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!
The mess hall was extraordinarily busy, but spotting Humans was always an easy task. O’Hara waved when he and Swain made eye contact. The big man ran off to get something to eat before joining his mates.
“What’s the word, Cap? I hear we’re traveling for like seven days or somethin’,” Martinez asked between bites.
“Yeah,” O’Hara sighed. “There’s no way to travel through the center of the galaxy, so the chief navigator, At-Emon, arranged a series of jumps to Sahagun.”
“Shit’s wild,” Fitzpatrick said.
“Now, I was, um, wondering how everyone’s holding up,” O’Hara went on.
“Best as we can, Captain,” Swain said.
“Yeah, you know, we been talkin’ among ourselves and what not, ya’ heard? We figure you been bottlin’ up,” Martinez added.
In an exasperated tone, the captain admitted he didn’t want to even think about what happened back on Marduk. “I mean, we’ve never been to war. I’m just not sure how to deal with all of this and everything.”
Swain put his bear-like hand on the captain’s shoulder; a symbol of solidarity. “You know, no one blames you, right? We’re your crew, and we always give everything we have because you do the same.”
“Thanks. I just wish I had a better grasp on this situation. I’m supposed to make sure everyone’s okay, you know?” he complained.
“Sir, if I may,” Nandesrikahl chimed in. O’Hara nodded. “We need to focus on the upcoming task. There’s a very real chance that Sahagun will have a Lokian presence.”
“Yeah,” he sighed, shoveling some purple jelly down his gullet. Looking at their expressions of acceptance, he returned a sad smile. “What the Hell are we eating, anyway?”
“Fuck if I know, but that shit taste goood,” Martinez grinned.
They all enjoyed a brief laugh. “Okay, so, what’ve you guys been up to? Learn anything,” O’Hara pried.
Swain beamed with pride, saying, “Well, Sir, I have personally worked side-by-side with our alien friends. We’re trying to make new ammunition. See, we were working with an Element-115 alloy, I can’t call it what they do, so we call it Swainium,” he said.
They all laughed again. “Swainium, huh?” Fitzpatrick interrupted.
“How’s it working out,” Zakowski asked.
“Haven’t made much progress, I’m afraid; still need to test the bullets, but it’s all very interesting. I’ll keep you posted.”
“Man, why ain’t you tell me?” Marty joked. “Lemme’ give you a hand with that. I wanna’ blow some shit up.”
“What about you,” O’Hara asked Nandesrikahl.
“I spent some time pouring over historical and cultural data. Our friends are not so different from us, to say the least. O’ course, some big changes occurred once their planet was destroyed. They had to give up their arts; music, dancing, all the things we take for granted,” he breathed. “I must say, this Lokian threat is far wider than we had assumed. Certainly, they spell doom, but even the survivors are relegated to a mere fraction of their former grace…our Thewlian friends are vastly dissimilar, far more than, say, Human colonists compared with home worlders.”
Home worlders was a term reserved for Humans born and raised on Earth. The few times, O’Hara had met them, they were somehow different in the way they comported themselves. That made him think about the Thewls, and how different their lives on their home world must have been. A familiar face approached the table, breaking his concentration.
“Lam-Yung, right,” he asked.
“That is correct, Captain. How are you?”
“We’re all just trying to come to grips with everything.”
His crew agreed and invited her to join them. She took a seat next to Zak. DeReaux eyed her ample bosom heaving beneath a loose robe. Fitzpatrick squinted at him.
“I understand,” her hue paled to a pinkish gray when she spoke. “Fighting is never easy, not this kind of fighting; we are all struggling to survive.”
“Yes,” Nandy said. “I read over some of your history.”
“We was just talking ‘bout that,” Marty smiled.
“Oh,” the Thewl nodded. “Much has changed to be sure, but our goals are the same, to live a happy life and care for our future generations. What has changed is our habits; no more do we idly pass the time. Every second is carefully calculated in order to survive, to persist. We have become militant, but there was a time when a person could be a farmer or shipwright without the demands of strategy.”
