Authors: Nicholas Adams
The Seraphim Chronicles:
Copyright © 2015 Nicholas Adams
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
I dedicate this book to my beloved wife Marilyn, the Angel who has supported my crazy dream to become a writer, and to the four other Angels in our family.
My deepest appreciation goes out to my cousin, the red-pen-wielding genius, who took on the Herculean challenge of helping me transform my manuscript from what it was into what it has become. Your questions, suggestions, and insights made it better.
And, my very special thanks goes out t
all those who inspire(d) me to dream.
Cover Art by
The descent was Evangeline’s favorite phase of an off-world mission. For some reason it always evoked images of a cocoon or, sometimes, even being born. Inside the cockpit of her TRTV, (Tactical Robotic Telemetrically-controlled Vehicle), she could feel every jolt of the atmospheric turbulence. Unknown debris slammed against the outer hull, jostling her around in spite of the restraints pinching into her chest. If it were not for her flight helmet, the thunder resonating against the hull would have been deafening.
Other pilots often complained about the aches and pains that resulted after falling dozens of miles from the drop ship. Most of them indulged in small doses of narcotics or numbing agents to dull the pain receptors, but for her, the ache served as a reminder that she was still alive. Moreover, she did not like the numbing side effects. They left her aware of her surroundings, but with no visceral connection to the present.
As she and her team fell, her eyes passed over the Heads-Up Display (HUD). Her speed increased with gravity, but with less acceleration compared to her flight training back on Earth. The alien moon had a much smaller gravity profile, but the dense gases swirling at hundreds of miles per hour were what made the drop exciting.
“Five minutes to landing zone.” she said. In her headphones she heard the members of her team all check in. “Roger that. Five minutes. Ready.”
Controlled by her thoughts, the lights and switches of the console responded to her unconscious demands. She had been doing it so long she did not even catch herself trying to do it by hand anymore. Her autonomic nervous system was in perfect unison with the vehicle’s interface and allowed her to control the craft with the power of her mind. All she had to do was think and it happened. She remembered the days when she was trying to join the Olympic Military Corps.
The physical, mental, and psychological tests were grueling. Weeks of strength training, testing, running, and swimming. She had to go days without sleep, and little food or water. Brain scans, puzzles, word games, math problems. Many candidates were broken before they got to that point. However, the neuro-somatic exam caused most of the candidates to wash out of the program.
The medical personnel placed her in a sensory deprivation tank for three days, hooked up to multiple IV tubes while they mapped, to the smallest detail, her complete nervous system. No one knew why some would pass while others would fail. It seemed arbitrary. All the applicants knew was that after three days they moved from the common barracks to the training facility. She still did not know where it was located. They transported the new trainees in trucks and airships that had no windows from one sealed hangar bay to another. They said it was for protection from the Dissidents until training was complete.
The Procedure, as they called it, was the point of no return. She was strapped facedown to an operating table, hooked up to several IV’s, and sedated. It was then that doctors and technicians began the meticulous process of installing ports along both sides of the spine between each section of vertebrae.
Once the installation of the ports was complete, the doctors began inserting carbon fiber Nano-Tubules into the ports and along the paths of nerve fibers that lead to the parts of the body that interfaced with the TRTV systems. This process could only be performed one Nano-Tubule at a time, requiring teams of doctors and technicians working in shifts 24-hours a day for over a week to complete the procedure.
Evangeline had learned, before agreeing to the procedure, that 1 in 100 applicants had some kind of complication during the operation leaving them with permanent, inoperable nerve damage. It was a risk she was willing to take. Her aptitude scores were in the 99
percentile, and she could not imagine doing anything else in the military.
She had decided to either go through with the procedure, or carve out a miserable existence in the LTZ.
“Captain, is your team ready for insertion?” she heard the grating voice over the channel say.
she thought to herself. It was the newest Martian delegated to liaison between her squad and Olympus. It was silly. Centuries ago, the Head of Security back on Olympus had taken upon himself the nickname Mars in honor of the ancient mythological god of war. Since then, that title passed from one director to the next.
It had not taken long for a derogatory nickname to become an honored designation among the upper echelons of Olympus. Now, all the senior officials referred to themselves as ‘Martians’. It had not helped that their jumpsuits were green and their helmets, when shrouded, had the appearance of a huge head with giant, black eyes. It made all those ancient science fiction movies even funnier.
The worst part for Evangeline was that she knew this Martian. Commander Silas Graham used to be one of her father’s best friends until the incident that changed their relationship forever. At one point in her life she had looked up to him, but she was unfortunate to discover his true nature before she joined the military. Once he had arrived on board the carrier, the Chiron, there had been nothing but tension between them; the kind of tension that had festered for years and longed for relief.
Evangeline rolled her eyes and cleared her throat as she responded to the voice. “Yes, Commander Graham. All units are in formation on approach to the designated landing zone. We’ll be on the ground in three minutes.” She switched the settings on her communicator to talk only to her team. “All units prepare to decelerate.”
