After initial contact with an alien entity leaves Kaylan unconscious, she wakes up to discover that she’s now in command of the Athena mission stranded in a star system far from Earth.
The ship’s computer is malfunctioning and former hacker and astronaut trainee, Zack Quick, is the only one who can fix it. If he can’t figure out what’s wrong, they have no hope of getting back home.
In order to survive, the crew of the Athena must explore an alien star system to find the species that summoned them.
The Star Divide is the second installment in a action packed science fiction thriller series. If you like space opera adventure stories with clever heroes, impossible situations, and chilling discoveries, then strap yourself in, you’re in for a fun nonstop thrill ride. Buy The Star Divide and start your epic journey today!
Release date: March 29, 2016
Publisher: Acoustical Books LLC
Print pages: 262
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
60 Earth Years before the Athena mission leaves Earth,
Boxan Monitoring Station, 7th Planetary Body, Nershal Star System
Kladomaor slammed his fist on the console. “We’ve lost another species to the Xiiginns!”
The deep blue lines of his battle armor covered most of his brown, roughened skin. Boxans, despite their considerable size, had never been a warlike race, preferring to cultivate the world around them. And they had carried this shepherding instinct with them as they reached for the heavens, expanding their influence among the stars.
“Already?” Gaarokk said, tearing his eyes from the barrage of warning messages that stretched across the holoscreens in front of him. “The Nershals represented the best probability of resisting Xiiginn influence. At this rate what hope is there of stopping them?”
Kladomaor clenched his teeth. Time was running out. The Xiiginns had proven to be their betters. Once, the Xiiginns had been ranked first among the species cultivated into a harmonious Confederation in their part of the galaxy. The Confederation had been established so advanced species could peacefully coexist, while keeping the younger species ignorant of their presence. Now all the species they had ever come in contact with were at risk. The Xiiginns had fooled them all, proving to be among the most cunning and sinister races the Boxans had ever encountered. And now they were beyond the Boxan’s ability to control. Battle cruisers were evenly matched, and to overcome the stalemate, the Xiiginns had enlisted the help of the other species in the Confederation. The Xiiginns used their foundation of lies to drive the Boxans back on almost all fronts. The Boxans could not go into open conflict with the other species of the Confederation.
Kladomaor shifted his armored feet and glanced at the screens before them. Battle had hardened him. “The other races could not resist the Xiiginns. The star systems are falling faster now because, instead of fighting, they’re joining the Xiiginns’ cause against us. They’ve turned us into the monsters the Xiiginns actually are. Where is Ma’jasalax? Her beacon says she’s here.”
Gaarokk nodded his shaggy head toward the entrance of the large octagonal structure behind them. The Mardoxian Chamber wasn’t nearly as massive as the ones built on Setheon, the Boxan home world, but it would have to suffice. Ma’jasalax had been insistent.
“Meditation at a time like this? We need to leave. The home system is in danger. The Xiiginns have captured a shroud device while it was sending a transmission back to comms central. If they can decrypt the transmission, then no world is safe, including our own,” Kladomaor said.
Gaarokk brought up the subroutines that would trigger the destruction of the listening post in this star system. As part of standard practice for studying species, listening posts were installed on the outermost planets, well away from planets with intelligent life. The distant locations assured them that species would only learn of the Confederation’s existence once they reached a certain level of technological development.
Kladomaor strode over to the chamber, looking as if he were about to violate one of their most sacred tenets and force open the door. Gas geysered out along the sides, and the lines between the dark octagonal plating glowed red. The canopy above retracted, revealing a twilit sky. Xiiginn warships could arrive at any moment.
The glowing plating settled into a pulsating rhythm, and the door to the chamber opened. Ma’jasalax came through and Kladomaor stepped back, bowing his head slightly in respect.
“Using the chamber now? You risk us all. The Xiiginns already hunt for our home world. They might even be able to trace the Mardoxian signal to our current location. We must get to our ship and leave this place,” Kladomaor said, heading toward the exit.
