Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Update

I am about half-way through revisions on the novel formerly known as "The Fourth" (new title still in the air). I am also thinking about how to complete a major battle scene in "Lonely Space" (50% done) (working title). "Rage Against the Earth Czar" (25% done)  still coming along too.

Three of them, yes, and Second Front too. I know, it's insane.

Second Front is all first draft, of course. When I revise it I will have to make it a little more scientifically sound. Not much, it is science fiction after all. Another planet coming so close would have made Earth wobble, we'd have all sorts of climate and weather disasters happening at the the same time.

So that would have to be included as part of the story after revision. So Nemesis would "park" a few million miles away, at least. Unless you think losing the moon would add to the story, and that would be worth thinking about. Maybe! I'll think about it.

Remember it's a work in progress and all ideas and comments are welcome. Even though it is a first draft, constructive criticism is also accepted.




Monday, September 28, 2015

SECOND FRONT - Chapter Six - Meanwhile on Earth


Prologue
Chapter Three  
Chapter Four 
Chapter Five





Chapter Six
Meanwhile, on Earth...


Park Eun-Hee opened her eyes. Her first thought was, “Why am I still alive?”

Just from looking straight up at the ceiling she could tell this was her classroom, the alien had brought her back here. She could also tell that it was no longer night time. Without moving much she wiggled her toes and fingers. Everything seemed to be in order.

Finally she turned her head and found the alien sitting nearby on the floor but his back was towards her, engaged in some other activity. For a brief moment the image of her little brother flashed through her head. The splotchy discoloration on its back was similar in shape to the burn scars on Park Soo-Han's back, the boy had pulled a tea kettle off the stove somehow when he was almost three.

It was only a brief moment. This thing was almost the size of a well grown and muscular man, it was no child. Even if this alien had fled from the battlefield, even if he (or she, hard to tell) was a pacifist it was likely still dangerous. Maybe he was their Gandhi, but she couldn't depend on that.

Eun-Hee wanted to get her cell phone from her backpack. If she could call her father he would get help from the authorities. If he ran here on his own though, that would be bad. If her father attacked or provoked this alien, it would hurt or kill her father. She figured it was already scared.

Whatever it was doing it was intent on it, head scrunched down in concentration. She heard faint scratching noises coming from its direction. She moved just enough to see that the alien was sitting cross-legged with a drawing pad in its lap and a charcoal art pencil in its clawed hand. Eun-Hee moved a little more to see what it was doing.

Her jaw dropped. The alien was drawing. That's when it stopped and turned to look at her.

.

They're closing in on the bait.” The Pilot was told by his scouts. The swarm of robots was getting close. These things were relentless. They had tore a swath through Columbus, Ohio more than a quarter of a mile wide, chewing through the Magic Mountain Fun Center and then most of the Polaris Fashion Place. They had moved roughly south through the center of Columbus, leaving an apocalyptic scene of devastation in its wake.

The C-130 circled over the target area. The housing subdivisions had all been evacuated and a weapon had been dropped in their path. They monitored the approach the of the swarm, the disappearance of homes and vehicles and infrastructure wherever it went was unnerving.

The first elements of the swarm are getting close to the target.” the report came.

Set it off before they eat it.” their commanding officer responded.

The President had said to try anything short of nukes. Some of the burrowed ships had been taken out with bunker busters but the swarms were proving tougher. They were bombed with everything that could be found, but still enough robots survived to absorb the blow and continue to grow.

The explosion down below was smaller in appearance and it was set off atop an 8'foot U-Haul box trailer for elevation. It was a rather low-yield EMP bomb. The electromagnetic pulse went out in all directions and they could see the front third of the swarm stop moving.

Someone back in the control room at Wright-Patterson had yelled “Yes!” in a premature celebration because the other robots absorbed the dead ones and would use the resources to create more. The test was, in fact, a success. We now knew that EMP weapons could be effective, and the US had been testing such things since the early 2000's. The first successful demonstration of the Counter-electronics High-power Microwave Advanced Missile Project, or CHAMP.

Now two drones carrying EMP lasers were being deployed from a military research center out in Utah, there were plenty of targets for them to choose from. The top officer at Wright-Patterson picked up the secure phone and put a call through to Air Force One to report the results. Air Force had now been in the air for more than fifty hours straight.


