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Part 27 of Beyond the End of the World, Lokians 1

Chapter Twenty Seven and Ending

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!

Chapter Twenty Seven

While the queen was busy with an endless loop of nonsense, the crew took a moment they desperately needed to step out of the airlock. All eight men and women stared aghast at an enormous hangar, which although alighted by amber luminescence, seemed to span on indefinitely. The airlock then shut behind them with an echo.

“Fuuuck,” Fitzpatrick breathed.

“Yeah. Just as a heads up, we might not be able to get back on board after we’re done,” O’Hara said as he ran his hand over a bulbous, barrier of chitin.

While there was no gravity, there was an external pressure pounding the crew from every direction. It allowed them to walk with little difficulty, though it was disorienting.

“Hmm, like being underwater,” Swain commented.

Adams and Franklin carried the charges on their backs while Day and DeReaux took the rear. The captain eyed his photon rifle, silently wishing its firepower was sufficient.

“Hold up, guys,” Fitzpatrick whispered.

She closed her eyes, mentally scanning their surroundings. Her deep and regulated breaths sounded into everyone’s earpiece. As she focused, she saw what everyone else did, a dimly lit, interminable, empty space. The walls were exoskeleton, and the framework was a bony white. Mesh-like tubes lined the ceiling, pulsating subtle radiance.

Fitzpatrick then moved in her bodiless state. The hangar was filled with unknown boxes and canisters. They, too, were insect-like in their appearance with exo-skeletal bands.

“Okay, I don’t see any threats,” returning to a normal state, she heaved.

The rest of the crew was able to check the comm. units for directions. The course had been uploaded to their wrist apparatuses when the captain first pieced together the plan.

“Move forwards, hugging the wall to our left for three hundred yards. Then, take the first hall on the left,” O’Hara ordered.

He and Swain took the lead with Fitzpatrick flanking their right. They moved quickly, boots clanking over the hard ground. The sounds were somehow distorted, elongated. O’Hara came to a halt as he peered down the hall.

“Fitzpatrick,” he asked.

Following a scan, she said they were clear. O’Hara motioned with his hand to move. Down the juncture, the corridor narrowed, forcing them into a crouched position. O’Hara checked his map display.

“About another two hundred feet forwards. Then, drop down a twenty foot pipe.”

He looked over to Fitzpatrick who nodded. She proceeded to use her skill to move through the floor beneath them. There, she saw another corridor running parallel to the one they were in.

“Clear.”

The adrenaline was coursing through their bodies. They grit their teeth, clenched their jaws, and stared into the darkness with wide eyes before duck walking to the dropdown. When O’Hara landed, he looked forwards and backwards.

“Clear,” he grunted. One-by-one, they all dropped down. “Next, we move in the opposite direction forty feet to a small compartment.” It slowly dawned on him that the home world was a living beast and the queen was part of it. Maybe the heart or brain, O’Hara thought. “Move out.”

At the end of the hike, they reached a hatch with a spiraling pattern of chitin. O’Hara and Swain stood on opposite ends. Fitzpatrick yoked it open, and they filed in at angles while DeReaux covered their center. Beams of light crisscrossed as they took their posts.

The next door was a mere twelve feet away. The size of the rooms and halls indicated that no large Lokians traversed the area, but they had to be on lookout for smaller scouts or repair drones, or whatever oddities Lokians had. Swain spotted several holes in the walls along the ceiling as he ran his light over the entire room.

“Captain, those little, football things might run throughout this place.”

“Copy. Keep your eyes peeled.”

The crew halted for a moment, awaiting orders. O’Hara looked to Fitzpatrick. She knew he was wondering what was on the other side of the door. A second later, she told them it was pitch black.

“Roger that. We’ll do this the old fashioned way,” he replied.

He and Swain took opposing ends of the door. The captain then nodded to Fitzpatrick. She reached for the door, but there was nothing to grab. Adams told her to touch it, and when she did, it fanned open with a hiss. Again, they moved in at angles.

The spec ops team pressed beyond more halls, through hatches, and into more rooms, creeping towards their final destination. Suddenly, the whole place lit up bright green.

“We’re found! Nobody panic, just move,” the captain ordered.

DeReaux spun backwards with eyes peeled for a rear assault. They heard a loud buzzing reverberating along the walls. An enormous, wasp-like creature burst through the hatch. The sniper sniffed once, focused his eyes, and took a knee. Not only did the buzzing slow, the Lokian practically halted, each wing sparkling green, and moving upwards and downwards; it was beautiful. He fired a clean shot between antennae.

