Welcome to Beyond the End of the World. My name is Aaron Dennis, and I will be presenting this published novel to you one chapter at a time. The entire novel is free for download via Barnes and Noble online.
This is an action-packed, scifi military novel. Some language may not be suitable for minors.
They Lurk Among Us, Lokians 2, has officially been released, so make sure to visit www.storiesbydennis.com too!
A knock on the door woke Day. She looked at the door, then around the room. Flem had already left. She rolled out of bed to open the door. Captain O’Hara was on the other side. He greeted her with a smile.
“Morning, Captain,” she said and snapped a salute.
He returned it, saying, “Right, join me for breakfast?”
She furrowed her brow and smiled, “Sure. Everything okay?”
A smile flickered across his face. The two walked to the mess hall, passing Thewls along the way. To their amazement, they found new, shorter tables and smaller chairs had been set out. Smaller plates and utensils were also available.
“Anyway, we’ll arrive at Soft Light soon, and then who knows. Every time we go anywhere, we run the risk of being attacked. I just wanted to take some time and tell you how much I appreciate your friendship. You’re not just one of my crew. You’re my friend, and I cherish that,” he said as he stared into his food.
She placed her hand on his and laughed. “Geez, thank you; that was probably hard for you”
“Yeah, emotions were never my strength,” he said and looked into her eyes.
He realized that she really was beautiful. Somehow, he had forgotten how much he liked her. While there was no doubt that being professional was the proper course of action, the truth was that they were flying through uncharted regions of the galaxy as far away from Navy standards as possible. He kissed her softly on the cheek.
“Before this is over, and we go back to the colony, I want one night for us,” he whispered.
Her eyes were glossy with newly forming tears. She held them back as she nodded and grinned.
“Me, too, Riley. Me, too.”
They finished their breakfast in silence. A few minutes passed before the remainder of the crew filed into the mess hall, where they joined their compatriots. That day, the final jump landed them in the Carina-Sagittarius arm. They traded glances before erupting into conversations about the traveler.
“While a far less impressive feat, he gave me loads of information,” Adams said between bites.
“Yeah, I spent the night trying to archive all the data,” Franklin commented.
“Cool. I tried to use my new vision thing,” Fitzpatrick added.
“How did it work out,” DeReaux asked.
“Not well. Whatever I can do has eluded me. I thought I was getting it, but I felt like I couldn’t move past the room,” Fitzpatrick replied.
“You guys are making me envious,” Day complained. “All these cool powers, and what have you…I got nothing!”
“So, he didn’t show you anything at all,” O’Hara asked.
“He said he’d show me later, I guess….”
“Well, that’s a shame. I’m sure he has his reasons,” Nandy shrugged.
“What about you,” Day asked him.
He smiled with fork poised before his mouth. “He showed me ‘ow to understand. If that makes any sense,” he replied and laughed.
“Wow. Good joke, Nandy,” the captain fired back, sarcastically.
“How do you understand? I mean...what does that mean,” DeReaux was perplexed.
“Communications, of any sort, really, are just vibrations. I can derive the meaning within.”
“You mean you can decipher speech,” Fitzpatrick asked.
“Not only speech, any form of vibratory communication. O’ course, it comes and goes,” he responded.
“Know what you mean. I was looking through some ship components here on this vessel. Sometimes, I know exactly how they work, how they connect, you know, but sometimes, I’m just me,” Swain added.
“What about you, captain,” Day asked.
O’Hara thought for a moment. He looked at the ceiling above him as he chewed. Whatever the traveler had bestowed onto him wasn’t a power or an ability, but something else.
“Hard to say. It was more of a message he gave me, or maybe it’s a trick.”
“Like what those two got,” Fitzpatrick asked with a motion of her head, indicating the agents.
He shrugged. “Maybe it was more of a lesson. Whatever it was, I’ve been feeling pretty good about our situation.”
“I went back to see the traveler. Just to see if anything was different,” DeReaux stated.
“Me too,” Fitzpatrick added.