Marshall and his sister Samantha had been on the move for days. They had been hiking when the trouble started and their vehicle hadn't started. When they saw the military activity and got a look at dead aliens and a burnt out landing ship, they knew they had to get home.

Every house they had found in the rural foothills had been abandoned, so far. They were out of supplies now and were a bit hungry. They had talked about breaking into a house just to get some food and water, they would leave a note and contact information. People would understand. Probably.

They walked around the cabin-like house before knocking. There was no response. Then they backed up and Marshall ran at the door and kicked it as hard as he could. The old wooden door splintered and buckled and a growling dog took its place. It wasn't a breed, it was a mutt.

Whoa, good boy.” Marshall said, “Did your master leave you here?”

Samantha made sure to stay behind her brother as they backed up toward the dirt road.

Good boy, we're not going to hurt you.” He said as soothingly as he could. Instead of growling again the dog whimpered and laid down. His tongue hanging low out of his mouth.

He's probably really hungry.” His sister said, still behind him.

They went in a semi-circle back to the house and went in. The dog had apparently been chewing the couches, the curtains, a rug and anything else it could get a hold of. It had also been there long enough to make some piles of excrement on the floor. It was a small place so the kitchen was easily noticeable from the front room. Samantha opened a cabinet, “A bag of dog food.”

Marshall poured a big pile of the food into a dog bowl he found inside the hole in the couch, and then sat the bag on the floor next to it. His sister looked through some more and only found a mostly full jar of instant coffee, a five-pack of dried ramen noodles, the square kind and a can of peaches in syrup. Marshal knew they'd be wrestling for that one.

They also found a small battery-powered radio, their own had drained its batteries. They turned through the FM and AM dials. They found nothing but static, which was a bit odd. They went through them slowly again, looking for all of the bigger and more powerful stations. Nothing but static except for a weak signal at 820 AM.

National evacuation orders to leave the cities threatened by the swarms...” static broke in. The siblings looked at each other. They hadn't heard anything about swarms. “The number of burrowed alien vessels manufacturing the robots has dropped again to only (static). Not so good news, relatively good, for countries without bunker buster bombs or proven EMP weapons... (static) This newscast will repeat every ten minutes with a new update at the top of each hour...”

It's worse than we thought, Sam.” Marshall said.

Samantha put down the two cups of instant coffee. “We were only out of the loop for a day or so and this happens, Mars. I will remind you forever that going hiking had been your idea.”

He laughed. “Yes, because I am an evil genius. Nothing was left to chance.”

Samantha looked at the dog, still eating the dry food. “You heard that? He did this, it's all his fault. A witness!”

She was making them a pack of noodles each. “Do you think everybody is okay? They said the cities were evacuated. That swarms and robots had invaded. I'm worried about mom and dad.”

He shared her concerns, but he wanted to sound like he was confident. “We'll make it. Just remember not to ever give up.”

I am using the first shower.” She said then looked down at the bored dog lying on the floor. “The dog will keep you company. I'll try to make it quick.”

She went into the other room and he soon heard the water running. Marshall looked down at the dog and the dog didn't move but glanced back.

Maybe can play fetch? Go fetch a steak! A beer! A...” he said, laughing at the non-reaction of the dog on the floor. He stopped because he heard a grinding noise. He told himself it might be the old pipes but got up to look out the door, just in case. In front of him was a seething chrome-colored ground, the porch was half gone already and it was moving fast.

He slammed the door and ran toward the back room. “Sam, get out. Now! We gotta go!”

The front wall of the house being ground down furiously by the metallic horde, the dog was barking but keeping his distance. Marshall banged on the bathroom door, “Put your clothes on, we have to run now, Right now!”

Half the front room was gone, the little robots were relentless. Then past them he saw some larger ones with what looked like some sort of heavy weapons. What was she doing, she couldn't fail to hear that noise! He kicked the bathroom door, “This is life and death, hurry up!”


The front of the bedroom was covered by them when the bathroom door finally opened. She looked and screamed. He pulled her out. Her hair was wet and falling over her face, but she had shorts and a tee shirt on, it'd have to do. Marshall pulled open a window as most of the bedroom was already infested and climbed through.

They ran away from the house but the little robots were still pretty fast. The whole house was quickly gone and the dog was nowhere to be seen.

