Book: Genesis of War: A Military Sci-Fi Novella
Genesis of War
The Tarvaax War Prequel
Copyright © 2017 by Tripp Ellis
All rights reserved. Worldwide.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents, except for incidental references to public figures, products, or services, are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental, and not intended to refer to any living person or to disparage any company’s products or services.
No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, uploaded, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereafter devised, without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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“This sucks,” Aiden said. He was 15 going on 25. He had a look of perpetual angst on his face.
Ronan shrugged. “Look on the bright side, things could always be worse." He had little idea of how much worse his day was about to get. Thousands of alien fighters, bombers, and troop transports were descending on Zeplovia. The early detection systems had failed, and the alien technology made the invasion force virtually invisible on sensors.
"I don't see why I couldn't just stay with Mom for the summer."
"Because your mother is out gallivanting around the galaxy with some guy named Ma’aveo." Ronan's voice was thick with disdain.
"Ma’aveo is cool."
"I'm sure he is."
"Cooler than you."
"Your mother seems to think so.”
There was a moment of silence between them.
Aidan flipped his shaggy hair out of his eyes and gazed out the window. The pristine skyscrapers of Sol Vorta rushed by as they weaved through the crowded city streets.
"I can take care of myself," Aiden protested.
A knowing smirk curled up on Ronan's lips. "Oh, no. An entire summer unsupervised? I can only imagine what kind of trouble you, and those friends of yours, would get into."
Aiden glared at him. "What have you got against my friends?"
"Oh, I don't know. I suppose you were inclined to steal hover-bikes all on your own?"
Aidan sighed. "Why do we have to keep bringing that up?"
"Because you're still on probation. Do you have any idea what that little fiasco of yours cost me?"
"So it's all about money?"
"No. It's not all about money. It's about your future. And I'm trying to ensure that you have a decent one."
"I can't believe you're making me go to summer school."
"Idle hands are the devil's playground.”
Aiden's face twisted up. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Ronan shook his head. "It means I'm going to find as much for you to do this summer as I possibly can."
They pulled up to Aiden's school.
The disgruntled teenager grabbed his books and flung open the car door. "You know, I don't blame Mom for leaving you. You suck." Aiden slammed the door. The car shook and rattled.
Ronan rolled down the window and yelled after him, "Just remember that next time you ask me for money."
Aiden disappeared into the sea of teenagers flooding into the school.
Ronan shook his head and drove away. He had an appointment with a realtor across town. He wanted something with a little bit more room. Maybe a nicer place would entice his son to spend a little more time with him. He wanted to work on their contentious relationship.
Sol Vorta was the largest city on Zeplovia. The Wastoria building was located on the posh West Side, not far from the financial district. An apartment over here was definitely going to be a stretch for Ronan. But it was close to work and there were a vast array of restaurants and nightlife. It was the happening part of town.
Ronan pulled up to the Wastoria building. "Just drive around the block until I call for you," he said to the vehicle.
A soothing automated female voice responded, "Yes, Mr. Nash. Do you have an estimate of how long you will be?"
It was cheaper to let the car drive around for a while then it was to pay for parking.
"Excellent. I will adjust my route accordingly."
Ronan stepped out of the vehicle and strolled into the lobby. The glass door slid open. The building was lavishly appointed with marble floors and columns.
A beautiful young blonde in a navy skirt and blazer waited in the lobby, talking on her mobile. She caught sight of Ronan and quickly ended the call. A brilliant smile flashed across her face and she extended her hand as she strutted toward him. "Jessica Mills. You must be Ronan Nash?”
He smiled and shook her hand. "Yes. Sorry I'm late. Midtown traffic is a nightmare."
"No problem. I closed a deal while I waited."
"Sounds like business is good?"
"Business is very good." Her crystal blue eyes glimmered. This was an attractive woman.
They strolled to the bank of elevators. Ronan couldn't help but notice her toned legs, accentuated by her stiletto heels. They clacked across the marble floor, echoing off the vaulted ceiling. Jessica pressed the call button, and the lift arrived within a matter of seconds.
"This building has speed elevators, which drastically cuts down the wait time in the mornings."
The door slid open and they stepped inside. She hit the button for the 29th floor. The door slid shut and the elevator ascended—slowly at first, to minimize discomfort, then it moved at an incredible pace. As it neared the 29th floor, Ronan felt like he was going to lift off the ground as the elevator slowed to a stop. It gave him a little bit of a head rush.
Jessica winked at him. She could tell exactly what he was thinking. "Told you it was fast."
The elevator doors slid open and she led the way. "This building is practically brand-new. There's a fitness area, indoor pool, outdoor pool, and holodeck. There's also a theater, and they have movie night once a week. Plus there's a social in the bar once a week for young professionals such as yourself."
"I don't know if I fall into the category of young professional."
"You don't look a day over 25," she said flirtatiously.
It was difficult to tell someone's true age. Medical advancements had come a long way, and age delaying treatments could extend lifespan to several hundred years. Ronan was 38. He figured she was just saying whatever she had to in order to get a sale.
"What is it that you do, Mr. Nash?"
"Security consultant. Just got out of the military last year. Former Marine.”
Ronan shrugged. "It has its moments. For the most part, nobody shoots at me anymore. And that's the way I like it." He smiled.
Jessica opened the door to the apartment and showed him in. It was a stunning residence with floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over the city. An ocean of skyscrapers towered into the sky. They were sleek and modern and glimmered in the morning sun. The kitchen was filled with sleek appliances. The shiny hardwood floors looked immaculate.
"1800 square feet, two bedroom, 2 1/2 bath, and a 600 square-foot terrace. Perfect for entertaining guests."
"I don't entertain that many guests."
Jessica's gorgeous eyes fixed on him. "I find that hard to believe, Mr. Nash."
There she was flirting again.
The place was to die for, no doubt about it. It was more than Ronan could afford. But he was already juggling the numbers in his head. Ronan followed Jessica as she stepped onto the terrace. She took in a deep breath and surveyed the city. "Isn't this just amazing?" She was positively radiating.
"It is an impressive view," Ronan said, his eyes lingering on her luscious form. He was partly describing the city, partly describing her. He figured if she could flirt, so could he.
A subtle grin curled up on her plush lips, and she blushed. She unconsciously brushed her fingers through her hair. It was a subtle signal she was interested.
Ronan wasn't sure if this was all part of her rehearsed game plan to sell more luxury apartments. Either way, it was nice to get a little bit of attention from the opposite sex.
"I told you the view was spectacular.” Jessica gazed at the skyline. She paused for a long moment of silence. Then, almost as if on cue, she said, "So, what do you think?"
Ronan inhaled deeply.
Jessica's blue eyes sparkled at him. She oozed sensuality, and her eyes urged him on. This woman was magnetic. It was as if she was staring into his soul. How could anyone say no to her?
Ronan stammered, "Uh, I like it."
"They're asking 7.5. But, between you and me, I think we can get them down to 7.2. I’ve got three other parties interested, but they haven't put money down yet. No contracts have been signed. It's going to go to the first person who moves on it. And I guarantee you, you definitely want to make your move sooner rather than later." Her eyes smoldered at him again. The double entendre made Ronan's pulse quicken.
Jessica leaned against the railing and eyed him like a hawk. Her supple curves were irresistible. But 7.2 million credits was a lot of money.
"Take some time. Think about it. I don't want to rush you into anything. If this one gets snatched up, I’ve got plenty more properties I think you'd like."
Ronan stared at her for a moment, trying to balance out his impulsive urges against his logical mind. But he wasn't balancing very well. "I'll take it."
Jessica's eyes lit up with glee. "I think you’ve made a wise choice. In two years, you'll be able to sell this place for twice what you paid for it. This area is hot right now."
"I'm sure you say that to all your clients." Ronan was fishing a little bit.
"Now, Mr. Nash, I wouldn't lie to my clients," she said, coyly. "I'll grab the champagne." She dashed into the living room and headed for the kitchen.
"You have champagne?"
"I always keep a bottle in the fridge of every property I represent," she called back to him. She returned a moment later with two flutes filled with sparkling blue liquid.
"I bet you drink a lot of champagne," Ronan said, taking the glass.
"I'm good at what I do."
Ronan surveyed the bubbling liquid. “Antarian?”
Jessica smiled. "Only the finest."
They clinked glasses and sipped the rare champagne. Ronan's eyes gazed at the striking vista. As soon as he signed the paperwork this would become his balcony, and his view.
