If you haven’t heard already, my book “PETR: A STAR FOLK SAGA” will release Memorial Day Weekend on Amazon in paperback and for kindle.
That’s almost a week away!
As a bonus before then I’m posting two FREE chapters of the book, just to tease you a bit.
Enjoy! And look forward to the book next weekend!
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Batumi, Tetradze District, Olympus Mons Technocracy, Mars, 9 October 2304
An explosion tossed Petr sideways, the five-point crash harness preventing him from slamming into the cockpit wall. He struggled to keep his shuttle under control as he dove through the stratosphere of Mars.
“What the hell, Batumi Control?” Petr exclaimed. “What’s going on down there?”
“Just land, dammit!” came the exasperated voice of the air traffic controller. “Get down here, stupid barbarian!”
“I didn’t sign on to some combat mission,” Petr said with as much calm as he could muster. Petr continued toward Mars’ surface. This was supposed to be an easy job – in, out, get paid.
The sound of an explosion filled Petr’s headphones.
This paycheck wasn’t worth dying for. Others on Mars could offer Petr jobs. Petr could whip his battered Raptor back into orbit. This client would never hire him again, but this client could also cease to exist in the next hour. The flak erupting around Petr’s shuttle did not bode well.
Money was what kept Petr from turning back. It was money, above all else, that Petr needed if he was going to fulfill his goal of becoming the man he wanted to be and proving his worth to his family and tribe.
Petr touched the rosary hanging from the Raptor’s heads up display.
A light show greeted Petr as he cut through the dark gray thunderclouds and neared the Batumi Space Port. Ruby lasers pulsed across the slate gray tarmac. From high above it seemed like ants swarmed around the space port, as if their nest had been disturbed.
As Petr descended the “ants” became soldiers loping along clad in two-ton suits of power armor. The soldiers looked like the knights of ancient Terra, but the right arm of the suit terminated in the barrel of a powerful laser. Both sides of this battle were firing lasers, hundreds of glistening ruby crystals burned before erupting into powerful beams. Where the beams touched, death followed. The thick carapace of the power armor was no match for the onslaught of the lasers.
Both sides also appeared to be wearing the same armor with the same family crest, and Petr became confused. What was going on?
“Pad one!” the air traffic controller screamed. “You’re flying right over pad one!”
“Pad one is a war zone.”
“You want to get paid?”
Petr grimaced, shutting his mouth and maneuvering his shuttle down toward Pad One.
Combat aircraft roared overhead, some coming dangerously close to Petr, but thankfully none fired at him. Lasers and missiles streaked overhead as Petr set the Raptor shuttle down on the tarmac. One missile whistled so close past Petr’s cockpit that he saw the warhead in stunning detail. Adrenaline pumped through Petr’s body, heightening his senses to their fullest. Petr lowered the Raptor’s rear loading ramp, his mind thinking of only one thing: survival. And survival meant exiting the area as quickly as possible.
A red beam burned past Petr’s craft as he doffed his helmet and squeezed back into the cargo bay. Normally Raptors would have a large empty space for crates and equipment, but Petr’s ship was a second-hand military shuttle bought off a down and out mercenary outfit, and so ten harnesses for power-armored infantry lined the cargo section.
Petr expected space port personnel to greet him and load the cargo, but instead the tarmac lay empty. Petr shuffled to the end of the loading ramp as he looked for someone who knew what was going on. Thunder rumbled, promising rain.
“Hello?” Petr yelled over the din of battle.
Suddenly, a dark form eclipsed Petr.
“Move aside,” said a deep, metallic voice from a speaker.
Petr looked up into the glaring emerald eye of a suit of Renegade power armor. Only Star Folk mercenaries wore Renegade power armor. Petr’s mind tried to work through exactly what he was seeing and why. Why were Star Folk mercenaries here?
“Move aside now!”
Petr was pushed aside with the suit’s three-clawed, tubular arm. He watched in disbelief as two more troopers in Renegade power armor trudged out of the hangar next to the tarmac and stomped up the Raptor’s rear loading ramp, carrying two oblong, gray crates between them. All three suits were midnight black with Thor’s hammer pendantsfestooned on their rounded shoulder guards and the bulbous, hunchback-like power packs on their backs.
“Who are you?” Petr asked. “What the hell are you doing in my shuttle?”
“Security for the cargo you were hired to transport,” the first trooper said. “We need to go.”
The explosion of a building several hundred meters away set Petr into motion and he darted back up into the Raptor. As Petr went he caught a quick glimpse of the cargo he was to carry. It didn’t look like much. Though the crates seemed innocuous, something nagged at the back of Petr’s mind, telling him these very boxes were the cause of all the wonton destruction outside.
Petr refocused on the payout. This wasn’t his war. He just had to complete this job and collect the money he needed.
