The Rise of MAN


Copyright © 2013, by Elbert Lewis, Jr.



Part I


"And blood in torrents pour,
In vain, always in vain,
For war breeds war again"


~ John Davidson
[1857 - 1909]





Prologue




A shrill alarm wailed throughout every compartment and station of the Scorpiin survey cruiser within seconds after it warped into the solar system. Its insertion point, a precisely calculated location in space, was 3.48 AU beyond the orbit of Pluto. It was a long and well established point of entry used by Scorpiin spaceships on survey and acquisition missions for thousands of years. An insertion at this distance from the sun and most distant planetary body provided a region relatively free of large space debris. It minimized the possibility of a catastrophic collision before the effects of Transition Dissonance subsided and the crew was able to take over anti-collision evasive maneuvers and other crucial operations from BatComp, the artificially intelligent battle computer.

The alarm was the first indication that this incursion would be far from routine. The Captain struggled to push through the mental fog of TD as he tried to determine what triggered the alarm. The AI directed sensors had detected a gravitational anomaly, a possible threat to his ship. The tactical operations officer was the first to recover sufficiently to confirm the reason for the alarm was the detection of a source of artificial gravity waves. The captain's distress from TD was instantly pushed to the back of his mind by a rolling wave of strong emotions. His first reaction was surprise at the reality of gravity wave technology employed in the solar system. It seemed an impossibility given the level of technology the planet's inhabitants, the huMans, had achieved since the failure of the original GOD Project.*

He had been the chief procurer for the Scorpiin's current GOD project for more than four hundred local solar years and was well acquainted with the level of technology of the race of beings who called their planet, Earth. In fact it was he, his predecessors and their GOD project scientists who were responsible for the rapid technological advancements of the mutated species. But gravity wave technology was still hundreds of years beyond their current capability. That left exactly one alternative to explain the use of artificially generated gravity waves in the solar system-the Hadarans! And that realization sent a strong undercurrent of fear racing across his mind.

His immediate conclusion was that the Hadaran incursion could be a result of the numerous occasions he'd visited the solar system to harvest the thousands of experimental subjects and candidates for induction into the Scorpiin alien legions. Perhaps those previous visits had placed his ship and crew in peril. An atmosphere of high tension reigned until it was determined that they had not inserted within a Hadaran naval unit's defensive envelope. He decided to take a slow and cautious approach in reconnoitering this new and potentially disastrous turn of events. He ordered an immediate shutdown of all graviton generators, active scanners and every system that generated detectable energy or signal emissions from his ship. Without gravity nodes they would have to perform all of their shipboard duties in zero gravity. Next he ordered an increased stealth mode and a switch to passive scanning. In the next five standard earth days he would confirm his worst fears.

The Captain, if nothing else, was a patient plolblx, a male of his species. He'd developed that quality over the previous four hundred equivalent years of unobtrusively observing the actions of the indigenous populations of Earth. He and a long line of predecessors had intervened at critical junctures during forty thousand years to guide the evolution of the mutated species. The rate of development of military science and technological advancement of the huMans had been very promising. His secondary mission, the selection and harvesting of specimens for induction into the alien legions of the Scorpiin armed forces, was the reason for this incursion.

He was near the end of his space faring career and was looking forward to a less stressful assignment to the research branch of the GOD Project. Now it seemed that he would open a new chapter in the long history of the Scorpii and the huMans.

It didn't take long to analyze the sensor data and confirm the origin of the emissions. Their arch enemies, the Hadarans, the product of another GOD project, had indeed encroached upon this sector of the Scorpiin sphere of influence and were now in the process of establishing a forward operating base. Further observation revealed the huMans were putting up a spirited but doomed defense.

Despite his own inclination, the expressed desire of his officers and at times the heated prompting of his scientific cadre to intervene and add the might of his cruiser to the battle, he remained steadfast and refused to join the fray. He sat on the bridge for long hours and watched in sadness as the Hadarans used advanced weapons to brush aside the puny huMan defenses and gain a foothold on the planet.

Over hundreds of years of covertly guiding huMan scientific progress he'd developed subtle feelings of parental pride in their progress, much as an owner of the best in show. Watching the clashes between Hadarans and huMans was akin to watching a pure breed poodle being mauled by a neighbor's pit bull. The real shocker came later in the battle. On the fourth day of their intelligence gathering a warship of Scorpiin design warped into the solar system and initiated its own stealthy recon from the moon. The parade of surprises continued when the mystery ship intervened in the conflict. The mystery deepened when it became apparent that the unidentified Scorpiin crew and the huMans were acting in concert to oppose the Hadaran incursion.

How had a Scorpiin naval vessel come to be operating in the solar system outside of naval command and involved in a skirmish with a Hadaran naval unit in alliance with the inhabitants of a third tier civilization on the fringe of the Scorpiin Empire? Still the captain refrained from entering the fray. He reasoned that although the combined might of the unidentified Scorpiin ship and his own stood a good chance of defeating the Hadaran flotilla, there was a high probability that other Hadaran naval units had entered the solar system undetected, so he steadfastly refused to put his command at risk. He pushed his frustration aside and continued to observe and evaluate.

Against all odds the huMans, using first generations nuclear weapons and the coordinated attack by the unidentified Scorpiin ship defeated the Hadarans and made intervention a moot point. The single action the Captain did authorize was the interception and destruction of the last communications drone launched by the surviving Hadaran war ship before it was destroyed in a suicidal attack by the mystery Scorpiin craft. The victory over the Hadaran naval unit both greatly surprised and pleased the captain and his entire crew.

The captain's judgment was vindicated when a message from Fleet Command was downloaded from a comdrone and decoded. The reply to his priority dispatch to headquarters confirmed the signature of the mystery Scorpiin ship was that of an experimental Scorpiin vessel that was possibly crewed by four God Project technicians and an advanced bio-weapon prototype of huMan origin. The ship and bio-weapon had previously been declared destroyed during the ill-fated Altairian offensive nearly twenty five years ago. His orders were to remain on station and observe the further activities of the Hadarans, the huMans and above all the bio-weapon. He was also ordered to otherwise not interfere or take any action to alter the outcome of the engagement of the combatants. In light of those orders he chose to remain in the solar system for six months after the battle making detailed observations. Not until the emergency food rations were nearly exhausted did he finally give orders to a nearly mutinous crew to plot a course for the forty-five light year jump to the star 18 Scorpii and their home planet.

He had much to report. Uppermost in his mind, the astonishing news that even though the thirty-five year old mystery ship had been destroyed in the battle, the subject of one of their most promising bio-weapon projects was still viable and appeared to have exceeded all of their expectations.

*The Dawn of MAN


Chapter 1



Time was his enemy!

Time was a colossal millstone, a crushing burden that loomed larger with each passing moment. Time was the relentless, ravenous devourer of his life. Time was coldly unforgiving, immune to impetration and utterly without conscience or caring. Time was a merciless specter lurking in the infinite darkness of space, patiently waiting to enfold him in the dark shroud of eternity.

Time-was simply running out.

Logan's somber gaze slowly, wearily, swept a gloomy cockpit illuminated only by the meager light from the barely functioning instrument panel. Nothing had changed in the last few minutes or for several days. Not that day or night had any real meaning beyond the twenty-four hour time cycle he observed out of habit. Access panels to various electrical and mechanical systems were left carelessly ajar exposing the darker recesses where banks of circuit boards and other devices were missing key components. Cable runs hung askew where he'd left them after scavenging their meager offerings. Other cables snaked to various makeshift connections and splicings for which they were not originally designed. Empty ration containers, water bottles, high pressure oxygen tanks and other scraps of debris he'd not yet collected floated randomly about the cockpit in zero gravity. He dared not try to jettison the refuse for fear of not being able to reestablish the tenuous air lock and he couldn't afford to expend the amount of energy required to generate artificial gravity. The view into the dim recesses of the equipment locker revealed the same disarray.

He wondered for the hundredth time if this was to be his final resting place-his tomb? Logan felt a profound sadness over that grim prospect but at the same time he was oddly at peace with the universe and resigned to the possibility of a prolonged and agonizing death by asphyxiation. He supposed it was a fitting end to his existence; a life began as an unwanted mixed-race infant abandoned and left at the front door of an Appalachian hospital; a childhood spent unwanted and unloved in the dog-eat-dog environment of a poor county orphanage in rural 1950's era West Virginia. An adult life spent as a professional soldier, a killer of men.

He glanced up at the chronograph super-imposed on the visor of his crystal-steel HUD and then to the power level indicator. A second check of the time, his rate of deceleration and a swift mental calculation told him he had less than thirty hours until his battered spacecraft reached the outer fringes of earth's atmosphere. It was a source of dread and hope. His attempts to contact someone on earth had so far been in vain. He hadn't really expected a return signal from Jessica. Her bracelet's transmitter range was limited to earth's immediate gravitational field, not much further than the moon and he was still many millions of miles beyond its orbit. Besides, the miniature power cell that powered the bracelet was surely depleted by this time. Its charge was good for three months of normal operation at most. At the time he'd given it to her he hadn't anticipated a longer separation. If only he'd known. The thought of her brought a brief, sad smile to his parched lips. He missed her strong willed brashness.

The handheld gravity wave transceiver he'd left with Mark Olson was a different matter. Logan had hoped to contact his old friend, if for nothing else than to talk to another human being one last time before he died. If it were operational, Olson would have acknowledged his transmissions. In his worse moments, in the depths of despair, he feared the device was destroyed and that Olson was long dead as well as Jessica and more than likely, the rest of the human race. An entire civilization gone, leaving no one to write his epitaph-his epos.

It was highly probable that the Hadarans had dispatched a follow-on naval force to Earth. If not destroyed outright, the planet could already be occupied with many of its cities and military bases charred to radioactive ash. The people of earth could have been forced into slavery for the greater glory of the Hadaran Empire. He banished those troubling scenarios from his mind as best he could. He had to hold on to the belief, the hope, that all of humanity had not perished. What other reason would he have for struggling to reach Earth, to survive for another second?

Logan looked slowly around the cockpit again. Miniature servos whined softly as the motion feed-back system rotated the helmet to match his movement. He cringed at the expenditure of even that minute amount of energy. The disarray he saw was a testimony to his desperate scavenging of noncritical systems to patch together a functional control circuit for the ion propulsion system.

He'd barely had time to launch the Ground Assault Craft before sacrificing the advanced scout cruiser in a nearly suicidal attack on the last surviving enemy vessel. Luckily most of the external steering mechanisms were not seared away during his escape from the Shaka. A condition entirely attributed to the fact that the external components of the ion engines were little more than semi-spherical blisters located along the hull.

His action was a temporary setback in the Hadaran's plan to establish a forward operating base on Earth. Logan had yet to recover from the crushing blows his body sustained during the titanic explosion caused by the simultaneous detonation of every onboard nuclear weapon and the Shaka's intentionally overloaded fusion power plant. The Armored Fighting Suit had been his salvation. The GAC's kinetic energy screens, supplemented by the protective shields of his armored fighting suit, saved his life. The multi-layered force fields preserved his life but could not completely shield him from the massive concussion of multiple nuclear explosions.

In a bid to save mankind he'd hatched a plan to attack, with nuclear weapons, the alien beachhead in the Australian outback and the alien naval formation in geosynchronous orbit over the continent. The President, having no viable options, reluctantly agreed to go along with the desperate scheme and convinced two other nuclear powers that earth's last hope lay in the success of Logan's plan. It had not been a very hard sale since the Hadarans had ravaged the world's air forces. Nuclear submarines from the US, Great Britain and Russia launched a massive nuclear strike that destroyed the invasion ground force but it also devastated the interior of Australia. Simultaneously a separate coordinated attack was launched with land based ICBMs from America and Russia retargeted on the orbiting formation of alien starships.

The initial attack by the Logan-Shaka symbiosis resulted in the destruction of the destroyer escort minutes before the devastating ICBM barrage destroyed the Hadaran command ship. Unfortunately the attacks were not a complete victory. The last alien ship, a battle cruiser similar in design to the Shaka but more heavily armed and armored escaped the trap. The commander of the vessel, now fully aware that he faced a far more formidable enemy then originally suspected, was within minutes of targeting earth with a planet busting doomsday weapon.

After arming all of the on-board nuclear weapons and overriding the safeguards on Shaka's fusion reactors, Logan projected two unbreakable tractor beams that locked the Shaka and the Hadaran cruiser in an ever tightening, unbreakable embrace of death. Logan narrowly escaped in the assault craft seconds before the collision and nuclear detonations. His near suicidal act of ramming the ship eliminated the last immediate threat and hopefully gave mankind a reprieve and time to muster an effective defense against any follow-on forces.

Now he was flying nearly blind from the remote reaches of the solar system with the sun's intense gravitational signature his only navigational reference. Logan was certain that he had enough power to pilot his badly damaged assault craft, turned lifeboat, back to earth. He was doubtful of his ability to shed the prodigious velocity he'd built up over the previous months of gradual acceleration and slow the craft enough to reduce the heat of reentry enough to avoid being scorched to a crisp. The fate of the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia was a haunting specter barely kept at bay. He lacked sufficient power to place his craft in orbit and a controlled landing was completely out of the question. A crash landing in some body of water was his only viable option. The big unknown was energy consumption. The craft's main gravity drive had been damaged beyond his ability to repair. The fusion engine, graviton generator and most of the main gravity phasing apparatus were fused and twisted wreckage in the ruined aft section of the GAC. He'd been forced to jerry-rig a connection between the ship's electrical circuitry and his Armored Fighting Suit. He was using the suit's power cells to energize, one at a time, the boat's five auxiliary ion steering drives. So far the blisters, built nearly flush to the otter surface of the hull, had held up under the repetitive use.