“And,” Swain asked with a cocked eyebrow.
“It just seems easier to focus around him,” she answered.
“Must be something with the aura he produces,” Nandesrikahl suggested.
“What aura,” O’Hara inquired.
“We all give off a sort of life energy. It’s logical to believe his energy affects ours,” Nandesrikahl clarified.
The final consensus was that they all had an easier time concentrating while in the vicinity of the traveler. Swain and Nandesrikahl gleaned snippets of info on occasion, but their focus faltered. DeReaux and Fitzpatrick were always able to initiate their ability, but lacked the proper control. Day liked hearing them talk about their abilities.
Suddenly, the Carrier’s navigator erupted over the intercom, stating that all energy signatures were clear. Glances went around the table. It was time to gear up.
Phoenix Crew amassed on the bridge, where Thewls scanned for disturbances. Everyone expected the Lokians to come barreling out of the blue, but there was nothing unusual. Instead, Thewls discussed the Rhauss system, explaining it housed only four planets. Images were brought onto the display screen for everyone to see.
“Rhauss has degraded to a Brown dwarf. It is unlikely that any life was ever sustained here,” Lam-Yung reported.
The captain turned to Admiral Yew. “I think our friend doesn’t support your theory.”
“This former sun has been inactive for an extremely long time,” Lam-Yung interjected.
“Even so, the traveler was discovered frozen in ice on Sahagun. He might be able to survive anywhere,” O’Hara replied. “Come to think of it, he didn’t have a space suit….”
“Yes. At any rate, we’re heading for the second planet in this system,” Lam-Yung said as she brought it to the forefront of the display monitor.
It was a tiny, yellow-brown planet. There was nothing remarkable about it; a speck floating amidst the stars. The admiral spoke then.
“Only a few hours, men; be prepared, and stay alert.”
The crew marched to the elevators then proceeded down to the Explorer. The traveler was already on board and among some friendly faces. Korit, Flem, Jor-Tune, and two others. Jor-Tune gave a Human salute to the captain. He chuckled and returned the greeting.
“Good to work with you again, O’Hara,” Korit said.
Jor-Tune extended his hand to Swain. “Excellent, excellent. Glad to see you again, friend,” Swain said, excitedly
“What’s the plan? No one gave us any instructions,” O’Hara told Korit.
“Apparently, the traveler already provided our navigator with coordinates.”
“It’s a simple task this time,” Fitzpatrick snarked. “What could go wrong?”
Scans indicated Soft Light was rich in Ammonia and Sulfur. There were also caverns, which ran thousands of meters beneath the crust to water, and geothermal activity kept temperatures from falling too low. Atmospheric composition scans showed a thick layer of Carbon Monoxide. The gravity on the planet surface was 1.8 times that of Earth; for all intents and purposes, it was capable of sustaining life, if beneath its surface.
The Explorer navigated through dense clouds of gasses. Once visibility hit zero-zero, the ship’s outer lights came on. Hours of slow exploration drifted by before the ship arrived at its destination. All they witnessed were flat expanses of brown rock speckled with yellow flakes. Every once in a while, electrical currents set gasses aflame, giving off soft lights.
“Probably why it’s called Soft Light,” Nandy mused.
“Sure, sure,” Swain said. “Hey, Cap, check this out.”
He unpacked a mini gun from a large, black case. The two looked over the new toy. While they were eager to test new firepower and ammunition in the field, they weren’t looking forwards to another Lokian attack.
“Mine’s bigger than yours,” Korit said, showing off a photon, mini gun. The agents about fell over laughing, though the alien appeared stoic. “Was that a joke?”
“C’mon, mate,” Nandy smiled, smacking him, gently. “I can tell by your facial color you know what you said.”
O’Hara and Day shook their heads in mock desperation as the others joined in the fun. Then, Swain provided the new ammo. During the final seconds, they quickly checked their gear.
“So, this stuff works, right,” the captain asked.
