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Authors: Gen LaGreca

Fugitive From Asteron

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FUGITIVE

FROM

ASTERON

 

GEN
LAGRECA

 

Winged Victory Press

www.wingedvictorypress.com

 

 

 

Copyright © 2016 by Genevieve LaGreca

 

Cover by Watson Graphics

 

Available in print and ebook editions

 

Fugitive From Asteron

ISBN paperback: 978-0-97445792-5

Library of Congress Control Number: 2015907926

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are
either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons is purely coincidental.

 

Publisher’s email: [email protected]

 

 

OTHER NOVELS BY GEN LAGRECA

available in print and ebook editions

 

NOBLE VISION

A DREAM OF DARING

 

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

 

Fugitive From
Asteron
is actually my first work of fiction, completed before my two
previously published novels,
Noble Vision
(2005) and
A Dream of
Daring
(2013). Now updated to reflect today’s technological advances and
tomorrow’s possibilities, it’s my third novel to be published.

 

I want to thank
Sara Pentz and Randy Saunders for reading an early draft of this novel and
offering valuable comments.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

This was to be the day I ended my life.

The thought jolted me as a cold draft
hit my face and brought me back to consciousness. How long had I been out? I
wondered. Was there still time to act before the sun rose?

I knew by the familiar odor of
stale vomit that the guards had thrown me into the room for attitude adjustment,
a small cell in the men’s section of the space workers’ quarters where I lived.
No one had bothered taking me to the detention center, with its tighter
security, since I would only have to be moved again in the morning and not much
was left of me anyway.

I lay curled on the concrete floor.
When I tried to move, a mass of raw wounds throbbed in protest. Gashes on my
back burned against the cement, and my fingers rested on a sticky curd of my
blood. A thick metal ring around my neck chained me to a pipe that was supposed
to bring heat, but none was wasted on me.

With effort I pried my eyelids open.
Seeping through the bars of the cell’s small window was a yellow tinge of
moonlight. There was still time! If I could execute the plan I had devised
before I lost consciousness, I would not have to face another day.

Outside the barred door of my cell,
the hallway was dark. The lack of lighting told me that it was the nightly
blackout period, a measure taken to save power in the building—and one that
would aid my escape. I needed to wait until the guard walked past my cell on
his patrol. That would give me the time between his rounds to get away. I remained
lying down so that he would think I was still unconscious.

In the moonlight I could see a pair
of eyes staring at me from the room’s only ornament, a poster of our leader,
Feran. He wore his kind public face, one that he never bothered to display when
dealing with just me. “One People, One Will,” read the slogan above Feran’s
head. One will did indeed run things here on the planet of Asteron, and it was
not mine.

In fact, I had no will left to go on.
It felt strange to lose everything and have only a vacant space inside me where
my dreams had once lived. But there was still one thing I cared about: the
place where I would die. That would be of
my
choosing.

As I waited in the gloom for the
guard to pass, the fog of unconsciousness lifted. For me, to be awake was to be
angry, so I felt my fury gaining steam, despite my effort to cool it.

When someone died on Asteron,
people noted the occasion with nothing more than indifference. Could I not feel
that way about my own end? Could I not find peaceful acceptance in my final
moments? Or would I meet my end without relief from the hot pain of having the
things I had lived for ripped from my life?

I had heard elders talk about another
time, forgotten now, when a death brought great sorrow. The elders said that
people would gather to recollect the life of the deceased, and that this was
called paying one’s respects.

Memories from my own life were running
loose in my mind despite my resolve to lock them down. Was this my way of
paying my respects . . . to myself? I wondered. Lying there
in the darkness, I thought of the things that had fueled my life and how those
very things had also sealed my doom. I thought of that night of the four moons several
months ago, when my troubles had begun. . . .

Chapter 2

 

That night, I was in my aircraft on a mission. I saw the
four moons of Asteron through the canopy of my plane. Only occasionally were
all four of the planet’s satellites visible at once, so they captured my attention.

During past flights, I would gaze
in wonder at the stars and dare to imagine a day when I would be assigned to
pilot a craft to a world beyond my homeland. But on this particular night there
were other matters on my mind. I had to execute a task new to me, and I could
not let anything go wrong.

I had an important assignment to
perform, but my body was rebelling against the job. Dank sweat formed under my
flight suit. My right hand tensed in a vise grip over the control stick, even
though I was some distance from my target in the calm, pre-dawn sky. My mind
was also playing tricks. The spectacular array of glowing instruments
surrounding my lone seat in the cockpit seemed ready to close in and swallow
me.

