CHAPTER 1

The planet Alizaryne stretched out below him from his vantage on the observation deck.  The inner disk of the Daydream Station had a series of decks like this for the engineering and science crews to keep a constant watch on Alizaryne’s surface.  The planet below him, under the outer ring of the station, reminded him a bit of Mars—or rather, Mars in those days long before he was born, when people like Jeff Donegan first went to work on it. 


        It was a vista of flat, rocky terrain in tones of rust and sand, punctuated by mountains and valleys, and vast places where the land looked torn open that were likely the creation of seismic activity and erosion.  Strewn across the surface, the circular pits of craters spoke of times when the universe had brought down its violence on Alizaryne’s face.  It was a planet that had either gone to sleep long ago or had never quite woken up, which was now in the early stages of being stirred awake.  


        The signs of it were already starting to appear on the stretch of land right under the orbital habitat where Jeff lived.  Looking down, Jeff saw one of the wide swaths of green that had appeared on Alizaryne’s surface, as if some cosmic painter had brushed them onto that desolate canvas.  The plant life had started to flourish in the carbon-dioxide atmosphere, spurred along by the reflected sunlight from the orbital mirrors that Jeff and the other engineers had placed around the planet.  The mirrors caught the light from Hayward A, the main star, and shone it down onto the surface where it coaxed the plants into growing.  Several orbits away, the smaller companion star Hayward B shone out its own light, making Alizaryne a place that never saw a full sunset and never knew anything but daytime and dusk.  The plants basked in the light and fed on the air, unbreathable by humans, slowly converting it into the tenuous beginnings of an atmosphere.  In time, the planet would be ready for trees, and more water than just what was locked in the soil and freed up by the increased temperature would be brought in from asteroids and comets captured in the Hayward system.  Then things would really start to happen.  


        This was one of the “lucky” planets.  Its surface was barren, but the internal engine of rotating molten iron was running, creating a magnetosphere to screen out the ultraviolet and cosmic radiations that would complicate bringing it to life.  Mars was not so fortunate.  It was well populated, but its surface was an array of domes with human cities under them.  Jeff had never been there.  He had grown up in the Armstrong Colony of Proxima Centauri, capital of the United Colonies of Earth.  He had only seen vids of Mars, to which humans returned after the original migration from the home planet.  He had only watched holorecordings made over many years of the project to transform Mars into the place it was now.  The core of Mars was dormant, unable to create the kind of magnetic field that would protect the surface from the particles constantly raining from space.  Under the Martian domes were a collection of miniature versions of the world that Jeff and his fellow terraformers were working to create on Alizaryne.  


        There was talk of what humans would one day do with Mars and other planets like it, creating a mighty shell around the planet from the same substance of which the domes were made.  A hollow globe of transparent metal would hold in an atmosphere and shut out the radiation.  The planetary shells would make domes on the surface unnecessary and help to turn Mars and those other planets with inert cores into new Earths like what Jeff and the rest of the terraforming crew were creating here.  Jeff wondered if he would live to see it.  He wondered if he would ever be among the engineers of such a project.


        He probably would never see Alizaryne fully awake.  In a few years he would be transferred out to some other planet where the Colonies would start up a new terraforming project, and Jeff would be a part of the whole thing beginning again.  Odds were he would never see Alizaryne in person as it would one day be, a planet in greens and blues along with the old reds and browns, its blue skies painted with white clouds, a planet not unlike Earth before humanity’s vices drove humans from the raped and poisoned home world into space.  It would be a place where someone like Jeff could walk in sunlight on grass and breathe in warm air scented with flowers.  


        It would be a good place to raise a dog.  


        Looking down on those swaths of green on Alizaryne, Jeff could well imagine some future boy, a boy not unlike the lad he once was, running on the grass with his best friend the way Jeff ran and played with Cimarron in the parks of Armstrong City.  He could picture a dog just like Cimarron, flopping his furry chocolate brown Labrador body down on his back in the grass to ask for a rub, and the boy lovingly stroking the dog’s belly, laughing at the paws scratching happily at the air and the tail thumping away on the ground.  There was no simpler, more pure joy to compare with it in all the world.  


