Authors: Andrei Livadny
The Island of Hope
by Andrei Livadny
Magic Dome Books
The Island of Hope
Copyright © Andrei Livadny 2015
Cover Art © Vladimir Manyukhin 2015
Translator © Vasily Repin 2015
Editors: Suzanne Mallette, Jade Rose
Published by Magic Dome Books, 2015
All Rights Reserved
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This book is entirely a work of fiction. Any correlation with real people or events is coincidental.
Also by Andrei Livadny:
he sky came crashing down around him, its song angry and deafening.
The two-year-old boy would never hear it again, but it forever remained imprinted in his subconscious: engines roaring, ashes hissing, rocks crumbling overhead.
Dark shadows were chasing after him, unyielding as Fate itself.
He was running on his feeble feet, crying at the top of his voice and trying to escape the roaring terror falling from the sky.
What could be more awful than such helplessness?
Huddled between two boulders, he was still crying, and the earth was shaking under the weight of interstellar spaceships landing. Then, in a sudden and deafening silence, roared the spiteful staccato of machine-gun fire; after that, all was quiet, and for good.
Exhausted, he stopped crying. He simply couldn't cry anymore; only his body trembled occasionally. The world had changed.
Nobody came to take him into their arms, to give him some warmth, food or comfort. He was too little, his mind too immature. Therefore he couldn’t perceive all the horror around him.
He sat huddled. The boulders exhaled cold. The small body was gradually overtaken by the cold and, finally, it stopped quivering.
A blue grass blade swaying in a breeze, the sound of heavy footsteps, the rattle of metal — these were what he remembered. There was also within him a sense of great offence at the warm world which had suddenly become cold and strange.
He didn't hear the spaceships wail and scream, soaring to the sky.
He didn't perceive the silence that wrapped smoking ruins in a heavy shroud.
Slowly and unconsciously he was leaving that world, freezing between the two boulders, and the swaying blue grass blade, burnt and broken, was a kind of lullaby for him.
That happened in the year of Galaxy Calendar 2607.
Humankind was aiming for the stars.
* * *
Heavy jackboots with grooved soles were crunching on the hash of broken glass. The barrel of a pulse gun was looking into the darkness of ruined corridors, scrutinizing the devastated offices with its single black eye.
"Bastards," the word escaped someone's lips, heavy like spittle.
Nomad sat down wearily on a plastic windowsill.
The colony was dead. Its inhabitants, slaughtered. The mines had become desolate.
The wind howled through the openings of broken windows. All of a sudden, Nomad was seized with a bitter helplessness though he didn't personally know
anyone of those who had perished here.
He lit a cigarette while he gloomily examined
the frames of burnt mechanisms that one could see through one of the office building’s windows.
Nomad had been watching the flame of galactic war arise for some years already. The old wanderer incessantly moved from one stellar system to another. He saw the Second Expansion Wave splash out of the boundaries of the solar system and break against the colonies ring.
For four hundred years the colonists of the First Dash, left by Earth to the mercy of fate, had been fighting for survival on uninhabited far-off planets.
So, finally they'd heard from their legendary Alma Mater. The new "settlers" were a rather diverse contingent scooped up from the bottom of fetid sewers of super megalopolises: the ancient homeland of Humankind held to the worst traditions of the past. But now millions of these superfluous people were united by military discipline and cast into space
with a practical and far-reaching purpose. Earth having spent all internal resources was in need of more space for colonization.
The second wave of mankind's space invasion kept to the beaten tracks: the vector lines of space anomalies hadn't changed, after all, so at the end of their journey the new colonists inevitably came across one of the surviving old colonies.
Nomad threw away the stub and smiled wryly, remembering that not so long ago, the authorities of some planets used to qualify Ernie and himself as criminals.
'Not only they are dealing in all kinds of junk but also avoiding taxes! Thank you very much!'
Surfing the galaxy in his own spacecraft pieced together from some junk, that’s all he’d been doing. He'd never actually killed anyone.
He looked around himself again.
What was the crime committed by these people? Certainly, they didn't want to accept new colonists from Earth. However, there were thousands of unpopulated planets in the Galaxy. Did Earth really need this planetoid and its little mine begotten in sweat and blood?
The answer was obvious to Nomad. The war. Earth was overpopulated again. The solar system looked like an empty worm-eaten nut. They wouldn't colonize unexplored planets any longer. They wanted to live comfortably now.
