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.
Whistles and tweets sounded all around. Creatures in the sky spread their wings to cut circles over base camp. O’Hara had seen pictures of Eon’s fauna months prior, but watching them in action held some nostalgic majesty.
A commotion drew his attention; Swain was setting up the Lithium capacitor and chastising Marty for not paying attention to what he was doing. The captain’s comm. unit dinged then. It not only displayed 15:00, but the red, flashing light indicated someone was contacting him, so he pressed a button to relay directly to his earpiece.
“O’Hara,” he replied hastily.
“Hey, Captain, what’s it like? I’m looking through the screen. It looks wonderful,” Day’s voice was cheery and awed. “We’re all dying to get out there….”
“I don’t know how to describe it. It really is gorgeous, but you’ll all get your chance soon, I’m sure.” At that time, O’Hara turned to Martinez, who was dragging out green tarps for cover. “Marty, set those up over there, Swain forget the equipment for a moment, and make sure we set up cover first. I have to disconnect, Day.”
Swain and Martinez nudged the scientists out of their way. The geeks were so caught up in getting their gear ready for tests, they had no clue what was going on around them. Less than an hour later, the soldiers had posts in the ground, and three, makeshift tents set up. Done with chores, Imes glanced over at Becker. He ran fingers through his thick, spiky, hair as he approached her. She was trying to get a crate on a dolly.
“I’ll lift it, you slide it under,” he said without making eye contact.
“I can do this,” she snapped.
Imes sighed while tilting the crate towards himself. He stood there, glaring at her. She didn’t so much as glance back, but she deftly slid the dolly underneath the crate. She then hauled it over the bumpy terrain, where the nerds huddled around it. Finally, they began removing more supplies; small, foldable tables, chairs, computers, and scanning devices.
The plan was to study the soil samples Mickelson was recovering. It was going to be an all night process involving composition studies, checking for radiation, magnetism, and carbon dating. The sophisticated equipment was very costly; the scientists had definitely dipped into Phoenix Crew’s budget, but everyone from civilians to government fat cats were stoked to start colonization on an actual planet; the entire sci-fi industry was based on those kinds of adventures.
A moment later, Nandesrikahl approached the captain. O’Hara held his hand over his brow, staring at the twin orbs. Their light was not so powerful as to prevent one from directly observing their beauty.
“Captain,” he asked.
“Nandy,” O’Hara said and turned to him.
He scrutinized his subordinate for a quick moment. Nandesrikahl was a tall, lanky, gentleman, but athletic and very bright. A smile played on his dark complexion.
“’Ow long do you think it’ll take them? To return, I mean,” he inquired.
“Shouldn’t take too long. We’ll be all set up by the time they get back, though. Why don’t you round everyone up and take a look around?”
“Sir,” Nandesrikahl replied with a salute.
Back at the dig site, the recovery team stood outside the danger zone. Furtive glances went around. Mickelson pushed his glasses back onto his face. He gave the soldiers a puzzled look. DeReaux didn’t pay him much attention, but Fitzpatrick arched a brow.
“Are you going, or what?” she sniped.
“Uh, I guess,” the scientist replied, meekly.
DeReaux chuckled, and said, “A minute ago you weren’t even worried.”
The scientist smiled, shrugged in resignation then sauntered over to the site proper in order to get his samples. There was a slight incline to the southwest of that area. Fitzpatrick thought it provided a better perspective. She elbowed DeReaux and pointed with her face. He nodded accordingly. In no time, they were posted up. The sniper was keeping an eye on Mickelson through his rifle scope, Fitzpatrick observed through binos.
They watched the weird geologist amble off towards the perfect, dusty circle. Fricasseed machines were strewn about the area, probes and rovers, mostly. Finally, Mickelson took off his pack and sat down. Fitzpatrick was no longer able to watch him; the visual stimuli overwhelmed her.
Wind blew the foliage of small, golden trees, and the orange light of the suns was rather dim. The purple sky overhead made it difficult to distinguish shapes. Swooning shadows mixed into swirling colors. She closed her eyes for a moment, inhaled and opened them again. With an exhale to calm herself, she was ready.
