Terralus 4 by Lee Gimenez by Lee Gimenez - Read Online

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Summary

Life on Earth in the year 2074 is bleak following years of climate change, widespread viruses, and worldwide economic collapse. To save mankind, NASA prepares to send a starship with human colonists to Terralus 4, an Earth-like planet in the Alurian system. But then a powerful extraterrestrial race, the Believers, arrive on Earth, promising hope, peace and prosperity. At first they are welcomed as saviors, but over time a much darker side is revealed. Captain Aki Wu, smart and beautiful leader of the NASA crew, escapes Earth with her security officer Stuart (Mac) McKenzie, and travel to Terralus 4, where they land and attempt to colonize the planet. They battle the harsh climate and a variety of bizarre alien races that inhabit the planet, but finally succeed in establishing a human settlement. However, their efforts may prove futile when the Believers land on Terralus 4. Now, with the help of local aliens, they fight the Believers in an effort to ensure the survival of the human race.
Published: Salvo Press on
ISBN: 9781627934374
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Terralus 4 - Lee Gimenez

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978-1-62793-437-

Chapter 1

Earth, February 2074

You really screwed up this time, Aki.

Aki Wu looked at her boss, NASA Assistant Director Tom Burke and shrugged. I’m sorry, sir. I just don’t buy the feel-good Believer crap.

Burke shook his head. It doesn’t matter what you think. The fact is the Believers are here and we need their help.

Aki took a deep breath and tried to calm down. She looked out the office’s grimy windows at the flyer traffic in the sky. A layer of heavy smog hung over the city and a light drizzle fell. I don’t trust the aliens. I never have and I never will.

Burke crossed his arms. Doesn’t matter. You insulted the head of their Council. What the hell were you thinking?

He was spouting their usual, ‘We bring hope, peace and prosperity. All you have to do is believe.’ It was a long day and I had enough.

Her boss shook his head again. Aki, I’ve warned you before. You’re in charge of the Nebula Project. Everything you say reflects back on the Agency. You need to think first.

She leaned forward in the sagging chair. I’m a starship commander, not a politician. I don’t have time for that.

Burke gave her a hard look. The Director called me. He wants you gone.

What do you mean?

He wanted to fire you. I talked him out of it. You’re being demoted. You’re no longer in charge of Nebula.

Aki bolted out of her chair and planted both of her hands on Burke’s worn desk. You can’t do that. I’ve spent the last three years working on this project.

Burke took off his small, round glasses and put them on the desk. I’m sorry, he said, his voice sympathetic. But you insulted the Believers. We can’t let that slide. After the Collapse, they’re our only hope left to turn things around on Earth.

Aki slumped back down on the chair. Deep down, Tom, you know that’s crap. We can’t trust the aliens, no matter what they say.

Her boss put his glasses back on. You’ve been reassigned to the engineering department. They need programmers. Report there tomorrow.

Aki stood up. That’s great. From project head to programmer.

Burke looked up at her. Aki, you’re an intelligent, good-looking woman. And you’re the best starship chief we’ve got. Over time, you’ll work your way back up.

She shook her head slowly. I guess I should thank you for not firing me. But I can’t. Not today, anyway.

One more thing before you go, Aki.

Yeah?

Try to stay out of trouble.

She turned around and walked out of his office.

Aki left NASA’s Houston headquarters and took the crowded tram to her condo tower, a twenty-story building with peeling paint. As usual, the elevator was broken so she climbed the stairs to her living cube on the tenth floor. Her place was small and worn, just one room crammed with a table, a couch, a tiny galley and piles of data-chips stacked against the walls. It was stifling hot in the room, but she was used to it.

Aki poured herself a glass of soy milk and slumped on the shabby couch. She turned up the volume on the wallscreen, and noticed the news was on. The newscaster, a thin man with a graying mustache, droned on. …and in more bad economic news, the federal government announced today that rationing of power will continue, until the current crisis is resolved. And in Chicago, food riots broke out this morning; the Army is assisting the National Guard in restoring order… The image on the screen flickered and the lights in the room dimmed for several seconds, then came back on.

