Foicanta, Proxima Centauri System—Twelve Years Ago…
Sand and sunlight covered the armor-clad body of Maj. Chloe Vaughan. She remained motionless for a solid five minutes, while plumes of dirt shot up into the skies around her. There was a battle raging, and she was missing out—missing out on the chance to live to see the end of it. She couldn’t hear anything around her. She could only see blurry images of her sister, Sarah; her lover, Chris; and several other members of the Extrasolar defense force engaged with weapons’ fire from an unknown group of attackers.
Corporal Rana Farhadi knelt next to Chloe, keeping her head low from the high-velocity bullets from magnetic rifles soaring above her head. Rana’s lips moved, but Chloe heard no sound coming from them. Her lips moved again, visibly yelling something important, but to no avail; whatever the hell hit Chloe got her good.
Rana moved to Chloe’s left while another soldier from the right approached. Suddenly she felt herself rise up and get dragged away. She recognized the soldier on the right, Lt. Diego Gomez.
“Hang in there, Major,” Diego said as Chloe’s hearing started to return.
“Fall back, fall back!” were the last words she heard before blacking out.
Chloe woke up on an operating table; her blurry vision struggled to make out how many people were frantically running around in the chaotic environment. Clearly, the battle wasn’t over, not by a long shot. She moved her hand to comfort the side of her head that radiated pain, only to stop upon seeing the fountain of blood dripping from her hands—her blood.
“Oh no,” said a blond woman with an Australian accent. “You two—congratulations; you just became nurses. Give me a hand,” she said to Diego and Rana.
“Who…are you?” Chloe mumbled to the woman.
“I’m Ella, a doc. Hang in there. You’re gonna be just fine,” she replied.
“Where’s Dr. Rice?”
“No more talking,” Ella said, cutting in, and then she turned to address her newly recruited nurses. “Where’s my medical scanner?”
Diego handed Ella a palm-size device with a flashing screen in the center of it—and then tilted his head toward Chloe’s face to address her question. “It’s the Celestial Order, ma’am.”
Vancouver, Earth, Sol System
“Don’t kill anyone this time,” Tetsuya grumbled.
Thick gray clouds released a downpour of rain that had been drenching the region for the last three days. Classic Vancouver, Rina “Destiny” West thought while she looked out the passenger-side window of the car she was riding in. The sights of the outside world appeared as a blurred splash of colors thanks to the rainwater.
Vancouver was one of the few cites in the world that didn’t bear many scars from the war with the Hashmedai. This was a surprise to many, as New Westminster and Surrey had seen Hashmedai ground forces take control of those areas two decades ago. New Westminster took it the worst, as the Royal Canadian Air Force had launched a series of air strikes in that area to thin out the Hashmedai. This also provided the final acts of the Canadian air force, as Hashmedai interceptors had obliterated all their fighters across the country in a counterattack.
East Hastings was another sign that Vancouver hadn’t changed much; Destiny was quick to notice. Tetsuya Ishihara, who handled the wheel of their car, drove it along the badly maintained streets. Prewar East Hastings had been one of the poorest and most run-down areas in the city and quite possibly all of Canada. Today? Not much had changed. Run-down buildings, sketchy people, trash, and questionable deals struck in back alleys. The only major difference between this place now and this place then was that Hashmedai roamed these areas as well. Deserters from the war, they knew they had lost and that they couldn’t return home. They made their homes here on Earth wherever they felt welcomed, which didn’t include many places. Most of the human race still held a grudge.
Their car came to a stop along the side of a curb. Destiny’s fingers interacted with the screen of her holo phone. A window materialized in front of her, displaying the contact info of the person she was trying to call. A man named Arn. After several seconds of listening to a ring-back tone, Arn finally answered. The holographic window transformed into Arn’s image, a bald man with a long unkempt beard, wearing a hoodie and shades.
“I’m here. Where the fuck you at?” Destiny said.
“All ready? Damn, girl, you’re quick!” Arn’s hologram said. “It’s some old-world abandoned Chinese supermarket. You can’t miss it.”
Destiny recalled driving past it not long ago; she’d have to backtrack. I should have called earlier, she thought. “I’ll be there in a minute,” she said and hung up. The holographic window with Arn’s contact info reappeared, displaying a notification at the bottom that the call had ended, and then it vanished. “Wait here,” she said to Tetsuya. “I’ll deal with this fucker as quickly as I can.”
“Discreetly,” Tetsuya said. “It’s still daytime. Can’t afford to have someone ID you.”
“Seriously, Hannah’s predictions haven’t been accurate lately,” he said, looking at Destiny’s scarred left hand. “And you know that.” She rolled her eyes and proceeded to open the door but stopped. Tetsuya’s hand gripped her shoulder; he had something to add. “I’m serious, no bodies. These are humans not affiliated with the United Nations of Earth we’re dealing with.”
“Whatever,” she said with a sigh.
“Give me your piece.”
Her visibly upset blue eyes gazed at him almost as if they were burning a hole into his mind. The five-second stare down resulted in Destiny reluctantly handing her ePistol over to him from her leather jacket. “Happy?”
“And your old-world one.”
Old-world was a term commonly used to describe anything that existed before the Hashmedai invasion. In this case, her concealed Sig Sauer P238, a pocket-size pistol that fit perfectly in the side pocket of her blue jeans. Like her ePistol, it found itself into Tetsuya’s possession. “Now are you happy?”
“I’ll be happy when I get the fuck out of this piss hole.”
The car door finally opened, exposing a section of the interior to never-ending rain showers outside. Before stepping off, Destiny opened the back door and removed a large black art tube. Tetsuya took notice and asked, “What the fuck is that for?”
“Just part of my cover for the people around.” She smiled and winked at him. “I’m an artist if anyone asks.” He has a lot to learn about me.
Destiny began her walk away from the car, down the drenched and grimy sidewalk in East Hastings. She paid little attention to what the rain was doing to her ginger hair, dyed of course to mask her age of forty-one. Between that and her vigorous daily workout routine, few people truly knew her real age. Throw in the art tube, and she looked like college student. And to think—she hadn’t even kept up with all the new fancy antiaging biotechnology that had been invented.