The first bullet hit. Its impact moved through chitin like a wave. The Lokian was already falling by the time the second bullet blew its head to dust. The carcass, carried by its momentum, slid to his feet before the condensates froze the bug over. Time returned to normal.

“I think more are coming, Sir! You keep moving. I’ll hold them off.”

“Right, catch up to us,” O’Hara yelled back.

They took off behind the captain as the sniper saw more wasps approaching. “Nique ta mere,” he said and fired. With the threat averted, he popped his neck and bolted to catch up. Hands yanked him into another corridor. “Whoo!”

“I got you, Frenchie,” Fitzpatrick yelled.

Both of them darted off to meet the rest of the crew just around the bend. Swain inspected a ribbed, culvert-like floor, which declined steadily into blackness. Nandesrikahl knelt and rubbed his fingertip against the ground. It was covered with viscous material.

“This will make moving a little difficult,” he said as he stood.

Probably some kind of flushing area, O’Hara thought. If where ever this is fills up with goo, we might be done. He checked his map again.

Download Beyond the End of the World, Lokians 1 free via Barnes and Noble online

“We just need to run about a quarter mile down this corridor, and take it to a raising platform. That places use directly underneath the control room.”

“Trouble ahead, Captain,” Franklin said, calm as ever.

Two brawlers came barreling from the darkened recess. They were made evident by their glowing, red, eye slit. A mechanical groan escaped their mandibles.

“No sweat! Big guns time,” Swain yelled.

He pointed the mini gun at the beasts and fired a flurry of bullets. The weapon pulsated violently as casings spilled from his portable, devastation device. The B.E.C. ammo froze over after every impact, and the big man kept cheering, snarling, and grunting.

The Lokians stumbled from the ceaseless onslaught. Their shoulders, thighs, faces, everything froze over; cracking and gushing, ooze sprayed every which way. O’Hara ended it by pointing his photon gun, squeezing the trigger, and blowing the assailants to trash with just a few beams.

“That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout,” Swain strutted around.

“C’mon, Swain, we gotta’ move,” O’Hara chuckled.

“Can I make a weapon, or can I make a weapon?”

“Go, lummox,” Fitzpatrick groaned.

Jogging onwards while the agents snickered and Day and Nandy made awed comments about the weapons, O’Hara spotted a dead end. It was something like a chitinous, bay door, ribbed, and it spanned indefinitely above and out wide. He turned to the crew.

“What now,” Day yelped.

“No problem. Swain! Blow that thing down,” O’Hara ordered.

He stepped back and motioned with his head for everyone to get away. “Time to T.C.B., baby,” Swain yelled.

Adams and Franklin exchanged a look and shook their heads. A giddy Swain fired into the door. Chunks of it froze over. It was riddled with holes; frozen segments imploded with a puff of ice. O’Hara touched Swain’s shoulder.

It was evident that the barrier wasn’t going down easily, and no one wanted to waste too much ammo. The captain unleashed photon fury into the frozen portions, resulting in an opening the size of a dog.

“Okay,” he huffed and made to lift his leg.

Something jostled them, and he stopped with his foot at the hole. Fitzpatrick leapt into him, taking him to the ground. Deafening, metallic droning ensued; a steel claw grabbed at the opening from beyond the door, and tore it away with brain rattling crunches.

Before them stood a six legged juggernaut, a monster big as a house. All they saw was a crab-like torso mounted to a ball joint, which hooked the legs’ platform. The sheer girth of the beast was enough to stun them, but silvery cannons grew out of the back and shoulder plates.

Everyone scurried off in different directions, except DeReaux; he only stepped back and exhaled. The juggernaut was covered in metal plating. Vital tubes ran under the plates, exposing very small targets. The Lokian’s head was also armored, but there was a single, organic eye in its forehead. Unfortunately, there was a lens, something like glass, covering the black, beady optic.

I got this, DeReaux smiled. He lifted his rifle, peered through the scope, and aimed for the lens. He fired, and the bullet smacked the optic, knocking the creature back a step, but it spun its torso, raising its clawed appendages. The sniper was unable to duck in time, and he went flying into Adams.

“Gotcha’, buddy,” the agent giggled.

