Authors: Andreas Christensen
Part Three of the Exodus Trilogy
Copyright 2014 Andreas Christensen
All rights reserved.
Cover design by Graphicz X Designs, graphiczxdesigns.zenfolio.com
Editor: Shelley Holloway, hollowayhouse.me
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, organizations, events or locales is purely coincidental.
On Aurora, a people divided braces for the final confrontation.
Aurora, the final destination of the starship Exodus, has become the scene of a deadly struggle between opposing forces, ready to fight with any means available. The rebels have found a leader in former Harvard Professor Kenneth Taylor, who with the help of former scramjet pilot Tina Hammer, has vowed to fight the injustices of the past and regain lost liberties.
Governor George Havelar once had a plan for Aurora, but the rebels are now threatening its unraveling. As he rallies his forces to move against the rebels, events take a surprising turn, and he is forced to reconsider his options.
The mysterious Thomas Dunn is fighting a guer
rilla war in the hills and forests, and so far, the rebels have kept the enemy at bay. As winter draws to a close, an overwhelming force is coming north to end the war once and for all. But everything changes when the enemy’s attack turns to frantic retreat.
Benjamin Waters, once a boy soldier caught up in the turmoil of rebellion, has found himself developing amazing abilities, but the ghosts of his past are slowly creeping up on him. Will he find redemption, or will he lose himself to the parasite infesting his very soul?
When Maria Solis is searching for a way to expand further north, she makes a discovery that changes everything. But little does she know that the answer to an even greater mystery, which has eluded sages and scientists for thousands of years, will soon be revealed.
It is time for the explosive conclusion to the saga that began with the appearance of a rogue planet threatening humanity’s existence. Will this be the final chapter of humans on Aurora, or a new beginning?
100,000 years BC
The interior of the hull was silent, except for his footsteps. It was difficult to comprehend that while his feet were tapping along the deck, their rhythm quick and steady, the starship was traveling at near light speed through space. Jurghaan was jogging barefoot through the endless corridors of the giant ark, trying to get back into shape after centuries in deep sleep. He’d only been awake twice during the journey, both times just long enough to perform some needed task, before being put under again. The first time, he’d panicked, as the almost vegetative state of his body wouldn’t let his mind fathom that so many years had passed, making him unable to fully take in the fact that everyone he’d left behind was long dead. It had taken him a while to regain full consciousness, and the doctors had told him he’d screamed for his parents, over and over again. It had taken two weeks of rehab before he was able to walk even a few steps. The second time had been just as bad. He shuddered at the thought of the crew, who worked shifts of six months to a few years, with ten to a hundred years of sleep in between. They would have had to endure this throughout their lives, generation after generation. The voyage had taken several generations, and the ones currently manning the ark were all born on board. How could they even begin to relate to the mission, not knowing anything but life in a large tin can?
He checked his pulse, still a bit low. He just didn’t have the energy to exert himself as much as he should. It had been a month since he’d taken his first tentative steps, and he still felt the effects of sleep. Luckily, descent was still weeks away.
The AI had found a possible destination. The atmosphere was just right; there were tectonics, and the temperature, although a bit high, would be manageable. Of course, the planet had to be terraformed, but the fact that the conditions were so good, even now, made them less reliant on terraforming, less susceptible to unforeseen events. The possibilities of this new world—third planet out from the sun, and well within the habitable zone—made him realize that, with every passing day, they were one step closer to their eventual goal. He was upbeat, and it probably showed.
The problem was that there was another candidate destination, as well. It wasn’t too far, only forty-something light-years away, which was nothing, compared to the vast distances they had already traveled. And it had one thing this one didn’t: a cooler climate. Officially, there was only one authority on board that would have the final word on where to unload their precious cargo. The AI. But throughout the journey, the crew and passengers had developed their own form of command structure, which seemed to comply with the algorithms of the AI. Therefore, instead of simply picking one destination and leaving the other untouched, they had been able to set the systems to reach both, one after the other. Now that they were moving toward the first planet, they had split into two factions. One was set on exploring and settling this place, while the other wanted to wait until they reached the next destination.
Neither of the destinations was perfect. This one had a temperature slightly higher than perfect, a possible problem in the long run, since their species was used to a cooler climate. The other had a more suitable temperature, closer to what they were used to from Lifebringer, but its atmosphere seemed slightly different, with some unknown elements that might prove dangerous. Jurghaan didn’t see either as a major problem, though. They would terraform both planets, and in the meantime, they would take the necessary precautions.