Mickelson had already opened his pack. After removing a small spade and a mason jar, he collected a scoop of dirt, closed the jar, put everything in his pack, and looked back to his two escorts. He smiled then pushed his glasses back onto his face, before waving.
“Get out of the radiation,” DeReaux howled at him.
“What is wrong with that man?” Fitzpatrick laughed.
Once they regrouped, they marched back to the Geiger counter, where Mickelson took readings. Awkwardly, the geologist stood for a moment, holding the counter over the dirt pile; he was one of those guys that just didn’t know how to use his body. He leaned one way, bent the other, and everything came up clean.
“Excellent,” DeReaux replied, nonchalantly, “A return trip is in order then.”
With that, they commenced a speedy jog directly to the circle of dirt. The Geiger counter had again been left behind due to magnetic interference. That time, the dirt was scooped by digging down a foot beyond the topsoil. Mickelson wanted to get as far below as his tools allowed. Once the boring ordeal ended, they made back for camp, stopping only to pick up the counter along the way.
When they arrived, they found everyone was either eating or tinkering with equipment, except O’Hara, who seemed to just be standing there. Mickelson approached him from the side. He was so nervous, he didn’t know what to do.
“Uh, Captain,” he eventually whispered. O’Hara turned to face him. Mickelson scratched his lip anxiously before speaking again “Um, Captain,” he said as he pushed his glasses back onto his face, “We’ve collected two samples directly from the center of the dig site. They’re clean.”
“Good, good. What’s next then?”
Smearing dirt on his forehead, Mickelson replied, “I’ll run tests on the samples. Decipher the composition and pH of the soil. I’ll carbon scan for age. We should know everything there is to know within twelve hours.”
The geologist lumbered off to his storage trunk, where he prepared all his equipment. O’Hara gently shook his head, wondering if he had even realized how filthy he was. He smelled like camel butt, too, he thought. Tests ran for the better part of the night. Swain, Phoenix Crew’s own, resident nerd, and the remaining scientists flocked around Mickelson to help with whatever he needed. Nandesrikahl and Zakowski were taking pictures of the area while Martinez shot vids on a digital recorder to send back to Alpha-6.
“Zak, make sure you get some pics of the tests,” O’Hara ordered.
“Sure, of course, Captain,” he said, snapping a salute.
Chief Warrant Officer Zakowski was a slight man of Jewish descent. His curly, brown hair was thinning in the front and a little in the back. Zakowski never had dirt under his nails or food in his teeth, and the crew had a running joke that he had never done manual labor or gotten dirty a day in his life, but he was there for a reason; everyone entrusted their lives to him. He was a fantastic medic. Between him and Ensign Nandesrikahl, no one had reason to worry, not even on a foreign world.
For the most part, the entire crew had been in the same classes and graduated around the same time; Day was a little younger, Swain was a little older, but the rest were all between twenty four and twenty six and had been under the command of then Captain, now Rear Admiral, Shaw, until two years ago, when O’Hara was promoted to captain, thus taking over the squad. Since O’Hara’s promotion, they gathered data, prepping for manually surveying Eon. While they were all organized to some degree, the excitement of being on real terra firma was a bit overwhelming. The captain, however, remained unfazed. The man was all business outwardly.
Certainly, he let the crew have their fun, but he had to remain alert. It was his first, real mission, and nothing was going to screw it up. He checked the time, it was closing on 17:00 hours, but the light of Eon hadn’t changed since their arrival. He smiled to himself and planned to eat, check his equipment, maybe do a little number two, and then get some R and R. The rest of the gang had similar plans except they had four hour shifts in which two at a time kept an eye on the scientists. Swain offered to take first shift. His calculating mind was overly intrigued by the tests.
“Zak, take first with me,” Swain asked.
“Get outta’ here,” Zak smiled. “What you really mean is do I want to take first on my own, right?”
“Figured me out, huh? Appreciated.”
The pseudo night progressed with no problems. Zakowski did his tour then went to rest after being replaced by Becker. Imes had planned to relieve Swain, but was refused; Swain really wanted to observe the testing procedures rather than stand guard. Imes thought it best to keep Becker company anyway. If he didn’t, the captain was going to tear him a new one, so he nabbed his pack, slid it over his shoulders, and started doing squats.