They had been barely enough to reverse his headlong plunge into interstellar space and a slow, gruesome death by suffocation when his air supply ran out. To conserve power he'd steered a long, looping return trajectory to Earth. The AFS's primary power cell was long depleted and the backup was nearly exhausted. He was hoping there would be enough power after decelerating to make the required course corrections at crucial moments.

Logan was left unconscious for days after the shock wave from the massive explosion hurled the assault craft out to the fringe of the solar system. After he recovered enough to function and do something about his predicament, he was well beyond the orbit of Neptune and more than two billion miles from Earth. His return had stretched into a torturous three-month long ordeal. He'd run the environmental systems of the AFS intermittently and at the minimum life sustaining levels to conserve energy. The armored suit had saved his life; it protected him from the radiation and most of the concussion. Now it sustained him in a dark, airless wreck of a ship in a nearly hopeless attempt to reach earth.

Logan wanted desperately to believe that the earth was safe. The Hadaran cruiser managed to launch a warp capable communications drone to its home base or parent fleet minutes before Logan's kamikaze attack. Logan in turn launched a missile to intercept and destroy the drone but he was unable to confirm a kill. If his missile failed to overtake the drone before it transited into warp space, it was only a matter of time before the Hadaran Naval Command responded and dispatched an even larger force to rectify the failed mission. During his frequent bouts of depression he believed they had done so already. The fierce feline creatures were supremely intelligent and utterly relentless in their pursuit of empire and domination of earth's spiral arm of the galaxy. The only reason Earth had been spared thus far was its location in a region of the spiral arm sparsely populated with planets having oxygen-nitrogen atmospheres. The Hadaran's main focus for the last eight hundred years had been a push toward the galactic center. Their five ship expeditionary force was almost more than the combined efforts of earth's nuclear powers and Logan's use of advanced alien technology could defeat. The chances of fending off or defeating an entire invasion fleet was practically zero.

Logan sighed and put those troubling thoughts aside, at least for the moment. His own survival was his immediate concern and that was very much in doubt. The meager food stores aboard the assault craft had lasted barely a month and were long gone. The armored suit's various reservoirs, high pressure tanks and storage compartments when fully stocked, held enough water, food nutrients and other essentials for an additional fifteen days at normal consumption. As near as he could determine it had been three months since the battle. He had been on less than half and then one third of normal consumption for some time before his food ran out. He'd had little water and nothing to eat for nearly three weeks. On top of that, to conserve as much energy as possible he'd run the suit's waste removal and oxygen regenerating systems at minimum level the entire time and he was beginning to resent his own stink. At times the atmosphere inside the suit made it feel like he was sealed inside a ventless port-o-let in the middle of August. Logan thought he would give anything for a few breaths of cool, clean mountain air...

...Logan jerked upright and banged his head against the inside of the helmet. He had drifted off again. He didn't know if his walk along an alpine ridge had been a mirage created by thirst or a hallucination created by a mind starved for sensory input. Logan was completely bored with the mental games he'd played and replayed to keep his mind active and depression at bay. He was desperate for human contact. He recognized he was slipping into another bout of selfpity and struggled against it. He let his favorite song flow into his mind. His eidetic memory retrieved the lyrics to Sade's Soldier of Love and he pantomimed the words that always inspired him: "I am a soldier... all the days of my life. I have the will to survive, in the wild, wild, west, trying my hardest, doing my best, to stay alive..." He loved the video too. The choreography reminded him of close order drill in boot camp. Before Jessica came into his life, Sade had been the star in his sexual fantasies. He'd often wondered if she was a genome adept, although he'd never attended a concert or tried to meet her.

Logan laughed out loud at the irony of his predicament. He wondered what the Scorpiin scientists would think of their super-huMan now. He was half dead from starvation and dredging up soul music to maintain a modicum of hope and the will to survive. Logan was one of many thousands of huMans, as the Scorpiins called man, abducted from earth to continue their version of the GOD project. He was the first full genome adept to be taken.

After extensive physical and mental enhancement, extensive combat training with Scorpiin war machines, bio-augmentation and two TCI sessions of imprinting advanced war strategy, he was integrated into the Scorpiin Alien Legion and sent into battle against the Hadarans. His extraordinary performance in combat, which translated to surviving more than a couple of engagements with the Hadarans, led the Scorpiin military scientists to believe he could be the long awaited MAN. Logan was then subjected to more extensive biological modifications, physical enhancements and advanced warfare training. Most significant of all, a cybernetic implant was embedded deep inside his brain. With the implant he was able to establish a mind-machine link and control over an advanced prototype warship.

Then he was slated for more combat trials. Before that could take place the Scorpiins suffered a major defeat in the war and Logan used the disruption and confusion to simulate the destruction of the Shaka and his death. He fled in the Shaka, returned to earth and then spent the next three and a half decades hiding from the Scorpiins and searching out more genome adept. Now an invasion by the Hadarans was eminent and the people of earth were nowhere near prepared to defend the planet against the Hadarans. His monumental failure in that regard reignited a wave of crushing guilt. Logan cursed out loud but couldn't absolve himself of the responsibility for a virtually defenseless planet facing the onslaught of an advanced and ruthless enemy.

For lack of something better to do, Logan ran through his flight checklist again but it only reminded him of how many systems were non-functional and how dismally low was his chance of survival. It was at times like these that he missed the Shaka the most. That marvel of advanced Reiign technology with its self-aware AI had been designed to function as an integrated weapons system that included Logan. He'd been able to merge his mind with the AI through the cybernetic implant. At times the AI's personality seemed nearly human and he missed the interaction. When merged, with instantaneous access and control of every system and weapon in the Shaka's vast arsenal, he became more than a just a man with an advanced alien space ship. He became a MAN, a Mutation Accelerated Nemesis; the Scorpii's prototype of the ultimate warrior; the fruition of a fifty-thousand year bio-genetic breeding program. He was no longer just a huMan but the progenitor of an army of saviors of the Reiign Empire. He laughed at himself and the ridiculous notion.

With endless time on his hands he often wondered if he had made the right decision to desert and flee from the Scorpiins. Perhaps he could have persuaded them to form an alliance with mankind instead of continuing the practice of using Earth's huMan population as breeding stock for the creation of more MAN. But no, he was convinced that the Scorpiins saw normal humans as their creation, huMans, and by definition inferior. In fact, modern man was the result of their Reiign ancestor's genetic experiments on Neanderthal specimens. Even though the Scorpiins themselves were hybrids and not pure Reiign, they were more advanced than man and would never have condescended to treat huMans as equals.

Now he was a refugee, a castaway in a barely functioning spacecraft with little chance of surviving the ordeal. Depression reared its ugly head again and threatened to crush his resolve. He forced himself to think about something else and Jessica's image flowed soothingly into his mind. Thoughts of her always gave him hope. His eidetic memory recalled in perfect detail her face; the tawny brown skin and almond shaped eyes, her pouty lips and the riot of coarse reddish-brown hair. His thoughts strayed to her body, her long legs, narrow waist and firm, proud breasts. It wasn't long before his reminiscences turned to their first intimate interlude. Logan closed his eyes. His integrated mind with its enhanced neuroimaging capability and eidetic memory relived every motion and sensation of their lovemaking with the exact same intensity, as the day it took place.

Afterwards, Logan slumped within the confines of the AFS with a tired sigh of release. His orgasm left him temporary distracted from his troubles but not fully sated. A smiled touched his lips when he thought about what Jessica's reaction would be to his lascivious use of his memories of her. She would probably retaliate with crude sexual comments of her own. He laughed at the image of the two of them trading lewd verbal barbs. He laughed and laughed and couldn't stop laughing. The chuckles racked his body and continued until he sounded demented. His eyes were red and brimming with tears of laughter and self-pity as his head rolled to the side and he noticed the communications module. It was still broadcasting the signal to Jessica in a continuous loop. He decided it was an exercise in futility. Even if she were alive to receive his transmission, her bracelet's return signal could not reach much beyond the moon. Moreover, the bracelet's miniature power cell was surely depleted. Logan reached over to the instrument panel and terminated the signal; better to conserve even the minute amount of energy it consumed.


Chapter 2


Colonel Mitchell J. Townsend, Commander of the 9th. Marine Expeditionary Unit stood on the flight deck of the USS Tarawa watching the first wave of assault troops board the transport helicopters. Townsend was a tall, broad shouldered son of a wheat farmer from Iowa. Until his enlistment into the Marine Corps, after graduating from high school, he'd never been more than a couple of hundred miles from home. As the eldest son, it was assumed he would one day continue in his father's footsteps and run the family farm. His first enlistment put an end to that. For reasons he didn't fully understand, he was just not a farmer at heart. He longed for the adventure of world travel and the excitement of military life. His superiors early-on recognized his quick intellect and talent for all things martial. He was recommended for and accepted a selection to Officer Candidate School after his stellar performance as a buck sergeant during Desert Storm. Now after twenty years of a brilliant career he was atop a short list for promotion to brigadier general. Everyone who came to know him recognized the look of eagles in his piercing blue eyes and knew he was destined for greatness. But in his private moments he sometimes felt the golden wheat fields calling him home.

The waters of the Indian Ocean, fifty miles off the west coast of Australia glowed a deep, menacing phtalo blue. It was a reflection from sunlight turned scarlet and purple by the tremendous amount of dust and debris blasted into the atmosphere by the nuclear barrage that destroyed the alien beach head. His MEU had been diverted from the evacuation effort and ordered to assume an active support role reinforcing the Australian military unit dispatched to mop up the last known remnants of the Hadaran invasion force.

Ten miles off the starboard bow, a line of ships of every description steamed away from the city of Perth with their cargos of refugees fleeing from the devastated island. The Dunkirk evacuation during World War II that saved over two hundred thousand British and French soldiers from the Nazi juggernaut paled in comparison to the rescue taking place. The UN was estimating as many as seven million Australians would have to be evacuated. They were the lucky ones. Four million had already died in the battle to defeat the Hadarans. Another two million could have severely shortened lives due to cancers and other health problems from radian poisoning.

Townsend shook his head sadly at the scope of the human tragedy then turned back to the Tarawa's Executive officer and accepted his proffered hand.

"Good luck and good hunting, Colonel." Said the naval officer.

"Thank you, XO. Unlike some of my more gung-ho Marines, I hope the Aussies deal with these aliens long before we're needed. My briefing indicated the aliens are armed with lasers." He tapped his body armor clad chest. "These won't provide much protection." "I don't envy you this mission, Sir." The executive officer's face pulled a sympathetic frown. "These Hadarans, according to the eye-witness accounts of the fighting to retake Cheyenne Mountain, always fight to the death."

"Yeah...well, we'll sure accommodate them in that respect." With that, Townsend snapped a return salute then turned away to board his waiting Kiowa command helicopter.

****

Sergeant Percy Donavan, of the Royal Australian Fusiliers, took cover behind a concrete retaining wall and prayed that no laser beam found him. Normally, hidden behind eight inches of reinforced concrete, he would be safe from anything short of a direct hit from a mortar round or artillery shell. With the aliens and their lasers, there was no such thing as adequate cover. He knew that he should be adding to the massed firepower of his platoon, but he'd witnessed too many of his men rear up to fire on the enemy then duck behind what they thought was good cover only to be skewered by laser flashes that burned through concrete and steel like so much wet tissue paper.

zzzzat!

"Aggggggh!"

Donavan's head snapped up at the now all too familiar air crackling sizzle of a laser flash and cry of anguish from some dumb bastard who hadn't rolled to a new position after firing at the enemy. Ten meters to his left, one of his men was writhing on the ground with a hand pressed to his smoldering right shoulder. The platoon medic, hearing his screams of pain, stumbled over Donavan's out-stretched legs while making his way to the wounded man before anyone yelled for him. Donavan's anger knew no bounds. His acrimony was directed as much at his superiors as the aliens. He felt the two were conspiring to end his life.

The aliens, with their hovercraft and lasers, were probably the last survivors of the Hadaran invasion force. He cursed his lousy luck that they would show up in his battalion's sector. He assumed they too had fled in the direction opposite the prevailing winds towards the west coast of Australia to escape the radioactive fallout. The "buggers" must have hidden out in the desert until their supplies ran out before suddenly appearing on the outskirts of Perth. The aliens had easily taken over the electric power plant. The district military commanders correctly assumed they needed the power for their hovercraft and energy weapons. When his platoon arrived on the scene the first thing they saw was the bodies of the technicians, plant maintenance workers, local constables and the first army unit to respond. They were piled in a heap near the front entrance or sprawled where they had fallen near the approaches to the power plant.

The city of Perth and its port facilities was a beehive of activity with the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of refugees. The governmental authorities were swamped with the humanitarian effort but their response had been as swift as it was futile. The aliens had so far resisted all efforts to dislodge them and the political leaders were reluctant to give the military authorization to bomb them out. There was a critical need for electrical power during the evacuation and so far the aliens had not interfered with the flow of electricity from the only functioning power plant within three hundred miles. Thanks to a maverick politician who twice successfully blocked a spending bill to upgrade the plant's control systems in favor of a new facility. The antiquated mechanical switching gear was immune to the EMP so there was limited electrical power for Perth and the evacuation.

