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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!
Nandesrikahl was out, Swain was down, and O’Hara was staring into darkness. A wave of energy worked through the cavern. It was a tremor that any living creature knew in their bones meant the arrival of something big.
An old enemy had reared its face. Ice cracked and fell to the ground. The beast took large gasps of cold air into his lungs. Slowly, he opened his eyes, and all the enemies dropped to the ground.
Fitzpatrick and DeReaux shuddered. They saw the Lokians lift their heads, turning their hateful gaze onto to a gray creature covered in fur. His eyes were black pools of nothingness, and suddenly, he was on them.
The brawlers jumped to their feet, screeching. They grasped the traveler, and hit him, and clasped him with pincers, but he was unshakable, unmovable. He looked into their glowing, red slits. Those who remained conscious saw how the traveler dismantled the assailants.
With a furrow of his brow, tubes snapped off, and armored plates went flying away, bouncing off pillars, skittering over ice. Rusty ooze poured from gaping wounds. Each brawler suffered the same fate, an agonizing death.
Calmly, the ape-like man walked over to Nandesrikahl, stopped, and knelt next to his body. The Human groaned then turned to witness obsidian eyes. The glistening jewels searched his soul. He felt them inside, probing something ephemeral. With renewed vigor, Nandesrikahl rose to his feet, glossing over carnage breathlessly.
The gray man then approached Swain. He placed a powerful hand on his shoulder, another on his arm. The big man looked into the creature’s eyes and knew they had been delivered.
Nandesrikahl dashed to his captain’s side and helped him to sit. Looking on in astonishment, he saw the traveler, who closed the distance in a blurred fashion. The creature knelt, peering into O’Hara eyes; pain evaporated, confusion diminished, and all was calm.
The Humans regrouped, staring from their sleeping, Thewlian compatriots to the eerie and mysterious traveler. There were no words to be spoken. Pure silence, external and internal, showed them the way.
Adams stiffened. He was unable to look at the creature. Franklin felt the same, cold abandonment. Knowingly, the traveler gripped their shoulders in a gesture of solidarity; he knew they were no longer Human, and they knew he knew.
Only a moment later, the Thewls groaned, coming to. In an effort to gauge the situation, they looked everyone over. Insectoid carcasses lay strewn about. Pieces of tattered armor hung from their suits. Only the snipers bore little damage.
The utter mayhem of the battle had taken its toll, but, for incomprehensible reasons, they were all in great spirits, and before them stood the man with all the answers. A second gust of energy moved through the subterranean extent, and they knew in their bones the traveler had come to help them.
Complete thoughts were imprinted upon their minds. They were more than pictures and words, more than ideas, or concepts; it was a silent knowledge, total and complete, if a bit confusing. Concise, cohesive units of ideas and explanations provided an all encompassing answer.
I am a traveler. I travel worlds upon worlds. I travel through time, and observe the lines, which unfold. I see all outcomes, but I affect none. I have the power to do as I please, but desire nothing.
Lokians will not stop. They will achieve what I have achieved through artificial means. Their bio-engineering is growing at a compounded rate, and soon they will ravage the galaxy. There is but one way to end this threat; you must travel to their home world, and destroy their queen.
The creature had not said a word. He had uttered no sounds, but they knew what he meant. It was more than a voice in their minds; it was pure intent.
I can travel there on my own, but I can no longer affect things directly. I will act through you. I will show you the marvels I have mastered and the steps I have climbed.
O’Hara stood there dumbfounded. He stared at the stocky alien, able only to wonder. Korit approached the captain then placed a mammoth hand on his shoulder. O’Hara snapped out of reverie and looked at his friend.
“That’s him. We’ve done it,” Korit said.
Download Beyond the End of the World, Lokians 1 for free via Barnes and Noble online
He thought back to what the ambassador had first said about their benefactors, about how they communicated, and he understood why Weh presented his case with such ambiguity. Still baffled by the immensity of the traveler’s presence, he remained slack-jawed, watching the being move.
The traveler walked towards the entry tunnel. He moved past the lighted area then vanished in the darkness. Everyone was stuck to the ground, at once elated and terrified.
“Guess we should follow,” Swain whispered.
He rubbed his arm, which, now healed, had been broken in battle. It no longer hurt. He motioned with his head, and they all started walking.
“Everyone good,” O’Hara asked.
