Home of Author Herbert Grosshans. Science Fiction with a dash of Erotica
Excerpts: Outpost Epsilon, Stardogs, Xandra
This is an excerpt from 'Outpost Epsilon'
Since Stonewall was the junior scout, Chief Farmer decided to have him accompany Peters on the rescue mission.
“You two seem to hit if off,” he said. “You’ll make a good team.” He gave Stonewall a long look. “Might as well get christened with fire, Stonewall. You’re not here for a holiday. Begin earning your pay.”
“Yes, sir,” Stonewall said, not sure if he liked his assignment.
“I told you don’t call me sir. I’m the Chief, understood?” Farmer didn’t raise his voice, but Stonewall felt a cold shiver running down his spine when he looked into the gaunt man’s eyes.
“I understand, Chief,” he said, cowering a little, wondering if Farmer would draw his sidearm and shoot him if he protested too much.
“You’ll leave at dawn tomorrow. No sense in searching now. You’ll want to cross Dragon’s gap in the early hours.”
“Dragon’s gap?” Stonewall asked Peters after they left the Chief’s office.
“You’ll see when we get there,” Peters said, evasively. “Let’s grab something to eat.”
Stonewall met the rest of the twelve scouts still on the station, all seven of them, including the four who manned the observation tower outside the bubble. All were young, in their twenties, like Stonewall. He also met the cook, Tommy, and his helper Garth, a small, skinny guy with eyes like a weasel.
“He’s not too smart,” Peters told him later and, grinning, he added, “The rumor has it that he and Tommy do more than just cooking in the backroom, if you know what I mean. But that’s just that, rumors. Don’t quote me.”
Not all of the twelve men were in their beds at night, since they worked shifts around the clock in the tower and the Power building. The nightshift consisted of only two men instead of four.
It seemed Stonewall had barely fallen asleep when someone shook his shoulder. Bolting upright, he stared bleary-eyed at Peters.
“Time to get up,” Peters whispered.
“Already?” Stonewall rubbed his eyes. “But it’s still dark.”
“Not outside. The sun is already up. Come, get dressed.”
One hour later, they left the safety of the dome, dressed in protective clothing and flash-rifles slung across their shoulders.
Peters mounted one of the two scooters and Stonewall climbed into the sidecar. Then they took off into the mushroom jungle.
“How do you know in which direction to drive?” Stonewall asked. Through the built-in speaker of his helmet he could hear Peters chuckling cheerfully.
“We’ve sent out a Seeker to find the crashed alien ship. It is still hovering above the ship, sending a beacon. The locater on this scooter zeros in on the beacon. Our boys should be somewhere on the road to that location, unless they strayed off. Then we might have a problem finding them.”
Stonewall didn’t have to ask Peters to explain the Seeker, a tiny robotic spy-eye no larger than a marble, but capable of finding anything that contained electronic devices. Some called it a Bloodhound. A shame it couldn’t find people.
He studied the environment they traveled in. Giant mushrooms rose on either side, some with thick stems and wide umbrellas, some thin, like trees, topped only with a small round bulb. Millions of tiny mushrooms grew from the soft ground, which was covered by a mat of blue-shimmering moss-like vegetation. Occasionally they passed beds of red low-growing shrubs.
Peters avoided these shrubs with deliberate care. “Those branches have razor-sharp thorns that could penetrate even our protective clothing. Besides, they are a favorite hiding place for the Fire-spitters.”
“Serpents with huge heads. If you come too close, they spit a wad of acid in your face. Won’t kill you, but burns like hell.”
After traveling for an hour, they left the forest of mushrooms and came upon a wide stretch of bare rock.
“Dragon’s gap.” Peters stopped the scooter. “It’s still early, but you never know. Those Ants are predictable, but not so the occasional Anteater who lies waiting for them, or the Dragons hovering in the sky, hoping for an easy snack.” He unstrapped his flash-rifle.
“You’re talking in riddles. Remember, I’m new here.” Stonewall twisted his neck, searching the sky for signs of life. “I don’t see anything.”
“The Ants are giant…well…ants, as big as sheep. Every day, shortly after noon, an army of them travels across this parcel of land. They return just before dark. Where they go and what they do is unknown to us. They seem harmless enough, and they won’t pursue you if you’re not too close, but they don’t hesitate to attack if they feel threatened.”
“What about the Anteater?”
“Fierce beasts the size of an elephant with six long spidery legs. They eat Ants.”
Peters chuckled. “And Humans. So do the Dragons. If you remember what a pterodactyl looks like you’ll have an idea of the type of creature I’m talking about. They sail the currents above, looking for a bite to eat.”
“Any other beasties I need to know about?”
“Well…there are the giant Lice, Beetles, Seed-crackers. All of them live in the mushrooms. The Earth-borers, the Cave-borers, the Excavators, the…”
Stonewall held up a hand. “I get the point. In other words watch your step.”
“All the time. Never let down your guard. Expect the unexpected, even when you’re convinced everything is safe. It never is. That’s why we live in the bubble. The only safe place on this planet. For Humans.”
“I think I want to go back now.” Stonewall grinned, even though he knew Peters couldn’t see his face. Unfortunately, it was not far from the truth.
“You and I both,” Peters said. “Keep your eyes open.”
The scooter began moving again. Slowly, they drove out onto the barren land.
When Stonewall saw the giant shadow on the ground, saw it increasing in size with alarming speed, he knew they had only seconds left. He brought up his rifle, twisted in his seat, almost froze when he saw the huge shape scooping down on them.
The explosive sound of a flash-rifle discharging beside him embarrassed him, knowing that his partner had been faster in dealing with the danger. However, he didn’t have much time to think about it. Pulling the trigger on his own weapon, he watched as the searing bolt of energy buried itself in the chest of the giant reptilian predator.
Screaming defiantly, it desperately tried to rise again, flapping its great wings but failed when Peters sliced off half of one wing with a sweep of his rifle.
As the beast crashed to the ground behind them, Peters gunned the scooter, raced away from the screeching mortally wounded creature. “Hang on!” he called out.
Stonewall held on to his rifle, keeping an eye on their surroundings.
A dark form, as large as a shuttle, came scuttling out of a deep crevice in the ground, but it ignored them and headed for the convulsing body of the Dragon.