My feet!” she said, her bare-feet must be hitting all the sharp branches and stones.

We can't slow down!” He yelled.

.

Park Eun-Hee held her breath. The alien's bat-like face was so close to hers. It didn't seem angry or anything though. He was still holding the art pencil and the drawing pad. After a moment it turned back to what it was doing. After a few minutes he turned to her again and showed her what he had drawn.

It was Earth. A lifeless Earth stripped of any useful resources, and in the distance was Nemesis. The alien planet was obviously moving away, back toward interstellar space. They did not come here to take over Earth, they evidently had come here to strip mine it. Park Eun-Hee looked at the alien and then the picture and back. Then nodded.

The alien put the drawing pad and pencil down and moved away to the far wall.

Eun-Hee's mind raced. Why had it shown her that? What was she supposed to do with this? Could the alien be lying? She wondered if the alien even had a concept of what a child was and that adults might not take her seriously.

Her phone! She moved to the desk where her backpack sat in the seat and slowly unzipped the compartment where she had put the phone. She slid the thin device from the pocket of the backpack and touched the top button. The screen lit up, there were 14 missed calls and 16 texts. Her parents must have gone insane looking for her and worrying.

Park Eun-Hee took the cellphone and moved back to the drawing pad. Then she positioned the phone for a selfie that would show her, the drawing as well as the alien against the back wall. It occurred to her that this might be the dumbest thing she could do, but the message needed proof. When everything on the screen looked pretty good, she tapped the right spot and the camera flashed.

She had forgotten to turn off the flash. The alien was in shadow and might not like sudden blinding lights. Eun-Hee held her breath and froze. The alien stood up and then broke through the wall and into another room of the school. Eun-Hee quickly sent the picture to as many friends and family as she could, telling them to get the image to the authorities.

She breathed again. Park Eun-Hee still needed to figure out a way out of the school and back to her home. She had been missing all night and now her parents would receive the image too, they would be even more shocked!
...

A military drone flew 10,000 meters over the silvery swarm near Ogden, Utah. It was heading towards one of the large camps that people had fled to from the cities. The drone carried the newest prototype EMP laser weapon that was undergoing testing.

The target was acquired. The invisible and soundless laser began firing. It would take several lingering blasts to make much of a dent in the swarm but after circling for half an hour, no more targets were detected. Ten minutes of searching later, the drone was ordered toward another site to target another swarm.

Finally one of the swarms had been defeated, during the third day.


Marshall and Samantha reached a ravine and there was fast moving water rushing from up hill to downhill. “We can't get across this!” Marshall said.

I need to rest.” Samantha said, “How far away do you think it is?”

As in answer to her question the tree line became silvery as the swarm came ever closer. There was no where else to go.

Hang on to me, Sam!” He told his sister and then pulled her and jumped off the ground and down into the ravine. He was hoping that the fast moving water would sweep them far away from this alien robotic warm.

Marshal kicked and tried to keep their heads above the raging waters, but he also had to keep a tight hold on his sister. The water was definitely moving fast, but now he had to start thinking about getting them out of this ravine. Soon!

Samantha arms around him were starting to loosen up. He tried to yell that needed to hang on but water filled up his mouth. “Sam!” he choked out.


Please consider leaving a comment, a story idea to make it better, spelling corrections or even leaving a buck donation through the PayPal link at the top of the sidebar. My first drafts aren't too bad, huh?

next...

The next chapter will return to Earth for a bit.

By the way, if any of you have read New Arrivals... so you think I should write a sequel? Brad Black could be a little older and working aboard one of the ships that came with the newcomers. A fledgling fleet for planet Montoya. Maybe I'll do a chapter as a blog story.

Second Front Chapter Six is being written now. I'll post it tonight or in the morning... here is the evidence that I am writing it.



Saturday, September 26, 2015

Second Front- Chapter Five- Down, down, down

Prologue
Chapter Three  
Chapter Four




Chapter Five
Down, down, down


The slightly reddish dirt of the plateau was sticking to the boots and legs of their pressure suits. Kim Lu-Hyun kept checking the data stream from the drones as well the atmospheric research sensors from the ship. The sight of Earth in the sky was a reminder they weren't in Kansas.

We should have no problems breathing this. Plus, this world's been in interstellar space so long, I bet all the germs are dead.” He told them as they walked.