        And no deeper sorrow to compare with losing such a friend.  


        What hurt the worst was that there was never any evidence of what happened to Cimarron.  There was never any sign that someone had come and taken him or done anything to harm him.  There was no telltale trace of him somehow getting lost in the inner workings of the colony.  There was certainly no way he could have gotten out into space.  But somehow, in some way, one day Cimarron was just gone.  Gone without a trace.  


        Jeff Donegan, like everyone, had known his share of heartbreaks in life.  But there was never any other pain like the loss of Cimarron, a loss with no reason, no explanation, no closure, that had slammed a door in his young heart forever.  Jeff never had another dog.  He could never bear to feel that loss again.  People had come and gone—family members, friends, lovers—and there was always the feeling of their absence.  But the loss of Cimarron was unique.  It was something that Jeff never wanted to face again.  


        Now and then the memory of it would fade in and out of Jeff’s mind as it did now while gazed out from one of the inner observation decks on the Daydream Station orbiting Alizaryne.  And then work or the other needs of daily life would take over, and the memory would recede into wherever it went in Jeff’s thoughts.  Right now it was about time to get on with the task of checking the latest round of seeder drones that would be released onto the planet.  


        He turned away from the long, tall window of the observation deck and set his mind back to work.  


        The interior of the disk section of the station was like a little city of technology.  Its “buildings” were the devices that transmitted solar power throughout the station and managed life support and artificial gravity, and the workshops and bays where the colony’s ships, piloted and otherwise, were built, stored, and maintained, and the orbital mirrors were controlled.  From here, the internal systems of the station, the space weather of the Hayward system, and the progress of the work on the planet were closely monitored.  The upper and lower parts of the disk section were where ships were launched.  Where Jeff needed to be now, the lower section facing the planet, housed both the drones and the piloted ships that periodically went down to the planet’s surface to inspect the ongoing work in person.  


        On his way through the disk, Jeff passed various science, engineering, and maintenance personnel, and quick greetings were exchanged as people went about the business of their day.  Jeff came to a cylindrical structure with a hatch in it and waved his hand at it.  The structure opened a hatch and Jeff climbed inside to the little lift compartment it contained.  Once inside, Jeff said, “Seeder Drone Bay.”  With a little hum, the devices inside the lift port sent the car that Jeff had entered down one of the shafts that led to the underside of the colony.  


        A last little hum and vibration signaled the lift car’s quick arrival at its destination, and Jeff stepped out into a long, broad corridor the size of a theatre.  At its far end was a large hatch.  Along two opposite sides were long, tall windows like those of the observation deck above.  One side had a series of maintenance bays.  The other had a row of little ships, too small for a man to climb inside, but large enough to carry remotely operated devices and what the seeder drones would distribute to a targeted area of the surface of Alizaryne.  


        Jeff held up his wristband.  It was wide and metallic and had a dark, glass-like surface on it.  Jeff said into the tech band, “Drone systems check.”  There was a little chirping noise, and at once the dozen drones moored at one side of the bay came alive with lights as their systems came on line to be inspected before launch.  He went to the first drone and checked the readings for all of its functions and the status of its vital cargo, the seeds and water that would be sprayed onto the surface of Alizaryne in a designated target area to be coaxed into germinating.  On finding all systems optimal and the cargo secure, Jeff moved to the next drone, and the next, on down the line.  


        Everything was all going according to routine—until suddenly, it wasn’t.

The klaxons went off—a shrill, nerve-shredding, mind-ripping sensory assault that could mean nothing but impending disaster—when Jeff reached the eighth drone.  His body went into a flinch of dread.  He looked up and around at the windows that let out onto the planet’s surface.  He could see nothing wrong in them.  The trouble must be in space.  And his stomach sank as if it had fallen into the planet’s gravity well at what it must be.  