Donavan's platoon was tasked with keeping the aliens contained until reinforcements arrived. The rumor was the U.S. was sending in troops to help out. He snorted in derision. Bloody Yanks have helped out quite enough if you ask me, destroyed the whole bleedin' country. His thoughts prompted Donavan to glance eastward towards the sky over the devastated interior of his country. What used to be his country. It was hard to accept the reality that Australia would cease to exist as a nation, perhaps for a hundred years. Only the hardy, or the foolish, were sticking it out. Up to thirty percent of its pre-invasion population were dead from alien attacks and the nuclear blasts or soon would be from the effects of radiation poisoning. Those who chose to leave would be resettled in America, Canada or Western Europe. Bloody hell! Welcome to the twenty-first century, mates. Donavan frowned and adjusted his combat harness to a more comfortable position while craning his neck to see how the medic was coming along with the wounded man. There was one good thing about a laser wound. If no vital organs were destroyed, the wound was instantly cauterized and there was very little blood loss.

A sudden burst of machine gun fire from his right flank shattered the brief lull. Donavan bobbed up to take a quick peek. At the same instant a torrent of laser bolts flashed into his men manning the platoon's last operational MAG 58 machine gun. The soldiers and their weapon were left in smoking ruin. Donavan screamed his outrage and like every survivor in the platoon, he opened fire on the alien hovercraft slowly advancing towards their defensive positions.

Sub-Commander RaGa'harth Gir of the Hadaran Imperial Expeditionary Forces snarled his frustration and anger. He had ordered the seizure of the power plant in hopes of recharging their power pacs. However, the equipment was too primitive to be of immediate use. It was the only reason the plant still functioned at all. Its circuitry and controls were not transistorized and therefore had not been put out of commission by the EMP from the nuclear blasts. The combat engineer attached to his unit tried to explain but RaGa'harth dismissed him with a roar after the explanation exceeded his knowledge of physics and energy conversion. Not only would the engineer have to fashion from scratch-without the proper tools-adaptors capable of bridging the gap between their equipment and the inhabitants' primitive mechanisms but the frequency of the electrical output was several orders of magnitude below ideal. Even if they could bridge the incompatibility gap it would take several planetary rotation cycles to fully charge all of their power pacs. RaGa'harth was certain they didn't have a tenth of that time before the primitives attacked in strength. Although they were pale, nearly furless, weak creatures with inferior technology, they had demonstrated the ability to deploy first generation nuclear weapons with deadly efficiency.

His need of a source of energy had motivated his decision to leave their hiding place in the outback and enter a populated area. He'd waited in vain for ninety planetary rotation cycles for a rescue ship. He finally had to accept the fact that the rest of the expeditionary force had been defeated and destroyed. Either that or so degraded as to be unable to mount a simple recovery operation. He had finally come to terms with the former possibility. There had been not one acknowledgement of their distress signals. There would be no retrieval. He and his warriors were abandoned and marooned on this primitive world. They'd had very little food and water with them at the time of the battle. The emergency rations stored on all attack platforms were exhausted in less than thirty local days. What water they found was slightly radioactive-they drank it anyway. They'd resisted feeding off the indigenous wildlife as long as possible but eventually had to, or starve to death. They found none of the animals or even primitive dark skinned aborigines to their taste but it was nourishment. Although they were not poisoned, they had grown weaker on the diet. It was obvious that certain essential nutrients were not available in the flesh of the planet's creatures. They were getting weaker and slowly wasting away.

RaGa'harth turned from the bank of crude gauges and regarded his sub commanders assembled in the rear of the central control room. It was evident that they had already come to the same conclusions he'd reached. Even though they were stuck on this pathetic mud ball of a planet with little hope of ever leaving, there was no despair or fear of death. The bones of Hadaran warriors were scattered over hundreds of planets throughout the spiral arm of the galaxy. They lived to die in battle. But to slowly waste away from lack of proper food and a dwindling power supply was no way for a Hadaran warrior to end his days. He made up his mind quickly. It didn't take long to outline his plan. There were few, if any options.

Sergeant Donavan struggled up the slope of the railroad embankment, dragging a wounded man. They took cover under a coal carrier. As far as he knew they were the only survivors from their platoon and Pvt. Stanley, with his gaping wounds, didn't appear to be long for this world. The aliens had come out shooting and in a matter of minutes routed the demoralized Aussies. The force fields around the hovercraft deflected the concentrated gunfire from the soldiers but were completely pervious to the laser bursts from the alien's weapons. Their fire was inherently accurate and soldier after soldier fell to precisely targeted white-hot laser beams to their heads and upper bodies. The solid projectiles and explosive rounds the alien infantry rained down on his men were just as devastating as the lasers. Donavan wasn't sure how he'd survived but he was determined to live and sound the alarm.

Before they reached the safety of the reverse embankment a string of sharp explosions shattered the quiet after the storm. The concussion slapped their eardrums and sent them tumbling down the slope. Pvt. Stanley screamed when the fall exacerbated his injuries. Donavan assumed it was the aliens coming to finish them off. He struggled to reach his rifle that lay partially under the wounded man. More concussions from another series of explosions assaulted them and left their ears ringing. He knew death was near but resolved to go out like a soldier. He finally freed his rifle, scrambled back up the slope and peered over the top in time to see a flight of helicopters bank away after their attack run. One of the alien hovercrafts was grounded and in flames. The others were returning crisp bolts of laser fire that exploded one of the choppers that he instantly recognized as an American Super Cobra attack helicopter.

The Marines had arrived!

Colonel Townsend checked his MP-5 sub-machine gun for the third time. He was determined to be there if the aliens chose to continue to fight for the power plant. He wanted to smell the blood of the bastards who'd caused the death of a yet unknown number of his men. He'd watched in horror as one of the troop carriers in the first lift was shot down by laser fire. The CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter had dropped like a stone, crashed heavily and exploded before anyone could escape. Townsend said a silent prayer. Major Ronald Edwards, his Executive Officer, had been aboard that helicopter. A second Sea Stallion was hit seconds later and forced down. The pilots managed an emergency landing of the burning aircraft and most of its human cargo got out alive before the fuel tanks exploded, taking the brave crew with it.

After that Townsend ordered the rest of his troop carriers to disembark their Marines well beyond laser range and another attack run by his gunships. The AH-1F Super Cobras roared into action with a shower of TOW missiles and 20-mm Auto-Cannon fire. Two more of the remaining seven Cobra gunships were swatted out of the sky before the energy shields of the alien hovercraft failed and the floaters began to explode from multiple missile strikes. Townsend whooped with bloodthirsty glee at the sight of the alien machines being blasted apart. At the end of the air battle all four of the enemy hovercraft, two Sea Stallions and three Super Cobras lay burning on the sun baked Australian soil.

Townsend knew it was reckless and totally against sound battlefield doctrine for the regimental commander to expose himself to the dangers of frontline combat. His job was to direct his unit's maneuvers and coordinate the support activities of the air wing and naval ships. But he wanted personal revenge. He'd chomped at the bit for the forty-five minutes it took to establish his command post and now it was time. Townsend jumped out of the natural depression on the heels of the three Force Recon Commandos serving as his bodyguards. He followed them at a swift looping run for half of a mile along a paved access road then down into a four-foot deep rain water detention basin that served as the Alpha Company command post.

Captain Vince Fischer frowned at the sight of the 'Old man' entering his CP. He had his hands full with coordinating the deployment of his troops and didn't need the distraction. Townsend noticed the look and felt sympathy for his subordinate. He knew what Fischer must be thinking. The last thing a combat commander needed was the brass looking over his shoulder, or worse, jaunting around his AO, Area of Operations, looking for a little youthful excitement. Townsend wasn't there for an adrenaline rush and beyond the desire for revenge he was sure that this mopping up action would not be the last time humanity would have to deal with Hadarans on the battlefield. If he was to be engaged in a war with these creatures he wanted firsthand knowledge of their capabilities. When he kneeled down near Fischer and his radio operators he was out of breath from the short run. He silently chastised himself and vowed to fit more time for running into his training schedule in the future.

"Hi'ya Vince. Nice day for a fight ain't it." Townsend quipped.

"Any war will do, Colonel." Fischer answered with a fierce smile.

"What's the sit-rep?" Townsend asked after a quick peek over the rim of the depression.

"I just received a report from our scouts." Fischer began, "They've linked up with the Aussies, or what's left of them. There's only one able bodied man and three wounded who survived out of what had been a reinforced platoon. I just ordered litter teams forward with the point squad to evacuate the wounded. The scouts just spotted aliens regrouping within the power plant. It looks like we're going to have to dig them out. First and third platoons will establish a frontal blocking position. Second is split and maneuvering around both flanks. There's nothing we can do about their rear with most of heavy weapons platoon out of action."

His voice was troubled when he spoke again. "Is there any word on survivors from the first crash, Sir?"

Townsend sadly shook his head, "It looks like they're all KIA, Vince."

"Damn!" Fischer barked. He looked over his shoulder at the column of black smoke billowing up from the crash site. The platoon commander was his brother-in-law. He knew it was going to devastate his sister.

<Razor Two-six to Razor Six Actual, over.>

The radio call interrupted the solemn moment. The company RTO passed the hand set to Fischer. "Six-Actual, go Two-Six, over." Fischer responded.

<Be advised, we've established a flank position. No contact, no more sightings of the enemy. Suggest we attempt probe of objective. Over.>

"Wait one, Two-Six." Fischer answered then looked to Townsend. "With the reduced lift capacity it will take the remaining choppers at least two hours to get all of Baker Company here to block the rear of the plant. They could escape. I suggest we—"

Townsend raised hand to interrupt him. "This is your show Vince. I'm not here to run your company. You know the mission parameters. We try to keep them corralled until the specialists from the DOD can attempt to communicate with them. Maybe take some alive."

"Yeah, good luck with that!" Fischer barked then nodded his appreciation and went back to his radio conversation. "Six-Actual to Razor Two-Six, over."

<Two-Six.>

Fischer spoke clearly and forcefully. "Negative. I repeat, negative on the probe. Send a squad sized blocking force to the rear of the plant. Stay outside of the fence line and stand by for further orders. Do you copy?"

"That's affirmative Two-Six. Six-actual, out."

<Two-six, out>

"Six Actual to Three-six, over..." Fischer gave new orders to his third platoon commander then turned to Lt. Zane, his operations officer, and instructed him to liaison with Bravo Company as soon as it arrived. When he turned back the colonel was nowhere to be seen.

Townsend ran in a crouch along a drainage swale that fed the detention pond during Perth's infrequent but heavy rainstorms. The ditch ended at a concrete apron of a storm culvert that ran under the access road. His bodyguards were close behind and around him. He took a few moments to catch his breath then crabbed up to the rim of the road embankment to peer through his binoculars. After he focused, the burning wreck of one of the alien hovercraft came into view. The smoldering body of a Hadaran lay on the ground a few feet away. He could not see its features clearly but he was mesmerized. It was his first sighting of an alien?a being from another planet, a far distant solar system. He felt a brief moment of pity for a fellow soldier. 'Poor bastard, it's no different for your kind,' he mused. The alien had made the supreme sacrifice, dying on foreign soil, far from home, at the whim of his superiors and politicians. The moment passed and his hatred of the enemy?the killers of his men?returned full force. Townsend panned the glasses to take in the Marines. First and third platoons were deployed about a hundred yards away from the generating plant's heavily damaged security fence. He studied their deployment and grunted his satisfaction with the platoon commanders positioning of their troops.

Between the Marines and the plant lay more decomposing human corpses then he cared to count. Next he shifted his view to the power plant itself. The building was a huge red brick structure with two towering smoke stacks. What he saw was a typical electrical generating plant. Except for the battle damage, it looked like it could have been situated in any American city. There were no signs of the aliens he knew were still inside. After another five minutes of watching the plant hoping to catch a glimpse of a living alien, Townsend slid down to the toe of the slope. He noticed the looks of curiosity on the faces of his bodyguards and passed the binoculars to Sgt. Shumaker, the closest Recon Marine.

"Well, now I guess we wait for Bravo to land and get into position," Townsend said with a sigh and reached for his canteen. After swallowing a mouthful of tepid water that tasted like its plastic container, he laid back on the rocky slope looking up at the tortured sky. It was the same sky his brother complained about in his last letter from home. This year's crop of winter wheat had failed, ironically a victim of the nuclear winter. Townsend wondered how many people worldwide would go hungry and possibly starve to death if the American breadbasket was out of production for much longer. He silently cursed the aliens.

RaGa'harth had calmly watched his assault boats being destroyed by the primitive flying machines. They had been running low on power and would soon have been unable to energize both kinetic shields and gravity drives. They would be useless then. Better to have them exhaust their remaining power in an assault on the primitive's defensive positions. The results of the sortie disappointed RaGa'harth. As expected, the gun boats easily brushed aside the few enemy warriors opposing them. Then, just as he was about to order his remaining warriors to exploit the breakthrough, high explosive missiles began exploding against the gun boat's kinetic screens. The sudden appearance of the enemy aircraft negated the tactical advantage the breakout had given him. The smaller ones were faster, more agile and fired missiles of an advanced design that were very accurate and defied the electronic jamming signals broadcast by the boats. The Hadaran commander wasn't long in concluding the missiles had to be laser guided and immune to standard counter-measures. His respect for the war-fighting abilities of the primitives was raised a notch or two. It would be important battlefield intelligence if he could contact his superiors.

RaGa'harth had no regrets about the deaths of the assault boat crews and the infantry squad. They had died in battle, in the service of the Imperium. It was what was expected of them. There was no other fate awaiting them or him. The only question was when, where and how. He calmly watched the remaining warriors under his command make final preparations for the next breakout he'd planned. As a diversion, a squad would conduct a frontal assault against the new enemy's main strength while the rest of his command escaped from the rear of the facility. He had other plans for a last stand. His warriors manning the observation post in the rear of the plant had reported a small contingent of primitives establishing a blocking position across their escape route. RaGa'harth knew he had to act soon before the lightly manned position was reinforced.

