[Assault on Chimera – Prologue
Copyright 2017 by Steven Carr
A faint humming sound emanated from the holo-projector as it flickered to life, powering up without fail for the third time that day. The device started to beam a sequence of live news events and recordings into the space directly above where it sat, disturbing a large Pyrenean Mastiff that had been asleep on the floor nearby. It also drew the attention of a seated, black-haired youth who eagerly craned his neck to stare up at the videos, adverts and interviews, some of which were now repeating.
The cycle of propaganda continued until a smartly dressed woman appeared holding the projector’s remote. She keyed in a series of commands, forcing the machine to display an expanding spherical object instead. This illuminated the room as it grew in size before eventually stabilising, then began to rotate in front of them.
Carmona. Their homeworld.
The aquamarine sphere carried on spinning away as the slender, brown-eyed woman stepped forward, arms folded across her chest. “You weren’t watching those awful commercials, were you?” she asked.
Leandro Vela shook his head. His mother smiled mischievously, zooming in on the planet’s largest continent and pointed out one of the many sky-cities populating it.
“That’s us,” she said, pausing to add an expensive-looking purse to the assortment of belongings already packed and assembled close by. “Spire Nara. Twenty billion people on Carmona – most live here in the capital like we do, Leandro. But these places all look the same. It’s important to remember where you came from.”
The boy sighed impatiently, hoping his mother wouldn’t subject him to a late-night history lesson. Learning about the past was boring. When classes were suspended he’d thought whole days would be given over to adventure and play, but his parents had other ideas. Before the academy closed, his teachers had informed them he possessed a ‘short attention span’, whatever that meant, and as a result they’d opted to continue his education at home. Still, they bought him all the latest toys and allowed him to see his friends whenever he wanted – the two things that mattered most to any eight-year-old boy.
Today had been hard work. Now he just wanted to go to bed and listen to one of Mother’s stories about fearless heroes or intrepid explorers.
“Carmona is our home,” she resumed, interrupting his thoughts. “But we’ve seen so little of the galaxy.” She moved the star map away from Carmona and panned it left a couple of sectors, finally settling on another world to the galactic west. “Look, Leandro,” she said jovially, attempting to enthuse him. “This is Nuevo Córdoba. How would you feel about living here?”
The new planet had none of the soft, swirling greens and azures Carmona did. It was a dull, orange monotone from pole to pole, featureless and barren. Having lived a life of continued stability, Leandro greeted this unexpected revelation with a mixture of angst and defiance.
“I don’t want to go there,” he complained, standing up and ignoring the resolve behind his mother’s words. “I knew this would happen. It will be different and I won’t know anyone. Why do we have to go to that place? Why?” He sighed again, loudly, and stared angrily at the floor, unwilling to meet her gaze.
“I-it’s only for a short while,” she said, hurriedly changing tack. “It’ll be like a holiday. You like holidays, don’t you darling?”
That doesn’t sound so bad, Leandro thought, quelling his own petulant negativity. I do like holidays. Even if they are to strange planets. But he still wasn’t convinced.
“I do, I promise.” With that, she knelt down in front of her son and embraced him. “Everything will be all right, sweetheart, I promise.”
Satisfied, Leandro paid this last remark no heed. Any lingering doubts had been substituted by thoughts of an off-world holiday. But his mother was still talking, half to herself.
“Everything will be all right, you’ll see. We’ll make it all right…”
She seemed set to continue and most likely would have were it not for his father’s sudden return, the man flinging open the front door so forcefully it made both of them jump. He was home early tonight.
Leandro recognised this immediately, closing his eyes tightly in anticipation of the chastisement that would surely follow. He could almost hear his father’s scolding remarks now.
What hour do you call this? You should be in bed, young man. Always tinkering around with that infernal contraption. Ignorance isn’t an excuse. My father wouldn’t have stood for such tardiness. And don’t look to her to defend you again.
But the lecture never came. Instead, he elected to say nothing, approaching them with such haste his large frame very nearly went flying over the collection of bags and cases Mother had been fussing with earlier. Steadying himself with a well-executed half-step, he glanced up and began barking orders at them as if they were his subordinates.