His eyes caught sight of several aerial vehicles on the horizon. They were flying in formation. He didn't think much of it. They were little more than specs in the distance.
Jessica took another sip, leaving a lipstick stain against the glass. She swirled the expensive beverage around in her mouth and swallowed it down. Her eyes surveyed Ronan, almost like a predator stalking its prey. "I'm sure your girlfriend is going to love this place." Now she was the one who was fishing.
Ronan chuckled. "Oh, no. There is no girlfriend."
"Really?" Jessica perked up.
"I find that hard to believe."
"You don't know me that well."
"You don't seem so bad," she grinned.
Ronan smirked. "I already agreed to buy the place. You don't have to keep selling."
"I never drink on-the-job." She took another sip. "Business is over. This is personal. But, if you don't see anything you're interested in, I understand."
"Did you get the impression that I wasn't interested?"
She smiled. "No. I didn't get that impression."
Now that it was all out on the table, there was an awkward moment of silence between them.
Jessica looked at her watch. "I've got to get to another appointment, but you have my number. Perhaps you can invite me over for dinner when you get the place all fixed up. I'd love to see what you do with it."
The roar of the approaching aircrafts grew louder. They were close enough now to make out their shape. Ronan was familiar with every aircraft in the UPDF Navy. He didn't recognize any of these.
There were dozens more on the horizon. As he glanced around, he noticed they were everywhere. The sky was peppered with these vehicles. They were like a swarm of hornets. Suddenly, the sky came alive with weapons fire. Plasma bolts streaked through the air, blasting at the buildings below.
Ronan's eyes locked on one of the fighters as it approached the balcony. The alien craft screamed toward him, unleashing a flurry of weapons fire. Several of the glowing bolts slammed into the balcony, reducing it to rubble. Bits of concrete and debris scattered, tumbling to the ground below.
The enemy vehicle raced overhead, leaving a wake of destruction in its path. The blast had disintegrated the balcony beneath Ronan's feet, and he was left clinging onto a fragment for dear life. One hand clasped the jagged edge, while the other gripped Jessica's hand as she dangled over the sidewalk below.
Ronan looked down at her, then he glanced to the street. He could see the debris from the balcony slam into the sidewalk, smashing a parked car on the street. The roof crumpled and glass shattered. Car alarms were blaring. There was destruction all over the city.
It was amazing how fast fortunes could change. One minute, he was on top of the world. Now he was hanging on for dear life. Ronan was a strong guy. Years of special operations training had given him calm nerves under pressure. But he wasn't going to be able to hang on forever. His fingertips were slowly sliding over the edge, and Jessica's palm was growing slick with nervous sweat. He knew if he let go of her he could probably save his own life. He could swing the other hand up, grab the ledge, and pull himself to safety. But that wasn't his style. He had never left anyone behind during his time as a Special Forces Marine. He wasn't going to start now.
Ronan hung on for dear life, his slick fingertips gripping the jagged ledge. His hand was cramping, and his fingers felt like they were going to snap. Ronan’s skin was slick with sweat and his grip on Jessica was slipping.
All the color had drained out of her face. Her blonde hair fluttered in the breeze. Her blue eyes were wide with fear. It was a long way down.
Ronan could hear the panicked screams of pedestrians scurrying about street below. Plasma bolts filled the sky, and bomb blasts echoed off the skyscrapers. The skies were dotted with attacking alien ships decimating the city.
Ronan swung Jessica away from the building and she screeched in terror.
“Are you crazy?” she yelled.
Like a pendulum, she reached the peak of her outward arc, then gravity pulled her back toward the building. Ronan swung her back and forth, using her momentum to increase the arc of her swing.
"What the hell are you doing?"
Ronan said nothing.
With a little luck, and inertia on his side, he might be able to toss her into the living area of the apartment below. There was a gaping hole where the balcony had been, and the sliding glass door to the apartment was nonexistent. It looked like a giant monster had taken a bite out of the concrete.
"I'm going to toss you into the apartment below," Ronan said.
Jessica's panicked face grew even more so. "No!”
"It's either that or we both hit the sidewalk." Ronan wasn't sure how much longer he could hold on. However long it was, the time would be counted in seconds rather than minutes.
Once he had achieved enough momentum, he let go of Jessica's wrist and slung her into the living room below.
She barely cleared the ragged edge, and crashed to the floor. She was frazzled, but safe.
Ronan swung his free arm up and grabbed the ledge. His biceps flexed as he pulled himself up. He swung a leg up on the ledge, and leveraged his way to safety.
He rolled onto his back, resting on the floor for a moment. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. His heart was thumping. He leaned his head over the edge and called to the apartment below. "Are you alright?"
"I'm alive," Jessica said.
Wind whistled through the gaping hole in the side of the building. She staggered to her feet. Her navy skirt was covered in dust. She tried brushing it off, but it was pointless. She composed herself and glanced around the room, finally taking notice of the carnage. The white walls were splattered in blood.
The owner of the condo had been ripped apart by the blast. Charred body parts were scattered about the room. Jessica shivered and felt sick to her stomach. She looked like she was going to hurl.
"I'm coming down,” Ronan yelled. “Stay put."
But Jessica looked like she didn't want to stay in that apartment for another second. She stepped over the rubble, heading for the door as her eyes brimmed with tears.
Ronan pushed off the floor. He pulled his phone from his pocket and dialed Aiden. He fidgeted nervously as he waited for his son to answer. With each ring, his anxiety grew. By the fifth ring his whole body tensed, and Ronan feared the worst.
Aidan's phone rolled over to voicemail. “Hey, this is Aiden. I can't take your call. Sucks for you.”
“Aiden, call me as soon as you can. I'm coming to get you." Ronan hung up and sprinted out of the once luxurious condo.
Ronin dashed into the hallway and ran to the stairwell. He pushed through the steel fire doors, and spiraled down the staircase. Jessica was waiting for him in the hallway. Her hair was tousled, and she had that bottomless gaze in her eyes that Ronan had seen in so many combat veterans.
Ronan grabbed her hand and pulled her down the hallway. He could feel her trembling. “Stay calm and take deep breaths. Don't go into shock. It's going to be okay."
She melted down, becoming a complete basket case. Tears streamed down her cheeks, and she heaved for breath in jerking sobs. “How is any of this going to be okay?”
"I need you to stay focused, or we’re definitely not going to be okay."
The panicked screams of residents permeated the building. Some were gathering precious belongings and evacuating the building. Others had decided to hunker down and wait it out.
"Why don't we take the elevator?" Jessica asked.
The lights in the hallway flickered, then went dark. Ronan could hear the screams of passengers that were stuck in the elevators. Their screeching voices filtered up through the shafts.
"That's why." Ronan pushed open the steel fire door and moved into the staircase. Without the building lighting it was pitch black, but several stories below he could see light cascading in through a gaping hole in the exterior wall. It helped illuminate the stairwell, but it didn't bode well for the structural integrity of the staircase.
Ronan's face tensed. He decided to take a chance. They spiraled their way down several flights without incident. Jessica's high heels clacked against the concrete stairs, echoing in the confined space.
The two descended to the damaged area—two flights of the staircase had been demolished. Ronan stood on a narrow strip of concrete at the landing on the 24th floor—it was all that remained. The outer wall had been torn away, and he could see the entire city. Smoke billowed into the sky, and fires flickered across the landscape.
Most of the staircase that serviced the 23rd and 22nd floor had been demolished. There were remaining fragments here and there, as well as twisted bits of the railing. The next piece of solid ground was 36 feet below. Not an impossible jump, but definitely risking a sprained or broken ankle.
Ronan peered down the stairwell and tried to figure out how to descend past the gap.
Wind gusts buffeted Ronan, making his position near the open edge even more precarious.
On the far wall, there was a black water pipe, 8 inches in diameter, that ran the vertical length of the building. It fed the sprinkler system on each floor. It was fixed to the wall with support brackets that were bolted to the concrete. It had joints every 10 feet. Scaling the pipe wasn't a perfect solution, but it seemed like the most viable way down.
Ronan was going to have to leap five feet to reach it. If he misjudged the jump, or failed to grasp the pipe, he'd bounce off the wall and certainly break something as he spun to the landing below. Even worse, he could miss the pipe completely, fall through the hole in the wall, and plummet to the sidewalk. It wasn't an appealing thought.
Ronan's intense eyes focused on the water pipe. He practiced the jump in his mind, visualizing how he would grasp the water main. He went through it in his mind a few times, then sprang into action. His quads launched him from the ledge, and he flew across the chasm, clutching the pipe. But he couldn't quite grasp it.
