Beyond the Starport Adventure
In 2195, mankind’s perception of galactic dominance comes to an abrupt end when an interstellar disaster sparks a war against an unstoppable enemy.
Matt Archer’s cruise ship plummets into an alien city, wiping out the city and its occupants. Treating the incident as a first strike, the aliens attack starships sent from Earth to investigate. The first ship on the scene at the disaster site – an ordinary civilian tourist ship from Earth – finds itself trapped in a hostile alien star system. Thousands of light years from home, civilians and starship crew alike must battle overwhelming odds to escape death.
As the conflict intensifies, the alien warmongers’ dire motivations become clear. They’re driven by an innate fear passed from generation to generation, a core belief held since the dawn of their empire’s creation. 30,000 years in the past, their ancestors committed an unspeakable sin upon the very gods they now worship, and now they suspect the gods have returned to seek a cruel and terrible vengeance.
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The prologue continues after the cover image below.
1976AD – The Dark Side of the Moon
Captain Chris Aldridge had lost contact with the Lunar Exploration Module, Odyssey. They’d expected this to happen as the orbiting Service and Command Module crossed back onto the light side of the moon, leaving Aldridge and Coleman on the dark side with the fragile eggshell that was the Lunar Exploration Module. Aldridge skipped lightly over the lunar surface. He was further from Earth than any man had ever been. There was no ball of blue in the starry sky above. Just the infinite darkness of space. It was the loneliest feeling he’d had ever experienced, but the loneliness was heavily overshadowed by his anticipation of what was waiting for him and only vaguely registered in his excited consciousness.
He bounded over another grey, pockmarked, ridge, and suddenly it was there, an unmistakably alien form in the sterile landscape; silver-gray metal ten times larger than the lunar lander and shaped like a child’s crayon. The chubby crayon’s surface twinkled and sparkled, as if covered by diamonds. It was a crashed spacecraft, one that could not have come from Earth.
“Holy hell, I wish you could see this.” Aldridge felt renewed energy. “It’s… It’s definitely a ship of some kind. I’m… I’m going to be right up close in about ten minutes. Maybe less. It’s a… spaceship. There’s no other way to describe it. Bigger than anything the Russians could have put up here–unless they brought it here piece by piece and built it. But that’s… that’s not possible. It’s shiny–almost glittering–like nothing I’ve seen. This is a spacecraft from another world!”
Aldridge’s long steps became five-meter leaps over the moon’s surface. The object got bigger very quickly and the sparkling surface seemed brighter, the strange markings on the side of the object more prominent. He was moving so quickly that he had to concentrate to keep himself in check. If the suit was damaged or torn, things could get disastrous real fast. He continued skipping towards the target, but at a slower pace. He’d expected that the impossible marking on the side of the object would disappear, revealing itself to be the result of some strange optical illusion, but it persisted with a clarity that filled him with euphoria.
“I’m certain now that this craft has a large letter ‘B’ etched on the side of it.” He continued to bounce towards the target. “I know that’s nuts, but that’s what I can see. Definitely got a ‘B’ etched on it. And the whole thing is really big, about the size of a train carriage, at least. There’s no way it was brought here by… people.”
He stopped talking. Narrating the journey towards the shimmering object had helped steady his nerves, galvanize his thoughts. He was close enough to the ship now to make out some of the finer details. The hull was smooth and seamless. It sparkled with fine, diamond-like particles. The letter B was carved perfectly and deeply into the twinkling metal hull. Aldridge wondered if it represented some alien symbol, but it appeared quite clearly as the second letter in the English alphabet. Slightly forward of this was the first of three ridges that separated the cylindrical body from the pointed end. Each ridge was about a half meter wide and spaced about a meter apart. But, unlike the big ‘B’, the grooves were composed of a material that looked like miniaturized electronic circuitry.
He landed on both feet about ten meters from the side of the ship. The instrument package no longer seemed to have any weight. All his attention was on the alien object. Nothing else mattered anymore.
His helmet radio buzzed quietly, Coleman’s voice very faint. Aldridge couldn’t make out what his friend was saying and wondered if the alien object was causing some kind of interference.
