Authors: Vaughn Heppner
Novels by Vaughn Heppner
The Ark Chronicles
People of the Ark
People of the Flood
People of Babel
People of the Tower
The Lost Civilization Series
The Tree of Life
The Doom Star Series
The Great Pagan Army
(Book #1 of the Doom Star Series)
by Vaughn Heppner
Copyright © 2010 by the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.
7 AUGUST 2346 A.D.
Father and son floated swiftly, silently, with purpose, through a seldom-used maintenance shaft. They refused to sell their souls to Social Unity. Three years of hiding like rats proved that and culminated tonight. They had just placed thirty-six bombs onto the space habitat’s outer skin and had eleven minutes to go.
Father and son looked nothing alike. Marten Kluge was nineteen, lean and blond-haired, handsome of face like his mother. He cradled a stubby tangler against his vacc-suit and had a high-tech kit on his belt. The old man, Ben Kluge, was massive and hard-eyed, with a needler attached to his silver suit. In the last half hour he’d killed four men, two with his hands. No one had heard or missed the men so far. The Sun-Works Factory circling Mercury was vast beyond any space habitat in the Solar System. The corpses were left to float in dark shafts. Father and son now donned helmets, activated oxygen tanks and opened a hatch for the next phase of the operation.
Mercury spread below, a dead planet buzzing with activity. In appearance, it looked remarkably similar to the Earth’s Moon, pockmarked with craters and having almost no atmosphere. On the dayside, a sodium potassium vapor existed, but it was negligible
Only forty percent larger than the Moon, Mercury had a very much higher percentage of metals. Those ores, unbelievable lodes of fissionables such as uranium, thorium and more basic metals like iron and copper, were catapulted off-world, caught by space tugs and fed into the Sun Work’s reactors and smelting furnaces. Like Saturn’s rings, the tubular-shaped, world-spanning Sun-Works Factory circled the entire planet of Mercury.
Mere specks against the gargantuan space station, father and son pushed off the inner ring. Because Old Sol blazed nearby they were forced to remain in the station’s shadows—it was either that or commit quick suicide by sunshine. Mercury was at aphelion, its farthest orbital position from the Sun: seventy million kilometers. At perihelion, a mere forty-six million kilometers, the Sun’s radiation would have been more than double the intensity. Space walking, even in the station’s shadows, would be impossible then.
As they floated high above Mercury, Marten clicked his com-unit. It emitted a powerful, code-scrambled pulse—the Sun’s harsh electromagnetic waves demanded such strength. The pulse sped through the exosphere before it was caught and de-coded by his mother’s bio-computer. The biocomp immediately released a virus into the Sun Work’s tracking systems. Nineteen seconds later a beep sounded in Marten’s ear. He gave a thumbs-up signal to his father. They ignited thruster-packs.
Three years ago, station security—Political Harmony Corps—had brutally suppressed the unionization attempt of the engineers. Social Unity, it was said, provided for all, was all. The State and its people were one, thus unionization was an absurdity, a non-sequitur. So the strike had been
: a word that failed to convey the savage fighting, the interrogations and the police murders of the ringleaders and their lieutenants. A few Unionists had slipped into hiding among the millions of kilometers of passageways and maintenance corridors. Most of those had been caught, tortured and killed. Marten, his father and mother, and a handful of determined survivors, had kept one step ahead of the hunters and built an ultra-stealth pod in an abandoned, high-radiation area. The long-range goal was to slip away from the Inner Planets to the Jupiter Confederation or anywhere beyond the reach of the Social Unity fanatics.
Father and son shut off their thruster-packs, rotated ninety degrees and let the packs glow once more. Gently, they landed on the inner ring, on the Mercury-facing-side of the space habitat, kilometers from where they’d jumped. Unlatching the packs, they attached them with magnetic clamps to the nearby hatch.
Ben Kluge faced his son. Hard, dark eyes peered through his plexiglas helmet. He put a hand on his son’s shoulder, and squeezed.
Marten nodded. His mouth was so dry that he didn’t dare try talking. He turned to the hatch and punched in the entry sequence—between them, he had the better memory. A puff of air escaped the opening hatch. Seconds later, they floated into the compression chamber. Marten’s heart hammered. He readied his tangler, licked his lips and checked his chronometer: two minutes to detonation.
CLANG. As the hatch swung closed, Marten twitched, and he berated himself for his fear.
His father flipped off his helmet, letting it hang against his broad back as he scratched his crewcut silver hair. He drew his needler, a wicked little gun of black plastic that seemed to disappear in his hand. He opened the inner hatch and floated into a utility corridor. Following, Marten kept on his helmet. The corridor was uniformly gray, with float rails on the walls. They pulled themselves along, traveling fast to a bank of elevators, choosing the third from the left.
“Which floor?” asked his father.
Marten checked his HUD (head up display) that played on his inner visor. “Fifteenth,” he whispered.
His father punched that in, the door closed and they rode the elevator in silence, the orange numbers on the function box changing rapidly. It was “night” shift in this part of the Sun Works, the reason so few people were about. Soon number 15 glowed brightly and the elevator halted. The door swished open and they entered a light-gravity area. Loping along the passageway, they turned into a larger corridor. Green and yellow arrows on the walls showed the directions to various terminals. They followed the yellow arrows and soon came to a door labeled: FUELING STATION 943.
