A violent war followed. The enemy won.
Some of us escaped...
...most of us didn’t.
On Proxima they flourished - the invasion forgotten.
On Earth we floundered - the horror began.
Their world is advanced, peaceful, and secure.
Our world is broken, savage, and overrun.
A new invasion is coming.
A hunger that has swallowed half the universe.
They don’t care which planet we live on.
They want to end us all.
But where there is life, there is hope.
And where there is hope, there are heroes.
Sheriff. Marine. Pilot.
Engineer. Centurion. Clone.
This time, vengeance will be ours.
Release date: June 25, 2019
Publisher: Quirky Algorithms
Print pages: 376
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United States Marine Corps Sergeant Isaac Pine lifted his head as the door slid open. He was still for a moment before his years of training kicked in, bringing him almost subconsciously from his chair to his feet, coming to attention.
His visitor was an older man. Twin streaks of white raced through the dark hair at his temples while wrinkles creased various points of his face and wise, confident eyes regarded Isaac with interest and curiosity. The full array of hardware on the man’s chest was impressive, but Isaac had reacted to the five stars across his lapels.
“Sergeant Pine,” the General said, his expression remaining professional. “At ease. Please, sit.”
“Yes, sir.” Isaac relaxed his posture, regaining his seat as the door closed. The General walked calmly to the plain steel table where Isaac was seated, taking a position in the chair on the other side. He held a narrow, translucent tablet of polymer in his hand, which he placed in front of him on the table, revealing the first screen of Isaac’s military record.
Where had he gotten that?
“Sir, is this an interrogation?” Isaac asked.
The room was bare save for the table and two chairs, though Isaac had no question there was at least one camera hidden in the walls with multiple people watching the feeds. It would be stupid for them to trust him alone with the general. They hadn’t bound his hands or feet. He could jump over the table and assault the man if that was his desire.
It wasn’t. He had come here willingly, all the way from Earth.
The doctors of Proxima B had saved his life, removing a brain tumor the surgeon claimed would have killed him in weeks if it had gone untreated. An affliction that couldn’t be cured back home. Had they saved him to question him? And why here, in a room straight out of a bad movie? Was he the enemy now?
That wasn’t how this was supposed to work.
“I wouldn’t call this an interrogation, Sergeant,” the General replied.
“What would you call it then, sir?”
“A friendly introduction.” The General stretched his hand toward Isaac. “I’m General Aeron Haeri of the Centurion Space Force.”
Isaac stared at the hand. This wasn’t protocol.
And it wasn’t a friendly introduction. Something like that would have been held in the General’s office. He would have been invited there, not escorted here under armed guard.
“It’s okay, Sergeant Pine. You can shake my hand.” Haeri smiled. “You aren’t one of mine.”
Isaac knew a little bit about the Centurion Space Force. He knew some of the history. Most of it wasn’t all that good. But like it or not, the CSF had grown from the United States Space Force, which itself had stemmed from a combination of the United States Marine Corps and the United States Air Force. Maybe they were on different planets, but they shared the same origins. They also shared the same enemy.
An enemy that was more of a threat than ever.
“No disrespect intended, sir,” Isaac replied. He wasn’t about to shake a four-star general’s hand like he was somebody he met at a bar. “Technically, I am one of yours. Or you wouldn’t have my military record.”
General Haeri seemed to appreciate the response, his lips spreading ever so slightly into a smile. “All right, Sergeant. Let’s get on with this then, shall we?” His eyes dropped to the polymer and Isaac’s record.
“Sergeant Isaac Pine,” he read. “MOS 5815, Special Reaction Team.” He glanced up at Isaac again. “Military Police.”
“Yes, sir,” Isaac replied. “That was a long time ago.”
“Not for you.”
General Haeri slid his finger across the slender tablet, flipping through the pages and reviewing the data. Isaac winced when the general navigated past a photo of his late wife. He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing to keep himself steady.
“High marks all around,” Haeri said, glancing up at him again. “Your marksmanship scores are especially strong.”
“I was always good with a rifle, sir.” He paused while the general looked back at the data. “General Haeri, can I ask you something?”
“Please do, Sergeant. I prefer we keep things as informal as possible. We aren’t enemies, after all.”
Isaac wasn’t entirely sure of that. On some level, they were enemies. But that level paled in comparison to the shared threats waiting for them.
“You didn’t need to come in here to read my file, sir.”
General Haeri released his full smile. “That was a statement, not a question.”
“The meaning is the same, sir,” Isaac replied.
Haeri pushed the device aside and leaned forward on the table. He brought his hands together, locking his fingers. His eyes met Isaac’s. There was no malice in them—only that same interested curiosity.