She continued her walk, paying little attention to the homeless humans and Hashmedai. She saw a group of prostitutes speaking to someone in a car that had pulled over. They were both Hashmedai. Threesome with two Hashmedai women. What a brave soul. She grinned and walked past, briefly thinking about a time she was a working girl. Though she was much better than these girls, as she was an escort, she never walked the streets. She was above that, a high-class and very expensive escort, working out of Los Vegas, before it was glassed. She sighed and thought to herself, Those were the good old days. She missed those times, especially Jazz, her favorite client.
Destiny arrived at the location, a boarded-up store. The door was ajar, and she could hear voices coming from within. This must be it. She entered and quickly performed a threat assessment of the location. Overturned shelves, four shady-looking men wearing sweatpants and shirts, probably bodyguards and probably packing heat. They all had something large in their pockets, ePistols like the one she handed over earlier, no doubt. Arn emerged from the shadows with open arms, his guard was lowered, a perfect opportunely for Destiny do something she’d been dreaming about for the last few months.
She ignored the four men, and her feet took her toward Arn at rapid speed. Her fist slammed against his jaw, launching his body to the floor. Fucking asshole. She heard the hissing sounds of four ePistols powering up. They made the same noise Radiance magnetic weapons made when activating. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference, as the tech behind eWeapons was based on Radiance magnetic weapons-Railguns, aided by a computer built into the weapon.
Destiny could see blood slowly trickling out from Arn’s mouth as he spat out a tooth and slowly rose to his feet. “What the fuck was that for?” he asked.
“Bio-fucking-metric weapons. I requested not to be given those.”
He finally got to his feet and said, “So my stock got a few of the defects, my bad.”
Biometric weapons would activate only if the fingerprints matched with the assigned prints programmed into the weapon. It was possible to hack and remove the biometric programming, but even the most skilled hackers had issues with it. The United Nations of Earth (UNE) did not want their weapons in the hands of terrorists and criminals and went out of their way to make it an irritating process.
“Your stock had me sitting in a hospital bed for a month. Your stock had me bury eight of my good friends,” she said, jabbing her index finger toward his angry face.
“Well fuck, I’m sorry.” More blood slowly dripped from his mouth. She had gotten him good. “I’ll hook you up with some better guns.”
Her hand reached back toward her art tube as her head slowly tilted to the side to see if any of his bodyguards had stepped closer. No sign of them, though she knew damn well four guns were being aimed at the back of her head. “I have a new dealer; I’m fucking done with you.”
“So you just came here to fucking deck me?”
“I want a refund.”
“Seriously?” Arn said with a surprised voice. “No refunds.”
“Customer is always right,” Destiny said as her other hand clasped around Arn’s neck. “I want a refund…Now!” Her last action triggered four sets of steps that she heard behind her. There wasn’t a drop of fear in her, however. None of these thugs had a real combat training unlike the police, Radiance, and UNE forces she’d been fighting for the last few years.
“Get fucked, you stupid fucking cunt!” In attempt to break free, Arn wrapped his hands around the hands that she was using to choke him. His grip was weak, compared to Destiny’s; her hands didn’t move. She let out a slight grin as he turned his head to the side to address the four men closing in behind her. “Have at her, boys; I ain’t paying you by the hour!”
Let’s dance. The hand choking Arn pushed him back to the ground, while her other hand quickly pulled her art tube to her front. Her instincts led her to leap and take cover behind the checkout table. Perfect timing, as magnetically accelerated bullets ripped through the air. Destiny’s quickly moving fingers opened up the tube, and out came a katana and an arm-mounted Hashmedaian guardian shield. She arose to her feet, this time with a rectangular-shaped blue energy protecting her from the second barrage of bullets.
Her feet guided her to the four men, who did not attempt to move from their position, while her hands guided her katana to either stab or dismember their bodies. Each hit released jets of blood across the air, raining down on her like the rain outside not long ago. Her left arm, which had the guardian shield device strapped to it, periodically rose to block weapons’ fire from the last remaining bodyguard, whose severed head hit the ground shortly afterward.
Arn remained on the floor, trembling in fear as Destiny’s blood-soaked body graciously stepped toward him. Her blue jeans were now purple; her leather jacket was dripping red. She hovered over his body and the placed the tip of her blade between his eyes. “Now,” said Destiny, “where’s my fucking money?”
Flight 4219, Perth to Vancouver, Earth, Sol System
White clouds hovered over the eternal blue of the Pacific Ocean. A sight that would be changing soon, as this flight from Perth, Australia, to Vancouver, Canada, was coming to an end. Ken Smith sat back and relaxed in his first-class seat aboard an Earth-to-Earth (ETE) transport. He preferred the first-class seats from the Earth-to-Space (ETS) transports that he frequently flew to Mars, as they were equipped with holo vids. ETE transports didn’t take long to reach their destination with their high speeds, as they traveled exclusively on Earth. ETS transports, however, made trips to locations throughout the solar system. Even traveling at a fraction of the speed of light, it could take a flight several hours to reach the moons of Uranus.
An announcement played over the transport’s intercom to all the passengers aboard, stating that they’d be in Vancouver within ten minutes, making this a forty-five-minute trip. He sometimes missed the old-world plane trips, in which a flight from Perth to Vancouver would take nearly a whole day and require at least one stop along the way. The message on the intercom replayed again, this time in Chinese, then a third time in Radiance, which caused him to chuckle.
There were no Radiance races aboard this transport that he could see, though with Linl it was damn near impossible to tell just by looking. Carbon-copy humans, he liked to call them. Most flights had a few Radiance races aboard. Since the uplifting of humanity, Radiance continued to have a few ships from Alpha Centauri trickle in, dropping off nonmilitary personnel to live on Earth. Most of them were just laborers and construction workers to help rebuild cities razed by the demonic Hashmedai. A few others were scientists and engineers, though many of them stayed on their ships, setting foot on Earth, Mars, or the moons of the gas giants only to work with human scientists and engineers. Recently, merchants and missionaries started to show up and live among humans, proving to be a double-edged sword of sorts.
