An experimental starship. An unprepared pilot. An unexpected crew. A fight for the fate of the future.
Captain Nicholas Shepherd is a test pilot for Grimmel Corporation’s latest experimental starship, Foresight. As a test platform for desperately needed advanced technology, a successful run of the ship’s systems is vital to enable humankind’s exodus from an alien-occupied Earth. After Foresight suffers a malfunction during its final scheduled flight, the lost opportunity provides the enemy the opening they need for one last attack.
With his family caught in the crossfire, Nicholas realizes that the flawed starship is their best chance to escape. But it isn’t long before what started as a desperate evacuation turns into something more.
Joined by an unintended crew of survivors, Nicholas is about to embark on an impossible mission that will take them far beyond the outer reaches of known space. If he fails, the future of humankind will not only be lost...
It will be completely erased.
Release date: July 27, 2021
Print pages: 300
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Captain Nicholas Shepherd settled into the molded foam of the primary pilot seat on the flight deck of the experimental starship Foresight. He placed his arms on the contoured rests and remained still as the automated safety system dropped a padded three point harness over his chest. It locked between his legs, pressing lightly to hold him in place. Additional restraints folded over his forearms and wrists, helping to ensure his hands would remain in contact with the ship’s control surfaces during high-G maneuvers.
Those surfaces came to life as the safety system completed its check, the light going green when it deemed him appropriately contained. The touchscreen beneath his left hand offered simple control of everything that wasn’t already automated through the onboard neural network. Likewise, the custom pad beneath his right hand gave him precision command over the starship’s maneuverability whenever it wasn’t under AI control. The belief was that human intervention would only be required five to ten percent of the time once Foresight’s neural net was fully optimized and operational. Nicholas didn’t give much thought to the highly technical aspects of the programming, but he understood the network used his flight data in training itself to first match and eventually exceed his proficiency.
Having let the AI take over on the last test run and nearly being slammed into a mountainside had convinced Nicholas that Foresight had no chance to make its planned operational date. The timeline would slip at least another month if not longer. As a human pilot whose job was on the verge of being automated out of existence, a part of him felt vindicated by the struggle to make a computer think and act like an experienced aviator. The other side of him was as dismayed by the glitches as were the techs who had spent the last year feverishly working on the system, his wife among them.
His success was her failure.
A failure that could doom them all.
Nicholas tried not to linger on the consequences as he tapped on the left-hand surface to quickly bring the rest of the ship’s flight control systems online. They were all doing their best to see Project Foresight to completion, finishing the technological leap before it was too late. His marriage had been purely hypothetical for the last nine months while Yasmin was holed up in the lab with her team. Even if she had been accessible, they wouldn’t have had any time together. His days were equally filled, alternating between sessions in the simulator and running active intercepts outside the compound while also keeping tabs on their son, Lucius. Circumstances had forced the kid to grow up fast. Too fast.
A small progress bar appeared against the forward curve of the flight deck’s hardened, egg-shaped enclosure, a stylized eagle logo wrapped around a star emblazoned above it, United States Space Force Marines written in small all-caps lettering beneath it.
A second tone sounded when the progress bar reached twenty-five percent. Nicholas tapped on the left-hand surface again, activating the ship’s comms.
“Control, this is Shepherd,” Nicholas said. “Establishing comms link. Do you copy?”
“Shepherd, this is Control,” a gruff male voice replied. “I copy. Comms link established.”
“Roger,” Nicholas replied. “Initiation is at twenty-five percent. Sequence complete. ETA: three minutes, twelve seconds.”
“Copy. Network link established. Data flow incoming. Wave to the camera, Nick.”
Nicholas glanced at the pinhole near the left curve of the flight deck. He couldn’t wave at anything with his hands restrained. “That was funny the first few times, Duff,” he said, staring into the lens. “Now it’s just old and tired.”
“Like you, Captain?” Duffy replied with a laugh.
“You should stick to protocol, Duff. I hear the man himself is planning to observe this one.”
“Grimmel? Yeah, I heard that too. If he’s coming, he’s running out of time.”
“Is Colonel Haines on deck?”
“Then she’s probably escorting Grimmel up to Control right now.”
“Probably,” Duff agreed.
The progress bar hit forty percent, becoming translucent as the entire front of the flight deck- enclosure lit up, displaying an ultra-high resolution composite view of the outside world. It was stitched together from the feeds of nearly three dozen cameras positioned around the ship. Secondary screens offered additional views of the sides and rear, making it feel more like being behind the controls of a race car than a spacecraft.