So, frozen germs can't be revived now that it's orbiting a tar again?” Lt Lowery asked, knowing he had read somewhere they could. Of course you can't believe everything you read.

Normally, yes. But thousands of years seems like a stretch to me.” Kim Lu-Hyun answered.

I doubt it. I seem to recall that they find germs deep in the permafrost of Antarctica that readily come back to life.” Senior Lieutenant Igor Kerensky said.

The Korean replied, “Maybe. Look, I'm not saying we should take off the suits, I am saying if we have to it won't likely kill us.”

Then you should have jut said that.” Max Jackson answered, still looking around for any sign of enemy activity. “Do you think they know we're here?”

No way to tell. I don't think they feel any reason to put guards or sensors up here. What we are doing is so far outside of their experience, it might never have come up.” Lowery reminded them.

After a couple of kilometers they came to some kind of vent shaft. It was probably used to radiate heat from the inside, to regulate temperature in the underground city. The drones showed that there were several of these in a rough circle around the perimeter of the plateau.

Can we drop the nuke down the shaft and run?” Sgt Gore asked, trying to keep a straight face.

I don't think that's a good idea.” Kerensky said, “If it hit the bottom before detonating it could be damaged and not work.”

Lt Jackson shook his head. “Are you saying we need to go into the city?”

That would work, but we would most likely get killed before we got anything done.” he said with a grin. “I think we should fine a shaft that goes under the city. If possible.”

We don't know how far down the city is. Even if we reached ground level, we might still be above the city itself.” Kim Lu-Hyun pointed out. “The factories and whatever that are producing those ships might be far above the rest of the city.”

That's why we have to go down there and see for ourselves.” Lowery told them, “We might be able to assemble the device up here. One of us could have it strapped to our backs on the way down.”

Everyone looked at Lt Jackson “Action” Jackson. He was the biggest, strongest amongst them and he tried to ignore it. “Really?”

I think I would rather assemble it at the bottom if we have a choice.” the Russian said, then he looked at the Korean. “Get a drone down the shaft, I want to know if it always slants down or if there is a drop somewhere.”

He recalled one of the four drones. It was only as big as his hand, he soon had it reprogrammed. Everyone set the HUD screen in their helmets to receive the feed as it flew into the shaft. Once inside the large tunnel-like shaft slanted downward at a slightly steep angle for several kilometers, it had probably descended downward more than a kilometer at point.

The side of the shaft opened up and they could see what looked like large counter-rotating fans, and beyond this it was a little dark. Kim Lu-Hyun ordered the tiny drone forward, closer to the fans where the wind produced buffeted it some. A better image of what was beyond came to them.

The inside of the plateau was hollow except for rows of pillar-like black rock columns from the bottom to the ceiling. These columns were like tall buildings, there were artificial lights all up and down them. On the ground between them was a mass of alien activity, like some sort of homeless encampment. There were aliens brewing vats of stuff, aliens with carts of roots and such and even a few mechanical vehicles.

Why does this look familiar?” Lowery asked out loud.

So many countries in history have impoverished their people to build mighty armies and edifices that it should look familiar.” Kerensky said, “My country was like that for a long time. It still happens that governments would rather build large monuments than feed the people, monuments can be used for propaganda.”

My people were split in half.” Kim Lu-Hyan reminded them, “This looks a lot like the north half.”

Sgt Gore turned off his viewer. “Maybe we can set the nuke off in their military factories? I don't see how nuking the city will help.”

Lance Corporal James Arlen shook his head. “Read a better history book. Factories can be rebuilt, the people in the city are much harder to rebuild. When Caesar conquered the Gauls, he didn't make them his equals, he made them his slaves. He showed no mercy to civilians at Alesia. The whole notion of war not being waged on civilian populations is a modern one, but it's not realistic in most situations.”

Those swarms of robots on Earth were built by automated machines. Those factories would make a fine target.” Lt Jackson said.

All right. Let's not debate this. I'll decide what we do. Right now, I think we need to start our descent through this shaft.” The Russian told them. Kim Lu-Hyun ordered the other three drones to land near the ship and recycle their power cells. He landed the other at the bottom of the shaft so they could see if any aliens started moving in that direction.