He shoved the sniper away, rolled, and drew his batons. Before he struck, the juggernaut aimed at Fitzpatrick and fired an orange beam.

“Aw, shit,” Swain yelled and shoved her.

She hit the ground just before the beam struck, but it was a continuous blast, which inched over her thigh. She hollered out. Nandy was quick to pull her away from more damage.

O’Hara and Swain fired everything they had, back peddling. Swinging wildly, firing orange blasts, and charging around like a crazed bull, the beast was unfazed by the crew’s assaults. The agents struck legs, but they received lightning quick kicks, which sent them reeling dozens of feet.

Rolling his shoulders, DeReaux tried to make another opportunity. He aimed slow and steady through his scope at the eye and fired. Only an icy patch formed, which melted away as soon orange lasers came flying out. The sniper rolled onto his right shoulder, aimed, and fired again.

Shaking its head, the juggernaut lurched out for him. Shit, the Frenchman thought. Even with slow motion, the enemy was too quick. To his utter amazement, the plated arm was thrown off course by icy impacts; Swain unleashed cold fury, allowing the sniper to duck and scuttle off to safety.

Nandesrikahl and Fitzpatrick watched Franklin throw strange grenades that erupted as white arcs. Steel and chitin went flying. Ooze ran down the beast’s arms, but there was no stopping its blitzkrieg; whatever it was made of didn’t bow to photons, B.E.C.s, or anything else, so they fired, hoping to make any headway.

“Captain,” Adams screamed. “Just take Franklin, and get through the hole. Go blow up the queen!”

“Shit,” O’Hara huffed. “No. Keep fighting!”

The captain started yelling orders; he told swain to aim for the ball joint. He was aiming at the legs, and he needed DeReaux to keep firing at the eye. The assault stunned their opponent, until it spun its torso in circles, venting massive amounts of plasma from shoulder cannons.

With no alternative but to leap free from the assault, they relinquished their attack, and ran off to regroup. Unfortunately, wasps and brawlers came barreling into the mix. O’Hara let out a sigh of disbelief.

“Fall back! Back to the culvert,” O’Hara called.

Tried as they did, their escape route was barred. Day shot wildly at wasps. Adams tossed his photon grenades. They flew like white-hot boomerangs and exploded in arcs of contained light. The wasps went down, but the brawlers pushed right through.

One struck Day in the stomach, folding her like a paper napkin. Breath shot out from her lungs before she slammed into Fitzpatrick. The impact knocked them both out of the reach of the juggernaut, whose claw came smashing down right between them. Nandesrikahl fired at the beast, drew its rage, and made to take off when his head bounced off a wall; a Lokian leapt at him, smashed him against the tattered door, and just ripped him apart.

“Son of a bitch,” Franklin growled. He snatched a shard grenade from his harness, crawled up the brawler’s shell, reached over, jammed the grenade into its mouth, and held it there. “Eat it! Eat it!”


At the very last second, he flipped backwards. Part of the Lokian’s head popped off, but it was far from dead.

“Move it, Frankie,” Swain yelled and took aim.

The agent bolted, and the big man peppered the perpetrator with freezing ammo. O’Hara ran by to finish it off; goo splattered everywhere. Behind him, orange beams sizzled through the air. Fitzpatrick took off, firing, trying to draw the juggernaut from the captain.

“Listen to me, Captain,” she called. “Adams was right. Get Franklin and go!”

“No, God damnit, they killed Nandy!”

“I know!”

Gritting his teeth, DeReaux saw only angles of attack. It was simple after all, the juggernaut was barely moving, so far as he saw it. Every shot Day and Swain fired helped to stall its reactions, and it was aiming for Fitzpatrick; what little bits of tubes exposed from plating no longer seemed too small to hit; they were enormous, bigger than a bullet.

Each shot he fired spilled more and more fluids, ooze, which froze, corrupting the substance the beast used to move, or attack, or live. The beast groaned something awful, some gut wrenching, metallic belch. The sniper didn’t care; a sublime peace washed over him.

He fired, side stepped, ducked from a swipe, stuck his shoulder into a kicking leg to reduce its impact, bounced off, slid to a stop, and fired again. He was laughing at the simplicity; the creature was limited in its attacks, and the others were handling whatever was left.

There was something bugging him, though. He wasn’t able to put his finger on it what it was. Someone else did it for him; Adams had been thrown, and he crashed right in to DeReaux. With his concentration broken, he wasn’t able to dodge a beam. Such pain wracked his chest, his lungs were emptied, and his vision tunneled, but the blow had sent him out from under the agent, and away from danger.

