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By Charles W. Sasser Medallion Press, Inc.
Copyright © 2005
Charles W. Sasser
All right reserved.
Chapter One It was my first time operating with Humans. Not that I had anything, much, against Humans. I was half-Human myself, a misfortune of birth I might have disavowed were it not for certain unmistakable physical characteristics which identified me with that contentious tribe. The simple fact was that I had been assigned to DRT-213 - a Deep Reconnaissance Team. I accompanied only because the Humans required my special talents as a Sen to follow the Blobs' telepathic spoor in the galaxy, to sniff them out like a trained sensor before they built up sufficient forces to launch their campaigns of destruction and death. While Humans were starting to make strides in extrasensory perception, telepathy, and all the other mind-bending and mind-stretching disciplines, no Human was as accomplished at it as we Zentadon who possessed the Talent.
Humans placed most of their faith in technology, as the Indowy once had before their fall. They replaced their God with it. They ventured into space to see and what they saw instead of the face of God was merely a larger and grander mechanical molecule. I sometimes pondered how my own genes were influenced by the presence of Human DNA.
It was a sobering thought.
The insertion began with the Stealth undocking from the mother ship and being whipped around Aldenia's two moons, using their weak gravity to place it - and us - into an elliptical orbit around the Dark Planet. The craft depended upon the accuracy of the mother ship's computer calculations until orbit was established. Space flight had long ago relegated most vital matters to computers and artificial intelligence.
The Stealth automatically hard-braked beyond the two moons and slung back toward the planet's far side, decelerating by about sixty gravities. Deceleration forces were offset by the crew's snugging ourselves into the form-fitting couches with their padding and pressure controls. As G-forces rapidly bled off and the Stealth settled into orbit, all external electronic systems shut down and the crew resumed control of the ship to some limited extent. Hopefully, if the Blobs were scanning, they would mistake us for merely another piece of space debris.
"Locking in for final maneuvers and microgravity," Captain Amalfi said through the craft's intercom.
"Piece of cake," Atlas said.
"Another old, old Earth expression?" I asked Gun Maid. She laughed, but the men ignored me.
We dismounted the time-couches and assumed our stations. The control bridge was crowded and busy for awhile in the pale red panel lights of gauges and dials and the blue glow of computer screens running systems checks. Communications among the crew of eight - seven Humans and one Zentadon - were minimal and had to do with technical adjustments and duties. Air whispered through ducts. The hull vibrated reassuringly through our feet. We felt the comforting thrust of the powerful wind engines.
Real-time graphics on the view screen were excellent in wraparound technovision. We seemed to be watching from a detached third point of view because of a system of refractory camera angles that revealed the Stealth, us, in orbit around the planet. Everyone gathered for a first hushed look at Aldenia.
I had seen Earth once from a similar perspective. I had not landed, but I saw it and marveled. Even after all the wars Humans engaged in among themselves, all but destroying their own sources of life, the planet remained a translucent blue-and-silver-and-green pearl, more beautiful than anyone could imagine.
There was little about this planet, however, that might be called beautiful. I experienced an indefinite sense of foreboding. Surely its sinister appearance had more to do with my people's collective remembrance of it in the time of the Indowy ascendance than to any inherent quality it possessed.
The sun star Ceti, around which the Tau Ceti Cluster revolved, and the bright sun star of an adjoining cluster, worked at cross angles to provide almost constant light shining on Aldenia. There were two separate nights within a day's cycle, one lasting about two hours and the other four. Even with almost continuous illumination, however, little sunlight penetrated the dark condensation of clouds that crusted the planet. Lightning storms snapped and glowed at various points, like painful inflamed boils about to burst. Noah in the Human Earth Bible built an ark to float out forty days and nights of rainfall. On Aldenia, forty days of rain was a mere sprinkle. Rain fell virtually all the time, cycled by a system that wasn't quite understood. Water covered two thirds of the globe. Where water could be seen through the clouds, it was black, and the land masses were even darker. It made an ideal setting for the VRs young Human prolies savored.
I shuddered looking at it on the view screen. My ears twitched. Two separate DRTs had previously attempted to recon the planet. None of the members had returned. Blobs were blamed for their disappearances. DRT-213's sniper, Sergeant Darman "Blade" Kilmer, was the only known recent explorer to survive Aldenia. That was before the Blobs were spotted here and before the disappearing DRTs, when Blade had been a low-ranking member of an explorer mapping team. He was the sole survivor.
"The rain will drive you mad," he explained. "If that's not bad enough, lightning bolts fill the air with enough electricity to power Galaxia for a century. Bolts strike trees constantly and will make a crispy critter out of you when they can. Everything has teeth or thorns or both. The fauna has switched places, so that bugs are the size of land rovers and houses, and mammals are no bigger than mice and shrews. Lord knows what other monsters might inhabit that dreadful place. Fu-uck. Higher-higher might as well take us out and shoot us now and save us all the misery of dying there."
"You were the only survivor of a mission," Captain Amalfi pointed out. "Why don't you apply for hardship transfer and stay behind?"
"Fu-uck," Blade scorned. "I have my reasons."
The planet's hostile appearance, sinister ambience and foreboding reputation were all reasons why it had remained uncolonized except for a brief period during the taa camps of nearly eight centuries previous. Although the Indowy managed to exist here long enough to build their great slave camps, laboratories, and war factories, its discoverer and explorer, the Indowy Xctplm, nonetheless called it a parasite on the galaxy, a malignant place where, if evil had a source, evil must dwell.
Excerpted from Dark Planet by Charles W. Sasser Copyright © 2005 by Charles W. Sasser. Excerpted by permission.
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