First published in Great Britain in 2014 by
Copyright © Craig Jenkins 2014
This book is copyright under the Berne Convention
No reproduction without permission
All rights reserved.
The right of Craig Jenkins to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead or events is entirely coincidental.
Cover Design by Gareth Hughes
Edited and Formatted by LionheART Publishing House
Forests and acres of farmland stretched for thousands of square miles where barren desert land had once stood. A powerful armoured truck, silver in colour, sped through the heavy downpour as its quad-light system created strong beams to perforate the dark.
The road leading the way had thick irrigation pipes either side which could be mistaken for safety barriers. Regardless of climate change they continued to pump water down from the Mediterranean Sea, through distillation centres and into the Murton Dam complex.
A sudden fork in the road caused the truck to career to the right, sliding in deep pools of water as it went. It continued up its new path along an increasing gradient until the forest canopy either side receded where the enormous face of the dam wall came into view. The vehicle sped on.
Gavin gripped the steering controls and pushed harder as the storm gathered force. Fork lightning lit the sky as a gale picked up and thrashed the vehicle.
The truck slid around precariously as it tore along the narrow road spiralling around the circumference of the dam’s outer wall. The passage was steep and awash with flowing water across its surface where branches and all manner of debris impeded the vehicle’s progress. There was no time to slow for this. Reckless driving in such conditions increased the chance of sliding into the forest canopy below. No mistakes. The fear and tension built within him as he approached the top of the artificial channel that rose a thousand metres above the parklands below.
He peered through the continuous flow of water which obscured his vision as it flowed thickly down the windscreen. Wipers vacuuming away water struggled with the workload, making it hard for him to see the reservoir on the other side of security barriers as he approached the summit.
The vehicle entered the visitors’ parking area and slid to a halt in a shallow layer of pooled water on the smooth concrete surface. It was fortunate that he knew the area well from his days in retirement wandering this marvel of engineering. He used to bring his only son, Ologun, on weekend fishing trips here; today he’d be faced with the boy’s stupidity and penchant for misadventure.
The man checked his watch to confirm how long the journey had taken. Ologun’s friend had called twenty minutes ago, and under normal circumstances and with any other person in such trouble it would be too late. All he needed to do was find his son, then let him do his thing. His main fear was that he wouldn’t be able to find his body and there was no way he could risk calling for help.
He had just retired from his commission as Admiral from the Ishima Misceri Corporation and could still summon a fleet of aircraft from Cairo’s IMC station outpost to scour the reservoir’s deep waters; ready to carry out the rescue with total efficiency. Can’t get them involved!
The com box on the vehicle’s dashboard blinked: ‘Gavin, are you there? Mr Jowett, it’s the Sahara Park Authorities. Come in, over.’
Gavin ignored the comms and reached into the back seat of his transport to grab a long cylindrical object. He removed its casing to reveal a telescope with thermal-imaging assisted motion detectors. Exiting the vehicle he fought the weather to peer through the scope and saw the digitally enhanced version of the reservoir. His vision was immediately drawn towards the flickering motion of large fish which lit up in a red-orange colour beneath the navy representation of the water. The digiscope displayed readings of all solid objects by measuring and identifying them. Driftwood, fish and large clumps of vegetation flashed up on the screen’s recognition grid. Shit! He’d spotted three crocodiles swimming near the dam’s anterior wall. He lowered the device for a moment in order to take a deep breath and surveyed the expanse of water presented before him. He felt his body slouch a little and became overwhelmed by the magnitude of the place. It had never occurred to him on previous visits that he would stand at this very same place and in such different circumstances which would seem utterly nightmarish and no longer a sight-seeker’s dream attraction.
He banished the moment and continued to scour the area. If Ologun had drowned, his body would have been caught by one of the outlet filter channels which acted as overflow conduits to the dam’s external face. At least they would stop his journey, ending it before the thousand-foot drop to the main river below. He continued the search by following the dam wall the full length around and underneath the water’s surface. His fingers quickly pressed the small selection of buttons on the digiscope, fluent in operating its components. Still nothing: most shapes revealed under the water remained that of plant life or the odd dead carcass of some poor animal swept here from the network of reservoirs located further north. The crocodiles had no doubt come here to hunt for the rotting flesh and would soon find Ologun.
