Two years of war against vicious alien invaders have put us on the verge of extinction.
Our only hope for survival rests inside a massive hangar hidden within the Rocky Mountains. Christened Pioneer, she’s the largest starship ever constructed and the apex of our technological know-how - an interstellar behemoth with an entire city nestled in her titanic hold. Under the command of Captain Tyson Grant, she’s ready to embark on a long journey across the galaxy in search of a new home.
While Tyson already knows space is a dangerous and unforgiving place, he’s about to learn that the greatest threats may be the ones you take with you.
And some terrors are impossible to escape...
If you like Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, or The Expanse, you’ll love Exodus, the first novel of a gripping new space opera epic from million-copy bestseller M.R. Forbes.
Release date: April 26, 2020
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 470
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Pioneer. Forward Head. 11.11.2052. 1145 hours.
Captain Tyson Grant slid the straight-edge razor gently up his neck, comforted by the warmth and scent of the cream and the ease at which the blade glided across his skin, slowly scraping off his whiskers. He hummed softly, the silver handle a familiar weight in his hand, his muscle-memory tracing the contours in the same pattern he had followed since he started shaving almost four decades ago.
Even then, razors, creams and brushes were out of favor, replaced by electric shavers, multiple blades and treatments that could permanently rid him of every last hair on his face. Shaving with a straight-edge was old-fashioned, outdated—long and slow and tedious—in a world that had done its best to rush through pretty much everything with as much digital help as possible. To Tyson, long and slow was hardly tedious and old-fashioned rarely meant no longer useful. He found comfort in the break from technology. There was a natural sense of belonging when he put all of that aside and shut himself off from the information overload that constant access provided.
As a kid, he was always considered an outsider. A weirdo. He didn’t care about Facebook. He had no time for video games and he didn’t watch YouTube. He couldn’t really explain why, except that none of the social media innovations ever appealed to him. They always felt artificial. A distraction more than an interaction, where everyone projected life through a filter, and it was impossible to know what to believe.
He preferred hikes in the Montana wilderness, the feel of a physical book in his hands, casting out a fishing line, painting landscapes, woodworking. Those had all seemed like lost art forms then, and certainly were today.
He wanted to smile at the memories, but he couldn’t. Not here. Not now. He would have given anything to go back to those days.
Because anything was better than now.
The Admiral’s decision to have a man who avoided technology captain the most advanced vessel humankind had ever produced was ironic. It was also logical. The Navy had given Tyson a purpose. A place he felt he truly belonged. He thrived on the camaraderie, the organization, the tradition. He excelled at the Academy and afterward. And he was the perfect candidate to see this mission through.
A mission to go beyond the solar system and settle on K2-160, codenamed Avalon—a so-called new Earth over one hundred light years away.
It was his duty and his honor to captain Pioneer, and later to become the leader of the new colony when they arrived. Admiral Walt had told him the colonists would need a man like him, a man who valued the lessons of the past as much as the potential of the present. A man who could ensure the people who emerged from the ship were quickly grounded to the hard work and effort it would take to see the colony succeed.
He was under strict orders to do everything in his power to ensure the passengers made it to Avalon, took root, and thrived. It was essential that humankind continued to hold a place in the universe long into the future, and there was a strong possibility Pioneer would be their only chance.
He had no intention of failing to complete his mission.
And it wasn’t that he hated technology. He loved things he believed provided a real benefit to civilization, Pioneer being one of them. He appreciated the science that had uncovered Avalon as a destination, as well as the myriad inventions and revelations that had made everything around him possible. Gravity control, counter-inertial systems, even the atmospherics that would give the people living inside the belly of the ship a sense of environment and belonging. It was humankind’s over-reliance on other things to do things for them that they could easily do themselves that irked him, and he had fought against that path for almost his entire life.
He understood most people didn’t share his point of view, and he accepted that. Let them have their electric razors and hair removal treatments. He would stick to a nice straight-edged razor, soothing cream, and a boar’s hair brush.
For as long as they lasted, anyway. If you couldn’t use it to kill trife or get off Earth, it wasn’t worth producing. And what sat on the sink was all he had left.