        “Please—not that,” he whispered fearfully.  


        He ran to the side of the drone bay opposite the hatch and shouted, “Cut off alarm to the drone bay!  Turn on monitor!”  The horrid wail of the klaxons shut off while a screen on the far wall switched on, showing an area of space outside the Daydream station.  The stars looked tranquil enough—but Jeff had an awful feeling that what was really out there was the very opposite of tranquility.  


        Onto the station’s internal comm system came the voice of Daydream’s Security Chief, in a tone as dire as the alarms.  “Attention!  Inbound Scarellan attack ships!  Repeat—inbound Scarellan attack ships!  Defense crews to Tactical ships!  Staff and civilians to escape vessels at once!  Repeat—Defense crews to Tactical ships, civilians to escape vessels!  This is not a drill…”


        As if any drill could have truly prepared Daydream and the people who lived aboard it for what was now happening.  As if a human race that gave up war when it gave up raping its home planet and set out to space had been prepared for this since the first time it happened.  


        “Damnit,” Jeff whispered, perspiring coldly with a chill down his back.  “Damn, damn, damn!  The Scarellans are coming!  Why?”


         The question was futile.  The Scarellans were their own why and their own wherefore.  Wherever they appeared, humans had two options—fight or flee, to which a third option was added by force:  Die.


         Nothing was left for Jeff now but to get to the little emergency vessel docked at the drone bay.  The airlock leading to it was right next to the lift hatch through which he’d entered.  He had only to run there and get into the airlock…


         The crash and boom, and the shockwave that accompanied them, knocked him off his feet and flat onto the deck, letting him know how complicated things were about to get.  


        Jeff looked up from where he was sprawled on the deck, and the lights of the drone bay flickered.  There were crackling sounds from inside the walls, and some of the drones came loose from their mooring and rolled onto the deck and skidded along the surface like scattering toys.  Jeff scrambled to his feet and looked over his shoulder at the monitor, fearing what he would see.  And he was right.  


        On the screen now were lights that were not stars, moving and swooping around against the blackness of space like angry fireflies.  Other objects, closer to the external cameras, shot into view, and Jeff recognized these as Daydream’s hastily mobilized Tactical ships.  Flashes of light erupted on them, and other flashes of light in space answered them:  the exchange of fire between Daydream’s defenders and their enemies.  The Tactical ships had launched from the upper section of the disk and were now moving about the outer ring section of Daydream, where most of the living went on—and where Jeff now feared most of the dying was about to happen.  


        Without another thought, without switching off the monitor, Jeff turned around and broke into a run.  With a few quick strides he was at the access port to the escape ship.  He called, “Open airlock!”  


         And the next crash and boom shook the station, tearing into Jeff’s nerves and throwing him hard onto his bottom.  The sharp pain of landing was nothing compared to the shocking terror of what was happening to Daydream.  Awful pictures flashed through Jeff’s mind:  pictures of what must be happening in the ring section.  There must even now be people gathering up their children and loved ones and running through the streets to the access bays around the perimeter of the station, screaming and falling down and dragging themselves up again while these tremors of assault from space rocked the structure of the station.  There must be buildings and homes flying apart, upheavals of walkways, things collapsing, debris flying.  And fires—there must be fires starting.  Any moment now, it would reach this lower part of the disk, where he was alone.  


        Leaping back to his feet, Jeff lunged at the airlock access, which hadn’t opened at his command.  He leaned on it and called frantically, “Open airlock!”  There was a sharp, hissing sound and a flashing of lights inside the airlock and on a panel on the wall next to the port—and nothing.  


        Jeff’s skin grew pale.  His mouth turned dry.  He banged hard with the palms of his hands on the port and shouted, “Open the damn airlock!”  He looked through the transparent metal window into the airlock compartment and the pilot’s seat and cockpit of the escape ship beyond it.  And he took a deep, quick breath, reminding himself that he was an engineer and there were ways to handle these things.  If the airlock port didn’t respond to voice command, there was a workaround.  