“Captain,” Swain feigned offense. “Why wouldn’t it?”
The bay door came open. It was fairly dark on the planet’s surface, and a dusty, brown wind blew into the loading zone. They stomped down the platform, and peered into the crater over which the ship hovered.
Wasting no time, O’Hara attached his jump cord to the loading platform and repelled. Each member of the crew followed suit. A look down revealed only darkness, so they turned on their gun lights. Once illuminated, the hole revealed several crags in what looked to be a rather brittle wall.
The captain became preoccupied with a cave in; he kicked the stone with his boot tip. A tiny rock chipped off and clanked as it plummeted towards the unseen bottom. Gray mass fell before his eyes, shocking the crap out of him; the traveler jumped down.
“Jesus Christ! Did you see that,” Fitzpatrick screamed.
“I did,” a Thewl answered her.
“Amazing,” Jor-Tune added.
On solid ground, the crew detached their apparatus. Around them, the rock composition had changed from the former, brittle, brown walls to what appeared to be sturdier and harder gray stone. Korit took the lead as the traveler started marching. The Thewl had to walk briskly, meaning the Human crew had to jog just to keep pace and under heavy gravity, to boot.
“Wish this guy would slow down,” Swain complained.
“Easy, old man,” Adams replied.
Flem was behind Korit. She slowed to inspect fog. It had a bluish hue.
“What is this mist,” she asked.
“Some kind of humidity,” Nandesrikahl guessed.
“It’s gas,” Franklin replied.
“Dangerous,” the captain asked.
“No. Well, not so long as we have our suits on,” Franklin answered.
“I mean will it ignite if we have to fire,” O’Hara clarified.
“I think it’s Argon so no,” Franklin responded.
A ridiculously long hike ensued. They crossed a great deal of gray stone, walked around large pits, and even circumnavigated some flowing lava. Hours later, they emerged into an underground city, one similar to the city on Marduk, but everything was made of a foreign metal. Korit stopped in his tracks. He watched the traveler slow to a normal pace. Flem came to a halt behind him.
“What,” she asked.
“Seems he’s found something,” Korit answered.
The creature led them towards a silvery mound. He opened the door then stood looking at the crew. They made their way over and entered. Steps led down to an elevator.
It was small, forcing them to board four at a time, and then wait for the others. They gathered in a large room with the sterile appearance of a lab or hospital. It was full of unrecognizable equipment and glass partitions.
The traveler kept walking through doors and hallways, only stopping at doors or corners. Swain felt the pull of some equipment. Though he was struck by confusing images, he wasn’t able to grasp their mechanics. Mumbling over the shame of a hurried trip, he joked that the traveler had a fire lit under his backside.
They walked for hours; from labs, to housing quarters, even what looked like an armory. Every room had a faint light emanating from the ceiling or from tubes and pipes running in and out of the corridors. Eventually, they stepped onto what looked like a bridge and realized they probably boarded the ship during the long haul.
“This is it, isn’t it,” O’Hara said as he looked around for controls.
It was a tight, empty room, but apart from a lone, silvery contraption resembling an old dentist’s chair, he found no sign of navigational equipment. Humans and Thewls meandered about, unimpressed. The traveler looked to Day.
He approached her, put his hands on her shoulders, and a flash of light assaulted her. Like a quick, migraine headache, she felt her mind break. Pictures, scenes, and phrases barraged her brain. She let out a scream before slumping to her knees. The crew ran over to her, but she took a few breaths and stood.
“I’m okay. I think I got my gift,” she said and laughed.
Cautiously, she made for the chair, running her hand over it. After sitting comfortably, she found a button below the side railing. Pressing it resulted in a faint, purple light, which shone over her. A panel also slid open above her head, and a helmet with tubes and wires slowly descended.
With a glance at the traveler, she pondered the results of removing her helmet. He simply nodded. The crew about freaked out when she started to remove her gear, but she replied that he had said it was fine, referring to the creature.