The first thing was the three meter drop to the inside of the shaft. For this Jackson, Gore and Arlen took off their packs and weapons and climbed down. They hung from the edge and dropped down, then their packs and weapons were carefully dropped. Finally Kerensky, Kim Lu-Hyun and Lowery dropped their special and critical equipment to the waiting hands below. Then they joined the others by climbing down the same way with the big drop at the end.

Lt Kerensky seemed to hurt his ankle but he said he was fine. He carried his heavy burden without any problem most of the way down. By the then the others had decided he must be fine. It was hot in the shaft, the dry wind didn't help.

They were all a bit startled when a loud noise came from below. It was coming from the city.

Something is happening on the far side of the city. I can't make out any details, though.” Kim Lu-Hyun said, referring to the feed from the drone parked at the bottom. He reconnected to one of the drones by the landing ship and sent it airborne to check the large metal doors.

Sure enough the massive doors were slowly opening.

Are they going to launch another wave?” Sgt Gore asked. The answer to this seemed obvious.

Those massive ships hanging around the moon must have returned to carry another wave back to Earth.” Lowery said, “Bloody hell. We should have nuked those ships.”

Those ships are probably unmanned. Besides why destroy them when they're empty?” Kerensky said through heavy breaths, he was also leaning on the wall a lot. Everyone else had just noticed this and were glancing at him when he fell down and began rolling down the inclined shaft. Once every few revolutions the atomic backpack hit the ground and tossed him into the air to land with a thud.

The others were now chasing him because he seemed unable to stop the roll. Jackson had thrown his own pack and heavy 50 cal down to increase his speed but he finally reached him and stopped the momentum.

Kerensky's faceplate was smashed, much of the suits arms and legs were ripped. The alien armor shell was not scratched or dented though. The armor had probably saved him from more serious internal injuries, except his left arm was a mess and he couldn't move it.

Sgt Gore ran back up the sloping shaft and brought Lt Jackon's pack and gun. Jackson had a first aid kit but even if he sealed up the gashes on the left arm, there were still broken bones. The arm was useless even if he didn't bleed out.

We should have brought a med-bot.” Gore said.

On a suicide mission?” Arlen asked “Well I guess we could have had the nuke inside of it.”

Speaking of the nuclear weapon, the device was scratched and scuffed on the formerly shiny silver surface, but nothing vital looked busted. Kerensky reached up with his right arm and started unlatching the helmet. Kim Lu-Hyun had to help him remove the busted helmet.

He took a deep breath and coughed. “That doesn't smell good. I know I didn't take a dump.”

Can you walk?” Jackson asked after he wrapped the ankle with a blue gel device that tightened itself while form-fitting the wearer. “How does that feel?”

Russia doesn't have those.” He complained, and then grinned. “I would have asked for one.”

They helped him to his feet and he gingerly put some weight on his left ankle. “I can walk.”

The left arm had to be tied to his chest. They used a strap from the ruined helmet to accomplish this.

They started moving again. Jackson now carried the atomic backpack while Gore had Jackson's pack slung over the shoulder. It was going slower than before.

They probably have many cities, right?” Sgt Gore asked. “Even if we succeed here, it doesn't really mean they will stop the invasion.”

Kerensky looked at him. “You are looking for loopholes. The next level will be to convince yourself that we shouldn't nuke the city.”

The Sergeant looked defensive, “No, man. That's not it. I just don't want it to be pointless. So f--- that!”

We've been through this. We all volunteered.”

Gore stopped. “We were losing the war. It wasn't like there was deep pool of soldiers for them to choose from at that point, the launch site was even being attacked. It's hard to change your mind in that situation. And if you are trying to imply that I'm a coward, then f--- you.”

Kerensky laughed. “You are a US Marine. I would never think you were a coward, but you are very defensive.”

They reached the bottom of the shaft and they all dropped onto their bellies immediately. Taking off their packs at the same time. Lowery, Arlen and Kerensky moved closer to the edge to get a better view. Lowery had high-tech binoculars while Arlen used the scope on his modified 50 cal sniper rifle.

The only thing between them and the city now was the two giant counter-rotating fans and a drop of about twelve meters. The nearest of the giant black-rock columns, which were almost a kilometer thick, was about one kilometer. From human experience there would be hundreds of apartment windows where one might see the strange figures in the shaft. The odds of any of the aliens looking might be rather tiny, but it was still a concern.