“It’s our lucky day,” Peters said. “That Anteater would have ambushed us, but we supplied it with an easier meal, that and much more meat.”
They reached the other side of Dragon’s gap unmolested and entered another forest.
“Don’t relax yet,” Peters warned. “This is where we usually encounter the Seed-crackers. They live in the gills of the mushrooms and like to drop onto unwary travelers. They’re small, but their mandibles are sharp and strong. Some of the boys call them Piranhas. One is not much of a threat, but a swarm of them can cut you into tiny pieces in a short time.”
Stonewall’s skin fet clammy from perspiring inside his protective suit. Even though a battery-powered tiny cooling unit in his helmet removed some of the moisture from the air he breathed through a set of filters, it still seemed uncomfortably hot.
“Can we take a short break?” he asked. “I need to stretch my legs. There isn’t much room in this bullet I’m sitting in.”
“All right.” Peters appeared reluctant. “But just for a short time. I could use some stretching myself.” He stopped and dismounted but kept his rifle in his hand, ready to be used in an instant.
Stonewall climbed out of the sidecar and walked around, trying to get the cramps out of his aching legs. “I never asked. Do you have any contact with the indigenous people on Epsilon?”
Peters laughed. “Count yourself lucky if we don’t run into them. They are not very friendly. The Bugeyes and Humans don’t get along.”
“How much do we know about them?”
“Not much. We know they live in hives. They build huge mounds, like the termites on Earth, only on a grander scale. They seem quite intelligent, but as I said, we aren’t exactly on friendly terms with them.”
Even through the filter, Stonewall could still smell the decaying odor of fungus. “Strange world,” he muttered.
Peters chuckled. “Epsilon is not a world created for us Humans. We are intruders here. Humans will never live here.” He scanned the sky, visible above the giant umbrellas. “We’d better get a move-on. I don’t trust this part of the forest.”
An excerpt from
'Stardogs, Return to Redsky'
Getting drunk never really solves any problems, but it helps to forget.
I had been in Triton’s Tavern many times, back in the old days, but old Miguel wasn’t there anymore. A fat, moonfaced man stood behind the counter, wiping it continuously. His lips seemed to be frozen in a wide grin. He nodded when I walked in, tipping an imaginary hat.
“What’ll it be?” he asked, still grinning.
“A bottle of your best and a tall glass,” I said. “And some privacy.”
“I’m sure you’ll find both here, sir,” he said, pushing a bottle filled with some murky looking liquid at me.
I took a big gulp and almost gagged. Spitting the stuff on the floor, I grabbed his filthy collar. “I said your best, Moonface. If I want to poison myself, I can do it cheaper and less painful. And stop grinning.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” he whined, trying unsuccessfully to change his expression. “I must have grabbed the wrong bottle.”
I gave his collar an extra twist.
“I have some private stock you might want to try,” he gagged.
When I released him, he waddled to the back and brought a large golden bottle, which he carefully opened. He poured some into a small glass. “Here, sir, try this. It’s the best I have.”
I grabbed the bottle and threw some money on the counter. “If it’s no good, I’ll let you know.”
I found a small table in a dark corner. Just what I was looking for. I drank straight out of the bottle, and I had to admit, the stuff wasn’t bad. When the bottle was almost empty, I felt much better. On a small stage, a girl with a squeaky voice sang a song about a lost love, and it began to sound pretty good to me.
Even the girl at the table next to mine, who struck me as especially ugly when I sat down, suddenly seemed a radiant beauty. I told her so and made her a proposition, but the man she was with didn’t seem to like it. He asked me very politely to apologize, but I told him to mind his own business and go to hell.
He stood up and slowly came over to my table. I am not a small man, but this guy was big, and he seemed very sure of himself. When his fist smashed against the side of my head, it felt as if a sledgehammer had hit me.
Any other time he would never have touched me, but a bottle of liquor slows down a man’s reflexes.
Anger flared up inside me, as I fell off my chair. My hand touched the butt of my gun, but a tiny voice in the back of my head stopped me. I realized I was drunk, and I might do something I would regret later.
My special badge gave me immunity from many things, but not from murder. And murder it would be, because this man had no chance against me.
He stood, glaring at me. I managed to stand up, and before he could hit me again, I hit him in the stomach, not too hard, but hard enough to send him reeling back. He bellowed something and came at me again.
That kick against the side of my head had sobered me up a little, and given me a terrible headache. I didn’t want to hurt him, after all, I started the fight. Since I couldn’t let him get away with it, either, this time I laid it right on the tip of big wide chin.
He looked at me, a puzzled expression on his face, then his eyes glazed over and he fell like a heavy tree.
Before I could get back to my table, somebody grabbed my arm and spun me around. I staggered, reaching for my gun, but a hard voice made me stop.
“One false move and it will be your last one.”
The shiny badges on their chests told me they were police. There were two of them. Tall and big. They held scatterguns in their hands.
They looked me over, their expression bored and slightly amused.
“Is that your animal outside?” one of them asked.
I grinned. “Why, you wanna arrest it?”
“He’s totally drunk,” the other one said.
“Let’s see your ID,” the first one demanded, still covering me with his weapon.
They felt so secure. Even as drunk as I was, I could have taken them both easily. Slowly I flipped back my cape, revealing the tight black uniform of the Terran Interplanetary Space Force. They looked at the big blaster on my hip, then into my smiling face.
I showed them my Special Badge. One of them took it, flipped it open, and then hastily handed it back to me.
“Sorry, sir,” he apologized. “We didn’t know.”
Even though Homeworld was far away, the colonies still feared the mighty Terran Empire.
“The name’s Dan Griffin,” I said. “I’ll be staying for awhile.” I had some trouble getting the words out. I looked at the almost empty bottle. “Can I invite you boys for a little drink? Somehow I feel like company.”
They shook their heads and turned to walk away.
I sat down, staring at the people around me. Suddenly I realized how silent it had become. “Why don’t you people get back to what you were doing,” I said. “The show is over.”
I waved to the girl who had been singing. “Come, have a drink with me. I need someone to cheer me up.”
“I don’t drink with drunks,” she said and started another song.