The increased presence of civilian Radiance races was no doubt helping humanity’s economy, advancement, and recovery from the war. However, the longer Radiance continued to remain on Earth, the more violence people were forced to witness thanks to the Hashmedai Liberation Front (HLF). After the war, as a way to repent, groups of Hashmedai offered themselves as slave labor to human communities hit hard. After all, they lost the war, and the ships that weren’t nuked, fled or crash-landed, leaving behind thousands of soldiers and ship crew members. As time went on, those communities took in these Hashmedai, allowed them to have a place to live and eat, and eventually settled down and started families.
Those at Radiance weren’t too happy to learn that their people would be living and working on a planet that hosted small Hashmedaian communities that were breeding. Pressure was put on the UNE to step up and deal with the problem, especially after a dozen Radiance civilians ended up murdered or assaulted by angry Hashmedai. A few humans got in the crossfire too, as they were mistaken for Linl. Thus, the HLF was born; humans who formed an emotional attachment and sympathy to some of the Hashmedai took up arms and launched a series of terrorist attacks against Radiance, anti-Hashmedai groups, and UNE forces deployed to deal with large and active Hashmedai communities.
No one knew exactly where their base of operation was, but Vancouver had been a hot spot for HLF activity, as Canada featured one of the largest Hashmedai communities on Earth. It’s no surprise to many that the Vancouver region was dubbed the “Radiance Graveyard,” though the UNE preferred to label it a “red zone.” There were eight red zones worldwide.
“Prepare for landing,” the pilot of the transport announced over the intercom.
Ken’s thoughts returned to the present, and he gazed out the window to watch the transport descend from the thick mist of clouds that soaked the craft in rain. The sight of Vancouver in the distance emerged, resting at the foot of the mountains, virtually untouched by the war with the exception of a few extra postwar skyscrapers. The city grew larger as it came into view. Ken was the reminded of a feature of old-world traveling that he missed—the rush of an aircraft, slowly landing to the runway. Transports were all based off Radiance tech, and so they were capable of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL). Gone were the days of needing a runway to land or fly to the skies, the transport simply landed next to the transport hub, formerly known as an airport.
A network of hallways led Ken to the baggage claim area; his hands stroked his blond hair in a frustrated manner. All these advances and we’re still using this system to claim our baggage? What’s going to stop someone from walking up and taking your stuff? After fifteen minutes of paranoid waiting, he obtained his travel baggage after it came into view from the rotating treadmill and proceeded to the Earth Rapid Transit Train platform. This used to be part of the skytrain system; he had fond memories of traveling on the skytrain network when he was a kid during the prewar days. Once Radiance showed up, they offered to upgrade and network Earth and later Mars with a rapid transit system that was commonplace on Radiance planets. As Ken recalled, the people who helped design the newer trains in Unity City, came here to Earth to undertake this project. And it showed; the interior of the train was identical to the train network used all across Australia, which apparently is the same design as the ones in Unity City on Lejorania Sanctum.
At last, Ken thought as he arrived at his intended destination, an upscale condo in the Yaletown district of Vancouver. Little did the people in the outside world know, his suite was a safe house for Earth Intelligence and Security Service (EISS) agents such as Ken. As far as his wife, Yvonne, and others were concerned, Ken was there on business, overseeing the launch of a new retail outlet.
“Computer,” Ken said. “Lights.” The darkened condo was illuminated with lights in the hallway, kitchen, and living room.
“I hope your journey was a pleasant one, sir,” said the computer. It had an Australian accent much like Ken’s—a little taste of home while he was away.
“Too short, but enjoyable,” he said as he walked toward the kitchen. His hand interacted with a holographic window in front of the refrigerator to display the contents of the fridge. “Computer, are there any new messages for me?” he asked.
“Please stand by,” it replied. “You have no new messages at this time, sir.”
“Thank you,” he said, stepping into the living room to sit down with a holo pad in hand.
“Shall I contact ‘overlord’ and inform them you have arrived?” the computer asked.
“Negative,” he said. “Do it…tomorrow morning. I need to rest.”
And by “rest,” Ken meant shagging two smoking-hot escorts for the night.
His holo pad loaded a directory of all the local and expensive girls in the area. They were expensive for a good reason. Radiance frowned upon the idea of sex work and had been pulling strings within the UNE to deal with it. Ken found this amusing, as brothels existed within the Radiance Union, highly illegal and rare, but they existed. If he didn’t know any better, it was almost as if Radiance were trying to mold the human race into the sixth member of the Radiance Union.
Holographic pictures of half-naked women appeared before him while he swiped his hands from right to left, causing the projection to scroll and load additional ladies. The hardest part of dealing with these lovely ladies was ensuring that the ones you wanted were available.
He felt fabulous about doing this with next to no guilt in his chest. He knew damn well Yvonne would be sleeping with the grounds keeper of their home the moment she got the chance. One of the perks of being in the EISS was that it was easy to spy on your wife when you were out of town. The moment she stopped sucking his cock, was the moment he’d stop dealing with these ladies; fair is fair.
Surrey, Earth, Sol System
I’m never going to get this, Lyir thought as he sat on his bed, holo pad in hand with his homework from school displayed. Being a Hashmedai boy going to school in a human world put him at a disadvantage, especially when your English literature teacher lost his family during the invasion. Lyir had pale, cream-colored skin and light-blue hair, much like his mother Pernoy, whom he lived with in this Surrey community. His mother and father had helped rebuild the community, yet here he was, on the verge of failing, quite possibly because he wasn’t born a human, or so his friends claimed.
“Lyir,” his mother called out to him in the Hashmedai language. “Come down for dinner.”
“I’ve still got to finish my homework.”
“You won’t finish it correctly on an empty belly,” she retorted. “Come down and eat your damn food.”
His teenage body took a seat at the dinner table with his mother, Pernoy. Rare steak was the meal for the night. Pernoy had extremely long blue hair with traces of white in it. Her eyes were orange, while Lyir’s eyes were a deep red. Off in the distance, an old-world TV was on, broadcasting the evening news. As the two ate, Lyir gazed at the damaged TV screen; the headline caught his attention: “Heroes of Earth Returned At Last.”
His half-sister, Eupiar, sat on the couch next to the TV. The contents didn’t seem to interest her, just the holographic display screen of her laptop. Unlike Lyir, Eupiar was half-human; their mother, Pernoy, was a noncombatant severing aboard a Hashmedai ship during the invasion only to crash-land. The US Marine aggressors held her and the surviving crew captive.
