29 June 2011


At the moment, I am covered up with moving, I just bought my first house, and for the the next week or two, I'll be too busy to post on FWS. So, I will be posting a few rejected short-stories. Here is my first attempt at a short story, CETUS. It was submitted all over the publishing world, and rejected by all...sad, I know. Some liked the idea, but found it too violent, and I offer it here for your reading pleasure:  



William A. Bregnard

“There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again.”

-President John F. Kennedy

Moon Speech at Rice Stadium

September 12, 1962
No one cares were their gas comes from…even if the station is 13.15 light-years away…

It had been some time, since I had last taken a life...and my stomach lurched as the suppressed submachine gun jumped in my gloved hands and caseless bullets tore into my enemy. Once the deed was done, and the body broken, I reloaded the Caracal submachine gun, while moving deeper into the eerie alien darkness to our next objective.

I told myself that I had to be strong; my unit was there in the darkness with me ...watching out for me, as I for them …ain't team work grand? We moved through the bitter cold dark, then stopped, and took to covering positions. I took a few seconds to pull my eyes from the green-hued darkness of Cetus to look at the outline of the gas giant it orbited, and the thick orange atmosphere. I’m far from home…I thought.

I had never been impressed with this cold, slush-ball of a moon where it rains methane regularly. I had signed up to be a private security guard until that maniac Theophilos staged a coup and tried to all that Euxine hydrocarbon fuel! The Venera Consortium had paid well for soldiers with off-world experience to come here, which I had from fighting back in the Ceres Campaigns for the Americans. Always play for the winning team, I recalled my foster mother’s words when she tried to put a good spin on the world.


The noise discipline being practiced this close to their drilling compound was limited to text messaging only. I typed back for confirmation and moved up on the flank to cover the slow advance, while scouring for any more sentries out in the cold. Nothing…I thought to myself, nothing on thermal, IR, and night vision…One false move and the operation was over. I checked on my armored EVA suit, and flashed back to filling that unlucky fool with a half a clip of 4.6mm. These damned suits weren’t really meant for ballistic protection, and once the suit was pierced, it was game over…

The dark thoughts of how easily I could be next, snapped me back to the cold hard realities of my choice to come to Cetus. Venera was paying big…and I was here to fight! We had all passed through the wormhole in the Cherenkov region near Ceres to collect the big pay, and if we survived our term of service on this slush-ball then it was cold beer, expensive cars, and sexy clothing for the rest of my days. I laughed as I told myself those lies while looking out on darkness that engulfed me. This is a long way from a dream beach-house on Crete! I thought. I was instead, in the cold mud, eating field rations, and wearing heavy armor. Everyone has a price…my foster-mother used to say…

Two sidereal weeks ago, these guys were just another security detachment assigned to a different refinery by Phalanx and we were all playing poker. Now, they are the enemy and I’m sitting in this in this soggy darkness trying to kill them!

I moved up to a good patch of frozen methane and scanned the area with my night-vision face shield, my Caracal was ready, and I was trying to steady my nerves. Nothing again…

Our goal was close, less than 600 meters ahead, accounting to my HUD. I couldn’t see the Minotaur due to the thick blanket of orange clouds, but the intel it was feeding me, let me know that it was still in orbit, not blown away by rail rounds like the enemy’s unlucky ship. It’s all about catching the other guy with their pants down!

A beep in my helmet alerted me to an incoming message from the squad commander, Helvenston. The HUD flashed the message on my center screen: CANNONS AHEAD. PREPARE THE DAZZLER. CLOAK & DAGGER. We typed back acknowledgment and moved in assault positions. Text messaging was the easiest form of secure communication under these conditions, normally hand signals would be used method, but in this environment I wouldn’t have been able to see, even if he was standing directly in front of me.

The target was a guard-post: the first line of defense for the Edom mining complex, and. The post was defended by 7.62mm defense cannons that were left over from when the UN feared an invasion by one of the major powers. Now, it was aimed at keeping us out.

The guard-post was little more than a metallic reinforced pre-fab dome from Earth, which originally served to mainly guide in automated cargo vehicles between refineries. It was anchored on in an outcropping of rock, which sat it up on a ‘hill’ in this negative 290ºC wasteland. We moved up to the base of the hill. I thought about how glad I was to have one of the new armored suits. These new NPP ZVEZDA™ combat-rated space suits have IR/thermal/LIDAR countermeasures, but only a few of these came in on the Minotaur, and the rest of the contractors would be fighting in standard suits…sometimes volunteering for the special missions pays off! The 12 of us moved to within running distance of the main airlock of the guard-post and waited for the signal to go, I gripped my Caracal tight.
Close quarters combat is a violent affair! I reflected, in a few minutes I could be dead! I pushed that thought out of my racing mind, and focused on survival and aiming straight.

We had learned to trust commander Helvenston, he had been a NAVSPECWAR operator for 12 sidereal years, and serviced in most of the same hotspots I had. Now, he worked for Phalanx. Money made us all allies, I guess. This little clandestine assault was his idea…I guess you can’t take the SEAL outta of the boy!


Morgan pulled out the Vymple OKB Terra-4¬ Green DPSS laser, which was an oddly shaped rifle-like device with a heavy battery pack; this one worked better than the old Chinese ZM-88 that was used against us on Mars and Ceres. It blinded the sentry cannons’ sensors and caused temporary fluorescence in the eyeballs of their gunnery operators. Because of the dense atmospheric conditions on Cetus, it had to be close, to prevent beam scattering and then detection. Direct energy weapons were not as useful in a military sense than caseless kinetic weapons, but their ability to blind men and machines would save us all, this time.