Tyson ran the razor under the water to rinse it off, and then cupped his hands and scooped up enough water from the sink to rinse his face. A warm, damp towel, a touch of aftershave and he felt refreshed. Not a moment too soon, either. The small comm disc he had placed on the back of the sink flashed red and beeped softly.
“Captain Grant, sir,” Commander Shiraj said, her voice slightly tinny through the tiny speaker. “We’re ready to begin pre-launch.”
Tyson reached over and tapped on the disc. “Thank you, Commander. I’m on my way.”
He picked up the comm badge and stuck it to the lapel of the dark blue jacket he’d taken off and set aside to shave. Then he gave his face a quick look, this way and that, to make sure he hadn’t missed any wayward hairs or soap. He smoothed his palm over both cheeks just to confirm a stray whisker or two hadn’t eluded his razor. He couldn’t help but notice the crow’s feet or the dark circles around his eyes, the flecks of white in his hair, or the small bulge of his stomach beneath his uniform shirt. He wasn’t as young as he used to be.
But just because it was the end of the world, that didn’t mean he shouldn’t keep up his appearance. Image was important, especially for the captain of a starship.
He slipped back into his jacket and buttoned it up before placing his shaving equipment into a brushed leather pouch. He zipped it closed and took it with him as he stepped out of Pioneer’s forward head. There was no special treatment for him here. No separate stateroom. Not even a separate rack. Pioneer was built in a hurry, using resources other members of the military argued were better served going to Butchers and Bayonets—war machines to continue fighting the trife. There was little luxury to be found in the drab grey corridors, the head, the galley, the bridge or anywhere else.
Of course, none of that mattered to Tyson. It would take a month to clear the solar system. After that, he and a large portion of the crew would enter stasis pods, immersed in the cold gel of hibernation for the remainder of the two hundred thirty-six-year journey. They would age approximately one year for every twenty Pioneer spent crossing the vast expanse of space. He was fifty-two now. He would be closer to sixty-three when they arrived. An older man, but with plenty of years left to serve the USSF and humankind. Vital years.
But first, he had to get Pioneer off the ground.
Pioneer. Bridge. 11.11.2052. 1200 hours.
“Attention on deck!” Ensign Rollins called out as Grant stepped through the pair of metal doors that had split apart in front of him. “Captain on the bridge.”
Rollins stood on Tyson’s right, body stiff, chest out, eyes proud. He was a young man with dark hair, brown eyes and a solid physique that filled out his light blue and black USSF service uniform. Commander Siraj had no doubt positioned him there to announce Tyson the moment he arrived, a nice touch by his XO.
The crew of Pioneer’s bridge rose to their feet, turning to face the entrance and coming to attention. At least, that’s what Grant assumed was happening. The doors opened on the bridge at the back of a walled platform—the command station—obscuring his view of the officers and enlisted on deck, but he heard the rustle of their crisp new uniforms as they stood and the click of their heels as they came to attention.
Tyson went around the left side of the command station. Siraj was standing at attention just in front of it, while the rest of the bridge crew stood at their individual stations. Each station was composed of a computer terminal, a large monitor, control pad and a reinforced, high-backed chair complete with safety harness. The monitors were all active, the specific sites displaying the job-relevant information about Pioneer’s many connected systems. A huge display occupied nearly the entire front bulkhead of the bridge, currently offering a view inside Pioneer’s huge primary hangar and the bustle of activity within—the final preparations well underway.
A chest-high, black rectangular cube rested between the command station and the first line of workstations, the surface actively projecting a three-dimensional rendering of the solar system at eye level above it. The planets were animated according to their actual movements, a snapshot of the immediate galaxy. Pioneer was little more than a mote on a speck within.
“As you were,” Tyson said, freeing the crew to return to whatever duties they were performing at the moment of his entry. Probably nothing. They were waiting on him to initiate the pre-launch procedures.
He turned to Siraj, who remained standing at rest until he acknowledged her. Short and slightly overweight, she had a small nose, small eyes and round cheeks. Her olive skin and short dark brown hair spoke of her heritage. She didn’t fill her uniform close to as cleanly as Rollins, or even Tyson for that matter. But what she didn’t have in physicality she more than made up for with her intellect, which was the only part of her Tyson cared about. She had a sharp mind and even temperament—both qualities invaluable in an XO.