Presently his second in command, who would lead the diversionary attack, approached and reported all their preparations were completed. RaGa'harth growled acknowledgement and instructed him to gather the warriors around him. It was now painfully obvious to all that they could not realistically expect retrieval and would probably never leave this planet. He looked each of his fighters in the eye and saw a reflection of his own ferociousness and determination to die like warriors. Although half-starved and a mere shadow of a healthy Hadaran warrior, he stood to his full seven feet of height; his whiskers were rigid, ready to plunge into the eyes of the enemy as he led them in a renewal of their pledge to die for the Imperium that ended in the Hadaran battle cry. The walls and windows shook with the intensity of their thunderous vociferation.

Townsend was startled by the sudden crackle of gunfire that rose to a crescendo in seconds. He had been engaged in a radio conversation with Capt. Fisher when the shooting started. He tossed the radio handset back to Cpl. Jenkins, crawled up to the rim of the embankment and threw the field glasses to his eyes. The first thing he saw was the backs of Marines as they frantically fired their weapons, lobbed grenades and died from Hadaran laser bolts. He swung the glasses through a short arc, adjusted the focus and was presented with an astounding sight. A squad of fifteen to twenty aliens was attacking the Marines defensive positions. The Hadarans advanced in a straight skirmish line, a direct frontal assault. It was a surreal sight; a military unit of intelligent, seven foot tall pumas running on their grotesquely long hind legs, firing laser rifles. As he watched six of them were knocked down by concentrated machine gun fire and grenades but the others continued their relentless advance seemingly without regard for the fallen or their own lives. The aliens moved with such cat-like quickness that they were upon the Marine's position in seconds. A brief, vicious hand-to-hand fight ensued. The Marines were no match for the giant felines. The young grunts caught in their line of advance were either burned down with laser fire, blown apart by explosive projectiles or pummeled and ripped apart by deadly claws. Several of the Hadarans achieved the ultimate battle honor by sinking rigid, six-inch long, needle sharp whiskers into the eyes of hapless Marines before losing their own lives.

Five able bodied and three wounded aliens were still on their feet after breaking through the Marines' position and seconds later careened into the platoon CP. The aliens never slowed or changed the direction of their assault. They plowed into the officers, radio operators, corpsmen and other command post personnel at full speed. Townsend watched the commander of first platoon die from a laser bolt after he emptied a full magazine of 5.56mm rounds into another Hadaran that nearly tore the creature in half. Most of his CP staff was dead or wounded within seconds but in dying they took a heavy toll of the enemy. Only four Hadarans lived to pass through the CP and they were headed in Townsend's direction. One was felled when a sustained burst of machine gun fire from behind tore it in half. Several Marines from the flanks were pursuing the aliens, firing on the run. Another alien went down when a 40mm round from a M203 grenade launcher burst at its feet and shrapnel sheared a leg off. Townsend was transfixed as he watched the severely wounded creature continue to fight. It killed two of the pursuing marines before a machine ended its life with a sustained burst of fire.

"Get down, Sir!" Shumaker bellowed; they were in eminent danger from both the aliens and friendly fire.

Townsend felt himself being pulled down the embankment and at the same time the sharp bark of gunfire rang in his ears when the other bodyguards opened fire on the last two aliens. Return laser fire sizzled into their position. One of the bodyguards screamed and fell back with a smoldering hole drilled through his shoulder. The other yelled, "Reloading!" and ducked down.

Shumaker bounded up the slope and ran headlong into a Hadaran who was scrambling over the crest. The muzzle of his M4 was jammed into the alien's chest when Shumaker fired a three round burst. At the same instant the creature ripped Shumaker's throat open with a swipe of his inch long claws. Both mortally wounded warriors fell in a heap near Townsend. The last alien appeared above them and aimed his laser rifle at the Marine who'd just reloaded and tried to fire-nothing happened. The power cell was completely drained. The alien didn't hesitate for a second. It hurled the weapon with uncanny accuracy and struck Jenkins in the face with a sickening crunch. The alien pounced on the dazed marine, lunging for his throat. His roar of anticipation of the kill was cut short by a burst of ten rounds fired from Townsend's MP5. The alien was punched aside by the impact of the burst but the low velocity 9mm rounds didn't put it down. The alien whirled and sprang to meet the new threat. Townsend was shocked at the alien's ability to absorb the point-blank fire. He nearly panicked as it loomed in front of him. He watched in adrenalin induced super sharp clarity, as the deadly claws swept towards him. He dodged to the right in seeming slow motion. The claws raked his left shoulder, a glancing but stunning blow. Before he could react the Hadaran struck again with the other paw, a blazingly fast slashing of the front of his body armor. In spite of the shock and pain Townsend's gun hand instinctively aligned his weapon even as his body recoiled from the second vicious blow. The six round burst caught the alien full in the face, blasted its head open and exploded its brain. The body fell across Townsend's lower legs. Bright red blood pulsed from the pulped alien flesh onto his thighs and groin.

Townsend sat stupefied for what felt like an eternity staring down at the thing he'd just killed. It's Red! Red, red blood... red blood... His mind replayed it over and over. The spell was broken when a burly sergeant kicked the corpse off of him but his mind was still slow to accept what had happened. The mangled flesh of alien and human lying intertwined in the dust, the smell of ozone and cordite mixed with the foul odor of bladder and bowels loosed in death and the screams of wounded Marines assailed all of his senses.

"Colonel, Sir. Are you okay?" The marine asked then he saw the wound and yelled for a corpsman.

Townsend looked up in a daze unable to speak then his slack-jawed gaze rolled back down at Shumaker's body. The Marine had just celebrated the birth of his second child four days before. Tears filled Townsend's eyes when he looked back to the sergeant. "Take care of my men first. See to my marines!"

Corpsmen from the company CP were already tending to the other wounded. A young corpsman jumped down into the depression. In seconds he was preparing a morphine injection for his regimental commander. Townsend looked down at the spot where the alien first struck him. His shoulder muscles were shredded. Blood welled up at an alarming rate from the lacerated flesh. The shoulder strap of his combat harness and the outer covering of his body armor had been ripped by the second blow. The Kevlar lining was exposed and bore deep claw marks. Damn, if not for the vest that fucking thing would have ripped my heart out! His mind dwelled on that line of thought until the crackle of distant gunfire drew him back to the present. He cringed inside; more of his Marines were probably dying.

At the rear of the power plant Sergeant Rufus McKay, the Marine in charge of the blocking force, had his eighteen-man reinforced squad alert and ready for an attempted breakout. He had requested and received an additional M-240 machine gun, for a total of three. Every other man was armed with the M-203-M4 assault rifle/grenade launcher combo. They were loaded for bear.

When the shooting began at the front of the plant, the marines were instantly alerted and primed for action. McKay was a very tall and muscular black man from a backwater town in the Mississippi River delta. He'd attended the University of Mississippi for a year on a football scholarship but he couldn't handle the academics, even with the phalanx of tutors the college hired to run interference for him. When he returned home with his head hung low, his father took charge and drove him seventy-five miles to the nearest armed forces requiting station. McKay chose the Marines over the Army because he liked the dress uniform. The physical demands of boot camp were a breeze and he discovered a natural talent for leading men. He made sergeant in less than four years and would get staff sergeant's rockers as one of the reenlistment bonuses upon returning stateside after this deployment.

McKay moved in a crouch from one position to another reassuring his men and reminding them to maintain their fields of fire. He was performing the age-old ritual of infantry sergeants when multiple laser beams lanced out from the building and burned holes through the heads of all of his machine gunners and their assistants. A third of his squad was down in an instant before they'd fired a single shot in anger. A split second later two rear doors burst open and a large contingent of aliens charged out into a greatly reduced fusillade from the nearly panicked Marines. Two quick thinking leathernecks took over one of the machine guns and got the weapon into action. The ravenous stream of heavy 7.62mm slugs cut down three Hadarans before laser bolts silenced the gun again.

McKay, after burning through two full magazines from his position, decided that if he was going to stop the break-out and save his unit, it was crucial to get the machine guns back into action. He was sprinting towards the nearest machine gun position when an explosive projectile impacted against his hip and vaporized his body.

The aliens reached the security fence in seconds. Eleven of their number lay on the paved equipment yard behind them. They didn't slow down to climb the fence but vaulted over the ten-foot high obstacle with effortless leaps. The first three aliens over the fence fired lasers or projectile weapons in mid-air before landing on the run and continuing their assault without missing a step. Three Marines died from their inhumanly accurate fire. Ninety seconds later every position of the blocking force had been overrun and the Marines lay wounded and bleeding or dead. The last two Marines, who were wounded but still able to shoot, found themselves firing at the backs of the catlike creatures. They cut down three more aliens with well-aimed head shots before the main body of perhaps twenty reached cover among the trees several hundred yards away.

Marine reinforcements rounded the south side of the plant in time to witness the last Hadarans entering the woods and added their firepower to that of the survivors from the blocking force. The lieutenant in charge of the reinforcements was on the radio in contact with Capt. Fischer and soon the sound of attack helicopters filled the air. The officer ordered a 40mm smoke grenade fired into the tree line to mark the enemy's location. Seconds later the Cobra gunships roared in and began shredding the tree line with 20mm cannon fire and 2.72in high explosive anti-personnel rockets.

RaGa'harth and the surviving warriors pushed through the trees. Their power pacs were nearly drained and their ammunition depleted. They were down to less than thirty rounds total for the projectile weapons and very few explosive rounds. Even so, the situation was more to his liking. He decided they would wait for the enemy warriors to enter the forest where they would hunt them down one by one and kill them with fang and claw; a Hadaran warrior was never weaponless. Then the rockets and cannon rounds started raining down and all they could do was run. Above the din and concussion of the explosions, the snarls and screams of his dying warriors lashed his ears. He tried desperately to outrun the deadly barrage but the mighty bass drum of an exploding rocket boomed a few feet away. The concussion knocked him off of his feet and slammed him head-first into the trunk of a huge Boab tree. He was dead before his shrapnel riddled body slumped to the ground.


Chapter 3


Jessica Lynn Davidson was keenly aware that the desperate act she contemplated could get her killed and it sent an arctic chill racing up her spine. Every step towards her destination seemed to take an eon and each foot weighed a metric ton as if some internal alchemist had turned them to lead. Now she realized that she'd wallowed far too long in grief and despair after what she believed was Logan's heroic death. She regretted having written him off him so easily-should have had more faith in him. Jessica took a deep breath and steeled herself to continue on her mission. The vapor cloud from her exhalation hung in the air for a brief moment then faded away in the cold morning breeze. There was a tang of snow in the air. The prolonged cold spell, what some scientists were calling nuclear winter, showed no signs of relinquishing its icy grip on the planet well into the latter days of May. The sky in the northern hemisphere was no longer streaked with the red, brown and black traces of Australian soil blasted into atmosphere; but it still lay like a sunless, lackluster, slate-gray blanket over the land that foretold worldwide crop failure and food shortages for many months or years to come.

Jessica's heart pounded mightily within her chest as her thoughts achieved the razor sharp clarity induced by mortal danger. Everything seemed abnormally intense in her adrenaline-laced state of excitement and fear. The feel of heavy winter clothing against her skin, the tug of her windswept hair and the sights and sounds of the busy vehicular entrance to the White House were all incredibly vivid and at the same time fragile to her heightened senses. Her mind was transfixed on the moment; savoring what could be her last seconds of life. She'd tried every avenue and maneuver she could think of to get through to Logan's friend Mark Olson or the President. It was common knowledge that the Movement had infiltrated the White House and other branches of the government. Paranoia ruled the day in Washington. Olson was a White House insider now and the security mavens had sealed him off from the public. She'd given up after repeated attempts to reach him by phone or email and finally decided to wait until the dust settled and try to contact him somewhere outside of the White House. The situation was different now because she was convinced that Logan was alive and had tried to contact her. She was desperate and willing to risk anything to speak to one of them. She glanced down, with acid disappointment, at the bracelet adorning her left wrist. Now, it was nothing more than an ornate piece of jewelry after it had stopped functioning. She surmised from the knowledge imprinted into her brain that it had exhausted its power supply. A mal-function of its complex micro-circuitry would have caused an alarm to sound. If it were operational she could have activated the force field, calmly walked up to an entrance and waited for the security forces to approach then communicated her demand to speak to Mark Olson. She would have been immune to any action they could have taken short of detonating a nuclear weapon.

Jessica winced when the tension knotted her gut again. It was the extra-sensory warning she experienced when inimical intent was directed at her. The mental sensation, the tingle, was one of the many gifts from the TCI enhancement. Jessica tried to focus as Logan taught her but with hostility directed at her from many angles she couldn't determine the source of the closest threat. Now that she was nearing the final act in her plan, grave doubts assailed her mind.

After the nine-eleven suicide attacks of 2001 and the subsequent war on terrorism, security around the White House became both extensive and multi-layered. After the failed assassination and attempted coup, the President's security was increased until it was all but airtight. There had been three attempts to breach that wall of security, all of them failed. One of the intruders had refused to surrender his weapon and was shot dead by a uniformed security guard when he made a threatening gesture. The failed attempt by aliens to occupy Earth forced the government to totally rethink the notion of security. Efforts were under way to make the White House and the nation's capital as impregnable as humanly possible. It had taken all of her enhanced abilities to penetrate the secured zone this far.

A rooftop Secret Service sniper had Jessica in his cross hairs and was seconds away from pulling the trigger. His spotter was on a walkie-talkie demanding to know how an unauthorized pedestrian managed to reach the security gate while he waited for the green light to shoot. She had attracted his attention by approaching a vehicular entrance on foot. She didn't appear to be armed or carrying anything that posed a serious threat. Although one could never be sure in an age of weaponized biological and chemical agents. A would-be terrorist could carry, in a coat pocket, enough lethal spores to decimate half of the city.