The view wasn’t pleasant. While the interior of the mountainside hangar was clear directly ahead of Foresight, the flanks were a reminder that Nicholas’ little slice of heaven behind the stick of the experimental craft was just that. The real world beyond the tomblike interior was harsh, ugly, and bloody.
Marines and their equipment hugged the sides of the hangar, intermingled with scraped and battered APCs and the hulking robots they called Butchers. The bots were filthy and dented. Thick recharge cables snaked from their ankles through the platoons of sleeping Marines—none of which looked as though they could face another night of fighting—to the bank of rechargers along the back bulkhead. A few smaller airborne drones were visible behind Foresight, ready to launch at a moment’s notice.
He had been behind the stick of one of the drones a few hours ago, during the early morning hours when odds of an attack were highest. The enemy had been more relentless than usual. They were no doubt sensing that the defenses were wearing down from the nightly assaults, and that caused them to push harder for a breakthrough.
Sometimes Nicholas wasn’t sure if the survivors were lucky or cursed. These days, he leaned more heavily toward cursed.
“I heard the MPs put Lucius and his buddies into holding again last night,” Duff said.
Nicholas closed his eyes and groaned. “Really? Nobody told me.”
“Oh. I’m sorry, Nick. I didn’t mean to break the news to you like that. I figured you already knew.”
“I spend eighteen hours a day behind the stick and four hours a day sleeping,” Nicholas replied. “It doesn’t leave much time to keep up with my son. What did he do this time?”
“I didn’t get many details on my way over to the CIC. The usual general mischief, I’m sure. He’s lucky you’re his father, or they would have made his visits to lockup more lengthy by now.”
Nicholas opened his eyes and exhaled heavily. “Luke’s a good kid, and he knows what’s at stake. But losing everything the way we did, and so fast...it’s been hard on him.”
“You shouldn’t make excuses for him, Nick,” Duff replied. “This has been hard on everyone. He and his little group of friends are putting unnecessary strain on very limited resources.”
“I know,” Nicholas agreed. “I’ve talked to him about it multiple times. I don’t know if he’s acting out because Yasmin and I can’t be there for him as much as we want or what. I have to believe that’s the truth because the alternative is that he’s just a spoiled, selfish little asshole. Which is the worst thing anyone can be right now.”
His attention returned to the exhausted Marines on the floor of the hangar. While Luke was screwing around, causing trouble, to entertain himself, these brave men and women were giving their lives to protect him. The idea of it made him sick. He had come to his son’s rescue too many times already. He wasn’t sure he had the stomach to do it again.
Duff lowered his voice. “Speaking of which, Colonel Haines just arrived. Looks like you were right; Mister Grimmel is with her.”
Nicholas decided he would deal with Lucius later, and not with the same kid gloves as he had up till now. Everybody around him was busting their asses to keep humankind from going extinct. It was time the kid did too.
“Captain Shepherd,” Colonel Haines said over the comm, her voice crisp and professional. “What’s your sitrep?”
“Sir, initiation is at forty-six percent. Comms are online. Network is linked with Control. All feeds are active and monitored. Everything is nominal. Sequence complete in two minutes, eight seconds.”
“Copy, Captain. I have Mister Aaron Grimmel in the CIC with me. He’ll be observing the test flight today.”
“Mister Grimmel, sir,” Nicholas said. “It’s an honor to have you with us for the flight.”
“Negative, Captain Shepherd,” Grimmel replied in a smooth baritone. “The honor is mine. With your help we’ve come a very long way in a very short amount of time.”
“Don’t give me too much credit, sir,” Nick said. “I’m only following orders.”
“Haha! Orders or not, you’re the perfect pilot for this job, and your wife has been invaluable to the development of the advanced neural network. I think I can safely speak for all of humankind when I say I’m grateful for you both.”
“Thank you, sir,” Nicholas said. “If you want to sit back and relax, I think you’ll enjoy the show.”
“Undoubtedly,” Grimmel said. “Godspeed out there, Captain.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The progress bar reached seventy-five percent, a third tone sounding to signal the ignition of the reactor that powered the massive engines. At the same time, the klaxon beside the hangar doors began blaring intermittently, the warning light flashing yellow to alert everyone the blast doors were about to open. It brought two of the Marine platoons camped on either side of the starship to their feet. They ran to the front of the hangar and took cover behind a pair of APCs, rifles pointed at the doors. The enemy rarely attacked in daylight, but it was always best to be prepared.