“Captain?” Coleman’s voice crackled. “Where are you, Chris?”
The last word came through surprisingly loud and clear. Aldridge turned with a skip and a jump, looking back in the direction of the lunar module. It was invisible; obscured behind two hills he had traversed. He smiled to himself as he studied the uneven footprints he’d left in the soft lunar dust.
“I’m almost there,” Aldridge replied. “Lost comms for a while. Had some signal issues. How are you reading my transmission?”
“Five by five. You faded out a few minutes ago. I didn’t catch all of your transmission.”
“That’s affirmative. You’re gonna love this, Jimmy. I’m about ready to set down the instrument package and I’ll give you the whole story once I’ve done that.”
“It really sounds amazing, Chris, but we’ve got new orders,” Coleman’s said, anxiety in his tone. “You’re… ah… not going to like this, but orders are that you return to Odyssey immediately.”
Aldridge held his breath. He stared at the spacecraft lying in the lunar dust. He started to breathe again. The rasping labored sound was loud in his own ears. He examined the spacecraft as he considered what to say next. Then, in small black letters, above a hatch in the middle of the ship, he saw the writing. The letters were much smaller than the massive B, but there was no mistaking the word.
“Bullet,” Aldridge whispered. “It’s got the word… Bullet printed on the side, written across some kind of hatch. I’ve got enough oxygen to explore this thing for forty minutes at least before I have to head back. Maybe there’s even a way to get inside!”
“Chris, I’m sorry man. Houston’s adamant you’ve to get the hell out of there. Flight controller even used those exact words. Can you imagine that wormy little creep saying anything even remotely like a curse word? You’ve got to leave the package and get back here.”
“Just leave the damned thing lying in the dust?”
“Chris, no.” Coleman exhaled loudly. “Your orders are to… ah… you’ve got to arm it first…”
Aldridge raised the instrument package so he could see it more clearly. In the space suit helmet, he took a quick sip from his drinking straw as he quickly examined the heavy white metal briefcase. It took a few seconds for him to realize that the instrument package he’d trained with had been swapped out for an atomic bomb.
1976AD – Los Angeles, California
Megyn Alexander opened the door. Agent Styles was standing, hands folded over his abdomen, as his two faceless accomplices examined her gleaming, flame-red, Triumph sports car. She pushed wet hair out of her eyes and gave Styles a broad, welcoming, smile with more than a hint of mischief. It had been a few weeks since Styles had been at her doorstep, but she’d had a feeling he’d be back. Not because he wanted to see her – though she wished that would be the reason – but because something she had been waiting for was about to happen. She was wearing a sleeveless pink quilted bathrobe worn to the point of transparency in places and soaked from her interrupted shower. She didn’t have a sash for the robe and held it together with her right hand. She tilted her head just slightly to the right, bending her head down. Her chocolate brown eyes moved across Styles’ face, cheekily avoiding his eyes for a few seconds.
“Well, I just don’t believe this,” Megyn said, her tone audacious to the point of silliness. “Don’t tell me you’ve lost another satellite?”
“I’m sorry to say I need your assistance once more, Miss Alexander.” Styles’ square features were grim and motionless. He looked stressed and worn out, his white shirt plastered to his chest with sweat. His thin black tie had found its way over his left shoulder.
“This is our third date,” she said, smiling. She wondered if the bathrobe was covering her assets and shifted her hand to make sure just a little flesh was on display. “You’ve brought your friends back too?” She waved at the men by her car, calling out to them: “You guys like the car? It’s a TR7. Made in England.”
One of the agents waved back nonchalantly and she saw the shoulder rig for his nine-millimeter automatic peeking out from the jacket of his two-piece suit.
Megyn turned back to Styles. “Your friends have brought their guns! How fantastic! You really shouldn’t have gone to all this trouble.”
His expression did not change. He stared through her, the corners of his mouth twitching slightly. “Miss Alexander, I’m afraid I have to ask you to open the—”
“I know, I know. Let me get the keys. Make yourself a coffee or something. I’m going to put some pants on.”
Styles followed her through the door. He raised a hand for his men to stay where they were. Megyn turned left into the bathroom, giving Styles a tease of her glistening, pear-shaped bottom as the robe dropped to the floor.