His fingertips clawed at the metal as he plummeted downward. For an instant, it looked like it was going to be a disaster. But at the last moment, his fingers clasped onto the bracket affixing the pipe to the wall. He readjusted his grip, and shimmied down to the 21st floor landing, which was relatively intact.
"You're crazy if you think I'm going to do that," Jessica said.
"Lower yourself down from the ledge, then let go. I'll catch you."
"Oh, hell no!"
"You got a better idea?"
"There's another stairwell on the other side of the building. I'll go check it out."
Ronan shook his head.
Jessica scurried up the steps and pushed into the hallway on the 24th floor. She returned a few minutes later. "Okay, scratch that idea. That staircase is in worse shape than this one."
"I promise, I'll catch you.”
Jessica cringed. She already had enough of heights and dangling from ledges. She reached down and took off her stiletto heels, then tossed them down to Ronan. He caught them and set them on the ground.
"Those are Milavo-Zelnars, and I paid 2000 credits for those." Jessica climbed down and hung from the ledge.
Ronan looked up at her and attempted to position himself in line with her anticipated trajectory. He tried not to look up her skirt, but there was no avoiding it. "Just fall back, like you’re going to land in a net. I'll catch you."
Jessica scoffed. "You better."
"On three. Ready? One… Two… Three…"
Jessica let go and plunged down. She screamed in terror for a few seconds until she landed perfectly in Ronan's chiseled arms.
"See, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Ronan set her down and she straightened her skirt. Then she slipped her delicate feet into her expensive heels. "Well, now you know what color underwear I’m wearing.”
Ronan stammered, "I hadn't noticed."
Jessica arched an eyebrow at him and they continued down the staircase, spiraling into the darkness.
For the most part, it was intact for the rest the way down. There were a few sketchy locations here and there. The darkness made it even more precarious though, not knowing exactly where you were stepping. But Ronan could hear other residents using the lower portion of the staircase to evacuate, so he knew it was a navigable path.
At the bottom of the stairwell, they spilled into the main lobby. It had become a triage center of sorts, with several wounded victims sprawled on the floor while the other residents attended to them. There were several doctors that lived in the building, and they were doing the best they could with limited facilities. The air was filled with moans and groans and screeching and crying. Everyone had looks of terror on their faces. No one could believe this was happening.
Ronan grabbed his phone and dialed Aiden again. He waited with baited breath until his son finally answered.
“Dad!” Aiden's voice was shaky.
“Are you okay?"
"Yeah. I'm fine. What's going on? Who is doing this?"
“It looks like the Tarvaax.” Ronan was relieved, for the moment. "Where are you?”
“Our teachers had us move to the basement.”
Ronan could hear nearby bomb blasts and weapons fire on the other end of the line. "I want you to stay exactly where you are. I'm coming to get you, okay?"
"Okay. Please hurry, Dad. I'm scared.”
“It's gonna be all right. Keep your phone nearby and answer when I call."
"I love you, son."
“I love you too, dad.”
Ronan hung up and pocketed his phone.
“Is your son okay?" Jessica asked.
“Where's his school?”
“MacArthur High on Van Buren Street. You're welcome to tag along, but I don't think you want to go that direction. You should probably stay here, or try to get out of the city.”
Jessica nodded. Both those options seemed dangerous. She threw her arms around Ronan and squeezed him tight. "Thank you. You saved my life."
She held on a little longer than a casual hug, then let go. "Maybe, with any luck, when this thing is all over, we can see each other again?”
“I’d like that.” Ronan flashed a grim smile. He knew the odds of them surviving weren’t good. “Take care of yourself. Stay safe."
Jessica nodded. Her eyes brimmed as she watched Ronan turn toward the door. She suddenly felt terribly alone.
After scanning the area, Ronan pushed through the doors and stepped onto the sidewalk. The street was a wreck. There were twisted frames of cars that had either been crushed by falling debris, blown up, or burned out. A plethora of bodies lay strewn about the sidewalk and roadway. Blood seeped into the concrete. Flies were already buzzing about the corpses. The roadway was pocked and scarred. There was still a danger of falling debris from the devastation above.
The sky was still dotted with alien fighters, screeching through the clouds and blasting at structures. But most of the assault was taking place in other parts of the city. The damage had been done here.
Ronan grabbed his mobile and messaged his car to pick him up. He didn't know if his car was still in existence, but it was worth a shot.
Jessica pushed through the glass double doors of the Wastoria building and darted onto the sidewalk. "I'm going with you."
Ronan crinkled his brow. "I don't think that’s such a good idea?”
"It's just as dangerous here as it is anywhere else. I think I stand as good a chance with you as I do with anyone. Certainly better than on my own."
Ronan grinned. "Okay. But don't blame me if you get killed.”
“You sure know how to make a girl feel comfortable on a first date."
Ronan arched a curious eyebrow at her.
"Just don't get us killed, and I won't have anyone to blame." She smiled at him.
Ronan had to admit, he kind of liked having her around.
To his surprise, his car pulled up to the curb. It was completely unscathed. There wasn't a dent, scratch, or chip in the paint. The windows were all intact. It looked as pristine as when he had left it.
"Come on. Get in.” Ronan held the door for her, then ran around to the other side. He hopped in the driver’s seat. "Manual driving," he commanded.
The automated voice responded, “Manual drive activated."
Ronan grabbed the gear shift and threw it into drive. It snapped into position with a precise movement. His foot mashed the accelerator to the floor. The engine spun up, and the tires squealed. He rocketed down the street, weaving around craters and potholes.
Jessica struggled to buckle her safety belt as she was flung from side to side in her seat. Ronan belted himself in as well. He turned the wheel hard and squealed around a corner, heading north. The roadway was littered with demolished vehicles.
Jessica clutched the handgrip, white knuckled, as they sped through the obstacles. She was pressing her foot against the floorboard, as if that would slow the car down.
Ronan avoided the debris like a precision race-car driver.
"It's not going to do us any good if we don't get there in one piece," Jessica said, hoping he would slow down
"Relax. I've got everything under control."
The buildings blurred by, and the engines howled. Ronan rocketed up Olympic Avenue, then veered left on 21st Street. But that was a huge mistake.
There was a platoon of Tarvaax warriors at the next intersection, accompanied by two mechanized vehicles. The units stood 2.5 stories tall. They were like walking tanks. Each arm had an articulated hand and a massive plasma cannon. 50 caliber machine guns were mounted on either side of the main turret. Rocket launchers were mounted on the shoulders of the mechanized beasts. Ronan had encountered them before on Draconis Zeti 7, and they were no fun.
The Tarvaax were anthropomorphic creatures, roughly the same size and anatomy as humans—though slightly larger on the whole. They had slick brownish-green skin and protruding eyes. Their skin had a slimy slug-like quality about it. They weren't the ugliest creatures in the galaxy, but close.
Ronan saw one of the mech units fire a rocket. It blasted from the launcher, spitting fire and propellant. A trail of white smoke billowed from its tail.
Ronan swerved hard. His body slammed against the bolsters of the seat. Tires squealed.
The missile sliced through the air and impacted the roadway just in front of the vehicle. Like a geyser, concrete and flame erupted in the roadway. A brilliant amber ball of fire rolled into the sky, followed by thick black smoke. Debris and chips of concrete spidered out and littered the roadway. The crater the explosion left behind was 20 feet wide and 10 feet deep. It was unavoidable.
Ronan jammed his foot on the brakes. His body thrust forward against the safety harness. The car had incredible stopping power. But it wasn't enough. The vehicle plunged into the crater. The car was airborne for half a second until it impacted the far berm.
Metal twisted and crumpled. The windshield webbed with cracks. Ronan's shoulders and hips slammed against the safety harness. The car’s supplemental restraint system activated, and a polymer gel foam filled the cabin within milliseconds. It cushioned their impact, encasing their bodies in a protective cocoon, then dissolved immediately afterward.
The gel was remarkable stuff. It enveloped the body completely, and had a microscopic cellular structure that aided in impact absorption. In the commercial for the product, the CEO of the company jumped off a hundred story building in a container filled with the gel. He walked away unscathed, demonstrating its effectiveness. “I trust my life to Vita-Gel™, so should you,” the CEO would say as a tagline to the commercials. It was expensive stuff, and therefore wasn't mandated as part of vehicle safety. But if you wanted to live a long and healthy life, it was worth springing for.