They all nodded and followed Swain. Adams and Franklin were redistributing whatever weapons looked intact. DeReaux stopped to pick up a lighting device. He tossed it to Jor-Tune, who turned it off.
Korit set his comm. to broadband. “They are still fighting outside.”
“Maybe we should wait before we exit,” Sirt puffed.
“I think we should get out there and kick some bug ass,” Fitzpatrick argued.
The captain followed closely behind Swain. Adams caught up and handed him his rifle, so he flicked on the gun light. All hurried to catch up to the traveler.
“What should we do, traveler,” O’Hara asked. “We want to help our friends, but our mission was to find you.” There was no reply. “What about others of your kind; are we leaving them behind?”
Immediately, he knew the other travelers were not coming. They had sealed themselves away, each with a specific purpose not to be revealed. Time was of the essence—something they all knew—and they started jogging, yet the alien seemed to be walking. He moved in such a strange fashion that left ordinary eyes mystified.
Back at the rovers, Korit took the convertible. Part of the crew filled the seats. Swain looked over the ride. The door was still wedged into the frame. Dead Thewls remained in repose. With a flick of a furry hand, the door dislodged, and the rest piled in, trying not to look at the dead crew mates. Once they were all inside, the traveler joined them.
Drivers started the engines, turned on the headlights, and made for the exit. Someone mentioned turning their comms. to broadband. The war yet raged outside.
“Day, it’s O’Hara. Copy?”
“Copy. We’re holding strong. Downed that fish thing, and we’re cleaning up. How about you? What did you find?”
“We found the traveler…we’re on our way.”
“Roger,” O’Hara replied.
“His name is Roger,” she joked.
“Get out of here!”
He laughed uproariously, shocking himself. All of them laughed; they were beyond joyous, which was so outrageous, it was also horrifying. The traveler’s mere presence left them absolutely blissful and incomprehensibly shocked.
“How long ‘til you make it back,” she asked.
“We’ll see you in five if you cover the opening.”
“Copy. We’ll have you covered.”
The crew of Korit’s rover sat looking at each other. They had so many questions, but no place to start. Trying to mentally review recent events, they heard only chatter over the comms., and the rover’s tracks crunching ice and stone. Winds howled around the corridor.
“You think one traveler is going to turn the tide for all life in the galaxy,” DeReaux finally blurted out.
“I don’t know,” Korit answered.
“At the very least, we know where more are,” Sirt added.
“I don’t think they’ll be joining us,” Swain answered.
“No, I suppose not,” Sirt said.
“I believe even one of these great benefactors will help immensely,” Jor-Tune chimed in.
“I just don’t know,” DeReaux said.
“I’d like to know just what in the Hell I missed,” Nandesrikahl chuckled.
“Heh. You got knocked the fuck out right away, huh,” Fitzpatrick laughed.
Nandesrikahl winced, staring at the traveler. He wanted to see the creature’s eyes, demand answers, but the beastly man remained relaxed, his eyes closed and head tilted back against the headrest. Nandy resigned himself to the mystery.
“We all saw what he did,” Fitzpatrick started.
“No, only you and DeReaux saw what he did. All we know is that our asses were saved…which I suppose counts for a lot,” the captain replied.
“’Ow did he get out of the ice,” Nandesrikahl asked.
“No time, children. Man the guns,” Swain ordered.
The vehicles burst free, reborn into battle. Jor-Tune and DeReaux manned the cannons. While the crews scrutinized the glistening panorama, Lokians still danced in the sky. Their Thewlian counterparts replied to red lasers with explosive bursts of blue. The magnificent flurry of lights dazzled the eyes. Two, hornet-type Lokians banked simultaneously, barreling towards the rovers.
“Notre Dame, the things we must face,” DeReaux remarked, gauging the battle.
The bugs pivoted their wings to unleash weaponry. Jor-Tune and DeReaux felt the eyes of the traveler assuming control. Suddenly, they saw all the angles, the timing; everything became clear, and they fired their cannons. Korit and Swain sensed a guiding hand as well. They were one with their vehicles, one with the terrain.
A sweet peace enveloped the men. Fighting became a simple thing, a natural, bodily action. There was no outward sign of the traveler’s interaction. Physically, he remained lethargic, but the soldiers were in the thick of things.