        He turned his attention at once to that little panel next to it where the lights had flashed.  The graphic of the port with the slash mark through it told him what was obvious:  the port was jammed.  All right then, he thought, we’ll low-tech this.  He tapped a little surface on the bottom of the panel, and it unlocked.  He swung the panel open and reached inside for the manual control…


        …and another blow of crashing, hammering thunder slammed cruelly through the station.  This was the worst one yet.  It threw Jeff so hard onto his side on the deck that he was afraid that the structure of Daydream might not be the only thing in danger of coming apart.  He feared his ribs might have cracked.  A shooting pain went through his body.  More of the drones came loose and they all skidded and slid all over the deck, colliding with each other, with the walls, with the far hatch.  One of them skidded past Jeff’s head.  He was barely able to roll himself out of the way in time.  He feared that if he’d been a second too slow, it would have cracked his head wide open before it slammed into the wall near the airlock port.  


        “Damn!” Jeff cried, struggling back to his feet.  He had to get that airlock open and get the hell into the ship.  He made one more lunge for the panel and braced his fingers to work the controls inside it.  And then…


         BOOM!  CRASH!  This one was the loudest and hardest one yet.  Not only did it shake the entire station, but this time it made parts of the walls crack and fly open and send splinters and sparks everywhere.  The drones were hurled into the air and came crashing back down again.  The lights flickered and went completely off, then came back up again at only half normal brightness.  Jeff, knocked down once more, glanced with dread at the far hatch and feared that another systems malfunction might open it but fail to engage the containment field, blowing him out unprotected into space.  That thought occupied less than a second before he heard a horrible creaking, tearing, rending sound from overhead.  He looked up just in time to see one of the drone bay’s upper service fixtures tear itself loose with a burst of sparks, and come toppling down right at him.  He was just able to get out a last shout of terrified dismay and hoped that what happened next wouldn’t hurt too much…


        And then he felt nothing and heard nothing, and all was black.

CHAPTER 2

When Jeff’s eyes fluttered open in the dimness of the ravaged seeder drone bay, his first thought was, Please let nothing be broken.


        He tried to move, which wasn’t easy with the service fixture and an array of scraps of the deck ceiling lying on top of him.  His next fear was not only having broken bones, but being pinned with broken bones.  There were aches up and down his body that Jeff hoped didn’t mean anything serious.


        At least he could lift up his wrist with the tech band to where he could see it.  That was one lucky break, an expression that made him wince.  The first thing to check was his own status.  In a ragged voice, he croaked at the band, “Personal med scan.  Determine injuries.”  


        The internal AI of the tech band answered in an almost maddeningly calm tone, “No internal injuries.  No broken bones.  Minor trauma to the skull, but no sign of concussion.  Impact trauma at the hip, the ribs, and the shoulder.  Evidence of contusions and swelling.  Movement possible, but pain receptors firing.”


        No kidding, Jeff frowned and winced.  The throbbing that gnawed at him from the back of his head and the similar complaints from the other points that the tech band named gave proof of the med scan.  He was banged-up and in pain, but still in one piece.  


        Next questions:  How intact was the rest of the station?  Was anyone left on board?  Of those who might be on board, were any of them human?  What were his chances of getting help?


        The questions piled up in his mind as fast as he could think of them.  From the fact that he was conscious and not floating in space—in which case he would be not conscious, but dead—he gathered that Daydream still had some structural integrity left.  Also, he was breathing, he was not freezing, there was partial light, and things including himself were not floating around.  That meant life support and some other power were still on line, as well as the artificial gravity.  


        And the fact that he could piece together all that confirmed that he was still somewhat clear of mind and did not have a concussion.  Jeff thanked the universe for those favors at least.  An engineer’s first and most important tool was his mind.  


