|Is courage enough to overcome an insane world ruled without conscious? Derek Fagan suffers the misery, the horror and
pain of living as a non-classed citizen of Home World until he’s indentured to serve as a warrior of the Tellurian Entente,
tyrannical rulers of Earthcom. His choice? Exercise their oppressive authority at the cost of his own morality, or return to
the nothingness existence as a Null in the ghetto zone. Two wars, a conflict to quench colonial rebellion, and a tour to
subjugate his own kind, accumulate more darkness than he can endure. Derek commits a despair act to end his turmoil and
loses everything, until providence steps in and offers a different path on a hellish planet outside the control of his masters.
Copyright 2010 by Michael W. Davis
|How far can one bend morality to survive?
He pulled the escort fighter above the shuttle craft. “Stubs, check your scanner. I’m not picking up any distress signal or human IR profiles.”
His wingman did as ordered. “Nothing on mine either. Damn, this place is barren.”
He studied the desolate icy landscape. “Big time. The Changling miner colony had all supplies shipped in before the break through shut down operations.”
“Hard to believe Earthcom would authorize such an expensive expedition.”
From inside his canopy, he pointed at the outcrops peppering the side of the mountain. “Those neon colored straits are almost pure chromolene crystals.
The lining in the ignition cavity of our plasma cannons probably came from this very region, before the miners broke into the Nigola egg chamber.”
“Wait a minute. We could be picking up interference from the lattice matrix in those ridges.” She jockeyed between the heart-shaped pass which
immediately opened into an expansive valley. “The bastards are everywhere.”
Derek’s screen exploded with more dots than he could count. He selected one target and zoomed the imagery dial. “They’re massive.” The eight foot tall
Nigola beast stood erect while an umbrella like infrared organ at the center of its head fanned outward, sampling the surroundings for any heat signature
that’d signal a meal.
“Hard to believe that thing ever fit inside an egg.”
“Depends on the size of the egg. Damn they’re ugly. Look at those tentacles.” A set of four tubular limbs with serrated scissor claws at each tip whipped
in and out of their pearl colored body. The buzz saw concentric circles that formed the mouth of the key predator species on the ice planet snapped and
pulsed at the frigid wind blowing through the ravine. “The miners and their families didn’t stand a chance against those monsters. Look how many there
“Hold on… I got ‘em.”
“The seeker beacon?”
“Yeah.” Two seconds later, Falco announced, “There, at the entrance to the small cave. See the flasher.”
He centered his scope at the opening. Several turns on the focus knob and he identified the female outline of the search and seeker soldier that had called
for help. “Crap.” Four dozen sets of heat detection organs vectored toward the cavern. “The Nigolas have picked up the thermal emissions of the woman’s
“This mission is impossible. We need more fighter support.”
“No choice. If we don’t do something right now they’re doomed. Stubs, land on that ledge while I try and shift their attention. Begin the evacuation and I’
ll fly cover.”
“Roger.” The forty passenger shuttle banked right and descended toward the hiding place of the survivors.
He opened the ports to his plasma cannons and fired all barrels into the herd. “Shit. Weapon’s too big. Like swatting sweat gnats with a brick.” A hand full
of beasts redirected to the fireball created by the blast, but the wind in the valley distributed the heat too quickly and the horde returned to their original
target, the tasty humans concealed in the cave.
“That’s it.” They needed a new food source. Derek transitioned to hover mode and tried to pick off a hand full of eight-foot white fur balls. “Double
crap.” The cannons simply blew the creatures into the air, with the exception of two toasted piles of brown ooze. Immediately the adjacent monsters leapt
onto the carnage.
“Not enough.” The main body of predators continued toward the nest of warm blooded earthlings. “Stubs?”
The intercom in his helmet replied, “Yes.”
“How many miners survived?”
“Not one? Then why did the seeker platoon leave a squad behind?”
Marla’s voice grew shallow. “They’re pups, Dee. Only the Changling children survived. Must have hidden them up here to cover their thermal image.”
“Rest didn’t make it.”
“How long before you can launch?”
“Not sure.” She stuttered. “Many are unconscious from hyperthermia. Some may be dead. Most of the little pups are running around freaking out with
Derek recognized the reference used in the Ghetto for toddlers and returned to counting the giant white lumps climbing up the mountain side. “Damn it,
Falco. How long?”
“Shit. Not enough time. Marla, instruct the seeker squad to position half their unit along the rim with blaster rifles and repel the Nigola homing on your
“There is no squad, Dee. Only one survived.”
Derek shook his head. “Got to be a way.” He raced through a few options and none were without risk. “Screw it. Falco, move your shuttle far as possible
to the right.”
“Just do it!” Derek lowered his landing skids, then slowly jockeyed onto the ledge. He popped the canopy, jumped to the ground and removed his weapon
from the storage bay, just in time to smack the first white blob right in the chest. Marla aligned to his left with her pistol. “No, load the kids. I’ll deal with
“Just save the pups, Marla. Now move it.”