After switching headgear, she found the ship’s was a little loose at first, but something spun inside resulting in a comfortable fit. The area in front of her face became opaque, allowing her to see through it. Her breathing grew erratic from surprise then vertigo overtook her for a moment. Then, there was nothing, just her breathing.
A mild sense of fumbling in the darkness ensued. She thought there were familiar objects, or thoughts, or concepts; it was the ship. She was conjoined to the vessel. The traveler gently guided her.
First, he showed her how to activate life support. It gave her a plethora of options. Naturally, she calibrated it to the best Human standards, an option which also allowed Thewls to remove their helmets.
“Guys? Can you hear me,” she asked.
“Sure,” Nandesrikahl answered.
“Life support should be on.”
Next, the creature showed her the engine controls, and the rest of the operational systems. The hangar was asking her to open. She replied verbally, but nothing happened. The idea to reply through the ship itself popped into her mind as if from outside. Underground, a hidden, hangar, bay door opened.
Day actually saw it from the vessel’s perspective. Everything on board was an extension of herself. The traveler acted as an AMS, helping her along. He told her to ease forwards through a dark tunnel. It went up at a steep incline for quite a ways.
“Oh, my God…this is so cool,” she cheered.
Korit removed his helmet and spoke Thewlish into his comm. “I contacted Admiral Yew,” he said.
The rest of the crew removed their headgear as well. DeReaux ran a hand through his hair and sat in a corner. Franklin joined him.
“Are we ready,” Adams asked.
The captain nodded. “Let the admiral know we’re going to Eon.” Korit nodded then relayed the information. “Day…what’s going on?”
“Exiting the tunnel. I see the planet’s surface. This it…this is beyond wild.”
“Copy…um, can you get us to Eon?”
She wanted a chance to fly around Soft Light, but there was a mission underway. Traveling to a known system, however, gave her plenty of time to put her new toy through its paces. Such freedom was exhilarating.
“I’d like to see Admiral Lay and give him a report in person,” O’Hara said.
“Copy. I’ll relay through proper channels, captain,” Franklin replied.
“Not much to look at, huh,” Swain said, disappointed.
“What do you mean,” Flem asked him.
“I don’t see any display monitor or anything,” Swain remarked. “She’s having all the fun, and I gotta’ stare at your ugly mugs.”
O’Hara glanced back at her. She looked frail and tiny enveloped in the contraption. The others were fidgeting, tired from the trip, or needed to use the restroom. Some of them pulled out rations.
When they asked Day for the ship’s layout, where crew quarters were, and what other decks were aboard, she came to a mental halt. “Um…can it wait?”
Spirits were high aboard the alien vessel, so they said they were going to run around and see what there was. Left to maneuver the ship without interruptions, Day found the sensation similar to swimming. There was a pressure all around her, but moving was effortless.
The travelers were beyond amazing. A guiding voice, not that it was auditory, but she had no other way to intellectualize the phenomenon, helped her to access the navigation systems where she located Eon. At normal speed, she needed less than two years to reach the planet. That alone was amazing, but even more so was the warp drive, an unparalleled ability to create wormholes, events that acted as conduits between space-time, eliminating the need to locate existing wormholes.
The crew was unaware of what was taking place. They had no clue they were even traveling, but Day had an exceptional experience; something like being flushed down a toilet while running backwards, uphill, in the snow, barefoot. The trip took a meager thirty seconds before exiting into the Gemini system, where she saw the purple and green gem in all its heavenly glory. Seconds later, she landed in the same area where they first met the Thewls.
“Captain,” she asked.
“You must be joking,” DeReaux said.
The crewmembers all looked at each other. “Uh, okay. Franklin, open a channel to the colony. I need Admiral Lay,” O’Hara ordered.
“I can do one better,” Day interjected.
She routed the communicators worn by the crew through a broadband system in the ship via a special frequency created by the vessel’s communications equipment. As she hooked onto the frequency, provided by Franklin’s comm., Day felt a wavering pressure around her. She pointed, indicating they were set.