        Okay, we’ve established all that, he thought.  The best case scenario now was that the Tactical ships had seen off the Scarellans and that Station Security had gone into Search, Rescue, and Recovery mode.  That would mean medical staff who were not injured would be on the job as well.  


        That was something to hope for.  But then there was the worst case scenario.

In the worst case, the Scarellans had smashed their way through Daydream’s outer defenses, forced their way aboard the station, captured or killed anyone they found still aboard, and had now claimed and occupied Daydream.  The fate of the station in that case was grim.  There were stories of the Scarellans stripping and cannibalizing any human colony, station, or ship that they captured, taking material and parts and tech to occupy for their own use.  It was thought that somewhere in their past, someone or something might have done that to the Scarellans themselves, though not enough was known about them to prove the theory.  What would happen next was a big, dark, ugly question mark, and there was every possibility that Jeff would not live to know the answer.  


        Anxiously, fearfully, Jeff knew he would have to take his chances, such as they were.  He couldn’t stay where he was.  


        He spoke into the tech band, “Emergency, Seeder Drone Bay.  I have minor injuries and I’m lying under debris.  Can anyone hear me?”  He was fairly sure that the Scarellans, if they were up there in the disk and the ring, could not patch into his signal and pinpoint his location.  But who, if anyone, actually might pick up his signal was still in question.  


        “Emergency,” he repeated, “Seeder Drone Bay.  I have minor injuries, I’m lying under some debris, and…”  He made an effort to get up on his elbows.  The fixture and the other wreckage around him made creaking, whining noises of protest, to which Jeff added his own painful groans at the aggravation of his bumps and bruises.  “…NNNGGGHHH…I’m not sure I can get myself free.  Anyone who can hear this, this is Engineer Jeff Donegan in the Seeder Drone Bay.  Please help or send help.”  Just barely getting up to his elbows, Jeff puffed and grunted from his aches and the weight of the fallen wreckage on top of him.  “Send help…,” he puffed and gasped, “right away.”  


        Breathing heavily from the effort he’d just made, Jeff stayed propped up on his shoulders, afraid that if he settled back down again, the shifting of the debris might pin him worse.  No answer had come from his emergency call, which presented him with the dire possibility that he was on his own.  Anyone who might help could be in a part of Daydream where they couldn’t get to him—or perhaps they might now be a prisoner or victim of the Scarellans.  


        Cursing through clenched teeth, Jeff decided that the only thing for the moment was to get himself out from under these fallen scraps and parts and assess the condition of the airlock and the escape ship.  If he could get that airlock open and get into that ship, he’d feel better about taking his chances in space and possibly getting picked up by a Colonial vessel than he would about staying on Daydream.

 

        Freeing himself entailed some risks.  He could end up adding some cuts to his new collection of bruises.  But staying down here was not an option.  He started to strain again, heaving up with his back against what was weighing him down.  His body aches complained at him.  He pushed up and tried to crawl forward, hoping he didn’t cut himself on something jagged in the attempt.  He kept at it, and the debris creaked and clattered.  He didn’t feel anything slicing his jumpsuit or cutting into his skin.  Grunting, shaking, Jeff persisted.  He heard and felt things shifting around him.  He felt his legs and feet pull free of something on top of them.  He hoped that in continuing to pull himself forward and out, he didn’t cause something to fall or collapse on top of his legs and possibly crush them.  In that event, he would really be in trouble.  


        But somehow, he made it.  He struggled forward, crawling on his hands and pulling the rest of his body behind him, until his legs and feet slipped free and the debris that was on top of him fell with a raucous, rasping noise and the heap of wreckage under which Jeff had lain grew still again.  

 

        Jeff lay on the deck beside a jumble of drones and drone parts that had piled up nearby, and took big gulps of air, relieved that he had come through all that at least somewhat unscathed.  He’d be in some pain still, but he would now stand some chance of getting out of this part of the disk.  He’d worry about what he’d encounter next once he accomplished that.  