“Your loss,” I mumbled and poured myself another.
“I’ll take that invitation,” a soft voice said beside me.
I looked up and into her strange colorless eyes, somehow glad to see her. “I should have known you’d come looking for me,” I said. “How’d you find me?”
She laughed, her small teeth shiny pearls behind bright red lips. “You must be drunk, lover, to ask a stupid question like that. Come, it’s time to sober up.”
Taking my arm, she gently, but forcefully led me outside, where she pushed me into her waiting skimmer. I must have passed out, because the next thing I remember was her pulling off my boots. I was lying on a warm, soft bed. I tried to sit, but gave it up, when the bed started to spin.
She undressed me and pulled the cover over my nude body. Then she slipped out of her own clothes. I tried to focus my eyes on her lovely form, but somehow I seemed to get a double exposure.
“Do you know that you’re the most beautiful woman in the Galaxy?” I said, stumbling over the words. “And I mean the whole damn Galaxy.”
She laughed and slipped under the covers, pressing her warm, soft body against mine. I remember stroking her firm round breasts and fumbling between her legs. But that’s all I remember. I don’t know if we made love or if I just dreamed about it. I seem to recall the murmur of her gentle, soothing voice, and there is still the echo of her passionate breathing in my ears, or there seems to be.
I don’t know, and when I asked her about it in the morning, she only smiled and shrugged her lovely shoulders. “If you can’t remember, you’ll never know,” she said with a mischievous flicker in her strange eyes. “How’s your head?”
“Why did you ask?” I moaned, when suddenly a gang of miners started hammering inside my head.
She handed me a glass of water and a pill. “Here, you’ll feel better.”
* * * *
“You’re a bitch,” I told her at breakfast. “A real damn teasing bitch!”
“I love you, too,” she laughed throatily, sinking her teeth into a juicy fruit.
I could say things like that to her. She’d kill any other man for less. Her name was Meadow. Born on the second planet of a minor system, a large dust ball circling a small bright sun, not quite human and as savage and wild as the beasts that roamed the hot dry plains and high ragged mountains.
Tall and slim, high-breasted and long-limbed, she kept her coppery hair at shoulder length, but liked to pin it back to reveal her pointy ears. Her eyes were the strangest thing about her. The pale iris seemed almost nonexistent.
She was an empath, which meant she could read emotions.
From the first time I laid eyes on her I wanted to climb into the sack with her. A strange attraction I had for her. It was neither love nor lust, it was something else.
Meadow knew about Lane. There isn’t much you can hide from someone like her. We had been on three assignments together and shared good and bad times. Our lovemaking was always fierce and passionate. She held nothing back, but expected the same from me.
Looking at me from across the table, she said, “I guess I don’t have to ask how everything went.”
I shook my head. “I had to find out. But I’ll survive.”
“I know.” Reaching for my hand, she stroked it. Somehow, I had the feeling she was pleased about something. “By the way, while you were walking down memory lane, we did not sit around idle. We’ve tracked down the Stardogs. They’ve set up a base about a thousand kilometers north of the spaceport.”
She lifted her head, staring into the distance. “Someone is coming,” she said. I heard a knock on the door a moment later.
“Come in,” I called when she nodded.
The man who entered looked familiar, and then I recognized him.
We had been good friends. He wore a uniform with a shiny badge. Smiling, he extended a hand. “It is really you, Dan. Welcome home.”
When he saw me look at his badge, he shrugged his shoulders. “This visit is not official, not really.”
I grinned and took his hand. “The first person who’s actually happy to see me. How have you been, old friend?”
He looked at Meadow, suddenly uneasy. I laughed. He hadn’t changed much. He had always been a daredevil, afraid of nothing, but put him in the presence of a beautiful woman and he became a yarl...a mouse. We used to call him Darl the Yarl.
She gave him a radiant smile and he actually blushed.
“I am Meadow,” she said with that somewhat breathless sounding voice of hers. “Any friend of Dan’s is a friend of mine.”
I felt sorry for him, and also a little bit jealous. He was already hopelessly in love with her.
She walked over to a low divan by the window. I watched as he tried to hide his embarrassment when she stood against the light, her lithe body outlined in the semi-transparent robe she wore. She might as well have been nude.
Hearing the sharp intake of his breath, I gave her an accusing stare, but she ignored it, smiling sweetly at her new admirer. “What is the reason for your visit, Darl?” she asked, sinking into the divan. She crossed her long, slender legs, her robe opened slightly, revealing half of her left breast. She didn’t seem to notice, her strange eyes were large and bright as she stared into Darl’s face.
Why the hell did she always have to put on such a display?
He blinked, shaking his head, and then he looked at me. “A couple of the boys told me they’d seen you in town last night. I thought I’d come and talk to you.” Looking around, he found a chair and sank into it. “I still can’t believe it, Dan,” he said. “We all figured you dead by now.”
“I am not easy to kill.” I laughed grimly.
“I know.” He stared at me. “They found some dead bodies, natives, or what’s left of them. You?”
I nodded. “Couldn’t be helped.”
“I suspected.” He smiled. “Anyway, I’m glad you’re alive and well.”
Something bothered him.
“Why not tell us what’s really on your mind,” Meadow said softly.
He looked at her, for the first time seeing her strange luminous eyes. “You’re not human,” he stated and nodded. “You’re right, there is something else.” Then, looking at me, “You don’t have many friends here, you know. Why did you really come back?”
“Tell him, Dan.” Meadow sat up straight and pulled the robe over her breast. “He’s alright.”
We had been friends, yet...I was reluctant. People change. But I always trust Meadow. She was never wrong. Still, I didn’t agree with her methods of screening people. Suddenly I realized something. I was jealous.
When I heard her silvery laughter, I walked over to her and sat down beside her. Gently, she touched my cheek and smiled.
“I’m a fool.” I said. Then I looked up at Darl who watched us, not quite understanding. “I guess my presence here is scaring a lot of people.”
“Maybe it is. Certain people are wondering about your motives.”
“I didn’t come here for revenge, if that’s what you mean.”
He seemed to relax. “Why did you come? Lane?”
I winced when he mentioned her name. Looking at Meadow, I said, “Maybe I have been chasing a memory, a dream, which has ended. No, she was not the reason, just part of it.”
