Excerpt for Orbital by , available in its entirety at Smashwords








ORBITAL








BY BILL ZHAO
























Orbital

By Bill Zhao

Copyright 2017 Bill Zhao



Table of Contents

ACT ONE (EARTH)

1. Chaos 4

2. The Icarus 7

3. Fall 12

4. Nightmare 16 5. Contact 20

6. Answers 23

7. The Range 30

8. The War Room 34

9. Recoil 37

10. Departure 40

ACT TWO (LUNA)

11. Incoming 45

12. Havoc 49

13. Haven 53

14. Lonesome Road 56

15. Raid 60

16. Transit 64

ACT THREE (ABYSS)

17. Just a Talk 68

18. Executive 72

19. Lullaby 76

20. Halcyon 79

21. Clash 83

22. Delivery 87

23. Ignition 91

24. Pursuit 94

25. Fleet 97

ACT FOUR (HOME)

26. Arrival 102

27. Insertion 105

28. The Room 108

29. Pincer 113

30. Endgame 118


Writer’s Notes 122


















1

Chaos

Eight year old Derek stared out the port window. The cold emptiness of space consumed his vision. There was nothing to see. Small rocks and debris slowly floated aimlessly outside. The only light source outside was the sun. A good 165 million kilometres away. Derek turned his head downwards to catch a glimpse of the Earth below him. He could only just see the massive orange spot on its side. It was growing. Noise was all around him. The yelling and pushing of the crew. But Derek knew that he was safe. His dad promised. That he would never let anything happen to him.

A loud rumble came from his right. It shook his room. He turned. His door suddenly opened and an old injured man clutching his left shoulder came weakly in. He wore a dark formal suit with white gloves. There was gunfire and shouting behind him. The door closed behind him. “Derek…” he said weakly. “Your father... I…” He collapsed. Derek was uncertain what just happened and whatever was going on. The man on the floor looked up at him. Derek recognised him. It was Gerry. The chef. He liked him. But what had happened?

Derek stared helplessly as the man on the floor stared at him and says “Your father… he needs you…” The man collapsed and just as he did, the door opened once again. An armoured security guard stood at the door. He was dressed in a black and white uniform with a black set of body armour on his chest.

“Ah shit, Gerry… Damn it! Hey Kid, come here! You must be Derek” He smiled. “Come with me. I’ll take you to your dad. Don’t worry I’m a friend.” He held out his hand. “I’m Stan”. Derek quietly greeted him and took his hand. The two left the dark bedroom and out into the hallway. The hallway was a mess. It was loud. Not with talking but with gunfire. It was chaos. There were bloody bodies spread out across the floor and bullet holes and dents across the previously sleek and elegant furniture.

Thankfully, the chaos seemed far from them but Derek wasn’t scared. At least he tried not to be. The hallway was large and split into two separate but obvious lanes with gaps in between them. An explosion fired upon their right side. No shrapnel in their bodies so far. Stan drew out his sidearm. A small, sleek handgun. Its cold, dark steel plated sides shone in contrast to the complete white and grey of the hallways. The two kept walking ignoring the mass amounts of gunfire surrounding the two. They didn’t talk and both knew that the handgun was probably their only chance of survival. Surprised, Derek stood still when Stan stopped, bent down and held his handgun out towards him to take.

“Really?”

Stan looked back with an assuring look and Derek took the handgun. “Thanks” Stan bent down once again and picked up a large, grey assault rifle. It had a heavy looking stock, long barrel and curved magazine. It was fitted with a set of Holographic range sights. Derek always liked to play with them. They were a set of trapezium shaped metal objects which projected small reticules above them when turned on. This one in particular generated a chevron. “What are you waiting for?” Stan gently asked.

Derek replied “nothing” and the two continued onwards towards the captain’s deck.

2

The Icarus



The captain’s deck was just up ahead. Derek saw the shining grey steel tag on the hallway wall which read “Control” and pointed ahead. The two continued running. The more they ran, the more bodies lay on the floor and the more blood. A giant “Sector 01” was painted in light grey on the walls beside them and they knew they were there. “Help…” a small voice cried somewhere around them. Without even thinking about acknowledging the request, Stan swiftly turned, aimed his weapon at the source, paused for a second and then fired a burst of gunfire. Derek looked at the body. A uniformed United Space Order Control officer (USOC) – lay on the ground. Lifeless. Derek has absolutely no idea what was going on. Why had the USOC suddenly boarded and attacked the ship? Why was there suddenly a huge orange spot on Earth’s surface?

The two faced the door to the captain’s deck. Derek knew that all his questions would be answered through that door. “Come on” Stan said quietly and opened the door.

Derek slowly stepped in to the spherical room and saw his dad. He was standing over a control panel and was vigorously hitting the controls. He looked angry, frustrated and hopeless. He slowly turned and looked at his son. “Derek… my boy…” He said in a weak and noticeably damaged voice. He walked towards him with a limp, bleeding from his right leg. He wore a slightly torn tan coloured suit and dark grey trousers.

“Get to Jane, Derek… I’m sorry but you have to go to her. I’ll explain everything later.”

“But…”

“Go. Please.” Derek obeyed as his father faced Stan.

“Stanley… Thank god you’re alive. I need you to hold the Sector 8 entrance… by all costs”

“Yes, Mr Ragston” he replied and hurried off to do his job. A few ship security guards stood around the room. Some injured, some not. Derek who sat by Jane Davis, the Vice Captain, stared at his father.

“Look son, I’m sorry for this mess… for your mother. But you have to know what’s going on. That space police… The USOC are trying to get me but they’ve made a mistake. They are coming after the wrong person. You believe me, right? You know your daddy wouldn’t do anything bad… right?” Derek found himself speechless. He knows something’s wrong. He knows that he’s in danger.