Gavin’s grip tightened on the scope as it centred on the shape of a human body. He activated a function on the apparatus which scanned for height and weight. As feared, Ologun had become trapped in one of the dam’s filter outlet portals twelve feet under the forceful torrent. That’s definitely him! Gavin rushed to the boot of his vehicle for a rope before he ran blindly through the rain across the circumference of the dam wall. The path across the top of the dam was flat and wide with partition walls for safety either side. A layer of water, ankle deep, covered the path and was unable to drain away properly in the tempest. He breathed heavily, gasping as this temporary stream slowed his efforts. He knew he was physically fit but this storm seemed focused and unusual.
Eight hundred yards later, Gavin finally reached the juncture where he had seen Ologun. He fumbled with drenched fingers and tied the rope to a nearby safety railing and then to himself. He took many deep breaths before leaning backwards, believing this to be his last few moments in the world of the living. He had to retrieve his son’s body at any cost; even his own life was a fair price to pay. Just get on with it!
The inside face of the dam was slippery underfoot as he made his descent down thick algae which hung in a furry formation all the way to the water’s surface. The mist from moving water mixed with heavy rain left Gavin feeling smothered. His son lay directly below him deep under the dark water, stuck within a tremendous level of suction inside the filter tunnel.
He plunged down into the torrent, immediately feeling his body tiring. He wasn’t sure he could withstand the reservoir’s deadly might. To hell with it! Gavin took what he considered to be his last deep breath and vanished under the surface.
The sun rose from behind Earth and across the desolate moon landscape, causing the digital glass to adjust within the safety parameters for human eyesight. Doctor Rajendra sat looking out of the small window at the front of her cabin and squinted.
She thought about the day ahead; the past twelve years; then her overall feelings as she headed for the finish line. She was, in essence, depressed. This surprised her as in the beginning there had been no doubts; or rather the doubts had been superseded by ambition, arrogance, even by the gamble of it all. Diane’s mind had always been consumed and now it was at a pinnacle, trying to hold her conviction for another twenty four hours until the deeds were done.
Diane Rajendra had become, at least for this moment in history, one of seven geniuses guiding an army of scientists, engineers and many other skilled technicians to develop and launch the frontier project. Such a project could never be achieved via any nation on Earth as the politics, along with the economics, would forever stay precarious. All governments, it seemed, were destined to be limited in such a regard for eternity. In the end it had taken the politics of business from one of the most powerful firms in existence to conquer deep space exploration or, should it be said, to gather the essentials together in order to attempt it.
Diane looked at her unfamiliar aged face staring back at her from one of the mirrors in her cubicle. Twelve years had slipped away only to be left with the pride that humankind could advance forward once again to a truly momentous time. Progression, not distraction.
She sat back down on her bed, thinking of her father; of how he’d been swept along, almost press-ganged into this project, and how the company had changed to push such an insane idea to its full conclusion. It hadn’t been so long ago that living in a moon base would have seemed improbable. The real change had come when Diane’s father accepted a job at the company’s aeronautical systems division to create space probes fast enough and with enough scope to find something worth further attention. That was the first time anyone, including any government from around the world, had taken a serious interest in space for over two hundred years. Astronomy, cosmology and the science had not died; the funding with which it had once survived, however, had been far from available. Eventually Diane’s father, as forecast by the company, had succeeded in discovering a planet possibly compatible with Earth’s own atmosphere. Fortune Symmetry’s small aeronautical division was about to begin the quest that would change human history forever.
Diane now worked for the IMC, which was the outcome of a merger of Fortune Symmetry and another powerful corporation: Misceri Plyologics.
Misceri had become the second most influential company on Earth in a very short time by producing advanced armour technologies. The innovative shielding had been devised by developing pliable metal-weave fibre plating to be installed on military vehicles. The technology was significant as it made all combat vehicles lighter by reducing the thickness of armour required for protection, while remaining robust enough to replace retrospective casts of bodywork. The fibre sheets were so malleable that the terrestrial military crafts’ computers could momentarily contract the toughened fibres when in combat to increase their deflective attributes.
