Kindle edition free with purchase of paperback copy from Amazon.
Kindle edition free with purchase of paperback copy from Amazon.
A crumbling empire...
A devastating war...
A disturbing vision...
A final choice to save or destroy...
Since the revolution started on Chandara VII, Siasha Mastik and Ace Nova have had only one goal; the destruction of the Nowa Empire. Joining the Army of the Periphery Federation, they have become military leaders, liberating world after world. But something is subtly amiss in the spiritual realm as the forces of darkness conspire to lead them to defeat. Realizing their error, they plan a final, daring mission that can have only one outcome, either victory or death!
By faith we understand that the universe was created by
the word of Zotan, and these things that are seen came into being
out of those things which are unseen.
– Sel Azaad, Letter to the church at Yeru-Azaad
The dropship yawed and pitched as the stresses and strains of atmospheric entry buffeted the craft. It had, however, been built to withstand these massive forces as well as protect its occupants from the stupendous heat generated by the descent trajectory designed to make planetfall as quickly as possible. The one thing it and the fleet of its counterparts were not designed to do was repel the anti-spacecraft fire that was being directed at them from the ground, orbital platforms and the interceptor craft that had been launched against them.
This resistance was not unexpected. The dropships were part of a much larger military operation that had begun in the Reilos system many standard days before. The fleet that had launched the ships had entered the system from fold-space in waves that had neutralized military outposts and listening stations by exiting foldspace well into the gravitational influence of the planets and moons that supported them. This had required calculations well beyond what most astrogators or astrogation systems were capable and had been worked out for each ship’s entry point to the system by a singular artificial intelligence named Alexis, the shipboard computer of the flagship of the fleet. This maneuver, while it had been repeated across the galaxy by the expeditionary forces of the Periphery Federation, was always a shock to defending forces as there was no way to predict when or where ships would emerge from fold-space.
Siasha felt the dropship shimmy as an anti-spacecraft missile exploded near it. If they did not do something, quickly, the next one probably would not miss. There was also the real possibility that an interceptor would find them soon, and the nimble, trans-atmospheric craft would make short work of her unwieldy lander. All the more reason to be proactive in their defense.
“Ship Command Channel,” Siasha said to switch to the ship crew's command channel “ECM, release decoys; Helm, evasive action – burn up the attitude thrusters if you have to; Fire Control, be ready for interceptors coming our way.” The dropship was now no longer just shaking from the buffeting of air upon reentry, but was bouncing and shifting in an attempt to throw off the predictive targeting systems of anti-spacecraft fire. This dodging and juking was also designed to force interceptors to fly close, their own instrumentation unable to cope with tracking the ship, and give the lander's fire control team a chance to visually identify and neutralize incoming aggressors. Visual observations were essential to their survival as sensors were largely useless upon reentry. Siasha switched to the shipboard general command channel, “Ship General Channel. All hands and combat personnel. We have lost our close-space support craft. Currently we are taking evasive maneuvers and watching for interceptor craft.” She paused to look at her chrono, “We will fire retro-thrusters in five standard minutes...mark.”
With that, Siasha went back to hanging onto her seat. There was not much else she could do but keep an eye on the data-feeds that scrolled by in the small glass lens in front of her right eye that was connected to her headset. As she watched them, though, she had the oddest sensation of the sounds around her becoming very muffled, and the display began to swirl before her. Siasha closed her eyes and shook her head to try to clear it. Was there some sort of malfunction? Was there a gas flooding the cabin that was causing her to see things? When she opened her eyes again, though, she knew that it was neither and she was the only person aboard experiencing these sensations. Off in the middle of the command deck, Siasha saw a dark tree. She had seen this before in her dreams, but this time she knew she was still awake; evidenced by the fact that she was also experiencing everything that was still going on around her on the command deck. In fact, out of the corner of her eye she saw sparks slowly fly from a console and a fire blossom to life. She even registered dulled, slow shouting and the automated fire suppression systems filling the area with foam, but in a surreal manner. It was as if those things were the workings of her subconscious and the tree from her dreams was her real experience.
The ship darkened away and she was, as she had been so many times before, on a prairie with grasses blowing about. The wind was cold, though, nothing like the winds on Kesheron. Somewhere she vaguely heard the stretched words “hull breech.” She knew that the words meant something bad, and explained the freezing wind, but she could not think just what or how at the moment. Siasha did know, however, that if she looked to the sky, there would be no moons above her. Between her and the dark, barren tree, as always, the lupine creature waited for her. She found herself walking toward the creature, mildly wondering how she could do this since she had just been securely harnessed, but where? Siasha's brow furrowed in confusion at this thought as the creature, in the familiar pattern, moved toward the tree. This time, though, unlike before, as they approached the scorched earth around the tree a crackling sound jolted her and a lightning bolt struck the mighty specimen. Screwing her eyes shut, Siasha turned away from the blinding light. When she could finally look again, she fully expected to see the tree shattered. Instead, it had begun to burn with a fire that leaped out toward the creature and Siasha. Serpents of flame lashed out, catching the very earth on fire as well as the grasses outside the scorched area. Siasha knew that she and the creature needed to get away, to run from the fire, but she was rooted to the spot. Suddenly a geyser of flame shot toward her from the tree. She ducked away, trying to feel Zotan's power in the universe, to open herself to it and dissipate the energy being directed at her. Siasha, however, could feel nothing and knew that she was about to be engulfed in flames. Just then the lupine creature leaped up to fight the flame. Somehow it was able to drive it back at first, but then the flame split, flanking the creature. The lupine beast screamed with a pained, hideous yelp.
The waking dream ended as abruptly as it had begun when a blast of fire suppressing foam gushed over the fire and covered Siasha. The fire that had started at the weapons station to her right had raged throughout the command deck when the hull breech had been repaired by the emergency systems. Automated systems had flooded the deck with breathable air as the breech had been filled with a material that hardened quickly into a patch. This burst of combustible air, however, had caused the fire to reignite and it had flared up just in front of Siasha before the suppression systems were able to bring it back under control. Siasha coughed, realizing that she had been inhaling smoke and that her throat felt burnt. Her voice was scratchy, but she managed to eke out, “Ship Command Channel. Stations report.” The responses came quickly, but in an organized manner. Siasha had worked with this crew for over a standard year, and they knew what she expected of them by way of discipline.
“Ship’s controls are operational. We are still descending along planned trajectory. Retro-thrusters have fired and we are in final descent to the LZ. Three standard minutes.”
“Engineering. All systems are operating nominally. Some problems with the command deck computers, but backups have come online.”
“Damage control. Fire and hull breech mitigated. Almost all damage was contained on the command deck.”
There was a silence in Siasha's headset that became ominous with the heavy roar of the retro-thrusters firing in the background. Siasha got a horrible feeling and looked off to her right at the Weapons Officer's station. The retardant foam could not completely hide the charred forms of the Weapons Officer and the Electronic Countermeasures Officer. The flare-up must have happened after the initial fire retardant had been deployed, as it appeared to have scorched and melted over the two forms. Siasha closed her eyes and uttered a short prayer for their souls then spoke again, “Engineering, route fire control functions to me.”
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Christopher T. Mooney, an American Author, started writing fiction with an unfinished short story in the fifth grade. It was in all likelihood a miserable failure both at writing and at the science fiction genre. However, with the advent of spell check, the Internet and a burgeoning DIY market for books, the unique stories that he has created have found a way to the mass market.