The Next Age

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Currently I am working on the third in my ‘Age’ series of novels. The Seventh Age, an archaeological adventure with a science fiction element was the first in the series. It became a bestseller, despite the way it was savagely attacked on Amazon and Goodreads by the accursed trolls.

The second in the series was The Forgotten Age, purely an Indiana Jones style adventure set beneath the Giza Plateau. The third in the series is called The Next Age. This time it is pure science fiction, set in the thirty second century. I invite you to read chapter two as it stands at the moment.

***

Chapter Two: An unexpected meeting
In all major conflicts there is always a short period before the first shot is fired when both sides warily size each other up, looking for any kind of weakness which can be exploited to their advantage. Now that Glen realised the enemy was to all intent and purpose practically in the immediate neighbourhood close to the planet Neptune’s present position, a golden opportunity presented itself. Rather than waiting for them to make the first move, he decided to take advantage of the situation by using the close proximity between the planet and the Kuiper Belt to take the fight to them.

The Next AgeHe immediately began issuing orders. Each one was encrypted in its turn using a variation of the standard military five character code. They were then sent to the intended recipients throughout the Solar system via satellite laser link, utilizing an antiquated nineteenth century invention which was still in use by the vast majority of the world’s military in the thirty-second century.

Glen and his headquarters staff had to assume that any normal form of modern scrambled verbal communications was in all likelihood already being monitored. How much longer he would be able make use of Samuel Morse’s simple system of dots and dashes for transmitting text was an unknown. Sooner or later the opposition must work it out. That didn’t necessarily bother him too much. What did however was how long it would be before the encryption system was finally cracked? After all, he realised only too well that the enemy were far more advanced than we are as evidenced simply by the fact that they were here, close to the Solar system.

While the bulk of his staff were aware that a ship possibly acting as a forward reconnaissance unit for a fleet lay just beyond the Kuiper belt, for now only he, O’Leary and the young marine operating the ant-cloaking scanner knew just how big it really was.

“Why are they just sitting there, why in hell don’t they make a move?”

“Keep your voice down, that’s an order! They’re sizing us up kid. Keep your eyes glued to that screen. If they so much as twitch, the general will want to know about it – now concentrate goddamit!” Master Sergeant O’Leary growled.

***

At the forward strike base on Calisto, Glen’s first move in this very real game of chess was carried out when a small team of specialists specifically chosen by him for their particular talents from among the ranks of Royal Marines, Navy Seals, Spetsnaz and Mossad personnel stationed there, received their embarkation orders instructing them to immediately board the fast attack corvette – El Grande. From the reports relayed to them, they now knew that an enemy ship lay just beyond the outer edge of the Kuiper belt opposite Neptune. The corvette was ordered to immediately station itself between the belt and the blue planet’s equator where it would be in plain sight. She was to be protected by a highly visible screen of one hundred constantly patrolling fighters. By sending the corvette now Glen hoped to provoke the enemy into making some kind of countermove.

Exactly what half a dozen highly trained, heavily armed fighting men, whose loins had just been set on fire by the sight of two curvaceous female crew members seemingly bursting out of their skin tight one piece uniforms as they slowly floated towards them within the confines of the main corridor of the El Grande were supposed to do, now that they found themselves confined in the bowels of a vast ship in the vacuum of space, was not immediately clear. There are only so many times you can strip, clean and reassemble your equipment as well as sleep, eat and play cards. As for their pent up animal desires brought on by the not unpleasant brief encounter minutes earlier, taking several sonic showers quickly became an immediate priority. Pleasant to the eye though the sight of the two young women may have been; distractions like that to elite warriors who through necessity must live a monk-like existence so as not to lose their edge when faced with danger, is a highly undesirable situation. They all hoped and prayed that they would see action soon, if only to refocus their minds on their true purpose for being here.

Both Brewer and Glen suspected that H’rax’ people were somehow capable of reading and possibly manipulating minds since they had both read the ‘for your eyes only’ FBI report concerning statements taken from witnesses to his assassination who testified that they experienced the eerie sensation of eavesdropping on his unguarded thoughts, during the brief moment of his death. What Glen did not know quite yet was the physical range of their ability. Officially he had sent the small team along with the corvette’s crew simply as an experiment to determine whether or not the aliens could indeed affect the mind of an individual in any way.

