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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!
Jun waited for a moment. Sparks slowly vanished in the darkness as the grinding sound grew fainter. The creature was inching away, eating new depths into the icy tunnel. After an initial moment of hesitation, Jun whispered.
“We need to strike one at a time. If we stay a few feet apart, I can kneel and fire until the Lokian turns and comes at me. Then, I’ll run behind the rest of you, and the next in line can fire at the creature.”
O’Hara nodded, saying, “If we take turns moving, we should be able to take it out without getting hurt.”
Hurriedly, they spread out when Adams’s voice erupted into their earpieces, talking about Lokians spewing acid to dissolve the rock.
“Oh, my goodness,” Nandesrikahl said.
“Holy fuckin’ crap,” Marty heaved. “We gotta’ watch for that shit.”
“Copy,” O’Hara ground his teeth.
“Ready? I’ll fire,” Jun said and took a shot.
The green-blue light emitted by his weapon flashed through the corridor. Small bits of ice and rock fell on the crew as the beast at the other end thrashed against constricted space. Running back turned out to be more difficult than the Thewl assumed, so he fired more rounds while back peddling. He stumbled, sliding on the icy ground, but O’Hara was ready; he took a knee, trying to keep his rifle steady.
Scared beyond belief, the Human realized he wasn’t training. He wasn’t up against anything remotely familiar, and they all stood a chance of dying. The other Thewl’s death choke wormed through his mind.
Flicking his gun light on revealed a mechanical mouth mere yards away. Vicious, metal teeth, spinning in circular destruction drew closer. The Lokian thundered its way forwards, unleashing a deafening clamor. Before the captain popped off a round, ropey tentacles slapped him across the helmet, spider webbing his visor. He tried to scramble back, but another tentacle caught his leg, reeling him towards churning death.
Screaming, and shooting wildly as bullets ricocheted off the stone walls, sending ice everywhere, O’Hara begged for assistance. Martinez wasted no time. He ran to help, when a blast of light filled the tunnel, causing him to falter. Jun had tossed a lighting device, which brought them all to utter dread; O’Hara was dangling by an appendage.
“I gotcha’, Cap!” Marty dropped his weapon to snatch a colossus grenade from his belt, an explosive like claymores made to cling to objects. “Eat this, you son of a bitch!”
He slammed the colossus against the beast’s jaw. Nandesrikahl was right behind, firing at the tentacle. The chitinous appendage smashed O’Hara against the ceiling before the colossus went off. The explosion blew teeth and goo everywhere, covering everything. Muffled sounds of pain slipped from the captain’s mouth as he slid onto his side. Jun and Sura took the forefront, unleashing hot fury into the Lokian’s headless mass. Martinez and Nandesrikahl pulled O’Hara free from friendly fire.
To their amazement, the tunneler charged them by way of tiny, metallic hooks protruding from its undercarriage. Realizing they were still in danger, Marty called a retreat while strategically placing charges along the walls. Stumbling backwards over melted ice and strewn debris, the crew managed to get away.
The explosives finally went off, resulting in a minor quake. Ice and stone peppered the men from overhead. After a final rumble, the damaged corridor collapsed with the tunneler caught in the uproar. It hissed a long, hateful exhale before everything came to a silent standstill.
Continuing their retreat, and fearing a cave in, Jun tried to force them back to the entrance as quickly as possible, but O’Hara was unable to cover ground. The cracked visor had him in a blind panic. He latched on to whoever was in front.
“You are losing life support,” a robotic voice penetrated O’Hara’s ears. The suit monitoring system provided detailed information regarding heart rate, blood pressure, and more, medical jargon. “Temperature dropping. Losing Oxygen. Recommend you return to a safe zone.”
O’Hara fumbled with the oxygen hoses behind his helmet, looking for leaks, not that he was able to find them wearing gauntlets, but his crew pushed him to keep moving.
“My fucking suit,” he gasped. “Shit!”
“Please, Captain, try to remain calm. It’ll take at least fifteen minutes to return to the ship,” Nandesrikahl said.
“We have to move quickly,” Sura added.
Download Beyond the End of the World, Lokians 1, free via Barnes and Noble online
Swain’s crew didn’t have a chance to enjoy their view for long. The captain’s fight echoed over their comms. seconds after their arrival, leaving them rattled. They exchanged looks of shock, but when Jun contacted the Explorer, Swain spoke.
“Captain, listen to me. It’s Swain. Override your suit stability function, and set it to survival mode. It’ll conserve oxygen, regulate your temperature, and conserve power.”
His information was sufficient to calm the captain. “Override code alpha six beta nine. Engage survival mode. Swain, what should I do about my visor?”
“I don’t know. How bad is it?”
Martinez replied, “It’s not that bad, just spider webbed.”
“Okay, Captain, sounds like you’re okay. If you’re maintaining pressure, you can get back top side without a hitch.”
