vanished into the darkness, each race chose thousands to remain behind, as caretakers and guardians of the universe. Forsaking their immortality, they seeded the Milky Way and the myriad galaxies spread across the vast and infinite universe. Brought forth from their ancient bloodline, were the Nurykhaj, the Enkrathnin, the M’jad and the Cedaiki. The Lord knew of Shaita’an’s desire for ultimate power over His creation and commanded the descendants of the great armies to hide the annuli. An elite society between the four races was founded, each member was given an amulet that held the greatest knowledge of their ancestors and passed down through the countless generations.
The Nurykhaj were a powerful race of lion-humanoid creatures that stand nine-feet tall. They hold strong beliefs of honor and purity, though they were a warrior-race and were known for their keen perception of time and cunning prowess in war. Their dialect was an obscure derivation of the ancient language of the Kel-Reh. The Nurii were also known for their strength and stamina during battle, as the United Terran Confederation discovered in 2979, after having provoked the Nurii on the first encounter in an uncharted system. The UTC later called a truce, after the Battle of Megrez in 2982, where six-hundred-thousand lives were lost.
The Enkrathnin were a very unique race, they resembled humans almost identically with only slight differences, they have high cheek bones and their eyes are a deep blue and they have considerably more strength to that of a normal human being. The Enkrathnin, though they descended from the Noran had fallen from their ways passed down through the countless generations and been enslaved by their own technological marvels. For many thousands of years the Enkrathnin had used their knowledge of genetics to experiment on human subjects. The Enkrathnin ships were easily recognized as triangular and saucer-shaped vessels with glowing lights and are not easily detected by any from of radar or sensor technology; commonly known as UFOs among the humans. Word traveled fast to the others in the galaxy of the Enkrathnin’s appalling acts on the humans and were excommunicated from the “Brotherhood of Gates”. They were known from that point on as the Yaranash, “The Fallen”.
The M’jad were a humanoid race, descended from the Alokai and the Artanai; who built their homes on the Cliff Shoals of Ka’suun. They were known for their yellow or bronze-golden eyes and their senses were extremely acute, they much resembled Earth’s mythological elves. Ancient Nurykajh legends speak of them as great warriors, with the ability to travel into the realm beyond. The M’jad were an elegant civilization. Their cities marked by carved wings on every stone fortress as well as their vessels.
The Cedaiki, a formidable race of bull-humanoid creatures that stood as tall as the Nurii. They wield mystical weapons passed down by their ancestors and are an agrarian culture and choose to live lives of simplicity. Not much else is known about the them, some speculate that the Cedaiki died out long ago…

Rise of the Terran

Nearly seven thousand years after the fall of mankind, humanity began to colonize the outer systems, Sol was the core, the epicenter of the corporate industries. Industries like the Oberon Mining Commission, Ganymede Terraforming Incorporated, Sol Gas Mining Consortium and Ceres Commerce Guild, Calaban Mining Guild and others like them built their empires on industrialism. Numerous enterprises spawned as the resources of Sol were being depleted, barriers were broken in pursuit of new technologies. Growth was inevitable, the inner planetary systems of Sol were overtaken as colonies for the citizens of Earth.
As mankind colonized the extra-solar systems of Alpha and Proxima Centauri, stocks soared, countless trillions of credits; in the amount of several times that in dollars were made and spent on further colonizing the numerous worlds of the neighboring systems. Mega-corporations such as the OMC, GTI and SMGC utilized hyperspace technology to spread their vast empires and managed to jump as far as Epsilon Lyrae: a multiple star system approximately one-hundred-fifty light-years from Earth. Within thirty-seven years Alpha Centauri, Sirius, Vega, Procyon, Alcor, Megrez, Polaris, along with several more systems were colonized and for seven years there was a mutual respect and peace between the mega-corporations. Then an SGMC vessel stumbled upon a planet with rich deposits of an unusual ore with great potential, this ore known as Necranthium. Necranthium was an mineral-ore used in hull plating, a variation of the refined mineral was also utilized in weapons manufacture for nuclear enhanced warheads. The OMC and GTI soon received word of this new mineral and moved to take control of the system.
Within three days, a firefight broke out between Oberon, GTI and the SGMC and within seven days an SGMC fleet opened fire upon the mining vessels in orbit around the planet. Oberon and GTI joined together to fight the heavily armed battleships and cruisers of the SGMC and for decades battled over the planet that contained high mineral and ore content. The war between the two mega-corporations spread across the Twelve Systems. Lives were lost, quadrillions of credits were wasted on warfare, until the OMC found itself bankrupt and was forced to leave Sol beyond the Twelve Systems.
GTI, SGMC and the CMG then unified into a single form of government and became the United Terran Confederacy. The Twelve Systems of the Corporations were dominated and organized as a nation. The UTC military presence was then established in the Confederacy and thus forged the United Terran Confederate Navy, the Confederacy’s wings broadened. The borders of Confed were protected by a defense network of unmanned turrets and sensor stations, forming a perimeter and no unauthorized ship could penetrate. For over seven centuries, the UTC maintained order.

Oberon’s Children

The Oberon Mining Commission convoy of seven heavy frigates, the Independence, the Infinity, the Anchorage, the Sycorax, the Hyperion, the Pandora and the Arcturus were all exiled. Since their banishment from the Twelve Systems in the year 2120, the convoy broke up. The Independence was the first ship to settle on a habitable planet in the M40 system. The crew and passengers began to colonize the system and the neighboring stars. The Independent Mining Corporation was formed later in 2361, nearly two-and-a-half centuries after their exile and thrived well, occasionally they defended against pirates and raiders.
The Infinity, the second vessel of the convoy landed and made a settlement in the Epsilon Aurigae, a multiple star system in one of the arms of the Milky Way galaxy and renamed the planet after their colony ship. They stumbled upon a planet full of vast oceans that stretched to the horizon, the colonists soon adapted their technology to the unusual weather patterns that engulfed the planet. Their ships were like creatures of the sea, they were able to submerge beneath the waves of the water-planet and constructed sleek fighters and over several hundred years, explored the regions of the galaxy.
Eventually, the Aurigan scientists experimented with new methods of interstellar travel and developed the Jump and Hyper-gate technology. The Aurigan ships explored the outermost regions of the galaxy. The Nurii were the first race to be encountered and over several centuries established relations with many other civilizations across the galaxy. By 3130 the United Fringe Alliance was fully established.
The Anchorage was caught in a supernova during hyper-travel and presumed destroyed…
The Arcturus sailed out into the vast expanse of the unknown, towards the center of the galaxy and was swallowed by a massive black hole--never to be heard from again. Over the centuries hundreds of pilots from all corners of the colonized galaxy sought the lost vessel and returned with severe damage to their ships.
The Sycorax managed to make it as far as Beta Aquilae and over countless generations formed the Outer Rim Directorate, a cautious society based on the stringent form of government of the Old Ways written by their ancestors. Some systems were named after particular patrons of the former U.S.S.R of Earth. Their vessels were formidable, but the state of their nation did not last long and over the past century the Directorate crumbled into nothing. Their systems full of bloodshed, malice, narcotics and greed and pillaged the ancient ruins of a dead civilization known among the Four Races as the Kel-Reh and have stolen several artifacts from the bordering systems of the Enkathnin, descendents of the Noran.
Hyperion’s crew found themselves stranded in the Bug Nebula, a vast cloud of luminescent particles, and became the Far Space Union. Their ships had superior hyperspace technology and they were known for their weapon-ships that were prevalent across Union-controlled space. FSU did not consort with the interstellar nations abroad; they delved in the mysteries of the ancient civilizations and kept to themselves for the most part, unless engaged in battle.
The Pandora, the last of the convoy… birthed a new society known as the Parallel Colonies, or Border Worlds, or the “Frontier” as the mercenaries have named who travel through their systems. Their worlds are known for their excessive pleasure and gambling; New Babylon was the prized planet in the Parallel Colonies and was the paramount display of villainy. Casino Star Bases of Fury and Vegas and New Atlantic became infectious ports for those who lingered in the “Frontier”. The ruthless mobs, gangs and pirates and bounty hunters battled over the star bases for decades to satisfy their own lusts.

“The year is 3189... It’s been almost two-hundred years since the last major battle. Yet, all is not well in Nurii space. I sense my time draws nearer and weighs heavily on me, day and night. I sense that the Day of Reckoning is coming, I rest upon my throne, as Emperor of the Utopia that I have inherited by birthright. I have all the things I want and I still feel empty. I feel as though a hole is consuming my very heart and the devastation that I see in my nightmares is of no comfort to me. Will this be my legacy? One of death and destruction?”
~Emperor N’kar Eltorai of the Nurykhaj Imperium; 79th Dynasty of the Great House

Chapter I

On the distant side of the galaxy, forty light-years from the ore-rich, sparsely populated, triple star system known as the Angeles System, where only the Confederate Mining Corporation has domain over the settlements dispersed throughout the asteroid-populated system. Within the chaotic Parallel Colonies, in a strange, truly alien system with a handful of planets. Vast luminescent fibers of hydrogen, ammonia and other noble gasses glistened in the distant void of space and time. A large mining freighter orbited slowly around the second rock in the white dwarf system on edge of the galaxy.
A mining expedition descended upon the dry, scalding, desolate world. High in the mountains, there are the ancient ruins of an awesome race, known as the Artanai once inhabited these worlds and similar ruins have been unearthed as far as Rigel. A team of miners drilled away at the hard rock with their resilient, diamond-tipped cutting tools and with their flashlights and hardhats braced upon their heads, digging deeper into history. For hours they hit ordinary minerals, until the drilling machine stopped and one of the men walked on over to see what was the matter.
“What’s going on?” he asked, taking a look at the machine and quickly glanced over at the foreman, who at present supped a tin cup full of water, then tossed the cup on the rocky floor of the shaft.
“How should I know?” inquired the fellow worker.
“Wait--What is that?” the miner said, as he pressed his hand upon the metal.
After a day of mining, the team uncovered an alien spacecraft. The ship was oblong, elliptical-shaped saucer, approximately seventy-meters in overall length, with engravings carved into the dark hull plating. There were no seams whatsoever on the vessel and the markings appeared archaic in their design and carved with staggering precision. The foreman gazed at the vessel and said, “What in the world is it?”
“We’ve spent the day trying to figure that out, boss,” replied one of the miners with the black and gray hardhat on his head.
“I’m going to call in some help.” replied the foreman, as he disappeared into the network of caverns, where there was a small console with luminescent multi-colored buttons with a small, flat-screened monitor above the keyboard. The foreman immediately pressed a combination of buttons and broadcasted over the subspace channel utilized by the CMC, “This is the Confed Mining Expedition Libra broadcasting on a coded channel. We request assistance immediately…”
In a few days, an entire fleet of unmarked science vessels and military escorts entered orbit around the dust ball. A high-ranking official dressed in a clean, pressed bluish-gray uniform with a cap on his head. The official was in his early forties, clean shaven with dark hair and icy gray eyes that shimmered in the unusual light from the bright suns. A patch of four red triangular-shaped trapezoids with a circle in three of the triangles of white were displayed on his uniform jacket as he stepped off the dropship, the UTC official was accompanied by a liaison from the Terran Intelligence Committee; a prominent intelligence agency within the Confederacy that has a broad network of operatives spread throughout the Colonies.
The official walked down to the mouth of the tunnel where there was a car with a driver awaited the official’s arrival and as the driver conversed with some of his co-workers. The young official and the liaison were brought down to the main chamber where they were taken through the narrow tunnels to where the alien ship lay untouched. Scientists from all over the quadrant probed the vessel as the official took the foreman and the captain of the mining vessel to a private alcove within the maze of tunnels. Two blasts of light could be seen in the catacombs, but only the official and his liaison re-emerged from the darkness of the catacombs. The other miners were detained in a separate area as the ship activated three translucent particle beams of amber-crimson energy and pulled the ancient derelict out of the caverns; the belly of the large Confederate destroyer opened up and the age-ed vessel disappeared into the cargo bay of the large military vessel.