Even with the gel, a crash like that could be disorienting. Ronan shook it off and gathered his wits. He knew the aliens were closing in to finish the job. He reached for the glove box and yanked it open. Inside was a Bösch-Hauer X977 plasma pistol.
Jessica's eyes widened at the sight of it. It was probably the first time she'd seen a pistol at close range.
Ronan snatched the weapon and checked the plasma charge. It was fully loaded and ready to go. The magazine held 250 ionized plasma projectiles. Each one a little larger than a toothpick. But the destructive power of each bullet was enormous.
Ronan tried to push open his door, but it was jammed. The car had crumpled like an accordion, and both doors were practically welded shut.
Jessica undid her safety harness and jammed her shoulder into her door, but it didn't budge.
If they didn't get out of the vehicle they were going to be sitting ducks.
Ronan planted his boot against the windshield. It webbed even further with cracks. He kept kicking the tempered glass until it separated from the frame and shattered into shards. He crawled out onto the hood, slicing his hands on the razor-like fragments. Blood trickled down his palms. Ronan scampered up the berm, angled his pistol over the ridge, and blasted at the oncoming troops.
Plasma bolts zipped overhead. Ronan fired off a flurry of rounds, then ducked down behind the berm. He sprang up a moment later and peppered another barrage of plasma bolts at the Tarvaax warriors, taking out a few.
It was a futile effort. He was outnumbered, and the mech units were closing in. Their massive metal feet clamored with each step as they slammed against the roadway. Shockwaves rippled all the way to the crater.
Ronan wasn't going to go down without a fight. If this was his last stand, he was going to take out as many of those aliens as he could.
Things looked grim as the Tarvaax troops drew near. But a flurry of weapons fire from Dorsett Street peppered the advancing enemy platoon. Plasma bolts blazed down the street, dropping many of the alien soldiers. Their bodies crumpled to the ground, smoldering from the plasma wounds. A platoon of the Zeplovian Terrestrial Army had rounded the corner and opened fire. It was a lucky break for Ronan.
The enemy platoon shifted their attention from the crater to the greater threat of the Terrestrial Army. The two units exchanged an overwhelming amount of fire. This was Ronan's opportunity.
He climbed down from the ridge and helped Jessica crawl out of the car. She made a graceful exit, trying not to scar her beautiful legs on the wicked shards of glass. Ronan hefted her up to the ledge. He pushed while she pulled herself over the lip of the crater, then followed behind her.
Several Tarvaax warriors blasted at the two of them.
Jessica and Ronan sprinted to a nearby alley. Plasma projectiles impacted all around them, showering geysers of concrete and debris. They dove into the alleyway as an RPG blasted behind them. A brilliant orange glow blossomed. Ronan could feel the searing heat against his back. The concussive force of the explosion knocked him from his feet, blowing him deeper into the alleyway.
Ronan smacked the concrete and rolled. Jessica landed a few steps away. Her hands and knees were covered with road rash. So much for her pristine legs.
It was a miracle they survived unscathed. Ronan felt like he had been hit by a Mack truck. He staggered to his feet and helped Jessica stand. “Are you okay?”
She nodded, in a daze.
He pulled her down the alleyway. The Tarvaax troops were too preoccupied with the Terrestrial Army to give chase. But Ronan wanted to get as far away from them as possible—as fast as possible.
He found a service entrance to one of the buildings. He tugged on the doorknob, but it was locked. He blasted the locking mechanism with his plasma pistol, then pulled the door open. The two dashed inside the structure and navigated the dark passageways. It was some kind of office building, filled with cubicles. Ronan and Jessica made their way to the front of the building, which faced Providence Street.
“I'm beginning to think coming with you wasn't such a good idea," Jessica said as she caught her breath.
Ronan shrugged. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
Jessica was still trembling. She did her best to straighten her skirt and fix her hair, but the adjustments weren’t making much difference. They both looked like they had been through the ringer.
Jessica gazed down at her manicure. "Shit, I broke a nail."
Ronan laughed. “If that's the worst that happens, I think you'll be okay."
“True. But something tells me I'm not getting another mani-pedi for a long time.”
Ronan looked out the window and scanned the area. Across the street, he saw a Fukimoto dealership. It stood untouched at the base of a skyscraper. The first two floors were all dealership. Large glass windows gave a full view of the inventory.
Ronan spotted a Samuri Hypersport H7. It was one of the galaxy’s leading super-bikes. A handcrafted premium racer made of composite materials. It was sleek, angular, and fast as hell. It was essentially a street legal racer. But it was too much power for the average rider. At 1.6 million credits, the only people who could afford them were CEOs, financial managers, and tech giants with more money than sense. Statistically speaking, almost all of them would eat the pavement within the first six months of ownership. Ronan knew more about the super-bike than he cared to. It was the same make and model that Aiden had stolen. Fortunately, when the kid was caught, he was able to return the bike unscathed. Otherwise Ronan would've been paying reparations until well into his retirement.
Ronan glanced up and down the street. It was clear, for now. He pushed through the main doors of the building and ran across the street.
Jessica followed him to the dealership.
"Planning on picking up a new ride?"
“After seeing you drive, I'm a little hesitant to ride along."
“My driving is not that bad."
Jessica arched a knowing eyebrow at him.
Ronan aimed his plasma pistol at the glass door. With the squeeze of the trigger, the door shattered into a million shards. They danced across the concrete, bringing out delicate chimes as they settled.
Ronan crunched across the broken glass as he stepped into the showroom. He surveyed the sport-bike that was hovering on the pedestal. He looked for the tag number that was affixed to the windscreen—H7-295. He marched from the bike to the manager’s office and surveyed the rack of keys on the wall. He looked for the set that was labeled H7-295 and grabbed it from the hook. He marched back across the showroom and climbed atop the hover-bike. He had to admit, the bike was exquisitely designed. It hugged his form perfectly. Rider and machine would become one. He inserted the key in the ignition and cranked the bike up. The thunderous engine wound up, and the boost thruster glowed. Even sitting still, the bike felt powerful. Ronan was never much of a sport-bike kind of guy, but he was beginning to see attraction.
Jessica hiked up her skirt and threw her leg over the saddle. The bike certainly wasn't designed to be ridden while wearing a miniskirt, but Jessica tried to make the best of it. She clung onto Ronan for dear life and put her feet on the pedal-rest.
"Hang on," Ronan said. He blasted at the main window several times. His plasma pistol shattered the large sheets of plate glass. The fragmented shards dropped to the ground, showering glass across the tile floor.
Ronan throttled up the hyper-bike and eased out of the showroom.
The Samurai was scary fast. Ronan could barely hang on as he throttled up. He didn't dare max the thing out. He felt like the crotch rocket was just going to leave him behind.
Jessica clung on so tight, she almost cracked his ribs.
The sport-bike handled like a dream. Ronan made precision turns as he weaved through the damage and debris.
He turned onto Pearl Street and saw a platoon of enemy Tarvaax ahead. He banked a quick right into an alleyway. The rumble of the engine echoed off the narrow concrete walls. He raced past dumpsters and garbage bags, and took a left on Lockwood Drive. The cornering on the hover-bike was incredible. He angled so low on turns that his knee was barely an inch above the concrete.
Jessica’s nails dug into his skin. “If we survive this, I'm never riding in another motor vehicle with you again.”
Ronan chuckled. He continued making his way through the streets towards Aidan's school. The front windscreen was doing a good job of deflecting the breeze. But at such high speeds, it was a challenge to keep his eyelids open. The intense wind was drying them out, and they were burning.
Ronan could hear the fighting throughout the city. Fighters were roaring overhead, and bombs were still falling.
An enemy fighter swooped down behind Ronan and threaded the steel canyon of the skyscrapers. It strafed the roadway, lighting it up with plasma blasts. Volcanoes of debris erupted all around the sport-bike.
Ronan throttled up, staying just ahead of the blasts. He turned down an alleyway, and the fighter rocketed past. He sped down the narrow passageway, crossed over Market Street, and raced into a covered parking garage.
“Shit!” Jessica grumbled.
“What’s the matter?"
“I lost one of my heels." She reached down, took the other one off, and tossed it aside. She figured being barefoot was better than being lopsided.
Ronan waited for a moment and listened for the fighter. He could hear it circle back around—the sound of its engines growing louder as it streaked by. Ronan waited it a moment, then the sound of the fighter’s thrusters faded into the distance.
Ronan continued through the garage and exited on Hogan Street and headed north. From there, it was almost a straight shot to MacArthur High School.