“There isn’t time for coffee, Miss Alexander!” Styles snapped. “I’m afraid we’re going to break down the fence if you don’t give me the keys immediately.”
Megyn emerged from the bathroom barefoot and still damp, her long blonde hair a dark and straggly mess. She had pulled on flared, dark blue, denim jeans with an embroidered flower on her left hip. A threadbare, beige colored, shirt floated around her large braless bosom. She went to him with a deliberate sway of her hips. Her cheerful, energetic expression faltered when she realized he’d found her blood test results pinned to the wall in an ironic display of mock triumph. He looked away from the dire report quickly, almost embarrassed. She felt shameful, suddenly, but she didn’t know why. Styles avoided her gaze for a moment, then he exhaled loudly and looked straight into her eyes, a tiny fire burning beneath his emotionless shell. Megyn’s heart leapt to her throat. There was an awkward silence, then Styles coughed.
“Miss Alexander. I need the key in five seconds or—”
“I know – you’ll smash down my fence.” She twirled around, allowing her perfume to drift towards the only man she’d had in her life for the past eighteen months. “They still haven’t repaired it properly after the last time, Agent Styles. I was hoping you’d come back and… lend a hand.”
The keys to the padlock were in an ornamental teapot. She plucked the keys out and invited Styles to take them from her hand. When he moved to grab them, she pulled her hand back with a sly wink, forcing him close enough that she could smell his aftershave, and the brand of shaving soap he used. He grunted at the mischief in her eyes, but the corners of his mouth twitched a little, giving the ghost of a smile. She reached out to his shoulder and touched him lightly.
He did not move. Spurred on by this, the straightened his tie. “There. Now you look almost presentable.”
“Megyn, there isn’t time for this.”
He took the keys, his movement a little rough. He turned briskly, heading back towards the door and leaving her behind. She wanted to say something, but he was checking his watch and there were helicopters overhead, heavy, throbbing engines becoming louder as they closed in. It was a frightening, ominous sound. Styles was headed out of the apartment, she stayed as close to him as she could.
Her hair flew around her face as she exited the apartment. One helicopter had already landed on the wasteland to the north, about thirty meters from her fenced yard and another oddly shaped behemoth with two sets of rotor blades was passing directly overhead. More agents had turned up, and her Triumph TR7 sports coupe was no longer the spectacle it had fist seemed. A gray Gran Torino blocked the road, its grimy fender almost touching he car. Another two were descending further into the desert brush about a quarter mile from her home. Three men in dark green combat fatigues were standing around the landed helicopter. She couldn’t tell if they were the same men she’d seen before. Barefoot, she carefully followed Styles as he made his way down her steps and around the side of the apartment towards the back where her damaged swimming pool was situated. The neighbors on the right watched from their front door. The house on the left was quiet, but the guy who lived there was rarely around.
Megyn’s swimming pool was drained of water and spattered with clumps of grass and weed that had begun to take hold. The fence at the furthest edge of the pool had been hastily repaired – the pale wood didn’t match the rest of the fence, which had once been stained a darker shade of brown. The tiles at the corner of the pool had still not been replaced. Underneath, the exposed concrete had begun to crumble.
She went after Styles as he unlocked the heavy padlock that secured the chain around the wooden gate. The gate and fence were heavy enough that he and his men would have had to work hard to smash it down, but she didn’t doubt that they would. The padlock was rusty and wet from the night’s rain, but it opened easily enough. She hadn’t been in the yard for a few weeks and it needed tidying. The mess might have once embarrassed her, but she had her mind on other things. There were more voices around the house – more heavy footsteps – running, rushing. She could hear shouting.
“Something’s coming,” she said, “isn’t it?”
His expression was framed with a cold detachment, but there was a smoldering in his eyes. A passion – perhaps a roguish secret – but something was going on.
“What is it, Jack?” she whispered. “What’s coming?” She put her arms out by her sides, pleading for his response. Styles glanced down to the bruises on her arms – the deep purple blotches left by desperate sessions of chemotherapy that had failed to prevent the cancer from eating her alive.