While O’Hara’s battle came to a head, the fourth team was treading much more slowly. They hadn’t come across danger, but hearing the others fight rattled their nerves. Scanning the environment with gun lights, smooth, blue, frozen walls reflected mesmerizing beams.
“Captain, are you hurt,” Day asked.
“Uhh…broken, but not battered,” he said.
“I think you have it backwards,” Franklin laughed.
Ignoring him, he continued, “Having some difficulty moving, but I’ll manage. I want everyone else to be careful, out.”
Day took a deep breath. I don’t want anyone else to get hurt, she thought. Becker swished by her to take point.
“Hey,” Day called, “slow down.”
“We should get a move on,” Becker argued. “We know what these things can do.”
Fretting nervously, Day fell back behind the rest. A second later, Franklin slowed. She got scared, and peeked over her shoulder, expecting a rear assault.
“You’ll be fine, Miss Day, I think this hole is clean,” he said.
His words comforted her. She smiled at him, but wasn’t able to see his face. His black suit had him completely covered from head to toe like a space ninja.
Hun-Tan and Un-It, two male Thewls, flanked Becker’s rear, keeping aim above her shoulders. She maintained a fierce gaze, her whiskey mouth pulled tight over her teeth. Her jaw clenched nervously, but she wasn’t about to be outdone by aliens, even if there wasn’t any danger.
Together, they marched in unison for some time. Minutes of tension slogged on. Eventually, a faint light shone through the darkness; there was an opening ahead. Becker jogged to the corridor’s edge.
She perched to have a look below and saw buildings yards away. Her eyes darted about, trying to locate the light source, but all she witnessed was an icy floor, a frozen mist swirling inches above it, and the eerie light wafting around the expanse, creating strange, dazzling patterns across the walls. It was like the place was alive.
Becker peeked backwards when the others approached. Day chastised her for taking off. The pit viper only chortled.
“Captain, we’ve spotted civilization,” Swain said.
“Then, keep going. Maybe, we can all regroup and just come through your hole,” O’Hara replied.
“Heh heh! Your hole,” Zak laughed.
“Really,” Imes asked.
When they quieted down, Korit was heard mentioning a pick up. His intention was to grab a rover, and a new visor for O’Hara, and then make for a different point of entry, one free of Lokians. O’Hara agreed to his plan, so the strike force leader made contact.
Once the two, battle worn crews made it to their recovery point, they waited patiently at the edge of the opening for the rover. Ravaging winds blew ice over their heads. Thewlish communications responded.
“Rover here in five, O’Hara,” Korit said.
Five minutes came and went, during which time the captain prodded at the cracks painted across his vision. A black cord suddenly appeared from above. Then, a black helmet poked out; someone had tossed them a line.
By the time they crept from the tunnel, ice had covered the rover’s entirety. Painstakingly fighting the wind’s frozen rage, the crew packed inside the ride to find Korit and his team. An engineer helped to pull the captain’s helmet off. After inspecting his oxygen hoses, he stated that everything was going to be fine.
The alien worked quickly to fit the Human helmet with an energy field. In the interim, the soldiers looked at one another, sharing their horrors. Fitzpatrick joked about Adams’s prowess. O’Hara stated it was no time for a laughing mood.
Moments later, they reached the tunnel where Swain had passed. While everyone made their way back underground, the engineer refueled Korit’s plasma container.
Swain’s crew and Becker’s crew were working their way towards each other.
“Look at these buildings. This is amazing,” Zakowski blurted.
“Pull your shit together, Zak; those tunnelers might be around here,” Imes barked.
“Geez, keep your pants on.”
“He’s right, Zak,” Franklin said. “It’s likely some have tunneled deeper or returned to the surface, but there might be some here.”
“Where are you guys,” Day asked.
“Everyone, quiet,” Flem said.
Phoenix Crew grew impatient. Meandering about, caught in the mystique of misty, minute buildings—scintillating arrays of sparkling hues contrasted neatly with gray mounds—they glossed over their dreamlike surroundings. Ultimately, they congregated around one structure.
It lacked windows and only stood waist high. It was hard to imagine that the travelers were little people, but Ambassador Weh had not included how big they were in his rendition. Imes circled the building.
He found the door, or what he thought was a door; the panel lacked hinges. Day spotted Swain and Zakowski making their way over. She lifted her rifle above her head. Finally, every member of those two crews joined Imes and his search for an entry.
“How uh…how does it open, and why is the door so big,” he asked.
The convex panel in question was practically the full height of the building. Flem placed a hand on it, and the metal slowly sank into the ground, revealing stairs. It turned out the buildings were just rooves with access to a lower level. Becker raised an eyebrow.
“What happened?” she demanded.
“Vibratory energy is required to open the door,” Flem answered.
“Vibra-who?” Imes snipped.
“Biorhythms,” the alien said.
“Are we going in or what?” Becker snapped.
