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, sci-fi military novel. Some language may not be suitable for minors.
A day after the discovery of the beacon, things wound down. Admiral Lay received O’Hara’s mission reports, but the scientists continued running tests in order to double check all results. While the captain awaited new orders, he decided to give Phoenix Crew some free time on Eon.
Day stood out of her chair and tugged at her gray skirt. She and Roberts smiled at O’Hara, thanking him for the R and R. He glanced at the two women then at everyone else. They seemed to be waiting for an extra order.
“Go get ready, people. I already had Marty and Zak prep the perimeter. Have fun,” O’Hara said, trying to hide a smile.
The soldiers joked and laughed about playing guard duty for the scientists and deckhands, but they were all pleased, psyched even, to get off the ship and go run around an actual, living planet. Day asked if he was joining them.
“There isn’t anything else to do,” he replied. “Once we’re finished testing the beacon here, we’ll go to Presh station, but for now…”
“Yeah,” she looked at him, expectantly.
“Nothing,” he smiled. “Yeah; you and Roberts head on out there. I’ll see you guys in a bit.”
They saluted one another. The captain watched them leave. He was the only one left on the bridge. Looking around the ascetic room, the monitors over which soldiers stood to pass out readings, the helm, the screen at the far wall; it all looked so small, cramped. After an exhalation, he marched out.
Just outside the vessel, he heard Fitzpatrick warning DeReaux that one day biting asses was going to come back and bite him in the ass. He ignored her admonitions, and as it turned out his night went rather well; word was he bedded another beauty. Fitzpatrick didn’t mind one way or the other. She certainly liked him, but it was widely believed she also preferred the company of women.
Eventually, O’Hara and Day ran into each other. A Quartermaster, Navigator Roberts, and Royce, who needed a break from the lab, joined them. The five crew mates walked around, breathing in the scents, taking in the sights, the sounds.
“Wow… this feels so strange,” Roberts remarked.
She was barely able to walk; with every couple of steps she had to stop and gaze at golden trees, purplish hills, the brown clouds drifting overhead. Scaly-looking birds squawked, chubby, furless rodents chewed plants, and the wind swept over them.
“It was an amazing experience the first time. It’s an amazing experience now,” Royce added.
“Enjoy it while you can, people. Soon as results come in, we’ll have a lot of work to do,” O’Hara stated.
“Don’t poopoo… Captain,” Day snickered.
They were all in good spirits considering how hard it was to believe what was taking place. Eventually, Day and O’Hara found themselves walking towards the horizon, a wondrous tapestry of foliage silhouetted by the twin orbs of orange light. The others had gleaned the L.T. wanted a moment with the captain, and slowly wandered off.
“Permission to speak freely, Captain?”
“Good, I can’t describe how amazing this is. I’m glad we got duty together,” Day commented, knowing full well O’Hara set it up that way.
He smiled at her, taking in every nuance of her features; her smooth complexion, emerald eyes, her soft hair. He thought back to a previous time, and knew she was doing the same.
“Been awhile since we had some action, huh,” he joked. She hit him in the arm and laughed. “No… I’m glad to be out here with you.”
He peered into the purple sky above. The twin orbs were separating, indicating the pseudo-night was arriving, and thick shadows crept over the gray rocks in their vicinity. During the twilight months, the planet never saw real day or night, mostly, it was just what the term implied, a brightness equivalent to an overcast day on Earth followed by darkness reminiscent of early dawn.
The two walked a little ways farther, where they found a secluded place with small boulders on which to sit. O’Hara closed his eyes and rested his back against a stone. Day sidled up next to him. He held her close, letting the scent of her body transport him to a time prior to his promotion; a time when he wasn’t in charge of Phoenix Crew, much less his beloved.
“Thoughts,” her question startled him. She felt him jump and giggled. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine,” he chuckled. It was more than hard to look at her. There was a degree of sadness in her eyes, or maybe it was a reflection of his. “I…nothing,” he said and smiled.
She knew. The respect in her eyes was evident. He looked into her eyes then; they were brimming with hope, awe. He turned to the scenery.
“So,” she asked.
“What do you think?”
“I think this is great,” he chuckled.
“You just completed your first mission as captain and discovered something practically unheard of,” Day breathed.
“We, I should say. I didn’t do it alone.”
“We move to the next closest site and repeat the procedure, pending Admiral Lay’s permission.”
She nodded as she gripped O’Hara’s arm with both hands. They sat together with their backs against the rock for a while. A chilly wind blew across their faces, the gentle caress they didn’t dare allow themselves. After a few hours of semi-platonic bliss, fatigue set into both their backs. Slowly, they rose, and just at that time, O’Hara’s wrist comm. dinged. He checked it to see the time, 03:00 hours. They looked at each other; the wanting was there, but there were regulations.