“Batumi, this is Petr Drexel,” Petr said as he donned his helmet and snapped himself into the pilot seat’s five-point harness. “I have the cargo and I am preparing for take-off.”
“About time,” the air traffic controller replied, sounding both relieved and exasperated. “Coordinates have been sent to your shuttle. Remember-“
The feed suddenly cut out. The traffic control tower erupted in a ball of flame.
Petr switched from radio communications to shuttle internal communications. “You all better be strapped in back there. This ride could be a little bumpy.”
Petr heard a litany of complaints and curses from his passengers as he shut the shuttle’s rear loading ramp.
Soon the battle was below them, and Petr guided the Raptor away from the space port. Large, fat drops of rain smacked against the shuttle’s cockpit. Petr breathed a sigh of relief. With this job finished, he’d be one more step toward his goal.
An alarm on the shuttle’s heads up display made Petr jump. Missile lock.
“Damn!” Petr exclaimed as he yanked hard on the control stick. The Raptor dove hard right and down.
The missile still followed.
At the last moment Petr smacked the button to the costly countermeasures. There was a series of loud pops as the Raptor fired flares out its sides and back.
“What’s going on up there?” one of the power-armored men asked.
“Shaking missiles.” Petr’s tone was clipped.
The man let out a stream of colorful curses.
Half a second later Petr’s seat surged into his back as an explosion rocked the rear of the shuttle. The missile had cut through Petr’s countermeasures and found its mark.
Petr felt his stomach float up into his ribcage and throat. He saw the rosary hover in the air.
Please God, no, ran through Petr’s mind.
Then Petr was falling. The nose of the Raptor dipped down hard. Petr yanked back on the control stick, praying that some mechanical system in the shuttle still worked.
The shuttle lifted a little. Maybe the landing wouldn’t be so bad and he and his passengers would live to see another day. There simply wasn’t enough time or space to pull the shuttle out of its dive. Petr announced over the intercom “Brace for impact” as he simultaneously did himself, pushing his back into the pilot’s seat as hard as he could.
The Raptor slammed into the ground and Petr pitched forward, his helmet ramming into the shuttle’s heads up display. The harness holding Petr in the pilot’s seat knocked the wind out of him.
The Raptor’s momentum drove the craft forward several meters through the soft dirt blanketing the planet. Until finally, with a shudder, the shuttle came to a halt.
Batumi, Tetradze District, Olympus Mons Technocracy, Mars, 9 October 2304
Everything was eerily quiet. Petr sat, head hanging forward. Something in the back of his mind told Petr he needed to get up and move. The pain wracking his body overwhelmed a lifetime of training in the Star Folk Community Fleet. It hurt simply to exist.
With a grunt of effort and immense pain, Petr slapped the harness release and flopped down onto the shuttle’s console. Limbs aching from the crash, Petr pried the bulky helmet from his head, a movement that seemed to take all of his strength and concentration, before dropping it into the pilot’s seat. With great effort Petr crawled back over the empty communications seat and into the rear of the Raptor.
There was a gaping hole full of ripped cables and twisted metal where once the aft starboard side of the Raptor existed. The Raptor’s starboard airlock hung twisted and limp where it was still connected to the shuttle.
Two of the men in Renegade power armor were free of the troop harnesses. Both labored to free their comrade who seemed stuck.
“Hold on, Eyolf,” said the largest one through the Renegade armor’s external speaker. “We’ll get you out of there.”
“What a way to die,” said the man still stuck in the harness.
“You’re not going to die here,” said the other trooper in Renegade armor fighting to free his comrade.
The men bent and twisted the harness. After several attempts the harness was manipulated just enough that the third Renegade armored man could force himself out.
Pain suddenly blossomed inside Petr’s chest, and he stumbled with a sharp cry. The men turned to face Petr, three bug-eyed, round helmets staring at him. Petr swallowed hard as realization flooded his mind: they were going to kill him.
A long, pregnant pause filled the Raptor’s cargo bay as Petr faced the three armored Star Folk men before him. All three black, insect-like helmets glared at Petr from the far side of the cargo bay. Petr waited for one of them to raise the barrel of their heavy machine gun and paint the inside of the shuttle with Petr’s blood.
Petr’s knees gave out, and he sunk to the deck of the Raptor. The crash had done a lot more damage to Petr’s body than he’d thought. The world around him was shaky as he attempted to balance himself.
“We’re leaving him,” said the largest man.
“Sorry champ,” said the one with the wild red strokes on his helmet. “Better luck next time.”
“W-w-wait,” Petr said, his words slurred.
The two smaller armored men took one crate each in the three-clawed hands of their suits, then hopped out of the hole in the ship.
Petr reached out and grabbed the guardrails that led up into the cockpit. His arms held for a brief moment, then let go. Petr’s world spun as he crashed to the floor, his cheek coming to rest on the cool metal deck of the Raptor’s shuttle bay.
Then Petr’s world turned black.