“Don’t you worry. I’ll protect you. No matter what. They are boarding our ship, The Icarus to find me.” The gunfire echoed closer. “They want to take me to prison! Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere” Suddenly Stan’s yells interrupted the father son talk.

“SHIT! THEY’RE HERE! I’M HIT! GET OUTTA THERE! GO!” Derek’s dad stands. “I’m sorry. I’ve got to take care of this.” He draws his silver handgun. An antique relic from centuries past. He strides towards the door leading to Sector 8. Along his way ordering the idle guards to different directions. A few left, a few stayed. The gunfire was now right outside the Sector 8 door and just before his dad reached it, the door blew open - thrusting him back into the centre of the room.

“Derek! GET DOWN! HIDE!” Jane escorted Derek into a corner, behind a toppled bookshelf. The guards in the room began to open fire on the USOC troops entering the room. The sound of automatic gunfire engulfed the room. And his dad was right in the middle of it. Bullets whooshed past, hitting all of the security guards in the room. When the battle smoke cleared, Derek peeked through a hole in the bookshelf and saw his dad on his knees. Several USOC troops lay dead on the floor but several more surrounded his dad. A noticeably higher ranking troop walked past the others and stood in front of the father who looked up at him. And spat on his non-armoured coat. Derek could see the wounds his father had taken during the fight. His legs were filled with bullets and bleeding out. His arms were bloody and fell limp at his side, a crimson red dripping out of a large gash on his back.

The lieutenant uttered “Cameron James Ragston. You are under arrest for the crimes of murder, torture, arms dealing and mass genocide…” He leant closer towards him. “Personally, I’d like to just put a nice bullet into you right now…”

He stands back up. “But no… they want you alive… You have the right to-”

Cameron grabbed his arm. “I’m not going anywhere…” He pulled out a spherical object and rotated it. “… So why don’t you come WITH ME!” The lieutenant instantly backed away, pulled out his sidearm, and shot Cameron James Ragston in the head.

As his lifeless body fell to the floor with a thump, the USOC troops fled the room. An explosion spread across the centre of the room. Derek and Jane faced heads down behind the bookshelf, away from the explosion.

Derek moved his head to peek again but was stopped by Jane. “Derek… I’m sorry, but we must go.” She tried to pull Derek away from the battlefield but he wouldn’t move. Despite his efforts, Jane managed to carry the distraught boy to the escape wing. She entered a passcode. Rows of escape pods lined up the sides. Not a single one had been used. Nobody else had escaped. Jane brought Derek to the first one and placed him in there. There was only room for one in each. Jane looked back at Derek who was yelling and screaming both at her and for what just happened. Jane couldn’t hear him due to the sealed glass of the pods. Just as she was going to ready her own pod, the door blew open and USOC troops stormed in. Instantly, Jane decided to activate Derek’s pod but was opened fire upon by the troops who had now been given orders to kill all non-personnel aboard the ship. Just as she fell she was able to make her final action the activation of Derek’s pod which suddenly burst into life and detached itself from the ship. It fell. With a set of pre-determined coordinates and custom Earth traffic scan bypass module, the pod automatically thrusted itself towards its destination, away from the ship. Derek’s hands slammed at the heavily reinforced glass uselessly. Behind him, a screen lit up and displayed the latest newspaper.

15th August 2482 4:28 PM

RAGSTON SHIP LOCATED, USOC ORDERS RAID TODAY

Private Military Company USOC (United Space Order Control) has recovered intel which has led to the uncovering of the decade long hidden space vessel, The Icarus commanded by criminal mastermind Cameron James Ragston. The man is known for infamous crimes such as the 2468 simultaneous bank robbery, the 2474 Portland Massacre and just a 12 hours ago at 4AM where he fired an unidentified nuclear weapon at Earth. Whether this was unintentional, intentional or provoked is unknown, but the rumour going around is that the warhead was a threat to USOC to stay back. This has obviously gone wrong. USOC is not responding to our questions nor have given us any sort of communication whatsoever towards the current situation. A boarding and raid of the ship is expected to take place today at approximately 5PM.





3

Fall

Derek couldn’t understand a few of the words said by the article but he saw enough. He stared at it in shock and disbelief. Was his dad really a criminal? Did he deserve to die? The fact that he had spent his entire life on the ship and knew his mother very little was supported by this very piece of evidence. So what now? That very thought had just crossed his mind for a second when he realised that he was flying through space. The on-board display showed 124 hours until destination reached. Luckily all the escape pods were equipped with more than enough for the pre designated journey. The small, cosy interior of the pod would probably seem dull after spending a couple of days in it but it was home. Derek stared at the Earth in the distance. What will he encounter?

5 Days later

The on-board display beeped once again, waking Derek up. On the screen showed: ETA 4 HOURS LEFT TO DESTINATION. Derek adjusted his focus towards the now large and intimidating Earth. The large orange spot was still there… only now Derek could see it in detail. He squinted. It was no longer just an orange spot. It was a massive cyclone of fire and destruction which spanned across (from the pods display) parts of Russia to China. He looked at the news:



ESTIMATED 8 MILLION DEAD FROM WARHEAD, RAGSTON DECEASED

Derek was in no way planned for this. He never could have expected this to happen. He was also excited. For Earth. What will he find there? What can he do when he gets there? The on-board display now accurately drew a virtual line showing their exact destination. Colorado, North America.