Ma’jasalax focused on the soldier’s back as she followed. Battle had made Kladomaor brash, a trait their species hadn’t needed in the past. She couldn’t blame him. The sting of defeat haunted his actions against an enemy that had once been first among the cultivated species. So much had changed, and it was going to get worse. Much worse. Her efforts in the chamber had left her weakened, but she forced herself to move forward as best she could.
Kladomaor’s helmet covered his face as he waited for them to engage their envirosuits. Once this was accomplished, he opened the airlock to the barren, pockmarked landscape that adorned the planet’s surface. They were on the farthest planet, barely more than a moon, in the Nershal star system. The thin atmosphere did little to protect them from the dangers of the void.
“There is still time,” Ma’jasalax said.
“Not much,” Kladomaor replied, his voice coming through the small speakers in her helmet.
They approached the ship—a smaller class transport ship designed for stealth and speed. Its darkened hull seemed at home in the shadows, and Ma’jasalax abhorred the need for such a ship. An access ramp opened, and once inside they were able to remove their envirosuits, which folded back into the seams of their clothing. The three of them headed to the bridge, and Kladomaor took the pilot’s seat.
“We’ve had reports on the surface of Selebus that we’ve been betrayed to the Xiiginns,” Kladomaor said.
“It’s true,” Ma’jasalax answered. She’d been there and seen her species being rounded up to be struck down.
“How could that be?” Gaarokk asked. “We’ve had no reports that the Xiiginns even knew of the Nershals’ home world here.”
“We’ve underestimated the Xiiginns and their lust for vengeance. They will seek to turn all of our allies against us, poisoning the Confederation we’ve worked so hard to build,” Ma’jasalax said, stumbling to the chair. Her breath was coming in small gasps.
Kladomaor peered at her. “What have you done?”
Ma’jasalax braced herself, holding herself up. Her strength was draining rapidly.
Kladomaor pulled up a readout of the listening station. “It’s still broadcasting. You’re still connected to the Mardoxian Chamber. How . . . ? We need to cut the connection. Gaarokk, override the self-destruct and blow it now.”
Gaarokk glanced back at both of them. “If I blow it now, we’ll lose her.”
Kladomaor smashed an armored fist on the panel in front of him. “The Xiiginn ships will emerge at any moment. If the broadcast is still going, they will be able to trace it back to the Boxan system.”
Ma’jasalax bowed her head with a great sigh and gently reached out to Gaarokk. The Boxan scientist nodded, his large fingers deftly navigating the interface. A bright flash appeared on the planetary surface below, and Ma’jasalax sank back into the chair.
Kladomaor glared at Ma’jasalax. “You’ve sent an unsanctioned broadcast. Where did the signal go?”
Ma’jasalax calmly returned the soldier’s gaze. “The Sol system,” she said.
Kladomaor’s brow furrowed and he turned toward the display, bringing up information about the Sol system. After a moment he muttered a curse. “Humans! You’ve sent the Mardoxian signal to a primitive species? We’re not even convinced they should be brought into the cultivation program.”
“I’ve seen what they can become. Given the chance, they could help us right the wrongs with the Xiiginns.”
“You’ve gone too far. You’re not authorized to reach out to any primitive species. I have no choice but to bring you in before the Council of the Confederation. Your actions will leave you stripped of Mardoxian status. You will be cast out—banished,” Kladomaor said.
Ma’jasalax gazed at him patiently. “Their risk is the same as ours. The Xiiginns will be targeting the primitive species now. They need to be prepared, or would you suggest we just let their species stand alone?”
Kladomaor’s eyes quickly scanned the holodisplay and then he closed them, switching to his neural implants. The frown lines on his face deepened. “They could be much worse than the Xiiginns. Instead of one power-hungry, bloodlust species, we’ll be inundated with them. The Humans have barely explored their own star system. How prepared could they be for what’s to come? They are a territorial, warlike, and brash species.”