“You’re not welcome here, Dan. They want someone else.”
He didn’t know why I laughed. “Don’t be stupid, Darl. Do you really think the Empire is interested in your silly border wars? Redsky is not even marked on the trading routes. There is nothing here anybody wanted...until now.”
“Until now? I don’t think I understand.”
“We’ve finally ran into another star-faring civilization, equal to our own. We call them the Stardogs. So far there have been no incidents, not openly anyway, but we’ve had skirmishes.”
“How does Redsky fit in?” His eyes flickered to Meadow, and then back to me.
Meadow answered his question. “They’re here. They’ve been here for some time. We don’t know the reason for their presence, and that’s why we are here. It’s our job to find out what they are doing on Redsky, and stop them, if necessary. An open confrontation that could flare into a full-scale interstellar war must be avoided at all cost. Utmost secrecy is of great importance.”
The Xandra, Daughter of the Dark
July 18, 2985
The Exploration ship has left. The abandoned alien space station has been adapted to support human life. We are in orbit around the fourth planet of the star system ACG 671-397-D. We’ve named the planet Nu-Eden. It seems to be the most suited for human settlement.
It has been six months now since the first shuttle with 25 colonists on board left for the planet below. Only 1,000 of the 2,000 colonists are living on the planet. The other 1,000 are still in cryogenic suspension.
I’ll give the colony five years. If the colony prospers, the rest of the settlers will be revived and sent down to join the others.
I believe they have a good chance, though. The climate is good, the air is breathable, and the water quality excellent. It is an ideal planet. We’ll see.
Unfortunately, the station cannot be moved, but we have one small exploration ship, a number of shuttles, and one small, but powerful battle cruiser. We have begun exploring the rest of the planets in this system.
There are seventeen of them. The one closest to the primary is too hot for anything living to exist. The side that faces the Primary gets surface temperatures in excess of 500 degrees Celsius. The second one is not much better, too hot on the sunlit side, too cold on the dark side.
The third planet is a giant, with a diameter of 51,000 km. There is some sort of life on it, but no human being could live there. Too hot and too humid. The oxygen content in the air is too low, and we’ve detected high concentrations of methane gas and traces of other poisonous substances.
Luckily, the fourth planet was more than we could have hoped for. This is the best planet the human race has discovered so far. With a diameter of 13,200 km, and gravity slightly higher than 1 G, it is so close to Earth standard, it is almost eerie.
There are three moons circling it, two large ones and one small one. How they affect the tides of the oceans that separate the three huge continents is still unknown. The sites of the two settlements are in the middle of the largest continent; we will worry about the tides when we have to.
The first survey of the fifth planet (we haven’t given it an official name, yet) was not too exiting. It is similar in size to Nu-Eden, a little larger, but not large enough to increase the gravity. About three-quarters of the planet’s surface is land. There is only one ocean, and it is rough. A huge ridge of high mountains runs from north to south, effectively dividing the landmass into two separate continents.
High, rugged mountains cover much of the land surface, but there are also large flat, tundra-like areas with tall grasses and wild forests. Myriads of long and wide rivers snake through the flat lands and mountains, emptying themselves into huge and deep inland lakes.
It is a rough and savage world, with great temperature fluctuations between the seasons, plagued in the summer by vicious thunderstorms, hurricanes and torrential rains, and by snowstorms in the winter. The mountains and the poles are forever covered under a deep blanket of snow or thick ice; still, humans could live on this planet. The air is pure and clean. We found traces of, as yet, undefined elements in the air, but they seem harmless. Of course, these are only preliminary findings.
About two months ago, we set up a research station in the Western Hemisphere, which seems to have a bit more temperate climate. We have a team of five men and five women scientists doing closer studies, they will stay down there a year, longer, if they want to.
Maybe some day, even if things do work out on Nu-Eden, we will begin to colonize the fifth planet.
So far, we haven’t found any intelligent life or any evidence that these planets have been host to visitors from other star systems. There are no ruins, no signs that anybody ever landed on the surface, which is quite puzzling because of the abandoned space station.
The space station is huge and old, maybe a thousand years or so. Who built it? We don’t know. It certainly is not of human design, even though we are quite certain that a humanoid race built it.
Professor Romanof believes that it wasn’t built in this system, but was transported by a method we have not been able to establish. Whoever built it possessed a technology superior to ours.
There is a space anomaly about three light years away, which gives cause to all kinds of speculations.
As I’ve said, the space station is huge; it could easily support 5,000 people. Of simple design, it is a giant sphere about 1.5 km in diameter, studded with twelve spikes 150 meters high and 60 meters wide. Each spike, or tower, as we call it, is divided into 25 floors that are connected through an elevator. At the end of the tower is an observation deck, with transparent walls and ceiling.
The station was not completely dead when we found it. Even though nothing was working, there seems to be some kind of power source in the sphere’s center, because there is still gravity.
Each tower is completely sealed off from the main body, accessible only through a pressurized chamber. It is one of these towers that we have adapted to acceptable living conditions.
There was a team of excellent engineers on the Mother-ship, and they installed an independent power plant on one of the floors. The elevators are working and we have lights, heat and air.
We even have a hydroponics garden where we grow vegetables, enough to supply us with fresh greens at least three times a week.
Water we brought up from the planet below. We store it in huge tanks located on the first floor. From there it is pumped into pipes that run up to the top of the tower. Almost every third floor has a toilet and a washbasin. The main facilities are on the ninth floor, where we have showers and tubs for those who like to soak for a while. My old bones need that sometimes. The sleeping quarters are on the eighth, tenth and eleventh floor.
Most of the upper floors are used for storage, research labs, hospital rooms, and entertainment. The cryogenic chambers are on the 21st and 22nd floor. Both floors had higher ceilings, and only a few partitions. It was not difficult to convert them to our purpose. Computers monitor each chamber around the clock. Only technical personnel are allowed on those floors.
Did I mention that 217 men and women make up the crew? Actually, there are 137 men and 80 women living in the tower. Some of them may eventually decide to stay and join the colonists on Nu-Eden, but most of them will go back home with the relief ship.