Ronan felt his heart beat elevate as they drew closer. He didn't know what to expect. He was hoping and praying that his son was okay. He just wanted to get Aiden and get the hell out of there.
Most of the buildings in this area had been decimated. Shattered windows and bombed out walls. There were piles of rubble and rebar. Some structures had been razed to their foundation. Others, miraculously, looked untouched.
Ronan blazed ahead a few more blocks and pulled up to the main steps that led to MacArthur High—only MacArthur High wasn't there anymore.
The foundation was the only thing that remained, apart from a few walls and fragments of the Doric columns that once stood tall and majestic out front.
Ronan's heart sank, and his eyes filled. His stomach rumbled and twisted in knots. His skin grew clammy and cold. Sweat beaded on his forehead. His eyes were wide with panic.
“I'm sure he's okay.” Jessica tried to reassure him.
Ronan killed the engine, snatched the key, and hopped off the sport-bike. He drew his plasma pistol and raced up the steps.
Jessica followed after him.
It looked like the building had taken a direct hit from a bomb blast. There was a deep crater in the center of the structure. Several beams and support columns had collapsed and crashed down into the basement. Bodies lay strewn about in a bloody mess.
“Aiden!” Ronan shouted. His voice trembled. “Aiden!”
A toppled beam served as a quasi-ramp that led down to the basement. Ronan used it to descend into the depths of the structure.
“Aiden!” Ronan shouted again. His worried eyes scanned the basement. Chunks of concrete lined the floor. Ronan carefully navigated the rocky terrain.
Jessica had followed him down to the basement. Her delicate feet were no match for the jagged jumble of concrete.
“Stay put. There's sharp bits of twisted metal. If you're not careful, you'll end up with a puncture wound through your foot. And I guarantee you, you won't be wearing any of those Milavo-Zelnar heels anytime soon.
She didn't listen to him. She stepped down from the fallen beam and gingerly found a place for her foot. She took one careful step at a time. With each movement, bits of debris shifted, and she struggled to keep balance.
Ronan gave her a sideways glance.
She shrugged. "I'm trying to help."
"Aiden!” Ronan shouted again.
There was still no response.
Ronan scoured every nook and cranny, but there was no sign of his son. Every corpse he came across filled his heart with terror, but none of them were wearing the same clothes that Aiden had been wearing when he left the house.
Barely audible moans and groans wafted from across the room.
Ronan dashed in the direction of the sound. It was clear someone was buried in the rubble underneath a fallen pylon. His heart raced as he dug out the debris. With each handful he thrust aside, his dread grew. He was desperate to find Aiden, but he sure didn't want to find him trapped under a pillar.
Ronan worked at a frantic pace to remove the debris. He hefted large chunks of concrete aside, finally getting down to the source of the moaning and groaning.
It wasn't Aiden.
Ronan breathed a sigh of relief. But he was equally devastated when he discovered the man trapped under the pillar was Mr. Davidson, the school principal. Ronan was on a first name basis with the man. Aiden's disciplinary problems brought the two in frequent contact.
Bill Davidson hardly looked like himself. His face was black and bruised and so swollen his features were almost unrecognizable. His front tooth had been chipped, and a pinkish mix of blood and saliva drizzled from his lips. Bill had dark circles under his eyes, and his nose was broken. Dried blood crusted around his nostrils.
Davidson was always expertly manicured, clean-shaven, and had a conservative haircut. To see him disheveled like this was disconcerting. His navy suit now looked gray, coated in a mist of concrete dust.
"Bill, it's me. Ronan Nash."
"Good to see you, Mr. Nash." He could barely choke the words out.
"We're going to get you out of here," Ronan said.
"Unless you can lift this pillar, I'm not going anywhere. Both my legs are crushed."
Ronan surveyed the situation.
Davidson's lower half was pinned underneath the heavy concrete. Even if he could move the slab, Davidson would likely bleed to death once the pressure was released.
"The kids,” Bill muttered. “They took the kids."
"Who took the kids?" Ronan asked.
"Those slimy bastards.”
"Where have they been taken?
"Each student is required to wear a tracking bracelet while they're on campus. Reach into my coat pocket and grab my phone. There's a tracking app. If the kids are within a couple of miles, you might be able to find them."
Ronan reached into Davidson's inside pocket and pulled out his phone.
"I need your thumbprint to access the home screen,” Ronan said.
Bill tried to move but couldn't. "I can't feel my hands."
Ronan found Bill’s hand and pressed his thumb against the bio identification pad. The display came to life.
Ronan accessed the device’s settings and turned the security feature off so he could access the phone later. He tabbed through the screen, looking for the tracking app. He launched it, and the app displayed a map of the area. Several pins dropped into position, representing the students. They were several blocks away, heading north on Sussex.
Ronan's eyes lit up—each icon had an abbreviated name. He breathed a sigh of relief when he read the name A. Nash.
Jessica could see the relief in Ronan's eyes. "Go get your son. I'll stay here with Bill. I’d just slow you down anyway.”
Ronan nodded. "I'll be back for you both." He paused for a moment. "If something happens, and I don't make it back…"
Jessica leaned in and kissed him before he could finish. Her full lips melted into his.
She felt amazing.
“There's more where that came from if you make it back. Just a little incentive.” She winked at him.
“That's a good incentive.”
Ronan stood up and navigated his way back to the fallen pillar that served as a ramp into the basement. He climbed to the surface level and scanned the area. He didn't see any enemy activity, but he heard the clatter of combat several blocks away. Black smoke billowed into the sky from multiple parts of the city. The air had grown thick with the smoky haze of battle.
Ronan sprinted down the steps to the sport-bike. He slung his leg over the seat and cranked up the engine. He sped away, holding Bill's mobile in one hand, steering the bike with the other. He kept an eye on the tracking screen and headed in the direction of the students. He zigged and zagged through the debris and took a right on York Street.
Ronan didn't get very far before he heard the unmistakable sound of a fighter engine.
Ronan glanced to his rearview mirror, and his focused eyes found the attack fighter as it emerged from the haze. It swooped down between the buildings, threading the narrow passageway and opened fire. A steady stream of plasma bolts cratered the roadway. Ronan dodged and weaved, doing his best to avoid the blasts. But he lost grip of Bill Davidson's mobile phone. It slipped from his fingertips and smacked the concrete shattering into a million pieces. The display separated from the frame. The device tumbled to a stop by a nearby sewer opening. It was beyond repair.
Ronan had to find Aiden before they moved too far from their last tracked location.
The attack fighter roared past Ronan and circled back for another run. It was probably the same fighter as before, and he was determined not to let his target go.
Ronan swung a hard left on Yale and throttled up the bike. He raced down the avenue with blistering speed. He saw the attack fighter plunge low, streaking toward him head-on. A flurry of glowing plasma bolts raced in his direction, impacting on either side of the sport-bike.
Ronan could feel the searing heat as the blasts narrowly missed him. He was constantly pelted with chips of concrete and debris as the projectiles cratered the roadway.
One of the blasts erupted in front of the bike. The overpressure sent the Samurai tumbling, throwing Ronan from the saddle.
Flung into the air at nearly 100 miles an hour was not Ronan's idea of a good time. Neither was hitting the ground at 100 miles an hour without a helmet.
There was a brief second of bliss before the catastrophe. The world slowed down and everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Ronan soared through the sky. This is what a bird must feel like, he thought. Then he smacked the pavement.
The impact knocked all the air out of his lungs. He heard the crunch of ribs cracking. Ronan had missed a light pole by millimeters, and was now tumbling across the sidewalk. Each roll was taking chunks of flesh from his knuckles and joints as they dragged across the concrete. The uneven cracks in the sidewalk were murder as he slid across them. Ronan kept sliding for a ways, then smacked into the side of the building, finally coming to rest.
He couldn't breathe. He gasped for air, but his body said no. So traumatized by the impact, every muscle spasmed in an attempt to protect him from further damage. Finally, his body remembered how to breathe, and he sucked in a huge gulp of air.
His hands were bloody, and he had multiple spots of road rash. The pavement had worn through his clothing on his elbows and knees. He was lucky that his head didn't collide with a solid object during the crash.
He could hear the attack fighter circling back around.
Ronan staggered to his feet. He was stiff and sore, but it seemed that he had avoided any broken bones. The pain in his back was like an electric shock that ran down his leg. It hurt to stand up straight. He took a few steps, hobbling with a limp.