Nine Months Later

Admiral Charles Godfrey’s Log: Universal Time: 24:32 hrs
I’ve been sent to the Keilen Sector to oversee the construction of an outpost on the second planet: Keilen II. I’m to meet with a mercenary pilot and marksman there on the planet, who goes by the name of Blain Ross, he had served under my command before more than a decade ago on the UTC Goliath, during the war with the Nurii. Blain Ross is to assist the Defense Systems of this outpost, I just hope he’s willing…

A large vessel emerged from a bright blue-green vortex of energy as the vessel dropped out of hyperspace. The great ship was the Behemoth-class UTC Dreadnought and arrived shortly in the Keilen System, thirty-thousand light-years from the Galactic Core, four-thousand light-years from Sol. The Dreadnought commenced its orbit around the sparsely populated planet orbiting a triple star system. Godfrey stood attentive in his quarters, as the rays of light seeped in from the distant void of space and shone upon the face of the admiral, his eyes affixed upon the crimson planet below.
“Sir. We’ve entered orbit.” voiced the captain, who was in command for the moment.
“Thank you, Captain.” he replied, sighed heavily, “I’ll be out shortly. Prepare a shuttle.”
“Yes, sir.”
Down below, on the sandy surface of the rock, in a murky old, minuscule cabin constructed of timber, mortar, screws and sheetrock. Inside this small shack, on the edge of a vast desert, in the middle of nowhere, a man lived. He was rugged, with long, scraggily, Champagne-colored hair that came down near his shoulders. His beard and mustache were blonde with red highlights and his eyes were stormy blue eyes. He was averagely built, five-foot-eight and long-legged; His name: Blain Ross. He was a man in hiding…from someone or something, God only knows.
His early childhood and past is nothing but a mystery, a vague blur of time. He had no recollections of his parents, sisters, brothers, uncles and aunts--all was a blank to him. Everything from his past left a bitterness deep in his soul, the perpetually burning sensation swelled like a great furnace and this furnace was insatiable. It was always in need of something, but what Blain consumed for his soul was never enough and he was discontent with his station. A single, pressing question rung true and deep in his heart: Is this my calling? Am I to live in this desolate, dry wasteland for the rest of my life?
What poisoned this man through to the marrow of his bones was his self-pity, he never felt that he was good enough for anyone and even though he possessed great skill in the martial arts, weapons and was a renowned pilot, he felt that it wasn’t enough to satisfy the emptiness deep within his heart. Since the death of his wife and daughter, he had tormented himself for not getting the chance to save them; when it could have made a difference. Self-doubt was just one of the many insecurities that plagued this once, gentle and brave warrior and he tried to drown his sorrow in liquor. He wanted to forget all the terrible things that had happened to him and he blamed God for his circumstances. Blain was now just a cold, broken-hearted man who wallowed in his own misery. It was all he knew.
Blain; former officer of the United Terran Confederacy, had served aboard the UTC Jackson, the UTCr Gibraltar, the UTCG Everest and the UTCG Goliath, where he served under the command of Captain Charles Godfrey. Blain was a skilled pilot, a legend and an astonishing warrior, but his expertise lie in defense system engineering. He had the an expertise in a variety of weapons; which made him particularly dangerous to his enemy. He was quick-witted, unusually astute and possessed the intelligence of a scientist--constantly solving problems. Along with his winning personality, he had strong intuitions, both about people and circumstances. For this reason, his reputation was based upon this singular principle is what defined this warrior.
Blain Ross was also a man who loved, and loved passionately with all of his being. He once had a wife and daughter, who died on Almaaz III nearly ten years ago. He believed he could have saved them, but there was nothing he could have done, and he loathed himself for not taking action when he had the chance several years ago. His obsession eventually became nightmares and every time, the nightmares became more graphic and too painful to even whisper, and that’s why he’s on this wasteland planet known as Keilen II. Now, he is a man, lost, without any sense of direction in the middle of a barren world.
Blain Ross slept restlessly and violently in his cot, as best he could. But lately, every-time he closed his eyes, he saw the destruction of all life and an enemy…a predator lurking in the midst of darkness seeking to destroy. An enemy that knows the thoughts of human or Nurii and even the estranged Enkrathnin, who hide behind superstitious rhetoric and use mystical powers like their ancestors who have long since disappeared.
Blain Ross saw such vivid images of death, that pain deep in his chest pulsated through his body. His mind haunted by the atrocities of thousands of years and each time these images came upon him, the violent images pierced his spirit like a hot blade. The dark spidery-looking ships with long arms that stretched out to the stars themselves glided across the galaxy. The ships themselves appeared to have life; green-luminescent veins were embedded in the hull material of these ships and harbored incredible power. The mercenary wrestled, as the vision became more intense…then, he began to hear the whispers of the creatures and in this moment, his heart stopped and his mind could sense the power of these demons and sensed the approaching time ahead.
Ross, restless and anxious, dressed, strapped on his weapons and put on a dusty, old cloak. The former ace pilot, weapon expert, and resigned officer of the United Terran Confederate Navy looked around the dusty old shack that he had built with his own hands nearly ten years ago. An antique stove with a coffee pot set on the top next to an old wooden table where the blood-red ray of sun poured upon the table where a tin plate sat a moment earlier.
The rogue looked out the dirty window pane, as the suns peeked through the crimson sky, early in the morning on this dry world. He surveyed the single-roomed shack, and he saw on his dresser framed photos of his family and a rectangular mirror hung on the sheet-rock wall with an off-white, gray color of paint. Over in the corner was his foot-locker, the emblem of white had been scratched out by a sharp knife, but he never recalled defacing the decal. Neither did he remember past events prior to his military life, what had happened to Blain so many years ago that he could not recount a birthday, when he met his wife or even his home? It was as if those memories had been wiped clean from his mind. The conundrum of this gnawed his spirit away daily and constantly beckoned him from the depths of his heart, but he chose not to pursue these lost memories.

He walked over to the black metal footlocker, worn and decayed by time and use, and cracked the lid open. The chest creaked, inside was his uniform, folded, pressed and stored in a vacuum-sealed bag. He took out the olive green uniform with the Confederate emblem on the left breast above his rank and medals. As he looked deeper in the chest, the right sleeve pulled back and the eight characters on the inside of his wrist were visible. He immediately pulled the sleeve back over the strange tattoo, placed the uniform back in the foot-locker and slammed it shut.
Ross stepped out onto the porch to find that the suns were just starting to rise above the Dunes of Kedarik. A foggy reddish-brown haze covered the atmosphere, above the crimson clouds of dust. And caused the three suns to turn into the color of blood. He hopped onto his anti-grav bike, also known as a land-hopper, and bolted through the Uterium Canyons about ten miles from his cabin.
The broad-shouldered, sinewy bounty hunter glided down to the nearby town of Dixon, a town with a very American western appearance from the eighteen-fifties. There were at least a dozen different types of mercantile establishments, some dealt with heavy armaments and starships--mainly fighters and light cargo ships. Other wholesale markets sold supplies and food in the area and traffic was generally scarce on the planet, this was indeed a no-man’s land for sure, where the townsfolk survived by a more archaic code, which was a ‘kill or be killed’ philosophy. Everyone in town wore a pistol on their belt or had some weapon concealed on their person. It was a harsh town, as it was in the Old West on Earth, so many millennia ago.
Blain entered the small town and glided to the general store, where they sold about everything, from consumables to engine parts. The bike came to a halt behind a small anti-grav car packed with diamond-tipped shovels and pickaxes. A couple of average men, looking to be in their thirties were securing the bundles of equipment onto the back of the car. There were silver cases piled on top of each other stowed in the rear compartments of the vehicle. When an elderly man stepped out onto the porch of the general store and dictated, “I want that equipment secured. I don’t want another mishap like the last time. Fools! I could be making a breakthrough discovery right now, if it weren’t for your laziness!”
“Okay, professor. We understood you the first time!” whined, the underling.
“It going to be a hot one out today. I can feel it.” remarked the professor, as he dabbed his forehead with a white handkerchief from his back pocket and walked over to Blain, who had just walked up the steps onto the wooden porch of the general store and asked with a bizarre expression on his haggard face, “Are you a local?”
Blain strutted up the steps, took of his dark sunglasses and replied curiously, “I guess so.”
“How can you stand the heat on this God-forsaken planet?”
“What are you? Archeologist?” inquired Blain.
“I am. You?”
“You chose a horrible location. I would think that the Parallel Colonies would be more suitable for a man with your vocation.”
“I chose this place for many reasons. Anonymity being the foremost on that list.”
“Then you have me at a disadvantage.” The professor stated, as he acutely observed the markings on Blain’s forearm as Blain fixed the sleeves on his burgundy leather jacket. The archeologist firmly gazed upon the sight on his forearm and recoiled back, “I’m curious, sir. Where did you get that tattoo on your forearm?”
Blain, flustered and caught off guard by such an inquiry, concealed the markings on his arm even further and with an cold-hearted reply, said, “Excuse me.”
The mercenary then awkwardly darted off into the general store without regard. The archeologist’s colleagues looked rather confused at the sudden change in disposition of the mercenary who had looked as if he been recognized for some felony. The elderly archeologist glanced back at the leather-jacketed fellow and with dubious expression, climbed inside the anti-grav vehicle and ordered his colleagues to drive on. The car whined up in the distant mountainside.