“What,” O’Hara asked.
“Speak,” she said.
“This is Admiral Lay. Copy?” the admiral’s voice came in clearly.
“Um, y-yes, Sir. We copy,” the captain stammered.
“Good to hear your voice, son. Adams and Franklin have kept me posted on everything so far. I’m sorry for the loss of your friends. We’ve had to keep their deaths a secret. Otherwise, colonists might discover your real mission.”
Elation washed over the captain. Even though mentioning dead friends was depressing, his superior’s steady voice gave a surge of optimism. Everyone was anxious to set up a meeting.
“This new ship we have is remarkable, Sir. We’ll rendezvous at the original site.”
“Sure thing. Lay, out.”
Day eased the ship to the ground then opened the side hatch. The headgear she wore slid off before she stepped out of the chair onto rubber legs. Initially, she was a little wobbly, and her vision was blurry, but when she took a deep breath, she felt fine, relaxed.
“Whoo. That was something,” she exclaimed.
“I don’t understand how we got here so fast,” Swain said.
“Created a wormhole. I gotta’ tell you, the trip through that thing…indescribable,” she proclaimed.
“Right, then, how are you going to tell us,” O’Hara joked.
She squinted at him. The joke was lost on her.
“Well,” Franklin interrupted with a surprisingly loud tone. “We might as well as continue this on solid ground.”
He tossed his headgear by the helm before leaving the bridge. The rest started following him. Through twists and turns, he reached the airlock, which was already open. Everyone who hadn’t left their helmets in the bridge left them there.
“Nice navigating,” Adams commented.
“Really, I would not have made it out in one try,” Jor-Tune added.
O’Hara walked out first and took deep breaths of Eon’s fresh air. Behind him, the rest of the crew filed out. Everyone, man and Thewl, were glad to see a real sky overhead for the first time since their battle on Sahagun.
Orange light hugged them in a warm welcome. Korit noticed the traveler had not exited with them. He asked if they needed to retrieve him, but O’Hara glanced at the agents, and they all believed it wasn’t necessary. Finally, they turned around to look at the ship’s exterior.
It was completely black, black as the traveler’s eyes, black like obsidian jewels. Swain marveled at the craftsmanship. He ran a gloved hand over the fuselage.
“This is meta-material,” he said, astonished.
“The old oxides that bend light,” O’Hara asked.
“Why would a ship be laced with meta-materials,” DeReaux asked.
“Who knows, but it means it can turn invisible,” Swain responded.
“All ships use scanners, right? I mean, visuals are basically useless,” O’Hara added.
Swain shrugged and looked to the others then back to the vessel; a semi-seamless, black, cat-like construct. It was actually built with a head, four pylons with joints, and a tail. Before them, it sat in repose, hunkered down.
“Do you think it can run,” Fitzpatrick joked.
“I think it can do anything,” Day replied.
A ship appeared over the horizon. “Atten-hua!” O’Hara called.
The inbound vessel was large and red; it was the Phoenix. He knew Lay was coming. While the Humans had snapped to attention, the Thewls looked on. Adams explained why they had become immobile.
The Phoenix let out a burst from retro boosters before slowly descending. Upon reaching optimal, ground proximity, eight, landing pedestals ejected and touched down. The bay door opened, unleashing a platform.
In full dress, Admiral Lay emerged, donning his cap. Light glinted off his insignia. O’Hara approached and saluted. The admiral returned a salute, and the captain quickly recounted the last few weeks of the mission, including the battles they fought, the tech they recovered, and the plan to unite the races. Lay nodded understandingly.
“I’m not surprised, son. I should like to meet this traveler as well, and take a look inside that ship.”
“There is a possibility the Lokians will attack Earth or the colony, Sir,” O’Hara stated.
Admiral Lay stopped short and took a trademark, pensive inhalation. “Well…as it stands, I’ll begin relations with these Yvlekesh. It would help me to have a Thewlian assistant to smooth things over, though. Perhaps, it’s time to let the colony in on some of what’s been going on,” Admiral Lay said, carefully.