She stalled for an instant then stroked his arm. “Right.”
Derek returned his attention to three more sets of tentacles snapping in his direction. “Son of a bitch!” He dropped, rolled left, and released a barrage of
charged particles at half a dozen Nigola inching onto the small platform.
“Come on, girls. Getting a little crowded out here.” Derek leaned over the rim and noted row after row of hungry predators ascending twenty yards down.
“We’re done. Let’s go.”
He turned to Marla clutching a squalling infant in one arm.
Derek nodded at the three small bodies pressed against the wall of the cave. “What about them?”
She wiped the tears below her own eyes with the free hand. “They’re dead. The little pups froze to death.”
Another creature hopped onto the platform and mounted the shuttle full of wailing children. He dispatched the monster trying to rip through the craft’s
roof and screamed, “Get ‘em out of here.”
“I’m not leaving you.” Marla insisted. “Let me get the other rifle.”
“No, Stubs. Take off now. I’m right behind you.”
She hesitated before backing inside the ship, firing the hover thrusters and launching in the direction of the orbiting battle cruiser.
Derek raced along the rim of the ridge firing downward at the onslaught of Nigola edging toward his position, but before he took the first step into his
cockpit, a massive blob of fur slammed him into the side of the cave entrance and slashed at his uniform landing one of its spiked extremities through the
side of his neck. “Ahhhh!” He stuck the blast pistol into its gut and blew a twelve inch hole through the beast, yet it continued to hammer his chest, driving
him deeper, pumping his waist until…
The Delta Platoon formed a human wall triple layered across the gap in the steel containment barricade. Three turrets of dual plasma rifles parsed the
crowd atop the ten-foot tall barrier.
Look at them. Hauler trucks are not even here yet and they’re already fighting each other.
Derek ignored the beads of sweat crawling down his face, along his neck, and pooling between his armor and body. He stood firm in the second of three
juxtaposed rows. Each line of ten guards fixed one hand atop a holstered blaster pistol, the other drawn tight around their stun rod. He surveyed the half
dozen sting bots floating above the stirring noisy crowd. The hybrid spy/punishment airborne devices performed their mission well as harbingers of a
scarring burn or a lethal photonic hole bored through an unshielded chest.
He pumped two chests full of foul smelling rot from unprocessed excrement and un-bathed humans. Derek cracked his head left, then right to clear the
tension building in his neck joints. He flexed every muscle in preparation for the potential horde of starving slabs of flesh relegated to zero status by the
The temp’s too damn high. They go nuts when it gets this hot.
He jerked at the broadcast from Marla’s speaker box. “Supplies will arrive within minutes. Organize into lines behind each turnstile. Distribution will be
orderly or the trucks will depart and no food or water will be dispensed for seventy-two hours. This is your only warning. The Riot Aversion Guard is
authorized to exercise terminal force if deemed necessary by local authority, which would be me.”
As always, the announcement had the opposite effect to the words’ intent. The thousands of grime laden creatures stacked closer, tried to climb over
others, women, children, anyone to gain a hand full of grain, a cup of unpolluted water. A new aroma entered his olfactory glands, one whispering
frustration, then discontent, and finally broadcasting the scent of anger.
Shit. Here it comes.
Grumbles turned to moans, then to screams and the bottom crushed below the weight of the top.
Maybe that’s exactly what the bastards want.
He glanced at the Caste One tower half a mile in the distance. Not so far away the Tier One elites couldn’t watch from air-conditioned suites perched above
their social slaves. The distinctive hum of the Lev supply trucks caused the mass of people to surge forward like a tidal wave until the flood overran the
turnstiles. “Boom rods on and out!”
The lead wall of RAGers obeyed with a synchronized snap of a dozen stun sticks, to no effect. The front line of hunger-driven Nulls yelped in pain from
the electric charge but continued forward, pushed by the mindless torrent of bodies. The first line of Delta platoon disappeared as if devoured by a starving
beast while Marla issued half a dozen commands. “Stinger bots, lethal mode. Flechettes out. Bolter weapons drawn and live. Reserve RAG Beta forward.”
Derek ignored the verbal chaos from his leader, and the physical assault from a dozen uncontrolled gyrating fists bouncing off his body armor. A pistol
blast popped to his left. A stream of hot blood splattered across his eyes as a sleeveless arm spiraled into the air. “Head shield on.” A transparent barrier
materialized across his face the instant a piece of debris ricocheted off his helmet.
He fought back, not in anger, but self-preservation, only without the lethal provisions authorized for all RAGers. He shoved and jabbed his pain rod, without
flechettes extended or drawing his pistol.
The airborne stingers sprayed a dozen laser beams into the crowd drilling holes through flesh like butter, and still they charged forward. The zapper turrets
poured several dozen rounds of concentrated plasma nuggets into the squirming mound while the blob of dead biomass pushed on. It toppled Derek
backwards and spread beyond the steel wall lining the east ghetto. Finally, the moment before he passed out from the weight crushing against his lungs, he
recognized the smell, the sound, the taste invading his mouth as the last line of defense, the flame thrower auto bots, cooked the stack of human trash
overflowing into Caste land.