Chapter II

Blain emerged from the general store with his purchase, peeked around, and climbed back on his bike and he darted off across the crimson terrain to his cabin a few miles from the Uterium Canyons of Keilen II. As he grabbed a bite to eat, he heard the rumble of a ship overhead, as the room shook slightly for a few moments. He strode out onto the porch and found that a dropship had just descended and landed in his backyard. The ramp lowered from the ventral section of the ship and a man, in his early sixties stepped out onto the dustbowl of Blain’s property.
A cold, dry breeze blew in from the north mountains, as Admiral Godfrey stepped out of the vehicle to meet Blain. Blain’s jaw tightened, his face grew pale for an instant, his chest burned with anger, and he said with a disturbing scowl, “You’ve got some nerve coming down here.”
Blain then walked away into his shack of tin and steel, he tossed his jacket on the cot and walked over to the dresser, where there was a photograph of his wife and daughter in a black wooden frame and glanced back at the admiral with such indignation. He wanted to take his revenge upon the man who stood before him and with a tight fist he pounded the top of the dresser. The admiral stepped up onto the porch and pulled the screen door open and stepped inside. He was insulted by his treatment, but hardly surprised.
“I wouldn’t think you’d remember your ole comrade-in-arms.”
“How could I forget?!” Blain heatedly inquired, as he pulled his LASE pistol from his holster and quickly faced the Confed official. “Why are you here?”
Charles looked down at the weapon pointed at his chest, “There is no need for that. Put it away. Before you hurt someone.”
“And if I don’t?” inquired the renegade, thoughts washed over his mind, as he held the pistol tight in his hand. What if I pull the trigger? What if I killed him? I could live with myself. He continued to force Godfrey’s hand, “Why are you here?”
“We’re setting up an orbital defense grid: I need your help establishing the defense systems for this planet.” , Godfrey hesitated. “Blain. Listen to me. Time is short. If we don’t act now, this planet will be destroyed and everyone, including you will be dead…Do you want the blood of your fellow colonists on your hands?”
“This planet’s dead, it’s been dead for hundreds of years. What would Confed want with a dead planet in the Frontier Territories?”
The admiral was uncomfortably caught off guard by Blain’s statement, therefore he replied cryptically, “I thought I made that clear.”
“Orbital defenses. Don’t mistake me for an idiot. Confed just doesn’t come to remote systems on a whim,” debated Blain. “The Casinos of the Frontier and Parallel Colonies don’t care about Keilen. No profit. To them, we’re just a bunch of squatters. Besides, I resigned nearly ten years ago, remember?”
“Yes. I do.” The Admiral then asked, “And you’re keeping yourself busy, I assume?”
“Of course.”
“Yes, I know,” retorted the Admiral. “Escorting mining freighters, transport convoys, and occasionally battling the dubious pirates in these parts. Or even bringing down notorious criminals for a handful of credits. You’d think with all the credits you’ve earned, you’d find better accommodations for yourself. ”
“I prefer a simpler life--I don’t need complex gadgets to keep me alive and it’s better than working on a starship.”
“I still remember what you told me nine years ago. I just wanted to let you know that I’m sorry for what happened,” apologized Godfrey.
“Why do you need me for this? Why not some other officer of Confed’s finest?”
“Because they’re nowhere near as qualified as you. Your expertise in orbital defense systems makes you the perfect candidate for this operation.”
“And if I decline?”
“I don’t think that’ll be possible,” the liaison of the UTC retorted, as he pulled out a paper-thin, portable display terminal and handed it over to Ross.
Blain read the clause with the utmost attention, his eyes widened with astonishment and after reading the document, he spat, “I’ve been drafted?!”
“I’m sorry, but that’s how it goes around here. Would you like me to recite the regulations?”
“I guess I have no choice.” Blain capitulated, after a few moments of deep contemplation and curiously inquired. “What’s in it for me?”
“What do you want?”

Meanwhile, the archeologist and the two men that were with him on the anti-grav car returned to the excavation site on the edge of the Dunes of Kedarik, ten miles northwest of Dixon. Professor Zachar Yvanavich was a renowned scientist in the field of archeology and was known throughout the academic community for his theories on the ancient races that once inhabited the galaxy.
The men unloaded the tools and the supplies and stowed them in the green tent nearby. The suns were now directly above the team as they hid underneath the canopies, exhuming the relics of a deceased era, Yvanavich mopped his forehead once again. His clothes were soaked in sweat and he himself was far from comfortable, as he combed his fingers through his drenched, silver hair. A young woman walked over to him, “Did you get the supplies we needed?”
Zachar had the most pale, ghostly expression on his weathered, sun-burnt face and looked catatonic. One might think he suffered a heatstroke, the young woman approached him with great concern after the professor did not answer, “Hello, professor? Did you get the supplies we needed?”
“Yes, I did…”, the professor finally replied.
“Is everything alright? You look like you’ve seen a ghost?”
“Perhaps I have.” he remarked with a blank expression on his leathery face, his mole eyes were nothing more than sharp slits, as he squinted from the brightness of the suns. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to review my notes.”
The slender brunette detected a hint of urgency in his tone: She resumed her duties at the dig. The team unearthed a large circular stone with ornate markings unlike anything seen before. The woman then emerged from the threshold of the professor’s tent, “May I come in?”
The professor absorbed in his reading, was flipping through pages of an old, leather notebook he took from his library, searching for some clue. His small eye glasses propped on the bridge of his defined nose, muttered in Russian and ignored the young assistant. The young woman spoke and startled the professor, “You seem…preoccupied. Am I disturbing you?”
“By all means, Rachel.”
“What did you find?”
“I’m just reviewing some of my notes on the Nurii Scrolls of Tsu’mar, I seem to recall some of their prophecies. Something about the mark of the royal lineage, pertaining to the lost bloodline of…”, The professor continued to rummage through his notebooks, but found nothing of relevance to his current fixation which he dared not discuss with anyone.
“Bloodline of whom?”, Rachel asked with interest.
Suddenly, a roar of thunder echoed above them, the tent moved as if a whirlwind had just passed by and one of their colleagues appeared. The professor heard his name being called out by his fellow archeologists,
“Professor, we have guests,” remarked a young man with a British accent.
“What on earth is going on here?” Yvanavich inquired with confusion.
He and Rachel stepped out of the tent and saw a UTC transport land a few hundred feet from the dig. People ran in confusion, as they attempted to cover the artifacts in the other tents and the stone tablet with tarps.
“Confederates!” cursed Zachar, as he removed his glasses.
A tall, Aryan-Germanic man with long legs and arms, of muscular build strode down the ramp, followed by a platoon of armed soldiers girded in heavy armor, carrying heavy assault weaponry; “Who’s in charge here?” the man questioned.
“Professor. Don’t say a word,” insisted Rachel.
The seven-foot male with the blond hair approached the leading archeologist, “Whose in charge here, old man?”
“I am,” Yvanavich replied, Rachel shot the professor a foreboding look.
“By decree of the UTC, all artifacts are to be confiscated, immediately. We will reassign your team elsewhere.”
“I don’t understand, this expedition is independent. I have grants from the IMC and the Nurii Imperial Council, you have no right to make demands upon us!”
“We will see, old man.” as the officer snapped his fingers, the troops cocked their weapons and trained them on the civilian scientists, “How much are your artifacts worth? How many lives are you willing to sacrifice?”
“Very well.”
“Professor, we shouldn’t do this?”
“I’m sorry, Rachel. We’ll have to pick up the pieces later.”
“Gather your things and take the transport to the nearest star port.” declared the Confederate officer.
“But what about my work? I’ve spent…” cried out one of the professor’s colleagues, as the official punched the man in the gut and he crumbled down into the sand.
The expedition team abandoned the site with their belongings, and watched as the troops pillaged the equipment and artifacts. Rachel saw the look of dismay and sorrow upon her friend’s face, “Why are they doing this?”, sorrowfully asked the professor as he buried his face in his hands and silently wept.
“I don’t know, but something’s going on,” Rachel insinuated.
Twilight came upon the horizon of the great dunes, Zachar in all of his experience as an archeologist had never been so oppressed. What would the UTC have to do with his expedition? Rachel shot concerned glances in his direction, as she gazed out of the porthole of the transport and back at him, she noted his disconcerted expression. She walked down the narrow aisle, to the passenger compartment. As the transport prepared to disembark, the engines ignited and powered up. The vessel vibrated as the ship ascended into the atmosphere, the professor gleaned with sorrow upon the excavation site and the encampment shrank into the distance, “What am I going to do now, Rachel? They’ve taken everything from me.”
“I wouldn’t say everything,” the slender, homely young woman indicated with an intent look in her emerald eyes as she removed a piece of cloth from her jacket pocket.
She unfolded the maroon shroud and there lay a glistening, golden object with three rubies intricately arranged and surrounded by several markings of an ancient dialect--probably a derivation of Noran or Artanai, “How were you able to get away with this undetected?”
“It’s a long story,” she continued, as she pulled a small piece of parchment with eight symbols inscribed in black ink, “Is this what you were looking for earlier?”
“Yes…how did you…you knew they were coming?”
“Yes, I did. This has been under my protection since this morning. I wish I could explain further, but for reasons I can’t get into, I believe it would be best if you were to go into hiding. If the UTC discovers who you are, you will be hunted down and I can’t allow that to happen,” Rachel insisted imperatively.
“What do you suggest?”
Rachel then pulled out a small, round, black device and placed it discretely in his palm, as a soldier walked past towards the cockpit, “I suggest you go to New Freedom, I have a friend who lives on the Freedom Trade Station. You can stay there for as long as you can.”
“Thank you, but you don’t need to do this for me.”
“Yes, I do.”
The oppressive commandant of the UTC looked through the containers of artifacts that were catalogued by the expedition, while a team of men winched up the stone circle with the ornate characters. In one of the tents, the officer rummaged through the documents and notes written by the professor in his notebooks. When a subordinate approached and rigidly saluted with his left hand, “Colonel, we’ve taken inventory of the artifacts and are preparing them for transport.”
“Very good, Captain. Is that all?”
“The admiral would also like an assessment of your progress in locating the object?”
“Relay to the Admiral that it will soon be found.”
“Yes, sir,” the Captain saluted once again and left.

Blain grabbed his belongings, packed his duffle bags; he drank the last pot of coffee and paused on threshold of his little shack in the middle of nowhere. He walked to the footlocker, opened it up and took out some things, at the bottom was a long sword, a katana. The scabbard of the weapon bore three strange markings, and when he pulled the curved sword from the wooden sheath, the unusual slightly transparent, violet metal glinted in the darkness. It too bore strange markings.
He pulled the sleeve back and peered at the strange tattoo, the markings did not seem identical to those on the blade. The enlisted soldiers stepped into the dark shack and awaited the commander’s orders. Blain saw the men out of corner of his eye and placed the stuff back in the chest and said, “You can take this, now.”
As the soldiers carried the long chest out to the shuttle and secured the boxes and the duffle bags in the hold, the engines of the vessel whined as power from the reactor was directed to the engines. Blain looked back at the old, run-down shack one last time, then stepped up the ramp of the transport, where he would begin anew. The life of a mercenary was finished and done; he was a re-instated officer of the UTC. He had no inkling of danger, the way in which was unusual for Blain; he had had bad feelings before, why not now?
The commander strapped himself in; several of the officers glanced back at him intermittently, made Blain feel a bit uncomfortable. He stared out at the horizon, as the ship departed and flew towards the north-north-west. The ship flew over the canyons and over a long trench that had at the end a structure, a dome perhaps. Meanwhile, one of the young enlisted soldiers casually approached Blain and asked, “Are you Blain Ross, sir?”
The kid must have only been nineteen, clean-shaven, dressed in standard desert fatigues. His eyes were a deep blue, bold and strong, Blain commented, “You forgot to salute.”
The young soldier flustered by Blain’s response, saluted as best he could. “I apologize, commander. If I may speak freely, sir?”
“Sure, son. What’s your name, private?”
“Private First Class Hummel, sir.”
“Yes, Private Hummel. You may.”
The soldier mustered as much courage as he could before he inquired, “Why did you leave the Navy, sir?”
Blain reluctantly answered, after an awkward silence, “I left…because I lost my family.”
“I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t realize.”
“You don’t need to be. You didn’t know.” Ross summoned his composure as best he could and mustered a word or two, “Do you have family?”
“I do. I lived in the Alcor Province.”
“Ah.” he retorted, as the private began to speak fondly of his family.