Jessica was now fully aware of the cordon converging on the entrance. The hostility radiating from the security personnel assaulted her mind. When she glanced back, a large man in a suit and overcoat was rapidly closing in. He had an unmistakable martial air that his civilian clothing could not disguise. The supposedly casual pedestrian was in reality one of several Secret Service agents that patrolled the streets adjacent to the White House around the clock. The interloper had penetrated the security zone through his sector and everybody would know it. He was professionally embarrassed, angry and determined to salvage something from the debacle. Jessica knew that it was now or never. She would be trapped outside of the gate if she hesitated any longer.

She made her move.

Adrenalin flooded her system and gave her a burst of speed that was near super human and caught the secret service agent by surprise. There were three cars lined-up waiting to be cleared through the security checkpoint. Jessica angled between the second and third cars and hurtled the five foot high barrier.

"Halt! Hold it right there lady... I said stop!" The uniformed guard yelled and drew his .40 cal. semi-automatic pistol.

His partner triggered an alarm that set into motion an extensive series of security measures that sealed all approaches to the White House grounds. Jessica ignored the warning and kept running a dangling away from the driveway and across a grassy strip. She was less than forty yards beyond the gate when she was tackled from behind and brought down, hard.

"Humph!" She hit the ground with a thud that pushed all of the air from her lungs. Somehow she found the strength to struggle free and rise to one knee before another body blow flattened her again. Her face plowed into the frost-covered grass.

"Please!" Jessica gasped, while trying to blow ice crystals from her mouth and nose, "I... I have to speak to the President." Then she winced from the pain of a knee being jammed into her back. "No don't?"

Her protest was cut short by the stabbing pain when her arms were jerked behind her back and the sting of cold steel as she was expertly handcuffed.

"Listen to me, it's a matter of—"

"Save it for the shrink, lady!" A harsh and slightly winded voice interrupted her plea.

When Jessica blinked away the ice crystals she saw several pairs of shoes at ground level. She nearly panicked when she momentarily flashed back to the attempted rape by a field unit of racists from the Movement. A couple of months later she was attacked and beaten up by a gang of black thugs who believed Logan had led the Hadarans to earth. Anger flared in her mind and she almost lashed out at the security men. Even handcuffed and denied the use of her hands, the imprinted neuro-datum for FA, the fighting arts, gave her a multitude of offensive techniques that were the progenitors of Savate. She was outraged and wanted to hurt somebody. She was getting tired of being manhandled. Jessica shook it off and tried again to reason with them.

"You don't understand!" She was nearly screaming as she struggled to be heard. "Please listen to me! I'm Jessica Davidson. Look at me, I work for ACCT magazine. I'm trying to tell you it's about Logan; he's alive and needs our help!"

"Yeah, yeah, and Elvis is in concert at the Watergate tonight, too." The remark was followed by barks of laugher.

"Please, I have to speak to Mark Olson. He'll know what I'm saying is true— Aggggh, Stop! You're hurting me!"

"Lady, you're lucky you're still breathing." The bull of a man growled as he hauled Jessica to her feet and two others began a rough and thorough body search. The man's cruel expression confirmed the cold reality of his words.


Mark Olson, National Security Advisor to the forty-fourth President of the United States felt profound shock at what he'd just heard. A wave of unrealistic hope washed over him. The words "She claims Logan is alive" rang and reverberated in his mind. He held the telephone receiver a foot from his face and just stared at it. The tiny voice of the Secret Service officer finally brought him back.

"Sir ... Mr. Olson. Are you still there? Mr. Olson!"

Olson finally put the instrument back to his ear and answered. "Yes, yes. Are you sure she's who she claims to be?"

"Yes, Sir. Her ID looks legit and I recognize her from TV and that magazine. She's Jessica Davidson all right and like I said, she claims Logan is still alive and needs help. She insisted you be notified, said you would know what needs to be done. How do I handle this, sir? She's under arrest for trying to enter the White House grounds illegally."

"Officer...?"

Kendall, Sir."

"Officer Kendall, please have Ms. Davidson escorted to my office immediately."

"Well... technically that's against security procedures, sir. Without a preliminary background check she can't be?"

"Officer Kendall," Olson interrupted in a terse voice. He was getting a little annoyed with all of the security procedures of late, "On my authority you will have her in my office ten minutes ago. Bring her in cuffs with an armed escort if you have to, I'll call Higgins right now and clear it. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Sir!" Kendall answered, obviously annoyed, and hung up abruptly.

Olson frowned and called David Higgins, the head of the White House Secret Service detail. Higgins was not happy with the break in security procedures but he'd come to respect Olson's judgment since his timely intervention was instrumental in foiling an assassination attempt on the President. He promised to expedite the matter.

Olson leaned back tiredly in his chair. Although healthy and physically fit for a man his age, Olson was feeling the weight of his fifty-nine years. His sandy brown hair was losing the battle to the gray and his waistline had gained an inch or two since being tied down to a desk as the President's NSA. He still retained the strong chin and alert blue-gray eyes of his youth. He was mentally exhausted, as was nearly everyone in government, from the endless eighteen-hour days since the defeat of the Hadaran invasion. It was a foregone conclusion that it was only a matter of time before the aliens mounted another attempt to conquer earth?or destroy it. The United States, under the President's martial law declaration was leading the world in a desperate effort to prepare for that dooms day scenario. Broad sweeping changes were underway within the defense department and nearly every other branch, department and office of the federal government.

Twenty minutes after he hung up, Mildred Helms, his secretary, knocked lightly and entered his office with concern written all over her face. She closed the door in a conspiratorial manner and in her most disapproving tone, announced the arrival of Jessica Davidson.

"Sir, there is a security officer here with a completely disheveled coloured girl to see you."

Olson cringed at her use of the outdated term instead of black or African-American. But that was Mildred; a spinster who lived in her own world?circa 1959. She had been assigned to Olson by the President's Chief of Staff when he was first brought into the White House. At the time Olson thought it was to show him where he stood in the White House hierarchy. But she'd grown on him in the short time he served as special assistant to the President and he brought her along with him after being elevated into his new position. She was hopelessly old fashioned and opinionated but supremely competent. Olson was loath to have her replaced. He directed her to admit Jessica without the guard. Mildred flashed him a look that questioned his sanity but complied with his wishes.

Olson stood to greet Jessica when she walked past Mildred and entered his office. He recognized her but was shocked by the hollow-eyed scarecrow facing him now. He'd only met her once and recalled a strikingly attractive young woman. Her normally statuesque five-foot ten-inches were topped with coarse reddish brown hair that attested to her Irish ancestry. Likewise, her golden brown complexion and almond shaped eyes left no doubt as to the African and Oriental influences in her genetic makeup. His memory of her was totally at odds with the subdued, wilted and desperate looking woman who stood momentarily framed in the doorway.

Jessica wasted not a second. She rushed to his desk and launched into her appeal before the secretary closed the door.

"Mr. Olson, Logan is alive!" Jessica said breathlessly. After that preamble, she recounted the whole story.

...Jessica slumped into the soft leather comfort of her father's big chair in the basement media room. A reoccurring headache, from what the doctors diagnosed as a severe concussion, still persisted after more than two months but it was nothing compared to the emotional pain she endured. The overly solicitous care by her parents and familiar surroundings of her childhood home were little comfort. The huge wide-screen HDTV with its surround-sound system had been her world since leaving the hospital. Her mother's warning that she was going to go blind from watching so much television, as she had so many times while Jessica was growing up, failed to make her laugh as intended. Instead it made Jessica cry and long to flee her dystopian existence and escape back into that age of innocence.

She had become mesmerized by the aftermath of the battle for Earth. Perhaps it was the reporter in her that was so drawn to the gruesome details. The multiple nuclear explosions had devastated the land and people of Australia. The massive amount of radioactive debris thrown up into the atmosphere had made much of the country unlivable. The blasts, the resulting firestorms and radioactive fallout killed so many people it made her cry every time the revised figures were announced on the news. The World Health Organization estimated another two million would die prematurely. The United Nations, acting on recommendation of the WHO, declared a worldwide emergency and commandeered every available cruise ship on earth to evacuate the survivors from the island continent. The United States, Great Britain, France and Canada agreed to accept the majority of the refugees. Russia and several eastern European nations also accepted lesser numbers.

There was growing concern about the effects of radiation worldwide and the scientific community was issuing dire warnings about the consequences of the massive hole blasted in the ozone layer. The electro-magnetic pulse from the nuclear detonations and what the experts called the 'Compton Effect' had a devastating effect on the Pacific Rim nations. All electrical and computer systems, from Midway Island to Madagascar and northern Antarctica to Indochina, were destroyed by the massive EMP. Some experts were predicting a recovery and reconstruction period of up to ten years for the region.

The full political repercussions of the attack were yet to be felt. The President, as well as the leaders of Russia and Great Britain were being roundly criticized by some and lionized by others. A few were touting the battle as the greatest military victory in the history of the human race and proof that mankind could now take its place on the galactic stage. Jessica laughed at those pronouncements. 'If only they knew the true nature of the dangers out there.' She mused.

The great debate had been settled and won resoundingly. Man was not alone in an infinite cosmos! Those on the winning side experienced little satisfaction in their vindication. Instead of a great uncertainty they now found themselves marooned on a speck of dust in the middle of what they now realized was a very hostile universe. The undercurrent of fear was something few people were immune to.

When the role Logan played in the defeat of the Hadarans was revealed, he became an instant demigod. Jessica found some of the qualities being attributed to him amusing. To her, Logan had been a man, the man she loved. She had a hard time imagining life without him. That line of thought always brought back the tears. Like most nights, she cried herself to sleep and dozed fitfully.

The days passed slowly and agonizingly into weeks and then a package was forwarded from her job after it was delivered to her office by a package delivery service. When Jessica opened the box she found a stack of computer discs. There was also a note from Logan.

Jess, If you're reading this, I'm probably dead and the human race is still in great danger. The information on advanced Reiign technology I gave to the administration will at least give them a fighting chance to prepare for what is coming. These discs contain a more complete and detailed translation of the Scorpii-Reiign war fighting technology and their scientific methodology. There is also a strategy I've formulated to maximize mankind's ability to prepare for war. I am hopeful that it will be enough. You must get them to Mark Olson or the President as soon as possible. Trust no one else.

On a personal note, I want you to know that you changed my life in more ways than you will ever know. I also want you to know that I did everything I possibly could to return to you. Logan

Jessica found it nearly impossible to put her life back together after that. Another week passed before Albert Jennings, her boss and owner of the magazine for whom she worked, could convince her to work part-time from her parents' home. She found partial solace in the series of articles that chronicled the events leading up to the battle from her perspective. The vast storehouse of information she received from the TCI session Logan administered made writing effortless.

At first Jessica's parents thought the writing would provide the catharsis she badly needed but they were wrong. Her emotional state continued to deteriorate; she began ranting about having to meet with the President and saving the planet. Although her doctors still restricted her travel to their appointments, she started spending hours on the telephone calling the White House and other government offices. Jessica seemed to care less and less for her own wellbeing. Her parents finally became worried enough to solicit Jennings' help in convincing their daughter to get psychiatric help, to no avail. Jessica flatly refused to cooperate. By the end of the third month Jessica was in the depths of a severe depression. She spent the majority of her time sleeping. On a cold Sunday evening after she'd toyed with her dinner Jessica secluded herself in the media room and as usual drifted off after an hour of mindlessly watching television.

Later that night Jessica fought the urge to wake, to confront life. A part of her subconscious wanted to remain in a state of sleepy bliss, distant from all of the heartache and the pain. Then her eyes snapped open when she realized what had awakened her. Logan had given her a bracelet as a token of their friendship. It also served as a means of communication and protection. He possessed the only transmitter attuned to the gravity wave frequency of the micro-miniature electronic circuits embedded in the ornament. Jessica thought she'd been dreaming. She jerked the comforter down and raised her arm.

Her bracelet vibrated again!

In fact, it was vibrating in a distinct pattern. She touched it with her right hand and it was still vibrating. It wasn't a dream!She bounded up the basement steps screaming for her parents...

Retelling the events had restored the fire in her eyes that Olson remembered so well. "I tried to contact you many times," Jessica wailed, "and the President. They wouldn't even let me speak to you over the phone. I was going to wait until my medical restriction on travel was lifted to try to find where you lived and contact you there... give the discs to you, but..."

Her head dropped and she seemed to be contemplating her folded hands resting on her lap.

"But what, Ms. Davidson?" Olson asked softly.

"I... I just sort of lost track of time." Her voice cracked. "My injuries, I was assaulted... beat up again and I ... I couldn't think straight all the time."

"I understand, Ms... err, may I call you Jessica?"

Jessica looked up and gave him a sad smile. "If I can call you, Mark."

"Of course," Olson returned her smile.

"After the bracelet starting vibrating I tried again to call you and ran into the same brick wall. I was getting desperate and decided to come here to contact you or the President. Please, Mark, you've got to believe me. I need your help-Logan needs your help!"

Olson's first inclination was that she was understandably distraught and grief stricken after Logan's death. Soon after meeting her, it became obvious to him that she and Logan were romantically involved. Olson felt a profound sympathy for Jessica that was all but overshadowed by his own feelings of loss. His friendship with Logan had spanned more than forty years. Logan had saved his life more times than he cared to think about. He and Logan had served in a Marine Force Recon platoon in Viet Nam. Olson thought and believed for almost four decades that Logan had sacrificed his own life on a nameless patch of ground in North Viet Nam. Logan killed an NVA soldier who was seconds away from putting another bullet into Olson after wounding him. Later that same day Logan stayed behind to provide covering fire so that Olson and another wounded Marine, Cpl. Andy Reinhart, could make it to a helicopter for extraction from a hot PZ. Wounded and unable to help, they watched Logan die in a mortar barrage as he sprinted towards the chopper.