Derek stared at the planet’s atmosphere and surface. The soft blues and greens slowly started to engulf his vision. He wasn’t keeping track of how much time has passed. However long that may be, his heart started up again as suddenly, the exterior of the pod burst into flames. Derek hid back and watched as the only window turned red – orange. Horrid thoughts filled his mind such as burning to death or crashing in a fiery demise. These thoughts, however disappeared instantly when the screen cleared and all became clear. He could see the land and the sea. He saw the urban terrain which surrounded his destination. The pod couldn’t be more accurate as it came closer and closer to the river it was aimed at. As Derek didn’t know of any free flowing rivers, he braced for impact, just like anyone else would.

The sound of the crash was to him, muffled and distorted. The pod was smart. It opened its compartments and out came flotation devices. Derek knew how to swim. All that time spent of the ships pool. Was it training just for this? The pod’s screen displayed instructions on how to safely exit but Derek knew all this since he was taught when he was six. Slowly, he turned the red latch and the shuttle door swung open. He exited his carefully built home after taking a few essential items. He plopped into the water. Instantly, he jerked the second his body felt the coldness of the water. He was used to the warmth and heat of the ships pool too much. He knew that this couldn’t deter him. He swam towards the nearest patch of land he could find.

Gripping on to the mud and dirt with his fingers he crawled his way onto the land and lay down on his back with his wet ‘essentials pack’ sat beside him. He decided to stand up, walk around and explore. He flipped himself onto his front feeling extremely weak. He felt heavier and wobblier. He tried standing. He couldn’t. Looking around, all Derek saw were trees, bushes and water. He reached for his pack and took out a snack. Chewing it, he took his time to recover his energy, stretch and try to stand. To him, right now this seemed like an impossible task and was unmanageable in any way. So he lay there.

His track of time was lost. Not to be found. Derek found himself staring at a small fern not too far from him. He set himself a goal. To reach it. By any means possible. He couldn’t give up. Not now. Not just because gravity was too strong or that he gained a hundred kilograms aboard the pod. No. He had to persevere this otherwise what did his dad die for? Surprisingly when he tried, Derek could crawl fast. Maybe he got used to the gravity. Maybe now he could stand up. He tried. His legs shook more than the pod when it was entering the atmosphere. But he knew he had to do this. Right now it was his goal. To stand. And he knew that if he couldn’t even finish such a simple goal, how proud would his father have been? He stood up. Dizzy at how he could see further. He picked up his pack and took his first steps on planet Earth.

The first few steps were difficult, but he got used to it. The rest were a lot easier. Derek kept walking in one direction. Away from the pod he crashed in. He saw a triangular shape ahead. It was soon revealed to be a small house just out there. A humanoid figure was sat down on a chair on the porch. Derek hopes he can communicate with him. Peacefully. He kept walking. He felt dizzier and the house just didn’t seem to get any closer. He walked as fast as he could. His head was spinning and his vision was a blur. The house stood in the distance, mocking and laughing at his useless efforts to reach it. Before he knew it, a darkness engulfed the boy and he fell to the ground.























4

Nightmare

20 Years Later, Colorado

The year is 2102. Derek Simmons is out on his morning jog. His wrist display cycled through the songs and music he listened to whilst doing so. The audio transference was flawless today. Some days it’s jumpy, some days it’s not. This doesn’t matter though. He was on his way to get it fixed anyway. Derek never liked getting people to go to his house. He thought it troubled them too much. He walked through the entrance of the shop.

Derek’s Apartment, 2130 Hours

Derek Simmons set his bed up. The same as yesterday and the day before that. The same process, the same phone by the bedside and the same .45 ACP Colt M1911 under his pillow. He bought it at a USOC auction. No of course not. He stole it because it was rightfully his. It belonged to his father and no matter what kind of criminal he was, he was still family. Derek checked it one last time before going to sleep.

Derek’s Apartment, 0245 Hours

The same dream every night… the same memories. Nothing significant but what bothered him was why. 20th August 2482. When he crashed to Earth. He was picked up… found by a couple of mountain hikers sleeping at a lodge for the night. They couldn’t take care of him of course let alone raise him, so they sent him off to an orphanage. Derek lied about his last name. The one smart thing he did there. Simmons was as far from Ragston as he could think of. The first couple of nights were rough. There was no control. Control was a thing of the past in that orphanage but luckily, adoption rates were high and two days later he was with a middle aged couple. They were mugged the next day. Costs were too great so he went back. For some reason, he stayed at the orphanage for the next seven years. Nobody wanted an older child anymore. All they cared about were the young ones. The babies. Some part of Derek was actually glad he never got adopted again even if the two nights which he was were the best nights on Earth he had.

April 12th 2489

Fifteen now. And that’s the age when the orphanage gives you a small cupcake, says thanks for your time and kicks you out. And with doing so, they gave Derek a small apartment and 168 hours to pay his weekly rent. Nothing has changed since. A few robberies, a few phones, no companions. The only people he knew were his boss and the bosses ‘assistants’. The murdery-assassin type of assistants. They were the reason Derek never lost his job due to competition and for all he knows, he’s probably not working for the wrong people. Control was everything there. It meant wealth, power and not ending up like Derek. All he did was sit at his cubicle and type stuff for hours on end. Boring and pointless but it was his only source of income. Good income. And he wasn’t going to question it.

To him, the dream ended there but there was always that one last part which he wanted to forget. One last dire ending to an already horrible nightmare. This part he knew was fictional.

The shadows of the other orphans danced on the wall behind him. The dim glowing LED flickered inside a cage beside him. 10 year old Derek was half asleep when he saw the shadows stop moving and all plunged into silence. The shadows whispered in loud, adult, gruff voices. “Great... done for the night again. Personally, I think he should be put in prison just like the rest of them.” Another replied “What rest?” Hoarse laughter followed as the shadows moved out. Derek knew this didn’t happen. He just kept denying it. Over and over again. If they knew, he would have been taken already… right?

