Authors: Mark Wayne McGinnis
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Alien Invasion, #Exploration, #First Contact, #Galactic Empire, #Military, #Space Opera, #Space Exploration, #Science Fiction
Book One of the Star Watch series
Mark Wayne McGinnis
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Wayne McGinnis All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover design by
Lura Lee Genz
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Planet Trom, Cloud-Port E5926
“Another SkyTrans captain just reported in … his engine’s out of service until further notice.”
“Another? Shit!” Security Commander Larkbadder barked. “Not today of all days. Not today.”
“Well, that’s what happens when six million people all try to migrate within the same three days. The engines are old and poorly maintained. We’re lucky they’ve held up as long as they have,” Transportation Minister Dullard said unapologetically, without looking up from his terminal.
Larkbadder watched as the frustrated transportation minister, overweight, overstressed, and clearly overworked, tapped at the input device in front of him. There were twenty such terminals clustered about in the middle of the tower. All of the workers manning them, with the exception of Dullard, who’d just relieved its previous occupant, were
—AI controlled bots. The metallic mechers looked and sounded somewhat like Tromians, but were ridiculously tall—seven feet at least—and could rotate their heads a full three hundred and sixty degrees. For the most part, mechers were the most annoying Tromian creation ever conceived.
Larkbadder now stood at the observation window, fifteen hundred feet above the open-air concourse below. Like ants, thousands of Tromians—men, women, and children—were hurrying from scores of port-annex doors directly below him, onto the concourse platform. The traffic control tower was perched high above every other structure on the cloud-port periphery. Larkbadder walked to an adjacent observation window. With hands on hips, he looked out and shook his head. Below, throngs of people continued to push and shove, frantic to escape—to secure a seat on a SkyTrans engine. How many brawls, fistfights, and numerous other altercations had his officers had to break up over the last few hours? Things were teetering on the verge of out and out riots down there.
A mammoth–sized SkyTrans engine sat directly across the concourse, about a mile’s distance away. Steam hissed and spat from a thousand or so individual relief valves positioned all over the mud-colored engine’s hull. To his left, thirty miles of the concourse platform disappeared into the clouds, as another ten SkyTrans engines began taking on passengers. Each of the monstrous-sized vehicles was a quarter of a mile long and fifty yards wide.
Temporarily cozied up to their berths, the SkyTrans engines took on as many passengers as regulations would allow: about one hundred thousand souls each … often that number was pushed an additional thirty thousand.
And they wonder why these old engines give out
, he thought.
The transportation minister joined Larkbadder at the window. “You sticking around?”
Larkbadder looked at Dullard as if he were crazy. “Of course I’m sticking around.” He realized he’d replied with a little more fervor than intended. “It’s not like I have anywhere else to go … may as well stay here and see what happens,” Larkbadder said. But his calm demeanor was in true contrast to his actual state of mind. He was scared … for anyone that didn’t get away from Trom. Truth be told, he was just as terrified what would become of himself.
“How about you … when are you scheduled to …” Larkbadder didn’t finish; instead, using his chin, he gestured toward the closest SkyTrans engine.
Transportation Minister Dullard looked uncomfortable with the question, as if a deep, dark secret had come to light. Then his shoulders relaxed and he let out a long breath. “Late tonight. My wife and daughter are meeting me here. We’re on the last engine to leave Trom. I only hope—”
Larkbadder cut him off, “You’ll be gone in plenty of time. Plenty.” He turned and gave the transportation minister a positive, upbeat look. “No Pharlom ships have entered this sector, let alone our planetary system. Plenty of time.”
The truth was, Larkbadder knew that at least eighteen Pharlom vessels had been detected coming into the sector and were making fast progress toward Alchieves space, their own ten-planet solar system. Over the past twenty years, no one had given the Pharloms much thought. True, they’d been Trom’s worst enemy before then, but the mighty Craing had kept them at bay—made it virtually impossible for years to wage war against a neighboring system—while Trom provided mined minerals and other raw materials, not to mention slave labor and crew personnel, to the ever-growing Craing interstellar fleets. But then suddenly, the Craing fleets were gone. Defeated in another part of the galaxy … somewhere. Their celebration was short-lived, though. For as bad as the Craing Empire was … and it certainly was terrible, the Pharloms were worse. Now they would take advantage of Trom’s vulnerability, as well as that of the neighboring planets. At least the Craing, typically, didn’t rape and pillage. Now, it was only a matter of time before Pharlom boots hit the ground and God help anyone still around Trom when they did.