He spat and rose from the windowsill. Time to clear out before the spacecraft of the Second Wave arrived and began tackling the forsaken mines.
Going outside, he narrowed his eyes from the bright light. Ernie Hugo, his partner, was standing by two granite boulders, apparently bewildered.
"Nom? Come here!" he called.
Nomad approached, looking around mechanically. His strong hands were squeezing the warm rifle butt. He gave no credence to the quiet, to the idle wisps of smoke and the bodies lying about.
The universe was seething with madness.
Ernie struggled to breathe. "Look!" he wheezed.
Nomad took a step towards the boulders and saw the small huddled body of a child between them
Shocked, he stared at it for a few seconds, then bent over and put the rifle aside. He touched the child's cheek with his trembling fingers. It slightly shivered under his palm. He shrank back as though burned.
"Is he alive?" Ernie asked, squatting down.
Nomad nodded, picking up the frozen little body.
"But what... what are we going to do with him? He's practically a baby!"
Nomad didn't reply.
Some minutes later, he was already making his way to the spaceship, awkwardly clasping to his chest the frozen and helpless lump of flesh feverishly thinking of something on board that could be turned into a comfortable enough bed.
He understood nothing in the impending madness.
Tears were streaming down the old smuggler's cheeks.
think therefore I am?"
It wasn't me who said it. I only put a question mark at the end of the phrase, tweaking its meaning.
I've got an ocean of time to be spent in thinking. Well, not an ocean. A lake, maybe. The latter isn't as imposing as the former, but sufficient enough to drown, choking on my belated comprehension of things.
That's funny. I'm sitting in a cramped sealed room on an empty ammo box writing with an ordinary pencil on ordinary sheets of paper. I've no future – having received a fatal dose of radiation, I'm not likely to last more than five or six years. But even that period seems to be too long for me if one takes into account what is lurking in the stillness of the vacuum beyond the fragile walls of my shelter. I find it funny but also sad because I've never been so calm and so bent on living as I am now. And I've never perceived with such a dreadful lucidity the essence of human nature.
I've no idea who I'm writing this for. For myself maybe, or even for you: the man who is holding my diary. There can be only two reasons for your coming here: either you're an explorer arriving here thousands of years after my death or you're intrepid. But if neither, run away. You must know that you've come to hell. A man-made version of it. The very quintessence of death, mirroring some dark nooks of the human mind.
However, if you already set foot in here, you can judge for yourself.
agged layers of choking blue gray smoke spread over the corridors and decks of the space cruiser
. The flagship of the Free Colonies' fleet was dying hard, as befitted a spacecraft of her class. The turbo pumps howled trying to replace the close air but their power wasn't sufficient enough to support life on board. Red alarm lights flashed everywhere. Many compartments were blocked, consumed by the vacuum that had gushed through the punctured ship.
Gravity was unstable, dependent on the damaged generators, and that was why
the commandos' advancement along the main corridor of the cruiser resembled the migration of a flock of beak toads: now the men flew up, dropped, flew up again, were flung against the walls, surrounded by smoke, shouts and shooting sprees of pulse guns in the moments when enemy assault teams loomed out of side passages. In fact, were they the enemy — or could they be some friendly teams seeking safety?
All was mixed up in that hell.
"Sergei, there's a turn a few hundred feet further on!" Andrei shouted into his helmet communicator while turning round so as to send a burst in a side passage.
One could hardly hear the reply drowned by the spiteful crackling of static discharges dancing on the electromagnetic compensator section of his APG. The pulse gun bullets dashed past, howling, to the narrow transport tunnel. A second later, its entrance exploded in flames like a mortar muzzle, littering the floor of the corridor with smoking debris.
"Ordnance complex five. External blisters. If they're still undamaged."
"Let's hope so."
They advanced by leaps, back to back, firing at side passages with their APGs, steadily approaching their goal. It was still possible to disengage the cruiser from the battle since one was able to control the main systems of the ship from the conning tower, but to pass to the hypersphere, it was necessary to stop the frantic dance of the small space fighters spinning like wasps round the gigantic cruiser.
One could observe almost the same picture on board the other spaceships of the fleet. The battle had been lost, and now the destiny of dozens of planets depended on whether the rest of the armada would be able to disengage from the seething massacre. Neither the others nor our three commandos, forcing their way to the ordnance complex, doubted that immediately after their fleet had been destroyed the space cruisers of the Earth Alliance would dash to bombard the defenseless planets.