Enemies zipped all around, a swarm of robotic beetles and hornets. Thewlian fighters chased them down, shooting round after round of super heated gas. Crashing and burning, Lokians all came to a halt, forcing fighters to bank sharply. Dozens of alien ships were immediately blown out of the sky, and what few remained performed a coordinated maneuver; they all turned on the rovers.
O’Hara knew they were after the traveler. Destroying him was their only hope of survival. Innumerable, red beams carved trenches over the ground; the intricate display was crawling towards his crew. Gunmen managed to reduce the vanguard to dust, and Thewlian air support finished off the remnants.
After the brief interaction with the traveler, DeReaux and Jor-Tune returned to a normal state of awareness. Slowly, Swain and Korit came down as well. They were left with a bewildering sense of loss.
“What was that,” Swain asked in shock.
“You guys felt it, too,” DeReaux cringed.
“What? What was it,” O’Hara demanded.
“Ask the traveler,” Korit replied.
Slowing to a halt, they took stock of the surroundings; smoldering, Lokian bits, white chunks of fuselage, debris partially covered downed vessels. There were even Thewlian corpses sprawled out over the white soil, mangled. An unnerving silence hung in the dusty air. Cheers of victory then deafened the ears.
“Explorer-2, pick up the ground crew. All other vessels return at once. Good job, men. Good job,” the voice of the coordinator resonated through everyone’s earpiece.
Enraptured by the void left in the wake of war, O’Hara felt a pang of nausea. He swallowed hard, thinking about what they had lost, and wondering over what they gained. It had been an arduous journey, but the mission had been successful. He turned to Korit, who nodded and said something Thewlish.
“He reported success,” Nandesrikahl said and smiled to himself.
The crew quickly looked to Nandesrikahl. He stared placidly at the ground.
“Oh, did you get that,” Fitzpatrick asked.
He didn’t answer. What seemed like an eternity passed as they awaited pick up. A ship lazily meandered over bubbling, Lokian carcasses. Slowly, the loading ramp dropped to ground level, and the drivers repositioned their vehicles before backing in.
Thewls in the loading zone helped the ground team out of the vehicles while the Explorer made the short trip back to the Carrier. For a time, the aliens marveled at the mere appearance of the race who saved them so long ago. Walking slowly around the traveler, they thanked him, begged him for help, pleaded for hope. They wanted to know how to win the war, if more travelers were coming, but no answers were given.
“Leave him alone,” Korit ordered. “See to the vehicles.”
They gawked at the destruction, finally noticed dead men, and went about their business.
“How long ‘til we dock,” O’Hara asked.
Korit asked one of the deckhands. They replied, and he interpreted. Five minutes sounded so far away.
Looking at the traveler’s solemn expression, the captain took a long breath and exhaled. He smiled and thanked his savior. Chatting amiably, it was evident that everyone’s morale was high, but something was missing. He didn’t have time to figure out what it was.
An engineer asked him and the others to strip off their tattered gear. Cold air pumping in via shafts chilled their bones. Thewlish erupted over the intercoms.
“Better hurry to the admiral, Captain,” Korit advised.
By the time the Explorer docked with the Carrier, fighter vessels started rising from platforms a deck below, which allowed ships to move high inside without disturbing pressure. They, too, were being inspected for damage. O’Hara took one last look around—sizzling ships, melted wings, immense holes throughout fighters—war was indeed an ugly thing. He then turned to his crew.
“Guess he’s right. We should all check in.”
They quickly filed into the service car. Before the doors shut, the traveler joined them. Together, they rode to the Carrier’s bridge, where everyone met up with Admiral Yew and Ambassador Weh. Beeps and clicks from instruments resounded. No one said a word. All eyes were on the creature.
“W-welcome back, men, and fantastic job,” the admiral said.
The traveler approached the Thewlian leaders. Their eyes rolled around their heads, and they shook cobwebs from their minds; both had received flashes of images. After the Thewls recovered from the mental onslaught, they presented their concerns.
“What exactly are we supposed to do if you can’t act directly,” the admiral’s complexion darkened.
The traveler replied in his, own, peculiar way. His purpose was to ensure the safety of the spec ops team. They had already been chosen by the universe to attempt the destruction of the Lokians. The traveler had no choice but to keep them alive. He had to guide them to their destination. Ultimately, their decisions either led to victory or defeat.
All eyes were on the crew. They, too, had sensed the answer. The traveler then revealed he was going to take the Carrier to an old, traveler ship, where he planned to teach the crew how to operate it. There was no time to waste. Flashes of Lokians destroying the races of the galaxy besieged the mind.