“Ana, get the baby. Leandro, with me. We’ve got to go, now.”
This barrage of directives confounded the boy, who’d fully expected to be on the receiving end of yet another chiding. He’d heard and seen it all before. Father’s scowling countenance, his rumbling voice and authoritative, towering stance – yes, they were all there, only this time something was different. Mother obeyed without hesitation, darting off to pluck Leandro’s little sister Lola from the warmth of her cot where she slept. Deprived of her comforting presence, Leandro also found himself compelled to acquiesce even as his father gesticulated impatiently, beckoning him over against his wishes.
He was obviously distracted by events beyond his control and in a real hurry to get going, his mind elsewhere.
“But I want to go to bed… sir,” Leandro grumbled, adding the formal address when he realised he might have pushed too far.
His father stood unmoved and with features unflinching, clearly more concerned with what was going on outside where a terrible wind had started to pick up. Leandro listened too – there were people running around out there, he could hear them even above the howling of the storm. Eventually his father spoke again, this time with composure and steely determination.
“We have to leave, Leandro. We won’t be coming back.”
…That wasn’t what Mother had said.
Father and son ran without stopping through the windswept streets of Nara, glancing back every few moments to ensure Mother and baby Lola were still in tow. Overhead, storm clouds scudded past. The narrow alleyways leading out of the spire’s habitation centres offered scant protection from the elements, but father had provisioned them well as he always did. His waterproof coats kept the rain off, though Leandro thought they all looked ridiculous in the oversized green jackets.
They were joined on their journey by ever-increasing numbers of people who had the same idea, spilling forth from their homes and bringing whatever they could carry to the spire’s sole spaceport. Leandro wondered how there could possibly be enough room on one ship for everyone.
As if she’d heard his concerns, Mother put voice to them. “Will they be held for us?” she shouted through the driving rain.
Father stopped, shooting her a puzzled look as she caught up.
“Of course.” He shook his head despairingly. “What do you take me for? They were guaranteed the moment we found out. I’ve told you this a hundred times, but I see that as usual you didn’t bother listening.” He lowered his voice to a growl. “There are five ships to help facilitate the evacuation. You’d be able to see for yourself by now were you not dragging those trinkets along. Slows us down. Couldn’t you have just left them behind with the dogs?”
Mother hugged Lola tightly to her breast. The rain was heavier now and her long dark hair hung in matted curls around her face. “You’d rather the children forget who they are? Where they came from? They wouldn’t be the first.”
She sounded upset. Upset and angry. Leandro decided he didn’t like it out here anymore and grasped his father’s hand tightly. He couldn’t understand what his parents were arguing about, reassuring himself it was most likely over something they’d left behind at home. He drew his own conclusions, daring not to interrupt as the row escalated. Leandro tried to count stars, a trick he found helped whenever he felt anxious.
And then he saw it.
There was something up there, far beyond the cloud cover and too distant to fully make out. Something new in Carmona’s skies – something he’d not seen before. Any previous apprehensions dissipating, Leandro tugged at his father’s arm to try and get his attention.
No response. Undaunted, he pulled a little more forcefully. “What is that?” he pointed. Belatedly, the quarrelling stopped. Father looked up.
“It’s just a satellite.”
Mother said nothing to contradict him, and after a while her expression softened. No words were exchanged between them, and Father began to nod.
“All right,” he said gently.
Before Leandro knew what was happening his father took off, pulling him along as they made for the spaceport anew.
People were running faster now, screaming, shouting, swearing, and discarding the very things they had earlier sought to bring with them. There were thousands of them, hundreds of thousands of people here.
Leandro saw that the perimeter fence around the spaceport was gone, entire sections crushed or swept away beneath a never-ending deluge of desperate Carmonans. They had no choice but to climb like everyone else – climb the great stairway that led to the launch pads and hope they weren’t too late.
When they reached the top, Leandro noticed some people who weren’t running. The military was here, in amongst the crowd and on the periphery, trying to organise amidst the chaos. High-ranking officers in brightly coloured uniforms barked orders at their subordinates, men and women with guns who brandished them at anyone who came too close for their liking. A squadron of attack jets streaked overhead, fully armed, followed by another. Tannoys and loudhailers blared forth a constant stream of information, telling everyone what to do and where to go.