For nearly forty years after that fateful day, Olson had grieved Logan's dying to save them and lived with the survivor's guilt for most of his adult life. Then Logan had not only miraculously returned from the dead having aged very little in the intervening decades but with super human abilities and in possession of advanced alien knowledge, technology and military hardware. His return proved to be a fantastic boon to the human race and the herald of a momentous change in the destiny of mankind. Although, many people still believed Logan's use of gravity wave technology led the Hadarans to earth.

No longer was there any doubt that man was not the only intelligent life in the universe. In fact, it was now painfully evident that man's level of technology was fairly primitive in comparison to at least two other species of intelligent life. The most mind numbing revelation of all was the fact that those two sentient species, as well as modern man, Homo sapiens, were the result of genetic tinkering by an advanced race of aliens intent on producing the ultimate warrior to fight in a proxy war against its arch enemy. That knowledge alone resulted in worldwide psychological distress, civil disruption and religious strife unparalleled in human history. Thousands died in the ensuing chaos and internecine violence. The invasion of earth by one of those species, the Hadarans, and the subsequent destruction of Australia by nuclear weapons left millions dead, the citizens of most nations in a state of mass hysteria and nearly all of mankind traumatized and fearful of the future.

Olson found himself muttering automatic words of comfort but his attempt to console her fell on deaf ears.

"No, please, you don't understand. There is only one way to energize the bracelet's receiver and Logan is the only person who has the transmitter. Don't you see? He has to be alive!" Jessica's hands flew to her head and grabbed tangled, unwashed hair.

"Oh God!" She wailed, "I knew no one would believe me."

After that brief venting of frustration she took a deep breath and seemed to regain her composure and focus. She was perched on the edge of her seat. Her stare drilled into Olson's eyes.

"Please, Mark. You are my last hope! You've had the TCI enhancement and you can understand. He's letting me know that he's alive and needs help. He told me that he gave you a handheld gravity wave transceiver. You can contact him with it. Please! You have to try to contact Logan."

Olson had agreed to undergo a TCI enhancement in order to better serve as the intermediary between Logan and the President. He indeed understood the implications. No one except those who had the TCI imprinted historical data understood how truly fearsome the Hadarans could be or the vast military resources they could bring to a conflict. A spike of fear shot through his system at the thought of some Hadaran scout ship using Jessica's bracelet has a homing beacon. "Is it still vibrating? Or did you try to transmit a reply?" Olson asked with mounting concern.

Jessica didn't answer right away. She slumped back into her chair and nearly broke into tears. "I did at first but there was no change in the signal to indicate he recieved my transmission. And no... it... it stopped after two days. I don't know why and its killing me. And then the bracelet lost power the next day and I had no way to recharge the power cell."

Olson sighed. He was thinking that the last thing he needed was a grief-stricken, semi-hysterical woman on his hands; not with everything else crowding his plate and especially not with her his only link to those discs. His mind reeled over the possibilities of what they might contain.

"Jessica, I understand your sense of loss, he was my friend too and?"

"No, no?NO! Don't try to placate me, goddamn it! I haven't lost my mind and I'm not hysterical or crazy. He was activating the bracelet in a distinct pattern, every two hours until a week ago. You've got to believe me!"

Olson didn't really believe her but in the depths of his being he wanted it to be true. His thoughts flashed back to Logan's miraculous return from the dead. Logan had shown up in the midst of a racially charged hate crime investigation of the rape and murder of a young black girl by a gang of white racists calling themselves the Young Rebels. As fate would have it, the victim was the second human in fifty-thousand years to be born with the mutated genetic code of every major race of man. She was a high level genome adapt with the potential to become a MAN. Logan's bloody rampage to avenge her murder threw Olson's FBI investigation and his entire life into turmoil. The chain of events resulted in Olson being relieved of duty as the Agent in Charge of the Birmingham, Alabama field office. He was subsequently reinstated then appointed special assistant to the President and eventually interim National Security Advisor. He didn't want to think about the civil disorder, social upheaval, loss of human life, assassination attempt, failed coup d'état and alien invasion that took place between those milestones in his career. A part of him wanted desperately to believe her. He looked into her eyes. Despite Jessica's unkempt appearance, her eyes were guileless and convincing.

Olson thought it over for a long moment. It was obvious that the discs were a distant second on Jessica's agenda. He was sure that the business of the transfer of possession of the discs would not be finalized until the Logan question was settled. His next course of action was obvious. Olson picked up the phone and instructed Mildred to get Dr. Hector Cruz on the line. Cruz was the head of the Defense Department's Nuclear Research programs within DARPA and the President's point man in the effort to integrate human and Reiign technology. He asked Jessica to sit down and try to relax. He offered her coffee or tea but she refused with a curt shake of her heard. She sat pensively, absentmindedly stroking the bracelet while they waited for the connection to be made. It didn't take long. Olson picked up the phone after a single tone indicated the connection was completed. Jessica jumped up and hurried over to his desk.

"Hello, Hector ... yes, good to talk to you too. Listen, there has been an unexpected development and I need your help. There is a possibility that Logan survived the battle and is trying to make contact with us so I need the gravity wave transceiver."

Olson listened for a few seconds then frowned. "How long will it take to reassemble it? His frown got deeper as he listened for a few more moments. "Okay, do it and call me back."

He fell silent while Dr. Cruz asked a series of questions then glanced up at Jessica before answering. "I'd say the source is credible but time will tell. We need to get that gadget back in one piece, ASAP!"

Olson hung up the phone and looked up at Jessica. "Our scientists have taken the instrument apart in order to reverse-engineer the components. Dr. Hector Cruz, the chief scientist, believes he can have it reassembled and functional in an hour or two. I'm sorry; we don't have a choice but to wait."

He watched Jessica walk back and slump into the chair. She seemed to lose the head of steam that had propelled her to this point.

"Two hours," her voice was low and subdued. "It's been more than a week since the signal first activated the bracelet. I just hope it's not too late."

Chapter 4


Logan had to blink several times before his eyes could focus on the energy level indicator displayed on his HUD. Normally his bio-enhanced vision was on a par with a sparrow hawk. It was the latest in an increasing catalog of physiological deteriorations and biological abnormalities he was experiencing. His body was breaking down, losing its ability to function at the super-human level he'd become accustomed to over four decades. Now he doubted if he was functioning on the same level as normal humans. Even a superhuman needed to eat.

The chronometer, his countdown to eternity, indicated less than twenty-four hours until he reached the outer fringes of earth's atmosphere. To divert a bit more power to the bow auxiliary ion engines he'd even shut down some of the systems he'd earlier deemed critical. He had his life-support system running intermittently and barely above the minimum required to sustain life. The air inside the AFS was almost suffocating. Still the semi-transparent green bar indicator continued to creep towards the left end of the scale, and still the rate of deceleration wasn't where it needed to be. He sighed with resignation and acceptance of the inevitable felt by death row inmates in the state of Texas.

It had taken every bit of Scorpii-Reiign engineering knowledge he possessed to jury-rig the AFS power supply to the ion steering pods of the assault craft. Now it seemed that his Rube Goldberg tinkering would not be enough. His calculations were unassailable; he had insufficient power to slow his vessel enough for a controlled landing. His only option was to reduce his velocity as much as possible with the ion engines, then use the atmosphere to slow down a lot more just as NASA did with the returning space capsules after the moon landings. Few people outside of NASA realize that on the return leg of the trip from the moon landings, the astronauts had no retro rockets to decrease their velocity. They relied on a precise trajectory of reentry into the atmosphere and friction as an air brake to slow the capsule down enough to deploy parachutes and safely splash down in the ocean. The only caveat was his velocity was still more than ten times that of a returning space capsule. It was obvious that he would have very little choice as to the body of water for his splash down, the GAC had no parachutes and he didn't know to what extent he would be able to slow his craft. Therein lay his dilemma. He could use his remaining power to try to maneuver his craft to a splash down somewhere near the U.S. in order to increase his chances of a quick recovery, if the heat of reentry didn't kill him. Or he could slow it as much as possible to lessen the heat of reentry and the force of the impact with little regard to location. The earth's surface was seventy-eight percent water so his odds were acceptable in that respect. But even if he, against all the odds, survived the reentry and the splash down, what were his chances of surviving an unknowable length of time in a cold, unforgiving ocean. That line of thinking did nothing to improve his hopes for a future.

After three months of total isolation, sensory deprivation, near starvation and uncertainty, his bouts of depression was starting to feel normal. With a violent shake of his head he admonished himself for wasting a single moment in self-pity and doubt. There were other pressing issues demanding his attention. His armored fighting suit had been sealed for weeks so that he wouldn't have to expend any of his dwindling power to maintain an atmosphere in the cockpit. He'd lost so much weight that the suit didn't fit any more, the bio-mechanical feedback systems didn't work right so his movements were becoming clumsy and the suit was starting to chafe in some very sensitive parts of his body. The air inside the AFS was stale from continuous recycling and his body odor had worsened past stifling. At times he choked on his own stink. Logan longed for a breath of clean air and food. He'd had nothing to eat for more than three weeks. Logan wondered at times why he struggled so hard to survive. Earth was probably destroyed and he had already decided he would not let the Hadarans take him alive. After his experience with the Scorpiins, he vowed to never be an experimental animal again. With no way to leave the solar system he had just two choices, death from asphyxiation after his oxygen ran out or a quick death by crashing into earth or perhaps the moon. At one point when his depression almost got the best of him, he'd seriously considered steering a course into the sun for a Viking funeral.

Even if earth had not been attacked again, his home world was not out of danger. His thoughts kept straying to the comdrone dispatched by the Hadaran scout cruiser. He had no information to indicate his missile overtook the drone before it cleared the planetary zone and transited into warp space. Therefore he had to proceed on the assumption that the drone survived and the fate of the expeditionary force was known to the Hadaran high command. It was a foregone conclusion that there would be a strong reaction and immediate follow-on forces dispatched, probably sooner than later.

How long did mankind have to prepare? The answer eluded him and tortured his mind. In anticipation of his possible demise he'd left a set of optical discs with a delivery service with instructions to deliver the package to Jessica's office address in the event he did not contact them within sixty days. The discs were the English translations of the accumulated science and technological foundation of the Scorpii-Reiign military establishment. He'd spent nearly a decade mining the prodigious memory banks of Shaka's AI for every byte of data. He also included a strategy he'd developed to enable man to defend earth. It had taken him fifteen years to complete the project. If he didn't survive at least the rest of humanity would have a fighting chance. And then there was Haven, a planet nearly three thousand light-years from earth on which he'd established a colony of genome adepts. They knew the score. Their situation was predicated on the high probability that earth's reprieve would eventually end and the planet would be either destroyed or mankind defeated and forced into slavery by the Hadarans or into forced breeding programs by the Scorpiins to maximize the production of genome adepts and MANs.

The arrival of the Hadaran expeditionary force had proven the wisdom of hiding an ace up his sleeve. Even if the earth was occupied or destroyed, it would be hundreds if not thousands of years before the Hadaran or Scorpiin expansions reached Haven. Logan had tried to plan for every eventuality but it's a big universe. There was a third potentially dangerous race of beings out there. Logan had stumbled upon them six years after he'd started the colony on Haven. They were not in the stage of expanding their empire beyond their own solar system but sensor readings indicated their spaceships were powered by graviton engines of a similar signature to the Hadarans and Scorpiins. It was an indication that the unknown race was a product of another Reiign GOD project and would be genetically predisposed to aggression, violence and empire building. Just like the Hadarans, the Scorpiins-and mankind. He wondered how many more products of the GOD Project were out there among the stars. He thought perhaps three thousand light years might not be far enough.

For the next two hours Logan had little time for regrets and second guessing as he made precise calculations for the numerous minor course changes to his trajectory and the tedious switching of the steering jet orientations to prepare for the push against earth's gravity during final deceleration. Then everything changed in an instant when a burst of static crackled in his helmet speakers. A quick glance at his HUD told him it came over the frequency attuned to Olson's transceiver.

Logan's heart leaped and his hopes surged.

Chapter 5


Olson instructed Mildred to clear his calendar and that he was not accepting phone calls from anyone except the President and Hector Cruz. He was trying to concentrate on a pile of threat assessments from the alphabet soup of intelligence agencies while they waited but he was distracted every few minutes by Jessica's moans and sighs. The remains of a half-eaten lunch lay ignored on a beautifully ornate, lacquered wood White House serving tray. Each second seemed like an hour and each hour was an eternity unto itself. She couldn't seem to get comfortable in the soft leather chair. Her mind continued to conjure up all sorts of dire situations Logan could be facing, alone. When some especially gruesome scenario filled her mind a small cry of anguish escaped her lips, prompting Olsen to respond with ineffective words of comfort. Almost three hours passed before the telephone rang and made both of them jump. Olson scooped it up before the second ring.

"Thank you Mildred, put him through," Olson said and after a second or two "Hector-" then fell silent and listened for several moments with mounting excitement. Olson's next comment was an astounded, "My, God!" After listening for a minute or so he said, "Okay... okay, yes... sure, okay keep me posted. I'll inform the President. He thanked Cruz profusely and hung up with a look of wonder on his face. He was momentarily speechless.

"What! What did he say?" Jessica stood next to him, where she'd been since the conversation started. "Please tell me!"

He looked at her as a smile slowly formed on his face. "Logan's alive!"

"Thank God!" Jessica exclaimed then slowly closed her eyes and swayed as her knees threatened to fold from relief. Olson jumped to his feet and reached for her but she regained her balance and tears of joy begin to flow. "I knew it, I just knew it! Where is he?"