Kurt Schnell who was running behind Andrei stumbled suddenly. Andrei himself was hardly able to keep his feet by grasping a handrail at the last moment. The cruiser shuddered with a new impact.
Not again, dammit!
Andrei thought desperately. Every such impact reduced their chances of escaping via hyperdrive. He was going to dash on, with a view to reaching the massive hatches of turrets looming at the turn of the tunnel, but at that moment the opposite wall turned deep cherry-colored and began to swell like an enormous bubble.
Oh, mein Gott!"
Kurt was right. It seemed like they had nothing else to do but to pray. The bubble burst, splashing about hardening drops of metal. Andrei dropped to the floor and caught hold of a bracket so as to avoid being pulled out into space.
The whirlwind didn't last more than twenty seconds — he constantly observed the spacesuit sensors until he was sure that a vacuum filled the
's main corridor. The airflow having run out, Andrei sprang to his feet. Immediately the enormous hole was filled by the blunt nose of an automatic landing raider. That was the worst to happen. He realized that within seconds assault robots of the Earth Alliance would burst into the corridor.
He looked around. Sergei had already arranged a telescopic tripod; Kurt's hands were shaking as he attached the barrel of a heavy emitter to it.
"Run away!" he ordered.
"Do it! Destroy the fighters!" Sergei shouted while pulling the trigger.
Hell's flame danced through the battered corridor and hit the raider's armor with a dazzling sheaf of fire. The first robot which appeared in the manhole was shattered.
Without further hesitation, Andrei ran forward.
If only the hatch would open
, he prayed mentally when hitting the button with his palm. The armored oval weighing many tons started sluggishly and began moving aside. Such vitality of combat systems filled him with a kind of idiotic pride of the men who had constructed the cruiser. She was able to fight even when battered and disintegrated!
There was light inside the turret. Andrei sank into an operator's chair, scanning information on two main monitors. The accumulators of the six-barreled laser gun were full. Up till now, it hadn't fired at all. Having made a few switches, he ran the program of automatic defensive fire, leaving one barrel under manual control. Then he connected a thick interface cable to his pressurized helmet and glanced at the survey screen. The hatch behind him clanged shut. The compartment began to fill with air from the turret reservoir.
Now he was himself part of the gun. Two sensor laying levers emerged out of the floor. In a well-trained movement, Andrei put his relaxed fingers on the triggers.
The virtual reality.
All of a sudden, Andrei felt like twitching the interface cable so as not to see the thousands of separate points: those were the rest of seven hundred space cruisers which had constituted the Free Colonies Fleet.
The 3-D panorama of the lost battle spread before him. All data had already been processed by the laser gun's computer, and he was watching the world through its video cameras' lenses. The sight depressed his mind, but he again made himself take the levers remembering all the spite, despair and will to live felt so keenly over the last hours.
The turret activated – the computer gyroscopes were setting orientation. The drive motors began to vibrate loudly; the electron-mechanical world revived. The gun cellar escalator started transporting a string of vacuum shells to two support batteries. The turret machine-guns opened the stops of their video cameras towards the enemy fighters.
Andrei shuddered when seeing the
signals on the monitors of the six
laser modules. He was excited by that power; he got stronger when sitting in the operator's chair. He also felt keen bitterness. All mixed in his soul during the few seconds of preparation.
A giant support began to move the turret smoothly into outer space. The side monitors revived one by one as new shooting sectors became available. At the same time, red signals blossomed on the multi-stage consoles. Columns of figures ran down the displays, momentarily interrupted by the brief and meaningful term
His helmet's visor pulsated; Andrei settled back involuntarily. He saw fragments of armor flying away in orange clusters of explosions — floating towards him, spinning. The points faded one after the other, but new ones replaced them. In the absence of atmospheric exhausts, he realized that he was combating against automatic space-fighters with a vacuum reigning on board.
Strange phenomena are occasionally generated by a warrior's mind. After some time Andrei couldn't say with confidence whether the ordnance complex was a sequel of his will or, vice versa, his brain filled with adrenaline was nothing other than an appendage to the senseless electron-mechanical monster spouting flames.