Ma’jasalax drew in a slow, steadying breath. “They are also compassionate and have a capacity to accomplish great things. It will take time for the Xiiginns to decrypt the information stored in the shroud—time the Humans will need to develop enough to be able to help us.”
Kladomaor blew out a breath. “The risk . . . this is too reckless.”
“I didn’t send them anything they weren’t already working on. This is just a nudge in the right direction.”
“What’s done is done. We should be leaving,” Gaarokk said.
“It’s not that simple,” Kladomaor replied. “Once the process has begun, ongoing monitoring is essential. The council has severed the connections to all listening stations. The Star Shroud Network will continue to operate, but we’re cut off until the danger passes. What she has done is essentially stoked a spark to a flame, and without our capacity to guide it, we may be responsible for the doom of our species.”
“Or we may be its only hope. In this you’re wrong. You will see. Take me to the council,” Ma’jasalax said, and closed her eyes. To some she would appear to be sleeping, but she knew Kladomaor wasn’t fooled.
“My experience says otherwise, but for all our sakes I do hope you are correct.”
“What can we do?” Gaarokk asked.
“Survive,” Kladomaor grumbled, and punched in the coordinates that would take them away from this cursed star system. He much preferred a straight-up fight, but they were losing the war with the Xiiginns. The Mardoxian Chambers were used to speak to primitive species across vast distances and were not governed by dimensional space. Humans . . . bah. Based on the reports he was still accessing through his neural links, Kladomaor doubted they could even make sense of the signal, much less act on it.
2046 Aboard the spaceship Athena somewhere beyond Earth’s solar system.
Kaylan pushed her eyes open, and her blurred vision slowly came into focus. The soft amber glow of the overhead holodisplays in the Athena’s med bay showed her vital signs transmitted from her neural implants. She rubbed her eyes and took in a deep breath. Her head felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. After a few moments, the fogginess retreated and her thoughts cleared. Working her mouth into a slow swallow, she turned her head to see if anyone else was with her. Finding herself alone, she closed her eyes and focused on the bridge. In her mind she saw Zack at the comms station, speaking with Katie. Each of them appeared to be surrounded by a faint glow that grew brighter as Katie placed her hand on Zack’s shoulder.
Kaylan shoved the image from her mind, thinking her imagination was getting the better of her. As she sat up in the bed and let her feet dangle toward the floor, the door to the med bay opened and Brenda walked in.
“Good, you’re awake,” the Athena’s chief medical officer said as she came over. Brenda glanced at the holoscreen showing Kaylan’s vitals.
“How long have I been out?” Kaylan asked.
“A couple of hours. Do you remember anything that happened on Pluto?” Brenda asked.
A couple of hours? Kaylan moved to get up, but Brenda placed her hand on Kaylan’s shoulder, holding her in place.
“I have to get up. The ship—”
“Everything that can be done is being done at the moment,” Brenda said. “Now, do you remember what happened to you on Pluto?”
Kaylan frowned and tried accessing the ship’s logs through her implants, but she was blocked. Brenda gave her a knowing look, and Kaylan sighed.
“I was with Hicks, and we were exploring the station. We found that chamber I had mentioned in one of our viewing sessions,” Kaylan said.
Brenda offered her a cup of water from the pitcher on the bedside table, and Kaylan took a sip.
“I went inside, and the chamber activated. A beam of light shot toward me from a glowing sphere inside,” Kaylan said, and looked away, gathering her thoughts. “It was like I was transported somewhere else. It was more intense than any viewing session I’ve experienced. I saw . . . something.”
“What did you see?”
Kaylan took another sip of water, stalling, and closed her eyes. “I saw one of them. The beings that built the structure on Pluto.”
Brenda sat beside Kaylan and rubbed the back of her shoulders soothingly. “Take your time.”