I turned to my right and watched Solovyov and Kizim raise their ‘loud’ Serval caseless 4.7mm carbines.

FLASH AND CLEAR ON SIGNAL. SPARE NO ONE. That’s us, I thought and prepared for the assault.


A few meters from us, Morgan rose up and flicked the Terra-4 to “dazzle” and painted the front of the guard-post. A few seconds later, Solovyov and Kizim started hammering at the reinforced ballistic glass with fully automatic fire, adding to the confusion for the occupants of the building.


That was the signal! We ran as fast we could up the frozen rock to the heavy door, as the audio pickups filled our helmets with the impact banging of the rounds. Newbury moved herself up to the airlock controls, and started on a bypass. We only had about minute for Newbury to get it right and hack the doors open, before the alerts sounded. We couldn’t use explosives in the hydrocarbon-filled atmosphere of Cetus, it was guns only; we saved the explosives for inside.

The door hissed, and Newbury jumped to one side, as we piled into the chamber. She held the outer door as Sungai and Rhodes hit the switch for the inner door, and tossed several flash-bangs into the room at the same time as the two open doors sucked the atmosphere from the room. All of this, coupled with the incoming from Morgan’s group created a prefect opportunity.

We stacked up and bolted into the room with a fan-like motion, with subs on full auto spraying the inside, I took to my spot, whirled the red dot to the center mass of several targets and banged out my clip of 40 rounds into them.

“Burns!” Came a cry over the intercom. “BURNS!” She’s down! I realized.

When my targets disappeared into a red mist, I scanned my zone for any more tangos. Nothing…

“CLEAR!” Came the query.

“CLEAR!” I answered back. That was quick!

“CARIA!” Rhodes barked, “Call Helvenston!”

I ejected my empty clip and slapped in another one, as I turned my visor toward the body of Burns, “How is she?”

“How do you think, Caria?!” Rhodes was kneeling by the bloodied body, as the others just moved on to the other rooms of the structure. I could see the fresh blood spatter on her oddly camouflaged suit was already frozen.

While the rest of the team moved to secure the rear of the building, I flipped up my QWERTY keypad on my left arm and typed: ASSAULT COMPLETE. ONE KIA. SECURING POST.

From the side of the guard-post, the thumping of a suppressed SMG fire echoed out.

“CLEAR!” The voice of Sungai shouted from the rear of the building.

“Helvenston in bound”, reported Newbury. I looked at the opened airlock, and saw the rest of the team in the doorway.

“Status, Caria!” I snapped to attention when Helvenston’s voice shot through my intercom, as he moved his helmet around, reviewing our handiwork.

“We entered the guard-post and cleared the interior of threats. One down, sir!”

He peered to the motionless body. “Who is it?” He asked because her center mass along with her ID tag was blown apart by impact wounds.

“Burns, sir.” I swallowed hard to force down the hard lump, “Lisa, Sir.”

“Burns… yeah.” From the tone that cracked over our local com-network, I got the impression that he didn’t even know her. “Police up her body, and strip it of kit,” he ordered. I nodded and took to the task.

“Newbury, reestablish the environment,” he continued issuing commands. Then removed a small black box, and tossed to a man over near the control systems, “Gardner, hook up the Doppelganger.” The doppelganger was an emulator that would mimic the expected radio traffic from the guard-post to preventing anyone for getting nosey. It only worked, if someone wasn’t paying attention.

After taking care of Burns, I moved around the guard-post. The main room of this small structure was one of only three, and it appeared that no one had bothered to clean it since it was planted here! The narrow panoramic window was scratched with impacts from the carbines, and the line of computer terminal and read-outs buzzed along. The rest of the room was littered with boxes, open cans, and trash. But for the most part, it was no different than the other metal bunkers that I had seen on Mars or Ceres. “Alright, clear these bodies before they start to stink!” Helvenston’s voice boomed. I hated this duty, because it was a heavy reminder of the mortality of the situation.

“Then, plant the sensors, seal the airlock, and setup some claymores, then the recharge the suits.” Our commander barked at us, “Once that is done, you can get some chow and rest before the big show in a few hours.” He pointed to Benson, “monitor the doppelganger; I don’t want them to know we’re at their front door.”

We’re just the tip of the spear, I told myself, when the rest of our forces come from Moab, we’re going to slip in and cut their throats. It seemed so easy, but those dead bodies were Phalanx personnel just like me, but they had decided to follow Theophilos…and look what it bought them!

Once the bodies were sealed up and moved out, my emotions settled down, and the adrenaline high began to wear off. Then came the moment that I had been looking forward to the most since we left Moab, stripping off that damned suit!

The combat spacesuits were designed for the riggers of a hostile alien environment, but wearing one, you felt like you were driving through a dangerous part of town with terrible blind spots! They were a necessity for battle out here, but the horror of watching people wounded or killed while wearing one was something that that even Dante couldn’t have imagined. Once the protection of the suit’s environment was breached, chances of survival were slim. You generally knew when someone was down, when a column of white smoke exploded from their suit. I remembered how the Frenchies on Ceres had used this trick to lead us into a minefield. I lost a lot of good friends in that Piazzi field. But we paid them back at Fort Gamelin…My thoughts were swimming has I locked the suit battery into the charger and hooked the hose to the tanks. It’s not a good idea to take off the suit in a combat zone, I reminded myself as I noticed the blood of our victims still around us. But I couldn’t stand another minute in that helmet! They screened all of us for claustrophobia…but sometimes someone slips through…

“Hey, Caria,” spoke Helvenston, “get some more ammo from the back.” I hopped up, and removed my helmet, “clean your weapons, we got only a few hours break the big show.”