She reached out and took hold of her weapons consoles. It was one aspect of the connection to her TRTV that she did not leave to autonomic control. Most pilots liked being able to control the TRTV by thought alone, as if the machine were an extension of their own body. However, Evangeline switched the weapons systems to manual every time she got in the cockpit. Her reaction time to a threat was slower, but only by a fraction of a second. She preferred a slower reaction time with greater accuracy to the occasional premature misfire, as she called it, which occurred among other pilots in tense situations.
She began to rotate her TRTV around to face the landing zone. The back of the TRTV had the heaviest shielding, and entering a potential combat area in reverse was standard procedure. The engines on the back pointed toward the surface and fired. The heavy winds closer to the surface swept away the massive cloud of dust and debris kicked up by their little swarm. Within moments after her landing, there were six ominous vehicles stationed on the ground to await further instructions.
“Form up on me,” she ordered, “Give me a standard defensive perimeter.”
Go-and-wait seemed to be the standard operating procedure with Martians. The other members of her team, which had landed in a scattered and staggered pattern, all began moving toward her position and formed a circle facing outward. The team felt anxious and edgy not knowing which direction they would to go, or what may lurk out in the darkness. Evangeline was used to it. It was not her first mission off world, nor would it be her last.
She activated her sensors and began to survey the surrounding landscape. The entire squad did the same and within seconds, there was a 3D map of the area formed from their swarm scanning method. The scan extended ten miles out in all directions with the team in the center. They were in a shallow valley filled with jagged rock formations. The outside temperature was -70ºF and the winds ranged from 150-180mph. She dropped the visual shield of her canopy to look with her naked eyes.
It was beautiful, in a hellish sort of way. The terrain exuded colors of deep oranges and reds. The rock formations resembled freakish combs, bat-like wings, and stalagmites that turned on their sides. It was as if gravity did not pull objects down, but forever to the left.
Her eyes passed over the clock on her display. It read:
TIME: 05:11: DATE: 07:19:1079 R.O.
She yawned as the reminder of waking before 4:00 A.M. in order to leave on the drop ship by 5:00 A.M. hit her like a sandbag. She shook her head to persuade more blood to her brain. The date brought up a painful twinge of memories. It was her husband’s birthday, and she had neglected to get him anything. On his last birthday, she had given him a membership to his favorite avatar bar, but she had grown to regret that choice of gift.
The date on the display also forced her to convert the R.O. to ‘The Reign of Olympus’. It had been over one thousand years since the Quorum of Zeus formed and their advancements in technology pushed the region out of the grip of the Global Collapse and into a new era of prosperity.
A text message appeared on her HUD and cut her musings short.
“PROCEED ON HEADING 10.85 FROM YOUR CURRENT ORIENTATION. DISTANCE 54.3 MILES. AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS. GRAHAM.”
It was common to receive cryptic instructions when proceeding into unknown territory with the potential of encountering hostile forces. Once a team was on station, they kept their communication to a minimum. It made it more difficult for an enemy to triangulate their position. Text messages, transmitted via laser, were not omnidirectional like channel waves. The Chiron, in orbit, could watch the team with powerful surveillance equipment and transmit encrypted messages to each individual team member. The team on the ground could then respond with rapid pulses of light in a visual spectrum unique to each team member.
Evangeline took a deep breath, and then whispered into her headset. “Okay, team. Form up on my six, staggered double column. Let’s move out.” Her training always took over in those moments. There was no real need to speak in a low voice. There was so much noise from the winds outside her canopy; she would have needed to scream into her teammate’s ears. It was the repetition of skills and drills made the difference between a successful mission and a visit from a commanding officer to loved ones at home.
However, success or failure, Evangeline did not have any loved ones at home.
At least, not anymore,
she thought as she stared out into the hurricane of sand and smoke.
With a lurch, her TRTV began to lumber forward, dragging her out of her inner world. It was still an odd sensation to feel your feet impact the ground without moving your legs. The interconnection between her physical body and the computer sensors made it almost impossible to tell which was moving, man, or machine.
As the team moved through the foreboding landscape, Evangeline recalled a lecture about the down side to the duplicate sensory input. Some pilots had a hard time adjusting to life outside the cockpit after a lengthy mission. They became so accustomed to the additional sensory input that they would almost forget what it was like to have only one body. Many of them became addicted to “Avatar” bars and games. Yet, for Evangeline, it felt as natural as putting on a pair of gloves. She felt like she was a spirit that had been placed in a mechanical body by some all-powerful, and yet nerdy, creator. However, she was not one of those people that believed in deity, unlike her soon to be ex-husband.
She felt the joints and servos warm up as she and her team began to make their way across the rough terrain. It was like warming up for a run in the exercise room on the Chiron. Her heart started to pump faster even though she had not expended any energy to move. Her mind became more alert, and her eyes searched the terrain for any sign of danger to herself and her team. After moving from a slow pace to become familiar to the gravity and atmosphere, she pulled away from the team with a brisk walk. The team followed suit as they spread themselves out from each other, giving themselves room in case of a sudden stop.