Authors: Joe Bonadonna
Airship 27 Productions
Three Against The Stars
Story © 2012 Joe Bonadonna
Published by Airship 27 Productions
Interior llustrations © 2012 Pedro Cruz
Cover illustration © 2012 Laura Givens
Editor: Ron Fortier
Associate Editor: Ilena George
Production and design by Rob Davis.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright
Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without
permission in writing from the copyright holders, except by a reviewer, who
may quote brief passages in a review.
Print copy ISBNs:
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
AGAINST THE STARS
Dedicated to every Man and Woman serving in every branch of
the Armed Forces of the United States of America.
World War VII began on December 12, 2112, and ended nine days later.
n international network of terrorists had been patiently plotting for years, infiltrating the governments and military of every nuclear superpower on Earth. When zero hour finally arrived, the terrorists initiated a simultaneous first-strike launch of atomic missiles that took out every major city and military installation belonging to the superpowers. A few days later, this vast network of global terrorists followed through with their piece de resistance.
It was an insidious weapon of mass destruction called an EMP—an Expanding Malware Virus—that left Earth a shattered world. This brilliantly conceived and executed computer program had been devised to destroy all satellite and electronic communications, as well as nuclear reactors and missile silos . . . anything that depended on computer, nano and cyber technology. But the EMP had a far more devastating effect than the evil masterminds who devised it could have foreseen: It also destroyed their own software and hardware systems in a massive cyber-backlash that rendered all modern technology useless, except for simple power grids and basic electricity. With the nations of Earth reduced to a level of technology equivalent to the pre-atomic era of the early 20
century, their governments had only two choices: a true and lasting peace . . . or never-ending war.
In a wise and unprecedented move, every nation chose the road of peace. Surprisingly enough, all terrorist activity soon ended as even their most fanatical leaders and members came to realize that all men and women bleed the same color blood, and that there is only one race on Earth: the human race. Over the next fifty years, with barely a skirmish in those corners of the globe that had always known war, the peoples of Earth struggled to rebuild their world.
Then, in 2162, the Drakonian starmada arrived, and once again planet Earth knew death and destruction. United as a true Brotherhood of Man, the nations of Earth joined together to fight a common foe, but they were no match for the superior forces and technology of the Drakonians. All hope for Mankind was lost. Earth was at the mercy of merciless invaders.
And then, at the eleventh hour, the Ornitori of the Omegan Federation sent a mighty space fleet to the aid of Earth. The war raged on for three days until the Drakonian Hegemony sued for peace and recalled what was left of their fleet back to their homeworld of Drakona. The United Terran Empire then forged an alliance with the Omegans, a humanoid species that had evolved from avian progenitors, and were the Guardians of Peace throughout the universe.
It took only five years for the Omegans to help rebuild Earth and assist in her exploration of space, sharing the technology of their FTL—faster than light engines. Soon great cities like Burroughsville and Bradbury Hill on Mars, Brackett Town on Venus, Kuttnerville on Mercury, and the Selenite Colony on the moon were established. The Terran Empire had regained space and was given the chance to reach for the stars beyond their solar system, beyond even their galaxy. But an uneasy truce with the Drakonian Hegemony cast a long shadow over that alliance, and in 2172 they were still a powerful and dangerous presence in the known universe.
From the Halls of Montezuma
gripped Cortez firmly in one of its three tentacles, squeezing his chest and the air from his lungs. In a few moments it would begin chewing on him with the serrated teeth in its huge beak. He screamed and cursed in Spanish and English, struggling to break free.
“Madre de Dios!”
he cried. “Makki—fire that weapon! Shoot this thing!”
A second tentacle encircled Cortez’s waist as the third wrapped itself around his legs. The
tightened its hold on him.