Father already knew. He’d seen one of the officers wave them over and began to shoulder his way through the crowd towards him, barging people aside like paperweights as he cleared a path for Mother, still holding baby Lola tightly, to follow. It didn’t take him long to get there. Appearing impressed, the bespectacled stranger saluted.
“General Vela!” he beamed, a wide grin etched across his face. “You made it!” Then the smile faded. “Most of our unit didn’t.”
“I know,” Father said without emotion. “We can’t win this one, Raf.”
“We don’t need to. Just have to buy some time.”
Father laughed heartily as the two men embraced. “Still the optimist after all these years, Raf?”
“Still expecting the worst, General?”
“You know me. We should get moving.”
The officer called Raf ignored him, gesturing over in Leandro’s direction. “Look who it is! And taller than last we met. How old is he now, General?”
“Eight? Ha! I was fighting alongside your old man eight years before you were born, sonny. What do you make of that? And I’ll wager you’ll be my CO before either of us knows it!”
Emboldened by these remarks Leandro stood up straight, trying to grow a little taller and mimic Raf’s movements. He seemed friendly enough and continued to compliment him as they walked. “We’ll need your help tonight, kiddo.”
Leandro was relieved to see the fences ringing the launch pads were intact. Raf took out a card from one of his many camo-jacket pockets and held it up in front of a panel on a large steel gate.
“Are you watching, soldier?” he asked Leandro. The red lights on the panel turned green and the gate swung open. “This way.”
He motioned for them to proceed through, only following when certain the lock was reactivated and their passage secured.
What a helpful fellow, Leandro thought. Helpful and brilliant! That magic card of his had somehow managed to get them inside the spaceport itself – the rockets were right there, waiting!
The installation was massive. An illuminated hub of frenzied activity located near the spire’s peak, it served as the capital’s gateway to the stars.
Leandro couldn’t believe what he was seeing. On each of the five huge launch pads that dominated the spaceport sat an even bigger rocket, their noses pointing skyward.
He’d heard about them in stories but never thought he would actually see one. These gargantuan vessels doubled as self-sufficient cities, originally designed to carry colonists from Earth during the days of the Great Expansion.
Sadly, they weren’t quite the awe-inspiring creations of Man that Mother had made them out to be. Instead, the planetships resembled ungainly relics left over from another time that didn’t appear capable of flight, let alone operating in deep space.
Leandro heard a noise behind him and looked round at the steel fences. He saw that the military were holding large numbers of people back, but allowing politicians and nobles through.
“Number five!” Raf yelled, pointing at one of the planetships. “That’s yours! Go, now!”
Without warning, tracer fire lit up the night sky. The vulture-like jets that were circling overhead banked sharply around the spire’s zenith and began to climb, while powerful cannon discharged superheated beams of plasma and explosive rounds into the heavens. Leandro watched in amazement as the display of light intensified, but Father was furious and confronted his friend.
“Whose decision was this? Was it Toldo’s?”
“It was the council’s decision,” said Raf. “The global defence grid is breached – they’re hitting the ice caps and northern population centres already. Our ships don’t stand a chance against their strike craft unless we engage them, you know that.”
“I’ll get us by the strike craft,” Leandro boasted. “I always beat the holo-games. I get three stars on ‘expert’.”
Raf smiled grimly at this. “We’ve played our hand, General. Toldo’s forces will hold long enough for the fleet to clear the asteroid belt. From there, it’s eight days to Nuevo Córdoba. You’ll be in charge of overseeing the relocation program. Good luck, sir.”
As Raf went to leave, Father reached out a hand and grasped his right forearm firmly. “Don’t be a hero, Raf. You get what you can and go. You’ve done more than enough for us. For Carmona.”
Coupled with the magnitude of what was happening around him, Raf seemed to be deeply moved by these words. He tried to say something meaningful back, but could only manage, “Sir.” He stood to attention, saluted one final time, turned and then disappeared off into the rain. Father returned the salute before shepherding his family over towards the waiting planetship in the opposite direction.