Chapter III

The Commander watched out of the large pane of transparent alloy and saw a shiny, glistening structure a few kilometers away. He then walked up from the cabin to the cockpit, where the two pilots focused on their descent, Blain could hear the com-chatter between the control tower and the transports. Both the pilot and the co-pilot wore small headsets wrapped around their ears, a small microphone extended to their cheek. On their heads the standard Confederate aviator helmet of dull gray with the Confed decals on the sides, while black visors with a HUD display on the small screen wrapped around their faces.
“What’s our heading?” asked Blain, as he paid close attention to the beacon blip on the monitor.
“We’re heading for the installation. We should be there soon, commander.”
“I thought I saw a structure due east of us.”
Blain paid close attention to the pilot’s blank expression, seeing if there was any hint of deception and the pilot answered, “It’s probably nothing.”
The Commander saw a large structure a few miles ahead, topped by what looked like a satellite array and some defense turrets. A few landing pads of blacktop surrounded the large installation and several more arrays were placed in two arc-like structures near the primary landing pad for the cruisers.
“Here we are, sir.” said the pilot. “I suggest you get back in your seat, it may be a little bumpy.”
Admiral Godfrey watched from the control tower, as Blain’s transport flew in. There was a great deal of com-chatter from the dreadnought, the patrols and the transports scouting out the rest of the planet. The pilot hailed the com-tower, “This is Lambda One, on approach vector Gamma Six. Requesting permission to land.”
Godfrey looked over at the traffic controller, jerked a nod. The traffic controller then responded, “Lambda One you are cleared to land on Pad Three.”
“When the commander’s ship lands, send him directly over to me. Understood?”
The officer nodded and answered, “Yes, Admiral.”
The Commander stepped down the ramp of the transport, his luggage in his hands, his weapons hung from his black leather belt, while the other soldiers carried the rest of the equipment and the rest of Blain’s luggage down the ramp of the transport. As Blain walked towards the installation, amazed at the sight of the long spire that towered towards the blood-stained sky above. Thunder rolled from the maroon and rose-colored sky as two squadrons of fighters flew overhead. A small hover-jeep glided over to the commander, the officer asked, “Are you Commander Ross?”
“I am, Captain.”
“Hop in. The Admiral’s been expecting you,” he said, as he slowly throttled the vehicle to speed.
As the vehicle headed for the complex installation of domes and oblong, contoured towers and Blain sensed something unnerving. Not about the captain, but he knew it was about the mission, his “assignment”; somehow it all seemed like a show. He couldn’t pinpoint what it was. The commander asked, “So, what exactly is this facility? It seems like you’ve built it pretty fast, considering how short a time you’ve been here.”
“This was once a relay outpost of the UTC, we just overhauled the equipment and defenses.”, the driver asked. “Commander, permission to speak freely?”
“Thank you, sir. May I ask why you were reactivated?”
“It’s classified, Captain.” retorted Blain, authoritatively.
“Yes, sir.” the soldier replied.
The vehicle arrived at the gate and proceeded on after the military police allowed them to pass. Once the vehicle arrived at its final destination, the captain said, “Here we are, sir. Your things will be taken to your quarters on base.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
Blain, dwarfed by the gigantic structure of the UTC was escorted by a couple of guards. The large vault doors opened, the interior of the facility exposing. Ahead of him stretched a long corridor, the fans on the ceiling turned continuously. Slowly, he walked down to the end of the long hallway. His mind clear, nothing distracted his attention from this place, when that terrible feeling swelled in his heart again, as if tugging him towards an end that he could not describe. It was as if a spell had been cast upon him.
Once the Commander reached the end of the corridor, the doors automatically opened into a foyer, many officers darted back and forth from behind the main security desk. An officer approached him inside the main foyer of the complex, there were guards posted at all entrances and hallways and elevators, “Welcome Commander. Your luggage has been stowed in your quarters, sir.”
“Thank you, Ensign.”
“I will be your escort. Do you have any requests?”
“I need all schematics on the current defense platforms Confed has on file. I want it brought to me, immediately.”
“Yes, sir. Is there anything else?”
“I need a large pot of coffee brought up to my quarters.”
“Commander, coffee was outlawed a few years ago,” the Ensign commented. “You mean, there’s no coffee at all?”
“Yes, sir.”
“And what man in his right mind would deem such a thing?”
The ensign was rather flustered at the moment, “I-I don’t know, commander.”
“Will you find out for me, Ensign?”
“Yes, Commander.”
“No.” Blain quickly replied, “There’s no need. I’ll manage.”
The Commander found his quarters without difficulty, the chest with the defaced emblem on the top had been placed in the bed room of the apartment. The rooms were painted a dull UTC regulation gray; the carpet under his feet a shade darker. The rooms were plain, purely for functional purposes, but they would suffice. The oblong windows that stretched the length of the room, the triple suns shone through the unusually red sky and cast upon the room an ominous glow. The Ensign stood at the threshold of the commander’s apartment, “Is there something wrong, Commander?”
“Is that all, sir?”
“Yes, thank you. You may go,” The Ensign saluted and quickly marched out of the room.
In a short time, the Commander was summoned to the gear-up room, where he was briefed by the specialist on the armored-environmental suits, he strapped on the armor and took a walk outside, he felt awkward in the bulky armor and stepped outside where a large transport had recently landed. The howl of the wind against his suit almost sounded like the cries in his nightmares and disconcerted him. There was the pilot and a couple of soldiers outside the ship, also suited in armor and the pilot approached, “You have been summoned to the Main Command Bunker, by the decree of the Admiral!”
“What for?” Blain asked.
“I can’t hear you! You’re going to have to speak up!”
“What for?!”
“He didn’t say, just get in!”
The dropship arrived at Headquarters, after circling the airfield. The ship made its descent and landed on the yellow cross of the landing pad. The ramp lowered and down stepped the Commander. Construction vehicles hovered about, welding steel beams and hull plating to these large buildings and retrieving more of the same. Blain saw that the main compound that was completed. Several Marines were placed around the building with assault rifles in their hands. Blain walked on up to them and they all saluted and each of them said, “Sir.”
“At ease,” Blain said.
“Commander…” replied the guard in a red-colored armor-suit. “Admiral Godfrey is waiting for you, inside, sir.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant.”
Commander Ross stepped inside the command center of the entire operation. Then walked up to the control room. Blain pressed a button on his armor-suit, and the helmet and visor retracted and he was able to breathe the air inside the facility. He set his rifle down near one of the bulkheads and walked over to the Admiral, “You wanted to see me, sir?”
“Hello, Commander. The admiral’s glad that you decided to help us.” indicated the Lieutenant who approached him as he entered Operations.
“I hope it’s worth it,” Blain remarked under his breath.
“What was that?”
“Nothing, sir,” Blain said, “Admiral, may I have a word?”
“Sure, Blain.”
“In private, sir.” The Admiral looked rather perplexed at this time. The commander’s eyes, midnight-blue eyes glistened in the white lighting of the Operations deck and with a cool tone, the Admiral resentfully granted Blain’s urgent request.
The Admiral took Blain into the adjacent chambers, which were to be Blain’s office for the time being. There was a single oval window that spanned a third of the room and melded with the bulkhead. There was a monitor, terminal and console, and a desk with some rectangular lights integrated into the desktop. A black, cone-shaped device that had numerous glowing diodes on the sides of green, reflected in the glossy surface of the desk.
“What did you want to talk to me about?”, The Admiral impatiently spat.
“Admiral, I’m not one to question orders… but, the truth is I don’t see why we have to tighten our defenses out in the middle of nowhere. What aren’t you telling me?” asked Blain with sincerity on his face.
“Commander,” Godfrey said, as he looked out the large porthole at the new buildings being erected. “I really shouldn’t be telling you this, but the Nurii have been wiping out our colonies on the border for the past three months. Nobody knows why.”
“And they’re headed this way?”
“It would appear so.”
“But the Nurii haven’t attacked us for hundreds of years, why now?”
“I can’t say.”
“How long before they attack?”
“At the most--a month. No one knows really?”
“Then we had better get started on those defenses and now.”

In the holo-map room on the second deck of the command facility, Blain, the Admiral and Lieutenant Commander Thomas Mallory fabricated a defense plan that would create a perimeter around the planet, but the plan would take time and resources. On the three-dimensional image of the planet were forty-two hi-lighted sites where possible defense clusters could be fortified.
“Meanwhile, as we set up the Defense Network. I suggest we start here--At the edge of the sandstorm, only a few miles from the Dunes of Kedarik.” suggested Blain. “The electromagnetic signatures from the storm should hide any power source for a defense cluster. Lieutenant, I want you to have those construction drones programmed with the necessary details. I want a planetary defense network up-and-running in eighteen days, understood?”
“Yes, Commander.”