0500 Hours, Summer, 2502

Derek Simmons woke up drenched in sweat. Probably for the thousandth time. No. More than probably. He kept thinking to himself “What’s to worry about?” His wrist display lit up and the wake up alarm started. This always happens. Walking up just before his set alarm goes off. Maybe it was a phobia of loud noises. He always shrugs it off as not important. Today was a good day. A big day. One of his two days off from his executive position at work. He didn’t know how he got there. He just did. With enough time. Today he was going to try out that new pizza place around the corner and maybe check out a video game or two. He may be 28 years old but he never left what kept him occupied for his years at the orphanage. Derek got up. Out of his bed and into the kitchen, ignoring the dust covered dumbbells. Just like every other day. His apartment was small but that was all the space he needed. A kitchen/ lounge and his small bedroom connected to his toilet. He was already dressed for some reason. Last night was probably over his set bedtime. He got out a small microwave pie, heated it up, ate it and it was off to his local electronics store.

It wasn’t until he was halfway back from the store with a copy of “Clip Raid IX: Corporate Warfare” until he noticed the message on his phone. Unknown number. He doesn’t get a lot of those. It was a short message:

GORDUS BRIDGE

6PM

THE ICARUS INTERVENTION HAS NOT YET BEEN RESOLVED

ANSWERS AWAIT, RAGSTON. COME ALONE

Messages like these were very rare to him. He was always quite paranoid even though he was always yelling at himself to not be. Messages like these he would ignore… but this one knew about the Icarus. It seemed… unique. The messaged detailed about events he had buried in his past. And ‘alone’? That was a joke. Derek Simmons was always alone. But still. An invitation like this was quite out of the ordinary and for some random bizarre reason, he decided to obey it. He didn’t like change, but this could be a good one.

His life was very routine.



5

Contact

5:55 PM

Gordus Bridge

The very invitation set off alarms in his head but he just had an indescribable feeling and an urge to follow through. The sky was dark. The pink fading away rapidly, losing its former intensity. Gordus Bridge. Derek knew this bridge very well. It was a small one. Right in the middle of the local park which he jogged through on many occasions. Named after Terry Gordus; A man with a dream to build the perfect society (like everyone else), only that dream died with him all with a swift but brutal beating by an anonymous gang. This bridge symbolised what little he was able to change but also his only legacy – being well known for sacrificing his health for the city’s good (not that it did much but it was a start). Derek could barely see the city’s lights from here. With them being crowded by trees and all.

Before he realised it, it was six o’clock. So where was this mystery person? Derek started to look around when he saw a tall man dressed in a brown trench coat and black, formal trousers walk up to him. Derek spotted a 20th century long barrelled revolver holstered near his pocket. The man lowered his sunglasses and looked Derek in the eye. He uttered a single phrase “We know who you are, you are more than this.” The sunglasses shifted back towards their rightful position and the man gestured for Derek to follow him. The next thing he said really alarmed Derek. “Remember the Icarus? I… we have been watching you… we never left your side”. Derek had never heard anybody mention the horrid incident which made him who he was today ever since. “Let’s take a walk…”

The man led Derek into a darker part of the park. The trees grew thicker. The obvious question was “Who are you?” he replied “Nobody important” which was (to Derek) an obvious lie. “Derek Ragston… This was not meant to be your destiny.”

Derek, stunned by the fact that the man knew his real name questioned “Destiny?” “Look, Derek there was a reason why you had to live and it was not just because you were a little boy. It may have taken us many years to get the preparations on track and many more to plan exactly when we should meet you. This is that time. Your job, your apartment and your life is all behind you now” The man’s voice was rough and he sounded old. He lowered his voice. “I know this may seem like a lot right now… but you have to trust me. It’s for the better.”

Derek responded “I have no choice. Who would know so much about me? Something like this has never happened. I want answers.” The man glanced to him, the two still walking “And you will get them.”

They walked deeper yet into the park and soon it seemed like it was pitch black. It was only 6:15. The second the two of them started talking not too long ago, Derek had stopped keeping track of where they were going. Now, he didn’t recognise this part of the park even though he had been through it hundreds of times over. “Wait… where are we? I don’t believe I’ve been to this part of the park before.” The man replied “That’s right. Nobody has. Just you, me and my crew.” “Crew?” “Oh yeah. You’ll love ‘em.”

The surrounding was now completely foreign. Unrecognisable. It’s as if Derek had stepped into a completely different reality. The pitch black made him uneasy and the sound of the man’s voice was the only thing keeping him on track. They walked in a straight direction and suddenly a pair of lights flickered on at either sides of Derek’s feet. Bulbs. More pairs flickered on in a line. Each one by one. Derek could see that he was on a path of some sort. Dark grey pebbles lined up neatly on the path. He looked behind him. There were no lights there. Just darkness. The two continued onwards to what the lights revealed to be a door… in a cliff.

This was impossible. How in the world did Derek get here? Was he drugged? Knocked out and lead to this labyrinth? The man stopped. “Go in. I’m right behind you.” Derek slowly and cautiously walked and opened the door. It was pitch black in there. Nothing to be seen or heard. “Well, go on.” It was only when Derek realised that on the next step he took, there was nothing under his feet. He fell.







6

Answers

6:45 PM

Celestin Park Underground

The fall was long but painless. With a loud tuft, he landed on what the thought to be a pile of pillows. He wasn’t far off. As he expected, he was in complete darkness and the only light coming from a flashlight attached to the barrel of an assault rifle pointed straight at his head. Another one popped up and soon a couple of others. The sudden light temporarily blinded him and it was only when he heard the words “It’s alright, folks. Stand down” that he regained his sight. In front of him stood several men and women. Dressed in worn early 21st century militia uniforms. Not exactly matching but not exactly too different either. In their hands were various firearms ranging from a near vintage SaR P222 to a state of the art ARN-77 PPR Prototype (Pulse Plasma rifle)… And all of them were pointed right at his head.