Becker glanced at him. He was making sure she was watching. Those two didn’t always get along, but they knew how to follow orders, and they were friendly enough, for the most part, but had some personal issues.
Clarice Becker was a gorgeous woman with a venomous personality. They secretly referred to her as the pit viper. Only Imes had been brave enough to call her that to her face. She broke his nose in reply, not that it stopped him. Samuel Imes, on the other hand, was another tech expert like Swain, only more of a jock. He was less experienced in the tech field than Swain, but he excelled in close quarters combat. He was also an expert at moving under cover, so he loved the twilight of Eon.
After three sets of fifty squats, Imes dropped the pack and started to stretch his hamstrings. Again, he checked to make sure Becker was looking. She was trying not to. He eventually took a seat on the ground, propping his back against an empty crate. Becker sat on the crate behind him, facing away. Her long, dark, hair was neatly pulled back in a ponytail.
“What do you think,” Imes asked, nonchalantly.
“The mission, this place, what the future holds if we colonize,” Imes replied and shrugged to himself.
“It’s whatever,” she answered, coldly.
She secretly believed he was asking what she thought of his butt, which wasn’t bad. Imes let out a long and loud sigh. He turned to look over his shoulder at the ice princess. She was a voluptuous sight, but she was a bitch.
“It kills you, doesn’t it? To open up just a little, you would die,” he yelled. “A smile would shatter that face like fine china.”
“Probably,” she snipped. “Yes. It would kill me.”
They glared at each other for a moment. Then, they both exploded into laughter. It was his physical prowess, which had attracted Becker a few years ago, but it was her personality that eventually put him off. Regardless, there was history there, and both knew the other was still interested. They just didn’t work was all.
The first night on Eon went off without a hitch. The following morning, for lack of a better term, came, and the crew and scientists rose from sleeping bags to check the readings. Mickelson and Nicholson gave their reports.
“The soil samples are mainly composed of Iron and Carbon. Dating puts them at roughly three billion years old. There was no radiation, but they do have an unusually high pH,” Mickelson explained.
“They are highly magnetized and ionized, stunting any growth in their vicinity. The mystery is why? What could be deposited beneath the ground,” Nicholson added, inquisitively.
He was a scrawny, tall man with short, blonde hair. Swain cocked an eye at him as an idea presented itself.
“I read that when flying saucers land on Earth they can scorch the ground, and leave it magnetized, subduing any growth. It’s plausible that there isn’t anything beneath the soil, but that in fact, a circular ship landed at some point in time, leaving the ground in its current state,” Swain said, matter-of-factly.
O’Hara looked at him. He searched his man’s face and body language for any sign that he was joking. He was not.
“A saucer. A flying saucer landed,” O’Hara jeered.
“Well…I’m saying I read that it was...look, I’m just saying that we made it here. It’s possible that other races found their way here, too.”
“Well, ain’t that somethin’,” Martinez cut in. “I think Swain’s gone out of his God damned mind.”
“I agree with Martinez,” O’Hara announced. “We can’t speculate. We’re here to get results. Most likely, there’s some sort of deposit beneath the soil. We’ll begin digging today. The first thing we do is pack up camp and move closer to the dig site. Since there’s no radiation we can camp right on top of it.” As an afterthought, O’Hara added, “Flying saucer.”
They all chuckled, but Swain was a good sport. He frowned and shrugged in resignation. After that, they ate their breakfast, did their business, inventoried their supplies, packed up, and began the mile hike.
“Why did we set up everything just to move? I mean, we knew we would move at some point, right,” Zakowski complained.
“Cut the crap. Zak you’ll be fine,” Martinez answered.
“We knew we’d move, but we didn’t know how soon, ya’ dumb ass,” Fitzpatrick said.
“Had the tests not yielded great results we might have had to stay away until the dig site was cleansed,” Chadwick replied as he rubbed his short, red hair, which was matted to one side from sleep.