There was something simple, but elegant in her rendition. O’Hara was astonished by the ease of connecting with Thewls. Once he got past their lack of expression or tone, their emotions became evident.
“You just came to check on us,” Day asked.
“I did. Korit wanted to come himself, but he’s meeting with the admiral,” Lam-Yung answered.
“Well, how about we go for a walk and talk?”
The pilot looked everyone over. They had finished eating. Glances passed and frowns of approval went around, so they left the mess hall to amble about the vessel. Day asked about the ships she had seen docked in the Carrier.
“Would you all like a look at our ships,” the Thewl asked.
“I think Day is bursting, here,” Swain chuckled. “Let’s go. Let’s go.”
Phoenix Crew giggled, which made Lam-Yung’s jaw clench. She maintained the she was unfamiliar with the sound, but they were at a loss to explain laughter.
In the Carrier’s docking zone, they were witness to such an expanse of steel grating, railings, enormous sets of stairs, ladders, cranes, and innumerable rows of ships. They paraded across a platform guarded by a tall rail. Day had to stand on her toes to peek over. All manners of vessels stood beneath her.
There were angular fighters, bigger ships shaped like discs, but pinched at the ends. Some had wings, some didn’t; some even looked like semi-seamless race cars with jets at the rear. All of them had some weaponry, and a plethora of armored Thewls ran about, chatting, pointing, working.
“Can I ride one?” Day begged.
“I’ll have to get clearance, but it can be arranged,” Lam-Yung answered.
They spent moments meandering about the fighters. Day bolted off to question pilots regarding the controls, while Marty asked about the weapons, and Swain asked about the mechanics. O’Hara, Zak, Nandy, Fitzpatrick, and Lam-Yung looked each other over.
“We are not so different,” the Thewl said.
“Are the other races?” Nandy was curious.
“The Yvlekesh certainly are. They are nothing like us. They are more like the Lokians—insects—but they lack a hive mentality; it is something from which they evolved away….”
“But they’re on our side, right?” Zak looked jittery.
“Yes. They have no desire for destruction.”
After meeting back up with the others, Day stated she had been invited to ride on a fighter, so O’Hara let her scoot. Some of the others also wanted to visit different decks. Lam-Yung was open to anything; she left with Swain, Marty, Fitzpatrick, and DeReaux for the weapons lab.
Zak, Nandy, and the captain climbed up a set of stairs, a rather difficult feat, and from high up, they leaned against the rail to observe their alien friends. Everything was regimented, organized, and they functioned with efficiency without being cold or hard. In fact, they were all rather congenial, and they accepted change, and all seemed happy to coexist, if temporarily, with Humans.
Finally, they all went their separate ways. O’Hara bumped into the agents outside his crew quarters. They exchanged looks, but Adams and Franklin claimed they were busy. They didn’t apologize or explain; they just walked off, vanishing around a corner. Weird, they’re always together, like one person. He smiled to himself.
As the seven day sojourn unfolded, the crew spent as much of their time together as they did separately, with Thewls, learning more and more of everything there was to learn. When they weren’t helping deckhands, they met up to share their newfound knowledge with each other. Adams and Franklin also schooled the Human crew on the Grays, however the agents spent most of their time building relations or compiling data on the Lokians, which they sent back to Bureau HQ, which meant meeting with them was rare.
Meanwhile, Swain finished crafting his Swainium bullets. Martinez and DeReaux tested the new ammunition, which used Helium-4 as a propellant. Initial tests revealed the explosions were too powerful for their gun barrels, so new Swainium barrels were created. They were lighter, sturdier, and dissipated heat more efficiently.
Download Beyond the End of the World, Lokians 1 free via Barnes and Noble online
The series of coalescence jumps led through several arms of the galaxy. By the end of the week, the ship arrived at its destination. That morning at 06:00 hours, the captain called his crew to the Carrier’s bridge, where they found Lam-Yung scanning the system.