Concern crowded the smile from Olson's face. "You'd better sit down, Jessica. The rest of the story is not good." With one arm around her shoulders and the other gently holding her elbow he guided her back to her chair. He pulled another chair closer then took her trembling hands in his. Olson was barely holding back tears of his own. "Seconds before Logan used the Shaka to ram the last Hadaran spaceship he somehow escaped in the Ground Assault Craft."

Jessica breathed a sigh of relief and managed an uncertain smile. She had ridden in the GAC and knew it to be a robust machine. But Olsen's expression still worried her. Olson continued, "There's a problem. We don't have all the details but it sounds like the GAC was severely damaged and for a while was out of control. It was drifting out into interstellar space until Logan got its trajectory reversed and headed back towards earth... but he still doesn't have complete control. Also his power is about depleted and with that the ability to maneuver the craft"

Jessica's hands flew to her face and partially muffled the cry of alarm. "Can he make it?" Fresh tears began to flow from eyes gone wide from fear of what Olson might say next.

"He's going to attempt a crash landing on water... somewhere on earth... in about twenty hours."

Olson didn't know what else to say at that point. He sat for a long while with his arms around her quaking shoulders then excused himself to inform the President of the latest developments. When Olson returned to her side Jessica sat with her hands folded in her lap, staring off into space. She was totally still and subdued; the flow of tears continued unabated. When she finally spoke it was in a voice wholly lacking in hope. She was no astronaut but the extensive knowledge imprinted into her brain gave her an understanding of the difficulties involved in successfully crash landing a vessel traveling at the velocity it must have built up. Her head slowly turned to face Olson.

"He's so close, Mark... so close."

It was a testament to Olson's standing with the President that an hour after his request for a meeting of his Security Council, the United States Navy and Coast Guard were put on worldwide alert with orders to disperse to every large body of water on the planet and prepare for emergency recovery operations. A detachment of heavily armed FBI agents, from the Cincinnati field office, were dispatched to Jessica's parents' home to take custody of the discs.

Olson didn't quite know what to do with Jessica. Except to fill the gas tank and use the restroom, she'd driven nonstop from Cincinnati to Washington without luggage or even an overnight bag. He eventually decided to take her home with him. When they walked through the front door his wife said, "Well hello," to Jessica and gave Olson a look of wide-eyed surprise. He just shrugged. Beth, his thirteen-year-old daughter, hugged her mother's waist, stared perplexedly at the wild looking black woman but said nothing. After a brief explanation of who she was and why he'd showed up with an unexpected houseguest, Maureen quickly took over. Olson ate a quick supper and headed back to his office to monitor progress on the mobilization to save Logan. It took Olson and Maureen half an hour to convince Jessica to remain behind, get cleaned up and get some rest.

****


Captain Joshua Thacker gave a course correction to his navigation officer that would change the destination of the USS Ronald Reagan from the port of Perth, Australia to the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean. Most of his strike aircraft had been left behind at Pearl Harbor. Five thousand cots lined the hanger bays in their place for this humanitarian mission. The mighty Nimitz class aircraft carrier turned eleven degrees to starboard on the new heading and the six escort ships of his Carrier Battle Group executed the same maneuver with practiced ease. His orders from CINCPAC at fleet HQ in Pearl Harbor had designated a five-thousand square mile area centered roughly one thousand miles southwest of the Hawaiian Islands as his search area. His orders were both explicit and vague at the same time. Proceed at flank speed to the designated coordinates and prepare for an emergency sea rescue-recovery operation of personnel from a manned space reentry vehicle. The orders were puzzling at first. Since the advent of the space shuttle program American astronauts had not returned to earth by splashing down in the ocean. After America conceded manned space missions to the Russians all returning astronauts were recovered on land. Moreover, after the destruction of the international space station and every manmade satellite by the Hadarans, there was no manned space program to speak of.

Thacker, now satisfied with the course change, heaved himself out of his command chair, turned the helm over to his executive officer and left the bridge. His destination was the ready room and a strategy session with his operations officer and the commander of his air-sea rescue team.

Chapter 6


Logan applied power judiciously to the bow ion engines and further slowed his headlong plunge towards earth. He cut the power flow when a yellow lashing indicator informed him the last energy cell was depleted down to the cautionary level. He frowned; it was all he could do. He now had roughly ten minutes of power left.

Ten minutes!

The armored fighting suit, which had been a cocoon of safety and warmth, was starting to feel like a form-fitting coffin. The view of earth swelled in his forward crystal steel viewport. In spite of the dust clouds obscuring a large portion of the southern hemisphere, it was still as beautiful as ever and gave him a good deal of comfort. If he was to die, he felt it was fitting that the world that spawned him would also be the instrument of his demise. He glanced down to check his velocity. It was still nearly thirty thousand miles per hour or roughly ten miles per second. That was pitifully slow by interstellar standards but at that speed the friction from the earth's atmosphere could burn the ship to a cinder. That was not his only concern. It was possible that if his glide path wasn't steep enough and his velocity high enough, earth's gravity would sling-shot the GAC through earth's atmosphere and send him on a one-way trip into infinity. If that happened he would face a slow torturous death from lack of oxygen. His body, entombed in the powerless craft would drift in space for eternity.

Logan languidly rolled his head until the array of instruments came into view. He focused on one all important readout. It indicated his velocity had dropped to nine miles per second. Again he frowned. It was still a huge amount of kinetic energy to shed through atmospheric friction. By comparison, the shuttles employed in NASA's space program had an earth-orbital velocity of only five miles per second. Even the Apollo capsules returning from the moon had only to shed a reentry velocity of seven miles per second.

His eyes strayed to the power level indicator. He didn't need to recalculate the rate of deceleration versus power consumption again. The result would not change. There would be no margin of safety. The GAC was not designed to function as a powerless space reentry vehicle. Its hull was sufficiently heat resistant to withstand hypersonic velocities within an atmosphere but the craft's cruising speed in an atmosphere was Mach 10, or ten times the speed of sound, roughly two miles per second.

With a tired shrug of his shoulders he made up his mind. He activated the power fed to the forward steering pods in incremental steps; his best chance was to slow the GAC as much as possible. The resulting high energy ion stream flared out ahead of the GAC and thankfully the velocity meter showed a measurable slowing. After a couple of tense minutes he sat back and tried to relax, he'd feared an equipment failure or some other malfunction. After a swift mental computation Logan activated his gravity-band transmitter. He'd come to both like and respect Hector Cruz. The man had an unusual mind for a human. He suspected Cruz was at least bi-racial. Logan hoped to live to meet him one day. He communicated the updated calculations on his projected splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Cruz wished him well and signed off.

Every muscle in Logan's body was tense while he endured the violent buffeting as the GAC bored through the upper reaches of earth's atmosphere over South America. He'd drained the power supply down to the emergency reserve to slow the craft as much as possible and make small course corrections to his trajectory. It was definitely going to be the Pacific. He transmitted the revised estimate of his reentry and probable splash down coordinates to Hector Cruz.

Now it was up to the immutable laws of physics. Either the assault craft would resist the heat of reentry or he would be burned to a crisp. Either his velocity will be reduced enough for him to survive the ocean impact or he would be bashed to a bloody pulp. It was impossible to predict the final outcome. He had a brief temptation to pray. But he, more than any other human being, knew the futility of that. There was no merciful God, no savior or redeemer. Over millennia of human progress after the Reiign mutated Neanderthal to produce early man, their efforts had been theologized by the Cro-Magnon left behind. Gradually through myth creation and legend, the scientific project, GOD, Genetic Optimized Development, became God the divine creator.

Sadly, there would be no divine intervention.

The heat haze was blurring his view through the port but he could still make out the curvature of the planet and he recognized the west coast of Africa. A quick check of the altimeter showed his rate of descent was within his calculated glide path. Now if only his old friend could hold together for a few more minutes. The GAC bucked wildly as it passed through a thermocline and noticeably slowed in the denser air. In a matter of moments the temperature grew very hot and Logan found it increasingly difficult to breath but he refrained from using any power to cool the air inside the suit. When he peered out of the port again he was over the African continent and at a much lower altitude. The buffeting was continuous and getting worse as the southeast coast of Africa flashed by. It seemed like moments later he had crossed the Indian Ocean and was streaking over the Indonesian islands in a north-easterly direction. His altitude was less than twenty thousand feet and low enough that he could clearly see individual islands and their geographical features.

Clang!

The loud noise made Logan flinch. At first he thought it was the result of a collision with an aircraft but then another part of the hull broke off and rattled along the fuselage before flying off into the slipstream. A few minutes later Logan really got a scare when super heated smoke laden air started filtering into the cockpit. He checked his velocity again; it was still more than five miles per second. Damn! It was painfully obvious now that air breaking was not going to bleed off enough speed. His altitude was under eighteen thousand feet now and dropping rapidly. Without internal gravity stabilizers it was like riding the craziest roller coaster imaginable. Although firmly strapped into the battle harness he was whipped violently back and forth with the motion of the craft. Loose and unattached panel covers, circuit boards and other discarded items careened back and forth around the cockpit. The armored suit protected him from any sharp objects but they were still irritating and distracting. The next few minutes were a blur of judicious power adjustments to individual steering pods, a delicate balancing act to maintain his topside up orientation and minimize the viscous pitch and yaw. The heat and smoke was becoming a real problem. The level at which he was running the AFS environmental systems were not sufficient to protect him completely and it was getting a little more uncomfortable in his armored coffin.

Clang! Thump! Clang!

Logan flinched again when another piece of the craft broke away and banged along the length of the outer hull. It caused a spike of fear that the GAC might be breaking up but it also sparked a line of thought within the depths of his integrated mind. The germ of an idea blossomed into the realization of a possibly life-saving solution. It was as old as Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Would it work? Whether or not it was possible, it was certainly better than being crushed to death after hitting the water at a velocity that would make the surface of the ocean as hard as concrete. Logan opened the circuit to the GAC's forward steering pods and held his breath as he gradually increased the power. The angle of the pod's ion stream caused the nose to slowly rise. When he could no longer see the horizon, Logan cut the power. Immediately the nose started to level out and inertia carried it past horizontal into a steeper dive. Logan swiftly reapplied more power and brought the nose up to a fifteen-degree incline. It was a hell of a trade off. Draining his last power reserves would limit his options to precisely one. His altimeter indicated he was below ten thousand feet; impact was moments away. He checked the various hold-tights and straps of his battle shock harness and waited with his eyes glued to the altimeter. He started counting down at five thousand feet. He had to trust in his instruments since he couldn't see the surface of the ocean. He was momentarily distracted when an aircraft flashed across his view on the port beam. It passed so quickly he didn't have time to identify the type of aircraft. Could Cruz and Olson have organized a rescue operation fast enough to have a ship near his point of splash down? It had to be a military aircraft. No civilian airliner would fly at such a low altitude over the ocean. His hopes rose exponentially.

Chapter 7


Capt. Thacker remained on the bridge after watching the early warning radar aircraft as it was catapulted from the flight deck of the USS Reagan. It would relieve the plane currently on station and near the end of its operational fuel supply. He didn't know where CINCPAC was getting its information but it appeared his CBG was very close to the most probable location of the splash down of a space craft. The U.S., Russia and other countries, three months after the climactic battle, were just now reestablishing a network of communications satellites but no manned space missions were under way. Yet, his orders were to recover, at all costs, the person aboard the reentry vehicle. Thacker was not a dumb man. He knew that since the Hadarans destroyed the space station, the only human operating in space had been Logan. But from all reliable reports he'd perished?sacrificed himself?in the fight to destroy the last alien warship. Now he was ordered to rescue a lone individual returning from space. It has to be Logan. But it's been more than three months since the battle. If he survived, why has it taken so long for him to make contact? Thacker frowned; he didn't like mysteries.

His head snapped up when he heard the call sign of the radar aircraft currently on station came over the loud speaker. The excitement in the pilot's voice told Thacker she'd spotted something. After listening to her report of the contact, he picked up the tactical operations phone and ordered a course change and preparations made to launch the rescue helicopter. Then he reached for the handset to the satellite communications system to inform Fleet Headquarters of the contact.

****


Olson hung up the phone and gave Jessica an encouraging smile.

"They're tracking his reentry. Luckily we have a sizable navel formation in the area. They have the equipment and personnel needed to conduct a proper sea rescue. It looks like his chances are pretty good if the GAC holds together during reentry."

Olson watched her hopes rise with every word. He thought she looked a thousand percent better than she had the previous day. Maureen, Beth and Jessica had gone on a marathon shopping trip after he returned to his office. They must have been a sight to see. He tried not to think about next month's Visa bill. Now she more resembled the attractive young woman he remembered, although the new cloths and makeover did little to mask the sadness in her eyes.

"Don't worry, Jessica, Logan has a way of defying the odds. He has more than nine lives. In that way he's more of a cat than the Hadarans."

His comments brought a small, sad smile to her face but a solitary tear streaked her makeup.

****


Lt. May Bridges banked the Grumman E-2C Hawkeye early warning airplane hard to starboard and asked her radar operator for a fix on the bogey. They were near the end of their patrol when the object had showed up on their long range radar screens. CWO3. Larry Meyers was doubtful when the computer reported the object's velocity but he dutifully reported it to Bridges.

"Holy shit!" Lt Josh Randal, her copilot exclaimed, "If it hits the water at Mach 3, there will be debris scattered from here to Maui."