Every tree adorned its own brown spaghetti shaped webbing with some form of six-inch worms undulating along the strands. The vibration of so many
bugs crawling across the matrix caused each tree to contract and expand as if it were a breathing organism throbbing with its own rhythm. Moss colored
arboreal creatures with hammer heads hung upside down from the major branches and munched on the squirming invertebrates. Derek caught movement in
his peripheral vision, something pushing the black gooey matting atop the swamp in his direction.
“Holy crap.” He aimed at the base of the rippled dorsal gliding through the water toward his location and touched off three rounds. The discharge from his
weapon exploded on the surface. The sub-aquatic beast mimicking a prehistoric monster from some horrid nightmare bolted out of the muck and turned
away from its pursuit of Derek as a meal.
Two triple volleys of popping sounds in the distance.
They’ve found her. Swamps so thick can’t see shit.
He trudged through the warm slimy liquid toward the telltale sound of M4 rifle fire. As he shrunk the distance to his shipmate, the frequency of small arms
Must be all around her.
Thirty yards forward and the distinctive blue flicker of her gun crept through the water soaked trees. Derek ignored the pain in his hip muscles and made
six virtual leaps across the surface of the bog.
There she is.
Propped against the crashed survival module, her back covered by a pile of fallen debris, Marla toasted one after another of the cocoa colored creatures
with flailing snake like extremities. “You bastards!” He joined the defensive posture and cut down a dozen slugs before the onslaught of aliens redirected
their T shaped weapons at the new human invader. Several hyper pressured projectiles ripped at the tree just to his left and still he kept a barrage of blue
toned bolts zapping toward the dozen remaining Tarians. Each hit to a near man-sized beast exploded into an omnidirectional mist of mucus. Another series
of shots from the two earthlings and all targets were destroyed.
Derek rushed the remaining distance to his wingman and squeezed her around the chest, then grabbed each shoulder and yelled, “I told ya to lead them,
damn it. Why won’t you ever listen to me?”
Stubs winced favoring her left side. “I missed you too, mommy bird.”
Three inches to the right of her belt buckle, blood oozed from a hole in her flight suit. “You’re hit.”
“Now you notice.”
“Pain or not, we need to haul ass. Four squadrons of slimers are headed our way. We’ll never take off if they get to my ship first.”
Marla placed one arm around his shoulder and kissed him on the cheek. “Let’s Go.”
Like two kids in a potato sack race, they sludged through the dense quagmire. “Listen, hear that?”
“Hey, Falco. Don’t you pass out on me. Your butt is too big to drag back to the Stryker.”
She lifted her head. “Yeah, yeah I hear it.” Marla inhaled two lungs full of the stale stagnant air. “The fleet’s begun their bombardment.”
“Means the interceptors headed for us will redirect their focus on our cruisers. We just need to make it to my ship. Come on.”
Another forty strides and Derek pointed to the left at the arm-length lobster shaped creature snapping chunks of yellow flesh off a smaller bug-eyed fish.
“There she is.” Again, no response. He smacked her face twice. “Damn it Stubs, wake up.”
Marla opened both eyes. “I see it.”
Once at their ship Derek made a support with his hands beside the rear seat of the cockpit. “Go ahead. Jump in the back.” She staggered slightly, then
stepped upward onto the makeshift stirrup the instant a bullet projectile clipped the edge of the vertical stabilizer.
A hot poker sensation burned through Derek’s upper thigh. He spun in place and instinctively aimed at the closer of two Tarians skimming through the
water clocking twice the speed of a biped. The targeted slimer ignited immediately but before he could swing the weapon at the second, the slug slapped the
pennons extending along each side of its slime coated leathery skin and launched out of the water. The airborne alien released a series of screeching sounds
and clenched its triple layer of spine shaped teeth into Derek’s shoulder.
“Ahhh!” He dropped his rifle, snatched one gimbaled yellow eyeball in each fist and ripped two of its four visual sensors out of its body. The creature
released a curdling howl while Derek removed the knife from his belt and continued cutting at the tentacles wrapped around his throat. Finally, he found the
plasma pistol in his holster, stuck it in the slimer’s chest, “Suck on this you smelly bastard,” and pulled the trigger.
Derek wiped the green mucus material from his face and pulled himself into the pilot seat. “Would have appreciated a little help, Stubs,” but the body in
the back seat remained inanimate. “Marla!” He pushed her torso backward from the bulkhead and surveyed the new wound just below her heart. Derek felt
for a pulse.
She’s still alive. If I can just get her to the cruiser.
Derek strapped in his comrade, closed the canopy and fired both booster engines. The fighter disappeared back inside the dense atmosphere. He retracted
all control surfaces to minimize drag and pressed the throttle full forward.
You’re tough, Stubs. If I can just get ya to the Med techs, I know you’ll make it.