The newly formed IMC was ambitious and impatient at times, and Diane felt that things had gone too far. She remembered the simplicity of being a journey calculations’ officer and how it had been complex but simple to work with the idea that Symmetry wanted to send a few ships carrying mechanical drones to record more data. That was the ethically sound part. When Diane had been promoted to Chief Operations Officer, the things she’d learned had unsettled her. Since the company merger Diane had grown suspicious of certain ship design alterations and was stunned when she’d found that the new terms of exploration would include sending a human cargo. The directors at Fortune had revealed these intentions when they’d appointed a new team to specifically work on living biological stasis development. Naturally the directors hadn’t informed her of what was to be placed in stasis, although she had a strong sense that the units wouldn’t be carrying monkeys. Diane eventually found a copy of the manifest for every one of the twelve crew members allocated to each vessel. One hundred and forty six people, both men and women, would be suspended for the thirty-five-year journey to the planet. As probabilities went she tried to reduce the risk for the sake of the equipment; yet to her, equipment was an acceptable loss. People were not. The company she worked for seemed to have the exact opposite set of values.
Diane pulled her thoughts together; it was now 8:00 a.m. set base time. She made the usual hundred-yard walk past the science post and to the main deck for launch preparations. Rick Bussey, the journey ships’ development commander and head engineer for ships’ construction, stood high up on a platform overlooking numerous monitor screens which had been erected along one of the control room’s concrete walls. Rick was busy and, as usual, shouted into his headset at the construction crew floating around the ships two miles above in the vacuum as they frantically worked to make final adjustments for the launch in twelve hours. Diane noted Rick’s ability to slip into a mode of stringing so many swear words together there were no orders or requests to be deciphered, only simple and continuous abuse at the people around him. It’s the pressure.
Rick looked up at Diane and nodded with a grin; he loved his job. He resumed his work and shouted even more aggressively than before. Diane looked at the same monitor as Rick to see what the fuss was about. One of the construction workers was frantically moving towards a welding rod that, if Diane wasn’t mistaken, was headed for an emergency fuel tank near ship three.
The crowd of thousands stood in the now urbanely decorated hanger which had initially been used to construct components seven and twelve of the ships’ hulls. The ship development centre, Kilo, had now become a rally point for the world’s ruling elite and anyone else who could afford the tickets to watch the launch spectacle. All eight hundred members of the project’s crew were also invited as it had become evident they’d been working indefatigably for over a decade now. They were ready for a real party, and many were already being shepherded away from sight due to being ‘intoxicated beyond company tolerance’.
The ship hanger was brimming with noise despite the hundred-foot-high ceiling and the sonic absorbent material installed along the hanger’s interior. All thirty IMC company directors were present and talking to crew members and other science officers about the project, while remote camera units buzzed around for maximum coverage of the event. Diane hoped they wouldn’t notice her as she was ushered to the VIP stand. She moved among the crowd looking to slip away when a sudden screech from the speakers mounted on the hanger walls curbed much of the noise in the room. Diane looked to a very tall digital lens at the front of the hanger as its blacked-out field exposed a grey landscape and a black horizon filled with stars. Further inspection of the view revealed twelve objects floating way above in the distance. They’re ready!
Everyone gazed at the frontier ships. The specifications for these ships to think, move and defend themselves against possible debris when they travelled through solar systems required a great deal of processing equipment, which in turn required capacity. The journey ships were three thousand metres long, two thousand metres in width, and five hundred metres in height. They were enormous in comparison to other contemporary forms of spacecraft, and larger than any of the military aircraft carriers dominating Earth’s oceans.
Diane thought about the passengers. They’d been given rooms to sleep in no larger than one of the nuclear weapon loading ports. This, however, wasn’t the real issue, for some secrets along with many lies had been woven into this whole endeavour whereby only certain people, including herself, knew an incredible truth. This truth would change reality and at the very least put to rest all criticism of the project’s shortcomings. Digital lenses, atomic reactors, enhanced ion engines, and solar winds would not be enough for these ships to go the distance. It seemed anyone involved in this industry could sense that something was up, or that if the journey were to be a success some form of sorcery had to be involved. Diane smirked at the thought of the magic the ships’ engines were using. It was so radical and had so many implications for humanity it seemed criminal to keep it a secret.
