Here’s the first chapter from my upcoming release – Corvette. Available now for pre-order on Amazon. Releases, Tuesday, 21 March.
Jace Linder was the first human to ever step foot on the distant planet. After leaping off the lander’s platform, he turned around and immediately saw the deep indentations of human footprints. How was that possible? He was the only person to egress the ship. No one had ever been this far outside of known space before.
“Are you down, Jace?” came the concerned voice of Elle from inside the lander.
Jace was too stunned to reply, finally he muttered. “Yeah, but someone has beaten us here.”
“What? Say again?”
“There’s footprints everywhere and they lead off to a rock formation directly south.”
There was a long silence from inside the ship. Jace bent down to record the impressions in the fine, verdant granules of the planet’s surface. They had informally named the planet Jade based on how green the features were from space. Orbital scans indicated high concentrations of iron and actinolite a green silicate. Up close, the sandy material resembled volcanic beaches on the more hospitable planets of the Federation.
The large sandy crystals left footprints that were not as detailed as you would find in a lunar dust. There were no noticeable boot treads or other markings. Just a trail of several, very human looking prints strolling across the landing site. The lander’s engine had kicked up the sand under it and erased some of the prints. Jace moved around the lander, checking the outside for any signs of distress from the landing. He found it in perfect shape and he also found the footprints again on the exact opposite side of the lander. It looked to him like they stretched on forever over the dull green surface.
He was in a full pressure suit as it was impossible to be outside without a breather mask and way colder than the arctic regions of most planets.
“Hey, I’m gonna follow these prints for a while, see if I can tell where they go,” Jace said.
“Don’t go out of sight until someone can join you,” came a stern warning from Elle.
She was the Second Officer of the ship and the ground team’s leader. There was one other crewman in the lander – Macy Owens, waiting to egress in the airlock.
“I’m coming out,” she said, pushing open the manual outer latch. She scampered down the short ladder to the surface and immediately bent down to trace the footsteps with her gloved index finger.
“Hard to say, but I think they may even have been made recently.” She looked up to see Jace waving at her to follow him.
“Come on, I think I see where they were heading to,” Jace said.
Macy hoped along in large strides in the less than one G gravity of the tiny planet. She caught up quickly and came to a stop beside him. They looked out over a small ravine that was shadowed by a jagged rock outcrop from the nearby foothills. There were twisted metallic objects scattered into the furrowed ground as if something had crashed.
Jace held up an arm to stop Macy from heading to the site.
“We don’t want to risk puncturing our suits. Maybe we should send a drone,” Jace said.
Macy shook her head inside her helmet. “It would take too long to drag it out and launch it. Let’s proceed slowly.”
Jace took smaller steps with Macy following him at a few paces. Both looked around carefully to make sure they didn’t miss something important. The metal pieces were all smaller than an arm’s length and many were as green as the sand on one side and a blue-gray color on the inside.
As they got closer they could see a tubular shaped object that looked like an old fashioned rocket. The frequency of footprints increased all around the cylinder. It looked like whatever crashed had been picked over by someone. Parts of the cylinder were removed and randomly tossed aside.
“Scavengers maybe?” Macy asked.
“More likely some kind of search and recovery team.”
Macy bent over the conical front of the cylinder and pointed. “Looks like some kind of a cockpit.”
Jace looked away from the site in a sweeping scan for his suit camera, partly to record the scene and partly out of alarm. He half expected whomever had picked over this site to return.
“Do you think it was pirates?” Jace asked. He was concerned that if it were pirates they had no real defenses; they were explorers not the military.
Macy stood back up and turned over a piece of green metal with her boot. It was shiny on the other side and covered in a printed text that she didn’t recognize.
“I don’t think this was a pirate ship, and I don’t think it was human either,” Macy said.
Jace switched to intercom on his transmitter so only Macy could hear him. “I knew we should have examined the landing zone closer. We would have noticed this wreck.”
Macy nodded inside her helmet as she stood up. The sky was an eerie yellow color except for the greenish glow of the star in the sky. The star itself was not green, but between the heavy air and the green stellar gases nearby it took on a light emerald color. She caught herself staring at the sky just as a flash of light shined brighter than the star for a few seconds.
* * *
Captain Sullivan leaned forward in his chair and peered out dual windows on the bridge. The thick panes of glass came together in a thin strip of metal an arm’s length from where he sat. It offered him a nearly unobstructed view forward into space. The pilot and the science stations were behind and below him. His First Officer, Giles, stood in front of him, his hands spread out on the cold glass.
Both of them tracked the incoming vessels that zipped past the bridge fast enough to snap their heads.