The klaxon ceased its ear-splitting clamor, the light continuing to flash as the massive blast doors moved slowly on their chain-driven tracks. It gave Foresight’s initiation sequence time to complete before they were spaced far enough apart for the ship to slip through. A number of systems activated in the last twenty percent of the sequence, including the onboard AI.
“Good morning, Captain Shepherd,” it said to him in an uncanny male voice.
“Good morning, Frank,” Nicholas replied.
“Real time monitoring is online. Learning modules are loaded. Data collection initialized. What are the mission parameters for today’s flight?”
“Control, initiation is complete,” Nicholas said. “The neural network is online. All systems are nominal. Please upload parameters for today’s training.”
“Captain Shepherd,” a new voice said. One he recognized all too well. “We have an updated patch for the mission. I’m uploading it directly from the lab now.”
“Copy that, Doctor Shepherd,” he replied. “How’s your morning so far?”
“Busy, as usual,” she said. She hesitated for a moment. “Lucius…”
“I heard,” Nicholas replied. “I’ll take care of it when I land.” An icon of the new patch upload appeared in the projected HUD at the front of his seat. “Patch received. Installing now.”
“Don’t be too hard on him, okay, Nick?”
Nicholas clenched his jaw. If there was one point of constant friction between him and Yasmin, it was how to handle Lucius. This wasn’t the time or place to have that argument again. She shouldn’t have brought it up in the first place, especially with Grimmel on the comms.
“He’ll get what I think he deserves,” he replied.
“Patch installed,” Frank said. “Parameters accepted. Captain Shepherd, you’re to disengage manual control at ten-thousand feet and remain on standby in the event of a system fault.”
Nicholas raised an eyebrow. “Colonel Haines, is this right? I thought you decided the system wasn’t ready for full automated control after the last flight.”
“We’ve made some significant advances in the last few days, Captain,” Yasmin said before Haines could answer.
“And the timeline has changed,” Haines added. “Look around you, Shepherd. These Marines can’t hold out for much longer. Our primary objective is to finalize Project Foresight. Once we’re done here, we can retreat to a more defensible position and wait for airlift to a secured site. Which means we need that ship fully operational ASAP.”
“With all due respect, sir, if you try to rush things too much you’ll end up with a fireball instead of a successful test flight,” Nicholas replied.
“It’s not your call, Captain,” Haines said. “You have your parameters.”
“Yes, sir.” Nicholas didn’t care if they could see him glowering through the flight deck feed. He had the distinct sense the parameters had changed because Grimmel was in the CIC to watch the flight, not because of any significant advances. The tech magnate didn’t have the same clout now as he had before the war, but it was still his factories, his developers, and his technology that had gotten them this far. “All systems are go. Requesting permission to launch.”
The massive hangar doors shuddered as they came to a stop. Daylight streamed into the hangar, blue skies, brown mountains, and a series of long, low barracks visible ahead. From here, the world looked peaceful and idyllic. A beautiful day for a test flight.
If only that were true.
“Permission granted,” Duff said.
In Nicholas’ opinion, the control pad under his right hand was the greatest innovation to come out of the construction of Foresight. With the miniaturized combination of joystick, throttle, pointer and tactile buttons, he could easily control the ship without ever needing to take his eyes off the forward view. It had taken him only a few hours to master the system in the simulator but hours of additional flight-time to increase his aptitude and precision. As though it were an F-35, despite its size and weight, maneuvering the ship required only the slightest movement of his fingers on the pad.
Of course, such fine grain control would be impossible without the onboard neural net. Its consistent, finely-tuned judgments cancelled out any potential error from an errant muscle spasm or slip of the hand. Nicholas couldn’t do anything that would accidentally crash the vessel.
Even if he wanted to.
As soon as Duff confirmed his permission to launch, Nicholas used a finger to switch the action of the stick and throttle for liftoff. Sliding the throttle open increased power to the row of counter-gravity coils aligned along the bottom center of the fuselage beneath the matte black alloy that composed the craft’s outer shell. The ship rose gently from the floor, leaving it to hover over the deck as if by magic.
Nicholas understood there was nothing magical about it, though he had no idea how the technology actually worked. It was in another range of inventions Grimmel Corporation had patented over the last fifteen years, part of an incredible explosion of advancement that Nicholas had once felt certain would completely alter the course of human civilization.
But that was before human civilization collapsed.
Before disease and then the trife came and ruined everything.