“I want to know more about Sheriff Hayden Duke.”
“Sir? I’m not sure I follow.”
“I’ve been in command of the Centurion Space Force for nearly twenty years. For eighteen of those years, things were calm. The CSF ran like clockwork. So did Proxima. The entire planet was in equilibrium. Stable. Quiet. My job was easy, and I went home to my wife and children every night believing they were safe. That their lives would be peaceful.” He paused, his jaw clenching slightly. “And then Sheriff Hayden Duke happened.”
“I don’t think it’s fair to blame Sheriff Duke for any of this, sir,” Isaac said.
“No? Why not?”
“You have my file, sir. Are you familiar with my more recent history?”
“I’ve been briefed. You spent two hundred thirty-six years in stasis, intentionally placed there by an operative of the enemy to preserve your genetic potential. They forgot about you, the power ran out, and you woke up two months ago.”
“That’s an interesting way of framing it, sir.”
“In what way?”
“Can I be blunt, General?”
“You’re minimizing the threat. The operative wasn’t some spy, and he didn’t forget about me. He had his own people waiting there for me to wake up. The only reason I’m here and alive is because of Sheriff Duke.”
“You say he. Do the Relyeh Ancients have genders?”
“That’s not the point, is it, sir? I don’t know if they have genitals or not. I never looked. But Shurrath seemed more like a he.” Isaac stared at Haeri. He didn’t seem like the kind of man that would waste a question. He was probing. But for what?
Haeri sat in silence, waiting for Isaac to decide where the conversation would go.
“General, the real point is that the Relyeh threat has been present since the trife arrived on Earth over two hundred years ago. If you believe things have been peaceful and your family is safe, I would argue that belief is pure ignorance.”
Haeri leaned back slightly, an amused smirk sliding across his face. “Ignorance. I assure you, Sergeant, I’ve been anything but ignorant. When Rico brought you here, she promised me you would provide details about Sheriff Duke’s activities on Earth. He claims to have had contact with the Others?”
“The Axon.” Isaac corrected him, using the alien race’s true name. “Yes, sir. But I think you already know about that. Gillick is one of yours.“
“She’s a Centurion officer, yes.”
Isaac paused a moment, deciding whether to play one of his cards. Better to use it than lose it. “That’s not what I mean, sir.”
General Haeri’s eyes shifted, revealing the location of one of the hidden cameras to Isaac. He lowered his voice. “Be careful about the allusions you make, Sergeant. Nothing is as simple as it may seem.”
“Yes, sir. Gillick’s team was infiltrated by Relyeh. They used her to advance their own agenda.”
“That’s not how she tells it.”
Isaac fought to control his immediate response. He failed. “That’s because she’s a self-centered idiot. Sheriff Duke saved her life, and she didn’t even realize—”
“That’s enough, Sergeant,” Haeri said, putting up his hand to silence him. “We aren’t here to speak to Colonel Gillick’s actions.”
“Maybe we should be.”
“We aren’t. She’s my responsibility, and she’ll be handled as such. Tell me more about the Axon.”
“Sir, Sheriff Duke made a deal with it. He’s trying to negotiate an alliance.”
“General, I think the fact that you even asked that question speaks volumes about Proxima’s treatment of Earth. Could you even blame him if he were trying to form an alliance against you?”
“Perhaps not,” Haeri admitted. “Relations between Proxima and Earth haven’t been as positive as some of us might want. Mistakes have been made."
“Mistakes, General? You abandoned the people of Earth except for use in your experiments. You live up here in comfort and safety while the people down there suffer. And when someone down there finally tries to do something about it, you refuse to provide more than a minimum level of aid based on a ridiculous, ill-conceived, and outdated Zero Contact Protocol. I’m not surprised you don’t sleep well at night.”
“I may be in command of the CSF, but I don’t run the planet, and I don’t make the laws. I’ve done my best to handle Sheriff Duke within the constraints of my position. I’m still not sure if he’s a thorn in my side or a spear in my hand.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t be thinking of him in terms of how he can help or hurt you, sir. What about how you can help him help Earth? Sheriff Duke isn’t seeking an alliance against Proxima. To be honest, General, after what I just experienced you’re the last thing the people of Earth have to worry about. The trife were only the beginning. There’s a new invasion coming. One that will tear up both our worlds if we don’t start working together.”
“There’s a power vacuum, sir. A hole in their web of dominion. You can guess where the center of that hole is.”
“Earth,” Haeri replied. His smile was gone, his face stoic and tight as Isaac’s words sank in.
“General, the Axon are losing ground,” Isaac said. “Earth is already on the ropes. And you’re sitting out here pretending this planet is safe, but it isn’t. I promise you that. But there’s still a chance to rally. A chance to save everything. But we have to seize the moment. The time for hiding is over.”