The team’s encounter with the corvette’s two most voluptuous female crew members was not mere chance. Glen had deliberately ordered the corvette’s commanding officer to make it happen to stir things up. The idea for the young women to deliberately wear uniforms two sizes too small for them was the El Grande commanding officer’s contribution. By adding the team’s thoughts, anxieties and pent up sexual desires to the mix by ordering their immediate confinement, literally guaranteed that sooner or later they were bound to explode in anger and frustration. If the aliens detected their reactions and responded in the way he hoped they would, then he had his answer, if not…

Only Brewer and Glen knew this was nothing more than an elaborate smoke screen designed to hide the true purpose for his inclusion of a crack team of specialists in the corvette’s compliment. All would become clear once the equipment he had recently requisitioned finally arrived from Earth.

***

In the forward control base on Mars, Colonel David Jepson was talking to Glen and his staff back on the Moon via an encrypted video link. “Sir, I’m still not clear why you had me despatch the team you personally chose to the El Grande?”

Glen surveyed the puzzled faces of Jepson and the multinational group of officers gathered around him as they all peered intently at his face on the large wall screen, looking for any sign which might give them a hint of the general’s intentions. They were wasting their time in that regard. Those who know him personally realize that in a situation like this, Glen deliberately cultivates a stony faced countenance when dealing with most people, a trick he learnt years ago when he was a very junior second-lieutenant playing poker with his brother junior officers. “Just think of it as simply the opening gambit in a war of nerves. Since the aliens are obviously streets ahead of us in every way possible, you can be damned sure they know every move we make even before we do. So why not be a little predictable huh? Besides, by positioning a lone corvette and its attendant fighter screen on our side of the Kuiper belt in plain sight, tells them that we are ready to defend ourselves. As for the reason why I ordered the team along for the ride, you’ll find out on your arrival here colonel – out.”

David’s passage back to the Moon was a long one. Even though the shuttle transporting him was powered by the latest incarnation of the thoroughly reliable sub-light speed Claymore Ion-drive engine, the eight day journey from Mars seemed to drag. He thanked his lucky stars that they were not still wholly reliant on the highly dangerous and extremely slow liquid propellant rocket system in use from the second half of the twentieth century through to the last decade of the twenty-first.

Back then, besides being strapped to what amounted to nothing more than a large unstable bomb, the astronauts were severely restricted in their use of on-board motive power to achieve any kind of forward momentum by the finite amount of fuel the module in which they lived for the duration of their mission could carry. Back then to reach their objective, they combined brief timed bursts of thrust from the vehicle’s engines with the natural gravitational pull of the Solar system’s planetary bodies, achieving a kind of slingshot technique. The accepted thinking at the time was that by scribing an arc they would hopefully arrive in the same position in space and time as their planetary destination. To a student of the twentieth century space race like David, it all sounded like something the English born cartoonist and illustrator, William Heath Robinson may have come up with in his clever portrayals of impossible inventions for improbable situations when compared to today’s technology, and yet somehow it worked.

In those early years of space exploration, no ship could simply travel in a relatively straight line from point A to point B like now. The very thought of having to endure a round trip of thirty-two months between the Moon and Mars, which first took place in the middle years of the twenty-first century when a billionaire and his wife paid to endure the cramped confines of a minute capsule not much larger than the average household rain water run off tank, simply did not bear thinking about. By comparison, today’s interplanetary travel certainly has its compensations. The shuttle taking him to his meeting with the general was well appointed with extremely comfortable single berth cabins.

***

On arrival at Camp Long he was immediately escorted to the general’s operations room deep beneath the Moon’s surface. It took a moment or two for his eyes to fully adjust to the permanent red glow emanating from the many computer and scanner screens. Glen was in the process of dispatching more fast attack corvettes to various locations to act as his eyes and ears as well as providing another defensive ring or fire within the confines of the Solar system.