The silver lining, if there was ever going to be one, was that the advancements Nicholas thought would bring rapid global transportation, abundant green energy, and other life-altering benefits had, in aggregate, turned out to be the one thing that might give humankind a chance to survive. Just not in the way anyone had thought. Foresight. This flight. They were the final pieces of a massive puzzle that what was left of the world’s governments had been fitting together at lightning speed for nearly a year. What they had already accomplished would have seemed impossible two years earlier, but they had done it.
Foresight’s control systems needed to be completed and proven out. Not just for this ship.
For every ship.
Another tap from his finger reset the throttle control for thrust. A glance at the diagnostics projected on the console in front of the control pad confirmed nominal operation. Frank would have already warned him if it were otherwise.
Satisfied, he opened the throttle, the physical stress of acceleration minimal courtesy of the computer-controlled gyroscope his seat sat on. However, the force of the main thrusters engaging still pressed him back into his seat, the ride butter-smooth and soundless for him.
Outside the craft was a different story.
The Marines, visible through the flight deck’s clear surround , jerked their heads around to watch the launch. Some of them cheered as the spacecraft rocketed away, their exhaustion momentarily forgotten.
The starship cleared the hangar in seconds, exploding into the open landscape only a few feet above the road leading down the mountain and into the now-abandoned section of Fort Hood. Hundreds of dark alien shapes, the aftermath of the prior night’s fighting, lay dead across the road, the ship’s shadow passing quickly over them. It was a scene Nicholas had grown numb to in the two years since the creatures had fallen from the skies and started their quest to become the dominant species on the planet.
As a pilot with the United States Marines—and now the United States Space Force—he had been part of the war from the start. He was over Hoboken when President Wayne had given the order to drop nukes on American cities in a desperate attempt to slow the rising tide of the trife. He had watched the mushroom clouds billow above the city, circling back over it to survey the outcome. Hoboken had already been evacuated, the human casualties minimized. Even so, to see the once majestic skyline ripped to shreds, to gaze on the crumbled buildings and rain of ash, remained one of his worst memories of the war.
One of the worst, but not the worst. That came after the nukes. Nearly half a million trife died in the bombings, but the explosions and resulting radiation didn’t even make a dent in their numbers. Worse, the radiation provided an unexpected fuel for the creatures, allowing them to multiply even more rapidly.
Not only had they failed to hurt the aliens, they had unwittingly helped them.
Since then, whenever he saw a slick of dead trife, the memory flashed through his mind. Today was no different. For all of their efforts, for all of their sacrifices, for all of the death and suffering, no one could avoid the truth that humankind would lose the war. They had been surrendering ground to the trife for months, their resources dwindling, their morale destroyed. While he had heard some pockets of survivors managed to avoid the creatures, the writing was on the wall. They could either accept their destiny as a fallen civilization, eke out an existence spent under constant threat.
Or they could escape. Leave Earth. And never look back.
The ships were nearly finished. Sixteen in total. Massive vessels that would carry forty-thousand people each to the stars. Some called them ark ships, some generation ships, the name wasn’t as important as the purpose. Get humankind off Earth. Settle a new world. Multiple new worlds actually. The ships would go in different directions, to different systems, landing on planets that the best scientists on Earth, the ones still alive, believed could harbor human life. It was a risky proposition. No guarantees. But there was no shortage of volunteers. In fact, you couldn’t win a ride on any of the ships. You had to be chosen.
By test piloting Foresight, Nicholas had cemented his family’s ticket on one of the USSF ships. Not that Yasmin wouldn’t have earned them a place anyway. She was part of Grimmel’s top cabal of scientists, and he wouldn’t leave the planet without them. Even so, it seemed unfair that they were guaranteed escape just because Yasmin worked for a man who was so wealthy, so powerful he couldn’t be left behind. Yet, for all his status, Grimmel had been reduced to fighting for his life, just like everyone else.
It helped Nicholas sleep better at night, knowing he and Yasmin had at least a hands-on part in making this life-saving endeavor happen. As far as Nicholas was concerned, Grimmel wasn’t much more than a money man.
Foresight shot across the landscape, covering ground in a hurry. Nicholas kept to a low flight path, skirting five thousand feet as he crossed the terrain. Small towns came in and out of view, all of them deserted. Cars had been left in the middle of streets. Doors left open. Businesses unlocked. Windows shattered. The bodies of both people and trife had mostly been picked at by carrion, leaving behind an eerie scene he would never forget.