With his heart hammering, Marten re-gripped his tangler. This was it. His father’s lips peeled back like a wolf’s as he reached for the door.
They entered a circular room lined with consoles and screens. Soft classical music played over the PA. A dark-bearded technician in a blue and gold jumpsuit sat with his back to them at a fueling board. He listened to a tall, red-suited PHC officer, a harsh-faced youth who spoke with the customary arrogance of his kind.
“Then double-check it! Triple-check it if you have to! We can’t have any more reactor leaks in the transports.”
The technician stared up at a screen showing fueling bots at work on a utilitarian space vessel. Perhaps he saw their reflection in the screen. He turned and his eyes widened. The PHC officer also turned, and after a second’s hesitation, he clawed at his holstered sidearm.
Marten was faster than his father was. He brought up the tangler as he pressed the firing stud. A black, egg-shaped capsule exploded against the technician. Strong, sticky strands wrapped around him, entangling the man as his dark face flushed with fear. His father’s needler shot slivers of ice. Noiselessly, they punctured the PHC officer’s chest. A look of shocked surprise tore the arrogance from his face. The officer gurgled as his knees buckled.
Ben Kluge leaped to the dying PHC officer, touching the needler over the heart as he pumped in extra shots.
The technician’s features twisted in terror. “L-look...”
“Shut up,” said Ben, pressing the needler against the technician’s forehead.
The man worked his mouth silently. Ben dragged him upright and propelled him toward a second exit.
Marten avoided looking at the dead officer as he edged into the technician’s seat. Sweat prickled under his neck-seal and his stomach lurched. He fumbled a plastic credcard cracker out of his tech-kit. He checked his chronometer, waited twelve seconds and then slid the card into the function box. His mother’s bio-computer had worked six long months on the credcard cracker, perfecting it to fool the system’s checks. He waited what seemed forever and then the fuel board’s green light blinked.
Marten heaved an explosive sigh. Kilometers from here in a secret docking bay, liquid hydrogen filled their stealth pod’s fuel tanks. He turned to tell his father.
Ben Kluge stumbled backward from the exit. Blood squirted from his neck—so bright and red. His needler fired ice slivers. Then the gun went
click, click, click
Marten was too shocked to speak.
With blood running down his vacc-suit, Ben Kluge turned toward his boy. Then his head blossomed, blood and bone showering everywhere.
Time slowed as Marten screamed, “NO!” He swiveled toward that exit. Combat-suited PHC personnel—police in bulky, red-colored armor—poked their carbines through the door. Slugs whined around Marten, shattered screens and
off the consoles.
Marten’s tangler made exploding popcorn sounds as he fired back. Then he ran and slipped a bomb out of his pouch, flicking the activation switch. The bomb hit the floor with a thud, rolled. Marten’s chest felt hollow as his receivers picked up curses from the entangled PHC officers. He dove through a different door. It swished shut and an explosion shook the room. Hot shrapnel tore through the door. A moment later Marten leaped up and raced down the corridor. Tears burned in his eyes.
“Hey, you!” shouted a technician. Marten tangled the man.
Soon he was back at the compression chamber. Klaxons wailed and emergency codes locked all hatches. Marten overrode his and floated outside where a million stars and a dead planet provided him background. A glance showed him that the planted bombs hadn’t blown.
“Marten?” he heard over his com-line.
“What happened, Marten?” She waited back in their cubbyhole HQ, an abandoned shaft near the station’s outer Sun-shield.
“They got father, and the bombs didn’t work. What are we going to do?” As Marten talked he wrestled with the thruster-pack.
For a time she didn’t speak. It was long enough for him to don the thruster-pack and jump off the habitat wall.
“I want you to listen carefully. You can’t come back here. Not…”
“Mom! What’s happening?”
“Shhh. You must keep calm, Marten. The outer locks just blew, which indicates they’re coming for me. Simon gives it a ninety-four percent chance it’s over.” Simon was her name for the bio-computer.
Marten swallowed hard as his thruster burned, and he sped like a speck across the face of Mercury below and between the inner surfaces of the Sun-Works Ring.
“We always knew this might happen,” his mother was saying. “I want you to listen closely, Marten. I love you. Your father loved you.”
Why was she talking like this?
“Check your last card, the black one.”
Marten fumbled with his tech-kit, almost spilling it and sending the contents tumbling into orbit. Then he saw it, a black credcard.
“Go to A-Twenty-three. Do you understand?”
He was being monitored, that’s what she was telling him.
“Good luck, Marten. Go with God.” He heard an explosion in her background—the inner locks being blown—he heard shouting, gunfire and a scream.
He almost howled like a beaten dog. Instead, a hard knot formed in his gut. Much of their iron, their fire and resolve lived in him. So he slipped the black card into his hand computer. What he read on the tiny screen astonished him. His mother’s brilliance had almost insured them a new future in the Jupiter Confederation.
Marten readjusted his flight path and zoomed toward the inner curve of the habitat. Soon numbers and markings flashed underneath him.
The fifth Doom Star battleship had just been completed. Now more space-welders were needed around Earth to make another farming gigahab. Since the sixth Doom Star was still in the planning modification stage, welding wouldn’t begin here for another year. That freed enough space-welders so five transports would leave the Sun Works Ring and head for the Earth System. Marten wondered if one of those transports was the vessel with the reactor leak.