Chapter IV

Keilen II: a dry, desolate wasteland of a world, consumed by sand storms, tornadoes, and the occasional raiders attacks. Blain spent his time in the labs on the base, consulted with the scientists and engineers on ideas for the defense platform. The designs ranged from large space cannons to orbital satellites, but none of them provided the avenue the admiral was looking for. Day in and day out, the commander reviewed the latest technology that would produce the defense platform Confed needed so badly.
The commander watched the storms as they passed on the horizon, a magnificent array of lightning shot across the maroon clouds and struck the surface in an instant. Blain watched attentively as the storms precipitated and intensified, he saw in the distance, several funnel clouds descend upon the earth. He sipped his coffee deep in meditation and all he came up with were a few sketches on paper.
He drafted them on the monitor and had transparent holographic facsimiles fabricated above the emitter. The images looked three-dimensional and almost real, but the designs were unsatisfactory, until he stumbled upon some of the intelligence on the Nurii. Their weapons specifications were the key and for several hours he put together the plans and the material needed to built the contraptions. He then flipped to a page displayed by the emitter. The design and configuration of this satellite weapon was definitely…alien, he glanced down at the corner marker displayed in gold. This marker identified the engineering company that drafted the design, but this ID marker was different from any UTC military or science corporation.
Compelled by the sight of this mysterious emblem, he pressed the icon. A sub-screen appeared with a string of text in some alien language, possibly encoded, with a red curser blinking beneath the text. Blain studied the text, but he could not recognize the symbols on the screen. A cold sensation came upon him like a turbulent blizzard on the icy moon of New Antarctica; brief images flashed upon his mind of terror and chaos.
A presence lingered and drew near to the commander, hovering about like a ghost. A strange apparition touched the spirit of Blain with a fiery dagger; he was bound by an insurmountable fear that not a word in the tongues of Man or any other creature could describe. His hand trembled for an instant, his heart affix on the terrible curse that was upon him. The Tremors of Darkness were close by, intimate and bloodthirsty, like ravenous jackals of the spirit realm. They craved the souls of Man: they fed on the fear of man since the Fall, thousands of years ago on the planet Earth.
The spirit melded with his flesh, his mind. The dark cloud of destruction permeated his very breath and the stench of death lingered about him like an odious plague. Blain observed through his own eyes the actions of this serpent-being, his hand waved over the console and six alien characters appeared. A page opened and scrolled down, the alien characters were translated in his mind, but the words did not make sense to him. It was written in a tongue that had an odd familiarity to him.
The specifications of the device appeared in a three-dimensional perspective on the holographic monitor. The power core of the device was indeed…alien. Modifications were made, as his hands flew over the buttons on the console, then over the next several hours he sketched with his hands the new design for the weapon-satellite with exact precision and uncanny skill. It was complete.
The commander woke up, disoriented; his memory lapsed, confused by what had transpired. He lifted his head from the crook of his elbow, glanced at the display unit on his desk which revealed what he had conceived over night, but he did not remember the ideas that formulated the design. Where did this come from? I don’t remember…, thought the Commander as he finalized the sketch and brought it before his superior in Godfrey’s office.
“You completed the specifications, commander. And right on schedule. I am surprised…You think that my engineering detail will be able to construct enough of these to protect the planet?” Godfrey remarked , surprised at the complexity of the blue prints of the weapon.
“If they’re working triple shifts,” answered Blain.
“Very well, Commander. Get started. Inform the engineering team.”
“Yes, sir.” the pilot remained by the captain’s chair, where the admiral sat. Godfrey grinned sinisterly at the main view screen of the planet below.
“Sir. May I have a word?”
“Not at the moment. You have work to do.”
“Then when you are available.”
“Fine. Leave me.” the admiral hastily retorted.
Commander Ross headed up a briefing for the engineering team, as he laid out the details of the project, the specifications, and the projected deadline in the conference room. The admiral stood in the background, arms folded authoritatively, watching the commander closely, with the security chief standing by him. The image of the weapon-satellite rotated on the holographic pedestal beside Ross and once Blain finished, he waited for the raised hands.
“What type of alloy will we be employing for this device?” asked the chief engineer of the Defense Department.
“A carbon-uterium alloy, it is more durable then the titanium-carbon alloy the Confederation has used in the past.”
“Commander, what is the purpose of these defenses?”
“What are we up against? We’re not blind, sir.”
The admiral interjected abruptly, “They don’t have clearance.”
“With all due respect, admiral. I disagree.” Blain stated, firmly. “I believe that this engineering detail is going to need to understand exactly what we’re up against.”
“And violate Confed regs?”
“Yes. I believe it will help them with develop new technology.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t.” excused the admiral. We have a brief window to get these defenses operational; I need you to do your job, no questions asked, understood?”
The engineering detail hesitated for a moment, the lead engineer restrained herself from stating her opinion, when Blain nodded his head in an attempt of dissuasion.
“Were you going to say something?” the admiral questioned the engineer.
“No, sir.”
“Then you’re dismissed.”
The team stood up and left the presence of Commander Ross and the other senior officers. The admiral glanced over at the colonel and was ordered, “Leave us.”
“Who do you think you are?!” the admiral lashed out, as the colonel made his departure and was free from the scolding remarks.
“Sir, may I be frank?”
“No you may certainly not! I am here to oversee your progress and to make sure that this planet is well defended.”
“I don’t buy it, sir. Keilen is under no jurisdiction of the Confederacy, this system lies in the Frontier. Confed has no right to annex systems that don’t belong to them. What exactly is so important on this planet to defend it from the Nurii?”
“I’m not at liberty to say.” the Admiral replied.
“Yet, the colonel is more aware of the actual details of this mission than I.”
“He is my chief-of-security. Confed regulations. Now, return to your duties. That’s an order, Commander?”
“We’ll continue this later.”
Deep in his heart, Blain’s deep sense--call it intuition, if you will--sensed something was afoot. He read the posture and peered deep into the eyes of his C. O.. There was a malicious intent behind the callous eyes of the admiral, but there was something more…a dark obsession. Images blurred in Blain’s mind, a jumble of indescribable markings on an oblong piece of gold with jewels of crimson.
Moments after Blain’s departure, Colonel Botch; the chief-of-security and Godfrey’s confidant, returned to the briefing room. Botch inquired, “Sir, should I talk to the Commander?”
“No. Do not interfere, Colonel. There’s something about him I find intriguing…”
The next several days all had been going well, teams worked around the clock on the construction and the deployment of the defense satellites. The satellite defense cannons were two-and-a-half meters long, the weapon resembled that of a mythical sea monster. It had four wings that were set perpendicular to each other around the fuselage of the primary cannon and four pincers that extended in front of the emitter. Housed within the wings were several sensor clusters that could detect the approach of ships from sixty light-years and in the fuselage was the cannon assembly, a primary and secondary generator and a duel-layer shield generator; which had its own backup power supply. The primary cannon emitter composed of four secondary crystals and the main crystal emitter. Blain was presently supervising the satellite, as it was carefully fitted to the belly of one of the fighters, “The satellite weapon is secure, Commander.”
“Ross to Admiral Godfrey.”
“Yes, Commander.”
“Defense satellite is prepped and ready. We are a go for launch.”
“Roger that, sir.”
The fighter jumped into orbit in a matter of seconds, cleared the atmosphere and started its run. The pilot looked down at the display console and confirmed, “I’ve reached the first marker. My speed is six-thousand-kilometers per hour. I’ll be at projected coordinates in five seconds.”
“Copy that. Deploy when ready.”
“Deploying satellite.”
“Proceed to the following coordinates.”
“Uh--Command, where is the Leviathan? I don’t detect the ship on my scanners.” indicated the pilot. “Shouldn’t it be here?”
“One moment.” replied the voice of Blain over the com-channel.
Underneath several metric tons of rock, deep inside the crust of the desolate planet of Keilen II and protected inside a bunker beneath the outpost. Admiral Godfrey and his crew watched the holographic monitors attentively. Blain watched as the ship entered orbit and prepared to deploy the next satellite.
Commander Ross was curious about these turn of events, his brow furled and he quickly glanced over his shoulder at the admiral, who was presently watching the trajectory monitor on the other side of Operations and glanced over at the Admiral, who had a miniature headset around his ear. Blain pressed the earpiece of his own headset and summoned Godfrey, “Sir, may I speak with you a moment?”
The admiral craned his neck back at Blain, as if the eyes of his subordinate piercing through his skull, he then pressed his earpiece and replied, “I’ll be over.”
A few minutes passed, then the admiral strolled over to the commander, Godfrey approached with anger behind his dark eyes, “What is it, Blain? We have work to do.”
“I thought you said that the Leviathan would remain in orbit until we established a stable defense perimeter around the planet.”, Ross began as he handed him the mission brief from that morning.
As the admiral stared down at the briefing on the computer display unit, he held in his blistered hand. Blain observed small blisters on Godfrey’s right hand, The Admiral was preoccupied with the brief and Godfrey simply said, “I amended my initial orders.”
“You know, you should get that taken care of,” Blain said as he pointed to the strange puss-filled blisters on the admiral’s hand.
“Mind your own business. I’m fine.”
The commander continued, “I suppose it’s off-the-record. Do you know that UTC protocol states--”
“Stop the rhetoric, Commander and return to your duties.”
“That’s an order, Commander.”
“Yes, sir,”
Hours progressed as the mission continued, Ross agree over the calculations of his last revision to the satellite deployment and said to himself, “This is taking too long.”
“Did you say something, commander?” asked one of the crewman.
“I was just thinking out loud, cadet.
The admiral strutted over to Blain and said, “We’re wasting too much time, Commander.”
“I know,” agreed Blain, as he stared at the holographic image of the planet, with the green blip a few inches from the equator of the planet facsimile.
“Then do something about it.”
Blain, pressured by the admiral, leapt into action and asked one of the scientists that assisted in the project, “How many more satellites do we have?”
“We still have eighty or so functional weapon-satellites to deploy. I suggest we use the dropship transports to place the rest in orbit.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Thanks for the idea, doc.”
“You’re…welcome, sir.”
“Recall Eagle One, immediately,” ordered the Commander.
The fighter deployed the next satellite, when several Nurii gliders appeared from nowhere. They resembled birds-of-prey and appeared to have several weapon mounts. The pilot cried out, “This is Eagle One. We’ve got company! I have bandits coming in hot! Three-hundred meters off my port-stern, heading one-six-zero-mark-seven! They’re opening fire!”
“What?!” asked the Admiral, as he grabbed a headset from one of the staff, “Eagle One, abort mission! I repeat! Abort!”
“I lost my starboard--!” cried the pilot over the com-channel.
The transmission was lost, the incessant noise of static echoed over the command center’s speakers for the crew to hear with no response from the Confed pilot. This vexed the admiral extremely. The Admiral shot an angry glance over at Blain, as if he blamed him for the attack and walked over to the tactical post, “Why didn’t we detect their approach?” the admiral demanded of the officer.
“I don’t know, sir. Perhaps, they have a cloaking device.”
“I don’t believe it.”
Blain quickly approached the admiral, “Sir, I’ve deployed the squadrons. We’re going to find those Nurii cats.”
“What about the weapon satellites?” asked the tactical officer.
“The satellites weren’t activated yet. They could be destroyed for all we know.”
“Then do something about it,” demanded the Godfrey as he leaned over the console and punched in some buttons on the terminal.