“What the hell was that?” Sullivan asked, rhetorically.
Giles’s eyes were wide as full moons. “They looked like attack ships, sir.”
Sullivan spun his chair around to face the science station. “Track them,” was all he could manage to say.
The ships looked to him exactly like fighter planes from ancient history. Dark green with yellow leading edges of their wings; he was sure he had seen guns on them.
The Science Officer was a young woman with blonde hair pulled into a tail and narrow, dark eyes. She slipped on headphones and tweaked her scanners. After a few seconds she slid off the headphones and looked up to the captain.
“Sir, they are coming around for another pass. I don’t have any other contacts in this system.”
Both Sullivan and Giles went back to the windows to try and see them again. Two blue streaks from the ship’s engines led back to some point ahead of them before they turned into the path of the SS Wayfinder.
“Mr. Giles, I don’t like the look of this,” Sullivan muttered.
Giles nodded as he waited impatiently for another pass of the sleek alien ships. Sullivan looked down at the emergency buoy button on his armrest panel. He slid the protective cover off and hovered his hand over it. They were a civilian exploration ship on the farthest fringes of known space. They didn’t have any weapons or much in the way of shielding. If those ships were hostile, his crew was as good as dead.
“Captain, they’re firing on us!” Giles shouted.
Sullivan slammed his palm over the ejection button and watched helplessly as the expanding bursts of energy engulfed his ship.
* * *
“Both of you get your asses back here. Something terrible has happened!”
It was the panicked voice of Elle from the lander. Both of them bounce back to the lander as quickly as they could without falling down. Macy scrambled up the lander and entered the airlock first. Jace jammed his way inside the airlock after she had cycled through.
Inside the lander Jace found both women huddled around the comms. Elle was frantically calling the base ship, her voice cracking with fear while Macy sat stunned by her side, still in her pressure suit.
“What’s wrong?” Jace asked.
Macy looked over at him with watering eyes. “They aren’t answering. It’s as if they’re not there anymore. I saw a flash from orbit, do you think they had a core meltdown?”
“No, they would have contacted us if they had an emergency.”
Jace moved to his seat and started activating their scanners. He pointed them at the orbital position of the SS Wayfinder and waited for a return ping. Nothing came. The scanners returned no contact. He widened the band and tried again. Still nothing.
“Oh my god,” Macy breathed.
She was looking up out her windows. The others crowded next to her and watched the brilliant light show of their mother ship breaking apart in low orbit. All of them watched open mouthed as they each realized they were as good as dead.
Elle looked down first, her head awash in anguish for those she knew on the ship. Then she began to realize they didn’t have enough supplies on the lander to last more than a few days.
Macy and Jace slowly looked at eat other and instinctively hugged tightly. They’d been an item even before this latest mission to the farthest reaches of space. The motion detector alarms sounded startling everyone. Something was moving outside the ship. Elle moved to the only window that looked down and didn’t see anything.
“Jace, get out there and see what’s setting them off. Maybe it’s another lander,” Elle said.
Jace gave Macy a goodbye peck and then headed back into the airlock. It only took a few minutes to cycle through. Elle reached over to the comm panel and switched the suit intercom to speaker.
“Jace, what do you see?” Macy asked. Elle noticed the strain in her voice.
He didn’t respond right away and she was about to ask again when he replied, “I don’t see anything near us. I’m heading to the top of the ridge. Maybe someone has come back for that wreak.”
“Be careful!” Macy blurted out.
“I will. Hey, there’s some people milling about. I,” the transmission cut out.
“Jace!” Macy shouted. She locked eyes with Elle and Elle could see the fear in them.
“He’s fine, give him a second to report.”
They waited five seconds before Elle contacted him again. “Jace, this is Elle. What do you see?”
There was no response. Just dead air.
“I’m going out there,” Macy said as she donned her helmet and headed into the airlock. Elle started to protest but realized it was futile. She was going no matter what Elle said.
Macy dropped down to the surface of the alien planet and immediately brought up her hands. She was surrounded by three black clad humans in pressure suits. They were carrying short swords and some kind of rifle. One of the figures waved his arm and Macy felt something puncture her suit and her neck. Death came quickly for her as the nearest figure dispatched her with his sword.
Inside the lander Elle saw a red spray of blood and Macy’s helmet roll past her view. Terrified, she started crying as she activated the lander’s take off routine. The lander shook with a violent explosion and the airlock hatch opened unexpectedly behind her. A dark helmeted figure emerged holding a pistol. Elle’s lungs strained and her eyes bulged as she realized the airlock was wide open to the planet’s surface. The helmet drew closer and she could see a blue-faced man inside right before her chest exploded in pain.