A horn’s final call sounded from the nearest SkyTrans engine. As the tower windows trembled, Larkbadder felt the familiar deep vibration course through virtually every part of his body. He watched as another gargantuan vehicle slowly moved away from its mooring. A new vibration filled the air as its big ion drive began to rev up. He watched the engine move away—picking up speed. Then it was gone … lost in the clouds.
Planet Earth, Central Valley Scrapyard, San Bernardino, CA
Jason watched Dira floating in the pool. Hot this time of year in San Bernardino; he knew it was only a matter of minutes,
hell … seconds
, before he’d join her. The kids were back with their mother in D.C., and the silence, without their youthful boisterousness filling the air, was a welcome change of pace. He picked up a paperback he’d started, but it wasn’t holding his interest. He looked for the other vinyl float and spotted it, deflated, submerged at the bottom of the pool.
Damn kids …
The strap of Dira’s bikini top was unclasped and, after two weeks, there was little hint she’d ever had tan lines. Who’d have guessed a Jhardonian woman’s skin would turn even more violet when sunburned? His eyes were back on Dira and the perfect curvature of her remarkable backside.
“Why don’t you stop looking at my ass and come in?”
“The other float is at the bottom of the pool,” he said.
“I’ll scoot over … there’s room.” She managed to keep her top pinned between her upper arms while scooting several inches to her right. She patted the now six inches of open space on her float.
“There’s not nearly enough room for me.”
“Lie on your side, we’ll make it work,” she said, smiling. She released the tension on her bikini top and gravity did the rest. “Oops,” she said, feigning surprise.
Jason enjoyed the eyeful and said, “Okay … maybe in a few minutes.” He got off the lounge chair and headed for the back of the house. Dira’s eyes followed him. He knew that she knew what he was trying so desperately to hide—that he was going bat-shit, stir crazy here. “Can I get you anything?”
“Nope … I’m good,” she said.
Jason looked out over the scrapyard’s seemingly endless expanse of rusted-out old cars, buses, and even the remains of a downed jet fighter. The yard belonged to his father Perry and his grandfather Ol’ Gus before him. Jason shielded his eyes against the sun, as if saluting, and squinted toward one particular grouping of old vehicles off in the distance.
There they are
. A faded yellow school bus and, next to it, a red, now actually more faded pink, 1961 Cadillac convertible. He debated if he should go below today. Down several hundred feet below the surface was where it all started, over two years ago. Jason rubbed the scruff on his chin and thought of his young daughter, Mollie. Four life-altering events had happened to Jason and Mollie within a matter of minutes: One, they came face-to-face with a cyborg, right here in the scrapyard, an alien he knew today as Ricket. Two, Mollie was shot by that same, albeit startled, alien. Three, with Jason clutching her lifeless body in his arms, Ricket led them to a hidden elevator shaft. Together, they descended to a dried-up underground aquifer. Four, he first set eyes on
and, somewhere within the bowels of that magnificent spaceship, Mollie and Jason were whisked into
; Mollie was placed into something called a MediPod … where, still lifeless from a plasma bolt to her heart, she was miraculously brought back to life.
Jason turned back toward the house, which was open to the outside. The eight-foot-high sliding windows were now secured into a recessed cubbyhole off to one side. Nan, his ex-wife, had designed the house pretty much from scratch … she said her blueprints would allow the outside decking, and the inside living environment, to merge. Jason padded into the kitchen, opened the fridge door and let its cool air envelop him.
His father, the admiral, had also returned to the scrapyard, when the war with the Craing ended; he was prepared to retire here … ready to finally restore his old ’49 F1 pickup truck. But within a few months he’d found an excuse to head back into space … he too had gone stir crazy.
“Please close the refrigerator door, Captain Reynolds.”
It was the unpleasant voice of the household AI. She was reprimanding him—again. He contemplated shooting her, but realized he wasn’t certain where the actual computer core was located in the house. Perhaps in the basement? No, this was not a typical house, by any means. It was a house comprised of alien,
, technology. Like
. His heart sank every time he thought of her … of how she was now nothing more than space dust.
Jason pulled a bottle of OJ from the top shelf and let the door swing shut.
He’d no sooner brought the bottle to his lips when he heard the familiar melodic ringtone of his internal NanoCom. Part of a Caldurian nano-technology package, Jason, and most of the other crewmembers who had served on board both
had it installed within their physiology and could communicate with virtually anyone within thousands of miles’ distance.