Oahna stood next to Hirwhan, the unofficial leader of the faction that had chosen the first planet. They were peering out at the drones making preparations on the lander that would take them to the blue planet. In a few weeks, they would be close enough to depart, leaving the ark to continue its course to the second planet. A month later, they would set foot on their new home. Jurghaan felt drawn toward the blue planet, anxious to be done with the endless sleep cycles and the sterile environment of the ark. Since he’d only been up a few months total, he still remembered things like a gentle breeze, long walks on a beautiful spring day, weather in all of its forms. Most of the others in Hirwhan’s faction were like him, born on Lifebringer and having had little time awake on the ark. And even though they were the minority, there were enough of them to form a sustainable population.
He stopped, and Oahna smiled as she walked over to greet him.
“Getting better?” she asked. He nodded. Oahna had been up for six months now, as part of the prep team.
“Getting there. How’s everything going?”
“Better. We sorted out the problem with the drive, and it seems to be working fine now. Gowthaar went out and inspected it himself earlier today.” Jurghaan’s jaw dropped.
“What? He went out there? But we’re not supposed to need…” Oahna shrugged it off.
“Sure, but he said he needed to do it hands on. He doesn’t trust the bots, says they only do what we tell them, and if we haven’t told them everything, they might overlook something.”
“That’s why they’re connected to the AI, to be intelligent,” Jurghaan said, shaking his head at the chief mechanic.
“I know, I know,” Oahna said, “but Gowthaar doesn’t think the AI is a better mechanic than he is. He’s proud of his skills, as he should be. He’s only doing it to make sure we’re okay.” Jurghaan nodded. He was a systems developer, and while he had more trust in the AI than Gowthaar, he also knew there were things an AI could only imitate, such as emotions. And people had senses they couldn’t quite explain, such as hunches. Sometimes, a human would know something was wrong, even though there was nothing specific to back up that hunch. Often, they were right.
“Do we have any new data on life forms?” he asked, changing the topic.
“Only what we had yesterday. We know there’s life there, but we don’t know in what form. We do know it’s not advanced intelligence, though, at least not far developed. There are no artificial light sources, no transmissions, no artificial structures that we can detect. But, of course, there could be intelligent life that just hasn’t evolved to civilizations yet. We’re simply too far out to confirm. If there’s life other than just plants, though, we’ll know before boarding the lander.” Jurghaan exhaled. He knew they would be going in blindly. The lander didn’t have the advanced detection equipment that the ark had, so any and all information available would have to be discovered while they were still on the ark. Once the lander separated from the ark and started its journey down, the ark would change direction and move away from the planet, so there would be no new discoveries, not until they were actually there, on the surface.
“So we just have to wait then,” he said. Oahna nodded.
“Yes, we do.” Jurghaan grinned, that mischievous grin he’d so often charmed the girls with.
“Don’t worry, little sis. Everything’s gonna be all right. Just wait and see.”
“So what do you think, Sarge?” Pete said, as he fiddled with his night vision goggles. A couple of weeks ago, he’d dropped them in a stream while on patrol in the southern foothills of the Rockies. Since then, they tended to fog up whenever the temperature dropped. He cursed silently and looked up at the sergeant, who was peering across the perimeter. There were four of them stationed at the outpost a few kilometers southeast of the town proper. Ever since the weapons factory blew up, perimeter security had been strengthened, and excursions north were limited to small patrols that sometimes stumbled upon each other, sometimes resulting in a firefight. Pete felt pretty useless in this quiet corner outside Fort Andrews, but at least they didn’t have to wade through the melting slush and traverse across patches of rotten snow in the hills.
“What do I think…” the sergeant murmured. He lowered his binoculars and shook his head. “I think we should have resolved this by now. Win or lose, the longer this war lasts, the worse our chances in the long run will be. Humanity, or whatever is left of it, cannot afford this…” he broke off and smiled.
“What do you care, Pete? You don’t have to pretend, you know. You couldn’t care less for politics or strategy. As long as the officers aren’t too strict, you’re a good soldier. Sober on duty, mostly, and you know how to take orders.” He paused and raised his binoculars again. Pete looked over at his two mates snoring faintly in their sleeping bags. Just half an hour left until they would switch. He stifled a yawn.
“A good soldier…” the sergeant repeated absently.
Those were his last words. The bullet penetrated his neck just below the chin, shattering his spine and splattering blood all over the two sleeping soldiers, who shot up, suddenly wide awake. The sound came a split second after, a delay that told Pete it had to be a large caliber weapon, like a 12.7 or something similar. Something accurate from great distances. He hit the ground and flipped the safety off on his rifle, while assessing the direction of the attackers.