Adams pulled out a device resembling a fiber optical cable, a bright, white rope. Since the sniper was relatively fine, he ran to Fitzpatrick and Day, who were fighting off one last brawler. He had to leap over an orange beam, but on arrival, he wrapped the cable around the brawler’s throat.

“C’mon! C’mon,” the agent yelled as he scurried about the monster.

Claws snapped at him. They didn’t tear through his armor, but they certainly pinched nerves, tore muscles, and twisted joints. The cable started sizzling, searing through the alien, if slowly. In a fit of rage, the creature ran backwards, smashing him into the door.

Franklin looked from Swain and O’Hara—they were pulling the juggernaut away—to Day. She was kneeling over Fitzpatrick and too scared to fire at the brawler in fear of hitting Adams. With red batons blazing, he darted over to his counterpart, smacked the brawler around to keep it from killing Adams, and finally, its neck melted. When the head fell to the floor, Adams booted it out of sight.

“Creepy crawlies, that was a tough one,” he choked.

“C’mon,” Franklin huffed.

During the commotion, the juggernaut snatched Swain’s mini gun. The man held firm, but the beast pulled, slamming him against its head. Then, it took him square around the waist and started squeezing the life out of him.

O’Hara ran up behind the Lokian hopped onto the ball joint, and placed his rifle at the base of the enemy’s skull. White beams cut clean through, but it spun and vented plasma again, sending everyone to the ground.

The captain shook his head in desperation, crying out, “What the fuck are we supposed to do?”

DeReaux had enough time to fire a shot into the enemy’s optics. Both Adams and Franklin had reclaimed their cables and were wrapping them around the alien’s legs in an attempt to halt its movement.

Capitalizing on an opportunity, Fitzpatrick pulled free from Day, rolled over the ground, took the mini gun from the floor, slid beneath the Lokian, and let loose every, last round into its undercarriage. When the monster spun again, the swiveling joint shattered, and it fell on top of her. Gasping for breath, she wretched and choked. The agents responded quickly, pulling it off her, but even without legs, the juggernaut continued its onslaught, snapping with claws, firing orange beams all over, aiming cannons and venting more plasma.

The superheated gas was on the verge of boiling the crew and the Lokian. Bursts from O’Hara’s gun knocked it onto its back. There, it continued writhing, so the captain hopped on top of the chest plate, firing point blank. He dealt serious damage until an orange beam struck him in the visor, knocking him a dozen a feet in the air; he landed a crumpled mess.

“Okay,” Adams breathed “Alright. We’re through here, pal.”

He snatched his last, photon grenade, stormed over to the juggernaut, took hold of the top of its gargantuan head, and by wrapping his legs about its neck, he managed to hold the grenade against its eye. While he cackled like an asshole, the bright light expanded then vanished. Adams careened to the ground, unconscious.

Heavy breathing ensued. No one said a thing. Franklin took some awkward steps before running over to his partner. Among the remaining bits of the juggernaut, Adams lie severely wounded, and missing most of his arm. The photons had seared through his armor but the lockout system prevented loss of pressure and life support. With three men down, and no time to lose, O’Hara stood and gave his orders.

“We cross through this room and end it.” His voice was ragged and gritty. “Fitzpatrick, take Adams’ explosive. Franklin, get ready. Day, see to the wounded. DeReaux….”

“Not dead yet,” he coughed.

“Good…take the rear.”

“Swain?”

“Go, boss!”

O’Hara stumbled back to the bay door, took a look at what remained of Nandy, and set his jaw. Adams was lifeless, Swain was curled up like a ball, and Day started crying. O’Hara held back his own tears.

While Franklin readied his explosive, Fitzpatrick gingerly took the one from Adams, a dark, blue canister about the size of a soda bottle. Franklin then took the one from Fitzpatrick and started setting up the timer and detonator.

“Move out,” the captain said.

They ran through the large room in a daze. To their utter dread, they saw it was a place with moving, mechanical arms built into the walls and ceilings; a factory room fashioned to build more juggernauts. Several inactive ones lined their surroundings, but at the far end was a hatch mounted in the wall. It had no handle, didn’t respond to biorhythms, and was the only point of entry. The captain pounded his fist against the closing.