One of the soldiers started to develop a certain affection for her and remorse; after all, Pernoy was here because she was ordered to come. Night after night of secret playtime during their “interrogation secessions” resulted in Eupiar’s existence. Sadly, her father never got the chance to see her grow up; he was killed trying to help Pernoy and Eupiar escape to into Canada.
“Hmm, they’re back,” said Lyir, turning away from the news headline. “What do you think, Mother?”
“Not much—they were bound to return to Earth sooner or later,” she said before taking another bite of her juicy meal.
“But those are the people who blew up the command ship, causing you and all the other Hashmedai to be stranded here.” Lyir returned to his meal, while he curiously awaited his mother’s reply.
“I don’t hate them, if that’s what you’re trying to get at,” she said. “They did what they had to do. It was war, and we were destroying their world.”
“But don’t you want to be off this world? Isn’t that the reason you never cut your hair? Because then ends of it existed back when you were still in the empire?” A loaded question, but his young inquiring mind was hungry for knowledge that didn’t have to do with schoolwork.
“If those folks never destroyed the command ship, or if there had been a way for me to get home, I would have never met your father, or Eupiar’s.”
“There must have been a way for you two to meet had things been different; you were both in the military, after all.” Lyir often fantasized about the idea of parallel universes where things were different. The thought of him never having to experience the depressing life he was living thus far always tantalized his mind.
“Not really,” his mother said. “I’m from the deep space colonies. The frigate I served on joined up with the fleet because they were short one.”
He thought for a moment, slowly putting the facts together. “And Father was from Paryo.”
“Exactly, we would have never crossed paths regardless. And don’t forget about your sister. Neither I nor her father would have met.” Conclusion: in order for him, them, to exist, the last twenty-two years had to have played out the way they did. Life is not fair at all.
There was semisilence once again at the dinner table as the two ate, while the TV continued to play the news. Eupiar tied her half-human hair into a ponytail, it was dyed in a mixture of colors, a galaxy style, they called it. An ombré of colors, it started from silver at the top of her head, transitioned to light blue and dark blue, and ended with black at the tips. Her heavily tattooed arms stretched forward, and she resumed whatever the hell had her so fascinated with her laptop. A headline on the TV stated, “Four Men Found Dead at East Hastings Early This Afternoon.” The doorbell rang and ripped Lyir’s attention away from the TV and his sister. Took him long enough, he thought as he looked at the third dinner plate on the table, untouched and getting cold.
“I’ll get it,” Lyir offered, and then he shut his eyes to focus. The door unlocked and swung open…with the aid of telekinesis from Lyir’s psionic mind.
His uncle Dollon stood behind the door. Rainwater dripped off him as if he showered with his clothes on. Dollon’s hair was much like Lyir’s father’s, cut short and white. His skin was a darker-cream color, and he wore a black suit and pants that covered his psionic cybernetics, which would probably explain why he didn’t just teleport in as usual.
He stepped inside as Lyir’s mind shut and locked the door behind Dollon. Then he walked toward the fridge, rather than the dinner that Lyir was expecting. “Sorry I’m late,” Dollon said, removing a bottle of vodka from the fridge. “Had some things to take care of.”
Lyir’s mother arose from her seat to confront Dollon, acting like she was going to wash dishes, but Lyir knew better. Washing dishes is the very last she does at the end of long day; it was too early for her to be doing that. Lyir slowly picked at his food and kept his ear toward the kitchen to listen in.
“Are those ‘things’ the same ones that took your brother’s life?” she asked in lower tone of voice.
“Those things allowed me to get you some more food,” Dollon said. “And pay your bills.” His hands poured a small glass of vodka to drink and handed her an Earth-based credit chit.
“Our bills are all up to date.”
“Then you can use this credit chit to replace that awful TV,” he said, then downed his drink. “Maybe get those Holo TVs the rest of the world has upgraded to.” Lyir’s mother remained silent as Dollon snorted and then took a seat at the dinner table. “So, Lyir, what are you learning in school this month?”
“Romeo and Juliet, written by a human named William Shakespeare.” Lyir said.
“Is that so.” Lyir could sense that Dollon didn’t care. “Hey, Eupiar how’s your schooling coming along?”
“I dropped out yesterday,” she casually replied.
“You what?” Pernoy snapped her attention to Eupiar.
“Really.” Dollon said, this time with a certain level of interest in his voice. “So what you’re saying is you’re free to help me out more often?”
Pernoy shouted toward Eupiar who never once removed her eyes away from her screen. “Eupiar! Why…couldn’t you have at least told me?”
“School is boring.”
“You were getting good marks!”
“I’m part Hashmedai. They’ll never give me the marks I worked hard for.” Finally, her slim teenage body looked away from her screen. “And yes, Dollon, I could help.”
HLF Headquarters, Northern Canada
Hannah Grey’s slender body rested on the soft and comforting feel of her queen-size bed. She wore a black gothic nightgown. Then again, everything she had in her wardrobe had some kind of Loltia gothic look to it. Her gown perfectly blended in with her long raven black hair and the black satin bedsheets, pillows, and blankets. She had spread her arms out from side to side, and her fingers were pointed upward to the ceiling.
And then her lips slowly began to move.
Another one of her clairvoyant chants was incoming. Tetsuya Ishihara was ready to take notes as per Hannah’s direct orders, on the rare chance she forgot what was said.
“Forty trillion kilometers one way, forty trillion the next, eighty trillion in total. Right ascension for A, fourteen hours, thirty-nine minutes, thirty-six point four, nine, four zero, zero seconds. Right ascension for B, fourteen hours, thirty-nine minutes thirty-five point zero, six, three, one, one seconds.” Hannah took a breath, and then continued, with no emotion in her voice. “Into the Explorer they went, on the Seeker they returned. Five travelers: the first one, the second, the lover, the jealous one, and…an unknown.” Hannah paused as she tried to process the identity of the unknown. “Who is she? Why is she there? I don’t recall her existence. Life or death? She is an unknown.” Her body dashed upward to sit up, with her eyes wide open; she took a long deep breath and then said, “They…have arrived.”
“Who has?” Tetsuya asked.