“I have the bridge,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” she replied, moving to step down from the command station.
Tyson put up his hand, stopping her. “You can stay there, Commander. I’ll stand.”
“Aye aye, sir,” she said, taking a seat behind the station’s curved control center, sliding it forward to get closer to the touch-control surface.
Tyson moved into position between the station and the holotable, looking up at the huge primary display. “Let’s get a visual on PAP,” he said.
“Aye aye, sir,” one of the ensigns replied. A moment later, the primary display split into twenty smaller views, each of them showing a different part of the power and propulsion sections of the ship. In one view was the primary tokamak reactor, which looked like a steampunk version of the flying saucers people used to think little green men flew around in. In another, he viewed the reserved power supply, a huge room filled with massive black monoliths that circled a large power transformer. Batteries. The designers called the layout a modern Stonehenge. A third view pictured the service access to the thrusters—the innards of four huge, plasma spewing engines and the bundle of pipes and wires that connected them to the power supply cables crossing the space.
None of those were what Tyson was looking for. He found what he wanted to see in the bottom corner. “Commander, set camera twelve to half screen.”
“Aye aye, sir,” Siraj replied, switching the views.
Camera twelve’s view enlarged to fill half the large display. It was focused on the PAP control room, where a group of crew members were running through their final diagnostics. The room was a near carbon copy of the bridge. Everything was organized the same, from the primary control station to the secondary workstations in front of it, to the large display on the bulkhead. The only differences were in the size of the room, the total count of stations and the lack of a holotable.
Tyson found Chief Engineer Oslo among the group. The sandy haired, sharp-featured man leaned over the shoulder of one of his spacers, examining something on the woman’s display.
“Open a comm to PAP Control,” Tyson said.
“Aye aye, sir,” Siraj replied. “Comm open.”
“Chief Engineer Oslo,” Tyson said. “This is Captain Grant.”
Oslo’s head shifted when he heard his voice, and he straightened up. “Captain Grant, sir,” he replied. “This is Oslo. What can I do for you?”
“It’s twelve hundred hours, Chief,” Tyson said. “Are the reactors ready for ignition?”
Oslo’s eyes shifted back to the screen for a moment. Then he nodded, even though he had no way of knowing Tyson was watching him. “Yes, sir. All systems are nominal. We discovered a small insulation leak about an hour ago, but my spacers just finished patching it.”
“Anything to be concerned about?”
“No, sir. A minor repair. The casing must have gotten torn during transport.”
“Understood. If your diagnostics are complete and everything checks out, I believe it’s time to get those reactors churning.”
Oslo froze for a moment, swallowing nervously before responding. “Aye aye, sir.”
Tyson knew why. They all did. But the researchers insisted they were deep enough beneath tons of soil and rock to prevent the trife on the surface from sensing their radiation output when the reactors came on line. Though the levels were quite low—safe enough for the humans on board—the trife were highly sensitive to and thrived on radiation.
Still, the scientists swore it was safe.
He hoped so.
“I’m moving to the primary control station now, sir,” Oslo reported.
Tyson watched him on the screen. “I’ve got eyes on you through the feed.”
Oslo glanced up at the camera, positioned in the back corner of the room. He came to attention, tipped his head slightly in acknowledgment and then continued to the control station. He sat down, leaning forward and pressing his thumb to the control surface to unlock the system. The angle of the camera and the glare from the lights made it hard for Tyson to make out the dozens of sliders and buttons laid out across the surface of the control station. He had hoped to take a mental snapshot of the occasion, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“Chief Engineer Oslo,” he said, pausing a moment to quell his own worry. “Initiate reactor startup.”
“Aye aye, sir,” Oslo replied.
The tension seeped into Tyson as he watched Oslo tap the control surface a few times. His eyes danced over to the feed from the reactor compartment. There was no external evidence anything was happening. The dark metal saucer didn’t have status lights or other indicators.
“Reactor startup sequence initiated,” Oslo said, confirming the ignition. “All systems are stable. Two minutes to full burn.”