The small guard-post had a back room, that our enemy had used has an ammo dump. When I entered the darkened room, my reinforced boot hit something solid, and I jumped back with my right hand on my pistol. There stacked up, were the remains of the building’s pervious occupants in black glad bags. I turned my head, trying to ignore the fact that if things had not worked out, I would have been lying in a bag. I quickly pulled out several boxes of 4.6x30mm caseless, and moved away from the dead bodies.

“Why so white, Caria?” asked Rhodes.

“What are you afraid of a few bodies?!” rudely interjected Thurman before I could say anything.

I tossed the boxes on the floor around the cluster of the contractors, and walked over to the darkest corner and slid down the wall. Rhodes picked herself up and joined me, putting her arms around my shoulders.

“C’mon, Caria, it’s not like you haven’t seen dead bodies before.” She hugged me.

“Yeah, but…” I trailed off. “It’s just…that I keep thinking that I’m not coming back from this one.” I said, looking into her pale green eyes.

Rhodes smiled and playfully pushed my head to one side with her palm. “Don’t spread the fear, Caria!” She said lightly.

“Yeah, just think of all that money!” Sungai joined in. Money…the money…just gotta think about that. “We’re all going to be lottery winners!” He happily called out to everyone. I reminded myself silently, I don’t know anyone that won the lottery, but that didn’t prevent me from buying tickets…and this is a sure thing…well, I didn’t get killed! Then before I could speak again, Rhodes handed me a box of ammo and an empty clip.

“Busy hands, quiet mind.” She said.

The work went quickly, all one of us wanted to strip off our suits and get some chow. Once the commander was pleased, he made the guard duty shifts, and then retired to one of the back rooms. While he got some privacy, we all bunked on the floor, and picked at each others ration packs, to see what was worth trading. After eating the lukewarm chicken teriyaki, I cleaned my SMG. I was glad for a minute to sit, despite the warmers in the suits, the trek from the Moab compound to our objective had left me spent

Unfortunately, mine was the first guard-duty shift, and Helvenston forked over the VR headset controlling the automated defense cannons. The six 7.62x51mm cannons were the only weapon system for the guard-post, and since we were able to slip in so easily, I had little faith in their capabilities. I ran the local scanners for any trace of hostiles, but, there was nothing, just freezing hydrocarbons raining down on the dark landscape.

Being alone, gave me a moment to dwell on how the hell I got out here, some 13 light-years from home. Of course, I knew the real answer, and it was the same has everyone else in my unit…money.

Of course, my life didn’t start out like this, and in fact I started out as one of the lucky ones. I had been born to a Thai mother and Vietnamese father. Both were highly educated, and taught the classics and the dogma of Catholicism at a private school in Ho Chi Minh City. My name was taken from my parents’ love of the ancient Greeks. Up until I was about six or seven, life was just one golden memory after another. Then the Siam Reunification Wars came to Ho Chin Minh City, and when the enemy pushed into the city, my family tried to escape to Bangkok. We were running to the docks, when the chaos of an air strike separated me from parents and sister…the last time I ever saw them.

I used all of my hide-and-go-seek skills to avoid enemy patrols, and I made it to the ruins of the Old Catholic church downtown, where I met Sister Teresa, and other children of this nightmare. There, in the crumbling church, that had stood since colonization by the French; she protected us and we waited for the end of the war.

To halt the bloodshed, the Chinese send in a force to liberate the city, and to supposedly protect civilians. The soldiers came to church and they told Sister Teresa that the children would be taken back to China to wait for the end of the war. This was a lie, of course. They were soldiers alright, but they were also war profiteers. They took the two dozen of us down to the docks, and divided us up. I was luckier than the older girls; they were sold into sex slavery, while the rest of us were sent to be workers for the highest bidders in China. That was the end of my childhood. I don’t blame Sister Teresa for what happened; she still thought she was protecting us.

I was sent to work on a farm. My foster parents weren’t bad people, just old and desperate for help on their farm. I was taught to work the land, given food and clothing, but little education. Every night, I preyed to the Mother Mary and her son with my rosary, to reunite me with my parents and little sister. But no answers came, just more work.

At night, after the backbreaking labor, and before the analgesic set in, I would lay down on my thin mattress and look up at the thick blanket of stars that came out in the country. I felt that the black shroud of night was welcoming, when I was running from the enemy patrols on the streets of Ho Chin Minh City, night was better than day.

What a contrast with this nightmare! My thoughts suddenly returned to the alien plains, I looked out at. If I’m not careful, I’d be in this dark cold place…forever!

Cetus was a level of darkness I hadn’t experienced since my time on Ceres, but even it was different somehow…I shook my head and refocused the sensors to scan the thick veil of this world. Less than one percent of light from Krüger 60 A, which was about nine AU away, filtered down through the dense atmosphere. The darkness, would make it easier to slip in and remove Theophilos…I just hope that the hunters don’t become the hunted in this frozen hell.

When I was eighteen, I ran away, to the coast, to Shanghai, to find something…anything. It was fate I supposed that Sino-American relations had flared up in a major war on Mars, and that bloodbath on Titan. While I was on the streets, scrounging for any bit of food, and hiding from violent gangs, the space-faring governments of Earth were beating each other senseless, and the UN couldn’t hold it together.