Haeri stared at Isaac for a long moment. The tension between them was heavy. The pressure mounting. It was obvious to Isaac the General didn’t like what he had to say.
But they had brought him here because they wanted him to talk. So he was talking.
“Why did you cure me, sir?” he continued. “Because you believed in my loyalty to the Corps, and by extension the Centurion Space Force? Because you believed I would help you? I can help you. Send me back to Earth. Send me with supplies. Ships. Armor. Guns and ammunition. Send me with the full weight of the CSF at my back. Or better yet, come back with me. Lead the fight yourself.”
“The trife arrived over two hundred years ago,” Haeri said. “Since then, we’ve had no contact or interference from any other extraterrestrials. Why are you so convinced you need more aid than we’re already providing?”
“You mean besides the fact that the trife are still in control of the planet?”
“We fought that war a long time ago, Sergeant. We lost.”
“The people on Earth are ready for you to try again. In any case, the Hunger is like a hydra, General. Cut off one head and two more grow back. Sheriff Duke neutralized Shurrath. Something worse is bound to follow.”
Haeri regarded him for a long moment, silent and thoughtful. Choosing his words carefully. Isaac understood. Like the General had said, things weren’t as simple as they seemed. There were things he couldn’t say in here. Things he couldn’t do.
Even so, Haeri’s next statement caught Isaac completely by surprise.
“I understand, Sergeant. I understand it was a mistake to bring you here. Whatever Sheriff Duke is planning on Earth, it’s obvious he intends to sow dissent here on Proxima. He coached you to assist him in that goal. Fuel the fear of the people and watch how the planet burns. Payback for his misguided belief that the people who escaped Earth have abandoned it. The truth is hardly what you’ve presented here. What you’ve presented are lies and propaganda. The fact remains that Earth is a wasteland created by an accidental alien invasion over two centuries ago. The humans who survive there are tribal savages, and every effort we’ve made to redeem them have ended with the loss of Centurion lives.”
Isaac stared at Haeri, stunned by the force of the rebuke. And the General wasn’t finished.
“There are no other aliens out there except the trife. We’ve spent over a hundred years searching as much of the galaxy as we can reach, and we’ve found nothing. The Axon and the Relyeh—the Others and the Hunger—they don’t exist. They’re code words Sheriff Duke and his followers use to manipulate the people. Words you’ve tried to use with me here, just as I expected you would. I’m not an Earther, Sergeant. I’m not an uneducated savage. You can’t sway me with the same lies you use to convince scavengers and criminals to join the Sheriff’s so-called posse.”
Isaac opened his mouth to speak, to counter Haeri’s unexpected tirade. He couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
“Earth is over, Sergeant. It was lost a long time ago. Sheriff Hayden Duke is dangerous. Speaking to you, I realize how dangerous he’s become. Why did I cure you? Information. Observation. And possibly conversion. I want to give you a chance to see the other side of the argument. You’re a trained soldier. A valuable asset. We could use someone like you on the ground.”
Isaac’s heart pounded, his mouth suddenly dry. Haeri glanced over at the camera again. The General was playing games. Should he play along?
“You’re a liar,” Isaac said through gritted teeth. The sucker punch left him seething, but he didn’t dare show it. “I don’t know what your game is, but I’m not playing. Sheriff Hayden Duke is a good man. What he’s trying to do on Earth is for the good of everyone there. And the Hunger is real, General. It’s real, and it’s coming. No amount of denial will change that.”
“What you call denial, I call reality.”
General Haeri tapped a small button on his collar. The door behind him slid open and a pair of guards entered the room. They were dressed in dark body armor, black helmets hiding their faces.
“Take the prisoner to the brig,” General Haeri said. “Put him in isolation.”
“What?” Isaac said. “You brought me here as a guest. You saved my life to throw me—.”
“And I expected some level of gratitude,” Haeri replied. “Not petulant posturing for a second-rate warlord.” The General stood as the guards flanked Isaac. “If you won’t help me deal with Sheriff Duke, my only other option is to remove both him and you from the equation. Take him away.”
Isaac decided to try to get over the table after all, growling as he stood and lunged at Haeri. “You son of a bitch.”
Haeri didn’t even flinch as the guards grabbed Isaac’s arms, the enhanced strength of their combat armor allowing them to easily hold him. He struggled in their grasp, but there was no way out of their iron grip. They pulled him toward the door.
“Wait,” General Haeri said as the soldiers reached it. He turned to face Isaac. “I’ll give you twenty-four hours to reconsider your decision.”
“Go to hell,” Isaac replied.
Haeri didn’t speak as the guards dragged Isaac from the room.
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