“Shit, man, we’ve gotta get word to command right now!” Nick, one of the sleepers, shouted. Pete didn’t answer. He raised his rifle and fired off a few quick bursts before pushing a lever on a panel right where the sergeant had been sitting. The area in front of the checkpoint was flooded in bright light, and Pete peeked up over the sandbags protecting them. He counted at least ten figures running toward them, in black, shiny suits unlike anything he’d seen. Their faces were fully covered by black-visored helmets, and the speed with which they covered the distance between them was frightening. Somewhere in the distance, light flashed in rapid succession. He hit the deck again, just as a hail of bullets hit all over their post. Again, the sound came a split second after, which told him the covering fire came from at least one kilometer away, if not farther. It also told him these were professionals, since there was no way an amateur would be that accurate from such a distance, however great a weapon. He heard a groan and cursing from the corner, just as Nick went to work on the comms.
“Nine this is Four Bravo. Nine this is Four Bravo,” he called, addressing whoever might be listening. Pete noticed Rob, the fourth man on the team, clutching his left arm.
“You holding up over there, Rob?” he asked. Rob nodded as he patched his wounded arm with one of the multi-purpose healing pads, covering clothes, dirt, blood, and everything beneath the pad. Pete looked over at Nick who was still trying to reach command, or any other military unit listening.
“Nine this is Four Bravo. Nine this is Four Bravo. We’re being overrun, and the Sarge is dead. Fuck, what’s going on?” he shouted.
“Forget it, Nick,” Pete said. “It’s scrambled. We’re all alone out here. Grab a gun. We’ve got company.” Then he turned back toward the attackers, who were dangerously close by now. He fired a full magazine straight at them, ducked before the covering fire cut into them, and switched magazines in less than three seconds. Rob leapt over and quickly dropped a shell into the mini-mortar, landing the explosive straight in front of the checkpoint.
“That should even the odds a little.” He grinned, peeking over their cover, just as the attackers poured over them. They were so quick! Rob was cut down in a hail of fire, while Pete fired a full magazine into one of the attackers. There were too many of them. Seeing they were untouched by the bullets and just a couple of them down from the mortar shell, Pete realized they had to be wearing incredibly effective body armor, unlike anything he’d ever seen.
He saw Rob lying in a pool of blood, dying. His facemask was pushed off to the side, but any concern about breathing the Aurora air was a moot point for him now. Nick, with a swollen eye and a bloody arm that hung limply from his shoulder, had been subdued and taken prisoner. An enemy soldier stared down at him, speaking to one of the others in a language he didn’t understand. Another of the attackers seemed to bark an order, and the first raised his gun, pointing at Pete’s head.
“Wait, don’t do this! Please, I can…” A flash.
His breathing was easy, and he felt alert and awake, once again thankful that he, Drew, and Lisa had risked removing their facemasks to breathe the Aurora air. He was aware of every smell, every wisp of air, every little flower stretching toward the warm Cancri rays, finally shaking off the last vestiges of the long winter. Calm, yet with a heightened awareness, he’d never felt more alive than at this moment. He could feel the blood coursing through his veins, almost on fire.
The dead lay scattered around, but Ben hardly noticed. He could almost feel the life leaving the last of them as he walked among the bodies, empty rifle in one hand and a long knife in the other. There was blood on his hands, as well as his face. He vaguely remembered squeezing a man’s throat so hard he ended up ripping his head off. And he was euphoric. He heard Lisa say something, a commanding voice, and Drew saying something in reply, voice level. Drew was too soft. Lisa could learn, but Drew didn’t have it in him. Perhaps one day he’d have to do something about that.
“…hurt?” Who said that? He whirred around and saw Drew standing next to him, wearing a worried expression.
“What?” Ben said sharply. Drew took a half step back.
“I said, are you hurt? There’s a lot of blood.” Ben grinned, baring his teeth. Too soft.
“Yeah… Blood… Not mine.” He walked off, picking up his backpack as he passed Lisa, who didn’t say anything as he shot her an angry look. He felt a sudden urge to lunge at her. She’d never expect it. Once she was done for, Drew would be no match for him.
He stared out at the landscape surrounding them and felt the rush ebb. He knew the foothills of the Rockies better than most, having patrolled the area ever since they first put up camp in the Stronghold. He spent most of his time patrolling with Drew and Lisa, searching for enemy patrols, and occasionally attacking them; never the other way around. Havelar’s troops had better equipment, but Ben and his friends were changed. From the moment they’d awoken from a coma-like sleep after first breathing Aurora air, they were somehow imbued with exceptional abilities, almost like super powers. They had been told it was a result of some parasite they’d inhaled from the Aurora air, but he didn’t care. He felt fantastic. And their talents proved quite useful in the field. No enemy ever came close without them knowing well in advance. Sometimes they were given a specific task from command at the Stronghold, and once completed, they would let the enemy withdraw. Other times, they just killed everyone. And who cared? Havelar’s goons had no right being here. This was rebel territory, and besides, one day, they would take the fight all the way to Fort Andrews, and restore justice.