“I can’t believe I’m saying this. It all sounds crazy,” Kaylan said.
“There is no precedent for what you’ve been through. Just take your time,” Brenda said.
“It knew I was Human. It called me that. The being knew I was afraid and tried to set me at ease. The lighting was dim in the chamber, but I could tell the creature was big,” Kaylan said.
“Did it say anything?”
Kaylan’s eyes grew distant as she tried to remember. “Yes. She said time was short and the use of the chamber would draw unwanted attention.”
“She?” Brenda asked.
“You said ‘she.’”
Kaylan nodded after a moment. “That’s right. She said her name was Ma’jasalax. She wanted me to come find her . . .”
Brenda waited her out while Kaylan collected her thoughts.
“I could feel her emotions, and I think she could feel mine as well. I saw an image of the Earth as seen from afar, along with the feeling of profound regret,” Kaylan said.
Brenda’s brows drew up. “Regret? Like she regretted meeting you?”
Kaylan shook her head. “No. It was like she knew what was coming and regretted that something was going to happen that hadn’t happened yet. There’s more, but I can’t focus on that right now. I need to know what the status of the ship is, and you’ve blocked my implants.”
Brenda rose from the bed and typed a few things into her tablet. “Standard protocol for an acting commander who was unconscious. I need to clear you.”
Kaylan’s head snapped in Brenda’s direction. “What do you mean ‘acting commander’? Where is Michael?”
Brenda’s eyes drew downward. “There was an accident on the station, and Michael was trapped. We’re not sure, but he may have died.”
Kaylan shot to her feet. “What do you mean you’re not sure? We can’t be far from Pluto. Are the others planning a rescue?”
Brenda held up her hand in front of her chest. “Slow down. One thing at a time. Let me complete your examination; then I’ll clear you for duty and we can take it from there.”
Kaylan pinched her lips together for a moment and nodded.
Brenda gestured to the holoscreen behind Kaylan. Onscreen was a three-dimensional figure of the human brain. There were occasional glowing sections.
“This is your last brain scan we did on the way to Pluto. The glowing sections show the thought processes of a normally functioning brain. See—here’s mine,” Brenda said.
Another image of the human brain appeared next to Kaylan’s. They looked similar. Kaylan nodded, and Brenda entered another command into her tablet. A third brain appeared.
“This is a scan of your brain right now,” Brenda said.
The third image showed a brain with multiple glowing sections in rapid succession. Kaylan studied the image for a moment. “Is it just stress?”
Brenda shook her head. “No, this is something else. Yours is the most active brain I’ve ever seen. It’s like that of a child’s brain as it grows in complexity, except as a full-grown adult your brain shouldn’t be doing anything like this.”
Kaylan studied the image for a few moments. She didn’t feel any different. She needed to know what had happened to Hunsicker and the status of the ship. “Does this in any way indicate that I’m unfit for duty?”
Brenda glanced between the images. “No. As far as I can tell you’re as normal as you were before all this happened, but we’ll need to keep an eye on it.”
Brenda’s fingers entered a few more commands on her tablet computer, and the block on Kaylan’s implants was removed. Kaylan greedily searched the ship’s logs for the information she craved. She frowned. The more information she got from the logs the deeper her frown grew.
“A wormhole?” Kaylan asked.
Brenda nodded. “That’s what Redford believes.”
Kaylan walked over to the comms station in the med bay. She opened a ship-wide comms channel. “Crew of the Athena, this is the acting commander. Meet me on the bridge in fifteen minutes for debrief and status.”
Kaylan nodded for Brenda to come as they headed for the bridge. She was still accessing the ship’s logs and now understood Brenda’s somber tone when she’d talked about Hunsicker earlier. By going through the wormhole they had left Commander Hunsicker behind, and his only hope of rescue would be for them to find their way back to him. There were no other ships that were capable of reaching Pluto from Earth in time for a rescue.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...