The military personnel have taken over the fourth and fifth floor. There are only 27 Marines, but all of them are well trained, and they do provide us with a certain sense of security. Besides, their commander, Les Beringer, has become a good friend of mine, and he assures me that we are ‘in good hands’. He keeps his men at constant alert, putting them through a rigorous training regiment every day.
They are training on the fourth floor, and it is a good thing that the floors are sound proof. My quarters are on the seventh floor.
A large porthole in what serves as my living room gives me a good view of the planet below us, and sometimes I sit for hours just staring at that huge globe. When the surface is not obscured by clouds I can see the continents and the oceans and I wonder what it would be like to brave the giant waves in an old-fashioned steam powered ship. What an adventure that would be!
Would I have the guts? I don’t know. I envy the future younger generations who may do exactly that. There are many questions I ask myself. What if something happens to this station? What if the Mother-ship gets lost in the vastness of space and never comes back? This planet may be cut off for centuries, maybe millennia, from the rest of humanity.
Ah, but I’m transgressing, daydreaming, like some old fool. At 90, I’m still young enough to maybe set foot on Nu-Eden someday and sail those oceans. Mind you, not in a steam-driven boat. I’m not that crazy.
* * * *
August 18, 2985
It is autumn in the Northern Hemisphere of Nu-Eden. We’ll have to adapt the calendar to the local conditions and seasons. However, there is still time for that and it is only of concern to the people living on the planet. There are no seasons on the station.
So far, the reports we’ve been getting are excellent. Alpha Colony, which is in the southern part of the northern continent, is probably the better location. The weather is a little warmer, and there are many fruit bearing trees and shrubs. Most of the fruit and berries are edible and can be eaten by humans.
Beta Colony is about 1500 km further to the north. The region is quite mountainous, and the trees don’t grow as tall. Yet, it is still a very hospitable place to live in. All the settlers are healthy and seem to be quite happy.
Here on the station not much has happened. I’ve sent a team deeper into the bowels of the sphere. We’ve discovered a staircase that leads from one level to the next. There are many levels. Of course, there is no air, but we are proceeding with caution. We don’t want to cause any damage to vital components.
Actually, we were quite fortunate to gain access to the sphere without great difficulties. Maybe the access doors were purposely left open. They are large enough to let our ships get inside. It was obviously a docking port, because we did find a number of small shuttles parked in what looked like parking spots, (at least we assume they are shuttles).
The outermost level has a ceiling one hundred meters high. Huge elevators go up to each tower. Unfortunately, we could not get them to work. We needed to build our own.
I have great respect for the builders of this station. They did have marvelous engineering skills.
* * * *
My contract is for five years. I’ll be 95 then, and I hope they’ll let me retire. Of course, I am assuming that Earth sends a relief team. I have no ties with Earth or any other planet. My wife and three children, two girls and one boy, were killed in the revolution on Eldorado. That was forty years ago. I joined the Space Exploration Corps after that.
In those days, I used to be a hotshot pilot with the Terran Customs and Revenue Corporation. Nothing could touch me. I was a big hero. I’ve always blamed myself for my family’s death. I should have been there, with them, but I wasn’t! I was somewhere in the Alpha Centauri System, chasing after smugglers. I loved the thrill of the hunt, it was more important to me than my family. Oh well, that is all in the past. Now I’m just an old man waiting to be put out to pasture.
I know 90 isn’t so old. Barring any accidents I could live to be 150 and beyond, but I’m just so tired of spending my time in the vastness of space. Maybe it’s true what the opponents of space travel say: Man’s destiny lies on Earth, not in Outer Space. A man needs solid ground under his feet.
Maybe I’ll get married again, settle on Nu-Eden.
The Xandra, Mother of Light
Commander Beringer stared at the stack of journals. He had read them a second time now. The lump in his throat was hard to swallow. Even though the Captain had only been a facsimile of his original self, he had kept his dignity right to the end. Throughout the journal he had questioned his true human identity, but he had died with his humanity still intact.
“I want to go down to the planet. If there are any Humans left down there I want to know.”
“I suggest you keep your team small,” Starfinder said, touching one of the journals. “Your captain described all sorts of creatures, which the Xandra created. It may be a very dangerous mission.”
Beringer nodded. “I will take Lt. Wang and Starmote. Do you approve?”
“I do.” Starfinder smiled. “I am surprised you chose Starmote.”
“She is the logical choice.” The Commander kept his voice neutral. He might have hidden motives, but he didn’t elaborate. “I saw a couple of shuttles in the docking area. I hope they still work.”
The space station operated again under full power. All of Beringer’s marines and the rest of the Genaar had now been revived. Beringer kept his men separate from the aliens. He told Starfinder that it would be better for their morale and discipline. The alien females were very beautiful and quite seductive. He didn’t want his men weakened by sexual escapades. I want to have a fighting force that is in top condition. We don’t know what awaits us on the planet. The alien just smiled and made no comment.
“We have not detected any air traffic or any other evidence revealing whoever resides on the planet’s surface possesses any form of advanced technology,” Starfinder broke into his thoughts. “So the chances of you being discovered, when you arrive at night, are very slim. Have you given some thought to where exactly you want to land?”
“I think it will be the site of Alpha Colony. I’ve never been down to the planet’s surface and I have no idea where the colony is located. Did you find anything in the data-blocks Starmote removed from the Captain’s computer?”
“As a matter of fact we have.” Starfinder chuckled. “Our systems are, of course, not compatible, but our computer is very sophisticated.” He held up a hand. “I am not saying yours is inferior, but I doubt if you would be able to remove and decipher data taken from our data banks.”
“I am not a scientist,” Beringer said. “I have no interest in why and how certain things work. Just give me a mission, a weapon and a target, and I will use any information your sophisticated computer spits out to do what must be done.” He stared at Starfinder. “By the way, there must have been a lot of information in those data-blocks about Earth, our mission here and who knows what else.”
“There is, but let me put your fears to rest, my friend. We will not use it against you. I’ve told you, we are not an aggressive species, but we may use any information we found to defend ourselves, if necessary.” Starfinder smiled, but his eyes didn’t. “Always remember, you invaded our station, you brought the thread of the Xandra to us. So you owe us to share any information you have discovered that may be of help. Whatever your people left behind belongs to us.”