The noise of the giant doors opening ended.

They're open.” Kim Lu-Hyun said, his HUD screen showing him a view of the giant doors. He dropped the altitude of the drone and then set it down on a tall boulder. The camera soon showed more of the triangular vessels atop tall, and unmistakable rockets, being moved toward the launch sites outside the plateau.

We need to set off the nuclear weapon before those ships can be launched.” The Russian said. “If we could only move it closer to the center of the city we can be sure of damaging those rockets. It would probably collapse the plateau onto the city too.”

There is a dirty looking river that comes close to us and goes through the center of town toward the industrial area.” Lance Corporal James Arlen said.

Ugh. Ever been to places like India or central America? The water going down the center of the street is usually open sewage canals.” Lowery told them, “I don't want to do it if we have any choices.”

Suddenly Lowery noticed through the binoculars one of the mechanical vehicles carrying a single alien moving up what must be some sort of road not more than a quarter of a kilometer from their positoin.

We might actually have a bloody choice.” he told them. He handed the binoculars to Kerensky who used his right hand and soon saw the vehicle. They had no idea how to drive the thing, of course, and they might be noticed too.

Maybe.” He said.

I'm guessing we have ten or twenty minutes until those ships are in the launch sites.” Kim Lu-Hyun told them, “Somebody make a decision.”

------------


Please feel free to comment and report any spelling mistakes. I do try and correct them when I find them.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Second Front - Chapter Four: Over There


Chapter Three

Second Front



Chapter Four
Over There

Being out of contact with Earth while in space was nerve wracking. All the doomsday and horrible scenarios ran through ones head. None of the men had close family, but that didn't keep them from thinking about ex-girlfriends or their buddies left behind. With only a few feet of space above them they did what little exercise could be done in the micro-gravity environment.

The restroom was the size of a casket. Everyone was going there as little as possible and since all they had to eat was Noration and Vita-Water to drink, they didn't need to take a dump as often. To urinate one needed to roll to ones side, back to everyone else (as if modesty was important in this) open the several layered fly in the pressure suit and then stick the business in a suction cup. Not dignified at all.

Lt. Jackson even threatened to just let the piss fly. Although everyone laughed it off, Lowery was wondering how much of that was serious. This was a craft made mostly for orbital missions although it could reach the moon if necessary. Getting to Nemesis was not any more technologically challenging, it just took longer. Kim Lu-Hyun doubted the vessel had enough air for a return mission anyway.

Eventually pushing oneself down into the bedding with arms or feet on the “ceiling” started to seem very pointless. Bone or muscle density loss on such a short trip was very unlikely, but sitting still in a confine space was not to their liking. None of them were tankers or pilots. Lieutenant Jackson had done some diving from a submarine during Marine tactical insertion training, but he never claimed to be a SEAL.

Meanwhile the reddish world grew bigger in front of them. As they got closer it took on more brown and some wispy clouds were evident.

“The ice is melting and the clouds are coming back.” Kim Lu-Hyun said, “As the oceans thaw, they'll eventually become more blue. In the long term that world could become Earth-like, but I suppose the aliens are out of patience.”

“Are they really not going to stop us?” Sgt Gore asked.

Maybe it really was like the Doolittle raid against Japan. The Japanese really thought it could never happen, that their homeland was impervious. These aliens might think that humans were no real offensive threat to them. They had ignored probes and satellites, but the XSR-75 was a bit bigger than those.

If they ignore us, they get what they deserve.” Senior Lieutenant Kerensky added, “They have some great technology while lacking in other areas. Except for the robot swarms, I do not see how they would have won. Although I would dread to see what the next might be.”

Why didn't we just send nukes to Nemesis?” Gore asked.

It would take weeks to prepare another stage for existing ICBM's and to reprogram them.” Lt Lowery answered.

The Sergeant shook his head. “I mean, they had this ship and rocket ready. Why not just the nukes there without sending us?”

Oh, now you ask!” Lt. Jackson said, then laughed.

Lowery shook his head, “A random attack that hit nothing important would not make the right statement, would it?”

Lance Corporal James Arlen tapped a few symbols on the flat screen above him. “Looks like we will be in Nemesis orbit within a few hours.”

Finally.” Gore grumbled. “We're starting to stink.”