“Would you guys keep your cool?” O’Hara admonished. “Don’t do anything stupid until we get there.”
“Heh, heard that,” Marty snickered. “Wait for us to get stupid.”
The aliens turned to one another before scrutinizing the Humans. Nothing more was said for a moment, but Becker was dancing on her toes, waiting to explore. Swain was no more composed than she, rubbing his hands together. Day smiled at him.
“I’m going in,” Franklin announced. “Everything out here looks fine anyway, so hurry it along.
O’Hara grumbled, but the agent was already inside, and Becker and Swain went in right behind him. Judging the austere abode, Franklin assumed the travelers were Human sized. He turned to see Flem exhibit difficulty entering.
“Not much here,” he said.
“Hey,” a Thewl grunted. By the time everyone exited the home, the rest of the group surrounded the structure. “What was down there?”
“Not a whole lot,” Becker replied.
“Let’s check out another one,” Imes suggested.
“Those tunnelers made their way down here for a reason. They were looking for something, and those other Lokians might be around,” DeReaux added.
Swain nodded and spoke, “If the tunnels lead here—and I don’t see any other holes like the ones we traversed—those things probably aren’t here.”
“They could be looking for anything,” Zak mentioned.
“It’s true,” Korit agreed. “There’s no way of knowing what they’re looking for, but I doubt it’s travelers.”
A sense of confusion washed over them. There was no doubt the Lokians were seeking something more than supper. After what seemed like an eternity, one of the Thewls spoke.
“Some of us can search homes while others post up for recon.”
Fitzpatrick and DeReaux nodded to each other. They broke off to inspect the cavern walls. Shining their lights above their heads, they were unable to see the ceiling.
Adams and Franklin went rummaging through buildings, but found nothing. O’Hara set his jaw, scrutinizing the glinting panorama. The mist sparkled, waves of light wormed over the scenery, and tiny pieces of ice occasionally fell from overhead.
Have the Lokians tunneled deeper underground? This might not be the only city. Why should it be? Maybe, they already found something. Definitely doesn’t look like they were trying to get here, and I don’t seen any other tunnels leading anywhere else.
“Korit,” O’Hara asked as he approached.
“Can you contact the ship and see if they picked up any new readings?”
“If they had, someone would have relayed the intel, but I’ll see.”
Changing channels, he asked. A pause ensued, but he turned to O’Hara and shook his head. The lack of information made him more nervous rather than less.
“Weren’t there like a bunch of tunnels? Where did all the Lokians go,” the captain asked.
“I don’t know, but the longer we stay here, the more likely we are to find out.”
Though Korit replied in a monotonous fashion, there was something unnerving about his voice. O’Hara wondered if the alien was also nervous. Before he asked, Franklin mentioned checking another house.
“This one’s bigger than the rest,” he said. “There’s a large living area.”
It was a round room, cleanly scooped out of the rocky ground, but like the others, it was ascetic; either travelers were minimalists, or they abandoned their homes after extensive packing. Aside from rugs and mats strewn about, there were a handful of storage containers, but nothing worth mentioning. He pointed out stone bowls and utensils similar to Humans’.
There was another room with shelves dug into the wall. An object caught Franklin’s eye, a stone ziggurat the size of a fist. He took it and turned it over in his hands, searching for markings. The carving emitted a nearly indiscernible vibration. It felt alive.
“Hmm,” Franklin pondered.
“Found something, didn’t you,” Adams asked.
Everyone asked what it was. The noise came over the channel like a cacophonous eatery. While he claimed he didn’t know yet, Flem walked into the same home as Franklin. She decided to push a rug aside with her foot, revealing a depression cut away beneath. On the ground was a stone canister. More people had filed in by the time she turned it over. It was covered in pictures and symbols.
“Franklin,” she asked.
He and the others gathered around. “This is Sumerian,” Franklin exclaimed.
“Hand it over, please,” Nandesrikahl said. “No…not Sumerian….”
Adams gave Franklin a playful smack on the shoulder. His friend shrugged. Everyone else was staring at Nandy, who was completely consumed by the object. O’Hara asked him what he had.
“I really don’t know, but it looks like Sumerian glyphs.”
“You just said it wasn’t,” Becker argued.
“It isn’t,” he chuckled. “It looks Sumerian….”
“Do we have enough,” Imes asked.
“Um,” O’Hara muttered. “Korit?”
“What exactly did you find?”
Franklin showed the captain both pieces. “Two, I don’t know, they look like decorative statues to me.”
“They’re not decorative statues, Sir,” Nandy giggled.
“If anyone knows language, it’s Nandy,” Marty said.
“Alright,” the captain huffed. “Everyone meet over here. Let’s have a look and decide what to do.
The search parties gathered around the home from which Franklin pulled the objects. Then, items passed from hand to hand. The aliens argued over whether such things were sufficient for their goals. In the end, Korit decided to question his superiors, when Adams called everyone’s attention.