We now take you to Washington D.C., the newscaster continued, where the President is scheduled to make a major announcement. The image on the screen changed to a view of the White House. A podium had been set up on the patchy, brown lawn, and a group of reporters sat facing the podium. The White House was visible in the background, its faded paint a sign of the times. President Adams walked out of the building and stood behind the podium. He looked tired, his eyes bloodshot, his face gaunt. He looked thinner than Aki remembered, and his suit looked too big for him.

I’d like to thank the press for coming today, on such short notice, the President began. But I wanted to make an important announcement that will affect all Americans.

He loosened his tie and wiped his brow, the intense heat of the day making him perspire. As we all know, the Collapse of ’64 had an incredible impact on our economy. Global warming, the crop failures, food rationing, in addition to the cyrric virus, have all played a part in changing our lives. I don’t have to remind you that the last ten years have been the most difficult we have had to face in this country, and around the world. During my administration we have worked hard to solve these problems. But as you’re aware, things are far from good. I’m here to announce a new partnership that will help our country again become the great and proud nation we once were.

He paused, squinted up at the sun, then wiped his brow again. The government of the United States is joining in a strategic partnership with the Believers. There were loud murmurs from the reporters, along with some groans, and Adams waited for that to die down. As you know, the extraterrestrials landed on our planet six months ago. Since then, they have offered us many valuable things, and a considerable number of Americans have joined their cause. Now, we as a country will begin to coordinate our policy in conjunction with our alien friends. Adams paused again and looked off to his left.

From the portico a tall Believer walked out, his translucent humanoid shape moving to stand beside the President. The alien shimmered, his body radiating the halo-like light they all had. His naked body was the same as the other Believers—albino white skin and a total lack of hair. He was about seven feet tall, and his torso, arms and legs were thin. The alien had a large domed head, small black eyes and a tiny mouth and ears.

Aki recognized the extraterrestrial immediately—it was Luz, the head of their Council. Luz lowered his head in a brief bow, then stood off to one side, but remained silent.

Our Administration, Adams continued, has met with their Council many times, and the first thing they will supply us with is the technology for fusion power, which will help us alleviate many of our energy shortages. As other important milestones are achieved, I will announce them.

The crowd of reporters began to shout questions, but Adams waved them away. We won’t be able to take questions today, but I promise, we will provide answers for you in the near future. Again, thank you for your time. The President turned around and followed the alien back into the White House.

The image on the wallscreen changed back to the newscaster. There you have it, the President making a statement regarding… Aki turned off the news and slammed down her glass.

I’ll be damned, she muttered. How could Adams be so stupid?

Then she looked at the photo of her husband on the wall, a casualty of the virus years ago. Smiling sadly, she murmured, God, I miss you.

Picking up the glass, she drained it, then set it aside. She unclipped a small soft-screen from her sleeve and unrolled it. Placing it on her lap, she tapped it. In seconds, the screen flickered on and the image of the Nebula Starship’s bridge appeared. Maria Sanchez, the First Officer, was sitting at the console, a viewscreen of space visible behind her.

Sanchez looked up, her strong but pretty face lighting up in a smile. Hey, Chief. How are things in Houston?

Aki shook her slowly. Not great. Met with Burke this morning. I’m no longer your boss. The argument with the damn alien really cost me. They’ve assigned me to engineering.

Sanchez’s smile faded. You’re the best we’ve got…

Aki shrugged. Doesn’t matter, Mar. I guess I’ll have to watch what I say in the future.

The First Officer shook her head. Like that’ll happen.

You know me too well. How’s it going? Same orbit parameters?

Yeah, Chief. Still circling Earth. Everything’s fine up here.

Aki nodded. What’s your countdown?

Sanchez extended her smartware plug from her ear and plugged the thin cable into the console. I’ll get the latest reading from the AIs, she said. She closed her eyes, and seconds later opened them. Forty days, three hours, and twenty three minutes till take-off.

Aki nodded again. Right on schedule. That’s great Maria. I just wish I were going with you to Terralus 4.