“Better get moving, Cap,” she said, politely.
Their night ended, and they returned to the Phoenix, where they immersed themselves in duty. Before morning rolled in, O’Hara received a call on his wrist comm. He stopped short of his own bed, checked the time, grumbled and sat down to answer.
“Yes?” he sighed as his head hit his pillow.
“Test results finally came in, Captain,” Mickelson’s voice responded.
“On my way,” O’Hara replied in resignation.
He was definitely intrigued by possible revelations, but he was, nevertheless, exhausted. He rolled out of bed, stumbled from crew quarters down the cold, metal hall to elevator, where he pressed the wrong button. As the car made its way through the shaft he leaned his forehead to the wall, muttering his grievance. Then, he moved to the next lift, hit the right button, and waited. Once the doors slid away, he entered the cramped space, selected the button for the lab deck, and a moment later, he arrived, and stepped out.
O’Hara pushed out his bottom lip like a pouting toddler, and looked at Mickelson, who mumbled, “Uh, glad you could make it, Sir.” Scraggly hair hung over his face, hiding a degree of wear. O’Hara looked at him. “Sir?”
“Well,” the captain demanded. “What do you have?”
Mickelson pushed his glasses back onto his face before speaking. “Turns out the beacon is over four thousand years old, made from Element-115, and the markings Pinter, er um, Nandy found were cross referenced with all known Human languages including Cuneiform, Hieroglyphics, Sumerian, and other Native American pictographs. Nandy and the AMS believed they had found some commonalities in the Sumerian, story cylinders, and other similarities from the markings at Machu Pichu.”
O’Hara blinked once before opening his eyes wide. It wasn’t an expression of disbelief, but extreme exhaustion. He stared at Mickelson. The implications were not clear.
“And?” he barked.
“Um, and Pinter, I mean Nandy thought it most logical that the markings indicated the locations of the other beacons,” Mickelson explained as he grimaced, pushing his glasses back onto his face.
“We already know the locations. Swain got aerial photography. That’s how we knew where to find this one!”
“There were other markings, too,” he whispered. O’Hara gave a motion of the hand to explain. “Some were completely unidentifiable, but Pinter, um, Nandy said they indicated something about the beacons themselves. The number of beacons was a recurrent theme.”
That galvanized the captain’s curiosity. Signs of fatigue slowly vanished, and he took a few steps farther into the lab. He looked around.
“Where is he,” O’Hara asked.
O’Hara tilted his head back and sighed. “Where’s Nandesrikahl,” the captain asked, dropping his head in both hands.
“Oh. I don’t know,” Mickelson apologized.
“Never mind, I’ll get him,” O’Hara said then called into his comm. unit, “Nandesrikahl, you there?”
“O’ course, Sir. Where do you need me?”
“On my way, Sir.”
A few moments dragged by during which O’Hara glanced over the equipment. There were some machines that were totally mystifying, like a weird, circular, white machine with a long, angled arm. It looked like a miniature back hoe only it was built into the wall and in place of a digging bucket was an oval attachment with what appeared to be a black lens. The captain was about to ask, but Nandesrikahl entered the sterile room, bearing a refreshed countenance.
“Something about markings,” O’Hara commented.
“Ah, best I figured there should be six beacons, but according to the data Swain provided we only have five spots with magnetic interference,” Nandesrikahl explained. “So, that’s what’s rather odd, isn’t it?”
“Please continue,” O’Hara replied with a gesture of his hand.
“O’ course, Sir. You see, unless the sixth beacon is off world, or broken, it would seem there are only five here,” Nandesrikahl remarked as he paced around the cramped room.
The lab was little more than a storage room with high tech, scanning devices, and the equipment brought onboard by the science crew. O’Hara scrutinized more instruments. His fatigued mind rambled aimlessly, yet a question came to him.
“If the markings give the location of the beacons, right, are there six locations?”
Nandesrikahl replied, “No, Sir. There are only five locations, then something I can’t understand, and then an implication of a sixth beacon.”
“Implication? Could it mean something else?”
“I don’t see 'ow. The language displays the same image as the others; they’re obviously numbers,” Nandesrikahl replied. The captain resigned himself to the only logical step; await the orders of Admiral Lay. He then pursed his lips and looked at Nandesrikahl, who shrugged. “Is there anything else, Sir?”
“Well, alright, Nandy, Mick, you just keep working on whatever you can. As soon as we get the green light from the admiral, the rest of us will retrieve the other beacons. If we split up into small teams, we’ll be able to get all four at once over the course of a day,” O’Hara stated. “Maybe each beacon will have more details in that picto-language or whatever,” he added with a flagrant flick of the wrist.