On the massive horizontal gridded screen acting as the general’s tactical warfare table in the centre of the room, David could see the strategic disposition of each ship in the form of an icon bearing its name. The British fast attack corvette Warrior, surrounded by its fighter screen, was currently hidden from the enemy ship’s immediate view by the bulk of Ariel, a satellite moon of the planet Uranus. The Chinese corvette Yangtze was similarly positioned out of sight on our side of Neptune, ready to come to El Grande’s aid should the need arise. The Russian corvette Potemkin lay in wait ready to pounce from where it concealed itself from view in Venus’ shadow, should the enemy succeed in penetrating the Solar system’s outer defences. Tiny icons representing the various corvettes’ fighter screens constantly buzzed around the much larger ones, reminding David of clouds of midges dancing in beams of sunlight on a warm summer’s evening. Opposite Neptune, a solitary icon designated H1 stood out like a sore thumb in the emptiness of deep space beyond the outer edge of the Kuiper belt.

“Master Sergeant, find out how much longer before Oklahoma, Shetland, San Miguel and Klondike will be commissioned. Tell Stephens I need those ships yesterday –got it!” Glen barked.

“Yes sir, I’ll get on it right away. I’ve got some good news general – the package is finally on its way to El Grande.”

“Thank god for that, not before time!” Glen grunted. “Let me know when it has been deployed.”

“Colonel Jepson is here sir,” O’Leary announced, pointed back over his shoulder as he quickly left the room to make pointed enquiries regarding the state of readiness of the four newest fast attack corvettes. He relished the thought of reading the riot act on behalf of his general to the stuffed shirt in charge of the Mare Frigoris shipyard, Lieutenant-commander Quentin Stephens RN.

O’Leary’s reputation as the general’s faithful Rottweiler had its distinct advantages when dealing with certain types of officer. In Stephens’ case, what angered the Master Sergeant most, making his skin crawl, was the man’s insufferable British upper-class superior attitude when dealing with anyone like General Marshall, who despite his rank and position as Stephens’ commanding officer, the Brit still considered to be socially inferior to him, regarding him as nothing more than a lowly colonial hick at best. O’Leary was really going to enjoy carrying out his general’s orders.

“Get over here,” Glen began after acknowledging the officer’s by the book salute with a curt nod.

“I’m curious sir, why has the enemy been designated H1?”

Glen pointed to the large wall-mounted screen behind David at one end of the tactical warfare table, fed from the constantly manned anti-cloaking scanner, “that’s why. Now you know why I ordered a crack infiltration team along for the ride.”

“Holy shit sir, how big is it?” David exclaimed.

“At best guess I’d say it’s about twice the size of Manhattan Island. Be in no doubt when I tell you it’s one massive motherfucker colonel, hence its designation. In this instance, H stands for humungous. If the rest of the enemy’s fleet is equally as large, then you can bet your life that their weaponry is also awesome. In which case, we’re up crap creek without the proverbial paddle son!” Glen replied, with a look in his eye that temporarily unnerved the young colonel. The general was clearly resigned to a forthcoming suicidal David and Goliath battle.

***

“Look, the ship is leaving and heading back towards the red planet!”

“You see H’rin, I told you they didn’t know we were here. Now that they have retreated we can afford to take advantage of the situation for sustenance and a much needed period of extended rest. These chairs, while adequately supporting our bodies, are hardly the same as sleeping in the luxurious embrace of a comfortable bed. If anything untoward should happen, or the Senate finally reaches its decision regarding the fate of the barbarians, Gogol will inform us, of that I have no doubt.”

***

Using no form of communication other than hand signals, the infiltration team loaded themselves and their equipment aboard the purpose built cloaked mini shuttle, temporarily hidden from view between the El Grande and Neptune. As they headed towards their objective the corvette and it attendant fighter screen were already rapidly vanishing from view. The hand-picked team consisted of Lieutenant-colonel Michael Johnson – RM, Major Moshe Jacob – Mossad, Captain Sergei Litvinov – Spetsnaz, Sergeant Des Stevens – RM, Petty Officer first class Howard Beckett – Navy Seals, and Lance corporal Stuart Cleveland – RM. Like their mini shuttle, each one of them was also cloaked inside an experimental one piece flack suit. As for their weapons, the back room boys had not yet come up with a way of cloaking them.