Hannah’s head little by little tilted toward Tetsuya. With a smile on her face, she revealed their names: “Chloe, Sarah, Chris, Gavin and the unknown.” Her face twitched somewhat as she brushed her hand down her neck, slowing reaching down between her breasts, then her belly. The unknown needed a name, any name. Ah yes, that name will do for now. “Ella, yes, her name is Ella.”
“Your orders?” Tetsuya asked, shutting off the recording feature of his holo pad.
Hannah’s smile transformed into a malicious grin. “Kill them all!” she shouted and then returned to her resting position. While examining her wavering hands, she added, “Chloe and Gavin must survive, however.”
Abyssal Seeker, Sol System
The eight-year, ten-month journey from Lejorania Sanctum in Alpha Centauri to Earth was entering its final stretch. The Abyssal Seeker was a Radiance Union cruiser built solely for war; as such, while the exterior of the ship was similar to that of the Abyssal Explorer, it contained no science and research stations or any scholars. Like all Radiance ships, the main bridge was the only area of the ship to have gravity, thanks to the hard work of its bridge psionic crew who generated gravity below the floors. The rest of the ship was subject to the effects of zero gravity, and if it weren’t for the aid of cryostasis, its human passengers probably wouldn’t have lasted long, as their bones would have suffered from the negative effects of being weightless too long.
Another four hours remained on this journey, and another four hours of planet gazing for Chloe as she floated before one of the few windows aboard the Abyssal Seeker, wearing her black EDF jumpsuit with her name and rank printed on it. A hulking blue orb appeared off into the distance of the void she was looking at—Neptune. Almost there, she thought. Her heart was full of anticipation upon being revived from cryo. She heard of the numerous changes to life on Earth since the Hashmedai invasion and the Radiance uplift of humanity.
Her last memoires of Earth—well, when it wasn’t on fire and being glassed—was the unpredictable lifestyle of 2018, and everything that came with it, such as being prepared to protect America from terrorist threats overseas as the marine that she was. Then Radiance showed up, proving to humans that they weren’t alone and that the Hashmedai Empire wanted a fight with humanity. A fight that ultimately started and cost the lives of billions worldwide, a fight the Hashmedai lost thanks to the aid of one well-timed nuclear bomb.
There were mixed feelings about the return to Earth. On one hand, the EDF was set up as a means of early warning detection and possibly interception of alien threats to Earth, namely the Hashmedai Empire. Of course, the limited number of humans who came to Alpha Centauri meant that the bodies within the EDF would also be limited. Keeping Chloe and her team at Alpha Centauri, while transferring new recruits from Earth back to Alpha Centauri, would have been a better choice in her eyes.
However, the higher-ups within the United Nations of Earth (UNE) insists on having the EDF’s presence not just in Alpha Centauri, but stationed at the edge of the solar system as well. And so the call was made for training to start at Earth, then recruits transferred to Alpha Centauri, Pluto, Uranus and six proposed military and science platforms within the Oort cloud. Worst of all, the human refugees weren’t invited to return to Earth. No one quite understands why, just that a few higher ups with the Radiance Union insisted on them staying until the newly built Earth ships travel to Alpha Centauri to pick them up. A move that had Chloe and other Radiance Union members scratch their heads.
“Quite the view, isn’t it?” It was Gavin Chambers, former USAF fighter pilot. Chloe’s thoughts must have masked the fact that he entered this white and brightly lit hallway.
Her face shifted away from the view into space and on to him, she was surprised to see how well he had recovered from his injuries. “How you holding up, Chambers? I figured you’d still be in the infirmary with that head wound,” she said while brushing her brown weightless hair away from her face.
“I stayed out of cryo for the first year of our trip,” he said, floating toward the window, gazing into the sea of stars. “Didn’t make sense to be revived only to have to get patched up when we had that huge gap of travel time.”
“I saw a ship fly by earlier, an Earth one,” Chloe said as she returned to her observation. “Probably one of those construction transports laying the groundwork for the oort cloud defense platform.”
“We’re going to be so fucking out of place when we get there,” said Gavin.
Chloe grinned, not knowing what to say. He was right, after all; a solid twenty-two years had passed since they unexpectedly left Earth. Out of all those years, only five of them were spent out of cryo and so they only aged five years…well six for Gavin. Space travel in some strange way was also a form of time travel.
As the hours passed by, Chloe and Gavin were joined by Chris Boyd, former Navy SEAL; Ella Lynn, newly recruited doctor for the EDF; and Chloe’s sister Sarah, former US marine like Chloe. All five of them floated before the large window at the celestial sights before them. The asteroid belt had dozens of mining platforms, extracting precious ores. Small space stations were built just outside the asteroid belt, which severed as a base of all mining operations. They were large cylinder objects with four outer rings surrounding each one, rotating constantly to create artificial gravity. The rings were held on to the central cylinder section by a series of large elevator shafts. A large cargo ship was docked at the space station, no doubt waiting for its stores to be filled with the mined goods before being deployed, most likely to Earth or the colony on Mars.
Ship activity became an increasingly common sight, as the Abyssal Seeker got closer to Earth. Dozens of transport ships flew toward Earth from Mars or vice versa. Some were clearly Radiance transports, while others were Earth military, which were literally the same design as Radiance transports, just a different paint job, white with sky-blue strips along the lower end of the hull. The UNE flag was stamped on it. The flag was similar to the old UN flag; rather than an image of Earth surrounded by olive branches, it was eight rings, representing the orbital paths of the planets in the solar system. The third ring, being Earth’s path, had a miniature version of Earth from the old UN flag on it. Larger transport ships were also seen. Judging by their size, Chloe figured these were passenger ships—similar to passenger planes one would fly from one airport to another “back in the day.”
The Abyssal Seeker’s course led them to an orbit around the equator of Earth. Several Earth battleships were seen there next to a shipyard constructing a new Earth-based ship, as well as several other transport ships carrying crew back and forth from Earth and the ships around. The Earth battleships all had a similar design, like the many space stations, there was a central cylinder-shaped section. Up front, at the nose end of the ship, was the main bridge, which looked somewhat similar to the front of the old NASA space shuttles, just a lot wider. At the aft end of the ship were four large elevator shafts that extended outward to connect to a massive ring. As with the space stations seen earlier, the ring spun around to create gravity. The middle of the central cylinder had various weapons mounted to it, guns and missile launchers, by the looks. The underside of the ship held a rectangular-shaped fighter bay.