“Sahagun is a small, white, dwarf planet,” she reported.
Nandesrikahl walked over to the screen and looked over her elbow. “What’s it called? The system, I mean.”
“There was no name for it. In fact, the only named object was the planet.”
“Well, that won’t do. What do you think about Centaur system,” he asked the bridge.
“Good a name as any, I suppose,” O’Hara shrugged.
The aliens looked around. Nandy figured they were confused. Finally, Lam-Yung asked why and for what reason.
“I don’t know. It’s in the Centaurus arm. Just seems fitting, I think. Besides, I get the feeling we’ll be needing to chat about this place in the future. Why not give it a proper name, eh?”
O’Hara patted his friend’s shoulder. He didn’t care much about what it was called. He only cared about what was there, but whatever Nandesrikahl needed to do to keep his mind clear was appreciated.
“Anyway,” Lam-Yung continued, “data indicates Sahagun orbits an enormous C-class star with an intense, gravitational pull. Any planet too near the star was either pulled in and destroyed, or over heated and coalesced as a gas giant. One of those gas giants ignited thousands of years ago, acting as a smaller sun.
“Sahagun is mostly composed of Calcium and covered in a thin layer of frozen water. We haven’t any life signs, though,” she trailed off.
The admiral walked over from across the room. He covered a hundred yards in a matter of seconds.
“An exploration team is our best bet,” he told O’Hara. “I hope you join my men on the ground.”
“Thank you, Sir. I’ll gather my crew on one of the Explorers.”
As O’Hara led his men out of the bridge, the admiral’s orders resonated throughout the Carrier’s intercom. Among the orders was a mention of which Explorer was taking leave. Making a mental note, O’Hara turned to his comm. He relayed to Phoenix Crew orders to suit up.
As soon as he was geared, he ran from crew quarters to the elevators, where he met up with Fitzpatrick. Her head was freshly shaved, so he ran his gloved hand over her scalp. She winked at him.
“You ready for this,” he asked.
Shaking her head, she said, “Ready as I can be…you?”
“Honestly…I hope we don’t run in to trouble, but if we do, I’ll do my best to keep coordinated.”
“Where’s your better half?”
“I’m sure he’ll be the last aboard the Explorer.”
She just arched a brow, smiling. O’Hara’s brow furrowed. He didn’t know if she was implying he was having relations, and if that was the case, he was doubly worried about with whom.
“Day,” he called through his comm.
“On your way to the Explorer?”
Fitzpatrick looked him over. He saw her from his peripheral, but didn’t look at her directly. By the time the door slid open, and they stepped onto the Explorer bridge, Day came back.
“I’m lending air support.”
“You’re gonna’ fly a fighter” Fitzpatrick yelled at O’Hara’s wrist.
“Yep. I like the Type-B ships. I already have one picked out, so if you’ll excuse me,” she cut communications.
“Anyone else have any surprises,” the captain asked aloud.
“Sir,” Swain saluted. O’Hara returned it. He had been standing with some Thewls outside the lift, talking, when the captain showed up. “I think I have a surprise.”
“You asked if anyone had a surprise, well, they asked me if I want to drive a rover; I’d love to put one of those babies through its paces,” Swain said, eagerly.
“You don’t know how to drive that thing,” Martinez said. O’Hara turned to see him exiting another lift. “’Sup, Cap?”
“Hey…do you know how to drive one?”
“I’ma ‘bout to find out,” Swain replied, comically, pretending to lean back and drive lazily.
“Captain, gentlemen,” Nandy said when he stepped onto the bridge along with some Thewls, who immediately took posts. “This is so exciting.”
“Hey! Keep it in your pants,” Fitzpatrick joked.
Unable to stop smiling, Nandy just showed his pearly whites, while Marty rattled off how great the new rifles were. DeReaux joined them, followed by more Thewls, and then the agents. After Swain bolted for the loading zone to pick a rover, the rest kept their eyes glued to the monitor at the far end of the Explorer’s bridge.