“You possess the power to stop the Lokians. Why leave the possibility of failure,” the ambassador asked.
The answer was a complicated one; destiny was an option. Anyone had the potential to accomplish a specific task, but there was no assurance. The travelers relinquished the ability to act directly. A star contained the raw power to stop the Lokians, but a star had no more volition than he.
It was a difficult concept to grasp, that a being maintaining awareness had no volition of its own, yet he showed that space-time had infinite roads. On some roads, the Lokians never obtained the power they required to begin their galactic onslaught. On other roads, their victory was inevitable. On their particular road, the traveler had no choice but to act upon what was provided—O’Hara and his crew. His duty was to guide the spec ops team, and that was based solely on the fact that they arrived, and were attacked at that very instant, in that very dimension.
The traveler instructed Admiral Yew to plot a series of jumps to the Carina-Sagittarius arm housing the Scythe nebula. The nebula was home to the Rhauss system. There, a planet named Soft Light was formerly a traveler colony. A ship, which sat unused for over one thousand years, was awaiting a new pilot.
“A ship?” Yew was incredulous. “You want us to go and grab a single ship?”
The Lokian home world was in subspace, where only Lokian ships were given access to the queen’s stronghold, however, traveler ships were beyond comprehension. He left them knowing that finding that ship was the only solution. The choice to act was theirs.
Once the creature ended his link with the admiral, he turned to the captain and proposed a plan. They were required to obtain that vessel, and then capture a functioning Lokian to repurpose it for local control. Once the Lokian was under their control, they were free to infiltrate the queen’s stronghold.
“What?!” when O’Hara shook his shoulders in disbelief, everyone turned to him. “You want us to fly a living, alien ship into subspace, land in a nest, and then destroy the queen of a race of monsters that nearly killed us hours ago?”
Franklin took a step. He was preoccupied by the captain’s words. He opened his mouth to formulate his comment, but the traveler’s gaze stopped him cold. The agent knew it was the only option.
“This is all very unsettling,” Admiral Yew said. “Although I can’t bring myself to accept that one Human is the answer to all our problems, if the traveler says this is what must be done then we must heed his words. The travelers are our benefactors…O’Hara, we will journey to this Soft Light planet. Get some R and R. we’ll notify you when the time is right….”
He then turned to another Thewl and gave an order. Slowly, everyone looked to the captain. His eyes were wide. His hands shook, but he resolved himself.
“I’ll do whatever I can, but I can’t do it alone,” he said.
“We’re all with you,” Franklin assured.
Swain smacked his shoulder. Fitzpatrick winked. DeReaux gave a nearly indiscernible nod.
“Well…let’s break then,” the captain smiled. “I need to get some clothes on as it is.”
They chuckled. With everything at stake, they hadn’t even realized they were only wearing their under garments. Taking in breaths of relief, they made for the lifts back to crew quarters, leaving the ambassador to have words with the traveler.
Thewls in the loading zone worked cranes to organize their ships. Many were conducting repairs. Day heard the sounds of ratchets, drills, torches, and Thewlish speak.
When someone helped her out of her ship, she looked it over. Considering what other vessels looked like, she was thankful both wings were intact, and that her crew survived. While walking towards the lifts in order to get back to crew quarters, she stumbled onto the traveler. He just stood there, his feet spread shoulder distance, his hands raised to an area just above his pelvis, his eyes closed; he looked like to be holding a giant, invisible pot.
She glanced around. No one was interrupting his ministrations. She reached out for him, but stopped herself.
“This is him,” she asked someone.
“That is the traveler,” a Thewl said, marveling.
“He’s really something,” one of her crew said.
“I gotta’ see O’Hara. Thanks so much, guys. You all did a great job,” she said and ran off.
Day guessed the crew had retired to their quarters for a little relaxation. On her way back to the Explorer, she passed busy deckhands. Many had panels off the walls, conducting repairs. It looked like both the Explorer and the Carrier had sustained a degree of internal damage.
“Captain, Day. Copy?”
“In my quarters,” he replied.
“Can I drop in?”
She detected something in his voice, but brushed it off, choosing to believe it was the comm. unit and not the captain that sounded strange. She walked through the opened doorway when she finally made it to his room. He was sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Hey,” Day sighed.
“What’s wrong? You seem distant,” she pried with a furrowed brow.