“Open, you son of a bitch! We end this,” O’Hara screamed. “C’mon. I know you’re scared, scared of us Humans!” There was nothing. A pang of fear ran through his stomach. He feared his anger was going to unleash dozens of juggernauts, but when nothing happened, he took a breath and yelled again. “Come on, you pathetic bitch! What kind of all-powerful race are you?!”

Tears flooded his eyes, and screaming, he blew it open with sparkling beams. A dozen paces away, his destination awaited.

Quietly, they boarded a circular platform, which raised the instant they set feet on it, and stopped at the floor of the control room, a place resembling a computer’s internal circuitry. All the glowing, green tubes originated from a mass of mesh-like fibers, growing out from the center of the room. They were entangled there, spreading out in spirals over the ceiling, the floor, through the wall. Behind them, some blue lights flashed.

Everyone heard the distinct sound of weapons charging and they spread out. O’Hara caught sight of something at the far wall; the queen was no more than a large head mounted to shoulders. She was a brown skull covered in chitin. A large, squared plate grew from the base of the rear of her skull, and tubes of blue energy pulsed out to sights unseen. Her eyes were eight, blue circles of light. The captain was stunned; something about her was almost Human, or even Thewlian in appearance.

“You. Humans.” She grumbled in a monotonous, mechanical voice. “You. Will. Perish.”

Blue beams filled the room like a Laser Floyd show. The attack took everyone by surprise, and they dove behind large structures. They, too, were composed of metal and chitin with varying L.E.D. lights. As the lasers walked through the room, O’Hara noticed they didn’t damage the surrounding structure. Suddenly, he wondered if their weaponry was sufficient.

“Set the charge!”

“On it,” Franklin gasped.

O’Hara and DeReaux danced their way around, firing at anything, and taking cover, and all in an effort to give the others time to do their thing. Since the control room, a place with structures, pillars, and panels that looked like computer chips, provided areas of cover, DeReaux had time to spot turrets hidden amidst the tubing. Sick of dancing vertically, he took a deep breath, relaxed, and fired at the turrets, destroying all of them in almost no time at all. At the same time, O’Hara vaulted himself over a metal component and felt a sharp pain in his chest; the last laser, which died out before doing serious damage.

“Heh, what can you do with no guns, bitch?” DeReaux snipped.

Recovering from the agony of fire, the captain laid into the queen with white-hot fury. His rifle vibrated gently from the centrifugal force generated by quick revolutions. Sparks flew from the chitinous skull. It groaned, it moaned, it sizzled and fried, and finally, O’Hara let off to breathe.

“It’s done, Cap,” Fitzpatrick blurted.

“You hear that,” O’Hara yelled. He wasn’t sure if the thing was still alive, but the eyes glowed. “You’re dead, bitch!”

“You. Will. Not. Survive. If. I. Must. Perish. So. Too. Will. You.”

Then, she laughed a horrible, mechanical churning.

“We’re set! Get the fuck out,” Fitzpatrick yelled. O’Hara back peddled, unleashing flurries of white lightning. The queen laughed louder and louder until it became an assault on the ears. “Mother fucker’s stuck, Cap.”

Aw, shit, he thought. He spun around to find the platform wasn’t operating. The queen wasn’t lying; she was locking them in to die.

“Listen to me,” he yelled. “The charges are set! Get to the ship. Go!” Swain came back, demanding an explanation. “Just run! I’m ordering you, run!”

O’Hara shook his head, firing wildly at the computer components. He got lucky; when they blew up, the platform shook loose and started descending. He took a few steps back, gave the queen the finger, and shoved out of there. They ran out and met up with the others.

O’Hara griped when wasps came fluttering towards them. “Oh my God! It doesn’t end….”

Fitzpatrick, DeReaux, and Franklin, who had nabbed Nandy’s gun, all fired into them. The rude, security drones were little more than a bother, but they did slow the crew down. They had less than ten minutes to fall back to the ship, if it was still available.

They worked hurriedly through the escape route, and back towards the docking bay. Seemingly, from nowhere, hoppers leapt onto the scene. They clawed and jumped through the corridor, a space so tight it actually restricted their agility, not that DeReaux was worried.

“Got us covered, Captain.”

Bringing time to a standstill, he picked and chose his targets, fired at their joints, and immobilized them. O’Hara burned them to a crisp with his photon rifle. The worn spec ops crew pounded the pavement and pushed on.