Makki stood holding a Remington 9 Synthetic, a laser rifle with a targeting scope. He aimed it at the spot right above the creature’s
three eyes, but was afraid to shoot—afraid he might hit his friend. Cortez had been teaching him about weapons and how to handle them properly, but the catizen from Rhajnara felt that he needed more time on the target range.
“Press the trigger and fire, my friend!” Cortez shouted impatiently. “Use the targeting beam. Please, I beg of you—do not take too much time. I think I will soon be dead!”
When Makki flipped the toggle to activate the targeting beam, an orange dot appeared on the ridge above the monster’s three
eyes. Makki's arms shook when he touched the trigger.
The weapon hummed as a beam of concentrated red light flashed from the muzzle of the Remington and struck the
right below the beak, nearly taking off the top of Cortez’s head. But it burned a whole through the monster’s skull.
The massive, gray
squealed once and toppled over. Its tentacles fell limp, and Cortez freed himself.
Makki rushed to help his friend, leaping over the hulk of the dead beast. He unslung the medikit from his shoulder. “Is sergeant okay?” he asked, stroking his long whiskers.
“I am not hurt,” Cortez told him as he rose to his feet. He brushed dust and grit from his camouflaged hunting suit. “Come. Let us see if we can find an egg.”
Makki flashed a grin that revealed his needle-sharp teeth. He followed Cortez down the passageway of a long, dark tunnel, their solarstiks providing ample illumination.
Cortez was a sergeant in the Space Marines, a special branch attached to the TEF—the Terran Expeditionary Force. Born in Spain some thirty-odd years ago but raised on Mars when his parents emigrated there shortly before the Drakonian invasion, he was a handsome and dashing rogue with a thin mustache—a true adventurer and space-age buccaneer.
“I think we are almost there,” Cortez said. “According to the map Stevens gave me—”
“Stevens always giving you maps to hidden treasure,” Makki complained. “When will sergeant learn that Stevens plays big jokes on you?”
Cortez halted in his tracks. “If that is what you think, then why do you always insist on coming with me?” he asked.
“Crazy sergeant needs this one to pull his butt out of fire every time. But never once has there been treasure of any kind to be found.”
“Can I help it if someone else always gets there first?”
“Sergeant O’Hara will chew you in and up when he hears of this,” Makki said. “He can be very loud and very mean.”
Cortez laughed and slapped Makki on the back. “Then let us not say a thing about this to that
,” he said. “Now—let us make haste.”
Shaking his head, Makki followed. He was also dressed in a camouflaged hunting suit, with his medikit slung over one shoulder and the Remington over the other.
Corpsman Makki Doon was a young Felisian from the planet Rhajnara, whose species had evolved from feline progenitors. Unlike their antecedents, however, the Rhajni had no tails. Though he looked very much like a human male, Makki’s gray and white fur, and resemblance to a Nubian cat, gave away his ancestry. About twenty three Earth Standard Years in age, he was a medic in the Rhajni Armed Forces, but had been assigned to the Marines for special training before his government enrolled him in medical school. The Rhajni had a knack for learning other languages quickly and well—except for Makki, that is. Though he possessed a true gift for medicine and healing, all he dreamed about was becoming a laserneck Marine of Company E—known affectionately as the Devil Dogs.
While on leave, he and Cortez had borrowed a two-man shuttlecraft from an Omegan trader, then took off from Space Station Carlson for Planet Z in the Ankrum Galaxy. They were on a quest to find
were a species that inhabited the caves in the cliffs overlooking a crimson sea. They were somewhat like amorphous gray blobs, with three stubby legs, three tentacles, and three eyes. Their sharp beaks were crammed with razor-sharp teeth, and they were voracious carnivores. Zookeepers and private collectors on Earth would pay a fortune for one of their eggs.
“How much does sergeant think he will receive in exchange for egg?” Makki asked.
“Enough to make me a very wealthy man,” Cortez replied.