“We assumed the station abandoned,” Beringer said. “Otherwise we would have built a base on one of the satellites.”
“I didn’t mean to criticize. I just want to put things in perspective, in case there are ever any questions about our actions or motives.”
“I understand. I do trust you, and even if I didn’t, do I have any choice? I am your guest and I am grateful.”
Starfinder walked toward the door. Before he walked out he turned and said, “Your Captain Cunningham and I had a lot in common. He was a man of honor, and so am I. You, Commander Beringer, are a man of principles. You would never betray a friend. Neither would I. So you see there is a certain bond between us. I consider you my friend.”
Beringer stared at the closing door. “I hope this friendship will never be put to the test,” he murmured, shrugged and closed the log book. He almost rose from his seat, when the door slid open again and Starmote walked into the room.
“Starfinder tells me that you’ve chosen me to accompany you on another mission.” She smiled, her dark eyes smoldering. “I thought you didn’t like me.”
Beringer looked at her as she stood in front in him, at the way her breasts moved under the skintight outfit when she breathed, stared for a quick moment at the slightly bulging crease between her legs. His belly tightened, a pulse began to flutter in his loins. He wanted her badly, the way he had never wanted a woman before.
“I never said that.” His voice sounded hoarse in his ears. “I think you could be a valuable member of my team.”
“Why would you think that? You don’t know anything about me.”
“Well.” He managed to smile. “You’ve demonstrated that you know how to take care of yourself.” His hand went to his chest, rubbed it.
“Are you still in pain?” she asked. “I never meant to hurt you.”
“It only hurts when I breathe,” he said jokingly, felt stupid when she didn’t laugh. “Forget it,” he said. “Don’t read too much into this. To be honest, I had to take one of your people. And let’s face it, you are the only choice.”
“Thank you for your honesty.” Her eyes flashed. “And don’t worry, I won’t disappoint you. When do we leave?”
“After the next sleeping period. Lt. Wang is the other member of the team. Go help him prepare the shuttle and take care of provisions. Make sure you bring a weapon.”
She nodded, turned and left.
He cursed silently. He couldn’t get the image of her round buttocks, the way they moved inside her body suit, out of his mind. Maybe he made a mistake to take her along. His feelings for her could compromise the whole mission. Damn it all! Why couldn’t she be ugly! She wasn’t even human. She was an alien.
He left his room a few moments later to check on his men. He knew they were becoming restless and bored. Morale seemed low since they learned that they were the only Humans left on the station. Some had questioned the need for keeping separated from the Genaar. Maybe it had been wrong not to give them the real reason why they were put into cryogenic suspension. He should have given them a choice.
They knew now.
All of the men were young, in top physical condition and healthy, which meant they needed sexual release.
There were more females than males among the alien crew. The Genaar females were all beautiful and made no effort to hide their sexuality. One could almost taste the pheromones they exuded.
Beringer walked through the door that led to the quarters his men occupied. Most of them sat in what they termed the ‘Games Room’. There were tables and chairs, and even a viewing-sphere. Among the possessions the troopers brought with them had been a number of entertainment rods, with enough stored images to keep them entertained for years.
They switched it off when the commander entered the room, but he could still see the life-size three dimensional afterimages of the copulating man and woman who had been performing for them on the table top.
“At ease!” Beringer said, pretending not to notice. He looked around, saw the man he searched for. “Sergeant Stasnowsky, you’ll be in charge while I am planet side,” he said and watched the big, beefy man come to attention. A little older than most of the other marines, still a sergeant, nobody knew why and nobody knew his reasons for being here. The fact that he showed a little too much independence might have something to do with it. But everyone liked him and Beringer knew he would keep the others under control.
Beringer spoke loud enough so everybody could hear him, “I expect you to follow the Sergeant’s orders and I want you all to be at constant readiness. I don’t know what I’ll find down there. Hopefully I’ll find Humans, that is True-Humans. In case something goes wrong and I should not return, I have made contingency-plans. They will be made known to you at such time as is necessary.” He looked at Stasnowsky. “Sergeant, meet me in two hours in my quarters for a quick briefing.”
The sergeant saluted sloppily. “Yes, Sir, Commander.”
Beringer’s gaze fell on Lambert who had been staring at him. “Something on your mind, marine?” he asked.
Lambert, who had accompanied him on the mission to the outside, smiled thinly and hunched his shoulders forward. “Yes, there is something, Commander. Some of the men are wondering if arrangements could be made to meet with the alien women, if they are willing,” he hesitated, “I mean, you yourself…”
Beringer cut him off. “What about me, Lambert?” he said sharply.
“Nothing, Sir.” The young man clamped his mouth shut, his eyes flickered over to Sergeant Stasnowsky, who cleared his throat and said, “The men are getting nervous, they hear too many rumors. Maybe some r’n’r would boost morale.”
The Commander nodded. “I’ll have to talk to Starfinder. In the meantime I want everybody sharp and alert. Exercise, take cold showers, I don’t care.” He turned abruptly and walked out of the door. The sounds his boots made on the cold metal floor echoed down the corridor. Everything on this station looked alien, and yet, much seemed familiar.
The Genaar had developed along the same lines as the Humans. Beringer didn’t know much about biology and most other sciences, but he’d be willing to bet that they wouldn’t find much difference between the genetic make-ups of the two races. Interbreeding may probably be quite possible.
He admitted his attraction to Starmote, and even in the presence of the other Genaar females he felt a strong sexual urge. He knew his men did, too. That’s why he kept them isolated.
He needed to talk to Starfinder. What made these women so attractive and irresistible? There had been plenty of beautiful women among the settlers and the crew, none of them ever caused this effect.
He glanced at his time-piece. Another gift from Starfinder, but a useful and necessary one. All of his men had received one.
The Genaar used the decimal system, they based everything on ‘ten‘. One day consisted of twenty hours, equivalent to approximately twenty-six Standard-hours.
He had some time left before his meeting with Sergeant Stasnowsky; enough time to grab something to eat. When he walked into the kitchen, he found himself alone. He punched up an order and waited for the three bulbs to drop onto his small tray. Beringer found the food compatible with the human digestive system, bland, but edible and nourishing, not much different from the rations he was used to. A soldier didn’t, as a rule, enjoy gourmet meals.