“I can’t tell you.” Styles inspected his shoes. “I just can’t.”
And she knew she was about to be taken back to her lonely, boring, and devastatingly short life. He turned to call his men across, but she grabbed his arm. “Jack. You can trust me, really.”
He turned back, frowning, but his eyes narrowed and a thin but definite smile came to his lips. “You’ll see soon enough,” he whispered. “Just stay beside me. Don’t say anything.”
She smiled. The other men couldn’t see her smile because her back was turned to them. She smiled into Styles’ eyes. He didn’t smile back or even hold her gaze for more than a second, but there was a fleeting moment when a spark passed between them. It made her feel warm inside. If she hadn’t been so excited about what was about to happen, she’d have closed her eyes to lose herself in the feeling. But there was better still to come, she knew.
Then it began. The ground trembled, the fence rattling. A blinding flash of light appeared above the drained pool, accompanied by a loud, popping sound like the world’s largest champagne cork popping. Styles was stepping forward even before the rumble had subsided. Megyn was proud of him – he was the bravest man she had ever met.
An astronaut appeared in the middle of the air, a shining metal case in his hand. The metal case fell five feet to the hard bottom of the pool, cracking open to reveal a jumble of wires and electronics. The bloated white figure fell the same distance, the heavy space helmet slamming hard into the pool tiles and cracking more of them.
Styles was on the space man even as the figure slammed into the pool. Styles’ right hand slapped the space suit’s visor, and hard. “Captain Aldridge!” Styles yelled. “I understand this is confusing, but you’re back home. There isn’t time to explain how or why, but you have to listen to me very carefully. The atomic device is armed, and if we don’t deactivate it immediately it’s going to go off. Do you understand?”
Styles’ authoritative voice made it through the space suit’s helmet. Captain Aldridge struggled to move, but the disguised atomic bomb was pinned under his legs and the sudden increase in gravity made it nearly impossible to shift his weight. Styles shoved Aldridge to the side, using just about every ounce of strength he had. He reached for the bomb as a balding, hunchbacked, man in tortoiseshell glasses clambered into Megyn’s pool.
Styles yanked the metal case free of the astronaut’s clutching fingers. He whirled on the middle aged scientist. “Filscher, how long have we got?”
Filscher huffed and puffed his way across the mossy bottom of the dry pool. “Not… long,” Filscher gasped, out of breath. “You must… throw the safety switch…”
Captain Aldridge wouldn’t let go of the case, obviously disoriented. Styles tried to release Aldridge’s visor, but that served to agitate and confuse him even more. Filscher, surprising Styles, grabbed the case alongside Styles. Despite Aldridge’s thrashing and struggles, they managed to whip the case free of his hand. Styles grunted in pain as he tore his forearm against the jagged tiles. But the metal briefcase was free. Styles whirled around, almost smashing the fat scientist in the face with it. At the same time, Aldridge’s helmet came free and rolled away into the middle of the dry pool.
“What’s going on?” Aldridge gasped.
Styles struggled with the case, fumbling with the latch. Filscher grabbed the case from him.
“Set it down, set it down,” Filscher grunted, “we have seconds, to do this.”
The nuclear device would detonate in twenty seconds, but Filscher moved with a confidence that reassured Styles. The large, hairy fingers reached inside the case and searched for the metal safety lever. Styles kept his own hands away, though he was tempted to try to help. The safety lever was protected by a strong metal cover which Filscher pushed frantically aside after the fourth attempt. With about six seconds to spare, he flicked the safety switch on.
Captain Aldridge was breathing hard. His face was dripping sweat.
“What the hell is all this?”
Styles turned to look at the astronaut. He opened his mouth to speak, but then he closed it again. He glanced across to Megyn Alexander. Her face was a mixture of awe, surprise, and confusion. Styles frowned momentarily before very slowly and deliberately winking his left eye.
“This is just freaking insane!” she said, laughing.
Styles kept staring at her. His face carried no expression, no emotion. Megyn just stared back, grinning broadly.
“You really know how to show a girl a good time,” she said.
The right corner of Styles’ mouth moved upwards just slightly, barely enough for her to notice.
“Yep,” he whispered.