The passageway ended in a great cavernous chamber, the walls of which sparkled with luminescent quartz. Glittering stalagmites and stalactites sprouted from the floor and hung from the ceiling like the teeth of a Kelaron behemoth. And in the far corner of the chamber were the scattered shells and shards of innumerable
eggs that had already hatched.
Crawling across the floor of the chamber were countless new-born
, fighting each other, eating each other, and searching for alternative sources of food. As soon as they spotted Cortez and Makki, they started creeping toward them.
Cortez drew his .45 automatic—which was still a traditional and popular sidearm among many Marines—but Makki stayed his friend’s hand, not wanting to hurt the younglings.
“This mewling thinks sergeant will not retire as wealthy man anytime soon,” he said.
“I think you are correct, my friend.” Cortez shook his head. “Come—let us run back to the shuttle while we still have legs!”
With that, they fled. The hatchlings crawled after them.
Sergeant Seamus O’Hara stood alone in his foxhole holding a Winchester .73 in one hand and a Colt .45 in the other, both weapons blazing and smoking. Scores of zombies and vampires, hungry for his flesh and thirsty for his blood, advanced toward him across an alien battlefield of trenches, bunkers and total devastation.
“Come on, ya stinkin’ sons of Satan! I’ll give ya what for!” he growled.
The Winchester flashed and blew a hole through a vampire’s chest. Repeated rounds from his Colt mowed down another half dozen of the living dead. But then a pack of werewolves began moving up fast—too fast for the weapons O’Hara was using. So he tossed a few grenades and blew up the zombies and vampires, then set his rifle and pistol aside. Then he grabbed the Gatling gun that stood next to him.
“Try a taste of this, ya filthy, mother-jumpin’ heathens!”
century machine gun sang and danced to a rattling song of death in O’Hara’s capable hands. Silver bullets flared and sprayed the werewolves, tearing into fur, flesh, and bone. He cut the lycanthropes to pieces until he ran out of ammo. But before he could reload, a score of trolls and goblins armed with scimitars sprang from the ground.
O’Hara swore a blistering oath in Gaelic. “Of all the blasted luck!” he added.
Unable to use the Gatling gun any longer, O’Hara reached down and seized a mace and broadsword lying at his feet. With a battle cry worthy of his Irish forebears, O’Hara leapt from the foxhole and met his foes head on.
“Let’s have at it then, ya miserable, dirty scum!” he yelled.
The marauding monsters screeched and howled as they raced toward him with bloodlust in their glowing yellow eyes. Steel flashed. Sparks flew. Metal shards buzzed in the air. Clash and clang, thrust and parry—O’Hara gave no ground, didn’t beg for mercy, and offered no quarter to his enemies. Four trolls fell with faces bashed in from his mace. A trio of goblins bit the dust with their heads hacked off by his broadsword.
Then suddenly a flesh-eating, bone-crunching cyclops bearing a heavy war hammer popped up and charged into the fray. Alone and outnumbered, O’Hara fought like a demon as his foes overwhelmed him. Swords tore into him, battle axes hewed him to pieces, and the heavy mallet crashed down upon his head. But O’Hara never felt a thing, except disappointment.
The words GAME OVER flashed in the air, dripping with blood. The battlefield blurred and the Irishman’s deadly enemies froze in their tracks.
“Lousy buggers!” he said.
He pressed the button on the wrist-control unit of his Tri-D Battle Simulator. The war-torn landscape, his weapons and all his foes vanished. Everything was replaced in a nano-second by the sparsely furnished living room of his tiny apartment.
Muttering another Irish curse, O’Hara removed the wrist unit and flung it across the room. Then he went into his bathroom to enjoy a warm, relaxing shower.
A big, blustery man in his mid-40s, O’Hara walked like a bear and talked with a brogue. A nasty old scar crawled across the side of his head, plain for all to see due to his traditional high-and-tight haircut. He had sharp blue eyes, a large and crooked nose, and sparkling white teeth. He also had a realistic prosthetic left arm and two expressions: a grin and a scowl.