Diane hadn’t noticed the voice coming out of the speakers until her name was mentioned. Now she listened with relative interest as a full dialogue regarding the ships’ quest was orated, while overhead the ships’ protection sails were peeled off. They looked like giant guitar picks, wide at the back and narrow at the front. Diane had seen these ships on paper, on digital mapping, even bit by bit in the construction hangers. She’d also seen them in the vacuum; half built, in pieces. The finished fleet is something else, she thought. No windows to look out of – or into – and almost black from the heat-resistant panelling covering each entire ship; they’d become invisible to the human eye after a few hundred metres of drifting away towards their launch mark.
The ships gently glided from view towards a satellite which flashed brightly, hanging high above the grey desert of the lunar surface. A countdown from sixty seconds began and it seemed as though the whole crowd gathered in the hanger bay were petrified as they stared silently through the window. The ships were synchronised perfectly, and all hit the journey starting point simultaneously. As the timer finished, a huge flash erupted from the direction the spectators’ attention was fixed upon. The large digital window did its best to block out the violent light, yet still everyone flinched as though the whole fleet of ships had exploded into a nuclear fireball.
Diane felt numb as she mingled with the important guests. The ships were now well underway and they’d have to wait longer for ship status reports the further away they travelled. In a decade they’d have a three-year wait for a message, despite instant-link data pins being dropped en route every month. By the time they reached their destination, Diane knew she may not even be around to see the results. She would never know whether to despair or rejoice for the poor souls sent in their transparent caskets and buried alive in metal.
She would grieve now and for a while, just in case.
SON OF BLAME
The Global Earth Administration Courts of Military Justice were grey, metallic and far more draconian than any other place of trial. The accused were displayed at the centre of an enormous triangular room and questioned by a chosen group of eight GEA high-ranking officers. Taking turns, they fired questions while sat in an evenly spaced octagon surrounding the defendant. It was unusual for an IMC soldier to be here under such circumstances, especially under prosecution for murder.
This trial was mostly political posturing as the IMC had become an incredibly powerful authority, winning most contracts in the arms race against the GEA, and now had just as many security contracts to police Earth along with other off-world colonies.
If anything, the trial was about a lost moral code between two giant institutions which had the will and the means to go to war. The term ‘war’ was no longer metaphorical either, as companies in the new age had far more means to wage war than the countries they were subsidised to represent.
The man on trial knew this to be the case even before he’d killed twelve GEA soldiers. No mixing of contractors had always been the rule. Now it appeared he’d take the brunt of a political uproar over the terrible atrocities existing on the newest irrigation planes of North West Africa. He’d taken a stand and could now be executed for what he thought had been the right thing to do. He’d given up hope of escaping this situation and realised his employers at the IMC had signed his life over with little fuss.
He stood in the centre of the room under a blinding spotlight which obscured his interrogators from his sight. GEA nuts, he thought. The clichéd lighting system of intimidation provoked him to yawn as a way of showing some defiance. Why can’t they have wooden furniture in here like other courts?
His mind drifted away, ignoring the fuss in the room, to enjoy a daydream. He liked the one where he stood on a floor made of – what is it exactly? Glass, maybe? The floor glowed a strange orange colour and stretched on for miles in every direction with no buildings or structures of any kind to break the horizon. There was also a craft which gave the impression of sentience as it hovered above him, always facing him everywhere it drifted. It was so strange he could hardly believe his imagination had created such a thing. It floated elegantly in the air with a vast wingspan, its aesthetics reminding him of a shelled creature from the ocean crossed with a vicious bird of prey. In his dream he always stood beneath it, facing in one direction as it moved around. The creature had organs or maybe engines underneath its wings which spun and pulsated with shards of light escaping in all directions.
He thought about the dream’s significance and why it had been on constant replay whenever he slept. The nature of the dream itself was potent, even relentless, and somehow like a memory or something beyond – it was so vivid and clear. He could see the heavy rain pouring on to the strange glass-like floor, on to himself, and on to the aircraft dutifully hovering around. The rain bounced violently off everything as the sky above gave off a turquoise glow through a thick unbroken blanket of cloud. There was never any sun, or any real hint at what the sky may look like above a land of endless glass which kept that consistent orange glow.
