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!
Franklin spotted a scout scuttling off with an object in tow. He moved quickly, but it burst as he reached out. Blinking from surprise, he turned to see Fitzpatrick. She winked.
“I-I couldn’t,” the captain stammered. Day walked over to his side and placed a shaky hand on his wrist. “We lost Becker and Imes. I couldn’t do anything to save them.” She just looked at him. His heart was heavy. Guilt tightened his throat, and tears stung his eyes. “Nandy, Zak, make sure everyone’s okay.” O’Hara slowly walked away.
Korit approached then. “This is what Lokians provide, fear and bloodshed. There is nothing simple or beautiful about war. Your friends fought well and did their best to keep each other alive. One can ask no more. They died in battle. That is good for a warrior. At least that is what we are taught.”
A welling of emotions accosted the Human. He narrowed his eyes. Anger flooded him.
“We came here to help you on your mission.”
“These monsters will not stop. Now, you have seen them. We have fought them many times. We are not the only ones who need the travelers’ help. Soon, your kind will, too,” Korit replied, harshly. “Otherwise, what you have lived through today will be experienced by all of your kind.”
“These travelers aren’t even here,” O’Hara yelled.
“We haven’t explored the whole planet!”
“Captain,” Franklin intervened. “The Lokians did come here. There must be something to it.”
Adams added, “Either there’s a clue around here, or the Lokians wanted to kill the travelers, and if they can do that then imagine what they can do to mankind.”
“I…I’m not convinced,” O’Hara said, looking to the ground. He wasn’t sure he believed his own statement, but he was confused, frightened, angry, and sad. “What if they’re not here? What if there are no more travelers?”
“Listen, Captain, I may be out of line, Sir, but,” Swain mumbled, “we’re already here. We agreed to do this, and Admiral Lay chose you to take over. We, I still believe….”
O’Hara scrutinized his compatriot; he was angry at the situation not the people around him. “This just isn’t what I expected. We weren’t trained for this.”
“Tsh, how could we be? No one saw this comin’, Sir,” Martinez replied after dusting himself off.
Fitzpatrick and DeReaux emerged from their post to join up with the surviving members. “Captain...we should wrap it up,” DeReaux advised.
O’Hara nodded. Some of the others—Thewls, mostly—sorted through the rubble and whatever few, intact buildings remained. Their inevitable conclusion was that the travelers had packed up and left. Either, they simply moved to another area on the planet or they left completely.
“Korit. Open a line to the ambassador, please,” O’Hara said.
He nodded and set his comm. for the correct channel. “Whenever you’re ready, Captain.”
“Tell him we’ve cleaned out the Lokians, that there isn’t much here, and that I’m sorry we couldn’t do more, but I….”
After the Thewl relayed the information, he gave the ambassador’s reply. “He says he understands. This is the way things go when dealing with Lokians anyway. He’s putting the admiral on now.” Another moment of silence ensued between O’Hara and Korit. Others were talking about the items the agents had recovered. “Yew wants to know if anything at all turned up. I told him there might be something.”
“Tell him we’re returning,” Franklin said. “We need to reorganize, and we have these.”
He held the items up. O’Hara agreed a return was the best option.
“Ain’t leaving them here like this, Cap,” Martinez snipped.
He nodded, and they all worked together to recover whatever bodies were relatively intact; there wasn’t much of Becker or some of the Thewls. A silent journey back through the tunnels ensued; an endless slog. When they reached their destination, they climbed out to raging winds and a flurry of snow. Multiple rovers idled as the drivers awaited the crew. Before anyone boarded a vehicle, they piled corpses into one. Finally, they started a return trip for the Explorer.
Aboard the vessel, members of Phoenix Crew went straight for the showers. Hot water wasn’t enough to wash away nightmarish scenes, which played behind closed eyes. O’Hara still heard screams.
Once docking procedures were announced over speakers, the captain and the agents met with Korit, Weh, and Yew on the Carrier’s bridge. Admiral Yew was eager to see what they had recovered. He palmed the canister, looking over the markings. Then, he inspected the ziggurat. He admitted he had no idea what either meant or if they were anything more than nick-nacks.
“We’ll attempt to decipher the canister,” he sighed. “In the meantime, I’ll have my men run tests on the ziggurat.” He handed the objects off to his kind. “I truly am sorry you’ve been personally pulled into this mess, and truthfully, things are only going to get worse.”
“Agreed,” Weh said. “If we can’t locate the travelers then our only option is to unite with your kind and the Yvlekesh.”
O’Hara was pensive. “Why not just take that action to begin with?”
“Your government has already kept our meeting a secret, not to mention they have more secrets than you know,” he said as he looked over Adams and Franklin. “On top of that, your people would also have to build relations with the Yvlekesh, and we both know how difficult it is to build such relations. Furthermore, the Yvlekesh are not much more advanced than Humans, though they do have some experience in fighting Lokians.”
“All-in-all, O’Hara, fighting the Lokians is like trying to solve a puzzle; we must take one piece at a time and find where it fits. Only once we have done our due diligence can we either place that piece or move on to the next one.”
“If you’ll excuse us, we have reports to file,” Franklin started.
“Once we wrap up our reports, we’ll be more than happy to answer whatever questions you might have, Captain,” Adams added.
O’Hara narrowed his eyes and took a deep breath. He was getting angry. He turned his head and looked over the ambassador, and then the admiral.
“They certainly know more than they reveal,” Weh commented.
“Do you think they’re dangerous,” O’Hara asked.
“There is no doubt they are on our side, but they are clearly not under our control.”
“I have reports to file, too, and a crew to check on,” O’Hara said and began to walk away.
“Captain,” the admiral spoke.
“Yes,” he asked over his shoulder.