Every time he thought of justice, he thought of his friend Harry, who was killed by the soldiers, back when they were just kids. When he, Harry, and Lisa had gone out adventuring, they never once thought that something like that could happen. But it did, and now, every time he ended the life of one of the soldiers, a small part of justice was restored.
He looked over at Lisa and Drew again, calm now. What had he been thinking? Lisa and Drew were his friends. How could he even think about hurting them? Ben suddenly felt dizzy. He stood there for a while as a chill ran down his back. Sometimes, and more often of late, he scared himself. He knew it was the parasite. He loved his new abilities, but sometimes he thought he was going mad. It was as if some basic killer instinct took over, and he didn’t have any control of himself. The lust for blood, the uncontrolled rage, the desire to hurt those close to him over minor details. He was losing it, and he felt a surge of panic. His hands started shaking. Then, just as quickly, it passed. A nice calm welled up in him, returning the euphoria without arousing the blood lust. That was the part he loved. It felt empowering, as if he was the sole master of his entire existence. Nothing could hurt him. Not anymore. He was complete.
Spring had finally arrived, and with it, the skirmishes in the foothills of the Rockies had begun to pick up again. A few weeks ago, the Stronghold leadership had decided it was time to explore the waterways leading through the valley to the north coast. Dean and his team had already scouted the area, but now the goal was to establish whether it was possible to have a permanent supply route between the Stronghold and the coast. The boats salvaged before the fall of Port Hammer were already moored on the coast and would be able to supply the Stronghold with fish and other necessities regularly, if a safe route could be established. The greenhouses and fields around the Stronghold, which supplied grain, fruits, and vegetables, were still nowhere near able to feed the population, and the large schools of dragon fish would be a welcome addition. Especially since they had proved something of a delicacy, once you got over the slightly bitter taste.
Maria had quickly volunteered to go on the first raft as it set off from the Stronghold. Now they were floating along on the widening river, named Arizona, after the state where most of them had spent years prior to leaving Earth. Kim, the captain, steered the raft with a steady hand and a watchful eye, as the river could be treacherous. Dean, standing at the bow, used a laser device to measure the depth every other minute, making sure they didn’t run aground. Maria was elated as she felt the warm rays of Cancri on her face. She closed her eyes for a second, savoring the sensation, listening to the soft splashing of water against the boat. She wished she could take off her mask to enjoy a deep, long breath of fresh air, but the Aurora air was still considered unfit. The masks were a necessity.
The fourth person on board was Dr. Karin Svensson, the Swedish astronomer, whose main task would be to create a detailed map. Without the capabilities of the Exodus, which was controlled by the Fort Andrews administration, the astronomer didn’t have much opportunity to exercise her professional skills, but her knowledge was nonetheless useful for more mundane tasks. She wasn’t much company though, staying mainly to herself and seldom speaking to anyone unless it was work related.
Dean, on the other hand, was great company, and she enjoyed the long evenings when he would tell his war stories and theorize on the endless possibilities this world had given them all. It would have been an adventure, if not for the knowledge that south of the Stronghold, a war was being fought, one small skirmish after another. Maria’s father, Ramon, had already become one of its many victims, and while Maria felt her mother Isabella would be safe as long as the fighting didn’t reach Fort Andrews itself, she could never be sure. A month ago, Thomas had taken a team to the outskirts, where the Havelar administration had created and stored chemical weapons, and blown up the factory. When he returned, he had reported at least six enemy soldiers killed and a few civilian casualties, as well. So, even though not all were part of the fighting itself, no one should consider themselves safe.
“How about we set up camp over by those rocks?” Dean suggested. Maria opened her eyes. Cancri still warmed, but within an hour, it would set and darkness would soon follow. Although they didn’t want to waste time, traveling the waterways in the dark could prove treacherous, and it was a risk they weren’t willing to take.
“Sure, I guess it’s as good a spot as any,” Kim answered. A few minutes later, the raft came to a stop, gently touching the sand beneath the water. Dean jumped into the water and waded ashore, securing the raft to a thick tree a few feet away from the riverbank. Maria and Dr. Svensson followed, while Kim went to the back of the raft to get everything they needed to set up camp. Maria felt a few drops of cold water splashing over the edge of her high boots.
“Looks good,” Dean said. “We’ve got a good view of the river, both ways, and the rocks over there should serve as cover from the wind. And if by some stroke of bad luck a patrol from Fort Andrews should wander this far north, they would find the site difficult to approach without being noticed.” Everyone helped set up tents, and soon they were situated. Dean slumped down, laying his rifle beside him and digging into an M.R.E.