That’s what Raf had said and that’s where they were heading, up the access ramp of planetship number five. Leandro flinched, thinking he could hear gunshots nearby, but it was just the sound of their footsteps reverberating off the metal floor. It smelled funny inside, and he wondered if things would have been better on one of the other ships. Here, an oily, copperish odour lingered about the interior where a dozen burly soldiers stood watch over the approach. Father marched straight past them and began shouting into the ship’s private intercom system.
“This is General Vela. Pilot, why aren’t we moving? Why haven’t you initiated the launch sequence?”
“Uh… sir… we have several dignitaries unaccounted for…”
“Forget them! They’ve had long enough. I take full responsibility.”
“Y-yes, sir. Right away. Sequence commencing.”
Leandro rolled his eyes. Everything was always such a rush with Father. He found it impossible to keep still for prolonged periods of time, even those when they were meant to be doing things together as a family. Recreation remained an alien concept to him. Incompetence was even harder for the general to stomach; number five’s pilot becoming the latest addition to a long list of disappointments that started, Leandro suspected, with himself. He’d learned to tread carefully when his father was like this. Nothing good could come of challenging his commands, not that he would have ever summoned the temerity to try.
“Prime engine ignition,” informed the ship’s computer, sparing the pilot any further unpleasantries. “All passengers please take your seats immediately. Departure countdown underway.”
Psh, Leandro thought. He wasn’t about to let some computerised voice tell him what to do. How could he when there was a chance to watch the planetship blast off in all its fiery glory?
What a spectacle this would be!
Oh, how he’d laud this over his rich, haughty friends when they got back, for it’d be a memory all their money put together couldn’t buy. Who among them could say he or she had been on board such a vessel, watching Carmona recede behind as it drove like a spear thrust towards the stars? There were none!
Jumping around with uncontrollable joy, Leandro pressed his face up against one of the ship’s circular viewports.
He recoiled in terror almost instantly.
The military was losing control. As more and more people swarmed against the spaceport’s gates they began to buckle, but not before those at the front had already been crushed between the fencing and the weight of the crowd behind. Alarmed at this the soldiers looked to themselves, raising their guns and firing off a couple of warning shots into the air. When these failed to have any effect they pulled back, slapped in higher capacity magazines, switched their weapons to automatic and turned them on the people.
Transfixed with fear, Leandro saw everything. Muzzle flashes lighting up the landing even as the gates came crashing down. Pilots struggling desperately to get their planetships away. Fires burning in Spire Nara’s residential towers. And out of nowhere a wall of water thundered towards them like an unstoppable juggernaut, which threatened to devour everything in its wake.
This can’t be real, Leandro thought. Some spiteful sap had to be playing a holo-trick on him as he slept. Somehow, though, it had manifested. Somehow, the water which couldn’t be there was, and with each passing moment cascading ever closer.
There was no comfort to be found whichever way he looked. Mother had buried her face in Lola’s blanket and was mumbling away inanely, trying to hide her tears. Leandro wanted to ask so many questions, but his father’s blank expression told him that he didn’t know the answer to any of them.
The general put a loving hand on Leandro’s shoulder and closed his eyes.
As the huge wave engulfed Spire Nara and everyone within, emergency bulkheads sealed the planetships before they were sent tumbling clear of the spaceport and down onto the newly submerged plains below.
They fell together. They fell for what seemed to be forever. And the places where they finally came to rest grew dark.
This prologue is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organisations is purely coincidental.
All Rights are Reserved. No part of this prologue may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission.
Cover image by Jay Thompson of Consilience Media.
Please note that this is the prologue only for the novel ‘Assault on Chimera’. If you like what you have read, please feel free to purchase the eBook or paperback novel online.
The prologue for the novel 'Assault on Chimera'. The golden age of Man is over. Humanity’s vast interstellar empire has crumbled under the strain of war. A new regime holds the shattered galaxy together with promises of a bright future and an immediate return to greatness – promises they never intend to keep. Discovering the truth, one man dares to challenge centuries of established order and crushing military might. Risking retribution, he leads a broken people against the armies of an insane tyrant, one whose machinations threaten to destroy them all. As the regime’s implacable war machine stirs, he soon learns just how far they will go to retain their power – a power illegitimately gained through humanity’s near-extinction.