He took a moment to mull things over as he walked around and eyed the aliens, his men, the odd ship. He was impressed with the Thewls, and equally curious.
“Do any of you have public relations experience?” A relatively small and quiet Thewl took a step forwards. Though she had accompanied the men to retrieve the vessel, she had not spoken a word to the Human crew. She remained quiet then, too. “Good. I’m Admiral John Lay of the Earth Navy,” he announced and extended a hand.
“Yon of the Thewls. What do you need, Admiral?” she asked in a soft voice.
The admiral placed a hand on her elbow as he turned and walked away a polite distance. The two left the crew to their own devices for a moment. O’Hara overheard Lay inform Yon of the necessary steps required in bringing her to the colony for communications with Ambassador Weh and subsequently the Yvlekesh.
“Something’s wrong,” Nandy said.
“What is it,” Korit asked.
“Yon contacted Admiral Yew, but he said they haven’t been able to reach the Yvlekesh.”
All of the Thewls darkened in complexion. When the admiral and Yon returned, O’Hara noticed the hard look in Lay’s baby blues.
“What’s the word, Sir?”
“I won’t lie to you, Captain. The Thewls are having some troubles of their own, but I won’t bore you with details. While you’re all here, why not set up camp and enjoy your time together?”
He was shocked to hear such a request, but everyone else was pleased. They joked and chatted, and meandered on over to the Phoenix to see old friends. Adams and Franklin, who had not relaxed in years, drew a green ball the size of a Human fist from a brief case. They tossed it around to the others for fun. Swain and Fitzpatrick cracked up over their display.
Crews of both ships united under auspices of first contact and secret missions. During R and R, Admiral Lay pulled his captain aside to explain the importance of squelching intel. O’Hara was displeased due to the inherent danger, but was confident in the admiral’s strategy.
“For the moment, I don’t want anyone else knowing that there are difficulties in contacting the Yvlekesh.”
O’Hara glanced back at Phoenix Crew. Then, he glanced at the Thewls, who were introducing themselves to everyone else. He wondered if Korit or Admiral Yew had squelched intel during their excursions.
“How’ve you been?” the admiral’s voice made O’Hara jump.
“I thought the agents kept you up to date.”
“I mean you. How have you been, not your performance….”
“I don’t really know how to answer that, Sir. I feel like I was thrown into the mix of a great catastrophe unprepared,” O’Hara replied.
“Yes, I suppose you were. Anything bothering you?”
“Just the loss of my friends,” the captain said as he looked away.
The twin suns were moving lower into the horizon. Gray clouds stood still, painted against the hazy, purplish backdrop. They were thin and wispy, but plentiful.
“Listen,” the admiral said as he took O’Hara’s upper arm in his hand. “You’re at war. You need to understand that. Soldiers die. You’re a leader.
“I know it’s harsh, but the mission comes first. There are countless lives at stake, lives not under your command, lives that need to be protected, spared, because they can’t fight. It’s good to honor and remember soldiers, but you can’t despair over the loss of good men. They’re ready to go when the time comes…you should be, too.”
O’Hara turned to meet blue, steely eyes. They were slightly covered by the shadow cast from the admiral’s cap but it was obvious the man was speaking from experience. O’Hara wracked his brain trying to figure out when the admiral had been to war. There hadn’t been any fighting, to his knowledge, for generations.
“I-I know, and I am ready to die, but they were my men. They were my friends. I could have done better with more intel….”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying, son,” Lay retorted. “If you had all the proper intel, none of you would have done as well as you did.” O’Hara fidgeted and frowned. He obviously didn’t appreciate the remark. “Buck up. I’m going to check on the crew,” the admiral responded and left.
The captain breathed in the cool air of Eon. He was rattled, in disbelief. Lay’s comments made no sense, and as he looked at Humans, Thewls, the young and the experienced, he knew he wasn’t alone in missing former teammates, but neither was he alone in the war for survival.