They arrived at the dig site and re-established camp. Unable to use any sort of digging rover, or any of their test equipment due to the magnetism, they unpacked their shovels and dug away by hand. That time, Becker complained about grunt work, followed by Zakowski, who claimed he was getting blisters, and lastly, DeReaux said he hated sweating, unless it was between sheets. The captain told them to shut up and dig. The remainder of the day went by with little vulgarity, and by 19:00 hours, they found something.
Chadwick, Levine, and Royce were dusting away the dirt from what looked like a metal deposit. They used spades first, to clear dirt away, but when the object appeared to have a geometric shape, they locked eyes, and ran to retrieve archeological brushes. Soon, they had a conical cylinder uncovered. Swain looked proud of his initial suggestion. He wasn’t quite right, but they had something.
“It looks like a probe,” Chadwick commented.
Swain went down to the item and kindly pushed the scientists aside, except Levine who was a mechanical engineer. They exchanged glances then looked at O’Hara. Levine was a nerdy, older woman. Her long, black hair was pulled back, and her bright, blue eyes were really just contacts. While none of them were tanned because they had never been under direct sunlight, she was especially pasty. O’Hara approached with a worried look on his face.
“What,” he asked.
“Well, Sir,” Swain began. “It’s not a probe. Not one of ours, anyway. I’ve reviewed all the designs extensively, even improved some of them. This is something else. I’d wager it’s a beacon of some sort.”
O’Hara was pensive. “One of our beacons.”
“No, Sir,” Swain replied. “Not one of our beacons. Let’s get this thing completely out of the ground. Levine and I can get a better understanding of what we have. We can’t bring it aboard the Phoenix like this, anyway; it could fricassee our systems.”
Imes, Martinez and Chadwick helped. Within two hours the object was removed. It was unbelievably light. The men and women stood marveling at the shiny device. It was a conical pyramid, less than two feet high and six inches at the base. There were several, tiny panels along its structure, but no buttons, or screws, or any visible method of holding the smooth panels in place.
“What is this,” Mickelson asked as he ran his dirty hands along the object.
“We should take scrapings and run tests,” Nicholson suggested.
“Swain? Levine? Your call,” O’Hara said as he looked them over.
The two exchanged a glance and shrugged. “I say, yes,” she replied.
“I second that,” Swain crowed.
“Go for it, guys, but for God’s sake, be careful,” the captain answered.
Mickelson and Nicholson took their scrapings before dragging their trunks away from the dig site. Zakowski, Becker, DeReaux, and Fitzpatrick accompanied the two. Swain, Levine, Chadwick, Nandesrikahl, Imes, and Royce stayed behind to see what knowledge there was to garner from the beacon. The rest of the crew took watch shifts.
O’Hara figured it best to send Martinez to help Swain in case the beacon was really some kind of weapon. He then pondered whether or not to contact Admiral Lay. They had found something, but he didn’t know what yet, and there was little sense in bothering the admiral with half-assed assertions. Besides, he said to transmit once we have results, he thought. O’Hara decided to wait, if anxiously.
Pacing about the camp, hearing everyone’s speculations, it took all his concentration to keep from jumping the gun. He kept rubbing his face, trying to stay calm and wait for conclusive results. He hadn’t shaved in a while, and it was itching. Thoughts of sleep crossed his mind; he was tired, but his mind ran rampant. Mickelson and Nicholson should have their results before long. Swain and the techies will have something, too.
Requiring a little alone time, O’Hara found a large rock under a tree, sat against it, and closed his eyes. Essentially, he had succeeded at his mission, which was great news, and the only thing left to do was get the beacon aboard the Phoenix. If there was a way to do so safely, it was Swain’s and Levine’s job to figure it out. I mean, no way it’s alien tech, right? He fell asleep shortly after.
O’Hara awoke to some sort of ruckus. Nicholson wasn’t able to contain himself. He and Chadwick, the two chemists, had found something, and the goofy man was in a knot. Mickelson was laughing, but was equally distraught.
“Captain,” they exclaimed in unison. “We have results, Captain.”
O’Hara rubbed his eyes. He had to pee.
“What do we have?” he grumbled.
Nicholson hopped in place, saying, “We have Element-115.”