Ahead I could see the deep blue of
dawn and the red tint of the sun rising. Below, a thick layer of clouds
blanketed the ground in gloom, sparing me the sight of the approaching city
that was my destination.

Interrupting the silence of the sky
and the hypnotic hum of the engines, a voice suddenly blared from my headset.
The
Daily Word
was beginning its regular broadcast, a steady stream of messages
throughout the day to provide Asteronians with the latest news, along with what
our leaders called inspirational thoughts to bolster our morale. These broadcasts
were so pervasive—in the streets and buildings of every town and in the fields
of every countryside—that people found them unavoidable. Even pilots when not
engaged in combat were obliged to listen, so there was no way to shut off the
sound. Because I was in no mood for such enlightenment, I turned the volume
down to a whisper.

The narrator began with his usual
forced vigor. “People of Asteron, we begin another day of dedication to the
ideals that make us the best planet to live on in the galaxy.”

I had idle time before I would need
to descend, too much time in which I could do nothing but agonize. If I failed
in my mission, I would never fly again, perhaps never breathe again. To me the
two activities—flying and breathing—had become one. How had it happened, I
wondered, that flying became the whole of my universe? I could not remember how
it started, because it had always been that way. Soaring across the moonlit
sky, I thought of the risks I had taken to sit in a cockpit, to grasp a control
stick, and to feel the thrill of an aircraft yielding to my command.

Since childhood, I had wanted to
fly to other worlds the way a bird flies to trees. I had observed the curious
aliens who came here to mine our gold, wondering where they lived and what life
was like beyond Asteron. But although those humanoid figures looked like us, we
were told they were different inside. The aliens were primitive, whereas we
Asteronians had advanced beyond them.

Our officials prohibited us from
having contact with the aliens for fear they might corrupt our ideals, so they
remained a mystery to me. Of the educational materials, books, and news sources
approved for us, none answered the question that absorbed me: What people and
worlds existed beyond Asteron?

“The first pillar of our society is
equality
,” droned the narrator of
The Daily Word
. “There are no
winners and losers here, no exploiters and exploited, no rich and poor. We are
all
winners,
all
rich in mind and body,
all
living the same as
everybody else in a state of supreme fairness.”

Why was there no fairness for me, I
wondered, when I had finished school and passed the examinations to become a flier?
I had scored too high on the tests, so I was disqualified. Fliers were supposed
to obey orders without question, like robots in the sky, and high grades made
such compliance doubtful.

I remembered how Feran had yearned
to create a robotic fleet of aircraft by buying alien technology unavailable on
Asteron. But this was unaffordable because of an issue our rulers did not like
to discuss, the growing, unrelenting menace we faced daily: the famine. With
resources strained by warding off hunger, Feran’s robotic fleet never came to
be, so instead he sought human pilots who best matched his ideal.

“The second pillar that defines us
is
unity
. The debate about our direction was resolved long ago. Now
everyone accepts what we have shown to be the best course for all and rejects
the regressive notions of those who try to stir up unrest,” said the narrator.
“We are one people with one united will to do good for all Asteronians.”

One will directed my mission, and I
warned myself that I must obey it. Tonight, more than ever before, I must
follow orders. My past record on this matter was not very good at all. In fact,
my missteps had almost cost me my job as a pilot, but I was given one final
chance to redeem myself, and tonight’s mission was it.

“Our third pillar is
security
.
We defend our homeland against those troublesome aliens who spread doubts,
disloyalty, and corruption among us.”

Had I been corrupted? Even without
help from the aliens, I knew I had been. My corruption had started early and
was already hard to control by the time I finished school, when the teachers
who gave us our work assignments designated me as a train dispatcher. I found
in our group a boy of my height and similar appearance named Arial, who wanted
a ground job but was assigned to pilot training. Although we were supposed to
accept the work given to us without question, Arial was so frightened of
flying—and dying—that I persuaded him to switch places with me. Then with the
technical skills I had carefully honed, I caused something unexpected to
happen. Right after we had received our job assignments, there was a terrible
crash of the computer system that recorded them, and in the confusion that
followed, no one noticed the change of two boys among hundreds. That was how I
got the name Arial and learned to fly.

“The topic of this morning’s
broadcast is ‘character,’ and here to discuss it is our leader, Feran,”
continued the narrator.

