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 tunnel was too narrow to continue by vehicle. Everyone flipped on their gun lights. An uneasy moment past between the crew.
“We should turn back and try to help,” Fitzpatrick complained.
“No, our goal was to get here,” Korit said. “Finding–”
“Finding what?” DeReaux shouted. “More of your people just died.”
“We have orders. Searching this place is all that matters. You must focus on our goal, or everything was in vain,” the driver admonished.
Whether they agreed or didn’t, they all grew quiet. Jogging through the narrow corridor, gun lights bounced, reflecting intricate patterns. They kept pace for thirty minutes before the adrenaline wore off. Exhaustion wracked their bones, but they spotted a wide opening ahead.
When they moved beyond the corridor and into an empty extent supported by numerous, natural pillars, they crept carefully, turning, pointing their lights, gawking in awe at stalactites. “Better drop a light,” the driver said.
The cavern lit up. The lighting device, like the one Korit had employed too recently, revealed more, giant pillars of ice, frozen ground, and a ceiling fifteen feet above them. Where ever they were, they didn’t see any walls, just shadows of pillars and then darkness. Korit tossed another light, but still, they didn’t see much more than an intricate network of natural, supporting posts.
“Let’s spread out,” O’Hara suggested.
“Agreed,” Korit said.
While he joined the captain, the agents meandered off. Nandesrikahl kept stride with Swain and the driver.
“I’m Swain,” he said, extending a hand. “This is Nandesrikahl. Mostly, we call him Nandy.”
“Jor-Tune,” he replied and enveloped Swain’s hand for a shake.
Another Thewl introduced herself as Sirt. She ambled about with Fitzpatrick and DeReaux. Minutes of roaming mindlessly stretched on. As time passed, one person groaned, stretched their neck, rolled their shoulders, or muttered obscenities regarding their backs, their enemies, their dead friends.
“Hey, Frenchie, take a look,” Fitzpatrick shouted while aiming her gun light.
The beam bounced off icy cracks. DeReaux walked over, but didn’t see anything remarkable. He turned to ask her, but she shoved him back towards the formation. He pointed his light. It wasn’t a frosty, stone pillar; it was all ice, and there was a face frozen inside it.
“Guys,” DeReaux screamed.
The others ran over to observe the discovery. The ice distorted shining beams, so it was tough to discern what they were seeing, but there was a beastly figure encased in the formation.
“Crikey,” Nandy whispered. “It looks like an ape.”
“This couldn’t be a traveler,” O’Hara said, looking to Korit, who placed a hand on the pillar.
“I, I have no idea….”
“Look for more,” O’Hara ordered and took off.
Nandesrikahl followed. Seconds later, and a few pillars away, he found another. Korit found one more.
“This, this is them,” Korit stuttered. “They’re here. They’re all here.”
“They may or may not be the travelers,” Adams was skeptical.
“Well, how do we get them out,” Sirt asked.
“Not sure,” Korit replied.
All the men turned to face Adams and Franklin. “What,” Adams asked.
“We don’t know,” Franklin added.
Glances of disbelief and anxiety passed. Minds were rattled. No one dared to risk harming the creatures. Whether or not they were alive wasn’t even debatable; they needed to figure something out. In the end, Korit decided to leave such matters alone.
“We found what we were looking for,” he said. “I’ll just call the admiral. He can decide.”
O’Hara lowered his gun, pressed his visor up to the ice, and looked at the beastly man. It didn’t look too much like an ape, but more like a furry man with bulging lips, a large brow, and a flat nose. It was alien, but not as alien as Thewls or Lokians. Is this worth it? O’Hara wondered. Will these travelers help us to solve everything? Are they alive? Maybe, it doesn’t matter. They’re here, and that means their tech could also be here, which explains why the Lokians came, too…but they got here just after we did…now, I wonder if they’re chasing us.
His thoughts were broken by Nandesrikahl’s voice. He claimed he saw movement. Korit ordered everyone to spread out.
“O’Hara, come with me back towards the opening.”
“That is the only entrance we know for sure exists,” Korit said.
The agents flanked the crew leaders, and Swain, Sirt, Jor-Tune, and Nandy followed. Fitzpatrick and DeReaux pressed their backs to pillars, and tried to spot a sign of anything. Adams darted past Korit, saying he saw shadows whisk by.