You won’t be going?

I’m lucky they didn’t fire me. How are the colonists doing?

The First Officer unplugged from the console and the cable retracted back in her ear. We’ve got 2,356 right now. The last group will be onboard by the end of the week. We should be right around three thousand.

Good, Mar. Keep me in the loop, will you? I’m not in charge anymore, but Nebula’s my baby.

You got it, Chief.

Stuart (Mac) McKenzie was hot, tired and grouchy. Doing crowd control in Central Park was the last thing he wanted to do. But his police detective salary paid the bills, and these days, that was saying a lot. He looked to his left at the Manhattan skyline, then shifted his gaze up, toward the massive alien mothership that hovered there, as large as the Park itself. The ship cast a huge shadow over the dirty, overgrown park, blocking out the sun and providing relief from the blistering sunlight. The bronze colored, octagon shaped ship hovered stationary, unmoving since the day the Believers arrived on Earth. What a crock of shit they are, thought Mac. The aliens promise everything, but what do they really want?From the ship came a woman’s soothing voice, broadcasting over the Park, over and over. The message was always the same, We bring hope, peace and prosperity. All you have to do is believe. At first the repetitive phrases drove him crazy, but he’d heard them so often it had become white noise.

Standing by one of the walking trails, he looked around. Not seeing his supervisor, he took out his flask and gulped some vodka. He put the flask away and made his way to the long line of people who had already formed at the center of the Park. They lined up here every day, hoping to get taken up to the alien ship. A cone of light, about as large as a groundcar, shone down from the ship, and periodically some of the aliens would step out of the cone and talk with the humans. The line of people stretched for miles, and it was his job, along with the other cops, to make sure no fights broke out. People were always trying to move ahead, pushing and shoving their way in line. He looked at them and shook his head. He couldn’t really blame them, wanting to better their dreadful lives. Most were just hungry or sick or both. They wore dirty, ragged clothes, and were all thin. Some came in wheelchairs, others had crutches, and all had a haunted and desperate look. The aliens promised good health, plenty of food and a fulfilling life. All you had to do was believe. Believe in their Gods, the Light Gods of their home planet. The aliens questioned each of the people in line, trying to determine if they were sincere in their beliefs. The chosen were taken into the cone of light and up to their ship. The others, the ones rejected, left the Park, though many came back days later for another try.

Just ahead of him a fight broke out and Mac ran over, his laser baton at his side. A big, fat man had pushed an old woman to the ground, and her frail husband was coming to her defense. The fat man punched the old guy, knocking him down. McKenzie lowered his head and threw himself into the big man, knocking him off his feet. Although the fat man was bigger than Mac, the cop was big himself and all muscle. The fat man rolled on the ground, Mac on top of him. The detective slapped the laser baton across the man’s face, the charge knocking him unconscious. Mac twisted the limp body and cuffed his hands.

The cop got up and helped the old man and his wife back in line. A few minutes later, a shabby police truck pulled up next to them, its engine sputtering. Two uniformed police got out and dragged away the unconscious man.

Thank you, the elderly man said to McKenzie.

No problem, he said. It’s my job.

The old man shook his head. Not all police are good. Most don’t care.

Mac nodded. So I’ve heard. Good luck to you, friend.

The detective walked away, brushing off the dirt from his worn uniform. He walked south, observing the endless line of people making their way towards the cone of light. Reeking trash and refuse of all types littered the park, and uncut grass and weeds grew helter-skelter.

He noticed a ZNN helicopter parked in an empty field, and a female reporter with a cameraman interviewing people in the line.

The reporter saw him and ran over, pushing a mike to his face. What do you think of the aliens, officer? the blonde said, her face set in a phony smile.

He pushed the mike away. I’m not paid to think, lady. I’m just here for crowd control.

That phony smile again. But surely, you must have some opinion? Are the Believers for real? Are they as good as they claim to be?

Mac shrugged. Who knows? Listen, I’ve got to get back to work…

The reporter spotted another cop further down the line and lost interest in Mac. She scampered away, the cameraman running after her.