Ronan could hear the stern voice of his high school football coach screaming in his head, ”Walk it off!”
You could have been run over by a truck, and Coach Barnes would've said, “Walk it off!” It was the answer for everything.
In this case, Ronan didn't have much of a choice. A platoon of Tarvaax soldiers marched around the corner and opened fire. The attack fighter was coming in for another strafing run. Ronan took fire from both directions.
He crouched down behind the twisted wreckage of a parked car and fired a few shots at the oncoming ground forces.
Plasma bolts exploded all around him, blasting at the remains of the car, catching it on fire. Bits of metal and debris showered out. The air filled with smoke and the scent of seared plastic and electronics. There wasn't much left on the car to burn, but it was enough to fill Ronan's lungs with smoke. He hacked and coughed in between volleys of gunfire. His eyes were red and burning from the airborne irritants. But that was the least of his concern.
The fighter made its attack run, lighting up the street with plasma blasts. The roadway erupted with craters, one after the other, on a path straight to Ronan.
Ronan spun around and took aim at the oncoming fighter. He fired a barrage of plasma bolts as the craft soared between the buildings. It was almost impossible to take down a Tarvaax fighter with a pistol. Their composite armor plating would absorb the relatively low energy impact of small arms fire, leaving little more than a small blast mark. But Ronan knew if he could hit the intake port, he could do some real damage.
He sent a stream of weapons fire in the air, leading the fighter just enough. Ronan got lucky. One of the bolts threaded the intake port and a moment later the sleek black craft exploded.
Bits of the fuselage rained down as an amber glow enveloped the craft. The ball of flame tumbled across the sky, roaring overhead. Red-hot bits of shrapnel showered down. The molten craft slammed the pavement, taking out the entire platoon of Tarvaax infantry soldiers.
Some of them ran screaming, engulfed in flames. They only made it a few steps before they collapsed and were burned to a crisp. Their bodies bloated and swelled with the heat, then shriveled. Others were cut in half by flying shards of the fuselage. Alien blood painted the roadway.
The fuselage of the fighter screeched across the concrete and finally came to rest. Flames and black smoke billowed high into the sky. Tarvaax bodies lay scattered everywhere.
Ronan staggered to his feet and hobbled toward the carnage. If he was going to take on another platoon and rescue his son, he was going to need more than a plasma pistol.
His steely eyes scanned the area, looking for weapons. The first plasma rifle he picked up was charred and non-functional. He kept sifting through the dead until he found one that looked unharmed. He checked the magazine and the power cell, then took aim at a nearby car and fired.
The plasma bolt streaked across the street and exploded into the quarter panel. The targeting system was spot on.
Ronan scavenged several extra magazines, and also acquired a rocket launcher. No doubt that would come in handy at some point. He gathered a few thermal grenades to round out his arsenal.
Ronan rushed off towards Sussex. With any luck, Aiden an the prisoners would still be in the same general vicinity.
Ronan hobbled his way north on Yale, which ran parallel to Sussex. Each step sent a jolt of pain through his leg and spine. His neck was stiff, and he knew he was going to hurt like hell tomorrow—if he lived that long.
After several blocks, Ronan was able to catch up to the prisoners—the alien platoon was marching them north, presumably to some type of prison compound.
Ronan cut through an alleyway to get a closer look. He crouched down behind a dumpster. The stench coming from the trash bin made rotten eggs smell like perfume.
Ronan watched the aliens pass by with a dozen prisoners—they were all kids from the high school. Ronan caught sight of Aiden among them—he looked unharmed. Ronan breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Ronan assessed the enemy. There were only four infantry soldiers, accompanied by a mechanized unit. Its massive metal feet clanked against the concrete. Hydraulics whirred with each step.
A few well-placed plasma bolts and an RPG might do the trick, he thought. He waited for the squad to pass by, then angled the barrel of his weapon around the corner of the alleyway. He figured he could probably take two of the soldiers down before the others had time to respond. Two soldiers were at the front of the procession, and two were behind. The mech unit brought up the rear.
Ronan much preferred to snipe them from the high ground. But he grew impatient, and he didn't want to risk losing sight of the prisoners while trying to find a building rooftop that he could access. He was going to have to make do with this vantage point, but he wasn't exactly setting himself up for success.
Ronan lined one of the rear soldiers up in the reticle of his sights. The crosshairs were dead center on the alien’s head. Ronan squeezed the trigger, then instantly shifted the barrel and targeted the other soldier. He squeezed off another round.
The two aliens dropped to the ground, both of them missing their heads.
“Run, Aiden! Run!” Ronan shouted as he grabbed his rocket launcher.
The mech unit turned and took aim at Ronan with its massive plasma cannons.
The prisoners scattered in all directions.
Ronan fired the rocket launcher, aiming at the junction between the torso and pelvis of the mech unit. It was the weakest spot on the walking tank. The missile blasted towards the mech unit, spewing sparks and propellant. It left a stream of white smoke in its wake.
The rocket slammed into the junction point and exploded in a blinding fury. The blast severed the unit in two, showering bits of armor plating, gears, struts, and actuators. The metal beast collapsed to the ground, haphazardly firing bursts of plasma.
Glowing bolts sizzled down the alleyway, narrowly missing Ronan.
By this time, the two remaining soldiers blasted a flurry of projectiles in Ronan's direction. He took cover behind the corner. The brickwork exploded, showering chips of debris as the aliens peppered the wall.
Ronan slung the barrel of his plasma rifle around the corner fired several shots. Then he ducked back around the corner for cover.
Ronan hit one of the aliens. The creature was now face down in the roadway. The other soldier had taken cover behind a pile of rubble and was continuing to pelt the alleyway with projectiles.
Ronan had lost sight of Aiden—he had scampered away with the rest of the students.
Ronan waited for a lull in the oncoming fire, then angled his weapon around the corner again. He blasted at the alien, but the creature was well hidden behind the pile of concrete.
Ronan waited for the soldier to pop his head up and return fire. Ronan kept the reticle of his sights right where he anticipated the creature to appear.
A moment later, the soldier peered over the berm and angled his weapon toward the alleyway. But Ronan had squeezed off a few shots that greeted the alien the minute he showed his face.
The alien’s skull vaporized, and his body slumped forward against the rocky pile.
Ronan had a slight grin on his face. He relaxed, flattening his back against the brick wall and taking a deep breath. But the barrel of a plasma rifle pressed against his head made his grin fade. A Tarvaax warrior had snuck through the alleyway behind him.
Ronan figured he had a few seconds before the creature pulled the trigger.
The soldier marched Ronan north on Sussex. He couldn't quite figure out why the beast hadn't killed him, but he wasn't going to argue. It seemed that the Tarvaax wanted prisoners for some reason. Ronan could only speculate why, and none of it was good.
After several blocks, they reached a forward operating base. The Tarvaax controlled this sector of town, and the base was evidence of that. There were dozens of dropships, mech units, and supply crates. There were a plethora of temporary command structures, and thousands of temporary barracks to house the troops. It had all been erected within the last few hours over several square blocks of the city that had been completely leveled.
The alien escorted Ronan into a holding area enclosed by an energy fence. The red beam rose 20 feet into the air and cordoned off the area in the shape of a giant rectangle. Every 10 feet there were relays that reinforced the beam.
A guard was stationed at the entrance portal. As Ronan approached, the guard pressed a switch on the portal frame, and the beam turned orange. The soldier shoved Ronan through the portal, and he tumbled into the containment area. The guard pressed another button, and the beam turned red, matching the rest of the fence.
There were roughly 20 prisoners inside the containment area. But there were dozens of containment areas in the forward operating base. Ronan glanced around at the weary and scared prisoners. They looked tattered and dirty. Their faces hopeless.
“Ronan?” Jessica shouted. She plowed through the crowd and ran to Ronan. She flung her arms around his neck and squeezed him tight. "Thank God you're here. I mean, it sucks that you're here… But I'm glad you're okay. Did you find Aiden?”
Ronan nodded. "But I don't know where he is now. Hopefully he is far away from here."
But Ronan spoke too soon. Three more prisoners were shoved in through the portal. One of them was Aiden. His wide eyes lit up when he saw his dad.
The two ran to each other and embraced.
“Are you okay?” Ronan asked.
Aiden nodded. "We got caught a few blocks away.”
“At least you’re okay. I'll figure out a way to get us out of here."
“Dad, you remember Jax?”
Ronan scowled at Aiden's friend. “How could I forget your co-defendant?”
