From the Author
"Gena, connect me to the Command Center." As the AI slowly brought the light up in the room, his eyes followed his wife's naked form and the graceful sway of her hips as she crossed the room to don a robe. Watching it slide about her shoulders, he felt blessed to be the owner of such beauty. Like a ghostly apparition, she exited the room, the hem of her robe sweeping along the floor. However, it was the image of the womanly figure beneath that lingered as she checked on their children.
A chime signaling his waiting connection sounded. "This is Sherrah. What have you got?"
"Sir, we're receiving an emergency distress call on an old public bandwidth. I apologize for the alarm, but Gena was set to respond to any unusual signal as if it were a threat. We just hadn't expected the signal to be--homegrown."
"Homegrown? What's the origin?" asked Steven.
"Denver?" An adrenaline-charged excitement surged into his veins."Denver." The word rang with clarity. It was the missing piece to President Tomlinson's unfinished sentence so long ago. He was sure of it. It had been nagging at him for fifteen years. Steven ran the numbers in his mind. 11,000 kilometers--2-hour flight time. "All right," said Steven. "Have Stratton grab Robbie and assemble a full TAC team to meet me in Dome 4, Bay 12 in 30 minutes. Add Victor Gregor to the list. I want a medic on the recon. Tell him to be prepared for full triage."
The smoldering ember that had awakened in him fifteen years before was now blazing hot. His heart fluttered in expectation.
"ETA--one minute, Admiral," announced Steven's personal pilot, Robertson.
Standing at the forward window, Steven turned his attention to the crystalline webs that enshrouded Earth's continents below. Though the webs were now home to his enemy, he was always in awe of their serene beauty and the Siren-like song that their electrical currents resonated. By day, the sparkling blue-white, swirling glow was like seeing into the mind of God. By night, the webs were an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of pastel colors that captured the heart.
Steven felt the subtle shift of his weight as the Dolphin transport slowed to a stop.
"Groundside temperature is 97 degrees. Radiation is within acceptable limits. With your permission?" asked Robbie.
"Initiating resonator." From the underside of the Dolphin a hatch door opened, and a small dish turret lowered, swiveling into position. Visually, the air around the dish warbled and grew cloudy. Frenzied water molecules heated-up in reaction to the high frequency tones emitted by the resonator. The tones were inaudible to the crew, but far below, the canopy of webbing dissolved into a shower of falling pixie dust.
The ship's holo-display zoomed in on the beginnings of a small hole that was growing quickly in size with each passing second. "Launch the beacon,Robbie."
"Aye, sir. Launching beacon." With the press of a button on the overhead control panel, the ship's cannon fired off a small liquid-silver ball. A small laser beam, attached to the transport's underside,painted the ground where the tiny ball would land. With pinpoint accuracy, the nanotech shifted the ball's shape, adjusting the beacon's internal gyroscope so it would hit the target far below.
"Victor, be ready. I have a feeling we're going to need you."
The doc nodded.
Steven turned to the team. "All right eggs and sperm. The storm front is less than forty minutes out. So this recon has got to be fast." Steven's gaze shifted to each of his team members in turn, waiting for the nod that their armor's diagnostic system had cleared them for the drop.
While awaiting confirmation from Robbie that the beacon had landed, Steven's chest suddenly seized. He had no chance to react, to assimilate what was happening to him. In the blink of an eye, a soul crushing feeling of longing and loneliness gripped him, incapacitating him.
With each passing second the surge of longing grew stronger, manifesting itself in each strained beat of his heart.
An emotion he had never known before overtook him--fear. The immense strength of the man that he was inside fled from him. The attack came from somewhere far beyond his understanding. The fear he felt wrested control from him, and like an abstract painting, his mind lost cohesion and focus.
Unable to find even the smallest bit of reality to which he could cling, his anxiety drove him into a pit of darkness--and as the darkness turned its wrath upon him, he fell victim to a full-fledged panic attack.
In a cold sweat and unable to give voice, his legs began shaking uncontrollably beneath him. His knees buckled. Instinctively, his hand reached out for the back of Robertson's chair to steady himself, but the off-balance fall swung him around and slammed him hard into the bulkhead.
With wild, maniacal eyes, he searched for something, anything of familiarity. The bright flashing lights on the transport's control panels caught his attention. Somewhere deep inside he knew they held meaning, but in his panicked state they only added to his confusion as they shouted meaningless gibberish.
Robertson, startled by the sudden tug on his chair and the heavy clang of armor hitting the deck behind him, turned and caught a glimpse of the madness in his commander's eyes. "Paris, check on the admiral! Something's wrong!"
A small alarm on Steven's forearm LED chirped, alerting him to his irregular vitals.
His vision blurred and his stomach churned in nauseating spins as the Dolphin transport faded away. Within seconds, he saw himself lying upon his back, encased within a coffin of glass and ice. He reached out and with a tentative, fearful touch, placed his spread fingers upon the glass. While the thought of being buried alive should have heightened his panic, somehow, it afforded him a tiny glint of understanding. It was as though the walls themselves were a cryptic message waiting to be deciphered.
Elusive as the message was, it gave Steven a small hold to which he could grasp. It gave him strength, and with that strength, he began to regain clarity. He sensed a presence stalking him--a presence so powerful that he dared not challenge it. Instinct told him that it was a battle that could not be won. It was all around him, inescapable.