“I didn’t see anything,” O’Hara mentioned.
“Nor I,” Jor-Tune added.
“Listen…don’t you hear that,” Franklin asked. No one heard anything. “It’s like hissing. I hear…two, no, three…wait.”
“Found it,” Sirt screamed.
Her gun light stopped right over a hulking, bipedal Lokian. Heavy, metal plates covered its body, and mesh tubes pulsated throughout legs, hips, the torso, and four arms. The creature dashed behind a pillar when another one ran in the opposite direction, saliva, or some substance, dripping from fleshy mandibles.
“What the Hell are these things,” Swain blurted. “Did you see? F-four arms, turtle shells?”
“Stay cool,” O’Hara breathed.
His heart was skipping beats. He had gotten a pretty good look at the creatures, which made him wonder if their weaponry was going to be effective; not only were their bodies armored, but so, too, were their heads. Nandesrikahl unleashed a heinous scream, freezing everyone in their tracks.
O’Hara spun around to find his friend pinned beneath one of the brawlers. The Lokian turned, a slit in its face gear glowed bright red before it stood, flung Nandy at the crew, and took off into the network of pillars. Swain started to give chase, but O’Hara called for them to halt.
“If we go running off like assholes, they’ll get us. It’s what they want,” he said. “Snipers, see anything?”
“Just that thing dash by, but it vanished in the dark,” Fitzpatrick said.
Rhythmic breathing sounded through comms. No one said anything for a moment. Swain had helped Nandy to his feet. He wasn’t hurt, just scared.
A brawler leapt from behind a pillar, spat a voluminous glob of goo, covering O’Hara’s visor, and bowled through the friendly formation. The thing was so big and strong, it knocked over Thewls like they were toys. Then, another ran through them, snatching Sirt up with pincers. She kicked and screamed, but positioned over the Lokian’s head—nearly twelve feet off the ground—she had no way to fight.
Korit fired his rifle, and a burst of plasma made the Lokian stumble. It spun, flung Sirt into a pillar, and bore down on the crew like greased lightning. O’Hara opened fire. The Swainium ammunition did minor damage, knocking bits of alloys off the brawler’s plating, but it reached the crew, took the captain to the ground, and when the snipers emerged to take shots, another one slung them into the distance.
“Holy crap,” O’Hara cried out.
He puffed and groaned, and what little he saw through a smeared visor, scared the bajeezes out of him. Something stunned the enemy, giving O’Hara time to scramble to his feet. He saw the brawler nab Nandy, it made to cut through his arm, but when a blue burst washed over its head, it turned, spotted Jor-Tune, and threw the Human at him. As they tumbled over each other, O’Hara fired. To his dismay, the brawler leapt to a pillar, latched on, and scurried up into the darkened ceiling.
“Shoot the tubes,” DeReaux yelled.
Between him and Fitzpatrick, they had managed to slow one down by pumping holes throughout the strange hoses. A rusty material oozed out, which greatly affected the beast. It not only slowed, but it deflated, losing its strength, speed, momentum; it was bleeding out.
Unfortunately, aiming for tubes the size of golf balls moving at seventy miles an hour was easier said than done. O’Hara took a knee to aim for the apparatus of a brawler wrestling with Swain, who kept his rifle pressed against its face.
“Shit, Swain,” O’Hara muttered. He was scared to miss the alien and hit his comrade. “I’m coming!”
Rather than firing, he ran for the Lokian. It spun, slammed Swain into him, and leapt away into the darkness again. The allied team members were being tossed, beaten, and crushed underfoot. Screams resounded through the comms.
“God, fuckin’ assholes,” Fitzpatrick grumbled.
She ran from cover, shoulder rolled, took a knee, and fired a shot, which knocked a tube from one of the creature’s legs. It let go the pillar it was climbing, landed, and thundered towards her, but DeReaux came up behind her, used her shoulder as a tripod, and knocked out two more tubes.
Drastically slowed by loss of goo, the creature screeched, yet kept shuffling on with outstretched limbs. Korit howled as he delivered a boot into the alien’s flank. It rolled over, and he fired point blank at the mouth. What was left of the brawler twitched uncontrollably.
“Alright,” he groaned. “Only one more.”