This was probably the second most eventful day of his life but Derek knew that he had to keep calm. Derek was not one of those calm people. “What…the…HELL IS GOING ON!?” he blurted out. His last words before the stock of an AR40 Conservative munitions rifle (CMR) came crashing into his temple.

The white light wobbled like floating phosphorus. It danced around his vision before dimming into a less intense but still bright light bulb. It dangled carelessly above his head. Derek, regaining consciousness for the first time in what seemed like ages saw nothing but that and the cold stone beyond it. At least he could feel his arms and legs. They haven’t dismembered him. This was good… so far. He shifted his near frozen head stiffly to the side. A female in a white lab coat was sifting through a file binder with her back turned towards him. Who uses a file binder anymore? Derek knew that whoever captured him is not to be messed with. He was sensible and wouldn’t dare attack them or try to escape. He changed his mind when the female turned around with a bone saw. Still, he was in no condition to run, at least he felt that way. Derek knew that he didn’t want anything to do with that bone saw so he did the only thing he could have in such a situation. “W-wait! I’m alive! Don’t eviscerate me!” The surgeon looking female looked at him with cold eyes. She was in her late twenties, probably been down here for most of her life. Her sadistic, cruel expression changed when her face suddenly lit up into a smile. Derek was now very scared and very confused. The surgeon replied with a British accent “You’re awake. Good. I didn’t mean to scare you, it’s just that we didn’t want to take any chances. Were the good guys. Wait here, let me call Carter.”

About ten minutes of excruciating waiting later, a man walked in through the doorway. “Derek” he muttered. “How we have waited for this day…” That voice… It was the same person that took him through the park. Now without the dark coat and glasses. Derek could see him clearly now. A rough, wrinkled face. Hair in need of cutting and a bounty hunters beard. The still very shocked Derek replied “Okay. I don’t know how you guys know about my past and my parents but I would very much like to return to normal society. “This is bigger that you, Derek. And you are the final piece of a very large puzzle.” “What are you going to do to me?” The next words that came out of Carter’s mouth completely wiped all of Derek’s previous theories. “We... we are going to train you.”

“You see; your father was a good soldier. A good friend too. What happened to the Icarus… Despite the name, what happened to it shouldn’t have been. You see… we are your father’s legacy. Some of the last few people that still believe in his cause. And so are you.”

“So am I?? What? A soldier?”

“We’d prefer not to call it that”

“So a Soldier?”

“Yes but what we’re doing is important and all is at risk. Earth is at risk. The United Space Order Control is heavily corrupt and they will do anything for the right price. Bounties, raids, your father…”

“What are you saying? And where the hell do I come into this?”

“You still don’t get it do you? The USOC didn’t finally track you father down. They were tipped off. And from what we know, it was someone on that ship. That person… is still alive. You weren’t the only person to escape.”

“So WHY drag me out here? Answer me!”

“Okay. This may sound a bit much… but the security doors on the Icarus were tuned so that they would only recognise approved entries. All approved personnel are all dead. Except for you. You especially. Since you are your father’s son, you have more access to the ship than even their top engineers, more than the traitor.”

“Alright then. What’s behind the security doors?”

“Proof”

“Proof? Proof of what? That my father was a deranged serial killer that murdered countless citizens and terrorised the cities of Earth for decades?”

“You’ll know it when you see it but for now, you must get ready. There is hope now that you are here. Amanda will escort you to Mr Samp for briefing. The female surgeon walked backed into the room and said “Come on. Let’s go.” “Wait! So all of a sudden I’m on some kind of mission to save the world?” “More or less” Amanda replied and she led him out of the room.

The corridors were confusing. Even if Derek had time to wander around, he would have no idea of how to get out. “So why are you guys hiding down here?” Amanda replied “We had many outposts long ago but ever since the USOC took the Icarus, we were hunted. One by one, our bases, field operators and eventually our headquarters were raided by the USOC and taken down.”

“The USOC? I didn’t think they had jurisdiction on Earth. The police would have done all that. Oh and ‘bases’, ‘headquarters’? How ‘big’ were you?

“Oh I’m afraid we had arrived. Mr Samp will answer all your questions” The two stood in front of a wooden door with a rough slab of translucent glass stuck in the middle with T. Samp stamped on it. Amanda opened the door and gestured for Derek to go in. He did as instructed. The place looked like an old waiting room for a health clinic. It smelled like one too. In the middle of it stood a bald man in a neat suit and trousers. His glasses made him look like some kind of psychiatrist. “Derek… we have waited long for this day. Why… you must be parched. Water?”

“Yes, please but I need to ask-”

“Questions. I know. Take a seat” Derek sat down on the closest wooden chair while Dr Samp sat in one opposite. “I am Tom Samp. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Now, I heard you were asking about us. This corporation. You see, we used to be a Private Military Company named Orbi-Sec. We operated on Earth and Space within our solar system. Now your father… he was a higher ranking official within our corporation before he left. And after the Icarus incident, we… Orbi-Sec were… how do you put it… blacklisted by the government. With a bit of convincing from the USOC. I know that they knew the truth but they were in it for the money. What does money buy? Power. Now the USOC is the sole government company patrolling space and they have expanded their operation across the solar system. They planned to take down any competing company and it worked. They now have control over the four solar sectors. The Sun to Venus, Earth, Mars to Saturn and Uranus to Neptune. They can do their dirty work while they themselves turn a blind eye. They’re their own bosses. Do you know what they plan to do next? They plan to take down the remaining government on Earth and shape the world to their liking. They just need a bit more control. A bit more power and they’ll do it. Do you see their propaganda? Those posters of them saving a cat with a space helmet out of a tree on Mars? This BULLSHIT is what’s winning the public over. Now… you… you need to go back to the Icarus, unlock that security door with your DNA, retrieve the evidence and save the solar system from a dictatorship.”