When he finished his shower, O’Hara emerged from the bathroom wearing his Marine dress blues, minus his cover. But he was wearing his holstered .45 automatic—a weapon he felt was an extension of his body. In a way, it seemed to replace the arm he lost fighting the Drakonian lizardmen over twenty years ago.
His apartment was on the eighteenth floor of a sky-scraping complex in San Francisco that overlooked the New Golden Gate Bridge and the whole Bay Area. He lived a very Spartan life of solitude, having little need for most of the luxuries of life. Except for his mother and the Marine Corps, he had no other family; his late father had been a professor of Irish literature.
O’Hara went over to a corner of his living room and sat in a chair in front of the screen of a communications unit. Next to the chair stood a small table laid out with a bottle of Irish whiskey and an empty glass. He poured himself five fingers of whiskey, swallowed half of it, and then punched in a series of numbers and letters on a keypad. The screen lit up within a few seconds, and a beautiful woman in her mid-60s, with short gray hair, came into view.
“Hello, Mum, me darlin’,” he said. “Are ya ready for dinner tonight?”
“I’ve been waitin’ for your call for over an hour, ya big oaf!”
his mother’s voice boomed from the hidden speakers.
“What the devil have you been doin’ all day?”
“Workin’ out and keepin’ in practice with the Battle Simulator,” O’Hara said. “The Devil Dogs are shovin’ off tomorrow. Something to do with them filthy Drakonians.”
“Did you take a shower after your workout?”
“Yes, Mum. That I did.”
“Did you do your laundry?”
“No, Mum. I did not.”
“Oh? And what reason do ya have for neglectin’ your laundry again, ya lazy bugger?”
“No excuse, Mum.” O’Hara slipped a finger inside the collar of his uniform in order to loosen it. He was beginning to sweat. Dealing with his mother always made him sweat.
“Then you’d best be tending to that duty, Sergeant O’Hara.”
“Yes, Mum. At once.”
“Good! I’ll be expecting you in two hours. And for your sake, that uniform you’re wearing best be clean and pressed according to regulations. I’ll not be having no son of mine wearing a dirty uniform.”
“It’s clean, Mum. I promise. I’ll pick you up at 2100 hours.”
“And don’t be late, if ya know what’s good for ya.”
The screen went dark.
O’Hara was looking forward to the upcoming mission. It might prove to be far more pleasant than the dressing down he was sure to get from his mother during dinner.
He wiped the sweat from his brow and gulped the rest of his drink. He thought about having another, but he knew his mother wouldn’t approve.
The view from the hotel room overlooking Lincoln Park, Lake Michigan, and the downtown skyline of Chicago was magnificent. The Hyatt-Westin was a relatively new hotel. Only five-hundred stories tall, it spread out over a ten-block radius of the city.
Sergeant Claudia Akira’s room was a simple but elegant one. It contained a Tri-D entertainment unit, a computer, a small wet bar, and a walk-in shower with a whirlpool bath . . . all the comforts of a home she never had. She had booked the room rather than return to San Diego because her fiancé, a novelist and journalist, was on assignment in the Windy City. It was going to be their last night together, however. Her orders had just come through and she’d be shoving off at 0800 hours from the Daley-O’Hare Spaceport.
Akira sat on the love seat facing the windows, drinking tea and staring at the splendor of the view laid out before and below her, as if it were a belated Christmas present just for her. A light snow had begun to drift down on the city, laying a white blanket over everything. January in Chicago could be brutal. But then, if you didn’t like the weather in Chicago, all you had to do was stick around for a few minutes: it was sure to change.
Akira was a pretty, 20-something Marine with short black hair and piercing blue eyes. Half Sicilian and half Japanese, she cherished her dual heritage. Tall, lean and muscular, she had the smile of an angel—but when it came to a firefight, she was a real hellcat armed with an Edison submachine gun.