McKenzie ducked behind a large tree, took another hit of the vodka, then made his way south again. He wiped the sweat off his brow with his sleeve, and looked at his watch. Three hours left to his shift.

Maria Sanchez unplugged her ear plug from the console and rubbed her forehead. Her neural implants were great, giving her seamless info flow with the ship’s AIs, but after a while, they gave her a massive headache. Getting up from the console, she stretched her arms.

She walked over to the large viewscreen to her right and looked down at the slowly moving Earth. Below her the central part of the United States slowly slid by, its once green landscape now a brown desert, like most of Europe. The planet’s dying, she thought. In my lifetime, it might all be over. The ominous signs are there. That’s why this mission is so important. When scientists found a planet in the Alurian system, one very much like Earth, it gave us hope. Terralus 4. And now we’re finally going there. To colonize the planet. Maybe it was man’s last hope for survival of the species, she mused. Some people thought the Believers would bring salvation to Earth, but her money was on this ship. Like Wu, she didn’t believe the alien’s good intentions. But unlike Wu, she kept those thoughts to herself.

Sanchez had been depressed all day, after finding out the ship’s captain had been demoted and wouldn’t be on the mission. It was unfair, and her resentment against Burke and the Director escalated.

She turned toward the bridge and told the crew there she was headed to the colonist’s quarters. She wanted to make sure the preparations for the last group were in place.

Suddenly she heard a huge roar, an explosion from the aft part of the ship, and the metal deck vibrated violently. Sanchez was thrown to the floor, smacking her head against a bulkhead. Before she passed out, she looked out a viewscreen, and saw torn, jagged pieces of the ship flying off into space. Then an intense pain hit her and everything went black.

Chapter 2

Aki woke up with a start, the implant buzzing in her ear. Groggily, she tapped it and heard Burke’s voice.

Wu, he said, get here immediately. There’s been an explosion.

What…what is it?

Just get in here. Now!

She rubbed her eyes, climbed out of bed and put on her white work uniform. Pulling her long, black hair into a ponytail, she washed her face and headed out of her living cube.

Minutes later she was on the tram, headed toward NASA, her thoughts racing about Burke’s call. It was the middle of the night, so whatever happened must be bad.

Reaching her stop, she made her way to the space complex, a large group of gray buildings. The NASA headquarters tower was a forty-story, concrete building without any markings. Concrete barricades and concertina barbed wire surrounded the complex. After the terrorist nuclear bombing of Cape Canaveral in ’71, security had been doubled at the Houston location. She went through several checkpoints and finally reached Burke’s office.

He waved her in and she sat across from his desk. He looked haggard and the tic in his left eye had come back.

Aki leaned forward in the chair. What happened?

He took off his glasses and put them on his desk. Nebula. There was an explosion. It’s bad. Really bad.

My God! Was anybody hurt?

He nodded. Half the crew is dead. More are badly injured. And we lost over a thousand colonists…

Aki shook her head. There’s no way this could have happened...we have multiple fail-safe systems in place…

Her boss put his glasses back on. I agree. It’s unlikely. I think it’s more than that.

Sabotage?

He nodded again, the tic in his eye making him blink. Maybe. Terrorists have attacked us before.

Our security is tight. Nebula was built in space, piece by piece. And that’s been complete for over a year.

I talked to Maria, he said. She was knocked around and bruised, but okay otherwise. She suspects the aliens.

Aki’s hands clenched into fists. Makes sense to me. They don’t want this mission to succeed. They want to be the ‘saviors’. Interesting that a group of them took a tour of the ship last week.

Burke’s tic acted up again. I want you back on Nebula. Investigate what happened. And get the ship repaired. Whatever it takes, I’ll approve it. We need to move up the launch. Before something else happens.

Aki’s face broke into a grin. I’ll be going to Terralus?

Her boss massaged his eye. Yes, Aki, you’ll be going.

I’ll be in charge?

Burke shook his head. No. After the stunt you pulled, that’s out of the question. First Officer Sanchez will command the ship.

Aki smiled.