They saluted him. He saluted back before everyone returned to their business. For the captain, that business was sleep. Soon enough, the Phoenix was going to dock at Presh, a moon station. O’Hara managed about two hours of shut eye, and woke when the AMS stated docking procedures were ensuing.
Rolling out of bed to the snores of his crew, he ran fingers through his hair, sipped from a glass of water he kept near his bed, and mentally prepared for a rendezvous with the admiral. Eventually, he made for the bridge, passing others throughout tight corridors. That morning at the helm, Day was her cheery self.
“All set, Captain,” she punched clearance codes to open communications on Presh and spoke. “Presh station, this is Lieutenant Sara Day of the Phoenix. We are here to dock. Captain O’Hara is on board and ready to meet with the admiral.”
A voice over the speaker replied, “Acknowledged, Miss Day. This is Ralphie. You are clear to dock. Admiral Lay is ready to receive the Captain.”
“You’re all set, Cap. Go show ‘em what you can do,” she said with a salute.
O’Hara saluted in return. He took the service elevator down to the loading zone. The ride down seemed faster than usual, like time was in quick mode. He attempted to gloss over any pertinent details, but suddenly, the service car opened. He found the space was desolate; most of the gear had been left on Eon.
At the personnel egress, he waited a few moments for the docking procedure. The red light over the door came on and a buzzer rang out, indicating the doors were ready to be opened. Shortly thereafter, the airlock’s door latch came open with a metallic clank.
The airlock was a tight room used to regulate pressure for personnel in standard clothing. That morning, both the captain, and the admiral, wore dress uniforms; gray slacks, gray shirt, black tie, and black, peaked cap bearing their respective insignias. O’Hara stepped forwards and opened the door, revealing Admiral Lay. Immediately, he saluted. The admiral returned it, and they shook hands.
Admiral Lay was an older man in his mid-to-late fifties. All his hair was white, and unless he was outdoors, his hat was tucked under his arm. His voice was powerful, but controlled, commanding, yet somehow calm, poised. The old man’s presence shook the foundation of everyone around him. While O’Hara had never been frightened of the admiral, he was careful, respectful.
Fluorescent lights hummed monotonously, as he waited for the admiral to speak. An inordinately long pause ensued; it was one of those social nuances Lay manipulated for maximum drama. The old man said nothing. Instead, he motioned with his head an invitation to follow. The two men started off side-by-side for a few moments as they passed some doors. Admiral Lay then opened a gray, steel door on his left. He motioned with his hand for O’Hara to enter.
Presh station was more machine friendly than man friendly. Everything was bare metal, cold and hard, not designed for comfort. The few men who called Presh station home were hardcore techies. The bare metal and clicking computer equipment was home to them. O’Hara didn’t care much for Presh station, unlike the Phoenix it didn’t move, and it wasn’t as colorful or lively as the asteroid colonies.
“I read the reports, son. I’m thoroughly impressed,” Lay stated as he followed the captain into the sterile room.
“I’m flattered, Admiral, but anyone could have dug some beacons out of the ground.”
“I suppose that’s true, but it wasn’t anyone. It was you and your crew,” Lay said, pausing dramatically. “Let’s talk about the implications. In all likelihood, these beacons are of alien origin, but they’re four thousand years old. One can surmise they’ve been abandoned. The good news is we now have Element-115 to study. The rest of the good news, and the actual goal of the mission, is that we can begin colonization of Eon.
“Rear Admiral Shaw will oversee the colony as it begins to grow, but we hope to see you take command soon. This is the first planet Humans will colonize. Simply amazing,” Lay was ebullient as he finished his thoughts.
“I appreciate the vote of confidence, Sir, but I belong on the Phoenix, and was hoping that after the other, four beacons are discovered, we can move on to more space travel,” O’Hara responded as he glanced at the admiral’s blue eyes. “It’s a ship made specifically for planetary travel, so.”
“I see; if that’s how you feel then I’m pleased to keep you in command of her. Take some R and R after the rest of the beacons are found. First thing’s first, however, I want the beacon and your scientists here on Presh. You take only who you need to uncover the rest,” Lay ordered.
O’Hara gave a quick salute before making his way back to the ship. Again, the walk seemed to end sooner than he had expected. There were so many thoughts swimming around his mind. Hard to believe real aliens were roaming around this same area. Wonder what the admiral will do once they have all the beacons and whether there really is a sixth. O’Hara paused at the airlock. Why would he consider me to take over Eon’s colony, and why was he so unruffled by the possibility, no the reality, of alien life?
He shrugged it off as he reached for the handle, opened the door, and stepped beyond. The door automatically shut behind him before the pressure readjusted. Then, a light came on over the other door. Another long walk ensued, but there were no more thoughts, just orders.