Environmental changes, crumbling farmlands, and overpopulation, had propelled the major industrial powers to finally get off-world and push out into deep space. Most thinkers and dreamers believed that once mankind got out there that everything would work itself out. They were wrong. In the rush to secure new economic ventures and raw material, they fought one another. All of the old hatreds and arguments spilled over into the final frontier, and the United Nations worried that the Solar system would wind up like Earth.

With wars raging on Mars and Titan, along with a skirmish in the asteroid belt, the UN attempted to mobilize a peacekeeping operation, much like they did on terrestrial soil. It didn’t work. The major spacefaring powers were the ones fighting, and they would have been the ones with the resources to mount any off-world peacekeeping operations. So, desperate to avoid the mistakes of old-Earth, the UN had no choice but to form their own space program and try to separate the warring powers, like children fighting over a toy.

That mission is what saved me from a life of prostitution and drugs, the UN peacekeeping service. Due to the budget of the UNPS, they couldn’t offer the same amount of cash as the major powers, but for poor kids like me, that didn’t matter. So, the UNPS recruited from the slums of the world, and put us out into space. In six weeks time, I went from reading the recruitment ad, to boot, to walking patrol on the Hoagland line in the icy Martian deserts.

While others bitched about the food, lack of modern gear, and nothing to do, I was grateful for the three hot and a cot. It was in the Martian DMZ that I took my first life, fell in love with another peacekeeper and started to make plans for our future. Oddly enough, my life felt more together some seventy eight million kilometers from Earth, than it ever had on terra firma.

After several Martian Sols, my term of service was up. With some money in my pocket, I tried to decide if I was going to stay in the UN or go home. Then we heard that there was fighting over on Ceres, and the Americans were paying good money for private military contractors. My boyfriend and I signed up with Phalanx Group to go to Ceres, and planned to use the money to fund our new life. After several sidereal years of fighting, I came back to Mars alone; my boyfriend buried on Ceres. Once again, I had no direction, and I rented a place on Mars, and wandered aimlessly for awhile, slowly using up my cash from the Ceres campaign. That‘s when there came the discovery of the wormhole in the Cherenkov Region, near Ceres.

Some believed that it was highway to hell, or heaven, but either way it was likely a sure way to your grave. When the discovery came, the world stopped, and paid attention. The first probes sent through found that it was a portal to the Krüger 60 A system, some 13 light-years away. For the most part it was a typical system, no Atmospheric Standard worlds, but in the orbit of the gas giant Orthrus, they uncovered a moon much like Titan, with massive hydrocarbon reserves. This was a godsend for the carbon hungry human race. This time the UN was determined not to allow for repeat of Titan, and declared the wormhole property of the whole human race, and felt that it was the only government qualified to develop it.

This new slushball of a moon called Cetus was placed under UN jurisdiction, and the contract for the fuel mining went to a Russian company, the Venera Consortium, and in turn, the Venera Consortium gave the security contract to Phalanx…lucky me. From the Cherenkov Region wormhole, the shipment of the Euxine fuel became a regular event. The constant fear though was that the wormhole would collapse and leave the Cetus mining operation stranded. As a result Venera and Phalanx offered huge salaries to anyone willing and qualified to go to Cetus. Since I had nothing, and no one, I took Phalanx up on it’s offer to send me beyond the wormhole. The pay would be equal to winning the lottery, and at the time it seemed worth it.

I took off the VR headset, rubbed my eyes, and took a long drink of coffee. Without the aide of the sensors, the world beyond the heavily reinforced glass was black and cold. I slipped the headgear on again, and the world of frozen hydrocarbons, methane clouds and cold empty plains was illuminated. Was the money worth it? I must have asked myself that once an hour, since I came to this corner of hell. Mars was a beach compared to this world! It wasn’t like I hadn’t fought on dark alien worlds before, Ceres was worse than my time on the Martian DMZ, but this was the worst yet. Somehow, the sheer distance, relying on a wormhole, and the fact that there were very few of us willing to brave it, even for lottery-level credit, made one feel apart from the whole human race. Even so, it wouldn’t have been so hard if it hadn’t been for this crisis. But now that the offshore installation manager, Theophilos, had lost his mind, here I am pumping caseless into the dark.

During my term of service on Cetus, which was to be about 600 sidereal days, I was working security at the Moab drilling platform in the Gargoyle Euxine Field, while over at the Edom platform, Theophilos was drilling Kronos Euxine Field. It was a cakewalk, until one sidereal month ago; the normal transmissions from Edom became strange, confused, nothing made sense. Then critical supplies from Earth didn’t arrive, and the Helios ignored our requests.

At some point though, Theophilos had convinced the roughnecks and drillers at Edom to follow him, along with the crew of the Helios, which was then in orbit. Unbeknownst to us, the Helios began to block any incoming vessel or automated cargo vehicle. Command sent an investigation team out to Edom, but this very guard-post bizarrely opened fire on the team, chopping them into frozen meat. After that, we send out a distress call, and the UN sent the Minotaur in, and with one rail round, the Helios was floating debris in geostationary orbit.

With new Phalanx contractors as back up, we came up with a plan to retake the Edom platform and ‘arrest’ Theophilos. But we all knew that the UN and Venera had ordered him dead - as a warning.

“It’s time, Caria.” Said Sungai as he gave me a slap from behind. I nearly jumped when his hands hit me! He was lucky that I didn’t give him an elbow to his jaw!