Nearly ten days had passed, Admiral Godfrey was in his ready room staring at the barren wasteland of the Keilen world as the large ship passed slowly around the desolate planet. The admiral stared at the monitor placed on his antique Art-Deco style desk, there was a wide, black cone-shaped device at a few inches in front of the flat, multi-colored keyboard, a bottle of whiskey and a shot glass hid behind the photograph of his family near the holo-emitter.
Piles of small, flat computing devices with displays of requisitions, rosters, and the latest directive from Command. Admiral Godfrey, listless, his eyes deep set, dark, cold and bloodshot, made his appearance sickly and haggard. The Admiral’s brow furled, jaw clenched tight. A voice stated over the com-channel, “…My ship is on the outskirts of the region. The device has thus far been unsuccessful in locating the artifact. We may be looking for it in the wrong area, it could take days, maybe months just to find the thing.”
“Don’t give me excuses. That’s not what I paid you for. Godfrey out.” The admiral then pounded his finger on the terminal and the transmission was terminated.
Glancing at the mission records of Blain Ross, the devilish admiral looked out through the large porthole to the reddish-brown sphere below. The door whooshed open and Commander Ross stood before him, girded in heavy armor with a thin computer tablet in his hand.
“Admiral, the Defense Network is at fifty-percent. There is no sign of further Nurii activity…”
“That’s what I expected and that’s good news for me,” Godfrey said, as he sipped his whiskey. “I just got word from Command. The Nurii Imperial Forces just destroyed Telaris Prime.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Admiral--but that’s not why I’m here.”
The admiral faced him with tears streaming down his face, Blain observed that he carried a burden. Commander Ross took notice that the admiral attempted to conceal his grief and Blain looked into the powerful, bloodshot eyes of his commanding officer. The admiral took another sip and mentioned, “Blain--My wife was on Telaris Prime when the Nurii struck! Entire cities were burned by a great fire that swept the planet. I’ve lost something that could never be….”
“Admiral, since we’ve been building the defense network, my men have detected a faint, but unusual signatures here on the planet. Do you have any idea what they might be?”
“No, Commander. I don’t,” remarked the admiral as he poured himself another glass of liquor, “Signatures??”
Blain handed the tablet to the admiral and he pressed a button on the corner. An image appeared of the analysis of these strange signatures and the commander resumed, “Yes, sir. We’ve detected the same signature emanating from the Northern Hemisphere, about two-thousand miles from the pole.”
“These anomalies could just be electromagnetic disturbances in the atmosphere,” explained the admiral.
“Admiral, there have been no signs of the Nurii since the attack last week. Don’t you think that’s rather…odd??”
“Why do you say that, commander?”
“Because, I thought the Nurii were well…more honorable. The fact that they came out of nowhere suggests otherwise.”
“It could be rogue Nurii, trying to subdue the Confederacy. Perhaps, they want to regain their honor. I don’t know.”
Blain mused on the admiral’s words, as he studied him closely, he noted the bottle of liquor on the desk and the numerous piles of reports that were about the desk top. The commander sensed the seething anger and rage in the pit of the Admiral, when a cold sensation surged down his spine and for a brief moment the commander relived his nightmares, as he sensed a dark presence linger within the admiral, “And what if it isn’t? Admiral, something’s been weighing heavily on my mind. What do you know of precognition?”
“Explain.” the admiral ordered, most intrigued.
Blain was reluctant to describe the terrible nightmares he’s had and after a few minutes, he decided not to reveal them and convinced himself, “Never mind, sir. They’re just dreams, they don’t mean anything. All I want you to do is to get the job done, so we can get out of here.”
“You’re dismissed, Commander.” dictated the admiral, as the admiral got up from behind his desk and walked over to the large porthole, with the glass of whiskey in his hand.
The commander lingered for a moment and noticed a small frame, face down on the desk top, and he picked it up and looked at the photograph and stood it back up on the desk. The admiral then glanced back and said, “You may go now, commander.”
Admiral Godfrey heard the door close, the commander said nothing more and returned to the bridge of the Behemoth and the commanding officer walked back to the desk and set down his drink. Once he sat down, he pulled out the left-hand drawer of the oak antique desk and pulled a pistol out and pointed the gun to his head. A loud crack sounded and the executive officer rushed in and found the admiral sitting at his desk, looking over the progress of the defense network and the officer asked, “Are you alright, sir?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“I thought I heard a gunshot.”
“You were mistaken, captain,” Godfrey replied, “You may go now.”
Over the next few days, tension between Blain and the Admiral rose. Ross knew that the Godfrey was keeping something back from him, a nugget of knowledge that could be worth countless lives or something. Reports of an alien race on the other side of the planet circulated among the marines stationed at the outposts on Keilen, but there was no evidence to support such rumors.
Then on the final day of the inauguration of the newly designed Planetary Defense Network activated at dusk, as a powerful sandstorm swept the hemisphere. Commander Ross was on the command deck, smoking a cigar when the reports came in, “Networks A-through-J are coming on-line.”
“…PRS, missile defenses, weapon-satellites are in perfect orbit and are standing-by…”
“Commander! I’m detecting numerous energy signatures approaching from the northeast. The profile doesn’t match anything on our records.”
“Prepare defenses.”
“Sir, I’m receiving a transmission from Outpost two-seven-four on audio.”
“On speakers,” ordered Ross, as he stood attentively.
“Commander, we are being bombarded. Unknown hostiles are coming from every direction--We can’t hold them back for much longer. Please respond!” the transmission was cut-off.
“Commander Ross, any suggestions?”
“Contact Admiral Godfrey, I want some air support immediately,” ordered Blain, as he looked at the communications officer.
After a few seconds, the officer replied, “I’m trying, sir. I’m checking sensors… The Leviathan is not in orbit.”
“Are you sure? Perhaps, the sand storm is disrupting instrumentation.”
“No, I don’t think so, sir.”
The tactical officer then said, “I’m getting a mass of signatures approaching from the west and fast.”
“How long before it reaches us?”
“Ten, fifteen minutes max.”
“Evacuate the command center!”
“Sir, we just lost Outpost two-seven-four. Outposts two-zero-nine and one-eight-three are under heavy attack. I’m receiving multiple transmissions from the outposts. Commander, what should we do?”
“Get everyone to the dropships; I want to leave this planet and now!”
Tom then implied, “But what about the admiral’s orders?”
“This place has all gone to hell, forget his orders. We lost the outpost.”
Suddenly, there was a power drain in the entire system. Personnel ran frantically to the dropships, screaming and crying out for dear life. Pulses of purple and green energy came from within the sandstorm and destroyed the dropships before the vessels rose into the opaque sky. Pulses of energy surged from within the raging sand tempest; debris showered to the ground like fire-rain from the heavens; luminescent bursts of lighting burst from the storm as it rapidly precipitated over the rugged terrain.
The personnel rushed to the transports from the dome-shaped outpost. The violent lightning hit the ground; the world quaked with each strike. As the crew evacuated, Commander Ross hurried his men to the dropships on the landing pads. Tom approached the commander, “We still have five of our people unaccounted for.”
Blain read his friend’s suppositions in his tone, “I’ll get them, climb on the transport.”
“Don’t sweat it, sir. I’ll get them and be back in time for supper.” insisted Mallory, “I’ll see you soon.”

Chapter V

A black, opaque form lingered above the base; billowing, churning, violent in nature, a violet luminescence shone upon the crimson terrain as lighting showered down from the heavens. Hurricane force winds howled, as the outpost was torn apart; one of the antenna rods snapped like twigs by the force of the such powerful gusts and stuck into the ground next to the feet of the commander. He looked down, his breath shortened for a moment in fear and realized that the rod was only centimeters from his foot and he cautiously stepped closer to the transport.
Blain anxiously waited until he saw Tom emerge from the outpost, minutes had passed, but he waited as long as he could for his friend. Time was running out and soon the outpost would be nothing but a pile of ruins. The hull of the outpost buckled under the immense stress from the storm, the hull plates peeled off, as the harsh sand rose up as a funnel cloud descended. The commander looked at the transport and saw that the broken shards of steel had punctured one of the tailfins,
“Tom!” he cried out, as he drew breath. “Tom! Tom! Commander!”
The howl of the storm was deafening and he raced into the transport, made his way up to the cockpit of the dropship and initiated the engines. The power core hummed as it came to life, the consoles and monitors lit up. The commander throttled the ship retro-boosters; the vessel lifted off the ground a few feet in the air and he yawed to the left as he used the control stick on the arm of the chair. The ship responded sluggishly, as Blain attempted to ascend above the storm.
While the outpost continued to be bombarded by lightning bolts, vigilantly and patiently he awaited the sight of his friend. He then tapped the com-link and pressed the headset to his ear, “Commander Mallory, respond.”
Static echoed over the frequency, but no answer from his friend, Blain tried again. Flaming and debris exploded, from the facility as the storm continued to rage, then an intense blast from the dark sky destroyed a portion of the building, flaming debris erupted and the facility began to collapse.
In the outpost, Tom climbed over fallen steel girders and scorched bulkheads. He heard banging on one of the doors, only meters in front of him. Mallory ducked, as the ceiling buckled under the stress. Muffled yells came from the other side of the door, but large pieces of the corridor created a blockade between the lieutenant and the door. Tom tapped his com-link and attempted to raise the trapped crew, “Dobson, Mac. Can anyone read me?”
“Yes, we can, sir. We were beginning to think you had forgotten about us.” replied MacBane.
“How are you? Who else is with you?” asked Tom.
“I’m as good as can be expected, sir. I’ve got Sadler, Dobson and Kerrigan with me. Sadler requires medical attention; he’s got internal injuries,” explained MacBane over the com-link.
“I’m going to get you out of here,” Tom said, as he attempted to lift the large piece of bulkhead. He struggled and exerted his entire body to lift the large shard of the half-melted bulkhead. Fires burst from the last volley of lightning that had struck the outpost; smoke and heat flooded the compartment where the trapped men and woman were trapped; they began to choke on the poisonous fumes and toxic smoke.
Tom spied a long, heavy piece of metal, amidst the debris, he shoved the piece of metal in between the door and pulled the bar towards him. He grunted as the door wedged open a crack; a dark mass of smoke billowed from the crack as the fingers of his colleagues pulled the door open wide enough to step through. The crew members heaved the door open further, MacBane waited for the others to bring Sadler over on a makeshift gurney. Sadler’s arm was wrapped with two metal bars around the forearm, she was fading in and out of consciousness, as they passed her through, MacBane held the other side of the gurney.
The others followed through as another powerful blast of energy from the storm struck the base, and more of the base collapsed. Mallory led the crew through the maze of fallen bulkheads and flaming debris that littered the corridors; sparks and explosions ruptured the hallways as they fled out of the disintegrating structure.
Commander Ross waited for them a little longer, the ship floated in mid-air, but it was getting too difficult to stabilize the vessel. Suddenly, lighting struck the hull of the transport disabling the emergency systems. Admiral Godfrey’s voice came over the headsets of the officers, “Commander Ross, this is the admiral. What is your situation? Why haven’t you returned?”
“I’m waiting for Lieutenant Commander Mallory and five crewman who were unaccounted for.”
“They’re lost, along with everything else on the wretched planet. Return to base. That’s an order, commander!”
“Sir, we can’t leave them behind.” the commander replied.
“We’ll come back for them later.”
Blain glanced over at the officer next to him and asked, “How much longer can we stay in this storm, do you think?”
“Our shields are holding at sixty per--”, A lighting bolt struck the starboard engine and the shields began to destabilize. The cockpit jolted, the co-pilot was thrown into the ceiling of the ship and smashed his face on the bulkhead behind him as he was launched from his seat. Blain was able to remain in his seat as he struggled to control the ship in the violent sand storm and with an insurmountable dread, he looked behind him and saw the mortally wounded officer lying prostrate on the floor of the cockpit. A puddle of red flowed from behind his head and back towards the cabin.
Ross unbuckled himself from the chair. The inertial dampeners were failing as the storm raged on; things around him were getting worse, “I don’t believe this is happening. Captain? God, no!”
Another bolt of energy hit the transport; and through the last of the shields. The tailfin completely sheared off from the blast and the force of the sand storm; the sand cut through the rivets and bolts that held the vessel together like a hot knife.
“I’ve lost the starboard engine completely,” Blain said to himself, as he climbed back into the cockpit chair. Then he summoned for help over the com-link to the cabin below. He had to leave, he had no choice in the matter--the dropship was falling apart under the stress of the sand storm. He lifted the crippled vessel above the flaming outpost and veered away before the storm inflicted more damage.
Meanwhile, Mallory and the last of the crewmen trekked down the corridors of the base. The heroic officer navigated the wounded through the distorted labyrinth of the base, Tom listened closely to the echoes of the twisted bulkheads. Next to the flickering monitor, Tom saw an arrow. As he attempted to access the mainframe, Kerrigan found a flickering red button on the pad and attempted to gain access to the computer core. A schematic of the facility appeared on the monitor and MacBane asked, “Where are we?”
“Level twenty-three, Section C,” Tom answered, as he pointed with his index finger to the exact position on the flickering screen.
“Tom, isn’t there a hangar on this deck? There should still be transport.”
“And if there isn’t a transport?” interjected, Kerrigan, “We have no where else to go and Sadler’s condition’s getting worse.”
Sadler coughed, a trickle of blood ran down the corner of her lip, her eyes steadily grew more bloodshot. As it became more difficult for her to breathe, “Tom?” she called in a soft voice.
“Yes,” Mallory replied as he walked over and leaned down beside her, “What is it?”
“Leave me here. I’m just…slowing you down.”
“Don’t say that, Laurel. You’re coming with us and soon we’ll be back on board the ship. You’ll be alright,” Tom encouraged her as tears streamed down his dirty face.
“No…leave me,” she struggled for air as her breathing became more arduous, “I don’t have much longer…when you see my son, tell him how proud I am of him.”
MacBane grew impatient, fear plagued his mind, as the echoes of the ruptured beams thundered through the hallways of the Confed outpost, “Commander, we have to go, now!”
“Laurel, you can tell him yourself when you see him.”
Her cold hand brushed against his face as she closed her eyes and fell into an unconscious state.
“Let’s get to the transport,” Tom ordered.
The crew doubled-timed the pace to the hangar and fortunately, there was one ship left: the Sadonia. A ramp extended outward and telescoped down onto the floor of the hangar deck; the crew rapidly stepped on board the craft. Sadler, was quickly strapped into the medical stasis unit aboard the vessel. MacBane watched her closely, as the commander initiated the launch systems. The vessels power core lit up with a warm blue luminescence and the ship lifted off the hangar deck slowly.
Kerrigan pined Mallory to the cockpit and sat in the co-pilot’s seat, “What’s taking so long, commander?” asked the lieutenant.
“The hangar bay doors won’t open. You think you can help, Kerrigan?”
The large room quaked violently, as the ship hovered in the midst of the flaming debris, the lightning bolts continued to strike the facility. A large steel cross-brace collapsed on top of the transport and came short of damaging the ship, but the luminescent barrier repelled the piece of debris away. Dobson stayed with Sadler as he nursed the her. A white wide-beamed pulse of energy waved over the injured woman and retracted back into the device in the bulkhead above Sadler, the monitor beside the stasis chamber displayed the current medical status of the wounded officer.
Tom looked out through the windows of the cockpit, he watched as the bulkheads twisted and contorted under the weight of he facility with each passing moment, several conduits ruptured in the hangar. Kerrigan grew pale with fear, as his eyes widened with a fearful anticipation and he quickly suggested, “We should blast our way out.”
“That’s a good idea, the entire outpost might collapse on us,” remarked Tom, “But I’ll give it a shot…Stand-by.”
Tom pressed a couple of buttons on the console. The computer responded with a chirp, the red firing button lit up. “Torpedoes are armed and ready, sir.” said Kerrigan.
Amber orbs of energy emerged from the ship’s forward banks and hurtled towards the large, dark gray hangar doors and within moments, the doors were blown apart. A small energy shockwave from the explosion and shards of molten debris ricocheted off the shields. The blast made a hole large enough for the craft to exit through. Showers of sparks and flame rained down from above and the structure began to buckle, the Sadonia fled the imminent destruction through the portal and sped off into the midst of the tempest.
Commander Ross was in the cockpit of the transport, the tumultuous ride made the ship’s hull reverberate. Harsh winds blew against the nose of the vessel at it continued to ascend into the atmosphere; lightning zapped the olive-green, gray transport. One of the enlisted entered the cockpit, “I don’t think this ship can take another hit.”
“We’re almost through this. Hold on,” replied Blain, as he rerouted power from the emergency systems to the engines. “Open a channel to the Leviathan. Inform them of our situation.”
The soldier jumped into the chair adjacent the commander, immediately, he punched in the frequency and spoke into his small headset that wrapped around his left ear.
Admiral Godfrey just sat in his chair on the bridge, the commutations officer stated, after a few chirps echoed from the console, “Admiral, we’re being hailed from the surface.”
“Who else could be down there?” inquired Colonel Botch.
“Lieutenant, can you identify?”
“It’s the Apollo,” retorted the officer.
The admiral jerked a nod of confirmation to the officer and immediately garbled sounds echoed over the speakers, followed by a moment of intermittent static, “This is---mand--r---Ross----you---r---d.”
“Repeat,” declared the admiral.
“This is Commander Ross, we’re on board the Apollo. I request permission to land.”
“What’s your status, Commander?”
“We have wounded on board. Have you heard from Mallory?” Blain asked over the com-channel.
“Negative,” alleged the admiral.
“It’s possible, he’s still down there. We must go back.”
“Admiral,” supposed the colonel, “Sensors have just detected the Apollo leaving the atmosphere. The ship suffered damage to the aft quarter. If Commander Ross decides to go back, he will not return.”
“Commander,” the admiral dissuaded, “that is not advisable. Return to the Leviathan, immediately.”
There was a moment of hesitation over the com-link, as the admiral awaited Blain’s response to the orders, “Understood, sir. Ross out.”