Setting foot on the bridge, O’Hara clenched his jaw and gauged his crew. Judging by their unblinking stares, he knew they knew he was concerned. Everyone was. He walked over to a bridge officer and gave the order to round up the science crew and take the beacon to Presh’s lab.
“Nickelson, Levine, Chadwick, plus a few other scientists and engineers need to leave for Presh. The rest remain aboard the Phoenix. Inform everyone to meet up in conference room B,” O’Hara ordered.
He was pensive. Four beacons were to be simultaneously recovered. It wasn’t a difficult feat, but something gnawed at him nevertheless. Roberts broke his concentration while the bridge officer moved away to announce the orders through the intercom.
“Captain, we are refueled, restocked, and bound for Eon.”
O’Hara nodded and looked to Day, saying, “Take us away.”
She gently guided the ship through the atmosphere a second time. The captain glossed over the bridge before leaving for conference room B. He felt like everything was bigger, colder, harder. I’m probably just tired.
In room B, O’Hara moved a chair to a steel plate bolted to the wall. It served him as a small table, where he placed his personal computer and looked over his reports. He was confident that a procedure similar to the first extraction was required, but four, smaller teams were comprised to acquire all the beacons at once, so he set up the teams according to everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. Swain, Zakowski, and Royce comprised team one. Imes, Becker, and Mickelson were team two. DeReaux, Fitzpatrick, and Tulley were team three. O’Hara, Martinez, and Campbell were team Go get ‘em killa, a title he picked to entertain Marty.
Tulley and Campbell, who had not participated in the last mission, were both young and inexperienced, but since the first mission went off without a hitch, the newbs were given a chance to prove themselves. O’Hara nodded in approval, when he heard the door open behind him. He turned to see his crew enter.
“Good, you all made it. Take a seat, everyone. We have a simple goal here, and since we know what to expect, there’s no reason for concern. I have the instructions for extraction for each team. Here, take a look,” O’Hara announced, pressing a button on his computer.
At the lectern, he lowered the screen and dimmed the lights. The results of the previous extraction, as well as the new instructions, showed.
“Love our name, Cap. You know me better’n anyone,” Martinez exclaimed.
“Knew you would, Marty. Any questions,” O’Hara addressed the men with his hands loosely clasped in front of his waist. They all passed glances. The green scientists looked a little sketchy, but they knew they were in good hands. After all, O’Hara’s men were the best, and they had done this before. “Alright then, gear up, everyone. We’ll be at the first drop point soon. Dismissed.”
The crew, including the captain, walked out of conference room B to suit up in their quarters. Roberts came over the speaker and announced that they had reached the first drop point. The teams were dropped off one-by-one at the beacon locations. It took roughly seven hours to drop every one off, but by 15:00 hours all teams were go. Two nights of manual labor passed, but all beacons were recovered, and all crew members returned unharmed. Once safely on board, the beacons were immediately moved to Presh for studies.
During the recovery mission, the science crew on Presh tried their best to pick up where the others had left off. Nicholson, Levine, and the rest of the science team managed to learn a few things about the beacon, but some questions persisted. They didn’t know who left the objects behind, nor why. What they did know was that each beacon was exactly fifteen hundred miles from the next in what appeared to be a circular design, or possibly even a pentagram. They also knew there was a way to recalibrate the magnetic output.
Essentially, the output was a frequency, a very powerful frequency, which likely triangulated and relayed through alien satellites to some other planet or space station. Since the beacons were no longer in use, they were recalibrated to a lower frequency, one that didn’t disrupt any adjacent equipment. Lastly, scientists studied samples of Element-115. That was the beacons’ most significant yield, though some argued the markings scribbled inside one of the panels of each beacon was far and away more important. The strange thing was that every beacon implied a sixth object.
With great findings coming to a head, the next step was the colonization of Eon. Admiral Lay and Rear Admiral Shaw ordered a group of forty men and women from Alpha-6 to board the Phoenix. During the application of those orders, the spec ops team received some R and R. Day, however, enjoyed manually flying the ship to pick up the colonists rather than allow it an autopilot run.
In a roundabout way, the captain had been granted his wish. He was proud to subsequently travel to the Alpha-2, 3, and 4 colonies. At each location, another forty men and women were given orders to board for colonial initiation. Shortly thereafter, a military base was erected, and many more men and women traveled to Eon.
A couple of years were required to build a real city, but by the time it was established, men and women from Earth itself were set to undergo a sojourn for the final frontier. It seemed as though the missions of the Phoenix were coming to a halt. It was only logical that O’Hara and his crew take a larger vessel all the way to Century colony.
Century was a settlement approximately halfway between Eon and Earth. There, the captain figured his future was rendezvousing with a second ship coming from Earth. Somehow, the thought of traveling aboard a vessel for a ten plus year round trip was unsettling. Although he wanted more time in space, he didn’t want to bus passengers around the colonies.