“Jesus Sungai!” I hissed. “Don’t do that!” He was clearly pleased with himself, and I shoved the VR headset into his stomach, hard. “I hope there are ghosts on your shift!” Ghosts were our word for the strange vapors that were blew over the frozen plains. Since they had some mass and moved like a ghost, the mind played tricks on you, especially when you had been up for awhile!

I took to my rolled out sleeping bag, closed my eyes, with one hand on my Oncilla pistol.

* * *

A few hours later, we gathered around for the briefing and fresh coffee. “Listen up,” the Commander said as he plugged in a flash-drive to the computer terminal. He punched up a few buttons, and a topography map of the Edom mining complex was holo-projected. “This is your mission brief.”

It didn’t look like much different than our ‘home’ at Moab. The complex started with an octopus like projections of suction pipes that ‘drank’ the pure Euxine fuel from the Gargoyle field, which was more of a slushy methane lake, than anything else into a series of storage tanks, that then feed into a massive center filter unit. The tricky part was to keep the fuel in a slushy state to allow for the easy transport to orbital transfer vehicles on the launch pads. Most of the Edom complex was surrounded by a wall, and the buildings were interconnected via enclosed walkways. The only entry point was via the docking assembly, and that’s where the heaviest weaponry was located.

“Our target is Operations, near the primary refinery control building.” The commander pointed to a small dome near the massive tank farm. “Intelligence on Theophilos says he likes Operations, but he could be in the launch control center, or even the vehicle assembly building.” We all rolled our eyes. Those were all near the launch pads for the OTV’s, and that, in my mind, looked like a mess to navigate. “When the main force makes its push, my guess is that he will be at the Operations center.” Then he switched the image to the offshore installation manager Sanders Theophilos. “He’s Greek, with a heavy bead. He paces and drinks tons of coffee.” The holo-projector showed video of him moving about the Operations center.

“Sir?” Called out one of the people back behind me.

“What is it, Wesley?”

“Why the hell is he doing this?” We all had wondered this, but hadn’t had the gust to ask.

“I don’t know, all I know is that I had 117 and a wake up, and he has to pull this shit!” We all looked at one another; I think Helvenston might kill him! “Okay, if there are no more stupid questions,” he eyeballed Wesley, who he looked sheepishly down. “We are going to insert along these two main suction pipes, and follow them until we get to the Operations center. This complex is almost identical to ours, so no one should be outside of the buildings, expect for on the launching pads. If you see anyone walking around, assume that they are hostile and greet them with some 4.6mm.” At Moab, we moved around in the tubular walkways that bridged the sections together, no one went outside unless it was needed. This was typical of every off-world colony that I had visited…when are they going to find an Atmospheric Standard world?

“The route we’ll be taking is around the defense wall to where it opens into the Euxine Lake. We’ll split into two teams. One, under Caria will be the scout patrol, and I’ll bring up the rest of the squad. Since we cannot use LIDAR, it’s going to be limited visual via the enhancement faceplates and audio pickups. We simply don’t know what the enemy’s got rolling around in these open fields.” I didn’t like the sound of this. The walk out in the open terrain of this slushball with no good sensor data or UAV support surely meant ambushes and death. Damn! They’re making me work for my money! It was limited resources, bad intelligence, and poor planning that led to that American massacre at the Demeter line on Ceres! I remembered, because I was there. Our little covert op on Edom better not be another Demeter! In some ways I was angry at myself. I had willingly prostituted myself to Phalanx, taken the higher rating courses to get the sweeter bonuses, which had got my résumé noticed by Helvenston, and was why he picked me for this covert operation. I did this to myself…so, if I die, is it suicide?

“We’ll have to move fast once we get into the complex and the amount of time that it will take to march around the wall to the Gargoyle field, and then take the spine of the complex to the Operations could take hours, and watch your tanks carefully.” He punched up a view of Operations. “We’re going to divide up into two teams; one will provide cover, knocking out the dome and bombarding the interior with flash-bangs, then while they are confused, the other team repels in.” He turned off the holo-projector, and faced us. “Between the main force assault and our effort, this little rebellion should die quickly. Remember, our mission is to get Theophilos alive, but I wouldn’t cry if he was dead.” Then an electronic ping caught all of us off-guard, especially the commander, who hated to be interrupted. He opened and read the incoming text, while a sour look passed over his face.

“New orders,” he spoke while still staring at the screen, “the offshore installation manager and the Phalanx company advisor,” he added a little vinegar to their titles, “are asking us to get Theophilos’s personal flash-drive and PDA.” That meant that shooting him anywhere other than the face or legs would result in a loss of the data stick or the PDA, and a lost of mission objective meant less money when you back to Earth…I want all my money, especially after this tour in hell!

There was no morning, in the classic sense, on Cetus. That was one of the many inconveniences of living on a tidal-locked moon orbiting a distant gas giant. This ball of frozen hydrocarbons orbited Orthrus once every 15 days, and the gas giant only rounded around Krüger 60 ‘A’ once every 29 years. We organized our lives around an artificial time schedule, based on the familiar patterns of Earth. I was reminded how time, in a human sense, is subjective, but my body told me it was early when we rose to ready ourselves for the mission.

Once the kit was on, my weapons loaded, and the suit operational, we marched out into the beyond-cold of Cetus and onward to the end of this damned revolt.

We were forced to walk a very long way. Our commander had deemed it a ‘safe’ path to the Gargoyle field, because of the narrow strip of rocky terrain that led up to some rolling hills. This would give us cover from any searching hostiles.