Character? Why
that
of
all topics?
I wondered. According to my superiors, character was the thing
I sorely lacked. They observed that as my flying skills progressed, my attitude
regressed. My job became testing aircraft because my commanders could send me
out in anything, including the slipshod products manufactured on Asteron, and I
somehow always managed to bring my plane back. But I did things that were
unacceptable. Recently, when my commander instructed me to test a new plane, I
did so, but not according to his protocol. That time my plane was an advanced,
alien-made ship, the best craft I had ever seen, an engineering masterpiece
equipped to do my bidding. I tested it beyond the commander’s modest protocol
and to the limits of its performance and my imagination. I turned, I rolled, I
looped, I dived in every possible way. I stalled, dropping from the sky in a
whirling spiral, then managing to stabilize as the ground closed in. I flew
into the mountains and charged through the canyons at high speed. When I
returned, I jumped out, threw my arms up to embrace the fuselage, and kissed
the plane that had given me the greatest thrill of my life. I had never before
kissed anything or anyone.

Then I saw the icy eyes of my
commander staring at me. I was not surprised that he then had me beaten, only
that he spared my life—not because of the value of my life but because of a
sudden crisis in a city of Asteron, a crisis requiring the deployment of every
skilled pilot. That was why my commander had given me one final chance—today.

The next voice to filter through my
earphones was one of strained calm, but I could sense the anger beneath it.

“My fellow Asteronians,” said
Feran, “
The Daily Word
today is about character. All of us, especially
the citizens of Nubel, need to remember that our security rests on maintaining
a peaceful, law-abiding society. I regret that a band of insurgents has
poisoned so many in the city of Nubel. Traitors have infected the people there
with outmoded, wrongheaded, and dangerous ideas. Poisoned by seditious alien
writings smuggled into Nubel, the insurgents have attacked the government. They
have reopened debates settled long ago and caused an uprising. Those taking to
the streets have been ordered to disband, but they have refused. They show a
deplorable lack of character, and they shall be punished. I want to assure you,
I will protect your safety. The anarchists of Nubel will be dealt with as the
law requires.”

I flew into the breaking dawn and
descended through the clouds. I could now see Nubel clearly. I glanced at a
monitor showing an aerial photograph of my target. It was the stretch of road
between the clock tower and the bridge.

Nubel, I knew, was doomed. The
people were armed only with their dreams, but Feran had the military. The
rebellion in Nubel would be crushed just as all the others like it had been. I
told myself that if I failed, Feran would simply order another from his fleet
to execute the task. But if I performed the unspeakable deed, I would still
have a chance to fly . . . and maybe one day to do the
unimaginable . . . to reach another world. The people of
Nubel were finished. But was I?

Feran’s battle cry rang from my
headset: “Our spirit is unbreakable. We are one people with one harmonious
will! Asteron!”

I spotted the clock tower. I
descended further and located the bridge. My mission was to blanket everything
in between. What was in between? A sea of humanity crowded every space in the
roadway between the clock tower and the bridge, a sea of placard-waving,
fist-raising, shouting people committing the first—and last—unbridled act of
their lives. Defying Feran’s demand that they return to their quarters, the
protesters of Nubel had increased in numbers overnight, flooding the streets to
continue their defiance.

A knot contracted in my stomach
like a fist. I was unbearably warm and sweating feverishly. Would I black out
and never have to face the dreaded moment?

After Feran’s statement,
The
Daily Word
broadcasted comments from what it said were random people
gathered outside the studio. They spoke in the monotonous tones of those
reciting rehearsed lines. First I heard a female voice. “Our loyalty to Asteron
is unshakable. We stand by Feran.”

Would I smell the burning flesh
from here? Would I hear the final screams?

Next I heard a male voice. “We will
defend our homeland against terrorists and anarchists.”

I descended. There was no
resistance of any kind. I descended further until I almost scraped the buildings.
The deafening roar of my engines startled the people below. The brown streak of
hats I had seen from a distance between the clock tower and the bridge became
an unbroken ribbon of ashen faces looking up at my plane. My hand fidgeted on
the control stick as I placed my thumb on the weapon-release button.

The next voice I heard through my
headset belonged to a child. “Feran takes care of the children. He will protect
us from our enemies.”

The starving, desperate people of
Nubel stood their ground. They did not flinch. The thousands of faces between
the clock tower and the bridge stared up at me, their bodies fixed in place.
They would not run away. They would die standing tall.

“Press it! Press it!” I screamed to
my thumb on the trigger, trying to force it to comply.

Suddenly I veered right until the
haunting faces in the city were replaced by a sea of blue. It seemed that my
craft had malfunctioned. My bombs released late, very late, and fell into the
Asteronian Sea.

The Daily Word
was abruptly
interrupted by the outraged howling of my commander through the headset:
“Coward! Traitor! Pig! I will scrape the streets of Nubel with your face!”

Two aircraft flanked my ship and
escorted me back to the base.

BOOK: Fugitive From Asteron
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