“Finally. This is making sense.”

“Now me… me and Carter… we started this group here. Us, a couple of scientists, operators and low level employees are here. We are what’s left. Those neat white office uniforms… Ditched. Long ago. Do you see what it’s come down to? We have to make runs into the city for food and water. At least we have contacts there. But do you see what we have sacrificed to prevent Earth from being taken over? Lives, families… gone! Now you… you are here and soon this will all be over. We have a ship waiting for you in an outpost not far from here. But you’re not ready. Not yet. The USOC will most definitely be guarding the Icarus, well what’s left of it. The never destroyed it. It would have been too costly. All the debris and bodies… …but I digress. You need to know how to defend yourself. Just like all of us here. You will be our highest priority but in the worst case scenario, you need to be prepared. This is the entire solar system we’re talking about. Go to Marcus. The armoury manager. He’ll teach you to shoot. To fight. To survive. Now go. I’ll talk to you later. Amanda!” Amanda opened the office door. “Take him to Marcus.”

“Will do.”



















7

The Range

7:14 AM

Orbi-Sec Remnants, Under Celestin Park

Once again, a dark corridor, an endless maze of Orbi-Sec employees trying to survive. A light shone brightly up ahead. Derek was able to make out some weapons in the background. Guns… ANS Pulse Rifles, KH4 Particle Projectors, CaL-N Automatic handguns, Vorshek Beam Accelerators and a T-80 Gauss Sabot Projectile Rifle. Derek played a lot of video games. There was no antique rifle here, but why would there be. It’s a PMC not a museum. A rough, muscular man stepped out from behind a barred counter. He had an uncared for beard, a ballistic vest on as well as an Orbi-Sec PMC cap. Amanda said “That would be Marcus” and left. Marcus leaned forward, intimidatingly. “So, you’re the VIP we’ve been waiting through hell for. Well there is no way in hell… I’m gonna let you die so let’s get you ready for battle! Have you had any prior firearm experience?”

“Well, I play a lot of Clip-Raid so-”

“Well your dinky little first person VR shooters ain’t gonna do you shit here so you better suit up and start learning how to really shoot… like a man.” Marcus sunk back into the darkness of the armoury depths. Almost instantaneously, he returned with what appeared to be an early 21st century handgun. “Now this… this is a Falk 23. Semi-automatic. Basic. Unlike the automatic FMJ pulse shit we got all over the place. This way you won’t hurt anybody.” Marcus slid a small vent open just under the bars and pushed the handgun towards Derek. “Take it, and walk to the range.” Derek took the handgun. It looked old. Dull grey now when it probably used to be a deep black. “Dude, stop staring at the damn thing and get to the range – we got lives to save and you’re not helping” “So far” Derek thought to himself to make him feel better about himself. Derek walked to the right which lead to a corridor with a basic shooting range at the facing the side. “Alright now, I’m gonna put up a target for you”

Derek heard a click as a small paper target popped down from the ceiling at the far end of the range. Derek felt somewhat confident due to his lengthy experience with Clip-Raid. All nine of them. And the several spin-offs. Derek aimed his ‘Falk’ down the range. Forgetting the correct stance, equipment and basic precautions of using a firearm. He pulled the trigger. The handgun uttered an empty click. “Hey, err… I think my guns broken”

“The safeties on, ya dipshit! And put on the damn ear protectors!”

“Oh.”

Derek clicked the safety off and looked around for the headgear. They were sitting in a large wooden crate. It seemed that they had a surplus of those. Derek took a random pair and put them on, still wondering why he needed them due to the fact that it was a handgun – not a multi barrelled Gatling rocket launcher.

Derek slinked back into his former position only to change it to the correct stance at the last minute. The paper target remained at the end of the range mocking him. Derek wasn’t going to take any of that. He pulled the trigger. ‘Click’. “Dude! I thought you knew guns! The slide!”

“Yeah, what about it?”

Marcus was so close to a faceplam that the only thing stopping him from doing so was that it would probably shatter what little remains of Derek’s tiny, tiny self-confidence. “Pull it back to load the first round into the chamber, dude”

“Oh.”

Derek pulled back the slide which finally readied the gun to be fired. The still mocking paper target stared at him, and he stared right back. Remembering all the skills, techniques and precautions learnt in the past few minutes, he pulled the trigger in a futile attempt to silence the haunting paper target.

“That was one shot… you missed. By a lot. And I mean A LOT.” Said Marcus still behind the counter. I thought you played video games. Didn’t Clip-Raid teach you anything? Well, you’re not gonna have health regeneration in the midst of a gunfight…unless you have the vita-5 cell regen body module – but that’s too expensive. Keep shooting until you- [BAM] Derek lowered his gun while Marcus peeked in. The two smiled. “Right in the middle. Keep this up and you’ll make a damn fine soldier. Derek grinned with confidence. And kept firing.



















8

The War Room

8:20 AM

Orbi-Sec Remnants, Under Celestin Park

The shooting went on for a while longer. Derek showed off the ‘skills’ he had learnt from playing video games the whole time he wasn’t busy or working. He got too caught up in putting holes in targets that everything else seemed to fade out. That reminded him. Work.

‘My boss must be so pissed right now’ he thought. Derek was just about to move on from using the handgun when Carter walked in.

“I hope I’m not interrupting but this is urgent. Weapons and combat training will be put on hold for now. Derek, come with me. Marcus, you too. The rest are already there.