The lovely holo-map that Helvenston had projected for us was nothing compared to boots crushing the crystals of methane and ethane in the soil, it was a long, hellish walk. During this, the challenge was not to use any of sensor equipment that was outfitted to the armored EVA suits, LIDAR, motion trackers, or IR. With these sensor systems in ‘active’ mode, they would broadcast the fact that we were out here, and that would not be good considering this was clandestine operation! To guide us in this frozen dark wasteland, the Minotaur provide us with a waypoint that was fed into our HUD. So, the objective was a small red diamond shape point on my display with meter counter. Since the night-vision was limited by the sheer amount of darkness, the green glow was only a few meters ahead. We relied mostly on audio pickups, and if they hit on something, the computer washed it and measures its threat level, but mostly it was all hide-and-seek, and I was really good at that!

After hours of walking in the cold darkness, we stopped to check our kit and regroup. Then in came a text: WE’VE GOT MOVEMENT!

LOCATION? I typed back.


DOWN! I ordered

It was a Teague Rover! I typed: We fell into the highest portion of cover, and waited for the lumpy basset-hound looking wheeled vehicle to move on past us. But it stopped, and my heart froze to the temperature of the methane lake! In horror, with the visor flicked on zoom, I watched the hatch on the Teague open, and six contractors with carbines walked out. Then came the powerful xenon HID flashlight, and they swept the landscape with blue cutting beams. What the hell do I do now? I nearly jumped when my HUD beeped an incoming text message: WHAT ARE WE GOING 2 DO?

I typed back to the scout team: DON’T! GETTING BOSS ON HOOK!

My fingers fired off a message to Helvenston: CONTACT W/ ROVER. SIX ARMED TANGOS IN SEARCH PATTERN. UNDER COVER. ADVISE?

Several seconds later came the response: AVOID IF POSSIBLE. SILENT KILLS IF NEEDED. HIDE EVIDENCE.

It was already obvious that avoidance was not an option, so I typed the order to slot the lot of them. We aimed with our suppressed weapons, and once the scout team was dialed in, unleashed a silent storm of caseless 4.6mm into the patrol with crushing results. All six were down on the ground, and their blood splatters were already flash frozen into droplets.



With that, my scout team moved into burial detail, when I opened the sliding door of the patrol vehicle, the night-vision picked up a splash of frozen blood, and I recoiled deep in my suit.

After one more hour, we arrived at the shores of the Euxine Lake, and it was hard to see much, but from the green haze of the faceplate, it appeared to be a plane of glass, with pipes dug into the frozen expanse. From covering positions, we moved up onto the top of the massive pipe that was several times wider than me. Once on top, we held position until the main body of the assault force humped it up the pipe to my left. With that, we were on our way to Operations, and closer to the end of this mission.

We crouched as low as possible to avoid any profile, but it was difficult to crouch too much in these damned suits! Stretched out before us, and I could see a vast network of pipes, buildings, and…lights!


SITREP! Came from Helvenston.



Below us were three patrolling guards, and I removed my pistol, checked the sound suppressor, and signaled to the other in my scout element. Then with aide of the HUD and a targeting computer (an IR laser would have been seen), I trained my Oncilla caseless pistol, and slowly squeezed down on the trigger, twice. The first round smacked the roaming guard in the back of his helmet; my second bullet was just an insurance policy. One all the hostiles were down, I reloaded while waiting for any hint of trouble. None came and, we moved on.

Our objective was a lit transparent dome on my left and it was one of the few points of light it seemed on this whole little world. We moved into our position, surrounding the dome, while the commander and few others setup repel lines. Helvenston check the time, as we all did, and waited for the main assault by the Phalanx forces. It seemed like forever, until a chirp of incoming text signal: ON SIGNAL FLASH N BANG SUPPRESSION

Several of us grabbed our flash-bangs, and readied our guns. With the text message, we bolted to action. With one spray of gunfire environment the dome of the Operations center was broke, and then the flash-bangs were tossed. To overcome the effect of the slightly lower gravity on Cetus and the dramatic changes that resulted from blowing open a hermetically sealed building to a deeply cold alien environment, the flash-bangs had been rigged with a powerful magnet. This drew the lobbed grenade to the metallic floor, like a retrorocket on a shuttle, and during its attraction to the floor, the grenade exploded, showering the targets in blinding light. I never tired of seeing my enemies run from its effect. Being helpless for much of my life, it felt good to inflict that onto someone else!

Then we unleashed covering fire, while the assault team repelled down, into the building. We then, moved onto the ropes ourselves. Within a second, my boots hit the metallic floor; I had my SMG already in hand, and scanning the chaos. Gunfire and screaming ripped through the audio-pickups, causing ringing into my ears! I rushed to hardcover, and sprayed down a charging target. While reloading, I watched in horror, as Helvenston was hit in the shoulder and his armor pierced, and he ran directly for the main airlock and slammed the door.

“CEASE FIRE! CEASE FIRE!” Came the call over the comlink. Within one minute, the head of the rebellion had been cut-off and had wisely surrendered.

Theophilos was laughing in a way that told me that gave me chills. Despite, the slaughter that had just happened here, he was laughing! What the hell is wrong with this guy?!

“Theophilos! Drop to your knees!” Rhodes had her Oncilla green laser trained directly into the face plate of his spacesuit, right between his darting eyes.

“Are you here to see them, huh? Are you here to see the revelation of the truth?” He moved around and Rhodes moved her laser with him. This man was but a twitch of a finger away from the afterlife, and yet he was desperately trying to sell us on whatever he was selling!

“STOP MOVING!” She ordered with kick to his thigh. He stopped and gave her a bewildered look with his arms outstretched to the thick alien atmosphere. “NO! We’ve got to fortify and prepare! They are coming!”