Then the computer will try to present the best options for our mission. Although Senior Lieutenant Kerensky has already found a good one.” Lowery explained. “The top of the plateau is large enough that we might be able to land there. If the city is underneath it, all the better for us.”

Nobody really thought it would be that easy. The original plan had called for several of these missions, but Lowery doubted there was another ship prepared. If the swarms were not stopped somehow, he feared for humanity's survival. The good news, at least at the time they left, was that the aliens had not put much into air power. Probably not a shock if they had lived underground for millennium, as seems likely.

We are being captured by the planets gravity. I guess that makes it official.” Kerensky said, “Soon the vessel will make a small adjustment burn and we will be in orbit.”

Everyone was quiet for a while. Then the view outside changed as the ship turned itself around, and they could see Earth in the distance and the moon was a tiny light.

Oorah!” Jackson and Gore shouted at the same time. They reached out to slap their fists together since they were closest, “Right on, brother. That's what we fighting for!”

If entering the alien world went wrong, this would be their last look at Earth. Royal Marine Lieutenant Peter Lowery hadn't expected the swelling emotion in his chest and eyes at this sight. He fought to keep a stiff upper lip, as the old saying went. Kim Lu-Hyun had closed in eyes out of reverence, biting his bottom lip. The Russian Senior Lieutenant stared at it, calmly studying it as if to commit it to memory. The Lance Corporal wiped his eyes.

When the ship turned back around Nemesis loomed large on side of their field of view.

I have programmed a course for the plateau where the alien city is likely. It was also a launch point for many of the enemy vessels, so it is of military value.” Senior Lieutenant Igor Kerensky said, “I know how important it is for the human conscious to not be slaughtering civilians. As long as there is some military value, we can feel good about this.”

After a long pause Lance Corporal Arlen said, “I think that was supposed to be humor.”

Yes, we Russians make the Germans look loosey goosey I guess.” The Russian joked.

If they were able to set down properly they would have to crawl to the stowage lockers and get their packs one by one and then exit the ship the same way. The Senior Lieutenant determined that Lt Jackson should exit first to provide cover in case of attack. Then Kim Lu-Hyun who would send several small drones aloft to scout the area. Then Sgt Gore and then the rest would follow in no particular order.

Sounds fair. Two brothers getting to step on an alien planet before the first white guy almost makes up for Apollo.” Jackson joked.

If there had been killer aliens on the moon, they would have sent some brothers.” Sgt Gore added.

Kim Lu-Hyun hook his head, “As always everyone forgets the Asian guy.”

That's because you studied math all the way here.”

Stereotypes.” Lu-Hyun said, pretending to be offended, “I guess the Astro-Dynamic interplay between spatial bodies probably did look like math.”

I feel offended.” Sgt Gore joked. “I don't even know what he said.”

Finally the joking was over. “Everybody strap yourselves down, tight!” Kerensky ordered. “De-orbit burn in one minute.”

I'm strapping in. I think you take this Senior Lieutenant thing a bit too seriously though, old chap.” Lowery said, pulling the straps as taught as he could.

Suddenly the craft shifted again and out the viewports was just space and stars. Suddenly the vibrations and the noise of the engines being fired shook them. The burn felt like it took forever, but it was really a little over a minute. Suddenly they could feel the ship starting to fall towards the planet below.

Here we go.” James Arlen said.

Where no one has gone before.” Lowery added, “I've always wanted to say that.”

The others groaned at that. Then the ship buffeted and shook as the atmosphere was met. They could soon see the result of this friction as a glowing red emanated from one side of the ship. It occurred to Lowery that some of them would be upside down when they landed, but he didn't remember where the winglets were or the hatch for the large para-glider wing.

Soon the front of the ship was a fiery red, the noise and vibration was too much for anyone to hear anything. Through the viewports they could only see the fire of the ablative shielding burning off. Lowery could tell by this which way was down, it looked like Sgt Gore would be facing down while Jackson would be that the eight o'clock position.

After several minutes, the fire cooking their ship ended. They could see the ground again and all the red and brown. A dead, thawing world that could someday be a lot like Earth, if it stuck around. The ship glided on the little stubby wings as the vessel slowed down in the thicker atmosphere.

So, why was I never told I would have to see this upside down?” Gore asked.