Jax smiled and offered his hand. “Good to see you, sir."
The two shook hands.
“Well, since the two of you are proving yourselves to be accomplished thieves, do you think you can break out of a holding cell?"
Jax shrugged. He had a devious grin. “I’d like to think I can pick any lock.”
Ronan introduced the boys to Jessica. They were instantly smitten. Even in her frazzled condition, she was still a sight to behold. Aiden gave a wink to his father and gestured thumbs up.
Ronan didn't waste any time surveying the integrity of the force field. Without drawing attention to himself, he probed the beam. It was solid. There was no way through it, and you couldn't climb over it. The only way to deactivate it was from the outside.
The sun had dipped down below the horizon, and the sky had turned gray. Ronan gazed up at the angry clouds. It looked like a storm was brewing.
The portal flickered then turned orange. Two guards marched into the holding area with their weapons in the firing position. One was quite short for a Tarvaax warrior—the other was tall.
The prisoners stepped back, giving the soldiers a wide berth. Their faces were washed with fear. They cowered like animals that had been beaten by their master.
The soldiers sifted through the prisoners searching for someone. The short soldier fixed his gaze on Ronan and marched toward him with a determination that was unsettling. The two guards jammed the barrels of their weapons in Ronan's face.
"This one will do,” Shorty said.
The tall soldier agreed.
Shorty grabbed Ronan's arm and dragged him toward the portal.
Aiden screeched and protested. He tried to keep the guard from taking his father. The soldier kicked Aiden in the chest, sending him crashing to the ground.
Ronan’s face tensed. He jerked his arm free from the soldier's grasp, then planted an elbow in the alien’s face. The creature hit the ground and Ronan lunged for his plasma rifle. But before he could grab the rifle and blast the soldier, the tall alien had taken aim.
“Drop the weapon, or I will incinerate you in front of your child."
Ronan's grip on the plasma rifle loosened. He raised his hands in the air and stood tall.
The short soldier got off the ground and grabbed his weapon. He jammed the stock of the rifle into Ronan's belly.
Ronan doubled over, clenching his gut. Shorty was going to hit him again, but his partner stopped him. "He's no good if he's disabled."
The short soldier grimaced, then backed off. He shoved Ronan forward. The portal turned green, and the three of them passed through. The minute they cleared the beam, it turned red.
Aiden staggered to his feet, crying. It was easy to see that he was terrified of what was going to happen to his father. Jessica put her arm around Aiden's shoulder and tried to comfort him.
The bald man swung hard, and his fist slammed against another man's face. Ronan could hear the man's orbital bone shatter from the impact. He smashed to the ground, unconscious. Blood oozed from his mouth, and the left side of his face swelled.
A crowd of Tarvaax soldiers hooted and hollered. About a dozen of them had gathered around the two humans, watching them fight. Now the Saraax were exchanging credits with each other, having clearly wagered on the fight.
The bald man towered over his opponent. He must have been close to seven feet tall. He had an old-school mustache that curled on the sides. He had to use wax to get it to do that. His diabolical eyes found Ronan, and a devious grin curled on his narrow lips.
It was clear why Ronan had been brought here. He was next in line to fight the giant crusher.
Two guards carried the defeated man's limp body away. The odds were good that he was never going to wake up again.
They were in a temporary storage structure, that was 40 x 40. Crates were stacked in the corner, and some of the soldiers were sitting atop them. It was like a small arena.
One of the guards motioned for Ronan to step into the ring.
Ronan peeled off his shirt and tossed it aside. His scalloped abs flexed, and his pectoral muscles were carved with deep striations. Ronan had kept himself in good shape. But the bald-headed man was easily a head taller, and quite a bit thicker.
Ronan felt like a gladiator thrown before the lions as he stepped into the makeshift ring. There was no telling how many fights Baldy had already been through. But he didn't waste any time getting this one started. He charged at Ronan and swung his massive fist.
Ronan stepped aside, deflected the blow, then hammered a swift punch to the man's kidney.
The behemoth recoiled and winced.
Ronan was fast on his feet and moved away quickly. There was no way he was going to stand toe-to-toe with this behemoth. His plan was to get close, strike, then getaway. Rinse and repeat.
Baldy squared off against Ronan and scowled. He charged again and swung hard.
Ronan ducked as the man's sledgehammer fist whooshed overhead.
Ronan struck another devastating blow to the big oafs kidneys, then darted away.
The big guy spun around to face Ronan again. His scowl deepened. He seemed even more pissed off at himself that he let Ronan capitalize on the same maneuver twice. He approached the bout with a little more caution.
The two danced around each other for a moment. The big guy gave a few head-fakes, then jabbed left and swung right.
Ronan leaned back, avoiding both of the blows. He moved with the agility of a prizefighter.
The bald man's fist had passed inches away from Ronan's nose. His inertia carried him forward, and put him off balance.
Ronan cocked his fist back and struck like a cobra. His knuckles smashed the bald man's nose. A fine mist of blood sprayed out, and Baldy's head bobbled back.
Ronan followed with a devastating left, then an uppercut. The successive blows knocked the big guy back on his heels. He staggered back a few steps. Ronan hoped he would topple to the ground, but the man regained his balance.
Baldy shook his head, splattering blood. He brought his hands up to guard his face.
Ronan had hit him as hard as he could, and the beast still didn't go down. The last time he punched a man that hard, it sent him to the hospital. The bald guy had a chin of steel. And the punches had only enraged him further.
The bald man charged Ronan again. This time he anticipated Ronan's nimble movements. He tackled Ronan to the ground, plowing over one of the soldiers. The three of them lay in a pile on the ground.
Ronan took this opportunity to strip the soldier’s weapon. He fired a quick shot into the alien’s belly, then spun around and sprayed a stream of plasma bolts at the other aliens. He took out six of them in one sweep. Their bodies crashed down, smoldering with plasma craters.
The other soldiers grabbed their weapons and took aim. The big bald guy tackled one of them, while Ronan blasted at the others.
The bald guy pummeled the soldier into submission and took his plasma rifle.
Plasma bolts streaked across the tiny storage compartment, in all directions. When the smoke cleared, the two men had eviscerated all 12 of the aliens.
Ronan and the bald man exchanged a grin.
“Nice shooting. The name’s Ian Atherton."
The two men shook hands.
Ian wiped the blood from his nose.
"No hard feelings."
Ian grinned. "Not at all."
"How many have you fought today?”
"You're the sixth guy. I'm pretty sure five of them are dead."
"It doesn't surprise me."
It was easy for Ian to see that Ronan had military training. "What branch did you serve in?"
"Space Corps. Recon Marines."
"I knew you fought like a devil dog."
Ronan scavenged the Tarvaax soldiers for extra magazines and grenades. He grabbed a tactical knife from the utility belt of one of the corpses, then moved to the door. He peered out at the compound. There was a dropship not far away.
Two maintenance technicians worked on the vessel. One was on top, and one was under the wing. The loading ramp was lowered.
Ian joined Ronan at the door. His eyes glimmered at the sight of the dropship. "That is my ticket out of here. You're welcome to tag along, if you like."
"My son’s in a holding cell. I'm not leaving without him."
Ian shrugged. "You do what you gotta do. Get your people and get to the dropship before I leave, and we'll all get out together. But I'm not waiting around."
"Give me five minutes."
Ian nodded. "Five minutes, and I'm gone."
Ronan snuck out of the storage building and crept between a row barracks, heading toward the holding cell. He heard a Tarvaax patrol marching his way and ducked around the corner. He threw his back against the wall and tried to make himself slim. As he hid in the alleyway, the Tarvaax passed by on the main pathway. Once they were gone, Ronan continued down the path. He held up at the last structure in the row of barracks. There was a clearing that spanned 30 yards between the barracks and the prisoner area.
Ronan surveyed the grounds. A guard was marching the perimeter of the fence. Another stood at the entrance portal. The guard’s head kept bobbing as he dozed off. His head would droop, and a few seconds later he would jerk awake and snap his eyes open. Then he'd glance around to make sure no one had noticed.
Ronan watched this go on for a few minutes. Then the creature leaned back against the fence and his head drooped again. This time he didn't bob awake.
Ronan could actually hear the creature snoring. The other guard was on the opposite side of the containment area. Ronan had maybe 30 seconds to sprint to the portal.
He ran across the clearing.
The guard snapped awake just as Ronan reached him.
But it was too late. Ronan had his hands around the thing’s skull. He snapped the alien’s neck, wrenching it around 180°. The creature dropped to the ground.