While Swain checked on Nandy, who was unconscious, the captain ran by, followed by Jor-Tune. Sirt screamed from sights unseen, but O’Hara spotted her gun light waving about, so he made for that.
“Captain, behind you,” Fitzpatrick screamed.
He turned around in time to receive a fist to the melon. His head rocked back, and he fell onto his butt. Dazed, but not dead, he fired; his rifle bucked like a bronco, spraying bullets everywhere. Most just went bouncing off in all directions.
“Captain, they,” Swain started, but a Thewl tripped right over him.
O’Hara didn’t have time to look, his opponent locked pincers around his torso. The immense pressure was crushing his chest, pushing air from his lungs. His feet kicked at the air. Then, he fell back down; the snipers had saved him.
“Somebody,” Jor-Tune heaved.
Another Lokian had grabbed him by the shoulders and head-butted him hard enough to knock him into Swain. When the both of them went down, Korit gave a Thewlish order, and they all started gasping for air.
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Frightened by the event, the Humans tried to get a look at what was happening, but before they regrouped, Thewls shouted, running off in every direction. They found another brawler, pulled it to the ground, and started raining fists onto the creature, manhandling it, tearing hoses from its body while rusty bile sprayed over them.
“What the Hell’s going on,” DeReaux called.
“They’re, they’re like in overdrive, man,” Swain gasped.
“It’s that gas they use,” Fitzpatrick said.
“What,” O’Hara asked.
“Oh, my God,” she replied. “Incoming!”
Hearts sank. She took a knee to steady her aim, so O’Hara motioned for his crew to flank her, and together, they all aimed, but it was an agent, who darted to his left. The captain was shocked; he hadn’t even realized the two were still around.
“There’s four on my rear,” Adams screamed. “I can’t, I can’t handle them!”
Sure enough, glowing, red slits materialized from the darkness. Phoenix Crew fired everything they had. One creature stumbled, taking another to the ground with it, but one leapt clean over them, landed behind the Humans, and knocked them over with the swipe of paired arms.
Just then, Franklin landed next to it, ducked from a slash, struck hoses with his baton, and hopped backwards. The brawler yanked him by the ankle, and swung him into its brethren. Swain and O’Hara met eyes then.
“Snipers, cover,” he ordered.
He and the big man took off at diverging angles, giving the snipers a clear line of sight, so long as Adams, who reentered the melee, destroyed the injured brawler flailing beside them. As everyone moved, or ran, or fired, or swung weapons, the Thewls hit the ground.
O’Hara heard Korit say two, more enemies were dead, but their gas concoction, which had made them stronger, also put them to sleep. Wondering why they employed such drastic measures, the captain honed in on Franklin’s body; he was kicking while trying to reach something in his harness.
“Leap into them,” the captain barked.
He and Swain smashed into the creature holding the agent. Once they all toppled over, Franklin finally took one of his shard grenades, fed it to the beast, and scuttled away. The brawler’s head burst like a ripe tomato, so O’Hara and Swain stood and fired into yet another creature before something struck the captain. Spit actually flew from his mouth, and he bounced off the ground.
From his side, he saw more aliens scramble from the darkness. Someone was screaming. One of the agents careened into the other. With a furrowed brow, and piercing ring in his ears, O’Hara tried to come to his feet. Something bent in him half; a Lokian had kicked him into a pillar, where he whacked his noggin again.
Ice, rocks, guns, bullets, men; they were all over the ground. I…I have to get the, we, shit…think straight. I have to stop these things. He managed to push himself to hands and knees, but even that made him dizzy, nauseated. Regardless, he fired at immense, fleeting shapes, red lines that vanished behind pillars; he heard shots and casings hit the ground, but everywhere he looked, people were running, and aliens were either chasing them, or striking them.
“Oh, man,” Fitzpatrick whispered in fear.
“No time for that, stay focused,” DeReaux reassured.
“Hold on,” O’Hara shouted. Grunting, he forced himself upright, pointed at a creature, and fired. When it turned to stare him down, he pointed at another and fired. One-by-one, he turned them all against himself. “You leave them alone, you alien assholes. You leave my crew alone!”
A kick sent him sailing backwards. He skidded into Swain who reached a hand for him. The big man let out a scream when a Lokian pincer locked around his arm. Rolling around on the ground, unable to move, the captain shed tears. This is it…I can’t do it.