Stuart carefully piloted the tiny vessel through the constantly revolving tangle of colliding rocks and icy conglomerate, both large and small, which make up the Kuiper belt. Michael and Sergei kept a weather eye out for imminent collision on either side of the shuttle, while Moshe and Howard did the same thing looking for anything liable to collide with them from above and below via cameras mounted in the shuttle’s outer skin. As for Des, he kept his eyes glued to the miniaturised scanner before him for any sign that the enemy had detected their presence. Until they finally emerged from the belt, merely being able to successfully negotiate this rocky nightmare was their only immediate concern.

For its part, the giant ship began a detailed sweep of the vast debris field directly ahead. Despite the inevitable natural collisions occurring within the Kuiper belt, it sensed that something was amiss even though it could not yet detect what it was. As a precaution it increased the power to its forward defence shields. It saw no need to wake its crew for something which may prove to be nothing after all.

Several hours went by as the shuttle’s Ion-drive relentlessly propelled it towards the ship at sub-light speed. As the distance steadily reduced, what bothered its pilot Stuart the most was how long it would be before the emissions from its drive unit were detected? On arrival alongside the giant ship, it took fully an hour and a half for him to fly the shuttle along its entire length, both on its port and starboard sides, in search of possible entry points other than the four clearly visible airlocks.

The ship’s internal cameras watched their every move as the team entered through a waste disposal system – clearly an obvious weak point in the ship’s design which would be brought to the immediate attention of the construction facility responsible for building the ship on its return. At any time since the infiltration team had gained entry, the ship could have trapped them in a section of corridor or a compartment and simply extracted the air supply. But instead of merely killing them and jettisoning their bodies, the giant ship observed them for several more hours, following their methodical stealthy exploration of its cavernous interior. At least the mystery of what had caused the disturbance in the Kuiper belt several hours before had now been cleared up. Once again it saw no good reason to wake its two crewmembers. Just so long as the ship remained vigilant, neither of them where in any immediate danger.  Eventually it grew tired of merely observing the intruders. From its point of view, the time had now arrived to determine their purpose.

“What are you doing here? Who are you?” a monotone nondescript voice enquired.

“So much for these damned cloaked suits making us invisible!” Moshe half whispered.

“On the contrary,” the ship replied, “I assure you that you are completely invisible to the naked eye, or to any conventional surveillance camera, apart from your weapons that is. But in this case I have many sensors at my disposal capable of detecting movement, the pressure of your boots on any floor surface, changes in the atmosphere brought on by the act of breathing, body odour, heart rates – the list is endless. I repeat; who are you and what are you doing here?”

“Show yourself!” Des demanded nervously, brandishing his machine pistol while Sergei, Howard, Michael and Stuart dived for cover, all searching frantically for the voice’s owner and where he or she, none of them were sure at this point in time, was located.

“But you see me already. I am all around you. You are presently located in compartment zeta alpha five, situated on the twelfth deck of my interior. My name is Gogol. I am the first in the Behemoth class of battle cruisers to be built by my crew’s people.”

***

“Jesus Christ – unfucking believable!” Glen exclaimed when he read Colonel Johnson’s report, sent moments earlier using Gogol’s own communications system.

“Are the ship’s crew secured sir?” O’Leary inquired.

Glen nodded, “According to Johnson – affirmative. Not only that, but the ship is on its way here under his command. Just think about it Ronald, a ship capable of sentient thought and independent action simply boggles the mind. What we couldn’t do with a fleet of ships like it.” It was extremely rare for Glen to relax his rigid military formality by using the Master Sergeant’s first name. But this was a once in a lifetime special circumstance.

“Sir, yes sir. How soon before they arrive?”

“According to Johnson they will be in orbit within the hour.”

(The accompanying picture is only a working cover. Undoubtedly It will not be my final choice.)

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