Marcus asked “Wait boss, what’s this for? You’ve never dragged me out of the armoury before. What on Earth could be so important?” Carter replied cleverly “It’s what’s not on Earth, mate. You’ll see.”

Another walk, another hallway. They seem to stretch on forever now. At the end of it was a moderately lit but large room with several monitors surrounding a centre table. “Alright. Sit down. We have a situation.” Said Carter.

“We’ve had a ‘situation’ for two fuckin’ decades! And nothing has happened since” replied Marcus. Tom Samp was at the back, probably checking paperwork while Carter led the others around the table. “We’ve had these meetings twice a week for the past four years – and we’ve done nothing to stop the situations you bring up!” said an annoyed Marcus while Carter responded by saying “Just quieten down and listen up. We have made our next great step in our journey. Derek Ragston is finally with us. After all those years searching and planning, now we have the key.”

“Wait, sorry to interrupt” said Derek, “But why did you ‘kidnap’ me the time that you did? Why then? Why not earlier?

“Good question, Derek. We had to wait because we… all of us are tagged as associates or members of Orbi-Sec. Except those who arrived after and weren’t tagged. Okay, so the situation is what we need to retrieve are documents. I know because Tom here has seen it first-hand and it’s got all the evidence we need to prove that the USOC was bribed to hit the ship and that they intend to overthrow the current government on Earth after taking down all other major private security/ military corporations. Now those files are behind a locked door on the Icarus which only Derek can unlock with his DNA. The Icarus was never destroyed as the mess would take too long to clean up so they have guards stationed all across it in shifts. Both inside and outside the ship. The Icarus is currently floating at a USOC operated ship graveyard just outside the orbit of Uranus. To get to the Icarus in the first place, we need to use our rocket which is nearly finished. The rocket won’t fit many of us inside and it is most definitely a one-way trip to our abandoned moon outpost. That outpost contains several light vessels which we can use to reach the Icarus. Now I know this sounds like a long shot… and kind of a suicide mission, but it’s our only chance to well ‘save the solar system from an evil corporation bent on taking over the galaxy’ any questions?”

Almost everybody raised their hand. “Okay… we won’t have enough time to go through all of your queries but we’ll figure something out. The rocket team will consist of 4 Operators, 2 Support Soldiers, An engineer, Me, Tom and Derek. The rest of you… all 23 of you left need to maintain this base and keep the USOC off our backs. Both of ours, actually. Stay safe. We’re leaving for the moon tomorrow.”

Derek looked at Carter, astonished. “So that’s your whole speech? I only just met you guys like yesterday and now I’m some vital part of a convoluted galaxy saving plan? I should be at work right now, typing documents using my fingers. Now everybody’s lives depend on me and you practically signed your own death wish without saying a proper goodbye”

“I’m sorry if this is hard to take in, Derek but we need you. And I never was good at speeches anyway. We’ll sort any problems you have tomorrow. You should go back to training with Marcus. You’ll need it.”

“So what – no strategy, no plans, no rules of engagement? You are completely unorganised and the fate of Earth and the solar system depends on what we do. We got a plan?”

9

Recoil



8:50 AM

Orbi-Sec Remnants, Under Celestin Park

“Come on, Derek. Back to the armoury. We… are going to have some fun with assault rifles.” Said Marcus as he led Derek back to the Armoury. “More weapons training? You saw how good I was. I don’t need no training”

“Well I’m sure you do, for this anyway” The two had arrived back at the armoury and Marcus had just pulled out what looks like a steel unassembled tent package. “It’s called power shielding. State of the art. Hijacked it from the USOC a couple weeks back. It spreads the kinetic energy of the projectile you were hit with around, causing a bit more stopping power but little to no damage. Don’t worry. You’ll learn to control it. Eventually. Put it on.”

The instructions on the shield suit were basic. Derek was able to put it on with little effort. “Here” said Marcus as he tossed him a T0-RC Shotgun. “To the range!” The two stood in front of the same stall. “Hit this, mate” said Marcus and a large humanoid figure rose up at the middle of the range. “Well, don’t be scared. It’s a scarecrow for god’s sake! Derek pulled the trigger on the shotgun and was almost immediately propelled to the floor. “That had A LOT of recoil, Marcus. I don’t think I’ll be using that particular gun.”

“Alright then, toss it over here” Derek did as told but the instant he did so, he has hit by a tremendous force that propelled him to the other side of the room. “Dude, what… the…FUCK!? Was that? You don’t just shotgun someone at point blank range”

“Mate, calm down. I was just trying to see how you take it. Especially at that range. I mean you’ll be dealing with professionals. Trained soldiers. So learn to deal with it. And stop being such a whiny bitch.”

Derek picked himself back up and uttered a single word under his breath. “Douche”

“What was that?”

“Nothing.”

“Okay… so from what I’ve observed, no more of the Torsec for you.”

“The what?”

“The shotgun. It’s what we call it. Now we move on to assault rifles then machine guns then directed energy weapons then…” Derek never would had thought that the first chance he got to shoot guns would also be when he got sick of them. Now he just wanted training to be over. And get on with his damn life. “So… um more shooting?”

“Yup. Then we’ll teach you close quarter’s combat and unarmed offence/ defence. We don’t have too much time. Our ride to the moon will be ready soon and we’ll take the first chance we get. The galaxy is at stake. And you are the key to saving it. So what’s the point if you’re not ready? What happens when all else fails and it’s all up to you? What happens when we die and you are the only one left? What happens then, huh? You just gonna give up and wait for death? No. You will fight because I will train you and you will never give up until your last breath for humanity gives. You will live and USOC will fall. If not, humanity will be pulled back into a time of slavery and corruption. Earth will become a prison world. USOC is the Nazi party of this decade. They just don’t know it yet. Now let’s shoot some fucking guns!”