Ronan waited patiently for the other guard to finish his rounds and turn the corner.
Ronan jabbed his tactical knife in the alien's chin, piercing up into its cranial cavity. The creature gurgled, then flopped to the ground as Ronan pulled the knife free.
The blade was covered in blood. Ronan wiped it clean on his pants leg. He pressed a button on the portal, and the beam turned green. He dragged the two creatures inside the containment fence.
Aiden and Jessica ran to Ronan, followed by Jax.
"If anybody wants out of here, now is your chance." Ronan didn't have to ask twice.
The group of prisoners followed him out of the portal. Ronan led them back down the path between the barracks toward the dropship.
It was gone.
Ian had left without him.
Two soldiers rounded the corner. Their eyes went wide at the sight of the prisoners on the loose.
Ronan moved with lightning speed. He brought his weapon into the firing position, lined up one the soldiers in the reticle of his sights, and squeezed the trigger. The plasma bolt put a hole in the alien’s head.
The other soldier fired two rounds back at Ronan. They blazed within inches of his cheek. He could hear the blistering bolts sizzle past his ear. His skin blistered from the heat.
He fired back, taking out the other guard. The alien flopped to the ground. The commotion would most certainly draw attention. It wouldn't be long before the base was teaming with patrols, looking for the prisoners.
Ronan grimaced, wincing from the pain of his burned ear and cheek.
Jessica's face was wracked with worry. "Are you okay?"
"I don't think I'll be competing in any beauty pageants, but I'm fine."
Ronan peered around the corner. There was another dropship about 100 yards away. The odds of successfully sprinting across the base to reach it were slim.
More plasma bolts streaked in Ronan's direction, impacting the nearby structures.
Ronan fired back at the platoon of Tarvaax warriors that were approaching. They had taken cover behind a series of supply crates and were unleashing a torrent of weapons fire in the prisoners’ direction.
Ronan hugged the wall of the barracks and peered around the corner. He was outnumbered and outgunned. And more troops were sure to be on the way.
Ronan caught sight of something that made him grin.
He recoiled as plasma bolts slammed into the corner of the structure. The building’s armor plating kept the plasma bolts from penetrating the wall. They left shallow black pits that smoldered.
Ronan readied his weapon and slung the barrel around the corner, taking aim at the crates the Tarvaax were hiding behind. From what little of the Tarvaax language Ronan spoke, he was able to decipher the crates contained thermal grenades. A well-placed plasma bolt could detonate them.
Ronan unleashed a flurry of plasma fire.
The crates exploded in a thunderous roar.
One after the other, the crates exploded, unleashing a series of blinding explosions. The blast was deafening, and the concussion rattled the entire base.
The ground rumbled, and Ronan could feel the vibrations through his boots.
The entire platoon had been incinerated.
"Go, go, go!” Ronan commanded.
He motioned the prisoners to run toward the dropship. He waited until the last prisoner had cleared the barracks, then brought up the rear.
Two mechanized units marched toward them. Ronan could see their massive plasma cannons take aim.
The prisoners were sitting ducks. They were only halfway to the dropship. They were out in the open, completely vulnerable. These mechanized units were going to cut them in two.
Ronan grimaced, feeling like he had made a tragic mistake. They were all going to die because of him.
Just as the units were about to fire their weapons, a dropship swooped down from the clouds and unleashed two rockets that slammed into the walking tanks, turning them into molten carcasses.
The dropship banked around and landed in front of the prisoners. The group ran up the back ramp into the cargo hold. Ronan was the last one aboard. As soon as he cleared the ramp the dropship lifted from the ground.
The Tarvaax base was swarming with soldiers. They unleashed a torrent of weapons fire at the dropship. But the small arms did little against the heavy armor plating.
Ronan’s face was a mix of relief and anger. He glared at Ian.
"What's the matter? Did you think I left you?" Ian said with a sly grin.
"You did leave us."
"I know. And I felt bad about it, so I had to come back. Sue me.” Ian angled the vehicle toward the upper atmosphere. The massive engines rumbled, and the ship quaked as it soared through the turbulent sky.
Ronan saw to it that Aidan, Jessica, and Jax were securely strapped in their seats, then he made his way forward to the cockpit. He strapped into the copilot’s seat.
Within minutes, they had reached space. Ronan's eyes widened at the sight of the Tarvaax fleet in orbit around Zeplovia.
Dozens of warships encircled the planet. Ronan had a sinking feeling in his stomach. There was no way the Zeplovian Navy could fight off an invasion of this scale. Zeplovia was going to need assistance from the Federation. But their recent secession was making that seem unlikely.
Ian angled away from the fleet and plotted jump coordinates.
"Where are we going?" Ronan asked.
"Beta Epsilon 7. Maybe we can seek asylum?" Ian said.
Just as he was about to engage the quantum drive, the engines went dead. The controls became non-responsive. The dropship drifted through space.
A stream of attack fighters launched from the flight deck of one of the carriers. They were like angry hornets buzzing through space. The squadron lit up as red icons on the scanner. Ronan watched with concern as the icons headed toward the dropship.
"What the hell happened?" Ronan asked.
Ian shrugged. "They must have remotely disabled the ship."
Ian tried to restart the engines, but couldn't.
Aiden and Jax unbuckled their safety harnesses and glided their way to the cockpit.
"It's a kill switch." Aiden said.
"What?" Ronan said.
Aiden rolled his eyes.”A kill switch. Remotely activated. An anti-theft device. Look, if someone steals a ship, or a car—“
“Or a sport-bike,” Ronan added.
“Or sport-bike,” Aiden continued, "a signal can be sent to a transponder to disable the vehicle."
"Can you override the transponder?"
Aiden flashed a confident smirk. “Of course I can. How do you think I got away with stealing that Samurai?"
“You didn’t get away with it," Ronan reminded him.
“That's not why I got caught."
Ronan's eyes narrowed at him. “Stealing vehicles is not a skill I would be proud of."
"Yeah, but it's a skill that's going to save our asses right now."
"Hey, watch your language."
Aiden made his way to the control console and examined it. He asked Ian to move out of the way so he could get underneath the dash. Within a few moments, Aiden found the transceiver, and rewired the console.
“Reboot the system,”Aiden said, still fidgeting under the dash. He slipped aside and Ian climbed into the pilot seat. He restarted the vehicle.
The lights on the control panel flickered and came to life. The system ran a self-diagnostic, then came online.
“Might want to hurry," Ronan said, watching the swarm of fighters approach.
“I’m working on it," Ian said as he programmed in jump coordinates. An instant later, he engaged the quantum drive. The bulkheads rippled and warbled as a quantum distortion washed through the ship.
Ronan felt time and space dilate. He felt like his body was made of putty, and it was being stretched in all directions.
The dropship vanished from orbit.
An instant later, time snapped back to normal. It was an awkward sensation— one Ronan had experienced many times. He glanced over at Aiden. The kid didn't look like he felt very well. His face had a green pallor to it. Quantum jumps could make you a little queasy until you got used to them.
A slight grin crawled up on Ronan's lips. He couldn't help but feel proud of his son, though he wasn't too thrilled about how he had learned the skill. “Nice work, Aiden."
“Just promise me you’re not going to steal anymore vehicles. Deal?"
The jump to Beta Epsilon 7 would take several hours. Ronan still held Federation citizenship. He may have lost all his worldly possessions, and all his finances, but he still had the most valuable thing in the galaxy—his son. Perhaps they'd start a new life on Beta Epsilon 7, or some other Federation colony. But wherever they settled, he knew they were never going to be truly safe until the Tarvaax were stopped. Zeplovia was just the first step in the aliens’ quest for galactic domination.
Ronan knew he wasn't going to stay retired from the military for long. One way or another, he was sure he was going to find himself back in the fray.
Ronan unbuckled his safety harness and made his way into the cargo bay. He drifted to Jessica and buckled in next to her. “I don't suppose you know of any good deals on an apartment on Beta Epsilon?"
Jessica shrugged. “I have connections. I can probably find us something.”
“Yeah, us.” She smiled.
I hope you enjoyed this story as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you enjoyed reading, be sure to grab a copy of Pursuit of Valor and Search for Honor on Amazon!
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I'm just a geek who loves sci-fi and horror. I was abducted by aliens and forced to travel the galaxy as the official biographer of an evil galactic ruler. This is where I learned to hone my craft. Fortunately, I escaped and made my way back to Earth, and now I write about my adventures. I hope you enjoy!