He said it like it meant something. “What is Element-115,” O’Hara asked.
“Element-115 is the most stable element in the universe. We’ve tried extensively to create it synthetically since before we traveled from Earth and formed the colonies,” Nicholson explained.
“Why create it,” O’Hara probed further.
“It doesn’t occur naturally on Earth, or the Sol system for that matter, and we’ve never found any deposits. Whatever this beacon thing is...well...what it isn’t, is anything Human,” Nicholson choked.
Holy crap. Swain was right then. Some other race came and left a beacon?
“Let’s not make conjectures yet, let’s see what the others found and go from there,” O’Hara said while attempting to maintain his composure.
He went off to do his business. By the time he returned, the entire camp was in an uproar. Apparently, feeling that a celebration was in order, Martinez produced the alcohol he had smuggled in his pack. The captain wanted to stop the party, but decided to let it go. He just wished his man had had better judgment.
“Holy friggin’ crap! We came, we saw, we conquered! Fuckin’ Swain was right, man! We got genew-ine alien tech... Sir,” Martinez realized where he was, and in whose company, quickly snapping to attention.
His Puerto Rican heritage had caused him to have a full blown beard by then. O’Hara returned the salute and looked at Swain, who was also well on his way to having a beard.
“Swain, what exactly do we know,” O’Hara demanded.
“Well, Sir,” Swain began. “What we have is in fact a beacon. I was able to open it and disrupt its magnetic output. We’ve been waiting for your permission to begin testing internal components in order to learn what kind of signal it can broadcast. Also, if we can utilize our gear in the presence of the beacon then we should be able to get it aboard the Phoenix, and then get it to Presh for real tests.”
“So, why is Martinez celebrating if we haven’t found anything yet,” O’Hara grumbled.
“Nandesrikahl noticed some markings on the inside of the beacon, and he doesn’t recognize the language. Also, Nicholson’s findings prove it. There is no Element-115 anywhere we’ve ever been. Someone else made this, and put it here, and what appears to be a long time ago,” Swain responded.
Nicholson interjected, “The soil samples begin showing ionization about four thousand years ago. This beacon has been here a long time, Sir.”
“Acknowledged,” O’Hara whispered. The immensity of the findings seemed unreal. “Run all the tests you can from here. Once it’s determined that this thing is safe, we’ll pack up and get back to the Phoenix.”
Tests resumed immediately. Swain and Levine dismantled the beacon while Royce took pictures as each piece was removed in order to reassemble it later. Royce was barely an adult with the mind of an ancient and well learned mathematician. He pulled the camera from one of the many pockets on his khaki vest and fired away.
Everything was wrapped up by 13:00 hours, and the crew was ready to break down camp, and hike back to the ship. An overflowing sense of accomplishment had washed over them. Swain was possibly gushing more than anyone else. He had been right after all, sort of, about his aliens theory.
They all arrived at the Phoenix in no time. Before boarding, they paused, Eon’s purple sky calling out to them one last time. Then, they finally marched into the loading zone.
The remaining soldiers greeted the crew upon entry. Day was exploding with excitement. No one aboard the Phoenix knew what had been discovered, but they were glad to receive everyone unharmed. Captain O’Hara asked the AMS to scan everyone for contaminants then instructed a scan of the items they had recovered from Eon. Everything came up roses, so the crew packed up for more tests.
The techies went to the ship’s lab to file reports. The rest of the crew hit the showers or mess hall. Day was anxious to learn about what they found, but O’Hara was hesitant to leak any information until they had conclusive results. The first thing to do was file mission reports to Admiral Lay.
“C’mon,” she begged and jogged in place. “Report later.”
O’Hara smiled and said, “I’m captain now. I have to do this right.”
They looked at each other for a second. She crinkled her round nose then tilted her head in resignation. Finally, she smiled and let him handle his work.
After completing documentation back in crew quarters, O’Hara went to find her in the mess hall. He sat next to her and began relaying the story. When Zak and Marty joined in, showing vids and pics, they huddled around the table. She was absolutely riveted, and nearly burst out of her seat when O’Hara told her about the beacon.