At the dropdown point, Franklin pulled a tube from his harness, rotated part of it, which made prongs jut out, pointed it up, pressed a button, and a grappling hook shot into the ceiling. He told everyone to hang on. It wasn’t easy, but the object lifted them out. Down more corridors, they finally made it to the docking bay, where their hearts sank. Fighters had docked

“Ass!” O’Hara spat.

End

The captain glared at the enemy. Hundreds of fighters resembling beetles, hornets, and mechanical variations of insects glowed intermittently. Their weapons had powered on, and the Humans were done for.

Screaming from an abrupt change in pressure, everyone was sent reeling towards the enemy, but they were sucked out into a void of all colors. Whatever was happening left Phoenix Crew totally bewildered. Before anyone had the time to venture a guess, they, too, were sucked by a vacuum. Walls, floors, Lokians, men, colors, a cat; all manners of images flashed before eyes, and then there was a stillness coupled with soft, white lights.

“Good to have you back, Captain,” a familiar voice said.

O’Hara sat up, incredulous. “Korit! What’s going on?”

“No time! Just hold on.”

O’Hara’s men were beside him, safely sealed in by the airlock. Jostling impacts rumbled throughout the traveler’s vessel, but it soon stabilized. Korit helped everyone up, and led them to sickbay, Human and Thewlian doctors started medical observations. O’Hara pushed someone in a lab coat away. He called for Korit, but the alien wasn’t there. After a doctor stripped him of his armor, he was sedated.

****

He awoke in a hospital tent. From the opened flap, he saw an orange glow. The air was crisp, so he rolled off a gurney, and stumbled out to see remnants of Horizon. Something was wrong. He didn’t see the Phoenix or Mittens, but there were some shuttles. All of the buildings were dark, too; no lights shone through windows.

“Captain O’Hara,” a Thewl called.

He turned to see Korit. “What the Hell is going on? Where is everyone?”

“Everyone is…fine. They will recover.”

Confusion swam through O’Hara’s mind. He wasn’t able to make heads or tails of his surroundings. He even wondered if he had died and was dreaming something incomprehensible, but that fell to pot when he saw Lay jog out from another tent. He shook a Thewl’s hand, and the alien turned around to leave.

“Korit…how did you save us?”

“It’s complicated. I think under normal circumstances you would have been lost to us, but something about defeating the Lokians changed the norm,” Korit replied.

“What…what does that mean?”

The alien’s eyes rolled around his head for a second. “The traveler rounded us up. He piloted the vessel…into subspace.”

They looked at each other. O’Hara knew Korit was being truthful, but the alien almost sounded skeptical of his own rendition. It didn’t make any sense.

“I thought he couldn’t act directly. Besides, we weren’t gone for very long,” O’Hara argued. “And, to top it off, we captured a Lokian to enter subspace!”

“Technically, you captured a Lokian to learn of the location of their home world…I believe the Mutra can do that of its own accord, but that’s not important. What is important is that to us, you were gone only an instant. Where you were…time, in our sense as revolutions around a sun, held no meaning. At any rate, the traveler told us…something. I don’t understand it, but you killed the queen…everything is different now.”

“Like what,” O’Hara gasped.

“All I know is that the traveler found an opportunity. He…used it, so to speak, and helped us to save you.”

“Something isn’t right,” O’Hara mumbled under his breath.

“Your admiral approaches.”

The captain looked at Lay. The shadow caused by his hat’s visor hid his eyes. O’Hara chewed his lip; he still felt discombobulated, but he hoped the admiral had some information.

“Morning, Admiral,” O’Hara said and saluted.

He didn’t return the salute. Instead, he removed his hat and tucked it in his armpit, shaking his head. O’Hara lowered his arm. Korit looked them over, thanked them, and walked off, leaving the Human stunned.

“We have a problem, son,” Lay said, gravely.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he grumbled. “What could it possibly be?”

“News of our break in the social order reached Earth HQ,” Lay replied.

Social order, O’Hara wondered. “What? What are you talking about?”

“Someone leaked intel to Earth about meeting and working with Thewls.”

“Only the colonists knew, and your men...how and why would they have contact with Earth?”

“That’s a good question. Unfortunately, we’re being shut down,” he huffed. “You’re a God damned hero, but you’ll be returning to the Phoenix. Our lovely leader wants you to return the colonists to their former homes.”