He sighed and squeezed the contents of one of the bulbs into his mouth, winced when the strange flavor hit his taste buds.
“Enjoying your meal?”
At the sound of the voice Beringer tensed, whirled around and watched Starmote walking into the room, dressed in her usual formfitting body suit.
“You shouldn’t sneak up on people like that,” he said, his eyes on the deep cleft between her breasts. Her open body suit revealed more than necessary. She saw his look, smiled and went to one of the dispensers.
“I thought you were with Lieutenant Wang?” Beringer ripped off the top of another bulb. There must be an easier way to open these damn things, besides with your teeth, he thought. Starmote seemed to have no trouble with hers. Her teeth were white and obviously very strong.
“He was already done when I got there,” she said, sucking on her bulb. Her lips were red and full, her eyes as dark as the black void of space. “Why don’t you come to my quarters tonight,” she said suddenly. “It might ease the tension between us.”
He stared at her. “Are you serious?”
She laughed, came closer. “You Humans are a strange race. You seem to have a lot of hang-ups. You say one thing, but you mean something else. I thought you wanted to couple with me.”
He felt her warm breath in his face, her lips were slightly open. Between her even teeth he saw the tip of her tongue dart like a snake in its lair. He wanted to crush his mouth against hers, loose himself in the depths of her alien eyes, run his fingers through her soft black hair. “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said stiffly, hating himself for saying it, trying to still his pounding pulse. She’s offering herself, a voice thundered in his head. You fool! Don’t blow it!
She put a finger against his lips, shrugged her shoulders. “The offer stands. It may be our last chance to relax for awhile.”
He watched her walk to the door, stood dumbfounded, stared at her plump buttocks move smoothly, enticingly, promising delicious delights.
After finishing his meal, he walked slowly out of the room and made a quick decision.
The men were still sitting in the Games Room. This time they didn’t bother to shut off the viewing sphere. Two naked figures writhed on top of the table. A woman with oversized breasts had her long legs wrapped around the torso of the man she coupled with. She moved her slim body snake-like and with incredible speed underneath the over-muscled man.
They were not real. Just computer-generated images, but they seemed real, real enough to cause a reaction in Beringer.
He tore his eyes away, looked at Lambert, who had been watching him.
“Lambert,” Beringer said. “I want you to pilot the shuttle. Get your gear ready. Sergeant Stasnowsky will fill you in.” He turned without looking back. The harsh breathing sounds and moans of the copulating couple broke off abruptly as the door slid shut behind him.
He would talk to Starfinder about his men. They had been without female companionship far too long.
What about his own needs?
It would be easy to visit Starmote in her room. She seemed willing and waiting for him. But could he afford to get involved with her? He knew the answer to that. Anyone else, but not Starmote. She’d be under his direct command. It would violate all the rules.
He grimaced, cursed himself for being a Man of Principles, as Starfinder called him.
He headed back to his own quarters.
The Xandra, Goddess of Life
They used the wagons to form a circle and put the women inside. A couple of soldiers, who walked slowly around the makeshift prison, guarded them. Esram and his sons were kept in a tent by themselves, Beringer and Lt. Wang in another, with an armed guard by the entrance.
“They are certainly not very organized,” Wang commented in a low voice. “We still have our weapons, we could easily escape.”
“We could, just the two of us, I suppose. But we could never free the others. And we’d have to leave the wagons and horses behind.” Beringer took a small sip from his canteen. “At least they left us our provisions. By the way, did you see Starmote?”
Wang shook his head. “Now that you mention it, I don’t remember seeing her.”
“Do you think she might have escaped?” He jerked his head, startled, when he heard the voice.
“Commander, I assume you are alone with Wang?”
“Starmote?” he whispered fiercely. “Where the hell are you? Can you hear me?”
He heard her chuckle inside his head. “I can hear you quite clearly, Commander.”
“Are you in the compound?”
“No. I was never captured. I had to make a quick decision. As soon as I saw you give yourself up I got away from there fast.”
“Where are you?”
“Not far. Sorry, Commander, there is no time to explain anything now in detail. The translating device behind your ear is more than just that. I have listened in on your conversation with the man named Massater. Is he a friend or an enemy?”
“I’m not sure. He gave me back my gun.” Beringer swallowed hard. “What do you mean by you’ve listened in? Can you read my thoughts, too?”
She chuckled again. “No, I can’t do that. You have to vocalize if you want to tell me something. But I can hear what you hear. I apologize for the invasion of your privacy, I know it is important to you humans, but this is an extreme situation. You are a soldier, Commander, so you should understand. Hurt feelings and regards for privacy have no place here.”
“You are correct about that, except, I wonder, as I’ve wondered before, what else are you hiding from us?”
She became silent for a moment, then she said, “We are allies, Commander Beringer, but I have my orders. Let me say just this, Starfinder and I will never betray our friendship.”
“That is very comforting,” Beringer said dryly. “How long have you had me under surveillance?”
“Since you’ve been captured.”
Lt. Wang had been watching the Commander, perplexed, at first, then with sudden understanding. “Are you talking to Starmote?” he asked with a low voice.
“Tell Wang not to worry,” Starmote said. “His privacy is still intact. I will speak to you later, Commander.”
“Wait, how…?” Beringer listened for an answer, but encountered only silence. “Dammit!” he cursed, wondering if she monitored him constantly or only at certain times. “Starmote,” he called, feeling foolish when only silence greeted him.
“How can she communicate with you?” Lt. Wang asked.
“Through that little marvel they put into our skulls,” Beringer said, and chuckled when Wang touched his ear. “Starmote said for you not to worry, you still have your privacy.”
“I am really relieved,” Wang said with a smile. “But from now on I will always be wondering if I’m still alone or if someone is listening in?”
“When we get back to the station, I will have Starfinder explain to me how we can shut this thing off if we want to,” Beringer said grimly. “We don’t really know anything about the Genaar. They know much more about us Humans from the data-blocks they removed in Captain Cunningham’s quarters. I hope we are not wrong about our new friends.”
He didn’t know if Starmote could hear what he said, but somehow he didn’t care, f acing the problem how to get out of here. “There isn’t anything we can do at this moment,” he told Lt. Wang. “Might as well catch some sleep.”