The energy accumulators' sensors indicated half the combat capacity. He glanced at the shell counter. The gun cellars were almost empty. Incredulous, Andrei looked at the chronometer. He had been fighting almost thirty minutes
There remained only two attacking points in the visor sight.
He pressed a key on the auxiliary control panel, and liquid nitrogen started circulating through the system cooling the overheated gun reflectors.
Raising his helmet visor, Andrei shut his eyes and pressed his temples. He was shivering. Someone had spilled a few drops of molten lead inside his head. Such was the charge for the super-effective sensor-neuron connection to the turret computer. At moments when he felt that kind of horrible emptiness he hated machines, but also the men who had constructed them. However, he knew that later, once the pain was gone, he would be pulled back into the rational and cold world of the virtual reality.
That would be later. Now there was a terrible fatigue and heavy stupor within him.
Andrei made himself open his eyes and call the
's chart room.
Much to his astonishment, the intercom system was functioning. The face of the second captain of the watch appeared on the communication monitor.
"Ordnance complex five, Lieutenant Andrei Vorontsov," he reported tiredly, "the space sector around the jets is free from enemy assault ships."
The captain kept silent as if he saw a madman or a ghost.
Dammit, what's going on in the chart cabin if a commander is looking in such a way at an officer having carried out an order? What are they doing there?
Thoughts were gathering within his mind, mixed with pain and combat post effects; at the same time, resentment was arising within him too. "Respond, captain!" he demanded furiously.
The officer remained silent. Andrei felt himself losing self-control. The vision of the corpses of Kurt and Sergei was swimming before his eyes. They gave their lives to allow him to cut his way, and this...
The face of the captain of the watch was distorted with anger and fear. An animal fear of something inevitable.
"Too late," he forced himself to say. His voice sent shivers down Andrei's spine. "Prepare to die, son."
The communication monitor became dim.
What the hell?
He didn’t know what to think.
It's impossible to describe it any other way. Only one word fit:
. It poured down from everywhere all at once, so that one had the impression the spaceships cast sharp black shadows on one another. As though a gigantic flashlight illumined for a moment the combat in darkness.
Instinctively, he tried to reach the control panel. The screen blazed up in white fire; there was a crackling, the recognizable smell of burning insulation. Quite unexpectedly, all around him collapsed with a great crash into an abyss to the accompaniment of sounds produced by torn metal.
The sudden overload momentarily knocked him out but the salutary swoon lasted only a few seconds. The automatics of a combat spacesuit wouldn't allow a soldier to remain unconscious in the thick of a battle, so a reanimation injection quickly brought him round. The ensued weightlessness nauseated him. But much worse was an unerring sensation that something terrible and irreparable had happened.
Andrei realized that the turret was torn away from the cruiser.
In situations like these the main thing is not to lose one's head. One by one, he turned on the telescopic survey, signal beacon and emergency transmitter.
Desperate, he stubbornly tried to restore the intercommunication until he finally saw the futility of his attempts.
His compartment was drifting through space, rotating irregularly. The radar screen was dim and empty. No rustle in the communicator, no commands, no call for help.
He could only read on the instrument board the red alarm lines:
"Thermonuclear explosion in space. General power: 3,000,000,000 kilotons. Distance: 4,000,000 miles. Time: minus seventy seconds."
"Skin overheated by 800 degrees"
"Protective field functions irrestorable"
"Laser gun, serial number 5, destroyed"
"Emergency life-support system activated"
"Your compartment transformed into autonomous module"
"Recommendation: maintain maximum level of personal protection during fifty hours"
"THREAT TO LIFE!"
The last line was blinking importunately.
* * *
... Each of us, before dying, should have gone mad. But we — I mean, a whole generation — millions of young guys on forty-seven colonized planets — grew up without experiencing pain or fear. Later we were called 'saplings of war'."
One could affirm that everyone who has been on the Path of Galactic War even for a short period is practically unable to believe that the world had been quite different. But I remember. I do remember mom's light-hearted laughter, pop's caressing eye. The warm water of the purple ocean of my native planet...
I remember the feeling of boundless calm and happiness experienced only by the little ones. The world was lying at my feet, so huge, astonishing and warm. It was mine.
And so it was everywhere. The planets colonized during the Great Expansion period had increased in strength, passing in four centuries from wildness and enmity to culture and civilization. Our generation was the first that hadn't had to struggle for survival. But all our dreams were trampled underfoot, mixed with ashes, frozen in a vacuum.