Such a welling of hate and anger flooded O’Hara’s body. He was crushed, enraged, confused. Questions poured out of him.

“What leader? What are you talk about, Admiral? What the Hell is going on here?”

Lay took a long inhalation, cocking his head to the side. He looked the captain up and down. For a moment, he played with his teeth.

“Listen, son. I don’t like it any more than you do. Fact is I’m being forced into retirement because of this. You saved all life in the galaxy, maybe the universe, but the President wants his way. He’s got all the governments united against us. Horizon colony is officially shut down.”

“I’m, I’m…at a loss,” he said, shaking his head. “Retirement? Why does the President want to shut us down? What about my crew?”

“I won’t lie to you,” Lay answered. “We’re lucky they don’t have us Court-Martialed. As far as the President…that’s a sketchy story. You ought to be leery of the grandson of a man who had some serious pull; some kind of ties with a grove club or something; doesn’t matter, now.

“At any rate, you can keep your helmsman, but your crew is being reassigned, and the Thewls are going home. I don’t know what else to tell you.”

Admiral John Lay finally saluted, stuck his hat back on his head, turned about face, and marched out of sight. The captain reeled. He had received a direct blow to everything he stood for, everything he had been taught, and everything he believed.

“Sir?” he called. “Sir? You’re just going to walk away like that?”

The captain ran barefoot for a moment. He then realized he was wearing some white spandex, but nothing else. A brisk wind bit his wounds.

“Hey,” Adams and Franklin said.

He turned to gawk at them. Adams’s face was bandaged, and he was missing an arm. Franklin was limping, but otherwise fine. Involuntarily, he shrugged.

“Yes, Sir. We’re aware of the developments,” Adams said.

“I-I lost everything. I lost the admiral. I lost my crew. I don’t know what to do.”

O’Hara was shaking with contained rage.

“Well…there is one course of action,” Adams said to Franklin.

“I think it’s the only one they left him,” Franklin nodded, knowingly.

Smiles played on their lips. The captain was in no mood for their weird antics. He told them to speak up.

“Experience with The Bureau has taught me one thing,” Franklin said. “There are always other ways to achieve results.”

“We’re heading back to Earth for now. From what I’ve seen, you’re more than capable. Come back with us. We can use you at The Bureau,” Adams said while tugging at an empty, pinstriped sleeve.

O’Hara took a long inhalation. He looked off; the dim light of Eon illuminated numerous buildings on what was left of Horizon. What had previously looked lifeless, dead, abandoned, was somehow teaming with hope.

For a moment, he thought about Day, his crew, the Navy. It was all so distant, so disconnected. Then, a pause in time allowed him to see how joining The Bureau provided him the perks of going AWOL discretely. The war wasn’t over, things played out in a specific fashion; he was joining The Bureau because he had work to do, something only he was able to accomplish, whatever it was that lurked behind darkened recesses.

He didn’t even feel his steps or the cold dirt beneath his feet as he followed the agents to another hangar. Franklin produced a key card from his jacket’s interior pocket. From O’Hara’s perspective, the two agents looked like their former, mysterious selves. The personnel door beeped after the card slid.

Franklin held the door open. Inside, there was a small, elliptical craft. The Element-115 exterior sparkled. He was thoroughly impressed by The Bureau’s resources. The three men made their way to the front of the ship, which was resting on a tall lip of sorts. Judging its balance, O’Hara didn’t understand how it didn’t tip backwards. Nevertheless, behind the lip was the airlock.

Franklin peered into a retinal scanner, and the lock slid open. He motioned for them to enter. Marching up carpeted steps into a dim ambiance was a drastic change, but the three men proceeded to the bridge. O’Hara looked around in amazement; the ship was not of Human origins.

“Relax, Captain. We’ll be back on Earth in no time,” Adams said, smiled, and then touched his bandages.

“He’s never been to Earth, remember?” Franklin added.

Adams stifled a chuckle while gauging O’Hara’s reaction. The former captain had never seen the agents so thoroughly relaxed; they weren’t just relaxing, they were completely enjoying the situation.

“How long to Earth,” O’Hara asked, absentmindedly.

“Oh…about seven months, Captain. We’ll make a few stops along the way. We need to meet with our contacts,” Adams began.

“Yes. Quite a few, actually; lots of debriefing, you know,” Franklin added.

O’Hara nodded, saying, “Okay, so fill me in, and drop this Captain crap. I’m Riley.”

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