“An effective leader knows how to remain objective.”
O’Hara nodded and exited the bridge.
Back on the Explorer, in the mess hall, an overabundance of questions plagued his mind. Something told him Adams and Franklin were waiting for those questions, and without asking, they weren’t going to reveal anything, which made him wonder who they really were, what they were doing there, and what connection they had to Lay. Sitting uncomfortably in a Thewlian chair, he observed his alien acquaintances eat.
Nearly all of them wore battle attire. The ones who didn’t instead wore thick robes of varying colors. A Thewl caught his eyes, so he looked away.
Grumbling to himself, he waited impatiently for the agents to show. He had called them over ten minutes ago. With too much idle time, his concern shifted from tardy agents to guilt over deaths. Never again were those cherished lives going to grace the world with their smiles.
Finally, he saw the men in pinstriped suits wander in. “Let’s start with those questions, Captain,” Adams began and took a seat.
No sooner had he opened his mouth to start that Franklin interjected, “To begin with, the Thewls are not our first contact race.”
“Correct, we first made contact with a race simply known as the Grays in the 1940’s,” Adams revealed.
O’Hara arched his brows as he set his jaw; he had heard of the Grays. “The Grays were actually created by another race. They were genetically engineered to carry out certain tasks,” Franklin continued.
“From their technology, we were able to reverse engineer a few things, patent a few ideas, and finally, in 1963, we created The Bureau,” Adams said.
Every time one of them spoke, O’Hara gave his attention, but they kept interrupting each other. He hated how just one bit of intel was provided, and then, the other one gave the next bit; he was in no mood for their quirks, and demanded that just one of them give a complete answer.
“Of course,” Franklin feigned a smile.
“We made little contact with the race, which created the Grays,” Adams said.
“Apparently, they weren’t interested in building relations. Then, other occurrences took place; the androids on the moon, the pyramids on Mars, and finally our knowledge of the Sumerian culture,” Franklin said.
“Right, the Sumerians clearly had contact with the travelers. It wasn’t until Christianity took root that some of this knowledge was squelched, though I do believe much of it is available to the proper eyes,” Adams said then paused.
O’Hara’s lips were crinkled in irritation. He was trying to soak it all in without exploding from the fact that they had not heeded his demand. On top of that, he was angry over the fact that such important knowledge wasn’t made public, nor had it been provided to him at the onset of their mission.
“Why was this kept secret?”
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“Actually, it wasn’t,” Adams answered.
“No, there were some authors and entertainers, even a few Presidents, who tried to bring it to light,” Franklin added. “From Sitchen to Reagan…yeah.”
“There was always a global, control issue. The governments of the world needed to keep this information quiet in order to push their agenda,” Adams explained.
“A lot changed after we began harvesting resources off planet. Suddenly, those agendas lost their impetus. There was also the fact that the Sumerians’ alien friends never returned,” Franklin finished.
Agendas? Impetus? World leaders knew this stuff and didn’t think to share that we are not alone in the universe? He was in disbelief, but knew they weren’t lying. Watching their relaxed demeanor, something finally clicked in his mind.
“So, you two were sent from The Bureau once you learned Admiral Lay made contact with Thewls. Then, he distanced himself by putting me in charge, but why me?”
“Yes, we came to establish our own contacts,” Adams replied.
“The Bureau is always trying to expand,” Franklin confirmed. “We’re a Human establishment. What we do is build relations with aliens and handle everything privately. We’ve no direct, governmental involvement, though we have agents working for the government. When Thewls popped up, and Lokians with them, we had to come check things out.”
“Wait!” when he shouted, some Thewls glanced over at the commotion. “Why send two agents? Shouldn’t there be more of you, and why did you let us get involved with something so dangerous without the proper training?”
“It isn’t so simple,” Franklin answered, and for the first time, he exhibited an actual expression of emotion; he ground his teeth and looked away.
“There’s no way for us to train the military for fighting aliens, and all aliens are different,” Adams added. “So, we’re training you, at Lay’s recommendation, no less. I know this is tough—a lot to take in—but when it’s time, we’ll build a force worthy of taking this new threat out once and for all.”
A Thewl came in to the mess hall then. He looked about the room, easily spotting the Humans, and made a dash for O’Hara. “Captain, the ambassador requests your audience.”
Exhaling powerfully, he crawled from his seat. All three men went to the bridge. The march allowed O’Hara a moment of mental respite.
As soon as they set foot on sea foam carpet, Weh spoke. “Your comrade, Nandesrikahl, helped us to ascertain that the canister you recovered tells a story, one we believe is a clue to where the travelers may have gone. You see, the travelers spent their lives delving deep into the knowledge of the universe. They explored a great many regions. They mastered space travel, colonization, and the inner workings of all particles, so they set themselves upon the task of learning how to manipulate energy.
“First, they used external devices to help; they fashioned special ships then suits, and later, they learned to manipulate energy without aid. Apparently, they no longer function like most, sentient life. They don’t age or reproduce. They have become…something else.”
“What?” O’Hara shrugged, involuntarily. “You said you know where they went. What does this story have to do with that?”
“The story ends with their exodus. The life they live now is different from the life they lived when they helped us, so many years ago. If they can manipulate energy, there is no telling where they are or what they are doing,” the ambassador replied.
“You did say there was a clue as to where they might have gone,” Franklin said with a condescending tone.
“There is a clue. We just need to know where one might travel once a full understanding of energy manipulation is acquired.”
Adams and Franklin exchanged a glance and winced. The captain shook his head at their similarity in mannerisms before returning his attention to the ambassador.
“Any news on the ziggurat?”
“Not yet. Soon, I hope. It may be our only chance….”
O’Hara nodded. “Guess we should get some rest then.”