“On your knees! NOW!” She pressed the bulky suppressor cylinder to his wet visor.

He lowered himself with out spread arms, like an angel about to take flight. “Okay…Okay…you’re a tough case…” He pointed a finger up to the broken ceiling. “You’ll see…you’ll ALL see!”

The commander’s voice came over the intercom: “bring Theophilos to me.” Rhodes motioned with her pistol for him to rise up and follow. He did so, but he didn’t seem to believe what was happening to him. He followed us into the airlock and it cycled without so much a word from him.

Once we exited into the next corridor, the commander was waiting on us, with a medic dressing his wound. Helvenston had been smart, when the bullets ripped his suit armor, he had rushed into the airlock, preventing the blood and flesh from being exposed to the nearly 300 below zero air temperature. That would have instantly crystallized his blood, and taken his arm.

“I think you’re good, commander,” spoke the medic while packing up her kit. “We’ll have to wait on a rover to get you back to Moab for more treatment.”

He waved her away with a thank you, and pulled out his sidearm. “Search him, Rhodes.”

Rhodes kept her pistol aimed to his head, while her free hand searched his vest pockets for the PDA and flash-drive; I could clearly see sweat running down his face. If we get everything, plus this moron, that is a sweet bonus added to my completion pay! Maybe I’ll buy two Alfa Romeos!

“You see?!” He jerked his pointed chin toward the confiscated PDA. “Do you?” Rhodes wore a puzzled expression at his shaking words. “OPEN IT AND SEE WHAT I SEEN!” Rhodes stepped back and flashed the pistol up.

“What in the hell is wrong with you, nutball?” She put the PDA into the commander’s hands, who studied it, but kept one eye on our cagey prisoner-of-war.

“Commander Helvenston!” Theophilos scooted on his knees to face the wounded man, and his darting eyes met the stone fixed eyes of our commander. “Look at why I have done what I have done!” I watched the two of them, thinking that this was one of the strangest moments in my life, and I had been through a wormhole! “Open it and see the truth.” Helvenston peered down at the small blank screen and touched the power button and scrolled through the folders, until he located one with the label: TESTAMENT. Theophilos waited like a man about to be pardoned for his crimes. He paused for a second with a tapping index finger. “Open it sir!” He pushed verbally and Helvenston sent him to the floor with a swift boot kick. Before any of us could react, the former SEAL was all over him. He was a fearsome opponent…

“Listen to me!” He shook the PDA in his face. “Nothing on this could explain why you killed a dozen in that vehicle convey! You fired on them with no warning! Then the Helios crew! You’re a murderer!” He shook the PDA under his sweating face. “And I’m going to send you to hell!” he stood and pulled Theophilos to his knees. The man was crying. He motioned to me, and I wrestled the caseless pistol out of its holster.


“Shut him up, Caria!” Helvenston pointed at me. I took my pistol, and trained the barrel on the back of his head.

“You don’t understand! They’re coming! NO!”

“SHUT UP THEOPHILOS!” Rhodes kicked him. “Take it like a man!” Then all eyes fell to me. “DO IT, CARIA!” I savagely gripped his neck and shoved his balding head into the barrel of my Oncilla. He howled when the metal point jammed into his skull.

Shut up! SHUT UP!! Shutupshutupshutupshutup…my mind screamed.


The high velocity round smacked into his head and a spray of blood decorated the far wall. The room was quiet again, with the wailing of a madman silenced, and his broken body slumped to the floor with a thud.

“I think you earned your pay, Caria.” Said Rhodes as she moved to me. I holstered my weapon, and moved away from the grisly sight. I have seen enough death! I collapsed into one of the technician’s chairs while sucking on my drinking tube. I felt sick and confused about why any of this had happened. What was the manic yelling about? What is a ‘ghost rocket’? Was any amount of money worth the ghosts that are going to haunt me after this?

“What the hell was he talking about, sir?” My voice cracked from the raw emotions coursing through me, but he didn’t say a damn thing. There was silence between us, has he probed the device and the blood ran out from Theophilos’s twitching body. The commander was a man that you tended to trend lightly around, he resembled one of those lethal snakes, waiting on an unlucky mouse.

There in the corridor, he watched some sort of video on the PDA. Then his upper lip twisted and he made a disgusted noise while slipping back the device into his suit. “Everything okay, sir?” I asked. “What was on the screen?”

He adjusted his bandages and walked toward the pressure door. “Nothing worth a damn, Caria, nothing.” He took a magazine and slipped it in. “C’mon, we gotta clean out the launching facility.”

* * *
I was, bathed in the hot sun and the salty air of the Indian Ocean, as I walked out of Ma'alintii Rangers building, the Mogadishu headquarters of the Phalanx Group, and I stopped to simply take in this moment.

During that battle on Cetus, I had told myself, that when this moment arrived, when the credit was transfered into my bank account, that I would tell myself I had made it! Like a message back through time to the me that was still stuck in the frozen methane slush. I flipped open my PDA and checked again the electrionic display of the total sum, with all of the zeros in green glowing text. I was now rich...rich enough to do anything I wanted...

It was nice to revel in this juncture in my life, I had survivied the perils of my term of service on Cetus, Theophilos was now dead and buried in some alien ground, and there still no answers about what had driven him to murder. But life carried on, and the Euxine continued to flow, all while the Venera Consortium stock went up.