        Confident that he was only bruised and nothing was broken, Jeff got himself up on aching and somewhat wobbly legs and steadied himself on a part of the hull of one of the drones.  He wiped his brow, licked his lips, and turned his attention back to that airlock port.  He would have to climb over some of the fallen debris from which he had just extricated himself to reach it, but that was the least of his worries.  


        He got himself over the wreckage and back to the access to the airlock.  Gratifyingly, he found it as he had left it.  The port wasn’t damaged and the escape ship was still there.  All he had to do now was get the thing open manually.  There was nothing obstructing him from the control panel; he needed only take a step to the right and he’d be there again.  The panel was still open, also as he’d left it.  He needed only to touch the right surfaces inside it to engage the locking and opening mechanism of the port.  He did it…

 

        …and it didn’t respond.  Nothing engaged.  Nothing moved.  He looked pleadingly over at the airlock port.  Come on, come on, do this for me.  Just do this for me.  He tried it again, still with no result.  


        In a sudden outburst of frustration, rage, and fear, Jeff pounded on the wall by the panel.  “God damnit, open that port!  Open that port, do you hear me!  Open…”  Suddenly feeling the stupidity and futility of cursing at and arguing with devices with no power to operate them, Jeff crumpled down next to the wall and sat there, wanting to melt into sobs.  At moments like this when Jeff was a little boy, when he was in despair or frustration or mad at something and wanted to cry, his loyal Cimarron would come to him, sniffing and snuffling at him, offering him a snoot and a paw for comfort, trying to help his master as only a dog could.  


        Jeff thought he could sure use the reassurance of his old friend right now.

With that last thought, however, he recovered his reason.  All right, I tried the manual control and it didn’t work.  That means something in the internal moving parts must have been broken.  With the pounding the station took, something must have broken or jammed.  There’s no way to get in there to fix it now.  So I’ll have to come up with something else.  What I need right this minute is to get the hell out of this damn drone bay.


        Calmer now, Jeff got himself back to his feet one more time.  How to get out of here?  The service conduits.  I can climb up through the service conduits and reach the midsection of the disk that way.  Once I’m up there I can try to assess the overall damage to the station and maybe find a way to contact someone in another part of the station or call out for help.  And that idea encouraged him, until it further occurred to him:  And if the station’s been occupied…  He knew where that train of thought went.  Understanding, but not wanting to finish the thought, he next realized, I’m going to need some way to protect myself.  


        Somewhere along the wall where the airlock port was, the drone bay would also have a storage compartment for repair and maintenance equipment.  He needed to find it.  Jeff looked to his right and noticed a section of the wall with seams and notches.  He smiled a tight little smile.  If just a little luck were still with him, he’d have his first critical break.  He walked down along the wall, stepping or climbing over drones or parts of them, until he came to that square-shaped panel and that notch, and the smaller panel next to that one.  


         Almost the way they used to do in the old religions, Jeff shut his eyes and gave one thought:  Please…  He pressed his thumb to that small panel—and the sensor inside it recognized him.  The small panel lit up, there was a little hissing sound from the larger panel, and Jeff allowed himself another little smile.  At once, he moved his hand to the notch in that panel and pulled it open.  Seeing what was behind that panel, he called out the name of an old game he’d once heard about:  “Bingo!”  Satisfied at one thing going his way, at least, Jeff pulled from the compartment a long carbonium rod designed to turn and loosen bolts—and a laser welding torch.  Then he went a few steps back in the direction from which he came, to where the wall had a bigger panel with vents in it.  He repeated the action with his thumbprint on a little surface on that panel.  It hissed slightly, and Jeff found the notch to slide that panel open, gaining access to one of Daydream’s service conduits.  Carrying his iron and torch, he climbed into the conduit.  