Strange dreams haunted Beringer’s sleep. He awoke in the middle of the night, feeling the sudden need to urinate. Sticking his head out of the tent entrance, he found the guard slumped over, snoring loudly. He crawled out of the tent, walked over to a small clump of bushes. Clouds obscured the sky, filtering the light of the two moons.
He looked over to the circle of wagons, didn’t see any guards. It should be relatively easy to escape, except, how far would they get? They’d never be able to take the wagons and horses.
A rustling sound in the bushes made him twist around. The quick motion put strain on his wounded leg; he suppressed the urge to cry out when a sudden pain shot through his body.
A dark shadow rose up beside him.
“It is I, Commander,” said a voice. He realized she had spoken inside his head.
“Starmote, what-the-hell!” Beringer cursed softly. “You almost gave me a heart attack.”
“Sorry,” she whispered and stepped closer. She looked down at his thigh. “Are you alright? How is your leg?”
“I am in pain,” he answered. “But I guess I was still lucky. It is only a flesh wound. That slug could have shattered my bone.”
“Let me have a look at it.”
Beringer scanned the area, saw no guards. “How did you get this far into the camp?” he asked.
Starmote chuckled. “The guards are not very aler. I have to admit, though, I helped them a little to fall asleep.”
“I did find it strange when I discovered our guard sleeping so deeply.”
“Let’s go into your tent,” Starmote suggested. “Just in case somebody wakes up.”
They found the guard was still snoring loudly. Starmote followed Beringer through the narrow entrance. Lt. Wang sat up abruptly when Starmote switched on a small light.
“Hello, Wang,” Starmote said, smiling.
“What are you doing here?” Wang asked, instantly alert.
“Checking the Commander‘s wound. Hold this light for me.” She removed her backpack and pulled out a small device. “Pull down your pants, Commander.”
Beringer grinned. “This is the second time I’m taking off my pants for a woman without having sex.”
“At least you didn’t loose your sense of humor.” Starmote probed the wound with her fingers.
“Easy,” Beringer murmured, and moaned. “That hurts.”
“Did you take anything for the pain?”
“I did, but it must be wearing off. How does it look?”
Starmote scanned his thigh with her device. “I detect small fibers imbedded in the wound, probably from your pants. They were trapped when you applied the artificial skin. I have to remove it; otherwise you might get an infection.”
She held the device against his thigh. Beringer felt a prickling sensation, and then the pain suddenly disappeared. With deft fingers, Starmote peeled off the thin film of pseudo-skin, then she trickled some liquid from a small vial into the wound. Looking at a tiny screen on her device, she proceeded to poke around on his leg.
“I can only repair so much of the damaged area. There will be scarred tissue,” Starmote said, “but after this you will heal quickly.” She applied a small patch of some transparent material over the wound, moved her device slowly across it.
Beringer watched the patch expand, flow over the injured spot, and soon the wound became almost invisible.
Starmote put her things back into her pack. “It is sealed now,” she said, running her fingers over his thigh, a little longer than necessary, or so it seemed to Beringer. She looked at him, her eyes hidden in the shadow of the small light. “You should have no more pain,” she said with a low voice.
Beringer moved his leg, surprised to discover he could do so without discomfort. “You’re quite some medic,” he said and pulled up his pants. Then he grinned at her. “Too bad you can’t repair the holes in my pants.”
“I could do that, too, if need be, but there is no time for that.” Starmote sat on the floor, crossed her legs in front of her, then she took the small light from Wang, shut it off. “Someone might see the glow from the outside,” she said in the sudden darkness.
“It’s all quiet out there,” Wang said. “How did you get past the guards?”
Starmote made a snorting sound. “Even awake they would have presented no obstacle for me.” She sounded almost disgusted.
“We could walk right out of here,” Beringer suggested.
“We could,” Starmote said. “But what about the others? We can’t just leave them here?”
“I know, I already thought about that.”
“Have you had any luck contacting Lambert?” Starmote asked.
“No, I haven’t.” He hesitated. “He’s got one of your devices in his head. Can you find him with that?”
“Yes, I could. But maybe you should try yourself, again,” she suggested. “I prefer not to use my device.”
Beringer knew she wouldn’t explain any further and didn’t press her. He spoke the code words that activated the shuttle’s call-number and it surprised him when Lambert answered. “What the hell happened to you, Lambert?” Beringer sounded angry, but he breathed a sigh of relief when he heard Lambert’s voice.
“Sorry, sir,” Lambert said calmly. “I was detained.”
“Detained!?” Beringer snapped. “What do you mean by that? You had orders not to leave your post!”
“I know, sir, and I apologize. But circumstances beyond my control forced me to move the shuttle.”
“What? Are you telling me you are not at the landing site anymore?”
“No, sir, Commander. I had to go on a rescue-mission. But everything is under control.”
Beringer breathed deeply, then he asked with a calm voice. “Are you a free agent, marine, or are you acting under duress?”
Lambert chuckled. “If you are asking if I’m a prisoner, the answer is no. I am free to go anywhere you tell me to. Ready for your orders, Commander. I have located your position.”
Letting out his breath slowly, Beringer said, “Stand by and wait for my orders, Lambert. You may have to move fast. End transmission.”
The connection terminated. Beringer stared at Starmote’s shadowy form. “He seems alright. I wonder what happened. He is a good soldier; he would never have left his post without a good reason.”
Starmote didn’t say anything, but Lt. Wang broke the silence. “Do you have a plan, Commander?” he asked.
“I’m not sure. There is enough firepower on the shuttle to wipe out this whole company of so-called soldiers. But I’d like to avoid any unnecessary deaths. Any suggestions?”
“This is a primitive society. People at this level are also quite superstitious. I assume that humans are no different,” Starmote said quietly.
Beringer gave a short laugh. “Humans have always been superstitious. You wouldn’t believe the many different religions that exist on Earth.”
“Who do these people worship?”
“Some god they call Odinallah, a God of War.”
“Do you want me to handle this?” Starmote asked.
“What do you have in mind?”
“Just tell Lambert to meet me close to the camp before dawn.” “Alright.” Beringer nodded in the darkness.