The captain shook his head slightly then took a long breath. “They’re dead.”
“Who? Who’s dead,” she was alarmed.
She sat next to him. With a feigned smile, he turned to her, and brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. Her brow twitched.
“Marty, and Zak, some Thewls that rode with us. I don’t even know their names. He didn’t care. He just said we had to press on,” O’Hara explained.
Day clasped her hands over her mouth as tears welled up in her eyes. “Oh, no. Oh…Marty and Zak,” she said between choking tears.
“Korit just left his crew mates behind. I...” He stopped in mid-sentence and held back tears of his own.
Quickly, he masked his sorrow with anger and stood. He turned facing the wall then smashed his fist into the steel. Day recoiled from his outburst. She had never seen him so overwhelmed by emotion. She tried to hug him from behind, but he threw a second fist into the wall and shouted.
“What am I supposed to do? I mean, I get it. You know? We need to be here, we need to keep fighting, or these monsters will kill everything. God damnit! They’re my friends. Why do I keep leaving them behind?!”
“Our friends, Riley, they’re our friends, and we,” she stopped speaking and rested her forehead on his back.
He felt her tears and calmed down. Ashamed by his display, he turned around and kissed her. For a second, she kissed back, but then she pulled away.
“I-I’m sorry…that was,” he muttered.
“It’s okay…we both, you know….”
“Yeah…protocol and whatever. As Imes would say, I need to pull myself together. We still have friends, new friends, too. Fitzpatrick, DeReaux, Nandy, Swain, even Adams and Franklin…Korit, and the others. You, always you,” he said as he nodded to himself.
“You’re not mad at Korit?”
“No…I’m mad at the Lokians. They killed our friends, and Korit just did what he had to do; they were dead. It was me, I wanted to sulk, but this is bigger than me, isn’t it?”
“Bigger than all of us….”
“Let’s walk…I need to walk,” he said.
They stepped out of the room to meander down through corridors. After a moment of treading silently, she turned into her room. There, they sat together. Flem emerged from the shower, wearing something like black lycra-spandex.
“Oh, hello,” she said.
“Hey,” both the Humans answered.
“Do you need privacy?”
“No, join us,” O’Hara invited.
After a polite silence, Day said, “So, tell me how you found the traveler.”
“Okay,” O’Hara smiled. “We were getting our asses handed to us by Lokians. I don’t even know where they came from. I guess there was a drop ship or something,” he explained as he shook his head in recollection. Day held his hand firmly as he spoke. Flem observed their behavior. “Korit and the others were the only ones able to really do anything,” he continued. “We just got ambushed, and our weapons were practically useless. Eventually…well I guess I don’t really know what happened.
“You’d have to have Fitzpatrick or DeReaux tell the rest of the story. All I know is I was passed out, when out of the blue, the traveler ripped the aliens to shreds. He healed us, and we got out….”
She leaned her head against his shoulder. “We’re all trying so hard and dealing with so much. I feel insignificant.”
“I know what you mean. No matter how hard we try, we fall short. Every task set out for us seems impossible, and it progressively gets worse. Even with the Thewls’ power, we were dead without the traveler’s intervention. I’m glad he’s here to help, but how can expect me to invade their world?” he thought out loud.
“Uh, the traveler’s plan,” he replied.
“That’s what he said?”
“Not so much said, but yes. According to him it’s the only way,” O’Hara responded.
“I should like to meet him,” Flem said.
“Yeah,” O’Hara trailed off.
“Wait a minute, I thought...I don’t know, I thought that when we got the travelers, they were going to help us fight the Lokians,” Day snapped.
“Look, I’m not sure how to explain this. Somehow…they, he I mean, won’t help outright. I guess, he can only show us the way,” O’Hara answered.
“I am surprised,” Flem interjected. “Our history indicates that they fought the Lokians for us.”
“It’s different now…that’s all I know,” O’Hara replied.
“This is awful. How can we win?” Day complained.
“He never implied we would, truthfully. What he’s giving us is a chance, but I’m at a loss for now.”
“Travelers are our benefactors,” Flem stated. “Surely, they must be willing to do more.”
For a time, they stayed there, wondering about the next step, how dangerous it was, and what chance at success they had. Flem remained faithful to the travelers. O’Hara was questioning his ability. Day commiserated, and as the hours eased on by, and fatigue settled in, they agreed to get some sleep, and regroup at 05:00.