“Mission parameters require climbing to ten-thousand feet,” Frank said without a hint of emotion. The AI wasn’t the kind popular in books and movies, with a programmed personality that made it seem not only human, but a hell of a lot more entertaining than any human he had ever met. Frank remained a machine. Not even that. It was a software-based neural network running on off-the-shelf hardware. The marvel was that Yasmin’s team had managed to get something so advanced stuffed into so little random access memory.
“The mission parameters didn’t outline when I had to climb to ten-thousand feet,” Nicholas replied, fully aware that Control could hear everything he said. “If this is going to be my last flight, I want to enjoy it for as long as I can.”
Frank didn’t reply.
Nicholas continued guiding Foresight south. He only needed a couple of minutes to come into view of Houston, or rather what was left of it. While the densest part of downtown had mostly been spared bombardment, the rest of the city lay in ruins, the buildings crumbling, the streets strewn with rubble, cars, garbage, and other debris. That included the remains of a number of USSF Butchers, APCs, and even a few tanks, their treads shredded to ribbons by the sharp claws of the alien trife.
What every military on Earth had learned was that it didn’t matter how superior your firepower was. When the bullets ran out, when the gas tanks ran dry, when the batteries died, the most powerful fighting force on Earth was reduced to flesh-and-blood hand-to-hand combat.. And the trife outnumbered humans by a factor of at least a hundred to one.
Nicholas wasn’t sure why he wanted to see Houston again. Maybe because he had been in the skies overhead the day it had fallen, watching helplessly as a slick of trife a quarter-million strong had descended on the city. Maybe because he had been born there. Maybe because he wanted to be reminded of what this flight was about. He had indirectly asked Colonel Haines for a few minutes, and she had granted them in her silence.
Closure. That’s why he guided Foresight over Houston. He needed closure. He knew Haines well enough to believe she wanted some too. After holding the compound for nine months against constant trife assaults, their time here nearly done, he wanted to make a statement.
“Colonel,” he said, using his thumb to make a quick right turn, orienting Foresight toward San Antonio. Toward the Interenergy solar array. “I noticed weapons testing isn’t part of today’s mission parameters.”
“That’s correct, Captain,” Haines replied.
“I was thinking that since Mister Grimmel joined us for the occasion, it might make sense to add to the parameters. It’s been a while since we activated the spines.”
“The power draw is significant,” Yasmin said, still linked to the comms from the lab. “Besides, the parameters are already uploaded. They can’t be altered.”
“I can pull the charge for the spines from the batteries instead of the reactors. We can recharge the system with the compound’s power supply. If everything goes according to plan we won’t need the base tokamak for much longer,” he said, referring to the base reactor. “And as long as I stay under the threshold ceiling Frank can’t take over.”
“I wish you wouldn’t keep calling it Frank,” Yasmin said. “It’s a machine. It doesn’t have a name.”
“Frank is a lot easier to say than Foresight Automated Flight Control, love,” Nicholas said. “And FAFC isn’t much better. I’m sure Mister Grimmel would agree.”
“Standby,” Colonel Haines said.
Nicholas remained on course toward the array, occupying himself by guiding Foresight through a series of maneuvers that put high-G stress on both the airframe and his body, even wearing a G-suit. He had flown fighter jets long enough to know his limits, and he pushed Foresight to its edge as well, careful to remain below the angels ten ceiling that would force him to relinquish control.
He rolled the starship in a tight corkscrew before throwing it into a turn just hard enough to marginally overstress his G-suit. His ingrained response was automatic, his stomach muscles tightening to prevent enough blood from rushing to his lower body to leave him lightheaded.
Haines’ voice broke through the comm just before Nicholas put Foresight into a hard descent. “Captain, when you’re done doing loop-de-loops, parameters are updated to include a complete test of the spines. Mister Grimmel is very interested in seeing them in action.”
“Yes, sir,” Nicholas replied slightly breathlessly, quickly flattening Foresight’s flight path. “I already have a target in mind.”
Haines laughed. “I assumed you did, Shepherd. From the flight pattern, it looks like you’re heading for the Interenergy nesting ground.”
“I know it’s a futile effort, but it’ll make me feel better,” Nicholas said.
“It’ll make me feel better too, Captain,” Haines replied.
“Then I guess it’s decided.”
Two buttons on the control pad activated the spinal array, something Nicholas couldn’t see from inside the flight deck surround, but he could picture it in his head. Made from the special metal alloy invented at Grimmel Corporation, nearly one hundred of the long, whisker-like barbs spread out from the fuselage when they received an electrical charge. Each one was an individual weapon that fired a focused blast of energy, but they could also be used to concentrate energy onto a single spot to devastating effect.