Five Radiance ships appeared in orbit over the horizon as sunlight reflected off the shiny hulls of those ships. Gavin’s eyes lit up at the sight of one certain Earth-built ship. His finger tapped on the window repeatedly; his mouth opened wide in shock.
“Look at that!” Gavin shouted, pointing at an Earth battleship. “Can you read the name of that ship?”
Chloe’s gaze zeroed in at the ship in question as they flew by it. Her eyes squinted to make out the name of the ship. ESV Enterprise.
ESV Winston Churchill, Earth Orbit, Sol System
A transport ship departed from the Abyssal Seeker as it sat in Earth’s orbit. Flying past construction and orbital defense platforms, it approached its destination, the newest addition to Earth’s battleship fleet, the ESV Winston Churchill. The Radiance transport’s engines powered down as it spun to latch itself to the airlock, allowing its passengers, Chloe, Sarah, Chris, Gavin, and Ella, to depart with their duffel bags in hand to their new assignment.
The airlock doors swung open, revealing to Chloe her first view of the interior of a fully functioning Earth starship. Radiance clearly had some influence over the design of the ship; the layout of the airlock was the same as the ones found aboard Radiance ships. The Radiance words were replaced with English and Chinese. They floated through into the ship, instantly felt a wave of cooler air, and detected slightly lowered light levels. It was standard for humans, but chilly and dark to most Radiance crew members, namely those of the Aryile and Javnis races.
Two humans wearing UNE Navy officer uniforms greeted the group. Each wore a dark-blue jumpsuit with the flag of the UNE on the shoulders, name tag on the left breast, and rank insignia above it. A black belt separated the top from the pants, and on the belt were several slots in which one could attach different trinkets and a holster for a sidearm. On the back of the uniform, just below the neck, was the flag of the country of origin for the wearer.
Chloe raised her hand to salute the two officers, and her team behind followed suit. “Permission to come aboard, sir.”
“Granted,” one of them said—with an English accent, at that. He returned the salute. Chloe saw his name printed on his uniform, “Xavier,” and two gold stars above it as his rank insignia with the United Kingdom flag on his back. He had a mature appearance, gray hair, a thin mustache, and a stern look across his aging face. At one point, Chloe thought he was shorter than she, until she looked down. Despite the lack of gravity, he and the woman next to him stood firmly on the floor, locked in place by magnetic boots, Chloe merely floated slightly above him. All those years in space, and Radiance never thought to invent those?
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet the heroes of Earth,” the female officer said. She had short black hair and dark olive skin. Chloe figured she was probably around the same age as Sarah. Her name tag listed her has “Benally,” with a single gold star as her rank, and the flag of the United States on her back.
“Indeed,” Xavier said. “I am Captain Martin Xavier, commanding officer of the Earth Space Vessel Winston Churchill.” He extended his hand toward Benally. “This is my executive officer, Commander Cassandra Benally.”
Chloe began introducing her team, “I’m Major Chloe Vaughan, Sergeant Sarah Vaughan, Sergeant Chris Boyd, and Dr. Ella Lynn,” she pointed at everyone respectively. “And finally, Major Gavin Chambers, who will be heading the EDF fighter pilot division once we get it off the ground.”
“Commander Benally will show you to your quarters,” said Xavier. “After that take the time to familiarize yourself with the layout of the ship. She’s a big one.”
Benally’s hand extended toward the corridor in a welcoming fashion. “Right this way,” she said.
As they traversed down the weightless corridor, Chloe saw various crew members tinkering with cables and pipes along the walls. The mechanics wore bright orange coveralls and held strange tools and scanning devices she had never seen. The soft slapping sound of Benally’s magnetic boot footsteps guided the five to the end of the corridor. A glass sliding door was directly ahead, leading into the engine room and to the wall beside it with an elevator. The doors opened as Benally fingered the panel next to it. She then reached down to interact with a switch on her boots. Suddenly she began to free float and entered the elevator along with everyone else. Before the elevator to departed, she spun her body around so that the black floor that was once below her was now above her head.
“You’ll want to flip around like I did,” Benally explained and pointed to the black floor. “Once this elevator hits the centrifugal gravity, the floor will become the ceiling, and the ceiling will become the floor. Rule of thumb, make sure the black title is above your head, while the white one is below you.”
Everyone complied, tossing their floating bodies upside down, before Benally activated the lift. The elevator hummed as it launched up through the shaft, leaving the central section behind as the rotating ring got closer. Sunlight began to trickle through the elevator’s tinted windows and transparent shaft. Chloe saw a breathtaking view of Africa from the window next to her. Areas on the continent appeared as large dark circles, most likely glass craters left behind from the Hashmedai invasion.
The elevator arrived, and almost instantly, everyone fell to the white titles below as the doors slid open. Gravity—or at least something like it—held everyone in place to walk out and onto the next area of the ship. “This is the habitat ring,” Benally explained. “Here you’ll find crew quarters, secondary infirmary, rec rooms, gym, armory, and mess hall.”
An hour had passed since Chloe and her team came aboard. The quarters were extremely cramped and featured a single bunk bend, holo projector, computer terminal, and two storage trunks next to the bed. A small sliding door to the side led out to the main hall and other quarters. Firmly holding a holo pad in her hands, Chloe slowly learned how to use the device and access the Internet with it. A holographic browser window hovered above the pad, and Chloe used her hands to interact with the links and content before her.
Most of the articles she read and videos she watched were old news reports, dealing with the aftermath of the invasion. Radiance had come to Earth to defeat the remaining Hashmedai forces unharmed by the nuke she and her team set off. Humanity was uplifted afterward. New ships and major advances in technology came as Radiance shared knowledge with the people of Earth. The nations of Earth had united to form a single human-run power, the UNE. Much of this she knew thanks to the Radiance psionics in Lejorania’s sanctum telepathically communicating with the Radiance psionics deployed to help Earth. Hell, it was how she was able to get promoted and have the EDF become a recognized force, by playing a game of telephone with psionics, relaying a message from her newly appointed superiors at Earth and vice versa.