Bridges wanted another visual so she had descended as quickly as was safely possible with the E-2. They were at five thousand feet when the thing, a red-hot, disc shaped meteor, flashed by. It was like no aircraft she'd ever seen. That left two possibilities. Either it was a Hadaran survivor or it was Logan. She didn't think the brass would have sent her unescorted to locate a hostile craft. So the rumors were true, it had to be Logan. Could it be? Had he somehow survived but was unable to return to earth until now? After a few minutes of discussion the crew split three to two in favor of it being Logan.

"May, it's now or never. We're near the point of no return." The worried voice of her copilot distracted her. She glanced at the fuel gauge. They were well past the halfway point in fuel consumption.

She gulped then pursed her lips in determination. "I know, I know, but Search 31 will not be on station for at least fifteen minutes. I want to pinpoint his splashdown before we turn back. This is a big ocean, Josh. If we can't pin his location to within a hundred mile radius we may never find the wreckage, you know that."

Randal sighed heavily and glanced at the fuel gauge again. "You're the commander, but if we have to ditch this bird, it's a big ocean for us too."

"I know, Josh." She said in a voice that was touched with a twinge of worry.

May Bridges was the new breed of female naval officer. She had been in the forefront, pushing the envelope of women's participation in frontline military duty long before the Pentagon removed the last restrictions. At the end of her current deployment she was scheduled to begin jet fighter training. Bridges was five feet seven inches tall with a well-muscled but definitely feminine body. She had blonde hair that she kept in a boyishly short cut, a cute button nose and eyes that were so green her commanding officer gave her the call ign 'Jade' within minutes of her reporting for sea duty. She was not a classic beauty but never lacked for male attention.

At that moment Bridges wasn't nearly as confident as she tried to sound. She was fully aware that if she had to ditch the plane after running out of fuel, her career would go down with the ship.

She glanced over at Randal. "The Reagan will be headed in our direction at flank speed. That will give us more of a margin. Relax Josh; I'll get us home, feet dry."

Randal chuckled but he couldn't resist another nervous glance at the fuel gauge.

The GAC bucked and shuddered as it rocketed toward the dark blue waters of the Pacific. There was one last thing do. It all came down to this. Either his plan would work or he would soon become part of a debris field settling to the ocean floor. Using his last energy reserves, Logan energized the forward steering pods again and felt the nose of his craft rise five degrees or so. His whole body tensed and jaw muscles clinched as the altimeter reading reached zero. His whole world, his entire being was suspended in an endless moment of doubt, dread, anticipation, excitement and foreboding of the specter of violent death. A second later he was jolted by the mighty impact of the craft hitting the ocean surface. His angle of approach had been nearly perfect and the craft struck the surface and hydroplaned like a flat stone. Its first skip was five miles long but the second one was less than half that. When it skipped the third time its velocity was less than a hundred miles per hour.

"Hot damn! Did you see that?" Randal didn't expect an answer from Bridges since both of them were looking through binoculars and had watched the splash down from two thousand feet and ten miles away. "Man, if he survived, that guy is the luckiest dude in history." He finished with awe after witnessing the astounding sight.

Bridges ignored his comments and banked the E-2 slightly to port and pushed the throttles forward for maximum speed. A few minutes later they were over the first splash site and in a stern chase with the skipping GAC. When she overflew the downed craft it was bobbing in moderately rough seas. She asked for a plot of the position from her navigator, which she radioed to Search 31, the S&R helicopter and the Reagan CIC simultaneously. Her mission accomplished, Bridges said a silent prayer to the patron saint of idiot pilots as she climbed to ten thousand feet for better fuel economy and turned the E-2 on a course for the Reagan.

Logan was bruised and battered anew from the terrific beating he'd taken during the series of mighty impacts against the rolling seas of the southern Pacific. The first impact tore the previously damaged combat harness from its deck mount and flung him violently forward. He was temporarily stunned but the armored suit saved him from being bashed to death against the forward instrument panel and bulkheads of the cockpit. After three lesser impacts he came to rest upside down against the starboard bulkhead. He slumped to the deck partially dazed and hurting. It occurred to him that the AFS's power cell must be nearly exhausted; he'd felt every thump and bump when he slammed repeatedly against the inside of the suit.

A mental warning came slowly and from a great distance. With it came the fear of being trapped in a three hundred pound shroud with no way to get out. It helped to clear the mental fog. Logan struggled until he was exhausted but could only get to a sitting position. The three hundred pounds was simply too much weight to lift in his weakened state without power. He had to fight the rising panic. If there was insufficient power to extricate himself, he was doomed. His mind raced looking for a way out and then it occurred to him that the locking seems were connected to capacitors that as a safety measure, stored enough energy to release the seals. It was an indication of how far his body and mind had deteriorated. He should never have forgotten that important safety feature in the event of a complete power failure. He quickly initiated the sequence to disengage the atmospheric seals and open the suit.

Logan held his breath in suspense until the power seals released, the back seam split and the two branch seams opened under each leg. He was gingerly easing backwards out of the suit when a huge wave hit the GAC and the rolling motion of the craft caused the suit to shift. It jammed Logan against the bulkhead with a jarring impact and then with the next roll of the waves it pitched over face first to the deck. The impact added to his already considerable collection of bruises and forced a scream from his throat when the waste tubs were ripped from his bodily orifices. More grunts of pain escaped his lips but he shook it off as best he could and slowly, painfully extricated himself from the powerless suit of armor. With his teeth bared in a pain induced rictus, Logan rolled onto his back. He was naked, completely drenched in sweat, exhausted and bleeding from his lacerated rectum. He curled into a fetal position gently cupping his throbbing penis. He laid there for several minutes while mind numbing pain washed over his entire body. At the same time a part of his mind was marveling at the sensation of being alive and free from the confines of the suit. Gravity had become another burden for his atrophied muscles to bear but it never felt so good.

'Get up, Marine; it ain't over yet!' His will to live would not let him rest for long. Logan groaned as he struggled to a sitting position and then with great difficultly to his feet. He had to concentrate on maintaining his balance. He hadn't been on his feet for weeks. The rolling and pitching of the AFS as it rode the waves made the task infinitely more difficult.

'There's no rest for the weary!' The words of motivation from his stint in the Marine Corps spurred him to action. He stumbled to the equipment locker and removed his null suit. It took everything he had to don the one-piece garment. By that time he'd changed his mind about gravity. His limbs seemed to weigh tons apiece. The way the null suit hung on his emaciated frame shocked him. He took a few more moments to place the NK-Knife and other items into their various sheaths and pouches. Afterwards Logan sagged against the locker; he had to rest for a few moments before tackling the next step.

Logan soon realized that getting out of the wreck was going to be more difficult then he'd hoped. There was absolutely no power. The hatch's manual override resisted his feeble efforts for a few fearful moments before the locking system grudgingly released. He was able to slide the retracting hatch less than a third of the way open but it was enough to allow his withered body to slip through.

The airlock was a shambles. Super-heated air had penetrated the outer hatch and scorched the inside of the lock. Seawater streamed in from a number of cracks and split welds. The water was already ankle deep. Logan splashed through the deepening pool to the control panel of the outer hatch and attacked the manual controls. The locks finally released after several anxious moments of pulling and pushing levers. But when he tried to pull the hatch open it moved no more than four inches. Ice-cold seawater gushed in faster. In seconds it was up to his calves and rising fast. Logan moved swiftly to widen the portal. He grabbed one edge, placed his foot against the frame and pushed with what little strength he had. The hatch moved another two inches. Still not enough! He tried again but no matter how much he strained the hatch refused to budge another inch. The recess into which it should retract was warped from heat and impact damage. It was hopeless. Logan took a weary step back, his chest heaving from his fruitless efforts. There was only one alternative. He drew from its sheath what looked like a sword hilt which it was. He thumbed a button near the hand guard hoping that its shielding had not been damaged resulting in his electrocution while standing in salt water, an excellent conductor. A low, barely audible hum accompanied the materialization of an eighteen-inch shimmering metallic blade. The NK-knife was the one weapon he called his own. It had been designed and produced to his specifications by his Scorpii-Reiign weapons masters. The blade, though it looked solid, was composed of nano-constructs held in place by ultra strong electro-magnetic containment fields. The constructs along the cutting edge vibrated at several hundred million cycles per second and was capable of cutting through any known material. It generated an intense ultra-sonic pulse that disrupted the coulomb-molecular binding energy of constituent matter. Logan wasted no time in attacking the hatch. Although many times stronger than steel, the triposite metal yielded to the hyper-vibrations of the NK and soon Logan had a three by three foot escape hole. Logan thumbed the power stud again to retract the blade and secured the hilt in its sheath at his right hip. The cold attacked his legs while he waited until the water level was above the bottom of his improvised escape hatch then he easily swam out to the open sea.

The power of the ocean was at once fearsome and refreshing. Logan used whatever jagged edges he could find as handholds and moved along the hull until he found what he was looking for, the maintenance hand-foot wells recessed into the hull plates. He slowly climbed up the side and huddled exhaustedly on top of the rolling and pitching craft. His long weeks of forced inactivity in zero gravity had left him as weak as a three year old child. It was all he could do to maintain his tenuous perch. Finally he decided that spread eagle was the best position. He lay like that for nearly twenty minutes while the GAC floundered on the wind tossed waves.

"There! Debris field at two o'clock!" The co-pilot exclaimed.

Lt. Fredrick Carlson banked Search 31 hard to starboard and accelerated toward the wreckage. Within minutes they over flew the downed craft and could clearly see a lone survivor signaling to them by waving his arm. The craft was nearly submerged with waves washing over what parts remained above the surface. They had arrived in the preverbal nick of time to pinpoint his location. Carlson radioed the location of the downed craft to the rescue helicopter then climbed to two thousand feet and began circling the wreckage. The chopper pilot acknowledged the transmission and informed them he was still ten minutes out but coming at maximum speed.

Logan had clung to the hull of the GAC as long as he could. He was too weak to do much else. After three months in space, earth's gravity rapidly sapped what little energy he had left. When the second search plane began circling overhead his spirits were immensely buoyed but his strength was waning fast. It took a monumental effort just to wave as the angel of life roared overhead.

"Diver, stand by." Lt. Cmdr. Commander Brandon Meyers ordered over the intercom as he continued hard to port in order to come about and bleed off more speed. The downed spacecraft had all but disappeared in the seven-foot seas. It was obvious that the survivor was weak and wouldn't last very much longer. As he slowed to a hover he followed carefully the instructions from the crew chief to position the starboard hatch over the crash site.

When the chopper appeared on the horizon it was literally a last minute reprieve from a death sentence. Before the chopper made its turn the GAC began its final slide into the waiting abyss. A distant warning yammered for attention in Logan's fatigue slowed mind. It finally dawned on him that he needed to distance himself from the doomed craft before it went under or the suction would surely take him with it. Logan franticly splashed, on his hands and knees, a few yards to the edge until he could slide into the cold water. The water was freezing but the buoyancy relieved some of the strain of his weight in normal gravity. His feeble attempt at a breast stroke carried him less than twenty feet before he heard the hiss from the last escaping air and felt the pull of the suction. Logan struggled against the icy fingers of the Pacific but he knew that it was a losing battle when he was pulled under. He barely managed to draw a full breath.

<"Diver out!"> Came across the intercom. LCmdr. Meyers acknowledged the announcement from his crew chief and then concentrated on maintaining his hover. Lives depended on it.

Instinct made Logan reach in the opposite direction of his impending doom and he clawed for the surface. As hard as he struggled the suction and gravity conspired against him. He couldn't hold his breath much longer and Logan realized that he was too weak to climb out of his death plunge. In desperation he jacked into combat mode. The cybernetic implant buried deep within his brain pulsed. It electrified his entire nervous system, giving him added strength and speed that exceeded human capability. With supreme effort he was able to reverse his downward plunge. Unfortunately, combat mode required huge amounts of oxygen of which he had little. Normally he could hold his breath for five minutes or more but his body was so malnourished and weak it wasn't up to the challenge. Fifteen feet from life giving air his strength gave out. Logan's mind screamed at the unfairness. Had he come this far, overcome the greatest odds, only to drown? He raged at the futility of it all. Seconds before he would have been forced to breath water something solid brushed against his arm then his left wrist was taken in an iron grip. He peered up towards the light and saw a human figure-rescue diver!

Logan decided in an instant what had to be done. He reached deep within his being for a level of control of his autonomic nervous system and physiological processes an ordinary human being could never achieve. He savagely purged everything from his oxygen-starved mind except the total denial of the nearly overwhelming urge to breathe. Logan's eyes bulged and his lungs burned. He was on the verge of passing out as he felt himself being pulled to the surface and salvation.

The rest of the rescue operation went quickly and smoothly. Less than ten minutes after Logan was pulled gasping and sputtering to the surface he and the diver had been winched up into the hovering helicopter. After identifying himself, Logan weakly but gratefully thanked the diver and the rest of the crew while they wrapped his violently shivering body in blankets.

The rescue diver, Seaman First Class Douglas Fenner, a freckled faced twenty-year old kid, an ex-surfer dude from San Diego, California, stared long and hard at Logan. Could this the superman who'd saved the whole human race? Fenner thought he more resembled a half starved African refugee. Logan's hair was three months long, uncombed and matted. His beard was nearly as long and just as wild. He'd lost nearly a third of his body mass. His unwashed, emaciated body filled the cabin of the helicopter with a rank odor. Fenner watched the crew chief heap additional blanks around Logan while the corpsman helped him sip hot chicken broth from a thermos for several minutes before he spoke.

"You're the luckiest man in the world, Mr. Logan."

Logan eyed Fenner for a long moment before nodding in agreement but said nothing. He slowly turned his head towards the hatch and looked out at the soiled sky. When he turned back to the diver; his expression was infinitely thankful and sadly forlorn.

Yeah, Logan thought, I'm lucky alright. About as lucky as you can get if you're marooned on a doomed planet.

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