His thoughts were rudely interrupted by a large crash a few feet in front of him. The judge wanted his attention. He was angry and critical as he pointed his finger in disgust. ‘You have been found guilty by this military court, sir. Are you listening? You have been sentenced to the deep-sea mining facility, level seven, to spend the rest of your days. Please acknowledge that you understand, Sergeant Ologun Jowett.’
Ologun stared indifferently at the fattened gorb of a judge wheezing as he tried to elicit a response. The poor man couldn’t quite believe Ologun’s attitude, making him turn a purple colour as he became more hysterical. ‘Your actions were barbaric, evil and callous. Your attitude to the whole proceedings in court have been—’ The judge sighed, lifted his hands to his shoulders, and shrugged them in disbelief; there were no words it seemed. ‘I hope your time on Deceiver will help you reflect on your actions, Sergeant Jowett. That is all.’
The judge had remained calm throughout the so-called trial. He had muttered his comments in soft tones of empathy and, against his best efforts, had slowly lost all patience over the past few weeks. He pressed a button which made the sound of a block hammer hitting wood, and stared furiously at the prisoner, who was rapidly escorted out of the room.
The court guards led Ologun along a dark corridor and outside into blinding daylight, eventually revealing a large garden area with a concrete circle in its centre. This circle was a landing point for the shuttlecraft that would soon take him away from Earth for good.
Ologun still thought his actions justified, regardless of ending up on the wrong side of military law, yet something about it all eluded him – he felt as though the whole affair were unreal. He had always been a contractor, a mercenary, rather than the proper thing. Security forces of this nature made more money and had a more varied lifestyle compared to the grunts who made it in the GEA’s international peacekeeping brigade. He had spent twelve years on missions within the IMC forces, working against the constant barrage of city violence which had escalated over the past twenty years. This part of his career, however, was the highlight, and he quickly thought about other things before remembering what he had once nearly become.
Twelve years and a sudden loss of the IMC tender of the Moroccan ecology contract placed Ologun in an impossible position both morally and ethically. He had risen to the point of being in charge of thirty IMC marines until the GEA had returned to one of the Sahara’s most western plantation outposts to resume command.
His moment to ponder the past was rudely interrupted by the butt of a rifle hitting him on the bridge of his nose. He was beginning to realise that since the incident he’d been distracted with his own thoughts too much of the time. Another hard blow to the top of his skull connected at the same moment his nose exploded with blood. As he fell to his knees, a boot kicked him in his chest, then another struck his face. Over and over he was hit with fists, a rifle butt, and steel-toe boots until he was left to kneel with blood pouring from his face.
He was blinded and his face swollen, but he felt nothing: no fear, no physical or emotional pain at all. He wondered about the court guards and whether they had put the odd boot in for fun. The reality was that the people who had done this were upset about the incident, the whole reason they were kicking him off Earth and to the planet Deceiver: one of the greatest mysteries of all time it was said.
Ologun knelt for some time, disorientated with acutely blurred vision. Occasionally he swallowed blood which slid from the back of his nose and down his throat. The midday sun was hot and warmed his scalp through thick black hair; he could only see its brightness as a hazy orange glow through his eyelids. He listened to birds chirping above and to his left, while insects buzzed around close to his head. He then heard something louder: a more powerful mechanised sound of a hollow voice which moved overhead and towards him until it came to rest a few yards away on the concrete landing circle. Without fuss he was pulled to his feet, still blinded by the swelling of his face, and dragged by his escort towards the ship. He gasped, trying to catch his breath and somehow compose himself from the battered mess he’d become. The guards were rough and forceful, yanking his arms and legs around so that he was quickly seated and held in place on the large chair while they shackled him by wrist and ankle plates. One restraint was then wrapped tightly around his forehead and another around his neck, causing him to choke and struggle for breath.
They’ll say it was an accident. He’d never heard of a long-distance flight where the passenger was leaking blood down their throat just before forced hibernation which would render him unconscious in his chair. He was convinced, with little distress, that he would drown on his own blood as soon as he went under.
Ologun tried to relax, banishing these thoughts, and listened for other passengers. He slowly regained his sight and found himself to be sitting in a large rectangular cabin in one of sixteen chairs facing each other rather than the traditional system of pointing forwards towards the cockpit. He took one look at the other, already heavily sedated, passengers facing him in their full splendour of ugliness, and became agitated.