That same energy could also be used defensively, by forming a shield around the craft. According to Yasmin, the defensive posture was the true purpose of the spines, but granting the same technology an offensive capability had been “relatively trivial.”
After twenty-six years of marriage, he remained amused by what his wife found trivial.
The Interenergy solar array, a field of thousands of mirrors, was already in view. A good portion of the mirrors were in ruin, leaving the outline of the reflective surface jagged and uneven. The generating tower was dark, its entire two-hundred-meter height coated in the rough black material that soaked up the intense heat generated by the mirrors. It was heat the broken internal mechanism of the tower couldn’t use.
The ground beneath the mirrors appeared equally as dark as the tower, as if someone had laid fresh asphalt across the dirt before installing the reflectors. Nicholas knew that wasn’t the case.
The darkness under the array undulated and writhed like a black sea, occasionally broken by a yellow crest. It appeared to have taken on a life of its own.
Because it had. It was alive with trife.
No one had ever taken an exact count of the trife that occupied the array. There was no point. What they could see from the air was only the tip of the iceberg. More of the creatures lived inside the tower and below ground, including their queen. Looking at the massive slick, Nicholas guessed somewhere around one million of the demons were down there, soaking up life-giving radiation in preparation for another night of hunting.
“Spines activated,” Nicholas said, pulling back on the throttle to slow Foresight for the approach. “Charge at eighty percent.”
The Interenergy array wasn’t where the trife that attacked the base nightly came from. This nest was too far away. They had learned that the alien queens tended to be more competitive than cooperative, though there were documented occasions when multiple queens had joined forces against hardened human defenses. It had created a strange dynamic during different stages of the war, where a battle between a slick of trife and a company of Marines suddenly became a three-sided affair that devolved into total chaos.
“Ninety percent,” Nicholas said. Even if the array wasn’t part of their immediate problem, it was just too juicy a target to ignore, especially if destroying it and the trife with it meant putting on a good show for Grimmel. Of course, even if they were able to destroy the entire array and kill over a million trife with one shot, it wouldn’t make any difference in the outcome of a war that was already lost.
But it would make him feel better. For a little while, at least.
Nicholas tapped the control surface beneath his left hand, activating the fire control HUD. The spines could fire at multiple bogeys at once, selected by looking at the display and blinking to confirm when a box appeared over the intended target, his eye movements precision-tracked by Frank. Within a literal few blinks he had assigned the spines to six locations among the mirrors with half of his firepower. He directed the other half at the base of the tower.
“Targets locked,” he announced. “Spines fully charged. Firing.”
Nicholas pressed the third button on his control pad to trigger the spines. He imagined the blue balls of energy forming at the tips of the spines, and a split-second later, the ion beams launched from the spines, creating a blue glow through the camera feeds.
The beams cut through the piles of trife under the mirrors and dug into the ground, creating a ripple of energy that tossed the creatures in every direction. Some disintegrated into fine dust amidst the plasma toroids and balled lightning as it whipped out from the contact points.
The same force struck the tower. The beam slid along its length, slicing through the aliens clinging to its exterior and burning clear through to the other side. The tower shook, putting unsustainable stress on the structure and shedding trife like a dog shaking off water. The dead and dying landed amidst the aliens sleeping below, waking them to rage at Foresight as the starship shot overhead. From the flight deck, Nicholas imagined the unnatural sound of their unified scream.
He banked Foresight hard, using his left-hand controls to switch camera feeds so he could continue watching the destruction behind them. The tower groaned and shifted, more trife falling off, while the aliens on the ground did their best to untangle from one another and flee before it collapsed.
They weren’t fast enough.
The base of the tower snapped, and then the whole thing toppled, thousands of trife crushed when it smashed to the ground. It didn’t end there. The weight and force was enough to weaken the structure beneath the dirt. The ground opened up, swallowing the collapsing lower half of the tower, killing even more trife.
Nicholas smiled, elated by the death and chaos he had wrought and equally amazed by Foresight’s weapons system. At the same time, knowing the ship was a prototype and that all of the onboard tech was intended for the ark ships, he hoped they would never need to use it.
“Spine test successful, Colonel,” he announced over the comm. “What do you think, Mister Grimmel?”
It took a moment for the businessman to get back on the comm. “Perfection.”
“Okay, Shepherd,” Haines said. “You’ve had your fun, and Mister Grimmel got his show. Head to ten thousand feet and let the AI take over.”
“Copy that, sir,” Nicholas replied, guiding Foresight into a lazy ascent. “Frank, you’re up.”
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