What Chloe didn’t know about were all the ships Earth had built. The Earth fleet was divided into two groups, battleships and science ships. The first ship was the Enterprise, which was more of a hybrid battle and science ship. Its purpose was to prove that humanity was capable of shipbuilding and traveling to other worlds. The real battleships came shortly afterward. The flagship of the Earth navy was ESV Sun Tzu. And then came the ESV Wilfrid Laurier, ESV John F. Kennedy, ESV Benjamin Franklin, ESV Shaka Zulu, and the newest ship in the fleet, ESV Winston Churchill. ESV Barack Obama was currently under construction.
None of the science ships were in the solar system; they were all launched into deep space to lay claim to worlds neither the Radiance Union nor the Hashmedai Empire had. ESRS Carl Sagan was traveling to Sirius, ESRS Nikola Tesla to Luhman 16, ESRS Stephen Hawking to Wolf 359, and ESRS Freeman Dyson to Lalande 21185.
“You done with that thing?” Sarah bellowed from her top bunk.
I suppose I can browse more content later, Chloe thought and shut down the holo pad. “Yeah, I’m done.”
“First day back and you’re already looking for Wi-Fi.”
“Just wanted to see what we’ve missed during the last twenty-two years.” Chloe said as she lay back on her bottom bunk.
“Anything on Mom and Dad?”
Chloe sighed; she briefly saw an image during her search tilted “East Coast Wasteland,” depicting an aerial shot of a glassy valley next to the Atlantic Ocean. Nobody survived the assault on New York City. I need to stop denying their fate, she told herself.
“Major Vaughan, please report to the bridge,” Xavier transmitted over Chloe’s communication earpiece.
So much for a quick nap. Chloe tapped her earpiece and replied, “On my way.”
The bridge of the Winston Churchill was partially staffed by the time Chloe floated in via the main central corridor. The doors slid open, revealing a setting illumined by lights of several holographic windows, displaying information regarding the ship’s status, and the situation outside the ship. Directly in the center was an enormous projection holographic of Earth, clearly displaying the locations of all ships, defense platforms, satellites, and space stations in orbit. Around that hologram was a ring-shaped computer terminal for bridge crew to use, in order to interact with that hologram. Up front were the main helm controls, another holographic display that resembled a heads-up display (HUD). Surrounding everything else were computer workstations with their respective holo displays.
“Ah, Major,” said Xavier. “Over here.” He waved his hand to Chloe as she floated over to him. He stood next to a terminal closer to the helm alongside a tall woman with brown hair, braided, and tied back. Strangely enough, the flag on the back of her uniform was that of the UNE, no other crew members that Chloe encountered had that flag.
“Captain,” Chloe said as she floated next to the two.
“Major, our scanners have been detecting some form of heavy psionic power ever since you and your team came aboard,” Xavier said, glancing at a holographic bar graph. “I think the bloody thing just needs a good ol’ recalibration since it’s so new.”
“Captain, I have recalibrated all systems three times now, with no change in our current situation,” said the woman next to Xavier; she spoke in a monotone manner.
“Are you able to locate it this time?” Xavier asked.
The woman tilted her head toward the floor and said, “Scanning, please stand by.”
For someone who should be scanning, she didn’t seem to be doing much. She merely stood in place, with her hands behind her back. “The fuck?” Chloe said after watching her for a solid minute without moving to a computer or picking up a holo pad.
Xavier chuckled. “Ah, forgot to tell ya, eh? She’s an android, Electronic Versatile Entity or EVE for short.”
That explains the UNE flag on her back, Chloe thought. If she’s a machine, then she wasn’t exactly born in one of the nation states of the UNE.
“Search results have turned up no results, Captain,” EVE said, tilting her head back to face Xavier. “Whatever this psionic anomaly is, it is blocking all attempts at locating its direct source from within the ship.”
“Fuck me,” Xavier grumbled. “I don’t suppose your Radiance friends slipped something into your meals, did they?” he said to Chloe.
Chloe smiled then replied, “We could do a test—have all five of us leave. If the anomaly vanishes, then it’s one of us.”
“This is outrageous!” exclaimed a voice from the opposite end of the bridge. Chloe quickly took notice that the person spoke in the Radiance language.
Chloe spun her weightless body around, to see the sight of a Rabuabin psionic floating before a communication terminal. The horns on his head were large and extended outward, unlike most female Rabuabin in which their horns are smaller and curved to form a C shape. His hair and tail had a light brown color to it, while the typical psionic cybernetic implants adorned his shirtless, athletically fit body. A small holographic projection of an Aryile man was before him, no doubt the person he was yelling at.
“And no, he is not the source; we took his arse into consideration with our scans,” Xavier said.
“Psionic Za Michei seems to be significantly more aggressive this evening, Captain,” EVE said while staring at the Rabuabin psionic.
“Don’t put me on hold! I need an answer right now!” Michei yelled at the Aryile hologram in their language.
“I’d pay good money for him to shut it,” Xavier said.
“Mind if I talked with him? I can speak their language,” Chloe offered.
“Michei can speak English. He’s just too much of an arsehole to deal with. Can’t wait til he gets his fuckin’ transfer,” Xavier said to Chloe. “But go right ahead. He might respect you more than the rest of us.”
“I can speak all known languages, both human and extraterrestrial,” EVE added.
“And he resents your very existence,” Xavier reminded EVE. Then returned to the hologram he was looking at as Chloe floated toward Michei at the aft section of the bridge.
She stopped next to him, using a chair beside to him as a means to stop her from floating into the computer terminals in front of them. “Excuse me.”
“Yes! What?” Michei screamed, cutting Chloe off.
“Your voice is carrying.”
“Oh, and I suppose you want me to do something about it?” Michei said as he spun to face Chloe.
“I’m sorry. I cannot find any records of your transfer. Officially you are the Radiance liaison psionic for the Winston Churchill until further notice,” said the Aryile in the holographic projection.
Michei’s fingers turned into a first as he spun back around to address the hologram. “I’ll give you something to be sorry about! What’s your supervisor’s name?”
“Never mind. I’ll find out myself. When I’m done, you—my friend—are going to be taking a permanent vacation from your job. I hope your service record is good.” The Aryile man in the hologram raised his arms in a fuck-this manner, and then the projection vanished. “Now what can I do for you?” Michei asked, facing Chloe once more.
“What’s with the attitude?”