Movement caught his eye and he flinched as two robotic arms pulled his trousers down. One arm moved quickly underneath to remove the bottom of the chair and Ologun knew what was next. He flinched as another robot pushed a metal-ended hose into his anus, then put a large nappy with external waste bags into place. The level of excrement a person produced while in hibernation was minimal, yet no one wanted to arrive even slightly soiled. He was at least glad the other prisoners were, at this point, all dribbling in their comatose states and unable to see him. The noise from the shuttle’s engines increased to a high-pitched scream as they prepared for lift off. He knew this meant that he too would soon be forced into slumber.
His entire body tensed as two long syringes from a robotic arm injected him on each side of his neck. The pain’s worse than a kick in the face. He grinned at the thought. The pain subsided, to be replaced by a numbing sensation which eased the rest of his aches from the beating. He slipped into a strange state of intoxication from the cocktail of hibernation inducers and his eyes rolled upwards to the ceiling of the cabin. Directly above him a small round window revealed Earth as it drifted away to become a small spec amongst the stars. He kept watching until all he could see was blackness, which in turn fuelled his fall further away from reality and into his dream of the glass floor, the rain, and the strange hovering aircraft.
The shuttle headed to the outer reaches of Earth’s solar system and beyond with a dramatic acceleration. It had once taken over thirty years to reach Deceiver. This shuttle would arrive there in just one.
The choking sensation from restraints returned to Ologun as he regained consciousness. His deep sleep had been disrupted by the sound of a loud siren accompanied by a hollow digital voice: ‘WARNING. DECELERATION INTERUPUPTED. WARNING.’
He felt quite fresh and alert and tried to look around but was prevented by the restraints still in place around his head. His eyes swivelled from side to side watching the other passengers waking up, and realised they weren’t able to concentrate in the chaos. They were more like zombies: dribbling, swaying and moaning incoherently. One passenger, a large white man with a ginger beard, began crying loudly while he salivated all over his shirt – and the smell!
Ologun turned his eyes away from the pathetic display around him in disgust and glanced upwards out of the small portal he remembered was above him. He strained his eyes through the window, seeing a flat object weakly reflecting sunlight. He couldn’t gauge its size, yet became puzzled, associating the debris to a thin piece of slate which appeared to give no true indication of a natural surface. There were no defects, craters, crevices or any features to give it any aesthetic texture he knew.
The object passed from view to be replaced by Deceiver, a brilliant blue planet with one vast ocean which coated the entire planet. Warnings from multiple speakers within the cabin fought for his attention with the joyful information that they only had three minutes to impact and the ship had lost all power. Ologun had lost all interest in the computers’ whining. He sat back and was glad of the view as they entered the atmosphere, only for the ship to burn with fire as it rushed down to meet the ocean. He tried to ignore the other prisoners who were still panicking and screaming as they re-gained consciousness. There’s no need to wake up now!
He stared in fascination as the dark-blue–light-blue divide of the ocean and sky spun ever closer while ignoring the cruel knotting of his innards. He wished the passengers would be quiet: whining maggots. The robotic arms were no better as they too gave off the impression they were panicking. One such device rushed past and slowed to look at him as though in search of an answer, its robotic eye swivelling erratically. Then, as though in reply, a deafening smash ripped through the air as the cabin exploded in all directions. Two of the chairs occupied by prisoners broke free from the floor, hurtling to the front. One of the shuttle’s hibernation monitors flew forward to hit some of the other occupied chairs, and the chaos and noise triggered Ologun to finally flinch, closing his eyes until all went silent.
The impact had caused such damage that even the ship with its internal robotic arms no longer had anything to say, and Ologun felt peculiar: deaf and convinced he was already dead.
He opened his eyes and was very still with shock. The cabin rocked and creaked wickedly, inflicting a nauseous cadence where relief should have been.
His head had broken free of the restraints, allowing for a quick probe at the carnage where the full power of the surreal aftermath became instantly overwhelming.
He continued to stare, wide-eyed. The man immediately opposite had been decapitated. The jaw of another to the right had been ripped off and blood pumped down from the roof of his mouth all over the cabin floor. The man with the thick ginger beard had lost an eye, which was now hanging from one of the ship’s broken robotic arms which flopped lifelessly across a dead passenger’s lap.