I wondered now, if all that we experienced was worth it, but while my PDA checked the closing number of the company on the Russian Trading System, I had a queer impulse to buy stock in the company! Damned irony…

I had made all of those midnight plans, while in my bunk in the Krüger 60 A system, and now that I flushed with credit, it seemed somehow unreal, and I wasn’t sure what to do next. To settle my nerves, I bought a small strong coffee from a café, the barista called it ‘gold coast blend’ and I sipped the small cup, while nibbling at some sweet sambus pastries, and just listening to normal rhythms of terrestrial life. This was nice, hot coffee, sweet food, and sun. It is an odd thing to live in a sealed environment, where outside of the metallic womb, there was an atmosphere that was so alien that it would kill you in a cold second. I felt the chill that had been with me since I first strolled out onto the Martian desert.

But here, Earth, despite the damage that had been done to her, was home, and you could feel that in your bones. Despite being off-world for many years, I still felt drawn to return home.

Now, money, was, not the issue, but it was my own sense of inner conflict that laid waste to my prefect fantasy plans. For now though, I sat at the café, sipped my coffee, and waited for answer to find me…but I knew one thing for sure, I didn’t want to see the inside of a spacesuit again.


  1. Hello William! Everyone is rejected the first few times they send in a story. Just keep writing stories and sending them in. You will refine your writing skills, and eventually you will be published.

    Good story! You captured the horror of fighting in such an alien environment that you would die if you stepped outside of you suit. Even though Caria survives, your left wondering if the psychological scars left were worth it. Keep writing your stories. Much promise, this one has... as Yoda would say.

    The wormhole was interesting. I've wondered if a natural wormhole could be hiding somewhere in space, unnoticed. If we found one, people probably would be concerned about it collapsing- or having something come through it.

    Why did you call the magazines clips? Clips are not magazines. Magazines are spring-loaded boxes that feed bullets into a gun. Clips hold bullets, which are then loaded into a magazine. The word "clip" and "magazine" are not inter-changable. Clips don't have a spring to feed the bullets into the gun. Ignorant people have begun using the term "clip' incorrectly, referring to detachable box magazines as clips. Do not use the term clip in military SF to refer to a detachable box magazines- you will make the gun enthusiasts mad.

    A magazine is an ammunition storage and feeding device attached to a repeating firearm. A clip is a device the stores multiple rounds of ammunition together as a unit, ready for insertion into the magazine or cylinder of a firearm. Not the same thing at all. Don't get it mixed up.

    Foo fighters and ghost rockets- those are UFO's aren't they? Were Theophilos's fears real, or was he simply insane? He sounded pretty insane- perhaps space does that to you, if you live out there too long.

    Christopher Phoenix

  2. Yeah...I should have changed that clips word to something else, I should have spotted that...I need more terms for "magazine".
    The wormhole idea came for the first two epsiodes of Space:Above and Beyond, and the Cetus universe as been expanded in two other stories, the bulk of the story came to me when I watched Outland...
    I wanted to leave on what Theophilos saw or didn't see up to the reader...

  3. Hello, William! I remember the Space: Above and Beyond pilot episode. All aboard the rocket ship, to travel through the Convenient Wormhole... Too bad we have not found a convenient wormhole.

    As a reader, I've always been somewhat unsatisfied by stories that left something up to me to decide, but sometimes it works. The Stephan King story "The Mist" never explained the mist, but dropped hints. I was left wondering how large the mist was, whether it had covered the whole Earth or if the town had been sucked into some kind of "Other-Space" like someone turning a sock inside out. By the way, "The Mist" was the inspiration for Half-Life. It was hinted that the mist came from a secret government project that went awry, releasing dangerous creatures from another dimension- like mist spiders and giant tentacles- into our world. The creators of Half-Life borrowed that concept and set their game at the research facility.

    CETUS reminded me of Outland. I was always bothered when Outland portrayed people popping in the vacuum. That is NOT going to happen. No ray-guns in Outland- I think that was one of the first movies to use shotguns over blasters. In reality, a space colony police force would probably not use ordinary guns at all. They would probably use options that won't penetrate a bulk-head or damage vital equipment. Perhaps they would have pistols designed to not damage vital equipment- frangible rounds and such.

    I see plasma weaponry is on the list... I look forward to it!! I still love Ray-Guns, and plasma weapons are a common variety. Too bad most depictions of plasma-guns are complete nonsense. I wonder who first used plasma guns in their stories. I know the origin of many SF weapons, but not plasma guns. In the end, they are a variant of the blaster. I would suggest the term Ray-Gun is not a good name for a plasma gun- plasma guns shoot hot, energetic matter, not rays. A laser gun shoots lethal rays, and so does a particle beam weapon, but not a plasma-gun. A plasma-gun would probably end up being a super-flamethrower that guzzles power and isn't even useful.

    Why do energy-blasts travel so slow in media SF? The blasts just get slower the more money the production has. Take Terminator- in the first film plasma-blasts travel very quickly, flashing past. Plasma-guns seemed to fire a vibrant beam of light. In the second film, the blasts travel much slower, almost slow enough to dodge. That is not even desirable. Why does all SF show ray-gun blasts being so slow? An instant beam could be even neater to watch. I find a scene with energy-blasts that you could dodge easily just silly, not more visually dynamic.

    The Law of Inverse Beam Speed to Budget: The bigger the budget of SF movie or TV show, the slower and more easily visible the beam weapon blasts will be. A show with a very small budget won't even but in visible blasts, while a show with a big budget will have bolts traveling so slow, a fleet footed person might not just dodge but possibly outrun them.

    Christopher Phoenix