“That is with the attitude.” He pointed at EVE, who was still staring at him. “She’s supposed to be my replacement; humans figured they have the solution for the lack of psionics in your society. So they built that monstrosity over there to take on the role that a shipboard psionic would normally do. So I requested to be transferred, I’m useless to the crew and would rather not see the skills I worked so hard on be undermined by human technology.”
“Pretty sure most of this tech came from your people.”
“Not all of it, that android uses quantum computing,” he explained. “Your kind already started developing and studying quantum computers and building primitive androids long before the war. All we did was help bring your kind up to date.”
“So I guess the transfer hasn’t been approved?” Chloe said crossing her arms.
“I have been approved! But someone in command is playing games, lying about it. They want me to stay here, they want me to feel useless, and they want me to be miserable.” He sighed and then sat down to monitor ship functions via his terminal. “I’m being punished.”
His fingers raced across the computers controls, before revealing, “Word of advice, human, never have sex with your commanding officer’s daughter.”
Geneva, Earth, Sol System
Geneva was a UNE “green zone,” meaning it was devoid of all HLF activity; its population included purely human and Radiance races. The city remained mostly intact during the Hashmedai invasion of Earth. Given its history as an international city and home to the Red Cross and United Nations, it was, without hesitation, named the capital of the UNE. One of the major changes to the city was the inclusion of Earth Cube, the primary government building of the UNE, housing the president of Earth, Mariana Salamanca, EISS HQ below it, and the central command for the UNE military.
Earth Cube appeared as a cube-shaped object covered in glass windows across every section of it. It sat on an artificially created island floating in the calming waves of Lake Geneva with a wide suspension bridge connecting it to the rest of the city. On a sunny day, the glass-clad Earth Cube reflected off the blue waters of Lake Geneva, along with sunshine from above and the odd clouds in the sky. In some way, it truly looked like Earth in a cube form.
High above the skies of Geneva was a fleet of drones, armed with rail guns and plasma missiles, keeping the population safe in case of a surprise Hashmedai Empire attack and discouraging the HLF from conducting any terrorist activities. The rooftops of Earth Cube had landing pads with UNE and Radiance transport ships parked. The central landing pad housed Earth Ship One, personal transport ship of the UNE president.
President Mariana Salamanca stood in her office inside Earth Cube. The elderly Spanish woman wore a black blouse along with a knee-length businesslike skirt. Small reading glasses were perched atop her head, their arms nestled into her brown hair, slowly turning gray.
The Geneva skyline, visible from the window, featured Lake Geneva separating the city from the artificial island. Blinding sunlight shone in, illuminating the president’s office. Her guests included Ure Fiesei, the Whisper, Radiance intelligence; and Ure Crimei, viceroy to the Radiance Council. The two men were Linl. Crimei had thinning red hair and wore traditional white-and-yellow Radiance political robes. His were modified to allow his psionic cybernetics to be exposed. As such, his robe had no chest section on it and resembled more of a cape with a hood and sleeves.
Fiesei, however, puzzled Mariana. At every encounter with him thus far, she recalled him wearing human business suits, the like gray-and-black one that rested on his body. Part of his cover? she wondered. After all, the Whisper was deployed to monitor the situation on Earth covertly, namely how humanity was adjusting to its new way of life.
“Magnificent, isn’t it?” Fiesei said as he stood next to Mariana, gazing out the same window. “A shining beacon of hope for your people, and proof that my people will always be here to support your species.”
Mariana winced at his comment, then said, “Some people wonder how long it will be before it becomes property of the Radiance Union.”
“Which brings us to the topic at hand.” Crimei said, taking a seat on the circular sofa directly in front of her desk.
“Yes.” Fiesei said as he and Mariana sat down to join Crimei. “Humanity’s admittance into the Radiance Union.”
“It’s a…controversial topic for both of our people,” Crimei said. “Many years ago, our council voted to keep our distance from your kind outside of scientific research.”
“But here we are. You helped rebuild our planet when the empire tried to burn it into oblivion,” said Mariana.
“Our laws demanded that we take action,” Crimei said. “Now the question is…what actions do we take from here?”
Mariana took a long deep breath while adjusting her glasses and said, “You know enough of our world to know that we have many cultures, religions, and traditions. Joining Radiance means we’ll have to abandon all of it, and embrace an alien way of living our lives.”
“The Javnis, Rabuabin, Vorcambreum, and Linl all faced the same disputation,” explained Fiesei. “But in the end, they found that the benefits were too good to turn away from. The galaxy is a very dangerous place; only through unity can your species truly survive as the years go by.”
“The Hashmedai Empire is standing their ground solo,” said Mariana to Fiesei.
“Their empire is falling apart century by century; we could wipe out their home world easily if we wanted to. But such a battle would cost tens of thousands of lives and ships in the process—not worth the effort.”
“Are you certain the transition to the union will be painless?” Crimei asked.
“Hundreds of people every day have converted to the Radiance religion; your military already takes part in joint operations with ours. Plus we have the humans living on Lejorania Sanctum who have already partly embraced the Radiance way of life.” Fiesei’s voice was charming yet worrying, like a car salesman trying to get rid of bad merchandise. “I very much think humans are ready to become the sixth member of the union. We just need to take our time to make the transition.”
Crimei’s hands folded together as he uttered his next, highly important words. “We just need the Hashmedai living here to be removed.”
ESV Winston Churchill, Earth Orbit, Sol System
Gavin’s hands dug deep inside of his duffel bag. Beneath the piles of apparel, playing cards, and souvenirs from Lejorania Sanctum, lay something he valued more than anything in life. Something that could never be replaced, something that kept calling out to him, like a child who wanted a hug from a parent. His hands rose up from the bag carrying a red gem with a white glowing orb in the center of it. An object his dead wife damn near guarded with her life, to the point that she requested Chloe take it and give it to Gavin. She made the request with her last bit of strength before succumbing to wounds, thanks to the Hashmedai.
His hands pressed the gem to his chest while he knelt down and shut his eyes. The gem returned the comforting favor by removing all pain in his heart caused by the memory of his dead wife and unborn child—a pact the gem and Gavin’s unconscious mind made shortly after he left Earth.
Uprising of the Exiled will be released this spring, join my mailing list to stay in the loop.