A few members of the bridge crew clapped softly, fading when nobody else joined them. Tyson didn’t blame them. He didn’t know the proper protocol either. Should they cheer in celebration at the fact they had passed their first hurdle in making the trip to outer space? Or should they remain stoic and calm, in memory of the billions who had already died, and the millions more who would die after they were gone?
“One minute, thirty seconds to full burn,” Oslo said, keeping him appraised.
Tyson looked back at Siraj. He could see the same nervous excitement on her face that he was feeling himself. The same question of how to best show respect for the past while looking forward to the future. He had heard a lot of people say they didn’t want to leave Earth behind. He had spoken to plenty of service men and women who felt like they were giving up and running away, and they wanted no part of it. They believed humankind should fight to the last person, and if they lost, then they should die off as God must have intended.
“One minute,” Oslo said.
He wasn’t one of those people. He believed in the resilience of humanity, but he was also pragmatic enough to realize this was no longer home. It had been taken from them, usurped by an enemy even the people who believed in life beyond Earth could never have imagined. The technologies they had invented before and after the arrival of the alien trife existed for a reason. The plans for ships like Pioneer were well under way before any of this had ever happened, because other people had already realized where humankind’s true future rested. That they were able to master the technologies and turn those plans into a reality against all odds was the best testament to their ability as a species to survive whatever came next.
And they would survive. Out there. Among the stars. A new home. A new hope. Far away from the creatures that had infected their homeworld.
“Three. Two. One. Full burn achieved,” Oslo reported. “Tokamak one is fully online. Cutting off external power draw and diverting output to the batteries. Activating primary transformer and switching power over now.”
The lights and displays on the bridge flickered, and when they settled they seemed to glow a little brighter than before.
Tyson pressed his lips together, as if that could contain the excitement and the fear. The successful start of their primary power supply should have lifted some of the tension. Instead, it had only increased. “Thank you, Chief,” he said, careful to keep his voice from trembling. “You and your team deserve a lot of credit for pulling all of this together. Well done.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Ignite reactors two and three as soon as we hit twenty percent reserves.”
“Aye aye, sir.”
Tyson glanced back at Siraj, who nodded to confirm the comm was closed. He walked to the command station, rubbing his face. He should have waited to shave until after he started the pre-launch. He could have used the distraction.
“Do you think they’ll come, sir?” Siraj asked. It was the question on the minds of every member of the bridge crew.
“It doesn’t matter if they do or don’t,” he decided. “We’re leaving all of this behind. But damn, I hope not.”
“Yes, sir. Governor Nash is waiting for you in the conference room.”
“Has he been waiting long?”
“No, sir. He arrived at twelve hundred, right on schedule.”
“Thank you, Commander. You have the bridge and the conn.”
“Yes, sir.” Tyson moved to leave the bridge, but Siraj stopped him. “Sir, you’ll need this.” She held out a thin piece of transparent plastic, about the size of a standard sheet of paper.
“Of course,” Tyson replied, realizing he still had his shaving bag in his hand. “I’ll trade you.” He placed the bag on the command station, accepting the offered tablet. “Thank you, Commander.”
“Of course, sir.”
Tyson headed off the bridge. Starting the reactor had gone off without a hitch. He expected his meeting with the Governor would be just as smooth.
Rocky Mountains, Colorado. 11.11.2052. 1200 hours.
“Echo Two Two, Echo Two Two, this is Mother. Sitrep. Over.”
Sergeant Joseph Cross turned his head, squinting his eyes a little more to instruct the small cameras mounted on either side of his helmet to zoom in another fifty meters. He thought he had seen something in the woods ahead, a dark shape moving across the white landscape. He pivoted his rifle, balanced against the rise of stone he and his squad were organized around, keeping the reticle in his helmet lined up with the shape.
“Mother, Mother, this is Echo Two Two,” he replied. “I’ve got eyes on a potential hostile about half a klick south near the tree line. Setting marks now. Over.” Joseph blinked his left eye to outline the target, marking it for his Advanced Tactical Combat System to follow. The dark mass was suddenly outlined in red, making it easier to track. Two rapid blinks passed the mark to the rest of his rifle squad—eleven men and women, his Marines—all sending a silent acknowledgement back through the system.
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