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ISBN-10: 1-77115-154-4
Genre: Science Fiction/Suspense/Thriller
eBook Length: 153 Pages
Published: January 2014

From inside the flap

A sudden attack. A mysterious stranger. And deadly secrets.

In this nonstop action thriller, a small team of human workers terraforming a lifeless world is attacked by a ruthless menace. Their only hope for survival is Jon Ranger, a mysterious stranger who arrives at the same time as the threat. Ranger has a history with what is attacking, but he has a secret. And Ranger suspects the workers are hiding something too. Between their cunning adversary and dissension among the workers, trust is at a premium.

Something has come to this remote, barren world for a reason. Itís determined. Deadly. Calculating.

Relentless (Excerpt)

Chapter 1: Arrival

"Oh, wow. Dad, look!"

Drew Hiller turned himself to face where his son, Zach, pointed. Two streaks of brilliant yellow and orange fire fell from the black sky. Their brief trails glistened on the frozen droplets dotting his airsuit's facemask. Another three, one after another, blazed for a few seconds before disappearing behind the jagged peaks of the craters that scarred this planet. Streaks like that won't be from dust motes.

"How many more do you think there'll be?" Zach asked.

"Hopefully none," Drew replied, looking at the controls on his left forearm sleeve. "I have to call the others." He switched his radio channel to one of their all-workers frequencies. "Hiller calling Base One. Nicki, what's going on? We just witnessed five meteors come down, and there may have been more. Why no warning from the OSS's?"

"The Orbital Stationary Satellites are all offline." Nicki's answer sounded over his helmet speakers loud and clear.

"What? All eight of them?"

"We're working on it, boss. Problem came up just minutes ago. We've been trying to run diagnostics, but no luck."

"Alright, keep on it." No way all eight OSS's could've been struck at once. The odds were against it, unless an immense barrage of objects occurred. Five meteors didn't constitute a barrage. They would've seen more make planetfall. Plus, if this world had passed through a comet debris field, the planet would've shielded some of their satellites. And a direct hit by anything more than a micrometeoroid should generate a no signal message, not offline. "Have someone check the integrity of the tunnels and the rail lines, plus the stations. No telling how deep some of these impacts may've gone, or how many locations got hit. I'm at Station 14, and everything's fine here. Repeat, Station 14 is one hundred percent functional. Focus on the other stations outward from my position. The meteors we saw fell... " Dammit. He checked his left forearm display. "Meteors fell west by northwest from here. Distance indeterminate."

Drew took another look at the sky, turning himself around three hundred sixty degrees to get the complete panorama. "Sloane, you copy all this?"

"Affirmative, bossman."

"Where are you?"

"We've reached Extraction Site Nine-B."

"Well, sorry, but you need to bring your team back. With the OSS's offline, we won't have any warning if more meteors rain down, and those surface transports probably wouldn't survive a direct hit."

"Aw, come on. Give us just ten minutes to do a quick visual-"

"Negative," Drew said emphatically. "Return to Station 14. We'll return to Base One via underground. Nails, what's your status?"

"Everything's fine here," came a woman's husky voice. "My team took shelter in one of the tunnels the excavators created. I brought everyone in when we saw the lightshow. None of the equipment outside took any hits, and we've got a few thousand tons of mountain over our heads, so we're safe for now."

Drew reflexively reached to rub his chin. Oh yeah, suit. He had a dilemma. Nayla's team was indeed safe, but should he leave them so far from the station? What if the meteor showers returned sporadically? How long could they remain there? The daytime lightning storm had forced him to postpone checkup rounds until the evening, and since rounds would take only a few hours, no one took any supplies other than some water. The only thing everyone had plenty of was air, and that was per safety protocols. But what if he told Nayla's team to return and a new meteor shower came? They'd be caught in the open.

Nayla's team was closest to the vicinity he estimated the meteors struck ground. He tried to remember if that would make her safer from another round of meteors, or worse off, but he was an engineer, not an astrophysicist. He could consult with Lloyd or Contaldo or...

Screw it.

"Nails, gather your team and head back." Sloane's team already traveled in the open. He'd rather have everyone safe and sound back at Base One in a while, then worry about anyone left outside. Besides, Base One was safer and stronger than any mountain on this planet.

Drew switched channels back for a moment. "Zach, get Savery. We're going underground."

"Yes, Dad." Zach punched keys on his forearm control. A silvery metal and plastic robot configured like a medium dog scrambled from behind a collection of boulders. The machine was all framework, cables and control boxes. An articulated tail swished behind it, mainly for balance, not decoration. "Going back to the rails, Savery. We don't want anything to happen to you, boy." The robot galloped ahead.

Drew and his son trudged toward the red and gray structure rising from the ground a hundred meters ahead. The simple, rectangular building consisted of an elevator to the rail line forty meters below, two stairwells in case the elevator failed, and a ramp for loading and unloading surface transports from a railbus. Throwing glances skyward every few steps, Drew felt relief after they entered. He turned back and scanned the sky again. No more activity. A shimmer above the doorway on the ceiling caught his eye. A hole from a micrometeorite strike. These were to be expected, given Thuros's still-thin atmosphere. In fifty years, that wouldn't be the case, if their mission went as planned. "Zach, take Savery down to the railbus."

Zach waved toward a small four-person vehicle outside with large, balloon-like tires. "What about the surface buggy?"

"We can get it next time."

"Can't I watch for the others to return?"

"No. Down, now. And switch your radio to all-access, but remember, don't talk unless it's absolutely vital."

Zach gave his dad a wordless thumbs up.

Drew punched his control keys again. "Everyone go to all-access." He knew he could count on his eleven-year-old son to be responsible. In the ten years everyone had been on Thuros, Zach had grown up with all the procedures the work crews used. The boy knew them better than a few of the workers did.

Drew followed Zach and Savery into the elevator. In two minutes, they were at the landing. The yellow and dark-gray railbus sat waiting. He activated its start-up remotely while walking toward it. The vehicle's lights came on, adding significantly to the meager illumination around the landing platform. Steel rails disappeared into the black tunnel ahead of and behind the railbus. Drew's arm control beeped after it linked into the radio relays of the railbus and tunnel, to ensure receiving signals this far underground in a tunnel reinforced by steel and concrete.

"Nails to Drew. We've run into a problem here."

Drew stepped into the railbus and slid into the driver's seat. "What kind of problem?"

"Some of the excavators in the other two tunnels have ceased operating. They won't respond to us."

"Do you know if they were hit?"

"Nothing obvious. We're doing another visual inspection now."

"No. Disregard them for the time being. Get in your transport and head back here. Now. We can worry about this later. Copy?" No response. "Nayla? Confirm order."

"Order received. Let me find the rest of the team and we're on our way."

A burst of static filled his speakers. Or was that a sound too loud for Nayla's microphone to process?

"Nails? Nails? Anyone on Nayla's team at excavation, respond please."