Tom accelerated the ship moments before the facility wavered and toppled over into the chasm, the pilot as he continued to pull the ship upwards, as an intense, blinding white light burst from the canyon wall. A massive, dark mushroom cloud ascended into the sky, thunder clashed in the distance as lighting darted across the hull of transport. A blast wave expanded across the desert surface and impacted the ship, then a ghost-like silence consumed the air for a moment all seemed well. Tom Mallory glanced over at the radar display for a moment, there was no sign of danger on the monitors and Kerrigan sighed in relief, “We’re out of this mess, at last.”
Dobson walked up to the cockpit and inquired, “Have you been able to raise the Leviathan?”
“No. I believe the storm is interfering with our transmission. How is Sadler?” Tom solicited.
“She needs medical attention, badly.” Dobson replied. “I’m making her as comfortable as possible, Mallory.”
“Then let’s not waste another minute, take care of Sadler as best you can,” Tom encouraged, then he focused his attention on the dark clouds in front of him while white shards of ice started to impact the ship’s shields. MacBane returned to the aft compartment of the medical compartment and stayed with Sadler.
Tom looked at the displays on the dash. The lightning interfered with the electronics on the dash, making it difficult to acquire a bearing. The vessel continued to ascend into the clouds, but the turbulence was forcing the ship beneath the opaque cloud cover.
“Where are we, sir?” asked Kerrigan, looking over at Mallory, who attempted to keep the ship in the air.
“I’d say over a vast desert by the looks of it,” Tom wittily supposed.
Kerrigan braced himself in the co-pilot’s chair and looked at the sensor display, a massive wave was hurtling towards the vessel, “Er--Commander?”
“We’ve got another problem, I’m detecting an energy wave of some sort coming towards us and fast.” Kerrigan braced the arms of the chair, holding his breath and eyes shut tight in apprehension.
“Oh, no,” Tom replied, “All hands, brace for--”
The wave of luminescent energy was beyond description, violent lightning flashed within the wave and continuously surged across the wastelands in a great flood of particles. Eventually, the luminescent wave impacted the Sadonia, the shields offered little protection as the intense bright bolts of lightning scored the hull with voracity.
Tom attempted to regain control of the ship, but in an instant, all power had been disabled. The consoles shut off and everything went dark, the vessel fell to the ground like a stone and there was nothing to be done, except pray. Tom closed his eyes, as the transport continued to spin out of the control. Jostled by the shockwave his mind washed over his life and he believed that this was to be the end of his days. The entire crew of the transport felt the thunderous impact as the ship smashed into the ground. Mallory had slipped into complete darkness.

Chapter VI

The hour hand on the antique grandfather clock in the admiral’s office chimed slowly at precisely six o’clock, on board the massive vessel. Godfrey sat behind his desk, watching the monitor with his hands folded in front of his mouth as he saw the last of the Confederate dropships returned to the Leviathan. The admiral’s cold heart swelled and grew and with each passing moment; time was being wasted. The large storm had consumed nearly a quarter of the planet. Pulses of lightning could be seen in the atmosphere of Keilen II, as the dreadnought emerged from the dark side. Subliminal tones of anxiety from the admiral’s confidant echoed over the com-link, “Admiral, I’m detecting several faint echoes on sensors.”
“They are Nurii, admiral,” specified Colonel Botch.
“Can we jump into hyperspace?”
“Yes, but we still need an S-A-R to pick up the remaining survivors.”
A brilliant vortex of violet-green energy appeared two kilometers from the dreadnought in orbit over the desolate, copper-red planet. Three Nurii destroyers darted out of the flux of translucent particles and took stations around the Levaithan. These alien vessels resembled mythical creatures, with its wings curled forward as if preparing for flight. Godfrey stepped onto the bridge from his office and gazed at the large monitor and without a moments hesitation, the admiral ordered, “Cease all rescue operations!”
“Sir, we’re being hailed,” the communications officer identified.
“On screen.”
An image of a great beast appeared on the large monitor, it’s appearance was unique--a lion would best describe it. It’s yellow eyes glowed with a sharp luminescence, black-nosed and it had a long, sand-colored mane that had been braided in the front. The Nurii exposed his long fangs and growled, “I am Thae’taas Fellindar of the Nurii Imperial Guard. You are in possession of Nurii technology and artifacts, Admiral. Stand down and I will spare your lives.”

Commander Ross arrived on the bridge, his uniform scorched, tattered and black soot spotted his face. Blain had to speak to the admiral, he felt that he needed to take action and go back for Tom and the others. Captain Berman looked at Blain with profound shock and he walked up to the commander and asked, “What happened?”
“What’s going on?” Blain asked, imperatively.
“How generous of you? You must realize you are no match for this ship. I’ve made some personal modifications that might surprise even the ancient Nurii,” gloated the admiral with a slight tone of animosity.
“Surrender or be destroyed,” affirmed the Nurii commander’s growling voice; the humanoid-lion echoed over the speakers of the bridge.
Blain stood and watched, as the admiral declared, “Charge the weapon.”
The colonel tapped his gnarled fingers on the console, the indicator on the weapons display chimed. Once the weapon was fully charged, the emitter device was integrated to the belly of the vessel. Where the hyperspace emitters had originally been located, now replaced by a green-crystal. The energy within transparent device intensified rapidly.
The Nurii destroyers fired their weapons; but they had little effect on the shields of the dreadnought. The energy from the Nurii weapons seemed to have been absorbed into the colossal vessel and redirected through a green emitter on the bow of the vessel from which a green beam streamed and made short work of the lead Nurii vessel.
The other Nurii ships retaliated in defense, but even with their combined firepower the Leviathan withstood the barrage. In his hands the Admiral had power the likes of which men had not possessed before and he was taken by an insatiable lust to wield this awesome power. The silver-haired admiral looked back at the colonel. Appalled, Blain stood there, he desired to stop this from happening, but word escaped him as a strong sense of oppression smothered his consciousness and prevented him from taking action. He listened carefully, as the admiral gave the order and he obeyed without question. The admiral’s eyes flared with pleasure.
The green-luminescent oblong device integrated into the large dreadnought was flooded with energy and in a dazzling surge of particles, the wave from the Leviathan had wiped out all the Nurii vessels in an instant; nothing was left to show that the Imperial Fleet of the Nurii were ever in orbit around the waste-planet of Keilen II.
“God help those who stand in my path.” a darkness enveloped the countenance of the admiral as he spoke those piercing words. He spoke as if bewitched and glanced sharply at the commander. Stupefied by the magnitude of the damage he saw on the screen.
“My God, what just happened?” inquired Blain with a blank expression. “What was that?”
“I call it the ‘Hand of God,’” Admiral Godfrey pronounced with little emotion and with a grin of utter glee upon his decaying face, “A marvel…isn’t it?”
“Admiral, we still need to pick up the last of the remaining survivors on the planet surface,” Blain reminded the admiral.
“I’m sorry, Commander. I ceased all rescue operations,” replied the Admiral.
“But what of Mallory and the others on the Sadonia? We can’t just leave them behind,” Commander Ross fervently uttered.
“There’s no time. We must leave,” said the colonel. “No doubt the Nurii will track us down.”
“To the very ends of the universe…” murmured Godfrey, as he gazed upon the stars; his thoughts pondered on the power he now wielded against his enemies.
“This is madness!” cued Blain. “Admiral!!”
Godfrey paid no heed to the words of the commander.
“Captain,” Blain walked over to Berman, who stared back at the Commander, but said nothing, Blain then looked over to the Colonel for some moral support, but he was given none. “This isn’t right.”
The admiral stood to his feet, his pristine uniform of green with his rank glistening in the light, turned to face Blain and said, “I will tell you what isn’t right. Those who judge us with prideful eyes and with closed minds, who point their fingers at us for living ‘ungodly’ lifestyles and who stand in our way will be wiped off the face of the earth. I am paving a path for a glorious empire. Pleasure at our fingertips. The ability to have complete control over our destinies. There is much reward in this. You’ll see, Commander,” the Admiral declared with his arms uplifted, like a king. “And the power is mine.”
“Do you not know what you are doing, Admiral?” passionately Blain asked, as he approached his commanding officer, “You would risk the lives of billions just so you can play god?”
“We are all gods. I am evolving into perfection. I am growing more powerful as we speak. You, too, can have the same powers of a god, if you join me. Let us be allies and fight against those who oppress us. Join me!” declared the Admiral, “Join me.”
The Commander struggled deep within his spirit, the temptations of such power flooded his mind. The things he would do, the things he could do. Yet, there was something deeper, tugging at his heart, at his very soul, but he didn’t want to understand it. He craved power; he wanted absolute control over his life, he would be able to fulfill his every whim. He would be able to bring back his deceased family, his wife and daughter with concentration and comprehension of such magic.
“I will join you,” Blain agreed to the subtle influences of the admirals sorcery.
“Swear it,” commanded the Admiral, whose eyes flared like supernovae.
“I swear.”
The Admiral left from the Captain’s chair and approached Blain, who at the moment stood with his eyes fixed on nothing, almost catatonic, “You’ve made the right decision. Colonel, are the satellites operational?”
“Yes, Admiral,” replied the colonel, “Controls are routed to your console, sir.”
“Very well.”
Returning to his chair, Godfrey placed his palm on the orb scanner on the left arm of his chair. The orb glowed bright green and a compartment on the right arm of his chair retracted. Several blinking lights and diodes with icons appeared, Charles punched in his code. The green orb turned to a crimson red, the holographic screen in front of the admiral accessed the controls of all the orbiting weapon-satellites. A three-dimensional representation of the planet appeared on the screen, the objects moved into position, poised to strike, “And by my hand, the wicked shall suffer…”
The admiral’s hand waved over the crimson orb, and the weapon-satellites powered up. Watching in silent terror, Captain Berman saw the small orbs of silver-white light move above the Keilen world. A barrage of energy impacted the surface, dark clouds climbed in the crimson atmosphere. Hundreds of white disks scrolled out, like ripples on a pond and in an instant thousands were slain.
“Sir, what of the inhabitants?” asked the Captain.
“They are of no concern to us. They’ll be dead in a few days. Helm, plot a course to the Copperhead Nebula,” ordered the Admiral.
“Yes, sir,” responded the helmsman.