Then they heard the noise of the large wing-shaped parachute being deployed and they felt the gravity when it filled the air and slowed down their descent. Now the computer could use the guide wires to the parachute to guide them toward the plateau.

Lowery saw the plateau in the distance, then he used the flat screen to zoom in on the dark areas. “Those cave-like areas are actually giant doors. They must move the rockets out of those. That means this plateau is far, far larger and taller than I ever expected.”

Kim Lu-Hyun tapped a few keys. “If the air is thinner, that means we'll need more room to land. We might be going too fast to stop in time.”

Senior Lieutenant Igor Kerensky was now furiously tapping away at his own terminal. “I think we can compensate for that. I don't think it's so high that we won't stop. Of course, this isn't Earth and this is all based on satellite data.”

It's as big as New York City. If we slide off the side of that, it won't be pretty.” Lowery said, “Even with the chute, we'd probably crash into the side on the way down. Or we'd drift so far that it will take a long time to reach the target.”

I hope someone remembered to pack the ammunition.” Jackson said.

And the aspirins.” Gore added, from his upside down position. “If I get back to Earth, I am punching the person who designed this.”

No aircraft at all. No radar signals. Nothing to indicate they ever thought about an aerial incursion.” Lt Kim Lu-Hyun said, checking his readings. They have spent thousands of years underground, perfecting some technologies while others were totally undeveloped. It was never necessary for them to have an air force or aircraft when the surface was deadly cold.

They could hear little from outside except the whistling air and the shudder of the giant parachute above them. Even though it looked to the eye as if they would miss the plateau completely, Kerensky and the computer assured them of a good glide-slope. Soon the desert-looking surface was rushing up at them and the landing struts on the ship extended.

Brace for impact!” The Senior Lieutenant ordered them just before the ship first touched the ground and bounced up into the air. They were now heading straight and it looked like a landing aircraft, but they were moving fast. “Deploying auxiliary drag chute.”

This was a smaller round chute on the rear of the XSR-75 next to the rocket engines. It helped to slow their forward momentum. Soon enough the struts were hitting the ground more often and not bouncing as much. Finally, the hip slowed down and then stopped.

All stop. We have arrived.” The Russian told them.

Lt Jackson unstrapped himself and found himself looking up at the stowage lockers and the hatch. Then he noticed that the hand holds could be used to climb up there.

The hatch opened. Lt Max “Action” Jackson poked his head out with his 50 caliber machine gun and scanned the area and the horizon. Then he reached inside and slapped a button and a big slide inflated from the hatch to the ground below. He stood on the hatch and then let himself fall to the inflated slide.

When he reached the bottom he turned in a complete circle. He saw nothing at all. Then he aw Kim Lu-Hyun poke his helmeted head out of the hatch and then reach toward the sky with both hands and four tiny drones lifted into the sky and then each went in a different direction. Then the Korean soldier slid down and joined the Marine.

Sgt Frank Gore joined them next. He didn't look too happy but he reached down and picked up a handful of the dirt and let the wind carry it away when he dropped it. “This freeze-dried planet came with a surprise and it wasn't a toy.”

Soon they all reached the ground carrying their gear. Kerensky and Lowery carried the two parts of the nuclear weapon. Both parts were pretty heavy, so they carried modified 50 cal rifles, like a sniper rifle but with shorter barrels and a bigger magazine. Kim Lu-Hyun would sling his gun and carry the M-32 grenade launcher. Lance Corporal Arlen had his own modified sniper weapon, but it was in the opposition direction than the ones carried by Lowery and the Russian.

Now we need to get inside the plateau.” Igor told them.

Whoa. Hang on, what?” Jackson asked. “We can't set it off up here?”

The Senior Lieutenant and Lowery both shook their heads. “No, that would cause very little damage to the underground city. It needs to be set off inside.” The Russian explained.

We'll need to find a hatch or an air shaft or something.” Lowery said, looking at the Korean who seemed to be lost in space. He was looking at the drone feeds.

I think we might have an air shaft two kilometers south.” Kim Lu-Hyun said.

Time to march!” Jackson yelled.

Oorah!” Gore, Arlen and the others shouted back, US Marine or not.

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Go To Chapter Five

Ongoing story, I will be adding more parts. Please consider a small contribution through PayPal on the sidebar or buying a copy of New Arrivals or Oasis. It will help me out tremendously.