Derek stood still and silent. Only just accepting how important he actually is. He didn’t even realise the carbine rifle in his hands as he slowly pointed it downrange and fired at the targets. Perfect accuracy. Heartrate rising. “You’re right. Train me.”

“Now that’s what I like to hear” replied Marcus. “Now take this machine gun and pretend those fuckin’ targets are soulless USOC motherfuckers.” Derek put down the carbine and took the machine gun, cocked it and aimed.









10

Departure

Two days later

10:22 PM

Orbi-Sec Remnants, Under Celestin Park

Carter stood at the front. All dressed up in combat armour and old military gear. So were the ten men about to enter the rocket and go to the moon. Derek who was the most valuable of the ten looked up at Carter. Unsure. Derek didn’t know if all that training was worth it or if it was just all for nothing. Carter cleared his throat. “Tonight is it. Tonight we go to our moon base. Prep for the assault on the Icarus and save the universe from complete enslavement. The night is not clear. That is good. USOC controls air traffic but we’ll sail into their blind spot and leave Earth without a scratch. This is what all our lives here have been leading up to. I’m sorry I haven’t prepared a proper speech even for such an important time as this. We will- we MUST triumph or Earth falls. We all fall. This is it. I thank you for being with me this whole time and knowing the truth. But most of all for helping me be able to get here. So far we have come. The journey is almost at its end. Thank you.”

Everyone at the base was here in this very room. Listening to Carters final words before him and the others departed for the moon. Tom sat at the back dressed in a formal officer’s outfit while the operators, support soldiers and engineer stood straight. Carter nodded towards Tom and the crew signalling that its time. They walked orderly in single file. The room was in silence. They knew how important this moment was. The ten crew members exited the war room and followed Carter down another hallway. Nobody spoke a word. This hallway was different it was slanted downwards and at the end of it was a large metal door stickered with caution and warning signs. A keypad was positioned on the right side of the door. Carter went towards it and typed in a short input of numbers. The door opened and went on to reveal something Derek had never seen right in front of him.

The room was circular in shape. A donut shaped circle grate provided ground. Derek stood in awe at what was in the middle. It was a rocket. But it was no ordinary rocket. The faded steel and rough bolting made it seem old and antique. It certainly looked like it was built from scrap then had someone paint over it to cover the cracks but it looked just a genuine as the real ones. Only rougher and more aggressive. Untrained. Untested. Unready. But Derek knew it will prevail as it looked more realistic than any rocket he had ever seen in his life. It took the shape of something out of the late twentieth century. Uncannily clichéd but also somewhat robust. Dangerous.

Carter stopped before he entered the chamber, looked back and said one of his final sentences on Earth. “Well gentlemen, shall we?”

One of the operatives replied with an Australian accent “Aye sir. Let’s finish this.”

Carter smiled, turned back and opened the hatch on the rocket. “Today we will make history. Not by going to the moon, but by something much greater.” Carter climbed in and the rest followed. Derek was shaky and obviously not too happy about being sent to the moon. Even though he knew exactly where to go, how to properly get seated and even defend himself, he still questioned this mission, their safety and even his own sanity. The Australian broke the silence “Buckle up, mates. This is gonna get rough.” Like they didn’t know that.

Derek got seated along with the others and clutched his harness. “Engine check – all systems go” echoed around the rocket. “Launch is ready – I repeat launch is ready. Initiating countdown”

Derek thought to himself “This is it. This is when I die. I’m gonna die in a handmade rocket being launched at the moon.”

“Five”

“I never should have gotten into this mess. I never should have let that guy lead me down into that damn base.”

“Four”

“I’ll never go back to my crappy job, I’ll never sit at my crappy desk, I’ll never work for my crappy boss…”

“Three”

“I’ll never take those long runs at the park, I’ll never see the people, the pets or even the tourists walk around the city”

“Two”

“I’ll never relax in my own home, play that crappy video game or even sleep in my own bed. Hell, I might not even see the city again”

“One”

“And I’ll never have a normal life”

The massive boom of the engines shook the rocket hard. It shook everywhere but Derek knew there was no turning back. No matter how dangerous it might seem or how hard it was to cope and in that moment Derek felt safe. He knew it was the right thing to do.

Now he couldn’t tell whether the rocket was taking off or not. He couldn’t trust his senses. Bright orange light and fire engulfed his vision while the immense roar of flames drowned his ears. Heat blanketed his body. Closing his eyes didn’t help. At this point he thought the launch failed but just as he was about to give up hope, the darkness of the night sky soon covered the small window panes. The noise was gone. The heat subsided.

“Holy shit… we did it” said one of the operators and the rest cheered. The engineer added “My god. I almost can’t believe we actually flew out in this trash can” Another operator asked “Boss, what about you?” to which Carter replied “well, I had my doubts but it all worked out so I can’t complain”

Derek sat silently in his seat. Feeling like he just had a near death experience.

The Australian asked “So what now, boss? To the moon?”

“Oh yeah...”



































11

Incoming

12:01 AM

Just outside Earth, Solar System

Derek looked outside the small window. He looked at Earth. Déjà vu covered him. And not the good, happy memory type. This was more like the “My dad was an intergalactic supervillain who just shot an orbital ordnance strike at Earth” type. The once hectic and lively city, set ablaze. Now it’s nothing more than a dark, radioactive wasteland. Even after all those years. Derek’s dad was a good man. Why he would do something like that still pondered Derek’s mind every day. He kept driving his towards the fact that his dad was innocent like “It could have been an accident”, “He was forced to” or even “If he didn’t probably won’t be alive” but deep down Derek knew there was no proof or evidence of such theories. Maybe that’s part of the reason he was willing to go on this journey in the first place. Maybe. Derek dozed off.


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