        Jeff’s journey through the interior of the station’s structure took him crawling along and climbing up a labyrinth of conduits and passages, past instrument panels and inner workings.  At some points it was a bit awkward, when he had to climb up using handholds in the walls and use only one hand while carrying the rod and the torch, but he was not about to part with those.  Finally he made it up a series of handholds to one ledge where there was a hatch.  The hatch was marked, Control Room.


        “Oh, yes!” Jeff whispered.  “Right where I want to be!”  He found the notch on one side of the hatch, reached into it to find the handle, and squeezed it to open the hatch.  He stepped out of the wall and into a room of monitors and control panels, and took in the scene.  


        This was one of the places where engineers kept an eye on all the physical systems of the disk and the ring.  It had a large, central pillar of monitors, around which other monitor stations were arranged in a circle.  Some of the monitors were working.  Some of them were black—and some of them were shot through with weapons fire.  The same was true of the control panels.  There were fragments and debris strewn about the place, chairs torn out of the floor, blast marks on the walls—and, in some places, blood stains.  Human blood.  Jeff didn’t want to think about how those stains were probably made.  There was, however, no sign of people.  Or anyone or anything else.  


        One side of the control room was taken up with a continuous, long, tall window, letting out onto the walking spaces between the structures of the disk, and giving a view of the space outside and the ring section that was connected to the disk.  Not caring for the eerie, oppressive quiet in a place that should ordinarily have a hubbub of people’s voices accompanied by soft music, Jeff started for the window and at once halted in his tracks.  


        Suddenly there were sounds coming from outside:  the footfalls of someone running, the sizzling and popping of weapons being fired and blasts hitting things—and voices.  Inhuman voices.  


        Jeff got his finger on the firing button of the laser torch, just in case, and walked carefully to the window to look out and down.  On the paths and walkways outside there were figures running about, shooting weapons at each other, shouting things.  He knew some of them by the reddish hue of their skin.  Damn.  Scarellans.  But who was it they were fighting?  Jeff looked a little more carefully at the other ones, who were running faster than anyone Jeff had ever seen.  He couldn’t make them out, but they were crack shots.  They had the Scarellans either on the run, lying sprawled on pathways, or slumped over fixtures.  These guys are good, Jeff thought, but who are they?  Those aren’t Colonial Defense uniforms…


        A voice behind him cut off Jeff’s wondering.  “You.  Turn around.”


        It was like one of Earth’s old prejudices to think they all sounded alike, and although Jeff had only been a young boy the last time he had seen one in person or close-up, he recognized the sound:  the clicking, rasping, sound of words coming from non-human throats and non-human mouths.  His brow perspired coldly and he felt like a character in one of Earth’s movies about the pre-industrial West of the North American continent as he poised his finger on that firing button, licked his lips, and spun quickly around.  In the same motion, he raised the laser torch and fired.  The beam sliced through the air and sizzled over the shoulder of the figure standing in the entrance to the control room.  


        The ruddy-hued being with the brownish amber-colored uniform, the black eyes in a spade-shaped head, the circular mouth full of fangs, the double-jointed legs, and the hands with two pairs of opposing digits lunged to one side and raised his own sidearm.  He fired and Jeff ducked.  The beam from the other being’s weapon punched a hole with molten edges through the control room window, and Jeff hit the floor, having narrowly escaped being shot in the chest by a Scarellan.  


        Frantically, Jeff crawled for cover, the alien’s next shots searing into the spaces on the floor behind him.  He lunged and ducked around the central pillar and clutched his iron with one hand while keeping his laser ready with the other.  He had cover for the moment, but was not in the most strategic position.  His foe could come around the pillar from either direction.  What would a member of Colonial Defense do?  Jeff had no idea.  He was trained in physical sciences, not anything like this.  He was in trouble.  


         The sound of a footfall on one side of him triggered him into action.  He swerved in that direction and squeezed off a shot.  The Scarellan pulled back around the pillar and Jeff’s shot sizzled through the air where the alien was.  Then, just as quickly, the Scarellan came back around and fired off a shot of his own.

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