Ologun shook his head in disbelief that he was still conscious and witnessing such a mess, then looked out of the portal again and into the deep sea for his final moments. He was even more astonished as he noticed his reflection in the window. It appeared that a robotic arm had pierced deep into his chest and was twitching as though trying to free itself. He peered beyond his reflection in denial and ignored the spray of water hitting his face. He also ignored the buckling sound of the cabin around him as the water pressure rapidly increased.
He felt cold – very cold – all of a sudden and realised, at last, that he was about to die.
The view across Deceiver’s ocean was clear to the horizon in all directions. High above the dark-blue ocean and moving rapidly across the lighter shade of the firmament, a blazing object streaked. Captain Notifoss stood looking out over Deceiver from on board an ore-extraction rig. He saw the distant spark falling and ran to the top observation deck to look through his binoculars. He barked orders for the station’s submersible launch to rescue the stricken space transport immediately.
‘Bloody shuttle’s going to sink like a concrete block, sir!’ one rig worker shouted as he pulled on his gear before running the full length of the mesh platform towards the sub.
The captain checked his watch. There was only one transport scheduled to arrive. It’s the prisoners. He knew the rate at which this type of shuttle would sink in a saltless ocean. If it were up to him he would let it go; yet, to be fair, the pilots deserved a chance. Deceiver’s ocean measured twelve miles deep in parts and the sub could only withstand being seven miles down before succumbing to the water’s pressure. If the sub missed, the shuttle would be lost.
Notifoss watched with little optimism as the submersible dropped into the water below. By his further estimations he knew the prisoner vessel had already sunk a couple of miles and would already have been crushed, killing all on board. Still, regardless of its passengers’ wellbeing the Global Space Alliance would want the wreckage to be retrieved in order to investigate the cause of the crash and would be unimpressed if a rescue attempt on the vessel had failed to be initiated.
As the submersible sunk out of view, Notifoss caught sight of a large sea mammal surface for air three hundred feet away from the rig. He had taken to using sonar to measure some of these monstrous aliens and was amazed how the submersible with its generous size of sixty metres hadn’t yet become prey.
Searching the vista again, Notifoss saw something beyond the point where the ship had fallen. Way in the distance a strange formation of brightly lit cloud headed in the station’s direction. Notifoss looked more closely through his binoculars and became very concerned. He quickly activated an intercom link hanging on a sensor mast which patched him through to the trace deck.
‘Have you seen this weather front heading our way, Jack, what the shit fire is it? Could be here any moment judging by the speed of it.’
The frantic voice of the rig’s chief science officer crackled and hissed from one of the weathered speakers mounted nearby. ‘There’s an anomalous mass out there, it’s freezing everything instantly, sir. I don’t know what it is!’
Captain Notifoss remained focused, through his binoculars, on the ocean as it rapidly turned to glass underneath the white gas moving across its surface. He thought he’d experienced every variety of weather Deceiver had to cast over these seas. This thing appeared to be more of an attack that would soon be upon them. There was nothing he could say to his crew and he also knew there was no point in running for cover. The cloud could only be comprehended as some creature sucking the ambient levels of energy out of the water as it passed.
Notifoss gripped his binoculars tightly as he felt the temperature change approach. It’s insane, he thought, there are no signs. Where’s the wind that carries it? He checked one of the sensor readings from a buoy which was much closer to the incoming front, now only a mile away. Minus one hundred and thirty! He lifted his binoculars for another look in disbelief as the water solidified and cast a white vapour from its surface as the front passed.
As though an invisible wave had painted the entire ocean white, the negative force did the same to the metal framework of the rig as it flashed across the observation deck. Notifoss gasped with no chance to exhale, and was set in ice instantaneously along with the entire crew of the mineral rig. No one had time to move or prepare for the supernatural drop in temperature which held everyone in their final moments. The air remained still and silent as the captain stood; very much a memorial statue looking out over the now frozen landscape of Deceiver.
Got a kindle? Version is £1.99. If you like mystery thrillers with a few twists and took the time to read these first three chapters and fancy more, looking to download the full book, then continue and begin at the chapter Blackball. Type in version Craig Jenkins on Amazon and by all means take a look.