Dark mushroom clouds rose high into the atmosphere; the air turned from a cool crisp, winter breeze to a hurricane force gale. The Eastern Hemisphere of Keilen II was encompassed by luminescent shockwaves of dust and radioactive particles. In the blast wave the distant lights of the small cities disappeared, all evidence of life erased in an instant. The citizens ran from the inhabited cites to avoid their inescapable fate, from the inhabited cities. As the shockwaves swept over them, the buildings, skyscrapers and domes were wiped out by the blast waves, as if by a great storm. This was the unfortunate demise of the Keilen people.
Surrounding the ship, was the magnificent and powerful sandstorm with orange flashes of lighting streaking across the midst of the storm. The force of the winds scraped against the hull plating of the dropship creating an eerie and disconcerting hum. Tom woke up, dizzy and disoriented and turned to look for the fire extinguisher. Small fires broke out from the impact, dark gray smoke rose to the ceiling and Tom stumbled towards the red, twelve inch cylinder on the bulkhead. After extinguishing the flames, the hatch opened into the next compartment--it was MacBane. Blood from the lacerations on his brow had dried in crooked trails across his face. Tom’s uniform tattered and he said, “I’m glad you’re awake, Tom. You look like you’re in pretty bad shape--your head,” MacBane pointed with concern.
“How’s everyone else?” Tom asked and his head throbbed from the impact, as he tore off a piece of cloth from his sleeve and wiped off the crusted blood.
“We’re all pretty shaken up and thrown about, but Sadler’s conditioned worsened since the crash. Where are we anyway?”
“Can’t say. Probably in the Dunes of Kedarik, more than likely,” Tom answered, as a wave of vertigo overcame him, “That’s not good.”
“Great! Just what we need,” mentioned MacBane.
“What’s the damage report?” asked Tom, as he continued to dab the wound on his head.
“Well--engines are down, main power is off-line, and communications are fried,” explained MacBane.
“What about the emergency beacon?”
“Smashed. The only thing it’s good for now is scrap metal.”
“Pah!” cursed Tom with the Aussie accent and slammed his hand on the bulkhead, “How’s Sadler?”
“Not well, her condition is deteriorating and the stasis pod was damaged from the crash,” Dobson pessimistically indicated.
“Do you think the admiral will wait for us?” asked Kerrigan.
“I wish I knew.”
Then the ship began to vibrate, then subtly the earth started to shake and MacBane tightly wrapped his hands around a contorted handle inside the compartment and with apprehension, he inquired, “What’s going on?”
“What? I don’t feel anything,” Kerrigan said with a blank expression on his face.
Tom pressed his hand to the bulkhead next to him, feeling the slight vibrations and the acoustic hum of the metal. The vibrations gradually intensified and the magnitude and frequency of the hum changed to a higher pitch. Tom attempted to open the hatch, but it was jammed. “Kerrigan, MacBane give me a hand.”
The two officers followed Mallory’s command and together they tried to nudge the door open with their combined strength, but the hatch did not open, “You’ve got to kidding me. We’re trapped in here.” remarked Tom.
“What are we going to do now?”
“Quiet! I’m thinking,” barked Mallory, “There’s a cargo hatch at the back of the ship. Dobson, stay with Sadler. Keep me posted on her condition.”
Dobson, forlorn and afraid, said nothing and the commander inquired quietly, “Nathan, what is it?”
“Sir, she doesn’t have long. I don’t think she will even last an hour.”
“Do your best, that’s all I’m looking for.”
“Yes, sir,” Dobson confidently complied.
“The rest of you come with me.”
The three crewmen rummaged through the debris, to the backend of the Sadonia. The smell of deuterium, singed circuitry, and metal permeated the air. The bulkheads were bent out of shape, monitors flickered with corrupt information. Small fires broke out across the board. Tom and the others grabbed the extinguishers and dowsed the flames. The crew, particularly Kerrigan was unsettled by these horrifying sounds against the hull, “I hate this! Why did we have to crash here of all places?,” cursed MacBane.
“Something bothering you?” asked Tom.
“Those sounds are driving me nuts. We should have been stationed on a tropical planet. Commander, why did Confed order us to this planet anyhow?” asked MacBane. “I mean, I understand that the UTC always has to have their thumb in something. Keilen is “unofficially” within the borders of the IMC, we have no business being here anymore than we do if we were in Directorate controlled space.”
“Didn’t you get the memo, MacBane?,” jested Kerrigan, “This is, after all, an “unofficial” operation.”
“Oh, I get it. Ha-ha. Very funny,” MacBane sarcastically laughed.
“Quiet, you two!,” interrupted Tom, as he glared at the bickering crewmen, “Do you feel that? There it is again.”
“Here’s the hatch. Let’s hope this works,” the commander opened the manual release of the cargo hatch. The door slammed open onto the sand and the intense wind blew the crew right off their feet. A dark mass of clouds rolled over the crimson sands, thunder clashed overhead, lighting streaked in the black sky. Tom looked over the dunes and glimpsed a massive column of cloud and dust, traversing the terrain for the derelict craft. Strange lights flashed from within the funnel, Tom and the others picked themselves up off the floor of the ship, “What was that?!,” remarked Kerrigan, as he felt the strong, cold gusts and the harsh sand upon his face.
“Commander, what is that…thing?” asked MacBane. “It looks like it’s heading right for us.”
“And fast…,” Tom frightfully added, as he rushed back into the cargo hold.
The earth beneath them began to rumble and quake, the air was hot, dry and the unusual sound grew louder, as the extraordinary twister maintained its course for the ship. Mallory knew, that his death was near. “Perhaps we should have left the hatch closed.” retorted MacBane.
“You know what, I think you’re right,” conquered Kerrigan, quickly followed behind MacBane.
The winds intensified so much that the ship shimmied and jolted within moments. The ship was swallowed up by the tornado. Mallory watched closely, as the force of nature neared the derelict. Kerrigan’s brown eyes widened with frightful anticipation, he could hear the bolts of the door bend and buckle as the hurricane force downdrafts ripped the cargo door off.
Tom tightly gripped to one of the handlebars attached to the bulkhead in the cargo hold, MacBane did the same. The mile long tornado was only a few hundred feet away, Kerrigan struggled to grasp hold of something, the gusts pulled him further away from his colleagues. Lightning flashed and struck the damaged craft. Mallory and MacBane held on, but Kerrigan lost his footing and was swept up the violent funnel cloud. The vessel was torn into shreds and the intense bursts of energy from within the twister. The strange hum became the sound of a barreling freight train and both crew and ship were taken. Nothing remained…

The Leviathan lingered no longer and broke orbit from Keilen II. As Blain looked down upon the planet from his quarters, vague shadows of vessels darted across the face of the scorched world. The world below now consumed by a dark cloud that spread across the entire Southern hemisphere. The ball of rock soon shrank into the distance as the Leviathan entered hyperspace.
Captain Berman arrived at the doorstep to the Commander’s quarters. The gray door with a white Confederate emblem in the center and an alpha-numeric designation below the emblem. The door retracted into the thin gap inside the bulkhead. Paul stepped inside and surveyed the large living room of the Commander’s quarters.
On the wall above the faux fireplace mantle were two long cylindrical fixtures, vertically set five feet apart. The Commander’s uniform jacket was draped over the arm of the sofa. When Blain entered from the adjacent room, he was surprised to find Berman and remarked, “I’m sorry, I was expecting someone else.” he said. “Can I offer you something?”
“No, thank you.”
“So, Captain. What brings you here?”
“You know why I am here, Commander.”
“About what happened earlier today--of course, how could I forget?” remarked the Commander.
“Be warned, Commander.” objected, the captain. “The admiral seems to have great power. Are you sure that he’s the man you served under ten years ago?”
“He’s a good man. I’ve never seen such conviction and I believe that he’s the only man that can bring us into a new era of peace.”
“Commander, listen to yourself!,” Paul insisted, “You have been brainwashed by your superior.”
“I object to that statement!” contested Blain angrily, “You don’t know him like I do.”
“Commander Ross. Admiral Godfrey just destroyed an entire Nurii fleet of destroyers and massacred your homeworld. Tom and the others are dead.”
“Who?!,” Blain said, confused.
“Commander Mallory, your friend.”
“I never had a friend by the name of Tom Mallory. I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
“Ross, snap out of it. Listen to me.”
“Leave me, immediately!,” Blain said in a rage.
“Blain, hear me out. You are not yourself. Fight it!”
The Commander rushed the Captain, Paul stepped aside and karate-chopped Blain in the back of neck, he immediately fell, face on the carpet, out cold.
“I apologize, commander, but you gave me no choice.,” Paul stepped over the body, then picked Blain up and placed him on the couch. Bending to whisper something in his ear, Berman then exited the Commander’s quarters.